Return to Transcripts main page
Terrorist Attack at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan Kills Over 170 People, Including 13 U.S. Service Members; U.S. Continues to try to Evacuate Americans and Afghans From Afghanistan by August 31 Deadline; Terror Group Claims Responsibility For Kabul Bombing; Will Political Fallout Define Biden's Presidency. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired August 28, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Afghanistan in three words: So damn sad. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. That's the one and maybe only observation on which we can all agree about the suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport Thursday that killed 13 U.S. service members among the more than 170 people who died with another 200 plus wounded and now matters have only been made worse by the inevitable partisan bickering and finger pointing.
Take a look at these lead editorials published Friday. In two of America's leading newspapers, "The Wall Street Journal" called it "a massacre," the "Los Angeles Times" referred to it as a "tragedy." It was both actually. Things are not so black and white or red and blue. "The Journal" wrote, "The jihadist attack that everyone feared finally happened. President Biden spoke for the country Thursday in his expression of empathy and loss, but he can't duck responsibility for the failure to provide enough force to execute a safe evacuation."
My question, as I read it, would any amount of force, given the positioning and nature of the Kabul airport, have enabled the safe evacuation of everybody? "The Journal" then continues, "What a position for the U.S. to be in: Relying on the victorious enemy that has spent years trying to kill Americans to detect jihadists bent on killing Americans."
That's a pretty stunning and true statement, but what was the alternative? As we're committed to leaving, our chief concern is now ISIS-K. Therefore, we partnered up with the Taliban based on the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The editorial concludes by saying the massacre, quote, "Compounds the botched withdrawal and jihadists are on the attack and not only in Afghanistan."
Well, I hope there's not truth in that, but say that there is, what was the alternative? Staying longer? Defying the agreement? Putting more American lives at risk?
Then there's the "LA Times," quote, "The attacks are not, however, the work of the Taliban, nor are the attacks a sign of failure by the Biden administration, as a host of armchair critics, Washington commentators and Republican cynics have suggested. We support Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by August 31st and his insistence on sticking to that deadline."
The "LA Times" pointed out that we've evacuated 100,000 people, more than that, an incredibly complex logistical undertaking considering the Afghans were unwilling to fight for themselves. Two key lines jumped off the page at me, "No war ends with a completely smooth, bloodless withdrawal," and, "Isn't this a god-awful tragedy? Yes. Also an inevitable one."
Well, I'd buy into some of the inevitability argument, but still doesn't President Biden own the way that the evacuation was handled? To that point, I found his exchange Thursday with Peter Doocy of "Fox News" to be revealing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER DOOCY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: Mr. President, there had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan since February of 2020. You set a deadline, you pulled troops out, you sent troops back in and now 12 marines are dead. You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things have unfolded in the last two weeks?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that's happened of late, but here's the deal, you know -- I wish you one day say these things. You know as well as I do that a former president made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return, the commitment was made -- and that was a year before. In return, he was given a commitment that the Taliban would continue to attack others, but would not attack any American forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The president was trying to have it both ways, first saying that he bears responsibility, but in the next sentence pointing a finger at Donald Trump. As the "National Review"'s Charles B. Cooke tweeted, "Biden's position is that this sort of thing was always going to happen, which is why it caught us by surprise, which underscores why we're leaving and that's why we need to strike back, so the mission will go on."
Thursday night on "Fox News," former President Trump responded in kind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This tragedy should never have taken place. It should never have happened and it would not have happened if I were your president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Like I said, I'm a believer in inevitability in this case, so I can't accept all that Donald Trump said either. I'm sure there were better ways to stage this withdrawal, but I'm also pleased that we're getting out and if I sound like I'm speaking in circles, maybe I am. I prefer to call that nuance. I'm hearing people present all of this as black or white, no shade of gray, no shade of purple. It's just not that.
To me, the situation is best summarized by a caller to my radio program on Friday, Don in Salt Lake City, the father of a Marine currently stationed in Afghanistan, and here he's telling me what his son just told him.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DON IN SALT LAKE CITY: We just want to get all the Americans and those who helped us out, and he says, "I'll stay if it even takes my life."
