|The American Presidency Project|
|• Barack Obama|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|December 2, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:29 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. I hope everybody is doing well. I have no beginning announcements, so I will turn it over to Ms. Loven.
Q: Two Afghanistan questions. You guys talked a lot ahead of the speech last night about the sort of conditions and the kinds of sort of carrot/sticks that we placed on Karzai, and the President didn't really get into a lot of specifics in his speech. Can you be more specific about what is being communicated to him and his government about what he needs to do and what will happen if he doesn't?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into the private conversation. Obviously the two Presidents -- let me finish --
Q: We have soldiers dying over there for his government.
MR. GIBBS: Let me finish my answer so we -- I don't think I finished the first clause before -- they obviously had, and I think we read this out that they spoke for about an hour in the Situation Room before the President talked to the country -- talked to the nation about his policy -- in a continuing series of conversations, Jennifer, that the President has had with President Karzai about the notion that it is time for a new chapter in Afghan governance.
The President detailed last night steps that had to be taken under the umbrella of the days of blank checks were over, and that if President Karzai is unable or unwilling to make changes in corruption or governance, that we will identify people at a subcabinet level, at a district level that can implement the types of services and basic governance without corruption that Afghans need.
I would say obviously President Karzai, in his inaugural speech, said some encouraging things. There are obviously picks coming up for his cabinet which I think we will be watching in many ways. And I think part of -- very much what the President has done is provide a strong incentive for the Karzai government to get its act together. There is a transition point for the Afghans which was gotten -- as part of this review, established the transition point of July 2011, which ensures that the Afghans have to make progress.
We fully believe that we have to have that willing partner and believe that this policy puts in place the necessary incentives to make sure that that happens.
Q: How confident is the White House that Karzai gets the message, that you actually have really that much leverage over him in what he does?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, two things. I think based on what he said in his inaugural and based on the conversations back and forth that the two Presidents have had, the President remains -- is confident that President Karzai understands what's expected. I would say, again, the reason why there's -- a transition point provides an incentive to ensure that steps will and must be taken. The President is very serious about that, I think, again, outlining that the time for blank checks was over.
Q: Just one more quickly. Did Karzai ever ask for such a timeline or withdrawal point to not be set?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, but I'd have to go back and look through notes.
Q: A couple of things also on Afghanistan. One is, today Secretary Gates said the U.S. might not begin to scale back the troop surge until after July 2011. Is that some kind of discrepancy? And also, what does the President see happening within the next 18 months in Afghanistan? I mean, what would be different between now and then? And then if things don't work out, is he open to, you know, a major kind of course correction?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- three things. The third thing I think is related very much to the second, which is what the President envisions is -- and, quite frankly, what he laid out in some detail last night over the course of more than 30 minutes -- we are going to increase the number of our forces in Afghanistan, getting more there sooner and staying for a longer period of time, in order to degrade the Taliban, fight that insurgency; at the same time, help train Afghan national security forces -- an army and a police -- and accelerating that to the point where at -- the transition moment that the President identified as July 2011 is the point that he believes we should begin that transition, and begin to -- I think you heard Secretary Gates say today -- we have build, we have hold, but, importantly, we have transfer.
And we are not going to be there forever. The President said that. The folks testifying today said that. This is not an open-ended commitment. We are going to provide them with the incentives that they need via this transition point to get their act together, to train that security force and army so that, beginning in July 2011, we can transfer the responsibility of Afghan security to the Afghans. That's what's fundamentally important about this. And I think the President believes, based on the decision that he made, that this is the best course forward.
Q: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld took issue with a lot of the speech last night, and I just wanted to clarify it. The President said: "Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive." I assume you're referring to the McKiernan requests throughout 2008, yes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's I believe what the speech -- the line in the speech -- I will let Secretary Rumsfeld explain to you and to others whether he thinks that the effort in Afghanistan was sufficiently resourced during his tenure as Secretary of Defense. I think that's -- that's something that --
Q: He said he's not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006 when he was Secretary of Defense.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'll let him explain to the American public whether he believes that the effort in Afghanistan during 2001 to 2006 was appropriately resourced. You go to war with the Secretary of Defense you have, Jake.
