It’s been more than forty years since Henry Kissinger was giving advice to Richard Nixon on the illegal bombing of Cambodia, but the 87 year old former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State remains a controversial figure.
The announcement earlier this week that Kissinger would be keynoting a Department of State conference on “The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975” quickly sparked a furious response from longtime anti-war activist Fred Branfman.
“Nothing more symbolizes how the temptations of power can corrupt youthful values and idealism than Secretary Hillary Clinton’s invitation to Henry Kissinger and Richard Holbrooke to keynote a major State Department conference on the history of the Indochina war,” Branfman wrote on Tuesday, in an article titled “Hillary Clinton and State Dept. to Celebrate War Criminal Henry Kissinger, While the White House Repeats His Deadly Mistakes.”
“As an idealistic college student, Clinton protested Kissinger’s mass murder of civilians in Indochina,” Branfman continues. “But on Sept. 29 she will introduce Kissinger at the State Department Historian’s conference, giving him a platform to continue 40 years of Orwellian deception in which he has sought to blame Congress for the fall of Indochina rather than accepting responsibility for his massive miscalculations and indifference to human suffering.”
The Clinton-Kissinger relationship appears to have been developing steadily over the past two years, starting in December 2008 when Kissinger responded to reports that President-elect Obama was considering Clinton as Secretary of State by saying that “it would be an outstanding appointment.”
By December 2009, when Kissinger and Clinton were jointly interviewed by Newsweek, they came across as a kind of mutual admiration society, addressing each other as “Hillary” and “Henry” and enthusiastically agreeing with one another’s statements.
Just a few weeks earlier, former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards — an old-line conservative and current critic of Tea Party Republicanism — had commented at The Atlantic that Obama appeared to be shying away from idealism in foreign policy and embracing his “inner Kissinger.”
“Obama’s ‘Kissinger’ revealed itself first,” Edwards wrote, “when his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton went to China and declared that bringing up the unpleasantness of Chinese human rights violations would serve no useful purpose. … One cannot know whether the soft line taken toward China, Sudan, Russia, and other violators of human liberties will in the end dominate Mr. Obama’s foreign policy decisions. But neither can the early signs be ignored. For the moment, it appears, Henry Kissinger is back.”
What particularly infuriates Branfman, however, is not even the deference offered to Kissinger so much as the fact that the Obama administration appears determined to duplicate his “deadly mistakes” of forty years ago. Bronfman was one of the first to draw attention to the US air war in Indochina, starting in 1970 when he testified on the secret bombing of Laos before the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees, and he is acutely aware of the parallels.
“Clinton has also invited Richard Holbrooke,” Branfman writes “who as State Department head of Afghanistan/Pakistan policy has learned nothing from history and is repeating precisely the same policies that caused the U.S. to lose in Indochina — support of a corrupt and unpopular regime that cannot stand on its own.”
“An attempt is currently being made to build support for today’s war-making in Afghanistan and Pakistan by claiming that the U.S. lost in Indochina because Congress cut aid to Thieu,” he adds. “Future historians will marvel at how U.S. leaders so thoroughly failed to learn from their horrific mistakes and crimes in Indochina, and have instead repeated many of them today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
In his remarks at the conference on Wednesday, Kissinger expressed no doubts or regrets about his role during the Nixon administration, even insisting that the “so-called secret bombing” of Cambodia “was in essentially unpopulated areas, and I don’t believe it had any significant casualties.”
From Kissinger’s point of view, “the tragedy of the Vietnam War” was that “what would be a natural critique of decisions that were arguable at various stages became transmuted into a moral issue. … We cannot afford a divided country and go to war. We owe it to ourselves to have confidence, at least, in the good faiths of our government. We cannot turn these issues into a moral contest.”
He then went on to blame the media for making the Vietnam War into a moral issue, saying, “I think public opinion, insofar as one could determine that, was always basically supportive of the general direction of the policy. The media became extremely hostile and increasingly hostile and bought into the proposition that an evil government in both the Johnson Administration and then in the Nixon Administration was lying, tricking because it had some commitment to warlike policies.”
“Secretary Clinton is not only insulting history and betraying her own past by giving a platform to Henry Kissinger to continue distorting history,” Branfman’s article concludes. “She is betraying America today, foolishly perpetuating policies toward the Muslim world that can only end in even greater losses for the U.S.”