Barack Obama sat down with CBS' Lara Logan Sunday morning for a long interview about his meeting with President Karzai and his vision for American foreign policy. Calling the security situation in Afghanistan "precarious and urgent," the presumptive Democratic nominee stressed that that country is the real "central front in the war on terror," and it's about time we started treating it as such.
"The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism."
Full transcript below the fold:
Logan: "Why does it have to be the central focus? What is so critical to U.S. interests here?"
Obama: "This is where they can plan attacks. They have sanctuary here. They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the drug trade in the region. And so that global network is centered in this area. And I think one of the biggest mistakes we've made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.
"And despite what the Bush Administration has argued, I don't think there's any doubt that we were distracted from our efforts not only to hunt down al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but also to rebuild this country so that people have confidence that we were to here to stay over the long haul, that we were going to rebuild roads, provide electricity, improve the quality of life for people. And now we have a chance, I think, to correct some of those areas.
"There's starting to be a broad consensus that it's time for us to withdraw some of our combat troops out of Iraq, deploy them here in Afghanistan. And I think we have to seize that opportunity. Now's the time for us to do it.
"I think what's important for us to do is to begin planning for those brigades now. If we wait until the next administration, it could be a year before we get those additional troops on the ground here in Afghanistan. And I think that would be a mistake. I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we've got to start doing something now.
"The United States has to take a regional approach to the problem. Just as we can't be myopic and focus only on Iraq, we also can't think that we can solve the security problems here in Afghanistan without engaging the Pakistan government."
Logan: "And how do you compel Pakistan to act?"
Obama: "Well, you know, I think that the U.S. government provides an awful lot of aid to Pakistan, provides a lot of military support to Pakistan. And to send a clear message to Pakistan that this is important, to them as well as to us, I think that message has not been sent."
Logan: "Under what circumstances would you authorize unilateral U.S. action against targets inside tribal areas?"
Obama: "What I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence against high-value al-Qaeda targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets, that we should. My hope is that it doesn't come to that - that in fact, the Pakistan government would recognize that if we had Osama bin Laden in our sights that we should fire or we should capture him."
Logan: "Isn't that the case now? I mean, do you really think that if U.S. forces had Osama bin Laden in their sights and the Pakistanis said 'No,' that they wouldn't fire or wouldn't go after him?"
Obama: "I think actually this is current doctrine. There was some dispute when I said this last August. Both the administration and some of my opponents suggested, 'Well, you know, you shouldn't go around saying that.' But I don't think there's any doubt that that should be our policy."
Logan: "But [not going after him] is the current policy."
Obama: "I believe it is the current policy."
Logan: "So there's no change, then?"
Obama: "I don't think there's going to be a change there. I think that in order for us to be successful, it's not going to be enough just to engage in the occasional shot fired. We've got training camps that are growing and multiplying."
Logan: "Would you take out all those training camps?"
Obama: "Well, I think that what we would like to see the Pakistani government take out those training camps."
Logan: "And if they won't?"
Obama: "Well, I think that we've got to work with them so they will."
Logan: "Would you consider unilateral U.S. action?"
Obama: "I will push Pakistan very hard to make sure that we go after those training camps. I think it's absolutely vital to the security interests for both the United States and Pakistan."
Logan: "You do have a situation seven years on into this war where Osama bin Laden and all his lieutenants and all the leaders of the Taliban, they're still there. They're inside Pakistan."
Obama: "It's a huge problem. First of all, if we hadn't taken our eye off the ball, we might've caught them before they got into Pakistan and were able to reconstitute themselves. So we made a strategic error. And it's one that we're going to pay for, and unfortunately the people in Afghanistan have paid for it as well.
"But we now have an opportunity to correct that problem. One of the, if you look at what's happening right now in Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki has indicated he wants a timetable full withdraw. That is the view of the vast majority of Iraqis as well. We've seen a quelling of the violence. We haven't seen as much political progress as needs to be made. But we're starting to see some efforts on the part of the various factions to deal with some of the issues that are out there.
Logan: "Token efforts at best."
Obama: "They are token efforts at best. But if we have a timetable and they suddenly see an urgency behind the fact that the American troops are going to be leaving and that they need to get their act together, then this is the perfect moment for us to say, 'We are going to shift our resources. We're going to get a couple of more brigades here into Afghanistan. We're going to be willing to increase our foreign aid to Pakistan.' In exchange, we're going to expect that Pakistan takes much more seriously going after al-Qaeda and Taliban base camps on their side of the borders."
Logan: "What would be a 'mission accomplished' for you in Afghanistan?
Obama: "Well, a 'mission accomplished' would be that we had stabilized Afghanistan, that the Afghan people are experiencing rising standards of living, that we have made sure that we are disabling al-Qaeda and the Taliban so that they can longer attack Afghanistan, they can no longer engage in attacks against targets of Pakistan, and they can't target the United States or its allies."
Logan "Losing is not an option?"
Obama: "Losing is not an option when it comes to al-Qaeda. And it never has been. And that's why the fact that we engaged in a war of choice when were not yet finished with that task was such a mistake."
Logan: "Do you believe the war on terror can't be won if Osama bin Laden is still alive and if he's still out there?"
Obama: "I think there would be enormous symbolic value in us capturing or killing bin Laden, because I think he's still a rallying point for Islamic extremists. But I don't think that by itself is sufficient. I think that we are going to have to be vigilante in dismantling these terrorist networks."
Logan: "Okay, last question: There is a perception that you lack experience in world affairs."
Logan: "Is this trip partly aimed at overcoming that concern, that, you know, there are doubts among some Americans that you could lead the country at war as commander in chief from day one?"
Obama: "You know, the interesting thing is that the people who are very experienced in foreign affairs, I don't think have those thoughts. The troops that I've been meeting with over the last several days, they don't seem to have those doubts. The objective of this trip was to have substantive discussions with people like President Karzai or Prime Minister Maliki or President Sarkozy or others who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to ten years.
"It's important for me to have a relationship with them early, that I start listening to them now, getting a sense of what their interests and concerns are, because one of the shifts in foreign policy that I want to execute as president is giving the world a clear message that America intends to continue to show leadership, but our style of leadership is going to be less unilateral, that we're going to see our role as building partnerships around the world that are of mutual interest to the parties involved. And I think this gives me a head start in that process."
Logan: "Do you have any doubts?"