'This Week' Full Transcript: Dec. 6, 2009

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: And we begin with the cornerstones of President Obama's national security cabinet, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton; secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Welcome to you both.

This is the first time you're here together on THIS WEEK. Thanks for doing it.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The first time we've been called cornerstones.

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Gates, let me begin with you, because there has been so much focus since the president's speech on this call to begin an exit strategy in July 2011. I want to show you what Senator McCain said earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When conditions on the ground have decisively begun to change for the better, that is when our troops should start to return home with honor, not one minute longer, not one minute sooner, and certainly not on some arbitrary date in July 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Just two months ago, you seemed to agree with that sentiment. You called the notion of timelines and exit strategies a strategic mistake. What changed?

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, first of all, I don't consider this an exit strategy. And I try to avoid using that term. I think this is a transition...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?

GATES: This is a transition that's going to take place. And it's not an arbitrary date. It will be two years since the Marines went into southern Helmand and that two years that our military leaders believe will give us time to know that our strategy is working.

They believe that in that time General McChrystal will have the opportunity to demonstrate decisively in certain areas of Afghanistan that the approach we're taking is working. Obviously the transition will begin in the less contested areas of the country.

But it will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We've heard that phrase a lot...

GATES: But it begins -- but it begins in July 2011.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I understand that. But you about this conditions-based decision-making. And I guess that it's fairly vague term. So if the strategy is working, do the troops stay? If it's not working, do they leave? How -- how is the decision-making process going to go?

GATES: Well, from my standpoint, the decision in terms of when a district or a cluster of districts or a province is ready to be turned over to the Afghan security forces is a judgment that will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.

And we will do the same thing we did in Iraq, when we transitioned to Afghan security responsibility. We will withdraw first into tactical overwatch, and then a strategic overwatch, if you will, the cavalry over the hill in case they run into trouble.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this certainly increases the leverage on President Karzai and his government, Secretary Clinton, which brings up questions similar to questions that were raised by a lot of Democrats during -- after the Iraq surge, including President Obama when he was a senator.

He asked Secretary Rice basically what happens if the Maliki government doesn't live up to its promises.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, THEN SENATOR: Are there any circumstances that you can articulate in which we would say to the Maliki government that enough is enough, and we are no longer committing our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of people asking the same exact question today about President Karzai, at what point do we say enough is enough, we're no longer going to commit troops?

CLINTON: Well, George, I understand the desire to ask these questions which are all thrown into the future, they're obviously matters of concern about how we have a good partner as we move forward in Afghanistan.

But I think you have to look at what President Karzai said in his inaugural speech where he said that Afghan security forces would begin to take responsibility for important parts of the country within three years, and that they would be responsible for everything within five years.

And from our perspective, we think we have a strategy that is a good, integrated approach, it's civilian and military. It has been extremely thoroughly analyzed. But we have to begin to implement it with the kind of commitment that we all feel toward it.

I can't predict everything that is going to happen with President Karzai. I came away from my meeting with him around the inauguration heartened by a lot of what he was saying. But you know, the proof is in the pudding. We're going to have to wait to see how it unfolds.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you're really going to have maximum leverage, doesn't he have to know that if he doesn't live up to the commitment, we're going to go?

CLINTON: Well, I think he knows that we have a commitment to trying to protect our national security. That's why we're there. We do want to assist the people of Afghanistan and to try to improve the capacity of the Afghan government.

But I think it's important to stress that this decision was based on what we believe is best for the United States. And we have to have a realistic view of who we're working with in Afghanistan, and it's not only President Karzai, it's ministers of various agencies that -- some of which are doing quite well and producing good results, provincial and local leaders.

So it's a much more complicated set of players than just one person.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There is also the question of Pakistan, the neighbor, and whether they're living up to their commitments. You got in a little hot water in Pakistan when you suggested that they hadn't been doing enough in the past to go after the Taliban.

And, Secretary Gates, let me turn a question about this to you, it's connected to a report that Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released this week about Osama bin Laden. He suggested that the failure to block his exit from Tora Bora has made the situation there much worse.

In this report, he actually wrote that the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.

The Pakistani prime minister sort of shrugged off any concerns about that this week, about whether or not he had gone -- done enough to go after Osama bin Laden. He said he doesn't believe Osama is in Pakistan. Is he right? And do you think the Pakistanis have done enough to get him?

