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: Absolutely.
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.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
KROFT: Why did you go ahead?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Because I think it's the right thing to do. And that's my job. I've made a pledge to myself and to the country, when I was sworn in, that I would make these decisions based on what I was I thought was best for America. Not based on what polled well. If I was worried about what polled well there are a whole bunch of things we wouldn't have done this year. This is one of those situations where, having looked exhaustively at all the information available to me, after having consulted with military experts, the civilian experts, our allies, it was my strong conclusion that it would be a mistake for us to engage in any rapid draw down of forces in Afghanistan. The country, I believe, would collapse.
On the other hand, it was a mistake for us to engage in open-ended commitment in Afghanistan. That was not necessary in order for us to meet our national interests as properly defined. It was in our interest to make sure that we had this boost of troops that could train Afghan forces, stabilize the country, sustain a platform for us going after Al Qaeda aggressively. And that is exactly the order that I gave. And I recognized that it wasn't gonna be politically popular. But given the alternatives that were available to us, I was absolutely certain that it was the right thing to do.
KROFT: Do you feel like you've staked your Presidency on it?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, I think that given the number of things that I've had to deal with since I came into office, there are a whole bunch of things that I've staked my Presidency on. Right? That we can bring about an economic recovery that produces jobs in this country and gets us back on track towards a path of prosperity. Making sure that we end the war in Iraq in a way that stabilizes that country and is true to the sacrifices of the troops that we've sent over there and the enormous amount of resources that we've spent. Making sure that we get Afghanistan right. Making sure that over the long term we're able to deal with our federal budgets in a fiscally responsible way.
So I've got a whole bunch of things out there that are tough and entail some risks. There's no guarantees. But that I'm confident we have addressed in the best possible way. In a way that's most promising for the American people. And assuring that the 21st Century ends up being the American Century just like the 20th.
KROFT: The West Point speech was greeted it was a great deal of confusion.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I disagree with that statement.
KROFT: You do?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I absolutely do. 40 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. Some people thought it was contradictory. That's a fair criticism.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think it's a fair criticism. The situation in Afghanistan is complex, and so people who are looking for simple black and white answers won't get them. And the speech wasn't designed to give those black and white answers.
Part of my job here, I believe, is to make sure that the American people understand what we're getting into. What we where we've been and where we're going. And they're not simple. 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 out troops down."
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There shouldn't be anything confusing about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, that's something that we did in Iraq. And 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, by putting in these additional troops -- clearing enough space and time for the Afghan security forces to get set up in an effective way -- that then frees us up to transition into a place where we can start drawing down.
The alternative is to stand pat where we are, in which you never have a stable Afghan security force. And we are potentially signed up for being in Afghanistan for the next decade.
KROFT: Let me direct to you a couple of the questions that have been raised. People have asked, "Why are we gonna spend $30 million to send 30,000 troops halfway around the world? And then start bringing them back 18 months later?"
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as I've said, we've got a mission that is time-definite in order to accomplish a particular goal, which is to stand up Afghan security forces. And as I said, we did this in Iraq just two years ago. And General [David] Petraeus, who was involved in my consultations in designing this strategy, I think is the first to acknowledge that had it not been for those additional troops combined with effective political work inside of Iraq, we might have seen a much worse outcome in Iraq than the one that we're gonna see.
KROFT: It's gonna take six months anyway just to get all the troops there. That doesn't leave you very much time to accomplish the mission.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that we already ordered 33,000 additional troops into Afghanistan last year. So, it's important to recognize that after seven years in which the commanders on the ground had consistently felt under resourced, President Bush right at the end of his presidency ordered in approximately 12,000.
I came in and ordered an additional 21,000, in part to make sure that a there was stability enough in Afghanistan for the elections to go off without a hitch. There still ended up being some hitches, but at least it wasn't disrupted by the Taliban. So, those 33,000 troops already went in, and General McChrystal is already using those troops to implement this strategy.
Additional troops though then will come in, and the phase-out will be graduated in the same way. So although it seems as if this is a very narrow timeframe, if you actually date it back to when those last troops came in . . . what you're really looking at is a solid two years in which we are training Afghan forces much more effectively, partly because they can partner with U.S. troops on the ground, in the field. This isn't classroom training. It's not learning how to march in formation. It's actually being where they're gonna need to help stabilize and control population centers. And we are confident that it can be effective.
