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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Bryant Jones: The tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan is our responsibility

By Bryant Jones

What do Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have in common? This sounds like the start of a joke that is sure to have a hilarious punch line. Unfortunately, there is no humor in what is happening to the people of Afghanistan this week, today, this very minute as you read The Spokesman-Review. Targeted killings, rape, forced marriages, abuse of children, displacement of communities. Afghanistan is going through a real-life version of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

So, what do these three presidents have in common? Their administrations maintained American commitment to the war in Afghanistan through troop surges like Obama’s in 2009 and Trump’s in 2017. These three presidents spent a combined $2.26 trillion fighting the Taliban, much of which was financed with debt. Lives were lost including 7,386 personnel from the 40-nation NATO coalition and private contractors, most of whom were Americans. The West made promises to the Afghan people that we would support their efforts to democratize, empower women, and establish basic freedoms.

Today, the hopes and dreams of a free and democratic Afghanistan republic are in perilous danger. There is pending doom of the humanitarian catastrophe and massacres that await Afghans who worked for and supported the United States government and NATO alliance for 20 years in various capacities.

We never fully invested the heart and soul of the United States into the Afghanistan War like we did in Korea, Germany and Japan. We hoped words and money would be enough. It wasn’t. It won’t be for future military conflicts. Since you voted for at least one of these three Presidents, you have a role and a moral obligation in the tragedy unfolding today in Afghanistan.

Redemption can come from supporting refugee resettlement organizations like the Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, World Relief Spokane, and the Agency for New Americans in Idaho. You can also support No One Left Behind, a national nonprofit assisting Afghans who risked their lives for our freedom. But don’t help just with money. Support with your time, advocacy, faith and compassion. Reach out to welcome an Afghan family to the Spokane Valley or Post Falls. Take them on a tour of their new community. Welcome them with homemade baked goods. Offer them grace and empathy. You can only imagine the pain and despair they are going through.

Call your local elected officials and federal legislators to urge them to support Afghan refugee visa programs and resettlement nonprofits. In particular, the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Afghans program administered by the U.S. Department of State for Afghans who were employed by/on behalf of the U.S. military and government. There are over 20,000 interpreters who served our military over the 20-year war. They and their families are targets of a galvanized Taliban.

The Inland Empire congressional delegation has a conflicted history with supporting the SIV program for Afghans. Both Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Russ Fulcher have voted against state and foreign operations appropriations legislation, which includes the reauthorization of the SIV program. Now is the time for them to make public statements supporting this program and urging their communities to embrace Afghan refugees who might be resettled in Eastern Washington or Idaho.

As the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch should take an active role to rally the Idaho delegation and fellow Idahoans to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees to the United States.

Representative McMorris Rodgers and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward should publicly embrace the resettlement of Afghans who served alongside our military. If they haven’t already, elected officials throughout the Spokane Valley and North Idaho should reach out to resettlement nonprofits with offers of support and assistance.

Many Afghans who support and advocate for Western values have already lost family to targeted killings committed by the Taliban and had female loved ones forced into sinister and unwilling marriages in a calculated strategy to intimidate and humiliate opposition. With the Taliban returning to power after a 20-year absence, there will not be an opposition in Afghanistan.

Since you voted for at least one of these three presidents, then you have something in common with each of them. And now you have a debt to honor. You, and all of us, have the moral obligation, responsibility and burden to ensure no ally and friend of the United States is left behind in Afghanistan.

Our redemption as Americans is to help as many Afghan families escape as is possible. When they arrive in America, thank them for supporting the values of democracy and standing up for the education of women. Cherish them for protecting and serving next to our family members who serve or served in the United States military. Honor them by welcoming them into our communities, workplaces, schools and places of worship. Embrace them into our American republic.

Bryant Jones is a National Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, has worked on foreign policy at both the White House and U.S. Department of State, and is a Ph.D. student at Boise State University.

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