Transcript

Sept. 11 to Jan. 6

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ARCHIVE: If you're just joining us, you probably already know the World Trade Center towers, the twin towers, the New York landmarks, have collapsed and are gone.

 

ARCHIVE: We now have fire confirmed at the Pentagon.

 

ARCHIVE: The State Department has now been evacuated. The White House has been evacuated, and the Capitol has been evacuated.

 

ARCHIVE: It is realistic, but at the same time, it is one of the darkest days in America.

 

RANEY ARONSON: On Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the deadliest terror attack on America in the country's history, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring thousands more. The events that followed changed the world and ushered in an era of fear, mistrust and division in America.

 

ARCHIVE: Our war on terror has begun, but it has only begun.

 

ARCHIVE: Complaints over the treatment of the detainees are growing overseas. And here at home.

 

ARCHIVE: Afghanistan is a devastated country. Many of the buildings in the capital, Kabul, have been destroyed.

 

ARCHIVE: Every day there are reminders that terrorists are still planning to attack this country.

 

ARCHIVE: Is America becoming Islamophobic?

 

ARCHIVE: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.

 

ARCHIVE: … the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria driving toward Baghdad.

 

ARCHIVE: Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.

 

ARONSON: In this episode, FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk explores his new documentary America After 9/11, which traces the evolution and legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan across multiple presidencies and explores how the U.S.’s standing in the world has been impacted. The film draws on dozens of interviews with elected officials, White House and intelligence insiders, military leaders and journalists, as well as those conducted over 20 years of FRONTLINE’s coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath. I'm Raney Aronson, and this is The FRONTLINE Dispatch. Mike, thanks for joining me on the Dispatch.

 

MICHAEL KIRK: My pleasure, Raney.

 

ARCHIVE: America was targeted for attack, because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.

 

ARONSON: It's really hard to believe for me, and I'm sure for you, too, that 20 years have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And of course, I remember as everybody does, where I was exactly in that moment, and I was actually on the F train, going from Brooklyn to Manhattan and about to actually go under and get off at the stop that was a World Trade Center stop, and we were evacuated off the train. Really vivid memory. What about you? Where were you at that moment?

 

KIRK: I was on my way into the office at WGBH, where we were editing a film that was about to air. And somebody in the parking lot said one of the Trade towers has been hit. And I did literally, you know, knew, because a lot of people had been telling me I should pay attention to a terrorism story, to the story of terrorism. And I said, “I don't know, how can I — what can you do? How can I do that? Nobody will talk to me in Washington.”

 

So, I ran into the building, ran to my editing room, where Steve Audette, my editor, was sitting, and I said, “Let's record everything we can, every network, every channel, every, everything.” And then, like the rest of America, I sat there all day, joined occasionally by David Fanning, the executive producer, and others, just watched what we were going to do for the next 20 years of our lives begin to happen. We all knew this was the reason for us to, you know, to turn all of our energies in that direction.

 

ARONSON: Mike, let's talk about that for a minute. I mean, from my perspective, I was working for ABC News, working for Peter Jennings at the time, and one thing that I have a vivid memory of is turning to FRONTLINE time and time again in the weeks after 9/11 for context and for making sense of at all. And I'll never forget sharing what you all were doing with all the people in the newsroom saying, like, “Hey, are you guys watching FRONTLINE?” So, talk to me about those early programs.

 

KIRK: We had just decided that, I mean, literally that day, that there was one film that Lowell Bergman and Marty Smith had made about bin Laden. So, that decision right away was made that we'll get that on the air as fast as possible. As it turned out, the vice president's office, Cheney's office, requested a copy after the broadcast. FRONTLINE knew; we were in the thick of it. I turned to trying to make a film that ended up being called Target America. That was the first time that there was an intramural skirmish between the State Department and the Defense Department about what to do and how to react to terrorists.

 

So, it was a very interesting first step, because I recognized a lot of faces in that time: Colin Powell, who would eventually be the Secretary of State in the Bush administration, was a young general at the Defense Department, and on and on; lots of names that would eventually form the core of the neoconservatives that were pushing Bush to head for beyond Afghanistan and into Iraq. All of that had played out years before. So, we put together a film as fast as we could, and got it on the air within a couple of weeks.

