George W. Bush, Author of Afghanistan War, Urges Speedy Evacuation of Refugees: 'Cut the Red Tape'
Amid the U.S. exit from and subsequent collapse of Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country in recent days, Bush issued a statement urging President Joe Biden's administration to "cut the red tape" and quickly evacuate refugees.
President Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush released a joint statement late Monday sharing their "deep sadness" following the Taliban's resurgence.
The couple did not comment on Biden's decision to withdraw troops or on President Bush's much scrutinized decisions as commander-in-chief from 2001 to 2009, which shaped the war.
Instead, they shared support for the Afghan people and for military veterans.
"The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation. President Biden has promised to evacuate these Afghans, along with American citizens and our allies," President Bush said, speaking on behalf of him and his wife.
He continued, "The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay. Our most stalwart allies, along with private NGOs, are ready to help."
As the U.S. completed its previously planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed control of the government on Sunday after entering the nation's capital, Kabul.
The speed of the insurgency caught the Biden administration off-guard and touched off a scramble to ensure American citizens and U.S. allies could be safely evacuated from Kabul.
Thousands more troops have been temporarily redeployed to secure their departures.
At the same time, many lawmakers have criticized how slowly, they say, the U.S. has moved to help vulnerable Afghans leave the country.
Tens of thousands of people, including some Americans and numerous Afghan citizens who risk retribution, are reportedly still seeking to leave and hoping for assistance.
Bush said in his Monday statement that he was confident in the U.S. military to carry out the evacuation efforts, adding a thank you to those who have served in Afghanistan since he invaded the country in the wake of 9/11.
"Laura and I, along with the team at the Bush Center, stand ready as Americans to lend our support and assistance in this time of need. Let us all resolve to be united in saving lives and praying for the people of Afghanistan," he said.
"In times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic," he said.
But: "Laura and I will steadfastly remain so. Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people. Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan's future."
The former president went on to quote Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning: "While we are afraid, we are not defeated ... Ideas do not disappear so easily. One cannot kill whispers on the wind. The Taliban cannot crush a dream. We will prevail, even if it takes longer than we wanted it to."
The Bushes' statement follows Biden's White House speech on Monday admitting that there had been mistakes in how the exit unfolded but discussing the "cold reality" of the events, ultimately standing by the U.S. withdrawal after what he cast as years of fruitless fighting.
"The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated," Biden said, pointing the blame for the timeline toward a dysfunctional Afghan military and political system (an assessment some experts say ignores how the Afghan people have suffered most of the consequences and casualties).
"If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was the right decision," Biden argued in his speech in an implicit response to other officials who said his exit needed to be rethought to avoid ruin.
"I stand squarely behind my decision," he said. "After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces."
"I'm left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war if Afghan troops will not?" Biden said in his speech. "How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?"
Later Monday, the president announced that he would be allocating $500 million in additional funds for relocating Afghan refugees, including applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
The funds are for "unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs" and "the purpose of meeting unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan."
The order was made through the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962, which allows a president to help displaced people during global conflict.