DON: And I'm, as an American parent, says, hey, everybody just needs to stop tearing this country apart. Let's band together, let's stop being, you know, quarterbacks on what we think should have happened. What's happened has happened. There's no way to go back. And I hear people call in and they just want to trash Republicans or, you know, "Democrats are a joke," and it's just this continuation of this hate that we have for one another when, you know, there's people on the ground trying to save America's interests and Americans and it just drives me f***ing nuts.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: He nailed it. He's right, of course. Like I said, the only thing certain is that it's just so damn sad and in addition to the sadness in the wake of this attack, there's a growing sense of desperation for those who remain on the ground. As President Biden's withdrawal deadline approaches, it's a race against the clock to find and extract the remaining Americans who want to leave and that likely means that thousands of Afghan translators and others could be left behind.
The White House says another terror attack is likely, which makes evacuations even more difficult and precarious. U.S. and coalition forces have evacuated about a 111,000 people since August 14, but they're not alone in the effort. Some extraordinary underground forces are also at play. As "The Wall Street Journal" puts it, "A disparate group of American veterans, military contractors, aid workers and former spies is scrambling to get as many people out of Afghanistan as they can."
These private rescue efforts face huge risks due to Taliban checkpoints at the airport and on the roads. One such group is Task Force Pineapple and as of Thursday morning, they used what they call a virtual underground railroad mechanism, the Pineapple Express if you will, to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies. They say that they've evacuated more than 630 people during a three-day period and one of their missions was underway at the airport when the deadly attack occurred. I'm joined now by a member of Task Force Pineapple, former Navy lieutenant SEAL Jason Redman. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving a bronze star medal with valor and a purple heart. He's also the author of "Overcome: Crush Adversity with Leadership Techniques of America's Toughest Warriors." Jason, thanks for being here. How did this effort come to pass?
JASON REDMAN, U.S. NAVY SEALS (RET): Michael, it was, you know, so much of what you talked about. You know, there's just so much partisan bickering and politics and you nailed it, that it is not black and white. We don't live in a black and white world and the reality is this -- there is a lot of amazing, amazing Afghani people who helped us over this 20-year period who truly saved American lives, who prevented attacks, who provided us information, who protected us, who interpreted for us, who did all these incredible things.
And so many of us veterans in special operations, ground troops, all across the Afghanistan battle spectrum developed relationships with these people. So the Task Force Pineapple started as one individual, one individual who was connected with Scott Mann and they were trying to get out and Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann is founder of Task Force Pineapple, one of the founders.
And they created this network of amazing individuals of former special operations, of intelligence, of spy operatives, if you will, and they managed to get this individual out through this mechanism using a lot of the methods that we utilize. And when they realized this worked, so many others said, man, we have so many people.
And that's how I got involved roughly about four days ago, trying to help amazing, amazing Afghanis who all they want is the opportunity to live their lives and not only that, they want to be recognized for the amazing effort they put in for us and the American government told them we would do that. We provided them visas, we provided them -- we told them, hey, we will get you to safety and we have failed to do that. So what we are doing is what the American government unfortunately right now is either unable or unwilling to do.
SMERCONISH: Help me understand something. Is this off the books? Are you doing this with or without the blessing of the U.S. government?
REDMAN: This is without. I will say that we are working to try and -- you know, one of the greatest things about this is all of us are just leveraging our networks. I mean, it's just all the people we knew while we were in the military or both within Afghanistan, outside of Afghanistan and even in different places around the world as we're looking at how do we try and safely bring these people out.
And, I mean, you nailed it, it is such a tragedy what is happening and there are people that are terrified for their lives and, you know, you have individuals that will want to look at this as a black and white scenario. Some of the headlines you read off, oh, this is war, this happens.
[09:10:04] You know, it's easy to say that and I think there's a lot of Americans that are disconnected. They don't understand. When they think of Afghanistan, they think of this far-off, mountainous, desert place that's just filled with terrorists, but that's not the reality.
Everywhere in the world, there are people and these people are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and they have children and they want to live a good life, they want to live a free life and have the opportunity and be able to do all the same things that we want to accomplish here in America ...
SMERCONISH: I get it.
REDMAN: ... and for 20 ...
SMERCONISH: Jason, let me ask this question because I applaud -- it sounds awfully noble and patriotic, but how do you know the people that you're letting in or providing passage can be trusted?
