Henry Kissinger’s monumental Years of Renewal begins at one of the most dramatic points in American domestic history, when President Richard Nixon is forced to resign on August 9, 1974, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. With the exception of the brief first part, Kissinger’s book gives an extremely detailed account of his service to Nixon’s chosen successor, President Gerald Ford. Moving through the many foreign crises and challenges America had to face from 1974 to 1977, Kissinger offers a fascinating insider’s account on how Ford, he, and their team sought to execute foreign policy in a difficult time for America.
Kissinger organizes his memoirs in ten parts which, in generally chronological order, deal with the crises, catastrophes, and challenges of the years from 1974 to 1977, including a first part reflecting on the Nixon administration from 1969 to 1974. Thus, his readers get an exclusive view of dramatic historic events ranging in scope from the avoidance of a Greek-Turkish war over Cyprus to intense superpower negotiations with the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in the penultimate decade of the Cold War.
As Kissinger describes his encounters with Leonid Brezhnev and Mao Zedong, his book illuminates how relationships between nations are shaped by the people operating at the highest level of government.Years of Renewal also offers a welcome reminder of how tense the competition between American and Soviet interests had been before the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and how much, all over the world, people and politicians were concerned about the threat of nuclear war.
Kissinger’s famous “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East, as he tries to mediate between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, shows how persistently Kissinger strove to calm this global hot spot. Working closely with Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Kissinger shows how the second Sinai agreement is finally reached. Tragically, both of Kissinger’s negotiation partners, Sadat and Rabin, would later be assassinated by fanatics.
The catastrophic fall of Cambodia and South Vietnam in the early spring of 1975 occupies a central spot in Kissinger’s memoirs. This tragic event is followed by a reflection on his attempts to reunify America’s Western European allies and to come up with a successful political response to the world energy crisis of the mid-1970’s, which threatens to ruin Western industrial productivity. Emboldened by their perception of American weakness in the wake of the fall of Saigon, the Soviet Union begins to interfere in the civil war in Angola following this country’s release from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. Here, Years of Renewallucidly shows how skillfully Kissinger has to maneuver between Soviet expansionism, congressional disapproval of an active American intervention, and the troubling existence of white minority governments in the former Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.
Given all these crises and challenges to America’s global interests, however, the title of Kissinger’s book seems oddly inappropriate. In the wake of Watergate, most political analysts and historians agree, American power did not yet see a sense of renewal. Instead, there was a precarious decline illustrated most dramatically by the communist victories in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos in April, 1975, American economic recession in response to the oil crisis triggered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and Soviet and Cuban intervention in Angola. At home, there was still a sense of economic despair, moral decline, disillusionment with politics, and a climbing crime rate perhaps best illustrated by Martin Scorsese’s famous film masterpiece Taxi Driver (1977).
As if to justify his choice of his title, Kissinger stresses the point that President Ford managed to restore a minimum of prestige and respect to the institution of the presidency. It is imaginable that without Kissinger’s able diplomatic activities, things could have become far...
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