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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 8/16/21

Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Richard Stengel, Cornell Belcher, Matthew Dowd, Kavita Patel

Summary

President Joe Biden addressed the nation about the state of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, mainly, it seemed, to say he regretted nothing. "Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building," he said. He blamed the Taliban`s rapid advances across the country on Afghan security forces` failing "to mount any real resistance to the Taliban." Chaos at Kabul airport as Taliban seized capital. Taliban takes power as afghan government collapses. Thousands of U.S. troops are helping the evacuations. There are growing fears about human rights under Taliban. Biden and Trump bear responsibility for Afghanistan according to Cheney. U.S. approves booster jabs amid Delta variant surge in unvaccinated. The Biden administration plans to begin administering COVID-19 booster shots to Americans as early as mid or late September. Tropical depression threatens further devastation in earthquake- hit Haiti.

Transcript

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 209 of the Biden administration. We want to begin quickly here at the top of the broadcast with breaking news from just minutes ago about vaccine booster shots. New York Times and Washington Post are both on the board with reports that the White House has decided most Americans should get a booster shot eight months after they`ve completed their initial vaccination and could begin offering the extra shots as early as mid-September to all who want or need them.

We have a doctor standing by to talk about this development a bit later on in this broadcast. Tonight, though, on another front, far from home, the President is under intense criticism after the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and military and the chaos that erupted over the weekend as the Taliban took over the capital of Kabul. This came in the wake of the President`s decision to pull U.S. troops out of the country after two decades and $2 trillion spent. Today Biden spoke to the nation and defended his decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be a nation building. I am President of the United States of America. And the buck stops with me. I`m deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America`s war fighting in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It is now Tuesday morning in Kabul. Airport has reopened for military flights to evacuate American citizens and Afghan civilians. A photo shows over 600 people, mostly Afghans packed inside a C-17 transport late Sunday, all of them desperate to get out of a nation now under Taliban control.

This weekend, the whole world witnessed the panic in Kabul as people tried to escape the insurgents closing in on the city. The end of the Afghanistan we knew and fought for came quickly in the end. NBC News Veteran Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Angle is on the ground in Afghanistan for us tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tens of thousands of Afghans swarmed into Kabul airport, desperate to leave at any price. They burst through security, climbed over walls and spilled onto the tarmac, searching for any airplane that would take them far away from Afghanistan, away from the Taliban. So many managed to cram into one plane, the pilot refused to take off, people on board refused to disembark, but it was across a barbed wire divide where it turned really ugly.

On the military side of the airport, American troops trying to evacuate U.S. embassy staff found themselves overwhelmed, suddenly battling crowds firing warning shots. This was not the mission they came for.

The Pentagon says U.S. troops shot dead two armed Afghans. But still the crowds didn`t disperse. Instead, they ran along and clung to the undercarriage of a military transport plane as a taxi for takeoff.

One U.S. military official told me it was 100 times worse than the humiliating American pullout from Saigon. Afghans are running from the Taliban, now in full control, today setting up checkpoints with the very weapons American taxpayers bought for the Afghan army which collapsed instead of fighting. After the U.S. pulled out of basis and left them without air support, and the U.S. didn`t see this coming. We reported on the tremendous security vacuum created when the U.S. left Bagram Air Base two months ago, leaving it so undefended and empty. I was able to bike down the runway, the warning signs were there. And this weekend, Kabul was taken without resistance. And the Afghan President fled.

Still in the country are tens of thousand of Afghan interpreters marked for death by the Taliban who today were taking their meals in the presidential palace, settling in celebrating their victory. As we drove through Kabul, it`s clear the Taliban`s hardline Islamist rule is creeping back.

This was a popular beauty salon, styling women`s hair and makeup. The Taliban banned salons along with education for women and girls. So when the Taliban returned.

(On camera) now they`ve painted over the beauty shop. People here know what the Taliban want. They know what the Taliban expect.

