BOSTON, MA – Perhaps more so than in any other country, in the United States time often changes the reputations of public figures. Historical memory – meaning, the way a society over time chooses to remember the past and reinforces that constructed past – often has less connection to historical reality than it has to do with how a nation prefers to imagine its past, its people, and its leaders.
The most obvious example of this phenomenon is Richard Nixon. Despite the fact that Nixon was a criminal conspirator who destroyed both the integrity of the presidency and the tradition of faith in American government, by the time of his death he had managed to have himself rehabilitated to the status of a “great statesman.”
Nixon may be the most obvious beneficiary of this phenomenon, but time and historical memory have been even kinder to the reputation of another member of Nixon’s inner circle – Henry Kissinger. The gulf between Kissinger’s actual historical record, on the one hand, and his public image, on the other hand, is arguably greater than that of any other American political figure of the twentieth century.
Today, Kissinger is generally treated as the equivalent of a diplomatic demigod. He is popularly revered as the most brilliant practitioner of realpolitik diplomacy and great power strategy to have ever presided over American foreign policy. Yet, the historical record is clear – he was an abject failure as a foreign policy statesman. In fact, Kissinger’s diplomacy produced or contributed to a series of disasters whose scope and magnitude was unprecedented in the history of American foreign policy.
A welcome addition to the critical studies that separate the Kissinger myth from the actual historical record is found in the 2014 publication, Kissinger & Cyprus: a Study in Lawlessness,” by Gene Rossides, a prominent, longtime Washington civic champion of rule of law, as well as one the most influential leaders of the Greek-American community. (Rossides was Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary in the Nixon Administration, Founder of the American Hellenic Institute, and Publisher of this newspaper’s sister publication, Ethnikos Kyrix.)
Rossides’ volume is of particular interest and value for its careful and thorough deconstruction of a specific case study that offers evidence for an indictment of Kissinger’s broader foreign policy and diplomatic record as National Security Advisor and later as Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford, from 1969 to 1977.
Indeed, Rossides’ meticulous study underscores the catastrophic effects of Kissinger’s policy for Cyprus and, in the process, throws into sharp relief the tactics and norms that explain why Henry Kissinger has been a net loss for America’s strategic interests and moral authority in the world.
Henry Kissinger’s crimes against humanity committed in the name of American foreign policy interests in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East are well documented. Yet, Kissinger’s egregious actions in Cyprus are often overlooked. Inasmuch as Rossides’ book helps to fill this stark omission in the historical record, it is an invaluable work.
Since 1974, Gene Rossides has consistently and tirelessly worked to promote government and public awareness, and to contribute to a just resolution, of the Cyprus Problem. Rossides’ activism has been premised on an uncompromising commitment to the principle of the rule of law. The principle of the rule of law is not only at the heart of the American constitutional, democratic system, it is the foundation for modern international relations, which the United States officially supports and promotes. However, Kissinger’s contempt for the rule of law and disregard for all international norms and standards governing relations in foreign affairs produced chaos and violence across much of the globe, including in Cyprus.
Rossides is uniquely qualified to write authoritatively about Kissinger and Cyprus. The author’s rich experience in government, his expertise in law, his activism on behalf of Cyprus – going back as early as the 1950s – and his proximity to the actors involved in the events described in his book make Rossides not only an invaluable observer and analyst, but an important historical figure in his own right.
The readers of this review are more than likely quite familiar with the history of the Cyprus Problem. What needs to be emphasized here is that the Cyprus Problem is neither intractable nor the function of interethnic conflict between the country’s 80 percent ethnic Greek, 18 percent ethnic Turkish, and 2 percent Armenian and Maronite populations; the Cyprus problem is a problem of illegal invasion and occupation by Turkey. For centuries, Cyprus’ different confessional and linguistic communities coexisted peacefully. When interethnic violence, which was ultimately very limited in scope, did occur, it was deliberately manufactured and sensationalized by the British colonial authorities in the 1950s as a tactic to thwart the Cypriots’ right to self-determination. The same tactic was taken up and continued by Turkey in the following decade as a way to undermine the Republic of Cyprus, an independent, democratic, and unitary state established by international treaty in 1960.
