There may be a break in the underbrush that Afghanistan has been for the United States since 2001.
Part of it is due to Americans having learned the hard way that the place is still as difficult to master as Alexander the Great, the British and the Soviet Union found it to be.
Part of it is also that after nearly nine years the Afghans, individually and collectively, understand that foreigners -- and particularly Americans, who are by nature impatient and inconstant -- don't have the answers for their country.
On the U.S. side, perhaps the hardest lesson came in an ostensible victory, the one at Marja, several weeks ago. It took 15,000 American, other NATO and Afghan forces to drive the Taliban out of the town of 80,000. Some would say that the Taliban were not "driven out," but instead decided to withdraw their fighters after having given the invaders a bad time of it.
Once settled in, the "liberating" force found that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's Afghan "government in a box" that it brought along wasn't particularly welcome in Marja. Second, it found that it didn't dare touch the thriving opium industry there, for fear of alienating the Marjans. That's a hard lesson for the United States. It could be strong evidence that the new U.S. strategy has definite limits in applicability.
On the Afghan side, they, in part under the crafty leadership of President Hamid Karzai and in part with some non-U.S. international help, seem to be wending their way to a solution to their endless political, economic and social problems by the negotiation route.
Kai Eide, the departing United Nations chief there, revealed that he had been involved in talks with the Taliban for the past year. The United States made them difficult by hunting and killing Taliban leaders, including with missile attacks by Drone aircraft. The Pakistanis also created problems by arresting Taliban leaders, probably at U.S. instigation. However, there had been talks with the Taliban and there was room for more.
These two developments -- America's learning and the Afghans' agility -- could lead to an earlier U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan than July 2011, the last date cited by President Barack Obama. That would be a welcome change for Americans after a long, hard, expensive time there.