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Don Lemon Tonight
Afghan People Desperate To Leave Their Country; President Biden Defends His Decision To End America's "Longest War"; Two Afghans Fell From Plane; U.S. Government To Use $500 Million for U.S. Emergency Refugee And Migration Assistance Fund; COVID-19 Cases Surging In 80 Percent Of U.S. States. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired August 16, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST (on camera): Thanks for being with us tonight. It's time for the big show with the big star, Don Lemon. I'll tell you. The pictures look bad.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Yes.
CUOMO: There's no question about it.
LEMON: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Before we get to that, this is when I usually tell you happy birthday and whatever and joke around and I want to say happy birthday. I cannot joke around with you tonight because there is so much serious news going on.
So, I'll just say happy birthday. It's great to have you back. You're a partner here and I'm just happy to have you back because nobody bounces off each other between shows like you and I do. Now, go on.
CUOMO: I love you, D. Lemon.
LEMON: I love you, brother.
CUOMO: I don't think that it is usually our position to put pressure on the administration to do certain things, however.
CUOMO: Every read from the ground is consistent. If the Biden administration does not find a way to fix the problem of abandoning people who put their lives on the line --
CUOMO: -- for American fighting men and women, it will be a stain on this administration forever.
LEMON: I don't disagree with that.
CUOMO: I know that there is some political push back and people on the Trump fringe trying to make it like look at the people he wants to bring here. These are men and women talk to our veterans. Listen to our veterans about what they did for this country and for our fighting men and women.
CUOMO: And now they will be left there and they will be hunted down like dogs.
LEMON: I think it's -- I agree with what you said but I think it's too early to judge what's going to happen. We don't know what is going to happen. The exit, yes, those pictures are horrific. No one can deny the situation that happened at the airport there and the pictures that we're seeing and what we're hearing from our folks who are there happening on the ground.
But I think let's see it's going to take time to figure out if it was a right move at the right time but no one can deny this has been through four administrations and, you know, he said he didn't want a fifth administration to inherit this.
So, before this happened, about 70 percent of Americans and even folks who were enlisted, wanted us to get out of Afghanistan. So, I think most people think it was the right move, the execution may be wrong but I think over time we will see what the fallout is and that's, you know we can't do that until we keep moving and living.
CUOMO: Look, we've lived it. You and I have been there for the whole course of it. I've been there and I've been every place in the region that we've been. I think that it's a completely separate decision. Leaving the way we did, and leaving those people behind, if we don't find a way to get them out and it should have been done first, he has to fix that part. It is the only American thing to do. It will last a generation, Don. We've made this mistake before.
CUOMO: We've left that place worse before.
And we can't do it again. You have to take care of the people who take care of you.
LEMON: You play the south bite of that with John McCain and Barack Obama when they were running against each other and now we see what happened. It got us in deeper as you said.
I got to run. I got a lot of news as you know. Good to have you back. I love you. Happy birthday, I will see you later.
CUOMO: I love you, D. Lemon.
LEMON: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT and you know what? There is no way to put it. Sure did. The words are harsh and they should be. They should be harsh. Words like chaos, debacle, disaster, even comparisons to the fall of Saigon for those of you who are old enough to remember that.
That is the only way to describe what we are seeing right now in Afghanistan and what we have seen. Gut wrenching. That's the word that President Joe Biden used today, gut wrenching scenes at Kabul's airport as crowds of people risk their lives trying to climb onto planes and planes going anywhere trying to escape the Taliban. Look at the pictures. It's undeniable. It's an awful spectacle this fall of Kabul.
And the political firestorm at home as the president defends his decision to end America's longest war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I stand squarely behind my decision after 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That's why we're still there. We were clear eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency, but I always promised the American people I will be straight with you.
The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So, what's happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometime without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced at any U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.
