Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Thomas A. Schwartz's "Henry Kissinger and American Power"

Thomas A. Schwartz is Distinguished Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he specializes in the foreign relations of the United States. He has served on the U.S. State Department's Historical Advisory Committee and as president of the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Schwartz applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Henry Kissinger and American Power: A Political Biography, and reported the following:
Page 99 records a shift in the attention of Henry Kissinger from focusing on the Vietnam and Cambodia situation in June 1970, after the controversial invasion and the resulting domestic protests, to the Middle East, and the “War of Attrition” between Israel and Egypt. After noting how Nixon justified the results of the Cambodian “incursion,” I describe the congressional restrictions that will play a major role in how he and Kissinger will have to deal with trying to find a formula to end the war. The second paragraph briefly recaps what has happened in the Middle East before the Administration turns its attention to the situation in the middle of the summer of 1970. Nixon and Kissinger had met with the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, recognizing that Israel had become a nuclear power but encouraging her not to say so publicly. I also describe how Nixon created a bureaucratic power struggle between his Secretary of State, William Rogers, and Kissinger, his National Security Adviser. Nixon initially kept Kissinger out of dealing with the Middle East because he did not think Kissinger, a Jew, could be objective in handling the issue. However, he gave Kissinger authority to deal with Moscow on all major issues, which inevitably concerned the Middle East, since the Soviets were heavily involved there. Kissinger caused some controversy in June 1970 when he said the United States wanted to “expel” the Soviets from the region.

A browser opening my book to page 99 would get the correct impression of how I discuss Kissinger’s role in the major foreign policy questions of the time. The reference to Israel as a nuclear power and to the continuing problems of the Middle East may also remind a reader that even though the events I describe occurred fifty years ago, we are still dealing with their consequences. The page also contains material that captures the complicated relationship between Kissinger and Richard Nixon. They were an odd couple in every way possible, although these differences came to matter less than their own love of exercising power and keeping secrets.

What is missing in the early part of the book is something that I think makes my book an original contribution. I used two major sources that have not been used as extensively in earlier works on Kissinger. One is the Nixon tapes, which are now fully accessible and open to researchers. The taping system only began in February 1971, and lasted until July 1973. The tapes provide an image of Kissinger that is quite different from how he portrayed himself in his memoirs, and reveal how much domestic political advantage influenced the foreign policy of the Administration. This is an argument which I emphasize, as Kissinger portrayed himself as a geopolitical thinker who was largely oblivious to partisan domestic battles. The second new source I used were the holdings of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. The Archive holds recordings of the evening news since August 1968, and in this period, with only the three major networks, the vast majority of Americans got their news from television. Walter Cronkite was the “most trusted man in America,” and TV reporting influenced how Americans perceived Kissinger. In June 1970, Kissinger was not yet the widely known figure he would become after he made the secret visit to China in July 1971. The second part of the book uses these media archives to make an argument about how Kissinger came to dominate the foreign policy process as well as become one of America’s first “celebrity diplomats.” Ultimately, my book argues that Kissinger came to both exercise and symbolize American power in the world during this era.
Learn more about Henry Kissinger and American Power at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue