For this month's Readers' Review: “Euphoria,” by Lily King, a novel inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead.
The cost of military intervention in a foreign country can be very high – as the families of the navy SEALS who died recently in Afghanistan, tragically, know only too well. There is the unavoidable loss of life, coupled with the financial and political costs of a sustained presence. Yet, governments around the world have increasingly put their faith in it – as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. They commit their armed forces, their finances and their political fortunes for often decades at a time, despite the high costs and uncertain outcome. Today we ask is military intervention working or is it time for a new approach.
- Rory Stewart a member of the British Parliament and author of "The Prince of the Marshes" and "The Places In Between"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Calls for intervention in places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and a host of other places have taken on new urgency. A NATO let coalition began its humanitarian intervention in Libya back in March, but Rory Stewart draws on his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq to caution against seeing intervention as the cure for all evils.
MS. DIANE REHMHe's co-author of a new book, it's titled "Can Intervention Work?" He's here in the studio. And throughout the hour, as we talk about not only U.S. intervention but that done by NATO and indeed, other countries, we'll welcome your calls, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, sir, it's good to have you here.
MR. RORY STEWARTGood morning. Lovely to see...
REHMI know you are a British member Parliament representing a remote area in northern England. Tell us how your interest and your focus on Afghanistan became such a strong one.
STEWARTWell, I -- I began my career very briefly in the military and then I was in the British Foreign Service, so I served in Indonesia and then I served in the Balkans just after the Kosovo intervention, Bosnia and Kosovo, and then I walked across Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, 2002.
STEWARTI find it very difficult to answer that question. I think I -- I was in my late 20s and I suppose for me, it was a kind of adventure. I'd been locked in these embassy buildings all my life and I really felt that the way that I learned most about other people's countries was by going into the rural areas, by going into villages.
STEWARTAnd the great thing about the walk, I walked for 21 months, is that I was able to stay in 500 different village houses along the route, sleep on people's floors, listen to families talk about government, religion, society, so that was the beginning of my interest in Afghanistan. And then I was posted for the Foreign Service to southern Iraq where I worked for Ambassador Brahimi (sp?), who was in the American Pro-Council in Baghdad and I worked in (word?), which are two provinces in the south of Iraq, in an administrative capacity as a sort of deputy governor of those two provinces.
STEWARTAnd then I returned to Afghanistan and set up a non-profit in (word?), Kabul for three years, so this book comes out of those experiences in the Balkans and Afghanistan and Iraq, reflecting on what we can or can't do in other people's countries.
REHMAs you walked across Afghanistan, lived with families, what about the language element?
STEWARTI -- I speak Dari, enough conversational Dari to be able to chat to people. It's a wonderful language and my grammar is not great, but it's enough to have conversations that mean a lot to me because you're dealing with a culture which is very, very different to our own. I was just in Afghanistan last week and I was up in the hills with some (word?) who'd been fighting against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, who'd receive money from the CIA and from Congressman Wilson and all these people to fight against Soviet Union.
STEWARTAnd what really struck me, sitting with them, is just how different their world view was to ours and it's that, both through spending time with people, being able to speak a little bit of somebody else's language, that I find so important.
REHMDescribe that worldview.
STEWARTWell, one thing that was very striking about these people is that they were very poor people and that they had had a very, very brutal eight years living up in the mountains. All the villages in the Peche Valley below their possessions had been bombed. There were no roofs left in any of the houses. They'd been trying to live in exposed conditions, one of them said he was so depressed during this fight against Soviet Union that he just wanted to walk into a minefield.
STEWARTBut the other thing that was very striking, and maybe is more difficult to understand as an American or a European, is how strongly religious this was. That we often think about the Afghan fight against the Soviet Union as just a fight for independence, but in fact, what they talked about all the time was Islam. They talked all the time about their religious duty, they talked about their friends who'd been killed as martyrs.
REHMWhen you talk about their religion, it's interesting that that creates a certain fear on the part of people who don't fully understand or appreciate the religion. And in fact, as I'm sure you know, there is a movement here in this country to ban Sharia Law so that you've got all kinds of thinking and feeling going on here. Did you, in your experiences, find that religion peaceful?
