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Concerns for Women and Girls in Afghanistan; John Bolton is Interviewed about the Afghanistan Withdrawal; Tropical Storm Hampers Rescue in Haiti. Aired 9:30-10a
Aired August 17, 2021 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PASHTANA DURRANI, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEARN: See, it's like, you know, you have to walk the talk, right? If they are so willing (INAUDIBLE) study, then how come they are not letting the girls in Herat (ph) study? How come they are stopping the girls in Azizibad (ph), in Kandahar from going to the bank (ph), right? So these are all different narratives that you have to talk about.
And, at the same time, I was just talking to my staff member and ask him, I was like, do you feel safe? He's a guy, right? And he tells me, no. And I was like, what about women in the family? And he's like, you know my niece, she's not going to school. The private schools in (INAUDIBLE) are open, right? And he's like because she's too afraid to go.
So the Taliban have to make a statement, but then as, too, put it in practice by opening the Herat (INAUDIBLE) for girls by letting the women in Kandahar walk and talk and go to banks. So you have to understand that these are two different narratives, what you see on TV to get legitimately and what you do on ground, two different things.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely.
Gayle, the president, President Biden, said yesterday, we'll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls. But you wrote in June, too many international policy makers have never fully stopped to see Afghan women's rights and full participation as something other than a nice to have instead of an indispensable must do.
Do you believe the Biden administration is doing everything they can for women and girls in Afghanistan, or are they turning their back?
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, ADJUNCT SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I mean, listen, this is not about the Biden administration at this moment. Right now it's about what's going to happen to people who really struggle to be seen as partners in peace and security. But there are always so many narratives, Poppy. You and I have talked about this so many times, right? Life will be better under the Taliban or life will be more secure, the Taliban has promised safety. The next question is, for whom?
HARLOW: Right. LEMMON: Right, because if you look back at the Taliban in 1996, I
spent so much time with international officials who said, it was much easier to maneuver under the Taliban. And then that same day, when I was doing book research, I interviewed a woman who said to me that because the Taliban came, she could not go to university, she could not achieve her dreams, she could not become a teacher. And by the time they left, she had to get married. And she was in tears, Poppy. And she said to me, they took everything from me.
And I've been talking to young people in Kabul, and the thing that is absolutely the key is how much fear young women feel right now.
HARLOW: Is there any reason, Gayle, to believe that this Taliban is different than the Taliban of 20 years ago? Because that is the overarching narrative that they're claiming. And as Pashtana said -- to rightly said, well, show it to us on the ground. Is there anything in your reporting to believe that they have fundamentally changed, or are they just more savvy of the optics of international media?
LEMMON: Right. I mean the question is it will be safer for whom? And there will be space for whom, right? The farther you are from power, the more difficult it is to live under the Taliban. And there is nobody farther from power than girls. Almost anywhere in the world. And that is definitely the case in Afghanistan.
So back to Pashtana's point, Herat University, Poppy, is 51 percent female. There were more women applying for university admission in Herat this year than men. Let's see. The Taliban, last time around, they wanted doctors, they wanted technocrats. There were women who worked as doctors. Let's see what happens. Let's see how serious they are.
HARLOW: Pashtana, to the point that Gayle makes about the future and that we have to wait and watch and see, and that's all that much of the international community can do right now. Being on the ground, is there anything, though, that you believe, any pressure points from the international community on the Taliban that may be successful in ensuring that women and girls can try to hang on to the advances that they have made?
DURRANI: See, that's the right type of question that journalists should be asking about women right now, right? The point here is that we warned (ph) Afghanistan, the government that's gone. There's a new government. How do we pressurize them into accepting us, right, because there is no future if there is not a (INAUDIBLE) 50 percent, right? So you have to understand that what international community can do. International community, Afghanistan, is all aid dependent. International community gives a lot of aid, right, to Afghanistan. They can use that as leverage to pressurize Taliban into accepting girls' educational rights, women political rights, women representative rights and women's working rights. That's the first thing that they can (INAUDIBLE). But at the same --
HARLOW: But who does that hurt? If you pull the aid, does that have an adverse effect on the women and girls? DURRANI: Let me -- let me say this -- let me just put it for you this
way. At the same time, our (INAUDIBLE) women cannot wait another 20 years for foreigners to come and rescue us again. We have to fight our own fight right now. Yes, there are women who are afraid. Yes, they are scared for their lives.
