MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a special hour devoted to Afghanistan and
America's fight against terrorism. The president reveals his long-awaited
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: It is in our vital national interest to send an
additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: The debate is intense; Democrats divided...
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): I do not believe more American lives should be
risked for a war that no longer serves our most pressing national
MR. GREGORY: ...and Republicans skeptical about a timeline for
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): It's got to be one or the other. It's got to be
the appropriate conditions or it's got to be an arbitrary date. I--you
can't have both.
MR. GREGORY: This morning we will tackle the tough remaining questions:
How will winning be defined? Does a withdrawal date give the enemy an
advantage? Will this strategy make Americans safer from terrorists? How
will the war be paid for at a time of record national debt? And what are
the consequences of failure for the region and for this president? With
us, the two key officials responsible for implementing this strategy:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Then, the Republican view: the ranking member of the Senate Armed
Services Committee and former GOP presidential candidate, Arizona Senator
Finally, analysis from Tom Friedman of The New York Times and Bob
Woodward of The Washington Post.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, here they are, Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Welcome, both of you, back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEC'Y ROBERT GATES: Thank you.
SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: So much of the heat of this debate this week was not about
the going in, but about the getting out. This is what the president said
about the scope of this mission.
(Videotape, December 1, 2009)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: These additional Americans and international troops
will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces
and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in
July of 2011.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Gates, is this a deadline?
SEC'Y GATES: It's the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals
are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and
the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security
over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and
then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But
we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the
pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home
from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments
will be made by our commanders in the field.
MR. GREGORY: Regardless of the circumstances, though, what you're saying
is that withdrawal will take place at that point.
SEC'Y GATES: It will begin in July of 2011. But how, how quickly it goes
will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a
significant number of forces in there...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEC'Y GATES: ...for some considerable period of time after that.
MR. GREGORY: You both, of course, this week have taken tough questions
about this issue of a deadline and whether that's a bad thing to signal
up front. Three years ago, Secretary Gates, you were asked on Capitol
Hill about another war, another debate, another timeline. That was about
Iraq. And, Secretary Clinton, you were asked as senator back in 2005 the
same question about Iraq and timelines for withdrawal. This is what you
both said back then.
(Videotape, December 5, 2006)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Do you believe if we set timetables or a
policy to withdraw at a date certain, it would be seen by the extremists
as a sign of weakness, the moderates would be disheartened and it would
create a tremendous impediment to the moderate forces coming forward in
SEC'Y GATES: I think a specific timetable would give--would essentially
tell them how long they have to wait until we're gone.
(Videotape, February 20, 2005)
SEC'Y CLINTON: We don't want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the
terrorists, that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date
certain. I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just
bide your time.
MR. GREGORY: That was about Iraq. Why are your views different when it
comes to Afghanistan?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Because we're not talking about an exit strategy or a
drop-dead deadline. What we're talking about is an assessment that in
January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off
responsibility to the Afghan forces. That is what eventually happened in
Iraq. You know, we're going to be out of Iraq. We have a firm deadline,
because the Iraqis believe that they can assume and will assume
responsibility for their own future. We want the Afghans to feel the same
sense of urgency. We want them to actually make good on what President
Karzai said in his inaugural speech, which is that by five years from now
they'll have total control for their defense.
MR. GREGORY: But this is a time certain. Secretary Gates, you just said
that the withdrawal will begin regardless of conditions, the pace of
withdrawal could be affected. This is a date certain. And when it came to
Iraq, you thought that was a bad idea.
SEC'Y GATES: I was opposed to a deadline in Iraq and, if you'd listen to
what I said, that that was a date certain to have all of our forces out
of Iraq. I'm opposed to that in Afghanistan as well. But I believe that
there is an important element here of balancing, sending a signal of
resolve, but also giving the Afghan government a sense of urgency that
they need to get their young men recruited, trained and into the field
partnering with our forces and then on their own. And so I think that the
beginning of this process in July 2011 makes a lot of sense, because the
other side of it is open.
MR. GREGORY: What kind of casualties should Americans be prepared to
suffer in Afghanistan with this new strategy?
SEC'Y GATES: Well, the tragedy is that the casualties will, will probably
continue to grow, at least for a time being. This is what we saw in the
surge in Iraq. But it's because they're going into places where the
Taliban essentially have controlled the territory and upsetting the apple
cart, if you will. And what, what, what happened in Iraq is what we
anticipate will happen here; we'll have an increase in casualties at the
front end of this process, but over time it will actually lead to fewer
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Clinton, what happens if the strategy isn't
working in 18 months time?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, first, David, we obviously believe that it will
work. We've spent a lot of time testing all the assumptions, our
commanders have a, a lot of confidence that it will work. But the
president has said, and we agree, that we will take stock of where we are
every month. We're not going to wait, we're going to be looking to see
what's happening. Now, we've had the Marines that were sent in--remember,
this president inherited a situation where we had basically lost ground
to the Taliban. The war in Afghanistan, unfortunately, was lost in the
fog of the war in Iraq. And the president put in troops when he first got
there and then said, "But let's make sure we know kind of where we're
headed and how to get there." And so we're going to continue to evaluate
as we go. But the Marines went into Helmand province last July and, you
know, Bob can tell you that the reports are that they're making real
headway. So we have confidence in this strategy.
