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Madman diplomacy

By Dr George Venturini

Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.

In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”

The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.

Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Five. Here is the link to Part Four; ‘Consigliere’.


Kissinger, like many of the American presidents he advised – and particularly Nixon – had a myopic affinity for strongmen: the Shah of Iran, for instance, and Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos.

A student at Harvard and later on a devotee of Klemens von Metternich, the 19th-century Austrian statesman, Kissinger was a practitioner of the “realist” (or Realpolitik) school of diplomacy, which places emphasis on the state’s interests and the use of military power to achieve them; he preferred to deal with the strong leaders of nation-states who could deliver.

A favoured quotation of his runs like this: “There are two kinds of realists; those who manipulate facts and those who create them. The West requires nothing so much as men able to create their own reality.” He thought of himself as that kind of realist – a ‘creator of reality’. He would find a superb imitator in today’s America.

Kissinger never missed the opportunity of accusing the Kennedy administration of complicity in the 1963 overthrow of South Vietnam’s leader General Ngo Dinh Diem, which conferred legitimacy on the North Vietnamese claim that the South Vietnamese government was illegitimate. It should be noted that Ngo Dinh Diem was a staunchly anticommunist Vietnamese ‘statesman’ who had refused to ally with Ho Chi Minh after the Franco-Vietnamese war. With the support of the United States, Diem led South Vietnam from 1954 to 1963, when he was assassinated alongside his brother in a military coup.

Kissinger makes almost no mention of the American lives lost while he and Nixon sought “peace with honour”, and none of the fact that the U.S. pursuit of what many saw as a patently hopeless cause may have damaged American standing in the rest of the world as much as an earlier end to the war would have.

All this is unimportant to Kissinger.

Kissinger is dismissive of leading Senate opponents of the war, including J. William Fulbright, John Sherman Cooper, Mark Hatfield and Mike Mansfield. He treats them as so many misguided pests. He describes the Congress elected in 1974, following Watergate criminal scandal and Nixon’s forced resignation, as the “McGovernite congress”. (Sen. George Stanley McGovern was the American historian, author who had been the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1972 presidential election. He lost to Nixon, thus winning Kissinger’s ostentatious contempt).

In a book of 640 pages there is no mention of Nixon’s “enemies list”; of the White House’s hiring a criminal squad – “the plumbers” – to carry out break-ins; or of Kissinger’s supplying names to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to place wiretaps on his own aides and on journalists, to trace leaks about the war.

A recent book, Nixon’s nuclear specter: The secret alert of 1969, madman diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 2015), throws light on the most extraordinary example of ‘Kissinger diplomacy’. Written by William Burr, Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive and Jeffrey P. Kimball, professor emeritus at Miami University, the book shows in great detail how Richard Nixon, counselled by Kissinger, believed that they could compel “the other side” to back down during crises in Vietnam, as well as in the Middle East, by “push[ing] so many chips into the pot” that Nixon would seem ‘crazy’ enough to “go much further.” The meaning of that expression is clarified by the newly declassified documents – twenty three of them, and some in multiple parts – published on 29 May 2015 by the National Security Archive.

The documents include a 1972 Kissinger memorandum of conversation in which Kissinger explains to Defense Department official Gardner Tucker that Nixon’s strategy was exactly as just quoted.

Inspired by Kissinger, Nixon’s ‘madman strategy’ during the Vietnam war included veiled nuclear threats intended to intimidate Hanoi and its supporters in Moscow. Kissinger thus found a way to put into practice the violation of national sovereignty and bloodshed in philosophical theory that he studied for his Ph.D. and later taught as a Harvard academic.

On the occasion of the publication of his recent work, Kissinger’s shadow, professor Greg Grandin, a historian at New York University, observed this much:

“Conventional wisdom has Kissinger as the supreme political realist, a realpolitiker, which means a few things: a willingness to deal with the world as it is, rather than how it should be; a belief that the “truth” of the reality is derived from a simple observation of the facts of reality; and a belief that American military and diplomatic power should service American interests. But, in fact, Kissinger believes in none of those things. Thinking about Henry Kissinger helps us think about American power because Kissinger, more than any other postwar policy maker and defense intellectual, was extremely aware of his philosophical influences, and through his career he constantly tried to justify his policies by referencing those influences. Starting with his 1950 undergraduate thesis, which I dive into in the book, Kissinger reveals himself to be a radical existentialist, a radical subjectivist. He believed that reality existed, but humans had no access to it other than through action, and that whatever meaning or truth we took from that reality was based on our lonely, individual experience.

