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Reality Check on Afghanistan
A burqa clad woman walks past a poster of Afghan President Hamid Karzai pasted on the back of a vehicle in Herat, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009. Afghans will head to the polls on Aug. 20 to elect the new president. (AP)

A burqa clad woman walks past a poster of Afghan President Hamid Karzai pasted on the back of a vehicle in Herat, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009. Afghans will head to the polls on Aug. 20 to elect the new president. (AP)

The people of Afghanistan go to the polls tomorrow to elect a president — if they have the courage. At least one Taliban commander has threatened to cut off any finger he sees daubed with the blue ink of the voter.

British diplomat, soldier, and scholar Rory Stewart knows Afghanistan far better than most. He walked across it. Learned it up close. He’s an adviser to the U.S. envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

But Rory Stewart says we’ve got our vision wrong for Afghanistan, the war, and nation-building. We need a rethink.

This hour, on election eve, a reality check on Afghanistan.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us first from Kabul is Laura King, reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Joining us from London is Rory Stewart, professor and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He has served as a British soldier and diplomat, has been an outside adviser to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, and is executive chairman of the Afghanistan-based  Turquoise Mountain Foundation. He’s author of “The Places in Between,” about his 2002 trek across Afghanistan, and of “The Prince of the Marshes,” about his time as coalition deputy governor of two southern Iraqi provinces in 2003 and 2004.

Stewart’s recent essay, “The Irresistible Illusion” (in the July 9 issue of the London Review of Books), offers an extended critique of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy.

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  • Mike

    Sad Afghan civilians are going to suffer and die by both the Taliban and U.S. until it is evident that we need to leave or we secure that pipeline in southern afgan.

    The whole human rights thing is just a front for the military to say in longer and contractors(which consist of mercenary’s and defense contractors who profit the longer the fighting go on).As well as this farce election there holding.

    If humans rights were the real issue i would think the civilian death count and drone attacks would go down, and saudi arabia would be force to work on there HR as well. The UK is talking about staying for 40 plus years and with this U.S. attitude we always win and can’t admit being there is doing more harm than good how long will we stay?

    was not the whole reason was to hunt down bin laden, and use commando, not nation building.

  • Mickey Foster

    Afghanistan will be President Obama’s Vietnam.

  • Lilya Lopkha

    >>>Afghanistan will be President Obama’s Vietnam.<<<
    100% true.

    Proof: Suicide Bombings going on, "simultaneously"
    Why? CNN or NPR never tells us "their side".

    The message: we can do harm and damage anytime we want against the position of the foreign occupiers and against anybody who "collaborates". Two explosions within the same minute, or five. And you cannot do anything about it.

  • brianna

    As they said before, we are the foreign occupiers in Afghanistan.

    Let’s look at the reason: 9/11, right?
    Why? Dick Cheney said so.

  • Carlos

    Solution to Afghanistan is very easy. Just a three-step process.

    1) Find 2-3 metallurgy scientists and 2-3 high-school physics teachers who have nothing to do with the Dick Cheney Administration.

    2) Look at the evidence of why WTC 7 (49 story huge office building in Manhattan) has collapsed all by itself at 5:21 pm on 09/11/2009 in 6.3 seconds.

    3) Apologize to the People of Afghanistan and NATO and families of fallen/wounded soldiers, and get the hell out of Afghanistan in 3 days.

  • Jennifer

    Rory Stewart might be right; but given that Obama’s government–and Brown’s– have thrown themselves completely into this fight, are _they_ going to think Rory Stewart is right? Second point: does anyone have an actual, viable programme for stopping a) nartotics trade, b)the corruption in the Afghan government that is widely attested to, and that at the highest levels, c) waste & graft in international development money?

  • carlos

    Just to put things in perspective regarding Afghanistan:

    After 14 months of rejections and fights 9/11 Commission was formed with $3 million budget (was increased to $5.5 million)

    With one executive order NIST (national institute of standards and technology) to (mis-)investigate why the buildings have collapsed with $18 million budget (later it was increased to $48 million) and computer simulations/excuses/retractions and fighting against laws of physics and material science continued until the last days of Bush Administration in Dec 2008.

    Of that $48 million, not 1 single penny was spent to investigate if “controlled demolition” was the cause.

    Here is your reason, why we are in Afghanistan.

  • Don

    This subject has been taught many times but we are too foolish to heed the lesson.

    Athens versus Sparta

  • dianna g

    Obama’s hands are tied. The moment he starts talking about getting out of Afghanistan, the neo-cons will flood the airwaves and town-halls about 9/11 and how soft he is on Terrorism.

    He will aliniate himself from the Democratic congress because the hawks and defense lobby will get them ridiculed at their districts.

