Rory Stewart — he who walked across Afghanistan — still isn’t buying the argument that the United States and its allies needed a large military footprint to beat back the Taliban and al-Qaeda, or to help Afghanistan.
Stewart, a Conservative MP in Britain and a former diplomat, has long been opposed to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, or at least to the direction that it has taken. But in his latest presentation, at an event sponsored by the nonprofit TED in Edinburgh, Stewart the critic is also the storyteller, outlining what he sees as the folly of Western intervention in Afghanistan over the course of a decade.
“The question today is not why did we invade Afghanistan?” he says. ”The question is why are we still in Afghanistan one decade later?”
For Stewart, the United States and its allies have gone about their mission in all the wrong ways, deluging the country with money it could not absorb, replacing the priorities of the Afghan government with those of foreigners, and relying on commanders and diplomats with virtually no understanding of local needs.
What’s more, he says, Afghanistan does not represent — and has not represented for some time — an existential threat. The Taliban is unlikely to win back Kabul, and even if it did, the group would not likely invite back al-Qaeda. Furthermore, even if the Taliban did provide shelter to al-Qaeda again, the terrorist network could not enhance its abilities from Afghanistan in the same way it did in the same way in the 1990s.
“One of the saddest things about our involvement in Afghanistan is that we’ve got our priorities out of sync,” Stewart says. “We’re not matching our resources to our priorities. Because if what we’re interested in is terrorism, Pakistan is far more important than Afghanistan. If what we’re interested in is regional stability, Egypt is far more important. If what we’re worried about is poverty and development, sub-Saharan Africa is far more important.”
Such arguments may very well underplay Afghanistan’s strategic importance in the region, and they may overlook the military gains made over the past year, particularly in southern Afghanistan.
But Stewart — academic, author, diplomat, MP, scholar, wanderer and now storyteller — is interesting to watch.
“The worst thing we have done in Afghanistan is this idea that failure is not an option,” he says. “It makes failure invisible, inconceivable and inevitable.”
Click to the TED site here.