Since returning to private life some three decades ago, Henry Kissinger has doggedly attempted to restore some luster to a rather badly tarnished image. Lionized by the press in the mid-1970’s as “Super K,” the unprecedentedly powerful secretary of state and mighty architect of American foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford era, Kissinger saw his stock fall rapidly in the 1980’s and 90’s as conservatives criticized him for what they saw as his defeatist policy of détente with the Soviet Union and liberals lambasted him for what they viewed as his amoral, Machiavellian sacrifice of American ideals on the altar of pragmatism and realpolitik.
On the Middle East, Kissinger has labored to recast his image from that of a play-no-favorites geostrategist – in whose eyes Israel chiefly served as an impediment to greater U.S. influence in the Arab world – to someone who has always recognized Israel’s great geopolitical value, first in the Cold War and now in the war on terrorism.
Such a pro-Israel image is quite at odds with eyewitness accounts of Kissinger’s dealings within the Nixon administration during the 1973 Yom Kippur war and with Israeli and Arab leaders as he brokered a cease-fire and attempted to craft some sort of peace accord in the moths after the fighting stopped.
In Gerald and Deborah Strober’s Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency, former congressional staffer, State Department official and AIPAC executive director Morris Amitay described Kissinger as trying “to fine-tune the outcome of the [Yom Kippur] war so that both sides would be dependent on the United States, which is what ultimately happened. But it involved bloodshed from the Israelis and it robbed them of a decisive military victory….”
Though Kissinger has his defenders in the Strobers’ book, the consensus of Nixon administration insiders is that the secretary of state wanted Israel to suffer at least a limited hit, in the hope that a bloodied Israel would be more malleable at the negotiating table.
On the issue of the massive U.S. military airlift to Israel, most of those interviewed by the Strobers saw Kissinger as being an impediment to a smooth and timely transfer of arms. Former Nixon aide Leonard Garment recalled: “Henry was always trying to titrate the administration’s support for Israel, so as not to get the Arabs angry: ‘We can do this, but we can’t do that.’ ”
Kenneth Rush, who served as a deputy secretary of state and a deputy secretary of defense, painted a picture for the Strobers of Kissinger at his manipulative best (or worst): “Nixon wanted the resupply; Kissinger delayed …. not because he didn’t want to help the Israelis, but he wanted to make them feel that they owed the resupply to him; he could use this in his negotiations, as well as for his personal benefit. So he delayed, and the Israelis, at the time, thought that he was the hero who had stepped in and made Defense and Nixon come through. The fact is that Nixon was pressing like mad for the resupply, Defense was ready to go forward, and Kissinger was holding it up by various means.”
What brought all this to mind was the release last week by George Washington University’s National Security Archive of 28,000 pages of Kissinger-related foreign policy papers. Kissinger is on record as assuring the Iraqi foreign minister in 1975 that while “we can’t negotiate about the existence of Israel …. we can reduce its size to historical proportions.”
What Kissinger had in mind when referring to Israel’s “historical proportions” is anyone’s guess, but his feelings about Israel – and his wildly-off-the-mark projections about Israel’s future – come through all too clearly in his statement to the Iraqi official that American public opinion was turning more pro-Palestinian; that the then-current level of U.S. aid to Israel would inevitably be reduced; and that in not too distant future “Israel will be like Lebanon – struggling for existence, with no influence in the Arab world.”
Once it reaches a comprehensive settlement with its neighbors, “Israel will be a small friendly country,” Kissinger happily predicted.