Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul),
Newspaper of the Twin Cities
Monday, January 25, 1993
News section, p. 25A
Kissinger and the Constitution
by Howard Fast
For some weeks now, I have been reading Walter Isaacson's remarkable biography of Henry Kissinger. It's a long book, more than 800 pages, and not to be read quickly; yet it is not a book easily put aside. It reads like a cross between a detective story and an absolutely terrifying suspense drama.
The major section of the book is devoted to the relationship between Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon during Nixon's years in the White House, and this relationship is treated with astonishing discipline and objectivity.
For all of that, a miasma of evil floats over every page; it is a story so unbelievable that even as a witness to the events, I read it with a sense of disbelief. But then, few of us are really witness to the events in what we like to call "high places."
For example, in discussing Nixon's drinking and his alcoholic sessions with Bebe Rebozo, Isaacson writes on page 263:
"That was the excuse that Kissinger often used when defending Nixon: When he was tired and under strain, Kissinger would say, Nixon would begin slurring his words after just one or two drinks, even if he wasn't really drunk. Still, Nixon's drinking became unsettling to Kissinger, who barely drank at all. He would poke fun at 'my drunken friend' the way people joke about things that truly scare them.
On the other hand, speaking of the murder of more than a million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, Isaacson writes:
"The drinking was also a festering issue among his staff, who often listened in on the slurred late-night conversations. Kissinger used this to his advantage; he needed their support, he would tell aides, because as they alone knew, he was the one man who kept 'that drunken lunatic' from doing things that would 'blow up the world.'"
"'There are only two men responsible for the tragedy in Cambodia,' Prince Sihanouk has said. 'Mr. Nixon and Dr. Kissinger. Lon Nol was nothing without them, and the Khmer Rouge was nothing without Lon Nol. They (Nixon and Kissinger) demoralized America, they lost all of Indo-China to the communists, and they created the Khmer Rouge.'"
These are only two brief extracts out of a thousand definitions of these two men. Nixon is depicted by Isaacson as a man of total vulgarity, foul-mouthed, without either ideas or inspiration and given to hysterical outbursts of rage. His only joy and relaxation - if it can be called that - was to get drunk with his friend, Bebe Rebozo as they glided up and down the Potomac River in the presidential yacht.
His incompetence is stressed again and again - along with his inability to comprehend how he was used again and again by Kissinger.
Kissinger, on the other hand, is portrayed as a man without conscience or above conscience, a man totally devoted to power and totally guided by his own personal need for power. There are parts of the book where Kissinger rises to Machiavellian heights of intrigue and deception, but then Isaacson makes the point that Kissinger lived in a world of lies and deception and as a result relied on his own labyrinthine reasoning rather than the facts of the real world.
As one reads on about this strange, convoluted, brilliant yet frightening man, one must recoil in horror. Or at least I did. The thought that my country was in the hands of these two men - one a drunken, tragically limited vulgarian, the other a power-driven plotter and intriguer - was terrifying, even though the reader knows that we survived it.
Either we were very lucky beyond any expectation, or God smiled on us. In any case, this book calls for a serious examination of the use of power under our Constitution. How does it happen that the limitless sources of power could fall into the hands of and be at the mercy of these two men? Had we gone mad when we elected Richard Milhous Nixon to be our president? Are we determined to self-destruct?
It is not simply that Nixon was inadequate to the calling of the job. Many presidents have been inadequate. It is the fact that the strange, dark personality of this man carried no influence with the public. But at least Nixon was elected.
No one elected Henry Kissinger to anything, yet the power that he gathered into his hands exceeded that of the president; indeed, it exceeded that of the Congress. The bitter truth of it is that under the hand of Henry Kissinger, the Constitution became meaningless.
Howard Fast, an author, playwright and screenwriter, wrote this article for Greenwich (Conn.) Time.