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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/30/21

Guests: Rebekah Gee, Jon Soltz, Howard Dean, Katrina Vanden Heuvel

Summary

Louisiana is hit by a massive hurricane. The U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan. COVID continues to surge across the country.

Transcript

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Our coverage continues with my colleague Ari Melber and "THE BEAT".

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Thank you very much.

Our coverage does continue here with THE BEAT. And we`re tracking is breaking news on the end of the war in Afghanistan.

As mentioned, everyone is awaiting a key part of this, because, at any moment, we will hear directly from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. You can see the room prepared there. And we will bring you that address to the nation live this hour.

Blinken, as Nicolle was just mentioning in her coverage, will be addressing a United States public that largely backs Biden`s overall policy after 20 years of war.

So, let`s take this in. And, as mentioned, we will jump into that address as soon as it begins.

But October 7, 2001, that was the exact date that the first U.S. strikes began against the Taliban in Afghanistan, in that operation that was dubbed Enduring Freedom, and that certainly endured.

And that brings us to another day. It`s today`s date, August 30, 2021, the formal end to this now 20-year war, as the United States has fully withdrawn formally and completely from Afghanistan today. And over that ensuing time across those two decades, 2, 461 American troops died in service to their country, as well as many, many Afghans.

The last U.S. aircraft left Kabul Airport after 3:00 p.m. Eastern time today, which meets the deadline set by President Biden for withdrawal. Amidst the grieving, as well as the recriminations over this deadly and at times chaotic evacuation, the biggest piece of all of this that everyone in America who cares about this has been considering and grieving is the 13 U.S. service members, as well as the 169 Afghans killed in that ISIS attack, that gut punch on the United States` way out the door.

On Sunday, the U.S. struck back in preparation. They struck a vehicle that was viewed at the time as an imminent ISIS threat. The Pentagon is also probing reports of civilian casualties from that strike.

In terms of the process, the United States has now formally airlifted 123,000 people out as part of this. And as we await remarks from America`s top diplomat here in the early evening tonight, we can also tell you the top us general running Mideast military operations has spoken out and honored the fallen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: My heart is broken over the losses we sustained three days ago.

As the poem by Laurence Binyon goes, we will remember them.

The last 18 days have been challenging. Americans can be proud of the men and women of the armed forces who met these challenges head on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: President Biden stood with grieving families at Dover Air Force Base for that dignified transfer of the 13 U.S. service members killed in Kabul last week.

The president and first lady also met in private with those families. And it`s been noted that five of those service members honored there who were killed, five of them were just 20 years old, which is also roughly the age of this war that ends formally today.

Now, as I mentioned to you, and as Nicolle was saying, because we`re following this story here in multiple angles, Secretary of State Blinken is prepared to come out to that lectern at the State Department for a speech that was billed this hour, and we will bring it to you live.

We are also hearing new in the last few moments from the White House that President Biden intends to address the nation all this tomorrow.

I`m joined now by Howard Dean, former DNC chairman and Vermont governor and a presidential candidate who ran against more hawkish U.S. foreign policy, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of "The Nation" magazine and my former boss, and Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairman and co-founder of VoteVets.

I could start anywhere.

Jon, I will start with you.

What does it mean to see this formally end today?

JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG: I think it`s a reflection point.

It`s certainly -- it`s been a long 18 days. It`s been a long 20 years. I think this is one of the few weeks where I can say, going back to when I first went to Iraq in 2003, that this entire nation, it feels like, has been at war.

And I think what we have seen in the past 18 days is some of the strongest presidential leadership that we have seen. We have seen a president like Joe Biden relate as a father of a son he feels died because of his experience in the war and relate to the American public in that way.

So there`s a lot of mixed emotions from 20 years to seeing people die this week in such heroic fashion.

[18:05:05]

Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": I think this is an -- it`s a moment of for deep widespread rethinking about the failed foreign policy assumptions, security assumptions that took us into Afghanistan, that have contributed to 20 years of endless war, have contributed to, as the Costs of War Project at Brown have told us, some $6.4 trillion that could have been used to build at home, to build a more secure country.

This doesn`t mean we don`t have regional diplomacy, we don`t help the Afghans, the women, others in the Middle East to stabilize the region, but I think it`s a measure of how far we have come that, at "The Nation," we opposed the Iraq War. Barbara Lee`s position is one we marked, even as she had a security detail for a year.

But I think it`s a very important moment to take serious action. And I would suggest we think hard about cutting a defense budget that has been used to transform societies, when it should be used for security or a global vaccination campaign or to tackle inequality, climate, joblessness, and more.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Governor Dean, as I have told viewers, we`re keeping an eye there on the State Department, where this speech is scheduled from the secretary of state, which is the diplomatic piece of this.

As Katrina mentions, there`s the military. There`s the diplomacy in terms of also trying to solve those problems or challenges in a region without resorting first to military force. And then there`s, of course, the cost of the treasure back home.

I want to put up on the screen, because Nicolle was just mentioning this in her coverage, that there has been a lot of Washington-based criticism of the president. And, certainly, constructive good-faith criticism is a great part of democracy.

But some of it has also seemed to be reflexively hawkish or pin the messiness of getting out of this situation on the person getting us out, when it was many other administrations that got us in and in deeper.

And so for context, Governor, I just want to put up support for the U.S. troop withdrawal, which is a reminder of where the nation`s at. You see it in August here 49 percent in mid-August. It goes up over the course of time to 69 percent. And where it has lagged with regard to the Taliban taking power, it has not ever dropped far below a basic plurality or majority of Americans, Governor, who say, they get it.