MR. GREGORY: The, the issue of what was inherited came up this week. The
president very pointedly said, Secretary Gates, that reinforcements that
were requested of the Bush administration on your watch were not
provided, and that he provided them when he came into office. Is that
SEC'Y GATES: There was, there was, throughout my, my time as secretary of
Defense under President Bush, an outstanding request from General
McKiernan. And as Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, testified repeatedly, we just--because of the commitment of forces
in Iraq, we did not have the, the ability to meet the resource needs in
MR. GREGORY: So you don't have any problem with that statement?
SEC'Y GATES: I--no, there was an outstanding troop request, and on my
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the mission, and I want to chart a little
bit of the evolution of the president's public statements about this.
Going back to July of 2008, during the campaign, when he talked about
America's commitment to Afghanistan. Watch this.
(Videotape, July 15, 2008)
PRES. OBAMA: The Afghan people must know that our commitment to their
future is enduring, because the security of Afghanistan and the United
States is shared.
MR. GREGORY: And yet Tuesday when he spoke to the country, he seemed to
dismiss the notion of what he called an open-ended commitment or an
"enduring commitment" to Afghanistan, saying this.
(Videotape, December 1, 2009)
PRES. OBAMA: Some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of
our war effort. I reject this course, because it sets goals that are
beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to
achieve to secure our interests.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Clinton, has the president concluded, as president
now, that in Afghanistan the war on terrorism needs to be downsized?
SEC'Y CLINTON: No. And, and I think, David, there is no contradiction
between the two statements you just played. We will have an enduring
commitment to Afghanistan. We're going to be putting in combat troops. We
are going to be joined by 42 partners. We just got a commitment of an
additional 7,000 troops from our NATO-ISAF allies. And we will most
likely be continuing once our combat responsibilities have ended in
whatever support for the Afghan security forces in terms of training,
logistics, intelligence, that will enable them to do what they need to
do. At the same time, we will have an ongoing civilian commitment to
Afghanistan. So yes, we don't have an open-ended combat commitment. We
think we have a strategy that will create the space and time for the
Afghans to stand up their own security forces and take responsibility.
But we're not going to be, you know, walking away from Afghanistan again.
We, we did that before, it didn't turn out very well. So we will stay
involved, we will stay supportive, and I think that's exactly the right
MR. GREGORY: But if you have a situation where you're going to begin the
withdrawal of troops regardless of conditions on the ground, some critics
see that as weakness and a bad sign to the enemy. One of your former
colleagues, the former Vice President Dick Cheney, said this to Politico
this week about the president's speech: "Cheney said the average Afghan
citizen `sees talk about exit strategies and how soon we can get out,
instead of talk about how we win. Those folks ... begin to look for ways
to accommodate their enemies,' Cheney said. `They're worried the United
States isn't going to be there much longer and the bad guys are.'" And if
you look at some of the response from Pakistan, the very country we need
to get to the baddest of the guys who are over in their country with
al-Qaeda, there's this, as reported by The New York Times: "Washington's
assertion that American troops could begin leaving in 18 months provoked
anxiety in Afghanistan and rekindled long-standing fears in Pakistan that
America would abruptly withdraw, leaving Pakistan to fend for itself.
Both countries face intertwined Taliban insurgencies. `Regarding the new
policy of President Obama, we're studying that policy,' [Pakistani Prime
Minister Yousaf] Gilani said. `We need more clarity on it, and when we
get more clarity on it we can see what we can implement on that plan.'"
Is what former Vice President Cheney's warning about, is that already
starting to take place in terms of the attitude in Pakistan?
SEC'Y GATES: Well, first of all, we're not talking about an abrupt
withdrawal. We're talking about something that will take care--take place
over a period of time. We--our commanders think that these additional
forces, and one of the reasons for the president's decision to try and
accelerate their deployment, is, is the view that the this extended surge
has the opportunity to make significant gains in terms of reversing the
momentum of the Taliban, denying them control of Afghan territory and
degrading their capabilities. Our military thinks we have a real
opportunity to do that. And it's not just in the next 18 months, because
we will have significant--we will have 100,000 forces, troops there, and
they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some, handful, or some small
number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that
The piece of this people need to keep in mind that's different from Iraq
is our need to communicate a sense of urgency to the Afghans of their
need to begin to accept responsibility. The Iraqis, after it was clear
that the surge was working, clearly wanted us out of the country as fast
as possible. In the case of the Afghans, there are those--not everybody,
and not a lot of the people--but there are those who would love to have
the United States Army stay there in this very rough neighborhood
indefinitely. And we want to communicate the message we will not provide
for their security forever. They have to step up to that responsibility.