REDMAN: Michael, because they've already been vetted. We're focusing on the individuals that were already provided visas. So that means not only did they work for the United States government in some capacity or, you know, supporting American forces, but all the individuals we're bringing in already have approved visas and these were individuals that could not get out.
So we talk about what could the U.S. government have done better? I think you made the, you know -- could we have even done anything? Well, there was no security that went outside the lines of the Kabul airport. Everything just stopped at the Kabul airport. So anyone -- the Hamid Karzai Airport.
So anyone trying to get there was deterred relentlessly by the Taliban. Taliban, we have reports of the Taliban killing, beating kids, doing all kinds of the things that the Taliban does which prevented so many of these individuals who had been given the green light to get out not to be able to get out.
SMERCONISH: A quick question because I'm limited on time. Have any of your, I'll call them, extractions turned violent? Have the Taliban resisted? Have you had to deal with ISIS-K?
REDMAN: Absolutely. I mean, we had -- we call them shepherds, our individuals who are trying to move people out to get them out to freedom and we would have shepherds that were on the line as literally they were listening to the Taliban scream and beat people, shoot. We had instances where the Taliban would shoot and cause stampedes. We had an instance where one of our family's six-year-old girl was almost killed. One of the families that I was trying to shepherd out, a daughter almost drowned. They were moving up a canal with water in it.
So, I mean, these are things that -- it's just un-American what's happened and I think for those of us within Task Force Pineapple, you know, America has always taken care of the people that have taken care of us and that's exactly what we're trying to do in this situation ...
SMERCONISH: Get it.
REDMAN: ... and we will continue to do so.
SMERCONISH: It's a fascinating story, Jason Bourne-ish, a different Jason. Jason Redman, thank you for being here.
REDMAN: Michael, my honor. Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses in real time during the course of the program. Catherine, what do we have. From the world of YouTube, "Operation Pineapple should get Nobel Peace Prize." Eric Swenson, I wonder -- I wonder what the attitude of our military is to the sort of back chant. Is it wink and nod kind of stuff or do they think that it's disruptive? I don't know the answer to that, but I want to know more about a really fascinating aspect.
Up ahead, the Biden administration says that it was necessary for the U.S. to collaborate with the Taliban throughout the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, but did the risks outweigh the benefits?
And the U.S. has now carried out an airstrike against ISIS-K, the group who claimed responsibility for carrying out the attack, but if you're fuzzy on who they are, what they want and why they're different from mainstream ISIS, you're not alone. We'll explain.
Plus, watch this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS. We're probably going to have to go back in when Al-Qaeda resurrects itself, as they will with this Taliban. The bottom line is we can leave a battlefield but we can't leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I want to know if you agree with Secretary Panetta. Go to my website this hour, Smerconish.com, and answer this week's survey question. Do you agree with Leon Panetta that, quote, "We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS?"
SMERCONISH: Is the enemy of my enemy my friend? Arguably, but in the wake of a deadly ISIS-K attack in Kabul, it is also worth asking did the need to speed up evacuation efforts justify a pseudo alliance with the Taliban? The Biden administration has been coordinating with the Taliban on evacuation efforts and the Taliban is running security checkpoints outside the airport's perimeter. Just yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki argued coordination is not preferred, but necessary, yet the airport situation has largely been a nightmare from the get-go with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last week telling Americans they couldn't ensure safe passage to the airport and while there's no evidence to suggest that Thursday's terrorist attack was coordinated between the Taliban and ISIS-K, it clearly raises questions about the Taliban's security process.
As for other logistics, President Biden was asked to respond to a "Politico" report that claims our military provided the Taliban with a list of names of people who were trying to leave the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: There have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said this -- for example, this bus is coming through with X number of people on it made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through. So, yes, there have been occasions like that and to the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred -- they've been let through.
But I can't tell you with any certitude that there's actually been a list of names. I don't -- there may have been, but I know of no circumstance. It doesn't mean it's not -- didn't exist that here's the names of 12 people that are coming, let them through. That could very well have happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONIS: But in a press conference yesterday, State Department Spokesman Ned Price seemed to push back on the president's characterization.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The idea that we are providing names or personally-identifiable information to the Taliban in a way that exposes anyone to additional risk, that is simply wrong, simply wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I'm joined now by one of the "Politico" reporters who broke the story, Andrew Desiderio. Andrew, thanks for being here. Do you stand by your reporting?