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?"
KROFT: What does happen?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And what I've said is that we then start transitioning into a draw-down phase. The pace of that drawdown, how many U.S. troops are coming out, how quickly, what the slope is of that drawdown will be determined by conditions on the ground. And we are gonna be making consistent assessments to make sure that as we are standing up Afghan troops, that we are replacing U.S. troops or ally troops, and we're not gonna do it in a precipitous way that in any way endangers our troops or endangers the progress that we've made. But we will have signaled the fact that increasingly we are turning over responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans.
KROFT: So, if the situation is not going well in July of 2011, you can decide -- and I'm not making light of this -- to send home the band and a couple of civil affairs units and non-essential units and keep as many combat people on the ground as are necessary to perform the mission.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well look, as Commander in Chief, obviously, I reserve the option to do what I think is gonna be best for the American people at that point in time. And our national security. But we will know, I think, by the end of December 2010 whether or not the approach that General McChrystal has discussed in terms of securing population centers is meeting its objectives. Whether we're training Afghan forces on a trajectory that looks promising or not. And if the approach that's been recommended doesn't work then yes we're gonna be changing approaches.
So you know, I wish that this were a situation in which I could guarantee a blueprint over the next two, three years, where we're not gonna have to make additional decisions. That's not gonna be the case.
KROFT: There are people that say, "Why set a deadline?" I mean, Senator McCain, most prominent.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And the answer is that in the absence of a deadline, the message we are sending to the Afghans is, "It's business as usual. This is an open-ended commitment." And very frankly there are, I think, elements in Afghanistan who would be perfectly satisfied to make Afghanistan a permanent protectorate of the United States. In which they carry no burden. In which we're paying for a military in Afghanistan that preserves their security and their prerogatives.
That's not what the American people signed off for when they went into Afghanistan in 2001. They signed up to go after Al Qaeda. And now we do have genuine obligations in Afghanistan, as part of an international force. And something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is the fact that despite the Afghan war being even more unpopular in Europe than it is here in the United States, we've already received over 7,000 additional troop commitments from our NATO allies. And they have fully embraced the strategy that we're proposing.
But it is important for not only the United States, but all the international allies. Forty-three troop-contributing countries to send a message to the Afghans that ultimately our interest is not occupying the country. And our interest certainly is not to carry a burden that the Afghans themselves can carry. We want to be a partner with you to deal with extremist threats that we all are a target.
You know, our interest is not in an open-ended commitment in which Afghans are not taking responsibility for things that they can take responsibility for. And we don't want to be an occupying force. What we want to make sure of is that for the good of both the Afghan people, as well as the good of the United States and our allies, that we are able to target Al Qaeda. That we are we have a platform in which we can keep the pressure on them. And we're making sure that you don't have a vast swathe of that region from which terrorist activity can be launched.
KROFT: One of the things that people in Afghanistan and people in Pakistan, especially, have always been a little skeptical of [is] the United States' resolve, as far as their part of the world is concerned. Particularly the people in Pakistan, which is one of the reasons it maintains a close relationship with the Taliban. Isn't the fact that we're saying we're gonna start pulling out of here in year just add more doubts for them to be concerned about our commitment?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Keep in mind, Steve, what I'm saying here. We are gonna be drawing down combat forces after 2011. That doesn't lessen our commitment to a strong security partnership with Afghanistan. It doesn't mean that we won't be providing logistical support, that we won't be providing training support, that we won't be providing financial support to help sustain a growing and more effective Afghan force. It doesn't mean that we may not have, for some period of time, the kinds of assist and oversight forces that we'll probably have in Iraq, even after all our combat troops are gone next year.
I think the mistake that was made in the early 1990s after the Soviets finally pulled out of Afghanistan was that we just completely lost interest. We didn't think about their development needs. We didn't think about, you know, what their agricultural needs were. We didn't think effectively about how they were gonna provide security for this vast and difficult to govern country. And that's not what we're talking about here. We are gonna be there for the long haul. The question is, are we going to have an enormous troops presence in that region for the long haul? I actually think that would be counterproductive.
