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Afghanistan: Obama v. Petraeus (Part 379)

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PETRAEUSAt the start of the year we closely tracked the political battle between the White House and military commanders, notably General David Petraeus, over the deployment of additional US troops to Afghanistan. This was nominally resolved at the end of March by a "compromise" agreement (even though the military got almost all of the troop request) in which Obama announced a new strategy of military measures supporting non-military measures to build up the country.

The situation was not resolved, either inside Washington or in Afghanistan, and we are back in another cycle of reports, spin, and power moves over another escalation in the US military commitment. One curious absentee, however, is Petraeus, who has not been far from media-shy in the past. Tom Englehardt digs beneath the surface for the story:

How Top Generals May Trap Obama in a Losing War

Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")

On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus.

He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.

He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.

Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.

On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.

As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.

Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.

There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.

Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President

In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")

Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.

So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.

If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)

Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.

As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.

It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."

Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.

A Petraeus Moment?

In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")

Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.

Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.

It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.

But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.

We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.

Transcript: Secretary of State Clinton on CBS

Iran’s Nukes: Did Gates Just Complicate the Obama Position?

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HILLARY CLINTONHARRY SMITH: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

CLINTON: Thank you, Harry.

SMITH: The president said, about this secret facility that’s been uncovered in Iran, that it is inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program. What does the United States think this secret facility is for?

CLINTON: Well, we believe that it is a covert facility designed for uranium enrichment. It has not been disclosed. And therefore it raises additional suspicions about the Iranian intent regarding their nuclear program.

And this week we had several very important developments. First, we had, in this room, a bilateral meeting with President Medvedev and President Obama.

And in a very small setting where I was there, the president, you know, talked with great specificity with President Medvedev about the dual track that we are on regarding the Iranian nuclear program and the upcoming meeting on October 1st, and opened the discussion about the information that we had concerning this facility.

SMITH: So he told President Medvedev?

CLINTON: Yes. Yes. And what we also saw happen today, later that day, was an agreement by all the members of the so-called P-5- plus-1, United States, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Russia and China, all in agreement, saying that we expected answers from Iran in the October 1st meeting and that we were working on what’s called a dual track.

We’re pursuing the answers. We have made it clear to Iran that they have a right to peaceful nuclear energy for civilian purposes under appropriate safeguards and monitoring, but not to a nuclear weapons program.

And if we don’t get the answers that we’re expecting and the changes in behavior that we’re looking for, then we will work with our partners to move toward sanctions.

SMITH: You talked this summer about, if diplomacy failed, you called the sanctions “crippling sanctions” would be in order. What would those be?

CLINTON: Well, harry, we’re exploring how you broaden and deepen sanctions. Now, sanctions are already in place, as you know. But, like many sanction regimes, they’re leaky.

But in the last eight months, since we’ve been dealing with North Korea on a similar set of issues, we have forged an international consensus around very tough sanctions. And that’s given us some additional information about how to proceed on the Iranian front.

But this is a very serious matter. The Russians have come out with a strong statement saying that the burden has now shifted. It has shifted to Iran. They have to come to this meeting on October 1st and present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program.

We don’t believe that they can present convincing evidence that it’s only for peaceful purposes. But we are going to put them to the test on October 1st.

SMITH: They’ve managed to hide a nuclear weapons development system for almost 20 years. Do you suspect that this is other than peaceful purposes? Because they have insisted, for the last half dozen a years or so, the only reason they’re interested in enriching uranium is for nuclear power for electricity.

CLINTON: Well, it certainly is hard to accept that at face value.

CLINTON: This latest incident concerning the facility at Qom, it would have been disclosed were it for peaceful purposes. There would have already been IAEA inspections.

We have been following this for several years in cooperation with some of our international partners, watching and assessing what the Iranians were doing. And then when this became known actually through the Iranians beginning to provide some information about it, we disclosed the fact and gave the information we had to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So I guess one has to ask, if it’s for a peaceful purposes, why was it not public? Why was the fact of it not generally known instead of through our working with partners to discover it?

SMITH: Because the IAEA guidelines basically dictate that if you’re even...

CLINTON: That’s right.

SMITH: ... going to do anything like this, you have to send us your plans to start with.

CLINTON: That’s exactly right. And of course, as you point out rightly, there have been many other actions along the way that raise similar doubts.

Now, the Iranians keep insisting, no, no, this is just for peaceful purposes. Well, I think, as the Russians said in their statement, and as we believe, and what this meeting on October 1st is to test, is, fine, prove it, don’t assert it, prove it.

And we are looking to see what they have to say.

SMITH: You keep talking about the Russians and it’s interesting because President Medvedev almost did cartwheels once the president announced that the radar shields were going to not be constructed in the Czech Republic and the missile systems were going to be constructed in Poland.

Do you really have -- is Russia really in tune with the United States on this? Because they’ve made verbal statements in the past and then when it has come time to have the rubber meet the road, so to speak, they haven’t been there.

Will they really be there this time?

CLINTON: I think Russia has begun to see many more indications that Iran is engaging in threatening behavior, certainly these last incidents seem to confirm that.

And finally the Russians were very supportive of our sanctions against North Korea. President Medvedev said in this room that sanctions may not be preferable, but they may be inevitable.

So I think this is what diplomacy and engagement is about. We are doing what we think is right for the United States. The missile defense decision, the Iranian process, this is in the interest of our people, our security, our safety, and our friends and allies.

But we also believe that in working closely with Russia, sharing information, that they have been quite helpful this past week.

SMITH: Is there anything the Iranians can do in this meeting on October 1st to dissuade you from what you believe they’re up to? What can they say in this meeting to say we’re really -- all we’re trying to do is make electricity?

CLINTON: Well, they can’t say anything, because they’ve said that for years. But they can open up their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for.

SMITH: Is that the only thing the U.S. and the other nations that will be there -- is that the only thing you’ll be satisfied with, if they completely open the doors?

CLINTON: Well, we have to be satisfied. And there may be other approaches short of that. But, you know, I think it’s really essential that we satisfy ourselves and the international community, which has passed numerous resolutions against Iran’s program, pointing out that they’re violating U.N. and IAEA obligations and the Non- Proliferation Treaty.

So words are not enough. They’re going to have to come and demonstrate clearly to the international community what they’re up to.

SMITH: In a region and in a nation that has known some instability over the last couple of months, what do you think this means in light of that as a backdrop?

CLINTON: Well, Harry, that’s a really important question because we know that there has been instability. It’s not only what we see on the television screens, but what is reported to us. But we’re dealing with the government that is there.

We encourage the free expression of ideas and political choices, but this nuclear program really is the core of our concern right now. And we are very urgently pursuing the engagement strategy that the president talked about, while simultaneously working to get the kind of very tough sanctions that, you know, may well have to be imposed.

SMITH: All right. Let’s talk about Afghanistan for a couple of minutes.

