President Richard Nixon’s notoriously ruthless secretary of state Henry Kissinger—who, among other things, has been accused of being war criminal for his leading role in the covert bombing of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War and the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973—became a heated subject of contrast in Thursday night’s Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
The former secretary of state has worn Kissinger’s approval of her as a badge of honor while arguing she is unrivaled among the candidates in terms of her foreign policy experience and repeatedly showcased the support of many former military and State Department officials as evidence of her bona fides. Sanders, however, pointed out that many people, himself included, have a very dim view of Kissinger’s historical role in world affairs.
“I find it rather amazing,” Sanders said, “because I happen to believe that Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And, in fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia—when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk—created the instability that allowed Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in and then butcher some 3 million innocent people—one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as someone who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”
Clinton responded to the charge by saying that many people have been curious to know who Sanders does count among his foreign policy advisors, but said to him “you have yet to answer that.” To which Sanders retorted, “Well, it ain’t Henry Kissinger.”
Though Kissinger’s legacy may not be as well known among the younger generation of voters who have been streaming to Sanders campaign over Clinton’s, historian Greg Grandin—author of —has argued that during the decades he served as a central player in U.S. foreign wars and political interventions, policies and actions supported by and executed by Kissinger have had a destructive impact across the globe. As Grandin wrote last fall in a post for TomDispatch:
On Twitter, following Sanders’ criticism, many people chimed in to let it be known just how disastrous they believe Kissinger has been throughout history, and—because of the way contemporary power-brokers and politicians like Clinton shower him with reverence—still is today. As journalist Dan Froomkin indicates, the contrast between Sanders and Clinton on this issue are stark, but alignment with Kissinger on foreign policy matters makes the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party look very bad:
Froomkin’s colleague at The Intercept, Murtaza Hussein, agreed, saying it proves how out of touch Clinton is when it comes to how many view Kissinger as a historical figure:
Meanwhile, it was an article posted early this week at Gawker by columnist Alex Pareene which articulated why the “issue of Kissinger” is actually crucial for people trying to distinguish between how Sanders and Clinton view history and the role of U.S. power. According to Pareene, even though Kissinger “is a bad man, who waged a terrible and illegal war in Cambodia, supported a horrific right-wing strongman in Chile, and generally ran America’s foreign policy apparatus in the most amoral way possible,” the real problem is how “the bubble of elite American society, the bipartisan consensus, shared by politicians and members of the media alike, is that he’s simply a respected elder statesman.”
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