STEWARTYes. I have found this a big journey in my own life because I'm know, obviously, a British politician and some of my voters are very, very anxious about Muslim society and about Muslims. I grew up in Muslim countries and my father was a diplomat. I grew up in Malaysia, I then worked in Indonesia. I was in Muslim areas, the Balkans and then spent nearly 10 years in Pakistan, Iran.
STEWARTSo -- and other countries, Muslim areas of India or Afghanistan, Iraq. What I am struggling to express, of course, is that for me, growing up in those countries or working in those countries, Islam is just part of life. It's the texture in the background of everybody's existence. In Afghanistan, in our non-profit, all the stuff, pray five times a day, everybody fasts right through the month of Ramadan, they see themselves as good, conservative, pious Muslims.
STEWARTAnd it never -- of course in daily life, when you live in that kind of society, you don't see it as a problem, it's just a fact of life. I would say that the difficulty is trying to understand how often a religious worldview is not compatible with a secular worldview. I'm not a deeply religious person and again and again, in my daily life in Afghanistan, I realize that the people I'm working with are seeing the world through a religious lens.
STEWARTThat doesn't mean their violent people, but it means that they basic decision they're making, sometimes about very trivial things, like whether we can install a new footpath leading to an area or what kind of position we put, for example, women in school, whether they can sit alongside men in school or sit somewhere else.
REHMOr whether they can attend school.
STEWARTOr whether they can attend school may be seen through a religious perspective. And then sometimes they get it wrong the other way. So I was working to set up a primary school, an elementary school, in Kabul and initially I thought it'd be very difficult to get the women into school, but what I discovered is really that the resistance from the fathers wasn't, as I thought, religious, it turned out to be that they were worried about security for their children and they worried about what we were teaching them in the school.
STEWARTSo once we allowed the fathers to sit in the back row and watch what was going on, and they sat there, some of them, for two weeks, they became very relaxed and then they were prepared to allow their women to go to school. But I suppose what I take away from this is that working in a country like Afghanistan is a perpetual process of getting things wrong, misunderstanding, certainly for me confusion, bewilderment, slow progress, two steps forward, one step back.
STEWARTAnd I think one of the issues that we face when we talk about intervention, you know, the United States going into Libya or whatever, is that we often underestimate just how difficult and confusing somebody else's country can be for a foreigner.
REHMAnd my guest today, Rory Stewart, is a member of the British Parliament. Together with Gerald Knaus, he has written a new book, it's titled, "Can Intervention Work?" Do join us, 800-433-8850. One could argue, Rory, that you're looking at intervention from the point of your perspective of the ordinary people and not the politicians who are making the rules.
STEWARTI think that's right. I think one of the big discoveries I've made in now becoming a politician is that the way in which politicians think seems to be quite different to the way in which somebody who isn't a politician thinks and I didn't think that's always in a bad way, but if I give you the bluntest example in relationship to Afghanistan.
STEWARTWhen I was teaching at Harvard, when I talked about Afghanistan, I talked in terms of very, very detailed points. You know, is the drug policy working, what's happening in the police training, how many troops do we need. So 75 tiny micro-points. When I become a politician, things become much more black and white and the only question that matters really in British politics is have the troops died in vane?
STEWARTSo you go from talking in enormous detail about a particular country, to becoming a politician where it's all about guilt, it's all about fear and it's all about these very big black and white ideals.
REHMAnd of course, you in Britain have been dealing with riots in the streets with people who are either simply troublemakers or people who are desperate for work.
STEWARTThat's absolutely right. The last two weeks in Britain has been really shocking. We haven't seen any riots or disturbances like this really for 25 years and friends of mine on every side of the political picture, particularly people representing in a city neighborhood, thought that things had improved enormously, that community relationships were better, that the problems that we faced in the early '80s, for example, with racism, the police have been overcome and then suddenly, in the last two weeks, everything's exploded.
REHMAnd we'll talk more about what's happening not only in Britain, but around the world when we come back.
