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Dingell Says America Is Obligated To Help Afghans That Helped U.S. After Taliban Takeover

Debbie Dingell
Wikipedia Media Commons

After 20 years of conflict, the U.S. military has withdrawn from Afghanistan. The Taliban swept in and reclaimed control of the government within a matter of days. 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell joined WEMU's David Fair to share her thoughts on what is happening and what must happen next. 


Rep. Debbie Dingell

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NPR: "A Look At Afghanistan's 40 Years Of Crisis — From The Soviet War To Taliban Recapture"


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. I'm David Fair. As you have heard on NPR and WEMU throughout the week, there is ongoing upheaval in Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken control. Evacuations are troublesome. And what the future holds in terms of human rights, particularly for women and girls in that country, is of great concern. Here to talk these things over is 12th District, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. And thank you for another Friday conversation here on WEMU.

Debbie Dingell: Good morning, David. It's always good to be with you. And I think these conversations are important.

David Fair: Setting aside the politics of it all for a moment, what is and was your human emotional reaction to what has and is unfolding in Afghanistan?

Debbie Dingell: So, David, last week, the traveling Vietnam war wall was down river at Riverview, and I spent a lot of time with Vietnam veterans as this was all happening. So, I was already pretty emotional, pretty intense. And I could not think Sunday of the fall of Saigon. I remember watching when it happened. I had a mother whose child died in Afghanistan that was at the wall on Thursday asked me, "Was my son's my life in vain?" Which it wasn't. And I reminded her why we went in. And I guess it's been a very difficult week watching all of this. And I worry for the men and women who helped us when we were in that country and not only the interpreters, but there were so many Afghans who helped Americans there and other allied forces in many ways. And I've gotten to know many of the women and children. I began working to help them with Laura Bush. So, I greatly fear for the women and girls in that country. So, I obviously don't feel good about anything right now. And, for the short term, I want to make sure Americans are safe and those that are helping us are safe and what are we going to do to protect the women and the children.

David Fair: Well, given the promises the U.S. has made to the people of Afghanistan over the past 20 years, should they be granted political asylum in the U.S. if they so desire?

Debbie Dingell: I think that we've got a moral obligation to the people that helped us. We obviously have to do the screening in a safe way. But much of this work has been done, and other nations have offered to help as well. And people whose lives are in danger because they helped this country need to be taken care of.

David Fair: Have you had any conversations either with federal or state government leaders about the possibility of creating a haven here in Michigan for Afghan refugees?

Debbie Dingell: I have not had a conversation with the governor. A number of nonprofit groups, you know, many of them Christian organizations, that have helped in the past have raised it with me in the last 48 hours. So, it is conversations that are very important that, you know, you understand all the issues and what people think and will continue to have these conversations.

David Fair: Your district, of course, is home to the largest population of people from the Middle East anywhere in the United States. Since the collapse of the government and Taliban takeover, what are they reaching out and saying to you? What are they asking of you and your colleagues in Congress?

Debbie Dingell: I think, you know, and, unfortunately, we're all focused on what's going on in Afghanistan. But Lebanon has been a disaster this week. They have their energy supplies are being cut off. They have no access to health care, to food. It is another nightmare. So, I've been dealing with many of the Lebanese families and the young needs have got the same kinds of crises. So, I actually, every single day this week, have been with this community on multiple subjects that I'm deeply concerned about on all fronts.

David Fair: Our conversation with Michigan's 12th District Congressional Representative Debbie Dingell continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. You know, let's look at it historically for a moment. Back in 1978, communists launched a coup and took control of the Afghanistan government. They were supported by the Soviets. The U.S. backed the rebels. And after nine years, the Soviets pulled out of that guerilla war, deeming it unwinnable. The U.S. has been involved in Afghanistan for well over 40 years now and seemingly has failed to learn its lessons from prior conflicts. In the minds of many, no administration, Republican or Democrat, has stepped up to adequately address it. Even if abrupt withdrawal turns out to be the correct decision, where in our federal government is there accountability for our foreign policy, particularly in that country?

