The following is a rush transcript of the June
20, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy
may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: But first, amid recent reports of tough going in Afghanistan, the top man of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Thank you.
WALLACE: You said this week that the narrative in this town about the war in
Afghanistan has become too negative. So let's discuss some of the
issues that have people worried.
commander, General Stanley McChrystal, says that the first operation in
Marjah has become a, quote, "bleeding ulcer," and the major offensive
in Kandahar has now been delayed, in both cases, largely because the
Afghans have been too slow in providing civilian support. Isn't that a
GATES: Sure, it's a concern. But I think that the narrative is perhaps overly negative in part because it's incomplete.
was just at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels. General
McChrystal briefed in detail on the Marjah operation as well as on
Kandahar. And the bottom line was progress is being made. It's somewhat
slower than anticipated.
operation has actually been under way for a number of weeks, and so
what is taking more time is the shaping of the environment before we
actually engage with troops and so on. So I think that, you know, it is
a — it is a tough pull, and we are suffering significant casualties. We
We warned everybody that
would be the case last winter, that as we went into areas that the
Taliban had controlled for two or three years that our casualties would
grow, especially this summer.
But I think
General McChrystal's message to the defense ministers was he is
confident he will be able to demonstrate by December that we not only
have the right strategy but that we are making progress.
WALLACE: The key to begin pulling U.S. troops out by
next July is to begin to be able to turn operations over to the Afghan
army. But here's what Time magazine says about the army, and let's put
it up on the screen: "Nine out of 10 Afghan recruits can't read a rifle
manual. Commanders routinely steal enlisted men's salaries. Recruits
tend to go AWOL after their first leave."
Question: Do you really believe that the Afghan army will be ready to start taking over next July?
GATES: I think that they will be ready to assume primary responsibility for
security in certain areas of Afghanistan, certainly by a year from this
coming July. We're still looking at 13 months from now.
reality is the Afghan national army is meeting expectations and above
that in terms of recruiting to the larger numbers and toward the goal
of 134,000 by this — by this fall. Their attrition and retention rates
are both above expectations and above the...
WALLACE: But are those reports about...
GATES: ... above the goals.
WALLACE: ... about recruits going AWOL, about commanders stealing enlistees' salaries — is that true?
GATES: There are — there are some, and there are instances of that, but there
are also significant instances where we are — and a large number of
examples where we are partnering with the Afghan army and where those
operations are working, and that was what General McChrystal was
briefing to the defense ministers.
percentage of those partnered relationships, of those partnered
operations, has gone from somewhere around 40 percent six or eight
months ago to about 75 or 80 percent now.
WALLACE: You keep saying that the July 2011 date to begin pulling troops out is
a starting point, and that the pace of withdrawals will be based on
conditions on the ground.
But let's take a
look at what Vice President Biden said recently. "In July of 2011,"
Biden said, "you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet
on it." Who's speaking for the administration, you or the vice
GATES: Well, first of
all, that's in a book. I don't recall ever hearing the vice president
say that. And whether he said it or not, we clearly understand that in
July of 2011 we begin to draw down our forces.
pace in — with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to
be conditions-based. And there is general agreement that those
conditions will be determined by General McChrystal, the NATO senior
civilian representative, Ambassador Sedwill, and the Afghan government
together in terms of making their recommendations.
WALLACE: So if Vice President Biden is telling the reporter — and there's been
no statement by the White House that he didn't say it — there are going
to be a whole lot of people moving out next July, you're saying that's
not been decided?
GATES: That absolutely has not been decided.
WALLACE: Your feeling is that it all will be decided...
GATES: But I also haven't heard Vice President Biden say that, so I'm not
accepting at face value that those — that he said those words.
WALLACE: You know, it's interesting, because one of the reasons that you made
such a strong statement up on Capitol Hill and why you're talking to us
today — are you worried that the narrative is getting away and that
there may be a rush to judgment on Afghanistan?
GATES: I think it's more a sense of frustration. I've been here before three
years ago with Iraq. And we were just getting to the point where the
surge forces had gone into Iraq. There was a lot of concern. There was
a lot of anecdotal information that things weren't going well,
casualties were very high, American casualties were very high in Iraq.
what I'm — what I'm saying is people are losing context. This policy,
this strategy, has been in place and working for only about four or
five months. We have yet to put yet a third of the surge forces into
Afghanistan. The president has said we'll wait until December to
evaluate how we're doing.
So I think
there's a rush to judgment, frankly, that loses sight of the fact we
are still in the middle of getting all of the right components into
place and giving us a little time to have this — have this work.
