An Interesting Man, President Reagan.

– 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?

9 thoughts on “An Interesting Man, President Reagan.”

  1. Aside from business holdings Pakistan’s military has myriad ways to siphon the lion’s share of aid/loan money for private sector/civilian government projects and is notorious for doing so. And what is not controlled by the military is controlled by the powerful ‘landed’ class, which works hand in glove with the military.

    Thus, the only way the U.S. government can be assured that the military doesn’t channel aid into helping terrorist outfits that attack American troops is to suspend all aid, all loans — everything, including trade concessions. Sad but necessary until Pakistan’s military shuts down its covert war in Afghanistan.

    – Pundita

    And with that, I am thoroughly sick of this topic and am going to go the gym and maybe watch Downton Abbey….

    – Madhu

  2. I think for the money the CIA gets they are a bloated bureaucracy that should be disbanded. This missed Iran, the USSR disbanding…anyting else minor? ;-)

    Read an interesting book some time ago on how Pakistan got the Bomb – it was theft over the years by A.Q. Khan, (who later built a network that was in essence a “build your own bomb” 1 stop shopping center for any nation interested)

    Point is Reagan had to let this happen because he needed Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan – and think of the complications from that

    One of the best books I have read on Reagan was written by his former Secret Service man, John Barletta – Riding With Reagan – Recommended.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Bill. I’ve heard that book mentioned around here before. I need to add it to the ever-enlarging “anti-library” which seems to grow by leaps and bounds….

    – Madhu

  4. @Madhu – it is a wonderful book full of anecdotes
    about Reagan, the man. And I didn’t realize what an an accomplished equestrian he was.

    The reason Barletta got the initial job was that in in the entire Secret Service, he was the only one who could ride a horse. And with Reagan’s first inauguration , that suddenly became an important skill!

    BTW my neighbor is an interesting fellow. He was in the Marines in the 80s and had guard detail at Camp David for awhile.

    Said he would walk up and down the fence line and came to the realization that if there was some bad guys he would have been the first to be shot!

    But he said that Reagan used to ride up and talk to him.

  5. Herschel Smith’s comments are good.

    The world has changed in the past thirty years. It made sense for the USA to support Zia when our struggle with the USSR took priority and suppressed the dynamics of regional conflicts. Islamic radicalism was not the threat to us and our allies that it is today, and it made sense for us to support Sunni jihadists against the Soviets. Clearly, times have changed and our leaders and institutions have been slow to adapt. If Congress and the State Dept. haven’t quite caught on, how much of our intelligence bureaucracy has, how accurate is the information our executive branch is receiving, and are they paying attention?

  6. I guess we are in the process of changing but it is a bit strange that we are spending twenty years post Soviet Union still thinking about how we are going to be in this new era. Hmmm, am I correct about that? I am curious to know what others – if anyone returns to this thread – think our future strategic posture should be?

    – Madhu

  7. I think that a lot of us are clear in our thinking, but that the political establishment and bureaucracies haven’t caught up, perhaps in large degree because of perverse incentives created by interest-group politics.

  8. “….perverse incentives created by interest-group politics.”

    Sadly, I think you are correct. True for a lot of our “legacy” systems which is why we are in the position we are in today (I think). I hope we are slowly – if painfully – moving toward something better for this era. Dunno.

    – Madhu

Comments are closed.