Hotavio's Reviews > Henry Kissinger and the American Century

Henry Kissinger and the American Century by Jeremi Suri
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Feb 16, 11

bookshelves: 20th-century-us-history, books-on-america
Recommended to Hotavio by: HIST 577
Read from February 03 to 14, 2011 — I own a copy

Few prominent American figures have the trajectory that Henry Kissenger had in 20th century. Kissenger a German Jew, whose family immigrated to the United States as a result of the Nazification of Germany, was a Cold War thinker, and eventually became Secretary of State for Nixon and Ford. His overtures of reaching out to other world leaders would eventually earn him the Nobel Peace Prize. The rags to riches story makes for an interesting parallel to that of the United States, which was hoisted to global predominance by a war ravaged world. To meet the demands of a newly globalized world, the United States, with Kissinger as one of its “cosmopolitan” leaders, were to have incredible influence in shaping the century. The dual nature of both Kissenger and his adoptive country guiding foreign policy gives Kissenger and the American Century its name.
While Kissenger would be reluctant to place any emphasis on Judaism’s role in the circumstance of his ascension, Suri does not to ignore it. “…this book will demonstrate how the ‘interlocking economic, political, and cultural conditions of Diaspora Jewry’-and various reactions to these conditions-deeply affected his career. Central to Kissenger’s rise from dislocated Jew to the face of 20th century foreign policy are tides of change and the new benefits they provided Jews like Kissenger. This is evident as Kissenger plays a major role in the American occupation of Germany. Kissenger’s Jewish background afforded him trust of the Americans as he swept Nazis from occupied cities. Upon Kissenger’s return to the United States, he found that his background satisfied the demands for cosmopolitanism. This idea is concurrent throughout Henry Kissenger and the American Century as Suri explains the eminence of a new transatlantic world. The idea that the United States was one of the two global superpowers and that it was in the country’s best interest to have a high level of interaction with other countries, specifically the Western European ones, kindred in their Judeo-Christian heritage, made Jews and their understanding of the intricacies of several nations extremely coveted in American government. This notion is thoroughly explained in Suri’s chapter, The Cold War University.
Suri’s respect for his subject is evident, but he is not one to shy away from some of the criticisms of Kissenger. Suri relays that, in examining Kissinger’s legacy, he is predominantly interested in the whys of Kissenger’s policies. While building a narrative, especially in Kissenger’s early years, Suri points out Kissenger’s troubles with democracy. Kissenger seemed embittered by the failures of democracy of Weimer Germany and its inabilities to protect the people from themselves. This, the author argues was the root of Kissenger’s belief in strong leaders with “…Churchillian aspirations to use military force, diplomatic maneuvering, and firm domestic leadership to assure that ‘the malice of the wicked’ was never again ‘reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous’." This belief in strong leadership followed Kissenger in his policies, particularly with the Soviet Union and their Communist allies. While this endeared him to many of the Cold War policy makers, it would be the “cosmopolitan” Kissenger that would endure, as Kissenger became National Security advisor and eventually Secretary of State.
The failures of Viet Nam signaled the limits of unilateralism and Kissenger’s back door diplomacy ushered in a new age of foreign policies. The latter half of Henry Kissenger and the American Century recalls Kissenger’s beliefs in federalism, or the needs for a balance of power amongst a multitude of nations. It is his work with China and the Soviet Union which helped enable a thaw in the Cold War. Kissenger’s belief in working with these nations and others less prominent, with their sometimes unsavory characters, promoted the global stability which formerly seemed impossible at the culmination of a world faced with imminent nuclear war. It is here, in the bulk of Kissenger’s accomplishments, as Secretary of State, that Suri leaves out the details of Kissenger’s story. While this might lead to disappointment for a reader who might be trying to fully understand Kissenger’s contributions (Suri points towards Kisseinger’s memoirs for this information), it keeps Suri from bogging down his summary on America’s morphing global role with Kissenger as its leader.
With the recent fall of Hosni Mubarak, an autocrat propped up by American support, Kissenger, who believed in backing sometimes contemptible politicians for the benefit of overall global security, can only be judged by time. The United States has already felt the disapproval of some with American intervention. Suri closes pointing out the connection to September 11th. With these two hits to Kissenger’s legacy, and in keeping with the title Henry Kissenger and the American Century , it will be interesting to see if Kissenger’s ideas and American predominance are antiquidated or relevant to the 21st century.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Henry Kissinger and the American Century.
sign in »