 

But I had also gotten another call from someone who said, “You understand that this is really all about Iraq.” And I said, “What?” And they said, “This is — the reaction will be about Iraq. I promise you.” So, we started digging around almost immediately. And I think five weeks later, we put up a film called Gunning for Saddam, which was really the heart and soul of the beginning of the neoconservative push with Rumsfeld. And to heading past Afghanistan, once we got in there, and all the way into Iraq.

 

ARONSON: One of the things about introducing America to bin Laden during that time was that after 9/11, it was seen as very prescient. What about the fact that you were reporting this, others were reporting this, but it did seem that at the time, America was quite unprepared, and of course, I'm just curious how you feel looking back at that moment.

 

KIRK: It's like so much of what happened when we decided to make this current film, Raney. We went back, we looked at the list, we looked at the films we'd forgotten, we looked at the films, we've made 19 films during those 20 years.

 

ARONSON: Unbelievable.

 

KIRK: FRONTLINE had made 94. It's an interesting thing, when you decide to reduce all that to the most important things you can think about for a two-hour film. And one of the things we did was, you know, by pulling back, we discovered a lot of dots that could be connected, that actually had a strong relevance to today. And that was part of what, you know, when I was thinking about what happened in the very beginning. And what did Bush know? And what was he told. And of course, we'd all researched that story. We'd done it for a couple of films, trying to find out what the CIA knew and when they knew it. And when they tried to tell President Bush and Dick Cheney about it. And they were not listening in that first year of the Bush administration. And before that, the Clinton administration, too, had had many other problems. Terrorism wasn't on the top of their list either.

 

So, America was really caught with their guard down on that beautiful Tuesday morning in New York and changed, I think, really, the way America is viewed in the world and is viewed by itself over the next 20 years.

 

ARONSON: So, Mike, you know, when we talked originally about you doing a film 20 years after 9/11, you know, I know that we both had reticence, a little bit, about doing a so-called anniversary film. Talk to me about how you really picked up the idea of America After 9/11.

 

KIRK: That's the heart of what we do. It's the hardest part. It's the idea of: Why are you reopening all these wounds? Why are you going back? And taking a look at it? How? What is the relevance of it? Is it just now almost ancient history, in terms of the news cycle and other things? But when we stepped back and looked at all of that body of information that FRONTLINE accumulated over the years, to try to get a sort of 30,000-foot view of what had happened over those years, it revealed the kind of, some startling connections between the events of 20 years ago and during the last 20 years, and where we are today.

 

We'd been looking, as you well know, because you've encouraged us to do it, looking at the division in the society, and the polarization in America, for years now. The war in Afghanistan, weapons of mass destruction, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret intelligence gathering, the drones, the kill squads, the lies, and how all those led to division and distrust became our goal for each of the sequences that we would put up in the film, and the heart and soul of the 37 or so interviews we did for this film.

 

ARONSON: Mike, I mean, you've reported on this now and need, you know, as you mentioned, 19 films in this territory. And I want to know, from your perspective, what surprised you the most?

 

KIRK: I think when you step back and you try to connect the dots over those 20 years, and decide what to keep and what not to keep, especially if what your goal is, is to ask the question and maybe discover the answer of what happened, as a result of 9/11, that fed in large part division and distrust polarization inside America. We also talk about what it did in the world, but really, we're trying to bring it home to America.

 

And when in our research, and thinking about it, and connecting the dots from one event to another, we suddenly realized, Oh, my God, this comes all the way down to Jan. 6, 2021. That attack on the Capitol building by insurgents, on that day, that outgoing President Donald Trump encouraged them to go up to the Capitol.

 

ARCHIVE: Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we're gonna walk down, and I'll be there with you. We're gonna walk down to the Capitol.

 

KIRK: The idea that things that happened as a result of 9/11 led to, not as the only cause, but led to and contributed significantly to what happened at that Capitol, in a way that one person who we interviewed said, what happened at the Capitol that day was Americans who distrust their government, doing what al Qaeda could not do on Sept. 11, 2001. That startled me, when we were told it. And as I think about it, even today. It's what the film goes after, tries to understand, deal with and help our viewers come to the understanding of another reason, maybe the most significant reason, why that happened on Jan. 6.

 

ARONSON: We'll be right back.

