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The Dispensable Nation


JIM MILES | Issue Dated: October 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Obama | The Dispensable Nation | Russian aggression | Putin | William Blum | Stephen Kinzer | Andrew Bacevich |


The Dispensable Nation

Author : Vali Nasr and Knopf Doubleday


ISBN: 78-034580257

Pages: 320

Price:Rs 499

I chose to read this book for two reasons: first, the curiosity of the title by an author of Iranian descent; and secondly because the author, Vali Nasr, has had by his account some significant contact with the US government establishment.

It proved to be an interesting read for the political commentary on his own time inside the establishment and for its additional information concerning how the Obama administration operated during its first years. The information used in the book, the ‘facts’, are inarguable and verifiable, but it is the assessments, implications, and interpretations of the significance of these facts that is typical rhetoric and hubris. The latter range from sadly amusing, to fantasy, to absolute rubbish.

The major irony, intended of course, is that The Dispensable Nation is a ‘hook’ and the obvious tendency of Nasr’s argument is that the US is indeed indispensable. Vali Nasr claims to be a child of the Iranian revolution, although being educated in England before going to the US after 1979. It is fully obvious that he has incorporated the fundamental ideology of the benevolent nation guiding the world into his thought processes regardless of the high militarization of US foreign policy throughout its history.

In sum, he argues that the US should not retreat from the Middle East because of the need to stop the influence of hegemonic China. The indispensable nation can solve all the problems there. Indeed!

The book has two big misses apart from its poor interpretations. Published this year means having been written probably a year ago, which makes the book obsolete almost immediately as events in Syria and the Ukraine have added great significance to both Russia as more than a regional power. That is no fault of the author’s other than as a thread that he did not consider on his own radar of ideological intentions. Of course, had he written later, it could be readily assumed that he would write about “Russian aggression” and the “evil Putin” in full accordance with current foreign policy propaganda.

The second miss is an apparent complete lack of understanding of the global financial situation and its ongoing restructuring with the BRICS bank, and the many countries that are doing their best to avoid using the US dominated systems such as the World Bank, the IMF, SWIFT, the BIS. That all reflects on Nasr’s lack of mention that in the Middle East, it is the control of the US fiat petro-dollar as reserve currency rather than the oil itself that is the largest threat to US hegemony around the world. Without that reserve currency status and oil priced in dollars, the US becomes insolvent and bankrupt.

Finally in general terms, this work suffers from “Vietnam Syndrome”: our intentions were good, we are an honourable nation, we just made some mistakes along the way. We are indispensable nonetheless.

Trying to build the “indispensable” line of thought without stating it too early, Nasr continually reiterates that if the US were not where it was, if it were to actually retreat then the world would be “chaos.” That is a highly arguable proposition as it has been the US imperial hegemonic drive that has brought chaos to so many regions of the world (see William Blum, Stephen Kinzer, Andrew Bacevich among many others to read the many military depredations of the US.)

Nasr begins with an insider’s view of the US policy establishment under Obama, having worked with Obama, Richard Holbrooke, and Hillary Clinton. An attempt is made to separate the “military intelligence complex” as being against the “foreign policy establishment.” That may be all well and good for domestic consumption, but for an observer of the effects on foreign policy, what matters is what is done rather than what is argued about between various government sections.

The admission is made that “we had got the Middle East badly wrong”, yet Nasr says “retreating from the region would be disastrous,” without saying disastrous for whom. Previewing his conclusion—as good writers should—he indicates that “the coming geopolitical competition with China will not be played out in the Pacific theatre…but played in the Middle East...none of the issues that brought us to the Middle East in the first place have been resolved.”

The work voyages through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the “Arab Spring” before arriving in China. Iran of course is “obdurate” while the US has used “persistence and a clear headed strategy for managing the system.” By Nasr’s account, “Our current policy will eventually turn Iran into a failed state.” Possibly, but more likely it will turn Iran into a successful state aligned with China, Russia, and many other countries around the world attempting to shake off the US hegemon.

The unintended irony on the ‘hook’ of the title is that the US is truly a dispensable nation. Perhaps not all of it, but its military that has created so much “chaos” that Nasr fears looms if the US  withdraws from being the global hegemon. Further, its economic system, teetering on the edge of collapse as the Federal Bank prints trillions of petro-dollars, will need by necessity to accept its place as just another devalued fiat currency in the world. Yes, China is rising while the US declines.

US foreign policy is not in retreat, perhaps in tatters and rags, wrapped in a flag stained in the blood of far too many millions of people around the world. Works such as The Dispensable Nation simply highlight the arrogance and hubris of an empire in

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017