Andrew Sprung tries to make sense of the Afghan debate by analyzing the arguments of Stewart and Coll as thoroughly as he can. Advantage Coll:
Coll defends assumptions and ultimately (if equivocally) embraces goals that Stewart sees as delusive:The fundamental assumptions remain that an ungoverned or hostile Afghanistan is a threat to global security; that the West has the ability to address the threat and bring prosperity and security; that this is justified and a moral obligation; that economic development and order in Afghanistan will contribute to global stability; that these different objectives reinforce each other; and that there is no real alternative.
But why delusive?
In the end, Stewart's critique devolves into literary criticism - an analysis of the syntax of two 19th century British statesmen with different world views. His preference for the language and world view of the skeptic is not an argument. He highlights many perhaps insurmountable difficulties of attaining the vision outlined above, but he stops short of really indicating how to attain a messy but viable alternative. Coll, in the end, engages facts on the ground more relentlessly.
Whoever engages the facts on the ground more relentlessly is the most authentic conservative. And yet I retain more of Stewart's sense of foreboding than Coll's sense of realism.