Among Donald Trump’s first acts as president was one he had promised to deliver from the outset of his political career: an executive order “banning” travel into the United States from seven nations in the Islamic world. It was an unmitigated disaster for the new administration.
The sloppy edict prohibited not just refugees and tourists from entering the U.S. but also visa holders and legal permanent residents. The officials tasked with administering it were so confused that they ended up detaining U.S. citizens. Children were separated from their families, elderly couples were held up and questioned in airports, and credentialed foreign nationals who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were sent back to their countries of origin. The ban was so callous that it catalyzed the immediate formation of an anti-Trump protest movement manifesting in rallies in airports around the country. And ultimately, the order was deemed so capricious and discriminatory that it failed to survive judicial scrutiny.
The moral outrage that consumed the early months of the Trump administration contrasts mightily with the general indifference with which the Biden administration is contending despite Joe Biden’s own abandonment of America’s partners and residents abroad. Indeed, the administration has mimicked some of the most odious aspects of a Trumpian “America First” agenda, albeit to the sound of crickets among those most incensed by the 45th president’s policies.
There are still no accurate estimates on the number of American citizens, green-card holders, and Afghan allies the U.S. left behind in Central Asia after the August 31 withdrawal date. The administration is careful not to group these eligible evacuees together, because to do so would leave them with a number in the tens of thousands. So, when the administration talks about those we left behind, the White House emphasizes passport holders. “We believe there are still a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on August 30. That number remains conspicuously unchanged weeks later, despite the evacuation of precisely 21 U.S. citizens from Afghanistan as of September 10. When they do deign to acknowledge the Legal Permanent Residents who are Americans in all but their status as citizens, they elide visa holders, as was the case in a statement discussing a single charter plane that the Taliban allowed to leave Kabul last week.
That sort of elision—one predicated on the assumption that American citizens are owed more from their government than U.S. residents or our wartime allies—would prompt white-hot denunciations of the former administration, and deservedly so. Joe Biden’s White House isn’t being deliberately coy about the number of eligible evacuees they left behind due to any sort of discriminatory impulse. Rather, to be honest about the mess they’ve made would be politically inopportune. That’s a distinction with a difference, but not one that makes this disaster any more palatable.
And as for what the State Department admitted was “the majority” of the Afghans who helped American forces and are now at risk of reprisal by the Taliban, they shouldn’t look to the U.S. for further assistance. As National Review’s Jim Geraghty revealed, State is advising Afghans that they are “unable to provide consular services” for immigrant visas, including the Special Immigrant Visas provided to Afghans on the U.S. payroll. Though the State Department is “considering” and “developing additional processing alternatives,” you’re on your own for now. Those Afghans are advised to seek out the assistance of the United Nations—a remote prospect, Geraghty observes, as the UN cannot even provide for its own personnel in Central Asia.
Quite unlike the Trump administration, Joe Biden’s White House is seeking ways to accommodate the Afghans who managed to scramble aboard an outbound plane from Kabul last month. They’ve made requests of Congress for billions in funding to put toward an Afghan refugee resettlement effort. But the administration has confessed that only a small number of those refugees qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa. It will take legislation to speed them through the system, as well as to properly vet their backgrounds to ensure we’re not importing foreign nationals with ties to terrorist organizations. But individual Afghans are not interchangeable. The resettlement of some Afghans in the West, no matter how deserving those refugees may be, does not satisfy the debt we owe the tens of thousands of Afghan allies the U.S. sacrificed to the Taliban.
“We inherited a deadline,” Sec. Blinken told Congress on Monday, “we did not inherit a plan.” That is not true. Not only did the Biden White House renegotiate the so-called deadline for withdrawal in Afghanistan, they did have a plan to execute that withdrawal. Indeed, they stuck with it well after it had become clear that it would produce a historic disaster and an unprecedented betrayal of our wartime allies.
A moral consistency would compel those who were incensed by the Trump administration’s sacrifice of American values to be just as outraged by the Biden administration’s failure to see to America’s responsibilities. The lack of that consistency today is instructive.