Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate

It's not only about Iraq. It is about ending the war in Iraq so that we can begin paying attention to all of the other problems we have.

There isn't any doubt that Afghanistan has been neglected. It has not gotten the resources that it needs. We hear that from our military commanders responsible for that region of the world.

And there are other problems that we have failed to address.

So the bottom line for me is: We don't know what will happen as we withdraw. We do know what will happen if we stay mired in Iraq.

The Iraqi government will not accept responsibility for its own future. Our military will continue to be stretched thin. And our soldiers will be on their second, third, even their fourth deployment. And we will not be able to re-assert our leadership and our moral authority in the world.

And I think those are the kind of broad issues that a president has to take into account.

GIBSON: And, Senator Obama, your campaign manager, David Plouffe, said, "When he is" -- this is talking about you -- "When he is elected president, we will be out of Iraq in 16 months at the most. There should be no confusion about that."

So you'd give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?

OBAMA: Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie.

That's not the role of the generals.

And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus."

Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer.

Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with respect to tactics, once I've given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq, and we are going to have our combat troops out. We will not have permanent bases there.

Once I have provided that mission, if they come to me and want to adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration. But, ultimately, the buck stops with me as the commander-in-chief.

And what I have to look at is not just the situation in Iraq, but the fact that we continue to see Al Qaida getting stronger in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We continue to see anti-American sentiment fanned all across the Middle East.

We are overstretched in a way -- we do not have a strategic reserve at this point. If there was another crisis that was taking place, we would not have a brigade that we could send to deal with that crisis that isn't already scheduled to be deployed in Iraq.

That is not sustainable; that's not smart. National security policy is going to change when I'm president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, let's stay in the region. Iran continues to pursue a nuclear option. Those weapons, if they got them, would probably pose the greatest threat to Israel.

During the Cold War, it was the United States policy to extend deterrence to our NATO allies. An attack on Great Britain would be treated as if it were an attack on the United States.

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