Vermont could set a shining example by mobilizing its institutions of civil society to welcome Afghan refugees who worked with the U.S. military as interpreters, translators, and cultural advisors.
The unfolding human and political tragedy in Afghanistan was, sadly, predictable from the day – February 29, 2020 - that the self-styled Great Deal Maker Donald Trump, bypassing the Afghan government, entered into a sham “peace agreement” with the Taliban, then pressured the Afghan government to release five thousand imprisoned Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Taliban smiled and nodded, and went on preparing to reimpose their 7th century version of Salafi Islam on the suffering people of Afghanistan. The catastrophe was dramatically accelerated by President Biden’s shocking incompetence in abruptly ordering U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, removing our contractors who kept the Afghan air force flying to discourage Taliban assaults, and simply walking away from our multibillion dollar Bagram Air Base. Soon after, the Taliban raised their black flag of terror over our vacated Embassy in Kabul.
Now, tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters, translators and cultural advisors who stood with, and often fought the Taliban with, U.S soldiers and Marines are desperately trying to escape from lethal Taliban retribution. These friends of America are in harm’s way because our perpetually constipated State Department makes them fight through a 14-step multiyear vetting process to qualify for a Special Immigration Visa created specifically to get them out. Meanwhile the Taliban are going door to door in some cities looking for “terps”, and when they find them, they butcher them (300 victims known so far).
For the past five years I have contributed to an organization called No One Left Behind (nooneleft.org). It was formed by American Afghan War veterans to bring these brave allies out from Afghanistan and get them settled here in safety. NOLB recently linked up with another of my favorite organizations, Spirit of America (spiritofamerica.org) to raise millions of dollars for this vital project.
In the past year members of Congress of both parties have awakened to the emerging disaster by creating thousands of additional SIV visa slots. Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Pat Leahy have commendably gone into overdrive to get as many terps out as possible.
After disingenuously explaining that he was unable to undo Trump’s fatuous peace deal, President Biden has found $100 million to help them and their families to integrate into American life. The problem now is that with U.S. and allied forces no longer in control of Kabul, thousands of the remaining SIV applicants can’t get past Taliban checkpoints to a place where American planes can fly them out.
History will apportion the blame for this inglorious collapse. Right now there’s little Vermonters can do to rescue our allies and salvage our country’s honor, aside from contributing to NOLB and SoA, but we can seize this unfortunate opportunity to do something here at home that we can be proud of for years to come.
Last week Gov. Phil Scott advised the State Department that Vermont was “ready, willing, and able” to welcome Afghans fleeing Taliban terror to become tomorrow‘s Vermonters. It was a good and noble thing to do to repay these brave people for their support of Americans and civilization in their own country.
Vermont has long had a deserved reputation for a strong civil society – the network of civic associations that do so much to support and enrich our everyday lives. Now is the time for them to answer Gov. Scott’s call to create a welcoming environment for men and women who risked so much for our country’s support of civilization in theirs.
Vermont’s State Refugee Office is headed by Scott’s newly appointed director Tracy Dolan. It’s her job to assist refugees to adapt to life in our state and ultimately become loyal and self-supporting citizens.
But it’s not enough to set up a government office to deliver services. Director Dolan, backed by the governor, needs to mobilize our institutions of civil society to welcome and assist these Afghan friends of America - Refugee Priority #1.
That would be our churches, fraternal societies, town governments, business and labor groups, charitable organizations, political parties, and especially veteran’s organizations. The American Legion’s National Commander Bill Oxford has told Legionnaires that “we must not abandon our allies. We must honor the promise we made them.”
Just as Vermonters answered President Lincoln’s call for soldiers to save the Union, and pulled together after the 1927 Flood and Tropical Storm Irene, we have the opportunity to write another proud chapter in our state’s history, starting now.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute