Rethinking U.S. Policy in Southwest Asia

Immediately before Richard Amitage passed away earlier this year, he chaired an independent task force on Southwest Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The result was U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, a book that provides both a nuanced look at the US policy choices in the region and recommendations to fix what is broken.

The book is not a meditation on whether the US and NATO have any business in the region, nor does it offer an endorsement to the Obama Administration’s policies. Instead, the report offers qualified support, suggesting that the problem is not the policy but how we are executing on the ground.

I pay attention to Pakistan and Afghanistan because China does. The next four years in Pakistan and Afghanistan will define the limits of U.S. power and its ability to influence events in Asia. As much as China would like to see American influence circumscribed, having the countries slide into a chaotic power-vacuum or serve as the cradle of a fundamentalist caliphate would threaten China’s stability more directly than it would harm U.S. security.

On his deathbead, Richard Armitage was haunted by fears of chaos in the region. What haunts me is the prospect of a new great game between India, China, Russia, and Iran, all focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the anger of tribes sick to death of living on a battleground. Read this short book: it offers a narrow path away from that future.

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