America Has a Responsibility to Help Afghan Refugees

Scene from the international airport in Kabul.

As the United States continues its attempts to evacuate American citizens and Afghan refugees from Kabul, Afghanistan, there has been significant pushback by some in the Republican Party and right-wing pundits who have expressed concern over America welcoming Afghan refugees into the country in either large numbers or in a rushed process that does not allow for proper vetting. 

On Aug. 16, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted: “No, the United States should not welcome an unchecked flood of young fighting age Afghan men into our country. This should not even need to be said. It would be a grotesque and suicidal policy. Which is why I’m sure it will be put in place.”

Echoing Walsh’s comments, Newsmax’s Steve Cortes tweeted a picture of Afghans crowded into the hanger of an American fighter jet with a caption that read, in part, “Raise your hand if you want this plane landing in your town?,” implying that he would not be one to raise his own hand. J.D. Vance, author of the bestselling novel “Hillbilly Elegy” and current Republican candidate for Senate from the state of Ohio, has been a vocal and consistent critic of welcoming Afghan refugees without a proper vetting process. The list goes on.

While there is an argument to be made for ensuring that migrants are received into the country in an orderly fashion, figures like Walsh, Cortes and Vance miss the point of the Afghanistan issue entirely. 

Had it not been for the United States’ precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in the first place, there would not be a refugee issue. The crux of the matter is simple: we left. We left people who had worked with United States soldiers as interpreters and contractors to the tender mercies of the Taliban, with no serious plan to ensure their safety. 

Contrary to popular belief, Afghanistan was not a forever war, nor was it a significant drain on military resources. 

We have far more soldiers stationed in Germany (roughly 33,000) than we did in Afghanistan when President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal (roughly 2,500). To paraphrase Jay Nordlinger of National Review, the United States has forever interests and faces forever threats. We ought to forever pursue those interests and forever defend against those threats. 

We did not have to leave, but we did, and in so doing, we sent a clear signal to citizens around the world that if you sacrifice your lives to assist the United States, we will reciprocate by leaving you and your families desperately clinging to the wheels of departing airplanes so long as it is politically convenient on the homefront. 

Those who warn of a refugee surge from Afghanistan either miss or choose to overlook this crucial fact. The argument is not that America opens its borders to unvetted refugees out of an unbridled sense of altruism, it is that we owe it to those who played a crucial role in our military success over the last 20 years to ensure their safety and the safety of their families. 

Far from a Statue of Liberty platitude, welcoming Afghan refugees is the chance for America to show that the word of a superpower means something, that we will not abandon those who helped us to our enemies out of convenience. 

Fortunately, a number of influential voices on the political right share this view. National Review’s Jim Gergahty responded to Cortes’ aforementioned tweet with one of his own, writing, “Is the fear that someone in this crowd is an Islamist sleeper agent or closet extremist? I mean, the first piece of counter-evidence against those suspicions is that the Taliban is trying to kill all of them.” If you are trying to flee extremist terrorist rule, the chances that you pose a severe threat of terrorism yourself are not exactly high. 

Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) went even further. When asked about Vance’s comments on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, Sasse replied, “they fought hand in hand with our troops, and we made promises to them...when you fought on behalf of Americans to protect our people, you’re welcome in my neighborhood.” Sasse is precisely correct. America has a moral duty to ensure that our allies in Afghanistan get to safety before the Taliban kick down their door for working with the United States. They are welcome in my neighborhood, too.