Americans elected President Trump in 2016 and President Obama and Vice President Biden before that on, in part, promises to end “endless wars” and bring our troops home. Now that Mr. Biden is following through on that in Afghanistan, polls show his job-approval sinking.
How to explain the apparent paradox? Americans seem to want to end wars and bring the troops home, but when they see the actual consequences of doing that, they blame the politicians.
Part of the apparent contradiction is in the incompleteness of the rhetorical framing, whether from the politician or a pollster. No presidential candidate who wants to get elected runs around Iowa and New Hampshire saying, “I’m going to end the wars and bring the troops home, even if that means the countries the troops were in revert to their previous status as terrorist bases and even if that means women’s rights in those countries are set back to the dark ages.”
No pollster asks, “How many two-year-old children trampled to death on the chaotic outskirts of the Kabul airport are an acceptable tradeoff for bringing the troops home?”
The most conflicted is the billionaire George Soros. The Washington Free Beacon illustrated its editorial on the Afghanistan humiliation with a photo of Mr. Soros, noting that he had funded, in the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a group that aimed to “bring the forces against endless war on the Left and the Right together.”
Yet Mr. Soros himself tweeted August 17 that his Open Society Foundations had created “a $10 million Afghanistan emergency fund to support Afghans in grave danger — including champions of human rights, women’s rights, and journalists.”
The press release quoted the president of the Open Society Foundations, Mark Malloch-Brown, as insisting, “We remain deeply committed to Afghans and their efforts to help the country advance toward a more open society. We call on funders to join us in our response to this urgent humanitarian crisis. There is truly not a moment to waste.”
The “urgent humanitarian crisis” erupted after Mr. Biden followed the policy course that the Soros-funded Quincy Institute advocated. I’m not sure whether the right word for it is hypocrisy or tragedy.
The Open Society press release said the money would “support sponsorship for humanitarian parole programs in the United States that provide a pathway to temporary refuge for those in harm’s way... bolster international relief organizations in their efforts to support Afghan citizens fleeing the Taliban advance.” The money would also “aid other efforts to deliver humanitarian relief to internally displaced Afghans and those fleeing to other countries taking them in.”
The images of desperation — or “grave danger” and “urgent humanitarian crisis,” as the Open Society put it — from Kabul tug at the hearts of Americans because so many of us are here only because our ancestors narrowly escaped similar circumstances. Soros survived the Nazis and Communists in his native Hungary and then made his way to London in 1947 and to America in 1956.
The president emeritus of Open Society, Aryeh Neier, made it to Britain from Berlin, explaining later, “on the eve of World War II and during the war, the United States denied admission to most of the Jews fleeing Germany, Austria, and Nazi-occupied Europe.” The Israeli Jewish writer Daniel Gordis put it this way: “The image of these Afghans, abandoned by the world, with nowhere to go, no way to get out, ought to remind us of ... ourselves.”
It’s not only Jewish Americans or Israelis. Cuban Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Armenian Americans, Irish Americans, Mexican Americans — so many of us can look at the people scrambling to get on an airplane in Kabul or over the fence and into the airport and see our own parents or grandparents — or relatives who unfortunately didn’t make it.
Americans are skeptical of open-ended military commitments and of opening the door to a flood of poorly screened refugees, but we also see the humanity of those seeking an escape to freedom from persecution. We want to help. Never mind that the most efficient way to help might have been to leave some GIs there rather than surrendering.
Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.