Henry Kissinger

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Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Henry Alfred Kissinger (born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923) is a German-born US diplomat of Jewish heritage and religion. Nobel laureate and statesman. He served as National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Quotes[edit]

Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.
Blessed are the people whose leaders can look destiny in the eye without flinching but also without attempting to play God.
Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.

1950s[edit]

  • The most fundamental problem of politics is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness.

1960s[edit]

  • We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win. The North Vietnamese used their armed forces the way a bull-fighter uses his cape — to keep us lunging in areas of marginal political importance.
    • "The Vietnam Negotiations", Foreign Affairs, Vol. 48, No. 2 (January 1969), p. 214; also quoted as "A conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerilla army wins if he does not lose."
  • There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.
    • As quoted in The New York Times Magazine (1 June 1969)

1970s[edit]

  • I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.
    • Meeting of the "40 Committee" on covert action in Chile (27 June 1970) quoted in The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974); the quotation was censored prior to publication due to legal action by the government. See New York Times (11 September 1974) "Censored Matter in Book About C.I.A. Said to Have Related Chile Activities; Damage Feared" by Seymour Hersh
  • [Nixon] wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn't want to hear anything about it. It's an order, to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.
    • Phone call with Gen. Alexander Haig (9 December 1970) quoted in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 123. The quotation was an excerpt from one of several phone conversations in which Kissinger ridiculed Nixon’s views about the war: "When Nixon proposed an escalation in the bombing of Cambodia, Kissinger and Haig felt obliged to humor the president while laughing at him behind his back" (Washington Post, May 27, 2004).
  • Intellectuals are cynical and cynics have never built a cathedral.
    • As quoted in Sketchbook 1966-1971 (1971) by Max Frisch, p. 230
  • It is barely conceivable that there are people who like war.
  • Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (28 October 1973)
    • Lesser known variant: Power is the great aphrodisiac.
      • As quoted in The New York Times (19 January 1971)
  • I've always acted alone. Americans like that immensely.
    Americans like the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse, the cowboy who rides all alone into the town, the village, with his horse and nothing else. Maybe even without a pistol, since he doesn't shoot. He acts, that's all, by being in the right place at the right time. In short, a Western. … This amazing, romantic character suits me precisely because to be alone has always been part of my style or, if you like, my technique.
  • The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
    • Joking comment, as quoted in The Washington Post (23 December 1973); he later joked further on this remark, on 10 March 1975 saying to Turkish Foreign Minister Melih Esenbel in Ankara, Turkey:
Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings "The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer." … But since the Freedom of Information Act, I'm afraid to say things like that.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s we put several thousand nuclear weapons into Europe. To be sure, we had no precise idea of what to do with them.
    • Statement of 1973, as quoted in Canadian and World Politics (2005) by John Ruypers, Marion Austin, Patrick Carter, and Terry G. Murphy
  • Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.
    • Said in testimony to the Pike Committee in 1975. Cited in Daugherty, William E. (2006). Executive Secrets: Covert Action and the Presidency. U Pr of Kentucky. pp. 176. ISBN 0-8131-9161-0. 
  • Ever since the secret trip to China, my own relationship with Nixon had grown complicated. Until then I had been an essentially anonymous White House assistant. But now his associates were unhappy, and not without reason, that some journalists were giving me perhaps excessive credit for the more appealing aspects of our foreign policy while blaming Nixon for the unpopular moves.
    These tendencies were given impetus by an interview I granted to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, without doubt the single most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press. I saw her briefly on Nov. 2 and 4, 1972, in my office. I did so largely out of vanity. She had interviewed leading personalities all over the world. Fame was sufficiently novel for me to be flattered by the company I would be keeping. I had not bothered to read her writings; her evisceration of other victims was thus unknown to me.
  • The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision. Each side should know that frequently uncertainty, compromise, and incoherence are the essence of policymaking. Yet each tends to ascribe to the other a consistency, foresight, and coherence that its own experience belies. Of course, over time, even two armed blind men can do enormous damage to each other, not to speak of the room.
    • The White House Years (1979)

1980s[edit]

