World Inside

US penchant for Islamist radicals resurface with human rights report

Publish: 10:27 AM, 26 Mar, 2023


The US deep state and policy establishment seems very fond of right-wing Islamist radicals or the 'mullahs'. They used them to bring down Iran's secular nationalist and democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh regime when it threatened to nationalise Iran's oil industry in the 1950s.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used the radicals backed and sheltered by Pakistan to torpedo Afghanistan's Saur revolution that was doing wonders for women's emancipation and the end of clan-based feudalism.

They backed the Pakistani military using radicals to attack India or suppress the 1971 Bengali uprising.

The US brought down Saddam Hussein with a fake scare that he had developed weapons of mass destruction -- the bluff was called by the BBC at some cost to its finances. The net result -- the rise of ISIS in the vacuum caused by the withering away of the secular though autocratic Baath Party.

The US-sponsored Arab Spring ended Hosni Mubarak's 'police state' but propelled the Islamic brotherhood to power. General Fateh Al Sisi has restored Egypt's secular polity in the great military tradition of backing secularism in the Islamic world, but US efforts to keep the Talibans out with a parachuted liberal like Ashraf Ghani failed miserably because Washington's regional favourite - Pakistan's military - played both sides -- supporting NATO forces with logistics and selective intelligence while backing the Talibans.

The US failures in fighting asymmetric campaigns across the world failed despite its overwhelming military power, because its deep state and military-industrial complex suffered from the: cowboy mindset' with overwhelming emphasis on force and confused approach to politics.

In the Islamic world, the US has always floundered because it has often found value in radicals/ mullahs for immediate tactical gains, but then seen them emerge as huge long-term threats.

Osama Bin Laden's saga comes to mind but is too well known to be recounted in detail.

Fearing that the US was about to repeat its historical mistake in Bangladesh which India could ill afford for an awful long list of reasons, Pranab Mukherjee ( later President) fought a long verbal duel with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during the unfolding of the 1/11 Minus Two saga, reminding her that Islamic radicals in Bangladesh have to be fought by 'homegrown secular forces ' rather than US Marines or some propped up pot-bellied Bengali general.

Mukherjee prevailed and Bangladesh got a free and fair poll that brought back the Awami League to power. The late president has recounted this graphically in his memoirs "The Coalition Years".

Now the US is back to its old mischief of regime change using a mix of 'civil society' figures, Trojan horses inside the national power structure ranging from bureaucracy to political parties to military, and media assets.

The trouble is the US deep state rarely conjures up new innovative operational plans -- rather they prefer sticking to an accepted template.

In the case of Bangladesh, the US deep state and its cohorts in the policy establishment are following the 2013 Euromaidan model that worked so well in Ukraine. In fact, many from the Euromaidan team are handling the Bangladesh regime change operations. Now what works in Ukraine may not work in Bangladesh. But the Knight charlatans in Washington and Langley often miss out on regional peculiarities.

The latest US human rights report is part of the regime operations in Bangladesh. It seeks to boost the radical outfit Jamaat-e-Islami at a time when it has unleashed a hate campaign against the Ahmediyyas.

“Leaders and members of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat), the largest Muslim political party in the country, could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement authorities. Jamaat was deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name,” observes the human rights reports on Bangladesh.

Ironically, the state department is not in keeping with the issues that the Ahmediyya community raised with US Bangladesh Ambassador Peter Haas about the fundamentalist pro-Pakistan party running a boycott Ahmediyya campaign and pressing the government to declare them as “Unislamic”.

According to a press release issued by the Ahmediyya community, Ambassdor Haas, during his courtesy call to some of their leaders was told about "the serious concerns over the Jamaat-sponsored hate campaign and the highly communal statement from BNP’s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir calling the attempt to hold the Ahmediyya rally controversial .

Days after the attack, Jamaat acting Secretary General Maulana ATM Masum issued a statement on March 5, asking the government to officially declare the Ahmadiyya community “non-Muslim”.

Moreover, an ardent Jamaat-backed Twitter handle named Basherkella posted a series of tweets asking people to boycott Ahmediyya, in clear evidence of a vicious hate campaign by the minority community.