REHMWelcome back. My guest today, Rory Stewart, is a member of the British Parliament. He has also taught at Harvard here in the United States. He has a new book out, it's co-authored with Gerald Knaus. It's titled "Can Intervention Work?" You heard him talk earlier about walking across Afghanistan in a period of his life where he came to know the people, the culture, the sense of orderliness with which they operate within their own culture. Is that, Rory, the fundamental sense of the question, can intervention work?
STEWARTI think so. For me, what I realized is that having walked across Afghanistan where every night in a different village I saw a different kind of social structure. One village may be run by a religious figure, another one by a warlord, another one by somebody who maybe had been funded by the Iranian government. And yet, in every village, I was safe. I was able to move from community to community alone with my dog across Afghanistan.
STEWARTAlone and -- except for my dog, wonderful dog with me.
STEWARTIt was an Afghan sheepdog who I'd met in a village. But what I took away from that is that at this time, when there was really no government at all, the Taliban government had fallen, the new government hadn't emerged, these villages and their village chiefs were keeping security right the way across the country and yet, when I arrived in Kabul, I found the foreigners talking about Afghanistan as though it was a blank space on a map, as though there was, in essence, nothing out there. They didn't recognize those structures as being real political structures at all.
STEWARTAnd they used this incredible abstract jargon, so they would say, every Afghan is committed to a gender sensitive multiethnic centralized state based under democracy human rights sort of law. And you'd think, how on earth do you relate that to what I've just seen over the previous 40 days? So for me, the whole push of my last nine, 10 years thinking about this or writing about this is to try to make people recognize that there are not solutions which you can dream up in a think tank in Washington.
STEWARTThere are no universal structures or lessons which you can apply from Bosnia to Afghanistan. That context is everything, that what you need above all, are people who understand their language, understand the history, understand the culture, have spent 20, 30 years working in these communities.
STEWARTTo give an analogy just to finish on this, if you were working, for example, on a program on urban poverty in Chicago, you would rely very strongly on community organizers who'd been working in that area for 20, 30 years. You wouldn't imagine that somebody living 10,000 miles away with a computer program or some abstract theory would be able to sort the whole thing out.
STEWARTAnd yet somehow, when we go to other people's countries, we forget all that and we -- despite the fact that Afghanistan is obviously for us 10 times more complicated, 100 times more complicated than dealing with Chicago because it's a completely different culture, a completely different language, a completely different history, but we approach it as though somehow it would be much simpler than dealing with our own country.
REHMHow is intervention defined in your mind and how is it different from war?
STEWARTSo intervention has become this very fashionable word which we use to describe what we did in Bosnia, what we did in Kosovo, what we did in Iraq, what we did in Afghanistan and it's very misleading because the word intervention, which literally in Latin means coming between, sounds very sort of mutual, even positive. Oh, we're just arriving, we're distancing a couple of boring parties. But in fact, often it's used to click something much more aggressive. It's used to click something that is, in effect, an invasion.
REHMAn invasion that is not necessarily welcome by all parties.
STEWARTWell, exactly. And if you take a case, you can see how these things work quite easily, I think, if you look at what's now happening in Syria, the classic example. If you look at Syria, it's horrible. Maybe 3,000 people have been killed in the last few weeks, gunboats shelling Latakia, which is a coastal town at the moment. It's a horrible government. It's not a government that is kind to its people. It's not a government that contributes to racial civility, it's not a government that's a friend to the United States, so you can completely understand why some planner would wake up in the morning and think, something must be done.
STEWARTBut the gap between that idea that there's a problem in the country and the idea that you somehow have the solution, that you might have the resources or the troops or most importantly of all, the legitimacy, in other words, the support of the people in the country in Syria itself, that's the problem.
REHMDo you then come to the conclusion that America and its NATO allies were wrong to intervene in Afghanistan?
STEWARTYeah, my conclusion is Bosnia was correct, Kosovo was correct, they worked.
STEWARTBecause essentially, we got a million refugees back in Bosnia, 200,000 properties were returned, the armies were disbanded, the war criminals were put on trial. And Bosnia is immeasurably better today than when I first saw it in the late '90s. The crime rates in Bosnia are now lower than Sweden. So although many people point to problems in Bosnia, there's so many problems in Bosnia, I don't know any Bosnian who doesn't feel the situation is so much better than it was in '94, '95.
