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Was The War In Afghanistan In Vain?; How Did U.S. Foreign Policy Mistakes Lead To Taliban Takeover?; Several Politicians Test Positive For COVID From Both Sides Of The Aisle; Interview With CORE Founder Sean Penn; Investigators Probe Tesla Autopilot Crashes; Forty Million Americans Under Tropical Alerts Ahead Of Henri; Henri Barrels Towards Northeast, Currently 200 Miles Of North Carolina Coast. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 21, 2021 - 09:00   ET


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeremy Diamond at the White House and this is CNN.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Was it all in vain? I'm Michael Smerconish, today live from Hudson Yards in New York City. That provocative question was addressed by my first guest in an essay he co-authored for "USA Today."

Writing with former Kentucky Senate candidate Amy McGrath, Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, argued that those Americans who fought in Afghanistan exhibited valor and dignity and made a major and positive difference for U.S. security.

I agree and it's an important distinction to note as we're now in the midst of a messy withdrawal and just three weeks from the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Soon, we'll again reflect on those momentous events and the contribution of the 2,443 Americans who died fighting in Afghanistan and the more than 20,000 who were injured there. Was their sacrifice all in vain? No way.

Justice demanded a response after 19 hijackers unleashed an unprovoked attack that killed 3,000 innocent Americans. The United States was wholly justified in hunting down those responsible and their enablers. That's why we went to Afghanistan and the men and women who answered their nation's call were responding to a noble purpose.

To the extent mistakes were made, and they were, that doesn't bear on the service and sacrifice of those who were boots on the ground. It wasn't they who decided that instead of a law enforcement, focused, sniper approach, going after only those who caused 9/11, instead we would end up responding with a proverbial shotgun blast. In this country, we have civilian control over our military.

The rank and file had no say in whether we would turn deserved retribution into yet another effort to instill democracy based on the flawed premise that electing leaders cures all ills and those who wore the uniform of our nation while overseas weren't the ones who perpetrated the folly that then took us to Iraq. Think about those that you know who went to Afghanistan, often for several tours of duty. They rightly believed they were there to avenge the losses of 9/11 and in that mission, they succeeded.

Now and in the future, history will judge our political leaders, spanning both parties and four administrations, for the current events in Afghanistan, but the way we should regard those who answered the bell requires no similar deliberation. What a miscarriage it would be if any of them thought for a moment that what we're now witnessing is a reflection of their service. It is not. Case closed.

And now it's time to look forward to all those short, mid and long term problems resulting from the carnage of our hasty exit. Decisions need to be made about the scope of our operation, who to save, how to protect against admitting criminals and terrorists to the United States, what to do with the myriad of weapons we left behind and how to ensure we never repeat the many mistakes that are part of our legacy in Afghanistan.

Joining me now to discuss is Michael O'Hanlon. He's also the author of several books, most recently, "The Art of War in an Age of Peace: U.S. Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint." Michael, you motivated today's opening commentary. What do you want to add to it?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, Michael, thank you and thanks to all our men and women in uniform as well as our diplomats, aid workers, journalists, NGO workers, a lot of people who were very brave and dedicated in Afghanistan and as you said, they accomplished a lot. They kept us safe for 20 years.

So the point I would make -- there are a lot of things to say of course, but on September 12th, 2001, the day after 9/11, if you had told me or Bush administration officials or, you know, Barack Obama, aspiring to be a senator someday at that point, if you had said there will be only 100 more Americans in the next 20 years killed on American soil by extremist terrorists, you know, somehow using a perverted form of Islam as their motivation, that would have been seen as an excellent outcome.

Only 100 more people have been killed in ISIS or Al-Qaeda inspired attacks on American soil over 20 years. That is a remarkable testament to keeping us safe here at home by all of those who contributed, including military forces abroad, intelligence, Homeland Security, a lot of people worked hard because certainly the extremists kept trying to hit (ph) and would have gladly done another 9/11 or worse.

So I think that's where my congratulations and my thanks really begin, with that basic fact. We've had far less terrorist violence on American soil these last 20 years than I would have predicted on September 12th, 2001.

SMERCONISH: So let's talk about the events now playing themselves out in Afghanistan. Here's today's survey question. I'll put it up on the screen and I'll share it with you first. Was the situation in Afghanistan today inevitable or the result of policy-making mistakes? You say what?