MR. GREGORY: The--it seems to be an important point. Beyond July of 2011,
there's going to be a significant amount of, of U.S. troops there.
There's going to be about 100,000 once this surge is finished. How many
more years should Americans expect to have a significant force presence
SEC'Y GATES: Well, I think that, you know, again, I don't want to put a
deadline on it, OK? But, but I think that just picking up on President
Karzai's statements in his inaugural address, he talked about taking over
security control in three years of important areas of Afghanistan, and
all of Afghanistan in five years. I think that we're in that, we're in
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEC'Y GATES: Two to three to four years. But again, during that period we
will be, just as we did in Iraq, turning over provinces to Iraq--Afghan
security forces, and that will allow us to bring the number of our forces
down in a steady but conditions-based circumstance.
MR. GREGORY: We are also, in a more covert way that's not very well kept
as a secret, at war in Pakistan as well. The real al-Qaeda figures, Osama
bin Laden, Mullah Omar, the Haqqani network, the baddest of the bad are
in Pakistan and not Afghanistan. What are the Pakistanis prepared to do
to destroy them?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, David, I think what we've seen over the course of
this year is a sea change in attitude by the Pakistanis. If we'd been
sitting here a year ago and you'd asked what they were going to do, there
wouldn't be much of an answer. Now we can say they're beginning to go
after the terrorists who are threatening their very existence as a
sovereign nation. They've had two military campaigns in the space of the
last eight months, and they are making real progress. What we are
discussing and consulting with them over is how all of these groups are
now a threat to them. There is a syndicate of terrorism, with al-Qaeda at
the head of it. So we're doing everything we can to support them in what
is a really life or death struggle. I mean, they just blew up--the
terrorists just blew up a mosque in Rawalpindi filled with military
officers. These terrorists, with al-Qaeda's funding, encouragement,
training, equipping, is going right at the Pakistani government.
MR. GREGORY: Can, can a mission be accomplished without capturing Osama
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I, I really believe it's important to capture and/or
kill Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri, the others who are part of that
leadership team. But certainly, you can make enormous progress absent
MR. GREGORY: I want to talk a little bit about history, a history you
know well, Secretary Gates, with your work in this region going back
decades. This was the editorial in The New York Times days after the
Soviet invasion in 1979, I'll put it up on the screen: "Moscow's Backyard
Quagmire. By intervening so strongly on behalf of a wobbly Afghan client,
the Soviet Union appears to be sinking deeper into a backyard quagmire."
A lot of questions about the Afghan client today. You have said, along
this process, you were worried about putting more troops in. You said the
Soviets had 110,000 committed there and they couldn't win. Why is it
different now? Isn't this mission impossible?
SEC'Y GATES: It's pretty straightforward. First of all, the Soviets were
trying to impose an alien culture and, and political system on, on
Afghanistan. But more importantly, they were there terrorizing the
Afghans. They killed a million Afghans. They made refugees out of five
million Afghans. They were isolated internationally. All of those factors
are different for, for us, completely different. We have the sanction of
the U.N. We have the sanction of NATO. We have the invitation of the
Afghan government itself. We have 42 military partners in Afghanistan. We
are supporting and protecting the Afghan people. One of the central
themes of General McChrystal's strategy is to reduce and keep civilian
casualties low. And, and so it's a, it's a very different situation. And
what General McChrystal persuaded me of was that the size of the
footprint matters a lot less than what they're doing there. And the new
strategy that he's put in place, in terms of how we deal with the Afghans
and how we behave, I think will make a big difference.
MR. GREGORY: I want to bring it back home and ask you a very important
political question, Secretary Clinton. You have heard the reaction from
the Democratic Party; liberals using terms like "echoes of Vietnam," that
this is risky, that this is a gamble. Vietnam War protester Tom Hayden
talked about the immorality of fighting for regime like--that is
currently in place in Afghanistan. You've been on the campaign trail
running for president, you're a former senator, you know the politics of
your party well. What is the message of this president to those Democrats
who are not on board? And can you effectively prosecute this war without
the base of the party behind it?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, David, I think it's clear that anyone who has
followed this that President Obama has done what he thinks is right for
the country. He is well aware of the political concerns raised that you
have just described. I think he deserves a lot of credit for not only
delving into this and asking the hard questions, but coming to a decision
that has both political and economic costs, but which he has concluded is
in our vital national security interest.
I think that we have to look more broadly at what has gone on in
Afghanistan. Yes, are there problems with the current government? Of
course there are, as there are with, you know, any government. We deal,
we deal with a lot of governments that are hardly poster children for,
you know, good governance. But look at what has happened. When President
Karzai came into office, there were about a million kids in school and
they were all boys. There are now seven million and they're 40 percent
girls. There's all of a sudden a wheat harvest because of better seeds
and fertilizer that is giving people, once again, income from their land.
