Thomas Friedman's depiction of someone who "could candidly talk back" to President Nixon is not the Kissinger we know from his taped conversations with his president.
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Thomas Friedman, the one-time eloquent cheerleader for the Iraq War, a liberal voice who deemed it realistic to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, notwithstanding the loss of a useful buffer against Iran to the rest of the Western world. Oh, those heady days of Iraqis greeting us with flowers and their reconstruction costs paid by oil revenues! And that wonderful irony of the world turning against us while we provided it with legions of mercenaries, priming the oil pumps.

In a recent column (November 19, 2008), Friedman remarked, "The two most impactful [sic] secretaries of state in the last 50 years were James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Both were empowered by their presidents, and both could candidly talk back to their presidents."

Surely Friedman is joking about Henry Kissinger -- "talk back"? That, of course, is the Kissinger Friedman knows from Kissinger's endless spin performances for journalists who doted on him and conveyed his every word, every thought. The shameless, uncritical reporting of the man and his deeds is one of the travesties of recent journalism, and Friedman is one of its particularly crafty practitioners.

Friedman's depiction of someone who "could candidly talk back" to President Nixon is not the Kissinger we know from his taped conversations with his President. Undoubtedly there are exceptions, but the tapes overwhelmingly reflect Kissinger, in a familiar, fawning, and obsequious manner. The hundreds of hours released now of the taped conversations provide ample grist for future historians to correct Kissinger's hardly-deserved standing as some Prince of American Diplomacy. Do we care that he thinks Hillary Clinton would be an excellent Secretary of State? Is he sucking up for some advisory role?

Sample Robert Dallek's recent book, Nixon and Kissinger that extensively mined the taped conversations, with countless examples of Kissinger in his best sycophantic mode. Better yet, in these Internet days, take a look at Kenneth Hughes's web site, Fatal Politics, for some real-time recordings of Nixon and Kissinger's conversations In particular, see his recent Episode Five in which the two unindicted co-conspirators scheme for a "decent interval" between American withdrawal from Vietnam and the clearly-recognized collapse of their South Vietnamese allies ( "South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway," Nixon said in 1972. His Master's voice readily agreed: "We've got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two," Kissinger told Nixon. "After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater."

Here is an example (from hundreds) offering the real flavor of the Nixon-Kissinger relationship. It is from a March 10 conversation between the two:

Nixon: The idea that we have to keep a residual force in South Vietnam -- I'm not really for it. I don't think the South Vietnamese are --
Kissinger: Well, it'd be desirable, but I -- I don't --
Nixon: Face it: I don't think the American people are going to support it and it isn't like Korea somewhere --
Kissinger: Above all, Mr. President, your re-election is --
Nixon: Yeah.
Kissinger: -- really important.

Kissinger talk back? No, Nixon had a very useful prop.

Stanley Kutler liberated the Nixon (and Kissinger) tapes in 1996. His court settlement insured that everyone would have the pleasure of hearing their leaders at work.

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