Transcript: National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Exclusive interview with President Barack Obama's national security adviser.
May 10, 2009 — -- STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK. Ourexclusive headliners today: General Jim Jones, Senator John McCain.
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JONES: We are focused on al Qaeda, but we're also focused onextremism of any form.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: In his first Sunday interview, the president'snational security adviser confronts two wars, Dick Cheney's scorn,terrorists in the U.S., and gays in the military.
Then, the GOP's candidate in 2008 weighs in on Obama's start andhis party's future.
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MCCAIN: I realize that elections have consequences.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: McCain and Jones, only on THIS WEEK.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now is the time to put a new foundationfor growth in place.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: ... the recession may be winding down, but willlingering job loss and record deficits stall Obama's agenda? That andthe rest of the week's politics on our roundtable with George Will,Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and Robert Reich.
And as always, the "Sunday Funnies."
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JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": It was hottoday, wasn't it? I'll tell you, whew, I was sweating like JohnEdwards waiting to watch his wife on Oprah.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, THIS WEEKwith ABC News chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos,live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again, and happy Mother's Day to all ofthe moms watching. We're going to begin with a Sunday first.
General James Jones, welcome to THIS WEEK, your first appearanceas national security adviser.
JONES: Exactly. Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You all had a busy week this week. The heads ofAfghanistan and Pakistan came here to the United States to meet withthe president -- to meet with the president's entire team.
And you seemed to be on the same page, yet after the meetings,the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said that all air strikes-- all American air strikes in Afghanistan must end. Will the U.S.comply with that demand?
JONES: Well, I think that we're going to take a look at tryingto make sure that we correct those things we can correct, butcertainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we're not goingto conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent.
That's part of the combined arms package and so we probably wouldnot do that. But we are going to take very seriously the -- andredouble our efforts to make sure that innocent civilians are notkilled.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does President Karzai understand that you're notgoing to comply with that demand? And what do you expect his reactionto be?
JONES: Well, I think he understands that we have to have thefull complement of our offensive military power when we need it. Wehave to -- we can't fight with one hand tied behind tied behind ourback.
But on the other hand, we have to be careful to make sure that wedon't unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians. But the otherside of the coin is that it -- what makes it difficult is the Taliban,of course, not playing by the same rules.
They're using civilians as shields. So we have to take a look atthis, make sure that our commanders understand the -- you know, thesubtleties of the situation, the complexity of it, and do the rightthing.
So it's a difficult problem, but it's not unsolvable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Karzai also said while he was herethat he believes Osama bin Laden is alive. Yet President Zardari ofPakistan says he thinks bin Laden is dead.
What is the best U.S. intelligence right now?
JONES: I think the best intelligence is that we gauge ourreaction based on what intelligence we have. And it is inconclusive.Secondly, we wait and see how long it has been before we've seen himactually make a statement, release a video, and make our judgments onthat.
The truth is, I don't think anybody knows for sure.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me ask you about that, because we sawsome audio tapes from Osama bin Laden in both January and March ofthis year, and it's my understanding that U.S. intelligence thoughtthat those were authentic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what has changed since then to make theintelligence inconclusive?
JONES: Well, as of March, they thought it was authentic, but wedon't have any firm information that says that that has changed oneway or the other. So I think we'll just continue to press on andwe'll see what happens there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does your gut tell you?
JONES: I -- my gut -- I would like to know conclusively ifthat's not the case. And I think we have that evidence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it matter any more if he's dead or alive?
JONES: I think it matters symbolically to the movement, forsure. But it's clear that that movement has been resilient inreplacing their leaders as quickly as we are able to capture oreliminate them.
But I think symbolically it would be a very big thing if heweren't.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Vice President Cheney, hehas been something of a media tour lately. And the big point he ismaking is that the Obama administration actions, repealing some of theBush administration counterterrorism policies, announcing you're goingto close Guantanamo, ending enhanced interrogation techniques are allputting America at risk of another attack.
Now that is a serious charge coming from a former vice president.What's your response?
JONES: Well, I would take issue with some of those allegations.And I think, frankly, in the Bush administration there wasn't completeagreement with the vice president on that score.
The truth of the matter is that the Obama administrationinherited a situation at Guantanamo that was intolerable. There areonly two people had been - who had entered a plea, they both had beenreleased with time served. Hundreds of people went through Guantanamoand were released. Many of those are back on the battlefield rightnow waging war against us again.
