The Trial That Is Henry Kissinger


Henry Kissinger has returned, with a comeback as unexpected and arguably as absurd as that of his fellow '70s star Ozzy Osbourne. One would expect the man to be enjoying a relaxing semi-retirement, living off the ruling-class equivalent of Social Security (in Kissinger's case, a lucrative consulting operation) and serving on the ruling-class equivalent of a condo association (in Kissinger's case, the Defense Policy Board). For exercise, he need only emerge periodically to dodge a subpeona or publish a doorstop or mutter something weighty on the Charlie Rose show. Nothing too straining.

Yet the newest national sport, now poised to replace baseball, is arguing over just how Henry Kissinger feels about war with Iraq. Weeks after Kissinger wrote a delphic op-ed for The Washington Post, the punditocracy is still arguing over what the piece means. First it was interpreted as a vote against the proposed war. Then aggrieved hawks complained that the press was misreporting Kissinger's plainly stated views, which, they argued, supported a "regime change" in Iraq and merely had some caveats and suggestions to offer. Now the backlash is facing another backlash, as liberals like John Judis offer reasons to believe Kissinger's opaque comments were intended to oppose the war after all.

A quick reminder: All this chatter is being expended over a man whose sole official role is to serve on a powerless board best known for listening to a former LaRouchie give a nutty PowerPoint presentation. Usually, if you write an op-ed so foggy that no one can figure out what it's saying, the Post will reject it (or, same thing, will move it to their features section). When did Kissinger get so mighty that no editor will ask him to revise his damn copy?

I blame Christopher Hitchens, whose The Trial of Henry Kissinger was published last year. This useful little book summarizing Kissinger's various crimes against humanity may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the revival of Kissinger-hatred seems to have sparked an equal and opposite respect for the old butcher in political circles. By reminding us what Kissinger did when he was secretary of state, Hitchens seems to have inadvertently persuaded a number of his colleagues that Kissinger really is the secretary of state—apparently filling an unacknowledged vacancy on the Bush team. (It doesn't help that George W. Bush seems to be taking his cues from Chevy Chase's impression of Kissinger-employer Jerry Ford.)

Or maybe this is only happening because it's August, when everyone in Washington goes on vacation and our D.C.-based newsmen are suddenly at a loss for something to talk about. Well, so be it: If we can't have a real debate on war with Iraq, at least we can debate what one aging has-been thinks about it.