General McChrystal made his report to President Obama. One of the things he says is there’s a year window in which the United States has to act in order to ensure that the insurgency doesn’t basically take over the country.

Do you agree with that assessment?

CLINTON: Well, let me just put General McChrystal’s report into the broader context because it doesn’t stand alone. It is part of a process. And let’s look at what we’ve done during the last nine months under President Obama’s leadership.

We inherited a situation. We didn’t reject it out of hand. We didn’t accept it out of hand. We engaged in a very thorough review. We reached some critical decisions, including looking at both Afghanistan and Pakistan together because, of course, the threat goes back and forth across the borders.

We also reaffirmed our commitment to going after Al Qaida, to dismantling, defeating them. We believe, and we’ve seen just this week here in New York; we believe that Al Qaida poses a direct threat to the United States, to friends and allies throughout the world.

So we are very clear about our mission. Our mission is to protect the United States and protect our friends and allies, and to go after the scourge of Al Qaida and related extremist groups.

Now, the decision that was made to add troops in the spring has not even been fully implemented yet. You know, you don’t get up and just deploy the 82nd Airborne and they get there the next day. We are only now reaching the end of the deployment cycle.

We also know that, going hand in hand with our military strategy was our civilian strategy, a much more focused effort, a much more accountable one, dealing with the government of Afghanistan. So we not only saw the change of commanders in the military, we saw a change in our ambassador and a beefing up of the embassy in Kabul.

At the same time, Afghanistan is going through an election. This is not like an election, you know, in Western Europe or in the United States. To carry out an election under these circumstances was going to be difficult under any conditions.

It’s not over yet. We have to wait until it is resolved -- hopefully, very soon, then make a new commitment about how we’re going to meet our strategic goals. And it’s going to be up to the president to determine how best to achieve that.

So, you know, General McChrystal, the new commander, was asked for his assessment. There’s other input that’s coming throughout the government that the president will take on board. But I think we ought to look at it in context.

SMITH: There’s growing, sort of, discontent with sending more troops into Afghanistan. And one of the issues is the Karzai government, which is corrupt, at least, and may, in fact, have tried to steal this most recent election.

Is it worth American blood and treasure to help support a regime like that?

CLINTON: Well, with all respect, we’re doing this for the United States. We’re doing this because we think that a return to a safe haven in Afghanistan with Al Qaida, with Taliban elements associated with Al Qaida, with the same purpose, to basically run a syndicate of terror out of either Afghanistan or the border region, is something we cannot tolerate.

And, you know, we have to recognize that this was always going to be a challenge.

Now, having said that, does the Karzai government or whoever is the next president have to do more to fulfill the needs of the Afghan people to understand what is expected from the rule of law, transparency and accountability? Absolutely.

But, again, we inherited a situation with a set of expectations and behaviors that we have gone about attempting to influence and change. And one of my highest priorities is, once this election is finalized, to work with our entire civilian team, with Special Representative Holbrooke, with Ambassador Eikenberry and everyone else, to really impress upon the new government what is expected of them.

But let’s not forget, Harry, this is about us sitting right here in New York. This is about making sure that we’ve got the intelligence and the capacity to interrupt potential attacks, that we try to continue our effort to destroy and defeat Al Qaida, which are unfortunately still, to this day, attempting to kill and destroy Americans and others.

SMITH: Najibullah Zazi went to Pakistan...

CLINTON: That’s right.

SMITH: ... to the border areas, in order to get bomb training. Is Pakistan doing enough to clean up its own house?

CLINTON: Well, look at -- again, what has happened in the last nine months? Pakistan has increased its commitment in the fight against the Taliban.

SMITH: They were successful in the Swat Valley.

CLINTON: Absolutely successful. A lot of people thought that would never happen. I believe that, if we engaged very intensively with our Pakistani friends -- and we did, through meetings in Washington and in Islamabad -- if we shared information, we listened to each other, that there would be a decision by the civilian and military leadership that the threat was directed at them, that it could undermine their government, in fact, you know, would lead to very dangerous consequences in terms of the survivability of the state in many parts of the country. So, yes, have they taken action? Absolutely.

SMITH: “Have they done enough?” was the question.

CLINTON: Well, you know, we are always working for more. I mean, as I just finished saying, we’re -- we’re not satisfied with anything. This is not, you know, a check-box kind of experience where, “Oh, we’re done with that. We’re done with that.”

But look at what has been accomplished. And I think that we will continue to see a very close coordination. But it is important for Americans to understand that focusing on Al Qaida and the Taliban -- who are largely, but not exclusively, now in Pakistan -- cannot be done if we allow them to return to a safe haven in Afghanistan. So this has to be viewed as part of the overall strategy.

SMITH: Madam Secretary, we thank you so much for your time.

CLINTON: Thank you, Harry. It’s always good to talk to you.

Transcripts: Secretary of Defense Gates on CNN, ABC

Iran’s Nukes: Did Gates Just Complicate the Obama Position?

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GATESRobert Gates on CNN's "State of the Union"

JOHN KING: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

We learned as the week came to an end about a new underground secret Iranian nuclear bunker, and the president described it this way. “The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.”

Tell us more about what we know, and do you have any doubt Iran was using this facility or planned to use this facility to develop nuclear weapons?

GATES: We’ve been watching the construction of this facility for quite some time, and one of the reasons that we waited to make it public was to ensure that our conclusions about its purpose were right.

This is information shared among ourselves, the British, the French, as we’ve gone along. And I think that, certainly, the intelligence people have no doubt that this is an illicit nuclear facility, if only because the Iranians kept it a secret. If they wanted it for peaceful nuclear purposes, there’s no reason to put it so deep underground, no reason to be deceptive about it, keep it a secret for a protracted period of time.

KING: Take me back in time. You say you’ve known about it for some time, dating back into the Bush administration. You, of course, were serving in the Bush administration. How far back?

GATES: Well, it’s hard for me to remember, but at least a couple of years we’ve been watching it.

KING: At least a couple of years. Because the former vice president, Dick Cheney, is on record as saying in the closing months of the administration, he was an advocate for possibly using military action against some of these Iranian sites. Was this one of his targets, this area we’ve just learned about?

GATES: Well, I think I’ll just let his statement speak for itself.

KING: All right. We know -- and correct me if I’m wrong, please -- that you were skeptical about that, in fact, opposed to that. You didn’t think that was the way to go. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said publicly many times how skeptical he is about the military options here. I just want you to help an American out there who says, we can’t trust Ahmadinejad, this has been going on for years. We don’t think sanctions will work. Why don’t we do something about it? Explain to that person out there, whether they work in the United States Congress or whether it’s just an average American, when you look at the contingencies that you have available to you and the president has available to him, are there any good military options when it comes to these deep underground facilities?

GATES: Well, without getting into any specifics, I would just say we obviously don’t take any options off the table.

My view has been that there has been an opportunity through the use of diplomacy and economic sanctions to persuade the Iranians to change their approach to nuclear weapons.

The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time. The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened.

