Hillary Clinton Has Not Sought Henry Kissinger’s Support. But So What if She Had?
The real issue here isn’t who she’s praised or who endorses her, but what kind of foreign policy president she would be.
First things first: A source close to the Hillary Clinton campaign tells me that there has been no outreach to Henry Kissinger. This whole welter of outrage started when Politico reported the other day, according to their own unnamed “person close to Clinton, that “feelers” had been “sent out” to Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, and Condoleezza Rice. My source says that maybe someone affiliated with the campaign—a person in a foreign-policy advisory role, say, who number in the hundreds—put out such a feeler but insisted that no one with real authority, a John Podesta or Jake Sullivan or what have you, had made any such overtures.
But the hubbub is real. What’s it about? At bottom, it’s about the vast distrust and suspicion of Clinton in certain left quarters, ever on the lookout for signs that she’s going to sell out or cave in or start World War III. Alas, her record does give us a few reasons to decide that vigilance along these lines is prudent and required. But this big a fuss—my pal Charles Pierce at Esquire went so far as to say that if she accepts the backing of the old abattoiriste, he’s voting for Gary Johnson—over one endorsement? (Charlie lives in Massachusetts, which, as he notes, Clinton couldn’t lose if “she drank a polyjuice potion and campaigned here transformed into Alex Rodriguez.”
Granted, Kissinger occupies a, ah, unique position. He’s a war criminal. Not convicted of course, but in my view and the view of millions. And although he has never faced the bar of international justice over East Timor or Chile or his sabotaging of the Paris Peace Talks, he is very careful about where he travels and lives with the ignominy of knowing that when The New York Times posts his obituary, there are going to be some well-earned negative adjectives in the very first paragraph.
So I cringed and winced and made gurgling sounds when Clinton praised Kissinger in that one debate. It was only about her managerial skills (“I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time”), but still. She should have known better than to mention his name. In a Democratic debate! Against Bernie Sanders. Who appropriately pounced.
She seemed totally unaware of how anathema Kissinger is on the left. This reflects her view of the world to some extent but even more dramatically reflects what kind of history she reads (and what kind she doesn’t) and most of all the circles she runs in. Those circles include Kissinger himself. The Clintons and the Kissingers have spent holidays together. More than once. Yuck.
That really is kind of sickening. But an endorsement? They just don’t mean that much. They don’t imply reciprocity in most cases. That’s especially true this year, when many Republican national-security and foreign-policy types are so appalled by Donald Trump that some may back Clinton.
And she should go after their support! Take Condi Rice. She falls short of being a Kissinger, but she helped make and sell the worst military decision in American history. She told us that no one could have imagined anyone would fly a plane into a building when it was already well known in the intel world that at a G-8 summit in Genoa in the Clinton years, terrorists had made exactly that threat. She was one of the worst offenders on that “mushroom cloud” nonsense. So—she lied. Some of what she did was unforgiveable.
And yet—it would be a coup if Clinton got her endorsement. For whatever reason, Americans more broadly don’t seem to blame her for Iraq, probably on the presumption that she was only following orders; and besides she likes football, and she plays classical piano, and she has that incredibly precise diction that impresses people, and she just doesn’t look like a warmonger. I don’t know what her favorability numbers are; I looked and couldn’t find anything recent. But I bet they’re high.
That’s the point of an endorsement: Is the endorser popular; is the endorser surprising in some way; does the endorsement move any votes. In the case of Rice, the answer to all three questions is clearly yes.
In Kissinger’s case it’s more complicated. I would bet, my fellow liberals, that Kissinger’s favorable numbers are fairly high too, though not as high as Rice’s. Not that that should determine anything, but it is a reality check for our side. I’d guess that your average quasi-informed swing voter has heard some chatter about Kissinger doing bad things, but whether it has sunk through to this voter that his bad things are worse than any other high-level diplomat’s bad things, I don’t think we can say with confidence.
The foregoing means Kissinger answers the first question yes. But I’m not sure about the other two. It wouldn’t be as surprising as Rice would be, and I doubt he’d move many votes in her direction and in fact would probably do the opposite: It’s not as if there’s some massive Henry the K fan club out there, and really the only people who care whether Kissinger endorses Clinton are the people who hate Kissinger, so it would probably cost her votes, like my man Pierce’s.
Assuming my source is accurate, the whole thing is a non-issue (if Kissinger wants to endorse her of his own volition, she of course can’t stop that). But what is an issue is what kind of foreign-policy president she’s going to be. And let’s make this directly about Kissinger. Would she green-light the deaths of 100,000 innocents, as Kissinger—and Gerry Ford—did in East Timor? Secretly bomb a country with whom we are officially at peace, as Kissinger and Richard Nixon did in Cambodia? I really don’t think so. Probably the worst thing she did as secretary, not condemning the ouster of President Zelaya in Honduras as a coup, had a whiff of Henryism about it. But she didn’t make the coup happen, as Kissinger did in Chile.
I worry some about Clinton’s tendencies. I do not worry that she’s another Kissinger. Thank God, there’s only one.