For decades now, Henry Kissinger has been the American left’s favorite punching bag.
In this Jewish immigrant with the dense accent and deliberate cadence, Democrats found their Dr. Strangelove. President Richard Nixon’s henchman.
Some of Kissinger’s sins were real; many of them were imagined.
Mostly, though, the left detests him for being an unrepentant enemy of communism and a Cold War warrior.
So it was no surprise Kissinger, who died this week at 100, was the target of widespread, lazy vitriol.
One predictable Rolling Stone piece carried the headline “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved By America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies” — with a “Good Riddance” tag on top.
The HuffPost banner read “THE BELTWAY BUTCHER.”
To give you a sense of the prevailing mood of left-wing social media, the phrase “IT FINALLY HAPPENED” was the sort of thing trending on X after his death.
To cheers, an old Anthony Bourdain quotation also made the rounds on social media.
“Once you’ve been to Cambodia,” the late celebrity chef wrote more than 20 years ago, “you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.”
You’d think people who visited Cambodia would be far more infuriated by Communist Khmer Rouge’s genocide of perhaps 2 million people, or around one-fourth of the country’s population — the very kind of thing the United States was trying to stop in Asia.
But no. In the left’s revisionism, Kissinger could be likened to Slobodan Milosevic, or maybe Hitler, for his “secret bombing” of “neutral” Cambodia, a place that was infested with Vietcong who were retrenching to move against American troops and, ultimately, bring misery to millions.
Nor would the left ever get over Kissinger’s role — which was wildly overstated — in the 1973 coup ousting the beloved socialist Salvador Allende in Chile.
But as history has repeatedly proven, “elected” socialists have a strong tendency to turn into unelected heads of communist regimes.
Chile, incidentally, is now the wealthiest country in South America. Venezuela and Bolivia are, most certainly, not.
In The New York Times, former Obama official Ben Rhodes, a man who helped bolster Islamist tyrants who spread terrorism across the Middle East, accused Kissinger of practicing a “foreign policy enamored with the exercise of power and drained of concern for the human beings left in its wake.”
Anyone who’s read any of his speeches and books or one good biography on him — books by Walter Isaacson and Niall Ferguson come to mind — understands this is a cartoonishly simplistic rendering of Kissinger’s Cold War legacy.
It’s true Kissinger’s realpolitik wasn’t primarily motivated by immediate ideology.
There are often morally ambiguous and ugly choices to be made in foreign policy.
But Kissinger knew we “stood for something above and beyond” our “material achievements” and “purely pragmatic policy” is unrealistic and unsustainable.
Kissinger’s overriding goal was checking and weakening some of the most brutal dictatorships the world had ever seen.
That’s why the contemporary American left has such disdain for the man.
To understand this moral confusion, simply juxtapose the treatment of Kissinger with the coming coverage of Jimmy Carter, a man who spent his post-presidential life coddling and legitimizing tyrants and terrorists around the world.
Of course, Kissinger, who worked for both Nixon and Gerald Ford and was the only person ever to serve as White House national security adviser and secretary of state at the same time, made choices that were debatable.
Was opening China beneficial in the end?
Should Kissinger have pushed Israel into letting the Egyptian army off the hook so that Anwar Sadat could save face in 1973?
Even those who find that event distasteful might begrudgingly concede it laid the groundwork for a peace agreement between the two countries later in the decade.
The American left can’t begrudgingly admit anything Kissinger did was good, of course, because he’s a supervillain.
And the Kissinger Mythology allows them to feel like we were no better than our adversaries.
And this hatred only makes me wonder if I haven’t given the man enough credit.
Rest in peace.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.