For decades, his was a household name. Henry Kissinger stood astride the world stage as a diplomat and voice of American foreign policy. He served under two U.S. presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. Overlapping part of that time was his role as national security adviser from 1969 to 1975.
A proponent of realpolitik, Kissinger pioneered a policy of détente with the Soviet Union, helped open relations with China, and negotiated the Paris Peace Accords, ending American involvement in the Vietnam War. But throughout that conflict, controversy dogged him as revelations arose of secret U.S. bombings of neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.
In retirement, Kissinger has been a prolific author and has been sought out by subsequent presidents and other world leaders for his advice.
Kissinger, who turned 93 May 27, was in Toronto the day before for the Spirit of Hope dinner organized by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. The evening also featured former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, and Michael Oren, the American-born former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current member of the Knesset.
The CJN interviewed Kissinger by phone before his Toronto appearance.
Is the world a more dangerous place now than 40 years ago?
I would actually say it’s more complicated, and that there are individual dangers. But the overall danger is less, because there’s less danger of a general nuclear war, but more danger of other issues.
Obviously the latter would include the rise of terrorism.
Do you believe ISIS can be defeated, and what would it take?
I think it can be defeated and I think it must be defeated. It would take a joint effort between the countries that are threatened, and particularly between America, Europe and probably Russia.
Would the Middle East be better off if the Arab Spring had never happened?
I think that domestic change is an inevitable aspect of history, so it’s very hard to make such a judgment.
What can Israel do to turn the turmoil in the Arab world to its advantage?
Well, there are some indications that some of the moderate Arab countries have taken a less hostile attitude towards Israel and in some respects, are co-operating with Israel. To the extent that this is accurate, this is a good development.
How do you feel about the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?
I would have preferred a deal to include political elements. There are two challenges. One is the rise of Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities. The other is the rise of non-state actors, such as Hezbollah, in various parts of the Middle East, and I would have preferred some provisions to take account of those.
Should Canada sell weapons to Saudi Arabia?
I have juggled so much, recommending policies for America, that I can’t include Canada, too.
How do you view Canada’s role in the world? Have we reached our potential on the world stage?
I don’t think Canada has reached its potential, because it’s a very dynamic country. But I always looked at Canada, and so did every American secretary of state that I have known, as a valued ally that didn’t always agree with every point of view, but whose basic direction was very parallel to ours.
The title of your last book was World Order. To what extent is such a thing achievable?
If by world order, you mean perfect tranquillity, then it’s very difficult to achieve. But world order in the sense that the major countries agree on the outline of the methods and of arrangements that have been achieved from time to time, I think should be an objective of the contemporary world.
Does the United States deserve Donald Trump?
[Chuckles]. Ten million people have voted for Donald Trump, and now will be the test of how good their judgment was.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.