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Dems Vow To Investigate WH "Failures" In Afghanistan; "Mayhem," On Streets Near Kabul Airport As Afghans Try To Escape. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 18, 2021 - 12:30   ET




VICKIE CARTWRIGHT, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL: We only have five, five ICU pediatric beds available.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Broward County Public School officials saying look, this is about the safety of the students. They have a right to be safe in their classrooms they are digging in on this mandate. And if you look at the numbers quite concerning right now, in the first week of school in this state, nearly 5,000 students, faculty, and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 14,000 are right now quarantining or isolating due to COVID-19. John?

KING: Amara Walker on the ground for us. It's just remarkable. Parents and children now caught in the middle of this political debate between local officials and their governor. We will watch as it plays out, Amara grateful for the live reporting.

Up next for us, President Biden facing growing backlash from fellow Democrats over the withdrawal from Afghanistan and how it was handled.



KING: President Biden is back at the White House today from Camp David dealing with a crisis in Afghanistan that even many fellow Democrats say is a mess of his own making.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I wish we had at least stayed until -- I wish we stayed in the airport, basically, and stayed at the Bagram Air Base until at least all of our people were out. I think that would have been a better way to handle this.


KING: CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the latest. Kaitlan, the President is back. How does he hope to make this better?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's been getting briefings from his top national security advisors, those briefings had been happening virtually while he was at Camp David, John. But he returned here last night. So we did see the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs both arriving here among others this morning, they update President Biden on the latest on Afghanistan.

We will actually hear from him this afternoon on that announcement about booster shots. But there is a chance, of course, that he could take questions on Afghanistan, something that he has not done since last Tuesday. So people are eager to hear what the President's take on all of this is. Given, we have heard from this national security adviser. We've heard from the press secretary.

And of course, John, we should note it is not just his critics here who are raising questions about how this withdrawal has gone down and how the evacuation, of course has been chaotic and what it's like on the ground in Kabul right now as they are trying to stabilize the situation. Democrats as well, as you just heard there. But it's also Chairman on the Foreign Affairs Committees on Capitol Hill who say as soon as potentially next week, they want to have hearings with the Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and with the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to talk about the way this was done.

Because if you listen to some Democrats, like Seth Moulton who was on air -- our air earlier, saying that they've been talking to the White House for weeks about this, saying that there needed to be a plan to get people evacuated, certainly those endangered Afghans as well.

And so I think since President Biden has returned here from giving his speech on Afghanistan on Monday, the pressure has only increased and a lot of it is coming not just from his allies on Capitol Hill, but also from major U.S. allies across the globe as well, who are not pleased with how this drawdown has happened. And they have a lot of questions about what is happening right now, of course, given their primary goal is getting all the Americans out of there safely getting all the endangered Afghans. And that's what the White House says is their number one priority right now, John.

KING: It can be a lonely job at a time of crisis. Kaitlan Collins, appreciate the live reporting from the White House. With me in studio to share their expertise and their insights, Margaret Talev of Axios, I said Axios. What did I say -- what do you think of that, right?


KING: Zolan Kanno-Youngs of the New York Times and Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post. Zolan take us inside the White House right now. This is a mess, and is everyone -- a lot of people think, you know, bad planning, even those who support the decision to get out of Afghanistan. It's time to go after 20 years, say, Mr. President, you were supposed to be the expert in foreign policy, you were supposed to have the team to execute big things like this. You can't get it right, meaning you can't fix it. So the challenge is make it better.


KING: Get the Americans out as quickly as possible. Get the Afghan allies out as quickly as possible. But how?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Right, right. I mean, the criticism right now isn't so much on the decision to end this two decade long war, but more so the way they went about it, the implementation of this, right? I mean, you're seeing and when it comes to the White House, you're seeing the president deflect blame, you know, blaming President Ghani as well, for the White House says senior administration officials have said for urging not to go with an evacuation as quickly because of my undermined confidence in the Afghan security forces.

But here's what we know, after two decades and a massive investment by the United States, it has become clear that the administration's approach of relying on Afghan security forces to basically combat the Taliban and stand in the way and buy time, it just was not sufficient. We also now know that the administration was relying on intelligence that said that this takedown might take as long as 18 months.

However, we've reported that there was intelligence that painted a much darker picture saying that this would unravel at a faster rate. And now you're seeing a President that is facing some serious questions.

The administration shows especially when it came to interpreters, when it came to guides, those applicants of Special Immigrant Visas to try to improve and work within the system that was never designed for the mass transfer of all of those people in a short window of time. And there were people knocking on their door saying this required our urgent approach one that was a massive evacuation.


