A Middle East adviser recounts the role of the United States in the region over the past three decades.
Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations, Khalilzad chronicles a long career in international politics. Born in Afghanistan, the author came to America in 1966 as a high school exchange student. Although he first experienced culture shock—he had never seen a shower or an elevator—he quickly acclimated and later leapt at the chance to do graduate work at the University of Chicago. Middle East politics became his field of expertise, and he was pursuing an academic career at Columbia University when the Jimmy Carter administration tapped him to become an adviser on Afghanistan. In 1986, he joined the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under Ronald Reagan. During the George H.W. Bush administration, Khalilzad left government to work at the RAND Corporation, helping to establish a center for Middle East policy studies during his eight-year tenure. Most of this revealing memoir concerns the George W. Bush administration, in which the author worked beginning in May 2001. The author acknowledges the “steep learning curve” facing that administration; no one on the foreign policy team “had a feel for the histories, cultures, and emotions that drove the politics of the broader Muslim world.” Khalilzad portrays Bush and Condoleezza Rice as articulate and thoughtful, but he frequently became frustrated by Donald Rumsfeld and by the power struggles among officials at the Pentagon and State Department. In formulating policy for Afghanistan, which was devastated by the Soviet-Afghan War, Khalilzad advised intervention to rebuild the country’s institutions to prevent its alignment with extremists. “Afghanistan was our first critical test,” he writes, but there, and in Iraq, rivalries, corruption, and a weak sense of civic responsibility, coupled with inconsistent American policy, undermined progress and stability. Critical of Barack Obama, the author advises a strong military presence as the U.S. promotes democratic ideals.
A chronological, straightforward, occasionally disturbing history of the challenges leading to the current morass.