Transcript: Obama On "Face The Nation"

Bob Schieffer And President Barack Obama during an interview airing on "Face The Nation," March 29, 2009. CBS

This interview was conducted in the Oval Office by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer:


CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer: Mr. President, thank you for joining us. This economic crisis has been so severe that it has literally pushed all the other issues off the television, out of the newspapers. But as - when you outlined your program for Afghanistan and the new strategy, it really underlined in the starkest terms that we may not be talking about these serious issues, but there are some very serious things going on out there. So I'd like to start there -

President Obama: Please.

Schieffer: - if I could. This is a hugely ambitious plan. 22,000 more troops. You're gonna increase spending by 60 percent. You said in your announcement we must defeat al Qaeda.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: This has really now become your war, hasn't it?

President Obama: I think it's America's war. And it's the same war that we initiated after 9/11 as a consequence of those attacks on 3,000 Americans who were just going about their daily round. And the focus over the last seven years I think has been lost.

What we want to do is to refocus attention on al Qaeda. We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are gonna make sure that they cannot attack U.S. citizens, U.S. soil, U.S. interests, and our allies' interests around the world.

In order for us to do that, we have to ensure that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can serve as a safe haven for al Qaeda. And, unfortunately, over the last several years what we've seen is, essentially, al Qaeda moving several miles from Afghanistan to Pakistan but effectively still able to project their violence and, and hateful ideologies out into the world.

Schieffer: You talked many times during your - as you outlined this strategy, about al Qaeda in Pakistan.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: You talk about safe havens in Pakistan.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: Are you giving our commanders now in Afghanistan a green light to go after these people even if they're in what used to be safe havens in Pakistan?

President Obama: Well, I haven't changed my approach. If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we're going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists.

Now, one of the concerns that we've had building up over the last several years is a notion I think among the average Pakistani that this is somehow America's war and that they are not invested. And that attitude I think has led to a steady creep of extremism in Pakistan that is the greatest threat to the stability of the Pakistan government - and ultimately the greatest threat to the Pakistani people.

What we want do is say to the Pakistani people, you are our friends, you are our allies. We are going to give you the tools to defeat al Qaeda and to root out these safe havens. But we also expect some accountability. And we expect that you understand the severity and the nature of the threat.

In addition, what we want do is to help Pakistan grow its economy, to be able to provide basic services to its people, and that I think will help strengthen those efforts. If the Pakistan government doesn't have credibility, if they are weakened, then it's gonna be much more difficult for them to deal with the extremism within their borders.

Schieffer: But you're talking about going after them. Are you talking about with American boots on the ground -

President Obama: No.

Schieffer: - pursuing these people into these so-called safe havens?

President Obama: No. Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government. We need to work with them and through them to deal with al Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable. And we have to recognize that part of our task in working with Pakistan is not just military. It's also our capacity to build their capacity through civilian interventions, through development, through aid assistance. And that's part of what you're seeing - both in Afghanistan and Pakistan I think is fully resourcing a comprehensive strategy that doesn't just rely on bullets or bombs but also relies on agricultural specialists on doctors, on engineers, to help create an environment in which people recognize that they have much more at stake in partnering with us and the international community than giving into some of these -

Schieffer: Help me out here -

President Obama: - extremist ideologies.

Schieffer: How do you - what if they can't do it? What if they won't do it? I mean, we have reports now about members of Pakistan's intelligence service actually actively helping the Taliban and al Qaeda.

President Obama: Well, some -

Schieffer: What if they don't do it?

President Obama: Some of those reports aren't new. There are a whole host of contingencies that we've gotta deal with. I mean, this is gonna be hard, Bob. I'm under no illusions. If it was easy, it would have already been completed. And so we're gonna have to go with a strategy that is focused, that is narrowly targeted on defeating al Qaeda. We think that if you combine military, civilian, diplomatic, development approaches, if we are doing a much better job of coordinating with our allies, then we can be successful.

But we recognize there are gonna be a lot of hurdles between now and us finally having weakened al Qaeda or destroyed al Qaeda to the point there - it cannot, it doesn't pose a danger to us. And we will continue to monitor and adjust our strategies to make sure that we're not just going down blind alleys.

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