Kissinger and Bin Laden Offer a Dangerous Symmetry

Date: 5 Dec 2002 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Kissinger and Bin Laden Offer a Dangerous Symmetry

By David Morris

Originally Published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 5, 2002

President Bush believes Henry Kissinger is the best choice to head up an investigation into the adequacy of our defenses against Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. He may be right. After all, as the schoolyard taunt goes, it takes one to know one. There is a remarkable symmetry between the conduct of Kissinger and that of Bin Laden.

Both believe the ends justify the means. Both believe that innocent civilians are pawns on a global chessboard and sometimes must be sacrificed to a higher geopolitical cause.

Back in 1975, as a favor to the shah of Iran, Secretary of State Kissinger fomented a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein only to abruptly abandon the Kurds to be captured and killed when the shah made a peace agreement with Saddam. When asked about this later, Kissinger declared, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”

Osama bin Laden despises the North and the West for hijacking and perverting history. Henry Kissinger has contempt for the South, which would include all Islamic countries, as inconsequential players in world history. Almost 30 years ago Kissinger informed a startled Chilean foreign minister, “History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance.”

For Kissinger, the South serves only to test the mettle of great powers. Consider the case of Cambodia.

In early 1969 Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was engaged in a diplomatic balancing act to keep his nation neutral and insulated from the Vietnam War. Kissinger and President Richard Nixon stripped away that insulation when they initiated the secret bombing of Cambodia. In 1970 they helped Lon Nol overthrow Sihanouk. U.S. troops moved into Cambodia. By early 1972, 2 million of Cambodia’s 7 million residents were displaced. Twenty percent of the nation’s property was destroyed. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge seized power and murdered a million Cambodians.

Why did Cambodia have to suffer such pain? William Safire remembers Kissinger telling his staff in 1970, “We’re trying to shock the Soviets into calling a [summit] conference, and we can’t promote this by appearing to be weak.”

In 1970, Salvador Allende, an unsuccessful candidate twice before, finally won Chile’s highest office. Kissinger was furious. “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves,” he announced. Former National Security Council staff member Roger Morris remembers, “I don’t think anybody in the government understood how ideological Kissinger was about Chile . . . Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America . . . Chile scared him.”

All aid to Chile was cut off. The CIA spent at least $8 million to bring down Allende. In September 1973 our efforts finally bore fruit. A military coup assassinated Allende and destroyed democracy in a country that had boasted almost 150 years of democratic government. Thousands were killed. Tens of thousands were tortured.

Kissinger had sent another message to Moscow.

In Africa, Angola became still another pawn. In April 1974 a revolution inside Portugal liberated its colonies. In Angola, rival tribal groups vied for power. As John Stockwell, then head of the CIA Angola Task Force, remembers, “Uncomfortable with recent historic events, and frustrated by our humiliation in Vietnam, Kissinger was seeking opportunities to challenge the Soviets.” The decision “to continue to try to put a government of our choosing in Angola by force was made by Secretary of State Kissinger.”

We spent $140 million to aid the opposition. In 1975 we supported an invasion by South African troops. In his book “Endless Enemies,” Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny concludes, “Fair elections might have been held in 1975 as they were later in Zimbabwe. But back in 1974, the U.S. thought it could do better by political sabotage.”

Latin America, Africa, the Middle East. And Asia too, if we include Kissinger’s sordid involvement in Indonesia. Like Bin Laden’s, Henry Kissinger’s initiative was worldwide.

Of course, you might say the comparison is unfair. Kissinger was overthrowing governments and aiding and abetting the murder of civilians to protect us. Bin Laden is trying to overthrow governments and is aiding and abetting the murder of civilians to destroy us.

True enough. But the message that Kissinger’s appointment has sent to the rest of the world is poisonous and antithetical to our announced intention of promoting justice and democracy.

— David Morris is vice president of the Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (

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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.