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CNN This Morning

Boeing Removes Head of 737 Max Unit; Attempt by America to Land on Moon Today; Alex Ward is Interviewed about Israel and the Middle East. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 08:30   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Democratic world and the autocratic world as I was told here. And I was also told that, you know - you know, the world cannot keep pledging and mouthing the word "democracy," they have to put force behind that, confidence, or rather, you know - you know, they have to consciously provide the tools to defend and support democracy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Sure. Right. They can't just be words.


HARLOW: Christiane, your piece, extraordinary. That mother -- that mother who lost her limbs with her child wanting to go back to the frontlines says everything.


HARLOW: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, guys.

HARLOW: So, a significant update on the breaking news we've been bringing to you all morning on this nationwide cell phones service outage. We just got the first statement from AT&T. This is about four hours after this outage began. Here's what AT&T says, quote, "some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning. We are working urgently to restore service to them," end quote, They are -- I should note, encouraging people to use wi-fi.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: We should also note, Verizon also just released a statement. They're saying its network is operating normally.

More news as we continue to follow this, ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back. So, this morning, Boeing has removed the head of its troubled 737 Max unit after the terrifying midflight blowout of an Alaska Airlines door plug in early January. It left that gaping hole in the side of the plane. It triggered a probe that found the four bolts that were supposed to hold it in place, they were missing. Boeing's stock price has taken a hit, down 20 percent since the beginning of the year.

MATTINGLY: CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now from Washington.

Pete, what does this all mean for Boeing right now?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, this isn't the first head to roll at Boeing since that incident seven weeks ago, but it's probably somebody you've never heard of. And the question is, will Boeing go further or is this the tale of a lone scapegoat?

Boeing has parted ways with a man named Ed Clark. He was the head of the 737 Max program at Boeing, the fifth person to hold that position when he came into after the 737 Max 8 crashes of 2018 and 2019. Three hundred and forty-six people killed in those two crashes abroad triggered the Max being grounded for 20 months. Michael Stumo's daughter died in one of those crashes, and he posted to X that Clark had to go. But so does, he says, Boeing's CEO Dave Calhoun, who he says, quote, "lies to the public and lobbies Congress to weaken safety laws." End quote.

The top senators overseeing aviation have called for Boeing executives to face public hearings. Nothing scheduled so far. But Boeing is under incredible scrutiny even still. The FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, has inspectors swarming the 737 Max factory in Renton, Washington. They're investigating Boeing quality control. A report on that due out any day now.

This is in tandem with another investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board only a fraction of the way through its probe. It already found that the bolts that held the door plug on Alaska Flight 1282 were not installed at the Boeing factory. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said right here on CNN THIS MORNING there is no way that plane should have been delivered to Alaska Airlines with those critical boats missing. She will testify to a Senate committee on her investigation two weeks from now.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it will be must-watch testimony. Much more to come on this, no doubt.

Pete Muntean, thank you.

Well, today we could see a moment 50 years in the making. Another lunar lander tries to make it to the moon. The head of NASA joins us live as we're just hours away from this historic moment.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, ignition. And liftoff. Go, SpaceX, go, IM1 and the Odysseus lunar lander.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vehicle pitching downrange.


HARLOW: That's always - that's always amazing, isn't it, to see that?

In just hours, the Odysseus lunar lander could be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 50 years. Odysseus began its journey into space a week ago and could land on the moon about 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. But a historic landing not guaranteed. In fact, more than half of all attempts to land on the moon have actually failed. Just last month, a privately funded lunar lander launch from Florida and it suffered a malfunction, never made it to the moon. It burned up after re-entering earth's atmosphere.

Japan did successfully land a rover on the moon last month, though. Its moon sniper sent back these pictures after landing successfully there -- how cool -- on the surface.

Here with us now, so happy to be joined by NASA administrator, former U.S. senator, Bill Nelson.

All right, let's just be optimistic because I already put it in my calendar to watch this width my kids today at 5:30 p.m. So, being optimistic, assuming a successful landing, what can we all learn from it?

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: It's going to be a scout for us because next year we're going to the moon with humans. And about two years from now we will land on the moon. First time in over a half century. So, what we're doing is something different this time. We're going to the moon not as a government mission, but as a commercial mission, which saves NASA lots of money, but we've got six instruments on it that will give us a lot of information about this very difficult region to land in, the south pole of the moon, and that information is going to be very important to us as we then send humans to the surface of the moon.

HARLOW: Talk -- can we talk a little bit more about the importance of landing on the south pole of the moon where the goal eventually is to build a lunar base. That's a goal not only we have. That's a goal that China shares, for example. Scientists believe, you know, there's ice there. And, boy, that can mean a whole lot of things for the future.

Would it be possible for both countries to have a base there?

