Afghanistan is often called the “Graveyard of Empires,” but I think the phrase is pretty misleading. It seems to imply that empires that venture in Afghanistan get defeated and die. But the fact of the matter is that empires tend to venture into Afghanistan, get defeated, and then walk away and be just fine. Alexander the Great couldn’t impose his will on Afghanistan, but his army just left the country still controlling tons of wealthy and important territory. The British decided to leave it alone in the 1860s and contented themselves with running the world’s chief industrial power, plus Canada & Australia, plus India, plus half of Africa, plus all the oceans everywhere, plus the bulk of trade in Latin America and China. The Soviets weren’t in such great shape when the left, but they weren’t in such great shape when they went in, either — their empire collapsed in Budapest and Berlin and Vilnius and Tblisi.
A better analogy might be that it’s the ESPN Zone of empires, someplace where from time to time a lot of people feel tempted to go, but when you get there it turns out to be not so great. But it’s surprisingly expensive to stay! Having gone out of your way to get there in the first place, you’re perhaps initially reluctant to just admit that it’s not worthwhile. But you can’t stay forever.