There are so many positive examples of what has changed. Of course
there's a lot of work to be done. I mean, good grief, this country was
devastated by three decades of the most brutal kind of war. It's
recovering. And as Bob as said, you know, they really do want a different
MR. GREGORY: But is the, the politics of this, the cost of this, will
there have to be a war tax? What will you do to keep the Democrats in
line on this?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, the president has said he will make sure that the
cost of the war is accounted for in the budget. Of--it is, it is an
additional expense. Everybody knows that. And we have so many important
demands here at home. We would not be pursuing this strategy if we did
not believe it was directly connected to the safety of our people, our
interests, our allies around the world. And I just hope that a lot of my
friends who are raising questions, Bob and I heard them when we were up
there testifying, will really pay attention to, you know, the rationale
behind the president doing this.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Gates, you are a hard-nosed realist about this
region and about this struggle, going back decades. Is failure an option
SEC'Y GATES: No, I don't think it can be, given the, the nature of the
terror network that Secretary Clinton referred to. But we will be
monitoring our progress and, and be willing to adjust our strategy if
there are, if there are issues. We're not just going to plunge blindly
ahead if it, if it becomes clear that what we're doing isn't working. I
mean, there are some other alternatives. We, frankly, didn't think that
the outcome of the long discussions that we had was that those, those
outcomes were probably less likely to work than what we've chosen. We
think and recommended to the president a strategy that, that he has
decided on, that we believe, all of us--including the uniform military
and our commanders in the field--offers the very best chance for our
success. And we're--and that's what we're going to count on.
MR. GREGORY: But you say failure's not an option. The president has said,
"We will fight this fight and fight it hard only up to a certain point."
SEC'Y GATES: And then we begin to transfer the responsibility to the
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEC'Y GATES: And a lot can happen in 18 months.
MR. GREGORY: You said, when you were last on this program back in March,
that you considered it a challenge, the notion that you might stay on for
the entire first term as secretary of Defense. What do you say now?
SEC'Y GATES: I'd say that's a challenge.
MR. GREGORY: Will you see this war through, the withdrawal of troops
SEC'Y GATES: I, I think that's probably up to the president.
MR. GREGORY: All right, thank you both very much.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Our special hour on Afghanistan continues. Up next, an
exclusive interview with the ranking member on the Armed Services
Committee, Republican Senator John McCain. Then analysis on what it all
means with Bob Woodard of The Washington Post and Tom Friedman of The New
York Times, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Our special hour on Afghanistan, the war plan and beyond,
continues with Senator John McCain after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We're back with Senator John McCain.
Welcome back to the program. A lot to discuss here, a lot to react to.
Let's get to your big issue this week, the issue of withdrawal. You heard
Secretary Gates say here today, July 2011 is a date certain for the
beginning of the withdrawal. Do you have a problem with that?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Yes. But let me also say, David, I support the
president's decision. I think it's the right decision. I think that it
can lead to success. It's a tough decision on his part to send young
Americans into harm's way. As Secretary Gates said, casualties will go
up, tragically. But I think he made the right decision, and I think that
he is--the reality is he's not only tough decision to send young
Americans into harm's way, but his--significant elements of his own party
are, are opposed. So I strongly support the decision.
The problem with the date certain now is that not only there's a problem
with that itself, but there's a, a significant contribution between what
Secretaries Gates and Clinton were saying and what the president's
MR. GREGORY: Contradiction. Contradiction.
SEN. McCAIN: Contradiction...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCAIN: ...between what--and what his spokesperson said just a
couple of days ago when he said the president said--he said--I'm directly
quoting the president, that "withdrawal date is engraved, chiseled in
stone, and I am the chiseler." Now, that's pretty straightforward. So
what has that done? It has caused reaction such as you saw with the prime
minister of Pakistan. Policymakers throughout the region--Pakistan,
India, Iran, as well as Afghanistan--are now trying to figure out whether
they can really go all in and support this effort, or do they have to
accommodate? Because if we leave, they have to stay in the region. So it
needs to be resolved. It needs to be resolved in this way, that we will
not leave on a date certain. But we have every confidence--I do, I have
every confidence within a year to 18 months we can achieve significant
success. We were able to do that in Iraq. And we will leave and not allow
the Taliban to make comments like Taliban prisoners are saying, "You've
got the watches and we have the time." We don't want to send that
MR. GREGORY: But the president responded to, to this week, privately and
during, during his address to the nation, saying if you'd just use that
logic, then that's the rationale for forever war. Then you don't ever
SEN. McCAIN: Well, the rationale for war is to break the enemy's will.