LEMON (on camera): Now, the fact is this is a case where multiple things can be true at the same time. The president can be making the right decision about ending the war but executing that decision in the wrong way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility from where we are today and how we must move forward from here. I am President of the United States of America. And the buck stops with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): The buck stops here. He says the buck stops with him taking responsibility, that's important except you can't really say the buck stops with me if you don't really take the blame.
President Biden pointed the finger at Afghans themselves. He said didn't want to leave earlier. And that Afghan government he said wanted to avoid a crisis of confidence, Afghan political leaders who fled the country, the Afghan military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghans civilians sooner. Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. And part of it is because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exit to avoid triggering as they said a crisis of confidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): OK. So, let's say all that is true. Even if all that is true, the big question is now what? Now what? What happens now? The president says that he's going to evacuate thousands of people through the Kabul airport. He says that he's going to use devastating force against the Taliban if necessary.
So how is he going to do that without combat? How is he going to save thousands of people? These are real questions. Thousands of people like these in images becoming the face of the fall of Afghanistan. Crowds on the tarmac actually trying to hold on to a U.S. Air Force cargo plane trying to take off.
And the terrible and disturbing videos of what may be people falling to the ground as a plane takes off. Remember those images that we had to stop showing? People said they were too harsh from 9/11 of people falling from buildings. You cannot help be reminded of those images of people falling from those buildings at the World Trade Center nearly 20 years ago. That's what started all of this.
And I just want you to look at this, OK? It's another image of the death of the chaos in Afghanistan and what is driving desperate people, what it's driving people to do. They're desperate.
This is a photo, it's inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 from defense one. You can see the cargo plane is absolutely jammed with some 640 men, women, children. Even it looks like some of them babies.
Defense one reports that the crew didn't intend to take on so many people but instead of trying to force them off the plane, they decided to take them with them. Six hundred forty people on a plane that is designed to seat only 134 soldiers with their equipment.
That's how desperate people in Afghanistan are. And like I said, it can be the right decision but executed the wrong way. Executed in a way that through the country and its people into chaos. Just listen what President Biden said only a few weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The likelihood there is going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): That was only six weeks ago. That's how fast Afghanistan fell. And it was only six weeks ago the president was insisting that this would be nothing like the fall of Saigon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The Taliban is not the south -- the north Vietnamese army. They're not -- they're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There is going to be in circumstance where you can see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, you need to see Saigon, right, to see the comparison. More iconic images, Saigon on the left, Kabul on the right. Leave them for a minute, Saigon on the left, Kabul on the right.
Just last month in our CNN town hall President Joe Biden said bringing Afghans here who helped the American military is the decent thing to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: What I do say is the one place you may heard and I'm talking about more immigrants coming in are those folks from Afghanistan who helped the American soldiers who will be, they and their family will be victimized very badly as a consequence of what happens if they're left behind.
And so, we're providing for them to be able to see whether they qualify to meet the special requirement to be able to come to the United States as a refugee and as ultimately earning citizenship here. It seems to me it's the only decent thing that we can do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, listen, just to go back to what Chris and I were talking about, here is the fact. Joe Biden is not the only one. He is not the first American president to be tripped up by Afghanistan, plenty of blame to go around. It has been 20 years. It is America's longest war, a war that bedeviled four presidents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In Afghanistan, we'll remove an oppressive regime. Their harbored to terrorists who planned the attacks that killed 3,000 folks on September 11th, 2001. Because of our men and women in uniform more than 25 million Afghans are free. Afghanistan is a democracy, an ally on the war in terror and as a result of your courage, the American people are safer.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This month after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. This month America's war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end. That doesn't mean everything is great in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place but I want you and every American who has served in Afghanistan to be proud of what you've accomplished there.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But we're talking about 19 years we've been there. Nineteen years. And other presidents tried to do this. The Taliban has given a pledge and a very strong pledge and we'll see how that all works out. We hope it's going to work out very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Well, the next year Joe Biden's predecessor signed a peace treaty with the Taliban. And his secretary of state met with the Taliban leader who is now the face of Afghanistan's leaders. Funny, some people don't seem to remember that.