GATES: Well, we don't know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is, if we did, we'd go get him. But...

STEPHANOPOULOS: When was the last time we had any good intelligence on where he was?

GATES: I think it has been years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Years?

GATES: I think so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So these reports that came out just this week about a detainee saying he might have seen him in Afghanistan earlier this year?

GATES: No, that's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: We can't confirm that.

GATES: No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you believe that one of the reasons we haven't had good enough intelligence is because the Pakistani government has not been cooperating enough?

GATES: No. I think it's because if, as we suspect, he is in North Waziristan, it is an area that the Pakistani government has not had a presence in, in quite some time. The truth of the matter is that we have been very impressed by the Pakistani army's willingness to go into places like Swat in South Waziristan, if one had asked any of us a year or more ago if the Pakistani army would be doing that, we would have said no chance.

And so they are bringing pressure to bear on the Taliban in Pakistan, and particularly those that are attacking the Pakistani government. But frankly, any pressure on the Taliban, whether it's in Pakistan or in Afghanistan is helpful to us because al Qaeda is working with both of them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the actions the Pakistani government has taken. Is Balochistan next? Is that where they have to go next to take out the Taliban?

GATE: Well, I think that the Pakistani government, we sometimes tend to forget that Pakistan, like Afghanistan, is a sovereign country. And Pakistani -- the Pakistani army will go where the Pakistani army thinks the threat is. And if they think that threat is Balochistan, that's where they'll go. If they think it's in North Waziristan, they may go up there. Or they may just winter in where they are right now.

But these are calls that the Pakistanis make. We are sharing information with them. We have had a steadily developing, better relationship between our militaries.

And we will help them in any way we possibly can, but that's their call.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back to Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton, some have suggested that one of your envoys -- the president's envoy, Richard Holbrooke -- should begin negotiations with those elements of the Taliban who are willing to talk to him.

Do you agree with that?

CLINTON: Well, George, we have said -- and the president made it clear in his speech at West Point -- that, you know, there are two different approaches here.

One is what could be called reintegration. And that is really looking at the lower-level members of the Taliban, who are there through intimidation and coercion, or, frankly, because it's a better living than they can make anywhere else.

We think there's a real opportunity for a number of those to be persuaded to leave the battlefield.

Now, the problem, of course, once they leave -- and we have a lot of evidence of this -- they'll get killed if they're not protected. And that's one of the reasons why we're trying to get these secure zones.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In other words, they don't believe we'll stay.

CLINTON: Well, and also, just, we need to secure the population. It's one of General McChrystal's principal objectives.

Then the upper levels of the Taliban -- you know, look. They have to renounce al Qaeda, renounce violence. They have to be willing to abide by the constitution of Afghanistan and live peacefully.

We have no firm information whether any of those leaders would be at all interested in following that kind of a path. In fact, I'm highly skeptical that any of them would.

So, we're going to be consulting with our Afghan partners. It's going to be a multiply-run operation to see who might come off of the battlefield, and who might possibly give up their allegiance to the Taliban and their connection with the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But high-level negotiations are possible?

CLINTON: We don't know yet. And again, I think that -- we asked Mullah Omar to give up bin Laden before we went into Afghanistan after 9/11, and he wouldn't do it. I don't know why we think he would have changed by now.

GATES: I would just add, I think that the likelihood of the leadership of the Taliban, or seniors leaders, being willing to accept the conditions Secretary Clinton just talked about depends in the first instance on reversing their momentum right now, and putting them in a position where they suddenly begin to realize that they're likely to lose.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How is this offensive in Helmand Province going?

GATES: It's actually going very well. And the Marines have already had -- I think one of the reasons that our military leaders are pretty confident is that they have already begun to see changes where the Marines are present in southern Helmand.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the question of costs, which has been raised by our next guest, Senator Russ Feingold. As you know, he's against the escalation announced by the president.

But he's also gone (ph) and wrote a letter to the president where he raises -- where he says, we request that you not send any additional troops to Afghanistan until Congress has enacted appropriations to pay for the cost of such an increase, and that you propose reductions in spending to pay for the costs of any military operations in Afghanistan -- a concern shared by many of the American people.

Secretary Clinton, shouldn't this war, if we're going to fight it, be paid for?

CLINTON: Well, the president has said that the costs are going to be accounted for, that the Office of Management and Budget, the Defense Department, the State Department, you know, are going to be working to make sure that we give the best projections of costs we can.

