Debacle, Inc.: How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our ‘Proliferated’ World

By Greg Grandin, who teaches history at New York University and is the author of Fordlandia, The Empire of Necessity, which won the Bancroft Prize in American history, and, most recently, Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman. Originally published at TomDispatch

The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon’s national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger’s job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the “king of kings.”

Reading the diplomatic record, it’s hard not to imagine his weariness as he prepared for his sessions with the Shah, considering just what gestures and words would be needed to make it clear that his majesty truly mattered to Washington, that he was valued beyond compare. “Let’s see,” an aide who was helping Kissinger get ready for one such meeting said, “the Shah will want to talk about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the Kurds, and Brezhnev.”

During another prep, Kissinger was told that “the Shah wants to ride in an F-14.” Silence ensued. Then Kissinger began to think aloud about how to flatter the monarch into abandoning the idea. “We can say,” he began, “that if he has his heart set on it, okay, but the President would feel easier if he didn’t have that one worry in 10,000 [that the plane might crash]. The Shah will be flattered.” Once, Nixon asked Kissinger to book the entertainer Danny Kaye for a private performance for the Shah and his wife.

The 92-year-old Kissinger has a long history of involvement in Iran and his recent opposition to Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, while relatively subdued by present Washington standards, matters.  In it lies a certain irony, given his own largely unexamined record in the region.  Kissinger’s criticism has focused mostly on warning that the deal might provoke a regional nuclear arms race as Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia line up against Shia Iran. “We will live in a proliferated world,” he said in testimony before the Senate. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with another former secretary of state, George Shultz, Kissinger worried that, as the region “trends toward sectarian upheaval” and “state collapse,” the “disequilibrium of power” might likely tilt toward Tehran.

Of all people, Kissinger knows well how easily the best laid plans can go astray and careen toward disaster. The former diplomat is by no means solely responsible for the mess that is today’s Middle East. There is, of course, George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Kissinger supported). But he does bear far more responsibility for our proliferated world’s disequilibrium of power than anyone usually recognizes.

Some of his Middle East policies are well known. In early 1974, for instance, his so-called shuttle diplomacy helped deescalate the tensions that had led to the previous year’s Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, however, it locked in Israel’s veto over U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. And in December 1975, wrongly believing that he had worked out a lasting pro-American balance of power between Iran and Iraq, Kissinger withdrew his previous support from the Kurds (whom he had been using as agents of destabilization against Baghdad’s Baathists). Iraq moved quickly to launch an assault on the Kurds that killed thousands and then implemented a program of ethnic cleansing, forcibly relocating Kurdish survivors and moving Arabs into their homes. “Even in the context of covert action ours was a cynical enterprise,” noted a Congressional investigation into his sacrifice of the Kurds.

Less well known is the way in which Kissinger’s policies toward Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated the radicalization in the region, how step by catastrophic step he laid the groundwork for the region’s spiraling crises of the present moment.

Guardian of the Gulf

Most critical histories of U.S. involvement in Iran rightly began with the joint British-U.S. coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, which installed Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne. But it was Kissinger who, in 1972, greatly deepened the relationship between Washington and Tehran. He was the one who began a policy of unconditional support for the Shah as a way to steady American power in the Persian Gulf while the U.S. extracted itself from Southeast Asia. As James Schlesinger, who served as Nixon’s CIA director and secretary of defense, noted, if “we were going to make the Shah the Guardian of the Gulf, we’ve got to give him what he needs.” Which, Schlesinger added, really meant “giving him what he wants.”

What the Shah wanted most of all were weapons of every variety — and American military trainers, and a navy, and an air force. It was Kissinger who overrode State Department and Pentagon objections and gave the Shah what no other country had: the ability to buy anything he wanted from U.S. weapons makers.

“We are looking for a navy,” the Shah told Kissinger in 1973, “we have a large shopping list.” And so Kissinger let him buy a navy.

By 1976, Kissinger’s last full year in office, Iran had become the largest purchaser of American weaponry and housed the largest contingent of U.S. military advisors anywhere on the planet. By 1977, the historian Ervand Abrahamian notes, “the shah had the largest navy in the Persian Gulf, the largest air force in Western Asia, and the fifth-largest army in the whole world.” That meant, just to begin a list, thousands of modern tanks, hundreds of helicopters, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, dozens of hovercraft, long-range artillery pieces, and Maverick missiles. The next year, the Shah bought another $12 billion worth of equipment.

After Kissinger left office, the special relationship he had worked so hard to establish blew up with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the flight of the Shah, the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (and its occupants as hostages) by student protesters. Washington’s political class is still trying to dig itself out of the rubble. A number of high-ranking Middle East policymakers and experts held Kissinger directly responsible for the disaster, especially career diplomat George Ball, who called Kissinger’s Iran policy an “act of folly.”

