Henry Kissinger, the scholar-turned-diplomat whose cunning and ambition made him one of the world’s most influential power brokers for over half a century, has died. He was 100. His consulting firm released a statement saying that the former US secretary of state and national security adviser died on Wednesday at his home in Connecticut. No cause was given.
The son of Jewish parents, Kissinger was born in Germany and raised in New York. He studied history at Harvard and became an academic before joining the government, first as a White House adviser under Presidents John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, then as US ambassador to China from 1962-64, where he worked hard to ease tensions with the Soviet Union. As a national security advisor and secretary of state under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger helped set the stage for thawing US relations with the Soviet Union and China, brokered the Paris Peace Accords to end the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and pulled America out of Vietnam. His work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, it also spawned controversy because he supported intensive bombing campaigns that took a terrible toll on civilians in Southeast Asia and his repeated failure to confront human rights abuses by governments perceived as supporting American interests.
Despite being kept at arm’s length by the Republicans who followed him out of office, Kissinger remained a significant figure in global politics for decades, advising governments and charging astronomical fees for his geopolitical analysis. Even into his 90s, he dished advice and addressed audiences, occasionally visiting Donald Trump’s White House for briefings.
Kissinger was known for his vast list of contacts and ready wit, famously opining that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” and comparing himself to a cowboy hero riding into the sunset. His intelligent and often ruthless approach to the world’s most intractable conflicts was shaped by his childhood experiences, particularly as a soldier in the US Army and his early years as a government official.
He was a devout practitioner of realism, which he defined as recognizing the limits of US influence while pursuing strategies that maximized the chances of success. His supporters lauded him for his behind-the-scenes role in opening relations with China and the Soviet Union; his shuttle diplomacy ended the Arab-Israeli conflict and the negotiations that led to the Paris Peace Accords to pull America out of Vietnam. However, critics accused him of trampling on democratic values to achieve his ambitions and displaying an amoral disregard for the millions of lives lost in pursuing his policies. He was a significant figure in the darkest of times and one who reshaped our world. We will miss him. His wife of nearly 50 years, Nancy Maginnes Kissinger, and two children from his first marriage, David and Elizabeth, survived him. A memorial is planned for New York later this year.