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Bill Clinton; Sens. Webb & Kyl; Gov. Paterson on "Meet the Press"

Bill Clinton; Sens. Webb & Kyl; Gov. Paterson on "Meet the Press"

By Meet the Press - September 27, 2009

I'd like to start by asking you about these latest developments on Iran and the discovery of an underground facility. The bottom line is, from the administration's point of view, is this the time for engagement, or is it the time to get tough?

CLINTON: Well, I -- my answer is both. That is, you know, I know what I read in the newspaper, but my impression is that the United States knew about this for some time, and then a couple of days ago, you know, Iran gave a, kind of, half-hearted notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency about this site.

Then the U.S. must have shared what they knew, because you got the very tough statement from President Medvedev from Russia at the U.N. Then the British and French leaders, Prime Minister Brown and President Sarkozy, joined with President Obama in issuing his statement. The Chinese, I'm assuming, have been notified, because they've been working closely with the Russians and the Americans on the North Korean nonproliferation issue to constrain the ability to spread whatever technology they have or to allow the North Koreans to add to their stock.

So I think, when the secretary of state kept saying, "Iran's got a choice to make, Iran's got a choice to make," it now looks, reading in the newspaper, that what they were saying is, "We want to talk to you. You can't avoid talking about this. We have to resolve this." And I believe the president has now said by the end of the year, and I think Hillary had said something like December.

So my view is this is the very time to talk to them, because we're in a difficult situation now. And it's not a question I want to emphasize about whether we trust them or not, because we've demonstrated that we have the ability to verify.

And I think -- I think the U.S. wanted to talk because they knew about this and they knew that Iran was about to get in a position where they might be irreversibly putting themselves on a conflict course not only with us but, as you now see, with the Europeans -- the Germans endorsed a statement with the Russians -- and presumably with the Chinese. Just because they haven't said anything, we shouldn't draw any negative conclusions. They normally take a little longer.

GREGORY: But is this a moment where the president says to Iran, "We got you, and now it's time to act or you're going to face serious consequences"?

CLINTON: Well, I think that's what they want to communicate with them. And I think the reason they want to have talks is if they have talks and they don't just hurl assaults in the, in the press about it, they can more explicitly lay out things they may not be prepared to say in public yet about what the options are if Iran continues down this path, and they can also talk about where we might go together if they reverse course.

So I always think it's a good idea, if possible, to look somebody in the eye and have a chance to have a conversation before there's a total breach. But I -- I think this is actually healthy that this has broken. I -- the -- the Iranians must have known that the Americans knew, somehow they must have found out that, or they wouldn't have voluntarily notified the IAEA about this.

GREGORY: From Iran to Afghanistan and the bottom line question there: Will committing tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan make America safer?

CLINTON: The answer to that is maybe. That's why the president hasn't answered yet. That is, I think what General McChrystal has said is that we have to have an Afghan version of the Iraqi surge in Anbar that worked well there.

I think what the president is saying without saying it, because he hasn't issued -- said yes or no yet, is that an American surge in Afghanistan may be a necessary condition for success to make America safer; that is, to constrain the Al Qaida, to keep the heat up on them, to keep the Taliban from taking over ever more of Afghanistan and giving the Al Qaida more freedom to roam and more options to plan out-of-area terrorist attacks against us, the Europeans or anybody else. But it won't be enough.

And my guess is, is what the president wants to do is to see how this Afghan election is resolved. And if President Karzai is adjudged the victor without having to run in a run-off election with Mr. Abdullah, whether he will then turn around and include Mr. Abdullah in the government and maybe even one or two of the other candidates for president there -- at least one other person that's supremely qualified on the merits to be a part of a modern functioning government.

So I think that what the president has done here is not to dis the general or say -- but he, he's saying, "Look, my responsibility is not just to win military battles, but to see that at least it's something bigger, not -- for ourselves and our security and for the people of Afghanistan. And I got to decide whether we got a partner there," which means there has to be a functioning Afghan government.

He also -- he and the secretary of state have said on more than one occasion, and Mr. Holbrooke has, that we -- we have to have a development strategy there and a political strategy that works at the grassroots level. In -- in Iraq, when that surge worked, you had Iraqis who were sick and tired of the Al Qaida in Iraq who were willing to -- to, you know, hitch up with us and risk their own lives.

