Who is Henry Kissinger? Is he as Jussi Hanhamaki terms him “Dr. Kissinger” (the prince of realpolitik who put his remarkable insights to the service of a nation in deep trouble) or “Mr. Henry” (the power-hungry, bureaucratic schemer bent on self-aggrandizement)? This dichotomy is not the only one that exists when discussing Henry Kissinger. Stephen Graubard, Gregory Cleva, Walter Issacson and Jussi Hanhimäki have all written works that view Kissinger differently. Some of the differences are slight and all four sometimes agree but the best interpretation of Kissinger lies in viewing him through a lens of historical context. This view produces the image of Kissinger as realist who ultimately failed to account for the changing forces in foreign policy, ultimately this leads to his estimation as an architect of American foreign policy whose flaws kept him from realizing the paradigm he established of triangular diplomacy and détente would fail in many parts of the world.
The views of Kissinger are as numerous and varied as the works that are based on his life. This paper examines four, one a biography by Walter Issacson, an examination of the formation of Kissinger’s political thought by Stephen Graubard, a work on Kissinger’s role in the formation of American foreign policy by Gregory Cleva and the book and complementary article by Jussi Hanhimäki which seeks to reconcile the views of disparate authors with newly released documentary evidence.
Stephen Graubard focused on Kissinger’s writing and career pre-1969. Graubard’s work, published in 1973, viewed Kissinger not as a realist, or a historicist but as a statesman. The statesman, based on European models was intellectual and diplomatic . Graubard’s Kissinger saw peace as an achievable product dependent on a stable international order , and saw limited war by a legitimate state as opening the doors for diplomacy . This Kissinger found fault in containment because he saw it as adversely affecting American relations with its allies, namely China and provided no incentives for Soviet concessions .
Gregory Cleva writing in the 1980s possessed more historical perspective than Graubard, yet the Soviet Union had not yet fallen and the Cold War continued apace. This historical context of the author colors his writing. Cleva’s intention was to focus on the historical foundation of Kissinger’s thought pre-1969. By examining Kissinger’s writings up to the point of his joining Nixon’s cabinet, Cleva puts forth that Kissinger viewed international relations from a deliberately historical perspective . A thought process known as historicism, the theory that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history, informed Kissinger's approach to foreign policy.
Cleva also examines what he terms the “Kissinger cycle” of foreign policy, which advocated limited war and continued enhancement of military strength . Cleva cites the paradoxes present in Kissinger’s foreign policy, for example, the...