STEWARTSo that's a success and that's something the United States can be proud of and that's a reason not to be so pessimistic about intervention, that you just do nothing anywhere. On the other hand, the other extreme, Iraq was, in my experience, a humiliating mess. We should never have invaded. Afghanistan is somewhere in the middle. Afghanistan, I think it was correct to do something in the early days, but we got dragged in too deep.
STEWARTThere was a sense, there was a reason to have a light long-term footprint, to gently work with Afghan society, but the problem is we became too ambitious. We thought that by bringing in more troops, more money, we could somehow radically transform the society. And the more we brought in, the worse the situation became.
REHMAnd of course, in the midst of all that, the person who was most closely involved with that kind of let us go slowly effort, Richard Holbrook, died. More of the generals walked in and said, we need more, we need more, we need more.
STEWARTI think that's right. Optimism is in the DNA of the military. Understandable. You don't want a soldier who says, this mission's impossible, I can't do it. So generals are always going to say, give me more money, give me more troops. This year will be the decisive year. But the job of the politician is to recognize that that's only one side of the story, that for all their service, for all their sacrifice, for all their expertise, the military, in the end, are only seeing one dimension of the situation.
STEWARTYou cannot simply take them at face value. You can't simply say, because this general's turned out with medals on his chest and said, I need more troops, that you necessarily need to give him those troops. You need to understand that that general is invested in winning, but there may be other dimensions, for example, in Afghanistan, the relations with Pakistan or the corruption in the Afghan government, for which there's no military solution and that's when the politician needs to be able to say to the military, listen, you're doing a great job, but I'm not going to give you more troops, I'm not going to give you more resources because in the end, there isn't a military solution to this.
REHMDo you believe anything of importance has been accomplished thus far in Afghanistan?
STEWARTAn enormous amount was accomplished in Afghanistan in the early days, in the first couple years before we deployed the troops, before we put in all the money. Those very early days where people that should criticize us for not doing enough, we in fact achieved an incredible amount. Three million more girls in school, thousands of clinics built, suddenly 5 million Afghans on mobile telephones, road infrastructure created, new central bank. All of that happened almost immediately.
STEWARTIronically, though, from 2005, almost as we began bringing more troops and more money, we made the situation worse, not better, and one of the reasons why is that that helped to spark a Taliban insurgency.
REHMI want to turn to Iraq for a moment because not long after your trek across Afghanistan, you were appointed to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, as you said earlier, as deputy governor of two southern provinces. Tell us about that experience.
STEWARTWell, it was a strange experience because, of course, technically, there was supposed to be an Iraqi government. But when I was appointed, there was no Iraqi governor or deputy governor, so I had this funny title, Coalition Deputy Governor and Coordinator. And I suppose we acted as the governors and deputy governors of those provinces, which was a very strange thing. Because in my case, I had an American boss from the State Department and there was I as a young British diplomat dealing with a completely bewildering alien society.
STEWARTMy boss spoke good Arabic, but she'd never been in southern Iraq before. And we were dealing with 56 new political parties that were swarming across the border, some of which turned out to consist of only two men and a brief case, and others which turned out to be able to take 40 percent of the vote in the election. We were dealing with armed militia groups, we were dealing with Iranian agents, we were dealing with demonstrations in the streets day after day.
STEWARTAnd the lesson I took away from it is that however hard we worked, however smart we tried to be, it was not our country and that there was no way that we were going to be able to micromanage a situation of that kind of complexity.
REHMSo you're saying, then, that there are parallels with Afghanistan?
STEWARTYes. I think the key lesson is that the United States and its allies needs to recognize its limits, needs to show more humility. It needs to recognize that our knowledge, our power, our legitimacy is limited, that there are things we can do in other people's countries, but they tend to be more on the technical side. We're quite good at building bridges, we can change laws, we can write constitutions, we can do those sort of things.
REHMBut instead, we're using the military.
STEWARTInstead, we're using the military and civilians to try to do very, very micro-political things, which we don't have the knowledge or expertise to do. One of the reasons why in Afghanistan it's relatively easy to, for example, build a school is that that's simply a question of getting a bit of money, getting a bit of cement, getting a building contractor. And getting girls back to school is (word?) you of getting rid of the Taliban laws that stopped them from going to school, so it's quite easy.