O'HANLON: I think it was largely the result of mistakes, but I don't think we know what would have happened if we had played this out five or 10 more years.


You know, when President Biden says, for example, it would have been the same regardless of when we left, he might be right, but he might be wrong. He just doesn't know. A lot of things can change when you give opportunity for an Afghan government to try to get on its feet.

It's true that they were not making positive net progress while we were there, but it's also true that they had been decimated by decades of war and that building new human capital, new institutions takes a lot of time and you need some lucky breaks.

So we don't know what lucky break might have happened if we had stayed on a bit longer and I think in addition to the mistakes made before President Biden, pulling the plug was a major error.

SMERCONISH: So here's what the president said on exactly this issue yesterday.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we had decided 15 years ago to leave Afghanistan, it would have been really difficult. If we decided five years ago, if we started -- if we continued the war for another decade and tried to leave, there's no way in which you'd be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you're seeing now.


SMERCONISH: Michael, to his point, doesn't the pace of the collapse -- I think it was 11 days. That's the way history will record it. Doesn't that underscore what President Biden was saying, that this was inevitable?

O'HANLON: No, I don't think so, Michael, because we pulled the plug on a strategy that we had helped build and that we've given the Afghans no reason to think would be immediately transitioned completely to their care and when you make an announcement in April of 2021 that you're going to be out within four months, you don't give time for that government to come up with a working air force, which, by the way, we set the schedule for how fast to build.

They did not do all their part very well at times, but we set the schedule and then we decided to leave abruptly. Of course they are going to reassess. Many Afghans are going to rather surrender in that situation once a certain momentum builds and so I just don't think we can know the future or claim we would have known the future. A lot of Afghans fought very hard. Several thousand soldiers and police have died each year for the last decade in that fight and so the notion that somehow the Afghan army and police wouldn't fight is simply wrong.

But we -- but what we have to acknowledge is that when you radically transform the strategy, essentially pull the plug on our part of it, expecting them to fight on the same way is not realistic.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question. I was drawn to your work, as you know, in the aftermath of September 11 because you used to analyze granular detail about life in Afghanistan and Iraq, things like phone subscription and employment, not only how many troops and how many we lost. What's the bottom line? Did we improve their lives while we were there or not?

O'HANLON: Yes, materially very much so and in terms of health and education very much so. There was a long ways to go. A lot of that's now going to be lost and of course the violence was always quite severe, even in the last 10 to 15 years. So I don't want to suggest that it was a happy place, but in terms of education, health, overall quality of life, overall prosperity, Afghanistan became much better over 20 years.

SMERCONISH: OK. Let's hope that those positive changes outlast our involvement. Michael O'Hanlon, thank you for being here I really appreciate it.

O'HANLON: Michael, thanks to you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish, go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? This comes from the world of Twitter. "Getting out of Afghanistan not the problem. The exit non- plan of Biden and his military advisors is the problem. What did they think was going to happen?"

Well, you heard the president's response to that. Look, I'm not going to defend the manner by which we're quickly getting out. I will defend the decision and the courage that it took to get out. I think there's truth. Me personally, I think there's truth in what the president said yesterday, that this is the result we would have seen five, 15 or 50 years from now. Michael O'Hanlon disagrees with me. If you watched last weekend, Peter Bergen, for whom I have the utmost respect, he also disagrees with me.

Make sure you're going to the website this hour and answering this week's survey question at Was the situation in Afghanistan today inevitable or the result of policy making mistakes?

Up ahead, Sean Penn is here. He directed and co-stars with his daughter, Dylan, in a new movie. He says he doesn't want you to go and see it if you're not vaccinated.

And the electric car maker Tesla brags about its autopilot and self- driving features, but they've been involved in enough crashes to launch several federal probes. Is the technology to blame?



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Although the Senate was not in session this week, COVID was. How unfortunate, but poignant that three senators from across the political spectrum, Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper, Maine Independent Angus King, Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, all announced they had tested positive for the virus, this despite the fact that all three had been vaccinated.

So these were breakthrough infections which have become more rampant with the Delta variant, but it's important to remember that out of 166 million fully vaccinated Americans, only 8,000 breakthrough cases have resulted in severe disease or death. In a statement, King stressed that he'd been following all masking and social distancing protocols. Their diagnoses make the total number of senators who've tested positive 11.


