Years of Renewal

Henry A. Kissinger, Author Simon & Schuster $35 (1152p) ISBN 978-0-684-85571-4
Having aspired to be a modern-day Metternich, Kissinger has always placed great value on subtlety. Indeed, one of his favorite charges against his many political and bureaucratic adversaries is that they don't understand the nuances of policy, tactics or strategy. Throughout this final volume of his memoirs (after White House Years and Years of Upheaval), he takes pains--often unsubtle pains--to tell readers how subtle he is. Of the Middle East peace process, he writes: ""If foreign policy were as simple as the study of it in academic seminars, Jordan would have been the logical candidate for the next step."" The implication, of course, is that foreign policy is not so simple, and Kissinger takes pride in reminding readers that he always kept all the complexities in mind. And yet Kissinger remains so informative that readers will happily permit him this indulgence. The book starts with Nixon's resignation and continues through the two years of the Ford administration. One of the surprises is the high regard in which Kissinger holds Ford: ""I am certain the time will come when it is recognized that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford, at a tragic point of America's history, been there to keep us from losing it."" In his portrait of Nixon, Kissinger adopts the interpretation that seems to be hardening into conventional wisdom--that of a supremely gifted analytical mind tragically undone by paranoia and an existential discomfort with being alive. Ford, by contrast, emerges from these pages as a man whose admitted lack of flair is the flip side of an inner confidence that is, perhaps uniquely among politicians, unimpeded by egotism. As Kissinger explains China policy, Soviet policy, Middle East diplomacy and various crises (in Cyprus, Angola and elsewhere), his insight extends not only to explanations of policy but also to accounts of bureaucratic infighting and turf battles--as well as to relations between the executive branch and Congress. His account of how, regarding arms control and d tente, he and Ford tried to determine the national interest while being squeezed between a ""McGovernite Congress"" and the hard right will give readers a sophisticated political lesson. Kissinger was a shrewd courtier and ferocious infighter, and he takes a deadpan delight in showing readers just how adept he was. At the same time, he's magnanimous toward those with whom he once locked horns, throwing appreciative bouquets to such former adversaries as Senator Scoop Jackson and William Rogers (""I am not proud of the way I participated in Nixon's attempts to marginalize the man,"" he writes of the man he replaced as Nixon's secretary of state). Even readers predisposed to see Kissinger as a villain may come away from the book with at least grudging admiration for him and with a deeper--and, yes, more subtle--understanding of the complexities of foreign policy and its domestic political dimensions. First serial to Time. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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