STEWARTBut if, on the other hand, you say what we're going to do is eliminate all corruption in the Afghan government, you're taking on something that foreigners have no idea how to do. We misunderstand it everywhere. And we're there, you must understand, in a very, very isolated way. Even the military very rarely serve more than 12 months on the ground.
STEWARTVery few people speak in Afghan language well. Security restrictions mean people are locked behind concrete walls, traveling around with bodyguard teams. Therefore, our contact with Afghans is so limited and strange that the idea that we can somehow go in there and radically reshape the fundamental elements of how Afghan society and politics operate is very mistaken.
REHMRory Stewart, he's a member of the British Parliament, co-author of a new book titled "Can Intervention Work?" And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How much support for your ideas do you believe there is within British Parliament?
STEWARTI think limited probably because I think the United Kingdom, not perhaps as much as the United States, but to some extent is optimistic, but this is particularly true in the United States. I mean, the fundamental issue in my whole conversation about Afghanistan or Iraq is Americans like to feel that every problem has a solution, that there's nothing the United States cannot do if it puts its mind to it.
STEWARTSo I -- being in to see policymakers who would say to me here in the United States, the situation in Pakistan is completely unacceptable. What are we going to do about Pakistan? And I say, well, I don't know. I mean, Pakistan's very complicated, this, that and the other. And they say, don't give me problems, give me a solution. I want you to go away for three months and come back with a plan for what we're going to do.
STEWARTThe fundamental thing, and you can feel the temptation of it if you're a policymaker sitting in Washington or London, is that somebody says to you, Somalia is a disaster. Look at what's happening in Somalia. There are Islamist terrorists, there are pirates, there's famine. What are we going to do about Somalia? And it's so difficult to say, well, there may not be very much that we can do. We can do a little bit here, we can do a little bit there, we can help around the edges.
STEWARTBut in the end, there is no magic formula, even for the United States with all its wealth, all its resources, which can allow it to go into somebody else's country like Somalia and guarantee that you turn a failed state into a functioning state, that you -- and where we pull it off -- and we have pulled it off -- we pulled it off in Bosnia, we pulled it off in Kosovo, it's wonderful. But we shouldn't conclude from that that we can do it every time, everywhere.
REHMIt would seem that the problems are becoming increasingly complex. Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq. What you seem to be saying is, go in gently with certain small goals to help those societies or else a certain sense of isolationism could creep in to the conversation.
STEWARTThat's right. What I hate is the idea that you would lurch from engagement to isolation or from troop increases to total withdrawal. The United States and Europe, I hope, will remain engaged in other people's countries. But the way in which it can remain engaged is by understanding that it doesn't have to choose between doing everything or nothing, that it needs to recognize that a lot of the great successes that we've had over the last 60 years have come very, very slowly and in unexpected ways incrementally, but in a principled way.
STEWARTSo if we look at the Balkans, a lot of compromise. We had to deal with people who were war criminals. We moved very slowly. We didn't do all that everybody wanted in the early days. But when we saw opportunities with refugee return, with war crimes trials we took them. And that way, you can slowly make a real difference in other people's societies.
REHMCourse you went back to Afghanistan in 2006. You're now the Founder and Chief Executive of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation where you served until 2008. But you were able to see firsthand the impact of NATO's intervention. What were your conclusions?
STEWARTWell, Turquoise Mountain, which is the nonprofit with which I worked in Afghanistan, was rebuilding part of the historic city of Kabul. And we had clinics and we had a primary school and we had an institute that trained women and men in traditional Afghan (word?). What I took away from that is we -- I'm so proud of that. It's probably the best thing I've ever done in my life, much better than being a diplomat or politician.
STEWARTWe had about 600 people working for us. We restored about 65 buildings, ran some water supplies, some drainage and we created some jobs. What I took away from that is you could achieve amazing amounts if Afghans are interested, if they're excited, if they're putting their energy behind it, as they were in that case, but it wasn't operating on the big abstract level.