Kissinger is deft at deflecting attention from this history. After a speech at Annapolis in 2007, a cadet wanted to know why he had sold weapons to the Shah of Iran when “he knew the nature of his regime?”

“Every American government from the 1950s on cooperated with the Shah of Iran,” Kissinger answered. He continued: “Iran is a crucial piece of strategic real estate, and the fact that it is now in adversarial hands shows why we cooperated with the Shah of Iran. Why did we sell weapons to him? Because he was willing to defend himself and because his defense was in our interest. And again, I simply don’t understand why we have to apologize for defending the American national interest, which was also in the national interest of that region.”

This account carefully omits his role in greatly escalating the support provided to the Shah, including to his infamous SAVAK torturers — the agents of his murderous, U.S.-trained secret police-cum-death-squad — who upheld his regime. Each maimed body or disappeared family member was one more klick on the road to revolution. As George Ball’s biographer, James Bill, writes: considering the “manifest failure” of Kissinger’s Iran policy, “it is worthy of note that in his two massive volumes of political memoirs totalling twenty-eight-hundred pages, Kissinger devoted less than twenty pages to the Iranian revolution and U.S.-Iran relations.”

After the Shah fell, the ayatollahs were the beneficiaries of Kissinger’s arms largess, inheriting billions of dollars of warships, tanks, fighter jets, guns, and other materiel. It was also Kissinger who successfully urged the Carter administration to grant the Shah asylum in the United States, which hastened the deterioration of relations between Tehran and Washington, precipitating the embassy hostage crisis.

Then, in 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a war that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives. The administration of Ronald Reagan “tilted” toward Baghdad, providing battlefield intelligence used to launch lethal sarin gas attacks on Iranian troops. At the same time, the White House illegally and infamously trafficked high-tech weaponry to revolutionary Iran as part of what became the Iran-Contra affair.

“It’s a pity they can’t both lose,” Kissinger is reported to have said of Iran and Iraq. Although that quotation is hard to confirm, Raymond Tanter, who served on the National Security Council, reports that, at a foreign-policy briefing for Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in October 1980, Kissinger suggested “the continuation of fighting between Iran and Iraq was in the American interest.”  Having bet (and lost) on the Shah, Kissinger now hoped to make the best of a bad war.  The U.S., he counselled Reagan, “should capitalize on continuing hostilities.”

Saudi Arabia and the Petrodollar Fix

Kissinger’s other “guardian” of the Gulf, Sunni Saudi Arabia, however, didn’t fall and he did everything he could to turn that already close relationship into an ironclad alliance. In 1975, he signaled what was to come by working out an arms deal for the Saudi regime similar to the one he had green-lighted for Tehran, including a $750 million contract for the sale of 60 F-5E/F fighters to the sheiks. By this time, the U.S. already had more than a trillion dollars’ worth of military agreements with Riyadh. Only Iran had more.

Like Tehran, Riyadh paid for this flood of weaponry with the proceeds from rising oil prices. The word “petrodollar,” according to the Los Angeles Times, was coined in late 1973, and introduced into English by New York investment bankers who were courting the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Soon enough, as that paper wrote, the petrodollar had become part of “the world’s macroeconomic interface” and crucial to Kissinger’s developing Middle Eastern policy.

By June 1974, Treasury Secretary George Shultz was already suggesting that rising oil prices could result in a “highly advantageous mutual bargain” between the U.S. and petroleum-producing countries in the Middle East. Such a “bargain,” as others then began to argue, might solve a number of problems, creating demand for the U.S. dollar, injecting needed money into a flagging defense industry hard hit by the Vietnam wind-down, and using petrodollars to cover mounting trade deficits.

As it happened, petrodollars would prove anything but a quick fix. High energy prices were a drag on the U.S. economy, with inflation and high interest rates remaining a problem for nearly a decade. Nor was petrodollar dependence part of any preconceived Kissingerian “plan.”  As with far more of his moves than he or his admirers now care to admit, he more or less stumbled into it.  This was why, in periodic frustration, he occasionally daydreamed about simply seizing the oil fields of the Arabian peninsula and doing away with all the developing economic troubles.

“Can’t we overthrow one of the sheikhs just to show that we can do it?” he wondered in November 1973, fantasizing about which gas-pump country he could knock off. “How about Abu Dhabi?” he later asked. (Imagine what the world would be like today had Kissinger, in the fall of 1973, moved to overthrow the Saudi regime rather than Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.) “Let’s work out a plan for grabbing some Middle East oil if we want,” Kissinger said.