NELSON: It is possible. And that's another reason why, following on the outer space treaty, we have implemented the Artemis Accords. Now, 36 countries have signed them. And it's basically a declaration of our peaceful pledges, as we go out and explore to the moon and further. And why that's so important is, when you go to the south pole region, and a lot of other countries, like China, what to explore, it's important that we do so in peace. HARLOW: Yes.

NELSON: Now, of course, we're concerned about that because a lot of the so-called civilian space program with China, of course, that is a lot of military as well.

HARLOW: Bill, can I ask you about another big concern? Our team here at CNN, Kristin Fisher, that -- that whole team, they were the first to report that Russia is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon for space, essentially a giant electromagnetic pulse that would create a huge energy wave and potentially destroy or heavily damaged a number of crucial satellites.

What's your level of concern after learning this?

NELSON: Well, again, going back to that treaty, you know, in outer space, there's a provision in there that says, no nuclear weapons in space because the exploration of space should be peaceful purposes.


Now as to the specifics, I'm going to defer to the White House and to the Department of Defense. Let me say that we have an International Space Station up there. We have 15 international partners, and Russia is one of the partners.


NELSON: The cooperation with Russia, it goes back to 1975, the Apollo Soyuz mission. And we've peacefully cooperated with Russia ever since. We built the space station together. We operate it together. But we want that to continue. We don't want these other issues that are anything but peaceful to get in the way.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean it is remarkable what that relationship between the United States and Russia has withstood in space despite everything else, despite Russia's war on Ukraine, for example. But this reporting from CNN that I just mentioned is from three different sources familiar with U.S. intelligence. If this is the case, if this happens, would that jeopardize significantly the partnership that the U.S. and Russia have had in space?

NELSON: I'm going to give the details of that to the White House. But, obviously, anything that threatens the existence of peaceful uses of space is inimical to what we are trying to do. It's inimical to the outer space treaty from back in the '60s. And I am very hopeful that all of the parties that would think otherwise will come to their senses.

HARLOW: Yes. I should note, Putin has denied the plans. He said Russia is "categorically against," that's a quote, launching any sort of nuclear weapon into orbit.

But, obviously, you're concerned. The White House, everyone, DOD, paying close attention. Let's end on this note about how precise you have to be to nail this

lunar landing today. One expert has equated it to, quote, "hitting a golf ball in New York and having it go into a specific hole in Los Angeles." Thats pretty hard. Is that how hard it is?

NELSON: That's about accurate. And the south pole is particularly hard because it is pockmarked with all of these craters. And remember that the south pole, if - if this is the bottom of the moon and the sunlight is coming in like this, you've got these deep, deep shadows. By the way, we know that there is ice in the crevasse of rocks, which are totally shadowed, and therefore we want to go to the south pole, however hazardous it is, to see if there is water in abundance, because if there's water, there's rocket fuel, hydrogen and oxygen. And we could have a gas station on the south pole of the moon.

HARLOW: That is remarkable.

We'll be watching, 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time today. Good luck to all of you. Bill Nelson, thank you so much.

NELSON: Thanks, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: We'll also be watching tomorrow. CIA Director Bill Burns, who's expected to travel to Paris to continue talks with Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials on negotiations for hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. That's according to sources familiar with the plans. Now, the Biden administration its racing to secure a ceasefire and hostage agreement in the Israel-Hamas war before the beginning of Ramadan on March 10th. Israel says if a deal isn't reached by then, it will launch an invasion of Rafah, were roughly 1.5 million Gazans have currently taken shelter.

Joining us now, political national security reporter Alex Ward. He's the author of the just out new book, "The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump." I should note that Alex is one of those guys, as somebody who covered Washington for a long time, that you respect, you fear a little bit on the beat, and then you meet him and he's a good dude and that's a little frustrating as well.

It's a fascinating book, Alex, and congratulations for having it out. But I want to start with what's happening in the Middle East right now because what a lot of people maybe forget or kind of glossed over is, there was a Gaza conflict in the early part of President Biden's first couple of months in office, in May of 2021. And his strategy in dealing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and dealing with the issue of Israel, I think has a lot of connective tissue to what we've seen over the course of the last several months.


Do you think that's a fair assessment of things? I mean he was willing to hug BiBi Netanyahu then. He's certainly been willing to do it now in the face of Netanyahu really causing some pretty significant political problems. ALEX WARD, AUTHOR, "THE INTERNATIONALISTS": Absolutely. I mean in 2021 it was a much -- the conflict was no - was not as big as it is now, of course, but the Biden administration's strategy was to, as you said, hug Israel in public and push them in private. Now, that led to that conflict ending in about 11 days. It was still deadly, it was still brutal, but it ended in 11 days. And the administration's lesson from that was, this strategy can work. There's a way to show support for Israel in public, but get them to a point where the fighting can stop sooner rather than later.

