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A Century of Nixon and the Nixonian Century

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States of America and the only man to resign that office would was born one hundred years ago.  His life spanned from the Great War, included service in the Second World War and saw the end of the Cold War – an American victory to which Nixon substantially contributed with the deft statesmanship that was his greatest strength. Nixon stood for national office five times and was on the winning ticket in four of them, a political record matched in American history only by Franklin Roosevelt, a record that includes re-election by the second greatest landslide in history. A triumph that was undone by the paranoia, insecurity and bitterness that ate away at him and led Nixon to betray his oath to uphold the Constitution and forced him out of the Oval Office in disgrace.

So numerous and far-reaching were Nixon’s actions that we can justly say, for good and ill, that a century of Richard Nixon may have helped usher in a Nixonian century.

Richard Nixon named four justices to the Supreme Court, shifting the judicial branch in a more conservative direction, built upon by later Republican presidents; he created the EPA and the first affirmative action program, cut the dollar from it’s last tie to the gold standard,  declared war on drugs, ended the draft and began the All-Volunteer Force and began the movement to decentralize power from Washington bureaucracies to the states.

Some of these policies were ultimately disasters and some were a great success, but domestic policy (in contrast to politics) was never more than an irritating chore to Richard Nixon, one he frequently delegated to Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Nixon’s true, all-consuming passion – from his first days as a freshman member of Congress to his grim final moments “alone in the White House” to a winter street in Moscow as an elder statesman – was foreign affairs. It was on the world stage that Nixon yearned to not just be “in the arena” but win the game.

Sometimes he did.

Richard Nixon, an inveterate poker player, came into office in 1969 with a bad hand and too few chips on the table. The Nixon administration were the victors in a three-way presidential race inherited a losing war in Vietnam begun by the Democratic “Best and the Brightest” that had savagely divided the American people like no other conflict since the Civil War. Richard Nixon in partnership with Henry Kissinger managed to accomplish, by design and improvisation, a restructuring of American relations and the world order. They blunted a potential nuclear war between Communist China and the USSR, opened up detente with the Soviet Union, negotiated the first SALT and ABM treaty with the Soviets, unilaterally initiated the international monetary regime of floating currencies. In the Mideast, Nixon saw critical American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War  as an opportunity to move toward a future general Arab-Israeli peace negotiation, that later came to pass in the Camp David Accords during the Carter administration.:

TO:        Secretary Kissinger

FROM:  The President

  1. I have just written a note to Brezhnev emphasizing to him that you speak with my full authority and the commitments you may make in the course of your discussions with him have my complete support.  I also told him that you would be conveying to him my strong commitment to devote my personal efforts toward bringing a lasting peace to the area.
  2. I believe that, beyond a doubt, we are now facing the best opportunity we have had in 15 years to build a lasting peace in the Middle East.  I am convinced that history will hold us responsible if we let this opportunity slip by.
  3. The current Israeli successes at Suez must not deflect us from going all out to achieve a just settlement now.  There is no reason to believe that Israel will not win this war now, as it has won all the previous ones, but you and I know that, in the long run the Israelis will not be able to stand the continuing attrition which, in the absence of a settlement, they will be destined to suffer.
  4. It is therefore even in Israel’s best interests for us to use whatever pressures may be required in order to gain acceptance of a settlement which is reasonable and which we can ask the Soviets to press on the Arabs. [….]

And torturous secret negotiations with Hanoi in Paris led to the painful but necessary American withdrawal from the Vietnam while Nixon’s greatest and most far-reaching triumph was opening relations with Communist China:

While some would argue that China’s opening to the world was inevitable, an isolated China at Mao’s death might have seen power pass into the hands of the Gang of Four, with terrible consequences for the Chinese people. It remains Richard Nixon who changed the strategic geopolitical balance at a time of acute weakness for the United States and set forces in motion that have transformed China and have only yet begun to shake the world.

Nixon’s most important achievements in foreign affairs came at the price of managing his administration first through secrecy, then guile then machiavellian intrigue against even his closest associates and finally with a resentful, angry, ill-will that seemed to consume Nixon and turn every “win” sour:

….At eleven o’clock in the morning, Nixon met with his staff in the Roosevelt Room. To many in the room he seemed oddly cool and quietly angry as he thanked them all for their loyalty and said something few of them understood. He said that he had been reading Robert Blake’sDisraeli and was struck by his description a century ago of William Gladstone’s ministers as “exhausted volcanoes” – and then mumbled something about embers that once shot sparks into the sky.

“I believe men exhaust themselves in government without realizing it” the president said “You are my first team, but today we start fresh for the next four years. We need new blood, fresh ideas. Change is important…..Bob, you take over.”

