Notes from the RNC, Post 6: Kissinger and Me

It ended up being me, Kissinger and a reporter from the Denver Post on a couch in a restaurant here in the Xcel Center. Here’s how adorably harmless Kissinger looked: Kissinger.JPG

I didn’t ask as incisive questions as I should have. I was nervous, intimidated. I said stupid stuff. It’s really hard to hear him, although he perks up when he talks about India and sounds clearer, because it’s actually his line of work. Check it out.

Oh, and I’ll post the Dhillon interview tomorrow. Also notes from tonight’s floor. Too tired.

You may want to go ahead and skip to “Continue,” so you can read the transcript as the audio plays (I didn’t want to put the whole thing on this page – too long).

K=Kissinger M=Me/Mallika DRP=DenverPostReporter

M: I basically want to know how important you think foreign policy experience is in this election.

K: In what…general?

M: For the voters, yes.

K: Foreign policy is my field I spend all my life thinking about it so obviously I think it’s a key issue of our time.

M: Do you think Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience is something that should be thought about?

K: What?

M: Palin, Sarah Palin.

K: Until recently I thought that primarily about Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience, that that’s the more relevant issue when people are voting.

DPR: And does the Biden pick help satisfy any concerns about Barack Obama?

K: I have a high opinion of Biden. I’ve known him for a long time. Fundamentally the president makes the decisions, not the vice president.M: A lot of people say that’s changing, that the vice presidential role…

K: Leaving aside the immediate (administration?) I’ve now seen the administrations since Eisenhower, there’s no exception to the rule that the president makes the final decision and that the president determines the direction. The vice president can be helpful, usually it’s a thing subject of limited duration that they do. In my observation usually it’s sort of the pinch hitters, pinch runners and advisors to the president.

M: As maybe McCain’s first presidential decision, choosing Palin, what do you think that means? How significant is it?

K: It means that he’s a man who’s prepared to think out of the box. That he’s willing to do courageous and daring things.

M: To what end? What does Palin give him?

K: Look I am not participating in the political something or other that’s not my field, but it obviously has energized a lot of people on the Republican side but also has created the image of a leader who’s willing to do unorthodox things to show that he needs to change the direction of America.

DPR: On that point, have you ever seen a vice presidential pick so electrify the party, so unite a party or energize a party?

K: Well, I’ve never seen it in any party and I was talking when I was on BBC, I was told that the impact in Britain of the appointment, of her speech, was electrifying.

M: Really?

K: But you can check that…

DPR: Right I saw that on the internet. So you’ve not seen it in either party. Did it surprise you?

K: Yes.

M: Did you have clear expectations for the speech, or were you…?

K: Of what the Vice President should say? No.

M: No.

DPR: How important do you think Palin will be to the ticket then?

K: How effective will she be? I can only judge by the moment, by the impact she has already had (can’t hear).

M: I have some Indian readers, I write for something else, and they actually wanted me to ask you what you think about the Indian American nuclear deal.

K: Thank god somebody’s asking me a question in my field.

M: Laugh laugh. They had a lot of questions actually in your field. I picked that one though.

K: I’m going to India actually.

M: Are you? Okay. Where are you going? I’ll be there.

K: Will you?

M: Yeah I’ll be in Delhi.

K: I will be in Delhi and in Hyderabad

M: Okay. (Now I say something ridiculous.) My father teaches in Hyderabad.

K: And maybe Bangalore.

M: (This one is even more bad). Have you be…you’ve been.

K: Um. The Indian American nuclear deal. It’s been sort of an interesting experience looking at it because very clearly it’s in India’s advantage, but it has been blocked until now by Indian domestic politics. That’s the principle obstacle, and the imminence of an Indian election and the complicated arithmetic that that dictates. It looks to me now that as if it’s going through and I believe it will be (not sure) bring our countries much closer together.

M: I know McCain, a lot of Indians have raised money specifically for McCain because he supports it. I’ve talked to many of them.

K: Well I have supported it from day one.

M: I know.

K: And they’re not raising money for me.

M: Ahahaha. I’ll…I’ll encourage that.

