Are Kissinger's Critics Anti-Semitic?

[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).

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

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