We were joined at the top of the briefing by Afghanistan Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Gen. Karl Eikenberry (ret.), who were there to preview Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to the US this week.
TAPPER: I have a question for each gentlemen. General McChrystal, you've been very outspoken in your views about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and how that's hurt the U.S. mission there. As I'm sure you know, Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested for the Times Square bombing — one of the reasons supposedly given is that he's — is how upset he is about drone attacks in Pakistan. And while I know there's limited amount of anything you can discuss about what's going on across the border in Pakistan, are you confident that civilian casualties in Pakistan are kept to the same minimum that they're being kept under your new order in Afghanistan?
MCCHRYSTAL: I obviously can't address things in Pakistan. My writ goes to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I can tell you that inside Afghanistan, the importance of reducing those casualties to convince the Afghan people that we're here for their welfare is absolutely strategic and so we — we give it between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I can tell you that inside Afghanistan, the importance of reducing those casualties to convince the Afghan people that we're here for their welfare is absolutely strategic and so we — we give it that level of effort.
TAPPER: All right. Can I ask –
TAPPER (To Eikenberry): Do you think that President Karzai is an adequate strategic partner?
EIKENBERRY: President Obama has expressed his confidence in President Karzai and our work together. As you know, every relationship, every bilateral relationship, especially one as close as we have with Afghanistan, they experience ups and downs. But what measures true partnership is the ability when the stakes are as high as they are for Afghanistan and the United States of America, to be able to work our way through difficulties and come back together and still find ourselves well aligned. I think that the visit that's coming up here, that begins this evening, the talks over the next several days, I think we're going to emerge with even better alignment.
TAPPER: Robert, just a couple questions about Solicitor General Kagan. Could you explain how somebody who has spent almost her entire career, if not her entire career, working in the federal government or at Harvard has an understanding of how the law affects real people?
GIBBS: Well, I don't — yeah, I think if you judge her background, she was — she has worked in the White House, she has clerked for judges, she has worked for people like Ab Mikva, Thurgood Marshall. I think she has — as somebody who — as you heard the president say, first and foremost I think she understands how the law works and how it impacts everyday people. I think she's somebody who has a diversity of experience that's a — that is an important plus that the president looks at. She's somebody who currently serves in what some have called the tenth — as the tenth justice: She represents the American people before the Supreme Court. So I think she's — I think she has a diversity of experience that allows her to understand how the law works and how it impacts the people of this country.
TAPPER: I guess the question is, where does she see how the law – is she — I don't mean this sarcastically, but it's not like she was a community organizer in Chicago. You know, where did she see how the law directly impacted real people?
GIBBS: Well, as a clerk, as somebody who worked in the counsel's office, as somebody who worked in the policy office here at the White House, as somebody who's argued in front of the Supreme Court on behalf of the interests of this — of her client now, the American people. I don't — look, Jake, I don't think there's — I don't think there's one thing that you can do that necessarily provides you with the wisdom of what you speak. I think having somebody with a diversity of experience — look, the president heard from a lot of people. You all asked me about the fact that what does it — what does it do to have somebody outside of what many refer to as the judicial monastery, somebody who comes at things looking at them from a slightly different angle.
TAPPER: And then my other question is, she was — she's been criticized for her position as dean at Harvard when she reinstated a ban on military recruiters using the office of the –
GIBBS: Office of Career Services.
TAPPER: — Office of Career Services, thank you. And I was just wondering, the president is somebody who has both worked in universities and also as commander in chief, tried to balance "don't ask, don't tell." Does he have any compunction about what law schools did when they removed military recruiters, as somebody who is now in charge of the military?
GIBBS: Well, I think what's important to understand, Jake, as you hear people describe this — these series of activities, I think it is important to understand that there was never a pause in military recruitment at Harvard Law School. They were not afforded access as part of the Office of Career Service(s), but through the veterans office, they had access to students at Harvard Law School. And in 2005, in fact, more Harvard Law School graduates than in any of the preceding years chose military service, something that the solicitor general has lauded students for and the military in general for the safety and the security that they provide her and all of the American people.