Fox Senior White House Correspondent Major Garrett conducted the network's first interview with Obama National Security Adviser James Jones on Dec. 2.
Here is the transcript.
Note: Sections of the interview dealing with Iran's nuclear program and on-going nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia have already appeared on this blog.
The interview started with questions about Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals.
Garrett: Is the July 2011 date aspirational or is it a fixed date when those surge troops will move out, regardless of the situation on the ground?
Jones: It is a date in which we all believe that we will be able to effectively start the transition gradually - wherever possible - of responsibilities for the prosecution of conflict or for the governance of various provinces in the country, to the Afghans themselves. So it will mark the end of a significant ramp up of forces which will buy us time and space in order to create the conditions by which the Afghans can start owning their destiny more fully.
Garrett: So it's fixed not aspirational?
Jones: It is somewhat conditions-based, but we believe that the strategy that's been agreed to, which will involve the Pakistanis doing things on their side of the border, President (Hamid) Karzai really forming a cabinet and fighting corruption, fighting the war on drugs, and organizing training and equipping his Afghan national security forces to be more effective and more visible, and better integration of economic development so the Afghans can see a better future for themselves. (All this) Instead of an open-ended commitment that we currently have, and seems to be leading us nowhere fast -- and as a matter of fact -- seems to be victimized by a very resurgent Taliban.
Garrett: The conditions are about how fast we withdraw?
Jones: This isn't a cliff where everybody all of a sudden says 'That's it, it's over.' What is at stake here, in terms of the conditions, is how quickly we can do it. If things are going very well, we can do it more rapidly, if things need a little bit more attention, we can do it more slowly. But it is the point at which there will be a beginning to a different phase in our involvement in Afghanistan. And it's not to say to your viewers, but more importantly to the people of the region, the United States is leaving. We are not leaving the region. We have enormous strategic interest in Afghanistan, east of Afghanistan in Pakistan and we intend to be supportive and helpful partners with them for many years to come.
Garrett: As a practical matter, even when we withdraw the surge forces, there will be 70,000 US troops that remain stationed there after July 2011, is that correct?
Jones: That is also true. Well, but again, this is predicated on the strategy that says that we are buying the time and space to reverse the fortunes of the Taliban --- in other words make them less relevant, and increase the capacity of the Afghan security forces to take fuller control of their own destiny.
Garrett: You said on CNN in October that the maximum estimate is that there are less than 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. What do you say to Democratic critics who ask why it's necessary to send 30,000 U.S. troops to fight 100 Al Qaeda?
Jones: We've all been asked that many times. The fact of the matter is, that there are still Al Qaeda operations being planned and executed from the Pakistani, Afghan tribal region. That has to be addressed. That is probably the single most important thing we can do to change the fortunes on the Afghan side of the border. The fact that the Al Qaeda has less than 100 operatives at any one time in Afghanistan is good news. It is something positive. We want to make sure that we leave an Afghanistan that doesn't allow for the return of those radical groups to be able to organize, train, and equip themselves and launch other attacks against us and our allies any time in the future. The fact is, Al Qaeda has allies now, as you are seeing in the operations in Pakistan. They are combining with the Taliban. Where one begins and the other one ends isn't clear, but what we want to achieve is very clear. We want to preclude any further attacks against us, against our homeland, against those homelands of our friends and allies from occurring from that region. And we're going to do that.
Garrett: You are a former Marine Commandant. If a young Marine were to walk up and ask you 'What does victory look like,' what would you say?
Jones: Well, victory, success, looks like a stable Afghanistan that is democratic, that is generally at peace, that lives in peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. I think, what we are talking about here in terms of success is a regional strategy, because the same thing has to happen in Pakistan. But this is the hub where violent extremism resides and we have to deal with it. And so when the day comes, and it will come, when we are able to look back on Afghanistan and see a democratic system with a freely elected government, functioning, living in general peace, and moving towards the paths of development and prosperity, I think that young Marine will be able to say I'm glad I participated in that, and that it was worth it.
Garrett: Are these conditions so nuanced that a word like victory just isn't applicable?
Jones: Well, I mean, a victory is kind of a classic military term. If you are fighting against a uniformed army, one wins, one loses. I mean there is kind of a classic definition of it. I think here the goals are as you said, nuanced. I mean they are so varied. They're political, they're economic, they're social, they're cultural, they're military. It's all rolled into one. The final mosaic, when it all comes together, encompasses having to be successful with all of these parts. If you want to call it a victory, I'm fine with that. But what i think what we are doing right now is putting us on a path to achieve that success. And I think this is very encouraging. And I think the American public can easily get behind this and understand it.
Garrett: What is different, what is new about this strategy and the US interaction with the fragile Pakistani government? What new will be done that can give the American public some sense of assurance that it's involvement with the US can and will change?
Jones: The strategic interests of the United States lie more to the east of Afghanistan, for the future. Pakistan is a nuclear state, next to it is another nuclear state in India and there are tensions between those two countries. We have worked very hard since the president took office, at his direction, to develop a better atmosphere of trust and confidence (where it's clear), that we intend to be engaged for the long haul --- that we are serious when we say that we want Pakistan to be a stable democracy, living side by side another stable democracy, Afghanistan. And we can play an enormous role for the good to basically keep what would otherwise be a very dangerous region much much quieter and allow it to proceed down the path of a more tranquil and prosperous future based on democratic ideals. That's an important role to play and I think we are building that relationship with the Pakistanis. Every day, every month, a little more trust and confidence and if we are successful, as I said, what happens on the Afghan side of the border will be much easier to resolve than if we continue to have the existence of these safe havens.