No matter how badly things go in Afghanistan, two arguments emerge: the moral need to defeat the Taliban and the security threat that would emerge if the Taliban once again allowed Al-Qaeda to operate in the Afghan mountains.
I have discussed the problem with the moral argument before- as long as we support the corrupt Karzai government, we have no moral standing among the Afghani people. In a fascinating Washington Post op-ed, however, former CIA Deputy Chief for Counter Terrorism Paul Pillar argues that allowing Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan is not as big a security threat as most people suggest.
Pillar points out, "The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States. " We all ridiculed these monkey bar type videos when they came out. But now, Obama is essentially arguing that the ability to have these monkey bars warrants our continued occupation of the country.
It is unclear that the Taliban are interested in allowing Al-Qaeda to resurface- after all, incurring the wrath of the world is not in their self interest either. But Pillar asks the most important question yet- why does it matter that Al Qaeda can have a few caves in Afghanistan, rather than some other impoverished Central Asian, Middle-Eastern or African backwater?