This is tough. You can see there the up and down. It`s tough. Even if it means Taliban takeover, more people think it`s time to go than to double down there.

And I`m curious, Governor, what you think that tells us about the gap that has been discussed, but seems relevant, between where the secretary state is about to speak in Washington, where this is still hotly debated, and there`s been a lot of recriminations against Biden, and the country, which seems to be emphatically saying, as bad as it is to have the Taliban take charge, even that, which is a bad thing, is not a thing that makes them say another year or 10.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, this is complicated.

I supported -- I did not support the war in Iraq, George W.`s war in Iraq. I did support attacking the Taliban after Osama bin Laden killed 3,000 Americans on their -- on our own soil. However, what we did was screw up, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Iraq, just like we did in Latin America before that.

Our foreign policy has never been really thought out. The problem is, we -- it`s not so much we went in. It`s that we went in and then we made friends with all the most corrupt people we could possibly find. As long as they are our people, we were willing to -- we were willing to contribute to the corruption.

And so we needed to get out. And we needed not to get bogged down in what we always do. And it`s a disservice to our military, I think, the civilian leadership, not Biden`s so much, because I do give Biden a lot of credit for getting us out. It was an untenable situation. We put our military in a terrible position, because the political leadership of four administrations kept doing the same old damn thing we have done for 100 years in American foreign policy.

So I give Biden a lot of credit for getting us out. I am upset that we left a lot of people behind there. I work for an NGO that we -- there`s 54 of our employees, and total 200, including dependents, that did not get out. And we`re going to have to still work to get them out.

And I`m hoping the 97-person agreement that Secretary Blinken announced yesterday -- a 97-country agreement that Secretary Blinken announced yesterday is going to help us get those Afghans out who have -- who are deserving of coming to the United States or some other place who helped us and helped us with democracy and helped us educate women.

Those are all noble goals. The problem is, we doomed them from the beginning because of the way we went in and the way we sustained -- the way the political class kept sustaining the relationship and then expecting the military to fix it, which was an impossible chore for them.

[18:10:09]

MELBER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: And, Jon, as for the cost here in the exit, I just want to play really briefly here -- and stay with me, everybody, but I want to play the White House press secretary about where the buck stops. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What responsibility, in any, for these deaths does he think he bears?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think the president made clear, as the secretary of state and our national security adviser made clear, that we`re all responsible, and they`re -- they feel a responsibility and the buck stops with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Jon?

SOLTZ: There`s so much to those comments. And I think what`s most important is, Joe Biden relates to the father who sent his son to the war, and the buck stops with him.

What we have seen -- and VoteVets, listen, we opposed Obama`s surge into Afghanistan, OK? We have seen four administrations punt the football on this war. And it takes a leader to end it. And it`s been extraordinary to see the foreign policy class of people, and, frankly, retired military generals that don`t want to own their failures and their misleading of the American public.

How many times have we heard the Afghan army has turned the corner? How many times have we heard that we have got the security situation under control? It was one giant Ponzi scheme that`s been going on for 15 or 16 or 17 years.

There was a natural exit.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: Jon is so right. Jon is so right.

We like to say -- we like to say we want to speak truth to power. But what if those in power know the truth? I recommend people go and find "The Afghan Papers," which was based on the special inspector`s report.

Those in power who are now trying to blame Joe Biden for the way he`s ending the war, which is always harder than entering a war, need to be held account -- need to be held to account.

And I fear, Ari, you are giving us good time, but, too often, those who got it wrong are given the airtime to talk to the American people and blame President Biden.

In any case, I think let`s hope we have a foreign policy of restraint and diplomacy, and less of military interventionism and triumphalism, because I love my country, but I don`t think it`s the indispensable nation. I think it needs to work with other countries to do many things that would improve this world.

MELBER: Jon, go ahead.

SOLTZ: Yes.

No, listen, I -- President Obama, I mean, there was a war inside the White House in 2009 between the Biden folks, who wanted a very direct anti-terror policy, and, frankly, the -- some folks with President Obama who adopted the surge policy in Iraq and to Afghanistan.

And you saw this pile-on this week of progresses maybe being too quiet, Democratic foreign policy people tied to the surge in Afghanistan, Republicans that took advantage of Biden, retired generals who own the surge wanting to pass the buck to Joe Biden.

And the truth is, General Petraeus is going to have a lot more to do and look like General Westmoreland than he is General Eisenhower. And it`s about time, as a country, we begin to reflect on the people who got us to this point, and not the individual who had the single individual courage to end a bad policy and level with the American public.

That`s why I say this is the single greatest piece of leadership that we have seen since the death of bin Laden in the last 10 years in these wars, when, frankly, the public in the news media, a lot of which wasn`t really paying attention to them.

MELBER: Yes, Katrina, I mean, speak to that, and build on the point you were making, because there is the policy. There`s how long and how hard it was to get out.

And then there`s sort of the remainders. And it definitely seemed like there`s been this tension and contrast...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I will just finish the question -- that there`s been this contrast between the people who do a lot of the heavy lifting of the so-called national security state in Washington and then what`s going on, which is finally having someone change the footprint in the Middle East.

Go ahead.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, the establishment, the armchair generals and those in the establishment, I don`t give them any credit for this moment.

I think it`s people around this country, transpartisan groups of people who are weary of endless wars. And I think it`s that and those who have worked against endless war, but for different approach to our security who are -- should be credited with moving President Biden to this position.

