A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, August 22, 2021 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Collapse into chaos. The Biden administration in damage control, as the Taliban seizes power in Afghanistan, the military racing to evacuate Americans and our Afghan allies left behind.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know of no circumstance where American citizens who are carrying an American passport are trying to get through to the airport.
RADDATZ: Rhetoric different than the reality on the ground.
IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: They tried to get to the airport. They had waved their American passports. The president talked about all they had to do was present their passports.
RADDATZ: This morning, tough questions for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Was the Pentagon prepared and will the mission expand?
Plus: reaction from Republican Senator Joni Ernst, an Army veteran on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Fall booster. The CDC recommends a third shot for all vaccinated Americans.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The vaccine is starting to wane and its effectiveness against infection.
RADDATZ: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy joins us live.
All that, plus our powerhouse roundtable on the political fallout of President Biden’s first foreign policy crisis.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s “This Week.”
Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to “This Week.”
It has been exactly one week since the fall of Afghanistan, a swift, stunning outcome that has created a political crisis for the Biden administration and a desperate humanitarian mission.
There is chaos in Kabul and renewed urgency to rescue the some 15,000 Americans on the ground and the tens of thousands of Afghan allies. Those that remain are facing increasingly dangerous conditions, gunfire erupting above swarming crowds outside the airport, where stampedes have left several dead, children being hoisted over razor wire into the hands of U.S. military, as reunification efforts are under way for minors now separated from their parents.
A month ago, 70 percent of the country agreed with President Biden’s decision to end military operations by that iconic September 11 deadline.
The issue, though, is not withdrawal. It is a failure of intelligence and planning that led to the chaos we are seeing, which President Biden now says was always to be expected.
We will cover all of it this morning.
And we begin with ABC’s Ian Pannell, on the ground in Kabul, who has been reporting there for weeks.
Good morning, Ian.
PANNELL: Yes, good morning.
Still chaotic, desperate scenes seven days since the Taliban took control of Kabul much faster than anyone expected, probably much faster than the Taliban expected. Most of the city is actually relatively calm. Of course, some people are locked inside their houses in fear, especially women and girls. We have seen people having to cover themselves.
But the real crisis point is down at the airport, where we’re seeing those desperate scenes, tens of thousands of people desperate to try and get out of the country, many of them American citizens, many of them Afghan SIV, Special Immigrant Visa, applicants. They have the right paperwork. They have the right permission.
Some of them have even been told to go to the airport. The difficulty is getting through the crowds and getting through Taliban checkpoints. The Taliban are under a lot of pressure, but they have been responding with brute force against the crowds.
We have seen some really ugly scenes of men, women and children bloodied. A lot of them are being beaten by these thick rubber fan belts. The Taliban really hasn’t formed a government yet. There isn’t command-and-control on the ground. And that’s why we’re continuing to see those chaotic scenes.
We have just been speaking to the Pakistani ambassador. He believes that things will start to improve. But he’s also not very confident that everyone who wants to get out will do by the deadline — Martha.
RADDATZ: And, Ian, this morning, the Pentagon says they’re activating the civil reserve fleet, commercial airliners. But they won’t — they won’t really go into the airport.
PANNELL: No, that’s right.
I mean, this is an extraordinary measure. And it shows really how desperate the situation is on the ground. I think the president described it as one of the largest humanitarian airlifts ever conducted. We’re talking about Delta, American, United helping to get people, once they have been moved out of the country, then onwards to another location, where they will be housed, looked after while they try and process them, and eventually, hopefully, get them to the United States — Martha.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, Ian Pannell, for your extraordinary reporting.
The Biden administration has come under heavy criticism for its evacuation planning, as those chaotic scenes outside the Kabul Airport highlight the desperation of thousands attempting to flee the Taliban.
And, on Friday, the president firmly pledged to bring home all Americans and our Afghan allies.
I sat down exclusively with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon to see how that can be done. It began by asking if all will be evacuated by the August 31st deadline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We’re going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen, who wants to get out, out. And we’re going to — we continue to look at different ways to — and creative ways to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the — into the airfield.
RADDATZ: You said American citizens. What about those Afghans? What about those interpreters?
AUSTIN: Absolute (ph) —
RADDATZ: What about the people who are desperately calling?
AUSTIN: Absolutely. The people that are in the Special Immigrant Visa program are very, very important to us. And these would be the interpreters and many of the staff that supported our embassy and other embassies, by the way. We want to evacuate them as well.