I realize that’s a bit abstract, but the larger point I make in the book is that a consideration of Kissinger helps us situate the adventurism of George Bush’s neocons in a longer history. They weren’t an anomaly but rather reflected a deeper current in America’s imperial political culture. An implied argument of the book is that American Exceptionalism is founded on a deep, anti-rational, will-to-power subjectivism – a subjectivism that can be found in Kissinger (as that quote reveals, the idea great men “make” reality) and in the neocons. Remember that great quote by a Bush staffer given to the journalist Ron Suskind in 2004, a staffer many believe was Karl Rove: Studying “discernible reality” was not the way the world worked any more, Rove said: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors …” The quote circulated widely, interpreted as the blind ideology of the Bush administration taken to its conceited conclusion, the idea that reality itself could bend to neocon will.” (Mark Karlin, ‘Millions died because Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War for years after betraying peace treaty’, interview 8 November 2015, Truthout).

Of course, there was nothing new: Kissinger had written something like that more than four decades earlier.

With ‘madman diplomacy’, Nixon and Kissinger strove to end the Vietnam war on the most favourable terms possible in the shortest period of time practicable, an effort which culminated in a secret global nuclear alert in October of 1969. Carried out between 13 and 30 October the manoeuvre involved military operations around the world: the continental United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Sea of Japan. The operations included strategic bombers, tactical air, and a variety of naval operations, from movements of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines to the shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading towards Haiphong.

Nixon and Kissinger let it be known that the United States was considering a mining readiness test intended to signal Hanoi that the United States was preparing to mine Haiphong harbour and the coast of North Vietnam. It was named ‘Duck hook’; the plan had been drafted in July 1969 as a mining-only operation, but soon evolved into a mining-and-bombing,’ shock-and-awe’ plan – à la Baghdad 2003 – scheduled to be launched in early November, but which Nixon aborted in October, substituting the global nuclear alert in its place. The failure of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s 1969 ‘Madman diplomacy’ marked a turning point in their initial exit strategy of winning a favourable armistice agreement by the end of the year 1969.

Three years would pass and by 1972 Nixon had been able to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam to 150,000.

However, according to the Pentagon, between the first Lyndon Johnson bombing halt in March 1968 and the same date in 1972 the casualty of the insane war were the following: Americans 31,205, South Vietnamese 86,101, ‘Enemy’ 475,609.

The Unites States Senate subcommittee on Refugees estimated that in the same four- year period more than three million civilians were killed, injured or rendered homeless. During the same four-year period, the United States dropped almost 4,500,000 tonnes of high explosive on Indochina. The Pentagon also estimated the total tonnage dropped in entire second world war as 2,044,000. Needless to say, this destruction does not include the massive spraying of chemical defoliants and pesticides, the effects of which are still being registered by the region’s ecology. Nor does it include the land-mines which detonate to this day.

Kissinger, meanwhile, began to negotiate with senior Viet Cong official Lê Đức Thọ at secret meetings in Paris. Lê Đức Thọ had served as special adviser to the North Vietnamese delegation. He eventually became North Vietnamese leader in these talks. As the talks progressed, Lê Đức Thọ became increasingly stubborn and finally refused to negotiate, forcing Nixon and Kissinger again to change their strategy. They decided to try to improve relations with Communist China – which was not on good terms with the Soviet Union – to use as a bargaining chip to intimidate both the U.S.S.R. and North Vietnam.

Nixon and Kissinger thus began secret talks with China. This warming of relations culminated with Nixon’s high-profile visit to China in February and March 1972. As expected, the Soviet Union, concerned with the improved U.S.-China relations, moved to bargain as well. Nixon therefore visited the U.S.S.R. in May 1972.

Nixon’s trip to China succeeded in giving him an advantage in negotiations with North Vietnam. When the North Vietnamese Army crossed the demilitarised zone and entered South Vietnam in March 1972, Nixon authorised an intense bombing campaign of Hanoi – without fear of repercussion from Moscow or Beijing. On 23 August 1972 the last American ground combat troops departed Vietnam, leaving behind only a small number of military advisors – the last of whom left in March 1973. As the presidential elections of 1972 approached, Nixon clearly had the upper hand: he had warmed relations with China and the U.S.S.R., reduced the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam from 500,000 to 30,000, and halted a major North Vietnamese Army advance. And he defeated antiwar Democrat George McGovern in a landslide.

