Kissinger on Leadership
his last words
Henry Kissinger’s Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy was published in 2022, when Kissinger turned 99 years old. So, we may take it as his Last Word.
The book discusses six leaders that Kissinger knew personally: Konrad Adenauer of Germany; Charles de Gaulle of France; Richard Nixon of the US; Anwar Sadat of Egypt; Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore; and Margaret Thatcher of the UK. To Kissinger, all of these people were remarkable in that they rose above the ordinary, and gave their countries just what they needed at the time. Nearly all of them had a devout religious upbringing,” and were “often tellers of hard truths.”
Perhaps the most interesting chapters for me were on Sadat and Lee. Sadat wanted peace with Israel but reckoned that he had to have a war first. Lee Kuan Yew’s memoir is titled From Third World to First World. He navigated Singapore from a British colony to an appendage of Malaya to a rich independent state suitable for satire in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy and movie.
But the important part of the book is the “Conclusion” where Kissinger gives his final judgement on the state of the world. It is not exactly “esoteric writing,” but it is guarded. He writes that
The civic patriotism that once led prestige to public service appears to have been outflanked by an identity-based factionalism a competing cosmopolitanism.
The kids all want to be “globe-trotting corporate executives or professional activists.”
With the visual culture of the internet “reading a complex book carefully and engaging with it critically, has become as counter-cultural an act as was memorizing a poem in the earlier print-based age.” He calls it “deep literacy… the ‘background radiation’ of the period” in which his six leaders came of age. Kissinger does not say it, so I will say it for him. His comment has nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with Harvard President Claudine Gay.
There’s an oblique comment on Ukraine. He writes that if Ukraine were to join NATO, the border between Russia and Europe would be “within 300 miles from Moscow.” But if the border were on the west of Ukraine then “Russian forces would be within striking distance of Budapest and Warsaw.” Hmm. I wonder what Kissinger means by that.
The point is: who in our august foreign policy establishment, or in the White House, or in the liberal enclaves of The New York Times, has the “deep literacy” to come up with a comment like that in less than a hundred years? Joe Biden? Antony Blinken? Anyone?
Kissinger tells us that Konrad Adenauer asked him back in 1967: “Is true leadership possible today?”
The answer, from Kissinger’s book and from the ancient proverb is probably:
“Cometh the hour, cometh the men.”
But experts cannot agree on who first said it.