Last week, the shooting rampage by an American soldier in Afghanistan prompted renewed debate about why U.S. forces are there and how fast they should come home. As the withdrawal date nears, troops are racing to stabilize security and shore up the Afghan government to withstand a Taliban resurgence and prevent the re-emergence of terrorist safe havens. Nobody mentions “winning” the war. Instead, our goal is resilience: We are training Afghans to soldier on without us.
Resilience has never been more important in the discussion of U.S. national security policy. It’s also never been more overrated. In people, resilience is that inner ability to recover from setbacks—being down but not out, bouncing back, carrying on. But in countries, it also means something more: Accepting that some bad outcomes are inevitable and building in capacity to absorb the blows. By definition, resilience focuses more on recovery than prevention. And in national security, that's a big deal.