View Full Version : Rory Stewart MP on Afghanistan

07-07-2010, 08:49 PM
Hat tip to KoW. A sharp article by the UK Conservative MP Rory Stewart, with an opening paragraph:
NATO has sent tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan and spent tens of billions of euros. But why? British Member of Parliament Rory Stewart says we have adopted a set of unquestioned beliefs about the region. Acknowledging that those beliefs may be fallacious is almost impossible.

Try this for size:
The only way in which we could move beyond the counter-insurgency theory, or the hundred other theories which buttress and justify the Afghan war, is by rejecting their most basic underlying premises and objectives. Instead of trying to produce an alternative theory (on how to defeat the Taliban, create an effective, legitimate and stable Afghan state, stabilize Pakistan and ensure that al-Qaida could never again threaten the United States) we need to understand that however desirable such things might be, they are not things that we -- as foreigners -- can do.

The link to article:http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,703408,00.html and to the KoW commentary: http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2010/07/state-of-the-war-volume-something-or-other-the-blind-leading-the-blind/

KoW comment:
Europe is simply in Afghanistan because America is there. America is there just because it is.

07-07-2010, 09:01 PM
Hat tip to KoW. A sharp article by the UK Conservative MP Rory Stewart, with an opening paragraph:

Try this for size:

The link to article:http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,703408,00.html and to the KoW commentary: http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2010/07/state-of-the-war-volume-something-or-other-the-blind-leading-the-blind/

KoW comment:

Wow, what an article! good find dave.

07-07-2010, 09:48 PM
Along the same theme, Steyn has an excellent column this week with one outstanding line that I have to share here:

Imperialism requires a certain dotty élan. Without it, it’s no fun. You’re just a guy holed up in a Third World dump occasionally venturing out in the full RoboCop to pretend to implement some half-assed multilateral “nation-building” strategy that NATO defence ministers all agreed to at some black-tie banquet in Brussels and then promptly forgot about.


07-07-2010, 10:08 PM
It is a concisely framed partial restatement of an inadequate argument that has been around for a while.

That argument can be traced back to objections to the Truman Doctrine. In that reality distortion field the West has the knowledge, ability and obligation to go forth and fix. All sorts of rituals have been invented to sustain this rather interesting set of assumptions.

The knee jerk reaction to this argument is 'go home'. It is easy to sit back and throw stones at this fantasy and all that derives from it. Lots of academics get tenure doing this. For these folks accepting that good has and continues to come from the work done pursuant to these assumptions is heresy.

It is equally easy not to question its assumptions and beaver away making it happen. Lots of professional and academic careers are built on this path. For these folks questioning these assumptions is heresy.

Contrary to the position the article sets us up for, we dont' have a home to retreat to. His rhetoric suggests that there is a 'here' and a 'there', that these are meaningfully separate and that 'we' can't do much to fix 'there'. He conveniently forgets that we are always already living in each other's back pockets.

At the very minimum, the opium they grow flows in and shapes the veins of our society and the opium we broadcast flows in and shapes their minds. The question isn't 'to be there or not to be there.' That question went out generations ago.

If we are lucky a casualty of the policy experiment we have in Afghanistan will be the institutionalized rituals that demand hubris as a marker of legitimacy. The loss of this hubris, and the ability of the public to accept politicians' acknowledgment of that loss, may better equip the US to engage the Gordian knots referenced in that article...and the long list of those it does not reference.

07-07-2010, 10:38 PM
He thinks too short. The political failure lies much, much deeper.
The ISAF mission would be a stupid idea even if ISAF could accomplish its mission in one or two years.

The whole idea makes no sense, the involvement in Afghanistan with more than a few hundred specialists (military and civilian) was never about defence or prevention.

The wall of illusions is much thicker than Stewart thinks - he apparently didn't manage to see through all of it.

@ No matter whether you can totally disconnect from a problem or not - activism that harms you more than inaction would is always stupid.

The Afghanistan mission lacks relevance for our defence because it's simply not as essential to AQ as the public was led to believe in 2002. AQ has proven for years that it can sustain itself without AFG, AFG played a marginal role for 9/11 and the network of AQ and AQ affiliates in ~60 countries worldwide plus the AQ nests in Pakistan show that AFG is dispensable for them.