That's the whole rationale for war. Do you break the enemy's will by
saying, "We're going to be there," or send a message we're going to be
there for a year and a half or so and then we're going to begin to leave,
no matter what the circumstances are? Or do you tell them, "We're going
to win and we're going to break your will, and then we're going to
leave"? That's, that's, that's a huge factor in the conduct of war...
MR. GREGORY: All right, on that...
SEN. McCAIN: ...especially when you're conducting counterinsurgency.
MR. GREGORY: Earlier this fall, I did an interview with you here in
Washington on this topic.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And I want to show you what you said at that point and ask
you about it.
(Videotape, October 1, 2009)
SEN. McCAIN: I am convinced we could start to see signs of success in a
year to 18 months.
MR. GREGORY: And if we don't, at that point?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, then, I think we have to make a decision at that time
as--if, if we don't.
MR. GREGORY: How is that different from what you said to what the
president is saying now?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I'm saying that we have to make a decision as to what
adjustments we need to make to win. The--if we are not succeeding with
one strategy, then obviously we have to adjust that strategy. But as I
said, I am confident, as I said in our interview then, a year to a year
and a half, at great tragic loss of brave young Americans, we will be
able to succeed and we will be able to prevent Afghanistan from returning
to a base of, of al-Qaeda and attacks on the United States of America and
our allies; not to mention what the Taliban subject to the, the, the
Afghan people, too, which is immense cruelty.
MR. GREGORY: Americans knew why they were going to war in Afghanistan
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Today it's, it's really much more of a question mark, if you
look at the polling.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Americans do not support this.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: What is the likelihood...
SEN. McCAIN: Could I, could I just interrupt?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Yeah.
SEN. McCAIN: The president, as I expected, with a very effective speech
and an appropriate venue at West Point, I think, has also moved those
numbers in--more favorably in the right direction.
MR. GREGORY: What is the likelihood of another terrorist attack on
America from that region, Afghanistan, Pakistan, as things stand now?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that the areas around Pakistan-Afghan border is
still a place where al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist elements can
hang out. But I think they're on the defensive, and it's a far different
situation than if we left and allowed them to restore these safe havens
without any threat being mounted against them. And not to mention the
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. McCAIN: ...inventory and all the implications of that.
MR. GREGORY: To those who oppose this war, there are challenging a couple
of assumptions. The assumption that Hamid Karzai, the president of
Afghanistan, who the United States says is corrupt, who stole the
election, who has not proven capable of standing up a security force, who
cannot secure most of the country, is somehow going to become a different
leader, and that Afghanistan becomes a different country. That Pakistan,
which supported the Taliban for years, which is still apparently hedging
its bet about going after the Taliban and the baddest of the bad in the
tribal areas, somehow becomes a different country. Why do you assume
those two things happen?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, because when we started the surge,
Maliki was--there was serious talk about having to replace him.
They--he--there was no government in Iraq when the surge started, it was
just sectarian violence. Governments succeed with success. When you are
able to provide an environment of security to clear--the clear, hold and
build strategy, then governments do improve. They're not all perfect. One
of the reasons why we have the problems we have is because of the
corruption, and one breeds the other.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, as Secretary Clinton pointed out,
Pakistanis have been doing much better. Much better. They've been doing
everything we want? No. But they've been improving, much better. There
are really internal, domestic politics that frighten me, in a way,
because of the, the lack of Zardari's immunity expiring and, and, and all
of those aspects of it. But I believe if we send a clear signal, we're
going to do what's necessary, we are not leaving until we succeed--and
that does not mean an open-ended commitment, it means we will adjust our
strategy over time. But to send the message that you are going to leave
at a certain date is not the way to convince the enemy that you're there
to beat them.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about Pakistan. Secretary Gates says it has been
years since there has been solid intelligence about the whereabouts of
Osama bin Laden.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: How important is he to getting to getting this mission? Why
don't we have better intelligence? And is it the Pakistanis' fault? Do
they know where he is, and are we not finding out about it because of
SEN. McCAIN: Look, I, I know as much as you do, OK? I, I--everybody that
I know and every time I'm in the region I ask that question of people who
are knowledgeable. They say that he moves back and forth. They say he has
concentric circles of people who, who warn him. If you look at that
terrain, it's the most difficult and rugged terrain in the world. But he
is also unable to establish a base for training and equipping people who
would come to--and do--make attacks on the United States and our allies.
Yes, I think it's important to get him. I think we need to get him, but
don't think that al-Qaeda could not flourish without him if we give them
a safe haven in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
MR. GREGORY: More broadly, when you evaluate the president's performance
and his approach to this...
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...do you agree with some who say he's made a decision to
downsize the war on terror, and does that make you uncomfortable?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't, I don't have any indication of that. As I said, I
respect the decision and support the decision he made. It's behind us
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. McCAIN: But that long, drawn-out process was not helpful to our
friends and our enemies, or to, or to...
