Aug 31, 2021 - Podcasts

What's next after 20 years of war in Afghanistan

Today was President Biden’s deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After two decades of war, the final U.S. plane left Kabul yesterday afternoon.

  • Plus, Biden waives ethics rules for top officials.
  • And, one reverend’s fight against a Texas abortion ban.

Guests: Senior minister of First Unitarian Church in Dallas Daniel Kanter, Axios' Dave Lawler and Lachlan Markay.

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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HOPE KING: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, August 31st. I’m Hope King filling in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: Biden waives ethics rules for top officials. Plus, one reverend’s fight against a Texas abortion ban.

But first, today’s one big thing - after 20 years of war in Afghanistan, what happens next?

HOPE: Today was President Biden’s deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After two decades of war, the final US plane left Kabul yesterday afternoon. Axios’ World editor Dave Lawler is here to talk about the future of the region. Hi Dave

DAVE: Hi, Hope.

HOPE: You've written about the looming humanitarian crisis. How has the US, and how are other countries responding to the need to take in refugees?

DAVE: So the US is right now trying to vet people around the world who we've gotten out of the country for approval to fly into the US. There are other countries around the world who are doing this on a smaller scale, but there are also efforts to try to put up walls here to make sure that we don't see a flood of Afghan refugees, for example, into the European union. There's a lot of concern that what happened in Syria, after the war there could be repeated there. So in terms of the refugee crisis, the responses have been mixed. In terms of the broader humanitarian crisis, you know, you have a Taliban government coming in. And so there's a question of do countries who give foreign aid to Afghanistan, give that money to the Taliban to administer it to their populations? There are a lot of decisions that need to be made even after the military aspect of this is over, the humanitarian side of this will continue, likely for years.

HOPE: So Dave, the last time that you were on the show, it was Friday morning after the suicide bombing, which killed 13 U.S. military officials in nearly 200 Afghan civilians and the U.S. has responded with two drone strikes. What does that response tell you about how the U.S. might move forward in the region?

DAVE: So President Biden has said repeatedly that we're going to retain this over the horizon capability to strike terrorists inside Afghanistan. So we've seen that twice in the aftermath of the bombing at the airport, but we did see in the second case on Sunday, reports that 10 civilians were actually killed in that attack. Now, the Pentagon has said it was to thwart an imminent bombing attack. And so they fired at a car that they said was going to be basically carrying explosives to the airport. But the reports are that 10 people, including six children, were killed. So obviously this is very difficult to conduct. It will only be increasingly difficult to do after there is no U.S. military presence on the ground.

HOPE: What's next for Afghanistan now that the Taliban is back in power?

DAVE: So, you are going to have a government coming in that will almost certainly be dominated by the Taliban. And so they are trying to send a signal that this is not the same Taliban that was overthrown in 2001, that there is going to be some space for women to be able to work and for girls to be able to go to school. But this is all going to happen within guidelines that at the moment are quite vague. And so there's a lot of concern inside the country, about what the new Afghanistan is going to look like after the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

HOPE: Dave Lawler writes the Axios World newsletter. Thank you, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Hope.

HOPE: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with President Biden’s ethics exceptions for top officials.


HOPE: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Hope King filling in for Niala Boodhoo. An Axios’ review of federal documents found that at least 3 top Biden officials received waivers excusing them from an ethics pledge, while at least 13 others got waivers to a separate conflict of interest regulation. This allows them to work with Wall Street banks, a defense contractor, and major media outlets. Lachlan Markay, Axios’ politics reporter has this story and joins us now with more. Hi Lachlan.

LACHLAN MARKAY: Hi, thanks for having me.

HOPE: Tell us about the ethics pledge to start with.

LACHLAN: Sure. So this was an executive order that president Biden put in literally the day he took office. Basically it's meant to restrict the work that particularly high level presidential appointees and nominees can do with industries or companies that employed them or paid them in some form prior them joining the administration.

HOPE: Who are the officials receiving the waivers and why are they the ones receiving them?

LACHLAN: So there were three officials that got waivers to the ethics pledge. That's NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and Wendy Sherman, who's a deputy secretary of state. So NASA Administrator Bill Nelson got a waiver covering Lockheed Martin, the major defense contractor. They're a former client of his, he sat on an advisory board of theirs for which he was compensated. The rationale was he needs to be able to work with one of the biggest aerospace contractors in the country in order to effectively discharge the duties of overseeing America's federal space program.

HOPE: In your mind, does it make sense for them to continue those relationships?

LACHLAN: You know, when you have an example, like Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, she sought a waiver, basically covering the entire financial services sector because she had given a lot of paid speeches to major investment banks. The thing that I think is worth keeping an eye on there is whether that waiver is so broad that it precludes the need for future disclosure of those potential conflicts on the grounds that, well, this was all covered by the waiver I got back in February. I think it's going to be worth keeping an eye on some of this stuff to make sure it's being adequately disclosed and all the rules are being adequately complied with going forward.

HOPE: Axios’ politics reporter Lachlan Markay. Thank you so much for joining us.

LACHAN: Thank you.

HOPE: A Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy is set to take effect tomorrow. The ban would allow private citizens to sue anyone who they believe helped someone get an abortion after six weeks that's including doctors who performed the procedure or clergy who counseled women making the decision. Niala recently spoke with Reverend Dr. Daniel Kanter who is a senior minister of the first Unitarian church in Dallas and plaintiff in the ongoing suit against the law. He told Niala that he doesn't agree with the ban on abortion but for him, it's a bigger battle about religious freedoms. Here's that interview with Niala and Reverend Kanter.

REVEREND DANIEL KANTER: The point that I think is a very difficult, is that it creates a bounty on those who aid and abet anyone who has an abortion after that six weeks. And that is where the clergy come in and it becomes dangerous to even talk to someone which is something we should all be worried about.

NIALA BOODHOO: Reverend Kanter, abortion is such a divisive issue. And I want to be honest with you: I think people, as soon as they heard that you support a woman's right to abortion, they- I feel like they have not listened to anything else that you are going to say on this issue from a moral standpoint. So what would you say to those people about your involvement in this lawsuit?

DANIEL: First thing just to say is like, we live in an incredibly ahistorical moment here. Because you know, for centuries, clergy had been supporting women and abortion. It-we like to say it's just about this medical procedure, but it really is about human lives that are living currently today. I want people just to think about how many people they might know who actually had an abortion. It's one in three women in our lives. So you look around at one in three women that, you know, have had an abortion. This isn't a simple thing that we need to just outlaw outright.

NIALA: Did you join this lawsuit because of your opposition to outlawing abortion, or because of your role as a clergyperson and helping people discern this decision?

DANIEL: It's both. The medical procedure of abortion, I believe, needs to remain legal so that women have access to that plain and simple medical procedure. The other reason I'm in this case is as a clergyperson. I really believe that we should not be legislated on what we say, do, or counsel in our own offices. This is really, really a dangerous moment for all people of faith.

NIALA: Reverend Dr. Daniel Kanter is a senior minister of First Unitarian church in Dallas. Reverend Kantor, thanks for joining us. I appreciate your time.

DANIEL: Thanks so much for having me.

HOPE: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Don't miss the premiere of season 2 of our hit podcast "How It Happened" out now. Season 2 is the inside story of the first all-civilian space flight to orbit. Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer has the astonishing story of how the crew of ordinary people was selected, what makes this journey historic, and the risks they face. Follow How It Happened: The Next Astronauts on your favorite podcast app. I’m Hope King - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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