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Politics Chat: What The Taliban's Advancement In Afghanistan Means For Biden

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

The fall of Saigon, referenced a number of times today, happened in April 1975.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Gerald Ford was president then, and by that point in the Vietnam War, Gallup pollsters were finding that 60% of the American public considered it a mistake to have sent troops to Vietnam. Two months later, Gallup's measure of Ford's approval had increased.

KEITH: So what can that history tell us about the politics of this moment for President Biden? For that, we turn to NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KEITH: So let's stick with that Gallup comparison we're talking about - 60% for Ford and Vietnam. Last month, 47% of respondents said involvement in Afghanistan was a mistake. So we're seeing a messy withdrawal from a conflict that was not as unpopular.

LIASSON: Not as unpopular but still really unpopular - majorities of Americans decided over 20 years and billions of dollars spent to train the Afghan forces with, it seems, very little result or zero result, that this wasn't worth it. And two consecutive American administrations decided that leaving troops in Afghanistan were not in America's national security interests. We don't know what the political fallout will be for Joe Biden. We know that majorities of Americans wanted to withdraw. America has - American voters have lost their stomach for foreign military interventions and especially long occupations over a very long period of time. And there are a lot of questions remaining that will determine the political fallout for him. For instance, will the Taliban give al-Qaida a safe haven again? And what happens now?

But I can tell you at least for the moment, the elite reaction is really devastating. When you have Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan, saying, quote, "I'm left with some grave questions in my mind" about, quote, "Biden's ability to lead our nation as commander in chief, to have read this so wrong or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care" - I mean, that is just really devastating. Now, at the same time, anecdotally, we hear reports from members of Congress that they're just not getting calls about Afghanistan, even congressmen who represent large veteran populations.

KEITH: President Biden has been pretty firm in his stance that this war needed to end, that U.S. involvement needed to end. He was - he campaigned on it. He has been firm about it while in office. He has been asked whether - if this goes poorly, whether he will be considered responsible. And he has essentially said, you know, it's not all on me. This is a long time in the coming. Is that an argument that works with the public? Or are you telling me that the public doesn't even really follow?

LIASSON: Well, two things can be true at the same time. The public might not really care about what's happening there. On the other hand, he's the president of the United States while this is happening. Whenever America is humiliated or presides over something like what we're seeing now in Afghanistan, it's bad for the current president. There's just no doubt about that. Now, it's also true that Donald Trump did negotiate with the Taliban for a withdrawal as of May 1. And it's possible that the Biden administration concluded that the Taliban would have launched this attack anyway if the United States didn't pull out, and then Biden would have had to put more troops in - more than the 2,500 he had at the time. So there was only escalation or withdrawal. But there will be a lot of questions about - and you raised some of them earlier - could this have happened in a more orderly fashion? Could the withdrawal have been handled better? Why did the United States and the Biden administration so grossly underestimate what - the speed that the Taliban would move? I mean, so there's still a lot of questions.

KEITH: National political correspondent, NPR's Mara Liasson.

Thank you for being with us, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELUVIUM'S "GENIUS AND THE THIEVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.