More than 50 House members have also tested positive on both sides of the aisle. Among several other lawmakers testing positive this summer was South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham who tested positive after attending a gathering hosted by Democratic senator Joe Manchin.

Then there's Texas governor Greg Abbott who has opposed mask mandates and issued an executive order banning school districts from requiring masks. On Tuesday, Abbott, despite getting the vaccine and a booster, joined the surging numbers of positive cases plaguing his state. Have any lessons been learned? Graham said in a follow-up tweet, "I'm very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination, I'm certain I would not feel as well as I do now. My symptoms would be far worse."

My takeaway? Response to the pandemic, like so much else, is now partisan. We see it in debates about masks in schools, about rules for businesses and vaccine mandates. Party affiliation is often a predictor of approach. Meanwhile, one thing cuts across party lines -- the virus. COVID-19 cares not whether you're an R, a D or an I. Just ask Senators Wicker, Hickenlooper and King.

Coming up in just a moment, Sean Penn in studio with me live here at Hudson Yards in New York City. He's got a fabulous new movie, just released last night.




SMERCONISH: Actor and director Sean Penn has a new movie out, but he's telling people not to go see it in theaters, that is if they're unvaccinated. "Flag Day," which Penn both directed and stars in with his 30-year-old daughter, Dylan, tells the story of America's most notorious counterfeiter, John Vogel.



SEAN PENN AS JOHN VOGEL, "FLAG DAY": What do you mean what do I do?

FRANCES: I mean for a living. What do you do for a living?

PENN: You know what I do for a living. I'm an entrepreneur. My skill is opportunities.

FRANCES: Like what?

PENN: For instance, right now, I got a whole raft of businesses. I'm working a very broad portfolio and when you work it that way, you're not dependent on one business to be your bread and butter. You know, yield goes down on one, pops up on another and the good news is that I'm doing really great with that.


SMERCONISH: I love the movie. Congratulations and thanks, by the way, for being here. I really appreciate this.

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: Thank you. It's good to be here with you.

SMERCONISH: So I'm a big Brian Cranston, "Breaking Bad" fan and he plays Walter White who's on the wrong side of the law, but I'm rooting for him in the whole series. John Vogel, wrong side of the law, but I'm rooting for you, I'm rooting for him in the movie. Speak to that.

PENN: I think it speaks to that we are all flawed and that there's a beating heart in all of us and I think that with good writing, you know, the beating heart shows through and we have -- and we can find empathy. The Vogel character is, you know, an extreme. Also, I think that, you know, there are themes of just the corrosive nature of deception in this movie and a lot of that is rooted in self-deception.

SMERCONISH: He's a counterfeiter struggling to maintain relationships with his kids. I should have mentioned Hopper as well.

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Although Hopper plays a smaller role, your son, than does Dylan.

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Dylan's fabulous, by the way.

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Really terrific and it's kind of funny to watch because I'm watching you interacting on screen with your own kids about a character struggling to maintain his relationship with his own children. What was it like to not only direct yourself, for the first time I think ...

PENN: Yes. SMERCONISH: ... but also to direct your children?

PENN: It was an extraordinary experience. It's not something I would have chosen to do. I wanted to -- I was either going to direct the movie or act in the movie. Decided to direct it and then 30 days out, the actor that was going to play John Vogel had family issues and was not able to do the film and there was only -- we were on a countdown and the only way to make the movie happen was to jump in and do it and I'm so glad that that happened.

Directing is a 17.5 hour a day job to begin with and I just didn't know that I could squeeze in the time to focus any attention on the character, but there were -- there were other things that were relieved by that. I didn't have to negotiate the ego politics of two actors in a scene because I could bring, you know, my nuts and bolts, get that done and then focus on, in this case, particularly Dylan because she was playing Jennifer, which is the lead character of the story and you'd want to focus on that anyway.

SMERCONISH: Was the studio and others who were involved in the making of the picture cool with you saying don't come to the theater if you're unvaccinated? How did that go over internally?

PENN: Well, let me say this. I am so grateful that audiences and, yes, we'll come around to, that I would request that only vaccinated audiences have an opportunity to see this theatrically. It's a very -- it's rare these days to have something that is exclusively theatrical. You know, eventually it will stream and that's a better time for the unvaccinated to see it, though I think I'll probably offend them out of that choice in this.

