Now that’s a party: Roberts on Ferguson on Kissinger

In case you missed it, there’s a new biography of Henry Kissinger out. Part 1, rather, to 1968 (BBC podcast here). The author is Niall Ferguson, which should cause some trepidation, given his peKissinger and Time Magazinenchant for propounding complicated, but very questionable historical judgments (The Pity of War, for example, makes tremendous leaps, bordering on the fatuous).

Last week Politico published an excerpt from  a chapter on Vietnam, from which it would seem that Kissinger (gasp!) was the ONLY one to see the conflict clearly, and to understand that it was about more than just military action. Oh dear, here’s the old saw of the “big battalion” war, which all the dunderheads in MAC-V and Washington pursued relentlessly, oblivious to the realities of guerilla warfare. This has been exploded in the last few years, but I’m guessing Ferguson hasn’t kept up on the latest research on that topic (or rather, his grad students haven’t).

Apparently, Kissinger also has a lot to tell us about current politics in Washington–“The Real Obama Doctrine” from October 9 starting with Kissinger and ending with a searing critique of Obama’s foreign policy (or lack of one, I’m not sure which).  While I’m not too enthusiastic about the President’s foreign policy as a whole, some of the criticisms are probably premature. And I’m not sure that things are going to heck because his advisers are lawyers without the capacity for thinking big thoughts the way Kissinger did. If that’s so, Ferguson must be thrilled with the crop of Republican hopefuls this year.

What makes this a party is The New York Times‘ choice for a reviewer of Ferguson’s tome: Andrew Roberts, he of recent Napoleon fame (and who practically worships the ground Napoleon trod, which should tell you something–but I have a different post on that). Apparently Ferguson and Roberts go way back, so it’s not like there would be a conflict of interest there. Greg Grandin of NYU’s column on Roberts and his rather disturbing ideological alignment with Ferguson makes good reading.

Anyway, I think a little skepticism is always a good quality for a biographer to have. It doesn’t sound like Ferguson has that quality, but I’ll probably read the book at some point. In my copious free time.

Meanwhile, for some truly innovative research on Kissinger, try Micki Kaufman’s Quantifying Kissinger, which uses digital techniques to analyze his memos as Secretary of State and as National Security Adviser. The actual website is down at present, but this is the project to watch.

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