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In announcing the appointment of former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head the Sept. 11 investigation charged with lifting the rocks of the 9-11 tragedy, President Bush is not only wasting the country’s time – he’s insulting the intelligence of the American people to boot.

Without even considering Kissinger’s controversial career (of which more anon), this fiercely partisan Republican is going to be tasked with investigating the events and intelligence failures leading up to the destruction of the Twin Towers and crash at the Pentagon. As such, he’ll be asked to analyze at least three administrations – Bush the Elder’s, Bill Clinton’s and Bush the Younger’s.

To say that this job is a mixed metaphor of hot potato and tar baby could be the understatement of the decade. Depending on its findings, senior jobs at the CIA, the NSA, the State Department, the FBI and the Defense Department could well be on the line. And so, to say that this job requires somebody who can operate without fear or favor, without any old scores to settle or new debts to pay is also an understatement. And to say that this position requires someone of undoubted integrity is just plain common sense.

Henry Kissinger just ain’t that guy.

Can a man with a personal and professional stake in the success of the Republican Party call ‘em as he sees ‘em? Improbable. Can a man with long-standing ties to various “moderate” Arab regimes step up to the plate and speak truth to oil? Not in an administration of oil men, to be sure. At 49 years of age, Kissinger was an order taker for Richard Nixon and the Republicans. At 79, it’s not likely much has changed. But there’s more for concern here than questions about Kissinger’s objectivity.

For one thing, to use an antique word from the late ’60s, there’s a “credibility gap.” Remember that Henry Kissinger was up to his eyeballs in a number of questionable foreign-policy moves during his days with Nixon. He’s never come clean about the 1970 coup in Chile, which put a bullet into the head of the democratically elected Salvadore Allende and initiated a fascist regime in that country. During his tenure, Kissinger became the proponent of an American Realpolitik – a foreign policy supposedly stripped of sentiment and morality and intended to promote “real” American interests rather than some saccharine view of what Kissinger might dismiss as naive, bleeding-heart notions of “right” and “wrong.”

Well, there was lots of bleeding, but it wasn’t from the hearts of American liberals. For example, many credit Kissinger with promoting the indiscriminate carpet bombing in Vietnam, which probably killed far more innocent civilians than enemy soldiers. Another allegation is that, while serving in the Ford administration, he encouraged Suharto to invade East Timor. That little adventure resulted in three decades of brutality and bloodshed. Realpolitik? It was real, all right – especially if you were on the receiving end of Suharto’s state-sponsored terrorism. How that was in America’s interest, nobody has ever explained.

If any of this strikes you as ancient history, it certainly isn’t to many of the families involved. Henry Kissinger is currently a defendant in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the children of Gen. Rene Schneider, a Chilian military officer who opposed the coup and was murdered for his trouble. Indeed, many recent books have been published, some arguing quite cogently that the only commission that Kissinger should be dealing with is one tasked with prosecuting him for war crimes.

But even if all of this could be dismissed (and it can’t), a look-see at one of his earliest best-sellers, “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” published in the 1950s, tells you everything you need to know. In that tome, Kissinger actually recommended entering into an agreement with the Soviet Union to resolve all future conflicts using tactical nukes instead of strategic nukes. Sounds great, huh? He advocated that such a war should be fought in Europe, which might make Chicagoans feel better, but did nothing to relieve the hypertension in Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Paris or Vienna. I guess he figured there weren’t many registered Republicans living near the Brandenburg Gate, so what the hell.

For all those (including yours truly) who really, really want to know what actually led up to 9-11 – and yes, even if that means my hero Mr. Clinton winds up with some egg on his face – then Henry Kissinger is not the man of the hour.

He should have stuck to acting. Or was that Peter Sellers who portrayed Dr. Strangelove?

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