Such scimitar rattling was, however, pure posturing. Not only did Kissinger broker the various deals that got the U.S. hooked on recycled Saudi petrodollars, he also began to promote the idea of an “oil floor price” below which the cost per barrel wouldn’t fall. Among other things, this scheme was meant to protect the Saudis (and Iran, until 1979) from a sudden drop in demand and provide U.S. petroleum corporations with guaranteed profit margins.

Stephen Walt, a scholar of international relations, writes: “By the end of 1975, more than six thousand Americans were engaged in military-related activities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi arms purchased for the period 1974-1975 totaled over $3.8 billion, and a bewildering array of training missions and construction projects worth over $10 billion were now underway.”

Since the 1970s, one administration after another has found the iron-clad alliance Kissinger deepened between the House of Saud’s medieval “moderates” and Washington indispensable not only to keep the oil flowing but as a balance against Shia radicalism and secular nationalism of every sort. Recently, however, a series of world-historical events has shattered the context in which that alliance seemed to make sense. These include: the catastrophic war on and occupation of Iraq, the Arab Spring, the Syrian uprising and ensuing civil war, the rise of ISIS, Israel’s rightwing lurch, the conflict in Yemen, the falling price of petroleum, and, now, Obama’s Iran deal.

But the arms spigot that Kissinger turned on still remains wide open. According to the New York Times, “Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year — the most ever, and more than either France or Britain — and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market.” Just as they did after the Vietnam drawdown, U.S. weapons manufacturing are compensating for limits on the defense budget at home by selling arms to Gulf states. The “proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years,” write Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper of the New York Times, “which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons. The plane, the world’s most expensive weapons project, has stealth capabilities and has been marketed heavily to European and Asian allies. It has not yet been peddled to Arab allies because of concerns about preserving Israel’s military edge.”

If fortune is really shining on Lockheed and Boeing, Kissinger’s prediction that Obama’s de-escalation of tensions with Tehran will sooner or later prompt Saudi–Iranian hostilities will pan out. “With the balance of power in the Middle East in flux, several defense analysts said that could change. Russia is a major arms supplier to Iran, and a decision by President Vladimir Putin to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran could increase demand for the F-35, which is likely to have the ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses,” the Times reports.

“This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran,” said one defense analyst. “If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events.’”

Into Afghanistan

If all Henry Kissinger contributed to the Middle East were a regional arms race, petrodollar addiction, Iranian radicalization, and the Tehran-Riyadh conflict, it would be bad enough. His legacy, however, is far worse than that: he has to answer for his role in the rise of political Islam.

In July 1973, after a coup in Afghanistan brought to power a moderate, secular, but Soviet-leaning republican government, the Shah, then approaching the height of his influence with Kissinger, pressed his advantage. He asked for even more military assistance. Now, he said, he “must cover the East with fighter aircraft.” Kissinger complied.

Tehran also began to meddle in Afghan politics, offering Kabul billions of dollars for development and security, in exchange for loosening “its ties with the Soviet Union.” This might have seemed a reasonably peaceful way to increase U.S. influence via Iran over Kabul. It was, however, paired with an explosive initiative: via SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), extremist Islamic insurgents were to be slipped into Afghanistan to destabilize Kabul’s republican government.

Kissinger, who knew his British and his Russian imperial history, had long considered Pakistan of strategic importance. “The defense of Afghanistan,” he wrote in 1955, “depends on the strength of Pakistan.” But before he could put Pakistan into play against the Soviets in Afghanistan, he had to perfume away the stink of genocide. In 1971, that country had launched a bloodbath in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), with Nixon and Kissinger standing “stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments,” as Gary Bass has detailed. The president and his national security adviser, Bass writes, “vigorously supported the killers and tormentors of a generation of Bangladeshis.”

Because of that genocidal campaign, the State Department, acting against Kissinger’s wishes, had cut off military aid to the country in 1971, though Nixon and Kissinger kept it flowing covertly via Iran. In 1975, Kissinger vigorously pushed for its full, formal restoration, even as he was offering his tacit approval to Maoist China to back Pakistan whose leaders had their own reasons for wanting to destabilize Afghanistan, having to do with border disputes and the ongoing rivalry with India.

Kissinger helped make that possible, in part by the key role he played in building up Pakistan as part of a regional strategy in which Iran and Saudi Arabia were similarly deputized to do his dirty work. When Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had backed the 1971 rampage in East Pakistan, visited Washington in 1975 to make the case for restoration of military aid, Kissinger assured President Gerald Ford that he “was great in ’71.” Ford agreed, and U.S. dollars soon started to flow directly to the Pakistani army and intelligence service.

