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.”
Nasr’s discussion of relations with Pakistan, much of which he observed first-hand, is superb. Holbrooke, he notes, thought American interests in Afghanistan were important but deemed our interests in Pakistan vital. Nasr reminds us that the powerful Pakistani military was always focused on India and had supported the Taliban to check Indian influence in Afghanistan. Obama’s advisers understood this and realized that the Pakistani strategic calculus would have to change before the war in Afghanistan could be ended on acceptable terms. But Nasr claims that the White House — and especially national security adviser Tom Donilon — undermined Holbrooke. Policy toward Pakistan was dominated by the Pentagon and the intelligence community — and with Holbrooke’s death, failed completely. Nasr contends that the United States now treats Pakistan as an adversary rather than as a friend, applying pressure in place of diplomatic engagement — to the benefit of China.