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August 31, 2021
What A Day
America's Last Days In Afghanistan with Rep. Barbara Lee

In This Episode

  • After 20 years, the U.S. has pulled out the last of its troops from Afghanistan. We spoke with Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of use of force that led to U.S. troops being in Afghanistan, to discuss the latest developments.
  • And in headlines: officials are still assessing the damage of Hurricane Ida, a new Texas law bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the Dept. of Education is investigating five states with bans on mask mandates in schools, and two Michigan parents were ordered to pay nearly $45,000 after throwing away their son’s massive pornography collection.

 

 

Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It is Tuesday, August 31s. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we’re launching a hastily-conceived biotech startup today to honor the trial of Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is time that somebody trustworthy collected your blood and we are the people to do it.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: We just need a couple of drops. Just send it on over. On today’s show, we track the devastation of Hurricane Ida, plus China sets a timer for how long kids can play online video games.

 

Gideon Resnick: Interesting. But first, after 20 years, the US has pulled out the last of its troops from Afghanistan.

 

[clip of CENTCOM Cmdr. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr.] I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans. The last C-17 lifted all from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30th this afternoon at 3:29 p.m. East Coast time.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, that was CENTCOM commander General Kenneth Mackenzie Jr. making the announcement at a press conference yesterday. And President Biden is also set to speak about it later today.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It’s really unbelievable that we’re out of Afghanistan after the past 20 years.

 

Gideon Resnick: Seriously.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I was in middle school when we went in.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Although the last few days of the withdrawal really have been marred by a lot of violence. Last week, some 170 civilians and 13 U.S. military members were killed by a suicide bombing near the airport in Kabul. The Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for that attack. And the U.S. responded with a number of drone strikes, including one on Sunday that reportedly targeted a car filled with explosives. But yesterday, multiple accounts said that 10 civilians, including many children, were killed in that drone strike. The Wall Street Journal reported that they were all relatives of a former interpreter who was trying to get a U.S. special immigrant visa because he was worried about retribution from the Taliban.

 

Gideon Resnick: Jeez.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Just devastating, really hard to imagine. Those are the latest updates as we record on Monday night, and we’ll link to a couple of stories regarding the strike and our show notes.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and as this 20-year war draws to an end, we wanted to get some perspective from someone who took a prescient vote decades ago now. We spoke with Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress who voted against the authorization of use of force that actually led to US troops being in Afghanistan. This conversation happened hours before the announcement about the final withdrawal.

 

[interview]

 

Gideon Resnick: Congresswoman Lee, thank you so much for joining What A Day.

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Glad to be with you.

 

Gideon Resnick: So I wanted to start with just asking what your reaction is to the situation near the international airport in Kabul over the last few days.

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Like all of us, it’s all hands on deck trying to make sure that no more lives are lost. Secondly, the sadness and the grief around losing 13 of our brave troops and 170 civilians. That’s quite, very profound.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right, absolutely. And is there anything else that the administration, in your sense, needs to be doing in response to the situation?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Listen, you know it started out really very bumpy, but I think they’ve stepped up and unfortunately, I don’t think the planning was what it should be, but they’re doing everything they can do to protect lives. They mounted the counterterrorism measures to prevent the loss of more life. They know that time is running out. We still have Americans there, Afghan allies, women, children—and I think they’re doing everything they can do to get everyone out of Afghanistan.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: So what are your thoughts on this deadline as we reach it? What happens next here?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: It’s all hands on deck. This is an all of government response and mission. And we must look forward. In looking forward, we need to look back and look at what mistakes were made, first of all, so we never make them again. Secondly, we need to have a full and thorough investigation where U.S. tax dollars went—trillions of dollars for Afghanistan reconstruction. The corruption was such that we don’t know where US tax dollars went. And so we have to insist on those investigations. Thirdly, we need to determine a path forward to ensure the rights of women and the empowerment of women, and education and their aspirations are achieved and that their security is provided for. We know who the Taliban government is, I mean, they haven’t quite formulated their government yet, but I think we’re in uncharted territory. But we have to plan for every eventuality.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I want to take a step back for a second to talk about some of the political responses to the actual decision from the President to withdraw. For a while there, it seemed like there was a narrative being crafted by some that if that was a mistake from Biden, the way to rectify that mistake is indefinite commitment to some sort of foreign involvement. Do you think that reflects some kind of willful ignorance of how the past 20 years have gone?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: That wasn’t a mistake, I don’t believe. The president was absolutely correct in that decision. It’s clear that the military first option is not always the first option we may or may not want to use. That we have to now look at different aspects of our foreign and military policy in terms of diplomacy, development, humanitarian assistance. But I don’t think he made a mistake in making that decision. And I think when you look back at the last 20 years, we will see that nation building just does not work in many parts of the country. It did not work in Afghanistan, and it never will.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s let’s talk about your vote in 2001 against the authorization of military force in Afghanistan. So as we said at the beginning, you were the only member of Congress to vote that way at that time. And I think we’re now just seeing sort of the prescience of that decision. How are you feeling now with what’s happening and what are you what are you seeing?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Well, that was a 60-word authorization. I called it a blank check because it was very vague, it was overly broad, and it set the stage for, yes, forever wars. And in looking back, I mean, I feel—not necessarily vindicated—I’m just hoping that we learned the lessons of the last 20 years and make sure that Congress needs to be put back into the role of doing this job. We have not done our job by voting and passing AUMFs when the President is seeking to use force. Finally, let me just say, only 25% of members of Congress serving now we’re even here in 2001 and 2002. So the people’s voice really has not been heard on these matters. And these are grave matters.

