03/13/2013 09:47 am ET Updated May 13, 2013

The "I Told You So" Nobody Wanted

Did you ever put money in a Salvation Army kettle? How would you react if the nice lady in the uniform responded by spitting in your face? What if she then handed you a circular that stated that it was your fault that there were poor people in the first place, and, oh, by the way, instead of helping the poor, the Salvation Army officers were going to use the money to hold a retreat in Dubai?

This far-fetched scenario pretty much sums up the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Over 2,100 American service people have died (along with additional losses among our coalition partners), and billions of American dollars have disappeared into the bank accounts of Karzai's cronies defending Karzai's idea of democracy.

If you're one of those people who have been saying, "I told you so," for years, the scale of the calamity has cheated you out of the smugness that usually attends that phrase. Afghanistan, that eternal graveyard of invaders, has killed more than our men and women. It has, once and for all, showed that the idea that the United States can have things the way it wants just because our military cannot be defeated is unworkable. We should have gleaned this lesson in Vietnam and Iraq, but learning it from a relatively primitive, uneducated society drives the point home in a way that parallels the worst days of the British in colonial Africa. The cliché about not remembering history isn't really a cliché, because no seems to remember having heard it before.

No one is suggesting that the Taliban could ever prevail in the field over the finest military machine ever assembled. We were never beatable in the field. Once again, as in past wars, as long as we stay in place the enemy cannot win. But what are we gaining? Will terrorism go away? Will Karzai turn into Thomas Jefferson? Will Kabul be mistaken for Amsterdam five years from now? Will the Middle East and South Asia sprout model democracies over the next decade?

We've been our own worst enemy. The fecklessness of our own government in dealing with the foreign adventures of the last decade was demonstrated by Sen. Claire McCaskill in an appearance on the Joe Scarborough Show the other morning. She was asked whether the American people would get an accounting of the billions of dollars that had disappeared in Afghanistan to no benefit. Her response was that we wouldn't do that again. In other words, no. No one would give an accounting. No one would be fired. No one would explain why we were willing to do what we did, even though enough experts had that "I told you so" look in their eyes to at least warrant the questioning of our strategy.

What we are willing to do is partner with a man whose government is a model of corruption, while he simultaneously bites the hand that feeds him: The United States is the root cause of corruption. The United States is an ally of the Taliban. The United States is only interested in Afghanistan's mineral wealth. On and on. It has been to prop up this man that we have remained engaged, because we certainly don't want the Afghan people to think we've deserted them the way we did in 1989.

But the Afghan people are beyond our help, because anything we accomplish without a sound Afghan government and infrastructure being in place will be ephemeral. And sound governments are not a staple in a region that stretches from India westward to the Atlantic coast of North Africa. Their greatest weakness is our most important strength, our willingness to protect our minorities. As long as Hindu battles Muslim, Muslim persecutes Christian, and Islamic sects are willing to slaughter each other, there is nothing the United States can do to help establish anything worthwhile that will last. It will have to come from within.

I wish I could sit here and say, "Well I guess I was wrong." I am often enough. But this is one time that "I told you so" seems more appropriate. The next step is to absorb the lesson we have learned yet again, and get the heck out of Afghanistan. Hopefully, the president will decide not to leave any forces there, and will be a little more careful with our money.