Q: That's cute. (Laughter.) The question, though, is what specifically was President Obama talking about when he said that.
MR. GIBBS: Again, what President Obama was talking about --
Q: He was talking about the whole war?
MR. GIBBS: -- were additional resource requests that came in during 2008, which we've discussed in here. But, Jake, again, I'll leave it to the Secretary of Defense in 2001 to 2006 to discuss the level of resourcing for that, understanding the level of commitment that we already had dedicated in Iraq, and whether or not he feels sufficient that history will judge the resourcing decisions that he made during that time period in the war in Afghanistan were or were not sufficient.
Q: Okay. Some progressive Democrats on the Hill have said today that they think that the President should pursue a war authorization for this surge of troops. Are you guys thinking about doing that at all, or do you think the 2001 authorization
MR. GIBBS: I think the President made very clear last evening that -- why we are there now. The conditions for what happened on September 11th brought our forces, through an almost unanimous vote of Congress, to Afghanistan. And obviously that is inordinately -- that's plenty sufficient to -- for what the President is talking about.
Q: And if I may, just one more. In his March speech, President Obama mentioned that if the Taliban returns to controlling Afghanistan, it would be bad for human rights, and he specifically singled out women and girls. He did not mention human rights in Afghanistan -- he talked about human rights more broadly, but last night he didn't mention human rights in Afghanistan, and he definitely didn't mention specifically women and girls.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I believe in the context of the three pillars that he saw, mentioning the basic recognition of human rights in Afghanistan is obviously important to what is happening there.
Q: But he didn't mention women and girls. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the umbrella of basic human rights was the same thing.
Q: So even though he mentioned it in March and he didn't mention it last night, we're not supposed to read anything into that at all?
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't. Again, I have not looked exactly at the word phrasing of each speech, but the umbrella of basic -- recognizing the basic human rights of everybody in Afghanistan would include that, yes.
Q: Robert, since there's this 2011 drawdown date, is there a high degree of certainty that there will be stability in Afghanistan by that time, or is stability less of an issue and more of the local Afghan forces are able to handle the situation, whatever it may be?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't -- I think you're going to -- I don't think you can have one, honestly, without the other, Dan. I think -- and I'd refer you to the testimony that Secretary Gates gave today, which he believed what we had laid out was very achievable in the transition time frame that the President spoke about last night. Again, we -- part of that is to build in an incentivizing for the Afghans to do what they need to do.
We can't, and we won't, be there forever. The role of providing security for the Afghans will have to rest primarily with Afghan national security forces. That's what this new dedication of resources will do, is accelerate that training. And ultimately the President believes, the team believes, in developing that time frame that those conditions will be met.
Q: But ultimately then it's up to the Afghans to really run that timeline, right, because if they don't come up to speed then do you leave at that point? Do you still draw down at that point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, no, no -- but, again -- well, we're there to make sure that it happens. That's why -- again, let's -- just for some historical, we started -- when the President, as he mentioned last night, put his hand on the Bible on January 20th, we had roughly 32,000 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan. That has increased to roughly 68,000 by the end of the summer of 2009. And by the end of the summer of 2010 we'll have an additional 30,000 to that. You've basically got a triple -- triple the resources -- basically you do -- you have triple the resources over that two-year time period in order to accelerate that training.
That training will be assessed, benchmarks will be laid down so that we can ensure that on a very frequent basis -- and certainly looking back annually to the goals that are set -- that we are achieving the level of training necessary to do what this plan envisions doing.
Again, the Secretary of Defense and those that testified today, as well as those that helped develop that policy going forward, believe that it's achievable in the time frame that the President enunciated last night.
