Book Review: Ahmed Rashid's "Descent into Chaos"

War in Progress By RAYMOND BONNER
New York Times, August 10, 2008

DESCENT INTO CHAOS: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
By Ahmed Rashid.

When Bill Clinton briefed President-elect George Bush at the White House in December 2000, he enumerated six major security threats facing the United States. Three were: Al Qaeda, nuclear tensions between Pakistan and India, and Pakistan’s links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In his appropriately titled “Descent Into Chaos,” Ahmed Rashid says the Clinton administration bears some responsibility for where we find ourselves today in South and Central Asia. It had blown “hot and cold when it came to Afghanistan and chasing Al Qaeda,” had “no coherent strategy for undermining the Taliban regime” and had tilted strongly toward India over Pakistan. C.I.A. officers had made only a handful of trips to Afghanistan during the Clinton years, according to Rashid, and no one in the agency spoke Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.

But the real target of Rashid’s blistering critique is the Bush administration, and particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld insisted on bringing Afghanistan’s notorious warlords into the government. He blocked a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan. He opposed expanding the multinational International Security Assistance Force to work beyond Kabul because, he claimed, Europeans did not want to. “A lie,” says Rashid, a journalist who has also been a participant in some of the events he writes about. And the litany goes on throughout this timely book.

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