A stirring account of where American Middle East policy has gone wrong.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Rohde (Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, 1997, etc.), a Reuters and Atlantic Monthly columnist, has covered the Middle East for more than a decade and survived as a Taliban hostage for seven months. His experience informs this impassioned discussion of the need to rebuild shriveled and atrophied institutions of foreign policy and diplomacy. Detailing the slashing of the State Department's budget and personnel, Rohde argues that the country has things upside down, with contractors and the military replacing diplomats. The author discusses the different ways in which this reversal came about. In Afghanistan, Rohde compares previous strategies—e.g., during the Cold War—with current strategies led by private contractors like Chemonics and DynCorp. He writes that contractor-based policies are “a symptom of the decay in American civil institutions,” and he draws from the most recent Iraq war to show how policing and training of police ended up in private hands. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, profit-driven contractors grew stronger in the vacuum left by crumbling civilian institutions. In the aftermath of President Barack Obama's watershed 2009 Cairo speech on Islam and the Middle East, one investigation, conducted one year later, found that nothing had been done to transform the president’s promises and initiatives into institutionalized commitments. Failures of this sort, Rohde insists, undermined the way the United States was able to address the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia. Potentials for transformation are not developed consistently, and the field is left to Islamic radicals.
A clarion call for change and more—not less—engagement with Islam.