RADDATZ: Will you ask the president to extend the deadline if they’re not out?
AUSTIN: We’re going to continue to assess the situation and, again, work as hard as we can to get as many people out as possible and, as we approach that deadline, we’ll make a recommendation to the president.
RADDATZ: Why aren’t American troops able to go out into Kabul and help those Americans, help those Afghans who helped Americans get to the airport?
AUSTIN: We have been out. You saw evidence of an operation the other day where we flew a couple helicopters over to — that was a very short distance.
RADDATZ: About a thousand yards, right?
AUSTIN: Yes. But certainly it helped 169 American citizens get into the — into the gate without issues.
RADDATZ: You’ve got tens of thousands of people out there desperate to get to the airport, surrounded by the Taliban. Why can’t the U.S. send convoys out there?
AUSTIN: If you have an American passport and if you have the right credentials, the Taliban has been allowing people to pass safely through.
RADDATZ: Not in all cases.
AUSTIN: There’s no such thing as an absolute in this kind of environment, as you would imagine, Martha. There have been incidents of people having some tough encounters with Taliban. As we learn about those incidents, we certainly go back and engage the Taliban leadership and press home to them that our expectation is that they allow our people with the appropriate credentials to get through the check points.
RADDATZ: But further out into Kabul, there are people desperate to get in there. We’re the most capable military in the world —
AUSTIN: We are. And that most capable military in the world is going to make sure that our — that airfield remains secure and safe. And we’re going to defend that airfield. We’re going to look at every means possible to get American citizens, third country nationals, Special Immigrant Visa applicants into the airfield.
RADDATZ: What is the threat level now at the airport?
AUSTIN: I won’t get into any specific intelligence assessments. But you know that environment well enough. You’ve been there many, many times. It’s — there are a mix of threats in the environment.
RADDATZ: We saw those first days of people clinging to airplanes. Falling to their death. The absolute utter chaos. And that’s still going on outside the airport. How did this happen?
AUSTIN: Very disturbing images indeed, Martha. As we moved into the airfield and began to secure the airfield, there were a number of civilians that got on to the airfield before we could completely seal it off. And that was caused by the panic created because the government simply dissolved and the security forces evaporated.
RADDATZ: The president told our George Stephanopoulos that he doesn’t think this exit could have been handled any better way, that chaos would ensue no matter what. Do you agree with that?
AUSTIN: I agree that if the government collapses to the degree that it did, if the security forces evaporate at the speed that they did, you will clearly have chaos. And that’s what we saw.
RADDATZ: Let’s go back to the planning. We closed Bagram. I was over there with General Miller, and there were concerns about closing Bagram. There were concerns about Afghan interpreters at the point. Whose job was it to worry about those interpreters, those Afghans at risk?
AUSTIN: Our goal was to keep the embassy open and also provide a security element in and around Kabul International to protect the embassy and protect our interests in the immediate area.
In terms of whose job it is, whose job it was to address the special immigrant visa applicants, it’s all of our job. It’s an interagency process that’s really honchoed or led by the — by the State Department. But it’s all of our responsibility.
RADDATZ: Are you going to get them all out of there?
I know all your people here are working hard, but there’s no real way to get this done right now.
AUSTIN: I’m sure if — if people, you know, five days ago looked at where we were, they would say, you probably can’t get very much done at all. If you look at what we’re doing now and taking — evacuating thousands of people every day, it really has been a tremendous piece of work.
In terms of what we’ll be able to accomplish going forward, you can’t — we can’t place, you know, a specific figure on exactly what we’ll be able to do. But I’ll just tell you that we’re going to try to exceed expectations and do as much as we can and take care of as many people as we can for as long as we can.
RADDATZ: I know the president has said that the intelligence absolutely did not show that anybody — that the Taliban could take over in 11 days. What’s the earliest you were aware that that could happen?
AUSTIN: There were assessments that ranged initially from one to two years to, you know, several months. But it was a wide range of assessments. And as the Taliban began to make gains and we saw that in a number of cases, there was less fighting and more surrendering and more forces just kind of evaporating, it was very difficult to predict with accuracy — this all occurred in a span of about 11 days. Nobody predicted that, you know, the government would fall in 11 days.
RADDATZ: When you look at the planning — I mean, Joe Biden said he wanted to get out of there for years and years. So, it was probably pretty certain that he would say that.
