After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan
Reviewed by Ambassador (ret.) Michael W. Cotter
James F. Dobbins, After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan, Dulles, VA, Potomac Books, 2008. Pp. viii, 168. $24.95
This slim, very well-written volume will be of great interest to two distinct groups. In it Ambassador Dobbins first describes the process of creating a new government in Afghanistan in 2001, soon after the defeat of the Taliban regime. In the final chapters he describes the difficulty of engaging the United States in nation-building during the administration of President George W. Bush, contrasts Afghanistan to the conflict in Iraq, and summarizes changes in the Afghan situation in recent years.
The first eight chapters will be of particular relevance to diplomatic historians interested in the nuts and bolts of the complicated negotiations--both within the U.S. government and between that government and key allies and neighbors of Afghanistan--that led to the selection of Hamid Karzai as president of a new Afghan government. Ambassador Dobbins is uniquely qualified to tell that story. About to retire from his career with the State Department in the fall of 2001, he was asked to serve as Secretary of State Colin Powell's envoy to the Afghan opposition. With the rapid success of the military opposition against the Taliban his mission soon changed to coordinating post-conflict relationships, the selection of a new Afghan government, and the re-opening of the U.S. embassy.
Dobbins is highly critical of the Defense Department's mindset regarding peacekeeping and nation-building prior to 9/11, which resulted in unwillingness to contribute troops to the post-conflict phase or to adequately support the new Afghan government. Of particular interest among Dobbins' descriptions of the interplay of individuals and governments during this period is the description of his many contacts with Iranian government officials and the signals passed to him of Iranian interest in opening discussion of outstanding issues with the United States, signals intentionally ignored by the U.S. administration. In one instance he describes how one such overture was received only weeks before President Bush's 2002 State of the Union message in which he identified Iran as a member of the "Axis of Evil."
The final three chapters will appeal to those interested in the practice of international relations during the current U.S. administration. Ambassador...