MR. GREGORY: Do you think that helped the enemy, that it took as long as
SEN. McCAIN: Oh, I don't, I don't think it--I think it, it, it made
our--because I heard from them all the time, it made our allies very
uneasy as to what we were going to do. And it wasn't just the length of
time; the leak of secret cables from our ambassador in Kabul saying we
shouldn't send reinforcements, that leads to a certain turmoil. But look,
that's behind us. The president made the decision, I support it.
MR. GREGORY: I want to, if we could, do an express round of the Straight
Talk Express on some other news items. So if we can just hit these things
rather quickly, because there's a lot of other news as well. Is there a
jobs bill that you could support?
SEN. McCAIN: If it has to do with tax cuts and small business creation,
corporate tax cuts, small business tax cuts, absolutely. And the
housing--any effort we can towards reducing the problems of--in the
housing--home loan mortgage market. Forty-eight percent of the home loan
mortgages in my state of Arizona are underwater. That's unacceptable and
it's a failure on the part of TARP.
MR. GREGORY: Is stimulus working?
SEN. McCAIN: No. Course not.
MR. GREGORY: You don't think it is.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I mean, I guess if you throw enough money at anything
there's some result, but it's certainly not--look, by their own figures,
the administration said unemployment would be at 8 percent.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. McCAIN: It's now at 10, it's at 10 percent. I hope it's going to
recover. But we have to--I think it's been an act of generational theft
that we have laid on our children and our grandchildren.
MR. GREGORY: OK, a few more. Are you--do you support Ben Bernanke for a
second term as Fed chief?
SEN. McCAIN: I, I want to examine it some more. I had a good meeting with
him, but I'd like to examine the record. I'm very disappointed in what's
happened with some of their proposals, because now Wall Street's doing
great, billions in bonuses, all kinds of things. And Main Street, I
guarantee you--come with me to Phoenix, Arizona, Flagstaff, Yuma. I'll
tell you, Mr. Bernanke's policies have not helped the businesses in my
MR. GREGORY: Will healthcare reform pass with a public option?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. I don't know. The American public opinion is
swinging more and more against it. We're fighting a good fight. We are
not delaying, but this is one of probably the most interesting domestic
discussions I've ever been in my career in the United States Senate. And
frankly, it's been vigorous and it's been enjoyable.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think he'll get it, though? You think he'll get
reform in some capacity?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. I don't know the answer. He's still counted
all up and down. If he can--if Senator Reid, who's very good at his job,
gets 60 votes, then he has 60 Democrats. But I am hopeful that American
public opinion will be heard in the United States Senate.
MR. GREGORY: Now time for your political analyst hat on. Do you think
that the--Sarah Palin's brand of conservatism is what the Republican
Party needs to regain power in the midterms and ultimately in 2012?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that Sarah Palin is a--has earned herself a very big
place in the Republican political scene. I'm proud of her. I am
entertained every time I see these people attack her and attack her and
attack her. “She's irrelevant.” But they continue to attack her. I am so
proud of her and the work that she is doing and...
MR. GREGORY: You thought her book was fair?
SEN. McCAIN: Oh, sure. Yeah. I, I enjoyed her book. I--look, if 2,000...
MR. GREGORY: She kind of felt like she was thrown under the bus by the
McCain campaign at some level.
SEN. McCAIN: Look--oh, listen, we have a wonderful relationship, Todd and
Sarah and I. Just saw her recently. And I'm, I'm very proud of her. And,
and we need vigorous discussion and debate in the Republican Party. She's
going to be a big part of that discussion and debate in the future.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Senator McCain, as always, thank you for being
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it very much.
Up next, more of our special hour on Afghanistan. Analysis from two
journalists and best-selling authors, New York Times columnist Tom
Friedman and The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, coming up after this
brief station break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We're back and continuing our special hour this
morning on Afghanistan, joined now by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post
and Tom Friedman of The New York Times.
Great to have both of you here today.
Tom Friedman, we've heard a lot here, and I want to get your reaction to
all the players. What are the hard questions now as we move forward on
MR. THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, David, my own feeling is that
there's a lot of misplaced focus on this question of a deadline, like how
and when we get out. I think it's much more important to focus on how we
start. And what worries me right now is a certain strategic incoherence
that I hear as I listen to the key players. The president said
explicitly, and his spokesman, "We are not doing nation-building in
Afghanistan." And General McChrystal says, "We need to raise and train an
army and police force of 400,000 people." Now, how you do have an army
that is not connected to a state, OK? Is it just going to float there?
Are we going to pay it? And so for me, you know, we--we're Americans, we
focus on us. I think we're not focusing on the key issue.
