Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger criticized the tone of today's political discourse, as well as those who confuse "extrication" from wars as strategy, at a Pentagon ceremony honoring him on Monday.
"We've engaged in a number of wars that we entered with great public support, and which after [awhile] turned into a domestic issue and in which the argument was made that the purpose of a war is extrication," he said.
"Extrication is not a strategy, it's an abdication. The purpose of strategy is to achieve your objective, and that was never questioned in this building."
The former secretary of State and national security adviser recalled anti-war protestors making it hard to enter the Pentagon, adding that the U.S. was returning to another difficult political period.
"Now we are again in an extremely difficult period," he said.
"We are entering a presidential campaign, and it seems to be the habit of political figures now to contrast themselves with the evils of their predecessors and of aspirants to office to contrast themselves with the evils of the incumbent," he said.
"But the fact is, we were involved for good causes," he added.
The issue of war and the proper use of U.S. military force has been a major topic of debate in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE has repeatedly criticized front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE for supporting the 2003 Iraq War, which the former secretary of State says she regrets doing. He has also said Clinton was too quick in pushing for regime change in Libya.
Kissinger himself came under attack after Clinton evoked his name during the fifth Democratic debate, citing him as a supporter of her tenure as secretary of State.
"I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better — better than anybody had run it in a long time. So I have an idea of what it’s going to take to make our government work more efficiently," she said.
Sanders pounced on that comment, later saying he was "proud" to say that Kissinger was not his friend. He said Kissinger's role in the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War made him responsible for one of the "worst genocides in the history of the world."
On the Republican side, presumptive nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE has claimed he opposed the 2003 Iraq War, and he criticized his fellow presidential candidates throughout the primary process for backing it.
He has taken mixed positions on current military engagements, at first suggesting the U.S. let Russia and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fight it out, then saying he would intensify U.S. military efforts against ISIS.
While the ceremony for Kissinger — where Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded him the Pentagon's top civilian honor, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service — drew some criticism on Twitter, it was attended by more than 30 of the most distinguished foreign policy figures in Washington.
Attendees included: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.); former California Rep. Jane Harman (R-Calif.); Ambs. Paul Bremer and James Jeffrey; former senior defense officials Graham Allison, John Hamre, Michele Flournoy and Robert Taylor; current senior defense leaders Jamie Morin, Air Force Secretary Deborah James and the military chiefs of the Army and Navy.