  • America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.
  • Blessed are the people whose leaders can look destiny in the eye without flinching but also without attempting to play God.
    • The End of the Road (1982), Ch. 25 "Years of Upheaval"
  • If you believe that their real intention is to kill you, it isn't unreasonable to believe that they would lie to you.
    • Observation made privately, quoted by Time journalist Michael Kramer, The Case for Skepticism Time, (26 December 1988), in the context of doubts about PLO sincerity in hinting about recognition of Israel.
  • Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.
    • As quoted in The Other 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1984) by Robert Byrne

1990s[edit]

  • A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security.
    • "Reflections on Containment", Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 3 (June 1994), p. 130

2000s[edit]

  • If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.
  • If you mean by "military victory" an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible.
  • The issue before us is whether the 21 st century belongs to China. And I would say that China will be preoccupied with enormous problems internally, domestically with its immediate environment, and that I have enormous difficulty imagining it will be dominated by China, and indeed, as I will conclude, I believe that the concept that some country will dominate the world, is in itself a misunderstanding of the world in which we now live...In the geopolitical situation, China historically has been surrounded by a group of smaller countries, which themselves were not individually able to threathen China, but which united, could cause a threat to China, and therefore historically, Chinese foreign policy can be described as "barbarian management". So China had never had to deal in a world of countries of approximately equal strength, and so to adjust to such a world, is in itself a profound challenge to China, which now has 14 countries on its borders, some of which are small, but can project their nationality into China, some of which are large, and historically significant, so that any attempt by Chinese to dominate the world, would involve in a disastrous for the peace of the world.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The reason that university politics is so vicious is that the stakes are so small.
    • This remark was first attributed to Kissinger, among others, in the 1970s. The Quote Verifier (2006) attributes it to political scientist Paul Sayre, but notes earlier similar remarks by Woodrow Wilson. Clyde J. Wingfield referred to it as a familiar joke in The American University (1970)
    • Unattributed variants:
    • Somebody once said that one of the reasons academic infighting is so vicious is that the stakes are so small. There's so little at stake and they are so nasty about it.
      • The Craft of Crime : Conversations with Crime Writers (1983) by John C. Carr
    • The reason that academic politics is so vicious is that the stakes are so small.
      • Mentioned as an "old saw" in Teachers for Our Nation's Schools (1990) by John I. Goodlad
  • Accept everything about yourself — I mean everything, You are you and that is the beginning and the end — no apologies, no regrets.
    • Clark Moustakas, as quoted in Sacred Simplicities: Meeting the Miracles in Our Lives (2004) by Lori Knutson, p. 141
  • Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?
    • Speaking in Warsaw in 2012, Kissinger said that he didn't think the saying originated with him, "I am not sure I actually said it, but it's a good statement so why not take credit for it?" [1]
  • Today, America would be outraged if UN troops entered Los Angeles to restore order. Tomorrow they will be grateful! This is especially true if they were told that there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all people of the world will plead to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well-being granted to them by the world government.
    • This is widely reported on many sites as coming from the Bilderberg Conference (1991) Evians, France, purportedly recorded by a Swiss diplomat, but no such recording has ever been provided.

About Kissinger[edit]

  • In Haig's presence, Kissinger referred pointedly to military men as "dumb, stupid animals to be used" as pawns for foreign policy. Kissinger often took up a post outside the doorway to Haig's office and dressed him down in front of the secretaries for alleged acts of incompetence with which Haig was not even remotely involved. Once when the Air Force was authorized to resume bombing of North Vietnam, the planes did not fly on certain days because of bad weather. Kissinger assailed Haig. He complained bitterly that the generals had been screaming for the limits to be taken off but that now their pilots were afraid to go up in a little fog. The country needed generals who could win battles, Kissinger said, not good briefers like Haig.
  • Henry Kissinger is possessed of a truly superior intelligence, in addition to which he has two qualities which, unfortunately, many great men lack: he is able to listen and he has a very subtle sense of humour.
  • Pride comes before a fall- although in his case it's more conceit than pride.
  • A good liar must have a good memory. Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.
  • I think Henry Kissinger grew up with that odd mix of ego and insecurity that comes from being the smartest kid in the class. From really knowing you're more awesomely intelligent than anybody else, but also being the guy who got beaten up for being Jewish.

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