A new account of America's most controversial diplomat that moves beyond praise or condemnation to reveal Kissinger as the architect of America's current imperial stance
In his fascinating new book Kissinger's Shadow, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin argues that to understand the crisis of contemporary America—its never-ending wars abroad and political polarization at home—we have to understand Henry Kissinger.
Examining Kissinger's own writings, as well as a wealth of newly declassified documents, Grandin reveals how Richard Nixon's top foreign policy advisor, even as he was presiding over defeat in Vietnam and a disastrous, secret, and illegal war in Cambodia, was helping to revive a militarized version of American exceptionalism centered on an imperial presidency. Believing that reality could be bent to his will, insisting that intuition is more important in determining policy than hard facts, and vowing that past mistakes should never hinder future bold action, Kissinger anticipated, even enabled, the ascendance of the neoconservative idealists who took America into crippling wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Going beyond accounts focusing either on Kissinger's crimes or accomplishments, Grandin offers a compelling new interpretation of the diplomat's continuing influence on how the United States views its role in the world.
Assessing Henry Kissinger's impact on American foreign policy, Grandin (The Empire of Necessity) returns to the source of the man's political thought: his Harvard undergraduate thesis, "The Meaning of History." Within Kissinger's earliest writing Grandin finds the basis for his "imperial existentialism," a Spenglerian realpolitik that endorses action in order to resist decline and assert a nation's purpose. Beholden to no moral or ethical code and armed with a tragic sense of human history, Kissinger left academia to formulate a doctrine that prioritized instinct and will over empirical data and causality. Though his tactics proved ill-suited to winning either wars or allies, they did prove effective in winning elections, cementing Kissinger's position within the national security state. Grandin is unsparing in his criticism of Kissinger and his theories, but his aims go beyond polemic and towards resolving the contradiction of Kissinger's two legacies: one as the man who opened China, improved relations with the Soviets, and ended the 1973 Arab-Israeli War through shrewd shuttle diplomacy; the other as the architect of the illegal bombing campaigns in Cambodia, the invasion of Laos, and a series of destabilizing coups and assassinations. Reaganites criticized Kissinger, yet benefited from the national security state he formed. Grandin pinpoints that legitimization of interventionism as Kissinger's true bipartisan contribution to American politics. Ever the marvelous thinker, Grandin will have even the most ardent Kissinger foe enthralled.