Death of Henry Kissinger: the gray areas of an eminence grise

Henry Kissinger's all-consuming need to influence world affairs could not come to an abrupt end in 1977, when he was forced to step down as White House advisor following the election of Jimmy Carter

Death of Henry Kissinger: the gray areas of an eminence grise

Henry Kissinger's all-consuming need to influence world affairs could not come to an abrupt end in 1977, when he was forced to step down as White House advisor following the election of Jimmy Carter. The former Secretary of State died on Wednesday November 29 at the age of 100.

For four decades, in Washington and on all continents, he continued to pose as a man of influence, dispensing his geopolitical analyzes and strategic advice through multiple networks, linking official functions and private missions, multiplying conferences, books and press articles. However, by dint of playing the gray power, of justifying the relevance of his recommendations by his past diplomatic successes, “Dr Kissinger” exposed himself to the risk of seeing the gray areas of his past catch up with him.

As early as 1975, the American Senate committee, chaired by Frank Church, revealed its role in the fall of Salvador Allende's regime in favor of the Pinochet dictatorship, in Chile, in 1973. In 2000, the declassification of the archives on these events substantiated these accusations. In his book published in 2001, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Ed. Saint-Simon, journalist Christopher Hitchens accuses him of war crimes, not only in Latin America, but also in Cambodia ( for the bombings from 1969 to 1973).

Several magistrates, in Chile, Argentina and France, sought – in vain – to hear the former Secretary of State who, as a result, was forced to remove certain countries from his conference tours. He thus hastily left France in May 2001 after receiving a summons from judge Roger Le Loire, who was investigating the “Condor” plan to eliminate opponents of Latin American dictatorships.

Conversations recorded at the White House and revealed in 2013 leave no doubt. “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Henry Kissinger threatened in 1970, after Allende’s election. From Greece to Thailand and from the Philippines to Argentina, the fear of communism and the defense of American economic interests mobilized the head of American diplomacy more than democracy. True to himself, he never stopped defending China against those in favor of sanctions targeting its human rights abuses.

The phoenix of diplomacy

This in no way prevented him from pursuing his academic, editorial and political career. Teaching at Georgetown University from 1977, he founded in 1982, in New York, a very lucrative consulting firm serving large private companies (Exxon Mobil, American Express) and governments. Once an advisor to the Venezuelan government (1990), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Crédit Lyonnais (1994) and Walt Disney (1997), Henry Kissinger never lost his privileged access to the White House. Until the end, he remained an “insider”. Each president has consulted him, both to validate his orientations and to neutralize a character with a sharp tongue, fond of the media.

Ronald Reagan gave him a commission on Central America; the Democrat Clinton asked him for advice before abandoning any link between commercial advantages and human rights in China. The proximity was maximum with George W. Bush, who appointed him chairman of the commission of inquiry into September 11. In December 2002, Mr. Kissinger resigned after the press, suspecting conflicts of interest, requested in vain the list of his clients. In 2006, Washington Post star reporter Bob Woodward reported in detail on President Bush's repeated conversations with "dear Henry," who encouraged the war in Iraq. “Victory over the insurgency is the only serious exit strategy,” he proclaimed then. Three decades earlier, he had advised Nixon to massively bomb North Vietnam.

The phoenix of diplomacy will, however, undoubtedly remain for history the architect of "détente", because his diplomatic talent went hand in hand with an ability to erase the controversial aspects of his political life, including the fact that he he had never confronted the voters, preferring to revel in multiplying the barbs towards the personalities who had dared to do without his enlightenment.