Q: Another question. We've seen the President in the past, when he rolls any new initiative -- whether it be health care or stimulus, whatever it might be -- he always takes it on the road to really sell it to the American people. He's not doing anything today, nothing that we know of this week. Is he planning to go out there and push this new strategy to the American people, beyond just the speech last night.
MR. GIBBS: Obviously we've got an important event tomorrow in the jobs forum; we've got activities on Friday in Allentown, to talk about jobs and the economy. I anticipate -- that schedule is largely, obviously, set. I anticipate, though, that the President -- I think you've seen him say this -- I think the President understands that explaining why we're there, why the decision was made, how we came to that decision, and what it means for both the American people and the Afghan people is not a one-shot deal; that we are going to have to continually talk to the American people and give them updates and assessments on where we are. I think the President will continue to do that. We don't have anything specifically laid out on the schedule for that, but I anticipate he'll continue to do that throughout the remainder of this year and next.
Q: Did the President ignore the fact that you have oil pipelines -- or protecting oil pipelines in Afghanistan may be the reason we're staying there?
MR. GIBBS: Did he ignore -- I'm sorry?
Q: He didn't mention oil pipelines. Does that have anything to do with his decision?
MR. GIBBS: No. I've never heard that come up in the, say, nine or ten meetings that I was in. No.
Again, I think, Helen, just to go through what the President said last night, as a result of a Taliban-provided safe haven for al Qaeda, 19 men hijacked four planes and murdered nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 --
Q: The previous administration acts like it had really brought that part under control. Are you going to keep referring to 9/11 --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as Jake mentioned, in the authorization to go into Afghanistan was as a result, quite clearly, of the activities of al Qaeda in a Taliban-provided safe haven in Afghanistan. That's why we're in Afghanistan right now.
Q: One other thing. You said you're going to make an end run around Karzai and go to other --
MR. GIBBS: Well -- go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: -- if he doesn't measure up.
MR. GIBBS: Right, right.
Q: How do you do that? Isn't that an intervention in a sovereign country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're in Afghanistan.
Q: Yes, you are. We are.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think this -- we have a plan that incentivizes actions, whether it's training security forces, whether it's improving governance. If those that are responsible at their different level are providing the services that a government has to and needs to provide its people, then we'll have a great relationship with working with those people.
Q: But if that --
MR. GIBBS: If those people -- hold on, let me just finish. If those people don't, then we will find people that will.
MR. GIBBS: Because we have -- we will have, by sometime next year, by the middle of next year, 98,000 American men and women in addition to --
Q: It's their country.
MR. GIBBS: Right. But, Helen, I think if you -- if you ask the Afghan government whether they want us to be there right now helping train their national security force and helping to root out the insurgency and the Taliban, they'd say, yes, they approve of us being there, quite clearly. I think what's important is, understanding -- they understand that we're not going to be there forever; that they are going to change their behavior in order to take ultimate responsibility for their country because our commitment is not open-ended.
Q: Well, what right do you have to demand of a sovereign country what they do?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Helen, there's an authorization that allows us to do the military activities from a congressional standpoint. And again, I think if you ask President Karzai and others whether we're there and they'd like us to be there, the answer to that is yes. What we want them to understand is there can't be a permanent dependence on us being there; that we are going to incentivize, again, through changes in governance and in training, putting onto them the responsibility of both running a government that meets the needs of the people and training and equipping a security force that will provide the necessary security to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government, as the President said, or creating a safe haven that would allow al Qaeda to return and plan and plot another attack on our homeland.
Q: Does the President believe you must have the support of the American people to prosecute a war?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that throughout this process it will be important to talk to the American people about, as he did last night, why we were there, what we hope to achieve, and when we're going to come home. I think the President laid out why we're there, the importance of why we're there, and the consequences of our efforts. I think that the American people I think wanted to know that hard decisions were made, hard choices were looked at, and this policy and its questions were reviewed intensively, and that happened over this process.