Nixon left then, turning the meeting over to Haldeman. The men and women of the White House stood to applaud his exit, then sat down. The chief explained what Nixon’s words meant: a reorganization of the administration. He told them that they were expected to deliver letters of resignation before the end of the day, then passed out photocopied forms requiring them to list all official documents in their possession. “These must be in by November 10,” he said. “This should accompany your pro forma letter of resignation to be effective at the pleasure of the President”. They were stunned. Speechless. Were they being fired? Haldeman said they would know within a month whether or not they could remain. At noon, the same drama was played out with the entire Cabinet, with Haldeman again passing out the forms. 

The man who had campaigned in 1968 as the smiling “New Nixon” did not want a chief of staff anymore. Nixon craved a “Lord High Executioner” who would keep underlings at bay and reporters and Congressmen away.

H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s tirelessly faithful right hand man, obliged, even as he struggled in a losing battle to keep Nixon’s dark side and worst impulses under wraps, tabling orders he deemed vindictive, politically unwise or crazy from being carried out until Nixon had calmed down and had time to reflect. Most of the time Nixon sheepishly thanked Haldeman, but Nixon found other willing hands in Colson, Liddy, Hunt and others. It is probable that Nixon himself approved of the Watergate break-in, but even if he had not done so specifically in that instance, he consented to abuses of power and an illegal apparatus with which to carry them out. The most malign proposal toward American democracy during the Nixon administration, known as “The Huston Plan“, was rejected even by J. Edgar Hoover, was later partially revived during the writing of The Patriot Act. An authoritarian trend that will haunt us for a long time to come.

If Richard Nixon is the father of the multipolar world and contributed greatly to the defeat of Communist totalitarianism, he also laid the foundations of the Creepy-state here at home through Watergate, which damaged the faith of Americans in their government and tarnished democracy. This is as much a part of Nixon’s legacy as Detente or China. Nixon had badly needed the free and absolute pardon that he received from Gerald Ford.

Richard Nixon managed a final comeback as an elder statesman, dispensing often wise geopolitical advice at private dinners where, in his early eighties, Nixon held forth at length, speaking without notes, on the dynamics of how the world really worked, at least through the prism of brutal realpolitik which he saw it. He lived to see the husband of the woman who once sought his prosecution, solicit his counsel in the Oval Office. His funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners and four former presidents of the United States. To the very end, Richard Nixon never gave up. We can’t take that away from him.

Let history judge.

30 Responses to “A Century of Nixon and the Nixonian Century”

  1. Justin Boland Says:

    A great thinkpiece on my single favorite President. Thanks for a great morning read.

  2. Former Archivist Says:

    Many ways to look at some of this. My posting a comment constitutes neither an endorsement or refutation of your take. Yeah, bureaucratic, grin.
    A comment on some of the officials you named. Based on my having been one of two federal officials with delegated authority during the 1980s to approve all release, restrict, or return (to Nixon as personal property) decisions made by National Archives’ processing archivists on the 3,700 hours of then secret Nixon tapes. I also coordinated with the National Security Council regarding disclosure guidance applied to tapes and textual records held by NARA. (That is publicly known due to my testimony in Kutler v. Wilson, Civ. A. 92-662-NHJ). Was the senior official in charge of reviewing H. R. (Bob) Haldeman’s diary cassettes for public disclosure and also worked on oral history interviews with him.
    Will say this on domestic policy and the operational side of the WH. Domestic policy was not “delegated to Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.” Nor did Nixon make a turn in 1973 to making Haldeman a Lord High Executioner. Ehrlichman did play a major role in domestic policy although he was not the only guy doing that in the WH, of course. Haldeman did not.
    Haldeman served as a sounding board to Nixon, whom he correctly described as using long conversations about public relations and other matters as a form of relaxation, a hobby. They also were part of the decision making process for him, as he ruminated and vented, he sometimes gathered his thoughts.  The convos covered a broad range of issues domestic and foreign. But Bob was not a policy making official. And he really did try to act as an honest broker, as an efficient chief of staff should. He was an administrator, a coordinator, the one who helped organize the staff structure and set the administrative procedures and processes in to motion. The goal was to get Nixon’s directives and requests to the right people and to ensure that the president in turn got the input he needed on various foreign and domestic issues.
    Keeping the press and others at bay? Reflected Nixon’s clear introvert temperament. So not Bob as a Lord High Executioner. Many senior federal officials with whom I have worked have noted the need for down time, for thinking time, which they rarely have. (Most are far too over scheduled.) Haldeman made sure Nixon had that thinking time. He understood his boss well in positive ways as well, tragically for both men, in negative ways. That he did not halt Nixon’s order to have Fred Malek count Jews at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1971, and how that played out, is what the Nixon side most feared as a revelation from the tapes and documents we at NARA processed and planned to start opening at the end of the Reagan administration. More so than what is considered, in conventional terms, as the “Watergate abuses of governmental power.”
    And it is the BLS Jew counting episode that which led us and our successor officials, such as Tim Naftali, to take the bullets we did. The unit I worked in at NARA effectively was shut down, which is why I left to take another job in 1990. When I testified in ’92 as a federal witness, it was because I was called by the plaintiff (professor Stanley Kutler), not the defendant (the AOTUS named by Reagan to head NARA).
    Interestingly, when I talked to Bob Haldeman in ’87 and ’88, it was clear that he (who had served prison time and saw himself as having nothing more to lose) wanted the tapes opened. Not to be, not during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Which is why I believe Bob set in motion the publication of his diaries in 1994. Nothing, nothing more closely replicated what was on the ready to be disclosed (by us) but suppressed tapes, given the hours Bob spent with Nixon, than the published Haldeman diaries.

