Aug 23, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden says the U.S. may still be in Afghanistan after Aug. 31

President Biden spoke yesterday afternoon to the American people, again defending his withdrawal from Afghanistan, and saying the exit could take longer than planned.

  • Plus, images out of Kabul are being put to political use.
  • And, a new push to make the outdoors safer for people of color.

Guests: Axios' Glen Johnson, Lachlan Markay, and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Margaret Talev, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani and Michael Hanf. 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.

Go deeper:


MARGARET TALEV: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, August 23rd. I’m Margaret Talev, filling in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re covering today: images out of Kabul are being put to political use. Plus, a new push to make the outdoors safer for people of color. But first, today’s One Big Thing: why the U.S. may be in Afghanistan past August 31.

President Biden spoke yesterday afternoon to the American people again, defending his withdrawal from Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started, when we began. There was no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss of heartbreaking images you see on television.

MARGARET: But that may not actually be the most important thing that he said. Axios’ politics editor Glen Johnson joins us now with the latest on Afghanistan and the withdrawal. Good morning, Glen.

GLEN JOHNSON: Morning, Margaret.

MARGARET: So Glen, U.S. troops are supposed to be out on August 31st. That's one week from tomorrow but yesterday, the president seemed to be saying that he was open to changing course. Why would he need to do that? And what does it say to you about the scale of this opera?

GLEN: Well throughout his comments, he made clear that the scale was overwhelming. He opened up his remarks by detailing almost in like a salesman's-like pitch, a recap of his record over the past month or so, exactly how many people had been moved out. It was clear that they were trying to address the specific argument that they had not handled this well, he just wanted to lay out the scale of what they were trying to accomplish. What was interesting later was in response to a reporter's question, he expanded upon his prepared remarks and actually dropped some news into each one of the things he said.

MARGARET: What do you mean?

GLEN: Well, first of all, he acknowledged that while his plan is to get U.S. troops out of Kabul by August 31st, it may extend beyond that deadline whether it's facilitating the removal of additional American citizens or American supporters or coalition friendlies, there has been discussions clearly about extending beyond August 31st. Second of all, to make that happen, he talked about how there had been an expansion in the perimeter. Now remember this was first the Kabul airport, and then from the civilian side over to the military side, now he's talking about an expansion around the airport itself. And third of all, he said all this had become possible because of conversations with the Taliban, especially about providing safe routes to the airport. So, you know, he's been dancing with the devil a little bit here as he's been trying to secure both a route out for American citizens and people who have helped us as well as the safety of the U.S. troops that have been put into action here.

MARGARET: So a big theme of the president's remarks to the American public was about restoring their confidence in him over the withdrawal from Afghanistan but you saw a bigger strategy there, didn’t you?

GLEN: Well, it was interesting yesterday, the president preceded his Afghan update with an update about hurricane Henri. And he talked about all the administration had done again in very specific detail, about what the FEMA administrator was doing, what they'd done for cities and states, about how dangerous the storm could be and how they were poised, crews, everybody. This is politics 101. A politician knows that they have to handle natural disasters well, ask Chris Christie and others. So the president really emphasized sort of the competency that his administration was trying to bring to the tropical storm Henri reaction.

MARGARET: Axios’ politics editor Glen Johnson. Thanks so much, Glen.

GLEN: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: We'll be back in 15 seconds with how politicians are using images of suffering out of Kabul.


MARGARET: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Margaret Talev filling in for Niala Boodhoo.

For more than a week, Americans been watching devastating images from Afghanistan of people desperately trying to leave. Axios’ political reporter Lachlan Markay says some lawmakers are already planning how to use these images for political gain. Lachlan’s been talking to GOP consultants about all of this, and he sent us his thoughts.

LACHLAN MARKAY: We spoke with a Republican consultant named Jeff Roe. He's working for a number of House and Senate candidates in competitive 2022 midterm contests. He called it a gateway drug to political incompetence. Use these, uh, videos, coming out of Afghanistan, to try to sell a narrative of Biden administration uh, mishandling of this whole process of the larger war efforts. Because of the ubiquity of cell phone cameras these days, you know, it makes it the first sort of U.S. withdrawal of the digital era. And the amount of footage and images that can be drawn upon is just massive, much larger than it's been in any U.S. conflict in the past. That makes for a lot of material for these groups. And we're seeing ones such as the America First Policy Institute, which is staffed by Trump administration alumni, using some of these really harrowing images and videos coming out of Afghanistan to try to score political points. And that's something that we can expect to see more and more of as we get closer to November, 2022.

MARGARET: Axios political reporter Lachlan Markay.

More people of color in the U.S. are getting out to enjoy nature, according to recent data. Along with that, there's a renewed movement to make it safer for people of color to do so. Especially following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot by two white men while jogging in early 2020. Axios’ Russell Contreras has been reporting on this. Hey, Russ.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Great to be with you.

MARGARET: Why was Ahmaud Arbery such a big piece of this national conversation?

RUSS: It sent a lot of shockwaves because here was a Black jogger, in Georgia, just going for a run and then getting hijacked and lynched by two white men. This, uh, started the conversation that many people of color have had for years. That the outdoors were still dangerous. Not because of the wildlife, but because the bigotry lurking beyond.

MARGARET: And of course in the middle of the pandemic, that was the only thing that you could do, right? Is either stay indoors or get outdoors in a non-crowded area in nature ... What was happening?

RUSS: That's right. We've had reports over the past few years, as Black hikers would get together and go for a hike, that people would call the Sheriff's office. As one incident in-Colorado, showed that they would call the Sheriff's office and say there was a mob on the trail. It sent this message that people of color were not welcome in outdoor spaces. When in reality it was the only place to go.

MARGARET: Business actually has stepped in and responded. Is that right?

RUSS: That's right. Kampgrounds of America, also known as KOA, got involved a few years ago and what they did-well a number of things — They increased the diversity training for staff. And then last year they banned the Confederate flag from campgrounds. They wanted us to basically say, we want to make this space safe for people of color. A lot of folks don't realize that Kampgrounds of America are owned by Asian Americans. The retail company REI also began a six-month retail pilot project to increase Black representation in the workforce. So you're starting to see business and the private sector get involved and say, look, we have a problem, but there's also a growing market here that we need to take account.

MARGARET: What do you mean there's a growing market?

RUSS: Right now around a third of all campers are people of color. This is a 17 point increase over the past five years. And this is according to Kampgrounds of America. Groups like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors are reporting big spikes in the number of people taking an interest in their activities and chapters forming all over the place. Outdoor Afro and Backroads are partnering together to create this biking, hiking, and kayaking experience, going from Savannah, Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina, visiting sites connected to the Underground Railroad. Native American running groups are popping up too. They're using outdoor running as a way to connect with the ancestors who experienced trauma. So there is a growing movement to look-If we have to go outdoors, we want to make outdoor safe, but we also have something else that's going on here. And that is redefining and reclaiming the outdoors for people of color.

MARGARET: Axios’ race and justice reporter Russell Contreras. Thanks for being with us, Russ.

RUSS: Glad to be with you.

MARGARET: That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at [email protected] or reach out to me on Twitter. I’m Margaret Talev — thanks for listening — stay safe and I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper