Quotations by Kissinger, Henry


History is often cruel, and rarely logical, and yet the wisest of realists are those who recognize that fate can indeed be shaped by human faith and courage.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“Golda Meir: An Appreciation” (13 Nov 1977)
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Peace depends ultimately not on political arrangements but on the conscience of mankind.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“Golda Meir: An Appreciation” (13 Nov 1977)
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Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological, and economic factors … and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“Reflections on American Diplomacy” (5), Foreign Affairs (Oct 1956)
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We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“The Viet Nam Negotiations,” Foreign Affairs (Jan 1969)
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Sometimes paraphrased as "A conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla army wins if he does not lose."
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The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of their inner values.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“With Faint Praise,” New York Times Book Review (16 Jul 1995)
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We must learn to distinguish morality from moralizing.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)
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Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)

Quoted by Richard Nixon, interview with Barbara Walters (8 May 1985)
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The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)
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There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)

In P. Anderson, "The Only Power Kissinger Has Is the Confidence of the President," New York Times Magazine (1 Jun 1969)
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Even a paranoid has some real enemies.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)

In Newsweek (13 Jun 83)
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The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)
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The main advantage of being famous is that when you bore people at dinner parties they think it is their fault.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
(Attributed)

Quoted by James Naughtie in The Spectator (1 Apr 1995).
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Timid men are more likely to be moved to trepidation than daring in the face of great opportunities.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Prolems of Peace, 1812-1822, 1.2 (1957)
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A stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822, 11.1 (1957)
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The expert has his constituency — those who have a vested interest in commonly held opinions; elaborating and defining its consensus at a high level has, after all, made him an expert.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
American Foreign Policy, 1.3 (1969)
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Empires have no interest in operating within an international system; they aspire to be the international system.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Diplomacy, ch. 1 (1994)
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The paradox of Russian history lies in the continuing ambivalence between messianic drive and a pervasive sense of insecurity.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Diplomacy, ch. 6 (1994)
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A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 7.4 (1961)
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Creativity is constantly in danger of being destroyed by success. The more effectively the environment is mastered, the greater is the temptation to rest on one’s oars.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy, 8.3 (1961)
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The convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The White House Years, ch. 3 (1979)
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The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision. Each side should know that frequently uncertainty, compromise and incoherence are the essence of policy-making. Yet each tends to ascribe to the other a consistency, foresight and coherence that its own experience belies. Of course, over time even two armed blind men in a room can do enormous damage to each other, not to speak of the room.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 13 (1979)
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A leader’s fundamental choice is whether to approve the use of force.  If he decides to do so, his only vindication is to succeed. His doubts provide no justification for failure; restraint in execution is a boon to the other side; there are no awards for those who lose with moderation.  Once the decision to use force has been made, the President has no choice but to pursue it with total determination — and to convey the same spirit to all those implementing it.  Nations must not undertake military enterprises or major diplomatic initiatives that they are not willing to see through.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 23 (1979)
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In retrospect all events seem inevitable.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 27 (1979)
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History is not, of course, a cookbook, offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 3 (1979)
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When one is on a tight rope, the most dangerous course is to stop.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 32 (1979)
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Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have a choice.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 7 (1979)
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In crises boldness is the safest course.  Hesitation encourages the adversary to persevere, maybe even to raise the ante.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
White House Years, ch. 9 (1979)
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A crisis does not always apear to a policy-maker as a series of dramatic events. Usually it imposes itself as an exhausting agenda of petty choices demanding both concentration and endurance. One is forced to react to scraps of information in very limited spans of time; longing for full knowledge, one must chart a route through the murk of unknowing.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 11 (1982)
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In foreign policy one must make do with what one has.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 12 (1982)
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The most perilous moment is often when an adversary is seemingly prepared to retreat and then is jolted into new defiance by an assault on his self-esteem.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 12 (1982)
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If crisis management requires cold and even brutal measures to show determination, it also imposes the need to show the opponent a way out. Grandstanding is good for the ego but bad for foreign policy. […] Many wars have started because no line of retreat was left open.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 12 (1982)
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The stronger one’s real position, the less one needs to rub in the other side’s discomfiture. It is rarely wise to inflame a setback with an insult. An important aspect of the art of diplomacy consists of doing what is necessary without producing extraneous motives for retaliation, leaving open the option of later cooperation on other issues.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 21 (1982)
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A statesman who cannot shape events will soon be engulfed by them.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 24 (1982)
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In a society of sovereign states, an agreement will be maintained only if all partners consider it in their interest. They must have a sense of participation in the result. The art of diplomacy is not to outsmart the other side but to convince it either of common interests or of penalties if an impasse continues.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 6 (1982)
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A statesman’s final test is whether he has made a contribution to the well-being of mankind.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Years of Upheaval, ch. 8 (1982)
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As a professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces. But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Remark to reporters after first Middle East shuttle visit (Jan. 1974)

Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography, introduction, 1992
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As a professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces. But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
Remark to reporters after first Middle East visit (Jan 1974)

In Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography, Introduction (epigraph) (1992)

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