Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 81–109 | Cite as

Forgetting Kissinger: re-membering credibility and world order?

  • David RyanEmail author
  • Elizabeth Tanner
Original Article


Kissinger’s world-making recast and synthesised a US cultural praxis that distances the consequences of its foreign policy. In many respects Kissinger has been ‘forgotten.’ His pursuit of ‘world order’ was not just about his outlook during his period in office; it was also about maintaining his intellectual scaffolding after that time. Contributing to and shaping the public and academic debate were essential parts of his credibility. In our academic and cultural discourse, the suffering and death associated with his policy engagement are acknowledged but rarely foregrounded—they are refracted through paradigms of realism, credibility and world orders—the local, regional and the human are elided. Kissinger’s preoccupation with credibility, both US and his own, are repeatedly evident in his policy prescriptions, while his image of US credibility often conflated the instrumentalism of force with the projection of power. The costs were enormous. Kissinger is ‘seen everywhere, but forgotten.’ This article examines his antidote for the changing world order and his realism including his recourse to violent options as part of a desire to assert or retain US credibility. We illustrate this extensively through his engagement with the South Asia crisis of 1971, briefly on the Mayaguez incident and through cross-reference of a range of other cases. In a culture that has become increasingly militarised Kissinger is not an exception, but a stark practitioner; in a culture that forgets the costs of US intervention he continues to prevail as pundit.


Kissinger US foreign policy South Asia Credibility World order Realism Forgetting Memory 



The authors would like to thank David Fitzgerald and Liam O’Brien for comments on an earlier version of this article.


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© The Editor of the Journal 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of HistoryUniversity College CorkCorkIreland

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