 

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ARONSON: Mike, talk to me about the moment of unity on the steps of the Congress right after 9/11. And then just fast forward to January 6th.

 

KIRK: It's so amazing. It's one of those scenes that you forget actually happened. There's a lot of those in this film

 

ARONSON: Right.

 

KIRK: On the night of Sept. 11, a bipartisan group of senators, Democrats, Republicans, members of Congress, after hearing from the leadership, the spontaneous moment occurs, where they're all singing “God Bless America.”

 

ARONSON: Gosh, Mitch McConnell. I mean, amazing, right?

 

KIRK: Mitch McConnell, standing next to Jeff Flake.

 

ARONSON: Right?

 

KIRK: It's just, you see, you see all the people who now are enemies. And when you spend as much time in Washington as, as I have over the last 20 years, it's like looking at something 100 years ago, right here to the way the vitriol, the anger, the coldness, the lack of cooperation, that you see in Congress, the idea that you could get them all out on the steps now to sing “God Bless America”? It's inconceivable.

 

ARONSON: It's profound. I mean, it was one of those moments where I thought, No way, like, of course that happened. But it was just like you said, what a change. And you know, we're filmmakers. We're always thinking about: What is the beginning? What is the once upon a time? And if there ever was one, it was then, to where we've come now.

 

Let's shift gears to Afghanistan. Afghanistan, of course, you know, after 9/11, you know, former President George W. Bush and a reference to the eventual U.S. military response declared, and I'll quote him, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” The U.S. military, obviously, then, spent the next 20 years there. Talk to me about what's going through your mind when you see what's happening in Afghanistan today, and how it relates to your story.

 

KIRK: You know, the original idea was, we're going to go in quickly, we're going to — the CIA promised George W. Bush, we already know, while all you guys are looking for your maps of Afghanistan, we the CIA already know, partly because of the times with Russia, they knew the warlord leaders, they were ready to go. And the head of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, said, “It's time for the gloves to come off. Let us go in. Let's knock the Taliban out. And within the span of weeks, we will have done it, and we'll grab Osama bin Laden, and we'll take them down.” And Bush said, “Go,” much to the chagrin of the military and Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense.

 

So, it began there with: Oh, we'll go over for a couple of months or knock it off. We bomb the heck out of the place and the Taliban. We use our air power. We do not send a lot of troops in there. We do send Special Forces in. But lo and behold, before very long, they discovered that — the CIA discovers that the subject of the hunt of Osama bin Laden had vanished. By the time they tracked him down, he's up in caves in the mountains, far away from Kabul, on the Pakistan border and Tora Bora. An internal struggle ensues. CIA asking for lots more boots on the ground to go get him, because he's just hunkered down in the caves. And they're dropping bombs on him, but it doesn't matter. And before they know it, he's gone. And he's out of there.

 

And of course, the question everybody asks who knows about this, especially the reporters and others who were there, is: What would have happened if we would have gotten him? Would we have pulled out of Afghanistan, come back home, with, as Cofer Black asked the lead CIA guy, with Osama bin Laden's head on ice? If that would have happened? What difference would it have made? And you might ask yourself that at the beginning of our film, and ask yourself that at the end of our film, as well, as I do, as I watch us leave Afghanistan 20 years later.

 

ARONSON: 20 years later on before …

 

KIRK: Longest war in, you know in American history.

 

ARONSON: Right. Talk to me a little bit about how you approached your early reporting but also how you looked at Iraq throughout your current film.

 

KIRK: We journalists, like so many others, couldn't believe that they were really going to aim for — the Bush administration was really going to aim for Iraq. It didn't seem like there was a connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and terrorism. It didn't appear to have had any connection to bin Laden, but many in the American government thought, if we could clear out the dictator Saddam Hussein, who was a bad actor, and we could take over, that the people were hungry for a democracy. They could become the democratic Bastion in the Middle East, and Iranians would see it and overthrow their side. Eventually democracy would prevail — an incredibly naive, as we know now, and in a way a kind of innocent view of what it really means to take over a country.

 

ARCHIVE: … leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-Sept. 11 world.

 

KIRK: And when Colin Powell went to the United Nations after being briefed by the Central Intelligence Agency, making George Tenet, the head of the CIA sitting right behind him in camera shot, so that he, too, would get pinned with the problem if this wasn't — didn’t turn out to be true. Powell propped up by the president of the United States, because he was one of the most trusted public figures in the world. Powell’s — told me that he had the same kind of ratings as Mother Teresa, in terms of believability and popularity.

