Kissinger’s invaluable and lasting contribution to the history of this crucial time. One of the most important books to come out of the Nixon Administration, White House Years covers Henry Kissinger’s first four years (1969–1973) as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Among the momentous events recounted in this first volume of Kissinger’s timeless memoirs are his secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris to end the Vietnam War, the Jordan crisis of 1970, the India-Pakistan war of 1971, his back-channel and face-to-face negotiations with Soviet leaders to limit the nuclear arms race, his secret journey to China, and the historic summit meetings in Moscow and Beijing in 1972. He covers major controversies of the period, including events in Laos and Cambodia, his “peace is at hand” press conference and the breakdown of talks with the North Vietnamese that led to the Christmas bombing in 1972. Throughout, Kissinger presents candid portraits of world leaders, including Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, Jordan’s King Hussein, Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman Mao and Chou En-lai, Willy Brandt, Charles de Gaulle, and many others.
White House Years is Henry Kissinger’s invaluable and lasting contribution to the history of this crucial time.
Henry Kissinger was the fifty-sixth Secretary of State. Born in Germany, Dr. Kissinger came to the United States in 1938 and was naturalized a U.S. citizen in 1943. He served in the U.S. Army and attended Harvard University, where he later became a member of the faculty. Among the awards he has received are the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Medal of Liberty. Dr. Kissinger is currently Chairman of Kissinger Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm.
THE Inauguration took place on a bright, cold, and windy day. I sat on the platform just behind the new Cabinet and watched Lyndon Johnson stride down the aisle for the last time to the tune of “Hail to the Chief.” I wondered what this powerful and tragic figure thought as he ended a term of office that had begun with soaring aspiration and finished in painful division. How had this man of consensus ended up with a torn country? Johnson stood like a caged eagle, proud, dignified, never to be trifled with, his eyes fixed on distant heights that now he would never reach.
There was another fanfare and President-elect Richard Nixon appeared at the top of the Capitol stairs. He was dressed in a morning coat, his pant legs as always a trifle short. His jaw jutted defiantly and yet he seemed uncertain, as if unsure that he was really there. He exuded at once relief and disbelief. He had arrived at last after the most improbable of careers and one of the most extraordinary feats of self-discipline in American political history. He seemed exultant, as if he could hardly wait for the ceremony to be over so that he could begin to implement the dream of a lifetime. Yet he also appeared somehow spent, even fragile, like a marathon runner who has exhausted himself in a great race. As ever, it was difficult to tell whether it was the occasion or his previous image of it that Nixon actually enjoyed. He walked down the steps and took the oath of office in his firm deep voice.
MY own feeling of surprise at being there was palpable. Only eight weeks earlier the suggestion that I might participate in the Inauguration as one of the new President’s closest advisers would have seemed preposterous. Until then, all my political experience had been in the company of those who considered themselves in mortal opposition to Richard Nixon. I had taught for over ten years at Harvard University, where among the faculty disdain for Richard Nixon was established orthodoxy. And the single most influential person in my life had been a man whom Nixon had twice defeated in futile quests for the Presidential nomination, Nelson Rockefeller.
It was Nelson Rockefeller who had introduced me to high-level policymaking in 1955 when he was Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Eisenhower. He had called together a group of academics, among whom I was included, to draft a paper for the President on a fundamental diplomatic problem: how the United States could seize the initiative in international affairs and articulate its long-range objectives.
It was a revealing encounter. Rockefeller entered the room slapping the backs of the assembled academics, grinning and calling each by the closest approximation of his first name that he could remember. Yet this and his aura of all-American charm served at the same time to establish his remoteness: when everybody is called by his first name and with equal friendliness, relationships lose personal significance. Rockefeller sat down to listen as each of us, intoxicated by our proximity to power—and I daresay wealth—did his best to impress him with our practical acumen. One professor after another volunteered clever tactical advice on how to manipulate nations—or at least the bureaucracy; how to deal with a President we did not know; or (the perennial problem of national security advisers) how to prevail over an equally unfamiliar Secretary of State. As we finished, the smile left Rockefeller’s face and his eyes assumed a hooded look which I later came to know so well and which signaled that the time for serious business had arrived. He said: “I did not bring you gentlemen down here to tell me how to maneuver in Washington—that is my job. Your job is to tell me what is right. If you can convince me I will take it to the President. And if I can’t sell it to him I will resign.”
