THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
Rory Stewart, the Scotsman who walked across Afghanistan (literally) and wrote a book about it has emerged of late as a cautionary voice warning that the West simply can't tame or transform that impoverished tribal nation. Today Stewart will make that case for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the first of two hearings on the Obama administration's Afghanisatan policy. (Video link is here.) Testifying on the other side, in favor of a major U.S. commitment of troops, money and time, is John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security, the effective dean of the new counterinsurgency establishment in Washington.
It will be interesting to see who gets more of committee chairman John Kerry's sympathies. On the PBS News Hour last night, Kerry struck a more wary note on Afghanistan policy than I'd heard before, warning that the U.S. strategy in the region isn't working and needs to be rethought. My money is on Stewart here. During Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing in January, Kerry recommended she read Stewart's book, which takes a dim view of foreign intrustion in Afghanistan. He also added this:
And I think unless we rethink this very, very carefully, we could raise the stakes, invest America’s reputation in a greater way as well as our treasure and wind up pursuing a policy that is, frankly, unpursuable, unachievable.
One just doesn't get the sense that Kerry--a famed Vietnam dissident who must feel burned by his support of the Iraq War--feels this one in his gut. Keep an eye on what he says today and in the critical weeks to come.