Henry Kissinger

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Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Henry Alfred Kissinger (born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923) is an American politician, diplomat, and geopolitical consultant who served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.


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.


  • It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is "good faith" and "willingness to come to an agreement". For in a revolutionary international order, each power will seem to its opponents to lack precisely these qualities. [...] In the absence of an agreement on what constitutes a reasonable demand, diplomatic conferences are occupied with sterile repetitions of basic positions and accusations of bad faith, or allegations of "unreasonableness" and "subversion". They become elaborate stage plays which attempt to attach as yet uncommitted powers to one of the opposing systems.
    • A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22 (1957), p. 2
  • ... the most fundamental problem of politics, which is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness.
    • A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-22 (1957), p. 206
      • Paraphrased variant: The most fundamental problem of politics is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness.
      • Quoted by Walter Isaacson, "Henry Kissinger Reminds Us Why Realism Matters", Time, 4 September 2014
  • In some respects the intellectual has never been more in demand; that he makes such a relatively small contribution is not because he is rejected but because his function is misunderstood. He is sought after enthusiastically but for the wrong reasons and in pursuit of the wrong purposes.... All too often what the policymaker wants from the intellectual is not ideas but endorsement.
    • The Policymaker and the Intellectual, Reporter, Mar. 5, 1959, 30, 33.


  • I...was a little puzzled by your suggestion that we should return to a diplomacy like Bismarck's. Having once planned to write a book on Bismarck's diplomacy and, indeed, having finished half of it, I could think of few policies more likely to lead to catastrophe in present circumstances.
    • LOC, G-13, HAK to Michael Howard, July 31, 1961.
  • I would say that in the long run probably Communist China is likely to be in more of an expansionist phase than Soviet Russia. At the same time, most of the recent crises have been commanded by the Soviet Union.... It is my view that both of them are a menace to world peace and partly because of Communist doctrine....
    In their tactics, the Chinese Communists are probably the greater menace;
    • "American Strategic Thinking", Kennedy Library, Feb 2, 1962
  • This would not be healthy for us because hegemony is demoralizing in the long run. I am urging that the only way we can maintain our influence is by reducing our formal predominance.... The present system encourages too many of our allies to shift the costs and the responsibilities of the common defense to us.
    • "For a New Atlantic Alliance", Reporter, July 14, 1966, 21ff., 25.
  • ...that it is unable to relate man to the forces outside himself whose makings he sees but whose motives he can grasp only by analogy. Conservatives have always insisted that the balance between these two sides aspects of human conduct is derived from a sense of reverence, a recognition of forces transcending man and WHICH IS THE REVERSE SIDE OF A RECOGNITION of the limitations of the individual apprehension of reality. The great rebels have denied this and insisted on finding in their own demoniac nature a sufficient motive for commitment. To the conservative the bond of society is a myth which reconciles the point of view which treats man as a means and his experience of himself by an analogy superior to analytical truth.
    • Ibid., Folder 5, The Contingency of Legitimacy
  • Thus, the more Bismarck preached his doctrine the more humanly remote he grew; the more rigorous he was in applying his lessons the more incomprehensible he became to his contemporaries. Nor was it strange that the conservatives gradually came to see in him the voice of the devil. For the devil is a fallen angel using the categories of piety to destroy it. And however brilliant Bismarck’s analysis, societies are incapable of the courage of cynicism. The insistence on men as atoms, on societies as forces has always led to a tour de force evading ERODING all self-restraint. Because societies operate by approximations and because they are incapable of fine distinctions, a doctrine of power as a means may end up by making power an end. And for this reason, although Bismarck had the better of the intellectual argument, it may well be that the conservatives embodied the greater social truth.
    • Ibid., Folder 5, The Contingency of Legitimacy
  • The frequently voiced view that we should conduct our diplomacy so as to bring about a rift between Communist China and the USSR.
  • If Communist China agrees to renounce the use of force in the formosa strait, we could consider opening up channels of non-official contact... journalists, students, tourists, etc.
    • LOC, Position Papers, Apr 11, 1962
  • The Metternich system had been inspired by the eighteenth century notion of the universe as a great clockwork: Its parts were intricately intermeshed, and a disturbance of one upset the equilibrium of the others. Bismarck represented a new age. Equilibrium was seen not as harmony and mechanical balance, but as a statistical balance of forces in flux. Its appropriate philosophy was Darwin's concept of the survival of the fittest. Bismarck marked the change from the rationalist to the empiricist conception of politics.... Bismarck declared the relativity of all beliefs; he translated them into forces to be evaluated in terms of the power they could generate.
    • Ibid., 909, 919.
  • What has come to be called the balance of terror may seem less frightful to fanatics leading a country with a population of 600 millions. Even a war directed explicitly against centers of population may seem to it tolerable and perhaps the best means of dominating the world. Chou En-lai is reported to have told a Yugoslav diplomat that an all-out nuclear war would leave 10 million Americans, 20 million Russians, and 350 million Chinese.
    • NFC, 253. (the missing passages to the Chinese edition)
  • Where eminence must be reached by endless struggle, leaders may collapse at the top, drained of creativity, or they may be inclined to use in high office the methods by which they reached it. When political leaders are characterized primarily by their quest for power, when they decide to seek office first and search for issues later, then their technique to maintain power is necessarily short-range and manipulative.
    • "Et Caesar, Et Nullus", Reporter, June 1, 1967, 51f.
  • 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, June 1, 1969