I think that we're going to have to address our deficit situation across the board. There's no doubt about that, and I certainly support that.

But I think we have to look at the entire budget, and we have to be very clear about, you know, what the costs are, as Secretary Gates has said a couple of times in our testimony together. We are drawing down from Iraq. There will be savings over the next two to three years coming from there. And the addition of these troops is going to put a burden on us, no doubt about it.

It is manageable, but we have to look at all of our fiscal situation and begin to address this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's also the question of the cost-benefit analysis. And a lot of people look at our own U.S. government intelligence estimates, saying there are fewer than 100 active al Qaeda in Afghanistan and say, why is that worth putting $30 billion more this year into Afghanistan?

GATES: It is because in that border area, Afghan-Pakistani border, that is the epicenter of extremist jihad. And al Qaeda has close relationships with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they have very close relationships with the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Taliban in Pakistan have been attacking Pakistani civilians, Pakistani government officials, military officials, trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan.

Any success by the Taliban in either Afghanistan or Pakistan benefits al Qaeda. And any safe haven on either side of the border creates opportunities for them to recruit, get new funds and do operational planning.

And what's more, the Taliban revival in the safe havens in western Pakistan is a lesson to al Qaeda that they can come back, if they are provided the kind of safe haven that the Taliban were.

This is the place where the jihadists defeated the Soviet Union, one superpower. And they believe -- their narrative is that it helped create the collapse of the Soviet Union. If they -- they believe that if they can defeat us in Afghanistan, that they then have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you look at that...

GATES: And it creates huge opportunities for them in that area, as well as around the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You were the deputy director of the CIA back in 1985, when Gorbachev made the decision to expand. Eighteen months later, he was pulling out.

What's to prevent that from happening again?

GATES: Well, what he did was agree with his generals to make one last push.

But the parallel just doesn't work. The reality is, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They killed a million Afghans. They made five million refugees out of Afghanis.

They were isolated in the world in terms of what they were doing there.

We are part of an alliance of 42 countries with us, in addition to us, that are contributing troops. We have a U.N. mandate. We have a mandate from NATO.

So, you have broad international support for what's going on in Afghanistan. And the situation is just completely different than was the case with the Soviet Union.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time.

Secretary Clinton, I want to ask you about the case of Amanda Knox, the American college student, who was convicted of murder in Italy, just on Friday.

Senator Cantwell of Washington has expressed a lot of concerns about this conviction. She said she wants to talk to you about it. Here's what she said.

I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an impartial jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Knox was guilty. Italian jurors were not sequestered, and were allowed to view highly negative news coverage about Ms. Knox.

She goes on to lay out several of the concerns she had with the trial. She did say, as I said, she's going to be in contact with you, so you can express the concerns to the Italian government.

Do you share her concerns about this trial?

CLINTON: George, I honestly haven't had time to even examine that. I've been immersed in what we're doing in Afghanistan.

Of course, I'll meet with Senator Cantwell, or anyone who has a concern, but I can't offer any opinion about that at this time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have not expressed any concerns to the Italian government?

CLINTON: I have not, no.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, thank you both very much.

GATES: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretaries Clinton and Gates late yesterday. Now I'm joined in the studio by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Welcome.

FEINGOLD: Good morning, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Secretary Gates there. Even though you've called the president's decision an expensive gamble, he says the United States must escalate because this is the epicenter of extremist jihad, and that's why our vital national security interests are at stake.

FEINGOLD: Well, Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter, although Al Qaida is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That's not next door to Waziristan. So I'm wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn't make any sense to me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't the point they're making that if we don't defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, that will strengthen the Taliban as well in Pakistan, and that will put us at risk, because Pakistan of course has nuclear weapons?

FEINGOLD: Well, it's just the opposite. You know, I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and Mr. Holbrooke, our envoy over there, a while ago, you know, is there a risk that if we build up troops in Afghanistan, that will push more extremists into Pakistan? They couldn't deny it, and this week, Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan specifically said that his concern about the buildup is that it will drive more extremists into Pakistan, so I think it's just the opposite, that this boots-on-the-ground approach alienates the Afghan population and specifically encourages the Taliban to further coalesce with Al Qaida, which is the complete opposite of our national security interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So (inaudible) pull out, pull out of Afghanistan now?