Like the Republican National Committee slamming President Joe Biden today for withdrawing from Afghanistan when it was the former guy who made the deal to pull American troops out in May.
Like I said, this is plenty of blame to go around here. The words I said at the beginning, chaos, debacle, disaster, the exit. Those words still apply. We'll see what happens after this. You can make the right decision but you can execute it the wrong way. And the question is as we say in the vernacular, now what? Or as some would say, what happens now.
So, we're going to get the latest on the ground in Afghanistan from CNN's international security editor Nick Paton Walsh who is in Kabul for us. Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Don, the Pentagon really doubled down on the idea that they can get maybe 30,000, 20,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. forces here out of the country in some frankly, miraculous evacuation effort.
Owing to the scenes I saw today at the airport; I think it's going to be an incredibly difficult if not impossible task. The Taliban are actually at the main airport entrance doing what you might call crowd control, pushing people back, using vehicles that they have taken off the Afghan Security Forces paid for by America to try and keep people away from the number of gates.
But there are hundreds of Afghans we saw surging towards gates, some trying to climb over the walls. Utter chaos and not much better inside the air field. Videos we've seen there of people running across the tarmac trying to grab C-17 cargo aircraft in the vein hope that perhaps they could cling on altitude long enough to reach the destination.
Shocking scenes really, at the place that defined America's billions of investments in Kabul, they use so frequently by American staff to be overrun by so many Afghans desperate just to try and get a flight out. Civilian flights cancelled though.
It's the U.S. military that are running things at the moment and we hear them in the skies above us but it's going to be an exceptionally difficult task, Don, in the weeks ahead for the U.S. to fulfill its promise given the chaos we've seen there unless they get some sort of deal, frankly, with the Taliban who run Kabul at this stage and manage to get those Afghans who probably the Taliban have a grudge against because they were assisting the U.S. presence and somehow get them out of the city to the airport, I can't see how these targets can get met, Don.
LEMON: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
President Biden is not backing down tonight from his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan despite the chaos of the fall of Kabul. What will happen now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Here is what I believe to my core. It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan's own armed forces would not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, President Joe Biden addressing the nation today about the chaos in Afghanistan saying that he stands squarely behind his decision to withdrawal U.S. troops but also admitting the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban easily retaking control of the country. It happened a lot faster than the administration anticipated.
So, I want to bring in CNN's Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann, and White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond.
Gentlemen, good evening to you.
Jeremy, let's start with you. You're at the White House tonight to give us the latest with the president. He's defiant, standing by his decision to withdraw. But what we didn't hear is how his administration failed to anticipate the fiasco in Kabul. And then breaking tonight, he's now issuing an executive order on resettling Afghan refugees. Update us on this, please.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. President Biden this evening authorizing the use of up to $500 million in funds for the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance fund and this is to help with the migration of many of those Afghans who are desperately trying to leave Kabul right now to ultimately resettle here in the United States.
We do know that there are tens of thousands of perspective special immigrant visa applicants who are waiting and hoping to try to get to the United States. This includes some of those interpreters who have worked with the United States over those nearly two decades of the U.S.'s war effort in Afghanistan.
And listen, that is what we heard from President Biden today, he was talking about the fact that that is going to be the sole focus of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan right now where about 6,000 troops are soon to be on the ground, several thousand of those have already arrived in country focused on holding that airport in Kabul and getting those Afghans to the airport and on to planes off to the United States, some of them potentially to third party countries.
But you're right, Don, in terms of what we heard from -- what we did not hear from the president, it was while he acknowledged that we missed -- that the United States missed how quickly the Taliban would advance, we still have not heard from President Biden why exactly that is, what was the failure here.
We've had officials here at the White House tell us this was not an intelligence failure. You heard something very similar from the Pentagon spokesman John Kirby today. But ultimately, you know, those are the questions that remain unanswered here and President Biden is going to have to answer for that at some point.
We certainly will be able to pose those questions to the national security advisor Jake Sullivan tomorrow as he sets to brief reporters alongside the White House press secretary from the White House.