As national security adviser and then secretary of state, Kissinger was directly involved in planning and executing covert actions in such diverse places as Cambodia, Angola, and Chile. No available information indicates that he ever directly encouraged Pakistan’s ISI or Iran’s SAVAK to destabilize Afghanistan. But we don’t need a smoking gun to appreciate the larger context and consequences of his many regional initiatives in what, in the twenty-first century, would come to be known in Washington as the “greater Middle East.” In their 1995 book, Out of Afghanistan, based on research in Soviet archives, foreign-policy analysts Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison provide a wide-ranging sense of just how so many of the policies Kissinger put in place — the empowerment of Iran, the restoration of military relations with Pakistan, high oil prices, an embrace of Saudi Wahhabism, and weapon sales — came together to spark jihadism:

”It was in the early 1970s, with oil prices rising, that Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran embarked on his ambitious effort to roll back Soviet influence in neighboring countries and create a modern version of the ancient Persian empire… Beginning in 1974, the Shah launched a determined effort to draw Kabul into a Western-tilted, Tehran-centered regional economic and security sphere embracing India, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states… The United States actively encouraged this roll-back policy as part of its broad partnership with the Shah… SAVAK and the CIA worked hand in hand, sometimes in loose collaboration with underground Afghani Islamic fundamentalist groups that shared their anti-Soviet objectives but had their own agendas as well… As oil profits sky-rocketed, emissaries from these newly affluent Arab fundamentalist groups arrived on the Afghan scene with bulging bankrolls.”

Harrison also wrote that “SAVAK, the CIA, and Pakistani agents” were involved in failed “fundamentalist coup attempts” in Afghanistan in 1973 and 1974, along with an attempted Islamic insurrection in the Panjshir Valley in 1975, laying the groundwork for the jihad of the 1980s (and beyond).

Much has been made of Jimmy Carter’s decision, on the advice of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, to authorize “nonlethal” aid to the Afghan mujahedeen in July 1979, six months before Moscow sent troops to support the Afghan government in its fight against a spreading Islamic insurgency. But lethal aid had already long been flowing to those jihadists via Washington’s ally Pakistan (and Iran until its revolution in 1979). This provision of support to radical Islamists, initiated in Kissinger’s tenure and continuing through the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, had a number of unfortunate consequences known all too well today but seldom linked to the good doctor. It put unsustainable pressure on Afghanistan’s fragile secular government. It laid the early infrastructure for today’s transnational radical Islam. And, of course, it destabilized Afghanistan and so helped provoke the Soviet invasion.

Some still celebrate the decisions of Carter and Reagan for their role in pulling Moscow into its own Vietnam-style quagmire and so hastening the demise of the Soviet Union. “What is most important to the history of the world?” Brzezinski infamously asked. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” (The rivalry between the two Harvard immigrant diplomats, Kissinger and Brzezinski, is well known. But Brzezinski by 1979 was absolutely Kissingerian in his advice to Carter. In fact, a number of Kissinger’s allies who continued on in the Carter administration, including Walter Slocombe and David Newsom, influenced the decision to support the jihad.)

Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan would prove a disaster — and not just for the Soviet Union. When Soviet troops pulled out in 1989, they left behind a shattered country and a shadowy network of insurgent fundamentalists who, for years, had worked hand-in-glove with the CIA in the Agency’s longest covert operation, as well as the Saudis and the Pakistani ISI.  It was a distinctly Kissingerian line-up of forces. 

Few serious scholars now believe that the Soviet Union would have proved any more durable had it not invaded Afghanistan. Nor did the allegiance of Afghanistan — whether it tilted toward Washington, Moscow, or Tehran — make any difference to the outcome of the Cold War, any more than did, say, that of Cuba, Iraq, Angola, or Vietnam.

For all of the celebration of him as a “grand strategist,” as someone who constantly advises presidents to think of the future, to base their actions today on where they want the country to be in five or 10 years’ time, Kissinger was absolutely blind to the fundamental feebleness and inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. None of it was necessary; none of the lives Kissinger sacrificed in Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, East Timor, and Bangladesh made one bit of difference in the outcome of the Cold War.

Similarly, each of Kissinger’s Middle East initiatives has been disastrous in the long run. Just think about them from the vantage point of 2015: banking on despots, inflating the Shah, providing massive amounts of aid to security forces that tortured and terrorized democrats, pumping up the U.S. defense industry with recycled petrodollars and so spurring a Middle East arms race financed by high gas prices, emboldening Pakistan’s intelligence service, nurturing Islamic fundamentalism, playing Iran and the Kurds off against Iraq, and then Iraq and Iran off against the Kurds, and committing Washington to defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.

Combined, they’ve helped bind the modern Middle East into a knot that even Alexander’s sword couldn’t sever.

Bloody Inventions

Over the last decade, an avalanche of documents — transcripts of conversations and phone calls, declassified memos, and embassy cables — have implicated Henry Kissinger in crimes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, southern Africa, Laos, the Middle East, and Latin America. He’s tried to defend himself by arguing for context. “Just to take a sentence out of a telephone conversation when you have 50 other conversations, it’s just not the way to analyze it,” Kissinger said recently, after yet another damning tranche of documents was declassified. “I’ve been telling people to read a month’s worth of conversations, so you know what else went on.”