And I think he, of course, inside the White House, as Jon said, was someone who opposed the surge and was of a different mind-set. But it takes movement and motion and activism, and a term that was used during the Iraq War, the other superpower, the millions of people in the streets who had become quiescent.

But those polls certainly showed there`s a disconnect between the armchair pundits -- excuse me -- the armchair generals, the defense contractors, the military establishment. And I think it`s worth thinking hard about it, because this, to me, is hopeful that Americans are thinking about not isolationism, but about rebuilding their own country as a democracy before going out into the world to remake other countries, which isn`t our role as a single lone country.

[18:15:17]

MELBER: Governor Dean?

DEAN: Yes, I just -- I certainly think that we can`t impose democracy on others. They have to want it.

And our problem in Afghanistan and in so many other places before is that we go in to fix the problem, in some cases, in Iraq, the problem that didn`t exist at all. It was made up by people in Washington that surrounded George W. Bush.

And we go in to fix the problem, and then we think the solution is military. And the solution can`t be military. The Afghans have to want democracy, and we can support them in that. But expecting our military to do that is just crazy.

And, again, what did we do? We supported Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, who -- both of whom enriched themselves at the expense of American taxpayers and left when the getting was good. That`s an insane thing to do.

I`m sort of a Samantha Power person on this. I believe we have a duty to protect. I believe we have a duty to try to make life better for Afghan women. I just think the way we went about it was crazy. And it was doomed to failure from the -- almost the moment we went in.

And I did support George W. going into Afghanistan because the Taliban was harboring people who murdered 3,000 Americans. After that, it went downhill. And we expected and we believed a lot of things that were being said that weren`t true. And I think we abused the military and expected them to do things that were impossible for them to do.

And in doing that, we got in bed with corrupt leadership in Afghanistan, as we did in Iraq, when we chose the prime minister who had not been elected. We chose Maliki, after Allawi beat him by a single vote, as we did in Latin America, when we went in for the United Fruit Company, as we did when we assassinated Salvador Allende.

I mean, our foreign policy has been upside down. And we don`t -- we don`t - - we`re not a weak nation, and we shouldn`t be a weak nation. And I`m not against trying to build democracies in places. But the way we have gone about it is completely crazy. We build democracy by aligning ourselves with people who don`t believe in democracy, and what do we expect other than this?

VANDEN HEUVEL: A weak nation doesn`t lead by...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Go ahead, Katrina and then Jon.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: I`m sorry.

A weak nation does not lead by military force -- or does lead by military force. Forgive me, I think -- I come back again. What we could do at this moment is cut $350 billion easily from our defense budget -- we would still have a larger defense budget than Russia, Iran, China and North Korea combined -- and use it for the Afghan women.

Use it for women at home, for caregiving, for pandemics, for COVID, which, by the way, is a war that is going to engage this new generation. It`s the pandemic generation. And the numbers on it are increasing.

And I think Joe Biden politically needs to pay more attention to COVID at this moment as he moves forward. So I just hope this is a turning point where we have more restraint, a belief in diplomacy and dialogue and less in military force as a solution to our problems.

MELBER: Yes, all important points.

Jon, I wanted to bring you in a little bit on the military side of this as well. At the Pentagon, the press secretary was discussing what the remaining evacuations were like. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: For Americans and other individuals that want to be able to leave Afghanistan after our withdrawal is complete, that the State Department is going to continue to work across many different levers to facilitate that transportation.

And, as I say, as I said earlier, right now, we do not anticipate a military role in that effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Kirby at the Pentagon there.

Our panel is here.

And, well, Jon, just -- I`m just doing a little legwork.

Michael Beschloss also joins us.

We are awaiting these comments from the secretary of state. For viewers wondering, the -- Foggy Bottom there appears to be running behind schedule, although it`s a very big and busy day. But we`re going to bring you Secretary of State Blinken`s comments when he comes out to that lectern that you see.

I will go to Jon and then Michael.

But, Jon, we have talked a lot of policy and big picture history. Walk us through from your military expertise just briefly for viewers what it actually means that there`s no footprint on the ground there. What does it Afghanistan become in the eyes of U.S. military planning that is distinct from what it was when it was this vassal sort of situation and we were on the ground and we had a Green Zone and all this?

What is it now? Is it like any other state where we would really have to start from scratch if we were dealing with a problem there?

[18:20:03]

SOLTZ: I think things look different.

And things look different in Iraq. I was there when we went down to like 42 troops and the Shia militias were dropping rockets on us. Three years later, we were kind of working with them to fight ISIS.

So, I think, here, the biggest shock of the week is this -- we had the ISIS-K/Taliban divorce going on. And I think that you`re going to see some very creative forms of diplomacy going forward that probably surprise people, because, in these regions, your friend today is your enemy tomorrow and is your friend that week after that.

And we continually have to negotiate with people on the ground, especially in a country like Afghanistan that is more separate than it is together in regards to groups. And I certainly think we`re going to continue to see war going forward in certain parts of this region. Not everybody is going to just surrender to the Taliban. Just the Afghan army and Ghani sort of left.

But there are resistance groups that are going to operate in this country.

MELBER: And Michael Beschloss joining the conversation here.

What does it take for a nation to absorb the real end? On the one hand, it`s long coming, and we have already discussed in our coverage the support for the end. On the other hand, this has been a tough and grim and chaotic exit, something many people have said, many experts have said is the nature of getting out of this type of situation.

So there`s no great ceremonial moment. There`s certainly no D-Day type moment here. And yet the White House, even amidst the criticism, Michael, is trying to do these things, one of them that we`re watching right now, which is the secretary of state coming out.

