Vali Nasr — dean of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins, a Middle East specialist and an acolyte of Richard Holbrooke — has always believed that the Middle East is the center of the world. He recently discovered to his dismay that the White House rather than the State Department generally decides foreign policy, that domestic politics often influence foreign affairs. Too bad he never spoke to some former secretaries of state, such as Warren Christopher or Colin Powell, before he entered government service as a senior adviser to Holbrooke. Indeed, it’s surprising that Holbrooke, who had been frustrated by White House interference when he served in the administration of Jimmy Carter, did not prepare him.
Nasr’s new book, “The Dispensable Nation,” argues that meddling by the Obama White House in foreign affairs has severely damaged American interests abroad. Nasr’s focus on the Middle East is so sharp that he decries the American “pivot” to East Asia and contends that the outcome of the contest between the United States and China will be determined ultimately in West Asia (read Middle East). Usually supportive of the efforts of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nasr finds intolerable her suggestion that the Asia-Pacific has replaced the Middle East as the world’s most important region for the future of American interests.
(Random House) - ’The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat’ by Vali Nasr
On the other hand, he gives new credence to the China threat. He sees U.S. policies pushing Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan into China’s orbit, creating opportunities for Beijing to promote illiberal institutions in those countries. And yet he endorses the be-nice approaches toward China trumpeted by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. His understanding of China, Chinese foreign policy and American policy toward China is clearly limited.
Nasr argues that President Obama’s policies, especially toward Afghanistan and Iran, are not based on strategic considerations but rather are designed to satisfy public opinion. Although his case against White House intrusions into policymaking is persuasive, Nasr’s inability to perceive any justification for such interventions is disturbing. He appears to have no grasp of the importance of domestic politics to foreign policy decision-making in a democracy.
Nasr’s critique of Obama’s management of Middle Eastern affairs is unquestionably valid. He contends that the hasty departure from Iraq unleashed chaos in the region and that the current plan to withdraw from Afghanistan is an abandonment that will leave American goals unmet. A more gradual departure from Iraq and a demand for political settlements in Syria and Bahrain, he suspects, might have stopped the sectarian violence in the region. He is appalled constantly by the White House’s apparent indifference to diplomacy, especially when Holbrooke was involved. Obama, he insists, should have listened to Holbrooke but instead ignored him and gave him minimal support and insufficient authority. Nasr argues that only Clinton’s tenacity and the respect she commanded retained any influence for State. As he puts it, “When things seemed to be falling apart, the administration finally turned to Hillary because they knew she was the only person who could save the situation.”