Rockefeller proved to be true to his word. We wrote a report; one of its ideas, the “open skies” proposal, was accepted. The sections spelling out long-range objectives were stillborn, partly because of the prevailing mood of self-satisfaction in the country, but largely because of the opposition of a powerful Secretary of State pressing his own convictions. At the end of 1955 Rockefeller resigned.
I had been part of a typical Rockefeller venture. Of all the public figures I have known he retained the most absolute, almost touching, faith in the power of ideas. He spent enormous resources to try to learn what was “the right thing” to do. His national campaigns were based on the illusion that the way to win delegates at national political conventions was to present superior substantive programs. He spent an excruciating amount of time on his speeches. Untypical as he might seem to be, he was in a way quintessentially American in his boundless energy, his pragmatic genius, and his unquenchable optimism. Obstacles were there to be overcome; problems were opportunities. He could never imagine that a wrong could not be righted or that an honorable aspiration was beyond reach. For other nations utopia is a blessed past never to be recovered; for Americans it is no farther than the intensity of their commitment.
Nelson Rockefeller, I am certain, would have made a great President. He possessed in abundance the qualities of courage and vision that are the touchstones of leadership. But at the moments when his goal might have been realized, in 1960 and again in 1968, he uncharacteristically hesitated. In the service of his beliefs he could be cold-blooded and ruthless; he was incredibly persistent. Yet there was in him a profound ambivalence. A kind of aristocratic scruple restrained him from pursuing the prize with the single-mindedness required and led him to exhaust himself in efforts to make himself worthy of the office. His entire upbringing made him recoil from appearing before the people he wanted to serve as if he were pursuing a personal goal; being already so privileged, he felt he had no right to ask anything more for himself as an individual. So he sought the office by trying to present to the nation the most sweeping vision of its possibilities and the best blueprint on how to attain them.
In a deep sense Nelson Rockefeller suffered from the hereditary disability of very wealthy men in an egalitarian society. He wanted assurance that he had transcended what was inherently ambiguous: that his career was due to merit and not wealth, that he had earned it by achievement and not acquired it by inheritance. In countries with aristocratic traditions—in Great Britain, for example, until well after World War II—an upper class moved in and out of high office convinced that public responsibility was theirs by right. Merit was assumed. But in the United States, the scions of great families are extremely sensitive to the charge of acquiring power through the visible exercise of influence or wealth; they believe that they must earn their office in their own right. But no more than a beautiful woman can be sure of being desired “for her own sake”—indeed, her own sake is inseparable from her beauty—can a rich man in America be certain what brought him to his station in public life. If he is lucky he learns in time that it makes little difference. In high political office he will be measured by the challenges he met and the accomplishments he wrought, not by his money or the motives of those who helped him get there. History will judge not the head start but the achievement.
Nelson Rockeller never fully resolved this dilemma. After his untimely death it was said that he failed to win the Presidency despite the fact that he was a Rockefeller. The opposite was more nearly true. He failed largely because he was a Rockefeller. He was not above spending vast sums for his political campaigns, but at the same time he felt an inordinate obligation to justify his ambition by his programs and an extraordinary reluctance to realize his dreams by what he considered the demeaning wooing of delegates to national conventions. It is not quite the way our political process works, geared as it is more to personalities than to programs.
Through three conventions Rockefeller fought for what he considered respectable party platforms in defiance of one of the surest lessons of American political history: that party platforms serve the fleeting moment when delegates come together to choose a party’s candidate and then quietly fade from public memory. In 1960, he advanced a major and comprehensive program a bare three weeks before the Republican National Convention, when his rejection was already foreordained and there was no practical hope of altering the outcome. By this device he forced Nixon into the famous “Compact of Fifth Avenue”—a document drafted in Rockefeller’s apartment—tilting the Republican platform in a direction compatible with his views. But he paid a grievous price in terms of his standing in the party. In 1964, he opposed Barry Goldwater beyond all the dictates of prudence because he was genuinely convinced that Goldwater in those days was a stalking horse for a dangerous form of conservative extremism (though he came to admire him later). And Goldwater’s less temperate adherents reciprocated by seeking to jeer Rockefeller off the stage at the Republican convention. In 1968, he withdrew from the race in March when he still had an outside chance and then, when Nixon had assured himself of a mathematical majority, reentered it by publishing a series of detailed and thoughtful policy positions.
