It's a White Christmas in AfghanistanRoundup
tags: war on terror, Vietnam War, Afghanistan
Claire Potter is Co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar and Professor of History at The New School.
The Taliban’s swift advance to the gates of and into Kabul surprised many people, but it didn’t surprise me.
On March 26, the New York Times reported that President Joe Biden would blow through Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban, negotiated in February 2020, that the United States would withdraw all troops by May 1, 2021. However, before they were voted out in November, the Trump administration dramatically reduced troop levels from 13,000 to 2,500 and released 5,000 Taliban fighters as part of the deal. These actions set the stage for a successful summer offensive that ended in the apparently swift collapse of the US-supported Afghan regime.
At the same time, as Afghan refugees have been pouring into Pakistan, Turkey, and other neighboring countries in the past 18 months, during 2020, the Trump administration reduced the number of refugees it would admit. According to the Pew Research Center, that reduction went from 30,000 to 18,000, prioritizing Christians over Muslims worldwide. In other words, at the same time Donald Trump handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban, it slammed the door shut on Afghans who did not support a Taliban regime and, absent a lengthy and obstructive bureaucratic process, might have had over a year to exit the country.
Why? The 2020 election, of course. Trump supporters hate immigrants—not just undocumented ones, all of them. Although 66% of Americans overall believe that immigrants strengthen the country, “Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents,” Pew researchers report, only “41% say immigrants strengthen the country, while 44% say they burden it.” Moreover, a significant “32% say that if America is too open to people from all over the world, the country risks losing its identity as a nation.”
In other words, Donald Trump planned both to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave the vast majority of Afghans who had been allied with the United States and women and girls to their fate under a Taliban government.
That was the plan all along, and the Biden administration could not turn it around, except by breaking the deal to withdraw, recommitting to propping up a corrupt, failed state, and starting the peace process all over again. Simultaneously, the administration would have had to launch a refugee resettlement program that signaled to allies and foes alike that the US was not actually committed to supporting the existing government and that the Taliban should attack vigorously.
Thus, the tragic and heart-rending scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport were entirely predictable, and I think, unavoidable. The only difference now is that the Biden administration is willing to help Afghan refugees on an emergency basis. In fact, almost twice as many Afghans have been evacuated in the last three days than were permitted to emigrate to the United States in 2019.
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