December 6, 2019: The first time Steve Cohen came into the lives of the Schaffer family was when he turned up in New Delhi as a grad student some time in the early/mid 1960s. My late husband, Howard Schaffer, was a young political officer at the U.S. Embassy; Steve was on his way to becoming one of the pioneers among the U.S. academics specializing in the region. What both men remembered was that it was freezing cold. Steve curled up in a blanket in Howard’s apartment to keep warm.
There followed a friendship that lasted over half a century, and two careers – eventually three, when Howard and I married – that wove back and forth. Steve spent most of his career as a professor. He also served in the State Department’s Policy Planning Council during the 1980s, when Howard was U.S. Ambassador in Bangladesh, and we had the opportunity to receive him in Dhaka. A decade later – by some quirk of fate, when I was U.S. Ambassador in Sri Lanka – Steve was taking an “excursion tour” in the Ford Foundation’s office in Delhi. By this time, Steve was recognized as the most authoritative American scholar on the Indian and Pakistani armies.
Another decade went by. Howard and I had both retired from government service, and Steve turned up in Washington. This time, it was my career that was intertwined with his. We were both in the think tank world, he at Brookings and I at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He and I were both trying to get our minds around the likely trajectories of India and Pakistan. When I became professionally homeless after leaving CSIS, Steve made a path for me into a non-resident fellowship at Brookings. The books Steve wrote after 2000 focused on the India-Pakistan dynamic, on the diverging characters of the two countries, and still, importantly on the security sector. He left behind a remarkable collection of books on India and Pakistan – books that any serious student of the region must read.
What didn’t usually make it into print, however, was the wry humor that made us love him. Soon after he moved to Washington, he commented that “my kids call this town a work-free drug-place.” An occasional tongue-in-cheek made it into the titles of his books: his last book on the Indian military was called Arming without Aiming.
Steve was a faithful friend. His academic friends, the Indian and Pakistani military officers he had come to know in writing his books, the Indian and Pakistani scholars who had joined forces with him in probing the dynamics of their countries’ ties, the Foreign Service people whose paths had crossed with his, all remained close to him until the end. He was generous with his time and his ideas. Howard’s and my books on India and Pakistan benefited greatly by his comments.
His wife Bobby was his strength – and he was hers. Their move out of Washington to North Carolina about a year ago was a wrenching disruption in their lives, but also brought them close to children who were there to ease the burdens.
The Twitterverse and Facebook have lit up since his death with praise and sorrow at his passing. His intellectual contribution lives on – and I have faith that his humor will too.