The president, we hear from the White House just tonight moments before we came on air, is going to speak again tomorrow. They are trying to do something formal here in what is a grim job, Michael.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I`m all for that.

We Americans, we have many wonderful virtues, but one of them is not oftentimes facing history. Look at the end of the 1918 to 1920 influenza pandemic. Rather than recognizing what had happened and the fact that President Woodrow Wilson had been absolutely silent throughout the whole thing, not taking any responsibility, not telling people how to protect themselves, instead of facing what had happened, Americans basically tried to erase it from their history and forget about it as quickly as possible.

Before our recent COVID pandemic, how many Americans were even aware that 675,000 people had died of influenza during those two years a century earlier? The result was, you look at the way that we dealt with COVID during the last year-and-a-half, we did not benefit from history because many Americans were not even aware that it existed.

The same thing happened after Korea. There was an armistice in the summer of 1953 that was brought by Dwight Eisenhower in negotiations. And Americans were, by and large, so disgusted with the stalemate in Korea that they tried to immediately forget about it. It`s why Korea is called the forgotten war. We forgot the lessons of Korea, which were, among other things, don`t try a land war in Asia, as Douglas MacArthur warned. Don`t have a war that Americans don`t understand and don`t support.

And so, therefore, a decade letter later, that led us directly into Vietnam. And Vietnam in 1975, there are a lot of ways that Vietnam is not similar to what`s happening today. But one way it`s -- we are in danger of having it be similar is that, in 1975, just like with the flu, and just like with Korea, Americans wanted to forget about the trauma of Vietnam.

And the result is that there were certain mistakes we did not learn from, some of which, I think, led to the war in Afghanistan and some of the problems we`re dealing with today. So, therefore, I think the lesson from all that is much better to have a president like Joe Biden say, we made mistakes. This is not a great victory for American foreign policy, and American policy -- and American policy. But let us never forget what happened, even if it`s painful.

MELBER: And to that end, to that end, Michael, I mean, what is the secretary of state also supposed to convey tonight? I mean, other than formerly marketing that it`s over, what -- to your point about facing history more accurately in real time, what do you think is worth saying to the public?

BESCHLOSS: Well, he`s going to have to first say, as he should, that Americans, and not only military heroes, risked their lives and gave their lives for a cause that kept on changing, just as the four of you were saying.

First, it was to punish Afghanistan for harboring al Qaeda and causing the attacks of 9/11. And then it became trying to help the people of Afghanistan. And then it became trying to create a Greek democracy in Afghanistan.

[18:25:01]

All those things in the end were mistakes. And if you had asked, I think, any American 90 days ago, why are we in Afghanistan, they would have given you the same answer that most Americans gave when Lyndon Johnson asked in 1968, why are we in Vietnam? The answer, we don`t know. And we don`t think it`s a great idea.

MELBER: And, Katrina, I`m curious what you think should be fixed here in the larger policy-making process.

You alluded to some of this earlier. But, clearly, this is larger than just the response to 9/11. There`s something that still happens on -- at least prior to this administration on a bipartisan basis where a lot of the pressures and interest seem to be for keeping this kind of footprint, not reassessing it on a year-by-year, fresh basis about whether it`s in the U.S. interest.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, I think I would go back in history.

And Michael is so right. There is a kind of amnesia, a historical amnesia in this country sometimes. But I go back to the end of the Cold War. And there was a triumphalism, I think, on the part of America at that point that the end of history, and we were the unipolar power.

And I think we need to rethink that. We may still be the most powerful militarily. China looms, not militarily, but in other ways. And I think we want to think hard about how we engage other countries, and put aside military as the first step.

War should be the very last step a president takes. Counterterrorism and policing, by the way, were something the nation argued for policing intelligence after 9/11 and not going to war. So, really thinking hard about other engagement, and being part of a world community.

The U.N. is castigated, but it is flawed, but it is real. And I think we have to think hard -- and Michael studies this -- about eternal diplomacy. But I will say that Afghanistan was known as the graveyard of empires. There was the British. There was the Soviet Union.

And Dien Bien Phu in 1954, if people had studied that hard, the French told us not to go into Vietnam. And so I think we would learn from history and from a different set of security policies and engagement, but triumphalism, restraint -- there`s a think tank called the Quincy Institute run by a military man, Andrew Bacevich.

But it`s a belief that restraint, transpartisan is more effective than indispensable nation.

MELBER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: A lot of important points here on a day -- yes, well, I was just going to do a little bit of housekeeping, because I think what we`re going to do.

I will let Jon get a final word. We are awaiting this press conference, these remarks from the secretary state, but they`re clearly running very over.

So I think we`re going to turn to do a quick hurricane update, which is another important story in America. May come back to some of our guests.

But, Jon, go ahead, a final word.

SOLTZ: Well, Katrina is talking about the next steps.

And we have been debating in Congress the authorization of the use of military force for these wars for several years now. And the 2001 authorization has been used to fight organizations in Africa that did not exist on 9/11.

And so the real next step here is for Congress to do their constitutional duties and rein in war making powers that would prevent a war wandering for 20 years ever again. That would be something that really could make a difference going forward.

MELBER: Yes, understood.

Well, I want to thank Katrina, Jon, Michael Beschloss. We may be coming back to some of you. It`s fluid.

Doctor and Governor Dean, I`m going to ask to stay with me.

And I`m going to turn now to an update on both the hurricane and some of the COVID situation. We will go to the State Department if those remarks begin.

