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The Legacy of Henry Kissinger

The passing of America’s preeminent foreign-policy thinker and practitioner marks the end of an era. Throughout his long and extraordinarily influential career, Henry Kissinger built a legacy that Americans would be wise to heed in this new era of great-power politics and global disarray.

NEW YORK – It is difficult to imagine the world without Henry Kissinger, not simply because he lived to be 100 years old, but because he occupied an influential – and sometimes dominant – place in American foreign policy and international relations for more than half a century.

Born in Germany in 1923, Kissinger immigrated to the United States in 1938, returned to Germany while in the US army, and then was a student and later a faculty member at Harvard University. He served for eight years in the US government, first as national security adviser, and then as secretary of state (holding both roles simultaneously between 1973 and 1975) under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

His accomplishments in office were many and substantial. For starters, there was the opening to China, an opportunity created by the Sino-Soviet split, but discerned and then exploited by Kissinger and Nixon to exert leverage over the Soviet Union (America’s principal adversary at the time). That diplomatic overture not only ended decades of hostility between the US and China. It also produced a formula for finessing differences over Taiwan, laid the foundation for China’s economic transformation, and established an enduring and ever-more important relationship.