When Kissinger’s negotiations continued to be hindered by North Vietnamese obstinacy, Nixon became frustrated and authorised the ‘Christmas bombing’, an intense bombing campaign of North Vietnam to pressure the country to end the war in late December 1972. The pressure worked, and Kissinger and North Vietnamese officials finally announced a cease-fire in January 1973.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nixon pledged to withdraw all remaining military personnel from Vietnam and allow the tens of thousands of North Vietnamese Army troops in South Vietnam to remain there, despite the fact that they controlled a quarter of South Vietnamese territory. However, Nixon promised to intervene if North Vietnam had moved against the South. In exchange, North Vietnam promised that elections would be held to determine the fate of the entire country. Nixon kept insisting that the agreement brought “peace with honour,” but South Vietnamese leaders complained that the terms amounted to little more than a surrender for South Vietnam.

In July 1973 the American Congress and the American public learned the full extent of the secret U.S. military campaigns in Cambodia. Testimony in congressional hearings revealed that Nixon and the military had been secretly bombing Cambodia heavily since 1969, even though the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff had repeatedly denied the charge. When the news broke, Nixon switched tactics and began bombing Cambodia openly despite extreme public disapproval.

Angry, Congress-members mustered enough votes to pass the November 1973 War Powers Resolution over Nixon’s veto. The resolution restricted presidential powers during wartime by requiring the president to notify Congress upon launching any U.S. military action abroad. If Congress did not approve of the action, it would have to conclude within sixty to ninety days. In effect, this act made the president accountable to Congress for his actions abroad. Congress also ended the draft in 1973 and stipulated that the military henceforth consist solely of paid volunteers. Both the War Powers Resolution and the conversion to an all-volunteer army helped quiet antiwar protesters.

Despite Nixon’s landslide re-election victory, his days in office were numbered; on top of the uproar over the Cambodia bombings, the Watergate scandal had broken in late 1972. In short, Nixon had approved a secret burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., prior to the election, but the burglars were caught. Evidence surfaced that Nixon had authorised illegal measures to discredit prominent Democratic opponents and other people on his personal ‘enemies list.’ Ultimately, when it became clear that Nixon himself had broken the law by covering up the scandal, many in the United States began calling for his impeachment.

As the Watergate scandal began to envelop Nixon, North Vietnamese Communist leader Lê Duẩn assumed correctly that the United States would not likely intervene in Vietnam, despite Nixon’s earlier promises to the contrary. As a result, North Vietnamese troops began to move into South Vietnam in 1974. Nixon resigned in disgrace in August 1974 and was replaced by Vice President Gerald R. Ford.

Any hope Ford might have had to salvage Vietnam evaporated in September 1974, when Congress refused to approve sufficient funding for the South Vietnamese army. By the beginning of 1975, defeat was imminent. North Vietnamese forces launched a massive offensive in the spring of 1975, forcing the South Vietnamese troops to retreat. On 30 April 1975 Saigon was liberated by the North Vietnamese, all of Vietnam was united under Communist rule, and the Vietnam war was over.

The cost in human lives was enormous: it resulted in the deaths of between 1,156,000 and 3,207,000 Vietnamese, some 273,000 Cambodians, and between 28,000 and 115,000 Laotians.

American casualties were 58,315 killed in action; 153,303 wounded in action; 1,614 missed in action. Of the 776-778 taken prisoners, some 114-116 died in captivity.

Involved on a lie by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in April 1965, Australia participated in the war and lost 426 killed in action, while 74 died of other causes; 3,129 were wounded in action; 6 were taken prisoner and repatriated.

In the end, Vietnam was the catalyst for Richard Nixon’s self-induced disgrace. And it broke the three other United States leaders most associated with it: Johnson; his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara; and – in a way – Henry Kissinger. In a way only, because Kissinger went on to sell his name, strategic advice and access to foreign leaders, and because many political figures, businessmen and members of the news media still consider him an oracle.

There is a respectable view that the consequences of that Kissinger-Nixon enterprise are still felt in the United States.