But there are enough vaccinated people and I hope that, with safe practices, they'll go and see "Flag Day" in theater, which is what it was made for.


SMERCONISH: But, Sean, this is not like a one-off. By the way, it's great to have you here to talk about these contemporary issues rather than, no, you're 3,000 miles away and texting me during the program and offering me your thoughts, so I'm glad to have you here to talk about some political matters as well as the movie. It's not like your reaction was a one-off. You've been very, very consistent.

You took the lead through your non-profit, CORE. Everything we watched at Dodger Stadium, right? You had a hand in, then rolled it out, I think, in 47 other locations. So this is part of Sean Penn's extreme volunteerism. How come? Like why does this get added to the list of Haiti and so many other causes with which you've been involved?

PENN: You know, for me, we're working in movies, we're working in -- I suppose service is the way that -- it's something I pursued, it's something that I believe I missed out on by it not being mandatory in this country and I wish that it would be.


SMERCONISH: Like the Israelis.

PENN: Yes. Whether you do military service or forestry service ...


PENN: ... or you work with the elderly ...


PENN: ... some commitment to service at that young age, I think, just establishes a sense that people actually can make a difference and I accidented into what became CORE because of going down to Haiti the first time and then, you know, with vaccination and testing here, that was just an extension of the work that we've been doing down there. We are vaccinating now in Haiti and of course responding to the recent earthquake in the southwest.

SMERCONISH: And so not only for the brand new movie, but you also have a television series in production right now. You're going to play -- I can't wait to see this. You're going to play, in "Gaslit," John Mitchell who was Richard Nixon's attorney general. Are you, by the way, immersed in all things Watergate these days?

PENN: I have been immersed in all things Watergate these days.

SMERCONISH: What did you learn that you didn't know?

PENN: Well, you know what's interesting about "Gaslit" is it's a -- it's really about everybody but Nixon and what was going on with their personal lives, all of the, you know, from Liddy to Dean to the Mitchells and McCord, all and beyond and I had, as a kid, when that summer came up of hearings, I was glued.

You know, I was a surfer and the only thing you wanted to do is be out there in the water, but I wasn't out there in the water during those hearings and I don't know why. It just was the beginning of my fascination with American politics I guess.

SMERCONISH: So for "Gaslit," the production, you made a lot of headlines because -- and help me understand this. I guess some folks needed to be vaccinated, but not the entire production ...

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: ... and you said what? Explain that to us.

PENN: So they have what's called zone one and zone one is anybody that works close to actors. So actors are protected, but if a stagehand is working alongside a stagehand who is not protected, then they can get sick. I didn't want to feel complicit in something that was just taking care of one group, but not the other and I -- and I do believe that everyone should get vaccinated. I believe it should be mandatory, like turning your headlights on in a car at night, but obviously that's not going to happen tomorrow and yet, at least it can happen in some areas and businesses, a lot of businesses are starting to take the lead on that. So I'll go back to "Gaslit," I'll go back when I can be assured that 100 percent of the crew has gotten vaccinated.

SMERCONISH: Has that resolved?

PENN: I believe they've resolved something and I -- and my understanding is that a lot of this comes from weak leadership in some of the unions that are too concerned about fringe constituencies within and not concerned enough about common sense.

SMERCONISH: So we're here at CNN at, you know, what I consider to be the headquarters in New York City. There's a mandatory vaccination policy here. I'm affiliated with a law firm in Philadelphia. There is a mandatory -- so I'm completely on board and comfortable with you on this issue. I imagine that you, like me, have some folks in your orbit who are still vax resistant. What is it you say to them?

PENN: Well, actually the people who continue to be tax resistant now, I think there's only two categories. There are those that once the FDA gives full approval, will go forward with it and that there are those who have become entrenched in the kind of radical libertarianism and an identity of politic that has sort of perversely turned this issue into something that forgets that, in the United States of America in our entire history, it's all based on being independent because we understand interdependency, the entire history of successful things in this country.


And if we're going to continue with successful things, if we're going to take some of the great lessons that have been learned in the last year, some of the -- some of the extraordinary movements, you know, George Floyd, all of what's happening societally. If we're going to take the good parts of that and move it forward we're going to do it interdependently. And I think vaccination is the beginning of that, given that it's such a threat now to business, to lifestyle, to life here and around the world.

