Biden failed to see a moral obligation in 1975. Today he can learn from the mistake and redeem it. Seventeen thousand Afghans who have worked for America in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of their family members, are waiting for the excruciatingly slow bureaucratic wheels of the U.S. government to process their visa applications. At the normal pace, they will still be waiting years after the last American troops leave their country. While they wait, trying to hide, many of them will be hunted down by the Taliban. We will be gone, and Afghans who believed our promises will be killed. Our war will be over—Americans might not even hear the news of their deaths.
Once South Vietnam began to collapse, in the spring of 1975, the end came with shocking speed, and the Ford administration had just weeks to organize evacuations. In Afghanistan, the Biden administration has given itself almost five months. That’s enough time to save thousands of Afghans who risked everything to help the United States in their country. But there isn’t enough time to save them just by speeding up the review of visa applications. These Afghans have to be extricated from the country and taken to an overseas U.S. military base, where their cases can be heard in safety, beyond the reach of the Taliban. This is what is sometimes called “the Guam option,” after a U.S. rescue operation that saved thousands of Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein in the 1990s by airlifting them to Guam. Biden should create a task force with a team of military and civilian officials from key agencies to plan and run the operation. By ordinary government standards, such an effort is unimaginable. By the standards of the U.S. military, with its code of leaving no one behind on the battlefield, any alternative is unthinkable.
One man shall smile one day and say goodbye.
Two shall be left, two shall be left to die.
One man shall give his best advice.
Three men shall pay the price.
One man shall live, live to regret.
Four men shall meet the debt.
One man shall wake from terror to his bed.
Five men shall be dead.
We will have many years to sift through the two decades of regrets in Afghanistan. We have just a few months to prevent one of them—a few months to avoid adding moral shame to humiliation.