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Tariq Ali on the death of world-class criminal, Henry Kissinger

At last. He’s finally gone.

Tariq Ali30 November 2023

Tariq Ali on the death of world-class criminal, Henry Kissinger

At last. He’s finally gone. The Rolling Stone headline says it all: "Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies." He was a world-class criminal and as in better times the late Verso author Christopher Hitchens, in his excellent polemical book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, many offenses huge and small must be laid at his door. I debated him in 1965 and wrote an account of this in Street Fighting Years – more recently Kissinger’s latest biographer, Niall Ferguson, tracked down the audio and heard the debate a few years ago.

Kissinger’s principal crimes were in Indochina. He endlessly delayed the peace talks; suggested, organised and defended extending the war to Kampuchea; and supported the crazed Pol Pot regime that emerged in its wake. For his role in Indochina, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the Cold War scumbags who ran the organisation. In an attempt to cover their posteriors, they awarded it jointly to Le Duc Tho, the prime negotiator for Vietnam. He refused with a very dignified statement.

In Chile, as is now well known, Kissinger was centrally involved in helping plot the Pinochet coup d’etat of 11 September 1973 that toppled the popular socialist government of President Salvador Allende, who died under a hail of gunfire inside the Moneda palace. It was not yet the custom for the United Sates (aka ‘international community’) to describe these events as ‘regime changes’ to defend ‘humanitarian values.’

Organised tension by Kissinger, Pinochet and the Generals was leading to a confrontation. What was to be done? A huge debate erupted on the Chilean left. From Havana, Fidel Castro sent a private message to Allende:

 … and I can imagine that tensions must be high, and that you want to gain time to improve the balance of power in case fighting breaks out and, if possible, find a way to continue the revolutionary process without civil strife, avoiding any historical responsibility for what may happen. These are praise-worthy objectives. But if the other side, whose objectives we are not able to judge from here, continues to carry out a perfidious and irresponsible policy, demanding a price which is impossible for Socialist Unity to pay, which is quite likely, don’t forget the extraordinary strength of the Chilean working class and the firm support it has always given you in difficult moments…it can block those who are organising a coup, maintain the support of the fence-sitters, impose its conditions and decide the fate of Chile…

Kissinger got there first. The more liberal Chief of the Army, Carlos Prats, was assassinated; Pinochet acceded to power; the golpistas triumphed. We lost. Neo-liberal economics under a brutal dictatorship was a perfect model for that period. The total casualties of socialists, communists, and left intellectuals ran into thousands.

Elsewhere in the world, the US with Kissinger in the lead backed apartheid South Africa and the despatch of South African troops to crush the liberation forces in Angola. Here their side suffered a defeat. Cuba sent in troops to help the Angolans: the first major defeat for the white regime in Pretoria. Some suggest that it was Kissinger who suggested that Israel send the apartheid state in Pretoria the know-how to make nukes, which they did. It would certainly be in character for him to have done so, but I have yet to see evidence of his direct involvement in ‘Operation Samson.’

In South Asia, with India possessing nukes already, the Bhutto government in Pakistan was determined that Pakistan should get its own. Libya agreed to fund the whole show. The US got worried, not so much for India as for Israel. The latter saw this development as an ‘Arab bomb’. In his death-cell memoir, If I am Assassinated, Bhutto wrote that during one of Kissinger’s visits to Pakistan in 1976 he threatened him mafia-style. Unless Bhutto desisted on the bomb, ‘we’ll make a horrible example out of you.’ A senior Pakistani Foreign Office person present at the meeting confirmed this years later, in January 2008 to be precise, to an interviewer from Business Recorder:

…Kissinger waited for a while, and said in a cultured tone, ‘Basically I have come not to advise, but to warn you. The USA has numerous reservations about Pakistan’s atomic programme; therefore you have no way out except agreeing to what I have to say.’ Bhutto smiled and asked, ‘Suppose I refuse, then what?’ Kissinger became dead serious. He locked his eyes on Bhutto’s and spewed out deliberately, ‘Then we will make a horribly example out of you.’ Bhutto’s face flushed….