SMERCONISH: I mean, I'm a great respecter of individual liberties. I respect the Gadsden flag, but this is not a seat belt. You know, if you choose not to wear a seat belt I wish you'd wear a seat belt, you're going to add to my insurance premiums if you get effed up in an accident. But this is different. This is you running the risk of contaminating everybody else in society.

PENN: It's -- you know, I have strong some areas of strong belief in the Second Amendment, but I think that you need to recognize how -- you know, with something like this, you can't go around pointing a gun in somebody's face which is what it is when people are unvaccinated.

SMERCONISH: Got it. Finally, off to Haiti?

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: What happens -- what happens next?

PENN: Well, we have been from day one with our heavy equipment, crews, we've got 30,000 metric tons of rubble out, still finding bodies. It's really awful, the circumstances there. It's very complicated. Our medical teams are treating hundreds of people, from very traumatic injuries to now increasingly gastrointestinal issues due to the rains and so on -- you know, from infants to the elderly.

And so we push forward. We put one foot in front of the other. We work with our partner organizations, World Central Kitchen, Direct Relief and others, and with the Haitian government, and seeing what we can do and working side by side with our Haitian staff. Hopefully, that's -- that can be something of impact.

SMERCONISH: By the way, for more information about Sean's disaster relief charity CORE, you can go to There was a great profile of you this week in "The Washington Post." And Julia Roberts is quoted in it, quoting you saying, and I get it now, emergency is your happy place.

PENN: Well, it's -- what it is is that I just find -- as it turns out I have the temperament for it. And so I feel, when that's the case, one feels productive. And that you kind of go where you feel productive.

SMERCONISH: Good for you. You watch the show. You know I get social media. I don't see what's coming. I like to respond in real time.

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: You want to do it with me?

PENN: I'll give it a go.

SMERCONISH: All right. What has come in, Catherine? Mr. Penn is in the house and he wants to see.

I know @SeanPenn is a divisive figure and I do not agree with everything I have heard him say through the years but you know nothing about acting or talent if you do not realize he is one of the finest actors of this time in history. I will watch him in anything he chooses to do.

Do you -- do you ever stop and think, you know, this is what I feel like I want to say about vaccination or about Haiti or -- but, boy, people aren't going to show up and buy tickets. It doesn't seem like any of that is a consideration for you?

PENN: I don't think it can be, today. And yet I do think that there are times when I look back -- you know, we are always -- at least I was always taught, you know, speak up. Especially when you have, you know, a microphone that somebody else doesn't have. You know, you speak for them where you can. But I do think that there are times to remain silent today because there are certain things -- not forever but to remain silent long enough to process big complicated issues and not join the fray of the problem, like the social media, this stuff, it's that de facto town square which is great democratization, except when it gets too crowded it's so loud you can't hear a single voice. And sometimes, I'd look to pause and hear the others.

SMERCONISH: But you are like the antithesis of Michael Jordan saying Republicans buy sneakers, too. You know, I'm going to take a pass. I mean, you released a movie yesterday and said, you know, if you're not vaccinated, please don't come to the theater.

PENN: You know, yes, I did. But shouldn't that be what people do?

SMERCONISH: Yes. I agree.

PENN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: I agree. OK. One more. So, you know, I also have a survey question every week. I don't know if you're prepared for this one.

But, Catherine, do you want to hit me with the survey question? OK. Pop that survey question up and let's see what Sean is thinking.

Was the situation in Afghanistan today -- boy, aren't you glad you showed up today -- was the situation in Afghanistan today inevitable or the result of policy making mistakes?

As you watch what's going on, on television, what are you thinking?

PENN: I'm thinking that this time, I firmly agree with the idea that there will be after-action review.


But right now, there's an emergency for the people of Afghanistan who helped us, for the women of Afghanistan, and for our American troops, and our American contractors. We have to -- we have to put all of our focus on that right now. I'd be happy to come back when I've done my processing of the rest and talk about what's inevitable and what's not.

SMERCONISH: Really appreciate you coming by. Thanks.

PENN: Thanks very much.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Good to have the exchange.

Up ahead, since January of 2018, Teslas in autopilot mode have been involved in at least 11 crashes with first responder vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into why.


