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The Queen of the Quagmire

First published in the New York Review of Books, 27 October, 2007.   – Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations                         by Georgina Howell Farrar, Straus and Giroux,481 pp., $27.50 – Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser […]


Where Less Is More

Published in the New York York Times, 23 July 2007 America and its allies are in danger of repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even some Republicans are insisting on withdrawing from Iraq and sending more troops and resources to southern Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s gloomy National Intelligence Estimate […]



Article first published in the New York Review of Books on 31 May 2007. The following text is based on Stewart’s dialogue about Iraq with audience members, after his discussion with broadcast journalist Dan Harris, at the Asia Society in New York on April 20, 2007. Woman in audience: I wanted to know since you […]

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Article first published in Maclean’s by Michael Petrou on 13 May 2007. In January 2002, only two months after the Taliban were overthrown, Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. He had previously served in the British foreign service and the British army. In 2003, at age 30, he became the coalition deputy […]


When Less Is Best

First published in The New York Times, 20 March, 2007. Why are we in Afghanistan? Vice President Cheney talks terror, Britain focuses on narcotics. The European Union talks ‘state-building,’ others gender. On a different day, the positions seem interchangeable. Five years ago, we had a clear goal. Now we seem to be pursuing a bundle […]


Our Echoes Come From You

First published in the New York Times, 24 March 2007. Afghanistan is now both more and less than a nation. Dialects of its official language are spoken from Iran to India. Its greetings and rituals are recognizable in Chechnya. Kabuli woodwork incorporates motifs from Syria, the Mughal Empire and pre-Islamic Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, I heard […]


What We Can Do

First published in the New York Times, 27 March 2007 We must acknowledge the limits of our power and knowledge in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and concentrate on what is achievable. The question is not “What ought we to do?” but “What can we do?” This is rarely discussed. When I ask politicians whether we can defeat […]



Article first published in The New York Times on 12 March 2007. The accepted wisdom in British political circles is that Tony Blair won three elections by giving the British voters charisma and energy unfettered by dull or controversial policies. The Tories have now taken the lesson to heart. They are fighting back with feel-good, idea-light […]


An Afghan Policy Built on Pipe Dreams

 First published in The New York Times, March 3, 2007. The international community’s policy in Afghanistan is based on the claim that Afghans are willing partners in the creation of a liberal democratic state. Senator John McCain finished a recent speech on Afghanistan by saying, “Billions of people around the world now embrace the ideals […]