"MEET THE PRESS" TRANSCRIPT FOR SUNDAY, DEC. 7: TOM BROKAW INTERVIEWS
PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA
(New York) - December 7, 2008 - In his first Sunday morning interview since
winning the election, President-elect Barack Obama sat down with Tom Brokaw for
a "Meet the Press" exclusive interview in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, Dec. 6.
Below is the transcript.
PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC
NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
MR. TOM BROKAW: Our issues this Sunday: In 44 days, Barack Obama will become the
44th president of the United States. His new team is almost complete. But since
Election Day 2008, the list of challenges facing the incoming president has only
grown: that terrorist attack in Mumbai, growing turmoil in the financial
markets, the worst unemployment in 15 years, and the auto industry on the verge
of bankruptcy. Tough problems all waiting on the desk of our exclusive guest,
the president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama.
And yesterday in Chicago I did sit down with the president-elect, Barack Obama,
to talk about those topics and much more. President-elect Obama, welcome back to
MEET THE PRESS.
PRES.-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Great to be here. Thank you.
MR. BROKAW: Very nice to have you with us. As we saw in the opening, the world
has gotten considerably worse since your election. There is no evidence that
it's cause and effect, you should be happy to know. But, nonetheless, we now are
officially in a recession. It's around the world, and most analysts think it's
going to get worse before it gets better. Sixty-seven years ago this day, one of
your predecessors, Franklin Roosevelt, faced Pearl Harbor.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: What are the differences between his challenges and the ones that
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important for us to remember
that as tough as times are right now, they're nothing compared to what my
grandparents went through, what the "greatest generation" went through. You
know, at this point you already had 25, 30 percent unemployment across the
country, and we didn't have many of the social safety nets that emerged out of
the New Deal. So there's no doubt that Franklin Roosevelt had to re-create an
entire economic structure that had entirely collapsed, and we've got some
strengths that he didn't, he didn't have. But, look, if you look at the
unemployment numbers that came out yesterday, if you think about almost two
million jobs lost so far, if you think about the fragility of the financial
system and the fact that it is now a global financial system, so that what
happens in Thailand or Russia can have an impact here, and obviously, what
happens on Wall Street has an impact worldwide, when you think about the
structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial
crisis, this is a big problem and it's going to get worse. And, and one of the
things that I'm constantly mindful of are all the people I met during the
campaign who were already struggling before things got worse. You know, mothers
and fathers who were working hard every day but didn't have health care,
couldn't figure out how to send their kids to college. Now they're looking at
pink slips, jobs being shipped overseas that devastate entire towns. And that's
why my number one priority coming in is making sure that we've got an economic
recovery plan that is equal to the task.
MR. BROKAW: Here's what you had to say a short time ago to the national
conference of governors. It was kind of a reality check for them to put it in
some kind of a context. Let's share that with our audience now, if we can.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: We're going to have to make hard choices. Like the ones that
you're making right now in your state capitals, we're going to have to make in
Washington. And we are not, as a nation, going to be able to just keep on
printing money; so, at some point, we're also going to have to make some
long-term decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility and not all of those
choices are going to be popular.
MR. BROKAW: On this program about a year ago, you said that being a president is
90 percent circumstances and about 10 percent agenda. The circumstances now are,
as you say, very unpopular in terms of the decisions that have to be made. Which
are the most unpopular ones
that the country's going to have to deal with?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, fortunately, as tough as times are right now--and
things are going to get worse before they get better--there is a convergence
between circumstances and agenda. The key for us is making sure that we
jump-start that economy in a way that doesn't just deal with the short term,
doesn't just create jobs immediately, but also puts us on a glide path for
long-term, sustainable economic growth. And that's why I spoke in my radio
address on Saturday about the importance of investing in the largest
infrastructure program--in roads and bridges and, and other traditional
infrastructure--since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s;
rebuilding our schools and making sure that they're energy efficient; making
sure that we're investing in electronic medical records and other technologies
that can drive down health care costs. All those things are not only
immediate--part of an immediate stimulus package to the economy, but they're
also down payments on the kind of long-term, sustainable growth that we need.
