Frontlines

Emperor Henry’s court

William Lowther September 10 1979
Frontlines

Emperor Henry’s court

William Lowther September 10 1979

Emperor Henry’s court

Frontlines

PORTRAIT

William Lowther

Henry Kissinger was showing off, which is one of the things he does best. Hands in pockets, the former secretary of state rolled back and forth on his feet and the Germanic monotone droned on to the heel-toe, heel-toe beat. He was the star speaker (how could he ever be less?) at an exclusive dinner given earlier this summer by the Washington press corps. Now, he was telling the story of his life. “I was born in the house that my father built . . . (heeltoe, heel-toe, pause) ... on the planet Krypton.”

Super-K. There is not another out-ofpower bureaucrat in the world today who could get away with a line like that. Brilliant and bellicose, internationally

prestigious and enormously influential, he continues to strut the globe preaching his own brand of foreign policy. More than 2 Vi years after he left the state department, kings and sheiks, presidents and prime ministers still seek his counsel. He is the highest paid ($15,000 a shot) and most-in-demand public speaker in America. And last week he was addressing NATO’s 30th anniversary conference in Brussels, influencing the policies of major nations, persuading, cajoling and no doubt captivating foreign leaders—most of whom fall over themselves to shake his hand.

It borders on the incredible that Kissinger, 56, who represents no one but himself, should command such mighty attention. Especially since his detractors and critics claim that he has told as many lies as Richard Nixon and committed war crimes on the scale of Ivan the Terrible. His secret has been, as it always was, to somehow balance on both sides of any argument. He has, for example, developed a close, if often tenuous, relationship with the Carter administration, while at the same time remaining the

chief unofficial for-^ eign policy spokesman for the Republicans. In so doing, he has made himself appear to be above politics,a statesman too big for party alliances.

As the 1980 presidential elections near, however, Kissinger’s career is likely to take a new turn. Should the senior senator from New York, Jacob Javits, decide not to stand again (he is in his 70s) then Kissinger might run for the seat to gain a power base on Capitol Hill. Or he may court the leading Republican presidential candidate and offer himself as foreign policy adviser. Should his man win, he would have a chance of being secretary of state again—something he would dearly love.

In fact, there is only one job he wants more than the state department, and that is simply not available to him. Under the U.S. Constitution one must be born in the United States to run for president. “Of course, if the people insisted, I could become emperor—there’s nothing in the constitution to stop that,” he deadpans.

But the adulation would not come from all sides. Recently, for example, his vaunted reputation has been taking a beating from a book written by respected British journalist William Shawcross, 31-year-old son of Sir Hartley Shawcross, the lawyer who represented Britain at the Nuremberg trials. Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia is based on 20,000 pages of information procured from the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the book, Kissinger and Nixon conspired to falsify reports of the American bombing of Cambodia. Because he allegedly pushed for the illegal and illicit bombing, Kissinger is said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Not long ago, a Carter White House aide, who was in the U.S. embassy in Hanoi at the time of the bombings, told Maclean’s: “If there is any justice at all Henry Kissinger will spend an eternity roasting in hell.”

And Shawcross now says: “I think it’s extraordinary that the American public has strangely divorced Kissinger from Nixon. Nixon is the bad guy who is responsible for Cambodia and Watergate, but Kissinger is the brilliant statesman who somehow was unfortunately associated with Nixon but who, nevertheless, still remains pure. It just ain’t true. They are two peas from the same pod.”

There have been other sinister allegations recently. Columnist Jack Anderson has been hinting that some of the foreign leaders Kissinger helped—most notably the Shah of Iran—were encouraged to do business with the Chase Manhattan Bank, which is controlled by the Rockefeller family. Kissinger is a Rockefeller protégé; he owes the family much. Both Senator Daniel Moynihan, former ambassador to the United Nations, and former Nixon speech writer William Safire (now a New York Times columnist) say they have evidence that Kissinger told packs of lies while in the government. Safire has also accused Kissinger of being involved in the wiretapping of some of his best friends, and then “constantly lying about it.” Kissinger brushes such criticisms off by labelling them “totally unfounded, twisted and warped for political purposes.” The first volume of his memoirs—due next month—is expected to rebut the charges in detail.

