[Winston Lord, Kissinger on Kissinger. Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership. All Points Books. New York, 2019. 147 p.]

review / Emili J. Blasco

Kissinger on Kissinger. Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership.

At the age of 96, Henry Kissinger sees another book published that is largely his own: the transcription of a series of lengthy interviews regarding the main foreign actions of the Nixon Administration, in which he served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Although he himself has already left extensive writings on those moments and has provided documentation for others to write about them - as in the case of Niall Ferguson's biography, the first volume of which appeared in 2015 - Kissinger has wanted to return to that period from 1969-1974 to offer a synthesis of the strategic principles that motivated the decisions then adopted. No news is provided, but there are details that may be of interest to historians of that period.

The work does not respond to a last-minute desire on Kissinger's part to influence a particular reading of his bequest. In fact, the initiative to keep the dialogues transcribed here did not come from him. It is, however, part of a wave of vindication of the presidency of Richard Nixon, whose strategic vision in international politics was tarnished by Watergate. The Nixon Foundation promoted the realization of a series of videos, which included several interviews with Kissinger, conducted throughout 2016. These were conducted by Winston Lord, Kissinger's close partner during his time at the White House and at the department of State, together with K. T. McFarland, then an official under him (and, for a few months, issue two of committee of National Security with Donald Trump). More than two years later, this conversation with Kissinger is now published in a small, short book. His last books had been "China" (2011) and "World Order" (2014).

Kissinger's oral account here deals with a few issues that were at the center of his activity as the great architect of U.S. foreign policy: the opening to China, détente with Russia, the end of the Vietnam War and greater involvement in the Middle East. Although the conversation goes into detail and provides various anecdotes, what is substantial is what can be extracted beyond these specifics: the "reflections on diplomacy, grand strategy and leadership" indicated in the book's subtitle. It could be tiresome to read again the intrahistory of a diplomatic performance on which the protagonist himself has already been prolific, but on this occasion reflections are offered that transcend the specific historical period, which for many may already be far away, as well as interesting recommendations on decision-making processes in leadership positions.

Kissinger provides some clues, for example, as to why in the United States the National Security committee has been consolidated as an instrument for the President's foreign action, with an autonomous -and sometimes conflictive- life with respect to the State department . The Nixon Administration was the driving force behind it, following the suggestion of Eisenhower, whose vice president Nixon had been: interdepartmental coordination in foreign policy could hardly be done from a department -the administrative office of State-, but had to be carried out from the White House itself. While the National Security Advisor can concentrate on those actions that most interest the President, the Secretary of State is obliged to be more dispersed, having to attend to a multitude of fronts. Moreover, unlike the greater readiness of the Defense department to second the commander in chief, the State department apparatus, accustomed to elaborating multiple alternatives for each international issue, may take time to fully assume the direction imposed from the White House.

In terms of negotiating strategy, Kissinger rejects the idea of privately setting a maximum goal and then cutting it little by little, like slices of salami, as the end of the negotiation is reached. Instead, he suggests setting from the outset the basic goals that one would like to achieve -adding perhaps 5%, since something will have to be conceded- and spending a long time explaining them to the other party, with the idea of reaching a conceptual understanding. Kissinger advises understanding what moves the other party and what their own objectives are, because "if you impose your interests without linking them to the interests of the others, you will not be able to sustain your efforts", given that at the end of the negotiation the parties must be willing to support what has been achieved.

As on other occasions, Kissinger does not claim sole credit for the diplomatic successes of the Nixon Administration. While the press and some in academia have given greater credit to the former Harvard professor, Kissinger himself has insisted that it was Nixon who decisively shaped the policies, the maturation of which the two had previously pursued separately before collaborating in the White House. Nevertheless, it is perhaps in this book where Kissinger's words praise the former president the most, perhaps because they were made in the framework of an initiative born from the Nixon Foundation.

 "Nixon's fundamental contribution was to establish a seminal patron saint of foreign policy thinking," says Kissinger. According to him, the traditional approach to U.S. foreign action had been to segment issues in an attempt to solve them as individualized problems, making their resolution the issue itself. "Nixon was - leaving aside the Founding Fathers and, I would argue, Teddy Roosevelt - the American president who thought of foreign policy as grand strategy. For him, foreign policy was the structural improvement of the relationship between countries so that the balance of their self-interest would promote global peace and U.S. security. And he thought about this in relatively long-range terms."

Those who have little sympathy for Kissinger -a character of passionate defenders but also of staunch critics- will see in this work another exercise of self-complacency and exaltation typical of the former advisor. To stay at that stage would be to waste a work that contains interesting reflections and I believe that it completes well the thinking of someone of such relevance in the history of the International Office. Whatever affirmation staff may have in the publication refers rather to Winston Lord, who is claimed here as Kissinger's right-hand man at that time: in the first pages there is a complete photo of the interview between Nixon and Mao, whose margins were cut off at the time by the White House so that Lord's presence would not bother the Secretary of State, who was not invited to the historic trip to Beijing.

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