MR. BROKAW: To give an indication of how quickly things change now, at warp
speed, when you and I last saw each other, six weeks ago, I think it was, in
Nashville, when I asked you your priorities, you said health care, energy and
education would be your top three priorities.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: You didn't anticipate at that time that you would have to outline
this kind of a stimulus program. The real question in the stimulus program that
you have just described and as you shared with, with the American audience in
your radio address is how quickly will it mean jobs out there across America and
how much is it going to cost and who's going to pay for it?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think we can get a lot of work done fast. When I met
with the governors, all of them have projects that are shovel ready, that are
going to require us to get the money out the door, but they've already lined up
the projects and they can make them work. And now, we're going to have to
prioritize it and do it not in the old traditional politics first wave.
What we need to do is examine what are the projects where we're going to get the
most bang for
the buck, how are we going to make sure taxpayers are protected. You know, the
days of just pork coming out of Congress as a strategy, those days are over.
How much it's going to cost? My economic team is examining that right now. And
one of the things I'm very pleased with is how fast we've gotten a first-rate
economic team in place, the fastest in modern history. They are busy working,
crunching the numbers, looking at the macroeconomic data to make a determination
as to what the size and the scope of the economic recovery plan needs to be. But
it is going to be substantial. One last point I want to make on this is that we
are inheriting an enormous budget deficit. You know, some estimates over a
trillion dollars. That's before we do anything. And so we understand that we've
got to provide a, a, a blood infusion into the patient right now to make sure
that the patient is stabilized, and, and that means that we, we can't worry
short term about the deficit. We've got to make sure that the economic stimulus
plan is large enough to get the economy moving.
MR. BROKAW: One of the great concerns in this country, of course, is additional
which would be considerable if the Big Three in the auto industry in this
country--GM, Ford and Chrysler--were to go down. That drama has been playing out
in Washington and across America. Do you think the Big Three deserve to survive?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I, I think that the Big Three U.S. automakers have made
repeated strategic mistakes. They have not managed that industry the way they
should have, and
I've been a strong critic of the auto industry's failure to adapt to changing
times--building small cars and energy efficient cars that are going to adapt to
a new market. But what I've also said is, is that the auto industry is the
backbone of American manufacturing. It is a huge employer across many states.
Millions of people, directly or indirectly, are reliant on that industry, and so
I don't think it's an option to simply allow it to collapse. What we have to do
is to provide them with assistance, but that assistance is conditioned on them
making significant adjustments. They're going to have to restructure, and all
their stakeholders are going to have to restructure. Labor, management,
shareholders, creditors--everybody's going to recognize that they have--they do
not have a sustainable business model right now. And if they expect taxpayers to
help in that adjustment process, then they can't keep on putting off the kinds
of changes that they, frankly, should have made 20 or 30 years ago. If, if they
want to survive, then they better start building a fuel-efficient car. And if
they want to survive, they, they've got to recognize that the auto marketis not
going to be as large as some of their rosy scenarios that they've put forward
over the last several years.
MR. BROKAW: It's pretty clear that the Democrats are going to try to get them a
bridge loan to
get through the short term, but it's the long term that is the larger question
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: A number of people--Paul Ingrassia, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning
The Wall Street Journal has said we ought to have a government-structured
bankruptcy and maybe even an automobile czar of some kind. One name that has
come up is Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, the parent company of NBC. Does
that kind of plan have any appeal for you?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, there are a lot of discussions taking place right now
between members of Congress, the Bush administration. I've had my team have
conversations with these folks to see how can you keep the automakers' feet to
the fire in making the changes that are necessary. But understand, these aren't
ordinary times. You know, some people have said let's just send them through a
bankruptcy process. Well, even as large a company as GM, in ordinary times,
might be able to go through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, restructure, and still keep
their business operations going. When you are seeing this kind of collapse at
the same time as you've got the financial system as shaky as, as it is, that
means that we're going to have to figure out ways to put the pressure on the way
a bankruptcy court would, demand accountability, demand serious changes. But do
so in a way that it allows them to keep the factory doors open. And, you know,
right now there's a number of discussions about how to do that, and I hope that
we're going to see some short-term progress in the next few days. My economic
team is focused on what we expect to inherit on January 20th, and we'll have
some very specific plans in terms of how to move that forward.