There are a lot of people now who are bringing up the ghosts of Vietnam. What really happened in Vietnam was -- all these things are, as I say, they're away games for the American military. We're not on our home turf, which means to succeed there has to be a partner. And the definition of partnership is someone willing to risk their lives in their home area to prevail because they think it's necessary to build a decent life and a better life for their people. The South Vietnamese army was the fourth biggest army in the world. It collapsed 10 days after the last helicopter left with Americans and however many Vietnamese we could take. And I -- I just don't -- we're not there yet. We may get there, and that's what the president's trying to determine. And we should give him some time to make the decision.

GREGORY: What specific threat does Al Qaida pose to the United States?

CLINTON: They have proven that alone among all the nonstate actors they have the power to organize and execute lethal assaults far from their home base. Since we've basically driven them into the mountains of the territories in Pakistan and the ill-defined border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, their movements have been constrained, their communications have been constrained and they've not been nearly as free to organize and mount such attacks.

GREGORY: And former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying this week, if you abandon Afghanistan, you'll have another 9/11 in the U.S.

CLINTON: Well, I think, you know, that's -- it's, it's impossible to know that with certainty, because our people have done such a good job now, even going back to the time that I was president, of working with the intelligence and law enforcement and money tracking people around the world that we've prevented far, far more attacks in America and in the rest of the world than have occurred.

But I'd -- I would agree with her to the extent that if they have freedom of movement in Afghanistan it, it will increase by some significant factor the likelihood that they will attack successfully if not in the United States, somewhere else against people that we consider our allies and that we have to be concerned about.

GREGORY: Let me talk about the Clinton Global Initiative, fifth annual, and what you've achieved here. The focus on girls and women, on their economic empowerment around the world, but also on the direct threats that they face.

I had an opportunity to go to one of the sessions this week, one of the dinners, and from a U.N. report, this is a startling fact: At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime, with her abuser usually someone known to her. And the concern is that that fact, that problem, is not getting better.

CLINTON: Well, I agree with that. And what we wanted to do here was to focus on both the positive things that need to be done in education and access to the workplace, in health care, care for the children, and in the negative things we need to stop, including violence against women.

You'd be amazed how many of the young women who work with our foundation in countries around the world as advocates, trying to get people to exercise prevention and not communicate HIV and AIDS -- you'd be amazed how many of them became HIV-positive because they were raped going to and from school. So we have to talk about that.

And there's this whole problem of trafficking, which has gotten worse in the economic downturn, which disproportionately affects young women, but also affects some young men who are sold into bondage, into basically servitude for indebted work that they can often never escape from.

GREGORY: This initiative's premised on your own frustration as president with a lot of talking and not a lot of action.

CLINTON: Yes.

GREGORY: What is it that you've been able to measure in terms of the progress from CGI?

CLINTON: Well, we know that in areas of health, education, better environment through fighting climate change and improving access to clean water, and increasing people's livelihoods primarily through microcredit and modest investments in agriculture and other things, that 200 million people in 150 countries have had an improvement in their quality of life; 48 million people with access to better health care, 33 million people with access to various kinds of educational advances, millions and millions of people as entrepreneurs, getting microcredit loans. We can measure all that.

But we also know that in doing this we've helped to strengthen what's called the civil society movement around the world; that is we -- we help to partner with governments, philanthropists, big foundations like the Gates Foundation and small nongovernmental groups all across the world to create more citizen power. That's a -- and it's really important in the women's and girls' issues.

Now, we -- we believe that by doing this we're not only doing these specific things -- yes, here are 200 million people whose lives are better off -- but we're creating a sense of empowerment, a sense that citizenship in the 21st century requires more than paying your taxes and voting and occasionally running for office, that even if you're never in political office, you have political responsibilities. You can make your society stronger and better.

GREGORY: Let's talk about some of the big challenges back home for President Obama. And on health care, as this debate rolls through, you remember it well, do you think the president has leveled with the American people on this fact, that Americans are going to have to pay higher taxes if they want health care reform?

CLINTON: Well, I think he's made it clear that it costs some money to insure more people. But -- and I have no criticism of what he's done. He's been at a terrible disadvantage in that -- in the lawmaking phase. Remember what old Mark Twain said: There are two things nobody should ever have to watch being made, sausage and laws. And he has a better Congress than I did, and the -- he doesn't have a committee chairman that I had, demanding that he present a bill.

So he said, "OK, I'll let you do develop the bill." Well, while they're developing the bill he set out certain principles, and he is vulnerable to whatever anybody wants to say about any of the bills running through Congress, whether that's his position or not.

He has said it's going to take years to fully reform the system. I don't accept the fact that we have to charge a lot more money to cover the 100 -- the -- the 46 million people that aren't covered.