The US human rights report also projects controversial rights body Odhikar as an “independent body”, oblivious to the fact that its founder Adilur Rahman Khan Shuvro was a deputy attorney general during the BNP-JAMAAT coalition government (2001-06).

'Odhikar' has been the moving force behind human rights data faking like blowing up the casualty figures during the 2013 police crackdown on ardent hardliners from Hefazat-e-Islam, then joined by opposition parties including Jamaat who even vowed to siege the capital to bring in Sariah Law, which was exposed by national media.

The UN ended up with eggs on its face when its reports contained names of hail-and-hearty Indian insurgents in the Bangladesh country report on Enforced disappearances -- again based on data fed by Odhikar and its fraternal organisations.

Moreover, the US report seems to quote frequently about Jamaat’s key ally, Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP), claims centering shrinking freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but ignores the party’s series of attacks on the country’s press and role in instigating communal violence.

This has provoked sharp reactions from Awami League leaders and their concerns are valid. But what top civil society personality Sultana Kamal has approached will hopefully compel Washington into some kind of introspection.

She said in an interview and I quote:

"This report concerns the Jamat- e-Islami (Jamaat) Bangladesh, a political party which has a proven record of collaborating with the Pakistani Military Junta in 1971 in the acts of Genocide, abduction, loot, arson, rape and other kinds of violence against women.

It is an established fact that its military wings in the name of Al-Badar and Al-Shams were responsible for the intellectual killings between December 10 and 14. With due respect, I would like to submit that scanning through the media, Pakistani government communications and international reports on the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, one can not miss seeing what the role of Jamaat was during the nine months of massacre of Bangladesh from March to December.

It was through a process of law that Jamaat was de- registered. As a freedom fighter, I would like to also ask whether the Nazi party be allowed to function in Germany?

I have no idea on what basis the report states the war crimes trial in Bangladesh was flawed. Since I have not seen any clear explanation as to why some quarters make such remark about the war crimes trial, I prefer not to comment. However, my experience with the tribunal was that the accused's right to self defence was fully respected."

Now if the US wants us to believe Zillur Rahman’s Center for Governance Studies is a more credible institution than those helmed by Sultana Kamal, they are making a vain effort. We know how the ISI funded his so-called glorified interview of war criminals, along with the self-confessed killer of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with one reportedly recorded in Pakistan, and how they then passed him on to the Chinese who took care of his TV show. Now the US finds value in him because he is agreeable, like a few others, to play a role in facilitating regime change in Bangladesh.

"The US agenda of demeaning the Hasina government is so preponderant that it goes all out to support a dangerous group like Jamaat which not only joined the Pakistani army in 1971 in perpetrating horrible atrocities. They nearly killed me in 2001 because my liberal views were unacceptable to Jamaat," former actress-playwright and minister Tarana Halim told a media outlet recently.

Halim, now Central Executive Member of the Awami League, said the West pitches for women's rights and human rights and then in the same breath upholds a group like Jamaat-e-Islami which is determined to impose Shariat law and curb gender rights in Bangladesh.

"The Western hypocrisy is so palpable and annoying. How can they get away with this," Awami League women leader Shahanaz Parvin Dolly told Bangladesh media.

A joint secretary at the Jubo Mohila League until the recent reorganisation of party committees, Dolly said the West talks of reconciliation in Bangladesh.

"That is impossible. How can we accommodate Jamaat-e-Islami, which opposed our freedom struggle and sided with Pakistan's occupation army to commit horrible brutalities on our people, especially against our women? As a Bengali woman, I will never accept their attempt to curb women's rights. We can't allow our country to be another Afghanistan," said Dolly.

According to the country’s eminent rights activists, the BNP’s top leadership, Tarique Rahman was convicted in cases of money laundering and holding a strong nexus with proscribed terror outfits during their rule in power back in 2001 to 2006. Tarique is now leading a fugitive life in London, who left the country having submitted an undertaking.

Under the rule of Tarique Rahman, Bangladesh became a hot bed for transnational terrorists while militants enjoyed a free reign with the highest state patronage, while a nefarious attempt known as the 21st grenade attack was executed in collusion with radicals that then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina has narrowly escaped.