(Voice-over) we watched demand tear up the beauty parlor sign in line with the Taliban`s wishes. A 20-year war, the longest in U.S. history today ended in disgrace. The U.S. leaving behind a country its citizens are too terrified to live in. The administration, maintaining it was taken by surprise.

[23:05:17]

(On camera) the rush of people onto the runways at Kabul International Airport did stop the evacuation process because planes couldn`t take off or land. But those runways have been cleared. And just over the last several minutes, planes have been coming in and taking off at a rapid pace showing that the U.S. is trying to make up time and get this done as urgently as possible. Richard Engel NBC News, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: During his remarks this afternoon, the President tried to address the growing questions about why the Taliban was able to take over in a matter of months while also seeming to shift some of the blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometime without trying to fight. America`s troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. I inherited a deal the President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. The choice I had to make, as your president was easier to follow through on that agreement, or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban. After 20 years, I`ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And this is where the math gets tough to understand and pulling out, we pulled out the last 2500 U.S. troops. As of tonight, there are about 3500 U.S. troops in Kabul. The President has authorized a total of about 6000 troops to deploy, to assist with evacuations even though the Pentagon refuses to use that word. With that let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this busy Monday night, Peter Baker, Veteran Journalist, Author who is now Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Andrea Mitchell, our own NBC News Senior Washington Correspondent, Longtime Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and the host of Andrea Mitchell reports of course on this network and retired Four Star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, former battlefield commander in the Gulf, former cabinet member, former member of the National Security Council. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

Andrea, I`d like to begin with you. Biden was forceful in defending his decision. Was he forceful enough about the debacle portion that we`ve watched unfold?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Critics certainly in both parties say not, you`re hearing in fact, finally from Jack Reed, the Armed Services Chairman tonight, who`d been strangely silent as such a key player West Point man, and he and others Tim Kaine, Jackie Speier, people who have always been very strong defenders of his foreign policy, really strongly silent or critical, saying that they are not at all happy that the delay that took place in getting Afghan colleagues comrades who had been translators and drivers and really on the battlefield, with our troops, men and women on the battlefield, had these people with them every day and under fire, and for them to have been so backed up by red tape, despite the fact that Congress a month ago, cut that red tape and approved legislation to speed the special visas for them. And still, only 2000 have reached here. They`re talking about 1000s more family and people who need to be evacuated, the fact that that debacle happened at the airport, watching human beings claiming to C-17 in that picture you showed the open and the pictures in Richard`s piece showed mostly men jammed into that C-17. That`s because women are afraid to leave their homes that the Taliban are already going house to house. I`m getting emails, voicemails, people calling human rights groups are getting flooded with appeals for help from women, women who have seen -- women and girls already the Taliban taking girls from their mothers. And the video is just too horrifying to even show but women aren`t going to go to the streets and try to climb a fence and get on the tarmac. There were mostly men in that picture for a reason the other ones getting out, not the women.

WILLIAMS: General McCaffrey, I imagine your freshman year at West Point continuing through your days as a young infantry men in Vietnam, the message was plan for every contingency, and that`s what I`m curious about tonight. How did this happen? How and where did the planning fall through? Why for example, did we choose to leave heavily fortified Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night that had a hard perimeter, a defended perimeter, why did we limit ourselves to a single runway urban commercial airport, so close to the city centre of Kabul?

[23:10:30]

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (Ret.): Well, you went right to the heart of that one, you know, the thinking behind us withdrawal was rapid, inadequate. I don`t think anyone really understood that the Afghan security forces would come apart. They don`t lack courage. They`ve had tens of thousands who killed in action. They collectively decided the U.S. was going their corrupt and incompetent leaders weren`t supporting them with ammunition, with food, they were stealing their pay. The Afghan army didn`t go under fighting, they decided to switch sides or walk away. There were 10 Taliban accepting the surrender and some of these big cities. It all unraveled on the Afghan government. You know, we talked a few days ago, but Ashraf Ghani and his guys are going to start running for it, that`ll be the next tipping point. So it was a disgraceful and harmful image for U.S. foreign policy in the international community.

