If you read or watch nothing else on this topic this year you MUST WATCH this phenominal speech by Rory Stewart. MILINT readers may be rubbed the wrong way by the speech because it is so different to almost all the narratives out there - and this is exactly why it is important to have exposure to it. Rory is not just an iconoclast for the hell of it - his Afghanistan knowledge and experience run deep. He is committed to the country, not as a contractor eager to make money from his 'assessments' that we need to stay the course indefinitely, but as a practitioner-scholar, who among other things established a foundation dedicated to the preservation of the arts (broadly defined) in Kabul. Yes he walked across Afghanistan and wrote a famous book about that experience, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of his commitment to understanding the culture, society and strategic dilemmas inherent to that fated country.
Stewart's speech is truly magnificent. First, the full 20 mins is delivered without notes but with a precision and logic of an essay. As someone engaged in the world of ideas, for that alone MILINT admires this work. But more importantly, second, he outlines in very clear, well reasoned, terms a completely different narrative than exists in most of the dominant discourse, in the US at the very least. He articulates how the West's reaction to AQ in Afghanistan went off the rails when it abandoned its small footprint strategy and adopted a much heavier footprint. Readers will be familiar with MILINT's position on large versus small footprints. Stewart touches on the negative consequences of over-spending - both well intentioned and unforeseen.
Critics will focus on one or two minor points and argue them to death, but its hard to ignore the overarching thesis Stewart presents to the audience. The question is, after a decade, we are still no closer to the kind of resolution that the US seeks. It is past time to try something different. No one has all the answers and no one is suggesting Afghanistan is easy - but we must at a minimum consider alternative viewpoints and Rory Stewart has done us all a service by presenting one.
[Disclosure, MILINT met RS at a conference once a few years back].