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Why The Candidates Shouldn't Care What Kissinger Thinks

10/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Henry Kissinger is again front and center in the news. A few days after sharing the spotlight with Sarah Palin, he got not one but five shout-outs in the first of three presidential debates. At a Council on Foreign Relations discussion last week, the normally diplomatic Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took the former secretary of state to task for not knowing the history of South Ossetia or Abkhazia. Even Ukraine Premiere Yulia Tymoshenko got caught plagiarizing Kissinger's seminal 1994 book, "Diplomacy," in a Foreign Affairs article she "wrote" last year. A friend of mine, whose office shares a swanky Park Avenue building with Kissinger Associates, says the elevator has never been so studded with A-list officials and celebs. Make no mistake: Kissinger is back.

But should Americans, much less Barack Obama, care what Kissinger thinks? Why has this squat 85-year-old has-been suddenly become our presidential candidates' ultimate aphrodisiac? One might think his relationship with Pinochet and carpet bombing of Cambodia might not endear him to future candidates with thin foreign policy résumés. Kissinger Associates, as Christopher Hitchens recently wrote in Slate, is a "firm that introduces despots to corporations." To his credit, Kissinger has come out in favor of a nuclear-free world and favors direct high-level talks with rogue states like Iran. Still, Obama should not be bragging about his ideological kinship from someone who many accuse of being a war criminal.

Indeed, it would seem only in the field of foreign policy can people be so utterly wrong all the time yet still retain their jobs and endowed chairs, still command high speaking engagement fees, and still be courted by presidential candidates. Randy Scheunemann chaired the secretive committee that led us into the disastrous war in Iraq. For his bungling, the neo-con was rewarded with the post of John McCain's chief foreign policy advisor. Jeffrey Sachs, then of Harvard, offered Moscow a dose of "shock therapy"--more of a gulp, really--in the 1990s, which almost overnight wrecked the Russian economy, yet the media and lead singer of U2 continue to gush over his tomes on how to make the world less poor (mention Russia in an interview and watch how prickly Sachs becomes). I imagine every economist who predicted that Japan would overtake the world in the 1990s still has a job and makes more bank than me. Same goes for every terrorism analyst blindsided by 9/11.

The candidates would be wise to follow this bit of advice: "Most foreign policies that history has marked highly, in whatever country, have been originated by leaders who were opposed by experts." Who said that? Henry Kissinger.