What he's saying is, if we have the right preventive and primary care, if we start charging for comprehensive care in the chronic cases, 10 percent of the cases take up two-thirds of the medical expenses, and if we do more on problems like childhood obesity, that we can, to use the parlance that's popular in Washington, bend the cost curve and eventually reconcile this so our costs will be closer to our competitors and so we can cover everybody.

Now, let me just say, I -- I've had several big business leaders, to me privately express extreme support for passing any kind of bill that starts this progress, because they say this is killing America economically. Look what's happened in the last several years, corporate profits are up, the cost of health care's gone up three times the rate of inflation and wages are flat. Median income before the economic collapse, after inflation, was $2,000 a year lower than it was the day I left office.

Why? Because all the things that could've -- first, we haven't created enough jobs.

But, secondly, all the money that could have gone to wage increases is going to pay the employer portion of employees' health insurance. So I don't think it's fair to say that we're going to -- that the American people are going to have to pay a lot more to cover everybody. What -- what the American people will pay a little more for in the short run, I think, is security. That is, everybody who's got health insurance today could be cut out by -- it often happens in America.

GREGORY: But security could come and would come with additional taxes.

CLINTON: Well, yes, he'll have to raise some more money in the short run partly because of the way the Congressional Budget Office scores this. But if they string this coverage out, as he proposed to do in his speech, over four years, then I think the revenues should be quite modest.

GREGORY: But let me ask you a broader question. In 1996 you declared the era of big government over. Well, the era of big government being over appears to be over in and of itself, whether it's the stimulus, whether it's bailouts, financial regulation or this issue of health care. Do you think the president's done a good enough job selling government as the solution?

CLINTON: I think that it doesn't matter how hard he sells, the people have to see the results. And the president is suffering now from what is -- is something totally beyond his control. He's really got a bind in this recession, because when you come out of a recession, even a -- a milder one than we've been through, what normally happens is the stock market goes up six months, the GDP numbers go up six months, then after a year people start hiring back. It's rational but painful.

So what I think we need here is a strategy both for the country and for the administration to try to jump-start the jobs. The only strategy we have is to move aggressively now to do much more than we've been doing in energy efficiency. That helps us meet our climate change responsibilities and it creates more jobs in less time for less money than any other strategy available to the government.

GREGORY: I know you and President Obama, when you get together, as you did recently, you talk a lot about the economy. Has it come up yet where he says, "Jeez, Mr. President, so what happens when you're nine months into the job and the honeymoon is over?"

CLINTON: Well, we laughed about it. I think he gets that. And, you know, that's what you -- a president has to be prepared to spend political capital. And you -- you get hired to win for the country, not to be popular today. I -- I always tell everybody, any poll is a picture of an unfinished horse race except the Election Day polls.

And so I -- I wouldn't worry that -- too much about it. I think there's still a lot of goodwill for him. The American people know he is highly intelligent; they know he's working his heart out they know he's put together a good team; they know he's thinking about the right things.

Their ambivalence, their uncertainty reflects, more than anything else, the -- not only the stirring up in the Republican opposition, but the real troubles average Americans are having in their own lives.

Keep in mind, health care's complicated; it can be misrepresented, it's personal; it can spark fear; it's expensive, and the people that got the money want to keep it. So the change is hard. But I think we're going to get a health care bill, and I think he can then swing into the energy, and I think he'll get an energy bill. I think he's going to succeed.

GREGORY: Your wife famously talked about the vast right-wing conspiracy targeting you. As you look at this opposition on the right to President Obama, is it still there?

CLINTON: Oh, you bet. Sure, it is. It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was.

I mean, they're saying things about him -- you know, it's like when they accused me of murder and all that stuff they did. But it's not really good for the Republicans and the country, what's going on now. I mean, they may be hurting President Obama. They can take his numbers down. They can run his opposition up.

But, fundamentally, he and his team have a positive agenda for America. Their agenda seems to be wanting him to fail, and that's not a prescription for a good America. We actually need a credible debate about what's the right balance between continuing to expand the economy through stimulus and beginning to move back to fiscal balance. We need a credible debate about what's the best way to get to universal coverage.

Now, the one Republican who's come up with a good idea is Senator Snowe. She deserves a lot of credit for saying, when we did this Medicare prescription drug bill, instead of giving the government the power to negotiate for lower prices we gave the drug companies a chance to offer them, but we held the power in reserve. And if there was any state in America where there was no competition, you could do it.