  3. Justin Boland Says:

    I’m curious about your premise that Watergate laid the foundations for the “Creepy-State,” though — was it really a factor, in the face of pre-existing and nationally scaled efforts like COINTELPRO or the Helms/Angleton beauty knowns as CHAOS?
    Also, I’m curious – has the Jim Hougan book Secret Agenda been discredited (by someone other than Jennifer Youngblood types)? It was a muddled and incomplete book, but it even half of his reporting there is true, it completely explodes the nationally accepted narrative of what was going on during Watergate.

  4. zen Says:

    Thanks Justin. No, Nixon is not solely responsible for setting these foundations. One of the differences is that Hoover was not willing to do the “black bag” jobs for Nixon that the FBI had done for other POTUS (and on it’s own) for decades without written orders. Nixon’s relationship with his DCI was distant and he distrusted the bureaucracy, so he went “off the books” with the plumbers. I am not familiar with the controversy  on the Hougan book, so I will let others comment.
    Hi “Former Archivist” 🙂
    Thank you for such an wonderful comment, it is much appreciated!
    ‘lord high executioner” is of course, not my phrasae to describe Haldeman, but Richard Nixon’s and it described how Nixon felt at times, or wished for, more than the totality of haldeman’s career. You’re correct that Haldeman was not policy per se. that’s true. but he was an exceptionally powerful WH chief of staff and a gatekeeper with a great deal of discretion and savvy ( which IMHO, he often used to get ppl Nixon needed to see in when Nixon might rather have avoided them) and could reinforce or moderate Nixon’s reactions in his “sounding board sessions”. I never met Haldeman, I don’t have the same depth here as you do (really, few ppl do) but my perception from the docs and memoirs is that Haldeman was feared by many people in the administration; partly bc of his authority and influence with the POTUS and  because Nixon did not like confrontations and riding herd was part of his job, in person or via memo “reminders” (a managerial habit I think Rumsfeld picked up from him).
    Agree with you on “thinking time”. As Reeves documented, nixon often generated many positive ideas and themes with his legal pads, alone in his EOB hideaway office. It presents a much different aspect of Nixon’s mind and character than we get from Kutler’s books or transcripts of the tapes, many of which are unflsattering and were never intended by nixon to be made public (as few ppl know better than you!). In fairness, we would probably be shocked at some of the talk if we had dropped in on FDR’s cocktail hours when Eleanor was away or at the sessions of Sam Rayburn’s “board of education”. Some of the language and frank prejudices would scandalize today’s sensibilities and be very much in the same spirit of Nixon’s crude antisemitism.
    Also agree with you on the Haldeman Diaries – they are a must read IMHO.

  5. Madhu Says:

    Ha! Funny coincidence, I was just reading about the brief Eisenhower period of “will he or won’t he” keep Nixon on as VP….
    As you can imagine, my feelings are yet more mixed than your brief but well-written summary post. He confounds me, from this distance. The man who wrote so nicely in the late sixties about bringing China in from the cold and the strange almost “mad man” behavior of the 1971 Bangladesh war. I never did understand the idea of suggesting the Chinese get involved to show that we support allies, even to the extent of saying we would support China if the Soviets got involved? Was that really so, does it come down correctly to us from that period of history, and, again, huh? on the strategy of it all….
    A side not to the post, Sec. Clinton’s speeches on economic statecraft can sound eerily like McNamara at the World Bank. Seriously, it’s kinda weird.

