Are Kissinger's Critics Anti-Semitic?

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[Isaac]

In this week’s Times Literary Supplement, the usually engaging Niall Ferguson has a long review of a new, generally sympathetic Henry Kissinger biography. In addition to recommending the book (which, despite a few questionable assertions, appears to have some interesting stuff on Kissinger’s childhood), Ferguson poses his review around the following question:

Has the ferocity of the criticism which Kissinger has attracted perhaps got something to do with the fact that he, like the Rothschilds, is Jewish?

Before returning to this particular topic, it’s worth mentioning a few things about the rest of Ferguson’s piece. It’s a vigorous defense of Kissinger, and also a critique of Kissinger’s critics, among them Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens. Ferguson starts off very shakily, with a notably weak plea for leniency:

It would in fact be much easier to implicate a number of Kissinger’s predecessors in civilian bombings, coups d’état and support for murderous regimes. Unlike the case of Chile, to give a single example, there is no question that the Central Intelligence Agency had a direct hand in the coup that overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. It also played an active role in the subsequent campaign of violence against the Guatemalan Left. Many more people (around 200,000) died in this campaign than were “disappeared” in Chile after 1973 (2,279). In any case, Richard Nixon was not the first President to seek to influence Chilean domestic politics. Both of his immediate predecessors did so. Yet you will search the bookshops in vain for “The Trial of John Foster Dulles” or “The Trial of Dean Rusk”.

There are two responses to this. The first is that it is not a ringing defense of the former secretary of state (only 2,279 people killed under Pinochet!). And the second is that if someone did write a book about Guatemala called “The Trial of John Foster Dulles,” you can be absolutely sure that Niall Ferguson would be the first person to accuse the author of hyperventilating and reducing a “complicated” period in American history to a “naïve and simplistic” bill of wrongs.

Ferguson’s defense of Kissinger’s coziness with other third-world despots is not much more convincing:

In order to check Soviet ambitions in the Third World – the full extent of which we have only recently come to appreciate – some unpleasant regimes had to be tolerated, and indeed supported. Besides the various Latin American caudillos, the Saudi royal family, the Shah of Iran and the Pakistani military, these unpleasant regimes also included (though the Left seldom acknowledged it) the Maoist regime in Beijing, which was already guilty of many more violations of human rights than all the right-wing dictators put together when Kissinger flew there for the first time in July 1971.

Keep in mind that this paragraph comes directly after one praising the China “opening”--something he discusses without acknowledging that it was done through Pakistani back-channels while the Pakistani army was (with Kissinger's approval) committing genocide in Bangladesh. Still, even with recent revelations about Soviet policy in the Third World, is Ferguson really prepared to argue that we had to “tolerate” and “support” the Pakistani dictatorship and the Saudi Royal Family to the extent that we did? (Note, too, that Ferguson chooses not to mention Nixon/Kissinger policy in Indonesia and Cyprus).

Then there is this:

Yet the real revolution Kissinger had to achieve was not so much in the realm of grand strategy as in that of domestic politics. As he himself put it in one of the many “heartland speeches” he delivered in the US in 1975 and 1976, his underlying aim was “to end the self-flagellation that has done so much harm to this nation’s capacity to conduct foreign policy”. In this he was ultimately unsuccessful. Indeed, US self-flagellation reached its zenith during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

I've always thought you could tell a fair amount about someone by whether they became more agitated by unnecessary American wars that kill millions of people, or the sometimes excessive “self-flagellation” that follows those wars. Anyway, as far as I can tell, Ferguson’s point is that Kissinger grew admirably concerned with the side effects of policies he—Kissinger—advocated (no mention of Watergate in this paragraph, by the way). How admirable.

But now back to Ferguson’s original question—or, rather, accusation. Here’s Ferguson immediately after posing his query:

Nota bene: this is not to imply that his critics are anti-Semites. Some of the Rothschilds’ most fierce critics were also Jews. So are some of Kissinger’s.

One could say this doesn’t advance the issue one iota—but neither does the rest of the piece: The subject is not raised again until the last paragraph!

How far Kissinger’s Jewishness provides the real key to his inner motivations remains a matter for debate. (My own preference would be to see him as first and foremost a historian – one of the very select band of serious scholars of the past who end up actually making policy in the here and now.) But it certainly provides a part of the explanation for the vitriol that has come his way.

To make this accusation without one iota of supporting evidence certainly takes a fair amount of gumption. Unfortunately, it also turns what could have been a compelling article into something much more sinister.

Update: So why do I think Kissinger gets more attention than other architects of American foreign policy? Let me count the ways: He was Secretary of State to our most unpopular president, he helped prosecute our least popular war, he is--as a commenter points out--still alive today (unlike Dulles), he is beloved by much of the media and gets kid-glove treatment from the establishment, his list of questionable actions is particularly long and involves many, many countries, etc. His Jewishness does not, needless to say, make the cut.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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