 

Gideon Resnick: And this has always been a point of fascination for me and I think all of us about the actual time this was happening. So can you walk us through the days before and after the actual vote, what were some of the conversations like with friends and colleagues at the time?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Well, it was a very sad time, first of all. And what the discussions were, one, we can’t be partisan. Two, we’ve got to be with the president regardless. Three, we’ve got to act quickly and swiftly. Four, the discussions I had with many, many members thought that the authorization was overly-broad, but that the risks of voting against it were too great and so we just have to kind of swallow it. Now, when you’re grieving, when you’re angry, you don’t make grave decisions, you don’t make serious decisions. And so three days after to authorize the use of force, three days after, with such an overly-broad authorization, I was as angry and as sad and in mourning as everyone else, and certainly those who lost their family members and friends, and the communities were devastated. And so how do you in three days make these grave decisions?

 

Gideon Resnick: There were a lot of people that were quite angry with what you did, even to the point of death threats and these other sort of crazy things. So I’m curious, like in the years since, has anyone with whom you spoke at that time changed their mind since, given what we’ve seen?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Yes. The vitriol and the death threats or the hate mail and the calls, and you just don’t even know how treacherous it was. And it also showed me a lot of people don’t believe that the right to dissent is integral to our democracy. And so a man in South Carolina came up to me a couple of years ago. I was campaigning—you know I supported Kamala Harris for president—and he was this white man with tears in his eyes, with his child, that he came through security, and he came right up to me and he said: look, I was one of those who called you, who sent you hate mail, who threatened you—and he went down the whole nine yards and he had tears in my eyes. He said: and I wanted to bring my son with me because I wanted him to see me apologize to you.

 

Gideon Resnick: Wow.

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Yeah. So in many ways, that countered the ugly, right? I tried to look at the glass half full the entire 20 years.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. So you’ve said before that you wouldn’t call yourself a pacifist. A lot of what that initial vote was about was not getting us to a place where there was a military, a blank check, as you just said. And in the years since, we have really only seen an expansion of the powers of the executive branch in a number of ways. For example, every president in my adult life has, disturbingly, authorized various drone strikes in foreign countries, including one we were just discussing. So where do you think about the line being drawn in terms of what a president should or should not be doing on their own?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Well, the Constitution is very clear. International law is very clear. The president can always use force in cases, and sets out what imminent threat is. Beyond that, Article 2 requires the president to come to Congress to seek an authorization to use force. And when we’re going to go to war, you don’t just go to war, you come to Congress. You say we want Congress to authorize the use of force for the following reasons. And then we give it, we grant it or not. And so you don’t, we’ve ceded our constitutional responsibilities to the executive branch. It’s all executive power now. And that’s dangerous in a democracy. We have diplomacy in our options, we have development, humanitarian assistance. I mean, we have to weight all of these strategies in our foreign and military policy. And I say reimagine them. We’ve got to rebalance these different legs of our foreign policy.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. And in terms of the recent drone strikes from President Biden, we’re still learning more about them. But how does it turn into a situation in which civilians are reportedly getting killed? That is the thing, I think that when people are thinking about this and the extent to which a president can and cannot do things, where they get really disturbed.

