Things in Afghanistan are still muddled; will it end like Vietnam — an abject, helicopters-flying-out-of-Kabul, people-hanging-on-the-skids defeat — or in an unsatisfying and untidy sort-of victory, like Iraq?
America can live, for example, with the current Iraqi government and its policies, and Iraq’s increasing oil output will help the global economic recovery. This is an unsatisfying return on the blood and treasure we poured into Iraq, but it is not a complete loss — and it is far better than we could have imagined in 2006, when Iraq was descending into civil war and Al Qaeda had established an important foothold there.
It is not unlikely that 2015 will see a similarly reasonable Afghan government that will hold together with American money and advisers — an unsatisfying end, but not a failure, and not without promise of greater stability to come.
Unsatisfying wars are the stock in trade of counterinsurgency; rarely, if ever, will they end with a surrender ceremony and look like a conventional victory. And yet this is the sort of war we have fought, almost exclusively, for over 50 years. 35 warned those graduating from West Point in 1961 that they would struggle to defeat insurgent enemies: “Where there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, the answer is not so difficult. Many serve, all applaud, and the tide of patriotism runs high. But when there is a long, slow struggle, with no immediately visible foe, your choice will seem hard indeed.”
Hard lessons in counterinsurgency had to be relearned before Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and P4 implemented a strategy that combined fighting with negotiations. The 2007 surge, employing new counterinsurgency tactics, and the mindless brutality of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq persuaded the Sunni tribes to “flip” and start fighting the radicals rather than Americans.
The surge changed the war in Iraq dramatically, even as 44, then a candidate for president, was promising to swing resources away from Iraq and into the “good war” in Afghanistan. 44 fulfilled his campaign promise and then some, tripling American forces in Afghanistan during his first year while also doubling down on drone strikes in Pakistan.
Like any successful counterinsurgency, Afghanistan is likely to end somewhat unsatisfyingly for Americans, with a corrupt but gradually improving government in Kabul, advisers helping Afghan security forces fight a weakening but still dangerous Taliban, and a schizophrenic Pakistan alternately helping Afghan and Taliban fighters.
Pic - "Slow and grinding"