TRANSCRIPT: Charles Gibson Interviews President Barack Obama

And so there are a series of decisions that I've made, up until the decision most recently to send additional troops into Afghanistan, in each of those decisions, I could step back a little bit and say, "All right, what's" -- in -- in a fairly calculating, analytical way, what's the best decision to make?"

With this one, you feel it viscerally. You lose sleep. You think about families. You think about history. You walk through Arlington. You're reminded of the image of a mother in the rain sitting in front of a tombstone. And so the -- the gravity of the decision is just of a different quality.

Transcript: Charles Gibson Interviews President Obama (cont.)

GIBSON: In the West Point speech, you talked about reversing the Taliban's momentum. What if this surge doesn't?

OBAMA: Well, then we're going to have to make additional decisions based on what the situation on the ground is. Look, you know, the thing that prompted by decision was the belief that, if we just sustained the status quo, in the long term, meaning -- or even the medium term, over the course of five to eight years, we'd probably be devoting just as many resources, as many troops because there would never be a clear break, a clear inflection point where we could start to draw down without enormous risks, risks that might not be in America's national interest.

What we did, I think, was find that point where, having built up Afghan capacity, we're then in a position to start reducing our presence because we've built up a partner in the region that can work with us effectively.

There are no guarantees that that works perfectly. In fact, I think it's safe to bet that, no matter how well we do, there are still going to be problems with Afghan governance...


OBAMA: ... there are still going to be problems with Afghan capacity to deal with the Taliban, Al Qaida is still going to be active in the region in some way. So as I said before, my job is to make the best decisions possible given the circumstances. And the circumstances are, you've got a very unruly place in that border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is going to take, I think, a long time for us to reverse the mindset that is leading young Afghans and young Pakistanis and jihadists from the region to direct their anger and frustration at the United States, but what we can do, I think, is create an environment in which those impulses are contained and that, over time, we're reversing this dynamic.

It's going to go in fits and starts. It's not going to be a smooth line; it's not going to be a smooth trajectory. Even in Iraq, as I said, it's gone as well as I think we could have hoped, but you still see the occasional bombing there that kills civilians. You still see enormous -- enormous problems in terms of just getting an election law passed.

So in all these situations, what we're doing is managing a difficult situation, but putting us on a trajectory where you can see the possibilities of long-term change in the region.

GIBSON: The one question about which it seems the United States public is skeptical of what you're doing is the question of whether the U.S. has to defeat the Taliban in order to defeat Al Qaida. People don't see the Taliban necessarily as a threat to the United States.

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