Henry Kissinger is one of the towering and most controversial American statesmen of this century. Even his critics can attest to his brilliance. In the third volume of his memoirs, Years of Renewal, Kissinger offers a detailed account of his service as Secretary of State to Gerald Ford. He also offers insight into the legacy Richard Nixon left foreign policy and reflections on the nature and practice of American foreign policy. Kissinger writes gracefully, and his subject is an important one.
Discussing Nixon the man, Kissinger writes, The Richard Nixon with whom I worked on a daily basis for five and a half years was generally soft-spoken, withdrawn, and quite shy. Nixon, according to Kissinger, had a fear of being rejected, but also a romantic image of himself as a fearless manipulator. Kissinger contrasts Ford's decent, straightforward leadership style with Nixon's. Ford worked hard to grasp the essence of issues, and, unlike Nixon, was far more involved in the execution of policy. Kissinger discusses Ford Administration foreign policy achievements, including disentangling the U.
S. from Vietnam and keeping the U.
S. military strong while continuing talks with the U.
R. Kissinger also answers his critics on both the Right and Left of the political spectrum. He and Nixon viewed foreign policy as a continuing process with no terminal point, unlike the dominant view among liberals and conservatives, who were seeking a series of climaxes, each of which would culminate its particular phase and obviate the need for a continuing exertion. This is a major work of diplomatic history, and anyone who wants to better understand American foreign policy from the 1960s on will want to read it.
Roger Bishop is a regular contributor to BookPage.