But search-and-rescue missions continue in Louisiana. There`s reports of people stranded in attics life threatening flooding engulfing homes there, reports of a lot of different problems.

now, Hurricane Ida has been ripping through Louisiana, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the United States. You can see residents rescued from their homes by boat and other measures and vehicles, 150 mile- per-hour winds demolishing all kinds of structures. At least two people died.

And the governor there has said that number, what they believe the casualties from this storm will ultimately be, will rise -- quote -- "considerably."

Now, the levees in New Orleans held, the city there facing a blackout in parts and massive flooding, concern in Grand Isle, Louisiana, as well, where authorities have lost contact with about 40 people that are still trapped on the island, the Jefferson Parish president briefing the president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYNTHIA LEE SHENG, PRESIDENT OF JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA: It`s very hard to not have any word from that island and the people on it.

Our systems are down. We have no electricity, no communication. Our water systems are down. We`re losing pressure. We had to do a boil water advisory. `

[18:30:00]

Our sewer system, as you know, is based on electricity, so we`re going to start having backups there, so that`s going to be a hygiene problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s just some footage from that FEMA update for President Biden, a reminder, as we have covered more than one story tonight, the president doing, of course, more than one thing, looking at the drawdown in Afghanistan, getting ready for a big speech tomorrow, and trying to deal with the status updates and FEMA emergency planning for the situation.

And you can see in the video here a storm literally ripping the roof off a hospital.

And that brings me to the other story I mentioned, which is concern about the hospitals filling with COVID patients in ICUs. Now, this is relevant in terms of what is hitting this community.

In Louisiana, the vaccination rates are just about 40 percent fully vaccinated. Storm-related power outages are putting COVID patients at risk, hospital staff manually pushing air in and out of some patient`s lungs in place of mechanical ventilators.

Our coverage on this continues.

MSNBC`s Ali Velshi is live from New Orleans near a power plant. And Dr. Rebekah Gee, CEO of LSU Health Care Services and a former secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health.

And I just want to remind viewers we are keeping an eye, of course, on the State Department, where we may go.

With that, Ali Velshi has been all over the story.

Ali, go ahead.

ALI VELSHI, HOST, "VELSHI": Yes. And just let me know if you have to go to this other press conference.

I`m here at Entergy New Orleans power station. This is where the generation happens for all of the city of New Orleans and New Orleans -- Orleans Parish, which are coterminous. Everything coming out of this place is shut down. There is no power going to New Orleans.

Anybody who`s got power in New Orleans is doing so because they have got a generator. This is a problem because so much of what you just heard about happens through electrical power, including drains and plumbing and sewage.

These guys are helping the sewage and drainage people out in New Orleans with backup generators. But the fact is, they are saying that most people in New Orleans won`t get power maybe for seven to 10 days. The way it`s working is, whatever they`re trying to fix here, they`re working on fixing it for hospitals, for police, for infrastructure, traffic lights, things like that.

They`re not even going to get to individuals and businesses probably until the end of that seven or 10 days. And then they said, in hard-hit areas, where your power`s out not because it`s not coming from the transmission station, but because your power lines are down or there`s downed trees in your neighborhood, that may take even longer.

We saw some of those bucket trucks going around today. Some of the streets are getting cleaned up and they`re up there fixing some wires. But even if you fix a wire to somebody`s house in New Orleans, there`s no power, there`s no energy going in anywhere.

It`s about 88 degrees right now. It`s cooling off a little bit. With the heat index, it feels like 100. So it`s going to be a problem. Some people thought they`d wait it out for a few days. New Orleans did not flood, which is amazing. Consider this a 16 years after Katrina hit. But they do have a problem with this power situation.

And we do not know both what the problem is and how quickly it`ll be fixed. The power company is saying it could be seven to 10 days for most people in New Orleans. And that`s not even including the outlying parishes where power is gone and there`s more serious flooding than there is here.

MELBER: And, Ali, that`s what you are seeing there. You`re on the ground there.

Do you have a sense from going in and out from your travels and reporting what you have seen of how people are doing, how people are making it through?

VELSHI: Yes, look, a lot of people didn`t evacuate. There was no evacuation order for New Orleans because they were really confident that those levees and drains and pumps and things like that would stop the city from being flooded, which it did seem to do.

So, on one hand, people thought, all right, it`s not going to get flooded. These things tend to fix themselves over a few days. So people may have planned to stick around in their homes for a few days. Now they`re learning there will be without power for several days. So that`s problem number one.

The other thing is that people left. And as I drove in here from Houston night before last night -- night before last, I saw people going West on I- 10 toward Houston as I drove east.

Those folks were thinking they`d be out for a couple days. Now folks are saying -- authorities here are saying, don`t come back, do not come back until power is restored. Communications is starting to come back. AT&T around here has been down all day. We`re hearing that`s coming back. We`re hearing that 911 is back in pretty much all around New Orleans.

But this is going to become a livability problem in a few days, including this issue of drinking water and hospitals, because hospitals were already overwhelmed in this area and in Baton Rouge. And now they have got to deal with power shortages even though, in many cases, they have got generators.

This does become a serious worry for -- if there are more COVID cases, if there are ICU issues, if there are people who need hospitalizations because of a rescue.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Ali, you put your finger on exactly that other issue.

And, Dr. Gee, based on Ali serving up that issue, that problem, what do you understand to be the challenge ahead there?

DR. REBEKAH GEE, CEO, LSU HEALTH CARE SERVICES DIVISION: Of course, normally, you have more time to evacuate. That`s the other thing that we didn`t have this time.

