Nowhere do old attitudes die a slower death than on the battlefield, and so it comes as no surprise that some of the shopworn fundamentals of combat that should have been given the heave-ho in Iraq are back to haunt the U.S. in the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan.
At the top of the list is the notion that the enemy is an identifiable group, or in this case groups -- the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Not so. As commanders are finding out the hard way in the immense and rugged South Asian country, that is a fiction. While some of the hundreds of localized groups arrayed against the U.S. are indeed aligned with the Taliban and AQ, they really only have one thing in common -- a hatred of the American occupiers.
This is the big takeaway from a much publicized resignation letter
by Matthew Hoh, a respected senior Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan and former Marine Corps captain in Iraq.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan . . . (Grieving American families) must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more."
Coming as it did during the week that President Obama made an announced middle-of-the-night visit to Dover Air Force Base to honor 18 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, Hoh's thoughts are shocking despite their obviousness.
"It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day, not only our troops but their families as well," Obama said after returning to the White House from Dover.
True, but with every passing day it seems more likely that the president will order more troops to the war zone, although perhaps not the 40,000 that General Stanley McChrystal is asking for.
I have argued that Afghanistan is simply not winnable in any conventional sense. That as the Brits and Russians well know, there is no nation to build. Afghanistan is ungovernable, and no amount of leaning on President Karzai, infrastructure improvement, GIs fluent in Pashtun, bribe money or wishful thinking is about to change that.
Yet it seems inconceivable that Obama would say as much even if he knows as much. This is because while cutting and running would be the appropriate -- and yes, honorable -- thing to do, it would be politically unpalatable.Top photograph by Chris Hondros/Getty Images