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Secretary of Defense Gates Defends New Budget Priorities

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss the insurgency in Iraq, the need for assistance in Afghanistan and shifts in long-term spending priorities.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Secretary Robert Gates, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES:

    My pleasure.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As we sit here at the Pentagon in Washington, President Obama is right now in Iraq talking to the troops, meeting with Iraqi leaders. What is his message to the Iraqis?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    I think, first of all, his message to our troops is one of appreciation and gratitude for their dedication and their service. I think his message to the Iraqis is, almost certainly, keep on doing what you're doing; keep on resolving problems politically; keep on working at reconciliation; get ready for your elections. We are going to keep our side of the bargain in terms of the agreement, in terms of draw-downs of troops and you have to step up to your responsibilities now, too.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You've obviously been in Iraq many a time. What would you hope the president would take away from this visit?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    Well, I hope that he will be successful in encouraging the Iraqi leadership to continue working together. And I hope that he will – in fact, I am confident that he will come home impressed by the caliber of our men and women in uniform out there.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The violence has been escalating recently. In fact, there was a car bomb today, I guess, in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. The U.S.'s pledge to get most of the troops out – 19 months, most of them will be out by next year. But if this violence were to step up considerably, is there a contingency plan?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    I think the president always has the authority to, as commander-in-chief, to change his plans. But I think the view of our commanders is that, while there are some of these spectacular attacks, overall, the level of violence continues to be quite low compared with, particularly, 2007 and the first part of 2008, in fact, at levels not seen since 2003.

    I think what we're seeing is al Qaeda trying sort of as a last gasp to try and reverse the progress that's been made through these attacks. But these car-bomb attacks generally are the signature kind of thing that al Qaeda in Iraq does.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Are they reversing the progress?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    I don't think so, no. And, in fact, I think it's been quite impressive how people, how resilient people have been in Baghdad, in Iraq in general.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President Obama has used part of this overseas trip not only to emphasize he's different from his predecessor, but to reach out to the Muslim world, especially with that speech in Turkey. As somebody who's observed U.S. national security up close for three decades, do you think this is something that's going to pay dividends?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    I think it will. I think that – I gave a speech last year in which I made the comment that, how can it be that the nation that discovered public relations is being out-communicated by a guy in a cave? The reality is, I think we probably have not done as well as we should have in terms of reaching out to Muslims and making clear that what we're concerned about are violent extremists. This isn't the war against Islam. And I think the president is communicating that message.

    I think the challenge for the rest of the government is to figure out how we do that on a more comprehensive and continuing basis.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that process underway?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    Yes, it is.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Anything you want to flesh out about it?

  • ROBERT GATES:

    Well, I mean, it's basically under the auspices of the State Department. We do a fair amount in theater in Iraq and Afghanistan and our commanders have the capability to do some of the strategic communications, but, fundamentally, it's a State Department responsibility.

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