In This Review

The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
By Vali Nasr
Doubleday, 2013, 320 pp

During U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term, Nasr worked for the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke. This book is shaped in equal parts by Nasr’s affection for his former boss and by anger at what Nasr sees as a callow White House staff that treated Holbrooke poorly. Nasr makes a powerful case that U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and the Middle East is muddled and confused. Yet when it comes to alternative policies, he proposes an option that will strike most readers as both utopian and forlorn: a Marshall Plan for the region. The massive cost to the already strapped U.S. federal budget would be the least of the obstacles such an initiative would face. For decades, most U.S. aid to Middle Eastern governments has done more to enrich the politically connected than to improve conditions for the masses. With the region now embroiled in a grim combination of the 1848 revolutions and the Thirty Years’ War, Nasr’s proposal seems fanciful. Perhaps both the White House and Nasr face a common problem: it is hard to develop good strategy when the choices are all bad.