Half a century later, Kissinger’s legacy is still up for debate

Henry A. Kissinger, who died on Wednesday at 100, was one of the most consequential statesmen in U.S. history. Though his greatest triumphs occurred a half-century ago, his legacy is complex, contested and contains lessons that should inform Americans facing complicated foreign policy challenges now.
In less than four years during the early 1970s, Mr. Kissinger brokered the opening of relations between the United States and China, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, major arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union, and Israeli-Arab accords that made the United States the dominant power in the Middle East.
While forging and defending this policy of “detente” — the easing of tensions with the Soviet Union — Mr. Kissinger also pursued what he regarded as a zero-sum contest for global influence with the Soviets, spurring him to what he once privately described, late in life, as his proudest achievement: the negotiation of disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria following their 1973 war. Rather than rely on multilateral forums, the then-secretary of state invented “shuttle diplomacy” and personally brokered the deals, which had the benefit of excluding Moscow. In the aftermath, a once-formidable Soviet presence in the Middle East withered, and the United States became the region’s arbitrating power — a state of affairs that has endured into the 21st century.

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