Friday, September 25, 2009

Rory Stewart on Afghanistan

I hadn't intended to post again until October, but I just heard an interview with Rory Stewart, now at the Kennedy School, who wrote a book some time ago about his walk across all of Afghanistan. I'd seen the book but not read it, nor had I heard him speak before. In this interview he made a quite persuasive case that the current U.S./ISAF goals in Afghanistan are unachievable and very unrealistic. After granting the currently requested troop increase (which, Stewart thinks, would be politically impossible to refuse), Obama should not approve any further increases, he argued. The strategy's aims need to be reworked to focus on what is possible over the long term at an acceptable cost. Afghanistan, he observed, is decades behind Pakistan in virtually all respects, and Pakistan of course is hardly an exemplar of democratic stability; the creation of a functioning state of any sort in Afghanistan will take decades. Ten to twenty thousand special forces and other troops should be able to keep al- Qaeda from re-establishing a major presence in the country, he suggested, and that's about the best that can be hoped for in terms of a concrete security objective. Not everyone will agree with him, of course, but I was impressed by his lucidity and knowledge of the country. The interviewer was Lynn Sherr, substituting for Bill Moyers on his program; I assume the program's website (Bill Moyers' Journal, PBS) will be putting up a transcript.

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