In his 99th year and with his 19th book, Henry A. Kissinger repeats the same deceitful accounts regarding his dangerous use of military power, including nuclear threats. In the 1970s as the national security adviser and secretary of state for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger occupied an unusually powerful position in the national security arena. His newest book, “Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy,” is valuable because of his experiences in the political and academic communities, but it must be read carefully in view of the self-aggrandizing nature of his self-promotion.
Kissinger, who believed in the possibility of limited nuclear war in the 1950s, favored the use of a nuclear card in the war between India and Pakistan in 1971, and the October War in the Middle East in 1973. On an earlier occasion, in 1970, when the Nixon administration was faced with a threat about the Soviet construction of a submarine repair facility in Cuba, Kissinger wanted to send a strong military signal to the Soviets. Nixon wisely said, “I think we can resolve this with diplomacy.” Nixon was right.
The following year, during the Indian-Pakistan War, Kissinger feared that the Soviet Union would use the war to “move against” the Chinese and that if “we don’t do anything, we’ll be finished.” Nixon wanted to know if Kissinger meant that we should “start lobbing nuclear weapons in, is that what you mean?” Kissinger made it clear that he meant must just that, referring to it as the “final showdown.” (I was an intelligence analyst at the Department of State in the early 1970s, a period when Kissinger and his director of the Bureau of Intelligence, William Hyland, were convinced that the Soviets were prepared to go to war against China. There was no intelligence to support their obsession.)
The White House tapes reveal both Nixon and Kissinger at their worst during the crisis in South Asia. In addition to Nixon’s typical vulgarity and his contempt for Indian President Indira Gandhi, the president told Kissinger that the Indians needed a “mass famine.” Kissinger sneered at people who “bleed” for the Bengalis of East Pakistan. Nixon and Kissinger moved to gratuitously deploy an aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal, which angered the Pentagon because of the danger of escalation and caused a great deal of nervousness throughout the military chain of command. They also approved a covert supply of sophisticated U.S. fighter aircraft via Jordan and Iran, despite explicit warnings from the Department of State and the Department of Defense that such arms transfers to Pakistan were illegal under U.S. law.
Like his earlier memoirs, Kissinger says almost nothing about the slaughter of Bengalis in East Pakistan, insisting that Pakistan’s atrocities were “clearly under its domestic jurisdiction.” He also sanitizes Nixon’s racial animus toward Indians, and makes no mention of the unusual “dissent cable” that was signed by 20 foreign service officers who condemned Kissinger’s willingness to ignore the “selective genocide” that was taking place in East Pakistan. Kissinger mocked the cable’s author, Archer Blood, the U.S. Consul General in Dacca, as a “coward.”
It is noteworthy that in a conversation with Nixon regarding Soviet Jews, Kissinger displayed a similar lack of concern about the plight of Soviet Jews and remarked that “if the Soviets put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Nixon agreed: “I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it.” Nixon and Kissinger catered to the world’s dictators in Brazil, Greece, Portugal, Indonesia, Iran, Spain, and South Korea, and in the case of Pakistan, they catered to that country’s murderous generals.
The October War found Kissinger essentially in charge of national security policy. These were the worst days of the Watergate crisis for Richard Nixon, and his use of anti-depressants and alcohol often placed him hors de combatin the fall of 1973. This was certainly true on the evening of October 24, when Kissinger illegally called a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) and elevated the nuclear alert system to DefCon III, signifying a serious crisis short of preparing for nuclear war. The National Security Act of 1947 explicitly states that only the president or the vice president could run an NSC meeting, although the president could provide written authorization for another individual to chair the meeting. Nixon was not at the meeting just before midnight, and General Al Haig refused Kissinger’s request to awaken the president. Gerald Ford had not been confirmed as vice president; he was not at the meeting. There is no record of any written authorization.
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