Eight years ago, the United States invaded Afghanistan on a pretext that appears, in retrospect, even flimsier than those we later invented in order to kick of our adventure in Iraq. You may recall. The Taliban were "harboring al Qaeda." By this logic, we could have bombed Hamburg to the ground, but never mind. The Taliban were and remain nasty characters. They treat objects like women and look at what they did to those lovely Buddhas. On the other hand, although they had achieved temporary superiority in the ongoing internecine conflicts that have roiled in Afghanistan ever since the first foreigner imagined that Afghanistan was a single country, they were never exactly the sole legitimate rulers of the Afghan nation. Indeed, an overstuffed buffet of tribal and ethnic antagonists continually warred against them, and they likewise existed in a state of heady indecision when it came to Afghanistan's great drug traffickers, who sometimes do and sometimes do not overlap those ethno-tribal warlords, chieftains, allainces, etc., who were sometimes allies and funders of convenience, sometimes enemies whose satanic crops were to be totally eradicated.
The United States, to its partial credit, wasn't entirely unaware of these circumstances, and sought to use them to its advantage, conducting an air war and some special operations ground missions while leaving the bulk of the ground fighting to its various imagined Gunga Dins in the so-called Northern Alliance. This hodgepodge of sketchy characters managed something resembling a victory. Al Qaeda, whatever that was, scattered into the hills, and America . . . stayed. I would like to extrapolate some lesson from this, but fail. Having achieved its bullshit objectives with relative martial ease, and having by then already set its cataracted sights on Iraq for no good reason whatsoever, the Bush administration, partially in thrall to its own ballooning, Chuchillian self-regard, partially convinced by the authentic Ivy-League gibberish of its resident neoconservative sages, and largely, I suspect, because they suffered from every first-time novelist's curse and could not conceive a proper ending, decided to stick around and give the Afghans, whomever they were, exactly what it was that they had never once shown any particular inclination to develop, deploy, or receive from abroad: democracy!
Eight years later we remain. The Taliban are supposedly "resurgent," and our nominal allies newly restive. The Obama, who won an election by treating America to a year-long self-help seminar and then made off with the registration fees, has rededicated America to the unidentifiable, indefinable, ineffable, unimaginable task of doing something or other in Afghanistan, now with 50% More Troops! The conflicts in which we now find ourselves embroiled are of course conflicts that have been going on for decades, centuries; our presence merely exacerbates them, and from time to time we get lucky and blow up a village from the air, a feat that no internal Afghan faction could ever manage without us. So in a very limited way, I actually endorse Touch-of-Gray spokesmodel and world-famous Man-atee Tom Friedman's conclusion: And it is not all our fault.
But Friedman is such a virtuousic idiot that even at his most almost-true-ish-esque, he only manages to emphasize and exacerbate his wrongness. Yes, it is true that America is not responsible for the fact that Afghanistan is a patchwork of divided loyalties, dissolving and reforming partnerships, and constant vying for power, territory, resources, and supremacy, that it was so long before we arrived and will remain so long after we're eventually forced to leave. And yet . . . it is our fault that we are there. It's our fault that we interposed ourselves in the first place. America did not roll out of bed and awake in the middle of the Hindu Kush. We did not hide in the wardrobe and stumble out the back end into the harsh Helmand snow. "[A]fter eight years [...] one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there." After eight years?