This book, due to length and level of detail, will not be for everyone. But it is a vitally important work for those who want to understand some of the critical foreign policy events in American history. This book deals with Kissinger’s tenure as Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor from 1969-1972, and is the first volume of his memoirs. An astounding amount of history is compressed into that time period, including the Nixon opening to China, the intractable problems of the Middle East, with special focus on the triangular diplomacy involving the Soviet Union, Egypt, and the United States, the war in Vietnam, and the exceedingly tortured negotiations to end that war, (with a good look at the Nixon decisions on the excursion into Cambodia, the “Christmas Bombing”, and the self described “brutal” treatment of the recalcitrant South Vietnamese as agreement neared), and the Indo-Pakistan war, and the “tilt” towards Pakistan. Any one of those items would be a book in itself, and the fact that Kissinger not only kept all of those balls in the air but manages, through this volume, to show how they were all “connected” is a testament to his brilliance. Dr. Kissinger has many detractors, and Nixon Administration policies, especially with regard to Vietnam, have drawn severe criticism over the years. Kissinger takes those critics on directly, and makes some strong and compelling arguments to justify his policy recommendations. Vietnam was a tragic error for the United States, but Kissinger brings an up close perspective to why many of the important players acted the way they did.
Kissinger’s devotion to the “realist” school of diplomacy is evident through his actions and policy prescriptions described in this volume. His hard headed and “realistic” approach to bargaining are laid out clearly in his approach to the negotiations with North Vietnam, where he recognized that an unfavorable “balance of forces” on the ground would lead to an unsatisfactory outcome from the perspective of the U.S. His devotion to “equilibrium” govern his negotiations on SALT, and advise his relationship and policy recommendations with the Soviets.
For the historian this book is essential. Kissinger dealt with some of the very true giants of this (or any other era), including Chou En-Lai, Indira Ghandi, Le Duc Tho, Leonid Breznhev, Andrei Gromyko, Mao Tse Tung, Moshe Dayan, Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, and so many others. He seems to me to be exceedingly honest about his relationship with Richard Nixon, who he described as brooding, lonely, and filled with resentment towards so many. He, in my opinion, fairly describes some of the dysfunction of the foreign policy methodology of the first term Nixon Administration, and takes some of the blame onto himself. (The relationship with Secretary of State William Rodgers is a big part of this dysfunction) Kissinger is writing to make sure history records his perspective, but he does so in a way that brings valuable insight to a critical time in U.S. foreign policy, when change and bold steps produced much disruption in this arena. Love them or hate them the Nixon-Kissinger team shook US foreign policy and produced real change that impacts us to this very day. A must read for those who love history or foreign policy.
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