Book Review: The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (PART 1)


Book: The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy

Author: Jussi M Hanhimaki

Publisher: Oxford University Press (2004)

Pages: 576


Jussi Hanhimaki is a Professor of International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and an editor of the journal Cold War History. In 2006 he was named Finland Distinguished Professor by the Academy of Finland. Over the past decades he has published widely on American foreign policy, transatlantic relations, and Cold War international history. His renowned books include The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); International History of the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 2003); and The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). He has also published articles and reviews in such journals as Diplomatic History, Diplomacy and Statecraft, The International History Review and a book on the United Nations for Oxford University Press (United Nations: A Very Short Introduction).

In this book historian author paints a subtle, carefully composed portrait of America’s most famous and infamous statesman Henry Kissinger (HK), the personality who dominated American foreign relations like no other figure in recent history. No national security adviser or secretary of state of cold war age has been the subject of so many biographies and monographs as the controversial Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor who had arrived in the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany. He negotiated an end to American involvement in the Vietnam War, opened relations with Communist China, and orchestrated detente with the Soviet Union. Yet he is also the man behind the secret bombing of Cambodia and policies leading to oust Chile’s President Salvador Allende. The Flawed Architect, the first major reassessment of Kissinger in decades. Drawing on extensive research from the stockpiles of ever increasing declassified files, the author follows Kissinger from his beginnings in the Nixon administration. Like a dedicated historian, the author sheds light on Kissinger’s personal pitfalls–he was obsessed with secrecy and bureaucratic infighting in an administration that self-destructed in its abuse of power–as well as his great strengths as a diplomat. The book is so much dedicated to scour the truth that the New York Times opines,

‘an attempt … to break through the heavy polemics that have ”tended to mar most previous accounts” by presenting ”a balanced view of its subject.’


The salient features that insulate this book from other tomes as to Henry Kissinger is as follows:

1. The book is structured chronologically and hence, helps readers to read without jumbling the facts.

2. Author uses declassified materials as authentic source.

3. Though author abseils from any characterization of Kissinger as a war criminal, his ‘betwixt and between’ conclusion neither hails Kissinger as Perfect.

The title of the book reflects the tone that the 1973 Noble Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger’s core failure was his inability along with ‘limited world view’ to build a sustainable foreign policy structure. Among 20 chapters of this tome, chapters 3 to 12 dive into Kissinger’s diplomacy from January 1969 to the summer of 1973. These chapters focus heavily like a camera crew on the emergence of détente and triangular diplomacy and their links to the Vietnam War. However, Chapter 8 is pivotal to anyone interested to South Asian affairs since the chapter focuses on one of the key regional crises of 1970s—the Indo-Pakistani War and the liberation war of Bangladesh of 1971—and the ways in which the emergence of multi-faceted diplomacy affected American policy toward the South Asian subcontinent. Chapter 13 begins with Kissinger becoming secretary of state in September 1973.

To justify the personality and achievements of Henry Kissinger, the author states (p.2),

‘He was a man who made his own luck. For that one must admire the refugee from many who attained positions unthinkable and unattainable to anyone that came before him.’


In early 1969, however, he was “just” a Harvard professor born in Bavaria of Germany, who had received some critical acclaim for his writings, and had worked briefly as a consultant for the two previous administrations. His main connection to the Republican Party had been as an adviser to Rockefeller.

By his young age, Hitler was in power. By his twelfth birthday the Nazi government’s Nüremberg Laws denied Jews citizenship, forbade marriages between Jews and gentiles, and banned Jewish teachers (his father was a teacher then), from holding jobs in state-run schools. After a few years of agonizing his parents finally made the painful decision to leave their native country. In August 1938 Kissinger along with his parents and siblings left Germany for England. They stayed in London for two weeks before setting sail to the United States.

His family’s move to the land of freedom is a turning point in his life. Kissinger found a society he wanted to become a part of and thrive in, a society that was not free of prejudices or discrimination, but at least in theory espoused the ideal of equal opportunity. After WWII, his scholarship to Harvard University (class of 1950) changed his ‘vector of life’ forever.

His close relationship with Nelson Rockefeller was leverage in his political career. Nelson Rockefeller was Kissinger’s prime choice as a future president of the United States, a man, who, Kissinger maintains in his memoirs, “I am certain would have made a great President.” His gratitude to Rockefeller unveiled when Rockefeller died in 1979. Kissinger dedicated the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years, to the memory of his sole mentor (p.15).


Along with HK, chapter 2 of the book deals with Nixon and the turbulences of late 1960s, i.e. the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union, the uncertainty regarding the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the volatile situation in the Middle East.

Near about half a decade, Kissinger served Nixon, who as the national security adviser (and as of September 1973, secretary of state), the two men developed such chemistry that has been the subject of numerous articles, chapters books and even films. Nevertheless, Kissinger’s relationship with the press was almost diametrically opposite to that of Nixon. If the president loathed most reporters and newscasters, Kissinger loved talking to them. Although he had had limited experience with the media prior to 1969, Kissinger developed fairly close relationships with many of the most influential newsmen of the early 1970s. Despite of this HK, as per erstwhile media personnel-

“the most authoritative source on American diplomacy, the man who obviously had the President’s ear in Washington.”


To specify the ambit of their understanding, Richard Reeves in President Nixon (2001)states:

‘Two strange men linked. Kissinger could not exist without President Nixon. President Nixon could not do what he wanted—build what he called a structure of peace—without Kissinger.’

In chapter 6, the crisis of Black September is discussed. The crisis and US overhauling of policy regarding Middle East paved the enhanced role of HK to that region. Kissinger’s enhanced role in America’s Middle East policy resulted in a shift from an effort to find a balanced solution via multilateral negotiations to a policy that relied on Israeli military strength as the key to stability in the region. Underlining this shift was Kissinger and Nixon’s belief that this was the only way of minimizing Soviet influence in the region and stationing the United States as the key country in future regional initiatives and settlements.

(To be continued …)


2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (PART 1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Henry Kissinger is a politician who went through life avoiding war and conflict in Europe.He did not have any coherent policy how to deal with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. While North Vietnam peace negotiators already went through the peace process against the French government and won. HK to me is a naive political diplomat, not knowing what has been going on in front of him and American politics. His administration sold out an ally, generations of Vietnamese are now living in hell due to his actions.
    He did not even know that corruption in Asia is a given socio-political process which is more prevalent now under communism in South East Asia. Corruption in those parts of world is life itself, why did not he know it when he was an American Security Advisor and Secretary of State at the time of the conflict. He failed his government, America and the students he taught who will pratice his failure diplomacy, one again for the American public.
    He does not even know that any part of the world living under a social structure that requires hand to mouth food process, corruption must prevail.
    As a result of HK’s teaching and praticing of American policies at University level, I am really sorry for those students/graduates who are now middle age and are handling the American diplomacy and war conflicts; I have found the same sad results in Iraq and later on in Afghanistan. The people that manage these conflicts, having read his books, absorbed his action process are doing exactly the same things he did almost forty years ago. Now the world around us knows that when the American government enters into any war typed conflicts, just give it a decade, the American troops will pull out and the adversary will win. Sincerely Michael Nguyen, Ohio, USA.

  2. Michael Nguyen, Ohio, USA says:

    The families of the dead American soldiers should bring his ass to court and sue the hek out of Kissinger. More than 58K families must do this in unison. Michael Nguyen

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