DPR: Apparently today in Obama’s meeting with the O’Reilly Factor, he said that he felt that the surge had been wildly effective, and that’s a departure from statements he’s made in the past. What does that statement tell you about what we’re going to see between now and the general election, and how do you rate him saying it’s wildly effective now?

K: You have to judge people not by any one statement they make but by what it says about the conception of the issue they’re dealing with, and the time to judge these statements is when the outcome is not clear. And so that the progression from opposing the surge, instead of saying it’s somewhat successful to it’s wildly successful has to be taken into consideration.

DPR: Well how do you judge that? Is that just playing politics?

K: No but it means that’s instinctive judgment.

M: What would you call it?

K: Look I don’t want to get involved.

M: No, the surge.

DPR: The surge.

K: Oh the surge?

M: Yeah the surge.

K: I think the surge was the right strategy. It has been successful. You have to guard against the danger of saying everything can be done sequentially. In other words, in order to maintain the success we have to maintain provinces that protect the keep. We can’t say because it will be successful now we can head out. We have to protect it for some period, the results of the success.

K: Okay?

M: Um. When I’m in Delhi, can I interview you?

K: Well, you can try.

M: Can I try?

K: Yeah you can try.

M: How should I try?

K: Because I tell you when I’m in Delhi.

M: You’re very busy?

K: I’m…I’m busy, yeah.

M: Um. How should I try?

K: That’s a good question.

M: Ha. It’s my final question.

K: Get in touch with my office.

K: We used to have an ambassador in India who used to say, when I arrived at the airport, he would come with a big sign that said, “How about 71?” So that then the Indians feel the question has been asked.

M: That’s great.

K: Then they don’t have to ask it again.

M: Maybe I’ll do that about the Indian American nuclear deal.

K: You do that.

M: Thank you so much.

K: It was nice to see you.

50 thoughts on “Notes from the RNC, Post 6: Kissinger and Me

  1. Pretty evasive, even in old age! Wonder what he’ll be doing in Delhi, Hyderbad, Bangalore…

  2. Mallika: I enjoyed reading the interview (the photo of a very comfortable Kissinger was perfect; you don’t sound nervous at all).

    K: Um. The Indian American nuclear deal. It’s been sort of an interesting experience looking at it because very clearly it’s in India’s advantage, but it has been blocked until now by Indian domestic politics. That’s the principle obstacle, and the imminence of an Indian election and the complicated arithmetic that that dictates. It looks to me now that as if it’s going through and I believe it will be (not sure) bring our countries much closer together.

    Is that still the obstacle? The GoI survived a Trust Vote, and the ball is in Bush’s court now. This morning’s Mint had on the front page “No cracks seen in UPA” from new BJP/Left pressure on revelations that the USA would halt nuclear supplies if India tested a device. The latest push-back seems to be coming from the NSG and other external players (China, Japan, etc.).

    When in Delhi, I hope you get a chance to talk to expat Americans here (myself one of them). We are closely following this election and long for a good political debate outside of the usual water-cooler topics (Mayawati, Singur, Amarnath, Shariff/Zardari…)

    SM’s DNC/RNC coverage has been a boon, however. Great job all.

  3. Kissinger’s comment on the surge reminds me of his “salted peanuts” analogy – Atleast, Kissinger has been consistent in his thought from the vietnam war through the Iraq war. Way to go Mallika, you did great.

  4. I didn’t ask as incisive questions as I should have.

    Perfectly understandable, just chalk it up to the learning curve. Don’t be disappointed that you did not ask the questions you said you would, in your comments earlier: if Nixon‘s Kissenger’s visting India, plently of people will be asking those very questions :-)

  5. Yes. And yes. He’s done horrible things, there’s no doubt. But if you want to hear anything from him, it pays to be nice. Then you can ask him tougher questions (which I didn’t really do).

    Ahhh the everlasting conundrum of journalism. In theory, it is better to be feared and respected than loved. In practice, it’s hard to stand up to someone powerful when you’re on the phone or in front of them :( – but well worth it in the little places where you can manage to do it :)

    The relationship-building part, though, I don’t buy – it’s not like you’re going to see him again, and if it’s built on you having to befriend him, it’s not really worth it.

    Anyway, good job landing the interview and i’m sure it was an excellent, if terrifying experience. I’m glad he didn’t kill you (yes, I’m pretty scared of him).

