Vali Nasr dissects Obama’s foreign policy failings

Robert E. Hunter writes: Publication this month of Vali Nasr’s The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, could not have been better timed. The US and the NATO allies are in the process of disengaging from Afghanistan — however they choose to describe the process — without first developing clarity about what comes next and how to understand or secure the West’s continuing interests there or in the region. The Syrian civil war continues, seemingly without end and without success so far in the US government to develop a coherent policy or, apparently, efforts to fit that conflagration within developments in the region as a whole. President Obama has just visited the Near East, but there is as yet no promise that serious negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians will begin anytime soon. The standoff with Iran and its nuclear program continues. And there are widespread doubts about the staying-power of US commitments and policies throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia. For some observers, including Nasr, all this leads to serious questioning about the overall conduct of American foreign policy, summarized in his judgment: “retreat.”

The author, now Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, has had a special vantage point. From January 2009 until 2011 Nasr was special advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (who died in December 2010), who was the President’s (and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s) Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan — shortened to the more digestible “AfPak.” It is not too much to say that Dr. Nasr’s brief but intense experience in the US government at a high level was both disappointing and disillusioning — and he was not alone. His principal conclusion, at least as inferred by this reviewer, is that the Obama White House failed to take seriously the diplomatic opportunities that were afforded the US, not just toward AfPak, but in the region overall; that it continued to tolerate an excessive militarization of US policies begun by earlier administrations at the expense of a more integrated approach where diplomatic instruments could play their proper role; that the president himself was long on language — eloquently so — but short on action and in the process failed to come to grips with a number of regional developments; that the best efforts by the State Department, including by Secretary Clinton, to intervene in critical policy-making were too often either rebuffed or ignored; and that the US has failed in its essential leadership role. Indeed, the title of Nasr’s book, Dispensable Nation, is a play on a term first coined by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the effect that the US in the post-Cold War world remains the “indispensable nation.” [Continue reading…]

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