State should help protect Afghans who fled

The swift collapse of the Afghan government following the pullout of U.S. troops has represented a failure of the Biden administration and, indeed, 20 years of American policy in the region.

Images of Afghans clinging to American transport planes, desperate for the hope our nation long had promised them, will be assessed by historians for decades to come. In the immediate aftermath, however, Washington state can play a role in providing that hope.

“By helping the Afghan people escape the Taliban, we can do more than express our solemn gratitude to our veterans here in Washington state. We can show them that their service was not in vain,” Republican legislative leaders Rep. J.T. Wilcox and Sen. John Braun wrote in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, members of Congress and Democrats in the Legislature.

“We call on leaders at all levels of state and national government to act swiftly and coordinate with refugee resettlement agencies to ensure duly vetted Afghan refugees can be welcomed here with open arms in Washington state.”

Undoubtedly, it was time for the United States to leave Afghanistan. The war, America’s longest, was not in vain; it prevented that nation from again becoming a haven for terrorists, such as those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. But it could not continue indefinitely, with Americans spending blood and treasure.

The primary goal, 20 years ago, was to remove the ruling Taliban regime that had harbored and supported terrorists. That was accomplished quickly.

The secondary goal was to bolster an Afghan government, military and populace that could defend itself. That was a massive failure, as was quickly demonstrated by the return of Taliban control.

“It’s time after all these years to bring our people back home,” then-President Donald Trump said in 2020, when he signed a peace agreement with the Taliban. He promised to remove all American troops from the country by May 2021.

Biden, who took office in January, echoed that promise while extending the deadline. While it is, indeed, time to bring our people home, the chaotic withdrawal has been a tragic embarrassment. Just weeks ago, Biden said a Taliban takeover was “highly unlikely”; but instead of a peaceful transition, the American withdrawal turned into a humiliating retreat.

The genesis for the debacle can be traced to the invasion launched by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. That invasion was morally defensible and, indeed, necessary. But it was undertaken with no coherent end game in sight; the result has been an ineffective 20-year war. Three subsequent U.S. presidents have promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, with Biden being the one to finally take action.

The lesson, one that has been taught repeatedly over the past 70 years or so, is that the United States has no business being the world’s police force. Attempting to export democracy has been fruitless when our leaders have little or no understanding of a region’s history and culture.

In Afghanistan, that failure has come at the expense of thousands of natives who assisted our forces, working as translators or couriers. They are under threat from the repressive Taliban regime. So, too, are women and children under a government that has a long history of brutal misogyny.

The United States has a moral obligation to defend and protect those who defended our ideals. As it did following the Vietnam War, Washington can play a role in living up to that obligation by welcoming refugees who have been abandoned by our nation.