What is the solution to the war in Afghanistan? What does victory look like? Especially if we disregard nation building?
Would empire be considered nation building? Is empire worth the cost?
We know there are rare earth minerals in abundance in Afghanistan, and China is eying them fiercely. There are also unspecified, and largely unexplored, quantities of oil and natural gas. China at the moment is undergoing the most rapid growth of any country in history. To fuel that growth they need to artificially suppress the value of their currency to create massive amounts of debt to fund construction, and they need more raw materials than everyone else in the world combined. China is gobbling up de facto colonies left and right, in Africa and central Asia and in the Pacific. They are working on building a major highway with Pakistan to facilitate trade, and may expand construction into Afghanistan given the chance.
The United States does not operate that way. The United States hasn't taken one drop of Iraqi oil, multinational monopolies who owe no allegiance to anyone have. Some political cronies like Halliburton have benefited, as have the arms manufacturers like Boeing and Raytheon. The only benefit for the US itself, geopolitically, of including Afghanistan into an American empire would be to keep China from getting its hands on Afghan resources, and good luck with that.
If not to reap economic reward from permanent occupation of Afghanistan why stay? It may be because the US has gotten itself into a no-win situation.
If the US cuts and runs then it faces two potential problems:
1. The power vacuum would result in another Afghan Civil War like when the USSR pulled out in 89. Seven years of fighting saw the rise of the Taliban, a brutal, repressive, Islamist theocracy. The Taliban most likely would resume power within a few years, many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people would die. Islamist groups like Al Qaeda might be given a platform to plan future attacks on the US like 9/11.
2. The US stands to lose face globally by permitting #1 to occur.
The solution to #1 is very simple, secure America's borders at home and forget about the situation abroad. Afghanistan is not a border checkpoint for entry into the US, nor should it be. US intelligence knew about the 9/11 terrorists prior to the attacks, and internal bureaucracy, or stupidity, or inertia, or take your pick prevented any US agencies from acting. As long as the US secures its borders, as long as the US vets people coming in from terror hot spots, the probability of another attack decreases dramatically. It is entirely possible to prevent terror attacks at home, with no presence abroad.
There may be no solution to #2, but that may not be a problem. If the goal is to make America safe and prosperous then why should anyone care about US image abroad? Does China care about how the world views the tens of millions of slave labourers it has, or the lakes of poisonous slag from unsafe mining, or the clouds of noxious smog from its coal fired power plants? Does China care about its image when it extends its reach into the South China Sea, absorbing islets and reefs right off the coast of the Philippines? Of course not. China does what it wants, when it wants, for the benefit of China, and doesn't give a damn about what the world thinks.
But no one cares what China does? The US is different. The US has a "moral responsibility" to police the world and fight for whatever nonsense "values" the EU or Canada says the US has an obligation to fight for.
Actually, no. The US only has a responsibility to itself, just like China does. By embracing the Chinese model of not giving a damn about its reputation, the US government can actually help the American people, economically and in terms of security. What are we gaining from being in Afghanistan? Thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on a pointless war. The war has been going on for so long that no one wants to admit it's pointless, so more lives and money are sent into the trash to keep the system going.
What does the US lose by pulling out of Afghanistan? Nothing. If we secure the border at home then the terrorists won't be able to launch attacks from their mountain fastness in Crapistan, and the world will hate us no matter what we do, so the world can just go pound sand.
Unless President Trump is playing 49-dimensional ninja chess and has some top secret strategy to achieve absolute victory and turn Afghanistan into Dollywood in under a year hidden somewhere up his sleeves, then the best policy is simply to bug out and call it even.