KROFT: The main point of the surge is to buy some time for the Afghanis to train and develop a competent army and a police force. General McChrystal says you probably need 400,000 people, trained policemen and army people, in Afghanistan for them to have a chance of survival. And that would take four years to develop that, to build it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, that's not exactly what General McChrystal said. What is true is that in his initial assessment, the figure of 400,000 Afghan police and army was batted around as the formula if you look traditionally at the size of the population and what you need in dealing with an insurgency in a country that big. Then you might look at that figure.
But the point that I've made to General McChrystal -- and it wasn't just me, but others in my national security team -- was that if we can get 300,000 very effective Afghan soldiers and police who are effectively protecting population centers, because there are only a handful of major cities in Afghanistan; the rest are diverse and diffuse rural areas, then you are actually doin' pretty good.
What's also important to recognize is that the strength of the insurgency and the danger of extremism is primarily in the Pashtun areas. There are a whole bunch of areas in the north in which people I think are prepared to simply live their lives and start developing their economy. So the key here is not for us to set some unrealistic target that is never attainable. The key here is to figure out how, starting right now, we can make a lot of progress, get the best possible Afghan security force in place that we can, continue to provide them support once the transition takes place, but understand that they are on the front lines as an effective partner for us in dealing with what is the reason we're there in the first place -- and that is going after Al Qaeda and their extremist allies that can project violence against this country.
KROFT: If the main threat, the main reason we're doing this is Al Qaeda, why send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, because according to your government's own estimates, there may be fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. That the rest are in Pakistan and the tribal territories.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the reason is this. Although we recognize a boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda and militants don't recognize that boundary. And so, what you have here between the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the epicenter of violent extremism directed against the West and directed against the United States.
This is this is the heart of it. This is where Bin Laden is. This is where its allies are. It's from here that you see attacks launched not just against the United States, but against London, against Bali, against a whole host of countries.
KROFT: And half of this territory is in Afghanistan --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Half of this territory is in Afghanistan, half of it is in Pakistan. Now, part of the reason that we've been able to put pressure on Al Qaeda, and we have. I mean, one of the unwritten stories of this year is the degree to which we have been able to effectively put pressure and take out key Al Qaeda leadership in this region, but also in places like Somalia. And places like Indonesia. Working with our allies.
Part of the reason we're able to do that is because you don't just have a free-for-all in this space. Our presence there has been helpful in pinning them in and restricting their movement and restricting their communications ability. And restricting their ability to engineer high profile attacks against the West.
Ultimately, in order for us to eradicate the problem, to really go after Al Qaeda, in an effective way, we are going to need more cooperation from Pakistan. There is no doubt about that. And we have had very detailed and serious conversations with the Pakistan government and the Pakistan military about the fact that their traditional orientation, which has been to compete with India -- that's what they view as their existential threat -- has now been overtaken by extremists within their own midst that are exploding bombs with impunity throughout Pakistan.
And you're starting to see that recognition from Pakistan. The Pakistani military this year has launched a more aggressive offensive into these border regions than ever before. We want to build on that, continue to partner with them on it, but to the extent that we've got a stable Afghanistan on the other side, that helps us convince the Pakistanis that this is an approach that they need to take.
That one last point I want to make. I said from the beginning, I said when I was sworn in, I said in March, and I said after this review that the other thing we have to do long term to defeat terrorists is to convince the people of that region that there is an approach to them achieving prosperity and opportunity. And that means more effective development. It means more effective governance. It means that that people have a stake in order rather than disorder. In peace rather than violence.
And frankly, we have not done as good of a job as we should have over the last eight years in giving life to that concept. I mean, we've given lip service to it, but we haven't really delivered on it. Now, it's hard to do if you don't have security. It's hard to send out an agricultural worker out into a region if they're gonna be kidnapped or killed by some Taliban guerillas. But we have to make sure that any security efforts that we make are matched with effective civilian efforts and communications efforts that explain to people what exactly that we're doing.
In Afghanistan that applies. The same principle, at least, applies in Pakistan. Which is why when Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar on a bipartisan basis increased civilian aid to help agricultural and build schools in Pakistan. That is as important a part of our national security as anything that we're doing and deserves support from Congress on a bipartisan basis.
KROFT: Going back to the question about the number about the 100 fighters in Afghanistan, you know, the world's changed a lot since 2001.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.