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Yes. And I’m really disturbed because you have children being killed, civilians being killed, innocent people being killed. For me personally, that is the unintended consequence of a war that should not be, that should not have been held. And so we have to really do a deep dive and understand what happened over the last 20 years, and at the same time maintain our national security and address the terrorist threats, which are real. So, no, I don’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses, I’m not a pacifist, but I’m certainly going to try to do everything I can do to mitigate against military action.

 

Gideon Resnick: Do you think that something like what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq could happen again? And if so, what are the ways to ensure it does not end?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Well, given how tumultuous the world is, it probably could happen anywhere. I mean, you look at the terrorist threats in Yemen, you look at ISIS-K, you look at al-Shabaab—you look at all of the terrorist threats, right? I mean, you know, so there’s got to be alternatives. There’s smart enough people in this world who can figure out how to address terrorism without having the military-first option execute it. And I think what we have to do right now, learning the lessons of the last 20 years, make some determinations. Is the president going to come to Congress, does he need to come to Congress to ask for the use of force, or are there nonmilitary solutions being considered? And I think President Biden is definitely a president who’s looking at how to execute a national security strategy, a counterterrorism strategy, with the military option being the last option. And I think that we need to give this president credit for that.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: So obviously, what we’re discussing just the past few weeks in Afghanistan and really the past 20 years, have really been just devastating in a moment of needing real consideration from our leaders and from all of us. So what makes you hopeful, if anything does, about this moment?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: What gives me hope for the future is our young people see the light. They understand what’s taking place, and they know that, quote, “war is not the answer.” Also, they understand that the terrorist threats are real. And so what gives me hope is that now, because of these horrific, unfortunate circumstances which we find ourselves in, people are having debates, finally, in Congress, even about our role and about how we move forward. And I think the public understands now that there are ways that we can address global peace and security without going to war. And that gives me gives me a lot of hope.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I certainly hope that that’s the case. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the Democratic U.S. representative for California’s 13th district. Thank you so much again for taking the time and being on What A Day.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yes. Thank you.

 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Thank you. My pleasure. Nice being with you.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: We’re going to keep following the latest developments out of Afghanistan, but that’s the latest for now.

 

Gideon Resnick: It is Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about a nationwide crackdown on computer privileges. So China’s government announced on Monday that minors will now be limited to a total of just three hours of online gaming per week, between eight and nine p.m. on Friday through Sunday. Wow. Gaming companies are in charge of enforcing these restrictions, and officials say the rules come in response to demands from parents. They also fit with a government-wide push to clamp down on what the Chinese Communist Party considers to be unhealthy cultural influences. Now the rules notably do not apply to offline games, so kids in China would be wise to invest in a used N64—as would everybody, quite frankly. But Josie, what is your take on a strict 3-hour online gaming limit?

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Well, I think my first question is, are any of these officials parents? Because as a pro-screen time parent—I mean, my kid’s too young to play video games, but, you know, parenting is a 24-hour job and sometimes you need a break.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. So you’re saying perhaps up the allowance of hours.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely.

 

Gideon Resnick: What’s the, let’s say there are no limits and, you know, we live in a society where we dictate this sort of policy, what is the hour time span that you’re looking at here that you think would be appropriate?

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Well, I don’t know the time span is, but I can tell you that the hours listed here between 8 and 9 p.m. are objectively ridiculous. Nobody wants their kid, if they don’t have to be up till 9 p.m., you don’t want them until 9 p.m. You want to go to sleep, you know? So I’m just saying, if it’s going to be one hour Friday, Saturday and Sunday, why not like 5 to 6? And then, the point is, all parents want their kids to go to bed early so they can have a few hours without you. 8 to 9 is rude.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. You’re infringing on parental time, which totally makes a lot of sense. Yeah, well, it’s time for us to actually start dictating this sort of policy, we’ll begin with a pilot program in the United States and see if it goes international. But just like we have checked our temps. Get away from your kids if you need to, whether it’s by government policy or not, and we’ll be back after some ads.

