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Years Of Renewal by Henry Kissinger (1999-06-10)

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Years Of Renewal by Henry Kissinger (1999-06-10)

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    Henry Kissinger(Author)
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  • By A. Smith on 18 September 2015

    In ‘More Money Than God’ Sebastian Mallaby recalls George Soros inviting Kissinger to his office in the early 1990s and asking his lieutenant Stanley Druckenmiller: “Would you like a word with him?” Druckenmiller, “unimpressed”, replies: “Does he know anything?” To which Soros reassures: “Oh, yes. I don’t like him, but he does know things.” You don’t have to like Kissinger to admit that his memoirs prove ‘he knows things.’ And you only have to be fair-minded to acknowledge that he can write about the things he knows with kindness, eloquence and humour.After the epic achievements of ‘White House Years’ and ‘Years of Upheaval’, ‘Years of Renewal’ [YOR], his final instalment, might have been an anti-climax. After all, YOR covers the Ford years, and, as Kissinger quips in the title of the first chapter, Ford was “not a Lincoln”. But don’t judge the enormity of a presidency by the front man. (Indeed, Kissinger is at pains to overturn popular myths about Ford: “a straightforward and uncomplicated demeanour is not incompatible with subtlety.”) From the Cold War to the Middle East to SE Asia to NATO to Latin America to Africa’s liberation, Kissinger, at Ford’s behest, was there. Ever wonder where Jonas Jonasson got the inspiration for his ‘Hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared’ and, as the sleeve of that book puts it, “played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century”?!Again, there are laugh out loud and cry out loud moments to enjoy and endure, respectively. Here’s Kissinger recalling how one Bryce Harlow diagnosed the root cause of ‘Watergate: “Some damn fool got into the Oval Office and did as he was told.” And here he is, capturing Hubert Humphrey’s verbosity: “It was said of him that he once spoke at a tree-planting ceremony and, by the time he finished, he was standing in the shade.” But these lighter touches only partly balance an overwhelmingly bleak tale and prognosis. For example, those bearing solemn ‘n’ binding bits of paper from the Middle East might ponder that “in 1973, an Arab foreign minister told me that no one wanted to be the minister who would be cursed by posterity for having been the first to make peace with Israel.” As for Kissinger’s implicit critique to the current crop of ‘leaders’, read the following, and weep:● (re trying to deal with Cambodian butchers) “For some, the quest for a pure form of diplomacy based solely on negotiating legerdemain, unsupported by any leverage, reflected a very American nostalgia.”● (re appealing to Russia on a Vietnam end game, Kissinger quotes Edward Gibbon) “persuasion is the resource of the feeble and the feeble can seldom persuade.”● “Modern leaders crave the renown of being strong without being willing to pay for it…wanting their courage certified by the anchorman of the evening news, they alternate between paralysis and frantic manoeuvring to satisfy pollsters or focus groups. Glibness rather than profundity, adeptness rather than analytical skill constitute their dominant traits.”● “Instant punditry and the egalitarian concept that any view is as valid as any other combine with a cascade of immediate symptoms to crush a sense of perspective.”● And here’s the “curious paradox of contemporary democracy: never have political leaders been more abject in trying to determine the public’s preferences, yet, in most democracies, respect for the political class has never been lower.”Kissinger does bleed. But he’s perceptive enough to extract a moral from the slings and arrows thrown his way. The “ultimate source” of personal attacks he diagnoses as “America’s need to adjust to a world which had no final answers, in which every solution was the beginning of another challenge – in other words, coming to terms with the end of America’s hitherto unique relationship to history. It marked a rebellion …against the world of permanent complexity… the quest for permanent peace brought on by the crusading triumph of American values or the dominance of American power.” Translation: America, and its current leaders, should grow up.

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