On June 3, 1971, Mr. Kissinger was indignant at the Indians, while the country was sheltering millions of traumatized Bengali refugees who had fled the Pakistan army. He blamed the Indians for causing the refugee flow, apparently by their covert sponsorship of the Bengali insurgency. He then condemned Indians as a whole, his voice oozing with contempt, “They are a scavenging people.”
On June 17, 1971 — in the same conversation as Mr. Nixon’s outburst at “sexless” Indian women — the president was furious at Kenneth B. Keating, his ambassador to India, who two days earlier had confronted Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger in the Oval Office, calling Pakistan’s crackdown “almost entirely a matter of genocide.”
Mr. Nixon now asked what “do the Indians have that takes even a Keating, for Christ, a 70-year-old” — here there is cross-talk, but the word seems to be “bachelor” or “bastard.” In reply, Mr. Kissinger sweepingly explained: “They are superb flatterers, Mr. President. They are masters at flattery. They are masters at subtle flattery. That’s how they survived 600 years. They suck up — their great skill is to suck up to people in key positions.”
Mr. Kissinger voiced prejudices about Pakistanis, too. On Aug. 10, 1971, while discussing with Mr. Nixon whether the Pakistani junta would execute the imprisoned leader of the Bengali nationalists, Mr. Kissinger told the president, “I tell you, the Pakistanis are fine people, but they are primitive in their mental structure.” He added, “They just don’t have the subtlety of the Indians.”
These emotional displays of prejudice help to explain a foreign policy debacle. Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger’s policies toward South Asia in 1971 were not just a moral disaster but a strategic fiasco on their own Cold War terms.
While Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had some reasons to favor Pakistan, an American ally which was secretly helping to bring about their historic opening to China, their biases and emotions contributed to their excessive support for Pakistan’s murderous dictatorship throughout its atrocities.
As Mr. Kissinger’s own staff members had warned him, this one-sided approach handed India the opportunity to rip Pakistan in half, first by sponsoring the Bengali guerrillas and then with the war in December 1971 — resulting in a Cold War victory for the Soviet camp.
For decades, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger have portrayed themselves as brilliant practitioners of realpolitik, running a foreign policy that dispassionately served the interests of the United States. But these declassified White House tapes confirm a starkly different picture: racism and misogyny at the highest levels, covered up for decades under ludicrous claims of national security. A fair historical assessment of Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger must include the full truth, unbleeped.
Gary J. Bass is a professor at Princeton and the author of “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
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