The Obama administration has put a stop to that temporarily asyou know. We do have some decision points coming up. The presidentis absolutely committed to making sure that we recognize the rule oflaw principle, we don't make America less safe and that we continue totry to find the right balance in what could be a multi-layer approach.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to more on Guantanamo in a secondbut let me just press this one more time. The vice president, formervice president says the Obama administration is putting America atrisk of another attack.
JONES: Oh, I don't believe that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's clear enough. Let me ask you more aboutGuantanamo, then. Because the Congress has sent several more strongmessages to the administration about Guantanamo this week. Thechairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, did notinclude the money for closing Guantanamo in his war spending bill andRepublican leaders in the Congress have mounted a campaign againstbringing any of the detainees from Guantanamo into the United States.Here's Senator Kit Bond.
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SEN. CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, R-MO.: Whether these terrorists arecoming to prison in Kansas or a halfway house in Missouri or any otherstate, I can tell you this. Americans don't want these terrorists intheir neighborhoods.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: In fact, the Republican leadership hasintroduced legislation called the Keep Terrorists Out of America Actwhich would require approval from both the governor and the statelegislature of a state before any detainees can be brought in. Whatdoes the administration think of that legislation?
JONES: Well, the first think I would say about that is there hasbeen no decision taken. This is an issue that we are - the presidentis studying but absent the final determination this is allspeculation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you have determined - you don't know exactlyhow but because we're asking other countries to take detainees, thatwe're probably going to have to take some as well. Secretary Gatessaid that to the Congress this week.
JONES: We're going to have to figure that out and thosediscussions are currently under way so it would be premature tocomment on what the president might or might not do at this particularpoint.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about the legislation? They are sayingbefore anyone comes back, a governor and a state legislature mustapprove. Do you have any problems with that?
JONES: Well, we'll take that under advisement. These are nearterm subject that are currently being discussed and that is going tohave to be one of the decision points and one of the discussions thatwe'll have on this issue but it hasn't been determined yet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This - I'm just a little confused on thatbecause Secretary Gates did say a couple of things when he testifiedthis week. He did say that some would have to be brought into theUnited States. He said there's this problem of 50 to 100 detaineeswho can't be tried and can't be released and we're going to have tofind a way. In fact, the Pentagon is looking into building a prison.
You're saying now you've already made the threshold decision thatsome detainees are going to have to come to the United States.
JONES: Well, if you're going to ask other to take some, you'regoing to have to figure out how you're going to have to do that andthat's where we are right now. No decision has been taken as toexactly how to do that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because this has become so thorny - thepresident wants to close Guantanamo by the January deadline. Are youopen to extending that deadline? This has turned out to be quite adifficult decision to implement.
JONES: Well, the - again, the very discussions on these issuesand how to do this are currently on the table at the White House. Weare coming up on the 20 May deadline for a decision so there will besome announcements made in the near future but no decision has beentaken yet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president has not ruled out bringingback military commissions try them, either, correct?
JONES: I think the - all options are on the table. Thepresident has said that at some point there may be a multi-layeredapproach that has to be developed in order to solve this problem butit's clear that we want to maintain our values, we want to protect thejudicial process and this president is not going to do anything that'sgoing to make American safe - less safe by bringing people into thecountry that is going to put ourselves at risk. That is simply notgoing to happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring up the issue of gays in themilitary. The president has said he wants to reform that policy,allow gays to serve openly in the military and actually a remarkableletter from the president was released this week to Lieutenant SandyTsao, who was a serviceperson who was discharged from the militarybecause she's a lesbian and there is this handwritten note I want toshow our viewers right now from the president to Sandy in which hesays, "Thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful letter.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is because of outstanding Americans like youthat I committed to changing our current policy. Although it willtake some time to complete, partly because it needs congressionalaction, I intend to fulfill my commitment, Barack Obama."
Now, this is in the Congress right now. Will take legislation tocompletely overturn but some of the president's supporters likeCongressman Rush Holt of New Jersey say that what the president can doright now is issue an executive order to review the policy and orderthe military to stop investigation and prosecutions while that reviewis going on, while the Congress is considering this legislation. Willthe president issue such an order?
JONES: Well, that is, of course, up to the president. And thisissue is something that has been brought up during the campaign. Wehave had preliminary discussions with the leadership of the Pentagon,Secretary Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, this is, as youknow, George, better than most, this is an issue that is not going tobe a light switch but more of a rheostat in terms of discussing it andbuilding - having the discussions that have to be had with themilitary in order to make sure the good order and discipline of themilitary ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I understand that and this is a complicatedissue.
JONES: So it's a complicated issue. It will be teed up (ph)appropriately and it will be discussed in the way the president doesthings, which is be very deliberative, very thoughtful, seeking outall sides on the issue and trying to ...