    So, we have to “make” Obama do the easy thing…which is to look at why we are in Afghanistan.
    We just cannot afford this nonsense anymore.

  • http://ThePreambleProject.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    Brianna, above, has it right.

    Tom, bright chap that thou art, I wish you’d give up your credulity about 9/11/2001, and this conceit that “We were attacked by al Qaeda” on 9/11″ etc.

    The evidence continues to accrete that the explosives used to demolish WTC7, 2 and 1 was very sophisticated, new, nano-thermite or -thermate, pretty much sole-sourced from the US weapons labs; ditto with the “weaponized anthrax” (US weapons of mass destruction, bio-weapons division at Fort Detrick, MD), etc.

    At the very least, be a good enough journalist to attribute unproven assertions, like: “As “our” government claims,– but has not proven, and we’ve not been able to independently verify– the US was “attacked” by an outfit we’ve called “al Qaeda.”, yadayada…

    Ditto “detainees”: 170 prisoners of war, whom the administration calls “detainees”, have died in US captivity; 40 of that number have been confirmed as homicides, thus far.

    And on Afghanistan, is it the oil pipeline? Is it US bases to control the oilfields of the Far, Near, Middle East?

    Here’s a primitive country that took down skyscrapers in New York City, you say? You’ve gotta be kidding, dude! You need to do some homework, kiddo. Our 9/11/2001 was, most likely, an “inside job,” a “false flag op,” a necessary condition precedent to scare the nation into war.

    And indeed, there IS a tiger in the room with the angry cat. But the tiger is actually the “tiger in your tank”–our very own, home-grown military-industrial-legislative-intel-banking complex.

  • Putney Swope

    Wow, the conspiracy theorist are out in force today.
    I’ll be putting on my aluminum foil hat too join in the fun…

  • Carlos

    The nine years of occupation of Afghanistan, hundereds of billions of dollars, lost arms and legs and lives boil down to this darn document.


    Obviously Osama did not put it up there. It was the very first report by FEMA before they were muzzled.

    You don’t have to get too scientific. Just search for “sulf” and see how many times you hit “sulf”.

    The bottom line is you can have the entire NYC city block go up in flames and you don’t get one molecule of Sulfur oxidation. But when you have controlled demolotion of old buildings, in “all cases” you get tons of Sulfur Oxidation in the structural steel.

    The problem is that NIST (the only governmental institution who could investigate this) [1 guy + 3-4 Defense Contractor experts paid handsomely], year after year openly and bluntly “refused” to look into this.

    Occupation of Afghanistan … it is that simple.

  • brianna

    I sort of agree that the Solution to Afghanistan issue goes thru looking at why we invaded that poor country in the first place.

    Also believe that the 9/11 plot (whoever did that) did include bringing down the buildings entirely with explosives. And then they figured out that strategically it just does not make sense. Under some scrutiny the whole thing will fall apart.

    That’s why there has been massive cover-up and psychological pressures were played not to look at scientific evidence.

    I hope OnPoint will consider conducting a program about the root cause of the occupation instead of doing just another show about Afghanistan for the 93rd (or 94th) time in nine years.

  • Mike

    great show Tom and onpoint your guest had some very good points that we rarly here on U.S. main stream media.


  • Sandy Coy

    THANK YOU so much for having this guest on today. I have been longing to hear someone talk knowledgeably, honestly and caring-ly about us and Afghanistan. I am going to go back over every word of this interview. I am also going to look at Rory Stewart’s book and check out his humanitarian organization, Turquoise Mountain.

    This is a very helpful followup for me from the eye-opening essay I recently read about stopping U.S. hegemony for our own sake, “Three Good Reasons to Liquidate Our Empire and 10 Steps to Take to Do So” by Chalmers Johnson at Massive public education here will be necessary to get “macho” and national security disentangled from the national psyche and economic necessity in the U.S. Until then, politicians will keep going for war to gain and retain political power. Familiarity with people should be part of the educational process, e.g. Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” and the film “Afghan Star”. Multicultural ed (but not propaganda!) in schools.

    I do think that Pres. Obama’s effort to develop a green energy-based economy will help us get out of our war and weaponry basis. If he can succeed in capturing our faith and imagination and put this into motion, he may be able to turn the tide to save our country.

  • Mike

    “rarly here” should be rarely hear

  • BAS

    Excellent conversation. Well articulated insights into the complexity and fragility of Afghanistan and the purposeful American political psyche whose big weakness is the inability to step back.

    Grown up stuff. Thanks to Tom and Rory Stewart.