So let's do that for health care. That's a good idea. That's -- that's the kind of debate the country needs, and I hope that the Republicans will come forward with it. These...

GREGORY: But do you worry about a repeat of ‘94 politically?

CLINTON: It -- it -- there's no way they can make it that bad, for several reasons. Number one, the country is more diverse and more interested in positive action.

Number two, they've seen this movie before, because they had eight years under President Bush when the Republicans finally had the whole government, and they know the results were bad.

And number three, the Democrats haven't taken on the gun lobby like I did, and they took 15 out of our members out. So I don't think it'll be -- whatever happens, it'll be manageable for the president.

GREGORY: Before you go, Mr. President, you left the presidency but you've hardly had a low profile, with the Clinton Global Initiative and other things. Do you think about a return to either public office or another form of public life?

CLINTON: No. That's Hillary's job now. I -- we've totally switched roles. She spent most of her life in the nongovernmental sector, and that's what I do now. I love what I do now. And while I can't touch as many lives and as many things as I did as president, the things I do focus on we can have a huge impact.

And I'm trying to convince people that all of us need to be doing the kind of thing I'm doing now. I think 21st century citizenship is going to be exciting, and I like being a part of it.

GREGORY: Will she run for president again then?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: That's up to her. I don't -- you know, we're not getting any younger. But I'm proud of what she's doing now. I think she's doing a good job and I'm honored that -- I think it's pretty thrilling that she and the president have established the relationship they have. And it's a good argument for reconciliation and remembering the big things for all the rest of us.

GREGORY: Mr. President, thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you. GREGORY: Joining us now to discuss the way forward on both Iran and Afghanistan, a key Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, Jim Webb of Virginia; and the Republican whip of the Senate, Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Welcome to both of you.

KYL: Thank you.

GREGORY: Senator Kyl, let me start with you. The news overnight, the Iranians test-firing missiles in -- in the wake of these developments this week on an underground enrichment facility. Has Iran now upped the ante with the United States in this confrontation?

KYL: I don't know that I'd put it that way, though it always seems that they can't wait to -- to show us that they have the capability of moving forward with their missile program or their nuclear program at the very time that we're trying to get them to talk.

And I think it illustrates the fact that at a certain point talking is counterproductive rather than productive, because time it not on our side. All the Iranians need is time to develop their nuclear weaponry and -- and their missiles. And as a result of that, at some point you have to say that the talk has to stop and solid action in the form of sanctions or some other way of stopping them is necessary.

GREGORY: Senator Webb, this issue of a nuclear program, is it in your mind now clear as day that the Iranians are trying to build nuclear weapons?

WEBB: I think what -- what we have right now is a way -- a process in place where we can really start to explore with the Iranians what their intentions are. This is the -- the value of opening up the dialogue in -- in the way we're going to see in -- in the coming week. And I -- I have two very important concerns right now with respect to the Iranian situation and also to others.

The first is we're going to, we're going to face this situation with other countries in the terms of nuclear power proliferation around the world, where we're going to be seeing these sorts of challenges.

And the other is it's very important now to get the international community writ large involved in tightening the -- the way that we talk to countries like Iran about the situation. And China is key. We've seen European nations step forward here.

You know, this was -- we say this was United States and its allies, but it was basically the United States, the U.K. and France, with Germany coming in later. We had a good, strong statement from Russia for the first time, with the -- the hint that they might agree with sanctions. But China, as always, has been neutral. And China's become Iran's greatest trading partner. They have been giving Iran approximately 30 percent of the gasoline that it's been receiving right now through shell companies. And let's not forget that China enabled Pakistan to become a nuclear power.

GREGORY: But do you think Iran is building weapons?

WEBB: I think we have...

GREGORY: Isn't that a key question now?

WEBB: I think we have the formula through which we can now fully explore that issue. I'm not going to sit here in the United States Senate and make that judgment. But we do have the process in place where we can fully explore that issue in a way that will hold them publicly accountable.

GREGORY: Well, Senator Kyl, is there any doubt in your mind that they're building weapons?

KYL: No. I -- I -- well, they're trying to build a nuclear weapon. They first of all have to get he fuel to do it. And that's -- it's very clear that they are trying to make that fuel. And it's also clear that they are getting closer to the delivery capability, putting that nuclear weapon on top of a missile that could either reach Europe or eventually a place like the United States. It's clear what their intention is.

And the question is, how do you get in there to see fully what they're doing and find a way to stop it?