Having said all that, I got to tell you, I think Senator -- President Biden was dead on target, you know, we didn`t have an option to stay with 2500 troops, we did have an option to defy the partial peace treaty that Trump and his people put together, which basically said, stop shooting at us and we`ll leave and you can settle with the next government. So where are we going to actually stay reinforced, get back up to 15,000 troops, maintain stability, which we could have done. That was an elective decision by President Biden. I think he said the political dynamics of this we got to get out of here. And I largely agree with his logic.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, the General just invoked the Trump administration`s activity on this front, former president kind of gas lighting this issue today expressing concern for the refugees. This is the former president that signed what he referred to repeatedly as the Muslim ban. Here now a brief reminder of the Trump administration efforts to get the Taliban into power and Afghanistan. We`ll discuss on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We had a very good conversation with the leader of the Taliban today and they`re looking to get this ended and we`re looking to get it ended. The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah. We`re dealing very well with the Taliban. They`re very tough. They`re very smart. And even they are tired of fighting in all fairness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: I got one more for you, Peter. Before we discuss and this is Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I wouldn`t let my 10 year old son get away from this kind of pathetic blame shifting.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Critic say that for the U.S. to cut a deal with the Taliban, without the Afghan government, even in the room was hugely demoralizing and lead, inevitably to where we are today?

POMPEO: Yeah, Chris that`s just simply not true. I was at the center of working to deliver that. We had the Afghans all in the room for the same time in 20 years, we negotiated a deal that formed a basis for the conditions based withdrawal from American soldiers. I`m proud of the work that we did there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So Peter, talk about blame shifting, how much are Trump and his people protesting too much? And looking back in just the recent past, how much responsibility do previous presidents bear for what we`re seeing play out?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is one of these stories, Brian, where there`s a lot of blame to go around. Certainly for presidents have now presides over this war and have made different misjudgments. And certainly President Trump negotiated exactly this kind of situation. This is not only what President Trump negotiated in terms of the agreement, he actually would have done it more precipitously and quicker. He said so, he was -- his original deal with the Taliban was to have them out by May 1. He complained that President Biden was going to extend this to August 31, wasn`t going fast enough for him. In fact, at the end of his administration sign a piece of paper was intended to actually just go ahead and pull troops all together by the end of the year, by Christmas had to be talked out of it by advisors. Remember, he also not only was perfectly willing to negotiate with the Taliban, without the Afghan government as a participant. He was willing to invite the Taliban to Camp David. You know, the place where, you know, presidents have forever, you know, sealed momentous deals with grand, historic impact. And that was something that he didn`t see any problem with him, going to invite them on the anniversary of 9/11.

[23:15:17]

So President Trump, you know, certainly would have presided over something pretty close to this. Now, having said all that, it`s President Biden who made that decision, he didn`t have to stick with President Trump`s agreement. In fact, he didn`t stick with President Trump`s agreement, because he extended the deadline unilaterally from May 1 to August 31. So he already decided not to follow Trump`s agreement. He didn`t have to follow it at all, if you didn`t want to. He presents in this speech today. It is as if they were simply two choices, either follow the agreement that Trump left him or send 10s of 1000s of troops and have nothing but all out warfare. And I think that that`s a rather limited framing of what the options really were in order to justify his decision.

Now, he will be the one who will own it, because he is the president who made this decision. He is the president who executed this decision. And he is the president, who is presiding over these images that we`re showing tonight, will be part of the historical record of the Biden presidency, and he will own it.

Now, there are two different distinct questions here. The policy question was General McCaffrey addressed, which is to say, should we be there or not? Was it right to get out on some level or not? And then there`s a second question of how you execute that if you do make that decision. And I think all those questions that you asked General McCaffrey a few minutes ago are going to be the foundation of what I assume will be a lot of questions asked by Congress, and a lot of others just to see how do we get to this point?

WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell, I want to go back to your last answer. And talk about the humanitarian angle, much to the Taliban`s consternation, one of the great victories of the past two decades has been the education and the limited advance and freedom for Afghan women and girls. That era appears to be over, Andrea, this may be unanswerable, what`s the best we can hope for on the humanitarian front?