Moreover, the absence of BNP’s threat of replication of the 1975-style assassination, calling out rights activists as AL sympathisers, and warning of capturing state power through violence — all that made the report ring hollow, according to experts.

So, from overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in the 1950s to using hardcore Islamists to fight the Afghan Jihad to backing the most regressive regimes of Saudi Arabia, the US has always found radical forces as ready-to-use material for regime change operations to defeat progressive forces in the Islamic world.

For Washington during the Cold War, Arab or Persian nationalists like Gamal Nasser, Saddam Hussein or Mossadegh were the principal enemy. On occasions, the script has gone wrong for Washington when volcanic events like the Islamic revolution unfolded in Iran in 1979 or when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996.

Those like us who covered the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War closely and the events that followed find a continuity in US policy – first in backing the bloodthirsty Pakistan army and followed by Washington's covert backing to the brutal 1975 coup. For the Nixon-Kissinger duo, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – the founding father of the nation – was a "Soviet-Indian proxy". So Washington's dislike for Arab nationalists like Nasser easily translated into distrust of Bangali nationalists like Mujib and Sheikh Hasina.

So this ardent US defence of Jamaat in the State Department report proves a striking continuity in American policy of backing pro-Pakistan forces in Bangladesh. The US always had problems with passionate nationalists like Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Gamal Nasser. Regressive regimes like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan have always fitted Washington's bill by being too willing to play by Western strategic interests.

Not to mention a slew of earlier reports by the country’s leading outlets that laid bare how Jamaat's former money man Mir Quasem Ali schemed to foil the war crimes trial with a $25 million deal with one of the most influential US lobby firms, Cassidy & Associates, for engaging with the US government and the Bangladesh government "to protect his interest".

Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a veteran columnist and author of "Midnight Massacre" on the 1975 Bangladesh coup. As chief correspondent of Anandabazar Patrika, he reported on the Liberation War by gathering information from freedom fighters in Bangladesh.

Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a veteran columnist and author of "Midnight Massacre" on the 1975 Bangladesh coup. As chief correspondent of Anandabazar Patrika, he reported on the Liberation War by gathering information from freedom fighters in Bangladesh.

Source: IndiaToday


World Inside

US Citizen Dr. Love's Letter to Senator in Favor of truth

Publish: 07:27 PM, 06 Sep, 2023


In a compelling letter addressed to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, American citizen Dr. Richard R. Love has made an urgent appeal for the United States to adopt a neutral stance regarding recent events in Bangladeshi politics. Despite his American citizenship, Dr. Love's heartfelt letter emphasizes the need for truth and impartiality in addressing the complex political landscape of Bangladesh.

Dr. Love, who has been actively involved in Bangladesh since 2007, initially engaged in breast cancer research projects before shifting his focus towards establishing a new medical center in the remote village of Rampal. His work there centers on primary care and addressing noncommunicable diseases in a region grappling with extreme poverty and climate change challenges.

The backdrop of Dr. Love's plea to Senator Baldwin is marred by personal experiences witnessing the political turmoil in Bangladesh. He recalls chilling incidents, such as the 2009 murders of the Director General of the Border Guards Bangladesh and 55 of his associates, as well as encounters with violence, including a Bangladesh National Party (BNP) mob attack on police officers.

Dr. Love's letter underscores the deep-rooted political struggles, war crime trials, and street violence in Bangladesh, which he argues are partly rooted in the nation's tumultuous founding liberation. He points out that the United States played a role in this history, as documented in Gary Bass' book "The Blood Telegram," which details American foreign policy actions during the West Pakistan-East Pakistan war that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

The crux of Dr. Love's letter revolves around two key issues. First, he criticizes a recent New York Times article titled "Quietly crushing a democracy: Millions on trial in Bangladesh," describing it as biased and one-sided. He argues that it fails to consider the historical context and the violence-promoting tendencies of the BNP, which has been a home for anti-democratic voices. Dr. Love believes it is inexcusable to overlook BNP corruption and violence against the Awami League, including assassination attempts on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Secondly, Dr. Love addresses the international campaign by Muhammad Yunus, protesting "harassment" on tax evasion charges. He believes that the charges against Yunus are substantial and advocates for U.S. neutrality in this matter.