  • I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
    • 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
    • Omi, M.; Winant, H. (2014). Racial Formation in the United States. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-135-12751-0. Retrieved on 2018-11-02. 
  • [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). Transcript at the National Security Archive
  • 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.
  • They (Indians) are superb flatterers, Mr. President. They are masters at flattery. They are masters at subtle flattery. That’s how they survived 600 years. They suck up — their great skill is to suck up to people in key positions.
  • I tell you, the Pakistanis are fine people, but they are primitive in their mental structure. They just don’t have the subtlety of the Indians.
    • In 1971. Quoted in Gary J. Bass. The Terrible Cost of Presidential Racism Sept. 3, 2020 [1]
  • 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.
  • "Wherever a lessening of population pressures through reduced birth rates can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to resource supplies and to the economic interests of the United States."
    • National Security Study Memorandum 200. Adapted as policy by President General Ford originally classified. [2]
  • The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
    • 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
  • 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)


  • America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.
    • Henry Kissinger: The White House Years, quoted from Dinesh D'Souza: What's so great about America. This echoes Lord Palmerston's words: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual".
  • 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


  • I was working for Kennedy in those days, and [Truman] said what I had learned from Kennedy, and I said, "I've learned that the president can't do everything he wants because the bureaucracy is the fourth branch of government." ... He said, "The trouble with Kennedy is he has too many opinions. A president has to know what he wants to do."
    • "Oral History Interviews With Dr. Henry Kissinger", Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, May 7, 1992
  • 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
  • Empires have no interest in operating within an international system; they aspire to be the international system. Empires have no need for a balance of power. That is how the United States has conducted its foreign policy in the Americas, and China through most of its history in Asia.


  • 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.
  • The issue before us is whether the 21st 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 threaten 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 evoke a counter-reaction that would be disastrous for the peace of the world.


  • In recent decades, Europe has retreated to the conduct of soft power. But besieged as it is on almost all frontiers by upheavals and migration, Europe, including Britain, can avoid turning into a victim of circumstance only by assuming a more active role.
  • Here, according to the mythology of the liberals, was a peaceful little country that Nixon attacked. The fact that there were four North Vietnamese divisions within 30 miles of Saigon coming across the border killing Americans—killing 500 a week starting within two weeks of Nixon’s inauguration—was ignored in the debate on Cambodia by protesters emphasizing the technical neutrality of Cambodia and ignoring that its ruler had invited our response.
  • For 400 years, world history was made by Europeans. Many of the great ideas by which we live — constitutional government, freedom of the individual, the ideas of the Enlightenment — originated in Europe and were spread by Europe around the world. Now this region, which was dynamic and built the world, has become too preoccupied with itself. It confines itself basically to the exercise of soft power. At present, no European government has the capacity to ask its people for sacrifices on behalf of foreign policy. Unless Europe can recover some of its historic dynamism, there will be a big hole in the world system as it has until now manifested itself.
  • Few countries in history have started more wars or caused more turmoil than Russia in its eternal quest for security and status. It is also true, however, that at critical junctures Russia has saved the world’s equilibrium from forces that sought to overwhelm it: from the Mongols in the 16th century, from Sweden in the 18th century, from Napoleon in the 19th century, and from Hitler in the 20th century. In the contemporary period, Russia will be important in overcoming radical Islam, partly because it is home to some 20 million Muslims, particularly in the Caucasus and along Russia’s southern border. Russia will also be a factor in the equilibrium of Asia.
  • Both countries [the United States and China] consider themselves exceptional. The United States believes that our exceptionalism entitles us to educate others because if they adopt our principles, the world will be more peaceful. The Chinese do not strive for conversion. In their view, if you do not belong to Chinese culture, you can never become fully Chinese. Thus, they feel America has no moral right to intervene in their domestic affairs. Their analogy to conversion is that the majesty of their performance will so awe other societies that they will follow enough of the Chinese pattern to become cultural and political tributaries.