MITCHELL: I mean the very best that we could wish for is an enormous capacity of airlift, cutting a deal with the Taliban for the perimeter of the airport, including the civilian side, and just keeping those flights going, that`s not going to happen. There`s no way for people to get to Kabul to the airport. When I asked the State Department today, they said, well, we`ll be notifying people. These are the SIVs, the people who had military connections. And then there`s that second category of people who worked for American corporations, including news companies, news corporations, and those people will be in the second priority. And we`d be able to get out if they can get to Kabul or, alternatively, they can get to a border, and if that border is still open. Iran`s is, Pakistan is on and off. So it`s a hit mistake, and you have to get through Taliban lines. But the women, the millions of women who`ve gone to school, learn to code, learn to become teachers, aspire to be doctors and engineers, we have another generation already, a generation that`s never known Taliban rule. They don`t want to go back, but they`re terrified. They bought purpose in advance of this, they saw it coming. And now they`re crying for help. And so the best case would be that there is a real airlift, not for the general population but for more of the people, the percentage that could get to Kabul and had connections to the U.S. But for the general population, think it is back to the Middle Ages, the Taliban is much better than it had been 20 years ago at public relations, and they`ve got social media on their side and propaganda beyond what they ever could have done. So they have a certain interest in not having a bloodbath in Kabul, they don`t want to inherit what I frankly saw in the 90s with Peter saw when he first went in, he was the first after 9/11. I was there in `98 and saw the bubble from Russia, from that war. So they don`t want to inherit that kind of city. They would love to benefit from the improvements but not I think for half the population.

I just want to say one other quick thing that General McAfee may agree or disagree with. He`s the expert, but on intelligence on reaching that original mission, which the President repeatedly says they completed the mission 10 years ago when they got bin Laden, and they made sure that Afghanistan would never be a haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups. And so that completed justifies the withdrawal. Most people in America agree with that withdrawal, but how they are going to complete the mission from outside the country once Bagram was closed down, they don`t have intelligence. That`s one of the problems. They don`t have any ground truth left to find the reconstitution of these terror groups.

WILLIAMS: General indeed, I`m looking at the video that C-17 with a couple of 100 people running around the landing gear indeed. We fear the pictures we later saw today mostly on social media showed two souls falling from the landing gear of a departing C-17. That aircrafts from McChord Air Force Base out near you and Washington State, the same Pentagon that can do that was unable to provide the intelligence that this was coming as swiftly as it did?

[23:20:28]

MCCAFFREY: Yeah, no question the final withdrawal, which was a political call was hastened, was ill planned. There`s a good argument we should have left Bagram Air Base, the last thing in Afghanistan. There`s another good argument, we should have stayed there with 35,000 NATO forces for the next 50 years if required. Having said all that, Brian, there`s only one question at stake tonight. And that is, we now have a full brigade, the 82nd on the ground, a couple of marine battalion, they cannot be overrun. There`ll be backed up by naval air and the U.S. Air Force. But the Taliban will put a perimeter around the edges. As Andrea says nobody`s gone through that perimeter unless the Taliban want them. Let them see their documentation, and haven`t risked being shot much fun. The air and it can be interdicted, in the next 48 hours. They can shut down that airfield. So we are in a perilous situation. The only option Mr. Biden will have as commander in chief is to escalate in a massive way if the Taliban decide to hold us hostage on that airfield. This is not a good week coming up for it.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, should they, God forbid, crater that runway, nothing gets in, nothing gets out for a good long while. Peter Baker, final question, the optics around Joe Biden at Camp David this weekend were not great, largely because there was no one around Joe Biden at Camp David this weekend. Did they realize in a slow rolling way that he absolutely had to speak today?

