DiA draws an interesting parallel:
[F]or some reason we believe that American policy is capable of accomplishing things in Pakistan and Afghanistan that we would never dream it could do in Mexico, even though Mexico is right next door. Nobody in America is under the illusion that some policy shift by America is going to solve all of Mexico's problems on any timeframe, let alone one of a few years. We have a healthy recognition that problems like the drug trade and the gun trade, the unhealthy interdependence of America's desire for cheap labour and Mexico's low levels of economic development, and the shaky legitimacy and effectiveness of local Mexican governance in many places are long-term, intractable problems. We recognise this because Mexico is right next door. The place feels real to us; it's not some kind of abstraction we can remake in our optimistic fantasies. It would be encouraging if the Obama administration adopted a similarly realistic attitude towards its aims in Afghanistan.
A soldier I was talking to recently who was one of the first into Afghanistan explained it this way: "They want to live that way. There's nothing we can do about it." I've long been a skeptic of nation-building from afar. In fact, that used to be a Republican mantra. But nation-building in Afghanistan? It's a fantasy. Obama must know this. The entire project is an intellectual bubble that should have been burst years ago. And if American national security is dependent on turning every Muslim failed state in the world into a stable one, then there is no such thing as national security - just various degrees of insecurity - and we might as well man up and deal with it.
There are obvious logistical questions about what the US does now.
And it still seems sensible to see how various factors now play out - the Afghan election fraud and the Pakistani military's current campaign against the Taliban. But I simply cannot see an ambitious counter-insurgency strategy changing these core dynamics of a foreign power trying to recreate a country that is not a country, especially when the foreign power is bankrupt. This is too hard - culturally, militarily, politically. A long-term commitment at the scale necessary to even have a chance will never get a solid majority of Americans behind it.
(Photo: a gathering of Afghan elders by John Moore/Getty.)