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The Chaotic U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Puts Biden In A Political Hole

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden has resolutely defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Biden says the chaos surrounding the exit is not surprising.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing - I don't know how that happens.

MARTINEZ: But Republicans and many Democrats have criticized the way the administration has withdrawn. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now to discuss the political fallout. Domenico, this ABC interview was the second time in a short amount of time that Biden talked at length about Afghanistan. What did he have to say?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, the president pledged to keep the U.S. military in the country until all American citizens are out, even if that means after this self-imposed August 31 deadline to get out. He's not explicitly making that same promise to Afghans who helped the U.S., though he said the goal is to get everyone out who aided U.S. and NATO forces. You know, it's interesting that Biden said not only was it not very surprising that there was chaos but that chaos was expected. You know, that's not the message that Americans were hearing in the run up to the withdrawal. And if he believed that, he certainly didn't do much to prepare Americans for it.

MARTINEZ: How are the last several days playing out for the president and other Democrats?

MONTANARO: Well, Biden ran in 2020 on this idea that he knew how to do this, that he knew how to run the government competently, certainly more competently than former President Trump. This withdrawal puts a dent in that narrative that he wants to present. He also ran to restore America's image around the world. And while that was happening to a large extent before this, many U.S. allies are upset with how this has all played out. And it's not just abroad, but at home, too. You know, this is frustrating for a lot of Democrats. They already have a - just a tenuous hold on the House. They're fighting a full plate of attacks from Republicans, and this doesn't help. Part of the problem here is that what Biden did, you know, set an expectation that there'd be an orderly exit and it would be highly unlikely that the Taliban would take over so quickly.

MARTINEZ: And then that's what happened.

MONTANARO: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's a reminder that presidents really should not make rosy assessments or make definitive-sounding predictions. Arguably, had the president been more measured, the political backlash might not be so swift.

MARTINEZ: Underpromise, overdeliver - everyone says that. Stepping back, though, Domenico, for a second, what are you thinking that all of this might mean for the president?

MONTANARO: Speaking of not making predictions, right? You know...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTINEZ: Yes, that's right.

MONTANARO: ...We don't know exactly how all of this is going to shake out in the end. And I think we need to remember that. You know, the broader context here is important. This war has not been popular with Americans for the better part of the last 15 years. It moved far beyond the original mission of rooting out al-Qaida and making sure terrorists can't reconstitute in Afghanistan and that withdrawing was always going to be difficult. It's why three presidents before Biden didn't do it, even if they supported it.

You know, plus, in recent years, let's be honest, Americans have turned inward amidst economic turmoil and a pandemic. Former President Trump was reflecting that when he set this withdrawal in motion in the first place. You know, Biden supporters are hoping all of that becomes the focus eventually if this evacuation is managed well from here on out, which is a tall order. At the end of the day, you know, the ultimate test is going to be whether terrorist groups are able to once again plan attacks from Afghanistan on Americans, and really, that's going to take longer to know.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: A, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.