MR. BROKAW: But help me out here. Are you looking at the possibility of some
kind of a government structure that runs that reorganization?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: I--we don't want government to run companies. Generally,
government historically hasn't done that very well. What we want...
MR. BROKAW: Not to run the companies but...
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: But...
MR. BROKAW: ...to run the terms.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, what, what we do need is, if taxpayer money is at
stake, which it appears may be the case, we want to make sure that it is
conditioned on a auto industry emerging at the end of the process that actually
works, that actually functions. The last thing I want to see happen is for the
auto industry to disappear. But I'm also concerned that we don't put 10 or 20 or
30 or whatever billion dollars into an industry, and then, six months to a year
later, they come back hat in hand and say, "Give me more." Taxpayers, I think,
are fed up. They're going through extraordinarily difficult times right now, and
they want to see the kind of accountability that, that, that, unfortunately, we
haven't always seen coming out of Washington.
MR. BROKAW: But under that organization or any reorganization that you settle
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: ...should the current management be allowed to stay in their jobs?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Here's what I'll, I'll say, that it may not be the same for
all the, all the companies, but what I think we have to put an end to is the
head-in-the-sand approach to the auto industry that has been prevalent for
decades now. I think, in fairness, you have seen some progress made
incrementally in many of these companies. You know, they have been building
better cars now than they were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. They are making some
investments in the kind of green technologies and, and the new batteries that
would allow us to create plug-in hybrids. What we haven't seen is a sense of
urgency and the willingness to make tough decisions. And what we still see are
executive compensation packages for the auto industry that are out of line
compared to their competitors, their Japanese competitors who are doing a lot
Now, it's not unique to the auto industry. We have seen that across the board.
Certainly, we saw it on Wall Street. And part of what I'm hoping to introduce as
the next president is a new ethic of responsibility where we say that, if you're
laying off workers, the least you can do, when you're making $25 million a year,
is give up some of your compensation and some of your bonuses.
Figure out ways in which workers maybe have to take a haircut, but they can
still keep their jobs, they can still keep their health care and they can still
stay in their homes. That kind of notion of shared benefits and burdens is
something that I think has been lost for too long, and it' something that I'd
like to see restored.
MR. BROKAW: Let's talk for a moment about consumer responsibility when it comes
to the auto industry. As soon as gas prices began to drop, consumers moved back
to the larger cars once again, to SUVs and the big gas consumers.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: Why not take this opportunity to put a tax on gasoline, bump it back
up to $4 a gallon where people were prepared to pay for that, and use that
revenue for alternative energy and as a signal to the consumers those days are
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well...
MR. BROKAW: We're not going to have gasoline that you can just fill up your tank
for 20 bucks anymore.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, keep, keep in mind what's happening in--to families all
America. Yes, gas prices have gone down. But, in the meantime, maybe somebody in
the family's lost their job. In the meantime, their housing values have
plummeted. In the meantime, maybe their hours have been cut back. Or if they're
a small-business owner, their sales have gone down 50, 60, 70 percent. So
putting additional burdens on American families right now, I think, is a
mistake. What we have to do long term is make sure that we have an energy
strategy that focuses on fuel-efficient cars, that focuses on providing
incentives for fuel-efficient cars. Same applies to buildings. We have a
enormously inefficient building stock, and we can save huge amounts of energy
costs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil by simple things like
weatherization and changing the lighting in, in major buildings. That's going to
be part of our economic recovery plan. It actually allows us to spend some
money, put some people to work right away, but it also creates a long-term,
sustainable energy future. And I think making some of those investments in
ensuring that we change our auto fleet over the next several years, that's going
to be important as well.
