It's tough to learn from failure, without tarring
everyone and everything. There is no silver bullet out
there that people either don't understand or have chosen to ignore.
Frankly, trying to turn a country around, put in place sustainable
development investments, and encourage people to live their lives as
farmers, shopkeepers, what-have-you, in a near-war zone is just about
the hardest task ANYONE has attempted to do in the relatively brief
history of development assistance.
That's not to say that mistakes then don't get made, but hopefully the lessons will be of a subtle nature (as are the problems) rather than simply a wholesale assumption that whatever has been tried is wrong because it's not successful.
The problem really is one of mismatched expectations and possibilities, and how one ramps up from small, tactical success to strategic change.
Expectations and possibilities. For me, the primary problem is often the impatience which comes from the lack of impact. Getting a country on the edge to make major changes is often a glacial, not a rapid, effort, one that requires consistency, humility and a focus as much if not more on human interchange than budget flows. And that's in a country where people aren't trying to derail the whole effort by killing and maiming citizens and development workers. You add into that the very short tours of duty of USG military and civilians, and the problems are just escalated. (And this is a point that needs to be remembered: simply increasing the numbers of USG employees in Afghanistan will not necessarily lead to more effective development programs if they still can't get out to work with people, and they leave after a year).
Ramping up impact. It's human nature to assume that one can expand impact by simply increasing the resources thrown at an issue. Want another 10 miles of road built? Get more road crews out there. Want to make the successes in one province in providing security more prevalent in other provinces? Send in more troops. But from what I read, the Army senior staff and most AID staff have reached a similar conclusion - it's not just MORE that leads to success, it's BETTER, with a commitment and understanding of what it takes to be truly successful - there is a real need for knowledge management.
In fact, more of something (JUST more troops, or JUST doubling the AID budget) can be counter-productive. In the case of development resources, THE fundamental dilemma is just how DOES one replicate, ramp up and make strategic the types of small interpersonal exchanges that actually drive the development process? It's not just a question of increasing the budget that will lead to an expansion of success, but in the careful focus on those characteristics that led to success in the first place (again KM). Nothing kills the potential impact of a small $1,000 investment like saying you'll throw out of a truck an additional million dollars.