ANDREW DESIDERIO, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: We 100 percent do. This was relayed to us by several senior U.S. officials as well as lawmakers who participated in a classified briefing on Capitol Hill earlier this week. It really underscores the extent to which the U.S. has outsourced security outside the airport to the Taliban. Everyone admits this is not an ideal situation, there are no good options, but a lot of folks within our government at the highest levels were sounding the alarm about the idea of providing these names to the Taliban, specifically the names of our Afghan allies early on who assisted the U.S. war effort and whom we know the Taliban has been targeting with some brutal crackdowns.
SMERCONISH: Well, what do you make of the president's response that we just played to your reporting? Did he get it right?
DESIDERIO: Well, the president was correct that in some circumstances, this methodology has been used. At the very end of his answer, he said he wasn't sure if these lists actually existed. We know for a fact that they do exist and that they have been used by diplomatic and military officials on the ground in Kabul and that U.S. Central Command in particular, who runs that part of the world for U.S. military operations was spearheading this.
SMERCONISH: Andrew, it would seem that the key question then is did everyone on the list or lists get out?
DESIDERIO: That is the key question and that's the question that the administration has not provided a clear answer to and they may not -- they might not know the answer to that, frankly. Yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to President Biden with a list of questions based on our reporting about these lists.
He said that he would oppose every one of the president's national security nominees going forward until and unless he gets responses to those questions and his top question was were all of these individuals safely evacuated and were they aware that their information was potentially out there with the Taliban? And those are questions that the administration is going to be forced to answer in the coming days.
SMERCONISH: Among the critics of what you've reported, the former president, Donald Trump, this week said this. Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're using the Taliban and giving lists of Americans to the Taliban. So now you just knock on the door and grab them and take them out. This country has never seen stupidity like this and our country is really in trouble. Our country is really in trouble and it's only going to get worse. What you're watching now is only going to get worse. It can only go one way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Andrew, is there any reason to believe, any evidence supporting that these lists have been used for an illicit purpose, meaning retribution by the Taliban?
DESIDERIO: There is not and the issue that the former president brings up of Americans being targeted by the Taliban is different than Afghan allies being targeted by the Taliban. The Taliban is much more interested in seeking retribution against those Afghans who served indispensable roles as interpreters and translators for the U.S. military throughout that 20-year war effort.
The question is were some of those Afghans who were on that list able to get through those checkpoints? We know of no instances in which Americans have been unable to get through based on those lists, but the issue -- the heart of it has been those Afghan individuals, many of whom have already been approved for those special immigrant visas to come to the United States. That was the program that was set up specifically for these types of people who have been thoroughly vetted and who have been granted entry into the United States.
SMERCONISH: And, finally and quickly because I'm limited on time, in a broader sense, it sounds like the idea of relying on the Taliban for security around the airport is a horrible idea except for all the alternatives.
DESIDERIO: That's right. That's what the administration is saying.
They're saying that this idea of pushing back the perimeter of the airport so that the U.S. controls more essentially in terms of getting people in to the airport risks -- it poses many security risks for Americans and Afghans alike and it risks an all-out shooting war with the Taliban. So it's a very tough situation. The president is facing some criticism from his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.
Even, for example, Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement earlier this week that it's clear that the U.S. cannot trust the Taliban with our security and, you know, it just goes back to this idea that there really are no good options right now and the U.S. is in the final days, maybe even the final hours, of this behemoth evacuation operation.
SMERCONISH: Right. That's what I was trying to say at the outset, that this gets presented as black and white, red versus blue, but there are a lot of shades of gray or purple in this equation. Andrew Desiderio, thank you so much for being here.
DESIDERIO: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: What do we have, Catherine? Twitter, Facebook, some social media reaction. Looks like YouTube, "We should never have been placed in a position that we needed to depend on the Talibans. That's the problem." Well, Eduardo, by whom were we put in that position? By the Afghans, I would argue, who wouldn't fight for themselves.
Up ahead, the attack in Kabul immediately and predictably had some Republicans calling for President Biden to resign or be impeached. What are the political ramifications for the president in the aftermath of this tragedy?
