The Flawed Architect

Though he has been out of office for many years, Henry Kissinger remains a controversial figure. As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the tumultuous years that spanned the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations, he played a leading role in shaping American foreign policy. He negotiated the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, sponsored detente with the Soviet Union, opened the door to improved relations with China, and initiated successful shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. This made him a diplomatic superstar, whose achievements were celebrated by the press. Kissinger also practiced a policy of realpolitik that left him indifferent to human rights abuses in places as diverse as East Pakistan, Chile, and East Timor, and to the human costs of expanding the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Many critics thus regard him as a criminal.

In The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy, Jussi Hanhimäki, a European student of international relations, offers a comprehensive and judicious review of Kissinger’s career. Though he does not approve of many of Kissinger’s actions, Hanhimäki rejects the idea that Kissinger was a war criminal. He reminds readers that Kissinger operated within parameters set by the Cold War. This in fact leads to Hanhimäki’s great criticism of Kissinger. Kissinger’s vaunted “triangular diplomacy,” attempting to leverage the mutual hostility of the Soviet Union and China to advance American goals in Vietnam and elsewhere, ultimately failed. Not only did Kissinger’s great power approach to regional conflicts produce little concrete benefit; it often blinded him to realities on the ground that foiled American aspirations. Hanhimäki concludes that as a diplomat, Henry Kissinger was a brilliant tactician, but a flawed strategist.