In his letter, Dr. Love calls for a non-involvement approach and urges the U.S. to adopt a neutral stance on both issues. He expresses a desire to hear promptly from Senator Baldwin regarding the specific actions taken to share these perspectives with President Biden and Secretary Blinken.

Dr. Love's letter serves as a reminder that, despite being an American citizen, he remains deeply engaged and concerned about the truth and neutrality in the ongoing political dynamics of Bangladesh. His plea underscores the importance of impartiality in addressing complex international issues.


World Inside

'Perceptions of Bangladesh in the US and the Jamaat-e-Islami problem'

Publish: 11:56 AM, 15 Aug, 2023


On 16th of August (Wednesday) at 3 PM, the Observe Research Foundation (ORF) is organizing a discussion session titled ' Perceptions of Bangladesh in the US and the Jamaat-e-Islami problem'.

This event will delve into various questions that have arisen recently regarding the revival of some aspects of the Islamic movement in Bangladesh and the state of Dhaka's relationship with the United States, particularly in the context of the upcoming 2024 elections. The entire assembly will be moderated by Kabir Taneja, an associate of ORF.

Bangladesh holds significant importance in South Asian geopolitics, economics, and security. This event, conducted in collaboration with Mr. Clifford Smith, will shed light on regional and international perspectives of Bangladesh's politics and how these developments are perceived by American observers.

The speakers for the event will be Clifford Smith (Director of Washington Project, Middle East Forum, United States) and Kabir Taneja (Associate, ORF).


World Inside

China Rejects US Proposal for Defense Chiefs' Meeting in Singapore Amid Strained Relations

Publish: 12:53 PM, 31 May, 2023


China has rejected a proposal from the United States for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue Security Forum in Singapore this week, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

The refusal comes at a time of strained relations between the two countries, exacerbated by various incidents, including Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last August and the US shooting down a Chinese spy balloon in February.

In its statement, the Pentagon acknowledged that China had declined an invitation for a meeting in early May but affirmed that the US remains committed to seeking open lines of communication with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon Press Secretary, expressed concern over China's reluctance to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions but emphasized that it would not deter the US from pursuing improved communication channels.

China's Defense Ministry, on the other hand, stated that it attaches importance to developing US-China military relations but blamed Washington for hindering communication. Spokesperson Tan Kefei placed responsibility for the current difficulties on the US side, claiming that while the US claims to want stronger communication, it disregards China's concerns and creates obstacles that undermine mutual trust between the two militaries.

The Chinese Embassy in the US issued a separate statement questioning the sincerity and significance of the invitation. It pointed to US sanctions imposed on Chinese officials, institutions, and companies, urging the US to lift what it deemed "illegal unilateral sanctions" to create favorable conditions for dialogue. The statement did not specifically mention the sanctions against Li imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 over China's purchase of Russian weapons.

The Wall Street Journal first reported China's rejection of the proposed meeting between the defense chiefs. Defense Secretary Austin had previously stated in an interview with CNN that he had not spoken to his Chinese counterpart in months, while China has consistently rebuffed requests for meetings and phone calls from US officials.

A defense official noted that this was not the first time China had rejected invitations to communicate, citing numerous instances where the Chinese side declined or failed to respond to requests for engagements. However, China's Defense Ministry refuted this characterization, asserting that there has been no interruption in contacts and exchanges between the two militaries.

The strained relations between China and the US continue to present challenges in establishing effective communication and cooperation, with both sides trading blame for the current difficulties.


World Inside

Gujarat ATS arrests 4 Bangladesh nationals, says al-Qaeda module busted

Publish: 09:06 PM, 23 May, 2023


Four Bangladesh nationals have been arrested in Gujarat on charges that they illegally entered the country and were trying to radicalise local youth in Ahmedabad and collecting money, according to a statement by Gujarat’s anti-terrorist squad (ATS) on Monday.

The four were part of a local al-Qaeda module trained by their handlers in Bangladesh, the statement issued by deputy inspector general (DIG) Gujarat ATS, Deepan Bhadran said

The four persons were identified by the police as Mohammad Sojib, Munna Khalid Ansari, Azharul Islam Ansari, and Mominul Ansari.

“Based on the received intelligence, four illegal Bangladeshi immigrants involved in recruiting for ‘al-Qaeda’ were arrested,” said Bhadran.