LEMON: Jeremy, perhaps that is his answer, though, that, you know, the Afghan forces just didn't hold up. Is that, could that just be the answer for the president?
DIAMOND: I mean, the question then becomes why didn't the U.S. realize --
LEMON: Anticipate that. Yes.
DIAMOND: -- that that was going to be the case. Right? And I think that there is obviously a lot of experts who didn't see this coming but there are also some experts who did see this coming. Some people that served in the military who said of course this was going to happen.
Of course, the willpower was going to disappear especially once they lost that critical U.S. air support as well as those U.S. defense contractors who have been helping to maintain the Afghan air force once the United States wound down its presence there.
LEMON: Let's bring Oren in from the Pentagon. Oren, you can weigh in on this, and also, as we were talking, I want to bring up this photo of the more than 600 Afghans inside a military cargo plane. I mean, it's an extraordinary event, extraordinary picture to look at.
They represent just a fraction of the Afghans who are trying to evade the brutal regime there. What does the Pentagon saying tonight about their efforts to keep people -- to get people out and this crisis happening in Kabul?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, let's take a look at that photo because it speaks so much to despair, the panic, and the utter chaos of Afghan civilians now trying to flee what is no longer just Afghanistan but is soon to be the Islamic emirate Afghanistan under the Taliban. The flag that we have known for 20 years is the flag of Afghanistan, very much possibly no longer the flag of that country.
And that is what these people are fleeing cramming on to an airplane, men, women and children just to try to get the heck out of there, out of Kabul international airport, which is probably the most valuable piece of real estate in the country right now because it's pretty much the only way in and out of the airport.
And as that was happening just on one U.S. C-17, there were thousands more Afghans outside the airplane at the airport itself trying to get out of the country. For the U.S., the primary mission here is to secure the airport. It requires security, a stable situation at the airport to get flights going in and out.
Although this is certainly an international airport, this isn't something like Newark or Atlanta with two runways and plenty of space on the ground to move airplanes around. There is limited space. It is the key, perhaps the only limiting factor on how fast the U.S. can get people in and out.
LIEBERMANN: At maximum capacity, it will be 5,000 people a day. The problem is the U.S. isn't at that capacity yet.
LIEBERMANN: And until it gets there, moving people becomes incredibly difficult. First of course, it's U.S. embassy personnel and then all the Afghan interpreters and their families who are desperate to get out of Afghanistan right now.
LEMON: Yes, much more rudimentary airport, not as sophisticated as the airports here and certainly not as much space and they can't facilitate as quickly.
Oren, I appreciate your reporting. Jeremy, you, as well. Thank you, gentlemen.
Scenes of desperation, Taliban fighters in control of an American military equipment. My next guest a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan says what's happened is an absolute disaster.
LEMON (on camera): Tonight, President Biden facing heavy criticism for how his administration handled the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The country now enveloped in chaos with the collapsed of the government and the Taliban reestablishing control.
Joining me now is Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. Ambassador, thank you for joining us.
Important subject and the pivotal time in our history here. You call the execution of this withdrawal an absolute disaster. How precarious is the situation there right now for U.S. forces because this feel like it could go sideways at any moment.
RONALD NEUMANN, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: Well, it's a very bad situation right now. You know, we're not going to reestablish ourselves in Afghanistan. We have a large commitment to a variety of Afghans, interpreters. I think we also need to focus on the fact that there are a lot of embassy people, there are a lot of people who worked for USAID for contractors for AID. They also need to be gotten out.
You were talking earlier in the program about the limited capacity of Kabul airport. So, it's pretty clear that to meet the commitments that President Biden has already made, we're going to have to have an operation that extends beyond the end of the month. And we need a clear policy. We need obviously to be part of getting Kabul airport functioning again so that commercial aircraft can get in and take off some of the load.
So, there is some big questions that are still up answered. President Biden spent a lot of time in his speech with his defense of his policies some of which I agree with and some which I don't. But he was very short on details about how we were going to implement his policy.
