Like it or not, this might be an appropriate time to invoke the Pottery Barn rule of international relations: You break it, you own it.
Not that the United States meant to break Afghanistan, nor do we deserve all the blame for the result. Rather than an act of vandalism, it was more as though one customer tried to help another with a heavy vase or planter and dropped it. Furthermore, there were multiple cracks in that piece, to begin with.
Still, we can’t just leave all the wreckage on the floor for the store employees to clean up.
You may have seen the bumper sticker that warns: “Be nice to us, or we’ll bring democracy to your country.” That’s what we tried to do in Afghanistan, only to realize again that democracy is an evolutionary process, not something that can simply be plugged into another society with an extension cord.
The loyalties in Afghanistan run deep, but they aren’t to the central government. Rather, by all accounts, the country seems to be a patchwork quilt of ancient clan connections and various branches of Islam. These diverse factions had shown they can unite in the face of a common enemy, most notably when they ultimately repelled an invasion by the Soviet Union, but after that, the old enmities reappear.
So it can be argued that once al-Qaeda was flushed out of Afghanistan following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, our next 20 years there was essentially a waste of time, treasure, and American lives. It can also be argued that the current U.S. government badly mishandled the eventual evacuation or that earlier decisions by the previous administration unwisely legitimized and empowered the Taliban.
What should not be debated is whether or not we are obliged to welcome those who are fleeing from this disorder; however, it was created. Nevertheless, quite a few voices in this country are already pulling out the old “subtracting by addition” anti-immigrant card.
We’ve had this argument a thousand times already. Benjamin Franklin groused about an influx of German immigrants into Pennsylvania, accusing them of refusing to learn English. Nativist voices later railed against the Irish, the Italians, the Slavs, the Jews, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, and on and on.
Immigrants will take our jobs. Immigrants will breed crime. Immigrants will dilute our culture.
None of these things ever happen, at least not in any widespread fashion. Instead, these newcomers traditionally take jobs that no one else wants. They bring new ideas. They create new businesses. They produce no more criminals than any other group (perhaps less), and they enrich American culture rather than watering it down.
For that matter, what is American culture?
The lowly telephone directory may soon join all the other victims of the technological revolution in extinction. For now, though, it says all you need to know about the United States.
Leaf through a phone book in Paris (if you can find one), and most of the names will be French. In Moscow, Russian. In Seoul, Korean. Only in America can you find Schultzes, Garcias, Muhammads, Goldsteins, Kims, Jeffersons, and Murphys sharing the same space.
It’s called “diversity,” and no other country on earth is as diverse as this one. And to the question “What can we do about it?” the answer on one level has to be “nothing.” Un-mixing America at this point would be as impossible as un-mixing a cocktail after it’s been poured.
It’s important to note that with the baby boomers retiring en masse and statisticians seeing a noticeable drop in birth rates, we would soon run out of workers if we maintained the status quo. Without immigrants, we will stagnate.
But let’s pull out another metaphor. Say a friend offered to paint the inside of your house for free, then became bored with the job and quit when he was only partway through. Not only do you wind up with a half-painted living room, but the friend also left his paint and tools in disarray all over your floor.
It sounds kind of like our exit from Vietnam, doesn’t it? And Haiti, where we briefly inserted ourselves into their internal affairs and then bailed out in a matter of months. And, most recently, Syria.
We weren’t the only outside country involved in Afghanistan, and those other nations should also take their share of refugees. But perhaps we need to reframe the immigrant argument here. Whether or not to allow immigration appears to be a moot point, so why not embrace that while also working on some of the problems attached to it?
We can’t have people simply wandering across our borders unchecked and undocumented. If someone wants to relocate here, we deserve to know who they are.
We need to be very careful that no one gets in who wants to hurt us.
We don’t want criminals of any sort.
We have to be especially careful, in this COVID age, that no one enters bearing disease.
It would seem that these are reasonable points that could transcend partisan bickering in Congress, issues that “reds” and “blues” could logically agree upon.
I liked what David Frum wrote last week: “Offering refuge in the West to tens of thousands of Afghan allies is a dramatic humanitarian act. It’s a display of power, too—not only the organizational and economic power involved … but also the cultural and social power of the superior attractiveness of the modern world that so appalls the Taliban…”
Isn’t that who we really are?
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."