KING: And now the United States is embarrassed on the world stage and the President is trying to get it right. Again, it's very difficult but trying to get it right and you have these questions, that's two voices here. Including one on Capitol Hill who normally he sits in Joe Biden's old Senate seat, normally he is a defender, even he has questions.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Of course, there has to be accountability for some of the missteps here. President Biden, in a clear speech to our nation last night said the buck stops here.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: The buck stops with him. But then he started blaming everybody else, and not accept responsibility for this decision that he made, that he owns. And he is personally responsible for.


KING: Senator Coons, you know, trying to say, well, they're going to get it right. And they made mistakes. They'll be accountability to get there. But it is remarkable the level of bipartisan anger questions, especially to the point about what was -- they want to know, what was the intelligence? Who did you side with? Did you make a big judgment error here?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that a lot of people on the Hill right now who have been getting briefed not just this last week, right, but about Afghanistan, feel like the administration took the most sunny approach that they could, to the various options that are presented, intelligence is never, you know, just one option, put on the table. They give you a spectrum. And the worst case scenario would have been closer to what we saw happened over the weekend.

And the best case scenario would have been a lot of time to plan. The thing is that I think, the reason you're seeing this bipartisan outrage is that first of all, it was a swallow for a lot of Democrats to accept that we were going to be doing the pullout this quickly anyway.

On top of that, you know, when you know what all the factors are, when you know that you have this thing coming, when you know that you have to leave when you know, when your term paper is due, basically, you don't leave at all until the last minute to actually get it up and going, as people are saying we've been talking about this for years, how could you not have been, you know, on the ball already?

And, you know, it's getting muddled up in the greater conversation of do you want us to stay forever? No, you know, oh, have Republicans been blaming Trump in equal measure or not because of the shifting timelines and who made the deal in the first place. But in the middle of all that what the administration hasn't yet addressed yet is that just this the operational specifics of the last few months, could they have put a few more plans online every day to try to get this done earlier?

KING: And so you have to answer questions from Congress, you need to revisit your mistakes as everybody should to figure out what did I do wrong? So as you move forward trying to fix it, you do. We have some video today of Secretary Austin, General Milley from the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs arriving at the White House today.

Part of the criticism has been is the President listening too much to his National Security Adviser and his Secretary of State who are just like -- kind of just like Biden is he have a circle of people who share your opinion and not listening enough to the people who might want to challenge you.

And General Milley is among those who said, Sir, we better be careful if we do this, and I don't think we should. TALEV: Yes, that's right. And so you're seeing already now the intelligence community and sort of those voices inside the Pentagon saying we told you. From Biden's perspective, they not only were telling him, but they were also telling him don't withdraw, and he had decided he wanted to withdraw. So I do think a lot of this is going to kind of get hashed out in those hearings on the Hill.

But in terms of messaging to the public, just as a member of the public who's not, you know, schooled in the nuances of military policy, or how SIV's work, you just wonder how there are 6,000 U.S. military on the ground in Afghanistan, and they can't clear a path down the road to the airport for safe passage.

It's the basic, almost kind of superficial imagery that I think needs to be explained to the American people and for Biden, it's not yet clear how much of a domestic political crisis this is going to be at home. We just don't know that yet.

At this point, pulling and history suggests that Americans care much more about the economy, about COVID, about domestic issues, Americans want to get out of Afghanistan. We don't know if this is a political crisis. But globally, it's a real problem for him, globally in his very early conversations with world leaders, with G7 leaders. We'll see more that next week. This is a major credibility problem for this new president.

DEMIRJIAN: I hate to jump into something rather bleak. But I think that whether or not this becomes a domestic crisis depends on how many of the Americans they can get out. It's an emotional issue that the Afghans and the responsibility issue and I think moral issue and what that means for our allies, but with the Americans if they're Americans left there that we can't protect and something goes really wrong, that could be awful.

KING: Yes. His calling card was America is back. America is back. America is leading the world. We will see. Again, presidents make mistakes. The question is when you get knocked down, you know, what do you do? Can you get up? And what do you when you do? Appreciate everybody.


Coming up next, for us now what the very question we're just raising. Now what, should the United States try to isolate the Taliban or must it now engage with the Taliban?


KING: The Taliban are now in charge in Afghanistan and trying to make a reintroduction on the world stage, a week one commitment that Afghanistan will not devolve into a terrorist safe haven.


ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESMAN: No death will be caused to anyone outside of Afghanistan. And I'd like to ensure all our neighboring countries, we will not allow anyone to use Afghanistan against them. Therefore, I would like that all international community should know and we obviously are committed to our promises.