MR. BROKAW: The other big financial storm that continues to build out there, of
course, are mortgages. You said recently that is an area of particular concern
to you. The chairman of the
Federal Reserve, Bernanke, said recently that something that--needs to be done
urgently. During the course of the campaign, you suggested a three-month
moratorium. Is that still part of the policy that you would like to have begun
when you become president of the United States? And what else needs to be done
to do something about mortgages?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I, I'm having my team examine all the options that are
I'm disappointed that we haven't seen quicker movement on this issue by the
And we have said publicly and privately that we want to see a package that helps
homeowners not just because it's good for that particular homeowner, it's good
for the community. When you have foreclosures, property values decline and you
get a downward spiral all across America. It's also good for the financial
system because keep in mind how this financial system became so precarious in
the first place. You, you had a huge amount of debt, a huge amount of other
people's money that was being lent, and speculation was taking place on--based
on these home mortgages. And if we can strengthen those assets, then that will
strengthen the financial system as a whole. So I think a moratorium on
foreclosures remains an important tool, an important option. I think we also
should be working to figure out how we can get banks and homeowners to
renegotiate the terms of their mortgages so that they are sustainable. The vast
majority of people who are at threat of foreclosure are still making monthly
payments, they want to stay in their homes, they want to stay in their
communities, but the strains are enormous. And if we can relieve some of that
stress, long term it's going to be better for the banks, it's going to be
certainly better for the community, it's going to be better for our economy as a
whole. This is going to be a top priority of my administration.
MR. BROKAW: Have you personally conveyed your disappointment to the
administration or had your economic advisers get in touch with Hank Paulson and
say, "Why aren't you doing more about mortgages?"
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: We, we have specifically said that, moving forward, we have
a housing component to any actions that we take. If we are only dealing with
Wall Street andwe're not dealing with Main Street, then we're only handling
one-half of the problem.
MR. BROKAW: And finally, what about those homeowners out there who are
struggling to do
the responsible thing, to pay their mortgages?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: And now they look across the street and the neighbor may be getting
bailedout. So they feel they're the victim of a double whammy.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: They're paying their taxes to bail out the guy across the street and
struggling to pay their mortgages. Why wouldn't they just take a walk on their
mortgage and say, "I want in on that"?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, look, that, that's one of the tricky things that we've
got to figure
out how to structure. We don't want what you just described, a moral hazard
problem where you have incentive to act irresponsibly. But, you know, if my
neighbor's house is on fire, even if they were smoking in the bedroom or leaving
the stove on, right now my main incentive is to put out that fire so that it
doesn't spread to my house. And I think most people recognize that even if there
were some poor decisions made by home buyers, that right now our biggest
incentive is to make sure that the housing market is strengthened. I do think
that we have to put in place a set of rules of the road, some financial
regulations that prevent the kind of speculation and leveraging, that we saw, in
And so, as part of our economic recovery package, what you will see coming out
of my administration right at the center is a strong set of new financial
regulations in which banks, ratings agencies, mortgage brokers, a whole bunch of
folks start having to be much more accountable and behave much more responsibly
because we can't put ourselves--we, we can't create the kind of systemic risks
that we're creating right now, particularly because everything is so
interdependent. We've got to have transparency, openness, fair dealing in our
financial markets. And that's an area where I think, over the last eight years,
we've fallen short.
MR. BROKAW: Mr. President-elect, we're going to take a break. When we come back,
going to talk about taxes, the fallout from Mumbai, obviously, Iraq and
Afghanistan. A lot more
to talk about when we continue here on MEET THE PRESS with this exclusive
MR. BROKAW: More of our exclusive interview yesterday in Chicago with
Barack Obama after this brief station break.