REHMRory Stewart, the book "Can Intervention Work?" Short break, then your calls when we return.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones for our guest, Rory Stewart, a member of the British parliament and the co-author of a new book "Can Intervention Work?" First to Nashville, Tenn. Good morning, Tony. You're on the air.
TONYThank you, good morning. I just wanted to comment on Iraq as well. And I think, I think under subject of U.S. intervention, Iraq is so uniquely negative because, you know, from the beginning, there was there lies and we were sold this bill of goods. The country was -- in hindsight, the country was never a threat to us and it almost certainly would've been by -- in my opinion, it almost certainly would've been part of the Arab Spring where I would think they would've ousted Saddam on their own.
TONYBut my question for your guest, as well on Iraq, it was so expensive, it was a trillion dollar affair and some of the same politicians that were cheerleading to rush into war in Iraq are now -- they went from defense hawks to deficit hawks, now they won't even mention the word Iraq. It's hard to even get real good hard news on what's going on over there. That was my question, for your guest. And are the lights back on? Is the average citizen getting services? And when we do pull out, can we expect even some measure of pro-American? Will we ever be able to maintain an embassy over there?
REHMAll right, Tony, thanks for your call.
STEWARTThe situation in Iraq is better than it was in the very, very worst days of 2005, 2006. So essentially, the invasion happened, the situation got much, much worse. In the first two, three years, we actually made the situation worse than it was under Saddam. Since then, it's improved a bit. I don't believe that the invasion of Iraq was justified because I think the amount of suffering and misery that's been caused over this period is not justified.
STEWARTBut today, I guess, most Iraqis would feel that they are now slightly better off than they were two, three years ago. There is still a lot of sector violence, there's a lot of tension still of the sort you're familiar with, with Kurds, between Sunni and Shia, there are still terrorist bombs going off. I guess we'll be able to keep a United States embassy there, but I also agree with you, I think it's a very interesting point and one that's worth raising, that it could've been a place that could of participated in the Arab Spring and I think it would've been probably much more positive if we'd come in in support of that, rather than trying to impose that.
REHMYes. All right. Let's go now to Glenwood Springs, Colo. Jeremiah, you're on the air.
JEREMIAHHi, Diane, can you hear me?
REHMSure can. Go right ahead, sir.
JEREMIAHSo I guess my question to your guest, it's a rhetorical question, but I think it's important. What is our -- it is -- what is our role? What is our role in the world and I think that's an important thing that we, as a country, are trying to redefine and understand and I think it has a lot to do with the globalization of the world and finding our place in that because we obviously cannot afford to pay for wars and police the world.
JEREMIAHSo how can we be, like, a role model and display the values that we believe in and, you know, be that light in the America that we want, but, you know, how do we accept other countries and the problems that they have and how do we define our role internationally?
STEWARTWell, this is a very interesting and difficult question. I think there's no reason for the United States to give up on its values or its beliefs. The challenge is to take on board the practicalities. The challenge is to choose situations where the United States can really make a difference. The terrible tragedy of Iraq is not that somehow it contradicts American values, the real tragedy of Iraq is that you choose to go into somewhere where, in the end, it didn't work.
STEWARTAmerican reputation, American influence in the world is going to depend, increasingly, on choosing situations where you can make a difference, where you can succeed. And the big question is the ought question, it's not the question of obligation, it's the can question. Where can it work?
REHMIf you were in charge, would you argue that the U.S. and NATO ought to get out of Afghanistan now?
STEWARTIf I was in charge, I would like to see us withdrawing. That's reducing troops. I would believe that we would need to keep some troops at the end. I don't know, 10, 20,000 troops. We'd need to continue to do what we can to ensure that it doesn't again pose a terrorist threat. We need to do what we can to ensure that we tend to (word?) development assistance to Afghans, that we can decrease the likelihood of a civil war, increase the likelihood of political settlement.
STEWARTBut it needs to be a moderate, light, long-term policy. And I think the time of these massive troops deployments, these great ambitious counter insurgency strategies is passed. We now need to move into the phase of drawing down, I think the President has made exactly the right decision. I'd like to encourage him to keep going. And in fact, start the withdraw going faster, perhaps, than it's going at the moment.
