American reporters who cover the Mideast say that after covering the most virulent anti-U.S. demonstrations -- complete with the burning of effigies of Uncle Sam and the Stars and Stripes and impassioned calls for Allah to destroy our country -- they are quietly drawn aside, often by the most strident demonstrators, and implored: "I want to go to America. Can you help me get to the United States?" Despite all of our missteps overseas, to most of the world we are still a shining city on a hill and, in that trite but true phrase, the land of opportunity.
The prospect of eventual resettlement in the United States caused thousands of educated, capable, English-speaking Iraqis to go to work for U.S. forces as interpreters, fixers, guides and advisers, at great risk to themselves and their families.
Despite extravagant promises and congressional pressures, only handfuls were admitted and then at a glacial pace. The "streamlined" bureaucratic hoops are at iraq.usembassy.gov.
Now we have a similar situation in Afghanistan, and our Afghan employees, especially those involved in military operations, are terrified at the fate awaiting them and their families when the U.S. pulls out altogether by the end of 2014. Like the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban has discovered that killing a man's family is a great disincentive to working with the Americans.
On paper, the safety of those who worked with us will be in the hands of the Afghan security forces. Not surprisingly, the pro-U.S. Afghans do not find this at all reassuring.
Americans should find it infuriating; certainly our troops who have served over there do. In 2009, Congress approved 7,500 visas for Afghans employed by the U.S. government; 5,700 have navigated the bureaucratic maze to apply, a number that will surely swell as the withdrawal date nears. So far, the State Department told The Washington Post, just 32 have been approved.
There is a word for this: disgraceful.
If State can't do it, let the U.S. military, no model of bureaucratic speed itself, do it; at least the job will get done. This truly is a matter of national security because, although we devoutly wish it were otherwise, this is not the last war we will fight in a land with an unfamiliar language and culture where success depends on the cooperation of the locals.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.