The key issue is this, in my view, David: The surge is happening--that
Hamid Karzai is both the cause of the surge and the beneficiary. He's the
cause in that it is his corruption, the crime syndicate that his
government turned into, which got many Afghans to turn to the Taliban. We
now have to surge, basically, because he lost his own people. That's
what's going on. And so for me, everything depends on who Karzai is, what
kind of government he builds. Remember, there's only, there's only one
reason we have a chance left for a decent outcome in Iraq, and it's
because of the awakening in Iraq by Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites to take on
their own extremists. If that does not happen in Afghanistan, if we don't
build a government there that the people want to fight for, defend and be
loyal to, nothing else works. And that's, to me, what we should be
focusing; how we get in, not when we leave.
MR. BOB WOODWARD: I think the key issue is whether President Obama played
his part, did his job. And I, I think by all analysis and evidence now,
he did. I mean, you had this group of people in his national security
team who had very different views about what needed to be done. He held
them together like there really was a collaboration. In any
collaboration, there's going to be compromise. And so now the spotlight
really shifts to, I think, three areas that need to be watched, and I,
and I think he's going to be watching very carefully.
The military, can they do their job? Can--the word that was not in
Obama's speech was counterinsurgency, which is protect the people. Are
they going to be able to do that in Afghanistan? Now, I know last month
there was--there are always these assessments. Secretary Clinton was
saying they do them each month. I think the one last month by General
McChrystal concluded that in lots of areas about half of his force is
doing a very good job, the other half is not. That means there is a lot
of work to be done.
The other area is the intelligence world. There's--a lot of this is the
secret world, the below the line, the classified forces. There is a lot
that can be done here. I suspect a good deal will be that we may not know
And the third area, which Tom raises, which is the diplomatic area.
It--is Secretary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke, the special ambassador,
going to be able to find a way to effectively pressure Karzai to change
so it's no longer a crime syndicate?
MR. GREGORY: Well, on that...
MR. WOODWARD: In other words, can we negotiate with the godfather?
MR. GREGORY: Well, and I want to pick up on that, because I posed five
big questions at the top of this program, one of which was how will
winning be defined? Now, I don't know if it's the definition of winning,
Tom, but we did hear from Secretary Gates that the time horizon is, at
most, five years. That's when Karzai wants to take over complete control.
So he is saying somewhere on the continuum is the life of U.S. force
involvement in Afghanistan. Now, in that span of time a state has to be
stood up, an Afghan army has to be stood up, centuries of aversion to
central government has to be overcome in Afghanistan; and Pakistan has to
do something it has yet to do heretofore, which is really target the
baddest of the bad guys on their side of the border and believe that it's
in their interest to take out the Taliban, which is capable of hurting
us. Five years?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well...
MR. GREGORY: Is that defining success? Is that going to happen in that
MR. FRIEDMAN: Look, I'm deeply skeptical of the whole thing, so I'm
probably the wrong person to be asking. But I, I would simply say this.
There is simply one indicator of success in my view, David, and that is
a critical mass of Afghans willing to stand up and fight for their own
government. That, that, that's the only reason we've got a chance in, in
MR. GREGORY: They've got to want it more than we want it for them.
MR. FRIEDMAN: They've got to--if they think we want it more than they do,
we are dead, because they will let us want it more than they do, and they
will hold our coat from now for the next five or 15 years. So without
that, nothing happens. David, the only time that the Middle East has put
a smile on our face in the last 30 years is when it starts with them.
Camp David started with Egypt and Israel in a secret meeting. Oslo peace
process ain't called Oslo for nothing; started in a secret meeting
between Israelis and Palestinians. When they want it, when they take
ownership of it, it works. And when they don't, we can be there till
MR. WOODWARD: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: But, Bob, let me have you pick up on some of these other
MR. WOODWARD: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Does a withdrawal date give the enemy an advantage? Your
analysis on what you've heard the answer on that.
MR. WOODWARD: But I think, I mean, it's pretty clear that's a
non-withdrawal withdrawal date. Other words, they were talking about...
MR. GREGORY: A non-denial denial.
MR. WOODWARD: A non-denial denial.
MR. FRIEDMAN: It's a known unknown.
MR. WOODWARD: It, it's a starting point.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. WOODWARD: And it probably was useful to send that message to Karzai
and, and the Afghan government and our allies and so forth.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. WOODWARD: I think no one has a crystal ball here. Everyone can sound
wise and be wrong. And we don't know what's going to happen. I think the
X factor in all of this has to do with the leadership in the military,
the intelligence world and the State Department. Can they really do
something? Can the generals get out there and drive the forces on the
ground? That's where this is going to be won or lost.
