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The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat Paperback – January 14, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


“A brave book. . . . Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy. . . . The Dispensable Nation constitutes important reading. . . . It nails the drift away from the art of diplomacy—with its painful give-and-take—toward a U.S. foreign policy driven by the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and short-term political calculus. It holds the president to account for his zigzags from Kabul to Jerusalem. . . . Its core message is: Diplomacy is tough and carries a price, but the price is higher when it is abandoned.”
The New York Times
“An original, powerful, and provocative critique of American foreign policy under President Obama.”
—George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq
“Nasr delivers a sharp, sober, fast-paced and absolutely riveting critique of President Obama’s policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan.”
—Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution and author of The World America Made
“An indispensable book. Taking us into the secretive world of high-level American foreign policy, Vali Nasr shares astounding, previously unrevealed details about the Obama administration’s dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Nasr doesn’t just spill secrets—he also charts a path forward, advancing an insightful prescription for how the United States can regain its lost influence. This provocative story is a must-read for anyone who cares about America’s role in the world.”
—Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Little America and Imperial Life in the Emerald City

“A pugnacious book. . . . The Dispensable Nation is strongest when Nasr lays into the Obama administration’s policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, three countries he knows exceptionally well, and on which he worked day-to-day at the State Department.”
The New York Review of Books

“Vali Nasr was in the room during key moments of the Obama administration’s first two years as it faced some of its most important foreign policy challenges. His portrayal of strategic confusion inside Obama’s White House is devastating and persuasive. Nasr writes with the dispassion of one of the United States’ leading experts on the Middle East and South Asia and with the insider knowledge he gained as a senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, the legendary diplomat. Nasr asserts that the Obama White House didn’t really believe in diplomacy in its dealings with the Afghans and Pakistanis and he makes his case with great cogency and clarity in this indispensable book.”
—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad

The Dispensable Nation is an important wake-up call by a thoughtful, astute and deeply knowledgeable scholar and policymaker. Anyone interested in the Middle East, China, or the future of American power should read it immediately and think hard about its message.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ‘66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and former Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State, 2009-2011

“An impressive tour d’horizon which includes a personally frank eulogy to Richard Holbrooke’s failed efforts to shape U.S. policy in Afghanistan, revealing insights into White House vs. State Department collisions over U.S. strategy, and a sweeping review of the escalating geopolitical challenges the U.S. needs to address more intelligently in the Middle East, the Far East, and especially Iran. Gutsy, intriguing, and challenging.”
—Zbigniew Brzezinski

“Vali Nasr is without peer in explaining how and why political order is crumbling across the Middle East, and how and why China may reap the spoils. Along the way, he lays out in never-before-told, granular detail why President Obama’s first term was such a disappointment regarding foreign policy.”
—Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst, Stratfor, and author of The Revenge of Geography

“[A] vivid firsthand account of White House policymaking...Nasr’s shrewd, very readable analyses of byzantine Middle Eastern geo-politics are superb.”
—Publishers Weekly

“An informed, smoothly argued brief that will surely rattle windows at the White House.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

About the Author

Vali Nasr is Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the bestselling author of The Shia Revival and Forces of Fortune. From 2009 to 2011, he served as Senior Advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A Nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributor to Bloomberg View, he lives in Washington, D.C.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345802578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345802576
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vali Nasr is Dean and Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, a non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Contributor to Bloomberg View. He is a member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Advisory Board to advise the Secretary of State on global issues.

Between 2009 and 2011 he served as Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Vali Nasr is one of America's leading experts on the Islamic world and Middle East politics. He is internationally renowned and has influenced critical public debates and policy decisions in both U.S. and Europe. He is the author of the groundbreaking book The Dispensable Nation (2013), which takes a hard look at strategic risk of a shrinking American role on the global stage. His two previous books, the New York Times best seller Shia Revival (2006), and Forces of Fortune (2009) correctly foretold of sectarian conflict following Iraq war and the potential for an Arab Spring. He has advised presidents and senior policy makers, members of the Congress, presidential campaigns, and global political and business leaders. He was featured on the front page of Wall Street Journal; quoted by Senator John Kerry on the floor of the U.S. Senate; and described as a "national resource" by Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Vali Nasr is the author of The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (Doubleday, 2013); Forces of Fortune: The Rise of A New Muslim Middle Class and What It Means for Our World (Free Press, 2009; also published in paperback as The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Middle Class is Key to Defeating Extremism and in U.K. as Meccanomics: The March of the New Muslim Middle Class); The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future (W.W. Norton, 2006); Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Oxford University Press, 2001); Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (Oxford University Press, 1996); The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama`at-i Islami of Pakistan (University of California Press, 1994); an editor of Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2003); and co-editor of Expectation of the Millennium: Shi`ism in History (SUNY Press, 1989); as well as numerous articles in academic journals and encyclopedias. His works have been translated into Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Italian, Turkish, Persian, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu.