As professor Grandin said in the already-mentioned interview, “Kissinger is also unique in that nearly every other postwar policy maker and foreign policy intellectual of his stature, such as Arthur Schlesinger, George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, and Reinhold Niebuhr, eventually became critical, some extremely so, of American power. By 1957, Kennan was arguing for “disengagement” from the Cold War and by 1982 he was describing the Reagan administration as “ignorant, unintelligent, complacent and arrogant.”

Vietnam provoked Schlesinger to advocate stronger legislative power to rein in what in 1973 he would call the ‘imperial presidency.’ Not Kissinger. At every single one of America’s postwar turning points, moments of crisis when men of good will began to express doubts about American power, Kissinger broke in the opposite direction. He made his peace with Nixon, whom he first thought was unhinged; then with Ronald Reagan, whom he initially considered hollow; and then with George W. Bush’s neocons, despite the fact that they all rose to power attacking Kissinger. The cliché goes that in the exception, one finds the rule, which I never really understood until I started studying Kissinger: his singularity as an individual helps illuminate the larger and steady drift to the right of the US, from the 1960s to this day.”

In the already mentioned interview of professor Grandin, Mark Karlin wondered:

“In your concluding sentences, you write that Kissinger has never lost his … value [to the Washington ruling order], especially when it comes to justifying war … And after Kissinger himself is gone, one imagines Kissingerism will endure as well.”

To which Grandin responded:

“That is indeed an ominous prediction given that many critics argue that he is a war criminal. How has he managed to cultivate the image of a ‘statesman’ when so many of his policies resulted in horrific carnage, sometimes grisly torture, and frequent failure, not to mention that he is an inveterate liar – and he made a fortune through Kissinger Associates without separating his role as advisor to ongoing administrations from the interests of many of his clients?

To the degree that Kissingerism is a weaponized version of Americanism, I fear it isn’t going away. Look, last year when promoting his book World Order, Kissinger responded to questions about his bombing of Cambodia and his overthrow of democracy in Chile by pointing to Obama. No difference, he said, existed between what he did with B-52s in Cambodia and what the president was doing with drones in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Chile? Look at what Obama did in Libya, he said, and what he wants to do in Syria. [Emphasis added]

It’s easy to dismiss such a defense, but, frankly, Kissinger is right in his assertion that many of the political arguments he made in the late 1960s to justify his illegal and covert wars in Cambodia, considered at the time way beyond mainstream thinking, are now an unquestioned, very public part of American policymaking. This was especially true of the notion that Washington has the right to violate the sovereignty of a neutral country to destroy enemy ‘sanctuaries.’ “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Barack Obama has said, offering Kissinger his retroactive absolution.

It’s a perfect expression of American militarism’s unending carousal. Kissinger invokes today’s endless, open-ended wars to justify his diplomacy by air power in Cambodia and elsewhere nearly half a century ago. But what he did then created the conditions for today’s endless wars, both those started by Bush’s neocons and those waged by Obama’s war-fighting liberals like Samantha Power.

Look, just this week [early November 2015], Barack Obama announced that U.S. troops wouldn’t be leaving Afghanistan any time soon and he has also just announced a deeper commitment to fighting ISIS, including the sending of the first U.S. ground personnel into that country. And a new book by New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, Power Wars, suggests that there has been little substantive difference between George W. Bush’s administration and Obama’s when it comes to national-security policies or the legal justifications used to pursue policies of regime change in the Greater Middle East.

That’s what I mean that after Kissinger himself is gone, Kissingerism will live on.” (Mark Karlin, ‘Millions died because Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War for years after betraying peace treaty’, interview 8 November 2015, Truthout,…)

Kissinger was Secretary of State between 22 September 1973 and 20 January 1977.

On 8 July 1982 a New York Foreign Business Corporation was set up and registered: Kissinger Associates, Inc., after loans had been secured from Goldman Sachs and a consortium of three other banks. These loans were repaid in two years.

Not much is known about it in addition to what is collected at chapter 10 of Hitchens’ book. The chapter is titled: ‘Afterword : the profit margin.’

Discretion is the name of the game, and that is understandable, considering that the main purpose of the corporation is that of ‘facilitating contact’ between multinational corporations and governments, both foreign and American.

Needless to say there is not knowing which are the clients but it is known that a contract with ‘the Associates’ contains a clause prohibiting any mention of the arrangements passing between them.

