By David Rohde
The views expressed are his own.

This is a response to Rory Stewart's book excerpt, "My uphill battle against the Afghanistan intervention."

The most important phrase in Stewart’s essay is his statement that a “light, long-term footprint” should be adopted in Afghanistan. I agree but he paints a dark picture of all Western efforts in the country.

While Stewart is correct in many of his arguments, he presents a seductively simplistic picture of abject failure. Unquestionably, Washington has focused too much on the military effort. And Stewart is right to argue against a policy of simply pouring in more foreign troops. Yet his portrait of foreigners achieving nothing in a decade stokes a dangerous isolationism gaining credence in both liberal and conservative circles in the West.

It is presented in subtle terms, but Stewart’s argument of cultural differences plays into an ugly, colonial-era view that Afghanistan and the greater Middle East are inherently backward. The region’s people, culture and faith, an extreme interpretation of the argument goes, have nothing in common with the West.

The region is not inherently backward, nor anti-Western. It is enduring a long and bloody conflict between religious conservatives and urban liberals. Instead of walking away, the United States and Europe must find a more effective way to back those liberals over the long-term.