On the night of July 4-5, 1977, a US greenlighted coup toppled the government. In September 1977, the large crowds greeting Bhutto throughout the country had scared the military. Bhutto was arrested and charged with murder. At 2am on 4 April 1979 after two lengthy and controversial trials, Bhutto was hanged. Yet another successful Kissinger operation. He was now worshipped in Foggy Bottom, regularly invited to the White House. His verbal advice was sought re both Mrs Gandhi and Bangladesh’s Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Did he suggest that they were both bumped off? No evidence, but not unlikely. She was very hostile to the Zia dictatorship and Mujib had moved too close to the Soviet Union. So why not? One of her Sikh bodyguards who killed her had visited Sikh training camps outside Lahore in Pakistan. A triple murder would be quite an achievement for a once modest Harvard professor.

A year before the Soviet Union collapsed, Kissinger advised the White House that even if the result was a ‘Pinochet-style dictator’ a new system could still work. Among the BRICS, China alone mourns his death. He had been very helpful in organising Nixon’s visit to Beijing and the political-economic rapprochement that soon followed and in recent months he had been critical of the Cold War tone being adopted toward Beijing. A decade ago, he was invited to The Nation’s annual party in New York. He was reluctant to attend, but couldn’t resist mingling with the enemy. A friend of mine overheard him saying to Katrina van den Heuvel: ‘strange being at a party where I know that most of the other people here think I’m a war criminal.’ Probably the truest sentence he ever spoke.

Tariq Ali


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Extract from Street Fighting Years:

Towards the end of 1965, I received a letter from the American TV network CBS, enquiring whether I would be prepared to take part in an Oxford versus Harvard debate on Vietnam. The intention was to set up a TV confrontation via Early Bird satellite (this was a novelty in those days). The BBC would organize a studio for Oxford students at their Shepherds Bush TV centre and CBS would organize our counterparts at Harvard. Both of us would have teams of three. Harvard would defend US policies and we would oppose. There was one stipulation: both teams were to include a senior member of the university or a distinguished alumni. I agreed immediately and suggested Stephen Marks as my seconder and Michael Foot as the ‘senior member’. We were also invited to take fifty students from the university to the studios, for whom transport and refreshments would be provided.

On 21 December 1965, we all arrived and were warmly welcomed by Sir Hugh Greene, the Director-General, who turned out to be an extremely liberal, witty and cultured human being. Very different, I might add, from Ian Trethowan, the only other BBC person with whom I had dealt at that time. Greene expressed the hope that we would trounce Harvard and I had a distinct impression that this was not mindless chauvinism. He was manifestly very hostile to the American war effort. Foot, Marks and myself had a fairly clear idea of what we intended to propose that night. The only mystery was our opponents. This was solved when we exchanged introductions courtesy of the satellite. The two students were campus Democrats and the ‘senior member’ from Harvard was a don called Henry Kissinger.

The debate began and ended fairly predictably. None of us were impressed with Kissinger, whose performance was dull and mediocre. What was more interesting was the fact that a number of the Harvard students in the audience agreed with us. When Kissinger repeated a well-worn fiction blaming the Vietnamese for refusing peace by not agreeing to negotiate, I responded by referring to this remark as obscene and asked whether the United States would have negotiated with the Japanese a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the Harvard people had applauded, while Kissinger had stared across the screen at me in horror. I suppose that in a highly protected ideological environment, equations of the sort I had made were too wild even to gain admittance. 

There was universal agreement at our end that we had won the debate, which was seen live throughout the United States but was never screened in Britain. That was certainly the view of the BBC bosses who were present and Michael Foot concurred. Since it was a fairly ordinary, old, debate, I soon forgot about the whole affair. A few weeks later, after the Christmas break, I was amazed to receive hundreds of letters from the United States. Some of these included press clippings reviewing the debate, most of which were favourable to our side. An overwhelming majority of the letters supported the stance I had taken. The correspondence came from every corner of the United States. I even had a fan letter from Dallas. The bulk of the mail was from school and university students, who wrote to express their amazing (or so it seemed at the time) hostility to their own government’s war in Asia. This was the first concrete sign, as far as I was concerned, that something was changing in the United States. In later years I often wondered how many of the fourteen–sixteen year olds who had written to me and to whom I had replied at length had graduated to join SDS or the mushrooming Committees to End the War in Vietnam.

Street-Fighting Years
Tariq Ali revisits his formative years as a young radical. Reissued for the 1968 anniversary, Street-Fighting Years captures the mood and energy of the era of hope and passion as Ali tracks the gro...

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