Transcript: Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sec. of Defense Robert Gates Speak to Cynthia McFadden

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GATES: . . . two and a half months or so. Well, the July 11 date to begin withdrawal is one example. I had opposed any kind of dates or deadlines in Iraq relentlessly. But in terms of . . .

McFADDEN: . . . Because you felt it gave comfort to the enemy?

GATES: Yeah. And denied us flexibility. But the way that it was framed and the President's decision, and the way we talked about it, about how do you- how do you give the Afghan government a sense of urgency that they have to take ownership of this thing? We're not gonna -- How do you assure, tell them and the American people we're not gonna be there forever? And you weigh that against, well, does it give some relief to the Taliban? And because of the way we discussed it and the way that the pace of the withdrawals beginning in July 11 will be based on the conditions on the ground, you know, if the Taliban are telling their supporters and their soldiers today, the Americans are leaving in July of 2011, they're going to discover very quickly in August and September of 2011 we're still there and we're still out there killing. And so weighing those two things, I came to believe that that was the right decision. So but that was a change of position for me.

McFADDEN: What about you, Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well I think Bob has described the process well. It was very thorough. We had many meetings where people freely expressed their views. There was a lot of give and take, and I too learned different perspectives. There was a lot of drilling down into what was meant by counterinsurgency, what it would take in, you know, various districts in Afghanistan to win the trust of the people, what we would have to do to improve governance. It was a complex and and serious effort. I did not enter into it with any preconceived opinion. I entered into it with an open mind, because it was a very serious undertaking.

McFADDEN: Do you feel the two of you ended up pushing the President? Or do you feel that he, at the end of the day, felt comfortable?

CLINTON: I think the President was committed to the process and was open and very clear that he was going to make this decision, which he did after listening to everyone. I don't think his conclusions agreed with any one person. I think he drew from many of us to compose what he thought was the best policy.

McFADDEN: So defeat Al-Qaida and downgrade the Taliban, the goal? Yes? Still the goal?

GATES: Reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities, build the Afghan National Security Forces so that between the degrading of the Taliban and the elevating of the Afghan Forces, within some period of time the Afghans will be able to make sure their territory is no longer -- can never again be a platform for launching attacks against anybody.

McFADDEN: So how are we doing? Because a report that was leaked in October from the White House indicated not so well.

GATES: Well this is, as I reported to the President when I came back from Afghanistan a month or so ago, this is a struggle that unusually the closer you are to the fight, the better it looks.

McFADDEN: Why?

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