So I think, as I say, while you don’t take options off the table, I think there’s still room left for diplomacy. The P5 plus 1 [US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China] will be meeting with Iran here shortly. The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers. And there obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. And I think we have the time to make that work.

KING: I want to get to that diplomacy in just a minute, but when you shared this intelligence with others, I want to ask you specifically about the case of Israel, which you know in the past has been very skeptical about the diplomatic route. And many have thought perhaps Israel would take matters into its own hands because it is in the neighborhood. What did the Israeli government, specifically the Israeli military, say when they learned of this intelligence, about this new second facility?

GATES: Well, Israel, obviously, thinks of the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel. We’ve obviously been in close touch with them, as our ally and friend, and continue to urge them to let this diplomatic and economic sanctions path play out.

KING: And as that goes forward, President Sarkozy was quite skeptical and he was very clear, this year, December, he wants to see progress or else we’ll see tougher sanctions. From your perspective, what sanctions would have the most teeth, would work?

GATES: Well, there are a variety of options still available, including sanctions on banking, particularly sanctions on equipment and technology for their oil and gas industry. I think there’s a pretty rich list to pick from, actually.

KING: If you look at that list, though, in some of those cases, you’ll find the suppliers, gasoline, imports, some of the equipment and technology would be China, would you not?

GATES: China’s participation is clearly important.

KING: And the early indications are they will or won’t help?

GATES: Well, I haven’t had -- I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to the president or those who were with him in Pittsburgh, so I don’t know the nature of the conversations that they had with the Chinese there, but I do have the sense that the Chinese take this pretty seriously.

KING: Let me ask you about the situation in Iran, as this diplomacy goes forward. You’re the defense secretary now. You have been the director of Central Intelligence. When you look at post- election Iran, all the talk of turmoil, reports of tension between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, Ahmadinejad and the reforms, is the water bubbling or is the water boiling in the sense that you just see trouble or do you see potential seeds of revolution?

GATES: Well, I guess I would say it’s simmering. It’s clear in the aftermath of the election, that there are some fairly deep fissures in Iranian society and politics, and probably even in the leadership. And frankly, this is one of the reasons why I think additional and especially severe economic sanctions could have some real impact, because we know that the sanctions that have already been placed on the country have had an impact. The unemployment among youth is about 40 percent. They have some real serious problems, especially with the younger people.

So I think that we are seeing some changes or some divisions in the Iranian leadership and in society that we really haven’t seen in the 30 years since the revolution.

KING: And if you think sanctions work and this is a clear violation -- they hid this from the world, they hid this from everybody, in clear violation of their commitments -- why wait? Why not slap tougher sanctions now? Why wait until the end of the year?

GATES: Well, the opportunity exists in the October 1st meeting and over the next few weeks to see if we can leverage publicizing this additional illegal facility and activity to leverage the Iranians to begin to make some concessions, to begin to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

GATES: I think we are all sensitive to the possibility of the Iranians trying to run the clock out on us. And so nobody thinks of this as an open-ended process.

KING: And so, lastly, on this point, this facility, obviously, is not on-line yet. It is under construction, not on-line. So Iran’s capability in terms of being ready to perhaps have a nuclear bomb, in the past, the public statements have been a year to three away. Is that still operational?

GATES: That would be my view.

KING: The defense secretary, Robert Gates.

We’ll be back in just a moment with another big decision facing the secretary and the president, whether to send thousands more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. Stay with us.


KING: We’re back with the defense secretary, Robert Gates.

Very momentous decision. Recommendation you will have to make to the president, the president will have to make to the nation about whether to send thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of more troops into Afghanistan. I want to start with a threshold question. Do you have full confidence in the commanding general, Stanley McChrystal, on the ground in Afghanistan now?

GATES: Absolutely. I think we have in General McChrystal the very best commanding officer we could possibly have there.

KING: Does the president share that?

GATES: I believe so.

KING: And then is it a logical extension then to go on to say, if you have such full confidence, that if General McChrystal says, I need 40,000 more troops, he will get them?

GATES: I think we are in the middle of a review. The president, when he made his decisions on strategy in Afghanistan at the end of March, said that after the Afghan elections, that we would review where we are and review the strategy.

We now, in addition to that, have General McChrystal’s assessment of the situation. He found a situation in Afghanistan that is more serious than we had thought and that he had thought before going out there. So we’re in the middle of a process of evaluating, really, the decisions the president made in late March to say, have we got the strategy right? And once we confidently have the strategy right, then we’ll address the question of additional resource...


KING: As you know, some of your friends on Capitol Hill are saying, why wait, in the sense of because of the ominous warnings, General McChrystal sounds, in his report, among them, this: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term, over the next 12 months, while Afghan security capability matures, risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

If the situation is that dire and he believes he needs more troops, why wait?

GATES: Well, first of all, I would like to remember -- remind people that the debate within the Bush administration over the surge took about three months, from October to December 2006.

It’s very important that we get this right and there is always a dialogue between the chiefs -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Centcom commander, and our commander in the field. We had the same kind of dialogue with General Odierno about the timing of pulling our combat units out of Iraq. And the conclusion of all of that was actually for General Odierno to take some additional risk. And it has proved to work very well.

So the question is, there has got to be some dialogue between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander of Central Command, as well as General McChrystal, and then a discussion among the president’s national security team.

KING: You know the conversation in town,though, some, understand the surge debate, find this one rather remarkable in the sense that you now have General McChrystal, part of his report has leaked out, saying he needs more troops. Admiral Mullen has testified to Congress recently he believes we’re going to need more troops. Some see an effort to almost put the president in a box before he deals with the other issues.

If you have the military, the admiral and the generals on record saying we need more troops, does the president really have a choice to say no?

GATES: Well, I think the president always has a choice. He’s the commander-in-chief.

The reality is, do we need additional forces? How many additional forces? And to do what?

And it’s the “to do what?” that I think we need to make sure we have confidence we understand before making recommendations to the president.

KING: Help me on that point, because there’s a lot of questions about the legitimacy of the election. Did President Karzai commit fraud to the level at which he perhaps has stolen the election? The political vacuum could be months. You may have to make your decision uncertain as to the political leadership in Afghanistan unless you wait. There could be a runoff. There could be contestments (ph) and challenges. Would you prefer some sort of power-sharing arrangement to move past this vacuum?

GATES: Well, I don’t think it’s up to us to tell the Afghans how to organize their government. The reality is that you still have an election process playing out. You have both the Afghan and the international election commissions evaluating the ballots. And if they come to a conclusion that there was a real winner, then I think it has legitimacy for both the international and the national -- and the Afghan audience.

But I think, above all, what’s important is whether or not the government of Afghanistan has legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghans. All of the information that we have available to us today indicates that continues to be the case.

