Monday, August 8, 2011


We invaded Afghanistan ten years ago.  We’re still there. Why?

Why do we pump in $130 billion per year into a government that has a $1 billion budget?
What are we doing wrong?
Why do we mismatch our priorities with our resources?
Why are we so perpetually optimistic?
What should we be doing?

There is no one better to answer these questions than Rory Stewart. I first wrote about Stewart in January 2010. A remarkable person with an equally remarkable background (British military, foreign service, best-selling author, deputy governor in Iraq, manager of a Kabul foundation, Harvard professor – and all in his 20s and 30s), Stewart was elected to Parliament in the Tory victory last year.

Having walked through, lived and worked in, and written extensively about
Afghanistan, he recently spoke at a TED Conference. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better assessment of the Afghanistan situation. And it’ll make you (even more) depressed at the folly of the political and military leadership that has persevered against all reason in its ill-reasoned Afghanistan policy. He's the talk, brilliantly conceived and beautifully delivered:

In one biting excerpt from his talk, Stewart devastatingly notes that every general and many politicians have come in saying, “I’ve inherited a dismal situation but finally I have the right resources and strategy that will deliver.”

Gen. Barno, 2004:  “Without question, this is a decisive year in Afghanistan.”

Gen.  Abuzaid, 2005:  “I think this can be a decisive year.”

Gen. Richards, 2006: “This will be the crunch year for the Taliban.”

Espen Eide (Dep. Foreign Minister), 2007: “This is a decisive year for the future of Afghanistan.”

Maj. Gen. Champoux, 2008  “I think next year will be the decisive year.”

Gen. McChrystal “We are knee-deep in the decisive year.”

David Milibrand (UK Foreign Minister), 2010: This will be a decisive year.”

Guido Westerwelle (German Minister for Foreign Affairs) “2011 will be a decisive year.”


  1. Ben, Thanks for posting this eloquent example of the rarity of common sense. Your blogs are pretty eloquent, too.

  2. One of the highlights was the sequence: if you're concerned about terrorism, think about Pakistan; if you're concerned about regional stability, think about Egypt; ... Afghanistan is just 1 of 40 countries ...

    I only wish Mr. Stewart was as clear about how to untangle ourselves from the mess as he is about why it is such a mess.

  3. Hi Ben! I am a huge fan of your work!! I have been doing a lot of reading about your work in the carpool world and would really appreciate the opportunity to ask you a couple questions if possible. What is the best way to get in touch with you?

  4. Ben, Rory was in this group discussion on BBC Radio podcast this week

  5. Ben, I still enjoy your clear thinking and insights. Thank you for posting Rory Stewart's talk.

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