We Israelis tend to be Zion-centric. We see Israel as the center of the world, even though Israel’s 9,340,000 people are barely one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population, ranking 100th. We are indeed a small country, but very noisy and perhaps overly self-confident and self-centered.
Yet perhaps Israel really is the center of the world. In Henry Kissinger’s new book Leadership, he portrays at length six renowned world leaders he knew personally. All six turn out to have had crucial, impactful influence on, and links with, Israel – as did Kissinger himself.
This book, Kissinger’s 21st, is only 528 pages long. His 1994 tome Diplomacy was a hefty 912 pages. His first book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (on Metternich and post-Napoleon Europe), was published in 1957.
On May 23, Kissinger will be 100 years old. His mind is active and bright. Well done, Henry! For us seniors, you are an inspiration.
Six leaders and six key leadership qualities to judge modern leaders
The six leaders in Leadership are, in order: Konrad Adenauer, who brought Germany back into the community of nations by what Kissinger calls “the strategy of humility” (admit transgressions, work to try to make amends); Charles de Gaulle (“the strategy of will”); Richard Nixon (“the strategy of equilibrium”); Egypt’s Anwar Sadat (“strategy of transcendence”); Singapore’s founding president Lee Kwan Yew (“strategy of excellence”); and Margaret Thatcher (“strategy of conviction”).
Those six key qualities capture all that we seek in a leader. Humility, equilibrium, will, excellence, conviction, transcendence. These are the parameters against which we can judge modern leaders, including Israel’s. As an acronym: HEWECT.
“All [six leaders],” Kissinger writes, “became architects of the postwar evolution of their societies and the international order. I had the good fortune to encounter all six at the height of their influence…each of the six leaders managed a synthesis of the two tendencies [statesman and visionary prophet].”
“All [six leaders] became architects of the postwar evolution of their societies and the international order. I had the good fortune to encounter all six at the height of their influence…each of the six leaders managed a synthesis of the two tendencies [statesman and visionary prophet].”Henry Kissinger
Kissinger even played a role in my own life. As a reserve IDF soldier called up during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, I recall listening avidly to radio reports about ceasefire negotiations. Kissinger played a key role.
He purposely kept Nixon isolated from the war and acted to advance what he saw as US interests. By October 24, 1973, the Israeli army completed its encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army and Suez City and came within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Cairo.
At the time, US president Nixon was preoccupied with the Watergate scandal. Secretary of state Kissinger pressured Israel not to wipe out the Third Army, using badly needed US weapons shipments to Israel as leverage, while holding off the Soviet Union and appeasing humiliated Arab nations. That may have played a major role in Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977, and the ensuing peace agreement with Egypt.
Kissinger’s life story is truly remarkable. He was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 23, 1923, in Furth, Bavaria, Germany, during the ill-fated Weimar Republic. He and his family fled Nazi Germany as Jewish refugees in 1938. He became a US citizen in 1943, enlisted in the US Army and served as a sergeant in the 84th Infantry Division, counter-intelligence corps.
He saw combat during the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last-ditch offensive in 1944, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism. Like so many impoverished Jewish children of immigrants, he studied for free at New York’s City College. He then went to Harvard, where he became a professor. He went on to become secretary of state under Nixon.
I choose to let Kissinger’s words of wisdom speak for themselves.
On past and future: “Leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes: The first, between the past and the future; the second, between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead.…Their first challenge is analysis…then they must balance what they know, with what they intuit, about the future…. For strategies to inspire the society, leaders must serve as educators – communicating objectives, assuaging doubts and rallying support.…Good leaders elicit in their people a wish to walk alongside them…they must inspire an immediate entourage to translate their thinking so that it bears upon the practical issues of the day.” (from the Introduction).
On times of rapid change: “Leadership is most essential during periods of transition, when values and institutions are losing their relevance, and the outlines of a worthy future are in controversy. In such times, leaders are called on to think creatively and diagnostically, what are the sources of the society’s well-being? Of its decay? Which inheritances from the past should be preserved, and which adapted or discarded? Which objectives deserve commitment, and which prospects must be rejected?....Is one’s society sufficiently vital and confident to tolerate sacrifice as a waystation to a more fulfilling future?”
On constraints: “…just as an acrobat will fall if either too timid or too audacious, a leader is obliged to navigate within a narrow margin, suspended between the relative uncertainties of the past and the ambiguities of the future. The penalty for excessive ambition is exhaustion, while the price for resting on one’s laurels is progressive insignificance and eventual decay. Step by step, leaders must fit means to ends and purpose to circumstance if they are to reach their destinations”.
On strategy: “The leader as strategist faces an inherent paradox: In circumstances that call for action, the scope for decision-making is often greatest when relevant information is at its scantiest. By the time more data become available, the margin of maneuver tends to have narrowed.”…
On history: Kissinger recounts in his book how an American exchange student asked Winston Churchill in May 1953 how one might prepare “to meet the challenges of leadership”. “Study history,” Churchill replied. “In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.”
On science and leadership: “The scientist seeks verifiable results; the historically informed strategic leader strives to distill actionable insight from inherent ambiguity.”
As I read this magnificent book, inevitably I thought about economics, my profession. Economists speak of a phenomenon known as “adverse selection.”
For example: As more and more nefarious scoundrels enter politics, seeking narrow personal gain for themselves and their tribes, worthy candidates avoid the cesspool like the plague. More and more, only the scoundrels are self-selected. Kissinger himself once quipped that honest politicians retire, leaving behind the other honest 10 percent.
We recently marked the 27th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. In reading Kissinger’s book about world leaders, I thought about Rabin. Shlomo Artzi’s song (lyrics by Natan Yonatan) “Ha’ish Ha’hu” (“Where are there people like him today?”) echoed in my ears.
Humility, equilibrium, will, excellence, conviction, transcendence. They define Rabin.
An old guy’s nostalgia? Or do Israel and the world truly lack the quality leaders we once had? ■
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com
Leadership: Six Studies in World StrategyHenry KissingerPenguin, New York, July 2022528 pages / $22.99
In his own words
Belinda Luscombe interviewed Kissinger for TIME magazine in July, when his book was published. Here are a few excerpts:
Which leader does the US need now?
“Somebody like de Gaulle. He took a country that had lost faith in itself and declared as his objective not ultimate victory but a kind of regeneration of a lost faith in itself.”
You don’t consider political left-right the key division. Then, what is the key division?
“A willingness to recognize the importance of history. Leaders who think that history must be totally changed usually bring more suffering.”
You write that ‘forgetfulness is sometimes the glue for societies that would not otherwise coerce.’ Is that relevant now?
“When I was in government, I thought we were having a bad time in terms of public disputes about Vietnam. In retrospect, the Vietnam issue was a debate about the best way to achieve basically agreed upon objectives. Today, the conflicts are about different objectives.”
You’re gloomy on the effect of the Internet on leadership. Why?
“Some of the greatest ideas of history, of philosophy, of literature, came out of the anguish of struggling for understanding and might never have been reached if there was a helpful [Google] assistant who gave an immediately relevant solution.”
You believe that more than any time since the Age of Enlightenment, the world is entering a period of disruption that needs thoughtful leaders. And the Internet is not helping to produce them. Do you feel hopeful about the world, or not?
“I’m concerned that if my children’s generation doesn’t make progress in understanding what I’ve tried to describe, this could become a world of great violence and division. There is an opportunity and also a danger, and both are relatively unique.”