The faltering war in Afghanistan brings to mind a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain and a less famous one by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Twain: “History does not repeat itself but it rhymes.” Gates: “Tough decisions: how to get out, when, and without losing face.”
The Gates quote, in his 1996 memoir (From the Shadows), refers to the Soviet leadership which by the mid-1980s had decided to end its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan but had not figured out exactly how to do that.
The last Russian soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989, at the end of an exit strategy which began with a sharp increase in the number of troops and centered on building up government forces to fight an insurgency rapidly gathering momentum.
Sound familiar? Since taking office, President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 51,000 troops into Afghanistan “to provide the time and the space for the Afghan government to build up its security capacity, to clear and hold population centers that are critical, to drive back the Taliban to break their momentum.”
Next, a transition phase, beginning in July 2011, “in which the Afghan government is taking more and more responsibility for its own security.”