Debbie Dingell: Well, I actually would expand it. We do need to. There are going to be a lot of questions that are going to be asked, and we're going to need to have answers. What was our intelligence? Was our intelligence correct? Was it good intelligence? Was it listened to or bad intelligence that helped shape politics? I think the executive branch of government--I don't care if it's Republican or Democratic, Democratic or Republican--sometimes forgets that there are three equal branches of government and don't want to share information or strategy. As a Congress, we have a responsibility to do so. And this episode reinforces that. We've had a lot of domestic issues we've needed to focus on. But, you know, we live in a global world, and we have to begin. We will. I mean, I am seeking answers. I'm not in the Foreign Affairs Committee, but I've talked to the chair, and you're going to see hearings on both sides of the aisle. But, as I say, yes, this working with the Afghan did not go. They say that it was one of the scenarios. It's obviously been disturbing, but we can't be in forever wars either. I went back and listened to Barbara Lee's speech when we voted to go in after 9/11, which was a very intense, very passionate time after the bombings of 9/11. And she, you know, the speech sort of gives you the chills as you look at it. But, as I say, we've got a lot of countries that are very unstable situations right now. The wars--the traditional wars--are not the same wars that our parents and grandparents fought. We're fighting them on different terrain with different tools and different weapons. But, we have to be prepared for our role in the international world in which we live. And we all have responsibilities for watching it.

David Fair: Well, as we talk about war, we have declared war on drugs. We have declared war on terrorism. But the actual last time that the United States Congress officially declared war was World War Two. And yet, we've been in a military conflict nearly ever since then. So, at what point do we look at the process of utilizing the military around the world?

Debbie Dingell: I think that one of the outcomes, so I don't think they're going to be a lot of good outcomes. Well, I don't want to say that we got out of a forever war and that we needed to get out of that war. But, I've not been in Congress as long as many. I've never been involved when we brought military troops into an area. But I have, for the last couple of years, as people have talked about what's going on in Afghanistan, talked about there should what is Congress's role. And I think you are going to see, quite frankly, on both the Republican and Democratic side, a willingness and an obligation to play a more forceful role, to ask questions, demand accountability, and to examine our own consciousness about what when you are elected to be a member of Congress, what your responsibilities are on that exact question.

David Fair: We're talking with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. And you touched on this at the start of our conversation, but I want to return to it. We do have a great number of military veterans in southeast Michigan, including Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Many served in Afghanistan. 20 years of military intervention falls in 11 days. What can any member of Congress or the White House say to them as they reflect on the lives lost and service to a U.S. foreign policy mission that may have been doomed from the start?

Debbie Dingell: So, you know, I was at the wall last Thursday when we had the opening ceremonies, and I sat with a number of Vietnam vets, and, you know, that war was close to my generation. I lost friends and family. But, we were talking to some of the soldiers that had been there and a mother that had lost a child. We need to remember why we did go in, that terrorists--foreign terrorists, Osama bin Laden--had launched a war on us in the bombing or the plane attack on the World Trade Center, attacking and trying to attack, hoping to attack the nation's capital, the Pentagon, and was continuing to threaten more attacks on our country. So, we went into Afghanistan because we were looking for Osama bin Laden.

David Fair: And within months turned our attention to Iraq and took decades to finally catch up on bin Laden and kill him.

Debbie Dingell: That's correct. And, by the way, we've got to talk about--we need to worry about the return of, will Afghanistan become a land for domestic or foreign terrorism again. And, by the way, David, while we're having this conversation, we saw an act of domestic terrorism again yesterday in Washington, or an attempted attack. We really need to...these are thoughtful, strong questions that don't have easy answers. And when you've got a country divided by fear and hatred, people at each other's throats, partisanship, it makes it more dangerous. We all need to remember right now we are Americans. What does it mean to be an American? What's our responsibility at home and abroad and really have some reflective conversations about it and know that each and every one of us has a role to play.

David Fair: We talk about the instability in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and other parts of the world, but there is a strong argument to be made that there is more than enough instability here in the United States.

Debbie Dingell: It is true that if the world is unstable, that impacts and impacts our country, too. And what as a country that is more privileged than many countries is our moral responsibility. I don't have all the answers, but I do dig in. I do study. I do listen to people. And I try to work with people who have different perspectives to come to some common ground and understanding and then demand accountability.

David Fair: Well, you and I will keep the conversations front and center, and I'll look forward to our next on next Friday.

Debbie Dingell: Thank you, David. Be safe.

David Fair: That is Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, 12th District representative representing portions of Washtenaw County. And this is 89 one WEMU FM and HD One Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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