Do you believe, as you look at it now and the military loves to plan for the worst case, that the planning was acceptable and appropriate?
AUSTIN: I do based upon, you know, that — what we were looking at and the inputs to the plan. But I think you have to go back and look at what — what the administration inherited. I mean, we came in and we’re faced with a May 1st deadline to have all forces out of the country. This deal had been struck with the Taliban.
And so, he had to very rapidly go through a detailed assessment and look at all options in terms of what — what he could do. And none of those options were good options. He went through a very rigorous process, very detailed process.
He listened to the input that was provided by all of the stakeholders and the interagency process. And so, at the end of the day, the president made his decision.
But again, he was faced with a situation where there were no good options. All were very tough.
RADDATZ: Did you want to see a small force remain in Afghanistan?
AUSTIN: Martha, and you know I’m not going to tell you what — what my recommendation to our president was. I would just tell that like everyone else, the president listened to our input.
Again, he conducted a very rigorous and thoughtful process. And he made a decision and I support that decision.
RADDATZ: What do you think the final outcome will be there?
AUSTIN: I’ve gotten out of the business of making predictions long, long ago. But I think that’s — that’s a chapter that’s yet to be written obviously. So —
RADDATZ: It is indeed. Our thanks to Secretary Austin.
Now, let’s get a response from Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a member of the Armed Services Committee and the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate.
Good morning to you, Senator.
You heard Secretary Austin say they’re looking at every possible way to get Americans and Afghans out. They’re now activating that civil reserve air fleet. But the problem is getting to the airport itself.
You’re a veteran. Do you think they should be sending convoys into the city?
SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Yes, Martha. And thank you so much for having me on.
Absolutely. We should be doing everything possible to get Americans safely to the airport for evacuation. We are the strongest military on the face of this planet and we should be exercising those authorities to make sure that we’re flexing our military muscle, especially when it comes to evacuating Americans.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS HOST: You have tweeted about this. You have said you want the administration to immediately evacuate Americans, ensure the safety of our Afghan partners, and secure U.S. assets and military equipment and now get them out of there with convoys.
I know you were part of a bipartisan effort to speed this up. But how do they do that safely without even more troops and secure the airport at the same time?
ERNST: Well, that’s the key, Martha, is that we do have to have the right number of troops to execute that mission. But, of course, we can do that. And I know that Secretary Austin, the president, they keep referring back to the Taliban and agreements negotiated with the Taliban. The Taliban needs to understand quite clearly that we have the right to get our American citizens out of Afghanistan. And if that means we need to escort them to our airport to get them out, then we will do so.
There should be no reason we cannot exercise our authority to evacuate those that have not only supported our American troops, but also our very own citizens. They deserve to be evacuated safely.
RADDATZ: So you would advocate for sending in more troops to do this, no matter how many it took?
ERNST: Well, I would. But, again, evaluating the situation on the ground. If the Taliban is saying that Americans can travel safely to the airport, then there is no better way to make sure they get safely to the airport than to use our military to escort them.
We have heard that other military forces from other countries are doing that. Americans, we should be able to do that as well. I think it’s important that we make sure we’re upholding our commitment to our very own citizens to get them back to the United States.
RADDATZ: You know, we — we all want to get those interpreters out and — and those who helped Americans. But there is this Catch-22 right now, some of them had their paperwork destroyed or their passports because the embassy was evacuated and they did that to protect them. But now they don’t have that paperwork. And — and some of the people trying to get out are just regular Afghans. So how do you vet them?
ERNST: Well, that is the question, Martha. We know that, of course, this is one of the — the biggest debacles that we have seen in the last several decades. And the fact that we had to evacuate our embassy, the — the heart and soul of our consular activities and — and vetting process, all of that has been pulled out from under us. So it is much more difficult to vet those that need to continue through the vetting process, and to make sure the Americans have safe passage to the airport.
We have been on the administration for months now to be working on the vetting process, to make sure we’re working with those interpreters to get them safely out of the country. The State Department, it has drug its feet. It has moved so slowly. And now we’re at a point where these Afghan interpreters, other partners are in deep jeopardy with the Taliban because they weren’t able to get their vetting done on time.
So it is important that we continue pressing on with this. If there are Afghans that need to be evacuated that aren’t fully vetted, we do have third country partners that are working with us in this effort. We can evacuate these Afghans to those countries, continue the vetting process from there. And I think we should be doing absolutely everything we can to assist those who assisted us for the past two decades in the global war on terror.
