The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan has inspired me to write a modern parable for the season:

The parable of the really cheap furniture you need to self-assemble

Let’s say, for Christmas, one of your gifts was a new, extra-wide dresser, but it was a cheap knockoff that required you to do the assembly yourself. And, in doing so, you discover that, in addition to the parts being extremely low-quality, ill-fitting, and easily breakable, there are a critical parts missing. The parts missing are the L37s metal drawer tracks.

Despite missing the essential L37s metal drawer tracks, you still try to put the dresser together. You spend hours working on it. You eventually call your brothers to come help you, and when that doesn’t work, you call your friends to help you. Yet, despite all the time you are putting in, you still can’t build the dresser because you are missing critical components.

Eventually, you call the manufacturer. They tell you the dresser won’t work with out the L37s, and they inform you that they have none left to send you as replacements. Since the L37s is a specialty part, there is nowhere else to buy them.

There are only two choices: you can waste the rest of your Christmas vacation trying to do the impossible, or accept that without the L37s, the task is hopeless, give up, and spend your vacation with your family.

In this parable, Afghanistan is the dresser and the L37s metal drawer tracks, the critical pieces necessary to build the dresser, is Pakistan’s strong engagement against the Taliban.

According the NIE, we can’t “win” in Afghanistan unless Pakistan strongly goes after the Taliban in the border region. The thing is, we simply don’t have this help from Pakistan, and we are not going to get it.

We can spend another six months, another four years, or another decade trying to put together this set of dressers, but it’s not going to work because we are simply missing the elements needed to make it work.

While it might seem crazy to not spend your Christmas vacation with your children because you wasted it trying to assemble a dresser that lacks critical parts, it is monumentally more insane that our government is forcing so many service members to miss this Christmas with their families so that they can be part of an equally unachievable endeavor.