  • Mike

    whats sad as well is there is going to be massively corruption, and vote ridging in these elections but i guess as long as it is a pro-western candidate wins it does not matter.

    But this will be triumphed as a great step in democracy(corruption as long as your side wins) Can you imagine a pro-taliban candidate won it be discredited by the west in a heart beat.

    i agree with dianna that obama is dammen if he does dammned if he doesn’t in regards to afgan and his attempt to work with the far-right who hate him in our country is really screwing him.

  • Mike

    even if a pro-tailban won fair and sqaure it be discreadited as well.”democracy in Afgan Ha”

  • doug martinez

    Oil. Natural Gas. The Great Game formerly played by Britain and Russia is now being played by the U.S. , Russia, and China over the petroleum resources of Central Asia. All other concerns are a sideshow. China is winning under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Zbig Brzezinski laid out the policy during the Carter Administration, and all Washington supports it. Somebody talk about the real issue!

  • Felipe

    And then we invade Afghanistan. Coincidence #278 or NOT. Am I the only one who thinks that this is too weird.

    Afghanistan invasion did not happen out of the blue.

    See it with your own eyes, here is the link:

    The Visa Express program was a U.S. State Department program that allowed residents of Saudi Arabia to enter the U.S. without proving their identities. It became controversial when some of the 9/11 hijackers used this program to gain entry into the country, and the program was eventually shut down.

    In the spring and summer of 2001, the terror level in the U.S. was reportedly “off the charts”. The U.S. had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities of al-Qaeda members.[1][2][3]

    Despite all this, the U.S. introduced the Visa Express program in May 2001. This program allowed Saudi Arabian residents, including non-citizens, to get valid visas through a travel agency using a much less restrictive standard than would have otherwise been required. They did not have to submit a proof of identity, but only had to provide a photograph and fill out a short form. A senior State Department official described the program as “an open-door policy for terrorists.” No other country had this system to facilitate easy entry into the country.[4]

  • Michelle

    What if, what if, what if ….

    Osama Bin Laden is dead already. (Dec 14-15, 2001)

    Aren’t we acting like perfect colonial idiots?

  • Felipe

    Listening to the program again tonight. It is very upsetting to see how clueless (no offense OnPoint/NPR) we all have become.

    What part of it is not clear that Occupying Afghanistan has nothing to do with 9/11.

    Even if (big IF) we believe everything Dick Cheney told us [ie. he never lied in his life], look at the picture below.
    Can you see a single native Afghani?

    American Airlines Flight 11
    Waleed Alshehri, 22, from Saudi Arabia *
    Wail Alshehri, 28, from Saudi Arabia, brother of Waleed Alshehri, had psychological problems *
    Abdulaziz Alomari, 22, from Saudi Arabia *
    Satam Al Suqami, 25, from Saudi Arabia
    Mohamed Atta, 33, from Egypt (the likely pilot) *

    United Airlines Flight 93
    Saeed Alghamdi, 21, from Saudi Arabia (had flight training) *
    Ahmed Alhaznawi, 20, from Saudi Arabia *
    Ahmed Alnami, 23, from Saudi Arabia *
    Ziad Jarrah, 26, from Lebanon (the likely pilot) *

    United Airlines Flight 175
    Ahmed Alghamdi, 22, from Saudi Arabia
    Hamza Alghamdi, 20, from Saudi Arabia, brother of Ahmed Alghamdi *
    Marwan Alshehhi, 23, from United Arab Emirates (the likely pilot) *
    Mohand Alshehri, 22, from Saudi Arabia, possible cousin of Marwan Alshehhi and/or from the same extended family as Wail and Waleed Alshehri
    Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (Alshehri), 24, from United Arab Emirates (had flight training)

    American Airlines Flight 77
    Khalid Almihdhar, 26, from Saudi Arabia (originally from Yemen, changed citizenship in 1996) *
    Nawaf Alhazmi, 25, from Saudi Arabia
    Salem Alhazmi, 20, from Saudi Arabia, brother of Nawaf Alhazmi *
    Hani Hanjour, 29, from Saudi Arabia (the likely pilot)
    Majed Moqed, 24, from Saudi Arabia *

    Please do not ever think that I personally believe that any of those planes have been “hijacked” by these people.

    Unfortunately, not one single have been asked under oath about 9/11. My personal speculation is that, these people have been (if they had legit ID’s) recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia (not even sure what their real names were) by a very few operatives in NSA to be the prop’s for national scale commercial airline hijacking exercise. They were paid under the cover via wire transfers (thru Pakistan). They camped out in Laurel, MD (Da!!!) in August 2001, where NSA’s headquarter is. They did not know how to fly a plane. None of them did.