RADDATZ: You talk about those third countries. There aren’t a whole lot of countries that want to take these Afghan refugees. They have a back-up in Qatar. And — and where they’ll resettle them. Would you or your Republican colleagues welcome them here?
ERNST: Well, we want to welcome those that are fully vetted. That is extremely important that we make sure they are vetted before they touch down on American soil. And that is why it is so important that we continue working with these third country nations, providing them whatever support we can within those countries. And this is where President Biden, unfortunately, has really — he has messed it up.
I’ll — I’ll just put it out there. Of course, with our international community, with his haphazard withdrawal. If we had been working with those allies, those partner countries, this would have been a lot easier.
He knew this day was coming and yet, again, was very slow to respond to the needs of not only our American citizens, by pulling those troops out before we had them safely out of Afghanistan, but he’s also, again, jeopardized those that were partners to us through an extended war on terror.
RADDATZ: OK. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Senator.
The roundtable is coming up, plus, after the U.S. reported its highest single day COVID case total in nearly seven months, we’ll talk to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about booster shots coming next month. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: The plan is for every — every adult to get a booster shot eight months after you got your second shot. It will make you safer and for longer.
I know there’s some world leaders who say Americans shouldn’t get a third shot until other countries got their first shot. I disagree. We can take care of America and help the world at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden discussing the plan for booster shots for Americans starting in September. The recommendation comes as the U.S. recorded more than 163,000 new COVID cases Thursday, the highest in nearly seven months.
But the pace of vaccinations increasing, over 1 million doses reported administered on Friday, 60 percent of all eligible fully vaccinated.
For more, let’s bring in the surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Good morning to you, Doctor. Those Pfizer and Moderna booster shots will become available the week of September 20th. Walk us through what Americans should know about that and what to do.
MURTHY: Well, thanks, Martha. There are several things that Americans should know about the booster announcement we recently made. Number one is that the vaccines are continuing to work remarkably well for preventing people from ending up in the hospital, and they are saving lives. So that’s the reason we are not recommending boosters today.
But what we are seeing is a decline in the protection against mild to moderate disease, and so we are anticipating there may be an erosion in that important protection that we’re seeing today down the line.
And that’s why, to stay ahead of this virus, we’re recommending that people start to get boosters the week of September 20th. It will start with people on their eight-month anniversary following their second shot. And by necessity, it will end up prioritizing those who are at highest risk, including long-term health care workers — long-term care facility residents, rather, health care workers, as well as the elderly.
RADDATZ: And individuals who got the Johnson & Johnson shot expect similar guidance soon?
MURTHY: Yes, so we anticipate that people who received J&J will likely need a booster as well.
What we’re waiting on right now is some data from the companies about a second dose of J&J. The FDA will then look at that data and assess safety and efficacy. And then we will be able to make a recommendation for people who received J&J in terms of their boosters.
RADDATZ: And we know that taking three shots is safe?
MURTHY: Well, this is why the plan that we announced is actually contingent on the FDA and the CDC Advisory Committee doing their full and independent evaluation.
Safety is absolutely essential in this process. And we would not execute a plan if the FDA did not weigh in and say that that third shot was, in fact, safe. So, the plan is contingent on that.
But, again, keep in mind this, that we have a tremendous amount of experience with these vaccines so far. They’ve been given to hundreds of millions of people here and around the world. The safety has held up. We’ll wait for the FDA to weigh in on the third doses. And, with their blessing, we will then proceed with that plan for boosters.
RADDATZ: And, Dr. Murthy, you heard President Biden address this, but the World Health Organization has asked for a temporary pause on boosters to help developing nations.
The administration has said we need to do both. But can we really do that? There’s a limited amount of these vaccines.
MURTHY: Well, Martha, we don’t have a choice. We have to do both.
We have to protect American lives, and we have to help vaccinate the world, because that is the only way this pandemic ends. And if we assume that the pie is fixed, so to speak, that the supply is not changing, then, yes, taking more vaccines for Americans in a form of boosters will take away from the rest of the world.
But our focus has been on growing the pie. It’s been on increasing the supply. And that’s why, in addition to donating more than 120 million doses of vaccine and moving out on the commitment of 500 million doses starting this month that the president announced earlier in the summer, we’re also working with the companies and with other countries to stand up manufacturing capacity, so we can really scale up production of the vaccine.