He also has not had -- nobody administration said anything about our contacts with the Taliban recently that were led by Ambassador Khalilzad, what is it we have agreed with them? Have we agreed to anything?
NEUMANN: Are we holding our punches because of this or not? I think the American people deserve an answer to whether or not we have agreements with the Taliban.
LEMON: Let's talk about practicality. Let's be practical here. Because you're saying some of which you agree with, some of which are not. OK. You don't agree with. Understandable. But the question is, right, how are we going to get the Afghan friends out. And I understand that you have gotten calls from Afghan friends trying to get out. What are they saying to you, sir?
NEUMANN: Well, they're pretty desperate. Of course, people are very afraid. We'll see -- I hope we won't see over time that their fears are justified. Right now, there is a huge problem that the airport is surrounded by a mixture of crowds and Taliban and so a lot of people that are on our list to get out cannot get to the airport. Now that we cannot wholly solve by ourselves, we're going to have to
work with Afghans, maybe even with the Taliban in order to control that situation. I hope the Taliban see it in their interest to let a lot of people who don't want to be there go out. We'll find out about that.
In terms of Kabul airport, I think there's going to be a need to be a U.N. led effort to control the airport. Very few people who want out are going to trust the Taliban and frankly, we don't want to be the only security force at the airport so that to me says the U.N. is going to have to have a role. There needs to be an international role in keeping the airport open and getting people out and I hope we will move towards that.
LEMON: I think the most obvious question is, Ambassador Neumann is, you know, the president said they can't anticipate -- they didn't anticipate the Afghan -- the Taliban's ability to sweep the country. If they can't anticipate that in just, you know, to do it in just a week, how will we have eyes on any potential terror activity when we have pulled out completely?
NEUMANN: Well, I don't think we will. I mean, we'll have some intelligence sources. Remember, it was only a couple of years ago that we found that Al Qaeda base that had been established for six months when we were there with a lot of people and a lot of intelligence resources, drones and everything. So, even when we were there in force, there were limits to our intelligence.
I think now their limits are going to be much, much higher. And recently you had reports by the U.N. by (Inaudible), as well as by our own intelligence agencies that Al-Qaeda is still there in the country. The administration is pretty much silent on those reports that more they don't talk about.
LEMON: So, Americans evacuated the U.S. Embassy. Russia and China still have presence there. What does that say to you about the future? Does that bode for the future?
NEUMANN: Well, I think the first thing it says is that our threats to the Taliban that saying, you know, if you don't cooperate, you won't have international recognition are going to be seen by the Taliban as pretty toothless. We may not recognize them. The Chinese clearly will do, so probably the Russians, the Iranians, variety of other powers. So, I don't think that we have a lot of leverage.
We've given up most of our leverage, and so it's, you know, it's a little feckless to talk about how we're going to the strong diplomatic effort after we give away most of the elements that would make diplomatic effort strong.
LEMON: You -- you wrote something last month about how ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told you that he had a strategy for supporting and leading the resistance to the Taliban but then he cut and ran. Should the U.S. government have seen that coming? NEUMANN: I think we could have seen some of it coming. You know, this
is a long-complicated subject probably more than you got time for. But I think, you know, let's step back a second. The bumper sticker is the Afghan army wouldn't fight. Now the Afghan army has been carrying the burden of the fight for at least the last three years. We have not been engaged on the ground.
The Afghans have had thousands of casualties. We had 12, 15 the last couple of years, the last year we had none. So, the Afghan army was fighting. Not all of them well. Question is why they quit fighting. And some of that is clearly the problems of Kabul, the infighting, the corruption.
But I think there is also a big piece of that which is the collapse of moral and we were a big part of that really over a lengthy period first with the peace agreement where many Afghans felt we were already giving up on the country, pushed the Afghan government to release 5,000 prisoners, many of whom returned to the battlefield excluded them from the agreement in Doha and then decided on a troop withdrawal.