  6. Madhu Says:

    I guess military strategy “in the moment” and triangulating grand strategy are completely different things….LOL. Even with understanding of the foreign policy strengths, I will never really be a fan of the man.
    Given our almost boringly regular twenty year pop cultural cycle, I am awaiting the revisionists to the revisionists on the subject.
    The Nixon Foundation knows how to get good press would be the sort of thing I would normally say, but I am trying to be a better person these day and not be such a cynical jerk all the time.

  7. The Fat Guy » Blog Archive » Nixon turns 100 Says:

    […] A Century of Nixon and the Nixonian Century […]

  8. Justin Boland Says:

    Wanted to circle back and ask a Nixon-related question that’s been on my mind, unresolved, for quite some time. I have an abiding interest in compartmentalization, as both concept and practice, and I have read in numerous sources that the Nixon/Kissinger “secret war” bombing campaign was carried out with such effective compartmentalization that most of the pilots actually dropping the bombs did not even know where they actually were.
    Granted, I have never been in the cockpit of a bombing sortie, so I don’t have much conception of what is involved with that kind of deception but it seems like no simple feat. Is anyone familiar with the mechanics of this? If anyone could so much as point me toward a good source on the details, I would be very grateful.

  9. zen Says:

    Ah, questions and comments:
    Doc Madhu,
     Nixon was interested in three things with his China opening, which he began thinking about at least prior to his world trip as a private citizen circa 1966/67:
    * Changing the balance of power vis-a-vis the USSR to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union by leveraging the Sino-Soviet split to “flip” China to the Western camp as a friendly neutral or de facto ally.
    * Short-circuiting China rising as a deeply disruptive and aggressively belligerent “revolutionary power”, the path it was on with the Cultural Revolution and integrating China into the world order as a “normal” state. Charles DeGaulle incidently, shared this view and strongly encourage Nixon to pursue it both before and after Nixon’s election.

    * Getting China’s help to pressure Hanoi to settle the Vietnam War on favorable or tolerable terms to the United States
    While it was in China’s interest also to do all three of these things – this is why the China opening worked, mutually shared objectives – Nixon and Kissinger overestimated beijing’s influence with Hanoi’s leadership. They also overestimated Moscow’s influence with the North Vietnamese who were as intransigent as allies to these Communist powers as they were being an enemy of the US.  Hanoi, for example deliberately embarrassed the Russians by engaging in an offensive against US troops during Kosygin’s state visit, which the Soviet leaders had made conditional, during which we naturally retaliated with bombing. 
    The Nixon administration really did halt Moscow from contemplating a truly insane preemptive nuclear strike on China over the Damanski island clash. The head of the Red Army, Marshal Grechko, had advocated striking China with 100 megaton blockbusters, not sure how Brezhnev reacted to that one but even a more limited nuclear war would have killed millions of people and probably would have escalated.
    Regarding bangladesh, Nixon and Kissinger were in debt to Yayah Khan and viewed the civil war/democide as an unaffordable distraction for the US which was juggling Vietnam and the mideast crisis. India was also, in Nixon’s eyes a de facto Soviet ally (which it was) with an anti-American foreign policy (which it had). Furthermore, on a personal, visceral level, Nixon hated Nehru and Indira Gandhi and considered them arrogant and hostile and that anything that might benefit Gandhi or India was generally undesirable  and a waste of his time. The Democrats in the House of Reps at the time had pro-India sympathies, based primarily on romantic notions about nonalignment and India being the world’s largest democracy.
    I am not an airpower specialist, but I think it would be extremely difficult to keep that information from the pilot, at least once the planes had to be flying, if for no other reason than you need to know where to put steel and explosives on target (and not, for example in the wrong country). Information was certainly compartmentalized drastically within the government and US military during the Nixon phase of the war. Recall that we had overt land based and carrier based air power controlled by the services inside and outside of South Vietnam . We also had secret CIA and CIA-USAF bases in Thailand outside of, if I recall, MAACV control that conducted covert aerial operations and bombings. Maybe Carl Prine or Crispin Burke would be more helpful here on this issue…….

  10. grey eagle Says:

    The press today is much more mature than it was in Nixon’s day.  Our Dear Leader, President Obama has done all the deeds that the press condemned when Nixon did them but today the Dear Leader is praised and loved by the people and their hand maiden, the American Press!!!

  11. zen Says:

    Very true. Some of what nixon aides went to Federal prison for are considered “just politics” when done by Clinton or Obama aides.

  12. Mr. X Says:

    With respect to the commenters above and the subject of the Creepy State, I saw this beauty of the Cointelpro/Establishment ‘disarm the bitter clingers’ mentality on Twitter here:


    To which I would briefly reply: Molon labe jerk. And an extended reply: if buying a few dozen guns and thousand rounds equates to psychopathy, then what can you say about buying 1.7 billion bullets, establishing warrantless highway checkpoints, and authorizing 30,000 domestic drones by 2017?

