Fernando Luján on the winnable war in Afghanistan Army Special Forces Major Fernando M. Luján returned home after 14 months in Afghanistan to hear many in the Beltway resigned to failure there. Luján "spent the past year leading a small team of Dari- and Pashto-speaking Americans whose mission was to embed with Afghan Army units," he writes in The New York Times, and his time on the ground makes him more optimistic. The 2010 surge focused on the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where the Taliban enjoyed almost total control. Now, Afghan soldiers say they are in power, and Afghan civilians are beginning to move into their abandoned homes and recommence civic activities. Meanwhile, the Taliban have shifted to high visibility civilian attacks. In May, local news featured four small children who described "how the Taliban had given them candy and persuaded them to don suicide bomber vests by promising that they wouldn't die and that their impoverished families would be provided for." The soldiers Luján was with merely "shrugged" and said, "They're getting desperate." Still, he cautions, we shouldn't be naive and ignore the insurgents who still control many areas and will attempt a counteroffensive as foreign troops withdraw. "My optimism is rooted instead in an intangible metric, gleaned from the thousand cups of tea we drank and the hundreds of patrols we walked: the Afghans have the will to win, with or without us." Troops from rival tribes are now energetically working together and risking their lives, and success or failure will depend on their will to fight. "For all our technology and firepower, we will succeed or fail based on what happens after we bring our troops home."
Holman Jenkins Jr. on the problems facing solar power "If solar power is destined to become competitive with conventional fuels in the long run, then it will happen in the long run, and in the long run it won't matter whether it was seeded with government tax credits, loans and other handouts," writes Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal. Even after the Solyndra scandal, Jenkins says, the solar industry will probably have no shortage of investors "to keep pursuing this Holy Grail." Ever since 1954 when scientists invented the first photovoltaic cell, people have invested in the effort despite little reassurance that it was commercially viable. Over time, we have found and supported some self-supporting solar ventures. (He cites solar powered calculators, solar powered satellites, and solar powered homes for those who live far from the grid.) And yet, "solar still isn't competitive with traditional fuels for most applications. Nor is there the slightest reason to believe that only the absence of government spending stands between us and a solar revolution." What Jenkins calls the "macro Solyndra policy failure" is the government's inability to see that a poor commercial risk remains poor even when its the government's risk. The "micro Solyndra failure" was their inability to see that no one has yet to solve the fundamental problem facing solar energy -- the problem of storing excess power -- and so investment in it was bound to be futile. "Without storage, no matter how cheap collection becomes you're still stuck building a conventional power plant to pick up the load when the sun refuses to shine." Government's best use is to finance "basic research" where commercial payoff doesn't seem likely, and the government is already doing that. "But, of course, the calculation behind Solyndra was political, not financial," he notes.