A small villa outside Paris was the unlikely setting where Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho discussed peace terms. They met a total of 68 times, with Kissinger keeping some conversations secret even from the president, Brigham says. “Kissinger wanted to make sure the war ended in Paris and not in Saigon. He had very little confidence in the Vietnamese armed forces. He understood that the US Congress did not fancy the conflict and wanted the United States to walk away without looking like a crushing defeat,” Brigham said.
The Paris Peace Accords leading to a ceasefire in Vietnam were signed on January 27, 1973. For critics, “peace in honor” was not so different from the options available when Nixon took over. power for the first time: “Kissinger and Nixon lost four years of negotiations. with the Vietnamese communists, agreeing to virtually the same peace terms in 1973 that were on the table in 1969,” Brigham explains. A total of 2.5–3 million Vietnamese and other Indochinese and 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. Hundreds more were missing.
In October, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were named co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Only Kissinger agreed; Tho refused the award until “peace is truly established”.
Henry Kissinger and Cambodia
While Nixon publicly favored a policy of Vietnamization, or the withdrawal of American troops so the South Vietnamese could resume military operations, he secretly escalated the Vietnam War by bombing neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The North Vietnamese transported supplies and weapons across the borders of their officially neutral neighbors, and Kissinger saw bombing them as a way to pressure Hanoi.
Kissinger was deeply involved in the bombing of Cambodia – and in keeping it secret from Congress and the public. According to a Pentagon report published in 1973, “Henry A. Kissinger approved each of the 3,875 bombings in Cambodia in 1969 and 1970” along with “methods to keep them out of the newspapers”.
By the end of the bombing campaign, dubbed “Operation Menu”, the United States had dropped a total of 110,000 tons of bombs that had killed between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians. The Khmer Rouge galvanized anti-American sentiment in a destabilized Cambodia, seizing power and massacring 1.7–2.2 million Cambodians in the Cambodian Genocide.
Read more: How Nixon’s Cambodia Invasion Triggered Presidential Power Checks Henry Kissinger’s Legacy
In 1973 and 1974, a Gallup poll declared Kissinger “America’s most admired man”. The cheer was short-lived. The Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation revealed that Kissinger ordered the FBI to tap the phones of members of the National Security Council to see who leaked information about the US bombing of Cambodia to the press. In 1975, the communist victory in Vietnam had tarnished the legacy of his 1973 peace efforts.
Although he continued to be a major player in world diplomacy, Vietnam cast a shadow over Kissinger’s career. “The irony is that Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Vietnam War – not a war he ended – and not for the Middle East, the war he did “, says Schwartz. “The war he failed in was the war he was known for.”