FEINGOLD: We should have a rational policy to, over a timetable of the next several years, to withdraw in a rational way. I'm afraid that the president's idea, which is to just set a date where we may start withdrawing troops, gives nobody anything they want. It doesn't give the Afghan people a belief that we're actually leaving. It doesn't give the American people any confidence that we have a plan to finally end this.

But I think the best thing we could do would be a real timetable, flexible timetable, that says, look, we're going to continue this for a reasonable period, but it is not the top priority in going after Al Qaida. It is certainly not the top priority for the people of the United States, given our economic problems. So from either an international nor a national level, does it make sense to put so many resources into a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security needs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the real problem is Pakistan, what more should we be doing there right now?

FEINGOLD: Well, I think we should be figuring out a way to do what many have suggested -- and even the secretary of defense suggested in this interview with you -- which is, there is a way to go after these extremists -- particularly the Al Qaida operatives anywhere -- by cooperating with the Afghan government, by cooperating with the Pakistani government. This is what we have done in the past in Somalia and other places to get Al Qaida operatives. But the idea of huge troops on the ground doesn't seem to advance that interest whatsoever.

I guess the way I'd look at it is this, George: You know, if -- if -- if we never invaded Afghanistan and we knew what was going on there now, we looked at it, we saw the problems with the government, we saw the -- the fact that there are so many people who are -- who are having a problem with -- with our presence there, if they saw that -- that, in fact, Al Qaida was based in Pakistan and other places, if they saw the enormous economic problems in our own country, who would advise that we invade Afghanistan at this point? Nobody would.

So the question should be, if we wouldn't do it on those facts, why would we continue it now?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Except that's where the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were launched from.

FEINGOLD: That's right. And that's the only argument. But, you know, we chased these guys over into Pakistan. So why would we continue something that we wouldn't even initiate today? It doesn't relate directly to our fight against Al Qaida in any way like it did in 2001.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any way you can stop this?

FEINGOLD: Well, that's difficult. And what's going to happen here is that it's probably going to be difficult to stop it now. We'll do whatever we can. We're already working with members of both parties in both houses to question whether this funding should be approved. We're going to fight any attempts to use sort of accounting gimmicks to allow it to be funded. If there's an attempt to have an emergency supplemental, I think that's something we're going to oppose, not only on the grounds of it being an unwise policy, but also being fiscally irresponsible.

But in the end, George, what's going to happen is, if we continue this policy and build up these troops, there's going to be more and more members of Congress who aren't comfortable with it, and it's not just going to be Democrats.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you grant that the funds are there right now, but if they come back in the spring for $30 billion or $40 billion, that's where you'll make your move and try to block it?

FEINGOLD: I don't grant that the funds are there now. We are operating at huge deficits in this country, and the idea of continuing to spend for this war goes -- flies right in the face of the American people's priority to bring spending down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you a question also on health care. Senators in session this weekend, President Obama coming up this afternoon, and you've been reportedly part of a small group that is trying to work on a new compromise on this public health insurance option. It's based on the -- the plan that members of Congress have, the federal employee health benefits plan. Are you making progress? Do you believe a compromise can be struck? And what will it be?

FEINGOLD: Well, there are a number of great ideas on the table. We've gone from general conversations over the last few days to some very specific conversations that are not limited to the idea you suggested.

For me and for many others in this country, there has to be a public element to this. There has to be an approach that either creates a new public option or an expansion of current public programs. There can't just be a purely private approach. We have to have some competition for the insurance industry.

But the talks are exciting. They're getting closer. And I am cautiously optimistic that we're going to be able to pull everybody together and...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And get all 60 Senate Democrats together?

FEINGOLD: That's -- that's what we need to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- but is it -- is it based on this idea that you're going to expand the federal health employees...

(CROSSTALK)

FEINGOLD: That is only one idea that's on the table. It will not be one idea. It will be a package of ideas that reflects the different views of people in the room, the needs of the American people. So it is by no means limited to something like that, and that is not even definitely going to be it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Reach agreement today?

FEINGOLD: I hope so. We'll willing to work as long as we have to, to try to do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Feingold, thanks very much.

FEINGOLD: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable is next with George Will, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Peggy Noonan, and Richard Haass. And later, the Sunday funnies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): I was wondering if maybe if you checked out some of the statistics about legalizing prostitution, gambling, drugs, and nonviolent crime in order to stimulate some of the economy?