And remember, when President Biden gave his speech about the withdrawal, he talked about two other elements. One of which was really key and that was continuing support for the Afghan military.
NEUMANN: We had no plan for that. And then we proceeded to pull out not the 2,500 or 3,000 troops but also about 15,000 contractors who were absolutely key to keeping the Afghan air force functioning, the supply system functioning. So, what the Afghans were seeing was abandonment. And I think that's not the only reason for the collapse of moral but it's a big piece of it.
And I wrote about this and several of my colleague's former ambassadors wrote about this in the last weeks saying that we needed to take a number of actions that we described in order to give credibility to the sense that we would continue to provide the support President Biden promised. We did not take any of those actions.
So, the collapse of Afghan moral is an Afghan phenomenon but it's also a responsibility of the U.S. one which I think administration is continuing to dodge.
LEMON: Ambassador Neumann, thank you. You've given us great insight. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
NEUMANN: I am most welcome. Happy to be with you.
LEMON: All right. President Biden says that he doesn't regret his decision to leave Afghanistan but it has cost this country thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Will what we've seen the past few days change how Americans feel about how he is handling the conflict?
LEMON (on camera): The president today unapologetic about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan today. He says staying isn't in the national interest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: So, I'm left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay. How many more generations of Americans, daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghan's -- Afghanistan's civil war? When Afghan troops will not?
I will not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past, mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Matthew Dowd is here. He is the former chief strategist for President George W. Bush and the author of "Revelations on the River."
Matthew, I appreciate you joining me to talk about this. Thousands of American lives have been lost and trillions of dollars spent in this conflict. As of a few weeks ago, 55 percent of Americans, 55 percent said that they approved of Biden's handling of the withdrawal and after that, just getting out, the numbers were higher than that for people who approve us getting out of Afghanistan. Do you think that's still going to be the case after today?
MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think on whether or not we should have gotten out, it will still be 70 percent plus and I think it will cross Republican, Democrat, and independent. That will stay true because I think the American public is exhausted by this. They were sold a bill of goods as you know from the very beginning under bush who I worked for about why we were going in there and 20 years later we were still in there.
So, I think they still want to see us out of here. I think you'll probably, I mean, not to look at this politically in the midst of this crisis situation in Afghanistan. He will probably drop some because of the pictures and everything they're seeing on his ability to handle this, but do I think this will be an issue in a potential reelection for him or even in the midterms? Absolutely not.
The American public wanted us out of there and we're getting out of there actually way later than after the American public wanted us.
LEMON: The president spoke about the people of Afghanistan needing to fight for their country. Do you think trying to install democracy top down in that country was ever going to work? Was that ever really our mission to restore democracy top down?
DOWD: Well, Don, I think that's a great question and if you look at the expanse of history, it never works. Democracies and building a country up only work from the bottom up. We've seen it in our country in the revolution. We've seen it throughout history in Vietnam it didn't work when we went in there.
And the instant after instant -- in Iraq it hasn't worked when we've gone in there thinking we're going to put in place a regime or a nation and build a nation around democracy. If the people there aren't asking for it and demanding it and actually fighting for it, you're never going to be able to do it from outside.
And that's why we get in these situations where we come and force our way, our way of government on another country who is either not ready for it or whose citizens aren't hungry enough and demanding enough, then it's not going to work. And that's why we are where we are at today.
LEMON: Look, I guess I don't know if you can still call it a budding democracy but Afghan -- Afghanistan's budding democracy is in tatters now. But January 6th proved ours isn't as strong as we had hoped or we thought. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinting today two sitting congressmen could be investigated. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Two of them were outrageous. I mean, they probably -- we'll see who the committee finds out but they won't be on the committee. It would be antics and clowns and not serious about this and still participants in the big lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So, look, we know who she's talking about, about Trump allies Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of who she rejected from serving on the very committee that could be investigating them. What does this say about our democracy?