BAKER: Yeah, I think they did, obviously. Look, Camp David is a fully operational facility for any president. He can accomplish anything from Camp David that he can from the White House for the most part, but as a visual, the idea of a president is sitting there by himself looking at a screen. While all this is going on, obviously was not the image that the White House wanted not an image that helps the White House in any way. So the President came back to Washington to the White House to give his speech. But then he turned around, went back to Camp David and I think he simply allowed a lot of questions to be raised about what he`s doing at a time of such perilous events that not only endangering Afghans, but as General McCaffrey said, endangering Americans too.

This story is not over and we have not necessarily seen the worst of it. The worst of it could still be to come as General McCaffrey said in terms of Americans, as Andrea said, in terms of the Afghans themselves, particularly women and girls, the story in the next weeks and months to come, could get much, much worse than even what we saw today.

WILLIAMS: What a day, we`ve witnessed all of us together, Peter Baker, Andrea Mitchell, General Barry McCaffrey, our great thanks for starting us off on this Monday night and. And coming up for us the unchartered waters, we now enter the potential long term consequences of the fall of Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban.

And later, what to make of this breaking news tonight about the booster shots even if the problem with this variant is the Americans who refuse to get their first shot. All of it as the 11th Hour it`s just getting underway on this back to work Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:26:51]

WILLIAMS: The President of the United States remains unequivocal tonight standing firm behind his decision to put an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Back with us tonight, Rick Stengel, former Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Obama administration, notably former Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Rick, what went wrong? And which do you think will be remembered? The ending of 20 years of conflict or the way it ended?

RICHARD STENGEL, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, it`s a little too soon to tell. But that, Brian, I mean, you know, I think of what my mother used to tell me when she said there`s never the wrong time to do the right thing. And that`s essentially what President Biden said today. He said, if this had been easy, it would have been done before this, and he did do the right thing. The timing could perhaps have been better. I`m sure he wishes that. He said that, candidly, they`re -- everything unfolded a lot faster than they had expected. But I think as we see tonight, I mean, they`re going to redouble their efforts to get the Special Immigrant Visas for people and get them out and try to kind of fix what went wrong.

But again, the big picture is, you know, it was time that Trump treaty had kind of set the clock ticking as Secretary Blinken said today that Taliban would have started offensive operations on May 2 anyway. And so he did something really hard. And it was messy, as he said, and it will be messy for a little bit awhile, but it was the right thing to do.

WILLIAMS: There are very few good options when you`re president of the United States. But let me take the other side. Let me talk about what would have been equally hard. What if Joe Biden had given a speech today that said, I know, I said, we were pulling out. But I`ve watched along with you. I`ve been horrified along with you. I`ve decided to get back in, I`ve decided to stake our claim, knowing now that our one base of 2500 Americans meant so much to stability and keeping the Taliban at bay. That would have been tough to do. But I would argue and you`re the communications professional, he would have had majority support from the American people with a show of that type of leadership as well?

STENGEL: You know, Brian, I`m not so sure about that. And I also think that`s just wasn`t in the cards. It`s not in his DNA. I mean, he`s been a skeptic about Afghanistan since the beginning. I recently read President Obama`s first volume of his autobiography, he talked about how Biden was always in his ear and saying the military is trying to wedge you in on this issue. You know, that it`s not as good as they say it is. He was skeptical about it. And he asked a very, very, very hard question. And that, you know, we talked about what`s happened with women and girls there and I put a picture of an Afghan woman with her nose sliced off by the Taliban on the cover of Time Magazine. But the hard question that Biden asked is, are American parents willing to send their young men and young women to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban to allow Afghan girls to go to school?

[23:30:11]

That`s the question. It`s a hard question. And I think the American people have answered that. And they`ve answered that over the last few years, which is that, no, it`s just too much. We need to pull our men and women home. And that`s what`s happening. And it`s been messy. But again, it`s the right thing to do.

WILLIAMS: It has been messy. You`re right about that. And I thought I`d tried arguing the other tack. Rick Stengel, our thanks. As always, anytime you come on and take our questions.

