There is a cliché about Afghanistan that custom dictates must be included in every TV appearance, column, and book about that land: It is the “graveyard of empires.” From Alexander the Great’s Greeks, to the Persians, to the British, to the Soviets, to the Americans, nation after nation has tried (and largely failed) to invade and pacify the mountainous country and its people. This history shapes America’s inheritance today: both the reality on the ground for American forces in Afghanistan and the perceptions of our allies (particularly those with experience there, like the British) of possible outcomes.
Nonetheless, this broad brushstroke version of history ignores a number of important cases where foreign powers have found success—albeit often fleeting—in Afghanistan. There is a pattern to these successes: They are typically modest efforts that do not attempt to remake Afghanistan but rather achieve certain discrete, well-defined ends. And significantly, there is some overlapbetween this pattern and the policy articulated (albeit in an opaque manner) by President Trump on Monday night, that the U.S. might have a glimmer of hope as it approaches its 17th year of fighting in Afghanistan. Read the full piece in Slate.