The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat

Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Author
Vali Nasr. Doubleday, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-53647-9
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[D]irectionless” White House strategies jeopardize the nation’s credibility and interests, argues the author in this stinging critique of America’s Middle-East policy. Nasr (The Shia Revival), dean of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies and a former State Department adviser, attacks the Obama administration’s vacillation between militarized counterinsurgency and hasty troop pullouts in Afghanistan, fixation on drone strikes that infuriate allies, and drift towards disengagement with the Middle East. What America needs instead, he argues, is a long-term commitment to diplomacy, economic aid, and rapprochement with regional powers that might yield breakthroughs in settling the Afghanistan conflict, curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and nudging Arab nations towards stability and democracy. Nasr’s vivid firsthand account of White House policymaking depicts a tug-of-war between an insecure President embracing counterproductive hardline policies to avoid looking weak, and far-sighted State Department hands pushing compromise and negotiations. (Richard Holbrooke, Nasr’s boss at the State Department, comes off as a diplomatic genius.) The author’s shrewd, very readable analyses of byzantine Middle Eastern geo-politics are superb, but his main rationale for an intense engagement with the region—America must stay in to keep China out—is underwhelming. Readers may end up feeling that an Obama pullback from the Middle East might not be as misguided as the author thinks. Agent: Susan Rabiner, the Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (Apr. 23)
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