Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says he never imagined President-elect Donald Trump would make a viable candidate. But now that the billionaire businessman is weeks away from his inauguration, Dr. Kissinger says he believes Mr. Trump could present an “extraordinary opportunity” for the nation and its foreign relations.
“Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries have not seen,” Kissinger said on "Face The Nation." “So it is a shocking experience for them that he came into office. At the same time, extraordinary opportunity. I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president.”
Many seasoned politicians and experts issued warnings against Trump’s brazen rhetoric and lack of political experience as he campaigned for the nation’s highest office. During the transition period thus far, those concerns have continued, with experts decrying Trump’s lack of attention to intelligence briefings and his controversial cabinet appointments.
But Kissinger, who served as secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, remains optimistic about Trump’s potential influence on the international community, saying he hopes the president-elect can harness the same appeal he used to start his own political revolution to shape a foreign policy plan.
“In the first appearances, I thought it was a transitory phenomenon,” Kissinger said. “But I give him huge credit for having analyzed an aspect of the American situation, developed a strategy, carried it out against the leadership of his own party, and prevail.... Now his challenge is to apply that same skill to the international situation.”
While Trump’s unexpected victory has surprised both Americans and those abroad, other nations now have to determine how they will grapple with Trump as the world leader.
"One, their perception that the previous president, or the outgoing president, basically withdrew America from international politics, so that they had to make their own assessments of their necessities," Kissinger said. "And secondly, that here is a new president who's asking a lot of unfamiliar questions. And because of the combination of the partial vacuum and the new questions, one could imagine that something remarkable and new emerges out of it."
"I'm not saying it will," he added. "I'm saying it's an extraordinary opportunity."
But Kissinger also hopes that Trump will shift his tone somewhat as he enters the Oval Office, especially when it comes to complicated and dense issues like the relationship between the US and China, which he says has an opportunity to be mutually beneficial if properly maintained.
That might depend on Trump becoming less of an instinctive actor.
"I think he operates by a kind of instinct that is a different form of analysis as my more academic one," he said. "But he's raised a number of issues that I think are important, very important. And if they're addressed properly, could lead to good — great results."