This storm picked up speed very, very quickly. It got stronger very, very quickly, almost unprecedented, because of the heat of the Gulf. And so, normally, we have three or four days to get everyone out. We didn`t have time.

[18:35:05]

So it wasn`t just people wanted to stay. Many couldn`t leave. We didn`t have time to activate the bus contracts and get people out of hospitals. And, also, they`re full. Look, they`re full of COVID patients, patients on ventilators.

We had hundreds of patients in May and June. We have thousands of patients in July and August in hospitals on ventilators. Ventilators need electricity. Ventilators are, of course, one of our biggest concerns right now with the power out and the hospitals requiring generators. So there just isn`t anywhere for the patients to go.

Normally, we try to empty out patients and staff. But because of COVID, because they`re so full, there was nowhere for them to go. Another thing that you mentioned is sewage. I mean, one of the things that New Orleans relies on is electricity to make sure we have clean water, that we have sewer systems that don`t back up into homes, into hospitals, that those sewer systems are pumping out of the city.

And so that`s obviously a concern. The hospitals are telling me that they`re prepared. Certainly, Ochsner has had to evacuate three facilities. Ochsner main campus, LCMC, our university hospital, are doing fine. They have backup power. They have this staff they need. Our neonatal intensive care unit right now has the staff we need.

But the challenge is, how long will this go on for and how much water? We have prepared for about 10 days of having water and having backup supplies and having backup fuel. But if it goes on any longer, that`s of concern.

But no one is more tried and tested than the people of Louisiana when it comes to these types of events. So, I have great confidence in our governor, our mayor and our phenomenal hospital staff, doctors, nurses, that they`re going to handle this.

But everyone`s tired. They came into this very, very tired. But, certainly, last year we handled this in Southwest Louisiana, in the Lake Charles area. Now, unfortunately, it`s the New Orleans area, which has most of the medical infrastructure for our state that was so heavily hit.

MELBER: Yes.

And in addition to Ali`s reporting, we have got other folks on the ground. And we have been tracking different reactions. So I just want to play a little bit more for folks who haven`t caught up with this story of what we`re learning about the damage on the ground. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw slow water coming in onto the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the worst thing ever. I got my baby out, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We lost our transmission power line. It went into the river. Everything is out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it just progressively got worse. And it was ankles, knees, almost chest level. So we just put the dogs on the counters. And then we climbed into the attic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had to carry my grandmother on my back, damned near drowned last night. And it`s just not a good feeling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Yes.

And so, Ali, before we do lose you, what is next? What is left out there?

VELSHI: Well, we -- first of all, we have seen activity. We have seen roads getting cleared. We have seen wires going back up; 911 is back up and running.

We do have communications back up and running in New Orleans. The bigger issue for life and safety is in places like Grand Isle, Louisiana, where there are people, apparently. I have done a hurricane in Grand Isle. I`m a little surprised people stayed because that island gets washed over every time there`s a hurricane.

South of us in Jean Lafitte, there are people who -- with rising waters and west of us in some areas. There are people who are still trapped. In New Orleans, that has not happened. We have not had levee breaches and things like that. So that`s the good part.

They`re working hard to get this power back up. That`s going to be the main issue. If they can get power backup, especially to the hospitals and the infrastructure and the police and traffic lights, they can -- and gas stations, they can at least start getting things back to normal.

We`re not looking at a big loss of life issue here in New Orleans. We have only got two reports so far in Louisiana of loss of life. So, compared to 16 years ago, that is a big improvement.

MELBER: Understood. And that`s a great point on the context in what is still a very difficult time.

I want to thank Ali Velshi and Dr. Rebekah Gee. Thanks to both of you for this coverage.

We are, of course, tracking the other big story that`s been the bulk of our broadcast tonight, the historic news that the U.S. has completed this withdrawal from Afghanistan.

As you may have heard me say, we are expecting to hear from Secretary of State Blinken shortly. And we will bring you that speech live.

The headlines, America`s largest newspapers are all bearing down on this point. The war is over, America`s longest war ending. It cost over $2 trillion, left over 2,000 U.S. troops dead over the course of four very different American presidents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The war against terror will be long.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize.

It is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not repeat the mistake we have made in the past, the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely.

[18:40:05]

I will not pass this responsibility on, responsibility down to a fifth president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: On to a fifth president, the words of President Biden, the person who is actually overseeing this final exit.

Howard Dean is back with us, as is VoteVets co-founder Jon Soltz. And historian Michael Beschloss is somewhere but not here yet.

Governor Dean, I will start with you, though, because you figure into this.

Viewers. Voters many remember your role being seen as a dove at the time. We have talked about on air. It was part of -- not the only part, but it was part of what powered your candidacy. And it was considered quite controversial, your initial opposition there to the Iraq War, but of a piece with a larger skepticism towards America`s footprint in the Middle East.

I`m just curious, what goes through your mind when you see that many presidents stacked together in a party that you -- you ran the DNC at one point. You competed against some of those individuals. What does it mean to you right now?

DEAN: Well, I have said this before, but Washington is really middle school on steroids. They develop their own culture. They involve in groupthink, and they don`t talk to people elsewhere, and so that you get this kind of -- somebody wrote about it today -- I have forgotten which paper it was in -- this sort of think tank mentality, where you just keep recycling the same ideas again and again and again, and you get trapped.

I`m upset that we didn`t get all the Afghans out that we should have gotten out. But I give Biden an enormous amount of credit for stopping the war. And I think, six or eight months from now, he is going to be seen as the guy who got us out of 20 years of war.