WALLACE: Let's turn to the gulf oil spill. Is there anything more the Pentagon
could be doing either to help stop the spill or to prevent those
millions of gallons of oil from washing up on the gulf coast?
GATES: Not to my knowledge. We have offered whatever capabilities we have. We
don't have the kinds of equipment or particular expertise. I have
authorized the mobilization of up to 17,500 National Guard troops in
the four states that are — that are most affected.
We have a standing offer. If there's anything people think we can do, we absolutely will do it.
WALLACE: The U.N. Security Council has passed another round of sanctions against
Iran. And following up on that, the United States and the European
Union have imposed a set of unilateral sanctions.
all that, honestly, do you see any sign that these sanctions, these
efforts, have caused any weakening of the will of the regime in Tehran
to develop a nuclear weapon?
GATES: Actually, what we've seen is a change in the nature of the regime in
Tehran over the past 18 months or so. You have — you have a much
narrower based government in Tehran now. Many of the religious figures
are being set aside. As Secretary Clinton has said, they appear to be
moving more in the direction of a military dictatorship. Khamenei is
leaning on a smaller and smaller group of advisors.
the meantime, you have an illegitimate election that has divided the
country. So I think adding economic pressures on top of that, and
particularly targeted economic pressures, has real potential.
WALLACE: Do you think it could weaken the will of the regime in Tehran?
GATES: I think that it could add to the pressures on the regime, that if you
add the things we're doing to help our allies in the gulf area improve
their defenses, improve their military capabilities, you put that
together with sanctions, you put that together with diplomatic
pressures and a variety of other things that are going on — and I think
— I think you have a reasonable chance of getting the Iranian regime
finally to come to their senses and realize their security is probably
more endangered by going forward, thereby...
WALLACE: A reasonable chance?
GATES: ... stopping them. Yeah, I think so.
WALLACE: Can we contain a nuclear Iran?
GATES: I don't think we're prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear
Iran. I think we're — we — our view still is we do not accept the idea
of Iran having nuclear weapons. And our policies and our efforts are
all aimed at preventing that from happening.
WALLACE: When you say that a — we would not accept a nuclear Iran, does that
mean that a military strike either by the U.S. or Israel is preferable
to a nuclear Iran?
GATES: I — we obviously leave all options on the table. I think we have some time to continue working this problem.
WALLACE: In the time we have left, let's do a lightning round of quick questions
and quick answers. I know you always enjoy this so much, Mr. Secretary.
GATES: The ones that always get you in trouble.
WALLACE: The House and a Senate committee have voted to repeal "don't ask, don't
tell" over your objections that the Pentagon review should be completed
first. Is a repeal inevitable?
GATES: Well, I think you'd have to ask the members of Congress that. I haven't
done any head counts. We are — the president has made his decision.
review is about how to implement this and what are the obstacles, what
are the problems, what are the challenges, what are the issues. How do
we mitigate the negative consequences if we identify negative
consequences? What are the questions we have to address? Those are the
things this review is all about.
feel it's very important for the military to have the opportunity to
weigh in, to register their views on these issues, and to give us help
on how to do this smart should the legislation pass.
WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat
operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would
include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative
engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also
included repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"
GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense
subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe
that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the
alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the
president and the administration want.
WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce
his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of
GATES: Well, I think
the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would
also just say that I don't go way out on a limb without looking back to
make sure nobody's back there with a saw.
WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"
GATES: I think so.
WALLACE: You set a deadline for Congress to pass a war supplemental bill by
Memorial Day. I don't have to tell you that marker has come and gone,
and Democrats are still trying to put money for social programs into
the supplemental bill.
At what point delay in passing this bill do we begin to hurt the troops?
GATES: Well, first of all, I didn't set a deadline. I wish I could set
deadlines for the Congress, but that's just not the way the
Constitution is written.
But as I told the
Congress this week, this past week, we will have to start doing stupid
things after the 4th of July recess in terms of planning for major
disruptions if we don't have the supplemental by the 4th of July recess.
actually begin to have to take really serious negative actions that
impact our troops as well as our civilians in mid to — in early to mid
WALLACE: Finally, how long are you committed to staying in this job?
GATES: Well, we just said that we'll see.
WALLACE: Well, at one point — the reason I ask is you talked about till the end
of the year, till December of 2010. But now you seem to have taken on a
new fight over the budget which gets you into 2011.
GATES: Well, we'll just see.
WALLACE: But would you have started this fight if you weren't going to see it through, sir?
GATES: Well, I didn't want to get bored.
WALLACE: Well, there's very little opportunity for that. Mr. Secretary, I want
to thank you so much for coming in. It's always a pleasure to talk to
you. Please come back, sir.
GATES: Thanks a lot.