Why invest billions in education and abandon the returns?

Happier Days: “#School4All. Supported by EU funding, Norwegian Refugee Council ensures access to school in Heart, Afghanistan, for children from different regions of the country who had to escape conflict or drought. The majority of them have never received any education before.” April 3, 2019. (photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid. ©2019 European Union)

Many heroic, savior-types the world over and throughout history have had the exact same problem- at least at first.

Those uninitiated to peace work- though they are usually people who genuinely want to help make the world a better place- sometimes try to help in ways that are not helpful. Missionaries, human aid workers, volunteers, governments; many have fallen victim to a kind of self-centered, myopic thinking which usually makes a mess of things.

It goes like this:

Imagine a guest is invited to a party. When they arrive, things are a bit hectic and the host seems overwhelmed. The house is a mess, a pot on the stove is boiling over, kids are crying, adults are arguing, a sink is overflowing and there’s water everywhere. A faint smell of acrid smoke hangs in the air.

“Stop everything!” the well-meaning but misguided guest might shout into the mayhem; “Here is what we need to do right now.”

The more successful, welcomed peace workers- and party guests- who actually help the people and communities they are trying to help do it the easy way instead.

They find the people who are already helping and help them.

A guest arriving at someone’s house- whatever state they might find that house in- has no idea what is really going on inside. They’ve maybe only seen the front room. They might think the front walk needs swept while the real problem is a boiler in the basement about to blow.

U.S. nation-building in Afghanistan was like a pushy guest trying to “help” in accordance with their own limited worldview.

Installing a democracy instead of a monarchy; relentlessly pushing a westernized ideal of modernity instead of respecting the cultural constraints of a what is still a very religiously conservative country.

Books will be written about the 20-year U.S. presence in Afghanistan; about the reasons we went, the reasons we stayed, and how we left. Many of these books will be written by the writers, athletes, officials, journalists and teachers in Afghanistan who have lived and are currently living through it.

These accounts may be unsparing, to say the least.

The marginalized groups of yesteryear had to wait hundreds of years for their stories to be even recognized, let alone added to the historical record- if indeed they ever were. History, as it has often been said, is written by the victors.

But is that really true anymore?

We have access to more perspectives today than humans have had at any point in history. It’s almost painful.

We know exactly how people are being treated in North Korean death camps we can see via satellite. They might as well have glass walls. Very brave souls have escaped to tell their tales- to add their perspective to the historical record next to the name of Kim Jong Un.

They are the lucky ones in having escaped, perhaps; but they are hardly history’s “victors” in any sense other than a moral one. Yet the world accepts the perspective of a North Korean death camp survivor and defector more than that of North Korea’s all-powerful ruler.

We know how Uyghur Muslims are treated in Chinese “reeducation” camps. We know what life is like for impoverished inner city youth and in poverty-stricken Appalachia. We don’t do anything about these things- as if we could- but we do know about them.

We will know too about Afghanistan- the stories of brutality and violence, of heroism and courage. The Taliban will not get to write history.

The U.S. will not get to write it either.

The U.S. may have abandoned forever its investments in Afghanistan. The Taliban may refuse to educate females- the Taliban has forbidden such before. But neither the Taliban nor the U.S. government can take away the education people have already received.

Education was one gift the U.S. and its allies did give the people of Afghanistan. With that education, the citizens of Afghanistan will be able to tell their stories in the years and decades to come. With the perspective of that education, the people of Afghanistan may be harsh on their 20-year failed nation-building partner. As perhaps they should.

For all its investments in Afghanistan- billions- the U.S. will receive nothing in return but scorn. For all the U.S. outreach, effort, education, and resources, another country will benefit; probably China.

China has already initiated a Belt and Road initiative with the new Taliban government. Chinese Communist Party officials have been meeting with Taliban leadership for months now, long before the fall of Kabul.

Hopefully Afghanistan will benefit, too; in the end. An educated populace is a tremendous resource for any nation.

The U.S., for all its sunk costs, almost certainly will not benefit.

Nor will the U.S. benefit from Dreamers if they are deported.

Just like the people of Afghanistan, deported Dreamers will tell their stories- of abandonment, of cruelty, poverty and violence. It will not reflect well on the U.S. and its institutions.

For someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, America is the only home they’ve ever known. This fact is obviously not lost on elected officials. What does seem to be lost on them is the fact that the U.S. has invested billions in its Dreamers.

Most have received a world-class public education, including nutritious meals, as well as emotional and material support. Communities, faith organizations, and local civic centers have invested in these kids over the course of their entire lives, in some cases for two decades.

It seems not only needlessly cruel to deport and abandon them; it seems foolish and wasteful.

Conflating Dreamers with the controversial concept of open borders, or the wider aspects of immigration policy, or with the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding at the Southern border would be like conflating the people of Afghanistan with the controversial concept of war, the wider aspects of cultural differences, or with the humanitarian crisis caused by terrorism in the Middle East.

A mistake.

The people of Afghanistan are the people of Afghanistan; they deserved more consideration than they were given in the end when the U.S. abruptly walked away from all its investments there- leaving money, and a great deal more, on the table.

The Dreamers are the Dreamers. They deserve to be evaluated on the basis of their own merit; a merit which includes a not insignificant educational investment made in them by the country they call home.

Does the U.S. want to reap the benefits of those investments?

Or only scorn?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)