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Newsmaker: Obama Outlines Goals for Afghanistan, Iraq

After a major policy announcement that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end next year, President Obama spoke with Jim Lehrer about Iraq, Afghanistan and the challenges of his new office.

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    Mr. President, welcome.


    Thank you so much for having me, Jim.


    You have just been with 2,000 U.S. Marines. Some have been in harm's way, some are about to go in harm's way, Iraq or Afghanistan, under orders from you as the commander in chief. Was this difficult for you this morning?


    Well, it wasn't difficult because my main message was, number one, thank you. And the easiest thing for me to do is to express the extraordinary gratitude that I think all Americans feel for young men and women who are serving in our armed forces. And the second was to be very clear about our plans in Iraq, and that we are going to bring this war to an end.

    But I will tell you that the most sobering things that I do as president relate to the deployment of these young men and women. Signing letters of those who have fallen in battle, it is a constant reminder of how critical these decisions are and the importance of the Commander in Chief, Congress, all of us who are in positions of power to make sure that we have thought through these decisions free of politics and we are doing what's necessary for the safety and security of the American people.


    These specific Marines that were in this hall that you were talking to, as you said, you said in your speech that some of these kids are going to be going to Afghanistan soon as part of the…


    That's exactly right.


    And you also said in your speech that it's – one of the lessons of Iraq is that there are clearly defined goals. What are the goals for Afghanistan right now?


    Well, I don't think that they're clear enough, that's part of the problem. We've seen a sense of drift in the mission in Afghanistan, and that's why I've ordered a head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts review of our approach in Afghanistan.

    Now, I can articulate some very clear, minimal goals in Afghanistan, and that is that we make sure that it's not a safe haven for al-Qaida, they are not able to launch attacks of the sort that happened on 9/11 against the American homeland or American interest. How we achieve that initial goal, what kinds of strategies and tactics we need to put in place, I don't think that we've thought it through, and we haven't used the entire arsenal of American power.

    We've been thinking very militarily, but we haven't been as effective in thinking diplomatically, we haven't been thinking effectively around the development side of the equation, you know, what are we doing to replace poppy crops for Afghans that allow them to support themselves. Obviously, we haven't been thinking regionally, recognizing that Afghanistan is actually an Afghanistan/Pakistan problem, because right now the militants, the extremists who are attacking U.S. troops are often times coming over the border from Pakistan.

    So that's why we've assigned an envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to work comprehensively in the region, and this review that we're talking about should be completed by the middle of next month. I will then be reporting to the American people and Congress about how exactly we are going to be moving forward in Afghanistan.