    I would reply to this jerk on Twitter but my feed is suspended again, for telling KosKidz Twitter feed they can’t shoot straight and should they get their fantasy of taking on the bitter clingers their desertion and attrition rate will be quite high. They can ask their idol Markos Moulitsas how fighting malnourished Iraqis/Afghans worked out and then multiply that by one million pissed off, well prepared gun owners who also know their local terrain (see Bob Owens excellent essays on that subject of late). That’s not going to end well at all!


  13. Madhu Says:

    Thank for that nice reply, zen.
    I am aware of the three points that you bring up, but, on the second point, the debt–in purely emotional terms– was something a bit more complicated, I believe.That is what I meant by “heat of moment” versus more deliberate strategic decision-making. Multiple avenues from different countries were attempted to send a message to the Chinese, multiple small and larger steps, taken, and it was the Pakistanis that delivered at a particular moment within a larger setting. It wasn’t favors, each got something, the Chinese were ready to play the American card too.
    “Kissinger, like many others in the US and even more in India, could not understand Nixon’s loyalty to Yahya Khan. While Kissinger told visiting Pakistanis about his president’s “high regard for President Yahya and a feeling of personal affection for him, he confided to the US ambassador to India, Kenneth Keating: “In all honesty … the president has a special feeling for President Yahya. One cannot make a policy on that basis, but it is a fact of life.”
    Chester Bowles has a funny quote in his writing– I cannot find it at the moment– about American officilas travel ingto India, finding that Indians wouldn’t subscribe to the way in which Americans viewed the world (nationalist, regional and ethnic feeling versus fitting into a grand Cold War narrative) and it was a relief to travel to Pakistan and find the world making “sense” again because the leaders would talk in terms of the Cold War struggle and make mention of people “one knew” in London, etc.
    When I have time, I’ll find the quote. Events are today, but I am sure this very typical American-in-Asia emotional reaction had some affect on the whole “AfPak” strategy in the initial years after 9-11. 
    (But how can one know? I love reading cultural histories but how accurate are these descriptions of feelings? Feelings matter, but how to put it into perspective?) 
    “It all first stared when in July 1969 Nixon visited Pakistan for day,” Yahya Khan recalled afterwards in the deposition he sent to the Justice Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission. “It took me two full years of hard laborious efforts to bring these two mighty powers to the point of talking to each other. These two nations have shown such gratitude to us that I cannot really describe.
    The gratitude included forgiveness by the Chinese of debts, according to some scholars.
    Now, within the context of the Bangladesh crisis, there was the suggestion from the Nixon administration for the Chinese to move troops –something, anything–as a kind of bluff to the Indians. Within that bluff was the suggestion to the Chinese that the United States would stand by the Chinese if the Soviets intervened on the Indian side. That is what I meant by my confusion on the particulars of the moment versus the larger grand strategy. The Grand Strategy I understand, and it is brilliant. It’s the maneuvers and the personalities within that seem bizarre when viewed from a distance. The emotional versus the rational, and the misunderstanding of entire regions through the lens of Western Cold War needs and desires.
    Sort of a JF Dulles “where is Tibet?” thinking before the US and the Indians and Tibetans worked together in the period that supposedly Indians couldn’t work with Americans because they were so anti-American.
    Indian foreign policy was no more anti-American than American foreign policy was anti-Indian. Indian foreign policy was Indian and American foreign policy was American.
    We prioritized threats differently, and our decision makers in DC make this same intellectual category error even today. Human nature.



  14. Madhu Says:

    On December 10, Kissinger delicately encourages the Chinese to take action against India guaranteeing U.S. support if the Soviets retaliate: “if the People’s Republic were to consider the situation on the Indian subcontinent a threat to security, and if it took measures to protect its security, the US would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People’s Republic.” (Note 14)
    On December 12, Kissinger tells Nixon that by taking a tough stand with the Soviets he was making a “typical Nixon plan. I mean it’s bold… But my view is that if we do nothing there’s a certainty of disaster. This way there is a high possibility of one, but at least we’re coming off like men.” With Beijing’s UN ambassador calling for an urgent meeting in New York with White House officials, Kissinger was sure that Beijing was “going to move. No question, they’re going to move.” If the Chinese intervene, Nixon asked “what do we do if the Soviets move against them? Start lobbing nuclear weapons.” Kissinger later answered that “We don’t have to lob nuclear weapons. We have to go on alert… We may have to put forces in. We may have to give them bombing assistance.” This will provide an “opportunity to clean up Vietnam at that point” by giving an ultimatum to Hanoi and blockading Haiphong harbor. (Note 15)

    I know you know all these things, but I really am trying to differentiate the moment-to-moment crisis handling versus larger strategic decisions coming from a more deliberate intellectual and emotional space. 

