Isolationism Isn't Progressive
The life of every person on the planet is valuable, regardless of the imaginary lines in which they are born. We can only solve the global problems we face through internationalism.
Recently, the United States withdrew its military support for the democratic government of Afghanistan, which led to the country quickly becoming overrun by the Taliban, right-wing Islamist authoritarians who previously controlled much of the country in the 1990s. This is a tragedy. And yet many people find reason to celebrate, because they think nationalism is progressive, that somehow saying “not our problem” is enlightened. We owe a brighter future to the refugees left behind.
Skepticism over American military presence overseas is understandably warranted. So many atrocities are committed under the Stars and Stripes. The presence in Afghanistan dates back to 2001 — we are nearing the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks that prompted George W. Bush to launch the invasion in the first place. After twenty years, the government fell so quickly, and it seems like such a waste — and, in many ways, it was.
But every last person on this earth deserves freedom, democracy, and a comfortable material existence. To argue there was no good outcome there was fair, though that makes it all that much more imperative to offer as many people a good life here — and in other wealthy, developed countries. An Afghani life is worth no more or less than an American one. An Afghani life can become an American one too, should the person in question so desire.
Many supposedly left-wing people have found reason to cheer on the Taliban’s horrifically fast advance as anti-imperialistic or anti-colonialistic, but allowing democracy and the rights of women to be rolled back under the banner of a reactionary regime is never something to celebrate. To declare it an inevitable tragedy, one that could only be delayed, is at least an argument worth respecting — one that only highlights further the need to take in refugees. But to celebrate it? Disgusting and loathsome.
Another common reaction, acting as if the money spent on Afghanistan could have instead been spent on Americans, is nationalistic nativism that ignores the abundance this country has — even if much of it is locked up in the hands of the ultra-wealthy. It’s not twenty years in Afghanistan that prevented the United States from better funding infrastructure and social programs, it’s that the endless Republican onslaught of fearmongering and scorn over “entitlements” have stood in the way of their political viability.
We should — and with recent budget and reconciliation efforts seemingly are to a much higher degree than before — fund a thriving society where everyone can have a good life. But everyone on the planet is deserving of such things, and it is imperative that we open our doors to those who are struggling and suffering. Such international neighborliness is going to be especially important as climate change worsens, making areas uninhabitable that could support human life before.
Let this also be a lesson to those who, in assessing geopolitics, would always declare the United States as the ultimate evil. This is just an inverted form of jingoistic American exceptionalism. Like all countries, the United States government is capable of enacting both good and bad, both within our borders and elsewhere. The responsibility of American citizens is to do what we can to steer it towards good.
The unprecedented power of the United States makes it capable of immense destruction, but it can also be a bulwark against militarized reactionary horrors like the Taliban or, in the case of recent airstrikes in Somalia, against al-Shabaab. The duty of protecting the International community should not fall on the United States, it should fall on, well, the international community. But when vetoes in the Security Council of the already rather toothless United Nations prevent action there, one must ask how, in the meantime, we can get the best outcomes for the most people.
At a bare minimum, that must, if you live in a developed country, include strong support for refugee resettlement, now and forever, from the Taliban, from climate change — from any destructive force that would lead them to flee their home. At this point, with the Afghani government already transferring power to the Taliban, it is too late to stop the worst of what is happening. But it is our American duty, not just as the ones leaving the country to its fate after two decades there, but as the wealthiest country in the world, to offer safe haven to as many as possible.
The worth of a life is not determined by the state in which one is born or holds citizenship. We are all deserving of a dignified life. To be truly progressive means those values do not suddenly stop at artificially constructed lines. While the merits of military might’s use are always tricky, given the potential to cause more harm than good, offering refugees a better life is always one that makes the world a brighter place in a time when climate change and COVID are steadily siphoning people’s hope and optimism about the future.
The future will only be bright if we, as an international society, work together. And that starts with offering those fleeing the darkness a safe place to leave. Every single life saved from terror and death from a reactionary regime or catastrophic climate events is a miracle worth making real.