 

That man sat there, and the truth was not told. And the world stepped back and said, “What are you talking about?” Other than Britain and some other allies, very nervous about what we were doing. And in America, especially once it was revealed that it wasn't true, that there weren't ma — weapons of mass destruction. So, it's one of the biggest moments of distrust by Americans.

 

ARCHIVE: It's the final word: Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

 

ARCHIVE: As the U.S. has come up empty in its hunt for weapons.

 

ARCHIVE: The lack of hard evidence calls into question one of the basic reasons for the war.

 

KIRK: And, of course, we asked Colin Powell, a few years later, what do you think about it, and he of course, said, “You know, we were wrong.” It was a gut punch. It was the worst news I've ever had. His trust was profoundly diminished. And he blamed, of course, the intelligence services for not telling him the truth. He said, “I was just the messenger. I was just a salesman.” Well, for a lot of people who put their faith in Colin Powell, this was one of the first pillars to fall, in terms of trust of the institution.

 

ARONSON: Tell me about how it felt seeing Colin Powell's response in the interview, and how that made you feel, as both a reporter, director, somebody who's been covering this for so long, even at that point.

 

KIRK: It felt like a door was finally closing, or maybe a door was opening, and truth was starting to seep out. Because I've made so many films, I can't tell you how many people used to ask me: “Why do you think Colin Powell did it? Why do you think he agreed to talk?,” because he had expressed misgivings beforehand, even those of the world who knew him well at the United Nations and France and England and Germany and all the capitals of the world, were surprised that he did it, and I remember watching the speech and thinking, Wow, this doesn't seem as strong as I thought it would be, doesn't seem as convincing. And we, of course, had discovered subsequently that he had fought with the CIA over an entire weekend on everything they thought they had. But in the end, you know, he went along with a lot of it.

 

So, when Powell kind of diminishes his role, saying, you know, “It was the CIA. Wasn't me. I was just a salesman. I was doing a job for the president of the United States,” it explained one of the answers about why Powell did it. And that was, he's a good soldier. He was a general, highly decorated general, and — and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he was — his president asked him to do it. And he had. He did it. He tried to get as much truth as he could on the weekend before from the CIA, but in the end, it was his job to sell it on behalf of others.

 

I think he must deeply and profoundly regret it, and I think he must know the price his reputation and America's reputation has paid for his actions — a man who'd given such service to America, over a lifetime career. And there he was, now, a central player in the beginnings of the crumbling of faith in the government.

 

ARONSON: You know, at the time, America seemed willing to use any means necessary in response to 9/11. And obviously, to prevent what they were saying was, you know, potential further attacks. Guantanamo Bay comes to mind: your work on torture, and the abuse that you have explored and investigated at Guantanamo Bay, and also Abu Ghraib.

 

ARCHIVE: The United States invasion of Iraq is proving to be a Pandora's box. Now, adding to the crisis of credibility, allegations of torture …

 

ARCHIVE: Photographs surfaced, showing American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners …

 

ARONSON: Can you just talk about what decisions were made in the wake of 9/11, and how you then were able to explore that in your current film?

 

KIRK: The challenge of making this film was to keep only those things that seemed really central to this notion of distrust and polarization, for questioning the end of trust in institutions and government. And the list is kind of obvious. And you didn't really have to go down inside them very much. Once you've thought about it, you then could talk to people who you'd interviewed originally and say: “Now we're looking back 20 years later. What were the stakes when one thing happened, and what were the results, and it's true for the weapons of mass destruction?”

 

So, that became an obvious one. The secrets that began with Vice President Cheney saying that very first weekend: “We've got to go to the dark side. The American people are going to have to understand there are going to be means — that methods that we're going to employ — that they don't know about, and they don't want to know about, but we're going to do them to survive.” So, this decision to take American ideals and the things America stood for, and the world, for 70 years, maybe longer, as — to take those and put those at risk. Because of fear that was in the country, the fear that this could happen again, survival took precedence over our ideals.

 

ARCHIVE: The U.S. government has received intelligence that more attacks against Americans may be imminent.