Without international support, it's very hard. But we haven't even exhausted the possibilities for unilateral U.S. sanctions that could also squeeze that leadership to the point that they might -- I mean, what we're trying to do here eventually is to get a regime change with a group of people in there that are more representative of the Iranian people, who we really can talk with in a way that might end up with a good result. I think it's very difficult to do that with the current leadership and especially the elected president.

GREGORY: Well, Senator Webb, that's an important point. What should the American people be prepared for here in terms of a confrontation with Iran? Is it sanctions, or is it military action?

WEBB: Well, I don't think -- as people have said and -- and I agree with, you don't take any of options off the table. But we also shouldn't be playing "what if" here sitting on the outside, as -- as Ronald Reagan always famously said. We have a process now. I believe that Russia coming forward for the first time now and saying that in concept they are not opposed to the idea of sanctions is a -- is a key indicator that we're, we're starting to get true international consensus.

But, again, China needs to be much more overt in its -- assuming its role as an international power, not just in the Iranian situation; you see it in many other places, such as Burma, where I was just dealing with a very similar situation in terms of unilateral sanctions on one side, you know, European countries and the United States, with China becoming a principal trading partner.

GREGORY: Senator Kyl, to you that question as well. What should the American people be -- be preparing for as this confrontation escalates; sanctions as you talk about, or does the United States need to think about military action?

KYL: Well, I -- I agree with Senator Webb that you never take any option off the table. You also don't play "what if" games. And I think that he is also absolutely correct that China remains intractable. They -- they have a lot of reasons not to want to help us in dealing with Iran. And if you go through the United Nations, China is a critical partner. There are things that the United States can do unilaterally. There are things that we can do in connection with our European partners.

But it always seems as if the sanctions are just a little bit away, but maybe if we talk for another three months we won't need to impose them. I think the point has to be to the, to the Iranians, we're going to impose these sanctions; in fact, to do something so that they see that we have the capability of doing it, and then say, "But we'll lift it if you will agree with our demands to have IAEA inspections," or whatever else we're going to be demanding.

But I think without that kind of stick, just the carrot approach does not work with these people. They know how to play rope-a-dope, they've been doing it with us for years.

GREGORY: All right, Senators, we're going to take a break here and come right back to tackle the other major foreign policy challenge facing the president. That, of course, Afghanistan. After this commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY: More of our debate on the way forward in Afghanistan with Senators Jim Webb and Jon Kyl after this brief commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY: We're back to continue our discussion with Senators Jim Webb and Jon Kyl .

Let's turn to the issue of Afghanistan. And, Senator Webb, here was a portion of the assessment from General McChrystal, the commander on the ground in Afghanistan, as reported by The Washington Post this week.

"The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight- year conflict `will likely result in failure,' according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post. General McChrystal says emphatically, `Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term,' the next year, ‘while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks and outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.'"

Can and should the president do anything but say yes to the idea of more troops?

WEBB: I think that the president is taking the right approach here by -- by examining carefully where to go forward. And you're seeing that from all his top advisers as well. Because the real question for us right now is, as a country, are we going to formally change from a counterterrorism policy to a counterinsurgency policy?

And if you're moving toward a counterinsurgency policy, you have to have a couple of things. One is you have to be able to move the people that you're trying to win over toward a valid system. And -- and Afghanistan, it is questionable whether there is a valid national government.

And secondly, you have to be able to do so in a way that you have a clear end point for the -- the involvement of your own military.

And here's the situation we're in. We're talking about increasing the United States' military presence; you may reach a tipping point where they become viewed in historical terms as an occupying force. At the same time, we're saying we want to grow the Afghan national army and police force to 400,000 people.

Now, Afghanistan has never in its history had a valid national army larger than about 90,000, and that was only for a brief period right before the Soviet invasion. So can they grow their military into -- and -- and their police force into a 400,000-force with a viable government?

And before we jump forward with a -- a total formal change in policy, we need to be examining what is achievable.

GREGORY: Secretary of Defense Gates says it is a mistake to fix an end point, to set a deadline for troop withdrawal.

WEBB: I wouldn't -- I would agree. And I, and I've said that before. We -- we can't say that on a certain date, but we should be able to say clearly what are the conditions under which our military mission is going to end. And, you know, we're sitting here with -- with two very interesting models to examine in terms of how you fight international terrorism.

On the one hand we've got the situation in Somalia a week ago, where we had a special forces unit come in over the horizon, take out four Al Qaida terrorists in a -- in a country that's totally destabilized, Somalia, and then went back on the ship, got the people we need to get, left no infrastructure behind.

