VOICES: Other countries will notice if U.S. leaves its Afghan helpers stranded

Glen Duerr

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Glen Duerr

Recently, President Biden made the ill-fated decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. As a reason for his decision, he offered a “straw man” dichotomous argument: A) Either stay in the country indefinitely spending billions of dollars whilst risking more lives, or B) leave Afghanistan immediately.

Lost in the false binary was a third option: to maintain a small NATO troop presence with the ability to call in air support. The United States utilizes this third option around the world in Germany, South Korea, and Kuwait, among others, as does the United Nations in its dozen active peacekeeping missions. These commitments have brought stability to regions once ravaged by conflict. Given President Biden’s option for exit, however, this situation leaves an important question on what to do next.

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On the issue of American obligation to evacuate Afghan citizens who have helped us, there are a couple of major reasons in support of an affirmative answer: following through on a commitment and reassuring allies across the world. The question is also multifaceted in the sense that evacuation does not necessarily equal a requirement that refugees settle in the United States — this is a decision for elected officials, diplomats, and voters, to solve.

Following through on a commitment. In October 2001, when the United States joined the NATO mission to remove the recalcitrant Taliban government that housed al-Qaeda, the United States and its allies found thousands of Afghan allies willing to fight for the future of their country. Many Afghans have risked their lives to fulfil the mission of building a better country devoid of the Taliban and replete with improved democratic rights, women’s rights and educational opportunities.

Even though the current Taliban leadership has pledged to govern Afghanistan in a less brutal way than their previous time in power from 1996-2001, it is very unlikely that they can be trusted — the next few weeks and months are likely to be very bloody. The Taliban has already killed significant numbers of people. Without evacuation, thousands more will likely be killed very soon.

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Reassuring allies across the world. Even though the United States remains the most powerful country in the world economically and militarily, no country can act alone. What the United States does, even in a faraway country like Afghanistan matters, primarily because it sends a message to allies and enemies alike across the world with regards to America’s strength and commitment to causes. Allies in key regions are watching our actions right now very closely — if the United States demonstrates a lack of desire to protect its allies and their citizens, many countries will make the strategic decision to find support and protection elsewhere.

Ultimately, if the United States does not help evacuate Afghans that have helped us throughout the course of the conflict, future presidents will have a much more difficult time convincing people to help next time — foreign policy options will likely be severely constrained in the military operations of the future.

Glen Duerr, Ph.D., is associate professor of international studies at Cedarville University.