Transcript: President Barack Obama, Part 1

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

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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."

KROFT: Right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There shouldn't be anything confusing about that.

KROFT: Well--

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.