 

ARCHIVE: Osama bin Laden may be closer to building a crude radiological bomb than anyone realized.

 

ARCHIVE: … disturbing news from Boca Raton, Florida …

 

ARCHIVE: … another anthrax case, this one in New York.

 

ARCHIVE: Anthrax.

 

KIRK: Fear became a potent driver in the politics of the country. So, when you think about why various presidents, including Obama —

 

ARONSON: Obama, right?

 

KIRK: Yes, that there was there. They were driven by the fear.

 

ARONSON: Right. And I think one of the powerful things about the film, the way that you tell it, is that, of course, it's through three presidencies and now into the fourth presidency. What about Obama? I mean, you know, Obama, obviously, he continued waging his predecessors’ war on terror, new ways. Talk to me about how that related to the story that you told in the film.

 

KIRK: One of Obama's top national security advisors is Ben Rhodes. We interviewed Ben at great length; I think at least three hours. And Ben said what I think we all knew, but I was — I was glad he said it, which is there would have been no Obama presidency, there would have been no election of America's first Black president if there hadn't been the war in Iraq. That turn toward Iraq by the Bush administration, that “axis of Evil” approach to the world scared a lot of people, and Obama ran against it. He ran as the antiwar candidate. And a lot of people thought that's what they were electing. The Nobel Prize committee gave him the Peace Prize, believing that that's who he was, was an antiwar president.

 

ARCHIVE: We will reject torture. We will close Guantanamo. And it is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11.

 

KIRK: But what Obama discovered — we have people in the film who talk about it — what he discovered, once you get in the office, in the Oval Office, is that it's not that simple. What had happened to us in Afghanistan, and the way we were in the quagmire there, and the quagmire, morally, ethically and just practically of Iraq, was just all over us. Our boots were stuck in the mud there, too.

 

Obama, you watch a guy who wanted, had a big domestic agenda and wanted to deal with it, but was constantly being pulled back to war in the Middle East, and tough decisions about what do you do in the Middle East, as he takes off, as he has decided, because he's campaigned against it, that he's gonna just let Iraq go. “But I am going to go for the good war. I think we can win in Afghanistan.” He gets a general, Stanley McChrystal, who gives him advice on a way to win, then he authorizes a surge of additional troops. This is the antiwar president. And then they go, and it's a failure. And he realizes: Oh, my God. Not only can I not pull out, because, God, what if a terrorism attack did come from there? That's the end of my presidency. But I can't win either.

 

ARONSON: One of the things in the film that accumulates over time is that there were just so many outgrowths of 9/11 from those attacks forward. And, of course, the U.S. response, the rise of distrust, division, racism and conspiracy theories in America during, of course, Obama's presidency. You know, to go now to the Trump administration era — let's start in 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president.

 

ARCHIVE: We are led by very, very stupid people. ... We can’t beat ISIS. Give me a break!

 

ARONSON: He gave a speech on fighting terrorism, saying, “The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.” Talk to me about that comment and how it fueled his run for presidency. Again, we're seeing a response to the war on terror and the aftermath of 9/11.

 

KIRK: Exactly. His criticism of Secretary Clinton and Obama is about Obama's desire, once Afghanistan seemed like a no-win situation, he was — Obama was just literally going to have to do — what one person we talked to said was — mow the lawn over there. Just make sure no terrorism attacks come out of there, keeping enough military there to do that. Obama then turns to Iraq and how to get out of there, and he just decides he's going to pull and go.

 

Obama, of course, did go back in, once ISIS became so palpably threatening to the lives of people, as it metastasized across the Middle East, of the lives of people there, and Obama just said, “We've got to go back in and settle this all down in some way.” That's why Trump felt justified in saying he was the father of ISIS: a true outrageous statement. But by then, Trump had decided what his policies were going to be. And he was going to view that all, as one person in our film says, as a wedge issue.

 

ARCHIVE: The war in Iraq was a big fat mistake. All right … they lied ... they said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.

 

KIRK: He was going to enhance the division and distrust in our society, appealing for those people that would eventually become known as his base, to say, “Look, your government lied to you. Bush lied to you. The Republicans lied to you. And Obama is the father of ISIS. Say no more. We need a new president who is going to go in and clean that all up.”