  • 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.
  • Military men are "dumb, stupid animals to be used" as pawns for foreign policy.
    • Kissinger has denied saying it.
    • The only evidence that Kissinger ever said this was a claim in the book, The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in chapter 14 (p.194 in the 1995 paperback edition). Woodward & Bernstein claimed that one of Kissinger's political foes, Alexander Haig, had told someone unnamed, that he (Haig) had heard Kissinger say it. That's triple hearsay, made even weaker by the fact that one of the parties is anonymous. Kissinger has denied ever saying it, and it was never substantiated by Haig, nor by anyone of known identity who claimed to have heard it. As Kirkus Reviews noted about the whole book, "none of it is substantiated in any assessable way."
    • In fact, the quote is not even very plausible, on its face. Kissinger served with distinction in the U.S. Army during WWII, and was awarded the Bronze Star. He has always been very respectful of other servicemen and their sacrifices. For him to have said such a thing would have been wildly out of character. In fact, the awkward phrasing doesn't even sound like Kissinger, whose English prose is consistently measured and careful, despite his heavy accent, even when he speaks extemporaneously.

Quotes about Kissinger[edit]

  • 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.
  • Here we begin to see the outlines of the misconceived lesson that Henry Kissinger appears to have drawn from his study of international relations in the past. Secured by his own bureaucratic devices and habits of mind from having to respond to critics or other branches of government, though he could always get his opinion or policy echoed and supported by a well-placed article or interview or congressman, he indeed related to Richard Nixon much as did Metternich to the Emperor Francis II. An ambitious and intelligent courtier with the ear of an absolute ruler is in a position of unique influence, especially if he carries no responsibility for domestic affairs—this much history does indeed teach us. Moreover, although the courtier runs obvious risks if he incurs the ruler’s wrath, it is the ruler himself who is truly vulnerable in a crisis. The cleverest courtiers—Talleyrand comes to mind—will survive the fall of their masters, with some quick footwork and a recasting of the historical record; and Kissinger was among the cleverest of them all.
  • 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.
  • Back in 1957, Henry Kissinger—then a brilliant, iconoclastic young Harvard scholar, with his eventual career as cynical political manipulator and, later, as crony capitalist still far in the future—published his doctoral dissertation, A World Restored. One wouldn't think that a book about the diplomatic efforts of Metternich and Castlereagh is relevant to U.S. politics in the twenty-first century. But the first three pages of Kissinger's book sent chills down my spine, because they seem all too relevant to current events.
    [...] It seems clear to me that one should regard America's right-wing movement--which now in effect controls the administration [...] as a revolutionary power in Kissinger's sense. That is, it is a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.
  • Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević. While Henry continues to nibble nori rolls & remaki at A-list parties, Cambodia, the neutral nation he secretly and illegally bombed, invaded, undermined, and then threw to the dogs, is still trying to raise itself up on its one remaining leg.

In fiction[edit]

  • FBI: FBI terrorism tip line.
Huey: It’s Huey again. Got another hot lead on a terrorist.
FBI: Lord…Huey, we don’t have time for this. I’m hanging up.
Huey: Wait! I got a good one this time!
FBI: (sigh) .. (Uh-huh…
Huey: Kissinger, Henry, Former secretary of state under Nixon, allegedly responsible for the deaths of about 950,000 civilians in Laos and Cambodia in the early 1970s.
if you’re having trouble finding him, ask the guys who gave him the Nobel peace prize.

External links[edit]

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