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Veteran USA politician Henry Kissinger leaves a legacy of diplomacy and controversy

By Esther Muhozi
On 30 November 2023 at 08:30

Henry Kissinger, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 100, embodied U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as secretary of state under both presidents, receiving acclaim for his diplomatic achievements but also sparking controversy due to his pragmatic political worldview. The announcement of his death came from his consulting firm, with no specific cause disclosed.

Renowned as a scholar, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and a notable refugee in the United States, Kissinger attained cultural icon status, inspiring numerous biographies, both favorable and critical, and even becoming a subject of satire by groups like Monty Python.

As a conservative intellectual, Kissinger played a pivotal role in orchestrating diplomatic successes, such as the historic rapprochement with China and detente with the Soviet Union. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam for their efforts to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. His influence extended to the Middle East, where he negotiated the 1975 Sinai Accord between Egypt and Israel and engaged in "shuttle diplomacy" to advance broader Arab-Israeli peace initiatives.

Despite his global achievements, Kissinger remained a controversial figure, with critics accusing him of allowing carpet-bombing in Cambodia, supporting Pakistan’s crackdown on Bangladesh, and not doing enough to intervene in Argentina’s campaign against dissidents.

Early life

Born Heinz Kissinger in Furth, Germany, he arrived in the United States in 1938 at the age of 15 as his family fled Nazi persecution. Embracing English as the family language, Heinz adopted the name Henry and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. During World War II, he returned to Europe as a member of the U.S. Army’s 84th Infantry Division, an experience he reflected on with pride.

After the war, Kissinger utilized the G.I. Bill attended Harvard, obtaining his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. His perspective on foreign policy was significantly influenced by his escape from Nazi Germany, and he became known for his "realpolitik" approach, prioritizing practical diplomatic decisions over moral frameworks.
White House Roles

Following consultancy roles in earlier administrations, Kissinger joined the White House in 1969 during the Nixon administration. He served as national security adviser and later as secretary of state, continuing in the latter role under President Gerald Ford. His close collaboration with President Nixon was a key factor in their foreign policy successes.

Controversies

Despite his accomplishments, Kissinger faced criticism, particularly for his actions during the Vietnam War. He kept U.S. bombings of Cambodia and Laos secret, contributing to the escalation of the conflict. Criticism also centered on secret negotiations with North Vietnam, with accusations that these talks prolonged the war. Kissinger’s involvement in conflicts worldwide, including in Angola and Chile, further fueled controversy.

Post White House

After leaving government service, Kissinger continued as an international consultant, lecturer, and prolific author, publishing over a dozen books. His final work, "Leadership," was released at the age of 99. He remained active in discussing foreign affairs, causing a stir in May 2022 by suggesting at the World Economic Forum that Ukraine should cede territory for peace with Russia.

Survived by his second wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1974, Kissinger leaves behind a legacy that includes two children from his first marriage, Ann Fleischer, and five grandchildren.

Henry Kissinger passed away on Wednesday at the age of 100.

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