KING: Let’s turn to the debate back home. You try to stay of the politics, but it does influence what happens in this town. As you know, a growing number of people on Capitol Hill want a clearer exit strategy. They want benchmarks. They want to know where the end is. Some have even said -- a few, but some have said we need a time line to get U.S. troops out. And now a liberal organization that was very vocal in the Iraq political debate is urging its members to call the president, e-mail the White House and say, don’t send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to be stuck in a quagmire.

Is Afghanistan a quagmire?

GATES: I don’t think so, and I think that with a general like McChrystal, it won’t become one. I think that we are being very careful to look at this as we go along. We’ve put out metrics so that we can measure whether or not we’re making progress. And if we’re not making progress, then we’re prepared to adjust our strategy, just as we’re looking at whether adjustments are needed right now.

So I think that the notion of time lines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think, would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States. Taliban and Al Qaida as far as they’re concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaida recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on.

I think it would be a huge setback for the United States. I think what we need is a strategy that we think can be successful and then to pursue it, and pursue it with confidence and resolution.

KING: You mentioned the history, and you’re a student of history, and you’re on the record talking about how this did become a quagmire for the Soviets, who had about 120,000 troops in Afghanistan. And you have said many times the Afghan people began to view them as occupiers, not as friends.

Where’s the line for the United States so that you don’t cross that very same line?

GATES: Well, I think the analogy of the situation with the Soviets really doesn’t hold. The Soviets’ presence in Afghanistan was condemned by virtually every country in the world. They conducted a war of terror against the Afghans. They probably killed 1 million Afghans, made 5 million of them into refugees, tried to impose an alien social and cultural change on the country.

So the situations are completely different. And I think that the -- I think the Afghans continue to see us as their ally and partner.

KING: General McChrystal, in an interview that will air on “60 Minutes” tonight, talks about the breadth and the geographic spread of the violence in Afghanistan. He says, “It’s a little more than I would have gathered.”

We’ve been at this nearly eight years. Why are we still surprised?

GATES: Well, I will tell you, I think that the strategy that the president put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. And that strategy was more about the Soviet Union than it was about Afghanistan.

KING: You served in the Bush administration. That’s a pretty broad damnation of the Bush strategy.

GATES: Well, the reality is, we were fighting a holding action. We were very deeply engaged in Iraq. I increased -- I extended the 10th Mountain Division the first month I was on this job in January of ‘07. I extended -- I put another brigade into Afghanistan in the spring of 2007. And that’s all we had to put in there. Every -- we were -- we were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that we have now.

KING: And if it comes to the point of sending more, this time, if the president agrees and General McChrystal gets -- maybe it’s 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000, do we have the troops now? If you needed 40,000, could you find it?

GATES: Well, I think, if the president were to decide to approve additional combat forces, they really probably could not begin to flow until some time in January.

KING: We’re about out of time. I want to ask you a couple quick questions in closing. One is, do you see any chance now, because of the delays in the political problems, that the administration will keep its promise to close Gitmo, the Guantanamo Bay detention center, in one year, as promised?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think it has proven more complicated than anticipated. I will be the first to tell you that, when the president-elect’s national security new team met in Chicago on December 7th, I was one of those who argued for a firm deadline. Because I said that’s the only way you move the bureaucracy in Washington.

And you have to extend that date, if at least you have a strong plan, showing you’re making progress in that direction, then it shouldn’t be a problem to extend it. And we’ll just see whether that has to happen or not.

KING: And lastly, you served eight presidents. What makes this one unique, or is there anything unique when it comes to these decisions of war and peace?

GATES: He is very analytical. He’s very deliberate about the way he goes through things. He wants to understand everything. He delves very deeply into these issues. I’m not going to get into comparing the different presidents. I very much enjoy working for this one.

KING: Mr. Secretary, thank for your time.

GATES: Thank you.

Robert Gates on ABC's This Week

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we begin with the secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

Welcome back to “This Week.”

GATES: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: National security was front and center all week long. Let’s begin with Afghanistan. We saw the leak of General McChrystal’s review, and he concluded that the United States has about 12 months to reverse Taliban momentum and that, without new troops, the strategy laid out by the president is likely to fail.

And I want to show what the president said back in March when he laid out that strategy. He called it “new and comprehensive.”


OBAMA: This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review. My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats. We’ve consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations. We’ve also worked closely with members of Congress here at home.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, this was clearly a carefully considered strategy. And now the president is telling us -- he told me last week that he can’t approve General McChrystal’s request until we get the strategy right. Why the second thoughts on the strategy?

GATES: I don’t think there are second thoughts so much as, you know, when he made his decisions at the end of March, he also announced that he would -- we would be reviewing the policy and the strategy after the elections...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said the tool was in the tactics, not the strategy.

GATES: Well, I -- I think that he -- he clearly felt that we would have to reassess where we are after the election. Now, in addition to having a flawed election in Afghanistan, we now have General McChrystal’s assessment.

When the president made his comments at -- at the end of March, his decisions, obviously, General McChrystal was not in place. We now have his assessment. He has found the situation on the ground in Afghanistan worse than he had -- than he anticipated.

And so I think what the president is now saying is, in light of the election, in light of McChrystal’s more concerning assessment of the situation on the ground, have we got the strategy right, were the decisions in -- that he made at the end of March the right ones? Do we need to make some adjustments in light of what we’ve found?

And once we’ve decided whether or not to make adjustments in the strategy, then we will consider the additional resources.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But did -- but didn’t General McChrystal take these problems of the election into account? He didn’t even deliver his report until August 30th, which was after the elections. Dennis Blair, the head of national intelligence, said back in February or March that we could foresee that there would be problems with this election.

GATES: Well, I think -- I think that the potential magnitude of the problems in the election really didn’t become apparent until the vote count began in early September. So -- so I think it was really after he submitted his -- his assessment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So now we have a real dilemma. Does that mean that the United States is re-thinking whether it can even -- whether it can bolster President Karzai’s government, whether we have to give up on it?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, the Afghan people have gone to the polls, and we have the two election commissions -- one internal, one international -- that could still come to conclusions, even if they throw out some fraudulent ballots or a number of fraudulent ballots, that there was a clear winner.

The key is whether the Afghans believe that their government has legitimacy. And everything that I’ve seen in the intelligence and elsewhere indicates that remains the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It does seem, though, that you’re caught in a dilemma right now. You’ve got your commanding general on the ground who’s given you this report. He’s said that troops -- more troops are necessary or you risk failure.

That report has been endorsed by the head of Central Command, David Petraeus. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Congress and said we probably need more troops.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet the president is saying that we need to think about the strategy right now. And it really creates the impression of a rift between the civilian leadership, you, as secretary of Defense, the president, and the uniformed military.

GATES: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I talked with -- I had an extensive conversation on the telephone with both General McChrystal and General Petraeus on -- on Wednesday. General McChrystal was very explicit in saying that he thinks this assessment, this review that’s going on right now is exactly the right thing to do. He obviously doesn’t want it to be open-ended or be a protracted kind of thing...