MR. BROKAW: We're back with President-elect Obama. We want to talk about taxes.
was a central piece of your campaign. Here's what you had to say.
(Videotape, April 15, 2008)
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: We need to roll back the Bush-McCain tax cuts and invest in
like health care that are really important. Instead of giving tax breaks to the
wealthy, who don't
need them and weren't even asking for them, we should be putting a middle class
tax cut into the pockets of working families.
MR. BROKAW: Have the economic conditions changed what you hoped to do about
When Bill Daley, your friend and economic adviser, was on this broadcast two
weeks ago, and I
raised the question about whether you would raise taxes on those earning
$250,000 or more a
year, he gave a very strong indication that you would probably not do that, you
would let the
Bush tax cuts play out until 2011. Is that your plan?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, understand what my original tax plan was. It was a net
Ninety-five percent of working families would get tax relief. To help pay for
that, people like you and me, Tom, who make more than a quarter million dollars
a year, would play--pay slightly more. We'd essentially go back to the tax rates
that existed back in the 1990s. My economic team right now is examining do we
repeal that through legislation? Do we let it lapse so that when the Bush tax
cuts expire they're not renewed when it comes to wealthiest Americans? And we
don't yet know what the best approach is going to be, but the overall thrust is
going to be that 95 percent of working families are going to get a tax cut, and
the wealthiest Americans, who disproportionately benefited not only from tax
cuts from the Bush administration but also disproportionately benefited when it
comes to corporate profits and where the gains and productivity were going, they
are going to give up a little bit more. And it turns out that...
MR. BROKAW: But right away or 2011?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, as I said, my economic team's taking a look at this
But, but I think the important principle--because sometimes when we start
talking about taxes
and I say I want a more balanced tax code, people think, well, you know, that's
No. It, it turns out that our economy grows best when the benefits of the
economy are most widely spread. And that has been true historically. And, you
know, the real aberration has been over the last 10, 15 years in which you've
seen a huge shift in terms of resources to the wealthiest and the vast majority
of Americans taking home less and less. Their incomes, their wages have
flatlined at a time that costs of everything have gone up, and we've actually
become a more productive society.
So what we want to do is actually go back to what has been the traditional
pattern. We have a
broad-based middle class, economic growth from the bottom up. That, I think,
will be the recipe for everybody doing better over the long term.
MR. BROKAW: Your vice president, Joe Biden, said during the course of this
campaign it would be patriotic for the wealthy to pay more in taxes. In this
economy, does he still believe that?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I--you know, I think what Joe meant is exactly what I
which is that if, if our entire economic policy is premised on the notion that
greed is good and
"What's in it for me," it turns out that that's not good for anybody. It's not
good for the wealthy, it's not good for the poor, and it's not good for the vast
majority in the middle. If we've learned anything from this current financial
crisis--think about how this evolved. You had a situation in which you started
seeing home foreclosures rise. You had a middle class that was vulnerable and
couldn't make payments. Suddenly, all the borrowing that had been--and, and, and
all the speculation that had been premised on those folks doing OK, that starts
evaporating. Next thing you know, you've got Lehman Brothers going under. People
used to think that, well, there, there's no connection between those two things.
It turns out that when we all do well, then the economy, as a whole, is going to
MR. BROKAW: I want to move now to international affairs, the war on terror.
have all been stunned by what happened in India at Mumbai. It is still playing
out in that part of the world. You have said that the United States reserves the
right to go after terrorists in Pakistan if you have targets of opportunity.
Does India now also have that right of hot pursuit?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I'm not going to comment on that. What, what I'm going
restate is a basic principle. Number one, if a country is attacked, it has the
right to defend itself. I think that's universally acknowledged. The second
thing is that we need a strategic partnership with all the parties in the
region--Pakistan and India and the Afghan government--to stamp out the kind of
militant, violent, terrorist extremists that have set up base camps and that are
operating in ways that threaten the security of everybody in the international
community. And, as I've said before, we can't continue to look at Afghanistan in
isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes
Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran.