He added that the police first picked Sojib, who earlier lived in Ahmedabad’s Rakhial area, for questioning.

“Sojib revealed that he and three other individuals are associated with al-Qaeda’s network and were receiving instructions from their handler based in Bangladesh, identified as Shariful Islam. Through Islam, these youths came into contact with Shayba, who is reportedly heading al-Qaeda’s operations in Mymensingh district, Bangladesh.”

According to the ATS, the suspects were trying to radicalise people in Gujarat and were also transferring funds to Bangladesh. The ATS did not, however, indicate how much money had been transferred.

“Gujarat ATS received information about four Bangladeshi nationals residing illegally in Ahmedabad’s Odhav and Narol areas, using duplicate IDs. They are associated with al-Qaeda and have been motivating Muslim residents of the city to join the militant organization, as well as collecting funds for al-Qaeda.”

ATS said fake identity documents and literature produced by the terror group’s media wing were seized at the instance of the four suspects.

ATS said the focus of its inquiry was to identify individuals who facilitated their border crossing, ascertain methods to raise funds, identify local contacts, and individuals who may have been influenced by them.


World Inside


Publish: 08:00 AM, 27 Apr, 2023


Last weekend the New York Times published a report that President Biden has been missing in action in recent months when it comes to serious question-and-answer sessions with the Washington press corps. The obvious reason for the lack of press conferences is “to protect” the president from unscripted exchanges that often result in missteps and confusion.

Had I been writing the piece, I might have added that the president is intent on not blurting out an unwanted truth. And he is not alone in avoiding the press. The fact is that Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have similarly disappeared in recent months when it comes to give-and-take sessions with the White House press corps. 

In their place we now have John Kirby, a retired admiral who is a nice enough guy. He was a press guru at the Pentagon a decade or so ago when I was writing lots of tough stuff on national security issues, usually with no named sources, for the New Yorker. He made no pretenses then about being a policy maker, and he is no different now. Yet it was Kirby who was left to take a battering from a miffed press corps press earlier this month when the administration released a blame-anybody-but-us policy paper—distributed on just a few moments notice—dealing with the flawed US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The senior officials who should have been explaining that policy were Blinken and Sullivan—and perhaps even the president. In my view, his decision to pull the American military out was a high point of his diplomacy since taking office. It was bad luck that a terrorist bomb killed thirteen US soldiers and at least sixty Afghans, eviscerating all that was good in America’s change of policy. Yes, mistakes were made—the rush to get American troops out of harm’s way led to the disastrous early shutting of the vital Bagram airbase—but Biden did what he is being paid to do: he made a tough decision. He has yet to do so about Ukraine, or China, or the recent perhaps game-changing developments in Israel. And he has not addressed the fact that under his administration signs have emerged that America may no longer be the dominant global power in foreign policy, international trade, and general esteem. At some point, if Biden wants to be re-elected, he will have to face a press corps that will ask the questions about subjects—such as his current low standing in the polls—that now seem to be taboo.

All of which brings me to tell you what I know about going with the second string in dealing with the media. I was definitely below the cut line during my five months as press secretary and sometime speech writer for Senator Eugene McCarthy, a liberal Democrat from Minnesota who decided in late 1967 to challenge fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson for the presidential nomination the next year. McCarthy had spent a decade in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1958, and was far from a flame thrower when it came to the Vietnam War. Nonetheless, he decided to do what Senator Robert Kennedy, the all but inevitable heir to the throne, chose not to do in late 1967: take on an unpopular sitting president.

I was not a political junkie and knew nothing about McCarthy, a two-term senator whose contempt for the war turned out, to my surprise, to be extreme. But I did know that the antiwar Democrats were desperate to find someone credible to challenge Johnson and get him out of office. Not likely, so I thought. In mid-December a neighbor of mine named Mary McGrory, then the must-read columnist of the Washington Star, a long gone daily, came over for a martini, which she often did, and told me I needed to be McCarthy’s press secretary. Mary was a fixture in Washington’s Irish mafia and since she had given up on Bobby making the run she decided it was up to Gene to do it. The ambivalent McCarthy, she said, was willing to take a flyer, but he needed help, lots of it. And I needed to be his press secretary and write his speeches.