On the other hand we've got Iraq, which, contrary to what President Clinton just said, is Al Qaida's dream right now because we put in a huge infrastructure, which a lot of it is still there, in order to supposedly go after Al Qaida, which is long gone. They were gone by the time to surge began. They're mobile.

Which way is the best way for the United States to -- to approach this problem?

And Afghanistan's somewhere in between, and we deserve to have very careful consideration before we start moving in a direction of nation-building.

GREGORY: Senator Kyl, why are more troops the answer in Afghanistan?

KYL: Well, I think General Petraeus and General McChrystal are the ones who can best explain that to us. The hints of that are in the report that you cited. General McChrystal makes clear that to successfully pursue this counterinsurgency policy you not only have to beat the Taliban, but you have to keep them from coming back in. And that's what we haven't had enough troops to do and the Afghan army and police don't have the capability of doing yet.

The problem is you take an area back from the Taliban, you kick them out, but then if you can't leave enough people there to hold the area, stabilize it so the folks there know that they don't have to worry about the Taliban anymore, if you leave they'll be right back in. And that's why you need more troops. I think that's what General McChrystal would -- would tell us if he were allowed to come back to Washington and testify.

GREGORY: Well, in fact, former secretary of state and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said this week, she put it bluntly in an interview, "It's that simple. If you want another terrorist attack in the U.S., abandon Afghanistan."

If the president does not say yes to 40,000 additional troops, as General McChrystal wants, would you say he's abandoning Afghanistan?

KYL: Well, what I would say is that it is a recipe for disaster. And again, that's almost -- those are the sentiments of General McChrystal. You -- you quoted part of that report in which he made that clear. And by the way, Secretary Clinton herself said, "If you let the Taliban back into Afghanistan, I can't tell you how quickly Al Qaida will be back in."

And of course it's true that if Al Qaida has the opportunity to roam freely in Afghanistan, to train people there, to plan more 9/11s, they'll surely try to do that.

GREGORY: Senator Webb?

WEBB: I don't think anybody's saying that we should abandon Afghanistan. The question is how you fight terrorism, international terrorism. And in this case we're, we're widening the envelope to say Taliban. Taliban means government. Are you really going to say that we're going to be responsible for putting in a viable national government in a country that really hasn't ever had one? So...

GREGORY: So why not then... WEBB: So what we need to do...

GREGORY: Why not have a lighter footprint?

WEBB: What we need -- we -- well, we need to be smart, and that's why we need to have this debate. When I was a journalist in Afghanistan in ‘04, I was out with the Marine Corps and with the Army. I was with 22nd MEU, which was doing a fine job mobile. They'd been out for 93 days, going out, killing the bad guys.

And -- and that is really what you need to be doing if you're going to fight insurgencies, you need to kill the people that need to be killed and allow the local forces to come together around the people who should be protecting them. That should be our ultimate strategy, and I think that's what the debate is going to be.

GREGORY: But -- but that -- it gets to the larger question of whether you can do that with fewer troops, as the vice president and others have argued, that we don't need a surge of -- of forces in Afghanistan to accomplish the goal that we -- we first went to -- to war with eight years ago, which was to defeat Al Qaida.

WEBB: Well, and -- and again, Iraq is the classic example of that. When -- when we went into Iraq, there weren't any Al Qaida in Iraq. We -- we -- it -- was Al Qaida's dream that we went into Iraq, built this huge fore-structure on the ground that tied our military down. Al Qaida came in for a while, they left before the surge. My son was in Ramadi when -- when the Al Qaida started pulling out. So you don't need a large infrastructure in order to fight a -- a terrorist force.

But it's a very complicated situation in Afghanistan. I don't want to be misunderstood here. Because of the situation with Pakistan and the regional implications, we want to do this smartly. And honestly, I think that's what you're seeing with the administration taking a careful approach right now.

GREGORY: Before we go, Senator Kyl, I want to get your views on another important topic, that's the prison at Guantanamo Bay. It appears now that the administration will not meet the deadline to close Guantanamo Bay. Was it a mistake to set a deadline initially coming into office?

KYL: Sure, and I think the president realizes that now. You -- you don't do something like that without having a plan on, on how you're going to deal with it. This is life and death. This is important for the security of our country, and you need to get it right.

If I could just make one more comment about the point Jim just made. It -- let's don't refight Iraq. The point is, Al Qaida was in Afghanistan, Al Qaida wants to be in Afghanistan. And rather than play armchair general here, I -- I want to listen to what General McChrystal and General Petraeus have to say.

