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After U.S. Withdrawal In Afghanistan, Tough Questions Await Biden Administration

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we are going to hear now from NPR's Mara Liasson. She is joining us. Hang on one second. We're having a little bit of a computer problem here. Hey, Mara, you with me?

MARIA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes, I'm here.

KELLY: Hi. Good to have you with us. Having a little bit of a delay on the script, but I know you want to come and tell us about what the Biden administration is saying today and what kind of blowback they might face. What kind of questions are they facing for these events these last several days?

LIASSON: There are so many questions they're facing. One is, why did they seem so unprepared for what happened? They announced a withdrawal. Did they vastly underestimate the speed at which the Taliban would take over or did they know how fast it would be but they weren't told the truth by intelligence officials and military officials? Why weren't they better prepared for the withdrawal? And then over time, one of the questions they're going to face depends on whether or not al-Qaida returns to a safe haven, having a safe haven in Afghanistan, which is exactly why the U.S. went into that country, what it wanted to prevent by going into that country 20 years ago.

KELLY: Well, and which is a point we have heard the administration making today, saying that's why we went in and we did it. It's interesting, Mara, because as you know, getting out of Afghanistan was one thing, a rare thing on which Biden and former President Trump agreed and and which polling supports that Americans in general have wanted to get out. Does that insulate Biden from political fallout from this crisis?

LIASSON: Well, I think first we should say that it's a little crass to be discussing the domestic political fallout in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and a foreign policy tragedy, but...

KELLY: Fair point. Yep.

LIASSON: But right now, the decision that Biden made was supported by big majorities of the country after 20 years and $86 billion of training the Afghan forces, it didn't seem like we were getting any results. And a lot of Americans didn't even know why we were there. I mean, somebody who was interviewed earlier on our air today said that when Biden was the vice president, he said he went to Afghanistan and talked to a bunch of soldiers. And every single one of them gave him a different answer to the question, what are we doing here? What's the mission?

So the American people agreed with the decision. In terms of the execution, I think Biden does own that. The question is, how much will American voters care about that? Elite opinion on this has been very devastating. Biden has been criticized by former ambassadors to Afghanistan, by Democrats and Republicans for the way the withdrawal was conducted.

KELLY: I know the administration would not like to see comparisons to Vietnam to the fall of Saigon. But I will ask you, are there any lessons here for President Biden in terms of how the country responded then that might be instructive now?

LIASSON: Well, I think there are those analogies being made. And, of course, you've got the two pictures juxtaposed, the rooftop of the embassy in Saigon with all the people on top of it. And then just a picture of a helicopter...

KELLY: Let me jump in because I just made the same mistake. It was actually the CIA building, not the embassy building.

LIASSON: The CIA building. Yeah.

KELLY: But go on. The point holds.

LIASSON: Thanks. But what did happen is that when the Vietnam War ended, 60% of the American public thought it was a mistake to send troops. Gerald Ford pulled out of Saigon, very chaotic pullout. But two months later, his approval rating had increased. The point is that, you know, a day in politics is an eternity. We don't know how the public is going to view this as time goes on. And a lot of it is going to depend, what happens in Afghanistan? Will al-Qaida return to having a base there? Will there be other terrorist attacks that that came from Afghanistan as a base? Those are questions we don't know the answers to now, but that will determine, I think, how Biden fares politically with this.

KELLY: All right. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.