  15. Madhu Says:

    Sigh, I always forget about the formatting around here. From my comment awaiting moderation, I bring out the following:
    “On December 12, Kissinger tells Nixon that by taking a tough stand with the Soviets he was making a “typical Nixon plan. I mean it’s bold… But my view is that if we do nothing there’s a certainty of disaster. This way there is a high possibility of one, but at least we’re coming off like men.” With Beijing’s UN ambassador calling for an urgent meeting in New York with White House officials, Kissinger was sure that Beijing was “going to move. No question, they’re going to move.” If the Chinese intervene, Nixon asked “what do we do if the Soviets move against them? Start lobbing nuclear weapons.” Kissinger later answered that “We don’t have to lob nuclear weapons. We have to go on alert… We may have to put forces in. We may have to give them bombing assistance.” This will provide an “opportunity to clean up Vietnam at that point” by giving an ultimatum to Hanoi and blockading Haiphong harbor.”
    Heat of the moment trash talk or something more real? It sounds utterly stupid from a more calm distance. 

  16. Madhu Says:

    Those wily Indians and their anti-American foreign policy….
    “Conboy and Morrison take pains to tell the story from all perspectives, particularly that of the former Tibetan guerrillas, many of whom have gone on record here for the first time. The authors also tell how Tibet led America and India to become secret partners over the course of several presidential administrations and cite dozens of Indian and Tibetan intelligence documents directly related to these covert operations.” 
    It would help if Indians were better historians and released official historical documents. Can’t complain if people get things wrong when there are fewer official Indian documents to study….
    I am not trying to say that Indian foreign policy was perfect in the region and ours was terrible (not by a long shot) only that the thinking on the period needs an update, especially as we are supposedly pivoting to Asia or whatever.
    Korea, Japan, etc. In the eyes of that part of the world, haven’t we pivoted to Asia long ago? 

  17. Madhu Says:

    I am the epitome of the obnoxious student-in-class, aren’t I,  teach zen?
    I should just quit harassing your lovely blog comment section and go with my true calling – an Amazon-dot-com commenter…..
    Why did I hate all non-science classes when I was younger? I never listened to my humanities teachers. Sat in the back of class and scribbled enough key words to fake tests and that’s about it.

  18. Madhu Says:


    I am including the following link mainly for blog “housekeeping”, because I keep losing online references and someone lurking might enjoy reading the various articles. The Indian Strategic Studies blog has some very critical posts on Nehru and the 1962 India-China war, which, of course,  involved the US to a certain extent.
    Given my non-stop negative nature, I can always find criticisms of everybody….I should probably do something about that.

  19. Madhu Says:

    Oh, I just saw this at Omar Ali’s twitter site and yours:
    This is what I was trying to say.
    Not directed at anyone on this site, it’s just an area of curiosity. For “America Americans”, how come something that comes from the Pakistani diaspora carries more weight than from Indian diaspora? Until recently, I mean.
    I’m asking because of this (Indian Express, Stephen Cohen):
    Tell us about the change in attitudes. In India, Pakistan, Washington, and the change in attitudes vis-a-vis each other. There are many variables.
    In the case of Pakistan, we always believed that Pakistanis were a true ally. And they would tell us that. The Pakistani argument was that the Americans betrayed Pakistan many, many times. There was some truth in that but it was clearly an exaggerated story. I think the war in Afghanistan, the American soldiers in Afghanistan, has put paid to that argument.
    I regularly teach American officers in various summer schools, and seven years ago they started telling me, ‘Professor, I’ve served in Afghanistan for a year and the people who were shooting at me were coming from Pakistan. They are our ally. Why are they doing this?’ I would tell them that Pakistan is playing a double game. And that began a slow shift in American opinion about Pakistan. Ironically some Republicans are more anti-Pakistani than the Democrats. It used to be the other way around. 
    The trick is not to fall in love with anyone too much, which is what Americans do. Pakistan, China, India, the UK, whatever is our intellectual foreign policy “kink” as Americans at the time.
    Oh, one of these days, you’ll see what I mean….
    What? Desi is prickly and difficult, always. 

  20. Madhu Says:

    Comment in moderation.

  21. Madhu Says:

    That Stephen Cohen quote that I posted just blew me away. Years of pain that sort of “falling in love” with allies and wanting to protect them from themselves has hurt so many people in SA and in the West, and, then, they just sort of change and say, “oh well, never mind.” No introspection. None.

