Thursday, 27 August 2009

Rory Stewart on "The Irresistible Illusion"

A man to follow, Rory Stewart, has an intriguing view of counterinsurgency and intervention in places such as Afghanistan. The "Rory Stewart theory," as it might perhaps be known, aims to downscale Western aspirations for a nation like Afghanistan to more modest and feasible levels. He is fond of pointing out that "ought to" does not imply that we "can" achieve any number of grandiose goals.

He believes that our present paradigm and world view "conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists. It assumes that Afghanistan is predictable. It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate."

Read about The Irresistible Illusion.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 
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