REHMYou'll be seeing high level American officials while you're here in this states. What will be your message?
STEWARTMy message would be that the president is absolutely on the right track and that he should not allow the criticisms of generals or (word?) to put him off doing what I think is the right thing, which is his acknowledgement that, to some extent, we've done what we can do in Afghanistan and that the time has now come to move into the next phase, which may involve keeping some troops on the ground, some presence on the ground, but moving out of an idea that we can fix the situation into more, I suppose, a metaphor of containing or seeing what we can do to work with Afghans to stop the situation getting much worse.
REHMAnd beyond that, looking toward the future?
STEWARTAbsolutely. What the president, I think, sees and is in the key for the United States is to understand that there are many, many other countries in the world that matter, probably more than Afghanistan. That Afghanistan is one of 40 countries in the world that poses a threat. We cannot put all our eggs in that basket. We're spending $125 billion a year in Afghanistan, nearly 150,000 troops on the ground. That cannot be justified.
STEWARTIf we're interested in terrorism, Pakistan is much more important. For interest in regional stability, Egypt is much more important. If we're interested in poverty, Sub Saharan Africa is much more important. So essentially, what I would say, the president needs to do, the United States needs to do, is step back, look at the map of the world, rethink what the real priorities are and allocate resources to those priorities rather than being sucked in, almost against our will, into random situations.
REHMAll right. Then to Rock Hill, S.C. Good morning, Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELGood morning, thank you for having me...
MICHAEL...on the air. My comment was, I heard your guest talk about that we're building schools and roads and stuff like that through Afghanistan and I -- and it really makes me angry when I hear that, when we have so much in this country that needs to be fixed and I was always taught to take care of your home before you go help your neighbor. And I don't understand why we have a need to go over there and build schools and roads and everything when we need that stuff at home first before we go overseas and help somebody else.
STEWARTI guess that's a very important question. It's a question the people ask all the time in Britain, too. We're spending an enormous amount of money on overseas aid from Britain and people are very angry. They'd like the money spent at home. I reckon the answer is a balance. You don't want to be bankrupting yourself, building roads and schools for other people's countries if you don't have roads and schools in your own country.
STEWARTBut we need to remember that, actually, realistically the amount of money we're spending on roads and schools in Afghanistan is tiny. Even the biggest spenders in the world are spending, maybe, 0.7...
REHMIt's the weapons.
STEWARTYeah, exactly. That most of the money, if you take the $125 billion that's being spent in Afghanistan at the moment, of that, approximately $2 billion, you know, just over 1 percent is being spent on roads and schools. Ninety-nine percent is being spent on the military operations.
REHMAll right, to Dixon, Ill. Good morning, Marilyn, you're on the air.
MARILYNYes. The subject is so fascinating, so deep, I hardly know where to start, but the word intervention, it could cover for land mass -- the reasons for war are land mass, resources, religion, culture, religion and race or as I feel what we're doing now is political. It's for the form of government. It's spreading democracy. You hear it all the time. We want to be spreading democracy.
REHMDo you think we're succeeding in the idea of spreading democracy, Rory?
STEWARTI think the thing that we succeeded in doing in Bosnia and Kosovo was much more concrete than that. What we succeeded in doing is allowing a lot of refugees and displaced people to return. We allowed 200,000 families to get their homes back. We got rid of the front lines and the fighting between different sectarian groups, Bosnian Serbs, (word?). We put a lot of very nasty people on trial.
STEWARTI think we need to keep it as concrete as possible, so we shouldn't use abstract words like democracy, but I think it makes sense to say in Bosnia, yes, what we did succeed in doing is making the place a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more stable, a little bit more humane and that's something to be proud of.
REHMBut once we leave Afghanistan, there are many who say, there's the prospect of civil war.
STEWARTThere's definitely the prospect of civil war. There was civil war in the 1990s, there's every ingredient of a civil war today, so we need to try to do what we can to reduce the likelihood of a civil war and increase the likelihood of political settlement, but I put it in those terms because what I'm saying is that we can't guarantee that. This is no longer in the gift of the United States or NATO, it's largely an Afghan issue.
