Renowned diplomat and presidential adviser Henry Kissinger reached a historic milestone on Saturday as he celebrated his 100th birthday, surpassing many of his political contemporaries who guided the United States through one of its most turbulent periods, including the presidency of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War.
Despite facing health challenges, including multiple heart surgeries, hearing loss, and blindness in one eye, Kissinger revealed in an interview with CBS News that he continues to dedicate approximately 15 hours a day to his work. Such unwavering commitment is emblematic of Kissinger’s enduring passion for public service.
Born in Germany on May 27, 1923, Kissinger has been at the forefront of U.S. diplomacy for longer than most Americans have been alive. He is widely recognized for his pivotal role in shaping American foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly his efforts to extricate the United States from the Vietnam War. However, his involvement in certain controversial actions of the conflict has generated intense debate and scrutiny.
In recent years, Kissinger has retained significant influence among Washington’s power brokers, assuming the role of an esteemed elder statesman. He has advised presidents from both the Republican and Democratic parties, including providing counsel to the White House during the Trump administration. Simultaneously, he has maintained an international consulting business, delivering speeches in the distinct German accent he has retained since his family fled the Nazi regime when he was a teenager.
Displaying an insatiable thirst for knowledge, Kissinger collaborated with two co-authors on the publication of a book in 2021 titled “The Age of AI and Our Human Future.” This endeavor underscores his unyielding intellectual curiosity, defying expectations of what is typically pursued at his advanced age.
During his tenure as national security adviser and secretary of state, spanning eight years, Kissinger played a central role in numerous significant foreign policy events. Notable among these achievements was pioneering “shuttle diplomacy” in the quest for Middle East peace, conducting secret negotiations with China to thaw relations between the two superpowers, and spearheading the initiation of the Paris peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam conflict and U.S. military presence in the region.
Unfortunately, Kissinger, along with President Nixon, faced heavy criticism from American allies when North Vietnamese communist forces captured Saigon in 1975, forcing the evacuation of remaining U.S. personnel. Moreover, Kissinger has been accused of orchestrating the expansion of the conflict into Laos and Cambodia, inadvertently contributing to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 2 million Cambodians.
While Kissinger garnered endorsements for his pivotal role in fostering détente, a diplomatic effort between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1979 aimed at reducing Cold War tensions through trade and arms negotiations, he also attracted criticism. Detractors argue that his realpolitik policies, which prioritized American interests, occasionally led to alliances with and support for repressive regimes in countries such as Pakistan, Chile, and Indonesia.
Throughout his tenure in Washington, Kissinger remained one of President Nixon’s most trusted advisers, with his influence only expanding even during the tumultuous Watergate affair that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. In 1977, Kissinger was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon as president, commending him for wielding America’s power with wisdom and compassion in the pursuit of peace.
While opinions on Kissinger’s legacy may differ, there is no denying his indelible mark on American foreign policy and his lasting influence as a prominent figure in international affairs.