The South Asia Story: The first sixty years of U.S. relations with India and Pakistan. Book Review.

By Harold A. Gould, Sage publications India PVT, 2010. Paperback, $17.97 on Amazon. 879-81-321-0121-5, 136pp

by Arnold Zetlin 23 March 2020

Author Harold A. Gould, whose long career as an anthropologist and student of India has spanned the independence of India and Pakistan and the first 60 years of their relationship with the United States, doesn’t think much of the intellectual capabilities of the men who shaped American policy toward these South Asian states.

“Eurocentric anticommunist ideologues like John Foster Dulles…saw the world almost entirely in one-dimensional terms….,” writes Gould, going on to demonstrate what he calls “the appalling depths of Mr. Dulles’s ignorance” by recalling a conversation in which the American secretary of state in the 1950s thought Gurkha fighters of Nepal were Pakistani Moslems.

Here is Gould’s description of the May 1961 visit to India of Lyndon B. Johnson, then the American vice president:

“Johnson’s naivete about international affairs and his historical ignorance about South Asia transformed his sortie into a public relations spectacle that was essentially meaningless….he behaved like a Texas politician running for office in the United States….”

As for the actons about Pakistan’s break up in 1971 by President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state. Henry Kissinger, Gould writes:

“This sophomoric diplomacy…must not be seen exclusively in terms of the venality and pettiness of an individual American President and his macho Secretary of State. It must be seen as one more manifestation of a bankrupt foreign policy that repeatedly undermined its declared premises.” 

Gould takes the reader swiftly in 113 pages from Franklin D. Roosevelt to the beginning of the first term of Barack Obama, whom he lauds for his “intellectual depth” and for being “the most culturally unique among all American presidents….His sensitivity to the political and cultural nuances of the Third World bode nothing but good for the future of U.S. relations both with India and Pakistan.”

Readers are left to determine on their own the state of U.S. relations with Pakistan, which managed to find new lows during Obama’s presidency, and relationships with India, which rose to new highs with Narendra Modi. Of course, if anyone wonders what Gould might write about the presidency of the current occupant of the White House, here is what he wrote before the 2016 election about Donald Trump “and his coterie of racist bigots, economic opportunists, disgruntled ‘left-outs,’ intellectually naive Millennials and principles-challenged mainstream Republicans.”

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