[09:40:26] SMERCONISH: Are self-driving car functions safe for the roadways? Are their crashes the fault of technology or the all too common human operators?

The news that has been full of stories lately is of Tesla crashes were using the autopilot function including one where a drunk driver fell asleep at the wheel, another where a driver on a call dropped his phone and bent down to try and retrieve it.

Then on Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it had opened an investigation into Tesla's autopilot, aka assisted driving system. It can steer, accelerate and break on its own, a feature that's in hundreds of thousands of its electric cars.

The new investigation was prompted by at least 11 accidents since January of 2018 in which Teslas using autopilot drove into park first responder vehicles killing one woman and injuring 17 people. The new investigation comes on top of reviews the safety agency was already conducting of more than two dozen crashes involving autopilot. The agency says eight of those crashes resulted in a total of 10 deaths.

Safety experts and regulators have been scrutinizing Tesla's autopilot since the first fatal accident involving the system was reported in 2016. But in that case, there was no fault found in the design. According to the "The New York Times" in cases brought against Tesla, the company has maintained that any blame rests solely with the drivers. And at the company's AI day on Thursday it spent much of the event still touting its self-driving systems.

Joining me now is Missy Cummings, a professor of engineering at Duke University where she's director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory. Dr. Cummings, I'm so glad to have you. I am fascinated by the idea that you flew F-18s, landed on aircraft carriers. How much did you surrender to machines and computers in that process?

MISSY CUMMINGS, PROFESSOR OF ENGINEERING, DUKE UNIVERSITY/DIRECTOR, HUMANS AND AUTONOMY LABORATORY: Well, it was actually seeing how much automation was coming and realizing that as a person I would not be that important anymore in flying an aircraft. That was the big motivator for me to move along to academia.

SMERCONISH: How much of a factor is boredom in this conversation?

CUMMINGS: I think it's a huge factor. I think that boredom plus our inability to have sustained attention, especially when we know that our cellphones or that there are other distractions easily available. I think it makes a huge difference in vehicles.

SMERCONISH: If I were -- I should -- full disclosure, I drive a Tesla, and I love it. And I use the function that we're now discussing. And my own perspective is one of these crashes largely being the result of human factors. I want to put that on the table, and you could certainly respond to it.

When I read in about these different accidents I see people making mistakes like they do, with or without the so-called autopilot function. Like the guy who dropped the phone and then bends down to pick up the phone and bad things then ensue. Or the driver who's drunk shouldn't have been drunk. What's your reaction?

CUMMINGS: Well, it is true that Tesla does make it clear in the manuals that you always need to be in control. And that despite the public advertising of full self-driving or autopilot that you, the human, are in control. So there's no disputing that Tesla, at least from a legal standpoint understands that the driver is supposed to be in control.

But the problem is, that humans, again, because they get easily bored, and they see that the car is good enough. And we've seen this for more than 20 years in human factors research that if automation or autonomy is pretty good, even if it's deeply flawed, people will still basically see the automation as legitimate authority and then start to engage in complacency, distraction. And indeed the car lulls people into a false sense of security.

I dropped my phone, what could happen? I'm just going to reach down and pick up my phone. What bad thing can happen? And I think that's the problem is that in just half a second a lot of really bad things can happen in a car.

SMERCONISH: Is part of a problem a semantic issue? Dr. Cummings, would you advise Tesla to lose the name autopilot?

I think we're at level two. True autopilot would be level five. We're not there. That's Jetson kind of stuff. But maybe it gets in the head of drivers in a way that makes them overly reliant on those -- those abilities that the car has, or doesn't have?


CUMMINGS: Yes. I actually do think words matter. We should not be using words like autopilot and full self-driving, because it does convey to the people that the car is more capable than it is. And indeed, I mean, there's an entire -- I can assure you that right now there a ton of people on Twitter that are very angry at me for speaking out.

And I want to be clear that this isn't just a Tesla problem. This problem is going to be increasingly in our faces as we start to see more and more -- quote -- unquote -- "hands-free" driving from other cars. So, yes, we -- and, indeed, that phrase which is actually not a Tesla phrase, it's in the rest of the automotive industry, I think we should get rid of the phrase "hands-free" because indeed hands-free connotates mind-free.

SMERCONISH: Elon Musk has been quoted as saying that we're safer with machines than we are with humans. I'm inclined to agree with him when the technology is perfected. What's your answer?

