Henry Kissinger passed away at the ripe age of 100 on November 29, but the legacy the US top diplomat left behind is one of great controversy, to say the least, and evokes negative sentiment for many across the globe. He played a crucial role in Greece during his tenure as the United States Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as he supported the junta believing it would provide stability and prevent Greece from becoming a communist state. The impact of his involvement in the Greek military junta’s rise to power in 1967 can still be felt to this day, as the division of the island of Cyprus and the occupation by Turkish forces of the north continues. As the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), Endy Zemenides underlines in an interview with ‘Ta Nea’ “The immorality of US foreign policy is and will forever be Kissinger’s enduring legacy,” adding that the premise of painting a posthumous hagiography of Kissinger should be rejected.
What was your reaction to the news of the death of Henry Kissinger?
A deep sense of disappointment because there was never a full or even remotely honest reckoning of Kissinger’s legacy and his negative effect on American foreign policy and world history. And now we will have to deal with the spectacle of US Embassies opening condolence books even in countries where Kissinger is remembered as a war criminal, of a stream of hagiographies being written about Kissinger, and hyperbolic commentary from Kissinger detractors hoping for God to judge him properly. But as George Dalaras once told us here in the US, let’s not wait for God to do what people should do.
And what is it that people should do?
We should start by rejecting the premise of each and every hagiography. Henry Kissinger was a towering intellect (indeed, when asked if I follow/read someone I deeply disagree with, he was at the top of my list), and he was as consequential as ANY US Secretary of State. Government officials and leaders in every area of public life are judged by whether they leave things better off than they found them. On almost every level, one would have to argue that Kissinger’s legacy was leaving things worse off.
If you could describe Kissinger’s foreign policy legacy in one word, what would it be?
I would actually use two words, and one emanates from the other. The first is amoral. Kissinger’s realpolitik essentially denied the role of morality in international relations. Unfortunately — and this played out not only during Kissinger’s tenure, but still plays out today — an amoral foreign policy invariably transforms into an immoral foreign policy. So, the immorality of US foreign policy is and will forever be Kissinger’s enduring legacy.
What do you think Kissinger’s legacy on Hellenic issues is?
As we constantly proclaim “the best relations ever” we must never forget that Kissinger — with his support of the junta he inherited and his disdain for Greek democracy — was directly responsible for the worst relationship ever. While much of that legacy has been reversed, the greatest harm he perpetrated — the invasion and violent division of Cyprus — continues. Regrettably, those in the US foreign policy establishment that look to him as some type of “spiritual father” carry on his immoral approach to Cyprus, where “might makes right” and “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), the only national Greek-American think and action tank in the United States. He oversees staff and fellows in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Athens and leads the organizations advocacy efforts at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as HALC’s public education programs.