They are young women, come on. They have no -- I am 23 and I have never seen Taliban, right? So it's -- it's the narrative -- people -- we are -- like, you know, not me, of course, but there are girls who are afraid of the Taliban. But we have to fight this fight right now, right here in Afghanistan. If we don't do it right now, if we don't ask the international community for doing that, then there is no chance that in -- after (INAUDIBLE), after them being accepted as a government (INAUDIBLE), they will do anything.
So it's high time now that Afghan women stand for their rights and, at the same time, international community into pressurizing them into working because I (INAUDIBLE) and Afghanistan doesn't have electricity. Even the generators in (INAUDIBLE), in the presidential palace, are -- need money. So, yes, there are pressure points that the international community can make.
HARLOW: Pashtana Durrani, thank you so much. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, to you too, thank you very, very much. We'll talk to you soon.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we will have much more on the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan as we speak with former national security adviser, as well as former ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. He's next.
SCIUTTO: Amid intense criticism, President Biden is defending his decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan. But he says the decision was one he needed to make.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism then pass this decision on to another president of the United States, yet another one, a fifth one, because it's the right one, it's the right decision for our people, the right one for our brave service members who risked their lives serving our nation and it's the right one for American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Joining me now is former national security adviser under President Trump, Ambassador John Bolton.
Ambassador, thanks for taking the time this morning.
AMB. JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Glad to be with you.
SCIUTTO: First of all, in your view, was it a mistake how the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan or that it withdrew at all?
BOLTON: Well, there are two mistakes at work here. The first is the strategic mistake of withdrawing, which Biden made, but which Trump fully supported. Had Trump been re-elected, he'd be doing the same thing. On this question of withdrawal from Afghanistan, Trump and Biden are like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
The second question, though, is, did the withdrawal occur in the best possible way? And the answer to that is, no, it's been a catastrophe and I'm afraid it's only going to get worse. I think Biden does bear primary responsibility for that, although you see now fingers being pointed saying Trump didn't leave us with any plans. We'll have to see how that shakes out. There are two mistakes being made simultaneously right now.
SCIUTTO: The original reason, of course, the U.S. went into Afghanistan some 20 years ago was to stop it being a haven for al Qaeda. Afterwards, other missions came up, building a democratic government, supporting elections, et cetera. But that was the initial mission.
With the U.S. gone, in your view, will Afghanistan again become a haven for terrorists?
BOLTON: I think that's a very grave risk. I think that's exactly the reason that we should have stayed, why we did stay after overthrowing the Taliban. You're quite correct, a lot of other missions got added on. I think that was clearly a mistake. But it still made sense and would make sense to stay there now as an insurance policy to make sure that groups like al Qaeda, ISIS and others can't take root there, can't get sanctuaries in Afghanistan to threaten us in the United States and threaten our allies around the world.
SCIUTTO: Biden, yesterday, in his statement, pointed the finger, in part, at the Afghan military for folding here, which is not an unfair criticism. I wonder where you place the blame, and why you believe the Afghan military, supported for 20 years, both by American blood and treasure and training and advise and support, why the military didn't stand up to the Taliban?
BOLTON: Well, I think this was part of the misconception about what our role was in terms of a nation building project. I think there was a lot of emphasis put on a strong central government in Afghanistan. I think that's contrary to the historical reality there. I think it could have been done in a lot of different ways.
But coming to this conclusion to the effort, you know, the U.S. presence, the NATO presence, was like the keystone in an arch providing intelligence, support, logistics, air cover. And, you know, when you take the keystone out of an arch, the arch collapses. I think the Afghan military saw us leaving and said, it's over.
And, look, this has happened in history, dedicated bands of fanatics defeating larger militaries. It shouldn't surprise us.
SCIUTTO: You, during the Trump administration, very publicly opposed his support for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In fact, it's one of the reasons you were pushed out, that disagreement.
But I wonder, given your time there -- and, by the way, President Trump was in charge for four years -- what did you, what did the Trump administration do to shore up the Afghan military to prevent something like this from happening?
BOLTON: Well, I think what we were pleading with him to do was not pull the Americans out. But I also think it's, again, part of the mistakes made over 20 years. People keep saying, just give us another year. Just give us another two years.
I think the Americans have to understand, we would be there for a long time. And properly explained, I think the American public would be ready for that. We stood in Germany, in Japan for 45 years after the end of World War II in order to defeat the Soviet Union.
BOLTON: Thirty (ph) years, we're still there. So I think the American people understand a long overseas presence can be in our national interest if their leaders step up to it.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, I remember a conversation with General McCrystal in Afghanistan years ago who cited that very fact, that the U.S. is still in Germany and that America can make a case to do the same in Afghanistan.
