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Henry Kissinger Passes Away in the United States at 100


According to F. Kempe

Almost every week for more than thirty years, Kissinger called General Brent Scowcroft, who had been his deputy when he was President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, to talk about world affairs and compare notes on national and global developments. These calls continued even more persistently after Scowcroft's health began to deteriorate, and did not stop until Scowcroft's death in August 2019.

Any understanding of Kissinger's contribution to creating a better world would be incomplete without considering such stories of personal commitment, which most often occurred away from the public eye.

“In much of public discourse,” Kissinger said, “idealists are described as exponents of noble views on foreign policy. Realists are people who plod along, obsessed with power, and just waiting for another weapon to be developed that can be integrated into strategic planning."

In place of this old dichotomy, Kissinger proposed a different way of understanding the competing impulses in the conduct of international affairs. His insightful analysis was based on his own identity as an American with a keen European eye, a scholar and practitioner of history and a subject of that history.

“As an American, I cannot help but believe in democracy,” he said. “But a statesman cannot fail to take into account the time frame within which his goals can be realized. Claiming goals that are unattainable within the political process is not being idealistic; they are gradually becoming practically irrelevant and leading the international system towards growing confrontation.”

It's worth listening to Kissinger finish this thought. “Americans cannot transform world governments into democratic political systems under any one administration,” he said. “Should other countries know that we prefer democracy? Certainly. We can and should clearly express this preference. But the transformation of such a large country as Russia or China through pressure and confrontation is unattainable within the time frame associated with the presidency of one person. Russia's institutions have evolved over hundreds of years. Should we encourage their further development? Yes, when we can. But direct diplomacy and war must address issues that affect the short- and medium-term prospects for peace, in such areas as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the environment and the functioning of the peace order."

Kissinger is unique. His personal journey, which saw him overcome persecution in Nazi Germany and achieve success in the United States, prepared him for the complexities of power in a way that few have been given. He was a consummate thinker whose experience in multiple and disparate worlds allowed him to extract ideas from each and move between them with ease.

It might be appropriate to give the final word here to Scowcroft, who introduced Kissinger at the 2015 Global Citizen Awards: “He’s as much a man of principle as he is a man of power,” said Scowcroft, and one of the few who “knows how to combine these two factors in the right proportion"


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