In This Episode
- The Taliban seized Afghanistan with a takeover of its capital Kabul this past weekend, leading the country’s President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. personnel to flee. Afghan civilians also attempted to leave the country, which led to chaos at the airport in Kabul. We talked about what led to the swift takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces with Laurel Miller, director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program. Between 2013 and 2017, Miller was the deputy and then-acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. State Department.
- And Josie Duffy Rice joins as WAD co-host. In headlines: recovery efforts in Haiti after a 7.2 magnitude quake, Canadians face a snap election, and a trio of volcanoes erupt in Alaska.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, August 16th.I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day where we would never conclude our months long search to replace Alex Trebek by choosing an executive producer to host the podcast.
Gideon Resnick: Uh, Josie, I have some bad news. I am an executive producer of this podcast.
Josie Duffy Rice: Well, there you have it, folks. Hollywood nepotism strikes again, and now we have to replace Gideon with LeVar Burton.
Gideon Resnick: All right. So before we get rolling today, I wanted to get a huge WAD squad welcome to our newest co-host, Josie Duffy Rice. She is formerly the president of the news outlet “The Appeal,” host of the podcast “Justice in America.” You have seen her work. If you haven’t, where have you been? You’ve been sorely missing out. She’s also a writer and a lawyer who does not practice law and she’s working on her first book. So tons of tons of stuff. You’ve heard her as a guest on here before, bringing her expertise on criminal justice and so much more. Josie, I can not be more thrilled that you are joining us. Welcome.
Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s going to be an absolute blast.
Josie Duffy Rice: So on today’s show, the Razr phone gets a reboot. Plus, Haiti’s recovery effort after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the country this past weekend.
Gideon Resnick: But first, we’re going to bring you the latest out of Afghanistan.
[Al-Jazeera clip] We’re just going to bring you these live and exclusive pictures here from inside the presidential palace. What you are looking at right now is Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, that was an Al-Jazeera broadcast yesterday as Taliban fighters took control of Kabul and effectively the country’s government too.
Josie Duffy Rice: This was the end of a fast takeover where the Taliban also gained control of other cities in the country, which all came in advance of a planned full U.S. troop withdrawal in just a few weeks. Before the Taliban entered the presidential palace. President Ashraf Ghani also fled Afghanistan yesterday. Some U.S. Embassy personnel were able to evacuate too. As we go to record on Sunday night, the Pentagon has said it plans to send an additional 1,000 troops to Kabul’s airport to help with that withdrawal. Many Afghans themselves attempted to leave as well, leading to massive crowding at the Kabul airport. According to the United Nations, around 330,000 Afghans have been displaced so far this year alone. But reports say that the U.S. has limited the evacuation of Afghans, including those who have worked alongside and helped the U.S. military over the past 20 years, in order to prioritize the evacuation of Americans. Human rights groups and refugee groups have criticized the Biden administration for not prioritizing getting people out.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, for good reason. It’s really hard to put all of this into words as it’s happening. But nearly two decades since 9/11, billions of dollars, lives lost and destroyed over the course of four presidential administrations. This was the imagery from the end of one of America’s so-called forever wars. For more on what this all means for Afghan citizens and the future of the country, I spoke with Laurel Miller. She’s the director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program. Between 2013 and 2017, Miller was the deputy and then-acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. State Department. We talked on Sunday afternoon and I first asked her what her initial reaction was to the then developing situation.
Laurel Miller: What we’ve seen happen over the last 24 hours is as shocking and head spinning to me as it is to a lot of other people. Of course, I mean, absolutely nothing compared to the Afghans who are actually experiencing it. But unfathomable things happen, and even expected or anticipated or predicted things that are quite dire happened—but actually experiencing them has an emotional impact.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’re speaking to something that people are trying to wrap their heads around right now, which is the U.S. has been in the country for decades. We’re witnessing this now. What were some of the factors that prompted the Taliban to sweep so much of the country and to do it this swiftly?
Laurel Miller: So you have to look at both sides of the equation. One side is Taliban strategy, Taliban strength, and the other side is Afghan government weaknesses. And I think the rapidity of the collapse speaks much more to the Afghan government weakness side of the equation than it does to the Taliban strength side, because that hasn’t changed in a matter of days or weeks, and their strategy hasn’t even really changed. It’s a continuation of a trajectory. And on the other side, we see that in the absence of being able to be assured of the continued support of the American military, of having that backing there, not just, you know, we’ll keep sending you money, but having it on the ground in action, it’s revealed that the Afghan security forces, political leadership, population didn’t have confidence in their own government and own system.
Gideon Resnick: Right, and is this particular situation something that the US could have prevented through doing something different of any sort?