The contrast with the style of Richard Nixon could not have been greater. In contemporary America, power increasingly gravitates to those with an almost obsessive de...
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Amazon.com:4.4 out of 5 stars 18 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 starsA Monumental WorkOct. 8 1998
By Raymond R. Rubino firstname.lastname@example.org - Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Kissinger's book is a must read for those wishing to gain insight into the politics of the diplomatic process. He takes great pains to be fair in his assessment of a number of personalities from President Nixon, to Indira Gandi. Self-observations are modest to the point of self-deprecation. The chapters in which he chronicles the Nixon Administration's involvement in the Vietnam War is worth the price of the book. Mr. Kissinger's observation of this tumultuous time in our history is candid, sometimes sad, but scholarly without being pedantic. I highly recommend this book.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars"The Longest Journey Begins With The First Step"Jan. 22 2001
By Harold Y. Grooms - Published on Amazon.com
The title of this review stems from an ancient Chinese proverb. Henry A. Kissinger's book, White House Years is the first of a three-volume trilogy that covers his remarkable career. This initial book begins with his appointment as National Security Advisor to Richard M. Nixon January 1969, and ends with the initialing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. Kissinger lets the reader know early on, they were under no illusions their journey would be easy or joyous.
He paints a vivid picture of Lyndon Johnson at Nixon's inauguration. If a political heavyweight like L.B.J. could be humbled by (sic) "Veetnam" no one could expect an easy time. Nixon, who had made a career of exhorting political opponents to, "Get tough with the Communists," now had his turn. He would either succeed where his predecessors had failed, or share L.B.J.s fate.
A series of opportunities to "get tough" with the Communists soon followed. The Soviets continued to harass Berlin; the Strateg!ic Arms Limitation (SALT) Talks provided critics from the right and left; West German leader Willie Brandt's Ostpolitik threatened the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance and the Soviets' establishment of a submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba created a situation reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also, the election of Salvador Allende in Chile threatened to introduce a second, Communist state into the Western Hemisphere. Elsewhere, a crisis was brewing between India and Pakistan, and the powder keg in the Middle East threatened to explode at any time.
All these things occurred while the bulk of our military forces were mired in a seemingly endless stalemate in Vietnam that was tearing our nation apart and steadily draining both our coffers and our national resolve. Any of them had the potential to bring the two nuclear equipped superpowers into direct confrontation at any time. Kissinger calmly states: "Statesmen do not have the right to ask to serve only in simple t!imes." The early '70's were anything but, "simple times."
White House Years is a first-person account from a key player in each of these crises. Kissinger takes us step-for-step through the decision-making process they undertook before each action. These deliberations led to the most spectacular diplomatic initiative of our time: Nixon's historic trip to The Peoples Republic of China! The diplomatic opportunities made possible by this trip still shape our world today. Among other things it made Hanoi serious about negotiating an end to the War in Vietnam.
Dr. Kissinger narrates the maddening, secret negotiations with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho in Paris. The differences between what the Communists were feeding the Western media and what they were saying behind closed doors makes the reader both loathe and admire them for their political skill. Their efforts finally led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Kissinger sincerely believed South Vietnam would surv!ive. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
White House Years reads like a Greek tragedy. The reader gets excited and then remembers how it all ends. The very secretiveness that produced spectacular successes also sowed the seeds that would lead to Nixon's self-destruction.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the War in Vietnam and/or international relations. The conduct of international diplomacy today is still unquestionably influenced by the events narrated here. I am much better informed for having read it. You will be as well!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars...an avalanche of publicity followed his appointment...March 11 2008
By Mr Bassil A MARDELLI - Published on Amazon.com
Kissinger is a German-born origin, now American Politician. There were countless attacks from left, right and center on the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Perhaps his German background prompted a writer in the ""Nation"" to draw a resemblance between Kissinger and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister. (Couldn't they ever forget?) In his memoirs, Kissinger alludes to the years he served as National Security adviser and one can fathom a touch of boasting on how much, in the eyes of many observers, his initiatives and allure was the main rescuing feature of an otherwise disastrous administration (Watergate!!). His appointment as Secretary of State aroused not only favorable editorials; there was a great deal of unfriendly comment as well. Some reflected envy and grudging ill-will; there must have been many political gurus firmly convinced that they would have been able to do as good, and even a much effective, job than Kissinger.
