Biden must act while the crisis in Afghanistan is still unfolding
With no U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan, no in-country diplomatic presence, and hundreds of American citizens and thousands of special immigrant visa and green card holders trapped in the country, the Biden administration has lost considerable leverage to influence the situation in Afghanistan, let alone the region. President Biden stated that “we had no vital national interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland and our friends.” This statement is reductionist, racist, sexist and downright un-American.
In my view, this Biden doctrine, if not expanded to include actual support for human rights and representative government, is doomed to follow the same shameful path as the Compromise of 1877 that abandoned the hard-won freedoms of Black Americans for convenient peace with the Ku Klux Klan and aggrieved southern whites. It is the same callous narcissism that would stand incredulous at the reports of hundreds of thousands of Jews executed by Nazis; mourn, after the fact, the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi; yet watch the brutal killing of Yazidis in Iraq, in real time, so that another U.S. president could focus his attention on a domestic agenda.
A foreign policy that seeks above all to prevent attacks on Americans and presumably our mostly white NATO allies inevitably will find itself diminished to the point that there will be no one left to attack but Americans and our mostly white NATO allies. The Biden administration must take a stand — and the president can do it without a U.S. military footprint on the ground in Afghanistan.
There are plans for negotiations with the Taliban’s new government. Nearly all the key posts in that government are filled by middle-aged men who are either listed on the United Nations sanctions list or the U.S. most-wanted list. The Biden administration should refuse to recognize the unelected, unaccountable Taliban who hold the country hostage at the point of a gun and silence dissent with the lash of a whip. The U.S. should demand that, going forward, any talks with the Taliban must be attended by a delegation of Afghan women, including democratically elected members of the Afghan Parliament, representation for the Hazaras and the acting president of Afghanistan.
The U.S. and NATO should institute a demilitarized zone around Panjshir that includes the restriction of non-NATO drones and military aircraft. There are over 250,000 people in Panjshir who are rightfully and legitimately resisting the Taliban’s illegal takeover and unconstitutional power structure, including thousands of Afghan commandos who were close allies to our American Special Forces. The Taliban would like nothing more than to annihilate them.
Humanitarian aid should be distributed unconditionally to Panjshir, and targeted aid to the rest of Afghanistan. Humanitarian aid and funds should be distributed through the delegation of Afghan women to areas outside of Panjshir, in close coordination with UNICEF and USAID.
Pakistan must be sanctioned for its ongoing state sponsorship of terrorism and proxy war against the Afghan people — a clear violation of the U.N. charter.
The Biden administration must press the U.N. to begin to investigate in earnest the growing number of human rights abuse claims, documented reports of war crimes, and any reports of ethnic violence.
Finally, the Biden administration should level with Congress regarding the limitations and dangers posed by an over-the-horizon counterterrorism strategy, including the increased risk for civilian deaths from drone strikes or airstrikes. There is simply no substitute for on-ground intelligence and interdiction, yet our capability to hit targets from half-a-world away is like a Lamborghini with no brakes. Too many innocent lives have been lost and traumas inflicted by presidents so easily seduced by the politically correct way of killing. The civilian casualty rates for remote strikes make it clear that this option, while “low risk and low cost” for a U.S. president politically, is anything but for the non-combatants who disproportionately suffer without reparations or acknowledgement from the U.S. government.
The problems in Afghanistan will not be solved easily or quickly. The humanitarian crisis and the violence are only in the early stages. It will get worse without action. We need friends in the field. Without our help, our Afghan friends will die, or will suffer further violation and oppression. The Biden administration must expand the doctrine of “prevent bad stuff” to a doctrine of moral and strategic clarity.
The best way to further American interests is to hurt our enemies and help our friends, but if our definition of “friend” includes only largely white Western nations or partners who smirk at our values, pocket our cash and proceed to oppress their own people, then our interests are small, our standing is diminished, and our defeat is deserved.
Clay D. Hanna is a business executive and major with the Virginia Army National Guard. He was an Army fire direction officer and platoon leader in Iraq while active duty from 2003-2008, and an African Capacity for Peace Operations trainer for the State Department in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @clay_hanna.