Laurel Miller: I mean, you can point to specific seeming missed moments of opportunity, strategic errors along the way. I think more fundamentally, though, the U.S. went into Afghanistan for counterterrorism reasons, to go after al-Qaida, the perpetrators of 9/11, and is saying that those goals were largely achieved a full decade ago, including when Osama bin Laden was killed. But it’s also true that the US, when it did invade, had two purposes and has pursued two missions. One of them was going after al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The other was regime change, ousting the Taliban and setting up a new regime. And the US did that because the Bush administration determined that it was intolerable for the Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida, to remain in governance, in control in Afghanistan. That lesson had to be taught and we could not tolerate their rule. And from regime change flows all the nation building, all the other things that we were doing in Afghanistan over 20 years that had only, you know, were related to counterterrorism but weren’t a counterterrorism mission. But it is the case that the US had two missions, one whose objectives were largely achieved 10 years ago and another which has failed. Because the Taliban is now back in control of Afghanistan, something that was judged intolerable 20 years ago.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And I want to go back to a point that we were mentioning earlier that I think is one that feels the most salient to me today, which is what this is going to mean for citizens in the country.
Laurel Miller: In terms of what life’s going to be like going ahead for the Afghan people what is this next phase of Taliban rule in Afghanistan look like? We just can’t know yet. The Taliban, unlike other, you know, insurgent groups around the world, they don’t have a political manifesto in any level of detail. They didn’t even really have a political wing in the sense of like a political party element of their insurgent group like you see in some other countries. They have very vague outlines of what Taliban rule will look like that they’ve put forward with no details. And we’ll have to see. They say they have learned lessons from mistakes they made in the 1990s, but what they think those mistakes were, what they think those lessons are, they haven’t said with any detail.
Gideon Resnick: What is the most important thing that can happen next that we should watch for, that would give us indications as to how all of this progresses?
Laurel Miller: We don’t even know at the moment what kind of government the Taliban is going to set up. What is the state system going to be?
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Laurel Miller: And who’s going to be in it. And will they do what they’ve said they recognize they should do, which is have a somewhat inclusive government. They have an interest logically in doing that because it could help to diffuse the risk of armed opposition to their government arising. It would be, it would align with their foreign policy, which is to try to show a responsible face to the countries—particularly in the region, not so much the U.S. and the West, but Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia—to show to them, you know, we didn’t just have a military victory, we’ve tied a political bow on this. If they do that and follow through in what they’ve said they recognize is important for anyone who’s governing Afghanistan, which is inclusivity, that would be a sign that they’re taking their own rhetoric seriously and trying to implement it.
Gideon Resnick: Is there some sort of response that we could or could not see from the Biden administration, and what form exactly would that take?
Laurel Miller: The question now for the administration in terms of its diplomacy and its policy is where is it going to be on the spectrum of opposing the Taliban takeover to accepting the Taliban takeover, acknowledging them as now the government, as legitimate as a government as exists of Afghanistan, and where on that spectrum are they going to be? My guess at the moment is you will find the administration somewhere in the middle for the time being, a kind of neutral posture. They can’t very well say this is an intolerable outcome because it was, it’s an outcome that the administration decided was tolerable, even if they hoped it wasn’t going to happen when they decided to withdraw. So they can’t very well say this is an intolerable outcome. I don’t think they’re going to be the first ones out of the gate to say we now recognize the Taliban’s Islamic emirate, but there is that middle space where they could not oppose other governments giving recognition to the Taliban, not oppose it themselves, but not be rushing to be too friendly, at least in a public way, until we see what materializes. I mean, that’s sort of the easiest thing to do.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I want to close with something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the course of the last couple of days. What does this say about American foreign policy overall? That over the course of a lot of people in my age group’s entire life, this has been the story effectively.
Laurel Miller: It’s a little early to draw big lessons about what it’s going to mean for the future of American foreign policy. I think it says even more about the use of American military force—what you can and cannot achieve through military force, and what is the role of the use of force, and the role of military decision makers in foreign policy—than perhaps anything else to me. I mean, I see this as example number one of over-militarization of American foreign policy. But I think it’s going to be really important as well when we do start to reflect on these questions, to not overly focus on how it all ended, but what were the decisions made at the very start, at a difficult time? I mean, I was working in the State Department on 9/11. You know, it was a very difficult time and very, you know, a context in which you shouldn’t be making 20-year long decisions. And we were. And so all of that needs an examination, the unrealistic ambitions of the United States for Afghanistan. I hope that this difficult ending, problematic ending, reversal is not going to lead American government agencies and policymakers to avoid that really tough examination of all the decisions that were made along the way, not just kind of cherry picking the ones that they most disagreed with.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Well, thank you so much again for your time and expertise on all of this and the past decades preceding it.
Laurel Miller: Thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that was my conversation with Laura Miller, the director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program.
Josie Duffy Rice: We’ll have a link to her work in our show notes. And we’re going to continue following this story in the days and weeks to come. But that’s the latest in this tragedy for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about perhaps the most influential period of modern art, the Razr-ssance, of course, Verizon users who purchased the original 2020 reboot of the Razr were surprised this week to be included in an Android operating system update almost a year after it debuted on other Android phones. Better late than never, I suppose. The rebooted Razr in question varies in many ways from its original 2005 model with a foldable, smart touchscreen and a starting price point of $1,500—that’s a bit steep. But still, the reboot takes me back to a magical time before every phone was this all-powerful mini tablet that hardly fits into any gene pocket, a time of T9 texting and all the Snake that you could play. So Josie would you be excited to see the cell phones of yesteryear come back into style?