But the real reason -- thing is, we -- it`s not that we shouldn`t have struck al Qaeda and defended ourselves. It`s that we have used the same formula for 100 years. We cozy up to bad people, to dictators. We sometimes impose people, our own people, over democratically elected other people.

And we claim that we want to build democracy, but we don`t model democracy for others. So, I think -- I`m not a noninterventionist, and I`m not somebody who thinks we ought to cut the hell out of the military budget, although I think it is bloated.

But I am somebody who laments the complete lack of long-term thinking that goes on when we make these initial -- nobody -- does anybody ever ask, where are we going to be a year-and-a-half from now if we do this? I think they don`t.

They sure as hell didn`t do that when we went into Iraq the second time. And I give H.W. Bush a lot of credit. He did Iraq the way it was supposed to be done. They invaded an ally to which we had a treaty relationship. We went in, we met the objective, we kept our promises not to stay, and we got out.

If you`re going to intervene -- and I`m not against all intervention -- that`s the way to do it. But to get involved in these sort of -- this nonsense that the America is a unipolar nation, there`s no such thing as a unipolar world. And we were never a unipolar nation.

And for our policy-makers in either party to start thinking that is just a complete loss of perspective. And that`s why I, as I say, Washington has very smart people on it, and they`re basically middle school on steroids. They get in there, and they lose touch with the culture and the needs of the American people.

MELBER: Well, I appreciate your candor and your bluntness on that. And I think a lot of Americans feel like that on more than one issue, the way it can be out of touch.

But it speaks to the gap that we have been exploring, as well as what is a breakthrough here, America`s longest war ending.

Our panel is going to stay.

We`re taking our first break of the hour, as we await these remarks from the secretary of state.

You`re watching MSNBC. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:01]

MELBER: We have been covering a host of different stories tonight.

And we turn now to the Delta COVID crisis, the variant surging, a problem in many parts of the country, and especially in areas with lagging vaccine rates. That includes Florida and Texas and places where GOP governors have been increasingly warring with not only the science, but their own constituents.

It`s a story we have been staying on with Dr. Dean, among others.

And I want to bring back into the conversation on this topic Dr. Howard Dean and historian Michael Beschloss.

Governor and Dr. Dean, one of the things that you and I have discussed repeatedly, but for good reason, is Governor DeSantis in Florida. It is late August, people are busy, and there have been many different stories. So one of the big things that people may or may not have caught late last week was the rebuke that he got by a judge over this mask battle in the schools.

Writ large, Florida increasingly looks like the example of what not to do. The hospitalization and death rates over the past -- moving average the past week are the worst of any time ever in this crisis.

And so turning to you as both someone who practiced medicine and also made health policy calls as a governor, what is it important for Americans to understand going forward about what we can learn from these different places, when it seems like COVID is not going away?

DEAN: Well, first of all, it certainly isn`t. And Delta looks more problematic every day because it`s so contagious and because an enormous number -- or almost nobody under 12 is vaccinated, which is a major -- going to be a major problem opening school.

And it already is. We have already had to close a school partially in Vermont, which is the best vaccinated state in the country.

I think, however, the good news is, an awful lot of coverage of television is people who have COVID who are anti-vaxxers who are now begging their families, some of them on their deathbed, to get vaccinated. So, I do think the message is getting through.

[18:50:00]

And I think people like DeSantis and Greg Abbott are way behind the times. I think they made a big gamble on politics. They thought they could rally the anti-vaxxers and their -- and that was their constituency.

Well, the anti-vaxxers are getting to be smaller and more shrill every single day, because the average member of the public has finally figured out that, if you don`t get the vaccine, somebody in your family is very likely to die.

And that, in fact, is happening against -- from all the way from Florida to Texas, including in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana and Mississippi, because those are the states that I got little vaccination.

In South Dakota, for example, where the governor up there has made a big show of being an anti-vaxxer and a "freedom" -- quote, unquote -- person, they had this huge motorcycle thing for the second day in a row. And cases are up 250 percent in South Dakota.

That means South Dakotans are going to die because of the showmanship and the politics that the governors are engaging. So, and then you`re also beginning to see Republican governors come around, some of the ones that -- first of all, Mike DeWine deserves mentioned as the very conservative Republican governor who did the right thing right from the beginning.

You`re beginning to see people like Asa Hutchinson, who said they regretted signing the anti-masking bill. But these two guys, Abbott and DeSantis, are way, way out there. And now the limb is about to be sawed off. And it`s pretty hard for them to get back.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Dr. Dean, you mentioned some of the dwindling of anti-vaxxers, or at least the change in some of the volume. There was a story that went around this weekend that was very sad of an individual who was caught up in QAnon, and was really a kind an anti-COVID anti-vaccination activist, the kind of the one-two punch, falsely claiming it`s a hoax and falsely putting out misinformation about vaccines.

And he died. And he has a public image and profile because of that work.

DEAN: Right.

MELBER: And nobody here, anybody with a heart is rooting for anything other than everyone`s health.

As someone who covers facts and science, I would prefer that he was alive to attack facts than that he died another needless death. These are tragedies.

But it obviously also generates kind of an attention, and amidst his the community, the information and misinformation community that he was engaged in, because, sadly, like some sort of Aesop`s Fable, he dies of the thing.

I`m curious where you think that fits into this, because, again, rooting for everyone`s health, this thing is spreading in a way where the people who are publicly, loudly, proudly unvaccinated are in the line of fire.

DEAN: A lot of the people who are against vaccination, I think, are not particularly anti-science. I think they`re just angry people. Most of them voted for Trump.

