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Politics

Global Leaders Pay Ttribute to Henry Kissinger, But His Record Also Draws Criticism

November 30, 2023

TOKYO (AP) — Global leaders paid tribute to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Thursday, but there was also sharp criticism of the man who remained an influential figure decades after his official service as one of the most powerful diplomats in American history.

Kissinger, who died Wednesday at 100, drew praise as a skilled defender of U.S. interests. On social media, though, he was widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world.

“America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices” on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone shared by many high-level officials past and present.

“I have long admired the man who fled the Nazis as a young boy from a Jewish family, then fought them in the United States Army,” Bush said in a statement. “When he later became Secretary of State, his appointment as a former refugee said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”

Kissinger served two presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and dominated foreign policy as the United States withdrew from Vietnam and established ties with China.

Criticism of Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, was especially strong on social media, where many posted celebratory videos in reaction to his death.

A Rolling Stone magazine headline said, “Henry Kissinger, war criminal beloved by America’s ruling class, finally dies.”

FILE – Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, left, talks with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 31, 2007, prior to Kissinger testifying before the committee about Iraq. Kissinger, the diplomat with the thick glasses and gravelly voice who dominated foreign policy as the United States extricated itself from Vietnam and broke down barriers with China, died Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. He was 100. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Across South America, Kissinger is remembered as a key figure that helped prop up bloody military dictatorships, claiming they would put the brakes on socialism in the region. Documents have shown Kissinger’s and Nixon’s support for the 1973 coup that deposed Chile’s president. Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship went on to violate human rights, murder opponents, cancel elections, restrict the media, suppress labor unions and disband political parties.

“A man has died whose historical brilliance never managed to conceal his profound moral misery,” Chile’s Ambassador to the United States, Juan Gabriel Valdes, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric retweeted the message.

Kissinger “heedlessly extended and expanded” the war in Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia came to “symbolize his ruthless hypocrisy when claiming to support American democracy,” according to Elizabeth Becker, who covered Cambodia before the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover and author of “When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution.”

“And to what end? Ultimately, no dominoes fell to communism. The only country communist Vietnam invaded was communist Cambodia to overthrow Pol Pot,” Becker said.

The head of the independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, described Kissinger’s legacy as “controversial” though not widely debated in the country. Well over half of the population was born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, and even those who lived through the civil war and the group’s brutal rule recall the U.S. involvement and its B-52 bombers, “but not Henry Kissinger,” he said.

“Henry Kissinger’s bombing campaign likely killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians — and set (a) path for the ravages of the Khmer Rouge,” Sophal Ear, a scholar at Arizona State University who studies Cambodia’s political economy, wrote on The Conversation.

“The cluster bombs dropped on Cambodia under Kissinger’s watch continue to destroy the lives of any man, woman or child who happens across them,” Sophal Ear wrote.

Kissinger’s legacy in Africa is pinned for many historians on his official visit to apartheid South Africa in 1976, just a few months after the apartheid regime’s police had killed more than 170 Black protesters, most of them schoolchildren, in the Soweto uprising.

At the time, the United States was allied with apartheid South Africa as a buffer against Soviet influence in Africa during the Cold War. Kissinger saw South Africa as “merely a gambit in the game of the Cold War,” said Prof. John Stremlau, Honorary Professor of International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a former vice president for peace programs at The Carter Center.

China’s President Xi Jinping sent President Joe Biden a message of condolence Thursday.

“Dr. Kissinger will always be remembered and missed by the Chinese people,” the message said, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Further, “China is ready to work with the United States to carry on the cause of friendship between the Chinese and American people, to promote the healthy and stable development of China-United States relations for the benefit of the two peoples, and to make due contributions to world peace and development.”

Many on social media in China mourned his passing. CCTV shared on social media an old segment showing Kissinger’s first secret visit to China in 1971, when he broached the possibility of establishing U.S.-China relations and met then-Premier Zhou Enlai.

Kissinger exerted uncommon influence on global affairs long after he left office. In July, for instance, he met Xi Jinping in Beijing while U.S.-Chinese relations were at a low point.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid tribute to Kissinger, praising his contributions to the peace in the region, especially his role in normalizing U.S.-China relations, saying he learned a lot from the former diplomat.

“I myself had the privilege of meeting him in person a number of times since I was younger and had the honor of learning from his insights,” Kishida told reporters in Tokyo.

“Henry Kissinger’s strategy and excellence in diplomacy has shaped global politics throughout the 20th century,“ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement posted on X. “His influence and legacy will continue to reverberate well into the 21st century.”

Kissinger initiated the Paris negotiations that ultimately provided a face-saving means to get the United States out of a costly war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, said their father and Kissinger enjoyed “a partnership that produced a generation of peace for our nation.”

“Dr. Kissinger played an important role in the historic opening to the People’s Republic of China and in advancing détente with the Soviet Union, bold initiatives which initiated the beginning of the end of the Cold War,” the Nixon daughters said in a statement. “His ‘shuttle diplomacy’ to the Middle East helped to advance the relaxation of tensions in that troubled region of the world.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was “in awe” of Kissinger.

“Of course, like anyone who has confronted the most difficult problems of international politics, he was criticized at times, even denounced,” Blair said. “But I believe he was always motivated not from a coarse ‘realpolitik,’ but from a genuine love of the free world and the need to protect it. He was a problem solver, whether in respect of the Cold War, the Middle East or China and its rise.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said as he met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv that Kissinger “laid the cornerstone of the peace agreement, which (was) later signed with Egypt, and so many other processes around the world I admire.”

Blinken said Kissinger “really set the standard for everyone who followed in this job” and that he was “very privileged to get his counsel many times, including as recently as about a month ago.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a message to Kissinger’s wife that he was “a wise and far-sighted statesman” and his name “is inextricably linked with a pragmatic foreign policy line, which at one time made it possible to achieve detente in international tensions and reach the most important Soviet-American agreements that contributed to the strengthening of global security.”

Leaders of Kissinger’s native Germany paid tribute to the former diplomat, a Jew who fled Nazi rule with his family in his teens.

In a message of condolences to Kissinger’s family, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote that “with his détente and disarmament policy, Henry Kissinger laid the foundation for the end of the Cold War and the democratic transition in eastern Europe” which led to Germany’s reunification.

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By FOSTER KLUG and GEIR MOULSON Associated Press

Moulson reported from Berlin. AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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