Leaders Lead, They Don’t Follow – And They Don’t Toss Away Their Country’s Culture

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/01/26/leaders-lead-they-dont-follow-and-they-dont-toss-away-their-countrys-culture/

Leadership:  Six Studies in World Strategies
Henry Kissinger
Penguin Random-house
496 pages
July 2022


Henry Kissinger’s Leadership is a brilliant study of the different styles of six great 20th century statesmen. His insights are particularly valuable, as he knew and worked with all of them. And remarkably, Kissinger published the book at age 99.

Born into a Jewish family in Germany in May 1923, he and his family fled the Nazis to the United States in 1938, when he was 15. Enrolling at City College of New York, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943; he served in military intelligence in Europe with distinction during the American advance into Germany. After the war he went to Harvard, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1950, later earning a doctorate in 1954.

Kissinger taught at Harvard during the 1950s and 1960s. He also served as foreign policy advisor to Nelson Rockefeller in his presidential campaigns in 1960, 1964 and 1968. After Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968, he asked Kissinger to become National Security Advisor; Kissinger hesitated until his friend and mentor, Rockefeller, encouraged him to take the job.

In 1973, Nixon appointed Kissinger Secretary of State, a position which he held under both Nixon and Ford until 1977. Since then, he has written many books and served as an official and unofficial advisor and consultant on foreign affairs to federal officials and corporations.

Admired by many and detested by some, Kissinger has to be judged as one of the greatest U.S. foreign policy leaders and statesmen of the past century, ranking with Dean Acheson, George Marshall, and George Schultz. Starting with his role as National Security Advisor with Nixon and their brilliant “opening to China” in 1971, which he quarterbacked, he has had enormous influence on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy over five decades. He is often seen as playing the role that Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck played in Europe and in world politics during the 19th century.

In Leadership, Kissinger provides portraits of six statesmen:  Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Lee Kwan Yew, and Margaret Thatcher. Three Europeans, one Chinese, one Arab, and one American. Each faced dramatically different circumstances and challenges; each one achieved vital domestic goals and foreign policy objectives for his country.

Having lived and worked in Asia, the Middle East, Germany, and the United Kingdom over a span of almost 20 years, the author of this review was struck with the acumen and insight with which Kissinger draws the portrait of the leadership strategy of each statesman. For example, in his sketch of Adenauer, who served as the Chancellor of West Germany from 1949 until 1963, Kissinger describes how Adenauer brilliantly led Germany in the post-World War II years with a strategy of humility. Adenauer had served as mayor of Cologne until he was dismissed in 1933, after strongly opposing Hitler’s accession to power. Maintaining his hostility to the new regime, he was harassed by the Nazis and ultimately jailed for allegedly being part of the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. He survived his imprisonment, then gained the postwar leadership of Germany by calling upon his countrymen not to indulge in the self-pitying nationalism which occurred after World War I, but instead coming to terms with the crimes that the Nazis had committed and seeking Germany’s future in a unified Europe.

Kissinger’s next portrait is of Charles de Gaulle (about whom NewBostonPost published a book review in 2018). For  time during World War II after he had retreated to England after the German takeover of his country, de Gaulle became France incarnate. De Gaulle was a great patriot who could not bear to see his nation humiliated. Kissinger describes how through force of will, his powerful personality, and his brilliant understanding of the art of leadership, de Gaulle helped restore France to greatness. Kissinger also understood that de Gaulle was willing to play any friend or foe against each other. He writes:  “Charles de Gaulle attracted admirers who were useful to him, but a relationship with him implied neither reciprocity nor permanence. He walks through history as a solitary figure.” This became all too clear to Americans in 1966, when de Gaulle led France out of NATO and demanded that all U.S. military forces leave France – this after thousands of U.S. troops had given their life defending France in World War I and liberating France in World War II.

The third and longest chapter of Leadership is the portrait of Richard Nixon, one of the most controversial presidents in U.S. history and the only one forced to resign from office. Kissinger worked for and with Nixon for five and a half years at the highest level of government. Even acknowledging Nixon’s character flaws that led to his downfall, Nixon’s presidency was powerful:  He ended the American engagement in Vietnam, established the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East, and established a triangular dynamic on the previously bipolar Cold War through the opening to China. This strategy put the Soviet Union at a grave disadvantage. This chapter is especially valuable, as Kissinger demonstrates how the world that the United States faces today, with the challenges from China and Iran, is strikingly similar to the one that Nixon faced upon assuming power in 1969. One hopes that President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team have carefully read this chapter.