We have to work on both fronts. That is the only way the pandemic will end.
RADDATZ: And “The New York Times” was first to report that the FDA is trying to give full approval for the vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, tomorrow.
Is that going to happen? And what difference does that make?
MURTHY: Well, Martha, the FDA certainly has been evaluating the application for full approval from Pfizer.
And I won’t get ahead of them, but what I will tell you is that I wouldn’t be surprised if they issued that full approval soon. And the reason is because they have so much data now and we as a world have so much experience with these vaccines.
It’s actually unusual for an application for full approval to be submitted with this much experience, with hundreds of millions of people having received the doses. And there are two things that we’ve learned during that time. One is that the vaccines are remarkably effective in keeping people out of the hospital and saving lives, and the other is that their safety profile remains remarkably strong.
I anticipate, if and when this does come from the FDA, the full approval, two potential things may happen. One is, you may see more people coming forward, those who — perhaps who were on the fence about getting vaccinated, and this may tip them towards doing so.
But, second, I think you’ll see more universities and workplaces that were considering putting in requirements for vaccines to create safer places to learn and work, you’ll see more of them likely moving forward on their plans to require vaccines in the workplace and school.
RADDATZ: And, Dr. Murthy, just — just finally, I want to ask about kids.
At the beginning of the pandemic, COVID largely didn’t affect them. We’re now seeing hospitalizations rise. What should we think about when we look at children going into the fall?
MURTHY: Well, Martha, this is really heartbreaking to see what’s happening, with our hospitals filling up with children. We have more kids hospitalized now than we have in earlier points in the pandemic.
And, as a parent of two young children who are too young to be eligible for vaccination, I really feel for parents out there whose kids are ill. And I really feel strongly that it is our moral responsibility as a society to do everything we can to protect our children.
And that means that, number one, all of us getting vaccinated, as adults, as adolescents, is important, because kids who are too young to get vaccinated, they rely on those around them to shield them from the virus.
But it’s also why making sure we are taking every measure possible in schools to ensure that our kids are safe is so important. And those include masks, improving ventilation, doing regular testing, and ensuring that our children are outdoors as much as possible.
So, these are the steps we’ve got to take. We have a responsibility to protect our kids. And I can’t think of anything, Martha, that’s more important than that.
RADDATZ: Nor can I.
Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Dr. Murthy.
The roundtable is next. We’ll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t think this could have been handled — this exit could have been handled better in any way? No mistakes?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I — I — I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that — there — we — we’re going to go back in hindsight and look. But the idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happened (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: George Stephanopoulos’ exclusive interview with President Biden right there.
Let’s talk about that and more with our roundtable.
Craig Whitlock, “Washington Post” investigative reporter and author of the new book, “The Afghanistan Papers,” ABC News correspondent Stephanie Ramos, Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” on the weekends, and ABC News senior national correspondent Terry Moran.
Welcome to all of you.
And, Stephanie, we watched you all week at the White House question President Biden. He — he really doubled down in his first speech about this focusing on the withdrawal and why he wanted to withdraw. That didn’t seem to go over so well because it’s really the chaos. Did — did they realize in his second speech as he focused a little bit more on that?
STEPHANIE RAMOS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Seems like it. This time we — we didn’t hear President Biden’s reasons for pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Instead, we heard more about the people that are on the ground. The approximate number of people who had been evacuated or relocated out of Afghanistan. He stressed over and over that U.S. troops would stay there in the country to get Americans out, to get allies out. And he also acknowledged that this is a very dangerous evacuation mission and it imposes risk to our armored forces there on the ground and that they are working under very difficult circumstances.
But what I’ve been told from White House officials is that, yes, this is a very volatile situation and there may be Americans having a difficult time getting to the airport, getting to a particular gate, but they are sticking with this idea that that is not the broad issue here, despite the images that we’re seeing.
RADDATZ: And that is the broad issue, the chaos, right, Craig? It really is. I mean your extraordinary book that’s — that’s just coming out with — with basically a look back at how we got here.
So I — — I — I’d actually like your reaction to what — what Secretary Austin was explaining. They’re in a tough, tough spot. This is clearly a mess.