    Main part of the exercise was “Flight Termination”. Meaning, when a commercial airplane is hijacked, ground crew takes control of the plane and the hijackers/pilot cannot do anything.

    If you think about this….does not everything make sense???????????

  • gideon

    how is the us force regarded differently from the soviet occupation by afghans?

  • Brett Greisen

    As a New Yorker, I find the retreat to GWB/Cheney lies a very poor argument. We can’t remember what Vietnam should have burned into us. We forget that any people who are invaded will try to kick out the invader. It’s History 1, not 1001.

    The faster we are out of both Afghanistan & Iraq, the faster our economy will improve. That will help us compete because companies will not have legacy medical expenses when we switch to Medicare For All w/ better reimbursements & ,move to starting to maintain health for all our people from pre-natal through hospice.

    Mr. Stewart’s remarks are realistic and logical. If we dismiss his arguments out of hand, we continue in lose-lose situations. No matter when our forces leave Afghanistan & Iraq, the internal factions will settle their feuds in their own ways. We cannot prevent it and are NOT preventing now as we dump $$$ and our Armed Forces into into these cultural storms.

    As a nation, we have very little experience with even our closest neighbors. We are not the British Empire or the Roman Empire.

    Just because we feel good playing Superman, we are not Superman. The reality is that we know so little about the countries we have invaded since 11 September 01 have been so poorly chosen, planned and executed so poorly that it’s amazing that we haven’t lost 2x as many warriors than we have.

    The previous administration has fulfilled its wishes. It has destroyed more of our civil common ground than any Pres. term since Buchanan & Ft. Sumter.

  • jeff

    Obama has upped the ante and now he’s mired in his own Iraq. So goes our treasure and the lives of our young. Learn the lesson of Vietnam, we can’t even learn the lesson of Iraq and we don’t have passage of time as an excuse. There’s something about being president that makes otherwise intelligent people do really stupid things.

  • http://n/a Phillip Jordan

    “That a nation can be both ignorant and free is a thing that has never been, nor ever shall be”-Thomas Jefferson. The low level of literacy in Afghanistan is the most damning indictment of our mode of policy. How can there be democracy, or indeed any mode of explicit ‘consent of the governed’ under such conditions. What’s more, no amount of control of Afghanistan will prevent any amount of terrorism from sprouting up in surrounding nations, the ‘stans’, huge basket-case nation left over after the Soviet collapse. I know rather few people here in New York that swallow the hokum that those airplanes took down those steel-core buildings-better follow the money. In the meantime, our need for butter far outweighs our need for guns.

  • Felipe

    The solution is very simple. Obama is in a tight box. The moment he wants to walk out of Afghanistan, he will be shot with darts that says “Obama is week on Terror”.

    There is only one solution to this problem: “Let’s find out what the hell has happened to WTC Building # 7″

    It is so simple, within 1-2 hours under oath and with the right questions, we can figure it out if we have invaded Afghanistan due to a wrong and misguided agenda.

    This is not that simple. All it takes is a couple High-School physics teachers.

    Why did WTC 7 (the Solomon Building) collapse by itself at 5:21 pm Sept 11, 2001?

  • Felipe

    Why are we in Afghanistan? See how related issues are.

    Here is an inerview: Lee Hamilton, The Co-Chair of 9/11 Commission [supposedly one of the two most knowledgable people on the planet regarding the events of 9/11]

    He wrote a book: “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission”

    >>>Solomon (Canada Broadcasting): …the most persistent – is that the buildings were brought down by controlled explosion, controlled demolition. One of the bits of evidence that is often cited is the collapse of World Trade Center Building Number 7, which was not hit by any plane. One question that people have is: why didn’t the Commission deal with the collapse Building 7, which some call the smoking gun? Why did this collapse at all?

    Hamilton: ….Now, with regard to Building 7, we believe that it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case, we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container, which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory on Building 7.
    Now we’re not the experts on this, we talked to the engineers and the architects about this at some length, and that’s the conclusion we reached.<<<


    ps. why in the world, Lee Hamilton were paid so handsomely by Bush Administration as an Advisor to Homeland Security???

  • aziz
  • RobF

    Please everyone, spare us the WTC conspiracy theories.

    Having read Stewart’s book “The Prince of the Marshes” on his tenure as as deputy governor in southern Iraq, I was struck by how different his tone was in this interview. Apparently Empire building is inadvisable, unless Rory is involved in it.

    I don’t think Stewart we should automatically crown Stewart as the font of all wisdom on the subject of Afghanistan. This interview seems to be part of a self-promotion campaign to groom himself for a political career as a Conservative MP.

  • Mike

    called it “success” get real


    the crap keeps running

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