And part of the kind of foreign policy I want to shape is one in which we have
diplomacy combined with more effective military operations, focused on what is
the number one threat against U.S. interests and U.S. lives. And that's al-Qaeda
and, and, and their various
affiliates, and we are going to go after them fiercely in the years to come.
MR. BROKAW: President Zardari of Pakistan has said that he expects you to
American policy of using unmanned missiles for attacks on terrorist camps in
Pakistan; and there have been civilian casualties in those attacks as well. Are
you re-examining that policy?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I--what I want to do is to create the kind of
partnership with Pakistan that allows us, in concert, to assure that terrorists
are not setting up safe havens in some of these border regions between Pakistan
and Afghanistan. So far PresidentZardari has sent the right signals. He's
indicated that he recognizes this is not just a threat to the United States, but
it is a threat to Pakistan as well. There was a bombing in Pakistan just
yesterday that killed scores of people, and so you're seeing greater and greater
terrorist activity inside of Pakistan. I think this democratically-elected
government understands that threat, and I hope that in the coming months that
we're going to be able to establish the kind of close, effective, working
relationship that makes both countries safer.
MR. BROKAW: That part of the world is such a hot zone.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: Is it going to be necessary for you to appoint some kind of a
special envoy to
worry only about South Asia with presidential authority?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, my first job is to make sure that my core national
-Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton; Jim Jones, who will be my national
Bob Gates; Susan Rice, my U.N. representative--that my intelligence folks, when
appointed, that we come up with a comprehensive strategy. I have enormous
Senator Clinton's ability to rebuild alliances and to send a strong signal that
we're going to do
business differently and place an emphasis on diplomacy.
MR. BROKAW: Let's talk for a moment about Iraq. It was a principal--it was one
principals in the organization of your campaign at the beginning. A lot of
people voted for you
because they thought you would bring the war in Iraq to an end very swiftly.
Here is what you
had to say on July 3rd of this year about what you would do once you took
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring
Chiefs of Staff in and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this
deliberately, but decisively.
MR. BROKAW: When does the drawdown of American troops begin and when does it end
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, one of my first acts as president, once I'm sworn in,
will be to
bring in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to bring in my national security team, and
design a plan for a
responsible drawdown. You are seeing a convergence. When I began this campaign,
there was a lot of controversy about the idea of starting to draw down troops.
Now you've seen the--this
administration sign an agreement with the Iraqi government, both creating a time
removing U.S. troops. And so what I want to do is tell our Joint Chiefs, let's
do it as quickly as
we can do to maintain stability in Iraq, maintain the safety of U.S. troops, to
mechanism so that Iraq can start taking more responsibility as a sovereign
nation for it's own
safety and security, ensuring that you don't see any resurgence of terrorism in
Iraq that could
threaten our interests. But recognizing that the central front on terror, as Bob
Gates said, started in Afghanistan, in the border regions between Afghanistan
and Pakistan. That's where it will end, and that has to be our priority.
MR. BROKAW: Jim Jones, who is your new national security adviser, the man that
you want to
have in that job, who was the Marine commandant when we first went into
Afghanistan, I had a
conversation with him at that time, and he said to me, "I know how we're going
to get into
Afghanistan; I don't know how we're going to get out of Afghanistan." What is he
today about how we're going to get out of Afghanistan?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think we're, we're starting to see a consensus that
we have to
have more effective military action, and that means additional troops, but it
also means more
effective coordination with our NATO allies. It means that we have to have much
diplomacy in the region. We can't solve Afghanistan without solving Pakistan and
working more effectively with that country. And we are going to have to make
sure that India and Pakistan are normalizing their relationship if we're going
to be effective in some of these other areas.
And we've got to really ramp up our development approach to Afghanistan. I mean,
part of the
problem that we've had is the average Afghan farmer hasn't seen any improvement
in his life.
