Kirkus Star


American Foreign Policy in Retreat
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The dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies pens an insider account of the Obama administration’s diplomatic fecklessness in the greater Middle East.

Drawing from his decades of scholarship and specifically from his two-year tenure as senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special adviser to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nasr (Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World, 2009, etc.) accuses the Obama White House of lacking any strategic vision for the Middle East and abandoning diplomacy and economic engagement in favor of shortsighted, tactical maneuvers driven by domestic politics and opinion polls. He charges the administration with preferring the advice of the military and intelligence agencies over its own foreign policy experts, a misguided approach that has bewildered our friends in the region and needlessly antagonized our enemies. He fleshes out his indictment with chapters devoted to Afghanistan, where talks with the Taliban were never seriously considered; Pakistan, where we failed to develop any strategy to end that country’s double-dealing; Iran, where sanctions and blustering war talk bid fair to turn that nation into a version of North Korea; and Iraq, where our withdrawal has done little to lessen sectarian animosities that threaten to reignite. Nasr blasts the administration’s failure to capitalize on the genuine opportunity offered by the Arab Spring, where we’ve cheered from the sidelines the fall of dictators with no real plan to help assure that what follows will be an improvement. The author insists he’s writing more in sorrow than in anger, fearful that this broadside will be employed as a “political bludgeon,” but it’s likely that critics—and, perhaps, especially supporters who expected the wielding of “smart power” under Obama—will happily seize on this picture of a foreign policy in disarray.

An informed, smoothly argued brief that will surely rattle windows at the White House.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-53647-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2013


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