CUMMINGS: I would say that's true for some machines but not his machines.

SMERCONISH: Or not yet for his machine? CUMMINGS: Right. Not yet. But I think that there's still a huge gulf that we've got to get across before his machines are anything close to safer than a typical human driver.

SMERCONISH: And, finally, to your point, I mean, Apple, I think, just hired 1,000 engineers. Google is getting in this space. I think you're involved, doing some work for them, correct me if I'm wrong. General Motors as well. Why is it that Tesla gets singled out for this conversation?

CUMMINGS: I do think Tesla gets singled out. And in one case it just shows you how much further ahead and how many more risk they were willing to take.

So, I do think Tesla is singled out right now. Their cars are, I would say, the most advanced autonomous technology that's available to the public but other manufacturers are coming. And as I just said, look, no technology driving, until we get to level 4, which is where the car can drive itself and you can reach your book or check your email, no one should be hands-free really until we get to that point.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Cummings, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

CUMMINGS: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question. Have you voted? Go to Was the situation in Afghanistan today inevitable or the result of policy making mistakes? Can't wait to see that answer.



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at Was the situation in Afghanistan today inevitable or the result of policy making mistakes?

What is the result to this? Two-thirds, let's call it, 65 percent of more than 15,000 say inevitable, 35 percent, policy making.

Of course, the correct answer is both, but I didn't give you that option. And that is the right answer, as between the two choices that I did give you. And I think that the president, wrong in terms of the execution of this for sure, can't defend that. But what he said yesterday about five years, 15 years, 50 years, I tend to agree with.

Here's some of what you thought during the course of the week. Mame -- the outcome was inevitable. We just drug it out for 20 years because we didn't know how to get out. Every other president just kept kicking the can down the road. Somebody had to go ahead and suck it up. It had to be done regardless of the chaotic exit, it had to be done.

Those are my sentiments. I agree. The mistake that was made in Afghanistan, as I said in the opening commentary, was the way in which we went in. It should have been a much more surgical, sniper approach, not a shotgun blast. And we surely should not have tried to engage in regime change and democracy building.

Go get Bin Laden. Get those responsible. And get the hell out.

What else came in during the course of the program? Smerconish, that interview with Sean Penn was fantastic. Only wish you had asked him if playing Spicoli was his greatest performance.

Noel, here's the truth. That, of course, was on my mind. I thought it would have been much too fan boy if I had raised that.

You think I didn't want to talk about "Mystic River"? You think I didn't want to talk about "Fast Times"? You think I didn't want to talk about "The Game"? Love that, although he is in a secondary role to Michael Douglas.

And you know what I also liked to talk to him about? He earned a lot of respect from me when he was on "Curb." Do you remember? I get -- I think it was the finale of the most recent "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode and that showed me that he's a guy willing to laugh -- he is a deep thinker, and I appreciated having him here. So, that's cool.

One more if I have time. Do I? I think I do. Honestly, I'm not a great driver so even with the flaws, it's probably safer than me driving.

Yes, Jen, I would rather have Tesla's machinery and automation than I would human factors, like the guy who drops his phone and bends down to pick it up and then, what, we're surprised he's in an accident?

A reminder to join CNN for "WE LOVE NEW YORK CITY: THE HOMECOMING CONCERT." It's a once in a lifetime concert event tonight, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, exclusively on CNN.

That does it for me. Have a great weekend. I'll see you next week.



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning to you. We're grateful for your company. It is Saturday, August 21st. I'm Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Christi. I'm Boris Sanchez. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And this morning, more than 40 million Americans in the northeast are in the path of what could be the first hurricane to hit New England in more than 30 years. Right now, Henri is about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina. A tropical storm warning is already in effect in New York City, as Connecticut and Massachusetts both declare states of emergency in preparation for the storm.

PAUL: Now, Henri is expected to reach hurricane strength later today, likely to make landfall on New York's Long Island midday tomorrow. This is a storm that could bring life-threatening storm surges, heavy rains, flooding, even a possible tornado.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar, live in the CNN Weather Center this morning, tracking the path here. What are you hearing at this hour, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So, all eyes really are now on the not one, but two different hurricane hunter flights that are investigating the storm.


Because this is where we get a lot of our good, real time data.