Obama "Never" Has Doubts About Foreign Policy Experience

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This is going to be a busy week on the Obama overseas trip. I'm in Chicago waiting for the bus to take us to Midway Airport and the charter that will fly us to meet with Obama in Jordan.

I want you to think of this blog as a clearing house all week of information on Obama's trip. I will post as often as I can with my observations, reporting and interaction with Obama and his senior staff. I will also try to provide you transcripts of interviews along the way and any impressions I may have of them. As you already know, lots of reporters are on this trip and I want to give you as much access as I have to the totality of the interviews Obama does, not just the one or two answers you may hear on the radio or see on TV.

CBS News correspondent Lara Logan interviewed Obama in Kabul, Afghanistan, today and it aired on CBS' Face the Nation. Logan made news, first in asking Obama if he ever had any doubts about his foreign policy experience. Obama, as this post's headline says, gave a one word answer that may inspire as many as it scares: "Never."

Logan also dug deep on Obama's publicized declaration on Aug. 1, 2007, in a significant speech on a new policy toward the war in Afghanistan, that if the U.S. possessed actionable intelligence on Usama bin Laden's exact location and the Pakistan government refused to attack to capture or kill, the U.S. would act unilaterally. That comment gave a new-found muscularity to Obama's attitudes about how to use military force to win the war on terror. It also drew criticism from some in the Bush administration and from John McCain and others. In the passage of time that criticism has been boiled down to mean Obama was wrong to say the U.S. would act unilaterally. In fact, the criticism was principally that no U.S. president or candidate for the presidency should say such things publicly because they disrespect Pakistani sovereignty and complicate internal discussions on a wide-array of terrorism related issues.

Logan forced Obama to concede that was he was proposing -- unilateral military action to capture or kill bin Laden based on actionable U.S. intelligence -- was not a departure from current Bush policy. That may not seem like much of a development, but it strikes me as something where Obama was forced to admit he had in public created a false premise from which to attack the president and, by extension, anyone who criticized this open declaration of unilateral military action in a foreign country. Now, this is no way undermines Obama's criticism that the war in Afghanistan has suffered as a result of the invasion of Iraq. But it may give ammunition to Obama critics who say his lack of experience leads him to make say things a potential U.S. president ought not to say, especially when what his saying doesn't plow new policy ground but may make the ground in which the current policy exists harder to plow.

Readers might also find interesting Obama's answer and what "victory" will look like in Afghanistan. Some may find the definition vague, others appropriately broad because the NATO-led effort has lost so much ground. Obama also calls for fresh action to prepare for additional troop deployments now, a sign that he has fully internalized the complex nature of moving combat forces and the accompanying support troops from one battlefield to another. Obama also said it would be up to Pakistan to deal with Al Qaeda training camps in its borders, conceding that the only way the U.S. could act unilaterally is if it knew where bin Laden was and could either capture him or kill with a very high level of certainty. This also shows an awareness of the current political and tactical difficulties in dealing with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As long as the Pakistan government is the chief beat cop in the no-man's land where bin Laden and associates hide out, it will be very difficult to shut down the training camps Much has been made this week of Bush following Obama on troop withdrawal timetables. It seems today Obama, while not necessarily "following" Bush in dealing with UBL and Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, was openly conceding the military options in this theater are limited....maddeningly limited.

Here is the full transcript of Logan's interview with Obama. It starts with what we call in television a cold open, wherein Obama starts speaking without the benefit of the first question being asked (apologies to any who find the cold open tutorial insulting).

Obama: I believe U.S. troop levels need to increase. And I for at least a year now have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three. I think it's very important that we unify command more effectively to coordinate our military activities.
But military alone is not going to be enough. 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.

Logan: Why does it have to be the central front? What is -- 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 Qaida and the Taliban, but also to rebuild this country so that people have confidence that we were 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 errors. There's starting to be a growing 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 is the time for us to do it.
I think it's important for us 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 have 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: 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, that I think -- that message has not been sent.

Logan: Under what circumstances would you authorize unilateral U.S. action against targets inside that tribal areas?

Obama: Well, what I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence against high-value Al Qaida targets and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets, that we should. Now, my hope is that it doesn't come to that, that in fact, the Pakistani government would recognize that if we had Osama bin Laden in our sights, that we should fire or we should capture and (inaudible)...

Logan: Isn't that the case now? I mean, do you really think that if the 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, and will continue to be our policy.

Logan: But it 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 is 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'd like to see is 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: But would you consider unilateral U.S. action?

Obama: You know, 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 of both the United States and Pakistan.

Logan: Because you do have a situation seven years on into this war where Osama bin Laden and all hislieutenants and all the leaders of the Taliban, they're still there. And they're inside Pakistan.

Obama: Right. It's a huge problem. And first of all, if we hadn't taken our eye off the ball, we might have 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 of Afghanistan have paid for 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 Maliki has indicated he wants a timetable for withdrawal. 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 various factions to deal with some of the issues that are out there.

Logan: Token efforts at best, though, wouldn't you say?

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 -- and it's not just brigades. We're also going to be upping our financial aid to 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 Qaida and Taliban-based camps on their side of the borders.

Logan: What would be mission accomplished for you in Afghanistan?

Obama: Well, mission accomplished would be that we have stabilized Afghanistan, that the Afghan people are experiencing raising -- rising standards of living, that we have made sure that we are disabling Al Qaida and the Taliban so that they can no longer attack Afghanistan, they can no longer engage in attacks against targets in Pakistan, and they can't target the United States or its allies.

Logan: So losing is not an option.

Obama: Losing is not an option when it comes to Al Qaida, and it never has been. And that's why the fact that we engaged in a war of choice when we were not yet finished with that task was such a mistake.

Logan: Do you believe the war on terror can 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 vigilant in dismantling these terrorist networks.
Logan: OK, last question. There is a perception that you lack experience in world affairs.

Obama: Right.

Logan: Is this trip partly aimed at overcoming that perception that, you know, there is doubt among some Americans that you could lead a 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 doubts. The troops that I've been meeting with over the last several days, they don't seem to have those doubts.
So 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 10 years.
And 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?

Obama: Never.