A Pulitzer winning New York Times journalist has said former US president Richard Nixon “didn't give a fig for the genocide that was being committed in present-day Bangladesh”.
Over four decades after he became the only US president ever to be forced out of office, Richard Nixon remains a riveting subject of study for scholars.
The New York Times’ Tim Weiner is the latest to delve into this complex man, whose dangerous gamesmanship in the sub-continent changed India's perception of the US for more than 25 years before Bill Clinton began to rescue it.
Weiner talks to Chidanand Rajghatta of India’s Times News Network about that toxic chapter in US-India history.
Following is the interview published in Economic Times.
Nixon's antipathy for India is well known. What were the reasons, and why was he so visceral towards Indira Gandhi?
We knew ages ago that Nixon called Indira Gandhi a bitch. He caused a great tilt in US ties towards Pakistan but initially very few people knew about it aside from Nixon and Kissinger. Yahya Khan knew, the Shah of Iran knew and the King of Jordan knew. Now there are fresh new details about the intensity of the tilt, particularly the ways in which Kissinger and Nixon talk about drawing Chinese to the Indian border and recapitulating 1962. They start staring down the barrel of World War Three in the name of Yahya facilitating the US opening to China. They do this despite knowing there was no question who was going to win this (India-Pakistan) war.
Aside from Pakistan opening Kissinger's line to China, did Nixon, like many US presidents, simply love military brass? I believe 33 out of 44 presidents have served in the military.
Yes, but it is deeper than that. Nixon and Kissinger were much more comfortable with dictators than with democrats. Because dictators provided stability whereas democrats could not always promise stability. Nixon himself says in the book that we provide military and economic aid to 90 countries and only a third are democracies. He said this in a press conference. He is not even being subtle about it. With a brief intermezzo between the fall of Berlin Wall and fall of World Trade Center, the US has generally been more comfortable with dictators and tyrants and much more willing to arm and support them. This has been particularly egregious in the case of Pakistan.
Why did Nixon and Kissinger ignore the genocide of millions of Bengalis? Was it because it came so soon after Vietnam? Was it the fear of communism?
It actually came before Vietnam, or at least at the height — in the Christmas of '72 when US bombed Hanoi and Haiphong. Vietnam was still very much a plan. Nixon repeatedly calls the people of India savages and cannibals. He repeatedly mourns the fact that Yahya is going down and that (Indira) Gandhi will emerge stronger. He didn't give a fig for the genocide that was being committed in present-day Bangladesh, crimes for which people are still being tried and convicted. The origins of this are simply loyalty to Yahya for smuggling Kissinger to China.
Other than the irrational hatred of India and Indians, no.
I'm trying to get to bottom of this irrational hatred. (Laughs) Getting to the bottom of something irrational requires a certain degree of armchair psychology and that is not my field of practice. But Nixon was a hater. He hated blacks, Jews, Indians. He trusted no one of any race, creed or colour ...American or not. He was interested in two things only — a dramatic and overwhelming landslide re-election in 1972, and getting to a point where he could with a straight face say he ended the Vietnam War, which was a lie. He neither settled nor ended the Vietnam War. America lost it eight months after Nixon fell.
Do you think history has been kind to Nixon?
I do not. He remains the only president to resign.
But wasn't he a criminal?
His name has been forever tarnished. His attempts to reinstate himself as a statesman in his last 20 years were not a success.
How did the India-Pakistan war affect his administration?
The India-Pak war, like Vietnam, has two aspects. There was a war abroad and a war at home. The war at home was happening between the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Pentagon and the White House and National Security Council, because the mistrust Nixon had for his generals and admirals became mutual. The chiefs thought the covert arming of the Pakistanis was a dangerous mistake and playing the Chinese card against Indians would have gone out of hand.
Were any lessons learned from the episode?
(Laughs) Yes. Don't put covert taping systems in the Oval Office!
Seriously, I meant in the India-Pak context.
It's astonishing how little we learn from our own history. As I write in the Epilogue, Nixon's legacy is all around us. Ten years after he fell, Reagan was running clandestine wars just as Nixon was running in Laos and Cambodia. He got his entire national security team indicted and Bush 41 pardoned them all just as Ford pardoned Nixon. Bush 43 did the same, all aided, abetted, and formulated by Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld who came up in the Nixon White House.