MR. GREGORY: The, the other question had to do with whether the strategy
makes Americans safer from terrorists. And, Tom, you actually referred to
this in a column you wrote this week, and I'll put it up on the screen,
in terms of the reverberations of policy. "Iraq was about `the war on
terrorism.' The Afghanistan invasion, for me, was about the `war on
terrorists.' To me, it was about getting bin Laden and depriving al-Qaeda
of a sanctuary--period. I never thought we could make Afghanistan into
Norway--and even if it--we did, it would not resonate beyond its borders
the way Iraq might." Is this the antidote to terrorism, getting
MR. FRIEDMAN: It could potentially be, David. But I think you're right
to--let's widen the aperture a little bit. What's, what's been going on
since 9/11? What's been going on since 9/11 is a war within Islam, a war
within this great faith community over whether, how, to what degree it
should embrace modernity. That's what's actually going on. And we've been
dragged into it and, and dived into it, to some degree. There's a
minority, a violent, Jihadist minority, that wants to take Islam back to
the 12th century. There is a quiet, silent majority that wants to go into
the future. Unfortunately, David, they need to have their own civil war.
We had a civil war in this country some 150 years ago. We had some people
who believed some really bad stuff. They believed we could discriminate
against people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those
people so badly that three generations later their offspring haven't
forgotten it. If they don't have that war within Islam, nothing changes.
That's why the most important story of the week was the one Secretary of
State Clinton referred to. There was a bombing in Rawalpindi Friday. The
Friday, day of prayer, week after the eve, OK? A suicide bomber walked
into a mosque and blew it up in the middle of Friday prayer. Where was
the mass protest in the Muslim world against that? In Pakistan, we saw a
million people take to the streets to protest Danish cartoons that
insulted the profit Muhammad. Tens of people killed in a mosque, real
people created in the image of God? And unless you get millions of people
protesting that, saying that is haraam, that is forbidden, that is not
on, there is nothing we can do to win this war.
MR. GREGORY: Bob, what about the, the...
MR. WOODWARD: Well, I...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. WOODWARD: I think the lives of the average Afghan come into play
here. How are they living? What's going on with them? And we are sending
our military to protect them. You know what, I mean, that--this isn't an
abstraction, it is about our military forces going in, eating goat with
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. WOODWARD: ...smoking bad cigarettes, using the same toilet. And for
them it's not a toilet, it's, it's a pot. And those people, can you win
them over and show that you're protecting them so they get vested in our
success? What's going on in Pakistan and, and the theory of all of this,
which you are very, very smart on, Tom, is not part of their lives. And
the whole strategy here is to connect with those real lives and make
those people so they are going to say, "We're signing up with you, not
MR. GREGORY: All right, I've just got a couple minutes left. Let's bring
it back to domestic politics here. The left does not like this war,
doesn't like this strategy. How's this going to get paid for, Bob? Is
there going to have to be some kind of war tax to pay the additional $30
billion to send 30,000 more troops?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, one of the lessons we learned, going back to Vietnam,
is the commander in chief has extraordinary authority in this area; and
they say we're committing the troops, there is no way--I emphasize, no
way--that the Congress is going to deny the money to the troops who are
in the field. So it's going to be complicated, it's going to be
expensive. As Obama said--here, here's the problem I have with this. Is
the strategy decisive? And the answer is no. You talk to people inside,
and they say, "This is our best effort"...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. WOODWARD: ..."but we can't guarantee it." And when you can't
guarantee something where the stakes are so high, we could be in trouble.
MR. GREGORY: So, and the, the last question I pose, what are the
consequences of failure for the region and for the president? And what's
interesting is that the president has effectively said, in effect,
"failure is an option, because we can't fight this forever." This week
the war on Afghanistan, the war on unemployment came together. Well,
ultimately, what's more consequential for the this presidency?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, I'll tell you how you bring them together into one
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. FRIEDMAN: It's called a gasoline tax of a dollar a gallon, OK? That
you raise the money that we need to pay down the deficit, to pay for
health care, and at the same time take away the very funding that's going
to these people indirectly to draw a bull's-eye on our back. And the fact
that our politics can't allow us to do the very thing we know is critical
and important, shame on us.
MR. GREGORY: The consequences of failure?
MR. WOODWARD: I'd, I think Obama and Secretary Gates and Secretary
Clinton made it pretty clear they're not going to let this fail. And what
they are really saying, what the real meaning of all of these speeches
and interviews and language is, "This is what we're going to do now.
Let's see what happens on the ground. Let's see where we are each month."
And I don't think they're afraid to come back and say, "You know what?
This didn't work. We're going to change it and make sure it works."
If--look, let's go to the nightmare.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. WOODWARD: There's another serious attack, terrorist attack in this
country, then everything changes. And obviously, that includes the
MR. FRIEDMAN: They have to clear and hold, but, but--we have to clear and
hold, but they have to build. And if they don't do it--it's about them,
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to leave it there. Thank you both
By the way, you can read an excerpt from the updated paperback edition of
Tom Friedman's best-selling book "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a
Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America." Go to our Web site,
And we'll be right back.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Before we go today, in our Take Two Web Extra, a
special conversation today with two correspondents from The Economist
magazine about the global implications of the president's decision on
Afghanistan. Plus, we're going to get their take on issues facing the
world in 2010, all in our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web Extra. It's up this
afternoon on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET