Skip to main content

Five Things to Know about Martin Indyk’s New Henry Kissinger Book

If you missed our most recent Authors & Insights book discussion, we’ve got you covered. The event featured former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Council on Foreign Relations Distinguished Fellow Martin Indyk and Foreign Policy columnist Elise Labott. They discussed Indyk’s new book Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy, a look at how America’s foremost statesman reshaped America’s foreign policy for generations to come. The discussion included stories and teachings from Kissinger’s efforts to achieve peace in the region, including the difficult strategy involved at the time and how those lessons can be applied to peace talks today. Click here to view the discussion and keep reading for our five key takeaways from the event.

Five Key Takeaways

Kissinger Believed in a Process Toward Peace

“The key to understand, which is a complicated point, is that maintaining order alone didn’t work in the Middle East because Egypt and Syria were unsatisfied with an order that left their territory in Israel’s hands. Israel had occupied the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula all the way up to the Suez Canal as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, and they were trying to use force backed by the Soviet Union to regain that territory. Kissinger was determined to prevent that from happening by building up Israel’s deterrent strength. But in the end, they launched forward, to his surprise, and he learned from that very quickly that it was not enough just to have a balance of power, an equilibrium in the balance of power in favor of those powers that would maintain stability—that is, in those days, the Shah’s Iran, Israel, and to an extent Saudi Arabia. There had to be a legitimizing process that made the order seem fair, that there was a modicum of justice in the system that made it seem fair for all of the players and gave them a stake in maintain the order. For that, he needed a peace process, but it was a process, not an end game.”


Kissinger’s Process was Not Without its Shortcomings

“[Israel gaining control of the West Bank] was a problem that Kissinger did not foresee. His process was a gradual one that would lead over time, eventually, to the Arabs coming to accept Israel and be willing to make peace with it. And during that time, Israel would strengthen itself with American support to the point where it could make concessions necessary to achieve the peace. But he saw it as a long process. One of the problems with this approach is that it gave Israel time, not time to strengthen itself, but time to tighten its grip on the West Bank, which is not what Kissinger had in mind at all. The second shortcoming is that he was very careful not to overreach. He saw this as a problem of American presidents, whether it was promoting democracy or promoting peace. He was very much against overreaching. And the problem of that was that he is prone to underreacting, of aiming too low, and as a result of that, he missed the opportunity to prevent the war from breaking out in 1973.”


Kissinger and John McCain Joined Forces for Peace

“Kissinger was entirely consistent with John McCain’s approach to the Middle East, as well. In fact, he was a great admirer of John McCain. We can talk about their relationship, if you’d like, which was a highly emotional relationship for Kissinger. The only time that Kissinger ever came out and endorsed a candidate, other than Rockefeller who he worked for back in the day, was John McCain, and he worked for the John McCain for President campaign because he admired him so much, because of this strategic affinity. They both approached the region in a similar way, and they both saw Israel in the same way. They both saw Israel as a critical strategic player in the order and as critical to maintaining order in the region.”


Kissinger Did Not Regret the Reach of His Policy

“I did about 12 interviews with Kissinger. On my last, I said to him, ‘Did you ever regret not going for the bigger deal? Going for peace? The fact is that Jimmy Carter made peace between Israel and Egypt two years after you left office on the back of all your hard work.” And he said, ‘I’m happy it happened, but I don’t regret it because I always feared that if I pushed it too hard, I would break it.’ And it was, for me, one of those lightbulb moments. That’s what we did.”


The Lessons of Kissinger’s Policies are Relevant Today

“In terms of a wider context, we have a situation now that was familiar to Kissinger because when he engaged in the middle East, it was coming off the back of the withdrawal from Vietnam, and he didn’t have the force to back his diplomacy. And so, he had to rely on relentless diplomacy, exactly the words that Joe Biden uses now. You want to see relentless? 30 days on the road for Israel-Syria disengagement agreement, 13 trips to Damascus, back and forth he went, that’s relentless.”


DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Publish Date
November 17, 2021