– Hebert E. Meyer memorandum, Nov. 30, 1983 (via National Review Online).
(We really should take up the President’s suggestion to begin planning for a post-Soviet world; the Soviet Union and its people won’t disappear from the planet, and we have not yet thought seriously about the sort of political and economic structure likely to emerge.)
– Reagan and India: ‘Dialog of Discovery’ (News India Times).
If his sunny disposition and easy manner charmed the original “Iron Lady” during their first encounter in Mexico, his administration’s ingenious framework to strengthen bilateral relations laid the foundation on which today’s U.S.-India strategic partnership rests.
In a clear departure from the preceding administrations – including the sympathetic Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations and the nearly hostile Nixon White House – President Reagan decided to engage India on areas where there was agreement and mutual interest instead of trying to resolve outstanding issues that were intractable.
The Reagan White House had to placate Islamabad – which was hell bent on gaining a military edge over India – without either weakening or hurting New Delhi, which was already furious at Washington’s move to arm Pakistan and cast a Nelson’s eye on its nuclear program.
The Reagan administration accomplished this impossible balancing act by rejecting the notion that U.S. relations in South Asia were a zero-sum game. So, while it appeased Pakistan’s Zia-ul Haq with aid and arms, it upped the ante on political and business relations with India. The president went about it by establishing personal relations with Indian leaders, including lavishly hosting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and, later Rajiv Gandh, at the White House.
Unlike his predecessors, who regarded Indira Gandhi to be somewhat recalcitrant and obstinate and approached her warily, Reagan respected her forthrightness and strength.
A far thinking man, too. Unfortunately, post 9-11, someone within our National Security Complex thought replaying the Reagan Islamabad playbook might be a good idea. Unwise, given that the Pakistani-supported Taliban turned out to be a bit problematic for us in more ways than one (to put it mildly). I still don’t understand Rick “Musharraf” Santorum’s thinking or what I sometimes jokingly refer to as the “Musharraf corner” of National Review’s online Corner? You know, the pundits that turn up periodically to remind us how the secular Pakistani military is our best hope? Post-Abbottabad, I have to wonder about the ability of some analysts and pundits to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. The non-state actor/jihadi project is a long-standing and detailed design of the GHQ. You can’t just “hire” one General to go after a few assets and expect the whole thing to reform itself. That isn’t logical. And as far as the Al Q we supposedly did scoop up (to date)? I wonder just how much of that intelligence has been independently verified and just how much comes via our complicated CIA-ISI liaison relationship? Who knows?
Lest our progressive friends feel a bit “I told you so” about all of this: aid is fungible. Any money the US might spend on the civilian sector eventually gets into military hands one way or another so I wouldn’t feel too smug. Plus, the Taliban that the Obama administration is attempting to negotiate with have only to pretend to negotiate and then wait it out with Pakistani help (aided with our very own tax money).
Anyway, regarding the original topic of this post, President Reagan had the absolute correct instincts and I think he got it right in terms of the big picture. He can’t be blamed for the decisions that came after the Soviet Union collapsed, and besides, if Steve Coll’s book “Ghost Wars” is correct, the danger of the jihad project was downplayed by CIA higher-ups and others in his administration – and administrations that came after his. A President can’t do everything by himself, after all. How does the CIA keep getting away with being so wrong, time and time again? Or am I being unfair?
Ghost Wars II – if such a book is ever written – is going to be an interesting book….
Update Aspects of Indira Gandhi’s tenure were, er, problematic (emergency rule, certain domestic policies) and I am not a fan of her governance. I am learning (being so poorly educated on these topics), however, that grand strategy and national statecraft are tough and you can’t afford to make an enemy out of every nation whose governance you don’t like. Note to self, really, as I think about optimal policies for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration wishes to “pivot” to Asia. How should we think about this in terms of American Strategy and what does pivoting mean?