OBAMA: I appreciate the boldness of your question.

(LAUGHTER)

That will not be my jobs strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So we know what's not in President Obama's new jobs program. He's going to lay out some new ideas on Tuesday. We're going to talk about that in a minute, but let's begin with Afghanistan on our roundtable.

I'm joined, as always, by George Will, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, and Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation.

And -- and, George, I'm going to start by showing everyone a poll that we had earlier this week's of presidents' approval in wartime. You see Johnson, Truman and George W. Bush, they're basically ski slopes, as they dealt with unpopular wars. We heard Secretary Gates say today that this is not an exit strategy that President Obama has proposed, and he said it was in our vital national interest, but clearly, this political imperative at play.

WILL: Those were unpopular wars, and so is this one. And there's really no precedent that I can think of for the public begin rallying behind a war that they have decided they didn't like in the first place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Although initial support for the president's speech.

WILL: Sure, for the speech, but this is -- this is not the McChrystal plan. Let me say this in defense of the president. He -- he -- McChrystal proposed essentially nation-building, meeting the needs of the Afghan people, his words, by, with and through the almost non-existent Afghan government. This is not that. This is an increase in forces in order to constrict the mission.

But this is going to be harder than it was in Iraq. In Iraq, you had a literate society. You had a society with a middle class. But more important, when our surge began in Iraq, the tide had already turned. There had been the Sunni awakening in Anbar. They had turned against Al Qaida in Mesopotamia, who were largely foreign fighters.

The Taliban are there. When you asked Secretary Gates about the -- the Helmand operation, he said, very tellingly, it's going very well wherever the Marines are present...

STEPHANOPOULOS: They can't be everywhere.

WILL: ... and as long as they're present. They won't be there forever.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Except you write in Newsweek magazine this week, Richard, that this should be labeled the "no exit" plan.

HAASS: Well, wars are always easier to get into than out of, and this is unlikely to be the exception to that. We'll do the surge, and as George has, I think, correctly pointed out, as long as we're there, things will be better. But I think it -- it would have to be the triumph of hope over experience to think that if -- if and when we draw down and we go back, say, to pre-surge levels that any improvements will endure.

That would mean that the Afghan government had picked up tremendous capacity and that the Pakistani government had discovered tremendous will. And I would think both of those are open questions. So odds are to me that the United States will find itself in Afghanistan for some time to come, along, by the way, in Iraq for some time to come.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, President Obama is at risk of losing part of his coalition. I'm deeply saddened by this speech, because the facts on the ground don't lend itself to this policy. At a time of true unemployment of 17 percent, we're sending -- we're sending 30,000 troops for 100,000 force at $100 billion when his own national security adviser said there was no vital interest at stake. We're going to destabilize...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... clearly there was.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, but, I mean, this was a few weeks ago, and we're going to destabilize a nuclear-armed country, Pakistan. And, you know, wars suck the oxygen, George, out of reform presidencies. We've seen it throughout our history.

And so the prospect of the reform agenda President Obama ran on is one that is at risk. I think we could have done a very smart counterterrorism strategy at far lesser cost, and we have national security threats around the world. This will limit his options in that area.

And I think, you know, the larger problem is we need a new national security. President Obama ran not as an antiwar president -- anti-Iraq war. And he's not hostage to the mindset in Washington, but he is to an extent...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he also ran on finishing the war in Afghanistan.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But he's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Peggy, let me bring this to you, because I think one of the things Katrina says is something that was weighing on the president's mind at the beginning of this process, that this would suck the oxygen out of the rest of his agenda. But by the time he gave that speech, he -- he talked about that, but also seemed quite at peace with the decision.

NOONAN: Oh, he did, but -- but the -- look, I think the key number here is nine. It's not 30,000 troops. It's not July 2011. It's nine. That's the number of years we have been in Afghanistan. That is enough time for the American people to essentially decide how they're viewing it.

I think they will probably give more time to the president after his decision, but I also think it is up to the people to decide -- and we'll see how they're deciding month by month in the polls -- how they feel about this war. No president certainly nine years in can execute and lead a war if the people are not with him. He's not only in trouble with his base; I think he -- he has an uphill climb convincing...

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: ... people after nine years this is still good, it's viable, we've got a new plan here, it can work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So at best, he's bought himself a little bit of time. The clock is ticking to, at best, again, 2011. But we have no clarity -- and talking about Secretary Gates and Clinton -- about what happens in July 2011.

