Henry Kissinger’s Path to the RN White House
Henry Kissinger was the National Security Advisor to RN from late 1968 throughout his presidency. During his time in office he worked closely with RN to develop the policies that would open Communist China to the United States and help bring the Vietnam War to a close.
Before he began working for RN, Kissinger was a foreign policy advisor to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and a part of LBJ’s channel of communication with the North Vietnamese through a network of intermediaries in Paris.
It was through these channels that Kissinger became aware of President Johnson’s plans to negotiate a bombing halt in Vietnam, a decision that would remain secret to the public until only days before the 1968 presidential election. According to RN in his memoirs the candidates were notified of the halt in a conference call only two weeks before the general election.
Upon discovering the situation, and weeks before LBJ’s phone call, Kissinger reached out to RN, urging him to avoid making statements asserting that the Democrats were not doing enough to secure peace in Vietnam, and shared with him the rumors that a ceasefire was being negotiated in secret. This was an unlikely move for Kissinger to make, primarily because he had been working as the advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, who was the main opponent of RN in the Republican Primaries in 1968.
The first time RN and Kissinger met in person was in the Pierre Hotel, after RN had already won the election. Kissinger was offered a position as the National Security Advisor, a risky move for RN to make. Despite the fact that they did not personally know one another, RN had been a fan of Kissinger’s stance on foreign policy expressed in his books; however, Kissinger was initially not very eager to join RN’s administration.
At their initial meeting in the hotel, Kissinger was resistant to the idea of working under Nixon. He had been a committed Rockefeller supporter and an opponent of RN. The first meeting yielded no answers, and Kissinger described the offer as being vague.
When he was offered the position of National Security Advisor by Nixon personally several days later, he asked for a week to think it over. In an interview conducted with Kissinger at the Nixon Presidential Library in November 2014, he conceded that the turning point for his acceptance was only after Nelson Rockefeller asked Kissinger, “…have you ever considered that Nixon is taking a bigger risk on you than you are on him?”
Kissinger agreed to work for RN, and continued to do so throughout the presidency. He was instrumental in the administration’s foreign policy with the Middle East, the opening of China, and the ending of the Vietnam War. He was a fixture in US foreign policy long afterward, and is still an active political commentator. He is also a prolific writer, who has published books about foreign policy, the state of the world, and an extensive collection of memoirs related to his time in the government.