HENRY KISSINGER made a Faustian bargain in 1968 to trade his tenured professor's
status at Harvard for the opportunity to gain world-shaking power in the Nixon
White House. His performance there makes him a poor choice to lead an independent
commission investigating intelligence failures in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The commission should pursue the truth no matter where it leads in the
upper reaches of government. In 1968, to cement his standing with Richard Nixon,
Kissinger provided the Nixon presidential campaign with information about diplomatic
initiatives to end the Vietnam War. In 1984 a commission he headed urged an expansion
of military aid to El Salvador, a policy favored by the Reagan administration.
Kissinger has a record of telling powerful people what they want to hear.
The World Trade Center attacks were atrocities in large part because they targeted
civilians. Yet Kissinger either devised or supported policies that resulted in
the deaths of thousands of civilians in Indochina as the Vietnam War dragged on
through the Nixon administration. He also endorsed policies by Pakistan and Indonesia
that resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Bangladesh and East Timor.
His appointment to the commission diminishes the moral urgency of the US case
One of the first attacks in the United States with mysterious origins abroad
was the car bombing that killed Orlando Letelier, a Chilean, and Ronni Moffitt,
an American, in 1976. This attack by the Chilean junta may have been a part of
Operation Condor, an initiative by South American dictatorships to track and kill
their opponents in exile. Kissinger knew about Operation Condor, yet he did not
try to stop it. Anyone with such a record should not be on the commission.
The panel should be able to follow the truth wherever it leads, even to the
point of embarrassing governments friendly to the United States. Kissinger is
the chairman of Kissinger Associates, which is in the business of giving advice
to corporations that do business abroad. His business depends on good relations
with Saudi Arabia and other countries that may figure in the commission's work.
Kissinger, to his credit, had much to do with the US opening to China in 1971
and the first serious talks between Egypt and Israel in 1974. Historians will
weigh these achievements against his responsibility for prolonging the Vietnam
War and for the right-wing surge in Latin America during his time in power.
The commission will be cochaired by former senator George Mitchell, a veteran
of peacemaking in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and will include
eight other members. It may still do valuable service if all the others possess
independence and good judgment. Kissinger's involvement will be a recurring drag
on its work.
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