Steve Chapman

Despite our vaunted military prowess, generals say the gains are so "fragile and reversible" that we will have to stay for years to come. The Afghan regime is notoriously corrupt, incompetent and often hostile. But Ryan Crocker, nominated to be ambassador to Afghanistan, holds out the shimmering prospect that we can someday achieve a "good-enough government."

Don't we wish. An assessment released last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- which is controlled by members of Obama's own party -- found few encouraging results from our attempts to create a functioning polity and economy. "Insecurity, abject poverty, weak indigenous capacity and widespread corruption create challenges for spending money," the report said.

Foreign assistance, it noted, accounts in one way or another for an astonishing 97 percent of the country's economic activity. Our departure could mean "a severe economic depression."

What's the solution? Don't leave. "Building governance is not something that's going to happen in 18 months," Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the Voice of America. "And President Obama has said it's a generational effort."

That word "generational"? It's what government officials use when they mean "eternal."

The president doesn't plan for us to be out of Afghanistan until 2014 -- 13 years after we went in. He promised to start withdrawing this summer, but the Pentagon is resisting anything more than a minimal drawdown.

Likewise, despite our alleged success in Iraq, the administration is prepared to keep troops there as well, if the Baghdad government will agree. No worries: Leon Panetta, Obama's incoming defense secretary, says he has "every confidence" that it will.

Given our torrential budget deficits, entering an era of fiscal austerity, how can we afford to fight all these wars? We can't. But we'll do it anyway.

You can stop wondering when the U.S. government will stop sending our battle-weary troops on endless deployments to police the globe. Country singer Blake Shelton laments, "The more I drink, the more I drink." The more we fight, the more we fight.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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