But a month’s worth of conversations, or eight years for that matter, reads like one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Perhaps Macbeth, with its description of what we today call blowback: “That we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.”

We are still reaping the bloody returns of Kissinger’s inventions.

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    1. Clive

      Yes, even today the ruling elite in Saudi Arabia send their kids to the most expensive schools here in Britain, their military get training at the Sandhurst officer academy and the royal family owns vast estates in and around London where horse racing is pretty much entirely bankrolled by Saudi financing. This has been the case from the 1970s if not even earlier. And the British domiciled banks manage a lot of Saudi wealth — a lot of super-massive trust funds are run by UK banks.

      One key point this fascinating piece makes which has largely been forgotten about — mainly because it was, militarily at least, a success — the 2003 gulf war set in motion a series of events which shaped the Middle East today. While it had UN support and was the beneficiary of regional power broking whereby both Iran and Saudi Arabia gained by backing it (or at least, they thought they would at the time) this was, with the benefit of hindsight rather misguided interventionalism.

      1. Sam Kanu

        “…Yes, even today the ruling elite in Saudi Arabia send their kids to the most expensive schools here in Britain, their military get training at the Sandhurst officer academy…”

        Well not all of this is is a blessing. Its not merely “the military” who are being admitted to Sandhurst – it is the ruling family’s handpicked members of their officer core.

        Now when you understand that Sandhurst is not merely a military academy, but rather more like a coup factory, I would argue that what’s going on here is actually that the British are sowing the seeds for unravelling the Saudi regime, if they ever find them insufficiently cooperative.

        Meanwhile the Saudis are paying top money to get their own people basically indoctrinated by the westerners!

    2. Daniel

      I get your point, but in the big picture political Islam started with the death of Mohammed, the schism between Sunni and Shia, and the subsequent rise of the caliphates. It hasn’t really diminished since then, though the Wahhabis are in ascendance now because they hold the holy territory.

      (And one can define the shrine cities or the oil patch as that territory, depending on one’s own tolerance for blasphemy. I, for one, can put up with quite a bit of blasphemy before I need a drink.)

  1. davinatti

    ‘“It’s a pity they can’t both lose,” Kissinger is reported to have said of Iran and Iraq. Although that quotation is hard to confirm’

    I saw him make that quote on tv back in the 80’s during the iran-iraq war. I think it was on a pbs show where this moderator would get a dozen Washington policy people and confront them with a crisis and ask how they would respond.

    1. blert

      Wierdly, I was there.

      It was uttered at the NY Hilton — where he’d just been the keynote speaker at a Ruff Times (gold bug) confab.

      It was an off the cuff remark — that was aired — later that evening — on the news.

      I couldn’t have been more than 8 meters away. The directional microphones were so slick that they did not pick up the astounding backround noise. About 1,000 attendees were milling all around during the video interview. (!)

      This was the only time that Dr. K. was in NY and available for an interview. The confab had paid him $50,000 for his canned speach. That was a lot of money in 1980. !

    1. abynormal

      Not…“At a UN conference in Rome in 1999, the United States opposed the establishment of a permanent international war crimes court. There was fear that American officials and military leaders who, like Henry Kissinger, had been responsible for policies leading to the deaths of large numbers of people might be brought before such a court.”

      Example: “In 1996, on the television program 60 Minutes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeline Albright was asked about the report that “a half million children have died as a result of sanctions against Iraq… That is more children that died in Hiroshima… Is the price worth it?” Albright replied; “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.

      1. ambrit

        Such hypocrisy is, alas, becoming all too easy to find. Albright never had to pay even the interest on that “price.” Her upbringing seems to have predisposed her to being a “Cold Warrior.” Observing the world from 30,000 feet may help insulate one from the effects of the bombs one drops on the groundlings. Albright was one of the ‘groundlings’ during the Blitz. It’s too bad she drew the ‘wrong’ conclusions from those experiences.