KROFT: Al Qaeda is in a lot of places besides Afghanistan. They've got people in Sudan. They've got people in Somalia. They've got people in Yemen.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And we go after them there, too.
KROFT: Right. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 2001 World Trade Center tragedy, did it with computer and airline schedules and a couple of people. He didn't need a whole country.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look, if the point being made is that the threat of international terrorism has metastasized, that there's no single location where all terrorist activity is located, and as a consequence we've gotta have a broader view than just Afghanistan and Pakistan, in terms of dealing with terrorism. That's absolutely true. I completely agree, which is why we have initiated actions in a lot of different countries. Our intelligence capabilities and our counterterrorism capabilities are absolutely critical.
What remains the case, though, is that, as I said before, the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan are epicenters of this activity. That is where most of the planning directed at the U.S. homeland takes place. And if that is a chaotic situation, where we don't have effective partners in the region -- if Pakistan feels that we're not serious about trying to bring stability in that region and so, they've got to hedge their bets. If Afghanistan feels that we're not following through on commitments that we've made over the last seven years, and so as a consequence they've got pick and choose sides that may not be good for us. So, if we don't have effective partners in the region, then it's very hard for us to continue to project our efforts going after those who would try and do us harm.
If we do have effective partners, and that's what this process is designed to do. If we can get a stable Afghanistan. If we can get Pakistan to reorient its threat assessment, so that it knows, "You know, we're joined with the United States in dealing with these extremist threats." Then it allows us over time not to have as many troops there, because we've got partners there that can actually work with us on the ground in goin' after these folks.
Will we have no terrorist threat once this is completed? Unfortunately that threat will probably be with us for a longer period of time. But will we be safer than we otherwise would have been? And would the investment have been worth it? I think the potential is yes.
KROFT: Our success in that region really depends on to a certain extent the performance of our partners, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. And in Afghanistan, you can make the argument that it's not really even a country. That it is a collection of tribes. And it is run really by a very corrupt government, some of whose major figures are alleged to be involved in the drug business, including the brother of the president. How are you gonna deal with this?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (laughs) Look --
KROFT: I mean, how are you gonna do this?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, Steve, I mean the reason I laugh is because this is really hard. And there's not a question that you asked that I haven't asked in meetings, and that I don't ask myself. I don't have the luxury of choosing between the ideal and what exists on the ground. I have to make decisions based on how, given where we are right now, given what the situation that we're in right now, how do we get to the best possible place.
Now, in Afghanistan, I'd disagree with the notion that there's [no] country there. There is a country there. It's one that has a tradition of a weak central government. We've got to help build up capacity within the central government. But what we also have to do is to work with local leadership, tribal leadership in some cases, so that they feel they've got a stake in success. That means they instead of a big fancy foreign aid project where half the money's going to consultants U.S. consultants, or foreign consultants, let's try some smaller projects to dig a well, or set up an irrigation system in a local village working with the tribal elders there.
There are ways for us to do good that strengthens the so civil society in that region in a way that helps us achieve our goals, which ultimately is to protect the U.S. homeland. But at the end of this process, regardless of what decisions we make are we gonna see perfection. Of course not. Will there still be great difficulty in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world in providing education for its children, and, you know, creating a budget that allows them to provide basic services like electricity. That's gonna a long path. I mean, that's a 20, 30-year project. And I think that Afghans would acknowledge that as well. That's not what they expect, is an overnight miracle.
What they do want is enough core security that they can get started on the business of developing their countries. And what we want in turn is enough stability in the region that [it] is not a safe haven for attacks against the United States.
KROFT: People in the administration have been saying on the record and off the record, the informed administration sources, for a year now that the leadership of the Taliban was somewhere in the city of Quetta in Pakistan. Some accounts have said that they were operating openly. If they are, and we know this, why haven't we taken action against them, and why haven't we called in drones, if we're going to go to war with the Taliban, which we seem to be, why not go in and wipe out their leadership?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well I don't want to comment on certain sensitive aspects to our efforts in this border region. I think it is fair to say, number one, that my principle -- and I articulated this in the campaign -- is if we've got actual war intelligence on high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders, or for that matter high-ranking Taliban leaders who are directing actions against U.S. troops, then we will take action.
