Since President Bush didn't want an inquiry into 9-11 to begin with, his move to bring Henry Kissinger back onstage seems designed to serve another purpose. Ostensibly appointed to investigate the spy snafus that led to the terrorist attacks, Kissinger lands in Washington at the exact moment Bush is dispatching troops to the Persian Gulf despite a growing stateside movement against invading Iraq and the treacherous diplomatic crosscurrents abroad.
Kissinger's return adds several factors to the war on terrorism. First, his knowledge of the Middle East, especially of Saudi Arabian maneuvers at the height of the 1973 energy crisis, can only help Bush in sorting out the basic political lay of the land. And sure enough, the Kissinger commission is already being cast as the coming together of our great wise men: He'll be joined by George Mitchell, and maybe even Warren Rudman and Gary Hart. In all likelihood, the council's first move will be to dampen any suspicions of Saudi involvement in 9-11 and ensure none of the West's Cold War machinations in the Middle East ever see the light of day.
Second, Kissinger represents the foreign policy establishment, which is leery of war, especially of Vice President Cheney's rash clamoring for preemptive strikes. In this way, he becomes a much needed counterweight to the veep and his war-lusting cohorts. You can almost hear Papa Bush telling his boy to slow things down, to get someone in there who knows what he's doing.
Thirdand this is the fly in the president's ointmentKissinger, as always, comes with a contrail of controversy. Now the hubbub is over his list of private clients. Mindful of his long history of wheeling and dealing, critics of the administration have questioned whether any of those relationships create a conflict of interest. For his part, Kissinger says he'd drop any with connections to the investigation. And the White House contends there's no obligation to release the list because, unbelievably enough, his role in studying the worst attack on American soil is only part-time.
Still, you don't need a security clearance to flip through much of Kissinger's Rolodex. He has long been associated with the Rockefellers, the Chase Manhattan Bank, and other big shots more interested in writing long-term oil contracts in the Middle East than in fighting disruptive guerrilla wars driven by ideological and religious niceties. In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens has spelled out many of the corporate clients: These "include or have included American Express, Shearson Lehman Hutton, Arco, Daewoo of South Korea, H. J. Heinz, ITT, Lockheed Corporation, Anheuser-Busch, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Coca-Cola, Fiat, Revlon, Union Carbide, and Midland Bank."
If your potential profits are stuck in a global hot spot, Kissinger's your guy. He has helped companies (including Arco) gain access to China. The managing director of Kissinger Associates, J. Stapleton Roy, is also a director of Conoco-Phillips, the sixth largest petroleum company in the world, with interests in Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Kissinger has been a director of Freeport-McMoRan, a Louisiana-based concern involved with gold and copper mining as well as oil and gas production in Indonesia. This firm has been accused of destroying tribal villages, poisoning water supplies with arsenic, and forcing the relocation of thousands of native people. Asked about the pollution charges, James Moffett, the firm's colorful CEO, declared, "It's the equivalent of me pissing in the Arafura Sea." Kissinger Associates has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from this company in consulting fees, and Kissinger himself draws $30,000 a year as a director.
Kissinger also belonged to an outfit called China Ventures, an abortive partnership that invested in the People's Republic. He was ahead of his time; China, the world's fastest-growing energy market, now has its own interests in the Caspian Sea and the Middle East, most especially Iraq. In addition, there are deals in the works involving China's importation of energy from Indonesia.
Do any of these activities present potential conflicts of interest? "The possibility that the investigation of a commission that contains eight commissioners would be affected by any conceived commercial interests is outrageous," Kissinger said Sunday on CNN. "I have served six presidents and I have never been accused of anything of this kind."
Maybe so, but he certainly likes to have several irons in the fire at once. Reportedly on the insistence of Nelson Rockefeller, to whom he'd been a consultant, Kissinger took the job of national security adviser under Richard Nixon, providing Rockefeller with a pipeline to the White House. When Nelson was gone, Kissinger became close with Nelson's brother David and his Chase Manhattan Bank. He brought David and the shah of Iran together, and when the shah was overthrown lobbied to get him a safe haven in the U.S.
Kissinger was involved in the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos, and has been credited with persuading the South Vietnamese to reject a peace plan submitted by President Johnson. The president set up his famous tapings because he didn't trust Kissinger. Knowing this, Kissinger turned counterspy and taped Nixon. At the same time, Kissinger took the precaution of secretly removing various National Security Council documents for safekeeping at the Rockefeller estate. Kissinger was a master of public relations, providing certain important journalists with a direct line to his office and tapping the phones of others.
In The Price of Power, Seymour Hersh recounts how the American Machiavelli duped Chilean president Salvador Allende. When Orlando Letelier, Allende's ambassador in Washington, visited with Kissinger, he asked if he knew about a smear campaign conducted by American companies against Chile. Kissinger replied that such a notion was "absolutely absurd and without grounds of any kind." In fact, Kissinger had helped Nixon hatch this very campaign. In addition, he was bugging the Chilean embassy to find out about Allende's nationalization plans so he could report them to business leaders.
Today, the arrival of Kissinger bodes ill for the conservative ideologues and religious interests pushing war on Bush, and is really bad news for the Bush family's newfound base on the Republican right, especially with the Christian right, whom members of the establishment rightly view as a bunch of crackpots. Bush may think he has made a shrewd choice, but he could get much more than he bargained for.
If, as seems obvious, the Kissinger committee on 9-11 is an utter fake, there's still hope. New York State, for starters, could conduct its own investigation. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer could issue subpoenas, call witnesses, and empanel grand juries. Or the few dissenting lawmakers in Washington could follow in the footsteps of Newt Gingrich, who sent members of his back bench to the House floor for brief statements at the end of each day. They reached a national audience through C-SPAN and became a major factor in building the Reagan right. Even a small corps, if determined and organized enough, could put information before Kissinger and the public, challenging the commission whenever it errs.
Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson, Rebecca Winsor, and Josh Saltzman
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.