Since I started covering Afghanistan 20 years ago, I have rarely felt as pessimistic as I do now. I have seen friends and acquaintances perish in the neverending war, and now it seems this black hole of a country is sucking in the rest of us. Sure, it is a black hole of our own making, but that only adds the burden of collective guilt on top of everything else.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself entertaining surprisingly positive thoughts. The war might be going to hell, but regardless of how it ends, some good things will come out of it. Among them:
- The Europeans’ newly-found resolve to fight a war. We’re all pacifists on this side of the pond, but sometimes war is necessary, and when that happens, there is no time to dilly-dally. The Germans and the French, and slowly the Scandinavians, too, are coming around to accept this inevitability. So while the fighting near Kunduz certainly isn’t good, the fact that there is fighting is excellent news. And while I’m the last to advocate the “Follow Every Single Taliban and Kill Him” style of counterinsurgency, there’s something to be said for violently defending what you were sent in to defend.
- The bursting of the COIN bubble. Ironically, the more difficult the fight in Afghanistan becomes, the more Iraq will seem like a fluke. This is good. American analysts and the U.S. military have already wasted valuable months trying to transplant whatever they think made the Surge a success into unfertile soil that will not support this alien life-form. As long as headlines like “Marines Find Afghan Insurgents Bolder Than Iraqi Insurgents” keep popping up, we know there will be no progress. Armies always fight the previous war, and often they still manage to win, but sometimes there is very little time to snap out of the stupor, and that time has passed in Afghanistan. So if getting our asses kicked will teach us to never again rely on just one strategy du jour and instead treat every conflict as unique and every tactical innovation as essentially non-replicable, so much for the better.