Aug 17, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden defends his decisions on Afghanistan

President Biden addressed the nation yesterday about the situation in Afghanistan, after the Taliban seized control and declared that “the war is over.” The Pentagon estimates approximately 6,000 U.S. troops will assist with the evacuation of American personnel in Afghanistan.

  • Plus, a new kind of back-to-school.
  • And, understanding plans for new construction in the occupied West Bank.

Guests: L.A. Times' Melissa Gomez, Axios' Hans Nichols and Barak Ravid.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Tuesday, August 17th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: a new kind of back-to-school. Plus, understanding plans for new construction in the occupied West Bank. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Biden defends his decisions on Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The scenes we’re seeing in Afghanistan...they're gut-wrenching.

NIALA: That’s President Biden, addressing the world yesterday about the situation in Afghanistan, after the Taliban seized control and declared the war over.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Get our people and our allies as safely, as quickly as possible. And once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal.

NIALA: The Pentagon estimates about 6,000 U.S. troops will assist with the evacuation of American personnel in Afghanistan. Axios’ political reporter Hans Nichols is here with his analysis of President Biden’s stance that he took yesterday. Hey, Hans.

HANS NICHOLS: Hey, how are ya!

NIALA: Hans, what was Biden's main message to the American people yesterday?

HANS: That this had to be done. And that Joe Biden was going to level with them and tell them that it was never going to be easy, but it had to be done. And he wasn't going to pass the problem on. Now, interlaced in there, even though he said the buck stops with me, there's a fair amount of blame. Uh, some blame that we've heard from officials on the previous administration. From Biden, most of the blame he laid at the Afghans and more importantly, the Afghani will, or rather the lack of will, to fight.

NIALA: We spoke yesterday to Axios’ his co-founder Mike Allen, who said President Biden would make this moment about whether or not we should have pulled out of Afghanistan rather than how this collapse happened. Did Biden address that at all, how this happened?

HANS: He hinted that like it didn't go quite as smoothly as he thought, and he didn't think it would go this quickly, but he tried to open up the aperture. And the wide angle is that America has been fighting this for 20 years. Joe Biden ran on getting Americans out. And that there's a bipartisan consensus to end the war. And even if ending it and leaving is going to be messy, it had to be done.

NIALA: He did kind of make one admission conceding this point.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The truth is: this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.

NIALA: What do you make of that then?

HANS: This will be studied for a long time. The intelligence failures, the sort of failure to foresee this coming over the horizon. But that's partly what Biden ran on, was being a competent president. The fact that this all happened over 48 or 72 hours, or whenever we want to start the clock, the speed of that is the story. One of the main stories here is that the-that there didn't seem to be a lot of preparation for how quickly this would happen. And how do we know that? Well, we know that a lot of administration officials were on the record saying it wasn't going to happen. So not only did it happen, but it happened much more quickly. And what Biden's trying to do is only answer the speed side. And yet at the same time you hear senior national security officials complain that the Trump administration left the cupboard a little bare for them. And that there wasn't enough planning. So there's this dual argument from The White House. One is that they've done everything as well as they could have. And two, that, oh, by the way, the previous guy really didn't plan for this at all. And that's partly why you see the scenes that you're seeing today. So it's a tough argument for them to make.

NIALA: Hans Nichols covers The White House for Axios. He's also coauthor of Sneak Peak. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with a look at back-to-school in the nation’s second largest school district.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. The nation’s second largest school district had its first day back to school, yesterday. The Los Angeles Unified School District has put in place a hugely ambitious COVID testing program, along with a host of other measures to combat the Delta variant. As families across the country face this new kind of back-to-school experience, we’ve got Melissa Gomez, education reporter for the LA Times, to tell us how things are going there. Hi Melissa.

MELISSA GOMEZ: Hi, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Thanks for joining us. I think one of the biggest issues is masking. How has LA approached this issue?