 

ARONSON: I'm glad you brought that up. Because he also uses that issue — that wedge issue, as you call it — to activate his base in domestic issues, as well. Even though, somehow, he was able to have the language of war on terror, and his perceived enemies at home, relate to protesters who took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd. Now that's — connected tissue is hard to come by.

 

ARCHIVE: Our great national wound of race has opened up once again.

 

ARCHIVE: The police killing of George Floyd sparked a massive wave of protests, people …

 

ARCHIVE: … demand justice for George Floyd and call for an end to racial inequality.

 

KIRK: People we talked to said that the Black Lives Matter protests was just the opportunity Donald Trump wanted to bring the language and the actions of the war on terror home. He militarized police forces; he encouraged the National Guard to get out there; he encouraged tough responses. His language — others called the, you know — the radical Islamic terrorists. He made that into antifa. Same words, same intensity, just about a war here, on the streets of America.

 

It was calculated, it was determined, and it was forceful. And in some important way, it was a fitting migration that we'd been following all the way through the film, as we made it, of the things that we were learning and the distrust it was building. Now, here it was. Now it was polarized. Now, there were people, many of them in military garb, many of them former military. Who had now, having watched all of the diminishment of America, across the 20 years — from whether it was weapons of mass destruction, lies, Abu Ghraib, or just on and on and on. He had people who could agree and be, this one person told us, weaponized in this argument over Black Lives Matter, and there you have it: The war had finally come home.

 

ARCHIVE: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Trump won! Trump won!

 

ARONSON: That is so profound, to think about the war coming home, and as it relates to Jan. 6. From Jan, 6 til now, one of the things I wanted you to explore with me is Biden's big decision to leave Afghanistan. What about the symbolism of that and the legacy we're leaving behind there?

 

KIRK: Well, here's a president, Biden, who was vice president in, during Obama's time, really was given the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. So, he knew. He was part of all the tortured, long, I'm sure, middle-of-the-night conversations about what to do about both of these places. In a way, in political terms, just purely in political terms now, leaving the land of what is the moral thing or the right thing or the long-term thing to do, just in pure political terms, he was given cover as the newly elected president, because Trump had wanted to get out of Afghanistan and was kind of willing to do any kind of deal, including negotiating with the Taliban, even though we had a government we had propped up there and we were encouraging, and a military we were paying for.

 

By signing an agreement, by coming to an agreement with the Taliban, that promise that we would be out by May 1, Trump, this sounds too casual — it's not as casual as this — but it was political cover for Biden, in the sense that it gave him an out. He could say, “I'm going with what America and a previous American president decided was the right thing to do.” I think he had decided — that is, Biden and the people around him — they had decided we had to get out of there.

 

ARCHIVE: It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.

 

KIRK: We were never going to win. It was just going to be a continuing quagmire. They did understand that there was going to be real carnage. That women, girls, in Afghanistan were going to be under Shariah law at some moment fairly quickly. That life in Afghanistan, that we had tried to prop up financially, and culturally, and in lots of other ways, was about to change dramatically by pulling out. And in effect, Biden was saying: “We’re not even going to mow the lawn. We’re just going to get out of there.” And when he did that, he used, as political cover, what Trump had done before him.

 

Obviously, he didn’t know what was going to happen as a result of it. And I gather they made the calculation that they could handle whatever the bad news was that came from Afghanistan. And we’ll see whether it has any effect politically on him now.

 

ARONSON: Thank you so much, Mike, for your thoughts and your film — first and foremost — you know, to go back over these years, and to help us understand, not only what’s happened to America here, domestically, but also internationally. Thanks for coming on the Dispatch.

 

KIRK: It’s really my pleasure, Raney. And thank you for encouraging us to do this work and helping us, once we’d sort of assembled it, to make it as sharp as it can be.

 

ARONSON: You can watch Michael Kirk’s documentary, America After 9/11, presented by FRONTLINE, at pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video app.

 

This podcast was produced by Devin Maverick Robins. Katherine Griwert is our editorial coordinating producer. Phil Bennett is FRONTLINE’s special projects editor and a producer on this documentary. Frank Koughan is our senior producer. Andrew Metz is our managing editor. And I’m Raney Aronson, executive producer of FRONTLINE. Music in this episode is from Stellwagen Symphonette.

 

The FRONTLINE Dispatch is produced at GBH and powered by PRX.

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