Obama Defends Afghanistan Timetable Plan

Gives His First Extensive Interview Since the Announcement of His Troop Build-Up in Afghanistan

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As President Obama approaches his first anniversary in the White House, some of the public's enthusiasm for his ambitious agenda at home and abroad is on the wane. While he helped avert a worldwide financial collapse, and may well achieve his goal of health care reform during his first year in office, the U.S. economy is still very weak with double digit unemployment, and his approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency.

This past week, before he left for Europe to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft sat down with the president in the Map Room at the White House for a wide ranging discussion, much of it focused on his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Transcript: President Obama, Part 1
Transcript: President Obama, Part 2
Obama Versus the "Fat Cats"
Obama: Gatecrashers Lapse "Won't Happen Again"
Obama: Senate Will Pass Health Bill by Christmas
Web Extra: Afghanistan and Pakistan
Web Extra: What Pakistan Must Do
Web Extra: Why This War?
Web Extra: His Biggest Frustration
Web Extra: Unfinished Business
Web Extra: The Party Crashers

Steve Kroft: Was that the most difficult decision of your presidency so far?

President Barack Obama: Absolutely.

Kroft: Why?

Obama: Because when you go to Walter Reed and you travel to Dover and you visit Arlington and you see the sacrifices that young men and women and their families are making there is nothing more profound. And it is a solemn obligation on the part of me as commander in chief to get those decisions right.

Kroft: In your West Point speech, you seemed very analytical, detached, not emotional. The tone seemed to be, "I've studied this situation very hard. It's a real mess. The options aren't very good. But we need to go ahead and do this." There were no exhortations or promises of victory. Why? Why that tone?

Obama: You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I've made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were gonna be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back. There is not a speech that I've made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech.

And one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war.

There was a tendency to say, "We can go in. We can kick some tail. This is some glorious exercise." When in fact, this is a tough business.

Kroft: Most Americans right now don't believe this war is worth fighting. And most of the people in your party don't believe this is a war worth fighting.

Obama: Right.

Kroft: Why did you go ahead?

Obama: Because I think it's the right thing to do. And that's my job. If I was worried about what polled well, there are a whole bunch of things we wouldn't have done this year.

Kroft: Do you feel like you've staked your presidency on it?

Obama: There are a whole bunch of things that I've staked my presidency on, right. That are tough, and entail some risks. There's no guarantees. But that I'm confident we have addressed in the best possible way.

Kroft: The West Point speech was greeted, it was greeted with a great deal of confusion.

Obama: I disagree with that statement.

Kroft: You do?

Obama: I absolutely do. Forty million people watched it. And I think a whole bunch of people understood what we intend to do.

Kroft: But it raised a lot of questions.

Obama: Now, it-

Kroft: Some people thought it was contradictory. That's a fair criticism.

Obama: I don't think it's a fair criticism. I think that what you may be referring to is the fact that on the one hand I said, "We're gonna be sending in additional troops now." On the other hand, "By July 2011, we're gonna move into a transition phase where we're drawing our troops down."

Kroft: Right.

Obama: There shouldn't be anything confusing about that. That's-

Kroft: Well-

Obama: First of all, that's something that we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So, I think the American people are familiar with the idea of a surge. In terms of the rationale for doing it, we don't have an Afghan military right now, security force, that can stabilize the country. If we are effective over the next two years, that then frees us up to transition into a place where we can start drawing down.

Now, the other point of confusion I think that at least the press has identified is this notion of, "Well, what happens on July 2011?"