Kissinger: A Historiography Essay

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Who is Henry Kissinger? Is he as Jussi Hanhamaki terms him “Dr. Kissinger” (the prince of realpolitik who put his remarkable insights to the service of a nation in deep trouble) or “Mr. Henry” (the power-hungry, bureaucratic schemer bent on self-aggrandizement)? This dichotomy is not the only one that exists when discussing Henry Kissinger. Stephen Graubard, Gregory Cleva, Walter Issacson and Jussi Hanhimäki have all written works that view Kissinger differently. Some of the differences are slight and all four sometimes agree but the best interpretation of Kissinger lies in viewing him through a lens of historical context. This view produces the image of Kissinger as realist who ultimately failed to account for the changing forces in …show more content…
This Kissinger found fault in containment because he saw it as adversely affecting American relations with its allies, namely China and provided no incentives for Soviet concessions .
Gregory Cleva writing in the 1980s possessed more historical perspective than Graubard, yet the Soviet Union had not yet fallen and the Cold War continued apace. This historical context of the author colors his writing. Cleva’s intention was to focus on the historical foundation of Kissinger’s thought pre-1969. By examining Kissinger’s writings up to the point of his joining Nixon’s cabinet, Cleva puts forth that Kissinger viewed international relations from a deliberately historical perspective . A thought process known as historicism, the theory that social and cultural phenomena are determined by history, informed Kissinger's approach to foreign policy.
Cleva also examines what he terms the “Kissinger cycle” of foreign policy, which advocated limited war and continued enhancement of military strength . Cleva cites the paradoxes present in Kissinger’s foreign policy, for example, the reason a virulent anti-communist could negotiate détente is that Kissinger also sought to avoid nuclear holocaust .
Walter Issacson’s Kissinger advocated a balance of power but in his balance power far outweighed everything else. According to Issacson Kissinger’s accomplishments were not lasting, his career as a diplomat and a negotiator had more impact