Op-Eds – Occasional Publications of Opinions

8/26/2021 From Fred Benson – Can hope rise in Afghanistan? Lessons learned from Vietnam show it can. by Kien Pham

We reached out to Fred Benson for words about what is happening in Afghanistan. He shared the following with us, and said we could share it with you. The opinion piece is named: Can hope rise in Afghanistan? Lessons learned from Vietnam show it can. It was written by Kien Pham, president of the Vietnam Foundation. The photo of Mr. Pham was taken from the website: https://historicalsociety.stanford.edu/publications/pham-kien

Can hope rise in Afghanistan? Lessons learned from Vietnam show it can.

The scenes from Afghanistan are distressing. It is hard to envision what will happen once our U.S. military leaves. My friend Kien Pham, whom I met through the White House Fellows program, has a different perspective as a Vietnamese American who survived the fall of Saigon in 1975.He knows firsthand that hope can rise from the ashes. With his permission, I share his words here.

Watching the unfolding events in Kabul has been hard for this Vietnamese American. I was a 17-year-old Saigon boy in April 1975 when the Americans hurriedly left and South Vietnam collapsed. At the time, half of my family was inside the gate at the Tan Son Nhat Airport when a bomb exploded, and I was with the rest of my family standing outside the fence guarded by U.S. Marines. Chaos erupted, and we ran home without hope for an orderly air evacuation.

For two subsequent, years my family suffered under the punishing communist regime and lost everything. Risking the lives of 23 children, my extended family escaped on a small boat and floated on the South China Sea for over 100 days to reach freedom.

The Afghans feel betrayed, understandably, just as the South Vietnamese did in 1975. Although we Americans cannot do much about that now, we can create policy measures to ensure Afghans feel differently in the future.

For now, U.S. policy should focus on removing the fuse of the powder keg that our American personnel are sitting on at the Kabul airport. We’ve all seen the desperate mobs of Afghans trying to reach the airport. The situation is extremely risky. One or two mortar shells can turn that tense airport scene into one reminiscent of the catastrophe that exploded at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in April 1975.

One way to defuse the current situation is to convince some senior Taliban officials to join the Americans inside the airport to protect “their national airport.” The Taliban’s presence would lessen the risk of an incoming attack and give them a stake in keeping things peaceful.

Now also is the time for us to negotiate swiftly with the Taliban to keep diplomatic relations and to provide international aid. The condition for that would be that the Taliban maintain peace and safety for our military exit.

As we learned in Vietnam after 1975, it took too long for the two countries to establish normal diplomacy. The triumphant Vietnamese got drunk on their victory. The country went broke for 20 years; the Vietnamese people suffered, and traditional American interests were not served. Much has changed in the 25 years since Vietnam and the U.S. resumed diplomatic relations. Bilateral trade is now at $100 billion per year. The fact Vice President Kamala Harris was in Hanoi this week with vaccine help demonstrates what could be possible between Afghanistan and the United States.

I once thought it inconceivable to deal with the Vietnamese communists, much less become their friend, but the last 25 years have taught me that authentic, caring, and confident Americans can do just that. We had Sens. John Kerry and John McCain to lead the way on Vietnam. We need someone with the same caliber of leadership who can quickly build a working relationship with the new ruler in Kabul.

It is time to look ahead and double our efforts to persuade the Taliban that it is in their best interest to work with Washington so they can remain in power with the support of the Afghan people. Some assume the Taliban cannot change. My experience with the once- hated Vietnamese communists leads me to believe the Taliban can change under the right condition and incentives. We will have to convince them that we no longer aim for regime change in Kabul just as we had to convince Hanoi. In the long run, our national interests will be better served.

Finally, let’s welcome refugees from Afghanistan to the United States. These Afghans are our friends and supporters. We want a community of Afghan Americans to help the U.S. build bridges with Afghanistan that will endure in the future. Let’s ask American churches to welcome them just as the faith community welcomed my family and other Vietnamese refugees. The Afghan-American community will be an asset that neither the Chinese nor Russians will have.

Kien Pham is president of the Vietnam Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit, that provides direct education and health care support to people in Vietnam. He is a senior advisor at TPGCapital, a leading U.S. private equity firm. Mr. Pham served in the Ronald Reagan White House and at the Pentagon under the George H. W. Bush administration.

Kien Pham

8/18/2021 From Jack Russell on Congressman Golden’s position on President Biden’s Recovery Plan

Much is happening in our world at the moment. At times the number of challenges and opportunities make my head spin. I asked Jack Russell (writer, organizer, historian, citizen) who lives on Mount Desert Island to give me his take on Congressman Golden’s position on President Biden’s recovery plan. I asked Jack if I could share his words with Indivisible MDI. Jack said yes. What follows are the words Jack Russell is sharing with Jared Golden today. Thank you, Jack. – Jayne Ashworth

Message to Congressman Jared Golden

August 18, 2021

Good evening, Congressman. As you know, I have been your firm supporter for four years. I’ve done my best to help inspire and enable scores of active citizens here in Hancock County to work hard for your election and re-election. Our team has given thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. We do checks. We also do doors. As your team knows, we made a difference in 2018 and again in 2020. And we will be there for you, full bore, for the next fifteen months.

We do not always agree with you – butwe respect your open clarity and know you will stand before us to discuss differences when we ask. You have a profound decision to make this fall – probably the most significant you will ever take as our Congressman. You should support President Biden’s American Families Plan as it emerges from the Senate through the budget reconciliation process. Forget the silly procedural gamesmanship of problem causers. Find your own way through the bumps and grinds as the House adjusts the American Families Plan. And then vote for the act.

Why? Because it will do more for the working majority in our District than any other action you will ever take in Congress. Moms of young kids from Eastport to Rumford will be able to return to work if they wish because they will have available, affordable, quality day care – and their kids will turn this head start into better school and work lives. Young Mainers from Lewiston to Millinocket will be able to get the training and credentials they need from free community college. Seniors from Bucksport to Ft. Kent will be able to hear their grandkids and see their way about town because Medicare will now include hearing and vision. The American Families Plan will be a huge and sustained investment in the working people of the Second District whom you represent and who support you.

Do not listen tothe tired deficit scolds who wave the soiled undies of “fiscal rectitude.” The three trillion dollar investment the American Families Plan will make in American lives over the next decade will be but one percent of our Gross Domestic Product during that time. We can afford it. Ask Fed Chairman Powell. Listen to the Second District majority who knows that much of the American Families Plan will be paid for by rich tax skates and tax cheats who will now pay their fair share.

Think ahead eighteen years. You’ll stand for your 12th term with the authority of seniority. Beautiful young Rosemary will head off to college. She will ask, “Dad, what is the most important thing you’ve done for Maine people?” And you will know and answer “Help pass the American Families Plan!” Do that for her. Do that for Maine. Make history. Onward, Jared!

Jack Russell