Me on Rubin on Rashid… on Deaf Ears?

In the category of circular book reviews (I know, this is undergraduate short-cutting at its worst, but there’s more to the story), from Barnett R. Rubin, on Ahmed Rashid’s new book Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of National Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (Penguin, 2008). 

[This] is as far as I know, the first attempt at a comprehensive account of international policy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia since 9/11, and as such is utterly indispensable. (I should note that Ahmed says some nice things about me in the acknowledgments and cites me a few times.

That’s right. Me, citing an author, who’s reviewing another author, both of whom cite each other.  Whatever, not the point. Rubin points out an interesting discrepancy in the way Rashid’s book has been promoted – or rather, not promoted, depending on where in the world he found himself on his book tour.

The book came out in the U.S. on June 3, and Ahmed spent most of the next three weeks touring the U.S. to promote it. For whatever reason, Ahmed’s publicist could not manage to get him on Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, or Oprah, but he did put in appearances on Charlie Rose (video below) and CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.

Ahmed has since gone on to Canada and the U.K., where his book was reviewed by both the Sunday Times and the Times of London. He was profiled by the New York Times‘ Jane Perlez for the International Herald Tribune, but as far as I can see this interview never appeared in print on this side of the Atlantic.

Hmmm. Curioser and curioser. Rubin: 

I find it strange that this first ever comprehensive account of the Bush administration’s failure in Afghanistan and the complicity with the Taliban of Pakistan’s military regime, written by the author of a former New York Times #1 best-seller, did not receive a single major review in the U.S. The Obama campaign really should mine it — the book has plenty of evidence to support — and extend — the Democratic candidate’s criticisms of the Bush administration’s failure to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. But most of all, anyone even remotely concerned with this region should buy and read it, and then recommend it to any friends and relatives who think they are not concerned with it.

Well OK then. Will do. 

2 comments

  1. Bob

    Hi am reading Rashid’s book, every word, and it is everything Rubin says it is. The problem for many of us is that many of the truly great books being written about the vital issues in this part of the world — Ghost Wars, Looming Tower, etc. and now this one — are mostly rather long. Unfortunately the Bush people are not into long books, especially the ones that seek to bring affairs up to date.

  2. Are there some people who are courting distant chaos for capitalizing it domestically? Putting the pieces together from Charlie Black’s quotes in Fortune magazine and Michael Mullen’s statement in the Los Angeles Times this is the impression appearing from the jigsaw puzzle. Fortune’s editor David Whitford notices that the McCain campaign wishes to deftly turn the thorny economy issue "into a national security issue – and why not? On national security McCain wins."Whitford goes on to illustrate this point further: "We saw how that might play out early in the campaign, when one good scare, one timely reminder of the chaos lurking in the world, probably saved McCain in New Hampshire, a state he had to win to save his candidacy – this according to McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an "unfortunate event," says Black. "But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us." As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black." http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/20/magazines/fortune/Evolution_McCain_Whitford.fortune/To put it differently, the sad demise of a leading South Asian politician comes as glad tidings for lame duck politicians desperate for yet another distant apocalypse that can help them advance their cause i.e. to get a new lease of (political) life be it a nomination for John McCain, or fear of loosing the 2009 polls for the Afghan president Hamid Karzai or to yet again prove himself as world’s saviour soldier for Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. Now where of all places they looking for a catastrophe to capitalize? Any future terrorist attack on the United States probably would originate in Pakistan’s western tribal regions, where Al Qaeda leaders have set up their most secure haven since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer said Tuesday."I believe fundamentally if the United States is going to get hit, it’s going to come out of the planning that the leadership in the FATA is generating, their planning and direction," said Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. "I’m not saying it is guaranteed it’s going to happen, or that it’s imminent. But clearly we know the planning is taking place."http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-uspak11-2008jun11,0,1456865.storyWhy all this noise being raised now? This is because "U.S. officials are now concerned that the peace accords the new Pakistan government is trying to negotiate with Mahsud and pro-militant tribal leaders will allow Al Qaeda and the Taliban to solidify their base in the area." http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-tribal8-2008jun08,0,4584243.story But can we get a narrative that can weave all this bits into one smooth script of gloom and doom? A book is just out offering the much sought worst case scenario with an ever-obliging nightmarish narrative to articulate how bad things are and in what ways they are going to get even worse. There are no better insiders’ revelations provided than Ahmad Rashid’s Descent into Chaos- a shining example of the right book, by the right person at the right time. The Guardian’s Jason Burke recommends: Read Rashid to know what should never have happened.

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