So one is left with what is on public sources – and the rest to guessing.

Clients of ‘the Associates’ seem to have been from the beginning, as mentioned by Hitchens (in Roman):

American Express

American International Group – Director, International Advisory Committee (Argentina, China and South Korea)

Anheuser-Bush, since 2008 a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev

Atlantic Richfield

Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, (The bank was involved in Iraqgate because in 1989 its Atlanta, Georgia branch was making unauthorised loans of more than US $4.5 billion to Iraq. Many of the loans that the branch made were guaranteed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation programme)

Chase Manhattan Bank, (the Rockefellers bank), since 2000 known as JPMorgan Chase – Chairman, International Advisory Committee

The Coca-Cola Company

Daewoo of South Korea, up to 2001, when it became General Motors or GM Korea

Fiat, known since 2014 as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV

Freeport-McMoRan, (already noted in East Timor/Timor Leste) – Director (Burma, Indonesia, Panama)

H.J. Heinz, (Ivory Coast, Turkey, Zimbabwe)

Hollinger, Inc. – Director

International Telephone & Telegraph (the corporation which was ‘assisted’ by Kissinger in the Chilean coup of 1973)

Lockheed, known since 1995 as Lockheed Martin

Merck & Co, Inc.

Midland Bank, taken over in 1992 by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation

Revlon Inc.

Shearson Lehman Brothers, Inc., later Lehman Brothers, with Kissinger (once with McLarty) Assoc. listed as a creditor in the Bankruptcy Filings.

Union Carbide Corporation, since 2001 a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company

Volvo cars, since 2010 it has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Geely of China

Warburg Pincus, LLC, an American private equity firm with offices in the United States, Europe, Brazil, China and India.

The list is awfully incomplete: missing, for instance, is Freeport McMoRan, which in 1989 paid Kissinger Associates a retainer of US$ 200,000 and fee of US$ 600,000, not to mention a promise of a 2 per cent commission on future earnings. (C. Hitchens, The trial of Henry Kissinger, Text, Melbourne 2001 at 124)

Other clients might have arrived later and they are recorded in italics in the preceding list, in some cases with the indication of the country/countries in which they operate.

Kissinger’s initial fellow ‘associates’ were General Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, both of whom had worked closely in the foreign policy and national security branches of the United States Government. Just about every other ‘fellow’ had had a connection with government and/or large financial institutions.

Off-and-on some well-known public figures have been connected with the firm. Among them one should mention:

Paul Bremer, former managing director. Former Iraq Director of Reconstruction

Nelson Cunningham, political advisor and managing partner at Kissinger McLarty

Lawrence Eagleburger, former United States Secretary of State

Richard W. Fisher – President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Timothy F. Geithner – former United States Secretary of Treasury

Jami Miscik – President and vice chairman. Deputy Director for Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency

Joshua Cooper Ramo – Managing Director, former senior editor of Time Magazine

Bill Richardson, former senior managing director, former U.S diplomat and immediate past Governor of New Mexico

Stapleton Roy, vice-chairman, Senior U.S. diplomat

Brent Scowcroft, former vice-chairman. Former United States National Security Advisor.

Among the directors and former directors one would find:

Lord Carrington, from 1982, former Secretary-General of N.A.T.O.

Étienne Davignon, former European Commissioner

Gary Falle, Falle Strategies

Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, from 1982, former Chairman, Volvo

Saburo Okita, former Japanese Foreign Minister

William D. Rogers, from 1982, former Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs under President Ford

Eric Roll, from 1984, Chairman S. G. Warburg & Co

William E. Simon, from 1984. former Secretary of the Treasury under President Nixon and Ford.

The secrecy of the corporate client list has caused some problems where Kissinger or a member of his staff were called to public service. In 1989, for instance, President George H.W. Bush nominated Lawrence Eagleburger as his Deputy Secretary of State. Congress required that Eagleburger disclose the names of 16 clients, with some of which he was connected through his Kissinger Associates affiliation. Later, Kissinger himself was appointed chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States by President George W. Bush. Congressional Democrats insisted that Kissinger disclose the names of clients. Kissinger and President Bush claimed that such disclosures were not necessary, but Kissinger ultimately stepped down, citing conflicts of interest, mainly because he did not wish to disclose his financial affairs.

Next installment Saturday: War criminal?

Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at


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