There are only two reasons for the US to be in Afghanistan — national security and national prosperity. I am not saying these are sufficient reasons to invade a place — although the first may be — but one of these reasons must be present for the expenditure of blood and treasure to be justified.
One way to enhance American security and prosperity is to change Afghanistan into a Westernized, commercial nation. Our pols can call it “nation-building,” and they can say that we are doing it “for the women and girls,” but, as recent events have shown, we don’t have the political patience for that. Our leaders have failed to make the case that we must stay in Afghanistan for our own benefit. Plan B is not to leave; it is to stay indefinitely, because our national security demands it.
Nation-building, as we like to call it, is a nice idea. It’s the “teach a man to fish” of geopolitics. But some very simple math should make clear what is required. Twenty years ago or so, when the US ousted the Taliban from control of Afghanistan, girls started going to school. Those girls must rear a generation of young men if the culture of the country is to change. Until the majority of fighting-age men have “liberated” (by Afghani standards) mothers, the super-patriarchy of Islamist rule will remain the norm.
That sort of change takes generations to happen. The Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years, which, given life expectancies back then, meant until just about everyone born in slavery had died. There’s a message there about generational change. So when President Biden says, after twenty years, that if we stay in Afghanistan for another five months or another five years, nothing will change, he is right. We need to stay another twenty-five years. [Update, 8/17. On 8/16, Biden upped the ante, saying that nothing would have changed in Afghanistan if we stayed another twenty years. I believe he’s wrong about that, but the new language suggests that someone in his circle has argued otherwise.]
Explaining to the American people why their security and prosperity will be significantly enhanced by our staying those years, or forever if that’s the case, is what leaders get…