He has written for The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Newsweek, Time, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and has provided frequent expert commentary to CNN, BBC, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Frontline, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and has been a guest on the Charlie Rose Show and Meet the Press, Larry King Live, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher. His interviews have appeared in Al-Hayat, Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Jazeera in the Middle East, Der Spiegel and Die Welt in Germany, La Repubblica, La Stampa, and Corriera della Sera in Italy, El Mundo in Spain, and Le Monde in France, as well as in leading media outlets in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Iran, Japan, Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland.

He is a member of Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Board of Trustees of National Democratic Institute; Board of Directors of the Foundation for Iranian Studies; and the Fund Board of the Public Affairs Association of Iranian-Americans (PAAIA). He has been the recipient of grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. He is a Carnegie Scholar for 2006.

He received his BA from Tufts University in International Relations summa cum laude and was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa in 1983. He earned his masters from the Fletcher School of Law in and Diplomacy in international economics and Middle East studies in 1984, and his PhD from MIT in political science in 1991.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Author Nasr begins by recounting meetings he and Richard Holbrooke held with various mid-East leaders - the purpose was to sell Obama's 'doubling down' strategy in Afghanistan before it was announced. All were skeptical at best, and only too quick to reference the mess we'd just made in Iraq. They also predicted the envisioned built-up Afghanistan army would degenerate into a a number of separate militias that would raid the countryside for support after the U.S. and its money pulled out - this had occurred previously with an earlier Russian-backed Afghanistan army after the Russians pulled out. Pakistan had an additional concern - that these new Afghan army segments would create problems for it in the adjoining territory. The overall counsel offered by these leaders - we instead negotiate with the Taliban and leave. Pakistan has also viewed the Afghanistan Taliban as a force that could help keep India out of Afghanistan; another Pakistani concern involved an ongoing disagreement with Afghanistan over their mutual border - Pakistan wanted acceptance of the Durand line. Still another concern - there were more Pastuns in Pakistan (15% of population) than in Afghanistan (40%), the the Pakistani worried over a separate Pashtun nation being created in the manner that Bangladesh had been born.

Later, in late 2011, another series of high-level U.S. diplomatic visits occurred - this time to China where we attempted to enlist China's help stabilizing both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was known that the Chinese were worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan having an influence on political developments in western China, and that China had some significant mining interests in Afghanistan.
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A multi-layered assessment of Obama's Middle East foreign policy from a former State Department insider. Vali Nasr portrays Obama as the prototypical political animal: excelling at speeches and promises, but always with his finger on the pulse of public opinion and using that as a compass to guide his actual policy. Obama appears to have relied mostly on a cabal of white house insiders, holdovers from his political campaign, to direct his foreign policy instead of relying on the sage advice of his State Department specialists, particularly the likes of Richard Holbrooke, whom most of Obama's advisers seemed to have regarded as something of a pariah. (Holbrooke died in 2010). Too bad, since Holbrooke actually seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the Middle East itself, although he struggled to have his voice heard by the President.

Nasr leads us on a tour of the major Middle Eastern players; Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and even China, and then lays out the stakes and the inter-relationships in a nuanced and enlightening display of insight, dire warnings and credible predictions for possible outcomes. China, by the way, enters into the picture by way of our own exit. Obama's policy seems to essentially amount to disengagement from the Middle East, leaving an opening as wide as the Persian Gulf for China to move into and it has wasted no time in doing so.

Not everyone will dissagree with Obama's desire to pack up and leave the Middle East to its own fate. For over ten years now we have spilled blood and treasure without any obvious benefit to our own interests there.
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Wow. Before reading this well written book, I had always assumed that the old saying, "Great minds and fools think alike," was about two separate groups of individuals; now I'm not so sure.

Mr. Nasr is very lucid and states in very clear terms the range of challenges that the Middle East presents to any American presidential administration. He gives the reader an inside-baseball look at the process and pain of deciding on what American policy should be and how it is to be implemented, vis-a-vis the Middle East. Working as the senior advisor to Mr. Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, Vali Nasr was party to the process of decision making/not making that is currently manifest in the region.

This reviewer initially highlighted many passages which validated a "Well, there you go again" view of a presidency less attuned to leading the community of nations than being a community organizer. As an example, "In the cocoon of our public debate Obama gets high marks on foreign policy. That is because his policies' principal aim is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion...he has done more of the things that people want and fewer of the things we have to do that may be unpopular." and, "To our allies, however, our constant tactical maneuvers don't add up to a coherent strategy or a vision of global leadership." Ouch! Painful on several fronts.
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