  6. Also when a person (war criminal) like him can get Noble Peace Prize….then the prize itself become irrelevant…(I’m happy Gandhi didn’t get one)

  7. Kissinger’s conduct during the Bangladeshi freedom struggle was reprehensible. He condoned the genocide in more than a passive way. He went after state department people outraged by the Pakistani troops behavior in Bangladesh. In all the disclosed transcripts, there is not a single moment where Kissinger says “you know, what is going on is bad, but for the sake of our strategic positioning, we must support Pakistan”. He didn’t lose any sleep over what was going on. The guy is a heartless bastard. In my view, he is right up there with Cheney in terms of lack of soul .

  8. Actually my initial thought reading the interview transcript was of how similar it was to a scene from ‘Silence of the Lambs”.

  9. I find all this criticism of Kissinger to be misplaced. People in power make decisions that appear to them to be the best way to discharge their responsibilities. When their assessments turn out to be wrong in hindsight or not consistent with the interests of everyone (which is pretty much always the case) we need to learn to move forward. After the soviet union broke up Russia no longer treats Western Europe the way it did back in the sixties. That is just how these things work out. Kissinger achieved much for his country. Some of his policies helped others, some hurt but most had no effect. He remains an intelligent, knowledgeable and engaged person who has moved on. That is why he is distinguished.

  10. Pravin – “Kissinger’s conduct during the Bangladeshi freedom struggle was reprehensible. He condoned the genocide in more than a passive way.”

    True. But why didn’t the Democratic party go after him for that? Or, Why hasn’t this reprehensible act been cited, repeatedly, in the scores of books written by some of America’s leading intellectuals?

    Maybe because, at the time, it was American policy, Democratic and Republican, and not only Kissinger’s policy, to support Pakistan at any cost. Was it not?

    In my more than three decades into this life, I have come to realize one thing: A European life is more valuable than several South Asian lives, which in turn is costlier than several African Lives.

    And this true even when the Democrats are in the White House or the Labour Party PM is in 10 Downing.

  11. Ennis – The Bangladeshi genocide was primarily and secondarily the responsibility of the nation-state of Pakistan, which wanted to exact a price from these “dark skinned half Hindus”, who had dared to ask for fair representation in Islamabad.

    .

  12. Ennis – The Bangladeshi genocide was primarily and secondarily the responsibility of the nation-state of Pakistan, which wanted to exact a price from these “dark skinned half Hindus”, who had dared to ask for fair representation in Islamabad.

    Please see the posts I linked to. Yes, the killing was done by the Pakistanis. However, the USA was very clear that (a) they were against the independence of Bangladesh and (b) that we were willing to go a long way to support Pakistan.

    President Nixon then openly courted China to try to turn the tide of the war Pakistan’s way. With the Indian army and armed Bengali separatists winning, the US on 10 December 1971 urged Beijing to mobilise troops towards India, saying the US would back it if the Soviet Union became involved. China declined and on 16 December the war ended with the Indian army and Bengali separatists taking Dhaka. [BBC]

    I quote Kissinger’s actions in pursuit of this policy. The US not only knew about the mass killings, they backed the killers, and tried to stop India from stopping the slaughter. That’s a high level of moral culpability. In WWII terms that would be allying with the Nazis, arming the Nazis, knowing about the Holocaust, and trying to stop others from stopping it.

  13. 20 · Fidelis Bozo said

    True. But why didn’t the Democratic party go after him for that? Or, Why hasn’t this reprehensible act been cited, repeatedly, in the scores of books written by some of America’s leading intellectuals?

    Actually, Kissinger did not get widespread support on this issue. In fact, Kissinger was enraged at the state department officials in Bangladesh for trying to make people aware of the tragedy going on. This was not a case of realpolitik. I am not referring to some mere official statements. When they released all the behind the scenes discussions(oh, I wish they still transcribed all this stuff for history), there is not a single moment where Kissinger expresses any kind of outrage over what is going on.

  14. Mallika,

    Kissinger is harmless? You are out of your mind.

    Kissinger is one of the strongest proponents realpolitik, that which is on major root of the United States’ lost respect in the world.