DOWD: Well, that's the point I've been trying to make over the last 48 hours, is yes, what's happening in Afghanistan is tragic but what's even more tragic is our inability to preserve the democracy we have here. We're trying to install a democracy, and we've been trying to install democracy in a place that doesn't necessarily wanted it.
Obviously, their leaders weren't willing to stay in the country and fight for it but here we're fighting over our own democracy that is at a fragile point in our country's history and what we need to do to preserve it. And I would just say people that are putting up pictures of the Taliban in certain, you know, meeting rooms or whatever, I still remember and it's still visceral to me the confederate flag being raised at the U.S. capitol not many months ago.
So, I think we should keep our eye on the ball, we should focus on it. Because if the most tragic thing that could happen to the world, to our country and to all of us is not what's happening in Afghanistan but is losing our democracy here, that will have a much more profound effect on the world than what is happening in Afghanistan and that's I think, where we fundamentally need to keep the focus on. LEMON: Look, you said the people inside the capitol and with their
feet up on the speaker's desk and on and on. Listen, also, on this subject of keeping us together, the pandemic is surging again the way -- in a way that seemed unthinkable just two months ago.
The Department of Homeland Security is warning of violence here at home within the next few weeks and much of the president's agenda has been slow going through Congress. Is President Biden better off focused on issues here at home right now?
DOWD: Well, I think President Biden and I actually thought his speech was well done today. I think there was some logistical problems that obviously weren't orchestrated well and I think they are going to have to figure out how to fix those to make sure they can save as many lives as possible on us leaving.
But I think Joe Biden understands that what is of most concern to the world, Don, is that our democracy here and what's happening here including our public health problem, we have lost more people today, yesterday and the day before because of the pandemic and because of bad decisions by political leaders, almost all exclusively GOP political leaders than we've lost in Afghanistan over the last year or the last year and a half.
So, let us not forget that. And the other thing I'll say is seven presidents have been involved in this Afghanistan thing in modern times dating back to Ronald Reagan, seven presidents. The person least responsible for what is happening today is Joe Biden. The other six presidents primarily George W. Bush is responsible for what we're facing in Afghanistan today not Joe Biden.
LEMON: And you were an advisor to?
DOWD: President George W. Bush.
LEMON: Matthew Dowd, thank you, sir. I appreciate you joining. Thank you.
DOWD: Thank you.
LEMON: I want to make sure you know about We Love New York City. That is a homecoming concert so make sure you join me, this is a once in a lifetime concert event, it's this Saturday starting at 5 p.m. exclusively on CNN. We'll be right back.
LEMON (on camera): Take this. Coronavirus cases are surging in 40 states, the pandemic now impacting more children than ever before with a dramatic increase in minors hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past weeks. Texas and Florida leading the nation in the number of current pediatric coronavirus hospitalizations. That's according to the latest data from the U.S. Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, the CDC says just 70 percent of the eligible population has
received at least one dose of a vaccine. I'll say that again. Only 70 percent of those eligible have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Vaccines have been widely available for months. We are nowhere near herd immunity.
The head of the NIH is predicting the U.S. could be seeing more than 200,000 new cases a day. We haven't seen rates like that since before vaccines became widely available. So maybe if more people were vaccinated by now, we wouldn't see such a strong Delta variant surge or so many kids getting sick or so many ICU's reaching capacity again.
Tonight, one NFL team is leading the example. The Atlanta Falcons announcing in a tweet that they are the first NFL team to be 100 percent vaccinated. The team says players can now work out and eat together and won't have to test daily for the virus. Good for them.
And then we have some breaking news on a third shot. What the White House is saying about it, after this. Don't go anywhere.
LEMON (on camera): So, we have got some breaking news tonight on COVID booster shots and when you should get one. This is coming tonight just now from the White House. So, let's get to our White House correspondent. Kaitlan Collins joins us by phone.
Kaitlan, hello to you. What are you learning about these COVID vaccine boosters for most Americans?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don. This is something of course that many people have been waiting to find out what is the administration's position going to be, given so far health officials have said that most Americans do not need a booster at this time.