 

Gideon Resnick: [ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Hurricane Ida was downgraded to a tropical depression Monday evening as it moved inland. However, warnings of flooding from dangerous storm surges are continuing in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center warned flooding could also hit Tennessee, Ohio valleys, and the mid-Atlantic through Wednesday. As nearly one million residents in Louisiana are without power, the state police said that the full extent of the damage remains unclear. And Louisiana Governor John Edwards said the death toll, which currently stands at two fatalities, could rise considerably as rescue efforts continue. While New Orleans levee system proved to hold stronger than it did during Hurricane Katrina, and a preliminary survey revealed that the levees did what they were intended to do in holding water out, neighboring communities such as La Place, a western suburb, still felt it is destruction due to strong winds. Monday morning, New Orleans residents walked through various neighborhoods to find building facades blown away, shredded roofs, and submerged cars. Almost 5,000 National Guard members have been activated in Louisiana to aid search efforts, along with 70 rescue boats and 30 helicopters.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, wow. A new Texas law that goes into effect tomorrow bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. So in a last ditch effort to block the legislation, abortion rights advocates filed emergency motions to be heard on an expedited basis. But the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals canceled a hearing that was planned for yesterday. This unprecedented law, SB8 allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or really anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion past six weeks of pregnancy. According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, 85% of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies in the Lone Star State do so at least six weeks into their pregnancy. Which means Texas could actually be the first state to ban most abortions since before Roe v. Wade. Wow. Yesterday, abortion rights advocates asked the Supreme Court to block the law from taking effect this week, arguing that this law would catastrophically reduce abortion access, and likely force many clinics to close.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, scary stuff. A huge setback yesterday for elected Republicans who have been reliving their glory days of bullying little kids: five states with bans on mask mandates in schools are being investigated by the Department of Education on the grounds that those prohibitions may violate civil rights laws. Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah are the states being investigated. The governors of Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona may have done their very best to create a precaution-free educational environment, but their bans on mask mandates aren’t being enforced so the Education Department is not investigating them for now. The question is whether the bands are discriminatory because they infringe on the right of some students with disabilities to have a free, appropriate public education, since those students may be at a heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I don’t know why there is some expectation that nothing was going to happen here if states tried to take these routes, but, you know, this is what it is. This next story proves that while the arc of justice is long, it is also hard and thick. That’s it. That’s it. Actually, I’m going to go ahead and leave. I’m through with this job. I need to be actually in prisoned for that. After throwing away their son’s massive pornography collection, Michigan parents Beth and Paul Werking were ordered to pay nearly $45,000 last week by a US district judge. Movie buff David Werking had brought a dozen boxes of adult films and sex toys to his parents’ house following a divorce, as one does. When he moved out, he expected his parents to ship him the collection, but instead they sent the tape straight to porno hell. David was obviously irate, particularly because many of the movies were hard to find. In his words, they were, quote, “not just out of print, but the entire studio making it dissolved, and that was 20 years ago.”

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Wow.

 

Gideon Resnick: His grieving took the form of a lawsuit, during which his lawyers called in an expert in the growing field of pornography valuation, who priced the tapes at $30,000. David now joins global warming, and crushing debt on the list of reasons why people do not want to have kids anymore.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. I really am confused by this idea that you thought your parents would be fine shipping you porn. And they clearly are not. Like, where’s the disconnect?

 

Gideon Resnick: I don’t know. I don’t want to know what sort of conversations took place that led up to this, and after this.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It truly would have to be an alternate universe for me to ask my parents to ship me boxes of porn and sex tapes to my new home.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, could not be me. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, game on inside the hours that are specified by your government, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And if you were into reading, and not just the astute legal arguments of movie buff David Werking like I am, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And thanks for supporting our biotech startup!

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. What are we going to call it?

 

Gideon Resnick: What are we going to call it?

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.

 

Gideon Resnick: I was going to say like disrupt.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Disrupt, disruption. You know?

 

Gideon Resnick: There’s been too much disruption and we’re here to—

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Un-disrupt.

 

Gideon Resnick: Un-disrupt. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.

 

Show Notes

WSJ: “U.S. Investigates Kabul Airstrike; 10 Afghan Civilians Died, Relatives Say” – https://on.wsj.com/3kF1mzr

What A Day