Media reports of intense disagreements within the Obama administration with respect to policy toward Syria should come as no surprise. For decades, Washington policymakers and pundits have debated the right balance between America's democratic values and its national interests.
This interplay was evident in 1971 as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sought an opening to China. Halfway through delicate secret diplomacy, the intermediary, Pakistan, plunged into political stalemate and then a massive human rights crisis. Amid communal massacres, a refugee crisis, guerrilla conflict and war between India and Pakistan, East Pakistan achieved independence as Bangladesh — a struggle in which hundreds of thousands are believed to have perished.
In his recent book "The Blood Telegram," Princeton professor Gary Bass smears Nixon and Kissinger as heartless villains of these events. In language reminiscent of President Obama's more unreasonable critics regarding the Syrian tragedy, Bass accuses them of "significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis." He argues that Nixon and Kissinger could have coerced Pakistan to end its violence against Bengali Hindus and that they should have cut their Islamabad channel to China.