Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. His forthcoming paperback is “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Over the weekend President Joe Biden met in Poland with a group of Ukrainian refugees whom he lauded as “an amazing group of people.” But where was Biden when it came to the Afghan refugees fleeing the rule of the Taliban this past summer?
It was, of course, Biden who created that refugee crisis with his ill-considered and poorly executed decision to pull out of Afghanistan unilaterally in August, leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban.
Biden has never visited any of the Afghan refugees that his decision-making helped to create.
Yet the Biden administration has far more responsibility to help Afghan refugees than Ukrainians since for the past two decades more than 250,000 Afghans are estimated to have worked directly with the US military or American officials based in Afghanistan. All of them and their families are at risk for reprisals by the Taliban.
Of course, the United States should do as much as possible for the Ukrainians fleeing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scorched-earth war, but there is a strange double standard when it comes to the Biden administration’s approach to America’s Afghan allies.
Consider that on Thursday the Biden administration announced 100,000 visas for Ukrainian refugees. Yet the Association of Wartime Allies, an advocacy group for Afghans who worked for the US, estimated that of 81,000 Special Immigrant Visa applicants in Afghanistan when the Taliban seized Kabul, 78,000 were left behind. Meanwhile, the administration has admitted around 75,000 Afghan refugees since the Taliban’s takeover who can stay at least 18 months.
Following the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as the US withdrew last summer, in an interview with ABC News, Biden seemed dismissive of the situation in Afghanistan, saying, “The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing — I don’t know how that happens.”
Four months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Biden administration convened the Summit for Democracy of the world’s democracies, a club that Afghanistan had once been part of. No more.
The Biden administration also constantly trumpets its support for women’s rights. Yet last week the Taliban again denied girls older than 12 entry to Afghan schools. Seven months after the Taliban seized power, they continue to ban girls above the sixth grade from attending school. The Taliban’s Education Ministry said it’s because they haven’t designed a Sharia-compliant uniform for the girls as yet. To use a Bidenism: “That’s a bunch of malarkey.”
The Biden administration talks a good game about upholding democracy and women’s rights, yet it enabled the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. And now the Taliban have ended almost every element of a liberal democracy that once existed there and have also severely curtailed women’s rights.
The population of Afghanistan and Ukraine is roughly the same, around 40 million people. Why abandon 40 million in one country and try and save 40 million in the other?
Of course, it’s great the United States is doing what it can to save Ukraine, but the Biden administration’s abandonment of Afghanistan — a country that now gets scant media coverage — remains quite striking.