  22. Madhu Says:

    This is why I am so prickly about DC South Asian “analysts” even some of the younger ones. For reasons that are unclear to me some Americans and some elite Pakistanis sort of egg each other on in the worst intellectual way. They mean well, but their analyses are flawed and incomplete. It’s like the Pakistani American scholars that think the Partition is the be all and end all of studying the region and nothing else matters because it’s emotional to them and they can’t think outside that box.
    I hope the Indian diaspora doesn’t get into a dysfunctional relationship in that way, the way other diasporas (including European during the Cold War and the Anglo American alliance) have…. 

  23. zen Says:

    Hi Doc Madhu
    I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Stephen Cohen but he is correct here.
    Here’s the deal. Neither diaspora community has mattered much until the last few election cycles and only in a minor way. There simply have not been enough Indians or Pakistanis or both combined to matter a whit and most Americans are totally ignorant of both countries, their history, culture, religious divisions, languages or anything else. Many Americans think Sikhs are Muslims and confuse Indians with Arabs. Americans, except for a small educated slice interested in foreign policy and those working in international business, are parochial and don’t care, really.
    What mattered was:
    1) the Cold War
    2) Nixon had a need for Pakistan to open relations with China
    3) Indian leaders went out of their way to be anti-American and pro-Soviet
    4) Carter and Reagan needed Pakistan to fund Afghan proxies to kill Russians
    5) Iran going anti-American raised Pakistan’s stock
    6) Pakistani elites, civilian and military, deliberately and consistently cultivated US military and political elite while they were young or mid-career at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Carlisle etc.. India sent young elites to MIT and Caltech. When Benazir Bhutto was killed, with all the Davos-attendee crowd carrying on, you’d have thought Georgetown had run out of Grey Goose and caviar.
    I’ve met a couple Pakistani senior officers. Islamabad does not send dummies to our war colleges, they send charismatic, bright future chiefs of staff and the ISI and they work to forge ties with our future four stars. I assume that this kind of thing also applies to our journalists and think tankers. Pakistan tries to win friends here in high places, India in my observation does not ( or did not, maybe things are changing)
    The Democrats supported India because the House majority under Carl Albert/Tip O’Neil was very, very left-liberal and very, very anti-Nixon and had vaguely fuzzy pro-India sentiments

  24. Madhu Says:

    No, he’s not. He’s playing CYA. A lot of money and attention got through to the region in the 90’s. It was not ignored and that is how we got into so much trouble in Afghanistan. Even Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars didn’t go far enough.
    I am talking about the 90’s, zen. And Abbottabad.
    . \
    Where do you think the COINDINISTAS got their cockamamie ideas about “turning” the military? This whole crowd. So what if the Pakistanis are better at UCW at the strategic level than the Indians? We are American and we can’t let personal warm feelings stand in the way of our own efforts. 
    What do you think Miss Pundita has been writing about for years?
    Once again, there are two things going on, the larger grand strategy, and the day to day management of it. This is not the only time the Nixon-Kissinger guys were warned. The military warned them on Iran and all the weapons they were throwing at it at the time. The Grand Strategy was sound but those two always panicked and threw too much at the guys they wanted to support.
    And you just proved my point. This behavior,–this love-affair–which has no business in the world of high strategy and  national security, continued long after any need for it during the Cold War. Some of the 80’s Afghan CIA and military heroes from the era are up to their eyeballs in contracts for the region. Just like the Saudis and just like the Israelis and just like the Russians, there are constituencies in DC that are more about their own ideology or love or money-making and they put up a pretty good smoke-screen of propaganda.
    Starting WWIII between the Chinese and Indians and Pakistanis and Russians and the US would have accomplished what? What was our plan again? Encouraging the Chinese would only have strengthened the Soviets.
    Don’t fall in love with people just because they are on your side. Just because officers from another country are difficult or don’t impress you doesn’t mean that American interests are best served only by paying attention to the guys you like.
    The same goes for the fawning dream-girl act that American military men have for the Egyptian Army. 