STEPHANOPOULOS: How long will it take?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, I -- it’s not going to take -- I think it -- it’s a matter of a few weeks. And people should remember that the debate within the Bush administration on the surge lasted three months, from October to December 2006.

So I think it’s important to make sure we’re confident that we have the right strategy in place, and then we can make the decisions on additional forces.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet the clock really does seem to be ticking, again, to go back to General McChrystal’s report. He says that if we don’t turn the tide in the next 12 months, we risk failure. So every week that goes by puts the soldiers who are on the ground at risk, doesn’t it?

GATES: But having the -- having the wrong strategy would put even more soldiers at risk. So I think it’s important to get the strategy right and then we can make the resources decision.

As I say, I don’t expect this to be protracted process. The reality is that, even if the president did decide to approve additional combat forces going into Afghanistan, the first forces couldn’t arrive until January.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what are the options right now? You have said in the past that you didn’t believe what some people are recommending -- stepping up drone attacks, stepping up missile attacks, using special forces -- you don’t believe or haven’t believed in the past that that’s sufficient to contain the Taliban.

GATES: I think that most people who -- the people that I’ve talked to in the Pentagon who are the experts on counterterrorism essentially say that counterterrorism is only possible if you have the kind of intelligence that allows you to target the terrorists. And the only way you get that intelligence is by being on the ground, getting information from people like the Afghans or, in the case of Iraq, the Iraqis.

And so you can’t do this from -- from a distance or remotely, in the view of virtually all of the experts that I’ve talked to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if that -- if that’s not going to work, and then you have General McChrystal who said in his report that you need a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign, counterinsurgency is the answer, that certainly seems to be endorsed by General Petraeus. Is there a middle ground between those two poles?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think people are -- are, frankly, so focused on -- on the comment that -- in General McChrystal’s report about additional resources that they’re neglecting to look at the rest of what’s in his report and that -- where he talks very explicitly about the fact that -- that a preoccupation with the resources or with additional forces, if you don’t have the strategy right, is a mistake.

And -- and he, as I say, he understands this process that’s underway. But -- but what he talks about in most of that assessment is not resources, but a different way of using U.S. forces and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

It talks about accelerating the growth of the Afghan national security forces. It spends a lot of time talking about how we stay on side with the Afghan people. This is mostly what McChrystal’s assessment is about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it’s a resource-intensive strategy, isn’t it? He says that the troops have to probably be more lightly armed and engage more with the population. And it’s hard to ignore that stark conclusion: Success is not ensured by additional forces alone, as you point out, but continued under-resourcing will likely cause failure. Failure.

GATES: Well, that’s what we’re discussing. And how do we avoid that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, as you said, you hope to have this done in a few weeks and you want to avoid failure, as well, but the president has not made any -- any decision at all on resources? Has he -- has he ruled it out?

GATES: No, I haven’t even given him General McChrystal’s request for resources. I have the -- I -- I’m receiving the -- the report. I’m going to sit on it until I think -- or the president thinks -- it’s appropriate to bring that into the discussion of the national security principles.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s what -- General McChrystal says we have to have more troops to avoid failure. Where we’ve had a lack of clarity is on what success means in Afghanistan. You pointed out at the beginning of this year what it was, and he said we’re not -- we shouldn’t expect a Valhalla in Afghanistan.

The president’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was asked for his definition of success last month, and here’s what he said.


HOLBROOKE: I would say this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue, we’ll know it when we see it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that good enough?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think we know it when we see it, and we see it in Iraq. I think that success in Afghanistan looks a great deal like success in Iraq, in this respect, that the Afghan national security forces increasingly take the lead in protecting their own territory and going after the insurgents and protecting their own people. We withdraw to an over-watch situation and then we withdraw altogether.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which first required a surge in Iraq.

GATES: It did require the surge. And that’s -- the issue that we will be looking at over the next several weeks -- the next couple of weeks or so -- is, do we have the right strategy?

And that includes the question of -- of, is the -- is McChrystal’s approach, in the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Central Command commander, the right approach? And if so, then what -- what would be the additional resources required?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to Iran. The president has put Iran on notice that they’re going to have to allow inspectors into this secret site which U.S. intelligence discovered for enriching uranium. President Ahmadinejad says that President Obama is mistaken and the United States owes Iran an apology. Is Iran going to get one?

GATES: Not a chance.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what happens next? The president has said that this site is not configured for peaceful purposes. Now, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded -- of the U.S. government -- concluded that Iran had stopped its active nuclear weapons program in 2003. Does the president’s conclusion -- that this site is not configured for peaceful purposes -- mean that that intelligence estimate is no longer operative?

GATES: No, not necessarily. But what it does mean is that they had a covert site. They did not declare it. They didn’t -- if -- if this were a peaceful nuclear program, why didn’t they announce this site when they began to construct it? Why didn’t they allow IAEA inspectors in from the very beginning?

This -- this is part of a pattern of deception and lies on the part of the Iranians from the very beginning with respect to their nuclear program. So it’s no wonder that world leaders think that they have ulterior motives, that they have a plan to go forward with nuclear weapons. Otherwise, why would they do all this in such a deceptive manner?

STEPHANOPOULOS: U.S. intelligence had been tracking this site for quite some time before President Obama made it public. Is this the only secret site that we know of?

GATES: Well, I’m not going to -- I’m not going to get into that. I would just say that we’re watching very closely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the United States government believe that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program?

GATES: I think that -- my personal opinion is that the Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons. I think the question of whether they have made a formal decision to -- to move toward the development of nuclear weapons is -- is in doubt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said a couple of weeks ago that Iran is closer to what he called “breakout” capacity on developing a nuclear weapon. What does that mean exactly? And how much time -- if they do, indeed, have the intent -- how much time do we have before Iran has a nuclear weapons capacity?

GATES: Well, I think “breakout” in the -- in the ambassador’s terms means they have enriched enough uranium to a relatively low level that if they have another facility where they could enrich it more highly, that they have a -- they have enriched enough at a low level that they could, in essence, throw out all the IAEA inspectors, change the configuration of the -- of the cascades and the enrichment capability, and enrich it to a level where they could use it -- where they could make it into weapons-grade uranium.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you say you personally have no doubt that they want weapons. Can that weapons program be stopped with sanctions?

GATES: I think that what is critical is persuading the Iranians that -- or leading them to the conclusion that their security will be diminished by trying to get nuclear weapons, rather than enhanced.

And I think that, because of the election, we see fissures in Iran that we have not seen before, not in the 30 years since the revolution. And I think that severe sanctions, if the Iranian -- that, first of all, we -- we have created a problem for the Iranians with this disclosure.

And so the first step is the meeting on October 1st with the 5+1 powers, with the Iranians, to see if they will begin to change their policy in a way that is satisfactory to -- to the great powers.

And then, if that doesn’t work, then I think you begin to move in the direction of severe sanctions. And their economic problems are difficult enough that -- that I think that severe sanctions would have the potential of -- of bringing them to change their -- their policies.

