I had to rescue this one from comments. It provides a unique viewpoint. While I do not find myself as pessimistic as Vern, His viewpoint is so diverse as to beg a post of its own.
I guess I come at this from a different perspective from most of the contributors. Having a nearly 40 year interest in South Asian Islam and history, a graduate degree in Islamic history and just happened to be married to an Afghan, a Pushtun, to be exact, has really focused me. I have witnessed much suffering over there, most of it inflicted by the Afghans upon themselves. I say this based on three tours to Afghanistan myself, tours in which I did not hide in FOBs or at Bagram or Kabul, but actually went out and about (alone and afraid, often enough). I have witnessed some really amazing attempts by US military and civilian personnel to provide assistance in a humane and localized manner that would benefit locals and not the wallahs in Kabul or former warlords. I have witnessed the callous disregard for truth by western journalists (in one case, the journalist was actually standing on a destroyed wall, beneath which lay the bodies of dead civilians as she loudly searched for the bodies to blame on US fire). I have also read and heard, extensively, just as most of you have, from the American political elites and academic elites, but I generally either disagree (sometimes in person) with them or ignore them as their "observations" and "recommendations" are not only not based on reality but apparently on wishful thinking from inside too many "Western paradigms." Some of those are listed in the above comments as well as in the extracts from Senator Lieberman's extracts Bill & Bob have provided, although there are some good points as well. Obversely, I don't have all the answers either (that'll be a surprise to my wife!).
That said, despite the vast foreign interference in Afghanistan, dating from, oh, let's say, just after the Kushan Empire and especially during the time of Timurlane, most of the present problems of Afghanistan are because of the Afghans themselves, albeit "recently" with a large dose of "negative" assistance from the Soviet Pushtun genocide, the Pakistani efforts at control and the Deobandi/Wahhabi Arabization efforts by the Saudis and their ilk. The 1990s were all about the Afghans, and look how well they did in fixing their country and situation. Many Afghans have a huge reservoir of business initiative but when preyed upon by smugglers, criminal gangs, corrupted local leadership elites and "fundos," they have little recourse but to go along, lest they be killed. No amount of aid, reconstruction, externally applied COIN or hand wringing protestations about women's rights, the children, or drug cultivation versus subsistence crops will change that, especially if that hand wringing is done in Europe or America.
I just wish, from all readers and speakers, a more holistic and reasonable approach to the problems (and opportunities) of Afghanistan. The truth about Afghanistan is rarely understood or articulated, as too many people have created a "body guard of lies" to protect their particular piece of the exploitation pie (be they newsies, humanitarian gypsies, druggies, fundos, external foreign "players" or plain criminal types). No single "strand" is to blame nor can any single "theme" bring success.
Time, lots of time, is needed, along with real work by the Afghans themselves, and a realization that NOBODY "owes" them anything. To alleviate their pain so we (Americans, Europeans, liberal do-gooders, military control freaks, etc) "feel" better is to continue to institutionalize it for the majority of the populace. Only pain will force the Afghans to stop hurting themselves. Pain from shattered lives and society, pain from lost opportunities and present oppresion; only pain will force the Afghans themselves to correct themselves.
Sounds harsh but when has it ever been any different, historically? We are not, as some have stated in the past, at "the end of history," nor are we engaged in a unique "clash of cultures." Cultures always clash, be it openly or benignly. Stone age (neo-Stone, Bronze, early Iron, Luddite) cultures and societies wil always fall before modern Steel and Information Age culture, despite the most ardent and savage efforts of those in those cultures or the "Romantic" efforts of those misguided enough to assist in trying to retain them by rationalization of humanitarian cause(s). Progress is painful, and it is made worse by Progressives.
I would dearly love to see a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan but I am very aware that it has never been a "Westphalian" state, much less a peaceful unitarian state, unless that has been enforced by brutal genocidal policies (refer to Timurlane, the Mongols, Alexander the Great, etc). Ski chalets in Nuristan, golf course in Kabul and dune buggying in Nimruz would be wonderful, but it won't happen until the residents therein understand that societal trust needs to supersede tribal blood lines, xenophobic ethnic codes of conduct (Pushtunwali) and the self-imposed strictures of a backwards looking religion of stultifyingly repressive communitarianism (Wahhabi/Deobandi Islam).
I would be more than willing to go back and help, if the carrion crows on the body of Afghanistan could be driven off. Until then, despite the humanitarian urge within me, I will not pour even more good money down a bad hole. I am even against sending more young men and women there unless domestic political concerns cease to hamper their ability to not only provide real assitance, but to even properly defend themselves. As for the Afghans themselves, reconstruction of the Sufi networks and "lodges" would be a tremendous step in that direction, one I fear the Deobandi/Wahhabists will fight against.
Just my opinion.