Coming up for us, our political experts weigh in on the frenzy of attacks being thrown around Washington, thrown at this president over Afghanistan, and what we witnessed this weekend and today that and more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Look, I think absolutely President Biden bears responsibility for making this decision. But there`s no question that President Trump his administration Secretary Pompeo, they also have very significant responsibility for this.

They walked down this path of legitimizing the Taliban of perpetuating this fantasy telling the American people that the Taliban were a partner for peace. President Trump told us that the Taliban was going to fight terror. Secretary Pompeo told us to the Taliban was going to renounce al Qaeda. None of that has happened. None of it has happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[23:35:08]

WILLIAMS: Liz Cheney whose father played an outsize role in getting our nation involved in Afghanistan after 911. Let`s talk about it tonight with our guests Cornell Belcher, democratic strategist and pollster and veteran of the Obama campaign, and Matthew Dowd, former George W. Bush strategist and founder of Country over Party. Gentlemen, it`s great to have you both. Thank you for coming on.

Matthew, I`d like to begin with you because of something our mutual friend Nicolle Wallace said this afternoon on live television after the President spoke. She summed up his speech this way, 95 percent of the American people will agree with him. 95 percent, paraphrasing, of the kind of Twitter media complex that people I affectionately referred to as the cheap seats, will disagree with him. Do you concur with that assessment?

MATTHEW DOWD, FMR. CHIEF STRATEGST TO BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: I don`t know about the percentages, but I think the American public overall will agree with what he said tonight. And I think there`s criticism coming from a lot of different people, which I find quite amazing people that that actually push the war to begin with, which was a huge mistake. And people that were part of an administration that exacerbated the problem. The last administration that exacerbated the problem are also criticizing Joe Biden and the mixed admits to this.

I think what will ultimately happen is 70 to 75 percent of the American public wanted us to withdraw and has wanted us to withdraw for more than 10 years. And Joe Biden happens to be the seventh president involved in this Afghan situation over the course from Ronald Reagan arming the Mohadin (ph) all the way through George W. Bush, who got us into this nation building awful folly exercise, through Donald Trump, through Obama through Donald Trump to now Joe Biden.

And so I think he will be faulted for the logistics of how we withdrew in the end in the last 72 hours. But in the end, the American public was exhausted by this war, never really wanted this war to begin with, and I think they`re done with it.

WILLIAMS: Cornell, I want to play for you, Senator Marco Rubio in Florida, from Fox News will discuss on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): There was a bipartisan warning, OK. You look at the intelligence, look at everything before us. It was clear that not was the worst case scenario out there. It was the likeliest outcome that was going to happen. And we kept insisting what is the plan if this happens? What is the plan? And they arrogantly and they smugly ignored it. They ignored everyone who was warning them because they`re the experts. They know everything and now we`ve seen the consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Now Cornell, let`s be frank here to what Liz Cheney said at the top of this segment, a huge effort underway today to just simply forget the role the Trump administration played in legitimizing and inviting in the Taliban and preparing for them to take power, because as the former president said, they too were sick of fighting.

So Cornell, does Biden deserve blame for the decision blame for the debacle of the withdraw?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: You know, that`s a complicated question, that in the end, I don`t think matters, because in the end, and I`m not making a value judgment, because in the end that I`m a political hack. And, you know, Brian, I`ve told you, I`m probably a political hack on your show before.

Because in the end, does it matter to the to the American people, does it matter in elections, and ultimately, Americans, for better or worse, no value judgment, you know, do not put foreign policy front and center and elections unless there`s a war, or there`s a terrorist attack. Americans aren`t thinking about foreign policy. Americans aren`t thinking about what`s happening tens of thousands of miles away, and a country that it can`t find on a map.

So ultimately, when it comes to the political calculation for this, you know, four months from now, this is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing politically, because four months from now the people who are going to decide the midterm election who broadly, you know, women voters, particularly moms, they`re not going to be wringing their hands about what`s happening or not happening in Afghanistan. They`re going to be wringing their hands, Brian, about whether or not their kids are safe in school. Whether or not the ICU units in their local hospitals are overrun or are we are we stabilized and they`re going to be voting on health care.

