n 2013, Barack Obama appointed Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel in the Clinton Administration, and a well-known foreign-policy voice in Washington, to be the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Indyk’s efforts to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a process that included secret negotiations between Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Palestinian Authority, ended in disappointment. In his new book, “Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy,” Indyk examines the history of U.S. engagement in the region—specifically through an in-depth analysis of the former Secretary of State’s attempts to forge peace between Israel and its neighbors after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Indyk portrays Kissinger as extremely clever and intelligent, a deft strategist whose maneuverings ultimately establish the United States as the preëminent peacemaker in the region.
Indyk, a friend of Kissinger’s, offers some criticism of what he terms his subject’s “manipulations,” as he alternated between threats and flattery in trying to cajole the Israelis, the Egyptians, and the Syrians into negotiating. But, in general, Indyk avoids the more controversial parts of Kissinger’s legacy, which include his support for prolonging the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia during the war, his help in orchestrating a coup in Chile, his support for Pakistan’s genocide in what is now Bangladesh, and his encouragement of repressive regimes in Africa and Latin America.
I recently spoke by phone with Indyk, who is now a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed what lessons Kissinger might offer today’s peacemakers, whether the U.S. has benefitted from its role as the major power in the region, and Indyk’s friendship with such a controversial figure.
Has Kissinger read the book?
Oh, yes. In great detail, as he would.
What did he say about it?
He didn’t dispute the things that I thought he would, where I questioned his judgment or actions that he took or didn’t take. He’s rather concerned at the way in which he was portrayed as manipulative. I think the reason that I titled the book “Master of the Game” was precisely that he was so good at those kinds of things, which are necessary for great diplomats. The art of diplomacy is to move leaders to places where they’d rather not go, and he was masterful at that. But I think he didn’t quite like the way he appeared.
I saw he’s been doing some book events with you, so he couldn’t have been too upset.
Exactly. I think he was grateful that somebody had devoted so much time and effort to detailing his negotiations, which hadn’t been done.
Your wife used to work for him, right? She was his personal secretary?
That’s right. Long before I knew her.
Yes, you write, “We began this journey with Henry Kissinger separately, forty-seven years ago. I am so grateful that we are ending it together.” I wasn’t saying that there wasn’t a value in writing a book about Kissinger in the Middle East. I was simply responding to the fact that the American establishment seems to be fine with treating him as a respected former statesman, and, as you say, you guys are friends. And I was remembering him wanting to communicate to the Argentinian junta to speed up torture and just was curious whether you had any thoughts on that.
I just told you, I think, that I found those things quite abhorrent.