  25. Madhu Says:

    So, Cohen is saying what everyone knew, we were essentially paying for both sides of the insurgency and tolerated it against our guys. And why? There was no reason for paying for the bullets against our guys. No one is talking about the 80’s here. Why did everyone go along with it? What does that say about the habits of mind of our foreign policy class? No follow up on the Saudis, and, hey, we don’t care if money is going to guys were are technically fighting as long as it fits into a world view.
    There used to be a word for that. Starts with a T, I think….
    “In fact, the United States was the only country that riled him up in conversations – not even Pakistan, which he dismissed as a basket case beneath contempt. He said he ”always loved the US…and always liked the American people” but he despised Washington’s policies. ”There is one American species, which I could never bring myself to like during the 27 years I spent in the intelligence community — the officers of the US State Department,” he writes in his memoirs, The Kao-boys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane, the title being an admiring tribute to the RN Kao, RAW’s principal founder and first chief.
    Two incidents, both relating to Pakistan — and to one individual in particular — deeply colored his perspective of Washington and its mandarins. The first came after the 1993 Mumbai blasts engineered by Pakistan through Dawood Ibrahim. Raman headed the counter-terrorism division of RAW at that time and rushed to Mumbai soon after the serial explosions that killed 259 people, just two weeks before the first World Trade Center attack by Ramzi Yousef. Among the evidence gathered by the police were detonators and timers that were of American origin. On the advice of then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, Raman said he shared this evidence with US experts, and at their request, allowed them to take the material back to America. Bad mistake, he later regretted. ” – 
    B Raman, India’s seasoned spymaster and trenchant US critic, dies at 77
    It’s Times of India, so, uh, yeah. I know. Be careful. But the emotional space of some people in the State Department during the 90’s and the larger region is, uh, curious.
    That’s my point. Being careful emotionally. 

  26. Madhu Says:

    From Miss Pundita’s site (excerpt of article on the passing of B. Raman):
    “In fact, the United States was the only country that riled him up in conversations…. He said he ”always loved the US…and always liked the American people” but he despised Washington’s policies. ”There is one American species, which I could never bring myself to like during the 27 years I spent in the intelligence community — the officers of the US State Department,” he writes in his memoirs, The Kao-boys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane, the title being an admiring tribute to the RN Kao, RAW’s principal founder and first chief.
    Two incidents, both relating to Pakistan — and to one individual in particular — deeply colored his perspective of Washington and its mandarins. The first came after the 1993 Mumbai blasts engineered by Pakistan through Dawood Ibrahim. Raman headed the counter-terrorism division of RAW at that time and rushed to Mumbai soon after the serial explosions that killed 259 people, just two weeks before the first World Trade Center attack by Ramzi Yousef. Among the evidence gathered by the police were detonators and timers that were of American origin. On the advice of then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, Raman said he shared this evidence with US experts, and at their request, allowed them to take the material back to America. Bad mistake, he later regretted..A few days later, Raman said, the Americans gave an unsigned report saying the detonators and timers were of American origin and were part of stock given to Pakistan during the Afghan war in the 1980s. The report gratuitously added this did not necessarily mean the terrorists got them from the ISI. It pointed out that in Pakistan there was a lot of leakage of government arms and ammunition to smugglers and expressed the view that the terrorists might have procured them from the smugglers..”When I asked them to return the detonator and the timer as promised by them they replied that their forensic experts had by mistake destroyed them. They did not apparently want to leave any clinching evidence against Pakistan in our hands,” Raman wrote later. ”This was a bitter lesson to us that in matters concerning Pakistan one should not totally trust the US. They would do anything to ensure that no harm came to Pakistan.” ”
    The same claims have been made by some ex-CIA, that the State Department was politicized and covered up evidence of proliferation and terrorism.
    Good convo! 🙂

  27. Madhu Says:

    The early 90’s were the years of the Clinton White House and it’s strange relationships with Robin Raphel, an old Clinton friend, and the Chinese advocacy of Sandy Berger.
    Okay, time to let off this thread for a while 😉 

  28. Madhu Says:

    Sigh. This is one reason I miss Carl P.’s Line of Departure. He got that some of us learn by arguing, er, I mean, talking things over….

  29. zen Says:

    I miss Carl Prine at LoD too.
    That said, I stick by my statement. 
    There was a great deal of self-delusion involved on our part but the fantastic love and indulgence of Pakistan by our senior leadership was real enough and was still the party line a month before Abottabad, and not just in DoD. I had a woman, a smart and experienced lady from state with time in Pakistan on counterterrorism issues take me aside and try to convince me that Islamabad was not really an enemy and state sponsor of terrorism against the US and that we we needed them blah blah blah….
    We’ve had some help, I am told, on some important things, by the saner part of Pakistan’s government. The strategic problem is that the saner part is not really in charge of Pakistan on these questions, the deep state is and this is something that the last three administrations and the senior brass stubbornly choose not to deal with.
    As for RAW, again, you reap what you sow. There was little incentive coming from New Delhi for America to improve relations until very recently. I welcome the change and hope India and the US will develop a strategic partnership but Indian domestic politics needed to move on this issue first and move further still, not to a pro-US policy but toward strategic realism

  30. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    Americans want to be loved, even when that want is secret. This often leaves us more attached to our tools than is healthy.

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