Friday, March 1, 2024

Death of Cold War architect

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Henry Kissenger, the most powerful U.S. diplomat of the Cold War era, who helped Washington open up to China, forge arms control deals with the Soviet Union and end the Vietnam War, but who was also responsible for the worst forms of human rights violation died on November 30 at the age of 100. Born in Germany, Kissenger was a Jew whose parents migrated to the US. He was an academic who switched careers to diplomacy and remained successful at that. In life as in death Kissenger remains a highly controversial figure. Almost all US Presidents sought his advice. It is amazing how he balanced the China and Russia ties. His obituaries reflect the impact that US diplomacy has had across the world. Those who wrote his obituaries included academics, policy makers, public intellectuals, diplomats, journalists and those engaged in international affairs. Each of these writers had their own points of view on Kissenger and his diplomatic spins and statecraft over several decades.
Senior Indian diplomats had a healthy respect for Kissinger, perhaps because unlike the normal diplomat whose role is to play chess adroitly without tilting the boat, Kissenger moved with a confidence drawn from the fact that he was virtually given a free hand on managing international affairs. US Presidents barring the odd one, relied heavily on his diplomatic skills. The way he managed the Cold War has continued to shape global politics even today. In July this year, China invited Kissenger to open a line of communication with the Biden administration. This underlines the fact that Kissinger not only retained a high degree of influence on world politics but also reveals how China which now claims to be an economic superpower has to rely on a doddery diplomat who retired nearly four decades ago. In the US, Kissinger’s views were sought by politicians from all sides of the divide. At the age of 100, Kissenger retained his astute observations of world politics and hence continued to remain in the news till the very end – a feat very few could boast of. But realists that are not overawed by Kissenger have called him a cruel power broker who had least respect for human lives. His policy in aiding Pakistan to thwart the war for liberation of Bangladesh and the thousands of people killed during this liberation struggle in which India assisted the people of East Pakistan to create the nation of Bangladesh, is an ugly scar on his career as also his role in Cambodia.
In October this year Kissenger stated that given the challenges of the present world, the US must develop a concept of where it is headed and how it intends to get there across party lines and despite political differences, for, that is what leadership means. Perhaps Kissinger senses the palpable lack of strategy in American foreign-policy today.

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