A nation of shoppers reached a significant milestone on Black Friday, one that had nothing to do with retail sales. Maybe that's why few people noticed. Nine years and 50 days -- that's how long the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan. On Friday the U.S. tied that modern-day record. News stories announcing it were discreetly tucked into Thanksgiving Day newspapers, between the shopping inserts. Starting today, we're working on a new record.
The Soviet Union's occupation of "the graveyard of empires" was far more massive and brutal than anything the U.S. has contemplated, and still it failed, paving the way for the breakup of the Soviet Union itself. The expense of the war, in lives and rubles, the sense of futility and the widespread cynicism resulting from the war gave the house of cards that was the Soviet Union a final shove and it collapsed.
Although the war in Afghanistan is our longest in the new century, it's still short of the record set by Vietnam. But we're working on it. And events like the recent negotiations with a con man posing as a high-ranking Taliban emissary suggest we'll be there for some time. If you don't know what you're dealing with, it's hard to know how to get out of it.