Steve Chapman

Remsburg's sacrifices were made in support of an ally that tied for the most corrupt on Earth in Transparency International's latest rankings. A new report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, The New York Times said, warns against continuing to provide hundreds of millions of dollars a year in development support when "none of the 16 Afghan ministries could be counted on to keep the funds from being stolen or wasted."

It's hard to see the value of our mission there when our partners are so impervious to our best efforts. The Special Inspector General reported that we have gotten a pitiful return on a $200 million literacy program for the Afghan army. The exceedingly modest goal -- getting all of the Afghan soldiers to read at a first-grade level and half of them to read at a third-grade level -- turns out to be "unrealistic" and "unattainable."

Just inducing the soldiers to stick around is often impossible. Their current attrition rate is between 30 and 50 percent. The Afghan army "is actually far from ready for transition at the end of 2014," warned Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington last year. The national police, he concluded, are worse.

With the best of Afghan leaders, it would be hard to overcome all these deficits. Instead, Afghans as well as Americans are stuck with Karzai, who negotiated a deal to keep some U.S. forces in the country after this year but has refused to sign it. The longer he waits the harder it will be to make the arrangements so we can stay, laboring to turn failure into success.

Here's another option: We could acknowledge that there are some things even the world's sole superpower can't do, and fixing Afghanistan is one of them.

Steve Chapman

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

©Creators Syndicate