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Can Intervention Work?

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  179 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Rory Stewart (author of The Places In Between) and Gerald Knaus distill their 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 the massive, military-driven efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans, the expansion of the EU, and the ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 15th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company
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Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Two well-written and insightful essays by long-time practitioners of international peace and conflict resolution/state building efforts. The overall message is a sobering one -- peace-building and state-building are not impossible, but they are frequently orders of magnitude more complicated, dangerous and costly than we initially assess, and possible more than we can initially assess. The conclusion, that Western powers (the book is written pretty much explicitly at Western policy makers in the ...more
Euan Carey
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent book that fights back against the narrative that there is a catch all solution for nation building
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 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.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoyed Stewart's other books more. Worth a read for those interested in International Relations.
Matt A
May 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Intervention only seems to work out between loving parties (a parent preventing a kid from touching an oven, a friend physically restraining a friend from suicide).

Intervention only seems to fail between all other parties (Iraq/Afg./Libya/Vietnam war, regulating the market, Obamacare, drug confiscation, speeding tickets, Net Neutrality, etc.)

This book asks a supremely easy question (one most children know the answer to). It then tries to give a really complicated "yes", all the while
Anne Maesaka
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I am a huge fan of Rory Stewart. He knows more about the conflict in Afghanistan than all the government officials and diplomats put together. In this book he details why most conflict interventions fail, specifically the ones in the Middle East. I only wish our government officials would read this book and follow some of his recommendations. Every conflict has to be dealt with differently and not the cookie cutter UN mediated scripts.
That being said I found the section by Gerald Knaus
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Joe Chernicoff
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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,
Phil Roberts
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
David Morris
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Julian Haigh
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Jenna Copeland
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Carol Brady
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Slentrende og ufokusert om erfaringene fra først og fremst Afghanistan og Bosnia.
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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