Now, a lot of this border region is big and complicated. And even a city like Quetta is a big city. And, you know, we have to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan as we engage in potential actions that would involve going into a major metropolitan area with a lot of civilians around it. We expect Pakistan to cooperate more effectively in the future than they have in the past.
As I've said before, part of the challenge here is for Pakistan to recognize the degree to which this threatens the stability of their government. This isn't America's war. This isn't the West's war. This is a situation in which you've got a very dangerous, extremist network that is growing, and right now is killing more Pakistanis than anybody else. And we think that you're starting to see certainly in terms of public opinion, as well as within the military, a recognition of that growing threat. But it takes some times to operationalize, and our hope is that we see progress over the next couple of years.
KROFT: Do you believe the Pakistanis have any appetite for going into Quetta and finding Mullah Omar?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that the Pakistanis recognize that these networks are killing Pakistanis a lot more than they're killing Americans right now, and that it's in their interest to start moving in a new direction. How fast they do that in part is gonna depend on how effectively we can partner with them.
KROFT: You're a student of history. The British lost the Revolutionary War, and the Americans lost the Vietnam War in spite of the fact that they won almost all the major battles. They lost it because it got to be too expensive, it was too far away, and not enough people cared about it. Aren't you facing some of those same problems right now?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think what is true is that if we have an open-ended commitment in a place like Afghanistan with no clear benchmarks for what success means, that the American people who have just gone through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, who've already endured eight years of war, at some point are gonna say: enough. And rightly so. And my job is to come up with a strategy that is time-constrained, that matches the resources that we're expended to the nature of our national interest.
And, you know, part of the difficulty here is that this isn't the kind of war that we saw in World War II, where you've got a power conflict, at some point the other side says enough, and surrenders. You are going to have elements that are dangerous to the United States no matter what actions we take.
The question is, can we limit their scope of movement. Can we limit their capacity. Can we take the kinds of steps that I've called for to make sure that you don't have a nuclear black market out there in which they can obtain weapons of mass destruction. Do we have enough allies who are effective partners with us, giving us effective intelligence, cutting off their financial networks. Can we shrink more and more their scope of operations to the point where they don't threaten us in a significant way, which isn't to say that you couldn't have a lone wolf who straps on a bomb and tries to kill some people.
I think that is an achievable goal. It's gonna take some time. Not all of it is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But I think how we deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan over the next couple of years will help determine our ability to scale this down to a point where it is manageable and we are protecting American lives. And that is my foremost concern. That is my ultimate job.
KROFT: Afghanistan has always been called the graveyard of empires. The British lost there, the Russians lost there. There's a big track record of the big powers being humiliated and embarrassed and thrown out. What makes you think that you can be successful there where other people haven't?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let's understand though what happened. Let's say with the Soviets. I mean, their desire was to pacify a country essentially. And it was a pretty brutal process. There was no indigenous support. I think it's fair to say that you've got a strong, indigenous, nationalist impulse to get those folks out.
So far at least, we are invited guests into Afghanistan. People, even after all the problems that we've gone through, still on average would prefer our presence to not having us there. We're there in an international coalition of 43 other countries. All those things make a difference not only from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but also from our own experiences in Vietnam.
Now, if we're not thoughtful about what we're doing there, this thing could turn ugly pretty quick. And that's why it was so important for me to make sure that I had an understanding between our military, our civilian, our diplomatic efforts that you know, our interest is to stabilize Afghanistan, not to occupy it. We're not interested in installing a government of our choosing there, which is why we've invested a lot in making the elections as credible as possible, and we hope that they continue to grow more credible. And that we have an effective partner there to deal with our main objective, which is going after those folks who would try to go after us. So, both in terms of the scope of ambition, the nature of what's taking place in Afghanistan these are very different situations.
Every poll indicates that a very small minority of Afghans support the Taliban taking over the country again. You know, that's not sort of our doctoring of information here. There hasn't been a lot of spin on my part throughout this process. I've acknowledged that it's hard. I've asked for the facts. The facts are right now the Taliban is not some homegrown insurgency battling a foreign occupier, but rather you've got a whole bunch of Afghans who just want to live in peace, and are being bullied and intimidated by a small faction in that country. And if we can help them protect themselves, we don't have to be there.
KROFT: Okay. Let's change the subject.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, why not.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We can talk about Afghanistan some more.
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