You know, we haven't seen the kinds of infrastructure improvements, we haven't
security improvements, we haven't seen the reduction in narco trafficking, we
haven't seen a
reliance on rule of law in Afghanistan that would make people feel confident
that the central
government can, in fact, deliver on its promises. And if we combine effective
more effective military work, as well as more effect diplomacy, then I think
that we can stabilize the situation. Our number one goal has to be to make sure
that it cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States,
and we've got to get bin Laden and we've got to get al-Qaeda.
MR. BROKAW: Here's something else that Afghan farmer has never seen nor have any
ancestors ever seen this: foreign powers coming into Afghanistan and being
staying very long.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right. Well, I, I think that we do have to be mindful of the
Afghanistan. It is tough territory. And there's a fierce independence in
Afghanistan, and if the
perception is that we are there simply to impose ourselves in a long-term
occupation, that's not going to work in Afghanistan. By the way, that's not
going to work in Iraq either. There are very few countries that welcome
long-term occupations by foreign powers. But Afghanistan has shown that they are
fiercely resistant to that. We're going to have to convince the Afghan people
that we're not interested in dictating what happens in Afghanistan. What we are
interested in is making sure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for
launching terrorist attacks. And aslong as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, working in
concert with al-Qaeda, threaten directly the United States and are engaged in
mayhem, then we've got to take action. And, and that very limited goal of making
sure that that doesn't happen, I think, can serve as the basis for effective
cooperation with the Afghan people.
MR. BROKAW: Before we leave that part of the world, on Iraq, there's a new
phrase that has
come into play called "residual force," how many troops will stay behind in an
administration. Speculation is 35,000 to 50,000. Is that a fair number?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I'm not going to speculate on the numbers. What I've
that we are going to maintain a large enough force in the region to assure that
our civilian troops-
-or our, our, our civilian personnel and our, our embassies are protected, to
make sure that we can
ferret out any remaining terrorist activity in the region, in cooperation with
the Iraqi government,
that we are providing training and logistical support, maintaining the integrity
of Iraq as
necessary. And, you know, I--one of the things that I'll be doing is evaluating
what kind of
number's required to meet those very limited goals.
MR. BROKAW: Now, two other areas that could be problematic in your
administration, I want
to deal with them fairly swiftly here if I can. What are the circumstances under
which you would
open a dialogue with Iran?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I've said before, I think we need to ratchet up tough
diplomacy with Iran, making very clear to them that their development of nuclear
be unacceptable, that their funding of terrorist organizations like Hamas and
threats against Israel are contrary to everything that we believe in and what
community should accept, and present a set of carrots and sticks in, in changing
about how they want to operate. You know, in terms of carrots, I think that we
economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that, despite being a net
oil producer, is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot of unemployment
problems there. They could
benefit from a more open economy and, and being part of the international
economic system. But we also have to focus on the sticks, and one of the main
things that diplomacy can accomplish is to help knit together the kind of
coalition with China and India and Russia and other countries that now do
business with Iran to agree that, in order for us to change Iran's behavior, we
may have to tighten up those sanctions. But we are willing to talk to them
directly and give them a clear choice and, and ultimately let them make a
determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or, or the
MR. BROKAW: And, briefly, how soon after you take office do you want to meet
leaders of Russia? And which ones do you meet with? Your counterpart is
Medvedev; but, of
course, the power behind the throne is Vladimir Putin.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, you know, this is something that we're going to make a
determination on. I think that it's going to be important for us to reset
Russia is a country that has made great progress economically over the last
Obviously, high oil prices have helped them. They are increasingly assertive.
And when it
comes to Georgia and their threats against their neighboring countries, I think
they've been acting
in a way that's contrary to international norms. We want to cooperate with them
where we can,
and there are a whole host of areas, particularly around nonproliferation of
terrorism, where we can cooperate. But we also have to send a clear message that
they have to
act in ways that are not bullying their neighbors.