I hated politics and all the compromising involved, but I had resigned from the Associated Press’s Washington bureau earlier that summer and just finished a book—any money coming from it was months away—and I was anxious about being just another freelance, and thus broke, Washington journalist. So it was arranged—the next day, if I recall it right—for me to sit down with the senator and see if it could work. I had gotten to know three or four senators since I hit Washington two years earlier, and I liked their quickness and willingness to work. At his office, I got the immediate sense that the Minnesotans working there were hostile to the notion of a separate campaign office that would include none of them. McCarthy himself was a handsome man who’d been a varsity athlete in college and looked fit. He was totally diffident toward me, just as he was about the idea of challenging a fellow Democrat who happened to be in the White House. I gave him a sheaf of magazine stuff I’d written—slim pickings to be sure—and he glanced at the pieces, looked over the young punk in front of him, and said, “I guess you’ll do.” I don't think our meet and greet took more than ten minutes.

I called McGrory up and told her she’d thrown me to the wolves. Stick it out, she said. Gene was giving a speech the next night in New York City to an anti-Johnson Democrat group. She said it could lead to some serious campaign money, and I should go listen. I did, and I heard the senator, who I thought had been disdainful of the antiwar movement, give a forceful and compelling denouncement of the Vietnam War as immoral and take a step further by accusing Johnson of violating his oath of office. I’d been obsessed about the war for years—it wasn’t an accident that I would pursue a tip two years later and find the story of the My Lai massacre—and I had never heard a national politician describe Vietnam as the moral horror it clearly was, let alone suggest that Johnson was denigrating his office. 

And so I decided to give it a shot. A McCarthy campaign press office had been set up in downtown Washington and I was suddenly in charge of it. The young anti-war woman running it seemed terrific, and she became my deputy. I needed one quickly because the senator and I were to fly to Los Angeles the next day, and I was going to be his batman for the trip. I spent the rest of the day and much of the night going through my collection of antiwar tomes by authors such as Bernard Fall, then the leading expert on Vietnam and the war, and various publications by church groups that had been tracking the murderous war since the first American troops arrived. I put together a collection of 40 pages of homework and gave it to McCarthy.

He brought his poetry to read on the trip—he was passionate about it—and wasn’t interested in his first class seatmate. But one of the articles was about the trial of five antiwar activists, including Dr Benjamin Spock, America’s favorite pediatrician, accused of aiding and abetting draft dodgers. McCarthy, who had four children, was interested. When we hit Los Angeles, the senator did a fund raiser or two with the Hollywood crowd, but the big event for him was a long-scheduled speech at an end-the-war rally at UCLA. It was a big audience—maybe seven or eight thousand in all—and during the Q&A session he was asked about the Spock trial. I learned about the genius of the senator as I listened to him put what he had casually read on the plane into a strident and accurate defense of what Spock and his colleagues had done. He was with them, he said to a roar of applause.

Most important, as we learned the next morning, the senator’s defense of Spock and his co-defendants made national news, and I had helped him do so. It was the high point of my tour as a press secretary. Not being house-trained in public relations, I broke every taboo of the trade. 

A few days after returning from Los Angeles I got a telephone call from the candidate’s wife, Abigail, who told me to minimize any public emphasis on the family’s Catholicism, which she thought would be a disadvantage in southern New Hampshire. I told her I worked for her husband and not for her. I learned quickly that Gene was deeply religious and had spent time in a seminary after college but had moved back to the secular world after less than a year of seclusion. His faith was his own business, and no one else’s, and to pretend he wasn’t a Catholic was loony. Big mistake. I did not know about “pillow talk,” the political phrase for the power of a candidate’s wife. I had made her a pillow talk enemy by my second week on the job.