I think -- you asked me, how long do I think we have? I would say somewhere between one to three years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn, finally, to Guantanamo. We have just a couple of minutes left. A major story in The Washington Post suggesting that the president’s deadline of January 22nd for closing Guantanamo will not be met, and White House officials tell me that at least some prisoners will still be in Guantanamo on January 22nd and beyond. How big a setback is that? And how long will it take to finally close Guantanamo?

GATES: When the president-elect met with his new national security team in Chicago on December 7th...


GATES: ... last year, this issue was discussed, about closing Guantanamo and executive orders to do that and so on. And the question was, should we set a deadline? Should we pin ourselves down?

I actually was one of those who said we should, because I know enough from being around this town that, if you don’t put a deadline on something, you’ll never move the bureaucracy. But I also said, and then if we find we can’t get it done by that time but we have a good plan, then you’re in a position to say, “It’s going to take us a little longer, but we are moving in the direction of implementing the policy that the president set.” And I think that’s the position that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s where we are. So the deadline of January 22nd will not be met?

GATES: It’s going to be tough.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and how many prisoners will be there on January 22nd, do you know?

GATES: I don’t know the answer to that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you said, it’s going to be tough and likely will not be met?

GATES: We’ll see.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One -- one other deadline question. When you were working for President Bush, you used to keep a countdown clock on your desk, counting down the number of days you had left to serve. Is that clock still there?

GATES: No, I threw the clock out. It was obviously useless.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re in for the long haul?

GATES: We’ll see. The president-elect and I, when we first discussed this, agreed to leave it open.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Gates, thank you very much for your time today.

GATES: Thanks a lot.

The Afghanistan Routine (Again): Obama Cautious, Military Insistent, 25,000 More Troops Sent

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US TROOPS AFGHAN2Enduring America, 5 September: "Obama history is only repeating itself....A period of intense debate with US commanders pushing for as big a troop increase as possible, and Obama’s advisors spinning back to limit the escalation....The immediate culmination, with a “compromise” of an additional 30,000 American forces (complementing a rise in private “security” units and contractors). You will find it justified by the rhetoric that we must fight Al Qa’eda and extremists in Afghanistan so they will not terrorise us “here” and supported by the promise that this is a combination of non-military and military steps to bring stability and progress to the Afghan people."

UPDATED 1545 GMT: Washington chatter is buzzing about the initial source of today's "McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'" story, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. The pillow fight will be over whether Woodward was right to run with a report leaked to him by a Government insider.

All this will miss the point. Woodward, the reporter of Watergate fame, has become Rent-a-Journalist for whichever side in the Government wants to turn the wind their way on a story. So this summer he was the outlet for the Obama Administration's insistence that they would ask, "WTF [What the F***]?" on any demand for a troop increase. This time he could be serving those who want to push the military's case for the boost or Administration insiders who want to uphold the line that they will not be bumped.

Doesn't really matter. In the end, we'll get to the settlement which will give the military what it wants while allowing Obama advisors to preserve the image that they have kept a lid on the escalation.

I really can't be bothered to spill a lot of words on the latest development in US strategy towards Afghanistan. Why bother to go through 400+ pages of a supposed mystery when you've seen the "surprise" ending in the final paragraphs? President Obama plays the cautious line, in his media blitz yesterday (here and here and here), of no decision taken yet but tips his hand with the rhetoric of "Must Fight Al Qa'eda". His military, just to make the President isn't so cautious that he might actually rule against them in the purported review of strategy, ensure that high-profile US outlets like The New York Times carry the message today, "General [McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan] Calls for More U.S. Troops to Avoid Afghan Failure". The White House undoubtedly will put out its response, for tomorrow's newspapers, that discussions continue under the eye of a President wanting to make sure all dimensions are considered.

And sometime in the next month or two, the "compromise" will be announced of 25,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.

Please, it's bad enough being depressed about this spin cycle. At least don't bore me with repetition.

Obama's Sunday Media Blitz: The CNN Transcript

The Obama Sunday Media Blitz: The CBS Video/Transcript
Obama’s Sunday Media Blitz: The Meet the Press Video/Transcript

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OBAMA4KING: Mr. President, thank you for joining us.

OBAMA: Great to see you.

KING: I want to begin with the economy. I get out of Washington every week for the show, and we’re in Connecticut and Rhode Island this week. And I knew I was going to be seeing you, so I asked 20 people: “What would you ask if you had the privilege that I have at this moment?” Eighteen of the twenty, eighteen, asked a variation of...

OBAMA: Jobs.

KING: ... where are the jobs? When are they coming back?

OBAMA: Yes. Well, look, the -- this is something that I ask every single one of my economic advisers every single day, because I know that ultimately the measure of an economy is, is it producing jobs that help people support families, send their kids to college? That’s the single most important thing we can do. What we’ve done, I think, in the first eight months is to stop the bleeding. We’ve...

KING: Is the recession over?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I’ll leave that up to the Fed chairman to pronounce whether it’s officially over or not. I think what’s absolutely clear is that -- that the financial markets are working again, that we even saw manufacturing tick up, in terms of production, last month. So all of the signs are that the economy is going to start growing again.

But here’s -- here’s the challenge, that not only are usually jobs figures the last to catch up, they’re the lagging indicator, but the other problem is, we lost so many jobs that making up for those that have already been lost is going to require really high growth rates.

And so what we’re focused right now on is, how can we make sure that businesses are investing again? How can we make sure that certain industries that were really important, like housing, are stabilized? How can we expand our export markets? And that’s part of what the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh is going to be about, making sure that there’s a more balanced economy.

We can’t go back to the era where the Chinese or the Germans or other countries just are selling everything to us, we’re taking out a bunch of credit card debt or home equity loans, but we’re not selling anything to them.

So that’s how all this is going to fit together. But I want to be clear that probably the jobs picture is not going to improve considerably -- and it could even get a little bit worse -- over the next couple of months. And we’re probably not going to start seeing enough job creation to deal with the -- a rising population until some time next year.

KING: Do you think jobs will not grow, you will not be adding jobs until some time next year, or maybe...


OBAMA: No, I think -- I think we’ll be adding jobs, but you need 150,000 additional jobs each month just to keep pace with a growing population. So if we’re only adding 50,000 jobs, that’s a great reversal from losing 700,000 jobs early this year, but, you know, it means that we’ve still got a ways to go.

KING: Let’s talk health care. The Senate Finance Committee finally has a proposal before it by the chairman, Max Baucus . It’s getting some criticism from the left, some criticism from the right. I want to get to the details of it in a minute. It’s also getting some important praise from the middle. I want to break down some of the details in a minute. But if the Baucus bill made it to your desk as is, would you sign it? Does it meet your goals?

OBAMA: Well, that’s such a hypothetical, since it won’t get there as is, that I’m not going to answer that question. But can I say that it does meet some broad goals that all the bills that have been introduced meet.

