Henry A. Kissinger may be out of office, but as he proved again yesterday, he is hardly out of power.
Kissinger must be the only provate citizen in America who could hold forth in a single morning from the NBC "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America" and the op-ed page of The Washington Post. Kissinger did all three yesterday, repeating the same message: don't blame me.
There has never been a former secretary of state quite like this one. Kissinger, a man for all seasons in the opinion of his friends, is very much a man of this season no matter what you may think of him.
Since leaving government service, Kissinger has made $5 million on a book and millions more from outside endeavors. He can make the papers and the networks whenever he wants to, and can chose his outlets. For example, he declined to be interviewed by The Post's news department this week, but accepted an offer to respond at length on the op-ed page to recent criticisms of him. He preferred television interviews, which he could control more easily. "Henry likes to control events," one former colleague explained.
Kissinger says repeatedly that he does not want to undermine the Carter administration's foreign policy; his friends and associates insist in conversation that, having suffered himself from the sniping of predecessors, Kissinger would never want to inflict that on his successors.
Yet senior members of the administration detest the former secretary. Many of them are eager for a fight.
"Henry Kissinger is a devious and dishonorable man," one of President Carter's senior associates said last week, even though the White House had decided that Kissinger should not be attacked publicly.
Indeed, only on Tuesday of this week was discipline on the Kissinger matter finally enforced throughout the administration. That day Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who had tried to maintain friendly relations with his predecessor, ordered his assistants to say nothing more on the issue.
An extensive round of telephone calls to administration officials, Kissinger friends, Kissinger enemies and Kissinger watchers produces an extraordinary range of views on his role n the Iranian crisis, and on his role in general. The questioner feels like someone doing market research for, say, spinach.
According to friends and associates, Kissinger is trying to support the administration while challenging it on "big issues" when he feels he must. He won't abdicate his position as a statesman whose views attract wide attention, these sympathetic sources say, but neither does he seek to undermine the adminstration's conduct of diplomacy. They point to Kissinger's frequent public praise of Vance, Kissinger's longtime colleague in various organs of the American establishment.
From the standpoint of many administration officials, this explanation of Kissinger's position is malarkey. They cite cases. For example, Kissinger's speech last week to a meeting of Republican governors in Texas.
Said Kissinger: "The biggest foreign policy debacle for the United States in a generation was the collapse of. . . the shah of Iran without support or even understanding by the United States of what was involved." This, he said, was "the real cause for the radicalization of the Middle East."
The American people, Kissinger said, "are sick and tired of getting pushed around and sick and tired of seeing America on the defensive."
"Certainly," he said, "many of those [in the Carter administration] who came into office in 1976 entered with the conviction that we were going to prevail through the purity of our motives. . . [and with] the belief that we had an infinite capacity to change foreign governments without realizing that the beneficiaries of these changes often were going to be hostile to us, and that if we wanted to bring forces favorable to us into office we needed instruments like. . . the Cental Intelligence Agency. . ."
Remarks such as these, when Carter and his associates were struggling with the hostage crisis, infuriated the president's men and women, many of whom reacted by venting their venom to journalists and commentators, some of whom wrote articles challenging the propriety of Kissinger's role.
Kissinger's willingness to criticize the administration is not new. In July, for example, he lambasted Carter's Rhodesia and Nicaragua policies. In Rhodesia, he said, the United States should have endorsed last spring's elections (which would have meant lifting sanctions against the Salisbury regime).
Had Kissinger's advice been followed, one of his critics noted this week, the unexpected triumph of British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington in working toward a genuine Rhodesian solution would have been impossible. "I wonder if Henry will retract his earlier advice?" this critic asked.
In early September, Kissinger infuriated the administration with a speech in Brussels. The exact wording of the speech was lost when Kissinger revised his text before publication, but he warned the Europeans that because of increasing Soviet nuclear power they could no longer rely on the American nuclear deterrent for protection.
The remarks set off a flurry of criticism. The administration avoided a direct challenge to Kissinger, but went out of its way publicly and privately to reassure the allies that the American deterrent still protected them. Kissinger's staunchest friends and supporters admit that these remarks were uncharacteristically sloppy, and that Kissinger made a mistake.
In Kissinger's other life as a writer and publicist, recent months have produced uneven results. His book of memoirs has been widely hailed and even more widely bought, but also sharply criticised. Prof. Stanely Hoffman of Harvard, an old colleague and rival of Kissinger, published a fierce if quietly stated attack on Kissinger's diplomacy in his review of the Kissinger memoirs that friends say upset the former secretary.
He was also deeply upset by a book by William Shawcross titled "Sideshow" that attacked Kissinger and his former boss, President Nixon, for contributing to the destruction of Cambodia. Later Kissinger had to answer some of Shawcross' accusations in a much-publicized NBC television interview, a confrontation that led to an eruption of the famous Kissinger temper.
Kissinger's sensitivity, long well-known, has been on vivid display in recent weeks. An article in The Post about Hoang Duc Nha, an assistant to South Vietnam's former president, Nguyen Van Thieu, and a special target of Kissinger's venom in his memoirs, provoked several phone calls of complaint from Kissinger to Post exexutives, though the article contained no direct attack on Kissinger.
The Shawcross book prompted an angry letter to the Economist of London. Critical comments in Der Speigel, the German news magazine, also evoked a heated reply.
Despite his uneven relations with the Carter administration, Kissinger has continued to seek out its officials for regular meetings, and to indicate his desire for consultations. His behavior prompted one official to ask this week, "How do you treat a four-year-old who is a former secretary of state?"
Despite its aggravations with Kissinger, though, even the White House recognizes his continuing influence -- which is why open warfare with Kissinger has not yet broken out.
At the moment, the administration is desperate for Kissinger's support for SALT II, a treaty made in the image of Kissinger's own strategic arms limitation proposals but which he has not yet endorsed.
He demands increased defense spending as the price of his support. Wednesday night, Defense Secretary Harold Brown gave Kissinger and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who also wants more defense spending, a private briefing. The gist of that briefing was that the Carter administration is planning to give Kissinger and Nunn much of what they have demanded.