Could Henry Kissinger Possess the Pee Tape?

Many suspect Putin is blackmailing Trump. But could there be a different culprit? A plausible theory of mind-boggling confusion.

Donald Trump meets with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office at the White House on May 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Molly Riley-Pool / Getty

Bulletin is a chronicle of socialist comment and analysis from Jacobin’s Seth Ackerman.

In the most recent Bulletin, I pointed to a surprising recent article by Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations, who reported that top Chinese officials, far from viewing Donald Trump as the dunce he seems to be, appear to regard him as some sort of strategic genius (though not necessarily a very stable one).

There’s a method to Trump’s madness, the Chinese believe, one geared mainly toward containing China’s geopolitical ascent. In their view, this logic even extends to the most apparently inexplicable aspect of his foreign policy: his coziness with Putin.

For the Chinese, even Mr Trump’s sycophantic press conference with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in Helsinki had a strategic purpose. They see it as Henry Kissinger in reverse. In 1972, the US nudged China off the Soviet axis in order to put pressure on its real rival, the Soviet Union. Today Mr Trump is reaching out to Russia in order to isolate China.

And now, in the scoop of the week, a team of reporters at the Daily Beast have revealed that after the election, Trump was aggressively pitched on this Russian rapprochement strategy by none other than … Henry Kissinger himself.

Here are the nut grafs:

Henry Kissinger suggested to President Donald Trump that the United States should work with Russia to contain a rising China.

The former secretary of state—who famously engineered the tactic of establishing diplomatic relations with China in order to isolate the Soviet Union—pitched almost the inverse of that idea to Trump during a series of private meetings during the presidential transition, five people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. The potential strategy would use closer relations with Russia, along with other countries in the region, to box in China’s growing power and influence.

Kissinger also pitched the idea to Jared Kushner, the top White House adviser whose portfolio includes foreign-policy matters, one of the sources briefed on the discussions said.

There are so many delicious nooks and crannies to this story. From a purely realpolitik perspective, the idea of a rapprochement with Moscow makes obvious sense, assuming one could be worked out. Unlike Russia, China actually has the potential to act as a “peer competitor” to the United States at a global level. Russia itself is weak.

Barack Obama was quite lucid on this point in his 2016 “exit interview” with Jeffrey Goldberg:

The truth is, actually, Putin, in all of our meetings, is scrupulously polite, very frank. Our meetings are very businesslike. He never keeps me waiting two hours like he does a bunch of these other folks. … He’s constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid. He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished. And the fact that he invades Crimea or is trying to prop up Assad doesn’t suddenly make him a player. You don’t see him in any of these meetings out here helping to shape the agenda. For that matter, there’s not a G20 meeting where the Russians set the agenda around any of the issues that are important …

Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there. … He’s done the exact same thing in Syria, at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country. And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine, than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally. Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.

The reasoning Obama laid out helps explain why — in a further revelation from the Daily Beast piece — Kissinger’s logic apparently still appeals to a number of foreign policy professionals in the government:

Inside the administration, the [Kissinger] proposal has found receptive ears, with some of Trump’s top advisers—in addition to officials in the State Department, Pentagon, and the National Security Council—also floating a strategy of using closer relations with Moscow to contain Beijing, according to White House and Capitol Hill insiders.

But the idea has been complicated by the president’s deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has caused countless domestic political headaches.

Please stop and savor the irony here. According to this Daily Beast piece, high-ranking members of the foreign policy establishment would like to work out a rapprochement with Putin but have in practice been thwarted by — of all people — Donald Trump.

Then there’s the matter of the Resistor-in Chief. Hillary Clinton made no secret of her admiration for Kissinger during the 2016 campaign. Not long before the primary debate where she famously humblebragged about how “flattered” she was by the war criminal’s praise of her, she had written a glowing review of Kissinger’s book in the Washington Post in which she disclosed that “Kissinger is a friend,” that she “relied on his counsel,” and that she viewed his foreign policy vision as “just and liberal.”

A few months later, Kissinger was whispering in Trump’s ear to get closer to Putin.

If you follow the worldview of, say, the Committee to Investigate Russia, Trump’s sycophancy toward Putin could only be explained by blackmail. But why assume it’s Putin doing the blackmailing? We may one day find ourselves forced to confront a horrifying reality with staggering implications: Kissinger has the pee tape and he’s kompromat’ing the president.