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The Trial of Henry Kissinger

by Christopher Hitchens, (Verso, 159 pp., $22)

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President Richard Nixon may have resigned in shame, but the Nixonian approach to foreign policy--marked by deceit, influence peddling, bullying and outright brutality--lived on. It did so under the auspices of Henry Kissinger, that cynical and duplicitous power-player who, even today, somehow manages to don the cloak of respectability from time to time. Kissinger is better suited for a prison uniform, Christopher Hitchens argues in The Trial of Henry Kissinger, a compact but hard-hitting indictment of the man who simultaneously served as Secretary of State and White House national security adviser under presidents Nixon and Ford. Hitchens notes that while many U.S. officials had a hand in Nixon-era foreign policy, Kissinger was the common denominator, the de facto commander-in-chief of Washington's most sordid foreign ventures during the 1970s.

While international diplomacy is often conducted under a patina of ethics and protocol, this was, as Hitchens documents in detail, a very dirty business. In order to maintain the prerogatives of U.S. foreign policy, at least as Kissinger interpreted them, he dined with dictators and buddied up with butchers. He oversaw covert operations that ended in coups, kidnappings, assassinations and massacres. And he was the driving force behind Washington's not-so-secret, but unannounced and audaciously illegal, bombardment of Cambodia and Laos.

Hitchens, one of the most biting and sly commentators to regularly publish in both the leftist and mainstream press, makes for a great Kissinger prosecutor. He is generous enough to let Kissinger do much of the talking, by quoting from reams of declassified documents and reels of tape from Nixon's Oval Office recording system. "Everything on paper will be used against me," Kissinger wailed during a meeting in December of 1975, immediately after Kissinger and President Ford had given the green light for Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, which resulted in an estimated 200,000 civilian deaths.

There's not a court big enough or just enough to rein in a war criminal as powerful as Kissinger, of course. But in the end, and despite his painstaking efforts to contain and control disclosures about his secret foreign policy moves, Kissinger has left enough evidence to convince readers that "Henry the K" is a bona fide outlaw.

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