Word comes from Politico that Hillary Clinton is courting the endorsement of Henry Kissinger. No surprise. Kissinger and the Clintons go back a ways, to when Bill in the early 1990s sought out Kissinger’s support to pass NAFTA and to, in the words of the economist Jeff Faux, serve as “the perfect tutor for a new Democratic president trying to convince Republicans and their business allies that they could count on him to champion Reagan’s vision.” Hillary has continued the apprenticeship, soliciting Kissinger’s advice and calling him “friend.”
Still, Bernie Sanders, and Sanders supporters and surrogates, should use the Politico story to draw a line, making clear that they will withdraw their support of Clinton if Clinton accepts Kissinger’s endorsement. If Sanders stands for anything, it is the promise of decency and civil equality, qualities that he has worked hard to bestow on Clinton since the Democratic National Convention. By accepting Kissinger’s endorsement, Clinton wouldn’t just be mocking that gift. She’d be sending the clearest signal yet to grassroots peace and social-justice Democrats that her presidency wouldn’t be a “popular front” against Trumpian fascism. It would be bloody business as usual.
Kissinger is a unique monster. He stands not as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s feared recklessness and immorality but as his progenitor. As Richard Nixon’s aide-de-camp, Kissinger helped plan and execute a murderous, illegal foreign policy—in Southeast and South Asia, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America—as reckless and immoral as anything Trump now portends. Millions died as a result of his actions. Kissinger and Nixon threatened to use nuclear weapons, and, indeed, Kissinger helped inscribe the threat of “limited nuclear war” into doctrine. Kissinger, in the 1970s, not only dug the hole that the greater Middle East finds itself in, but, as an influential cheerleader for both the first Gulf War in 1991 and its 2003 sequel, helped drive the United States into that ditch.
Kissinger’s crimes aren’t just related to covert murder, genocide, and illegal bombing. In 1975, for example, as Gerald Ford’s secretary of state, he helped Union Carbide set up its chemical plant in Bhopal, India, working with the Indian government and helping secure a loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States to cover a portion of the plant’s construction. Then, after the plant’s 1984 chemical-leak disaster, Kissinger Associates, the consultancy firm he set up after leaving the State Department, represented Union Carbide, helping to broker, in 1989, a $470 million out-of-court settlement for victims of the spill. The payout was widely condemned as paltry in relation to the scale of the disaster: The spill caused nearly 4,000 immediate deaths and exposed another half a million people to toxic gases. Kissinger Associates is a private company—Kissinger famously quit as chair of the 9/11 Commission so he wouldn’t have to reveal his client list—so the fees it extracted from Union Carbide for this service is unknown. But Bhopal is a good example of the way Kissinger, as a private consultant, profited from the work he did as a public servant (for Kissinger’s role in negotiating the settlement, see the 1988 letter obtained by the environmental reporter Rob Edwards, found here; also, see New York Times reports that Kissinger’s firm had an account with Union Carbide).