TAPPER: I've heard NATO say that this -- they anticipate -- some NATO officials say this could be three months, but people in the Pentagon think it could be far longer than that. Do you think we'll be gone by the end of the year? Will the mission be over by the end of the year?
GATES: I don't think anybody knows the answer to that.
TAPPER: Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?
GATES: No, no. It was not -- it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about. The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake. There was another piece of this though that certainly was a consideration. You've had revolutions on both the East and the West of Libya.
TAPPER: Egypt and Tunisia.
GATES: Egypt and Tunisia.
So you had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt. And that was another consideration I think we took into account.
TAPPER: Secretary Clinton, how does --
CLINTON: Jake, I just want to add too because, you know, I know that there's been a lot of questions and those questions deserve to be asked and answered. The president is going to address the nation on Monday night.
Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled and, as Bob said, either with nowhere to go or overwhelming Egypt while it's in its own difficult transition. And we were sitting here, the cries would be, why did the United States not do anything? Why -- how could you stand by when, you know, France and the United Kingdom and other Europeans and the Arab League and your Arab partners were saying you've got to do something.
So every decision that we make is going to have plusses and minuses.
TAPPER: You heard the Secretary of Defense say that Libya did not pose an actual or imminent threat to the nation and bearing in mind what you just said, I'm still wondering how the administration reconciles the attack without congressional approval with then candidate Obama saying in 2007 the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation and, as a senator, you, yourself in 2007 said this about President Bush.
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CLINTON: If the administration believes that any -- any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority.
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TAPPER: Why not go to Congress?
CLINTON: Well, we would welcome congressional support, but I don't think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama were -- was speaking of several years ago.
I think that this had a limited timeframe, a very clearly defined mission which we are in the process of fulfilling.