The Bloody Prince
Imagine yourself far away, in a landlocked country in the southeastern part of Asia. You are a farmer’s wife. You have never had anything to do with politics; though you are aware that the Pathet Lao, the nation’s communist guerrillas, are plotting against the monarchy and are working with military forces in neighboring Vietnam, these are things that take place far away and have little impact on your life of toil and joy. One day, the scream of jet bombers shrieking high above your farm shatters the peace of your quiet life; seconds later, your two children will die and your husband will be left unable to work, as his leg and arm and blown off of his torso by an American cluster bomb.
Your country is a neutral one; you have not been at war with the United States, and you never will be. But over the subsequent nine years, American bombers will rain ordnance on you and your neighbors nearly non-stop, dropping almost fifty bombs for every living human in Laos. Your only consolation is that you are not alone: by the time the illegal war comes to an end, thirty thousand people will die from this heartless, and ultimately pointless, campaign of destruction. (The same thing will happen in the neighboring kingdom of Cambodia, only the death toll will be far higher.) Forty years later, the toll will continue to rise thanks to the presence of millions of unexploded bombs; by 2016, over 50,000 people will have died, many of them children born decades after the end of the Vietnam War. Not a single Laotian has ever fired a shot at an American citizen, but your countrymen will continue to die for years to come because of the foolish and failed strategy of one single man. That man is still alive, and he shows no remorse for his role in the indefensible and entirely avoidable death of tens of thousands of your countrymen. His name is Henry Alfred Kissinger.
The question of guilt by association is a thornier one than it might appear. Many reasonable people might agree that an idea is not responsible for the people who believe in it, but there certainly comes a point at which defending that idea’s theoretical beauty in the face of its ugly practice becomes ethically uncomfortable. We all have unclean pasts, and most of us have at one time or another associated with someone whose behavior has caused us to wish we’d never met them. It’s absolutely fine to argue that no one should be judged merely by the character of the company that they keep.
This is usually the argument, if one is ever offered (it usually isn’t), for why Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and likely next president of the United States, continues to align herself in various ways with her predecessor at Foggy Bottom, Henry Alfred Kissinger. She has repeatedly referred to him as a friend. She has called him her mentor, not in a general sense, but specifically in the arena of foreign policy, her brief at State and an essential job requirement for the presidency. She has (favorably) reviewed his books, she has met with him publicly and privately at the White House, and she has openly and unashamedly spoken about seeking his counsel in matters of international affairs. In one of the saddest ironies of the modern age, she even accepted a “Freedom Medal” from him at a black tie gala in Washington put on by a foreign policy think tank.
A person should not, goes the argument, be judged by the company they keep. However, there’s something very difficult to swallow in that argument when it is made by liberals who previously condemned the entire candidacy of left-socialist politician Bernie Sanders for his alleged responsibility for a handful of Internet loudmouths, when they turn their faces away and resolutely ignore Hillary Clinton’s decades-long friendship with perhaps the most morally repugnant human being in America.
Imagine yourself far away, in a coastal nation far down the length of South America. You are a bricklayer. Your only involvement with politics is a devotion to your union — you have never acted violently, but you are dedicated to the cause of gaining decent pay and safer working conditions for your fellow workers. Political instability has given you hope that the left will make progress and your life will be better, but then one day a coup by the generals dashes that hope. It is a month later that you are dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, away from your pregnant wife; you are blindfolded and thrown onto a military aircraft. After a painful and terrifying journey, the blindfold is removed; you look out the hatch of the airplane and see the ocean far below you. It is the last thing you ever see. For the crime of wanting an improved salary and more workplace safety, you are thrown into the water to die. Your children will never learn what happened to you. Your wife will be kept in prison until she gives birth; then she will be shot, and the baby will be given to a family who is more supportive of the military dictatorship.