Reading Progress

02/03/2011 page 50
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-7)

dateUp_arrow    newest »

message 7: by Monica (last edited Feb 18, 2011 04:17AM) (new)

Monica Kissinger's policies caused so much bloodshed I honestly think your review is too kind, too tame.

message 6: by AC (new)

AC Monica wrote: "Kissinger's policies caused so much bloodshed I honestly think you're review is too kind, too tame."

Though I'm hardly a Kissenger fan... as you can imagine! - I admit to having a certain ambivalence about him - at least in the sense that I admire his unstinting realism. And I say that FULLY believing that he is a war criminal. It's hard to explain. I read this book many, many years ago (1957):

And remember only one idea from it - though that one was central (and profound): Nuclear weapons, he argued, have created a power vacuum in geopolitics -- for the very simple reason... that no one can use them.

Of course, the Neoconservatives would not agree. Which shows how far we have devolved from the Nixon years...., bad as THEY were.

Hotavio I can't really say I know enough about Kissenger to criticize him directly. Per course requirement, my review was aimed more at the book and what the author's points than Kissenger's policies, good or bad. From what I have gleaned of them, we have very much seen some residual effects of his diplomacy and it may have worked then, but it isn't working right now. The effects of the US propping up despots and juntas throughout the latter half of the 20th century have been felt for some time. Indirectly it lead to a flimsy justification for the Iraq War and we can attribute it to the domino effect we are seeing in the middle east.
As far as his nuclear policy, it seemed, from what I read, that he was talking a gamble with the weapons. Luckily, the Soviets, for the most part, had the wherewithal to call our bluff on some of the challenges we have issued. I'm sure that Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy by Kissenger would contribute to my thoughts, however. Thanks for the input!

message 4: by Monica (new)

Monica It's so sad to think we've devolved since the Nixon years. Where are the anti-war demonstrations? Where is the activism of and for the middle class? We don't have statesmen (women) of Kissinger's "caliber". Hilary doesn't get the coverage he did and it's not clear what our foreign policy's goals really are. I hope democracy works in Egypt and that the radical brotherhood doesn't take the middle east further into the dark ages.

Hotavio Yeah, I heard about the assaults on women in Egypt on NPR. I guess harassment (not to mention sexual assault) has always been a problem in Egypt. They had all sorts of conjectures as to why that was happening. While sexual assault and sexual harassment seems to be finally being made an issue with the opening of free speech, the governance being up in the air means that it is anybody's guess whether things will improve or maybe even get worse. Scary.
You are right about not hearing much about Clinton. It seemed that she was more visible before she became Secretary than after. I wonder how she is being assessed. I like her. She's a strong leader and I voted for her in the Democratic primaries a few years back.

message 2: by AC (new)

AC Hotavio wrote: "his diplomacy... may have worked then,"

What you call his "diplomacy" was a bloody disaster -- and likely a bloody crime. The US knew as early as 1967 that the war was unwinnable - and yet more than half the US service deaths (not to mention the uncounted Vietnamese deaths) occurred *after* that point. And for what....? So that everyone can now rush into hedge funds that invest in the Vietnamese stock exchange?

If you've never read Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, I *strongly* recommend it....

I like to avoid the topic of Vietnam since there are many people on this site for whom it is undoubtedly still an open wound -- and who may have paid a price for Nixon's and Kissinger's "diplomacy" that cannot be measured....

message 1: by Monica (new)


Marwan Bishara, Senior political analyst at Al Jazeera English and host and editor of the television program Empire.

Noam Chomsky, MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and author.

Rush Transcript

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.

Donate - $25, $50, $100, More...

JUAN GONZALEZ: Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, a rolling rebellion continues to unfold across North [Africa] and the Middle East, often amid violent repression by state security forces. During an overnight raid in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, heavily armed riot police surrounded thousands of demonstrators who were sleeping in the central square in the nation’s capital. Without warning, police fired tear gas and concussion grenades into the crowd of pro-democracy activists that included women and children. The Associated Press reports four people were killed and hundreds beaten or suffocated by tear gas. Bahrain’s main Shia opposition group called the storming of the central square by police "real terrorism."

