The Afghan exodus is an opportunity for America
Americans must quickly resolve what to do with a vast new cohort of Afghan refugees.
The sunk costs of Afghanistan are so staggering, the sacrifices made by Americans so immense – beginning with the more than 2,400 uniformed troops who died there and the tens of thousands wounded – that it is almost impossible to approach the question of what to do about the new refugees without a reflexive impulse or ten. So, start with facts.
Afghanistan is a nation of 38 million that has been in a state of continuous war for more than 40 years. More than 2 million Afghans live as refugees in adjacent countries such as Pakistan and Iran. There are approximately 160,000 Afghan-Americans already living in stateside – many having arrived years and even decades ago.
Last week, the State Department said that 23,876 “at risk” Afghans have lately arrived in the United States. Another 43,000 await at bases in Europe and the Middle East. Many, if we are lucky, will find their way to the United States.
We should open our collective arms to as many who welcomed us to their land.
More than 300,000 Afghans worked with U.S. forces during the past 20 years. In recent years, Turkey, Germany and Greece have been among the most welcoming of Afghan asylum seekers, accepting 125,000, 33,000 and 20,000, respectively.
One man who urges us to welcome the Afghan exodus is Daniel Runde, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Runde, who has written extensively on Afghanistan and has been working on international development issues for 20 years, is an energetic optimist and a compassionate Catholic conservative, with a deep faith in the Constitution. That makes him my kind of Republican. I asked him what is to be done now.
“We must support Afghans who have worked directly or indirectly with the United States and whose lives remain in danger,” Runde said. “Most of the conversation has been about those who supported us through our military efforts [but] we also need to help those who helped us who worked for us at the State Department, who worked for the intel community and who worked for the foreign aid community (e.g., agricultural extension work, women’s empowerment, electrical power, education and democratic elections).”
Runde is clear eyed about the numbers: “If we add up all the folks who worked directly for us ... we are easily talking about 100,000 Afghans,” he noted. “If we assume each has five dependents, then a universe of 500,000 people is not out of the question.”
Can we make room for half a million refugees? Runde has an ally in House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who told me that we should welcome those who worked for us and who are vetted for entry in the United States. “We keep our promises,” he said. “They risked their lives; they fought with us. We promised we’d take them. We’re going to take them.”
I likened Afghans fleeing the Taliban to the Cubans who fled Castro, the South Vietnamese who fled the Communists and the Iranians who escaped the 1979 revolution.
Runde suggested that Afghan society may have been irrevocably changed by the landscape altered by the now departed Americans and Europeans: Some 10 million girls attended school over the last 20 years, more than 25 million cellphones were disseminated, women reentered the workplace and 2 of every 3 citizens is now under the age of 25. “I don’t know but I suspect [these changes] ... will make it harder for the Taliban to just impose what they want,” Runde said. “They may just want many of these ‘Americanized’ Afghans to leave. We should welcome them.”
“The United States has a moral obligation to Afghanistan, and helping the country is in our enlightened self-interest,” Runde concluded.
I believe millions of Americans are ready, especially through their churches, to “adopt” refugee families, and spread them across the United States as the latest wave of exiles who renew our country as they rebuild their lives.
Vet them yes, of course, but welcome them. Immediately.