Oct 4, 2021 - Podcasts

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S. speaks out

Axios’ Jonathan Swan spoke with Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Adela Raz, for the latest episode of “Axios on HBO.” It was her first TV interview since the fall of Kabul.

  • Plus, the Supreme Court takes up some of our nation’s biggest issues.
  • And, Mike Allen on the Pandora Papers.

Guests: Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center; Axios' Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen.

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, Michael Hanf, and Alex Sugiura. 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 Monday, October 4th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: The Supreme Court takes up some of our nation’s biggest issues. Plus, Mike Allen on the Pandora Papers. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S. speaks out.

JONATHAN SWAN: Do you think Af-Afghans will ever trust an American president again?

ADELA RAZ: Uh, not soon, probably. I'm sorry to say that. I don't think so.

NIALA: That was Axios’ Jonathan Swan speaking to Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Adela Raz, for the latest episode of Axios on HBO. It was her first TV interview since the fall of Kabul, and Jonathan Swan is here to tell us how her story might reflect Afghanistan’s story right now.

NIALA: Jonathan, thanks for being with me.

JONATHAN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Jonathan, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Adela Raz, is still working in D.C., and I wanted to start by asking you: Does she still consider herself the ambassador to the U.S. and is she?

JONATHAN: Yeah, she does consider herself the ambassador and it's the most extraordinary situation. Basically she’s stateless. She has kept the embassy open, the Afghanistan embassy. Obviously, she has no leader that she reports to because Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani fled the country in secret, and the Biden administration is declining to meet with her. She's someone who's spent her whole adult life fighting for the rights of Afghan women and girls. And she's basically, in the last month, watched her life's work go up in flames.

NIALA: What was her response to President Biden saying that the U.S. still wants to advocate for the rights of women and girls there?

JONATHAN: She said really it's all talk because what leverage does the U.S.-is the U.S. exerting of the Taliban? The Taliban has taken over the government. They're now stopping women from going to school. All the gains of the last 20 years that she's been involved in working for, are being erased right now.

NIALA: And what about President Biden's actions overall? What did she say about how the Biden administration handled the exit from Afghanistan?

JONATHAN: She really wishes that the Biden administration had renegotiated a better deal with the Taliban, one that put conditions in place, rather than just saying, we're going to leave. She saw that as a betrayal.

NIALA: Can you give me a sense of what her role was like in the lead up to the withdrawal?

JONATHAN: She was actually Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Nations. She was the first woman to be in that role. She was only appointed the ambassador to the United States in Washington in July. She was having to sort of publicly project confidence in her government when, of course privately, she had grave doubts about it. So she was just in a-in a horrendous position. We had to stop the interview several times. She was crying, had to collect herself, she feels like her life has just been taken away.

NIALA: What are you left thinking about now after this interview?

JONATHAN: I'll be honest, it left me feeling pretty bleak. The Taliban has shown pretty clearly that they haven't really changed. Ideologically, they're still the same Taliban that they were in the 1990s when they stopped Ambassador Raz, when she was a young girl, from going to school. The other thing that people aren't thinking about right now is Afghanistan is already experiencing a humanitarian crisis. There are sanctions on the Taliban and yet there's this moral imperative to get aid and food to the Afghan people. So it's just a very complicated situation and real people's lives are-are at stake.

NIALA: Jonathan Swan covers politics for Axios, and you can watch that whole interview with Ambassador Raz on Axios on HBO. Jonathan, thanks for giving us this backstory.

JONATHAN: Of course. Thank you.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what to know about the Supreme Court’s new fall term.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. Abortion, guns and religious rights top the list of major issues in front of the Supreme Court as it starts its new term later today. Jeffrey Rosen is the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, and he's with us for what he's watching as this new term begins.

JEFFREY: Hi, great to be here.

NIALA: We're hearing so much about, for example, abortion, is that the biggest issue the Supreme Court is taking up this fall?

JEFFREY: Yes, it is. The Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, and that is the biggest constitutional issue in decades. And that's what makes this case, which is coming out of Mississippi, so important.

NIALA: What do we need to know about that case?

JEFFREY: Well, Mississippi passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks and Roe v. Wade. And the cases after that said you can't ban abortions, uh, before fetal viability around 24 weeks. So if the Supreme Court were to uphold this ban, that would represent a huge setback for abortion rights.

NIALA: I've also been hearing a lot about this term “shadow docket.” Can you explain what this is and how this factors into The Supreme Court this fall?

JEFFREY: The shadow docket are cases The Supreme Court decides without full arguments and briefings. And in the abortion context, the court recently refused to block Texas' abortion law, which bans abortion after six weeks. And it did it on the shadow docket. In other words, it issued a brief opinion but it didn't give reasons that really justified what it was doing. And it also didn't have full briefing. So critics of the shadow docket say this is allowing the court to make really important decisions without hearing good arguments on both sides. And that's the source of the criticism.

NIALA: We’re also hearing a lot of criticism or maybe should say debate over the politicization of the court. And Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas last week said the court quote “may have become the most dangerous” branch of government. What's going on here?

JEFFREY: Well, those who say the court's becoming politicized, say the justices are ruling based on politics rather than The Constitution. And it's interesting that, not only Justice Thomas, but also justices Barrett and Justice Breyer, appointed by President Clinton, all denied that. They say judges are actually deciding based on their judicial philosophies, not politics. Now, not everyone is convinced by that. And Justice Thomas thinks the court is getting into areas where it shouldn't. And that's why he says the courts become dangerous.

NIALA: How should people think about this? Because it gets really tricky when you hear liberal and conservative justices denying and saying this has happening.

JEFFREY: There are many cases where the court is not political. And in fact, last term, there were more unanimous decisions than in a long time. And you saw the justices agreeing in all sorts of unexpected ways. At the same time, there are these counterexamples: abortion, guns. How can we explain this? Well, Justice Breyer has said, there's some areas where justice feel so strongly, and abortion is certainly one of them that they may not be able to separate their political from their constitutional views. But in other cases where they feel less strongly, they can. Maybe that's the simplest way to explain it.

NIALA: National Constitution Center CEO, Jeffrey Rosen, also hosts the podcast We the People, where he brings together liberals and conservatives to talk about the big constitutional issue of the week. Thanks Jeffrey.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

NIALA: Yesterday, the ICIJ - that's the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released: the Pandora Papers, an attempt to untangle the world of offshore finance via millions of leaked financial records. And this investigation was the result of a year-long collaboration between more than 600 journalists in 117 countries, including news organizations like the BBC, the Indian Express and The Washington Post. We'll be no doubt hearing about this investigation for some time. But for this morning, I asked Axios' Mike Allen what you need to know about what ICIJ says is the largest investigation ever in journalism history.

MIKE ALLEN: At a time when people are ever more suspicious of insiders and the establishment, the papers reveal mammoth deception and unthinkable spending on personal luxury. All with this astonishing, convincing paper trail. Look at Jordan. Among the poor countries in the Middle East, a large recipient of U.S. foreign aid. The king secretly spent more than a hundred million dollars on luxury homes. In the U.S. and London, including a compound in Malibu, the Washington Post reports. Another place the Pandora papers had home for Americans, The Washington Post found that South Dakota is now a hub of financial secrecy, tens of millions of dollars from outside the U.S. now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls.

NIALA: Mike Allen is a cofounder of Axios.

That’s all we’ve got for you today!

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

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