Yesterday Henry Kissinger, the most important strategist and ideologue of U.S. imperialism since World War II, celebrated his 100th birthday.
If the world were governed by justice, the multiple crimes against humanity perpetrated under his orders or because of his advice would have found him behind bars for this birthday. Yet, in the global order that he helped to build — one of aircraft carriers, military bases, bombers, drones and the missiles of Washington — he was able to celebrate his centennial birthday with tribute and praise from the establishment for which he worked tirelessly.
Diplomat, academic, politician and, for the last half century, a private consultant, Kissinger is a man who, beyond ethical considerations, has had success and made errors in pursuing his everlasting goal of preserving U.S. hegemony: his quite unique vision of democracy and freedom.
But the impact of his decisions, his ongoing influence in the highest circles of political, military and economic power — coupled with the absolute absence of doubt or remorse with which he defended Washington’s alleged right to invoke its interests to intervene in any corner of the planet — made him a symbol that transcends and will survive him. It is the symbol of American exceptionalism: the foundational belief that the U.S. holds an intrinsic and timeless moral authority to dictate to the rest of the world the way it should conduct its affairs, as well as the moral authority to use unlimited violence against any country attempting to live on its own terms.
This questionable Nobel Peace Prize winner embodies — perhaps more than anyone else — the spirit of the times, an era in which illegal CIA operations and “the free market” have been two sides of the same coin. Local and global oligarchies have perverted the meaning of democracy, equating it with a technocratic plutocracy in which mandates of powerful capitalists are validated by academicians who place class loyalties before scientific rigor.
Like many brilliant careers, Kissinger’s is filled with paradox. His rise as a leading hawk came hand-in-hand with his uncompromising promotion of U.S. intervention in Vietnam, the greatest geopolitical disaster and the most indelible military humiliation suffered by the superpower. One of its most resounding and celebrated successes, the rapprochement with Beijing to isolate the Soviet Union, came at a time when the West feared that socialism would grow internationally. It was ultimately seen as an error of judgment that triggered consequences for which Washington does not seem to have an answer. Indeed, after integrating into the world market, China threatens to put an end to U.S. economic preeminence, a danger never threatened by the Soviet Union.
In retrospect, perhaps his most complete and enduring triumph was the destruction of Chile. By backing and organizing the Chilean oligarchy that assassinated President Salvador Allende and imposed the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Kissinger not only irrevocably crushed — to this day — the hope of bringing solidarity and justice to the southern country. Rather, these events provided the right wing with a “laboratory” in which to test the formulas of dispossession and extreme dehumanization that we know as neoliberalism.
In view of this anniversary, one can only hope that nations find ways to resolve their differences through dialogue, and that in the future there will be no new Kissingers; that advising governments on the most effective methods to annihilate human beings will not be a profession, much less a lucrative and celebrated one.