Early this morning, Democracy Now! reached Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. He spoke to us from outside a hospital where the wounded were being treated. It is very hard to get through to people in Bahrain right now. Rajab’s cell phone connection was poor, so listen closely.

NABEEL RAJAB: The past two days, people were protesting in Pearl Square, tens of thousands of people, children, men and women, calling for reform and democracy and respect for human rights. Unfortunately, today, morning, at 3:00, 3:30 in the morning, the riot police and special forces attacked the protesters. And many of the protesters, as you know, are children and old men and women and young people. So, among those people, we have many, many injuries. At least two dead confirmed so far, but we expect to see more.

And I see many injuries coming. The people are protesting outside the main hospital, which is Salmaniya Hospital, and were attacked 15 minutes ago. And I see a lot of doctors going out of the main Bahrain hospital to treat people in the street, as there are no places to get them in. And many, many of them are inside, so there is not enough space for them. So doctors are treating the people in the street. And I could see the trolley beds of the hospital taken out to the street to carry as many people as possible.

A lot of people—now, this woman is shouting here beside me. She’s saying, "We need blood! We need blood!" because a lot of people have lost blood. And [inaudible] front of hospital, tens of thousands of people are standing. They want to make sure that their children are not dead. A lot of injured people are still in the scene in the Pearl [inaudible] but cannot be carried because the government, they stopped all the ambulance to go inside. They stopped all the people to go inside to carry the injured people. So, a lot of people don’t know about their kids, don’t know about their people, if they’re alive or dead. So people here around me are crying, they are shouting, they say, "We want to see our children!" They want to go inside the hospital. Doctors are banning them. They say, "You can’t go. A thousand of people inside the hospital." People in the street are bleeding in the street, and some doctors are treating them.

Governments and international governments and all international organizations should voice—we need to hear their voice at this moment—countries like United States, countries like England and Europe. I know how my country is rich. I know why I’m victim of being a rich country, that the United States and other European countries don’t want to make them angry, because as their interests, economic interests, and oil is low. But yes, but there are human beings here. They want to live like your people in the United States. They want to see democracy. They want to see human rights. They want to see that. So, if Barack Obama could come out and speak about other countries like Egypt and Iran, so he could speak about Bahrain. Especially we have more dead people here than they had in Iran, that he should come out and speak and say to the Bahrain government, they should stop this. Barack Obama and the United States are a very influential country here. They are the big brother here. They are the people who could voice. They are the people who could speak. But so far, unfortunately, we have not seen any positive statement made by the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab speaking to us from Democracy Now! just after Bahrain security forces attacked a gathering of sleeping protesters last night, killing at least four people, injuring hundreds, among them an NBC reporter.

Meanwhile, in Libya, after hundreds protested across the country Wednesday, thousands more filled the streets today again in what’s being called a "Day of Rage." Human rights observers say snipers on rooftops have killed as many as 13 protesters and wounded dozens more. The protests fall on the second anniversary of protests in Benghazi, where security forces killed several people.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In Yemen, two people were killed Wednesday when police opened fire on protesters in the southern city of Aden. At least four people were wounded in the capital Sana’a when student protesters clashed with supporters of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In Iran, violence broke out Wednesday at the funeral of a student killed during an opposition protest earlier this week.

And in Iraq, state forces killed three people Wednesday after a large crowd rallied in the city of Kut over a lack of government services. Hundreds of protesters have gathered in the southern city of Basra today demanding the ouster of the local governor.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss these events, we’re joined by Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst at Al Jazeera and host and editor of the TV show Empire, and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, author of, well, more than a hundred books, including, most recently, Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians, also Hopes and Prospects, both published by Haymarket Books.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Wonderful to have you both in our studio this week on this 15th anniversary week of Democracy Now!

Just a correction, it was an ABC News reporter, Miguel Marquez, not NBC, who was among those—you know?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I know Miguel.

AMY GOODMAN: You know him?


AMY GOODMAN: He was in Manama, in Bahrain, part of this rolling rebellion in the Middle East.