KING: Joining our conversation now Vali Nasr. He was the senior advisor to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's a professor of International Affairs in Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. It's great to see you. All I wish the circumstances were better.



KING: So what Vali is the test? The Taliban says we're a new Taliban. We're not those thugs you remember from 20 years ago. There will be no recriminations. Women can go to school. What should be the world's test? And if they fail it, what are the options?

NASR: So this is going to be an ongoing conversation. It's a fluid circumstances. They still have to establish a government, they should actually have to get down to governance. And that's not -- they don't I think, no, have all of that planned out yet. I think the early indicators are positive and that it was not a battle on their way to Kabul, they were willing to cut deals with various factions, and even the Afghan military as they came in.

And since they've come in, there has not been a bloodbath in Kabul. You know, there's they've sort of asserted some discipline to try to act like a government, although not all the pieces are together. But that's an early indication. So we want to see this continue, that they actually act like a government in Afghanistan. We will not like all the laws, and we probably won't like most of what their laws they would have. But the idea would be that they stop acting like a military and act like a government.

And one of the important things, John, that we start to have to pay attention to, is that the economy of Afghanistan was really the U.S. military for a very long time. For the past 20 years, the money we sloshed around there, supported that economy, and that money has gone overnight. In other words, billions of dollars that the Afghans relied on that was going through the economy is not there. And that's also a big test for the Taliban. Can they keep it together, as people are going to face economic hardships going forward?

KING: And so what should the posture of the Biden administration be obviously the next days and couple of weeks we're going to be getting Americans out, getting Afghan allies out if we can, but then what, the administration were told, I think it was the Wall Street Journal first reported this, CNN is massive, they've cut off shipments of U.S. dollars, you just mentioned that how dependent Afghan has been, Afghan economy has been on the U.S. dollar. Should the administration tried to completely isolate the Taliban? Or does it have no choice but to engage, at least sometimes?

NASR: Well, unfortunately, a lot of this is now being driven by the outrage domestically within the United States. It's one of those occasions, again, that domestic politics may decide foreign policy posture.

But I think the background to this is that U.S. and the Taliban together successfully negotiated a deal that the Taliban stopped attacking the United States for the past two years. In fact, a lot of criticism of Biden takes that for granted that for the past two years, things like looked fine with 2,500 soldiers, but that's because they weren't attacking us.

And if we had stayed longer, or try to, as some people say, stayed another 18 months, they would have started attacking again. And once American got killed, the whole Doha deal was off. So the positive is that the Doha deal was lived up to and even now in Afghanistan, the Taliban are letting the United States evacuate its people. We want to get Americans out without any getting killed, because that gives a basis that at least the Doha agreement between the two sides was observed.

They didn't attack us on the way out. And we followed our part, which was to get out. But if you begin isolating the Taliban, you begin to treat them like a terrorist state, you begin to treat them in that manner, then they will become that. In other words, if Afghanistan falls apart, first of all, the Taliban could lose control over some parts of their territory, which then, you know, anybody could come in, and they can control it. Or secondly, they will see us as an enemy and begin to do things we don't want.

KING: That's the beginning of a very uncertain, unpredictable chapter. Vali Nasr, so grateful for your insights today, and we'll keep in touch as this all unfolds in the days and weeks ahead.


Up next for us, the Speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to manage right now a Family Feud and trying to salvage the Biden agenda.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is daring moderates to defy her plan to advance two major parts of the Biden agenda at the same time. And the speaker has the White House on her side. Pelosi and topflight and officials huddling in a video call Tuesday for over an hour. The speaker sent a letter to Democratic members telling them failing to move quickly could jeopardize what she calls a quote once in a lifetime opportunity to pass both the infrastructure deal and a 3.5 trillion dollar budget resolution.

California recall election, well, it keeps getting more and more interesting. One Republican candidate looking to replace the Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom was served with a subpoena while on stage during a debate yesterday. That subpoena was for John Cox, a businessman, a multimillionaire. The Los Angeles Times says it was related to unpaid campaign expenses from his unsuccessful run for governor back in 2018.

The Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten have some big news. The former presidential candidate announced it on Twitter, for some time, Chasten and I have wanted to grow our family. We're overjoyed to share that we've become parents.

KING: Congratulations, Mr. Secretary.

And this programming note, join CNN for "We Love New York City: The Homecoming Concert," this once in a lifetime concert event Saturday night starting at 5:00 p.m. exclusively right here on CNN.

Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you back here this time tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.