The Thursday debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two Democratic candidates racing for the nomination of the American presidential election in November, saw among other things, the mention of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
The former foreign policy advisor to President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kissinger, now 92, was also the man who had initiated a secret diplomacy that helped the US reach out to China (Ping Pong Diplomacy).
But he is not forgiven by many liberals over the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War that saw the rise of the ill-reputed Khmer Rouge regime. The claims that Kissinger also backed a coup against an elected government in Chile also raise quite a few liberal voices against him.
Sanders played to a plan to reach out to old Democrats who hate Kissinger
Sanders on Thursday ripped into Kissinger in the debate, describing as to be "the most destructive secretaries of state" in the modern history of the US and said he is proud not to be a friend of the former. He said Hillary had talked about getting the advice of Kissinger for her book which he found amazing, a ploy he adopted deliberately to corner his hawkish opponent.
Even after the debate, Sanders's campaign sent an email listing 13 controversial points of Kissinger's career, including his authorisation of secret bombings in Laos and his contributions towards planning CIA-led coups in South America.
Sanders played to a plan. He raised the issue of Kissinger to reach out to the old-generation Democrats who have so far backed Hillary and also hate Kissinger. The young voters, a big strength for Sanders, do not have any strong opinion about Kissinger and that made Sanders's strategy foolproof.
Sanders, who beat Hillary handsomely in the New Hampshire primary on February 9 after finishing very close to the latter in Iowa caucus, will look to maintain the lead in Nevada and South Carolina, where the next contests will be held on February 20 and 27. The Hispanic and black demographics of those two states are known to support Hillary and Sanders is not wasting any time to raise the pitch ahead of those battles to derail his rival.
Hillary, however, also hit back at Sanders during the debate, taunting the latter's take on foreign and national security policies. In her defence, she said as a secretary of state, she sought expertise from various foreign policy experts who included Kissinger. She defended the Kissinger, who she had called a friend and on whose counsel she had relied on.
In 2009, the two former secretaries of state had given an interview together in which Hillary said nice things about the senior diplomat. She said Kissinger had praised her functioning as the secretary of state and the latter, too, said he liked her intellect. During the debate, too, Hillary spoke in favour of Kissinger's handling of the China issue, with which the US has quite a competitive relation at the world stage.
Sanders's aim was to clearly expose Hillary as a hawkish leader, something ehich might not be in tune with the mood of the general Americans but his own inexperience in foreign policy issues could give the latter an easy route to escape unhurt.
But either way, the contest is turning more and more absorbing.