WILL: Not much, because the situation -- the president did -- with a little bit of rhetoric -- leave wiggle room, and he will wiggle. That is, the conditions on the ground are not going to be dramatically different then than they are now. Therefore, his hope of beginning withdrawal 12, 13 months, 14 months before the next presidential election is probably going to go a-glimmering (ph).

HAASS: That's exactly right. And the answer is, none of us knows how this is going to work out. My -- my hunch is that, after 18 months, it's not going to be a transformed situation.

But I keep coming back (inaudible) George. The president really has to answer not simply the question of "Will it work?" but "Is it worth it?" And I simply don't think they've made the case either that Afghanistan is central to the global effort against terrorism, when honestly it's not. This is not 1991 or this is not, rather, 2001, right after 9/11. Afghanistan is not the home or the sanctuary for -- for Al Qaida, nor is Afghanistan central to Pakistan, which is what really matters. It's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because that's the key point, though, I mean, because as you -- you saw a fundamental difference there between Secretary Gates on the one hand and Senator Feingold on the other. Does putting more troops in Afghanistan make the situation more secure in Pakistan or less?

HAASS: It makes it worse in the sense that you're pushing a lot of bad guys across the border. The biggest question is, regardless of whatever we do in Afghanistan, will the Pakistani government show the mettle and show the seriousness about cracking down on what has essentially become an internal threat to their own long-term survival? Up to now, they've not, and the answer is obviously...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... let me put the counter (inaudible) and let me put it, the question, to you this way. If they see us leave Afghanistan, wouldn't the Pakistanis say, "We're next. They're going to abandon us again"?

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, I think it's much more complicated, and our occupation of Afghanistan is going to deepen divisions in Pakistan and destabilize an already fragile civilian government.

I mean, we are already engaged in a secret war in Pakistan. The Nation's cover story this week, based on multiple sources, shows that Blackwater is working with the Joint Special Operations Command, planning targeting assassinations and drone campaigns. This is fundamentally destabilizing. We need another policy.

The larger overlay of all of this, in my view, is our overreaction to the terrible, horrible tragedy of 9/11 has led us to wage war against terrorism. You cannot wage a conventional war, which we are doing in Afghanistan, against an odious, horrifying set of ideas or tactics. And until we end that, we are, as an American people, going to have a de facto policy of permanent warfare. Do we want that in our country?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... bring in a Pew poll that shows perhaps we don't right now.

VANDEN HEUVEL: We don't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It was fascinating this week. The Pew Center did a look at the sense of isolationist sentiment in the country. Should we be minding our own business? Forty-nine percent (ph) say that -- that -- that we should minding our own business more. That's the highest it's been in -- in years, the highest in 30 years.

And -- and, Peggy, that gets to your point, not only are we a weary nation (ph), a nation turning inward.

NOONAN: That's a post-9/11 poll, do you know what I mean? That was not the mood after September 2001.

A number of things to say. One is that I worry about the vacuum that might created (ph) and suck in more trouble if American troops just abruptly left. It -- it seems to me...

HAASS: And we should not...

NOONAN: ... that is a destabilizing move. And if Obama is just buying time, in effect, as those -- as Russ Feingold said, no, it's going to take time, then I think that'll probably seem reasonable to people.

HAASS: We should not just leave. And there's a choice between doing as much as we're now doing and leaving. You know, sometimes there is a gray in-between area. The middle course is not always wrong. And rather than simply surging more troops, which is not clear to me is going to work, we can take a lot of the rest of the strategy, which is, by the way, where we're going to end up, which is more emphasis on training, not just in Kabul, but around the country, greater emphasis to win over some of the Taliban, some counterterrorism (inaudible) we're going to end up with a strategy that's probably more commensurate with our interests.

We have to avoid these situations where we do everything, which is more than situations warrant, or we simply abandon a country like Afghanistan.

VANDEN HEUVEL: At the end of the day, Afghanistan, Pakistan, this region will require political and diplomatic solutions. I interviewed Gorbachev in September. Secretary Gates, in my view, took the wrong lessons from the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev says very clearly -- and he has had insight into this -- political, diplomatic, regional work needs to be done.