And last night, in retaliation for Thursday's suicide bombing in Kabul, U.S. military forces conducted an unmanned airstrike against an ISIS-K planner in Afghanistan that seems to have killed the target. A few weeks ago, America hadn't heard much about ISIS-K. I'll talk to an expert on the Islamic state, about who they are, their relationship with the Taliban and what else can be done to fight them.
Plus, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PANETTA: We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: That is this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Do you agree with Secretary Panetta, we're going to have to go back in to get ISIS?" Go vote. I'll give you the results at the end of the hour.
SMERCONISH: Last night, the U.S. retaliated against an ISIS-K planner for Thursday's suicide bombing with an unmanned air strike that they say killed the target. On Friday CNN reported national security commanders warned the president and vice president that another terror attack in Kabul is likely. Until recently the general public hadn't heard much about this ISIS offshoot known as ISIS in Khorasan.
Joining me now to discuss Graeme Wood, staff writer at "The Atlantic" whose latest piece is "What Does ISIS Want Now?" and who wrote the book "The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State." Graeme, thanks for coming back. So, where did this group come from?
GRAEME WOOD, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC/AUTHOR, "THE WAY OF STRANGERS": They've been around for a while. They're not new comers to the region except relative to the Taliban. The ISIS offshoot in Afghanistan has been around since -- about 2015, 2016. The Taliban, of course, has been around since the 1990s.
SMERCONISH: What does ISIS-K want?
WOOD: So, they are a full-fledged ISIS affiliate. So, they think that they are working as the standard-bearers for Muslims around the world, that they think that the caliph -- Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was the first one, I think, another guy is the leader. And so they've pledge allegiance. What they want to do is to unseat the Taliban in the end.
They want to raise the ISIS flag over Afghanistan because they think that their version of jihadism is the right one and the Taliban's is the wrong one. So they're fighting both against the United States and the Taliban and, by the way, the rest of the world.
SMERCONISH: In simple terms is it that ISIS-K thinks the Taliban is too soft?
WOOD: Yes, in a way. ISIS has always been very persnickety about ideological questions. They've got a very, very clear view of what they think Islam requires. And as strange as it sounds is to say Taliban and al Qaeda had a really kind of a kumbaya attitude where can't we jihadists all get along?
So they think the Taliban have forgotten major components of what Islam requires and the main thing among those is having a caliph. So, ISIS, of course, has -- had a caliph from the beginning and the Taliban have -- they said at one point that their leader was a caliph but they really haven't emphasized that and the ISIS -- the ISIS province thinks that that's a -- that's a killing offense.
SMERCONISH: It's a lot to comprehend. So ISIS-K thinks that the Taliban is too soft. Meanwhile, the Taliban is presenting itself as Taliban 2.0. You have written that you don't think they're so chill. Here's what you've written for "The Atlantic."
"When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan 20 years ago it implemented a program of startling simplicity, in domestic policy, a law-and-order government according to an interpretation of Islamic law alien to modern conceptions of human rights; and in foreign policy, extension of hospitality to the Sunni jihadists of all nationalities and persuasions. It claims to have chilled out. But its actions suggest that nothing has really changed, and the Taliban will turn Afghanistan into a place just as miserable for its people, and for the rest of the world, as it ever was.
And the United States has all but announced that we are willing to let that happen." Expand on that if you will.
WOOD: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, the Taliban right now they care about nothing more than showing that they are in charge, that Afghanistan can be an orderly place, and that they can manage the final exit from Afghanistan of the United States. So, none of that has anything to do with the kind of ideological aspects that ISIS has emphasized.
So, they're really saying, you know, we're going to be soft for a little while so that we can make sure that all the capital, all the people stay here. I don't think they're going to stay that way. I think that they are as harsh as they have ever been. But it's a different kind of harshness and a different emphasis from ISIS.
So these groups are going to be fighting again and it's going to be -- I think, in very short time it's going to be just like the Afghanistan of 1990s where there are many warring factions most of which are unfriendly to the United States. Most of them which are very unfriendly to the United States and the Taliban will merely be one of the dominant ones.
SMERCONISH: You remind us of the case of Mohammad Najibullah, the ousted president. What happened to him, 20, 25 years ago?
