Two years have passed since the last American boots left Afghan soil, but the shame of unkept promises still tarnishes our reputation. Despite assurances from the Biden administration that no one would be left behind in Afghanistan, thousands of our former partners and allies there still dodge Taliban death squads and plead for extraction.
Americans do not want to be seen as a country of cynical oath-breakers. The problem of those left behind is a solvable one. We need more visa authorities. We need better vetting regimens for evacuees. We need our intelligence services to create extraction pipelines for those hunted. These are all within Congress’s power to fix. From the Afghan Adjustment Act that I’ve sponsored in the House to a well-considered proposal from Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, we have options. But bills and amendments don’t vote for themselves. Neither effort has seen much traction. The gridlock is unacceptable. Members of Congress must step up.
This is not just a simple failure to act. Nor does this congressional inertia represent the routine gridlock so common of deliberative bodies. Our Afghan allies trusted America, put faith in America, and were loyal to Americans. For their friendship, they are now under daily threat from the Taliban. So are their families, who are being treated as conspirators. This is not a fight between Republicans and Democrats. It is a battle against a ticking clock.
Congress tried and failed to pass some reasonable legislative fixes in this year’s defense bill. These efforts failed last month. I am hopeful we can strike a compromise agreement in an appropriations bill before the end of the year. The defense bill ship has sailed. My hope is that the year-end spending bill might host these needed immigration authorities. That bill, the omnibus, represents our legislative shot before next summer. Sadly, it may not even pass. If that line of effort fails, it could be an entire year before the president has a legislative fix on his desk. For our friends who trusted us, that is another year of hiding their families, scurrying from safe house to safe house, and evading a Taliban set on retribution.
It should be acknowledged that President Biden, never one to see the value in a kept word or honored promise, is the reason for this catastrophe. After he cut aid to the Afghan National Army in 2021 and the Taliban began to make significant territorial gains, Biden rebuked a reporter’s question on the subject and told him to focus on “happy things, man.” When asked if there was any comparison between Afghanistan 2021 and Saigon 1975, the president mocked the notion and claimed the Taliban was not “remotely comparable in terms of capability” to the North Vietnamese Army. One month later Kabul fell.
Perhaps it is right and just that the Fall of Kabul began a slide in presidential approval ratings from which Mr. Biden has yet to recover. Sentiment outside the Beltway has been unkind to the White House’s error. Back home in Iowa, it is common to hear how disillusioned voters grew with the president after the Afghanistan debacle. The obligations of leadership demand that President Biden act worthy of his office and seek to right his wrongs against our Afghan friends and against U.S. national security. I stand among many in our House Republican majority who are willing to compromise on the issue of new visas, vetting, and legal authorities, policies that would help the United States honor our word. But the president and White House have been absent, instead offering meaningless tributes to women’s rights as the Taliban he enabled close girls’ schools, flog mothers and daughters in soccer stadiums, and stone women in the streets.
In his speech marking the end of the chaotic exit from Afghanistan two years ago, President Biden said, “We will continue to work to help more people leave the country who are at risk.” Some estimates suggest we abandoned as many as 150,000 people who supported our troops and the free and democratic Afghani government. This is not just a failure of policy. It is a moral failure. The president will not acknowledge or rectify his error. His commitment to women and our allies is little more than political lip service. I am sad to say that this one is on the Congress, and the Congress needs to hear from her constituents.
Do not underestimate your power as a voter. If you care about keeping our word, tell your senator and congressman. Last week, 24 veterans groups implored leaders in the House and Senate to action. We heard them on Capitol Hill. But more voices are needed. We witness the bloody cost of our inaction daily. Time is running out, and the clock waits for no one.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D., represents Iowa’s 1st District.
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