        1. abynormal

          ambrit, seems to me the success for their lack of shame is in the numbers… the numerous sociopaths insulating policies. today when we hear a leak or denial…we know without a doubt the deed has been accomplished.

          agree, she was primed alright:
          – “Despite the failure to find subversion, the broad scope of the official Red hunt gave popular credence to the notion that the government was riddled with spies. A conservative and fearful reaction coursed the country. Americans became convinced of the need for absolute security and the preservation of the established order.”
          – “In the fifties, schoolchildren all over the country participated in air raid drills in which a Soviet attack on Americans was signaled by sirens: the children had to crouch under their desks until it was “all clear”. It was an atmosphere in which the government could get mass support for a policy of rearmament.”
          – “At the start of 1950, the total US budget was about $40 billion, and the military part of it was about $12 billion. But by 1955, the military part alone was $40 billion, out of a total of $62 billion.”
          – In 1962 “The US had the equivalent, in nuclear weapons, or 1500 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, far more than enough to destroy every major city in the world – the equivalent, in fact, of 10 tons of TNT for every man, woman, and child on earth.”
          – “Despite the failure to find subversion, the broad scope of the official Red hunt gave popular credence to the notion that the government was riddled with spies. A conservative and fearful reaction coursed the country. Americans became convinced of the need for absolute security and the preservation of the established order.”
          – “In the fifties, schoolchildren all over the country participated in air raid drills in which a Soviet attack on Americans was signaled by sirens: the children had to crouch under their desks until it was “all clear”. It was an atmosphere in which the government could get mass support for a policy of rearmament.”
          – “At the start of 1950, the total US budget was about $40 billion, and the military part of it was about $12 billion. But by 1955, the military part alone was $40 billion, out of a total of $62 billion.”
          – In 1962 “The US had the equivalent, in nuclear weapons, or 1500 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, far more than enough to destroy every major city in the world – the equivalent, in fact, of 10 tons of TNT for every man, woman, and child on earth.”

          1. ambrit

            I googled Albright when I first decided to comment and discovered that her background and upbringing were even more ‘elite’ than I had imagined. Her father was “someone” in the old pre war Czech government. She grew up the child of senior government functionaries and was among the ‘elite’ from early on. A very bright person, she was moulded early to consider herself one of the ‘ruling’ class. Add that to the American Fifties experience you mentioned and her Cold Warrior status becomes understandable.

    2. sgt_doom

      Just happened to finish the most brilliant book on Salvador Allende and the despicably vile coup fomented and financed by Kissinger, Nixon and Helms (CIA) by the scholar, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (“Story of A Death Foretold“).

      Truly a remarkable work and extremely highly recommended, to understand what a great man and visionary Salvador Allende was and how his murder or suicide (and given the existence evidence, murder still seems more the likely) dramatically altered that society, followed by the death-by-torture of thousands of innocents, good and great people!

      And we know, thanks to Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File, of the culpability of Kissinger, the CIA and Ambassador Nathaniel Davis, CIA’s John Anderson, and consul Frederick Purdy, et al.

      Too many good people were tortured to death, and others assassinated in the most brutal fashion (Orlando Letelier, Ronni Moffitt, etc.).

      Kissinger is an evil swine.

      Surely, if there is any afterlife, there is a special spot reserved in Hell for the likes of Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and the rest of the Rockfeller family!

  2. JTMcPhee

    One reads about this “policy playground” where weasels and cancers like H. “Power is ze uldimate aphrodisiac” Kissinger played their Game fueled by oil and the extraction of the Real Wealth and destruction of the true security and survivable future of us Ordinary People, and one is flattened by the futility of yakking about “what needs to be done now.” The tumors, the malignancies, have so interpenetrated and perverted the political-economic physiology that as we suckers are too late finding out, whether it’s financialization or militarization or miniaturization or “education” or nutrition, that about all we can do is marvel at the completeness of the corruption and incipient and ongoing destruction, that we are suffering from an incurable disease process…

    Who came up with the acronymic accuracy of ” Mutual Assured Destruction”?

  3. Steve H.

    “Blood will have blood.”

    I would rather it went,
    “the castle’s gently render’d”
    which occurs when all ones allies have abandoned those whose policies are fear and lies and murder.

  4. Carolinian

    While Kissinger certainly deserves the trial that the late HItchens wrote about, it is probably wrong to suggest that he is behind every bad thing that has happened in the last forty years. After all anti-communism has been an obsession of the Western ruling classes since the Russian revolution. Kissinger’s cold blooded chess playing with Chile or Pakistan or Iran is surely not much different from the actions of the Dulles brothers or decisions by JFK and LBJ that led to our biggest debacle of all: Vietnam.

    And the zeal to control the MIddle East during the 1970s had a great deal to do with the heavy US dependence on oil imports at a time when most Americans were driving around in 12 mpg Detroit guzzlers. In that sense we were all complicit.

    It’s Kissinger’s ideas–and those of the Cold Warriers–that now must be discredited. As for that old man still writing op-eds, he won’t be around much longer.