There is a conventional wisdom here that despite the mess-up on the ground, that both Trump and Biden have the politics right on this, that the American people are done, end the endless wars. And I wonder if you believe that's right?
BOLTON: No, I don't believe it's right. I think in part it's because of their own failure to explain and to understand the strategic reality there.
But, you know, very interestingly, yesterday got swept aside by the other news, there was a morning consult poll published in "Politico." The poll taken over this past weekend showed that support for withdrawal fell, overall, to 49 percent, down from 69 percent in April. But more importantly, in response to two specific questions, these results, asked what you would think if a U.S. withdrawal would lead to Taliban control, only 35 percent of voters said we should still withdraw, 45 percent said no. Then asked, well, what happens if American withdrawal opens up the possibility of al Qaeda or other terrorists coming back? Support for withdrawal falls to 35 percent, and 48 percent oppose withdrawal.
It's only one poll. I understand that. But it's very, very contrary to the conventional wisdom. And it shows the American people have the gut instinct on the strategic question exactly right.
SCIUTTO: I got nervous about Taiwan the moment I watched these events unfold in Afghanistan because, of course, China, Russia, other countries watch what the U.S. does and say, hey, wait a second, what would they do if I did x? Are you concerned that a country, such as China, says, well, if they're going to pull out of Afghanistan, there's no way they're defending Taiwan?
BOLTON: Well, I think it raises that questions in a lot of minds with respect to Taiwan and with respect to Ukraine, what's happening in Belarus, what -- right now in many countries around the world. I think in Moscow and Beijing, they're saying to themselves, this is a huge opportunity for us. I think in Iran and North Korea they're saying, we just can't wait to negotiate with the Biden administration.
SCIUTTO: Final question before I go just quickly. It is a national security adviser's job, as you know, to advise a president, speak truth to power, but also carry out his policy decisions effectively. Given what you've seen on the ground in Afghanistan, do you believe that the president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, or that other senior advisers to him should resign or lose their jobs?
BOLTON: Look, I'm not going to pin it on any one person, but anybody who's watched television for the past couple days has seen this was a catastrophe. They're going to be a lot of fingers pointed. But if this was the plan, I'd hate to see what no plan looked like. This is an embarrassment to the United States. It's going to cost us big.
SCIUTTO: Ambassador John Bolton, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
BOLTON: Thank you for having me.
SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.
HARLOW: Well, right now, slow moving Tropical Storm Grace is gradually regaining strength in the Caribbean. Heavy rains from that storm system could cause more devastation for the obviously still recovering Haiti.
SCIUTTO: Yes, it will be just the last thing Haiti needs. Flash floods, dangerous mudslides already threatening rescue and recovery efforts there after the massive earthquake that so far has killed more than 1,400 people.
CNN's Joe Johns, he's on the ground at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this morning.
Joe, tell us what it looks like there, particularly with a storm approaching.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. So from what we can see, the storm has pretty much moved out after a long night where many of those people down at the earthquake site in fact first lost their homes and then had to sleep in the rain overnight. I can tell you, it's pretty clear that the medevacs are continuing, the U.S. Coast Guard and others moving people who were injured out of the area of the earthquake and over to hospitals here in the city of Port-au- Prince for treatment.
So, now, all of that continues, but the counting continues as well. As you said, we did get a glimpse of the numbers, 1,400 people killed, something like 7,000 people injured and about 36,000 or 37,000 homes destroyed. And that, of course, is why so many people had to sleep out in the rain.
One of the big questions, of course, here in Haiti is, it seems like there are disasters that happened over and over again and why is the government not more responsive. Well, we know this is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. But it's beyond that. Part of this has to do, plain and simple, with the political instability of Haiti. We've had repeated regime changes, including, by the way, the assassination just this summer of the president, which all makes it very difficult for this government to be accountable and help people when it's needed.
Back to you.
SCIUTTO: Just tragedy after tragedy for the Haitian people.
Joe Johns, it's good to have you there. Thank you.
HARLOW: Well, just ahead, breaking details on when you may be able to get a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But first, a reminder. Just a few days from now, CNN will be the exclusive place to watch New York City's Homecoming Concert. Join us for "We Love New York City" Saturday, starting at 5:00 Eastern right here.
SCIUTTO: A very good and yet one more busy morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.
HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.
Well, at any moment we're expressing a press briefing from the Pentagon. Obviously, you'll see that live here after a day of