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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Mark Shields: The strange choice of Henry Kissinger

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Tell me that a People magazine recount finds "the sexiest man alive" not to be movie star Ben Affleck, but rather diet guru Richard Simmons. Tell me that Velcro-fingered Winona Ryder has been named security chief at Bloomingdale's. Tell me that Dracula has been put in charge of the local blood bank.

But please do not tell me that President George W. Bush selected Henry Kissinger, the poster boy of official and unofficial government secrecy, to be chairman of the independent commission Congress created over Bush's resistance to investigate any and all government security lapses prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Kissinger is to candor and the public's right to know what Michael Jackson is to normal behavior. Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, a defense hawk, called his selection "dubious" on PBS's "NewsHour" and remarked on Kissinger's "penchant for secrecy."

He came to national prominence as the national security advisor to 1968 presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who won that year after promising voters he had "a secret plan" to get the United States out of the Vietnam War. When Nixon and Kissinger took office, 30,610 Americans had been killed in the Vietnam war. Six years later, the non-secret product of that distinguished duo of foreign policy realists, who had pledged to preserve an independent non-communist government in South Vietnam -- "peace with honor" -- consisted of a Saigon occupied by North Vietnamese troops and tanks, and a total of 58,202 American lives lost.

Preceding "peace with honor" had been the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos. The bombing, of course, was no "secret" to the Laotians and the Cambodians who were being bombed. It was, credit to Kissinger and to Nixon, a secret only to the American people, in whose name the bombs were being dropped and whose tax dollars were paying for those bombs and the planes that dropped them.

Even the man's severest critics concede Henry Kissinger's genius. His IQ is off the charts. How else to explain how he could for so long have concealed his major role in the plot to prevent the democratically elected Salvador Allende from taking office and power in Chile?

He was absolutely brilliant at employing the fig leaf of national security against the freedom of a democratic people to know. It was the established practice of Kissinger, with the complete support of his president, to systematically deprive the Senate and the House of the power and the responsibilities granted to them by the Constitution.

Bush and secrecy are hardly strangers. He and his administration have consistently fought both the disclosure and the sharing of information with Congress. He fought an independent probe of the events leading up to September 11, arguing that it would duplicate the work of Congress' intelligence committees and would unnecessarily intrude upon the time and work of his most valuable people. He lost the argument to the families of the victims, who understandably insist upon answers.

In the fall of 2002,the Democrats did a grand total of one smart thing. That was to choose former Senate majority leader George Mitchell to be the Kissinger Commission vice-chairman. Mitchell is a man with a first-rate intellect, an iron will and enormous political skills. He will be neither charmed nor cowed by Kissinger. A military veteran and a former federal judge, Mitchell possesses the background and the temperament to lead such an inquiry.

In the bad, old days, the Nixon-Kissinger creed held that it constituted a crime to publicly discuss crimes the country had committed. Secrecy was regularly invoked to escape and to elude legitimate and legal scrutiny. Yes, this is the man the president of the United States chooses to bring the disinfectant of sunshine to the shadows of his own defensive executive branch. It looks a lot like a marriage made in purgatory.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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