Many acute observers have observed that no one seems to know what victory in Afghanistan would look like, but has anyone defined defeat in that war? Clearly, the present NATO forces--even much reduced forces--can prevent the Taliban from establishing a regime in Kabul. Indeed, western forces can deny the enemy control over any of Afghanistan's major cities. What, then, would it take for the Taliban to win and for us to lose?
The most likely outcome in Afghanistan is probably no "outcome" at all--that is, a prolonged standoff. Frustrating (and potentially expensive) as that might be, it might not be a bad result. If history is a guide, the wave of Muslim fundamentalism will crest (indeed, may already have crested) and then recede. Then will the extremism of al Qaeda and its ilk weaken and its natural opposition, moderate Islam, regain authority. If the west exercises sagacity, and is able to edge Afghans along toward a government that has some relationship with its people beyond treating them as cattle and victims, those developments might lead, in the long run, to a return to the kind of nation that Afghanistan was before the convulsions of the past thirty years.