Transcript: President Barack Obama, Part 1

60 Minutes Correspondent Steve Kroft Interviewed The President Dec. 7, 2009

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On Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed President Barack Obama in the Map Room of the White House. Below is a transcript of that interview. Video excerpts from that interview are also available on this Web site.

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: So, we're in the Map Room. What is this room?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, the Map Room is actually named because during World War II, FDR actually set up a little war room down here. And he had his maps. He'd bring Churchill down here once in awhile. And so, it actually has extraordinary historic significance, because it helped mark FDR's transition into a wartime president.

KROFT: I want to talk to you about your decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Was that the most difficult decision of your Presidency so far?



PRESIDENT OBAMA: Because when you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] and you travel to Dover [Air Force Base] and you visit Arlington [National Cemetery] 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: Why did it take you so long to make it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, I don't think -- relative to the import of the decision -- it actually took that long. Keep in mind that there was no delay in terms of any troops that could have been deployed by us undertaking this review. I mean, General [Stanley] McChrystal when he made his initial assessment couldn't have gotten troops in before the first of the year.

And so, there was no downside for us taking our time and making sure that we had a strategy that was workable and sustainable. And look, this is not something that we're starting from scratch. This is something that we're inheriting. We've been there for eight years. The American people not only have seen their sons and daughters die in Afghanistan over the course of eight years. We also had, in the interim, an enormously costly war in Iraq.

So, not only have the costs been upwards of a trillion dollars over the course of the last eight years. We've lost thousands of lives over the last eight years. And what was happening in Afghanistan was drift. We had enough troop presence there to pretend to prevent, in the short term at least, the overthrow of the Kabul government. But the Taliban had gained momentum. The situation on the ground was worse than we had anticipated when we came in.

And what I wanted to make sure of was that there was an alignment between civilian and military strategies that would ensure stabilization of Afghanistan; would narrow the focus of our mission to going after Al Qaeda and those who can project violence against the U.S. homeland or our allies; and make sure that the plan that we came up with was sustainable over the long term and was not open ended in a way that could not be supported by the American people.

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 tone?

PRESIDENT 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. But I do think that it was important in that speech to recognize that there are costs to war. That this is a burden we don't welcome. It's one that was foisted on us as a consequence of 19 men deciding to kill thousands of Americans back in 2001. That there's unfinished business. And, you know, I think that one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. This is a tough business. And there are tough costs to it. And I think because it was detached from our day to day lives in so many ways -- unless you were a military family; unless you were one of those who were being deployed. Because we didn't even get asked to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tendency to say, "We can go in. We can kick some tail. You know this is some glorious exercise."

When in fact, this is a tough business. I think a sense of sobriety and clarity about what we're getting into. That we don't have great options. But what we do have as a consequence of the extraordinary courage and commitment of our military, as well as the civilians who were deployed, is the possibility of making a more stable situation in Afghanistan, defeating Al Qaeda, and making the homeland safe that that if we stay focused on those missions then we can be successful.

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.