A humanitarian and strategic catastrophe is unfolding in Afghanistan. The United States still has a responsibility—to our Afghan allies and to the American people—to come together around a strategy that protects American diplomatic and military personnel, that secures critical American interests in the region, protects the lives of innocent Afghans and that prevents Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists. The last few days have not been encouraging in this respect. Amid this crisis, partisans on both sides are digging in, going on the attack and assigning blame. In the difficult months ahead, we’ll have plenty of time to debate how a country we invested in across 20 years and four presidents, two from each party, collapsed in a weekend. But right now, our leaders in Washington need to come together—Democrats and Republicans—to forge a unified response to this crisis. America still has an ability to shape events on the ground and prevent a very bad situation from getting worse. Twice before in Iraq, when the situation became critical, two presidents, one Republican, one Democrat, took bold steps in dark times – President Bush’s surge in 2007 and President Obama’s campaign against ISIS in 2014.
We need this White House to take the lead on a strategy, consulting closely with congressional leadership and key committee members on both sides, and explaining the American interests at stake and the strategy for the immediate crisis and the longer range future both to the American people and the international audience, both friendly and hostile. We need an American strategy to ensure that Afghanistan does not descend into a cycle of dangerous reprisals, to ensure sworn enemies like al Qaeda and ISIS do not find safe haven in Afghanistan, and adversaries like Russia and China are not making gains at American expense. We need a strategy to support refugees, either in safe temporary camps as winter approaches, or in our country or others, if it is too dangerous for them to return to their homes.
With lives on the line and American wisdom, values and tenacity on the line, it is not the time for finger-pointing and partisan attacks, but for bold action and bipartisan resolve.
Admiral Dennis Blair is a former U.S. Director of National Intelligence and No Labels Legal Board Member