KING: Is it better than the others?

OBAMA: It provides health insurance to people who don’t have it at affordable prices. I’d like to make sure that we’ve got that affordability really buttoned down, because I think that’s one of the most important things, is that if we’re offering people health insurance and we’re saying that people have to get health insurance if it’s affordable, we’ve got to make sure it’s affordable.

We’re helping people who have health insurance with the -- with knowing that, if they’re paying their premiums, they’re actually getting what they pay for, and that has been a huge problem, the people not able to get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, being surprised because some fine print says that they’ve got to pay huge out-of-pocket expenses or they hit a lifetime cap. All of those reforms are in there, and that’s really important.

Deficit neutrality, very important. Bending the cost curve, reducing health care inflation over time, part of the reason that’s so important, there was just a report that came out last week. Kaiser Family Foundation said, if you’ve got health insurance, last year, your premiums went up 5.5 percent, 5.5 percent. This is despite the fact that inflation was negative on everything else.

And that has been true almost every year. Premiums have doubled, gone up over 130 percent over the last 10 years. That’s the direction we’re heading. More and more people are finding that their employers are dropping their coverage, because it’s getting too expensive, so making sure that we’re controlling the long-term costs by improving the delivery systems, all of that’s in the bill.

Now, there are a whole bunch of details that still have to get worked out. I suspect you’ll have one or two questions about them. But what I’ll say is, is that right now I’m pleased that, basically, we’ve got 80 percent agreement, we’ve got to really work on that next 20 percent over the last few weeks.

KING: One of the issues is how to pay for it. And one of the things Chairman Baucus does -- and you have endorsed, at least in concept -- is putting a fee, slapping a fee on these so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans. And the fee would go on the insurance company, not on the individual.

OBAMA: That’s right.

KING: But as you know, many of your allies, Senator Rockefeller, other Democrats, and many union presidents who have helped you in this fight, say, you know what? That insurance company will pass that on to the consumer, and they think it’s a backdoor way potentially of violating your promise during the campaign to not raise taxes, not hurt middle-class Americans, because that will be passed back on through the back door.

OBAMA: Keep in mind that the average insurance plan, I think, is about $13,000, a little -- maybe a little more than that, because of health care inflation. Even the health care plan that members of Congress get is, you know, in that range of the teens. And so people would be, for the most part, completely unaffected by this.

You do have some Cadillac plans -- I mean, you know, the CEOs of Goldman, I think, published what their plans were worth. They were worth $40,000 or something like that. That’s probably leading to...

KING: Would you make sure...

OBAMA: ... some waste...

KING: I hate to interrupt, but would you make sure that -- some of these unions have negotiated pretty good plans, too. Would you...

OBAMA: Oh, absolutely.

KING: ... make sure theirs are carved out, or should some of them be subject to that?

OBAMA: This is a very important issue. I’ve been talking to the unions about it. I’ve been honest with them about it. What I’ve said is, is that the -- we want to make sure that guys are protected, guys and gals who have got a good benefit, that they are protected, but we also want to make sure that we’re using our health dollars wisely.

And I -- I do think that giving a disincentive to insurance companies to offer Cadillac plans that don’t make people healthier is part of the way that we’re going to bring down health care costs for everybody over the long term.

KING: It is not one of the central issues, but it has become one of the emotional flashpoints, and that is coverage of illegal immigrants. The Finance Committee plan is the only one in Congress right now that has specific language that says an illegal immigrant cannot go to one of these new health insurance exchanges. It requires documentation. Would you sign a bill without that documentation? Or is that an adamant red line for you?

OBAMA: Let me be clear. I think that, if I’m not mistaken, almost all of the plans had specific language saying that illegal immigrants would not be covered. The question really was, was the enforcement mechanism strong enough?

Here’s what I’ve said, and I will repeat: I don’t think that illegal immigrants should be covered under this health care plan. There should be a verification mechanism in place. We do that for a whole range of existing social programs. And I think that’s a pretty straightforward principle that will be met.

KING: Mitch McConnell told a conservative group: “We’re winning the health care debate.” What do you think of that?

OBAMA: Well, you know, they -- they were saying they were winning during the election, too.


KING: Up next, we turn to global challenges, wrestling with sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and a headline from former President Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea. Much more with President Obama, next.


KING: Afghanistan is now often referred to as Obama’s war and the strategy and decisions he faces in the coming weeks could well define his presidency. The American people have deep doubts about the mission and some of the president’s fellow Democrats see eerily parallels to Iraq in Afghanistan’s failure to build a more capable army and its government corruption and dysfunction. Defining the mission is perhaps the president’s biggest challenge.


KING: Let me move on to the world stage. You face a very tough decision in the weeks ahead about Afghanistan. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, says she has been told that General McChrystal has finished his report and his recommendation to you, but he has been told, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you. Hold it.”

Are you or someone working for you asking him to sit on that at the moment because of the dicey politics of this?

OBAMA: No, no, no, no. Let -- let me describe the process from start to where we are now. When we came in, I think everybody understood that our Afghanistan strategy was somewhat adrift, despite the extraordinary valor of the young women -- men and women who are -- who are fighting there.

So what we said was, let’s do a soup-to-nuts re-evaluation, focusing on what our original goal was, which was to get Al Qaida, the people who killed 3,000 Americans.

To the extent that our strategy in Afghanistan is serving that goal, then we’re on the right track. If it starts drifting away from that goal, then we may have a problem.

What I also said was, we’ve got an election coming up. I ordered 21,000 troops in to secure that election. But I said, after the election’s over, we’ve got to review it, because we’ve got to figure out, what kind of partner do we have in Afghanistan? Are they willing to make the commitment to build their capacity to secure their own country?

We are in the process of working through that strategy. The only thing I’ve said to my folks is, A, I want an unvarnished assessment, but, B, I don’t want to put the resource question before the strategy question. You know, the -- because there is a natural inclination to say, if I get more, then I can do more. But right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?

And -- and once I have that clarity from the commanders on the ground, Secretary Gates, my national security adviser, Jim Jones, and others, when we have clarity on that, then the question is, OK, how do we resource it? And that’s -- what I will say to the American public is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment. It’s going to be driven by the fact that, A, my most important job is to keep us safe -- and Al Qaida’s still trying to do us harm -- but, B, every time I sign an order, you know, I’m answerable to the parents of those young men and women who I’m sending over there, and I want to make sure that it’s for the right reason.

KING: On that point, about a month before the election, you promised a re-focused national security strategy. And you said, quote, “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaida.” As president, commander-in-chief, are you finding it’s harder to find him than you thought it might have been as a candidate?

OBAMA: Oh, I think as a candidate I knew I was -- it was going to be hard. I don’t doubt the interest and the desire of the previous administration to find him and kill him. But I do think that, if we have a overarching strategy that reminds us every day that that’s our focus, that we have a better chance of capturing and killing him and certainly keeping Al Qaida on the run than if we start drifting into a whole bunch of other missions that really aren’t related to what is our essential strategic problem and rationale for being there.