    1. JTMcPhee

      A lot of “us” are still driving aimlessly around in “guzzlers.” The “choices” us mopes who staff the MIC and the lower orders of all other institutions and acquire debt and consumer, and excrete, and the ” policies” that spin it all, are those created by “all of us” and therefore we are all complicit in the horrors orchestrated by the few for whom Kissinger is a particularly odious example? Collective guilt? No one can cast a stone because in tiny or moderate ways “we did it too, and did not fight it hard enough or seek crucifixion and court being Disappeared”? And what does it mean that Kissinger deserves a trial that he and his kind, across the planet, will never experience, nor will there be any consequences for their arrogance and cowardly aggressions and effing self-serving and self-dealing actions?

      I guess maybe the system inevitably trendsvtoward concentrating unaccountable power and Enormous wealth in the hands of a conscienceless few. In smaller communities, in West Texas or Tennessee or bayou country, sometimes the community’s collective judgment is that a particularly destructive person ” needs killin'”. Those that need it somehow have gotten the upper hand… But of course it all depends on what kinds of outcomes those who have a vote want from their political economy…

      1. Carolinian

        I’m not a big believer in the great man theory of history that was championed by a certain commentator who is no longer around here. Yes we, as a society, are collectively guilty–at least to a certain degree–for the actions of those running it and Americans can’t pretend that their materialistic lifestyle has nothing to do with our foreign policy.

        The problem with people like Kissinger is that they do believe in the great man theory of history and see themselves as that great man. This is the source of their foolhardy behavior–“worse than a crime, a mistake.” But let’s not kid ourselves. Plenty of Americans are into American exceptionalism and vote for people who so act. So Kissinger, like so much else of what goes on, is the symptom, not the disease. In the end moralizing–and morality is a very selective weapon–gets us nowhere. What we need to worry about are “mistakes.”

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          Yes there’s a “great man” behind history, and you can see him by placing a mirror in front of you, the dirty little secret is that at the core the American public is aware, complicit, and responsible. One can argue that they’re not provided the right information, that various demagogues and myths blind them from making moral choices…but at the end of the day people are making the decision that they are better than other people, more exceptional, whiter, righter, whatever, and the bombs keep falling. Believe me they would stop if the people wanted them to.

        2. RBHoughton

          I think there is a ‘great man’ aspect of history as an instrument of change but it can hardly arise in a western environment because the power centers have competing agendas.

          In the Anglosphere we have been able to tame the media, apply the tenets of conditioning (learned from PR) to the people, and clear the field for the generals and great capitalists but we still have disagreement. Perhaps POTUS should hold greater power – that might give national policy a more predictable direction but cover your ears from the howls of the Pentagon and Wall Street.

          Thank you Yves for publishing a thought provoking article that I have not seen elsewhere. Naked Capitalism really is a fine site.

    2. Daniel

      Re: Kissinger, Perry Anderson has this to say (in a Salon interview about his new book “American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers“)

      From the range of in-and-outers—thinkers moving between government and the academy or think-tanks—who have sought to guide U.S. foreign policy since 2000, with some intellectual originality. Kissinger isn’t among these. His ideas belong to a previous epoch, his later offerings are boilerplate.

      I am grateful that Kissinger has lived long enough to be indicted by history, and to be lucid enough to realize and understand it (despite his lame protestations), and to be effectively forbidden from traveling to Paris.

    3. blert

      Are you nuts?

      The biggest debacle of all time was the Cuban Missile Crisis that could’ve largely terminated the human race.

      Vietnam is a dust storm in a wastebasket by comparison.

      Vietnam need not be over hyped.

      Even France survived Vietnam — and Algeria.

      The problem with America has been its trauma of Pearl Harbor and the Nazi death camps.

      This has led to emotional conflation of practically EVERY single foreign policy debate into their echoes.

      1) Military shock and defeat.

      2) Moral shock and shame.

      Note just how often these flags are run up the pole.

    4. Procopius

      That reminds me, I’d like to re-read the exploits of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia, the little-known intervention. The elites have been terrified that the commies are going to export their revolution ever since, if they allow any left-leaning movement to have the slightest success (that’s why AT&T got the CIA to overthrow Allende).

  5. Michael Carno

    And yet, Kissinger with each new turmoil and blowback caused by his past meddling, he is rolled out on all the corporate media talk shows to give his Cassandra-like chess player take on the future and the course of action we should now take. Mind boggling really. This man should have been imprisoned a long time ago for all the death and destruction he createda and still creates through his past machinations.

  6. nat scientist

    What more needs to be said, in their own words, about the War Economy than the following from the Oval Office taping system in the early 1970s, when democratically-elected socialists like Salvador Allende and his military chief Rene Schneider walked the earth:

    NIXON: “I still think we ought to take the dikes out now.”

    NIXON: “Will that drown people?”

    KISSINGER: “That will drown 200,000 people.”

    NIXON: “Well, no, no, no, no, no, I’d rather use a nuclear bomb.

    NIXON: “Have you got that ready?”

    KISSINGER: “I think that will be too much, uh,”

    NIXON: “A nuclear bomb, does that bother you?”