During his time in the Nixon and Ford administrations he cut a showy personality like brightly colored movie stars, appearing at social occasions with many celebrities and in his pictures he appeared very much in joy at such occasions; at times his name was transfused to "'Henri the Kiss"" something like a sex reference, didn't he say "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac?"" Very few photos show him frowning; otherwise his face has always been smiley. His foreign policy record made him the feared goddess of vengeance to the anti-war groups as well as to the anti-communists.
His memoirs portrays him as the devout advocate of ""Realpolitik"", and tell us how far the man played a dominant role in USA foreign policies between 1969 and 1973. In less than five years, he `taught' the world the policy of `'détente" that led to a significant relaxation in U.S.-Soviet tensions and played a crucial role in 1971 talks with China's Premier Zhou Enlai that concluded with a rapprochement between the two countries (tennis games) and the formation of a new strategic anti-Soviet Sino-American alliance.
His help and energy to put an end to the fighting in Vietnam rewarded him the Nobel Peace Prize (1973). But the subsequent events failed him dearly when a ceasefire in Vietnam could not remain durable. Kissinger preferred the maintenance of friendly diplomatic relationships with anti-Communist military dictatorships in many places in Latin America, however he approved of half-hidden intervention in Chilean politics. Such disguised approach caused him the accusation of encouraging and taking part in the atrocities committed by the Argentine military junta.
Looking at his accomplishment, one cannot but associate his name (and indeed his personality) mainly with: Détente and the opening to China Vietnam and Cambodia 1971 Indo-Pakistan War falling short of reviewing: 1973 Yom Kippur War 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus
Kissinger was never connected with the Watergate scandal which eventually ruined Nixon and many of his close associates. The media labeled Kissinger as the ""clean man"" of the "Bunch""
I wonder why he did not mention in these memoirs the notion that prevailed for a short period of ending the requirement that a U.S. president be born in America. Some examined the possibility of amending the U.S. Constitution so that Kissinger could have a chance to run for President of the United States of America.
Perhaps what's missing in details for us in the Middle East is the 1973 Yum Kippur War. The memoirs, unfortunately, ended on the borders of 1973. From page 1290 until the end of the chapter we figure some secret channels between Sadat and Kissinger, we do not know how far such talks have led to the 1973 War. Was the war really surprising? Kissinger negotiated the end to the war, which had begun with a massive and, a so called, surprise attack against Israel by Egyptian and Syrian regular armies. According to Kissinger, if Israel had begun the war, they would not have received "so much as a nail" in aid from the United States. But since the Arabs started it all, the U.S military performed the largest military airlift in history, that led to the 1973 OPEC embargo against the United States and its Western European allies, which was lifted in March 1974. When Israel recovered back most of the lands they lost during the initial stage of the `'surprise'' attack, the Israeli Army mounted a counter attack and regained some more territories. In this debacle Kissinger became the actual movie Star in this part of the world. USA, with the nickname: Uncle Sam became Uncle Henry (or Dear Henry). Kissinger was able to pressure Israel to cede some of the newly captured land back to the Arabs, contributing to the first phases of lasting Israeli-Egyptian peace. The move saw a warming in U.S.-Egyptian relations, bitter since the 1950s, as the country moved away from its former pro-Soviet stance and into a close partnership with the United States.
Can we ever get the whole truth from the memoirs of shrewd politicians in the caliber of Henry Kissinger?, or only time can tell!!