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Can Intervention Work?

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  116 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
“A fresh and critically important perspective on foreign interventions” (Washington Post), Can Intervention Work? distills Rory Stewart’s (author of The Places In Between) and Gerald Knaus’s remarkable firsthand experiences of political and military interventions into a potent examination of what we can and cannot achieve in a new era of nation building. As they delve into ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published August 27th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published August 15th 2011)
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Feb 26, 2013 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: I adore Rory Stewart. I am a huge fan of clinically insane people in government. I think he is incurably, fascinatingly insane, and I always find his writing clever and insightful. Plus, he walked across Asia, taught at Harvard then got elected to Parliament. Like I said, crazy. (Though he was elected in his homeland of Scotland, which probably explains a lot).

The overarching theme of the book is not terribly uplifting. The answer to the title is a qualified, "Maybe. If you're l
Apr 20, 2014 Antenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Focusing on Afghanistan since 2001, Rory Stewart identifies reasons for the failure of intervention to achieve a "sustainable solution". Goals have been unclear, obscured by buzzwords and western-style "management speak". Leaders sent in to sort out the problems have stayed for only short periods, with foreign specialists remaining ignorant of the local culture since they rarely set foot outside protected compounds for security reasons. So, each successive surge of ever larger numbers of troops, ...more
Alex Strick van Linschoten
Half autobiography, half policy critique, this essay by Rory Stewart has a few interesting anecdotes but isn't really worth buying. His arguments are mostly sound, but the framing -- 'How Rory Failed to Prevent the Surge' -- can be a little trying.
Jun 15, 2014 Kaycecejim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rory Stewart writes strongly and convincingly about the failure of intervention in Afghanistan - adopting a far more polemic approach to Knaus' academic one. The distinct approaches, emphasises and conclusions of the authors makes this an insightful and engaging exploration of contemporary neoliberal interventionism.
Be warned, this is far from fiction, and it is not recommended in that respect - the two authors convened an academic programme on this topic at a prestigious American university, a
Dec 12, 2011 Clay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two insightful essays look at two interventions. The first, Afghanistan, will end badly. Soldiers and civilians come for their short tours, adding their bit to the state building template. Each new commander arrives, blames his predecessor for the problems, and promises to do better. It might have worked if the goals had remained counter-terrorism; but the parties involved have overreached, trying to build a capable, accountable government, to protect against exaggerated dangers to the west. The ...more
Feb 25, 2012 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whew ! I respect Rory Stewart a lot, and his descriptions and insights are "overwhelming" and sadly far too commonly observed.

He definitely exposes some of the madness that goes with Intervention, and the total lack of local knowledge, history, customs, culture that powerful people/countries show. And then we are surprised that it does not work, or has failed,not counting the misery and destruction involved. Man Oh Man !!

A very impressive, and while it is blunt and shows how wrong the west in Af
Jan 18, 2013 notabattlechick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-work
Though the title may suggest a boring case-study slog through modern interventions using quantitative metrics and social-science methodology, the book is far different. And much better for it. The two authors (Stewart and Knaus) instead offer two extended meditations on interventions in Afghanistan and Bosnia based both on personal experience and relatively in-depth research, though both touch on larger themes of intervention, miltiary force, humanitarianism, and the global order. Both essays ar ...more
Joe Chernicoff
Feb 13, 2012 Joe Chernicoff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Continuing education is a task all (hopefully) intelligent American undertake. That does not mean you have to attend seminars or workshops, or enroll in classes at institutions of higher learning. Books written by knowledgeable authors can be, and are, the path to higher learning.

Regardless of your own knowledge, political leanings, and other relevant factors which have a tendency
to lock your mind onto a given track of thought, as a wise person you understand that oftimes the real case is that
Dec 31, 2012 Gemma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is affected me because I've lived and worked in one of the places discussed. It left me at times sad and ashamed and then hopeful and fired up. And finally lost and confused because - like most books of this nature - the conclusion was weak. There is no clear answer or solution to the question "can intervention work".

In “Can Intervention Work?” Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus critique foreign intervention through two case studies - Afghanistan and Bosnia. Both authors are critical of fo
Two essays on international intervention to prevent or respond to crises. In the first, Rory Stewart reveals the extent to which the West failed in Afghanistan and makes a compelling argument for longer tours and regional or country expertise, rather than subject matter expertise, in the foreign service.
In the second essay, which I actually found more interesting, Gerald Knaus teases out successful and potentially successful strategies, through a methodical analysis of four theories of state-bu
May 01, 2013 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
The answer to the question the book poses (I'm saving you lots of reading time-but you should read book and not just take my word for it) is no. Rory Stewart is extremely credible and even has the stones to second guess the late Richard Holbrook! Gerald Knaus brings hindsight to the table in his step by step analysis of the Balkans and what we can learn from that era of "nation building" and how it relates to our current efforts in the Middle East. Lots of name (and place name) dropping and news ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Nils rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Slentrende og ufokusert om erfaringene fra først og fremst Afghanistan og Bosnia.
Julian Haigh
Jul 13, 2012 Julian Haigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book presenting a balanced case, at least compared to the overly 'high-level' country strategy papers. Perhaps of most clear use, the book highlights some mistakes that occupying forces continually make but doesn't suggest any workable solutions to delivering limited and pragmatic intervention targets for domestic (home country) political consumption (and neither can I!)
Colin Williams
Oct 06, 2012 Colin Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read about Afghanistan. The authors go into a level of detail that is refreshing and analyze some of the ways that the intervention was mishandled--like waiving the requirement that the senior officials speak the local languages. The second half, which deals with Bosnia, assumed far more background knowledge than I had and was far less engaging.
David Morris
Jul 29, 2014 David Morris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a high quality critique on current international intervention strategies from people who know foreign policy. There are plenty of historical references and reliable sources are used throughout. I found the Rory Stewart portion of the book to be the most accessible, but the whole thing is worth reading.
Phil Roberts
Sep 06, 2013 Phil Roberts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unmissable read for anyone seeking to understand the mindset and ethics of modern western foreign policy. Great companion piece to Martin Jacques 'When China Rules the World'. The radical differences in approach between China and Western Powers sets the stage for one of the titanic challenges of the 21st century
Carol Brady
Apr 10, 2015 Carol Brady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Haven't gotten beyond the Rory Stewart section. I am a great fan of his books and personal take on Iraq and Afghanistan. From his walk across Afghanistan to Prince of the Marshes, his experiences give you a real insight into the political and social problems of those lands.
Jenna Copeland
Jan 18, 2012 Jenna Copeland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-politics
I buy the central argument of these essays and feel that the authors have written an intriguing and compelling book. In fact, I can see parallels with global business and thus found it interesting to compare to my everyday life. The book did seem to drag towards the end.
Mary Louise
Can't wait to read this.
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Rory Stewart was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Malaysia. He served briefly as an officer in the British Army (the Black Watch), studied history and philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford and then joined the British Diplomatic Service. He worked in the British Embassy in Indonesia and then, in the wake of the Kosovo campaign, as the British Representative in Montenegro. In 2000 he took two years ...more
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