MR. BROKAW: You still have some appointments to make coming up, and there's also
deal of consideration here in Illinois about who will replace you in the Senate.
But in New York
this weekend the big buzz is Caroline Kennedy in the United States Senate,
perhaps as the
appointment to fill the seat that Hillary Clinton is expected to vacate if she
gets confirmed as
secretary of state.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: And?
MR. BROKAW: Is that a good idea?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, let me tell you this. Caroline Kennedy has become one
dearest friends and is just a, a wonderful American, a wonderful person. But the
last thing I want to do is get involved in New York politics. I've got enough
trouble in terms of Illinois politics.
But just in terms of our appointments, I am very proud of the speed with which
we have started
to put together our core economic team, our national security team, but also the
excellence of the candidates. And I, I think that it's an indication of part of
the change I was talking about during the campaign, an emphasis on competence,
an emphasis on people who are nonideological and pragmatic and just want to do
You know, tomorrow, you had mentioned earlier, is when we commemorate Pearl
Harbor, and so I'm going to be making announcement tomorrow about the head of
our Veterans Administration, General Eric Shinseki, who was a commander and has
fought in Vietnam, Bosnia, is, is somebody who has achieved the highest level of
military service. He has agreed that he is willing to be part of this
administration because both he and I share a reverence for those who serve. I
grew up in Hawaii, as he did. My grandfather is in the Punchbowl National
Cemetery. When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans
and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling, even
more than those who have not served-- higher unemployment rates, higher homeless
rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate--it breaks
my heart. And I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who's
going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home.
MR. BROKAW: He's the man who lost his job in the Bush administration because he
we would need more troops in Iraq than Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld thought
that we would
need at that time.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: He was right.
MR. BROKAW: And General Shinseki was right. Let me ask you as we conclude this
program this morning about whether you and Michelle have had any discussions
about the impact that you're going to have on this country in other ways
besides international and domestic policies. You're going to have a huge impact,
terms of the tone of the country.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Right.
MR. BROKAW: Who are the kinds of artists that you would like to bring to the
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Oh, well, you know, we have thought about this because part
we want to do is to open up the White House and, and remind people this is, this
is the people's house. There is an incredible bully pulpit to be used when it
comes to, for example, education.
Yes, we're going to have an education policy. Yes, we're going to be putting
more money into school construction. But, ultimately, we want to talk about
parents reading to their kids. We want to invite kids from local schools into
the White House. When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and
having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to
the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what
discovery is all about. Thinking about the diversity of our culture and, and
musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so
that, once again, we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America. I--you
know, that, I think, is, is going to be incredibly important, particularly
because we're going through hard times. And, historically, what has always
brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of
optimism, that willingness to look forward, that, that sense that better days
are ahead. I think that our art
and our culture, our science, you know, that's the essence of what makes America
special, and, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White
MR. BROKAW: Finally, Mr. President-elect, the White House is a no-smoking zone,
and when you were asked about this recently by Barbara Walters, I read it very
carefully, you ducked.
Have you stopped smoking?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: You know, I have, but what I said was that, you know, there
are times where I've fallen off the wagon. Well...
MR. BROKAW: Well, wait a minute.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: ...what can I tell...
MR. BROKAW: Then that means you haven't stopped.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, the--fair enough. What I would say is, is that I have
done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and
I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.
MR. BROKAW: Mr. President-elect, thank you very much for being with us today.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
MR. BROKAW: And I know that I speak not just for MEET THE PRESS, but for all of
America when I saw we wish you only the very best.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, Tom, thank you and congratulations on doing such a
great job on this show.
MR. BROKAW: Well, these were circumstances none of us, none of us wanted to
have, but Tim remains with us in a lot of ways, as you know.
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: He does.
MR. BROKAW: Thanks for being with us.
And after that discussion about the future of this country, in a moment, the
future of MEET THE PRESS.