No one is talking about abandoning. But the idea of pouring money and troops in, the U.S. footprint growing larger is -- we are going to be an occupying force. Barack Obama spoke eloquently about we are not an occupying force. We are perceived as such.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and -- and, George, he's going to have the chance to speak again this Thursday when he goes to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. How does he deal with this in Oslo?

(LAUGHTER)

WILL: The whole Oslo venture is so surreal. I mean, he's going to give a speech (inaudible) for an award given to him because of the quality of the speeches he gives. I -- all he can say is that I am fighting a war to stop the destabilization of these countries. And we've got some help, and he's going to perhaps by then be able to say already that NATO members are going to pony up...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... thousand.

WILL: Still.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you write that speech?

NOONAN: Oh, this is just the sort of thing that -- normally a sitting American president wins a Nobel Prize, that's just good, definitely get a bounce out of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not in this case, because of what George says. I just think people will look at it and think, "Oh, man. This is just more talk in a fancier tuxedo."

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he can't back down?

HAASS: What...

(CROSSTALK)

HAASS: Oh, no, he's got to. And he's got to, in a sense -- the one opportunity here -- it's interesting, to go to Oslo for a Nobel Peace Prize speech and argue why there has to be a security component. And, actually, that's -- that's where I would disagree with Katrina. It's not a question of just politics or just economics. What we've learned in history, you get overwhelmed by having those kinds of strategies. There has to be a security component. My problem with the policy is I think it's out of balance, that the security component has now grown more than -- than it should.

One last point. Pakistan, they have a different agenda than we have. They see Afghanistan as their hedge. It is the real estate (ph) that they have to make sure they're not surrounded by India. We have a problem. We have a partner that does not share the same geopolitical outlook that we do.

So it's not simply the Pakistanis are worried about being abandoned by the United States again. We have to keep in mind that we're very much working in tandem with someone who has very different geopolitical...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring this back to our domestic agenda. We got some jobs numbers on Friday. Unemployment actually went 10.2 percent to 10 percent. Before the president goes to Oslo, he's going to give a speech on Tuesday laying out some new ideas on how to create new jobs. And one of the big questions at issue is whether to tap the TARP, the bailout fund, to -- to pay for some of these programs. There's debate already on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Creating jobs reduces the deficit. And I think the TARP funds are an appropriate use -- appropriately used to create jobs to reduce the deficit.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What we ought to do with that money is use it -- use it to reduce the budget deficit. There's no -- there's no -- nobody ever had any idea that, when this money came back, that we'd go ahead and spend it on something else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Next (inaudible) the president says he's going to tap it.

WILL: And Senator Thune of South Dakota is going to give senators a chance to vote against that. The public hates TARP for, in my judgment, a lot of good reasons. Before the decline in unemployment, slight but encouraging, Democrats were saying, if unemployment's not coming down, we need to have another stimulus. As soon as you got signs that there was some job creation, the liberals said, "No time to stop now. We need another stimulus."

I'll give you one number. Under the stimulus package, the Energy Department got $36.8 billion of which they've spent $1.5 billion, 5 percent. Why, when we have 95 percent of that little bit of the stimulus sitting there, do we need another stimulus?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The recovery stimulus has helped this country avert a Great Recession, though there are people in great pain out there. In order to create the Great Recovery, yes, we should use the TARP funds, and even beyond that, we should use the AIG bailout money given to Goldman Sachs, $13 billion, to give to people to create jobs as opposed to the $17 billion payout in bonuses. And there are very smart targeted jobs programs.

The recovery stimulus was not a jobs program. We need to give aid to states and localities. We need to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wasn't a jobs program?

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, it wasn't. It was essentially -- it wasn't -- it wasn't. I mean, they may have painted it that way, but it was like to keep the economy from falling into the -- the abyss. And I think that is -- what we need now is a targeted jobs program.

And, you know, part of the problem with the TARP is you'd given money -- taxpayer money to banks. They aren't lending. And the polls show that Americans do not believe this administration is on the side of working Americans. And this administration, the Democratic Party, crisis concentrates the mind, knows they need to now turn to that.

HAASS: But there's also an area where working Americans -- in some cases, represented by organized labor -- are not on the side of working Americans, because what's missing from this entire jobs debate is trade. The single biggest engine of American job creation is trade policy, is export promotion, and where are we? We don't have a positive trade policy. This is the best way to have non-inflationary stimulus that doesn't break the budget, it doesn't cost us a dollar. Let's start negotiating in earnest a global free trade agreement...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... trade policy.