KING: It is a small number, but a growing number of Democrats in the Congress who say they want a timeline, they want a time limit on U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan. You thought that was a good idea when it came to Iraq. Is it a good idea for Afghanistan?

OBAMA: You know, I think that what we have to do is get the right strategy, and then I think we’ve got to have some clear benchmarks, matrix of progress. That’s part of the reason why I said, even after six months, I wanted us to re-evaluate. You know...


KING: What would you say to the American who says you’ve been president for eight months, why are you still looking for a strategy?

OBAMA: Well, no, no, no. Keep in mind that we have a -- we put a strategy in place, clarified our goals, but what the election has shown, as well as changing circumstances in Pakistan, is that, you know, this is going to be a very difficult operation, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re constantly refining it to keep our focus on what our primary goals are.

KING: Do you think President Karzai stole the election?

OBAMA: You know, I don’t think that, you know, I’m going to make comments on the election until after everything has been certified. I think there is no doubt that there were reports of fraud out there that at first glance look pretty serious. They’re being investigated. They’re going through the -- the normal processes.

How much fraud took place and whether that had a substantial effect on the results of the election, I think that is something that we’re going to have to wait and see in the next few weeks.

KING: A couple other quick security questions, and then I want to bring it back home. You recently had lunch with President Clinton. He went to North Korea to help facilitate the release of those American journalists. What is the most interesting thing he told you about Kim Jong-il?

OBAMA: You know, I think President Clinton’s assessment was that he’s -- he’s pretty healthy and in control. And that’s important to know, because we don’t have a lot of interaction with the North Koreans. And, you know, President Clinton had a chance to see him close up and have conversations with him.

I won’t go into any more details than that. But there’s no doubt that this is somebody who, you know, I think for a while people thought was slipping away. He’s reasserted himself. It does appear that he’s concerned about -- he was more concerned about succession when he was -- succession when he was sick, maybe less so now that he’s well.

But our -- but our main focus on North Korea -- and I’m very -- actually, this is a success story so far, and that is that we have been able to hold together a coalition that includes the Chinese and the Russians to really apply some of the toughest sanctions we’ve seen, and it’s having an impact.

OBAMA: And I think that North Korea is saying to itself, you know, we can’t just bang our spoon on the table and somehow think that the world is going to react positively. We’ve got to start behaving responsibly. So hopefully, we’ll start seeing some progress on that front.

KING: Seven former directors of central intelligence have sent you a letter saying, please invoke your authority to stop the attorney general’s investigation of the Bush-era interrogation tactics. Will you do that?

OBAMA: You know, first of all, I respect all seven of them. And as importantly or more importantly, I have absolute respect and have reliance upon a robust CIA.

And I’ve said before, I want to look forward and not backwards on this issue. On the other hand, I’ve also said nobody is above the law. And I don’t want to start getting into the business of squelching, you know, investigations that are being conducted.

Now, it’s not a criminal investigation as yet, my understanding. I trust career prosecutors to be judicious. I’ve made clear both publicly and privately that I have no interest in witch hunts. But, ultimately, the law is the law, and we don’t go around sort of picking and choosing how we approach it.


KING: Ahead, angry outbursts and disturbing images in recent weeks have some on the left suggesting racism motivates some Obama critics. Does the president see race as the issue? I’ll ask him next.


KING: How much, if at all, does our first African-American president believe race motivates his critics? Back to our conversation in the Roosevelt Room.


KING: It’s a tough business, as you know. But in recent weeks, people have raised some pretty serious questions, the big rally in town, signs talking about Afro-socialism (ph), swastikas with your name and your picture on them, “you lie” shouted at you during a nationally televised addressed, and former President Carter says he sees racism in some of this. Do you?

OBAMA: You know, as I’ve said in the past, you know, are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? I’m sure there are. That’s not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government.

I think that there are -- there has been a longstanding debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.

I mean, the things that were said about FDR are pretty similar to the things that were said about me, that he was a communist, he was a socialist. Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs, you know, were -- were pretty vicious, as well.

The only thing I’d just hope is, is that people -- you know, I think we can have a strong disagreement, passionate disagreements about issues without -- without resorting to name-calling. We can maintain civility. We can give other people the benefit of the doubt that -- that they want what is best for this country.

KING: But the speaker says it reminds her of the hateful anti- gay language in San Francisco that led to deadly violence. Jim Clyburn, who’s the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, says he thinks people are trying to de-legitimize you. Did you see it as that worrisome?

OBAMA: You know, I’ve got to tell you that, as I said before, you know, yelling at politicians is as American as apple pie. I mean, that’s -- that’s in our DNA. We -- I said this in the speech to the joint session, that we have a long tradition of being skeptical of government.

I do think that it’s important for us, again, to remind ourselves that all of us are Americans who love this country. I think it’s important not to exaggerate or provide just rank misinformation about each other.

You know, I’m amused. I can’t tell you how many foreign leaders who are heads of center-right governments say to me, I don’t understand why people would call you socialist, in my country, you’d be considered a conservative.

You know, and the other thing I’ve got to say is, is that I think it’s important for the media -- you know, not to do any media-bashing here -- to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or FOX or any of the other stations -- MSNBC -- is to just say something rude and outrageous.

If you’re civil, and polite, and you’re sensible, and you don’t exaggerate the -- the bad things about your opponent, and, you know, you might maybe get on one of the Sunday morning shows, but -- but you’re not going to -- you’re not going to be on the loop.

And, you know, part of what I’d like to see is -- is all of us reward decency and civility in our political discourse. That doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t speak your mind. But I think we can all sort of take a step back here and remind ourselves who we are as a people.

KING: I’m over my time. If I can, I want to ask you one question as a parent, not as a president. I was on a college campus this week and at a lab where they’re trying to make an H1N1 vaccine. As a parent with two daughters in school, how are you dealing with this? And does the Obama family plan include a vaccine for you?

OBAMA: Well, the -- here’s the Obama family plan, is to call up my HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius , and my CDC director and just ask them, what’s your recommendation? And whatever they tell me to do, I will do.

My understanding at this point is that the high-risk populations are going to be first with the vaccine, and that means not only health care workers, but particularly children with underlying neurological vulnerabilities. And so we’ve got to make sure that those vaccines go to them first.

OBAMA: I’m assuming -- and pregnant women, by the way -- after that, I think you’re looking at kids, and so Malia and Sasha would fall into that category. I suspect that I may come fairly far down the line, so we’re not going to -- here’s what I guarantee you. We want to get vaccinated. We think it’s the right thing to do. We will stand in line like everybody else. And when folks say it’s our turn, that’s when we’ll get it.

KING: Mr. President, thank you for your time.

OBAMA: Thank you so much.

KING: Thank you.

OBAMA: Appreciated it.