Trump has a tremendous knack of taking advantage of people`s grievances and their anger. And they gave up their agency to Trump. They just lashed out in anger. And that really was the rationale. There`s no real rationale. It`s not a rational thing to hate vaccines. Most people`s children are vaccinated, including a lot of the people`s children who are refusing the COVID thing.

So a lot of this -- I think this is in some way a turning point. And it`s a turning point that a lot of people are going to pay a terrible, terrible price for, led by very bad political leadership who are selfish and self- centered, and not really deeply concerned about either the country or anything but their own political career.

Those people are going to lose in the end, and they are losing right now, because for every public person who dies of COVID who is preaching anti- science and anti-vax, who causes a death in the family of a small child, eventually, a lot of the people who are against vaccines and the Trump voters are going to side with their small children and not these showmen that are taking advantage of people`s anger at the system and anger at their own position in society.

So, I -- in some ways, this is -- it`s never good when you lose lives. But it is good that the hollowness of people like DeSantis and Abbott are being punctured -- is being punctured, or Kristi Noem -- is being punctured by the reality that sets in when you lose the people you love the most.

There`s nothing that can overcome the feeling of losing somebody you love. And people love their children, no matter what side of the political aisle they`re on. And when they get preached to do things, like take all these crazy medicines that some of these nutcase doctors are prescribing, or judges that are recommending, I saw, eventually, common sense wins out.

And people do have more common sense than one might think.

MELBER: Yes.

And that`s -- I mean, that`s where a doctor comes in to answer the questions that are hard to answer.

We turn to a historian for the questions that can`t be answered at all, Michael, so get ready.

(LAUGHTER)

BESCHLOSS: But the question is, is it getting worse? Or are we just drawing on the amplification of the Internet and the technology in the world we live in today, because a lot of this misinformation is going viral? We have done a couple of hard hitting pieces about the evidence that Facebook is amplifying, really dangerous stuff.

[18:55:03]

But from John Birch Society and back, this has always been with us. That`s the question.

BESCHLOSS: Sure.

MELBER: About the same or worse?

BESCHLOSS: Well, first, do I get a little credit? My elder son is a student in medical school. Howard, Ari, does that help at all?

MELBER: Yes. You do.

BESCHLOSS: Which I have that kind of training.

As this has been happening the last couple of months, I keep on thinking of April 12, 1955, the day that Jonas Salk, Dr. Jonas Salk, announced that his polio vaccine was successful.

And what happened after that? Polio had been a curse on this country, afflicting a wide number of people. And President Eisenhower is off to the Rose Garden, said everyone should have this vaccine. The power of the federal government was put behind -- and the same thing was true in virtually every state and city that I know of.

There were public facilities where people would go and get shots, a local basketball court or local auditorium. That was a time when people had faith in science, faith in medicine, faith in their president, faith in their government.

And here we are in 2021, and life is extremely different. And you have got two other factors here that are creating what I see as this atrocity of the last number of months of politicians, particularly Republican governors, making political capital by demagogically urging people or encouraging people not to get vaccinated, even though, in private, they know it`s a good thing, and in many cases have been vaccinated themselves.

Look at Greg Abbott in Texas. But the two things that we have now that we didn`t have in 1955, number one, was this distrust of any kind of authority. Look at the contempt that so many people would have for Dr. Fauci or for the CDC or any organization that tries to use the lessons of science to advise Americans.

MELBER: Right.

BESCHLOSS: And the other thing that exists nowadays is social media, which was not there in 1955.

If you were getting news and guidance, you probably got it from a mainstream newspaper or magazine or maybe from a national radio network. TV news in 1955 was no more than about 15 minutes a night.

And that would give you a different source of information than nowadays, when you have got the Nazi channel and people who are looking on the Internet looking for the latest pronouncements of QAnon and strange people, and governors and politicians throughout the country who, instead of acting as leaders, they`re running after these people trying to get their votes by saying things against vaccinations that they know are not true.

The worst sin in American society is for a leader to knowingly say something that is not true, especially something that will lead to people`s deaths, just to get votes.

MELBER: Yes.

I think you make several important points, including encouraging us to think about the wider dynamics of the society we`re in where, as you put it, authority is doubted. And, if by authority, we mean politicians or people who simply have temporary authority and power, that kind of healthy skepticism is central to a democracy.

If, though, as you also alluded to, if, by authority, we mean scientific expertise itself, when people say, well, Fauci said this, but I saw on Facebook that, right, which is the equivalent of saying, my doctor says I might need this surgery and it could save my life...

BESCHLOSS: Right.

MELBER: ... but I read on the back of the bathroom stall that you shouldn`t trust doctors, this weighting is really bad.

And it`s especially dangerous to the people doing it, which is why, again, our job here is to try to provide information. I`m not a doctor. But when we provide the information, it`s so people can make informed decisions. They are the ones tragically bearing the brunt of this, like the story I mentioned earlier.

So a lot of that comes full circle.

I want to thank Michael Beschloss and Governor Dean for being a part of our coverage.

And, as promised, we are now bringing you live the statements of the secretary of state on this last day of the war in Afghanistan.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... the United States and our allies began our evacuation and relocation operation in Kabul.

As you just heard from the Pentagon, a few hours ago, that operation was completed. More than 123,000 people have been safely flown out of Afghanistan. That includes about 6,000 American citizens.

This has been a massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking, one of the most difficult in our nation`s history, and an extraordinary feat of logistics and coordination, under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

Many, many people made this possible.

I want to commend our outstanding diplomats who worked around the clock, and around the world, to coordinate the operation.