I was later exposed to the power of pillow talk in 1981. Ronald Reagan had won the presidency and I was two years into a long book on Henry Kissinger. Reagan’s national security adviser was Richard Allen, an arms control expert who worked for Kissinger in the early Nixon Administration days and was unafraid to tell me things I needed to know. Allen was most puckish and he and I sometimes exchanged stupid and smutty jokes when he was in the White House. Reagan adored this sort of thing, Allen told me, and one afternoon after I came up with a a good one over the phone, Allen said, “The President would love this one,” and he asked me to hang on. I listened as Allen then called the Secret Service agent on duty outside Reagan’s office and asked, “Is she there?” She being First Lady Nancy Reagan. The agent said yes and Dick told me he’d deliver my joke when she was not around—not a good move. Allen would not last many more months as national security adviser. But he did tell one story worth repeating. It was known that Reagan did not want to be awakened even if the National Security Agency came up with a hot intercept marked “Critic”—the designation meant the message had to be on the president’s desk within minutes. One very early morning Allen was informed that the Israeli air force had successfully attacked and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. This was something that had to be shared with Reagan. He called the special telephone, and the president answered, listened carefully to the message, and after a long pause said, “Well, Dick, boys will be boys,” and went back to bed. (Dick told the story in different ways over the years, but the punchline has remained intact.)

I thought my job was getting reporters to interview McCarthy and generate publicity and perhaps a few more contributions to the campaign, which needed money badly. Nope. McCarthy was not a fan of the Washington press corps, especially because he was treated as an oddity by reporters. I constantly urged and begged him to do more interviews, and he—this was two months into the New Hampshire campaign—accused me of planting reporters in the back seat and trunk of every car he was riding in. “The reporters love you,” he said to me again and again, “but they’re supposed to love me.” As McCarthy was gaining traction among moderate Republicans and the working class in New Hampshire, Ward Just, a wonderful reporter for the Washington Post (and later a prolific novelist), fresh from a long stint in Vietnam, called me to say he wanted to come up to New Hampshire to see firsthand how an avowedly anti-Vietnam War candidate was doing. I told the senator about Ward’s plan and, to my surprise, he made a face and said, in essence, No way. Why not? He gave me a sharp look and said, “Don’t you remember what Ward wrote about me in Newsweek?’ I had to call the Newsweek offices in Washington to find the quote: Ward had written a small gossipy item six years earlier about McCarthy in a section of the magazine called Periscope that was filled with little oddities, and he depicted Gene as walking like a priest. The senator kept on asking me for days if knew how a priest walked. Ward came, of course, and McCarthy spent time with him, but he resented every minute of it. 

Most important in my demise were my constant attempts in the speeches I occasionally drafted—the campaign had hired someone much more gifted in the role—to get the candidate to include a call for a guaranteed annual income of $12,000 for every American in need. My staff had been pushing me to get the senator on board, but the operatives running the campaign, most of whom were already measuring their White House offices, thought the idea was political suicide. I finally got McCarthy to sign off on the proposal, and it was included in a speech he was to give in early March, when the polls were showing that President Johnson, who had hesitated about running in New Hampshire and was a write-in candidate, was not going to win big, if he won at all.

By this late date—the primary was on March 12—McCarthy’s surge was a great political story and my office was responsible for chartering a commercial jet and billing the reporters on each leg as the candidate gave speeches to constantly growing crowds. The job was getting less and less fun for me, because with success came more reporters and more demands for unwanted interviews, and less access to the man himself for me. But the final draft of the speech included the call for a guaranteed annual income and the press release I wrote for the forty or so journalists that were following the campaign and traveling with us emphasized it. Some of the old-timers asked me again and again whether the senator was really going to do it. The speech was going to begin late and the reporters for morning newspapers and the wires had to file early to make the first edition. I assured them all that the commitment was in.

But McCarthy dropped the commitment when he delivered the speech. I was off stage and as the senator went by he asked me, “Whatcha think?” I said D-minus. Wrong answer, as he and I knew. At the bar that night, two or three of Gene’s old pals told me they had been upstairs in the hotel having a drink with Gene and some of his wife’s money boys and I was doomed. And so I was. 

I hung in past the primary, in which McCarthy came within a few points of the president, who then announced that he would not run for re-election. That would bring Bobby Kennedy into the race, and surely undercut the McCarthy campaign. I had done the best I could, but I was never inside the decision-making process of the campaign, just as John Kirby and others in the press operation in the White House will never be, either.

To pretend that President Biden is focused on trying to reach the American people by different means, and not avoiding the give-and-take of a news conference open to all, as a White House aide told the New York Times, is just horseshit.