Monday, September 21, 2015

Quote of the day

From S. Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh (2013), pp.218-19 (notes omitted; italics added):
On 30 July 1971, a member of the [Bangladesh] Awami League showed up at the US consulate in Calcutta seeking an appointment for Kazi Zahirul Qaiyum, a national assembly member from the Awami League, to meet with the consul-general.  Instead, the consulate arranged for Qaiyum to see a political officer the following day.  Qaiyum said that he had come at the behest of Foreign Minister Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmad, who wished to reestablish the Awami League's contacts with the United States [with a view to the U.S. facilitating negotiations between Gen. Yahya Khan, ruler of Pakistan, and the Awami League].... The US embassy in Islamabad observed that even if Qaiyum's proposals represented those of the Bangladesh government, Yahya was unlikely to accept them.  In serving as a conduit for these messages, the United States risked upsetting its relations with Pakistan.  Nonetheless, in the interest of long-term relations with the Bangladesh leadership, the risk seemed worth running.  The White House had a rather different view.  Kissinger insisted that asking Yahya to parley with the Awami Leaguers in Calcutta was "like asking Abraham Lincoln to deal with Jefferson Davis."  Nixon agreed that "we can't ask Yayha to do that."  Yet, he asked the State Department to sound out Ambassador Farland [the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan] on this issue.     
To say that Kissinger's remark was an inapt analogy would be an understatement.


JS said...

Jesus -- that's insane! (The comparison to Jefferson Davis, I mean.) I wouldn't have expected Kissinger to say something quite so... dumb. But maybe it ties into the point you were making in the "Ethics of Responsibility" piece about unwarranted self-confidence (to paraphrase, perhaps badly).

LFC said...

Thanks for the comment.
I don't have the context that would come with looking at the transcript of the conversation in which K's remark occurred, but I think K. at this point was fully committed to the "tilt" to Pakistan and didn't want to make any demands or even requests of Yahya at all -- and he reached for an analogy that maybe he thought wd resonate w the person he was talking to (which was prob Nixon here, tho I'd have to check to make sure, it might have been someone else). The underlying "logic" of the remark seems to be "secession is secession is secession" so all cases of it are the same.
Yeah, the whole comparison is ridiculous -- comparing Yahya Khan to Lincoln, whatever the context and even in some 'loose' analogy, is, well, almost obscene. And comparing Mujibur Rahman et al to Jefferson Davis, ditto.
K. knew more about European history than American history, I wd think, but that's hardly an excuse.
Anyway, there's a certain amt of fairly shocking stuff that Kissinger and Nixon said in the course of their conversations, and not just in the Bangladesh episode of course, but I happened to be looking again at Raghavan's bk and this one jumped out at me. Some of the other remarks in a way are more predictable (for ex. Nixon's cursing -- e.g. calling Indira Gandhi a "bitch", Nixon ruminating (who knows how seriously) about using nukes at one pt, etc).