CRAIG WHITLOCK, WASHINGTON POST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER & AUTHOR, ‘THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS”: They are in a tough spot. And as bad as it’s been and as chaotic as it’s been, it could be worse. We have lots of U.S. troops on the ground. We have the Taliban roaming around Kabul armed. If U.S. troops were to leave the airport to conduct an evacuation, that would be really, really dangerous. So far they’ve only done it by helicopter. We’ve got an unknown number of Americans out in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan. Then you have the, as you brought up, how many interpreters we might need to bring out.
We’re — what about other Afghans who are trying to help and their families? Where do you draw the line? The idea that we might get them all out by August 31st seems like a real stretch. At some point the Biden administration is going to have to decide, when do you call it quits with this operation and pull everybody out? But you’re not going to get everybody. Certainly not all the Afghans who were helping the United States.
RADDATZ: And — and not that easy to get the military out. I mean you don’t want to do that at the last minute either when they so carefully did it before.
Terry, I know you and I both immediately noticed when President Biden said that our allies had no questioned America’s credibility, but that that was not particularly true.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It’s not true at all. And the president does seem adrift from the facts in a lot of way right now. One way is that.
You know, we’ve had two former prime ministers of Great Britain, our closest ally, Theresa May and Tony Blair, condemn this operation, condemn his leadership. In the — in the starkest terms imaginable, Tony Blair called it an imbecilic withdrawal. I can’t remember anything like that. And that speech by conservative member of parliament Tom Tiginhat (ph) that’s going around, that — that one should listen to, he’s a veteran of the Afghan war, he speaks about the United States with a bitterness and even a level of contempt that I can’t imagine has been heard in the British parliament for decades, if not centuries.
The United States has taken a blow to its prestige and credibility around the world. And it is no accident that China is sending public messages to the people of Taiwan and the people of Hong Kong, saying, look, you can’t count on the United States.
RADDATZ: And what about Joe Biden’s own reputation, Michel? This is a man who touts his foreign policy experience. I think in many ways it’s probably why, when he first spoke about this, but, wait, wait, the withdrawal, it’s all about the withdrawal. It’s not about the withdrawal. It’s the — it’s the way this was handled. You can debate those other things.
How much does Joe Biden’s reputation suffer in this?
MICHEL MARTIN, NPR’S ALL THINGS CONSIDERED HOST: I really do think this has complicated our picture of Joe Biden considerably. OK, so let’s acknowledge the thing that he didn’t do that his predecessor likely would have done, like he didn’t — he didn’t attack reporters like Stephanie for asking legitimate and tough questions. He didn’t do that. He didn’t throw his commanders under the bus and throw all the blame on them. So he didn’t do that. But he has shown a stiff-necked quality that I just think a lot of people don’t associate with him.
His initial conversations demonstrated a lack of empathy, for a person who — I mean, look, everybody who’s covered Joe Biden has a story like this where he’s, like, called their mom when they were late for something or giving his phone number to kids and, you know, people suffering through illnesses. And yet this is the same person who is demonstrating, as Terry pointed out, sort of, a separation from the facts about the realities that we can all see, and seemingly, initially at least, a lack of regard for the suffering that this botched operation has caused.
So I — I think there is a risk to his reputation. It’s not just his reputation; it’s really his standing not just with — in the international community, but with his own countrymen.
And I think that progressives in particular are going to be looking to see if he demonstrates the same stiff-necked quality, the same fortitude when it comes to fighting for the priorities that they have laid out here that he also says are priorities of his. I think this is the challenge for him going forward, domestically.
RADDATZ: And, Stephanie, I want to come back to you on that, and particularly that consoler-in-chief.
I, during George’s interview with him, I was just stunned when — when George asked him about those Afghans clinging to the airplane who had fallen to their deaths, and he just bristled and said “That was four or five days ago.”
What — what is happening inside the White House when — when they hear this?
RAMOS: Well, I think they recognized that defense mode. And you’re right, it was striking to see President Biden take that approach. He was essentially telling George, “Yes, this is happening; yes, it’s chaotic; there’s turmoil; we’re fixing it; let’s move on.”
Certainly defensive, but I think the administration recognized that. And on Friday we heard him bring up those gut-wrenching images again, sharing that what so many people have expressed over the last few days, that it’s heart-breaking to see people so frightened and sad, and they’re desperate. And the president once again on Friday saying, “We will get Americans out. We will get our Afghan allies out of there,” just — and he’ll keep troops there on the ground until he does that, promising resources in order to make that happen.
RADDATZ: Although we still don’t know exactly how that is going to happen.
