THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 9, 2009
Back in March 2008, when he was still advising Hillary Clinton and his prospects for returning to government looked slim, Richard Holbrooke wrote a rather hand-wringing Washington Post column about Afghanistan. His core point was that a recent U.S. military victory over the Taliban in the eastern city of Khost threatened to obscure deeper a strategic crisis:
There will be more successes like Khost as additional NATO troops, including 3,000 U.S. Marines, arrive later this year. But with each tactical achievement, Afghanistan will become more dependent on international support, which will always be better, faster and more honest than anything the government will be able to supply.
In the extraordinary intensity of what James A. Michener called "one of the world's great cauldrons," in his 1963 bestseller, "Caravans," no one has had time to think about the day after the day after tomorrow. The effort in Afghanistan is vital to America's national security interests, and we must succeed -- as the team in Khost has. But even as the United States and its NATO allies move deeper into the cauldron, questions must be asked: When, and how, will the international community hand responsibility for Afghanistan back to its government? Will short-term success create a long-term trap for the United States and its allies, as the war becomes the longest in American history?
Nearly 18 months later, it's not clear that Holbrooke--or anyone else--has found good answers to any of those questions.