HAASS: Well, not enough. It's a start, but it's not enough of one.

NOONAN: Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, this is all a mess. The -- the public doesn't like all this spending. People naturally look and they think, "The guys who've got the system wired are getting it. The guys in Detroit are getting it. Goldman Sachs is getting it. People who have the system wired are getting the money." That's how people perceive all of this spending, in my view. I don't think they'll mind terribly if all of a sudden it looks like some money is going to job creation in jobs that people can actually see.

This is a pure political calculation, but I don't think it will be so terribly unhappy. I think it'll be removed in the public imagination from feeding the pigs at the trough, which is what the last year has looked like.

WILL: Every dollar...

VANDEN HEUVEL: We're back -- we're back to where you saw this, George, close up. I mean, it is again Bob Rubin in the White House with you, Carville, Robert Reich. It is the deficit hawks versus...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Carville wasn't in the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but putting people first. And we've got Geithner, by the way, in the White House wanting to use the TARP money to pay down the deficit. And you have others saying, no, we need to use this money at a time of crisis, of energy in this country, and we can afford the deficit.

And, by the way, when you get outside of Washington and you ask people about jobs versus deficit, it's a myth that people are crazy about reducing the deficit at all costs.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: That is just not on the minds of ordinary, non-pundit, ordinary, living Americans.

WILL: Said she from Manhattan.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Hey.

WILL: Look, every dollar...

VANDEN HEUVEL: Burlington (ph)?

WILL: ... we want to siphon out of the economy by the government to spend on the economy comes from the economy. The sky is dark, Katrina, with dollars flying back and forth between consumers and Washington and states. That's not how you stimulate the economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And couple -- couple minutes left before we go. Gate-crasher-gate reached a new level this week, hearings on Capitol Hill. The Secret Service went up and testified. White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers did not. It led to this exchange in the White House briefing room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SULLIVAN, SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: In our line of work, we cannot afford even one mistake. Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, their entry into the White House...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got the -- we've got the wrong tape up there, but that is -- what you heard there was the head of the Secret Service saying we couldn't make any mistakes. But -- but, George, it was an interesting choice by the White House. Desiree Rogers, the social secretary, called to testify, did refuse, citing separation of powers.

WILL: Yes, executive privilege and all the rest. Yes, look, the -- what's interesting about this is we saw this week an example of the excessive security concerns in this country. Those cadets who listened to the president's speech were in their seats three hours before he talked. Now, think about this. He's talking at West Point. He's surrounded by the United States Army. And they're afraid of what up there? Can't they just get the -- the guest list at the White House right?

HAASS: Talking about to the White House decision, there will be moments over the next three years when this president and this administration are going to need to claim executive privilege, where you've got to protect the confidentiality and the privacy of what this or that adviser says to the president and vice versa. This doesn't seem to me to meet that standard.

And the risk, therefore, is they create a whole pushback or backlash in the Congress and the American public by this expansive claim of executive privilege when it doesn't -- when it doesn't apply. This is not about confidential conversations between the president and a staff member. It's about performance of certain people and -- and its impact on American security, which, by the way, goes beyond the administration.

All Americans have a stake in the security of a White House and the security of -- of a president. My -- my reaction to this would simply be, preserve and save executive privilege.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Should they have taken the short-term hitting, had Desiree Rogers go up and testify?

NOONAN: Yes, I think that would have been wise. I must say, on the party-crashers, what fascinated me this week is the shock of the party-crashing couple that people had criticized them. They showed up on TV stricken, looking like, "OK, we did this thing. It was bad for security, bad in every way, but we didn't know we'd be criticized."

That's the -- in a way, it's understandable they felt the way they felt, because the line of acceptable behavior keeps moving. These people didn't know where that little sucker was, that little line. You know, it's sort of everybody can do what they want. There's a heedlessness that is sort of out there. And it's fascinating to me.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I mean, I think we have to be worried about egregious security lapses. This president, I believe, has received a record number of death threats. But we need an exit strategy from the story of this crasher-gate. I mean, this -- our media is addicted to (inaudible) I bet if we did a survey of the media this past week, there would be as many references to the crasher-gate as there are to Afghanistan and the president's speech.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I doubt it...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... we're out of time. This roundtable is going to continue in the green room at abcnews.com.

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