Your country is a neutral one; you have not been at war with the United States, and you never will be. But for two decades, your friends will be kidnapped, abused, and killed by the government both here and in the neighboring country of Chile. Both countries saw a coup backed by right-wing, pro-business conservatives come to power and almost immediately begin murdering everyone they perceived to be enemies; both juntas had the full support of the U.S. Secretary of State, who repeatedly assured the generals that they would enjoy the complete and total backing of America. He urged them to dispatch of the enemies of the state quickly so as to ensure a smooth transition; the end result was the torture and murder of over 25,000 human beings. That Secretary of State is still alive, and not only does he show no remorse for the mass killings of your people, but he mocks anyone who does, as he attends fancy parties, drinks the finest wine, and lives high off the millions of dollars he has made practicing his bloody craft. His name is Henry Alfred Kissinger.
No one should be thought an accomplice to Kissinger’s unspeakable crimes simply for knowing him. It is only if they follow his example that they should be condemned, and on this count, we simply do not know enough about Hillary Clinton’s future plans to know if she will actually walk in his policy footsteps as well as seek his friendship and court his endorsement.
Or do we? Clinton has made no secret of her admiration of Kissinger — not just the man, but his style of diplomacy. With the emergence of Donald Trump, whose grasp on international affairs is limited to marrying Slavic models, she has attracted the endorsement of a number of prominent neo-conservatives, who represent the direct lineage of Kissinger’s murderous Realpolitik, and she has received admiring praise from the likes of John Negroponte, who essentially did for Central America what Kissinger did for South America. Every foreign policy expert in Washington, whether they like her or not, agrees that hers will be an aggressively hawkish presidency. She has surrounded herself with advisors, financiers, and cabinet hopefuls who have spent time either working for or dealing with Kissinger Associates, Henry’s high-powered consulting company, which spends most of its efforts on lucrative contracts teaching brutal dictators how to shield themselves from the legal consequences of their violent behavior. (Brent Scowcroft, Kissinger Associate’s co-founder, is another ancient war-ghoul who has endorsed Clinton.)
Most of all, her tenure as Secretary of State is disturbingly reminiscent of Henry’s: a belligerent and incoherent policy towards the Middle East; a strengthened CIA answerable only to the executive branch; an unquestioning fealty to Israel; an arrogant certainty based on ego that led to disaster (in Libya); courting immoral governments in exchange for favors that allow them to carry out proxy wars (in Saudi Arabia); and promising support to right-wing coups in hopes of ‘stability’ — something that, apparently, can never be provided by leftist governments — that has already paid off with the blood of innocents (in Honduras). This last one should be particularly shameful to those who praise Clinton as a defender of women, as they have suffered most at the hands of its usurpers. These are not abstractions or theories or potentialities: they are real people who are really suffering because of American Realpolitik as practiced in the real world.
We must be very careful who are friends are in politics. As evil as he is — and he surely belong in the ranks of the most evil men of our time — even Henry Kissinger will not live forever. But we will gain nothing from his overdue demise if his policies live on, in the governance of his good friend Hillary Rodham Clinton. We are in a sociopolitical climate where even the merest whiff of racial or sexual impropriety can cause someone to be banished from the public sphere; Henry Kissinger has done far worse things than that, to tens of thousands of innocent people of color, many if not most of them women and children. If ever there was a time to repudiate someone, it is now, and if ever there was someone to repudiate, it is Kissinger. If she truly wants the votes of the progressive left — if her backers believe that she truly deserves those votes — then disassociating herself from him is the very least she can do. It will cost her nothing in terms of political clout, and it will send the message that she is at least willing to entertain the notion that there is a better way to approach international politics.
I’m long past demanding he be arrested or tried for war crimes. All I want is for the next president to make a symbolic but fundamentally decent gesture: stand up and say, about a man whose legacy is that of the screaming death of thousands of innocents by fire and bullet and torture, “This man’s way is not our way.” I’d give up all my other hesitations about her character and her politics and gladly give her the trust and hope of my vote, and that’s all I ask in exchange. Henry Kissinger is a monster. Let’s finally, as a nation, admit that and move on.