October 7th comes around last year and, of course, it's a much bigger, much more brutal attack, 1,200 people died in one day. And they tried generally the same strategy, but, of course, the context changed. Not only was the attack bigger, but the government in Israel was more partisan, more far right. You also had the Israeli public behind the government, even though they might not be happy with Netanyahu in general over his own issues and the fact that the attack happened, but they are behind his efforts to root out Hamas from Gaza.

So, put together, that strategy was deployed. You literally saw Biden go to Israel and hug Bibi, but that - that pressure for behind strategy has just not really worked out in the way the U.S. intended. Although they still support it because they think it gives them more sway with Israel overall.

MATTINGLY: Yes. No, it certainly - it's been a -- such a complicating factor in a very complex situation.

When it comes to the Middle East, there's a lot more I want to get to. The book is extraordinarily fulsome and nuanced. But it was striking - you know, I think everybody in D.C. was intrigued by Jake Sullivan, who you kind of track through his rise and also kind of his role in the genesis of the kind of Biden doctrine or foreign policy. In a foreign affairs essay just shortly before October 7th, he wrote that, "although the Middle East remains beset with perennial challenges, the region is quieter than it has been for decades." That, obviously, needed to be edited in the online version.

I'm not saying this to knock Jake, but I think that was the view at the time, right? We kind of put it to the side. We had people dealing with it, the U.S., and it's not a front-burner issue. Was that a mistake? Do they think -- was there -- were there errors along the way?

WARD: There's no question that the Biden administration considered the Israeli Palestinian issue at large a side issue, in part because they felt they couldn't get a two-state solution and so they, you know, were working at the margins at best to improve that situation.

We should note that in the months before October 7th, they were strongly considering support for the Palestinians as part of an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal. In effect, the Saudis and the Israelis would have to agree to a clear pathway towards a Palestinian state in order to get that normalization deal.

I think if you talk to administration officials now, they would say, sure, we probably should have dealt with this issue a lot more.

That said, they still refute the -- the insinuation that they marginalize the Israeli Palestinian conflict at large. They say that it was always part of their planning, but it really wasn't until only a few months before October 7th.

So, yes, I think they would say they wish they had paid more attention to this, but now, of course, they have to deal with the consequences.

MATTINGLY: The - the -- one of the things that they were very certain of was the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And I think that politically that is a moment where the polls just started to go down on a trend line that's continued to this day. But there's a certitude or certainty within the president and his team that they have no regrets about the decision. There weren't firings. There weren't heads that rolled.

You have this anecdote in the book on a meeting that I was aware of at the time did not go well. I didn't know how badly it went. I want to read some of it were basically the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, is in the Oval Office meeting with President Biden. They knew it was going to be a tough meeting where President Biden was going to tell him that their defense strategy, the security strategy, was failing and Ghani says - kind of blames Biden a little bit for announcement that he's going to withdraw.

And then immediately pivots to the fact that Afghanistan should be a tech hub. And what the U.S. really needs to do is invest in 5G. And like the stunning moment of the team realizing, oh, oh, uh-oh, like, this is what we're dealing with on the other side. I just feel like that was such a good window into how much could go wrong despite the planning, despite the effort, despite the years of Biden believing this was the right decision.

WARD: Yes, I mean, Biden, to this day, believes that the administration did not make a mistake a mistake in deciding to withdraw from Afghanistan. It was the right strategic choice. Yes, they are aware 13 service members died and, of course, there was the chaos outside of Kabul Airport, but they still were able to take 120,000 or so people out in the largest airlift in history. And so, overall, it was the right calling in their mind.

But to your point, I mean, even though the Afghans were incense that Biden chose to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan, there were -- there were just no real -- they felt they really had no counterpart on the other side willing to fight the Taliban and be aware of what was to come.


To your point, to see Ghani in that meeting, tell Biden, no, no, no, let's focus on investment and innovation and becoming a 5G hub. I mean Biden, by the end of the meeting was like, what - -what just happened.

MATTINGLY: Yes. WARD: You know, and looking at his staff and saying, you know, is that really what just happened here? So, a stunning moment as part of a stunning first two years of foreign policy (INAUDIBLE).

MATTINGLY: And it's just one anecdote of an extraordinarily well- reported book. The entire kind of Biden doctrine, America is back and the kind of genesis of it and what's behind it now.

Alex Ward, appreciate your time, my friend. Congratulations on the book.

WARD: Thank you.

HARLOW: Yes, congrats to Alex for sure.

All right, ready for panda (INAUDIBLE).

MATTINGLY: I'm so excited.

HARLOW: Time for our "Morning Moment."

Pandas are back. China is lending two giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo. The first to alone of its kind in two decades. Zoo officials say there's no timeline yet. They are optimistic that they will arrive very soon.

MATTINGLY: The pandas are back.

HARLOW: Amen for that.

MATTINGLY: "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after this break. Have a good one.