Kissinger’s contempt for Cypriot sovereignty and the country’s non-aligned status, his personal hostility towards Cyprus’ democratically-elected president, Archbishop Makarios, and his slavish deference to Turkey, a rogue state which shared Kissinger’s scorn for international law, hence making it an ideal partner for his machinations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, all converged in 1974 to produce crisis. Backed by the bumbling US-dependent military dictatorship in Athens, on July 15, 1974, ultranationalist Greek Cypriot opponents of the Makarios government carried out a coup d’etat, briefly toppling Makarios from power. Five days later, on July 20, Turkey launched a massive bombing assault and invasion of the island’s north on the pretext of restoring the constitutional order of the sovereign Republic of Cyprus. Although the coup plotters quickly capitulated and constitutional order was reestablished by the legitimate Cypriot government, ending Turkey’s pretext for intervention, Turkish forces responded by expanding their invasion, occupying the northern third of the island, and forcing a massive exodus of 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees into the south, thereby achieving Ankara’s actual longstanding goal – the partition and ethnic cleansing of Cyprus.
For four decades, Kissinger has consistently denied any involvement in the tragic events that took place in Cyprus in July and August 1974. In fact, CIA documents released to the public in 2007 confirm Kissinger’s extensive involvement in, and support for, the anti-Makarios coup, multiple failed assassination attempts against Makarios, and “green-lighting” the Turkish invasion. Rossides makes all of this clear through his deployment of impressive research and brilliant synthesis of primary and secondary sources. In concise language, his own and Kissinger’s, the author reveals Kissinger’s thinking and his role as a conspirator and provocateur against Cyprus, “Kissinger cared nothing for the territorial integrity of Cyprus, or its independence. He went so far as openly supporting a policy of dividing Cyprus between Greece and Turkey. On August 13 , in a meeting at the White House with President Ford, Kissinger said, ‘some of my colleagues want to cutoff assistance to Turkey—that would be a disaster. There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus.’ For Kissinger, what he perceived as realpolitik trumped international law” (p. 40).
Rossides rightly observes that the United States possesses sufficient influence to shape a just and democratic solution to the Cyprus Problem based on the rule of law. Any proposal for a solution to the Cyprus Problem, like the obtuse and undemocratic Annan Plan, which was wisely rejected by the majority of Cypriot voters in 2004, that does not begin with an unqualified end to the illegal Turkish occupation of all Cypriot territory and the establishment of full sovereignty for Cyprus is not only senseless and unjust, it is not viable.
The author makes the point that the United States has a special obligation to bring about a just settlement of the Cyprus Problem because, thanks to Kissinger’s actions, Washington was a party to the Turkish invasion, partition, and occupation of Cyprus. Rossides writes, “in the middle of the twentieth century, the United States led the way towards the institutionalization of international law, giving democratic voices around the world a chance to be heard. In the twenty-first century, it should be a truism that American credibility and prestige suffer when it itself turns away from the rule of law. Yet, time and again we have had to re-learn this lesson. It was under Henry Kissinger’s tenure that many of the worst episodes of the United States acting counter to international law in the service of a mistaken sense of national interest occurred. In fact, it is in the national interest of the United States to support the rule of law, and rectifying its wrong in Cyprus would be an important step in this direction” (p. 191).
One of the great strengths of this book, not only for Greek Americans but for all American citizens, also lies in the profound relevance of its message. Henry Kissinger is one of the twentieth century’s worst war criminals, and to ignore his actions is to condone his crimes. Kissinger is wanted for questioning in criminal investigations in Argentina, Chile, France, Great Britain, and Spain. Our society – its democratic values, rule of law principles, moral authority, and simple decency, as well its international reputation – is corrupted by the celebration of Henry Kissinger as a great statesman. America’s failure to push for a just solution in Cyprus is a symptom of the corrosive impact of Henry Kissinger’s actions and immorality in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Rule of law is the legal and moral compass that is necessary for a just resolution of the Cyprus Problem and for America’s rejection of the foreign policy decay of Kissingerism.
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, MA, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.