STEWARTIt's about Afghans resolving their problems. And after 10 years, our influence diminishes. When you've been in a place for a decade, most of the things you can do, you achieved and those things that you haven't managed to do yet, you're probably never going to be able to do. So what we can do is to try to do all we can to let Afghans take the lead, facilitate negotiations between the different sides and try to see what we could do, maybe, with a little air power, a little money to try to insure that there isn't an all out civil war, but it may not be in our gift.
REHMOne of our earlier callers wanted to know your opinion on the role war profits play in our intervention as opposed to any altruistic motives we might have.
STEWARTWell, of course, President Eisenhower had the sight over military industrial complex and I think one of the very strange things in Afghanistan, or even Iraq, is the way in which money matters. When you're spending $125 billion a year in a country, it corrupts almost everybody. Often, very unexpected people. So people running charities, for example, non-profits, are often taking huge amounts of money from the American government or British government in order to build schools or clinics.
STEWARTThey're getting the money on the basis of counter terrorism, they're using the money to build a school or a clinic. Therefore, it's not in their interest to challenge the narratives. It's not in their interest to say, maybe, Afghanistan doesn't pose an existential threat to global security because the school they're building is being financed off the back of that. There are probably 100,000 consultants and contractors working in everything from building to teaching, who are making money out of this.
STEWARTSo it's not simply some sort of evil group of arms manufacturers rubbing their hands together. Everybody, from journalists to aid workers to U.N. people get corrupted and sucked into the system.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Mooresville, N.C. Good morning, Richard, thanks for waiting.
RICHARDGood morning. I appreciate being allowed to speak a little bit. Mr. Stewart is right on target. I represent an organization called solaceforthechildren.org. We've been in Afghanistan since 2007. We bring over children for the summer that have illnesses from age seven to 12 and they come and stay for six weeks in the summer in the United States and we're in six states right now. And we've got over 160 children. And what we do is we heal them. The hospitals and doctors do all the work pro-bono, which is $2.5 million last year, surgeries.
RICHARDAnd we're all volunteer. And what we're trying to do, we get the children together, they're different sex, different religions and they grow to love each other, probably because of their experience of just coming here. And it has a major effect. And the children say, the American military should go. And more organizations like Solace, which is non-profit, should be there helping the children and the people.
REHMThat goes right along with your point.
STEWARTYes. I think the American military has played a very distinguished role and I don't think one wants to get into a worldview where one rubbishes the American military, they've made enormous sacrifices. I think what we need to recognize, though, is that the time has come to begin reducing the troops. And to say to the military, this is not an insult to the American military, it is simply that the situation has turned out, not primarily to be a military situation.
STEWARTThat the reason why we need to draw down is that our relations with Pakistan, problems with corruption in the Afghan government mean that, in the end, we cannot fix it militarily. So we need to find a way of paying all respects and honor to the sacrifices of soldiers while at the same time, decisively moving to reduce the troop numbers.
REHMThere are an awful lot of people who worry that we are there to take advantage of the resources of that country and could do so. What's your view?
STEWARTI don't agree. Afghanistan actually doesn't have that many resources. It keeps boasting that it has resources. There's a huge fashion at the moment to say Afghanistan's sitting on x trillion dollars' worth of mineral wealth in and this, that and the other. Historically, it's been very difficult to extract very much from Afghanistan and that isn't the reason we're there. We're there because, essentially, of revenge after 9/11.
STEWARTWe went in there to get bin Laden. And a lot of the reason -- and this is one of the reasons why these conspiracy theories emerge, it's just because Afghans and American voters are just perplexed. And so they think, well, surely there must be some secret plan here. Maybe there's oil, maybe there's uranium, maybe that's why we've gone in there. No. The reality is that we're there because we're there.
STEWARTWe get stuck. There's a strange mental war and energy to war which means that once you've dipped your toes in, you get sucked up to your neck and then the whole thing becomes bewildering.
REHMAnd 10 years is a long time. Rory Stewart, member of the British Parliament, co-author of a new book titled "Can Intervention Work?" Thank you for being here.
STEWARTThank you very much, indeed.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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