We're stuck in a stupid civil war among factions who live partially in a multi-ethnic state and cannot agree on power sharing.
The relevance for our defence is nil, as is the relevance in regard to terrorism. Well, except that there's the possibility that waging war in an Islamic country might actually worsen our security situation directly (KIA, WIA) and indirectly (motivation, AQ propaganda).

09-25-2012, 08:20 AM
An article by Rory Stewart in the FT (behind a registration wall) that includes:
This gap between the language of policy makers and the reality is typical. It is time to be honest about Afghanistan: we face a desperate situation and an intolerable choice.....If the US, Britain and their allies leave Afghanistan, there will be chaos and perhaps civil war. The economy will falter and the Afghan government will probably be unable to command the loyalty or support of its people. The Taliban could significantly strengthen their position in the south and east, and attack other areas. Powerful men, gorged on foreign money, extravagantly armed and connected to the deepest veins of corruption and gangsterism, will flex their muscles. For all these reasons departure will feel – rightly – like a betrayal of Afghans and of the soldiers who have died.

But keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will not secure the country’s future either.....We have reached the limit of our knowledge, power and legitimacy. Whatever the west feels obliged to do, it is not capable of bringing a political or military solution. That task will be for Afghans. The west should continue financial support, so the Kabul government does not collapse, as it did in 1991, and give enough military support – air power in nearby bases, for example – to prevent the Taliban mobilising tanks and aircraft, as they did in 1995. But this is support, not a solution.

Hat tip to Watandost, which has the first half:http://watandost.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/reassessing-afghanistan-crisis.html and the FT article:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/eb77f05e-0267-11e2-9e53-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz27N0FcpwM

03-04-2013, 09:11 PM
Amidst a number of authors reflecting on the experience is one by Rory Stewart, so as his views earnt 2k plus views awhile back, here is his 2013 edition:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/03/04/what_went_wrong?page=0,1

A taster, his parting remarks:
Only our fantasies, our fears, and our guilt prevented us from seeing the truth of the situation, and they prevent us now from acknowledging our failure, and our shame.


03-05-2013, 03:12 AM

The pieces by Jones, Chayes, Saleh, Cowper-Coles, Kuehn & Van Lincschoten were as good or better pieces I think.

01-07-2014, 08:31 AM
Within a broad ranging article Rory reflects upon his life to date and his lack of power as a MP:http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/03/rory-stewart-interview

On intervention:
In the end, the basic problem is very, very simple. Why don't these interventions work? Because we are foreigners. If things are going wrong in a country, it's not usually that we don't have enough foreigners. It's usually that we have too many.

Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories – counterinsurgency warfare, state building – were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they're reminiscent of Buddhists who say: 'These are the four paths', or of Christians who say: 'These are the seven deadly sins.' They're sort of theologies, essentially, made by people like Buddhist monks in the eighth century – people who have a fundamental faith, which is probably, in the end, itself completely delusional.

I wonder if Rory ever debates COIN plus with those who are apparently deluded. I'd pay to see that.

01-07-2014, 05:30 PM
Good find David. Been meaning to read his books for a while now, since reading this quote from him in an interview on offering policy advice on Afghanistan:

“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”

07-24-2015, 12:23 PM
A NY Review of Books piece by Rory Stewart of a 2014 book on Afghanistan, which he uses to ask hard questions about other places:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/06/afghanistan-shocking-indictment/

On the book:
But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed.On Afghans Rory is critical of the author:
Gopal’s astonishing stories are not, however, a complete portrait of Afghanistan. He is so immersed in the mayhem and abuse that he seems genuinely to believe—as the title of the book suggests—that in Afghanistan there are “no good men among the living.” The more difficult truth is that it is hard to describe living among Afghans without falling back on words like dignity, honor, courage, strength, and generosity. Many of the Afghans I have worked with epitomize these virtues so clearly, and even quixotically, that they can seem almost a rebuke to our age.On state building:
..Gopal shows us clearly how easy all this is to say, and almost impossible to do.

Building a state or tackling an insurgency therefore requires deep knowledge of the history and character of an individual country. And such activity demands that Western governments acknowledge how little they know and can do in most of these places and cultures. But the startling differences within the countries in which we intervene are only exceeded by the startling uniformity, overconfidence, and rigidity of the Western response.Link to Amazon, with eight reviews plus and 80% excellent:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805091793?ie=UTF8&tag=thneyoreofbo-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0805091793