Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan on the Brink and Back by Bruce Reidel, Brookings Institution Press: Washington, DC, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0815724087, 220 pp., Hardcover $21.58, Kindle $15.37.
Bruce Riedel's comprehensive history of U. S. relations with India and Pakistan is two books in one. He builds on his decades of experience in the CIA and the White House to craft a personal history of that era, notably a thorough exposition of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai when he was President-elect Obama's chief advisor on South Asia. But the guts of the book are a well-researched history of US relations with India and Pakistan, beginning, cursorily, in the 16th century.
He focuses on the diplomatic and military relationship, and makes much of the personal relationships between U. S. presidents and the Indian and Pakistani leadership. The bulk of the book begins, as do most diplomatic histories, with partition in 1947 and the beginning of the Kashmir dispute.
Who knew though that Ulysses S. Grant was the first U. S. president to visit India, albeit in 1876 after he had left office? Riedel pointedly notes that Grant saw more of India than any president since then, on a Grand Tour to Bombay, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Benares, and Calcutta. He doesn't need to say that the much shorter visits (day trips to Karachi and Delhi by Eisenhower in 1959 and LBJ to Karachi Airport in 1967, Carter's trip to Delhi in 1978, Clinton's five-day sojourn to India and five hours in Pakistan in 2000, Bush's visit to both in 2006 and Obama to India in 2010) did not give any of our presidents the on-the-ground experience that would have informed their presidencies. Nikita Khrushchev, by contrast, spent almost a month touring India in 1955.
The personal relationships that sometimes helped but often hindered the relationships have a major role in this book. Nixon and Kissinger's visceral dislike of Mrs. Gandhi and their bonding with Ayub Khan are well known. But Nehru and Truman also were a badly matched pair. Nehru wanted the U. S. to recognize the People's Republic of China, and Truman wanted to mediate the Kashmir dispute. Riedel quotes Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson on Nehru: "one of the most difficult men with whom I have ever had to deal."
The author's personal insights are some of the best parts of this excellent book. While reviewing the Indo-Pakistani war over Bangladesh in...