Afghanistan is lacking rule of law
A few years ago, during one of my visits with American troops in Afghanistan, a lieutenant colonel told me that Afghanistan felt "like the third front in a two-front war." This statement captured the mood in Kabul in the middle of the last decade: Having routed the Taliban and smashed Al Qaeda's infrastructure, American commanders were left to hold the fractured country together with few troops and little in the way of coordinated assistance, while attention and resources were lavished on Iraq.
Iraq has since taken steps towards stability, and American troops are withdrawing from the country. The situation in Afghanistan is much more tenuous. Resistance has spiked as Taliban leaders have sought to exploit growing discontent with the Afghan government. Now, as Afghanistan has eclipsed Vietnam as our nation's longest war, Americans are growing increasingly concerned about whether we will ever see light at the end of this tunnel.
I have long supported our efforts in Afghanistan. We could not allow the Taliban to remain in power after the 9/11 attacks, nor could we tolerate the continued Al Qaeda threat there. But our presence in Afghanistan was never intended to be open-ended and, with a host of other challenges competing for resources, we need to set realistic objectives.
There are really two missions in Afghanistan, one military and the other civilian. I have no doubt that our military can defeat Taliban forces. My concern is over the civilian mission — that we may not be able to sustain security gains made by American forces unless we can help the Afghans put in place a form of governance capable of keeping the Taliban out once we leave.