The next two portraits are of statesmen less familiar to most Americans:  Anwar Sadat and Lee Kwan Yew. Sadat, one of thirteen children and born into poverty, became an officer in the Egyptian army. He spent half a dozen years in and out of jail because of his anti-colonial  activities. Like so many political prisoners over the last century, prison transformed Sadat. In his memoirs, he writes about the “inner strength and confidence” that he gained in prison. With the rise of Gamal Nasser, Sadat gained political power and ultimately became president of Egypt from 1970 to 1981. He was assassinated in October 1981 by a group of Islamic fundamentalists because of the peace treaty which he had negotiated with Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter in 1978-1979. Above all, Kissinger admires Sadat for his courage in transforming his and the Egyptian people’s views on Israel and his willingness to conclude a peace treaty with his people’s mortal enemy.

Lee Kwan Yew was the prime minister of Singapore from 1965 to 1990, and subsequently he became senior minister and later minister mentor, influencing public policy until his death in 2015. He was an extraordinarily able politician and one the of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century. When he assumed power in 1965, Singapore’s per capita gross domestic product was $517. By 1990, it was $11,900. As of last year, it was $72,794 – greater than that of the United States.

Kissinger recounts Lee Kwan Yew’s visit to Harvard for a month-long sabbatical in 1968, when he met with the faculty of the Littauer Center (now the JFK School of Government). After listening to the professors’ harangue about Vietnam and America’s part in it, Lee Kwan Yew was brief and to the point. The first words out of his mouth were:  “You make me sick.” He proceeded to describe how important America’s presence in the Southeast Asia was to small countries like Singapore, which depended upon America for its survival in a tumultuous world.

Anyone who has visited Singapore is astonished by the flourishing economy and culture that has been built there over the past 50 years, and it was largely due to Lee Kwan Yew’s vision, wisdom, and steady hand. While he is criticized by some for his authoritarian ways, the story of Lee Kuan Yew and of Singapore is that what matters about a country is not its size nor its population, the natural resources, or its material wealth. As Kissinger writes, what matters is “the quality of its people and the vision of its leaders.”

The last portrait in Leadership is of Margaret Thatcher – the first female British prime minister and the longest serving British leader in the 20th century. She was called the “Iron Lady” by a Soviet journalist during the Cold War, and the name stuck.

Thatcher first won the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975; she became prime minister in 1979. Coming from the middle class without many well-placed connections, and as a woman in a man’s world, she could draw on little political capital; she had to develop her own. And that she did in spades. As a result of her leadership, Britain threw off the socialist chains on the economy of the previous thirty years, and the nostalgia for its lost empire and emerged in the 1980s as a newly vibrant and confident nation.

Kissinger says that her most important trait was fortitude – shown in her breaking of the coalminers’ union, which had bedeviled both Conservative and Labor governments for decades; triumphing in the Falkland Islands when her military staff told her it couldn’t be done; brushing off the IRA’s bombing of her hotel in Brighton (which almost killed her) and giving a brilliant speech the next morning; and combining with President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II to bring down the Iron Curtain.

Like every strong leader, she had plenty of political enemies, but she outlasted almost all of them – until her own party turned on her. Kissinger writes:  “The revival of Britain brought about by Thatcher was at once an economic and spiritual undertaking.” Bringing about this revival required courage and character – and using them.

In his conclusion, Kissinger describes the ways in which leadership changed in the second half of the 20th century. No longer drawn from the hereditary aristocracy, these leaders came from the middle class and were the result of a meritocracy. “Education became the quintessential road to advancement,” Kissinger writes. The middle-class values in which all six leaders were steeped from childhood were “personal discipline, self-improvement, charity, patriotism, self-belief, and faith in their societies.”

They did not see themselves as citizens of the world — “to them, the privilege of citizenship implied a responsibility to exemplify the particular virtues of their own nations.” Common to all of them, too, was a devout religious upbringing. These leaders did not believe in focus groups and polls. They did not lead from behind – a leadership style which President Barack Obama espoused. They spoke truth to their people to order to move them towards necessary but difficult results.

In his final paragraphs, Kissinger writes that “faith in the future was to them indispensable. It remains so. No society can remain great if it loses its faith in itself.”  One wonders whether America, and indeed the West, can remain great if it continues on a suicidal path of  self-loathing and renunciation of the past. Leadership is a book that America’s leaders, and our leaders-in-waiting, should read and take to heart.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $5.75 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.