Vietnam, the Middle East, regime coups, invasions: Henry Kissinger’s major moments

Controversial top diplomat, turning 100 on Saturday, organized airlift to resupply Israel during Yom Kippur War, secretly brokered ties with communist China

File - Then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a German-born Jewish refugee, briefs the press on an upcoming state visit of Moscow's Soviet Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in Washington, June 14, 1973. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)
File - Then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a German-born Jewish refugee, briefs the press on an upcoming state visit of Moscow's Soviet Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in Washington, June 14, 1973. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

US diplomat Henry Kissinger, who turns 100 on Saturday, shaped US foreign policy like few others, with a long — and highly controversial — record.

Here are some of the major moments of Kissinger, who served both as national security adviser and secretary of state to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford:

China

Kissinger secretly flew to Beijing in July 1971 on a mission to establish relations with communist China, setting the stage for a landmark visit by Nixon who sought both to shake up the Cold War and enlist help ending the Vietnam War.

The US opening to then isolated Beijing contributed to China’s rise to become a manufacturing powerhouse and the world’s largest economy after the United States.

Since leaving office, Kissinger has grown wealthy advising businesses on China — and has warned against the hawkish turn in US policy.

Vietnam

Leading Nixon’s efforts to end “with honor” the disastrous US war in Vietnam, Kissinger secretly ordered bombings in neighboring Cambodia and Laos in hopes of cutting off Hanoi’s supply lines. Some historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of civilians died.

Kissinger reached a ceasefire in Vietnam in January 1973 through negotiations in Paris and was controversially co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which Hanoi’s Le Duc Tho refused to accept.

The US-allied government in Saigon fell more than two years later — with Kissinger believed to be seeking a “decent interval” after the Paris deal to minimize the appearance of a US loss.

File: Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger attends a luncheon at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on December 1, 2022. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Coups

Convinced that facing down the Soviet Union was the larger picture, Kissinger advocated the overthrow of governments that tilted left, most notably in Chile and Argentina.

In a declassified memo that showed his cold calculations, Kissinger said that Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, offered an “insidious” model by showing that a leftist elected government could work. Allende committed suicide as troops took over in a CIA-backed coup.

Invasions

Kissinger also showed no reluctance in backing invasions when he saw a larger US interest. When Pakistan served as a secret intermediary on China, he offered diplomatic cover to Islamabad as it waged a campaign of killings and mass rape in East Pakistan, which won independence as Bangladesh.

Kissinger gave an explicit green light to close Cold War ally Indonesia as it seized East Timor, beginning a brutal 24-year occupation.

Kissinger also tacitly supported Turkey as it seized one-third of Cyprus, seeking strong relations with the strategically placed country and perceived balance in its rivalry with fellow NATO member Greece.

Kissinger also led covert US involvement in Angola’s civil war to counter Soviet and Cuban allies.

Middle East

Kissinger devoted much of his time to the Middle East and organized a massive airlift, Operation Nickel Grass, to resupply ally Israel with weapons after Arab states launched a surprise attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in 1973.

Kissinger would later negotiate in minute detail with Israel, Egypt and Syria as he came to define “shuttle diplomacy.”

Effectively co-opting Moscow’s role, Kissinger transformed the relationship with Egypt, the most populous Arab country, which became a US security partner and aid recipient.

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