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Henry Kissinger just damned Jared Kushner with the faintest of praise

National Committee On American Foreign Policy 2016 Gala Dinner (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On Thursday, Time magazine published its list of the 100 most influential people on earth. One of them is President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner — an obvious choice on Time’s part given that Kushner has been assigned responsibility for handling everything from the opioid crisis to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Time got Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s ethically dubious foreign policy consigliere, to write a short blurb about Kushner — and his praise was comically faint. Here’s the whole write-up — I’ve omitted nothing:

Transitioning the presidency between parties is one of the most complex undertakings in American politics. The change triggers an upheaval in the intangible mechanisms by which Washington runs: an incoming President is likely to be less familiar with formal structures, and the greater that gap, the heavier the responsibility of those advisers who are asked to fill it.

This space has been traversed for nearly four months by Jared Kushner, whom I first met about 18 months ago, when he introduced himself after a foreign policy lecture I had given. We have sporadically ­exchanged views since. As part of the Trump family, Jared is familiar with the intangibles of the President. As a graduate of Harvard and NYU, he has a broad education; as a businessman, a knowledge of administration. All this should help him make a success of his daunting role flying close to the sun.

Five things to note about this:

  1. The entire thing is the most lukewarm of lukewarm praise, about as generic and uninspired as it comes. One academic I follow on Twitter called it “the letter of recommendation you never want an advisor to send,” which sounds about right.
  2. It may have been legitimately hard for Kissinger to say much more about someone who has no formal qualifications in foreign policy or experience in government and is now occupying arguably the most important policy role in the White House. Kissinger can’t be more specific because Kushner doesn’t really have any specific accomplishments in government to point to, other than marrying astutely.
  3. In private life, contra Kissinger, Kushner doesn’t have a lot of successes. His tenure as head of the New York Observer was disastrous, his family real estate company’s flagship skyscraper has low occupancy rates and a serious debt problem, and it’s been credibly reported that his dad bought his place at Harvard with a $2.5 million donation.
  4. It’s doubly biting because Kissinger is famous in Washington for his ability to flatter people in power in order to gain influence over public policy. If this is the best that America’s foremost master of diplomatic compliments can do — well, that’s pretty embarrassing for Kushner.
  5. That last bit, about “flying close to the sun,” is particularly delicious. It’s a reference to the Greek fable of Icarus — son of the famous inventor Daedalus, who built a pair of wings held together with wax. Icarus used his father’s invention to fly too close to the sun, which melted the wax and caused poor Icarus to plummet to his death. It’s a morality tale about hubris, the arrogant belief in your own ability to accomplish more than you can. Kissinger’s phrasing heavily implies that, in this case, Kushner is Icarus.