In person, Kissinger’s flair, panache and style seem to go a long way toward dispersing the clouds of suspicion which darkened his deportment in government. Long before he arrived to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty last month, the hearing room was jammed with tourists and sightseers. Many waited two hours or more just to glimpse him. Every visitor questioned by Maclean ’s said it was better than seeing the president, and Senator Alan Cranston, the Democrat from California, even said “Good morning, your excellency.”

In his hours of testimony, Kissinger gave the committee his guarded approval of SALT II. The treaty was acceptable, he said, provided that the U.S. agrees to increase its forces to match Soviet might and links the treaty with conditions to stop Moscow from expanding its influence in other countries.

Some historians now believe that Kissinger’s most important role as secretary of state was to personify American policy and strength during the disintegration of the Nixon presidency and the establishment of the Ford period. As The New York Times put it: “He held off the Russians during Watergate.” Kissinger sees his own greatest contributions to foreign policy in the détente with Russia, including the first and so far the only strategic arms agreement between the two superpowers; the new friendship with China and the creation of a triangular balance of power; the de-escalation and ultimately the end of the American involvement in Indochina; and the beginning of Middle East peace talks after the 1973 war.

In many ways the achievements remain remarkable, although Vietnam is

still seen by American liberals as a Kissinger stain—a moral gash—that no amount of whitewash can cover. It worries him greatly and friends say that he begins to look older, instantly tired, when the subject comes up. “The basic problem was that we came into office and we found 550,000 Americans in combat 10,000 miles away—in a war that had already taken over 30,000 lives. From the first day, we attempted to disengage from the war. We withdrew troops unilaterally. We made proposal after proposal. The one proposal we would not accept is that we would install a Communist government on the territory of an ally. That was the one irreducible demand. The fate of the peoples of Indochina under Communist rule suggests that those who tried to prevent that from happening were not guided by some ignoble purpose.”

Henry Kissinger arrived in New York in 1938, a penniless, 15-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany. Today he is on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.

His memoirs are expected to earn him $5 million. He makes about 10 paid speeches a year for an estimated $150,000. He holds academic positions at a university and a think tank. He is a consultant to several companies, and he keeps strong ties with the Rockefellers, acting as adviser and host to some of their top international business clients.

He divides his time between the house in Washington’s exclusive Georgetown district, where he lives with his wife Nancy, and a four-bed-

room Manhattan apartment they own overlooking the East River. Two of the bedrooms are reserved for the visits of Kissinger’s son and daughter by his first marriage.

For the moment, Kissinger’s main worry is an upcoming decision by the Supreme Court on whether or not he owns the transcripts of his phone conversations from the eight years he spent between the White House (as national security adviser) and the state department. He claims they are personal documents, while the federal government says they belong in the archives, where they would be public property. A few of the transcripts have already leaked and it’s obvious that they would be extremely embarrassing for him. The perfect diplomat and negotiator during official sessions, he had a viper’s tongue in what he thought were private conversations. For example, it’s known that Kissinger told Nixon to his face that he thought he was “very clever,” then behind his back he would gossip about Nixon’s instability, his loneliness and his “meatball mind.” It’s all in the transcripts, along with much more significant information about Cuba and Cambodia and the Middle East.

In one talk, with Shirley Temple Black, the former child movie star who became ambassador to Ghana, he was discussing a trip to Africa. “Come on the 23rd of April,” Black urged. “It’s my birthday.”

“You are a Taurus,” noted Kissinger.

“That’s why I’m so pushy,” she replied.

“I am a Gemini,” said Kissinger. “That means I am two-faced.”^