Thomas Schwartz | September 17, 2020
In the first History and International Security series event of the semester, Professor Simon Miles was joined by Dr. Thomas Schwartz, a Distinguished Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, to discuss his new book Henry Kissinger and American Power. Dr. Schwartz began by explaining the motivation behind the book, noting that his biography of the noted statesman is unique in its perspective of Kissinger as a fundamentally political actor. While Kissinger claimed to be non-partisan, he was ultimately a political actor and his understanding of domestic politics shaped his understanding of and strategy in foreign policy. The discussion turned to Kissinger’s relationship with the media, and how he understood the environment and nurtured his relationship with the media, which shaped his role as the spokesperson for American foreign policy. Professor Miles and Professor Schwartz also discussed Kissinger’s relationship to the professional foreign service bureaucracy and how public diplomacy efforts surrounding Kissinger helped to create his public persona. They discussed the calculated strategy to prevent Kissinger from being implicated in Watergate, allowing him to survive politically but also making Nixon more expendable.
The discussion turned to questions about the normative extremes that surround our understanding of Kissinger and his foreign policies. Dr. Schwartz talked about how Kissinger and Nixon dealt with the retrenchment of American power that was inevitable given the time period when the administration came into power. The discussion shifted into Q&A with the audience, where Dr. Schwartz answered questions about Kissinger’s post-government legacy. He spoke to his ongoing prominence in American foreign policy and whether he made any meaningful contributions to foreign policy after leaving government. Dr. Schwartz also answered questions about Kissinger’s balance between idealism and politics in his decision-making, as well as the role of secrecy in policy implementation, where Dr. Schwartz emphasized the opening of China as a key example of Kissinger’s foreign policy prowess.