It appears that they believe we need more troops to make sure that we can successfully carry out this counterinsurgency policy, that we have perhaps no more than a year or so to accomplish that, and therefore the more time we take making the perfect decision -- which you can never do in the middle of a war in any event -- the less likely we're going to succeed.

I think the president needs to get about it. He'll have Republican support if he effectuates the recommendations of General Petraeus and General McChrystal. I think he needs to make that decision as soon as he can.

GREGORY: Final thought on this. Guantanamo Bay, a mistake to set a deadline?

WEBB: I -- I believe that it's -- it's proper to slow this down in Guantanamo.

And with respect to what Senator Kyl just said, we've got a lot of good people looking at this situation with Afghanistan -- Secretary Gates among them, General Jones among them -- people who bring a lot to the table, and we should be having this analysis before we jump forward based on one memorandum from one general who just took command over there.

GREGORY: We will leave it there. Senator Webb, Senator Kyl, thank you both very much.

Up next, after being urged by the Obama White House not to seek re-election next year, New York Governor David Paterson joins us exclusively to talk about his future and the political mood across the country, only here on "Meet the Press."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY: We are back. And joining us now in an exclusive interview, the Democratic governor of New York, David Paterson.

Governor, welcome.

PATERSON: Good morning.

GREGORY: It has been quite a week. If you go back to March of 2008, you were appointed governor after Eliot Spitzer's problem, New York's first African-American governor, the first legally blind governor. And now almost a year and a half later, the headline in The New York Times last Sunday, and here it is. It says, "Obama Requests That Paterson Drop Campaign," meaning the campaign for 2010. What happened?

PATERSON: Well, David, first, before I begin, I spoke to Carolyn Maloney, one of New York's senior congressional members, who lost her husband this weekend. And I know right after this, you're going to do a -- a tribute to "Big Russ" from Buffalo, also from New York, and I'll leave that to you. But just want to give condolences to all of the families.

I've had confidential conversations with the White House, and I'm not going to reveal what those conversations were other than to tell you that the president has never told me not to run for governor.

GREGORY: Has it made -- been made clear by the president or others working for him that they would like you not to seek re- election?

PATERSON: I mean, I've had conversations with them, but I don't -- I think that the people of the state of New York are the ones who should choose their governor.

GREGORY: All right. But let's be very clear here about what happened. The president's team and others speaking on their behalf said to you, you should not run. Isn't that right?

PATERSON: I can't say that, David. There are people who've told me not to run. There are a lot of people who have told -- have told me not to run.

GREGORY: But the White House specifically said don't run?

PATERSON: I don't know that.

GREGORY: You don't know that? You certainly know you don't have their support.

PATERSON: Well, David, the White House has a country to run and I have a state to run. And there's politics that -- that go on all the time. I'm blind, but I'm not oblivious. I realize that there are people who don't want me to run. I've never gotten an -- an explicit indication authorized from the White House that I shouldn't run.

But what I would say is what I think I should be doing is managing the affairs of my state and, when I run, making my case to the people and letting them decide who the next governor should be.

GREGORY: But -- but -- fair enough. But I just want to be clear on this point. They certainly sent the message, did they not, that you would not have their support if you ran and they have concerns about you running, and that you should not run?

PATERSON: They certainly sent a message that they have concerns, and I appreciate that. But let me just tell you at the outset, I am running for governor in 2010. I don't think that this is an issue other than for the people of the state of New York to decide.

GREGORY: So you agree with that poll that found 62 percent of New Yorkers believe that the Obama administration was wrong to intervene.

PATERSON: Well, what I agree with is that the overwhelming number of -- of people in the poll would like to make that decision for themselves. I'll be running. And I, like other governors, want to make the case for why we've had to make the difficult decisions that we have made.

GREGORY: But let me ask about your reaction, because it was your wife who told the New York Post on Wednesday that you were stunned after these conversations at the White House. "Michelle Paterson said her husband was shocked at the request." Quoting her, "I think he was stunned. Like I said, this was very unusual." What stunned you?

PATERSON: Michelle is very protective of me. I don't know that I was stunned. I am not. I am not failing to stand up for my party. I fight for the priorities of my party. I am fighting for the people of the state of New York, who are having a very difficult time right now, I dare say a lot more difficult than I am.

So I'm not going to run away from a fight when I know who I'm fighting for. And in -- I'm not going to sit here and tell you, David, that I haven't had a difficult week. But I, like a lot of New Yorkers and a lot of Americans, are having difficult weeks because we're having to make tough decisions. And the tough decisions that I've made are that I've had to reduce spending by $30 billion in 18 months as governor.