RADDATZ: And, Craig, I want to ask you, in your investigation, in your wonderful book, were you surprise by this? Should we have been surprised that it was so disastrous?
WHITLOCK: I’m not surprised that the Afghan army and police force fell apart. I’m surprised it happened so quickly. I don’t want to act like I knew they were going to melt down in a matter of days. But certainly the U.S. military and the State Department knew the Afghan army and police were not going to hold up very long.
I think the Biden administration thought they had several months for a transition, that they could remove U.S. troops, close the embassy, if they needed, but that the Afghan government would hold it together for several months.
You have to remember, the last time this happened was in 2011 in Iraq, when we withdrew forces. Secretary Austin was then the military commander. And I wonder if that lulled them into a little bit of a sense of complacency, that they had done this before; they could do it again; it would be like Iraq. But this time it, kind of, blew up in their face, and now they’re scrambling to figure it out on the fly.
RADDATZ: And of course Iraq should be a lesson for intelligence since — since ISIS moved in there.
And, Terry, there is — we’ve heard this — sort of, subtle finger-pointing, pretty direct finger-pointing. I know Chairman Milley, the other day, you know, was talking about that intelligence. They — they didn’t get it. But where do you think fingers should be pointed?
MORAN: Well, the buck stops in the office with no corners, right, in the Oval Office. And Joe Biden says that. But he really isn’t taking responsibility.
Look, he has known since the day he was inaugurated that he was going to be the president who withdrew American troops for once and for all from Afghanistan. He’s had seven months to organize the government to do this. He did have advance warning to some extent that the situation was deteriorating. Certainly, over the past several weeks, that dissent cable that went to Secretary of State Blinken, where the guys on the ground in Kabul wrote the State Department and said, “This thing could fall by the end of August.”
You know, I think the American people expect presidential leadership in a crisis. They don’t expect it to be perfect.
RADDATZ: And the — and the Taliban falling and the troops giving up — I mean, I asked Secretary Austin about that as well. We may not have known how fast it would happen, but I can’t — it’s hard for me to believe they didn’t have some expectation this would happen, since they knew we were pulling out?
MARTIN: I’m sorry, but doesn’t operational effectiveness land a little bit lower than the Oval? I mean, yes, it’s true that the president sets the broad outlines of the direction, but there are a lot of people who have been in office who have had their responsibilities longer than Joe Biden has. It seems to me that the planning for this could have started a year ago, in the prior administration. And where was that? Where’s the — I just feel like operational effectiveness here…
RADDATZ: Well, it’s what we said to Secretary Austin too.
Like, you have known…
RADDATZ: … when — when he came into office, he wanted to — he wanted to pull out of there.
I was going to ask you, Michel, about the polls.
Seven in 10 Americans said, yes, we should get out of there. And I know that President Biden touts those polls. That’s not what we’re talking about here. And the polls are now, was it worth it?
MARTIN: No, I mean, I — honestly, I think this is one of those questions that is not going to be answered today or tomorrow.
I mean, I think this is one of those soul-searching questions. It’s a question of American identity. I mean, the American identity is about competency. The American identity is about sticking with things, and, yes, even despite the fact that we obviously had that very searing experience of Vietnam.
I mean, I just think this whole question of whether this was worth it, how this whole thing ended, that just is something that is going to be roiling the country for quite some time.
But I tell you what I’m concerned about.
And, Craig, you also have expertise in this area. One of the concerns I have is what this does for recruiting of white nationalist groups. I mean, this has been one of their core issues, is refugees and a sense of Americans losing their identity and their sense of potency, both at home and abroad.
And I just think this is a very fraught time for the country, for reasons that we can’t even anticipate at the moment.
RADDATZ: And, of course, we’re also dealing with a pandemic, Craig.
I have to say that that C-17 loaded with more than 800 Afghans, and most of them didn’t have masks on. I was just in Afghanistan a couple of months ago. There are no vaccines there. Nobody’s getting a vaccine.
Concerns about that going forward.
WHITLOCK: Yes, not just on the transport in the U.S. military flights, but then they’re taking them all over the world, really. They’re taking refers to the Gulf for processing in Qatar and other countries.
Now the question is, where do they go from there? They aren’t all coming to the United States. They are going to — the State Department has announced two dozen other countries are going to take these folks too. Those countries, understandably, are going to be concerned for their public health and infrastructure. How do they cope with this?
