Perhaps Henry Kissinger will escape final (on-this-earth) judgement. No trial for war crimes. No public shunning for his lying ways. No disinvitation from Nightline. Three judges in three different countries (Chile, France, Spain) have recently targeted him for questioning in cases involving human rights abuses in Chile in the 1970s, and Chilean human rights victims are suing him in the United States. (Kissinger directed the secret US program that aimed to overthrow the democratically-elected Salvador Allende in Chile and then supported the murderous regime of the military tyrants who mounted a coup against Allende.) But so far he has not had to enter the dock. He continues to pontificate freely about US foreign policy on op-ed pages and during media appearances.
But his public career appears to be ending on an ugly note. On Friday, the former Secretary of State removed himself as head of the commission created to study the failures of 9/11. Three days later, Bush chose former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a moderate, well-regarded Republican not known for possessing much insight or experience related to national security, as Kissinger’s replacement. President George W. Bush had selected Kissinger the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in a give-them-the-finger move aimed at the Democrats and the 9/11 family members who had pushed, over White House objections, for the commission. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had agreed to the commission’s formation, only after winning concessions granting the president the right to name the head of the commission and ensuring that subpoenas could only be issued with the approval of six of the commission’s ten members. With the panel divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, that meant the White House would not have to worry about Democrats on their own issuing demands for (possibly embarrassing) information from the White House concerning what Bush and his aides knew of the al Qaeda threat before 9/11 and how they had responded. To further protect the White House, Republicans have resisted the families’ call for apppointing former Senator Warren Rudman, who previously co-chaired a national commission on terrorism, to the panel. Though a Republican, Rudman has a maverick streak and might sign on to subpoenas proposed by Democrats. Kean, by the way, is no Rudman.
Kissinger, an international consultant for transnational corporations, claimed he was forced to retreat to avoid a nasty fight over disclosing his clients. After Bush tapped Kissinger, much of the fuss over his appointment concerned his business ties–not his record as a prevaricator, his embrace of human rights-abusing regimes, or his experiences as a practitioner of secret warfare and a stonewaller. Kissinger maintained he has no clients–such as overseas governments or foreign firms–that would compromise his supposed independence. But that was not the point. Kissinger pockets millions of dollars advising US-based corporations looking to do business overseas, sometimes in countries where the government controls what firms receive what contracts. Consequently, Kissinger has a strong personal interest in maintaining friendly relations with foreign governments. If he is assisting US companies eager to do business in Saudi Arabia, could he be the independent-minded chair of a commission that might have to examine the role of the Saudi government in encouraging (or curtailing) terrorism? That is why it was important for the public to see his client list.