opinion | Afghans who were looking for hope did not hear her in the State of the Union address
Omar is one of 78,000 people still desperate to leave Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where working for the United States has put them at risk. And while Tuesday’s State of the Union address could have been an opportunity to raise the issue and inspire some hope that our administration still cares about those who have trusted us, President Biden shamefully made no mention of Afghanistan at all.
In an hour-long speech that ranged from Ukraine to insulin prices to veterans’ health care, there was not a single phrase about the end of America’s longest war or the desperate humanitarian crisis that followed our abrupt withdrawal just seven months ago.
“Without the pressure in the news, everything seems to have ground to a halt,” said Amy Robertson, program director for the nonprofit Hearts and Homes for Refugees. Rescue flights from Afghanistan have been suspended. Families separated during the evacuation are still struggling to be reunited. The humanitarian conditions in the refugee camps overseas are still miserable. And absent the passage of Afghanistan’s Adjustment Act, which would offer refugees a path to permanent status here, many of those who made it to the United States live under a cloud, unsure if they can stay. “It’s possible to move things if there’s enough pressure,” Robertson told me.
Meanwhile, a small army of volunteers, many of them veterans of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to work on behalf of our former allies. And it takes its toll. “To stand on the sidelines and feel powerless because of our government’s lack of care is worse than I was in Baghdad when I was at the height of the sectarian purge,” said Steve Miska, a retired US Army colonel who is associated with the Advocacy Coalition Evacuate works with Our Allies.
“Everyone’s burned out,” Robertson told me. “We receive vivid videos and pictures of people who have been beaten. Or someone stops answering and you don’t know what happened to them and sometimes you find out that they are dead. There is such a feeling of helplessness.”
In the past, the refugee issue has tested the limits of Biden’s famous empathy. In April 1975, when the US-backed government of South Vietnam was overthrown, he told the Senate, “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one or 100,001 South Vietnamese.” Fortunately, President Gerald Ford disagreed, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have become citizens since then and become valued members of communities across America. Decades later, when diplomat Richard Holbrooke asked then-Vice President Biden about how we were dealing with a possible humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Biden reportedly replied: “We don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.”
It’s a narrow-minded, nationalistic mindset that many voters felt they had left behind when they voted Donald “America First” Trump out of office. And it’s short-sighted, even looking narrowly at US interests. We currently have troops deployed around the world conducting counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions that rely heavily on local allies, and our treatment of Afghans is the only proof our enemies could ever need that America’s promises are untrustworthy .
In a nutshell, it’s dishonorable. Does our President think Americans will just forget that we finally lost a 20-year war last August? Does he think we should just walk away? Does he think US veterans can ignore the suffering of those who have trusted us?
If he does that, Omar needs to keep looking to God. Because in America there will be no hope.