    Sincerely,

    *

  15. Mallika,

    Kissinger is harmless? You are out of your mind.

    Kissinger is one of the strongest proponents realpolitik, that which is one major root of the United States’ lost respect in the world.

    Sincerely,

    *

  16. 18 · Ramji said

    Kissinger achieved much for his country. Some of his policies helped others, some hurt but most had no effect.

    Ramji, can you give an overview of which of his policies hurt his country and which ones helped? It isn’t the standard I would use (something more along the lines of which of his policies hurt or helped large numbers of people would make more sense) but setting aside the dominance of the U.S., it’s a fair standard to judge him against Ford, Carter, Obama, Brezkeneski (sorry, I can’t spell his name :) , Kennedy, Nixon, Cheney, Albright, etc. I think you’ll find if you go through this, you’ll reevalutate your stance on him.

  17. Yes. And yes. He’s done horrible things, there’s no doubt. But if you want to hear anything from him, it pays to be nice. Then you can ask him tougher questions (which I didn’t really do).

    As a journalist, I have to consider this an opportunity missed. What’s the point of being nice if you don’t get any information? Pretty much everyone outside of the Communists in India are supporting the Nuke deal.

  18. 28 · SpottieOttieDopaliscious said

    Yes. And yes. He’s done horrible things, there’s no doubt. But if you want to hear anything from him, it pays to be nice. Then you can ask him tougher questions (which I didn’t really do).
    As a journalist, I have to consider this an opportunity missed. What’s the point of being nice if you don’t get any information? Pretty much everyone outside of the Communists in India are supporting the Nuke deal.

    Yes, it was an opportunity missed. I realize that too. But there were about ten people hovering around, waiting for me to be done and I choked. Sorry.

    And Etherspirit – I never called Kissinger “harmless.” I said he looked harmless. To emphasize the incongruity between the physicality of the man you see on the couch and what he has done.

  19. 28 · SpottieOttieDopaliscious said

    Yes. And yes. He’s done horrible things, there’s no doubt. But if you want to hear anything from him, it pays to be nice. Then you can ask him tougher questions (which I didn’t really do).
    As a journalist, I have to consider this an opportunity missed. What’s the point of being nice if you don’t get any information? Pretty much everyone outside of the Communists in India are supporting the Nuke deal.

    Yes, it was an opportunity missed. I realize that too. But there were about ten people hovering around, waiting for me to be done and I choked. Besides, I was technically there for Reuters, technically there to ask about Palin, the nuke thing was for you guys and Denver Post guy was getting anxious about his own questions.

    And Etherspirit – I never called Kissinger “harmless.” I said he looked harmless. To emphasize the incongruity between the physicality of the man you see on the couch and what he has done.

  20. Oops.

    I meant to quote the “As a journalist thing.” Sorry.

    Also, I unfortunately didn’t know enough about the deal to really question him properly. Not enough deep knowledge.

  21. are you familiar with a film called the “The Trials of Henry Kissinger?” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0326306/

    Isn’t this the man who referred to the soldiers who die in the wars he mongers “animals.” And most of the world’s population “useless eaters.”

    get a grip. This guy exudes global evil.

  22. 24 · GoraInDelhi said

    something more along the lines of which of his policies hurt or helped large numbers of people would make more sense

    Nope. India-Pakistan war.

  23. 10, #11, #16, #19: This is rich. You guys make me laugh. Kissinger is bad because he did not stop the genocide in Bangladesh. And what did Obama do when the US wanted to take out the architect of Halabja and Al-Anfal, which took more than 100,000, lives and the ethnic cleansing of the Marsh Arabs? He was against it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_graves_in_Iraq

    Frankly the only reason why Democrats opposed the Iraq war was because it was not executed by a Democratic President. Have you guys forgotten the Balkans? The Drive-By missile attacks on Afghanistan and a medicine factory in Sudan?

    And why support intervention in Darfur and not in Iraq? Is an African life have more value than a Kurd or marsh Arab?

  24. 36 · HitlerWasACommunityOrganizer said

    #10, #11, #16, #19: This is rich. You guys make me laugh. Kissinger is bad because he did not stop the genocide in Bangladesh. And what did Obama do when the US wanted to take out the architect of Halabja and Al-Anfal, which took more than 100,000, lives and the ethnic cleansing of the Marsh Arabs? He was against it.