I want a lot more concern long term about Democrats being able to pass voting rights, and infrastructure and environmental policy, because those are the issues that matter most to their base and in midterms, what`s problematic for Democrats is that their base turns out as not as energized, it turns out a lower rate. So for the political calculation, this may sound terrible.

But for the political calculation, four months from now, you`re not going to be talking about this. I`m not going to be talking about this and that moms sit around our kitchen tables not going to think about what`s happening in Afghanistan.

[23:40:14]

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you and I owe you extra time will usually go longer, but because of the press of news tonight, we`ve been a little bit condensed.

Two gentlemen not a political hack among them. Cornell Belcher, Matthew Dowd friends of this broadcast will do this again. Thank you so very much.

Coming up for us tonight. Some new information from Pfizer today on how effective their booster shot might be. This as we learn the news tonight, we`re all in line to get them starting next month.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned the top of the broadcast this breaking news tonight has to do with vaccine booster shots. Both the New York Times and Washington Post are reporting, NBC News can confirm, the Biden administration is expected to advise booster shots for most Americans eight months after you were fully vaccinated

Here with us for more Dr. Kavita Patel, clinical physician, former senior policy aide during the Obama years. She`s also one of our public health experts and non-resident Fellow at Brookings. Full disclosure, I`d rather be lucky than good and we already had Dr. Patel booked for our broadcast tonight when the news came in. So that makes us very fortunate, indeed. So, Doctor, let`s start with your reaction to this word about boosters for those already fully vaccinated.

DR. KAVITA PATEL, FMR. OBAMA WHITE HOUSE AIDE TO VALERIE JARRETT: Yes, Brian is welcome news. We`ve had growing mounting evidence from around the world that our immunity wanes over time, it just decreases and that can especially in light of the Delta variants can be a risk factor as well as the potential to be an asymptomatic carrier with a Delta variant, fully vaccinated, but be able to pass that on to people because it`s so infectious.

[23:45:09]

So it`s welcome news. And I look forward hopefully to logistics around this because we don`t want people making mad rushes to pharmacies like we saw earlier this year.

WILLIAMS: Yes, let`s speculate as to how this might happen. Will people go back to the site of their initial if they have a card, their initial inoculation? Will people be able to bring their card to any inoculation site, a drugstore doctor`s office to get that third, realizing it`s early yet? And it might be just speculation on your part?

PATEL: Yes, no, well, since I`m giving out vaccines, it`s an important speculation. There`s no reason to constrain it to the original location. We know that many people receive these vaccines at mass vaccination sites, Brian, which are now taken down. So it really is going to be important to have that card. And so that you can document and understand which vaccine you`ve received for one and two.

And Brian, I`m going to also be looking forward for some advice for the 13 million who received Johnson and Johnson because they need to have this consideration given to them as well and guidance.

WILLIAMS: You raise a great question there. And finally, I am guessing that in the business of public health, you`re going to hope that these unvaccinated Americans are going to look around and see people getting three shots where they have failed to get there first. They might see members of their community dying from the Delta variant, whatever it does to scare them into the vaccination. I`m guessing you`re for.

PATEL: Yes, I`m for anything that in the interest of public health, not just for our nation, but for our world. We`re hyper aware of what a global community we are, and nothing brings that home to us more than COVID.

So, I know there have been tension about offering boosters while we still need to vaccinate people for their first doses. But Brian, you`re absolutely right. And I`m also hoping that as children get vaccinated. We`re expecting some action, hopefully in the later part of this year or early next year, that that will also be enough motivation to get people vaccinated as soon as possible.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, we are hyper aware of your value every time you come on this broadcast. And again, thank you so much for reacting to the breaking news tonight our lead story that will indeed be getting booster shot starting next month. Dr. Kavita Patel, thank you so much again.

Coming up for us another nation in crisis this time, an important neighbor of ours to the south, as Haiti deals with devastation once again.