MELISSA: So there is a statewide masking mandate, and, you know, we have kind of a more strict policy in place. It goes little further than what the state requires. Asking students to wear masks, both indoors and outdoors. I've talked to some high school students and, for the most part, a lot of them say that they’re okay with it. You know, they've had a year and a half to get used to wearing a mask in public. And, for a lot of them it's worth wearing it if it means being back in school.

NIALA: L.A. Unified is also undergoing a massive testing initiative. What does that look like?

MELISSA: Yeah, absolutely. L.A.U.S.D....they're going to be the single largest source of coronavirus testing in L.A. county. It’s going to cost about $350 million. We’re looking at 465,000 K through 12 students along with more than 70,000 employees and so that averages to something like 100,000 people each day.

NIALA: How often are they going to be tested? Is this once a week?

MELISSA: This is once a week, yes. That is the plan right now.

NIALA: There's also these individual QR codes, a daily pass. What is that for then?

MELISSA: The Daily Pass is essentially a mobile COVID screening. So, you know, they answer some questions, confirm that they are feeling good to be in school. And so on Monday, what we saw is really just lot of frustration from parents who couldn't access it. They were getting a page that was saying that they were experiencing high volumes. And so what we saw is at a lot of high schools with large populations, they were kind of long lines forming, and some schools kind of resorting to just doing an in-person screening of students.

NIALA: Are kids though, just excited to be back actually back in school?

MELISSA: Yeah. I mean, in some ways, obviously this is a back-to-school day like no other. Masks in place and a daily check-in to get into campus. But, they're still kind of the first day jitters of excitement and nerves and seeing friends that they haven't seen in a long time.

NIALA: L.A. Times education reporter, Melissa Gomez. Thanks for joining us, Melissa.

MELISSA: Yeah, thanks.

NIALA: And we’ve been hearing from many of YOU about how COVID is complicating back to school for your family -- keep your thoughts coming, and we’ll share some on the podcast soon. If you haven’t yet, you can add your voice by texting a voice memo to (202) 918-4893.

This week, the new Israeli government is convening to authorize new housing units in the occupied West Bank. Axios from Tel Aviv author Barak Ravid is with us now to tell us why this matters. Barak, when we say construction in the West Bank, I think for a lot of people that raises some eyebrows. What does this particularly mean?

BARAK RAVID: In order to understand what happened, we need to understand what happened in the last 10 months, that in a sort of weird way, there was sort of a freeze on new construction in West Bank settlements. But now we have a new government in Israel and it is almost impossible for the new government to continue this moratorium. On the other hand, they don't want to get into a fight with Biden. So one of the dilemmas was whether to do it before the Biden meeting or after the Biden meeting and the decision was to do it before. So at the end of the day, a thousand building permits for Palestinians in the West Bank and 2,000 new housing units that are - You know, in reality, none of them are going to be built tomorrow morning. It's more of pushing them forward within the planning and zoning process. This is a very boring, bureaucratic thing but it becomes every time that you need to take those things a stage forward, it becomes this huge political thing.

NIALA: From what you're hearing within the Israeli government, was there concern that diplomatically, this might be seen as a provocation ahead of the meeting?

BARAK: Of course, but they said that if they do it after the meeting, it will be a much bigger provocation. It would look like we just sat down with Biden in the Oval Office and a few days later we said, “Ah, we don't care about what you have to say. We just, we're just building in the settlements.” So it will not create this huge fallout. This might sound like not a big thing, but if you look back in the last 12 years, there were close to zero building permits for Palestinians in those areas and now there are a thousand permits.

NIALA: Axios contributor Barak Ravid. Thank you.

BARAK: Thank you.

NIALA: Before we go, the new season of the Axios hit podcast How it Happened is coming later this month. It's the inside story of the first all-civilian space flight to orbit happening soon. For a preview, check out the prologue episode that just went up on the How It Happened feed. Find that in your podcast app.

That’s all for today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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