06 August 2022 ~ 1 Comentario

Kissinger on Leadership and Common Sense

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Beatrice Rangel handed it to me. I met her when she was Minister in Carlos Andrés Pérez’s second government. In fact, she was more than a minister. She was a “problem solver,” someone that any self-respecting Latin American government should have. Because she was devilishly smart, she spoke English and French as well as Spanish, and she was highly educated, she was perfect for the job.

I saw her again at the beginning of the Venezuelan exodus a few years ago. She was associated to a foundation that championed the democratic institutions of Latin America (Interamerican Institute for Democracy,) which today is presided by Tomás Regalado, former mayor of Miami. Now she brought a book by Henry Kissinger (one of the people she most admires) on the subject of leadership. The book contained six examples of very different leaders who had some relationship with Kissinger throughout his prolific life. (Kissinger is 99 years old.)

The six leaders are Konrad Adenauer (The Strategy of Humility,), Charles de Gaulle (The Strategy of Will,) Richard Nixon (The Strategy of Equilibrium,) Anwar Sadat (The Strategy of Transcendence,) Lee Kuan Yew (The Strategy of Excellence,) and Margaret Thatcher (The Strategy of Conviction.) The six allow us to know Henry Kissinger better, and to review the old Harvard professor’s knowledge of World War II, some of the characters he knew directly, and unknown stories of the Cold War.

However, granting each of the six a particular “strategy” is academic excess. Actually, I think Kissinger, the professor, is trying to parcel out the story to make it more digestible for his students. In any case, the “strategies” were not something planned, but the product of the virtues and defects linked to the character of the person in question.

A book is known by what it says and also by what it does not say. Among the things he deliberately hides is his ambiguous relationship with Israel. It is known that Kissinger is a German-Jewish refugee who arrived in the United States in 1938, along with his parents and his brother. His father was a schoolteacher. It is known that he was born in 1923, so he arrived in the United States at 14 or 15 years old, which explains why he has never lost his strong German accent when he pronounces the sentences he writes in magnificent English.

In 1943 he was drafted in the US Army, and there, doing his military service, in South Carolina, he swore allegiance to the US flag and Constitution, as was required in the nationalization process. Taking advantage of his German language knowledge, which was excellent, he served in intelligence units, and stood out in the Battle of the Bulge (late 1944), the desperate offensive launched by Adolf Hitler through Belgium to try to reverse the course of the conflict. After his defeat in that battle, it became clear that Germany had lost the war. The young Kissinger had to denazify a German district after the victory.

One of the decisive consequences of World War II was the creation of the State of Israel. Kissinger briefly met David Ben-Gurion in 1962, when he was a Harvard professor, but he was more acquainted with Golda Meir. He visited her in Israel, and she, as Prime Minister, saw him again in Washington when he was Secretary of State and the key member of the Cabinet. Legend has it, never denied by Kissinger, that he was forced to remind the illustrious visitor that “first, he was an American, second, he was Secretary of State, and third, he was Jewish.” Se non è vero è ben trovato.

Why didn’t he dedicate one of the elaborate portraits to Golda Meir, preferring instead Anwar Sadat alone? Because he is a reluctant Jew. Throughout the book he has divided the six leaders into two parts: the statesmen and the prophets. Israel must irritate “the statesmen” quite a bit. Its history is full of “prophets” who travel in chariots of fire. Kissinger is the quintessential diplomat. He is the classic statesman. He is always ready to negotiate anything—a settlement with China or with Russia. Groucho Marx’s line can be applied to him: “These are my principles… if you don’t like them, I have others.” That is why he is very benevolent towards Konrad Adenauer and much less towards Charles de Gaulle. One was a statesman. The other a prophet tortured by his conscience.

Then the book shows Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore. He is a practical man, a statesman who behaves like a prophet and guides his Singaporean people into the future. It is the best political biography of the six. And it is the best because Lee found a hopeless people and turned it into a model of development in which happiness was possible without eluding common sense.

This is very important. Beatrice Rangel and I come from Venezuela and Cuba, two countries that have canceled common sense and joined the “revolution.” One revolution headed by Fidel Castro and the other by Hugo Chávez, his beloved disciple, despite the fact that both lived in the time of Lee Kuan Yew. It was enough to examine the work of the leader of Singapore to find the appropriate model of transformation. That was the revolution that had to be made. Like two irresponsible individuals, they preferred the mess and the noise of bombs. That’s how we are doing.

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