It’s — that’s a whole problem on its own, but it’s just one of many that they’re having to juggle dealing with this pretty enormous influx of refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan in very short order.
RADDATZ: And, Stephanie, those booster shots set to start in September, that’s — that’s good news for the White House. I mean, they feel pretty solid about this, other than the controversy over whether they should be sent to developing countries.
RAMOS: Right. Right.
And it’s something that they have touted for a while and have also said that this is — it’s up to the FDA, and saying that this is what has been recommended, and, of course, the president saying just this last week that he and the first lady will get their shot when it’s time.
But this is something that they have supported for quite some time and saying that it’s — they’re following the guidance from the CDC and the FDA, and, if that is what they’re recommending, that is what the country should follow.
RADDATZ: And they have moved the ball a little bit. There are more people now getting vaccinations, as these — as we see this horrible surge in COVID.
Thanks to all of you. I know we’re all going to be watching what happens in Afghanistan. As Secretary Austin said, we do not yet know what the final outcome will be there.
Coming up: He oversaw President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan and the raid on Osama bin Laden.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen Mullen’s surprising take on the Afghanistan drawdown — next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUBTITLE: What was the name of the original U.S. military operation in Afghanistan?
Operation Enduring Freedom.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: The name of today’s military operation is Enduring Freedom. We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people to live and raise their children free from fear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: We have all watched with horror the scenes playing out in Afghanistan. But for the former chairman of the joint chiefs, it is especially jarring. Admiral Mike Mullen was the president’s top military adviser 10 years ago. At the time, he supported the strategy to stay in the country and train the Afghan military.
But this week, we asked him to reflect on those decisions after watching the Taliban swiftly take over.
RADDATZ: You in 2011 said the strategy was right one to try and train up the Afghan forces.
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Right.
RADDATZ: When you look back now?
MULLEN: The capitulation of the Afghan forces obviously is getting great focus right now.
In retrospect, you know, it didn’t work because they stood down. I think they actually stood down so that they individually could survive given the Taliban were coming back in.
I thought we could build the army and give them a chance to create structures which would run a country in a much more modern fashion. That just is not the case.
RADDATZ: So, when you look back on — on those years, are you really kind of beating yourself up over that?
MULLEN: Well, I am, yes. What I thought we could do and I advised President Obama that — accordingly is I thought we could turn it around. Obviously, I was wrong.
RADDATZ: You also heard President Biden say, look, we should have gotten out ten years ago. We should have got out after they killed Osama bin Laden. You were there when they killed Osama bin Laden.
RADDATZ: You were the chairman.
Should we have gotten out then?
MULLEN: Think, in retrospect, yes, we should have. I don’t think it was possible for us to just abruptly walk away right after we killed bin Laden. But, clearly, we could have gone earlier than we did.
As I look back and — and a lot of people are critical of the president right now, President Biden had it right back then. He was focused singly on counterterrorism. His advice was along those lines. And he certainly said that. And I give him credit for that.
RADDATZ: Did the mission fail?
MULLEN: I think complete failure, no. Clearly taking out bin Laden was a huge impact in terms of al Qaeda and what was represented there. I’m not inclined to — to just lay it on, yes, it was a success or — or it was a failure. I think we’re somewhere in between.
There’s a lot of finger pointing, a lot of blame. And — and, you know, I’m — I’m not anxious to do that or participate in this. I think we need to — we — we need to learn lessons. I think we need to examine in the military that that can-do spirit and — and that can we understand why we too often say yes to a mission when we should say no. Nobody wants the Saigon image and, obviously, we ended up with another Saigon image that will last permanently, quite frankly, whether we like it or not.
RADDATZ: When you look at those pictures, when you see babies —
RADDATZ: Being put over the walls and — and taken by a soldier, you know those people.
MULLEN: Yes. It’s — it just speaks to the desperation. It — it — and it speaks to the fear. And it speaks to the Taliban that they know. And they know them better than we. I — my heart just breaks for the Afghan people.
RADDATZ: When you think of those who have served and those gold star families, what would you say?
MULLEN: Well, to those families in particular, their son or daughter served in — served in a way that answered the call of their country. We can never forget those sacrifices as a country and they served, you know, at the pleasure of the president of the United States who asked them to go in harm’s way, and they did.
RADDATZ: Thanks to Admiral Mullen for those honest reflections.
That’s all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out “WORLD NEWS TONIGHT,” and have a good day.