In the wake of Henry Kissinger’s death at the age of 100, much has been written about the former diplomat’s murderous legacy. Historian Greg Grandin has estimated that Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations from 1969 to 1977 and subsequently chaired or sat on multiple presidential commissions and advisory boards, played a role in killing at least three million people (and counting, because he littered Southeast Asia with landmines). Kissinger never faced accountability for any of the human rights atrocities he orchestrated, catalyzed, and supported across the globe. Instead, the unconvicted war criminal was revered by the U.S. ruling class and remained a trusted counselor to Republican and Democratic policymakers alike until he passed.
We would be remiss not to mention another one of Kissinger’s long-lasting negative impacts: Through his firm Kissinger Associates, he was an innovator in the revolving door buckraking that RDP is committed to exposing and stopping. In a 1986 interview, Kissinger described his firm, founded in 1982, as a dispenser of “geopolitical-economic advice” that assists clients “with their international planning.” One prominent client at the time was Shearson Lehman Brothers. The now-defunct investment bank’s then-parent company, American Express, paid $420,000 annually for Kissinger to speak a few times per year and provide intermittent guidance to top brass, according to the New York Times. Other corporate executives reportedly paid $150,000 a year “for far less service.” Selling profitable tips for outrageous sums made Kissinger a multimillionaire—and made life worse for millions of people worldwide. As Grandin points out, Kissinger Associates capitalized directly on crises created by Kissinger during his time in the White House.
Kissinger was not the first nor the only ex-government official to use his insider knowledge, extensive contact list, and powerful reputation to cash out in the private sector. But his “get-rich-quick-through-strategic-consulting” scheme was unusually lucrative and opened the door, if you will, to other revolvers who opt to advise big businesses rather than work directly for them—and often simultaneously hold unpaid federal advisory roles or return later to paid positions in the executive branch despite pervasive conflicts of interest. The model that he pioneered is alive and well. As journalist Jonathan Guyer explained in the run-up to the 2020 election, it’s precisely why Secretary of State Tony Blinken and other members of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy team who have moved between the worlds of public service and corporate consulting are so damn wealthy. And it’s likely one of the reasons for the mutual admiration between Kissinger and former President Donald Trump, who mastered the art of using the federal government to advance his own personal interests.
“It pales in comparison to the millions of deaths he was responsible for,” progressive foreign policy expert Matt Duss observed Thursday, “but Kissinger was also a pioneer in the normalization of corruption.”
The photo of Henry Kissinger at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0