    What did the father of GW do? He was against taking out a Saddam that actually had working chemical and biological weapons–Obama was against a three trillion-dollar boondoggle (are you smarter than Joseph Stiglitz?) in which we now bribe semi-recalcitrant Sunnis for the privilege of paying out yet again for the war effort that does jack squat to permanently improve their security situation.

    Why don’t you go read war cheerleader Christopher Hitchens’ excellent Kissinger book and learn about the millions of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese who, in addition to the Bangladeshis mentioned earlier, were wiped off the planet due to his massive ego and disregard for a body count so massive that it mocks the term, “collateral damage.” Tell that to the kids still maimed by unexploded ordinance in SE Asia.

  25. 37 · Nayagan said

    36 · HitlerWasACommunityOrganizer said What did the father of GW do? He was against taking out a Saddam that actually had working chemical and biological weapons–Obama was against a three trillion-dollar boondoggle (are you smarter than Joseph Stiglitz?) in which we now bribe semi-recalcitrant Sunnis for the privilege of paying out yet again for the war effort that does jack squat to permanently improve their security situation.

    By the same token GHWB was against the chaos and three trillion dollar boondoggle which would have resulted if he had toppled Saddam (I do think he would have handled it very capably unlike is understandably disappointing offspring)

    Why don’t you go read war cheerleader Christopher Hitchens’ excellent Kissinger book and learn about the millions of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese who, in addition to the Bangladeshis mentioned earlier, were wiped off the planet due to his massive ego and disregard for a body count so massive that it mocks the term, “collateral damage.” Tell that to the kids still maimed by unexploded ordinance in SE Asia.

    Before we go any further my positiob is:

    Both Kissinger and Obama are believers in realpolitik (cf. wiretapping and public financing). I am not saying that Kissinger is a “Doodh ka Dhula”. My beef is with people who call Kissinger a “War Criminal” and believe that Obama is the best thing since sliced bread.

    And how much money do you think Obama wants to waste in Darfur? Atleast In Iraq we were going to get oil (if GWB was even slightly competent).

  26. Kissinger is bad because he did not stop the genocide in Bangladesh.

    and fostered the invasion Cambodia (ergo war criminal)…and was probably involved in the Pinochet coup…and I can’t remember if he was involved in the Nixon pre-administration’s work in sabotaughing the peace deal in Vietname…and well you get the drift ;)

    This is not a Democrat Republican thing – we’re not talking about Eisenhower here. All administrations do f@#ked up things in the name of u.s. security interests, but Kissinger really took it to another level – he’s like the Magic Johnson of naked U.S. imperialism (Dick Cheney is Michael).

  27. he’s like the Magic Johnson of naked U.S. imperialism (Dick Cheney is Michael).

    So, what about GW?

    I was thinking either Scottie Pippen or Bill Cartwright, depending on how you rate his ‘game’.

  28. 40, #41: How would you rank the following:

    1. Harry Truman(D): Authorized the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    2. LBJ(D): Escalating US involvement in Vietnam
    3. Bill Clinton(D): Getting a blowjob while Rwanda was burning

    Even JFK(D) initially escalated American involvement in Vietnam and LBJ took it to another level

  29. 1. Harry Truman(D): Authorized the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 2. LBJ(D): Escalating US involvement in Vietnam 3. Bill Clinton(D): Getting a blowjob while Rwanda was burning

    In order: 1) horrific; 2) horrific; 3) a tendentious comment, but a different situation – U.S. involvement is generally worse than better and examples like Kosovo (which I supported at the time) and Rwanda are those points where it make it much more difficult to evaluate. The more complicated disccusion for this one is because you’re talking about an act of omission rather than commission, and one for which the person in question has since expressed regret, despite his numerous numerous failing (his sexuality being the least of them – the Lewinsky thing was more unfortunate because of the context, his choice to put himself above the interests of what he allegedly believed in as with so many other things, and most notably because of the power differences bewteen him and the woman, who was the CEO’s intern).

    So the partisan card’s not going to work – it’s about imperialism.