    NIXON: “I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes!”

      1. nat scientist

        Eat the whole thing on netflix dvd:
        The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009)

      2. nat scientist

        Try eating the entire enchilada on Netflix DVD
        The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009)
        Dick Nixon will hate you for it.

  7. blert

    I don’t know how to break its hold — but the notion that the Pentagon was sharing battlefield intelligence with Saddam’s regime is absurd on its face.

    The FRENCH Army was in place advising him.

    It was the FRENCH that designed Saddam’s defensive works and his defensive phase of the war.

    Sarin — the French Army HATES chemical warfare. Saddam had to hide his Sarin rounds. That’s why they are unique in the annals of the military art: the only chemical munitions labeled as if they are conventional rounds… which is an insane idea — right there.

    It was these rounds that the NY Times finally admitted to — well after the US Army left Iraq (2011) — as being found ALL ALONG, all over occupied Iraq. (2003-2011) The NY Times — and the rest of the MSM — had deliberately lied// buried the truth about these discoveries in the interest of the national defense.

    The French Army provided “overhead” recon for Saddam — and top flight fighter jets, too.

    Rumsfeld famously visited Saddam — to sell MEDICINE. He was CEO of GD Searle at the time. He performed double duty. He was Reagan’s informal ambassador. When Saddam requested weapons aid// technology — he was turned down FLAT.

    Saddam got his needs filled by the Soviets, the French and the Germans. America was not in the picture. Saudi Arabia was giving us plenty of ‘sales action.’ Saddam was NEVER an American client state. Iran was.

    It was Congress that cut Iran off, impounded her weapons deposits. The tail end of the Shah’s F-14 purchase was vectored over to the USN. (Just a few planes — most had been shipped.)

    The problem with Dr. K. is that he was and is too arrogant — and never allows for blow-back.

    Dr. Brzezinski was Kissenger on steroids. He’s even MORE responsible for the strategic fiasco of revived Islam. He and Carter stood there while the collapse occurred.

    I never saw anyone that clueless until I witnessed H W Bush as the Berlin Wall fell down.

    In both cases, the real world operated exactly opposite to the vain expectations of the big thinker.

  8. Gerard Pierce

    One of the things missed was Kissinger’s treatment of Japan prior to Nixon’s opening of China.

    Prior to that time, Japan regarded us as being the big boss in a traditional Oyabun Kobun relationship. That kind of relationship required Japan to look out for the interests of the US. The other side of the deal was that the US was supposed to look out for the legitimate interests of our junior partner or “little boss”.

    That meant that when we were about to open up relationships with China, we should have notified certain key Japanese players who would have kept very quiet about it, but who would have been able to very quietly maintain relationships with certain key players in China that they had been doing business with for hundreds of years.

    When Kissinger failed to give them any warning, the Japanese had to conclude that rather than Oyabun Kobun, they were dealing with a set of barbarians who had no respect for Japan. Japanese players lost a tremendous amount of face when it was shown that the US did not give a damn about their interests.

    The pathetic part is that the US had nothing to gain by screwing over the Japanese. It was simply the kind of thing that happens when you have an idiot like Kissinger suffering from his own delusions of competence.

    After that, the Japanese went after every US economic interest they could, and it’s only luck that they were unable to collapse our auto industry.

    The Japanese should have soundly kicked out butts, and I never did figure out whether the Japanese lost it on their own, or whether we had some smarter players that took them out when they really became dangerous.

  9. Rupert MurderRock

    Both conventional & alt-history views seem to accept that Iran’s Islamic Revolution was unintended blowback of US/UK imperialism. Story goes that US (ie Kissinger etc) was wedded to the Shah & did it’s best to preserve his rule. Think again. Imperial “Divide & Conquer” strategy means that one installs rulers that are guaranteed to screw things up & primitive lunatic Khomeni fit the bill perfectly.

    The Shah undertook massive reforms including building up education & nuclear energy. Western US/UK/Israel Axis tolerated him for a while but eventually they need to stamp down any nation that advances too much, especially when it sits over vast oil reserves. Note (for those that remember) that US MSM abruptly began a vast hate campaign vs the Shah including atrocity propaganda about “SAVAK”. Ayatollah Khomeni was portrayed as a strict but grandfatherly type that was ideal to unite a fractured Iran. Such MSM coverage reminiscent of early treatment of Cuba & Castro, ie Castro was initially treated as a moderate social democrat & only later became the bete noire.

    The Western Imperialist Axis vastly prefers token enemies like fundamentalist Muslim Iran or Communist Cuba, all the better to scare the public into supporting endless wars.

    Robert Dreyfuss’ “Hostage to Khomeni” book details how UK/US boosted the Iran fundies while sand-bagging the Shah.

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