This week's best stories look at lessons we should have learned from a decade of war in Afghanistan, from intelligence failures, and from press accounts of the American Revolution.
In March 2001, I took my first trip into Afghanistan. The Taliban were firmly in power then, or so it seemed to me, but they seemed incapable of finishing off their main enemies, the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Last March, I went back to Afghanistan after having been away for six years. President Hamid Karzai was still jokingly called the “mayor of Kabul,” because that was about as far as his influence stretched. And the combination of NATO troops and the Afghan National Army seemed incapable of finishing off their main enemies, the Taliban. The story I wrote then found important signs of progress, but worrying signs that much of this progress could be undone if Afghan leaders don’t start getting serious about the challenges they face in security, ethnic reconciliation, and corruption.
Historians and pundits like to describe Afghanistan as the “graveyard of colonial empires,” but the reality is that Afghanistan is a really hard place to rule, for foreigners and Afghan rulers alike. When Mr. Karzai steps down, as the current Constitution says he must at the end of this term in May 2014, his successor will face the same Sisyphean task of pushing for incremental improvements, and then watching gravity bring it all back to the same old chaos.
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