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[23:50:53]

WILLIAMS: I was there to bear witness to the destruction over a decade ago and Haiti has never fully recovered from that catastrophic earthquake in 2010, sadly, is facing catastrophe again. A massive earthquake rocked the southwestern part of the nation over the weekend. Two days later, the death toll continues to rise. And tonight, they`re dealing with Tropical Depression, Grace and the torrential rain it brings along with the threat of mudslides. Their NBC News correspondent Gabe Gutierrez has a report from Haiti tonight.

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GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Southwestern Haiti tonight, (INAUDIBLE) misery. This is Les Cayes, the largest towns that bear the brunt of Saturday`s monstrous earthquake.

(On camera): This used to be a massive five-story hotel. An untold number of people died here and right now search and rescue mission is over and a demolition is underway.

(Voice-over): The 7.2 magnitude quake was more powerful than the 2010 catastrophe that killed an estimated quarter million people. But this one hit a much less populated area about five hours south of Port-au-Prince.

Still the Haitian government stands more than 1,400 people are dead and the 6,000 are injured many crushed by collapsing buildings. So many families displaced with more than 37,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

And now his Tropical Depression grace drenches Haiti, concerns about new mudslides with so many communities already cut off.

(On camera): This is near the earthquake`s epicenter, and people here are desperate. This hospital is overwhelmed and they set up beds outside with men, women and children hooked up to IVs under the hot sun, some of them are still searching for family members days after the quake.

(Voice-over): The children are perhaps most striking their anguish matched only by their parents confusion. Patience is thin here and so are the medical supplies.

This woman cries as she tells us her daughter`s in pain next to her and rescuers pulled her grandson from the rubble alive.

This man with a broken arm hopes he`s evacuated to Port-au-Prince. The U.S. Coast Guard is helping with that, a constant flow of the injured in agony but out of the epicenter.

Magalene Noelbrez (ph) says her cousin`s home collapse and killed her today. She waited to evacuate her uncle. This region`s future uncertain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it`s going to be very tough. And we have to stay strong because we have a reason to be on.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

GUTIERREZ: Brian, Tropical Depression Grace is now dumping more heavy rain across parts of Haiti leading to fears of more mudslides. But the U.S. Coast Guard says it plans to be back at work tomorrow, helping evacuated some of those survivors. Brian.

WILLIAMS: Gabe, thank you for that. Gabe Gutierrez in Haiti for us tonight. Coming up for us, the unmistakable echo from U.S. military history that has become so vivid now in these last 24 hours.

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[23:57:08]

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, despite what our own government is telling us comparisons between what we`re seeing in Afghanistan right now and the fall of Saigon back in `75. They pretty much hold up.

The U.S. has once again been sent into retreat and evacuation helicopter rescues, airlifts, embassies abandoned and ransacked. It`s all there except for one crucial difference. The fall of Saigon didn`t mean an open invitation to terrorists to form a new Islamic state as it will in Afghanistan to make that country a base of operations in a way it hasn`t been since 9/11.

The fall of Saigon was the biggest U.S. military embarrassment since the Bay of Pigs.

Here now some of what viewers have NBC Nightly News saw on the night of April 30 of 1975. This is from correspondent Don Oliver.

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DON OLIVER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crowd outside the embassy wall finally got so large that Marine reinforcements were sent to protect the gates. All the time the helicopters were shuffling in and out.

The people were wandering around in the embassy compound.

One helicopter was hit by ground fire, but it made it to the courier safely.

In Saigon`s last hours, nearly 1,000 Americans and several 1,000 Vietnamese were airlifted out. Some waited hours for their turn to board the helicopters. They said that was the worst part. The waiting, not knowing if the communist troops might launch an attack that would force him to end the evacuation attempts.

But that did not happen. For 19 hours they shuttled back and forth.

One of the last to leave was U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin.

Don Oliver, NBC News reporting.

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WILLIAMS: The fall of Saigon to take us off the air tonight as our conversation is dominated by the fall of Afghanistan. That is indeed our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week. Our thanks for being here with us, on behalf of all our colleagues have the networks of NBC News, good night.