  30. So, what about GW? I was thinking either Scottie Pippen or Bill Cartwright, depending on how you rate his ‘game’.

    bench coach. He started a cheerleader, and he may have ended one. But maybe I’m giving him too much credit? how about phil jackson?

  31. 43 · Dr AmNonymous said

    So the partisan card’s not going to work – it’s about imperialism.

    Right, and that is why you were only discussing Kissinger, Cheney and Bush.

    In defence of Kissinger, he (and Nixon) did bring about the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. As for Kissinger calling Indira a bitch and Indians as bastards, this was a country which would rather ally itself with an opressive dictatorship (the Soviet Union) than with a country which had saved its ass with grain shipments before the Green Revolution.

  32. 45 · HitlerWasACommunityOrganizer said

    Right, and that is why you were only discussing Kissinger, Cheney and Bush.

    I see. So one’s initial comments, when elaborated upon, are stuck in stone, and we are all reducible to simple blocks of text that we have once written. I’m not going to lie to you – I think there’s a difference between the imperialism of Kissinger and Cheney as opposed to the imperialism of Clinton and Bush I.

    In defence of Kissinger, he (and Nixon) did bring about the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. As for Kissinger calling Indira a bitch and Indians as bastards, this was a country which would rather ally itself with an opressive dictatorship (the Soviet Union) than with a country which had saved its ass with grain shipments before the Green Revolution.

    Any sentence that starts with “in defence of Kissinger” and goes on to talk about foreign policy accomplishments is generally not going to pass the laugh test. Read up and get back to me: Chile; Angola; East Timor; Vietnam; and Cambodia.

    Then get back to me, and we can talk about Clinton and Obama.

  33. 36 · HitlerWasACommunityOrganizer said

    This is rich. You guys make me laugh. Kissinger is bad because he did not stop the genocide in Bangladesh. And what did Obama do when the US wanted

    No, what is rich is that Kissinger went beyond mere realpoliticking. In every behind the scenes transcipt released to us, there is NOTHING where Kissinger is shown even momentarily regretting what was going on from a human rights perspective. Take the civil rights struggle. He actively made enemies with our own state department because of this. It was not like he tried to assure the state department something along the lines of “You know what. I too agree what is going on is very crappy, but we need to do this for our strategic interests.” The guy was all about his own power and nothing else.

  34. 46 · Dr AmNonymous said

    45 · HitlerWasACommunityOrganizer said
    Right, and that is why you were only discussing Kissinger, Cheney and Bush.
    I see. So one’s initial comments, when elaborated upon, are stuck in stone, and we are all reducible to simple blocks of text that we have once written. I’m not going to lie to you – I think there’s a difference between the imperialism of Kissinger and Cheney as opposed to the imperialism of Clinton and Bush I.

    How about the imperialism of LBJ(D). I am not comparing Kissinger and Clinton. I am comparing Republicans and Democrats. And my contention is that both have blood on their hands. So for you to keep harping upon Republicans is slightly disingenuous.

    In defence of Kissinger, he (and Nixon) did bring about the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. As for Kissinger calling Indira a bitch and Indians as bastards, this was a country which would rather ally itself with an opressive dictatorship (the Soviet Union) than with a country which had saved its ass with grain shipments before the Green Revolution.
    Any sentence that starts with “in defence of Kissinger” and goes on to talk about foreign policy accomplishments is generally not going to pass the laugh test. Read up and get back to me: Chile; Angola; East Timor; Vietnam; and Cambodia. Then get back to me, and we can talk about Clinton and Obama.

    I am not asserting that Kissinger is the second coming of Gandhi. I am just pointing out the free pass you give the Democrats.

  35. I am not asserting that Kissinger is the second coming of Gandhi. I am just pointing out the free pass you give the Democrats.

    It’s frequently easiest to point out things that don’t exist. (1,2,3,4)

    But, I want to say that I’m glad that you, unlike many other peoplle, recognize that there’s a bipartisan imperialist project in the U.S. I just wish you would express this not by defending Kissinger, but by indicting Obama, Clinton, Bush, and others and paying attention to the differences in how and why, relative levels of harm and differences in form, the role of economics, the history of it all (esp British colonialism), etc. It’s both more complicated and more simple than this converastion has been.