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Once More with Feeling: Henry Kissinger: Killer Case Officer
The infamous diplomat had the soul of an intelligence boss from SMERSH
Many years ago I made a trip to New York to pitch publishers on a book about a murder case in South Vietnam involving the Green Berets and the CIA in Cambodia.
At one of my stops, a young assistant editor gushed, “I love your proposal! But there’s one thing in the story I don’t understand: How could we bomb Cambodia ‘in secret?’”
Well, I thought, that’s a stupid question: The Pentagon Papers, leaked decades earlier, had detailed all sorts of secret raids on North Vietnam. But the young person’s question, intentionally or not, dug at something more complex: How was it that both Cambodian ruler Prince Sihanouk and Hanoi, whose troops in Cambodia were the target of American B-52s, also saw reason to stay quiet about the devastating carpet bombing? I ended up devoting considerable space to the issue in my book, even though it provided only an introductory context to the case I was recounting, about the Green Berets’ murder of one of their own spies in Cambodia.
The 1969 covert bombing of Cambodia was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger and his padrón, Richard Nixon, both devotées of the dark arts. They knew that North Vietnam would not protest because it would require it to admit it had troops in Cambodia. Likewise, Sihanouk would stay mum because he’d allowed them to gather there. The poor villagers had no say in it.
Sounds clever until the butcher’s bill is added up. The bombing of Cambodia would not shorten the Vietnam War, but expand it, killing an estimated 150,000 civilians over four years, fueling the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, toppling the Sihanouk regime and eventually prompting a North Vietnamese invasion that solidified communist control of Indochina.
Had Kissinger been more properly labeled a case officer than diplomat, his risk-versus-take record in this and other arenas would score him a walking disaster, no matter his heralded diplomatic skills in regard to China and Russia. At heart, he was a ruthless, amoral operator, no different in effect than his predecessors in the White House and CIA who engineered coup d'etats and assassination plots from Guatemala to Cuba, to the Congo and beyond.
Take Chile: In the autumn of 1970, “Kissinger supervised covert operations—codenamed FUBELT—to foment a military coup that led directly to the assassination of Chile’s commander-in-chief of the Army, General René Schneider,” according to CIA documents unearthed by the privately run National Security Archive. It flopped. After the socialist Salvador Allende was inaugurated, “Kissinger personally convinced Nixon … to authorize a clandestine intervention” to create the conditions for Allende’s overthrow. It succeeded on September 11, 1973, when a coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet ousted and killed Allende, but the widely suspected U.S. hand in the events further damaged U.S. standing in the world, handed Moscow and Beijing propaganda windfalls and hardened the determination of liberation movements from South Africa to El Salvador.
At home, revelations of Kissinger’s demand that the FBI illegally wiretap his own aides in a search for leakers—operating as his own counterintelligence agent—further despoiled him and the Nixon administration.
Abroad, his “realist” approach to backing despots over reformers led to setbacks and bloodbaths, from Cambodia to East Timor, East Pakistan to Iran, Egypt to Argentina, to the whole of Central America and onto the streets of Washington, D.C. itself, where Chile’s secret police brazenly assassinated a prominent opponent in exile, Orlando Letelier.
Some record that is. JFK fired Allen Dulles for far less. Yet Kissinger, the operator, is still with us, a “towering” figure in a crumbling Washington establishment that abides by his cynicism and relishes his bon mots. On Tuesday he turned 100, but his legacy remains very alive in the secret raids and drone strikes carried out by the U.S. from Syria to Somalia, Kabul and far beyond, unconstrained by a timorous Congress.
“You can trace a line from the bombing of Cambodia to the present,” Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger’s Shadow, recently told journalist Nick Turse, who’s carried out numerous investigations of Indochina atrocities. “The covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war…”
All this gave me reason today to revisit my 1992 book, A Murder in Wartime. Its underlying theme was the thuggery that had infiltrated the minds of the men conducting the long war and turned U.S. troops into natural born killers. You can do that to a man with enough time, brutality and weapons. But it starts at the top.
God forbid that Henry Kissinger find a final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. He deserves no rest at all. ###
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