WOOD: Yes. So, the Taliban when they came into Kabul for the first time in 1996 they said, we are not going to exact revenge. But their first act was to get the former president of Afghanistan, pull him out into the streets, tear off parts of his body that he didn't want to be pulled off, stuff them in his mouth and then hang him from a lamp post. So, we've heard them say before that they're going to be forgiving and merciful. And I just don't think we should trust them on that one.
SMERCONISH: OK. Another of my naive question. I think of al Qaeda, I think of Bin Laden, I think of exporters of terrorism like the events that will commemorate very, very soon, September 11th. I think of the Taliban as enablers, but not necessarily exporters to the United States of terror. If my model is correct, where does ISIS-K fall?
WOOD: Your model is correct. So, most of the Taliban -- remember, these are backwoodsman from Afghanistan with very little education, most of them couldn't find the United States on a map if you give them two extra lifelines.
Now, ISIS has always modeled itself as a group with global reach. They are trying to take over planet Earth. So, they have a sense of geography, place, and far enemies that the Taliban never had. And that's my biggest fear about ISIS in Afghanistan is once an even more a chaotic environment there even if ISIS can't unseat the Taliban they can operate in areas and they can have bases where they have been denied in the past. So, I think they could be a serious threat and a global threat in a way that the Taliban haven't really ever been.
SMERCONISH: So bottom line, are they headed for civil war, pitting ISIS-K against the Taliban as soon as we're gone, if not sooner?
WOOD: Yes. They're already there. I mean, Afghanistan is already in a state where many different factions are trying to get their foothold. They're trying to get their weapons. They're trying to get outside backers.
And the Taliban -- they would love to be able to say, we control the country. They control a large part of it, but they have these other enemies and other factions that will grow up really quickly. So Afghanistan -- this is a very sad state for it because civil war has been the state of affairs for most of the last half century. And they're going to have more of it and it's going to be just as bad as it ever was.
SMERCONISH: Graeme, that was excellent. Thank you so much.
WOOD: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: I want to remind everybody answer the survey question at my Web site at Smerconish.com. Do you agree with Secretary Panetta "We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS"?
Still to come, the sad ending of America's longest war shines a harsh light on President Biden's decision making and the chaotic nature of the U.S. exit. So, what exactly are the political ramifications? Ron Brownstein in the on-deck circle.
[09:43:38] SMERCONISH: Turning now to the political ramifications of Thursday's attack, I'm joined by CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also a senior editor at "The Atlantic."
Ron, always great to see you. How long until we know what the domestic political ramifications are?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think we're going to see short term ramifications probably immediately, but I think the long term question is very different. I mean, obviously, none of us can see the future, but we can study the past. And, I think, the precedence that we have suggests that while they're -- will almost certainly be a short-term hit it's unlikely that this by itself, unless attached to other events, I think, will take a lasting bite out of the president's standing.
I mean, you know, in 1983, 240 American, I believe was the number, were killed in the marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. And the next year Ronald Reagan won 49 states. Bill Clinton suffered after Somalia. He won reelection.
I think the issue is whether this becomes part of a broader narrative about whether events are overrunning Joe Biden. If it does, a problem. If not, a terrible day for America that probably doesn't leave a lasting political scar.
SMERCONISH: Up until the loss of American life on Thursday, I was convinced that if it were limited to chaos at the airport and sadly loss of life of people who are in Afghanistan that in the end Americans would have said, that's a tragedy, but I still want us out.
The loss of 13 soldiers, airmen, marines that makes it a little different. I'm still not sure.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, as I said, "None of us can see the future." But, you know, Michael there's been a debate for decades really since Vietnam among political scientists about whether there is a direct relationship between political -- public support in America for our president and a military action -- direct relationship between support and the number of casualties, and whether more casualties inexorably diminish support. And, I think, the view has become that casualties by themselves are not necessarily a lasting kind of downward pressure on public support if people believe the mission was appropriate and if they believe that it is -- it is making progress.
