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  • The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
  • Dan Caldwell
Jussi Hanhimäki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 554 pp. $35.00.

More books have been written about Henry Kissinger than about any other figure in American foreign policy aside from a handful of U.S. presidents. Scholars and journalists who have written about Kissinger have focused on five principal topics: his biography, character and personality; his academic writings; the substantive policies that he helped develop and implement; his decision-making process; and the morality of his actions. In the first major analysis of Kissinger to be published in over a decade, Jussi Hahnimäki, currently a professor of international history and politics at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, addresses each of these topics. This broad coverage is both the major strength and the major weakness of Hanhimäki's ambitious book.

Of the twenty-one chapters in the book, eighteen deal with the eight years in which Kissinger served as national security adviser and secretary of state. An early chapter briefly recounts Kissinger's youth and academic career; the penultimate chapter focuses on the controversy he faced after leaving the government; and the concluding chapter is an overall assessment. Readers interested in the biography and personality of Kissinger should consult other books such as Walter Isaacson's Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992). But readers who want to understand the process and substance of the policies that Kissinger helped to develop while serving in government will find Hanhimäki's book a very good source. Hanhimäki has drawn extensively on materials that have become available in the past decade, including declassified telephone conversations and archival documents.

As the title of the book indicates, Hanhimäki believes that Kissinger was the "architect" of American foreign policy in the 1969-1976 period. Is this really the correct metaphor? When edifices are constructed, three main parties are usually involved: the owner, the architect, and the contractor. Historians have debated the roles that were played by President Richard Nixon, Kissinger and, importantly, the American public. Hanhimäki portrays Kissinger as the "architect" or ultimate designer, whereas others contend that Nixon himself was the architect and Kissinger was the contractor, that is, the chief implementer of Nixon's grand design and grand strategy. Both Nixon and Kissinger seemed to forget that the American public was the "owner" of U.S. foreign policy—a disregard that ultimately contributed to the failure of the Nixon-Kissinger policies. This is ironic because the historical figures whom Kissinger had studied most closely—Lord Castelreagh, Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck—made similar mistakes.

It is often forgotten, even by leaders of the world's most powerful country, that there are two constituencies of American foreign policy—members of the public and foreign leaders. When Nixon and Kissinger entered office, the leaders of foreign governments, even those hostile to the United States such as Leonid Brezhnev and Mao [End Page 138] Zedong, were pleased that American foreign policy would be guided by its national interests rather than morality and ideology. The American public, however, became concerned about this amoral (as opposed to what Hanhimäki characterizes as an "immoral realpolitik") approach. This discontent enabled a previously unknown Southern governor, Jimmy Carter, to base his presidential campaign in 1976 on morality and human rights.

Hanhimäki makes a number of strong points about Kissinger's policies. For example, in many of the early articles and books about the Nixon-Kissinger approach to international relations, analysts contended that Nixon and Kissinger were attempting to implement a five-country balance of power in the international system. More recent analysts, including Hanhimäki, correctly note that the structure of the Nixon-Kissinger grand design was in fact tripolar rather than pentagonal, involving the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China. Hanhimäki's analysis of Sino-American relations is particularly detailed and comprehensive and incorporates much newly available information from recently declassified sources.

Hanhimäki's analysis, however, does contain some shortcomings. He rightly describes Kissinger as one...