GREGORY: And I want to get to that in just a minute, but I want to be clear. If the White House wants you out, you're -- you are undeterred; you are all in; you're running for governor?

PATERSON: Well, I'm running for governor for the state of New York. And as I was saying, the $30 billion that I was just talking about that I had to reduce from deficit from the state of New York is more than if you took all five of the state's highest annual deficits and added them all together.

I've also had to cut spending by a record amount this year. I've been opposed by the special interests; I've come under a hail of criticism from them for making these tough decisions, and that is what accounts for the low poll numbers. But I wasn't making decision based on polls.

GREGORY: All right. Well, I want to come back -- I want to come back to some of the tough choices you're going to make.

PATERSON: I was -- let me just -- let me just finish this, David. Let me just finish this. I was making decisions based on what I thought was right for the people of New York. So I put the people of New York first when I balanced two budgets in a recession. And I put...

GREGORY: All right. But -- but let me ask you about that, Governor.

PATERSON: And I put New York first when I called for a state spending cap.

GREGORY: You said the following on Wednesday, talking about how you would think about the future. You said, "I think, if I got to a point where I thought my candidacy was hurting my party, obviously it would be rather self-absorbed to go forward."

You went on to say, "I am going to keep doing it," in terms of running for governor, "until the public tells me it's time to stop."

Governor, your approval ratings -- 80 percent of New Yorkers disapprove of the job you're doing. Aren't you a drag on your party?

PATERSON: I don't think that I am a drag on my party. I think I'm standing up for my party's priorities. I think that you fight for the people of your state. That's what I thought being a Democrat was suppose to be about.

Let me tell you, David -- poll numbers? I heard that everyone -- I appointed a lieutenant governor, and I heard -- everyone said that the courts would not uphold my appointment. This week the -- the Court of Appeals of New York upheld my appointment of Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch.

I have spent a whole life being told I couldn't do things. I was told by guidance counselors I shouldn't go to college. I was told, when I was the minority leader of the Senate, that we couldn't win the majority. We won eight seats in four years and won the majority.

And so I think that what the court upholding my appointment of the lieutenant governor's message to me this week was that you don't give up. You don't give up because you have low poll numbers. You don't give up because everybody's telling what you what the future is. If everyone knew what the future was, why didn't they tell me I was going to become governor? I could have used the heads-up.

GREGORY: The -- the opposition -- you talked about race being a factor, racism being a factor against you in some of this opposition, and that, in fact, President Obama would be subject to the same thing. Is it still how you feel?

PATERSON: I think, when you hear that quote, you're not hearing everything I said. I was responding to a news account of a story involving my daughter. I thought that the story was not only written to attack me personally and criticize my family, but that it also was entirely stereotypical.

What I was trying to say is that I don't think someone's race should be the factor in assessing what kind of governor they are, what kind of president they are or what kind of worker they are in any workplace. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that that was a double standard in that coverage.

But just in case it got lost in the interview, let me clarify that I don't think race has been a factor in my poll numbers, my political fortunes or how I govern the state. What I think is that we should assess all governors, no matter what color they are, by how they run their states and how they help the people that they work for.

GREGORY: Quickly, Governor, you talked about it before, the mood that you're facing in New York and indeed the mood around the country has to do with the economy and state finances. If you're all in, if you're running for governor, how are you going to balance New York's budget?

PATERSON: Well, our budget is balanced. We have had...

GREGORY: You face a deficit, potential deficit of $3 billion. PATERSON: Well, we -- we had a deficit last year. I gave a televised address to the state; I warned New York and America that this would be the worst recessions since the Great Depression. I brought the legislature back and balanced the budget last year. We balanced the budget earlier this year. And we have continued to balance our budgets.

Let me tell you, David, what has happened is that other states have had difficulties. Twenty-one states have shut down early childhood education and pre-kindergarten programs. Twenty-five states have laid off or furloughed workers. Some states have even had to release prisoners earlier to save money.

The difference is, in New York we have not had to do that, because we knew about this crisis early.

GREGORY: OK.

PATERSON: We brought -- we acted quickly to -- to avoid a disaster. And even while we're cutting $30 billion in 18 months, we've continued to invest in education...

GREGORY: Governor...

PATERSON: ... we've expanded COBRA benefits for people who have lost their jobs and we have increased unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to 59 weeks.

GREGORY: All right, Governor, we will have to leave it there. Good luck in your campaign and thank you very much.

PATERSON: Thank you for having me.

 

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