Noam, talk about the significance. I feel like we talked a revolution ago. We were speaking just as the rebellion was unfolding in Egypt, and that was just, what, 18 days ago.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Eighteen days ago, yeah. Well, it’s a startling event. I mean, I don’t think one can predict where it’s going, but it’s obviously creating at least the basis for major changes in the region. And for the moment, the regimes are more or less holding. So, in Tunisia and Egypt, it’s essentially the same regime without changes. But the public protests are so vibrant and energetic that it’s hard to believe they’re going to be able to hold.

Bahrain, which was just talked about, is a particularly sensitive place. As you mentioned, it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the major fleet in the region. But also, it’s a majority Shiite country with a Sunni leadership. And right across on the mainland, the population in Saudi Arabia is also mainly Shiite, and Saudi Arabia has been concerned about them for years. It’s a repressed population. They’re concerned about possible influences from the Shiite regions nearby—Iran, southern Iraq—and also that happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian oil is. So it’s a very sensitive area.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been studying the Middle East, also traveling there for decades. Marwan Bishara, you live there. I think you don’t live in any one place, but for Al Jazeera, you travel the world. Talk about the significance of this.

MARWAN BISHARA: Well, I think we are living—I’m not sure if it’s a 1989 moment or something else, but certainly the Arab world has been quite delayed from those transformations that took place in Eastern Europe or, for that matter, in Latin America. And I think perhaps the Arab moment has come. It’s clear that the genie is out of the bottle. Now, some people, some cynics, would like to see it as a temporary uprising and everything will go back as it were. I don’t think so. I think change is coming to the Middle East, to the Arab world, in general. And in a sense, we know that the way back is not the way forward.

But what is the way forward exactly? As Professor Chomsky said, we’re not exactly sure. But certainly, it is a work in progress. And I’m not as skeptical as many that, although Ben Ali has gone in Tunisia and although Mubarak has gone in Egypt, that the Mubarak regime and the Ben Ali regime is going to stay. I think it’s a work in progress, and I think, sooner rather than later, we will see also the regimes being swept away after their symbols, their faces, have already been—have already left the scenes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask you particularly about Saudi Arabia, the bastion of conservatism and authoritarianism in the region. Now Saudi Arabia is faced with Bahrain—explosion in Bahrain to its east, Yemen to its south, Egypt to its west, and basically all the countries around Saudi Arabia now are on fire. And the impact on the monarchy, and of course on U.S. interests in the area—what do you think will be the impact within Saudi Arabia itself?

MARWAN BISHARA: I think the impact is going to differ from one country to another, but there’s a certain commonality to all of it. See, there is this thing that’s been absent in the mind of many, not only in Washington, but also in the U.S. media. There is something called an Arab. There is an Arab nation. You can fly—you can take a seven-hour flight from Morocco to Iraq, passing through an Arab region that speaks the same language, that has the same heritage. But it has been invisible to American media and to American decision makers. We’ve seen the Arab world. We’ve seen Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen Bahrain, through the lenses of military strategy, oil, prisms of Israel, and certainly terrorism and jihad. But what we’ve seen over the last six weeks has been completely absence. And hence, it caught everyone by surprise. Everyone was caught in the headlights—What is going on? Who are these people?—not realizing that in places like Bahrain, places like Yemen, certainly Egypt, Tunisia and so on and so forth, a pent-up tension has been building up for years. This is not a new thing that’s gone on on Facebook. So, in Saudi Arabia, like in the rest of the Arab world, we’re going to see what has been building up for years. In Bahrain, they used to call it, for the last 30 years, attempts to topple the government, attempts to topple the regime. In fact, they were community organizers. They’re not exactly like Chicago; the risks are far higher in the Arab world. But these are community organizers in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and other places, trying to live—or trying to root for decent living, but always being called terrorists or always been oppressed under the pretext of terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Marwan Bishara, you just came back from Washington, D.C., where you were meeting with think tanks. What is your sense of the Washington consensus understanding versus what you are experiencing in the Middle East?

MARWAN BISHARA: You know, sometimes I forget exactly what are the concepts that are allowed on television or not, but let me just put it this way: they were caught with their pants down, completely. I mean, people in Washington, until tod

back to top