In 2004 as part of a background interview for a book, historian Jeremi Suri interviewed his subject, Dr. Henry Kissinger, for his guiding principles for diplomacy, policy, and negotiation in international geo-politics.

This exchange occurred.

Author: What are your core moral principles — the principles you would not violate?

Kissinger: I am not prepared to share that yet.

Suri, Jeremi. HENRY KISSINGER AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY (Kindle Locations 331-332). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

Suri, for reasons that escape my understanding, interpreted Kissinger’s remark in the next paragraph.

Kissinger is a man struggling with this question. He entered politics for moral reasons, and he worked feverishly to make the world a better place. His actions, however, did not always contribute to a world of greater freedom and justice. Frequently, the opposite was the case. Like all of us, Kissinger confronts the realization that good intentions often produce bad results. He contends with his own complicity in unintended consequences.

Suri, Jeremi. HENRY KISSINGER AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY (Kindle Locations 333-336). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

I do not believe for an instant that Dr. Kissinger struggles with the answer to the question. He knows exactly what guides him. But even in 2004 at the age of 80 and no longer holding any official power, Kissinger was still a persuasion panther who immediately knew that to answer that question – truthfully or not – would weaken his persuasion.

Kissinger always works beyond the perimeter of good and evil which does not mean that he lacks moral conviction or any sense of good and evil. He just knows that he cannot state those convictions in public and hope to continue panthering.


P.S. Two more persuasion examples with Dr. Kissinger. First, he served in US Army intelligence during and after World War II, working especially in the de-Nazification political process. He also worked in PsyOps during both the Truman and Eisenhower Presidencies. Tell me he didn’t learn any practical persuasion from those experiences.

The second example stems from his authorized biography written by Niall Ferguson. Go to Amazon Kindle and get the first chapter which is a prologue from Ferguson explaining how he (Ferguson) had to be cajoled into writing the authorized Kissinger bio with unlimited access to Kissinger’s personal papers and letters along with numerous interviews. Really. Ferguson didn’t want to write about one of the most important global strategists and persuasion masters of the 20th and 21st centuries. He feared that critics would make it about him and not Henry!

And, if you read the bio (the first volume) you find yourself bedazzled as much with Ferguson’s erudition as with Kissinger’s life. Essentially a character named Kissinger walks through Ferguson’s story; you learn as much about Dr. F. as you do Dr. K. And, I think that Kissinger realized that Ferguson’s self-regard would overwhelm the authorized biography leaving Kissinger outside the perimeter despite nearly 900 pages of text. And this is just the first volume! I’ve never read so many words about someone in a biography and learned more about the writer than the subject.

After 900 pages, I still don’t know how the good Doctor did his panthering. I can’t draw one lesson or play or rule from volume 1. Maybe volume 2. Or maybe Dr. Kissinger will take his panther lessons with him.


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