Josie Duffy Rice: Honestly, I would pay all my retirement savings for a phone that stay charged as long as the old phone stayed charged. So yes, I’m thrilled.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this would be a life-altering item from that perspective. It recalls a better time in my life overall, too. So that nostalgia element would be really good for me. Like I feel like that was pre, you know, Internet poisoning. That was like a lot of, like, naiveté in my young life. And it just felt nice, felt nice to have those phones.
Josie Duffy Rice: Imagine not being able to get on Twitter but you could play Snake. That’s a great phone for my mental health.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. We would have created like an entire different kind of human if they had all just continue to do that instead of like the past like 10 to 15 years of what we’ve been doing.
Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. Exactly.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Well, we are excited. Hopefully you will get excited as well. But you know, $1,500, that’s definitely your choice. Just like that. We have checked our temps. Enjoy your nostalgia phones and hope they stay charged. We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: Recovery efforts in Haiti are underway after the country was hit with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake over the weekend. So far, nearly 1,300 have been reported dead as of record time, and over 5,700 people have been injured. Roads, houses and other major infrastructure were heavily damaged, leaving Haitians without food, without running water, no easy access to medical care. In comparison, this earthquake was more powerful and caused more damage than the 2010 earthquake, which you may remember killed over 300,000 people. The United States sent a specialized search and rescue team to help with recovery efforts. This disaster came as the country was just recently dealing with a political crisis following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s just incalculable, really, those numbers.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, enormous loss, a huge tragedy.
Gideon Resnick: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a snap election over the weekend, making Canadians vote in an election happening two years earlier than it was scheduled. So for those of us who aren’t necessarily familiar with how parliamentary governments work, these elections are called by officials whenever they feel like it, sometimes to capitalize on polls or trends or vibes. Right now, Trudeau’s Liberal Party holds a minority in parliament, but he’s hoping that they will gain more seats in the spontaneous election based on the popularity that they’ve gained for their handling of the pandemic. Of course, this is completely a gamble, and there’s a chance they might not win any seats at all. Trudeau is also facing criticism from other politicians, including leftist Jagmeet Singh for calling for an election in the middle of a pandemic. The polls are set to open next month.
Josie Duffy Rice: I love this chaotic energy. Canada.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: Where you can just call an election whenever you feel like it. It’s pretty amazing.
Gideon Resnick: Bring it down here, you know?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we need. More chaos. Not one, not two, but three volcanoes are simultaneously erupting in Alaska this week along a remote 800-mile stretch of the Aleutian Island chain. And no, this isn’t just the plot of the next Gerard Butler movie, although it IS the plot of the next Gerard Butler movie. The eruptions have been going on for over a week now, and while two of the volcanoes are spewing ash and steam, none of them seemingly pose a threat to nearby communities. The island chain makes up a small part of what’s known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped tectonic plate intersection known for its frequent seismic and volcanic activities. And while Alaska typically experiences just about one volcanic eruption a year, geologists say simultaneous incidents do occasionally occur, with the last triple eruption happening in 2007. While a volcano spewing apocalyptic magma times three sure seems like it could ruin your day, they don’t seem to be hurting anyone for now. So do your thing volcanoes, within reason.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, everything in moderation.
Josie Duffy Rice: Everything.
Gideon Resnick: You know, that’s what everybody says,
Josie Duffy Rice: Including explosions.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, right. Right. Just a few. Lastly, the Biden administration has taken huge strides on an issue that should, hypothetically, have support on all sides. That is: having yummy food in our tummies. The United States food stamp program has approved one of the largest permanent expansions in its history, with average benefits rising more than 25% above pre-pandemic levels starting in October. The program is also amending its model dietary plan to reflect changes in American diets since its inception in 1962. Yeah, that’s quite some time. So, you know, less ham casserole in the mix. And if that juicy piece of news is the entrée, here is the dessert: data from the US Census Bureau released last week shows that since the implementation of Biden’s child tax credit, food insecurity among households with children has fallen from 11% to 8%. That is the lowest rate recorded since the onset of the pandemic. Put together, these developments show that we are helping more families put food on the table, and that is frankly awesome. Biden’s monthly child tax credit is set to last through December, but numbers like these could increase its chances of being renewed for another year. Somebody get out the limbo poll because when it comes to child hunger, I am trying to see how low we can go.
Josie Duffy Rice: It turns out that when you give people benefits, it helps them.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What a novel concept, right?
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s really crazy. Someone should definitely let our government know.
Gideon Resnick: Absolutely. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: One more thing before we go. Crooked is back with a brand new season of This Land. This time around, host Rebecca Nagle is taking you inside her year-long investigation into a series of custody battles over Native American children and how the most powerful people on the far right are using them to quietly dismantle American Indian tribes and advance a conservative agenda. This Land’s trailer is out right now, and the first two episodes premiere on August 23rd. Listen and subscribe to This Land wherever you get your podcasts.
That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, taunt an active volcano, and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just the bylaws of Canadian snap elections like us, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And watch out, we’re gonna blow.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we are also part of the extended Pacific Rim.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.
Gideon Resnick: It’s time we invented it. What A day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers, and Kelly Sadikun is our intern. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.