Now, obviously, Biden has problems on both of those fronts. But, I think, most Americans believe that getting out as many of our Afghan allies and certainly American citizens is worthwhile. And, if they think that we fundamentally accomplished that mission I think the casualties -- the evidence suggest are viewed in a very different light than if they viewed it as something of a failure. If we had gone back, for example, and kind of escalated again and we suffered casualties as kind of the -- an alternative path, that might be a very different story. SMERCONISH: The Republican attack is one of him being totally in over his head. Is that sticking?
BROWNSTEIN: I think that is the real risk, right? I mean, this as part of a broader portrait I think the Biden presidency right now is a kind of split screen moment. On one screen, he is kind of moving towards steadily if imperfectly moving toward the biggest legislative success for any Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in the 60s. If they pass this reconciliation bill they will transform the federal government's relationship with kind of everyday life from universal pre-K to universal community college to the child tax credit, and give themselves lots and lots of things to tout and run on in '22 and '24.
On the other screen, you have COVID again raging. You have concerns about inflation. You have concerns about crime. You have Afghanistan. And particularly for Republican voters you have the border. You have a sense that things are kind of drifting out of control.
And I do think, again, history suggests that getting that perception under control, get -- convincing Americans that, in fact, things are moving in the right direction in the here and now is probably going to have a bigger effect on 2022, than exactly what they pass in the next few months.
SMERCONISH: Right. And it remains to be seen how they resolve the 1.2 trillion versus or including -- or in addition to the $3.5 trillion and whether Democrats are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I think, is the way I wish to express it. You get the final word on the infrastructure situation.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think the final reconciliation bill, the big one, the Democratic only bill will be smaller than $3.5 trillion but will still be at a magnitude that will encompass the biggest Democratic legislative successes since the 1960s. And, I think, by 2024, a lot of the programs they are creating will be significant assets for Biden or whoever is the Democratic nominee.
But, you know, in 1966, after that Democratic Congress had created Medicare and Medicaid and passed the Voting Rights Act they lost 47 seats. Republicans lost 26 seats in 1982 after the passage of the Reagan tax cut in '81, the biggest conservative policy victory of the last 50 years.
I think, in the near term you have to convince Americans that things are moving in the right direction under your presidency. And, I think, that is the more immediate challenge they will face politically. Even though they want to focus on what they've passed, I think, getting COVID under control, getting inflation under control, convincing people that Afghanistan was managed as well as it could have is probably going to be more critical to their fortunes in '22, if not necessarily in '24.
SMERCONISH: Ron Brownstein, great as always. Thank you so much.
BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me, Michael.
SMERCONISH: More social media reaction, I think, from the world of Twitter. What do we have?
In military matters, I never give the president too much credit or blame. It's war. Stuff happens. It's tragic but sometimes stuff can't be avoided.
I feel the same way, Chuck, about the stock market. You know, we tend to heap all the credit when the market is roaring and all the blame when it isn't. I always wonder did he really have that much to do with that eventual outcome? I'm not sure.
Still to come, more of your tweets and Facebook comments and the results. Have you voted yet on the survey question of the week at Smerconish.com? It is this, do you agree with Secretary Panetta when he said, "We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS"? Go vote, if not.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Do you agree with Secretary Leon Panetta? The -- quote -- "We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS."
Here are the results, 56 percent of more than, let's call it 16,000 people who voted. Fifty-six percent say sadly they agree. I hope that he's wrong. I fear that he's right.
Here's some of the social media reaction that has come in while I've been on air. Smerconish, Panetta is a warmonger like the Republicans. They should be handled by airstrikes. Going back in with the Taliban in charge would be foolish and start another endless war.
I don't know that Panetta, Anita, to your first observation, was cheering on that result. I don't think that's where he's coming from. As to your second point, I happen to share it.
Hopefully we can do whatever is necessary remotely, as was apparently done in the last 24 hours with one of the planners of the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 of our soldiers on Thursday.
One more if I have got time, and I think that I do. Here it is.
Smerconish, what's sad is you blaming President Biden -- really? Kickrocks, I'm stopping right there.
When President Trump negotiated the deals, of course, President Biden takes accountability. Stop. Hey, I'm saying this. I guess I wasn't clear enough at the outset of the program. There is plenty of blame to go around, but I'm not caught up in the blame game. I just think the whole damn thing is sad, and I'm happy we're getting the hell out.
I'll be off for Labor Day and for September 11. See you soon.