I met Kissinger only once: on December 4, 2019, at the Center for the National Interest’s Gala Anniversary Dinner. Though by that time I was Senior Editor of The National Interest, I was nonetheless a young man in his mid-twenties. Here was I, a mere neophyte in the arts of statecraft, being introduced to the Legend Himself. I provided sufficiently interesting conversation to earn a compliment, and, feeling adventurous, asked if he would provide career advice. He replied with one of his famous lines: ‘Don’t be too ambitious. Do the most important thing you can think of doing every year and then your career will take care of itself.’
In almost any other case, this would be regarded as rather bland and clichéd advice. Coming from Henry Kissinger—one of the most influential figures in American history—it rang rather differently. You too would be surprised if such a colossus ever brushed past you and merely said, ‘don’t aim too high; just do what you think is important.’
Kissinger is now dead, passing away at his home in Kent, Connecticut on November 29 after 100 years of living on this Earth. Those who knew him and those who didn’t are already competing to write tributes, condemnations, celebrations, and more than a few calls for the Almighty to damn this debased war criminal to the lowest pits of hell.
It all seems rather chaotic and anarchic. Kissinger would certainly have been amused, for if there is one thing he firmly believed in, it is that
we live in an anarchic world where there is no such thing as a guarantee for justice.
Rather, it is the task, the duty, the solemn responsibility of national leaders and statesmen to approach the world with a clear-eyed understanding of how it is, rather than as one might wish it to be.