Q: Is he going to pay attention to whether that's -- right now, clearly, the majority of Americans don't support sending more troops over there. Will he be listening to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, what poll are you -- I mean, most of -- well, let me say this, because I'm not going to get into this. The President didn't make a national security decision last night or in the previous days leading up to last night based on polling.
Q: But he did make clear that he believes he can convince the American people that this is the right way to go, and if he fails to convince them will that affect his decision to proceed?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I'll leave at this. I think the President believes the decision -- clearly the decision that he's made is the right decision and that he'd like to tell the American people why he believes that decision is right.
Q: If he doesn't have the support --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't think this is a one-shot deal. I don't think that -- look, I'm sure any number of your news organizations will call their polling centers tonight and poll reaction to the President's speech, adding more troops, this and that. This isn't a one-shot deal.
Q: I'm not talking instantaneous, I'm talking over the coming months, if public support is still low for sending these troops is the President going to reconsider on that basis?
MR. GIBBS: We're not going to reconsider -- we didn't make the decision based on political polling; we're not going to look at the polls and make decisions going forward based on that.
Chip, the President was asked this yesterday in some stuff that he did -- if we looked at political polls before we made decisions it's very likely that the financial system would have suffered collapse. It's very likely that there would be exactly one domestic auto company.
Q: Right. But we're talking --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, hold it, let me finish --
Q: -- and having --
MR. GIBBS: -- no, no, no, let me finish. There would be one domestic auto company, and maybe we would have pulled out of Afghanistan. Understand the President didn't believe that our financial system collapsing, did not believe the collapse of two out of the three auto companies in this country was wise, nor does he think -- obviously based on the decision that he made, as he said last night, leaving Afghanistan -- that any of those things are in our national interest. They may not poll well at any given point, but that's not the decision the President makes. He doesn't call his pollster in to make a policy decision.
Q: Sending troops into harm's way is different. When I interviewed him recently I said, and he agreed with the concept that you can't wage a war without the support of the American people. Does he still agree with that? And if he doesn't convince them to support him in this, will he continue anyway?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, the President believes and is anxious to continue talking with the American people, as he did last night, about why he thinks this is the best way.
Chip, your network and four other networks didn't give precious network time willy-nilly. They gave it because they understand the importance of this decision and the President wanted to talk to the American people about it.
Q: Can I just follow up on one other thing? In the hearing today with Gates and Mullen and Clinton -- forgive my informality -- people really tried to nail down this July 2011 date, what it really is. And Lindsey Graham -- in an exchange with Lindsey Graham, the Secretary of Defense said, "It's our plan." And another senator called it a "target." And there was no specific disagreement. Would the White House agree with that description of the July 2011 -- that it's a "target" and a "plan"?
MR. GIBBS: July 2011 is the point in which the President believes our troops are going to begin to transition out and the responsibility of security is going to go -- beginning to go in certain places to the Afghans.
Q: You would disagree with the idea that it's a "target" -- that word should not be used --
MR. GIBBS: I did not look at those particular points in the hearing, and I'm not necessarily sure that each of the characterizations that you set up are contradictory.
Q: Well, Robert, just to follow up, you just said he believes at that point that we would --
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- well, yes. The policy is -- let me be clear, let me be clear, because the President was clear -- our forces, in July of 2011, will transition out of Afghanistan. Again, understand what he said: This is a conditions-based drawdown, decisions made by the Commander-in-Chief, but that's -- understand where we're talking about. Let's understand where we got to July 2011. You're talking about roughly a two-year time period between where most of the increased number of troops that were either in the pipeline or that the President authorized at the end of March -- okay -- so for at least a two-year period of time, right, from let's say roughly July 2009 to July 2011, you will have had at least an increase of roughly 35,000 forces over that two-year period of time.
Over a one-year period of time -- again, roughly July 2010 to July 2011 -- you'll have, give or take, a few thousand that come in and come out, an increase of 63,000 troops for that time. That is in excess -- that is a time period greatly in excess of what we saw in Iraq, with a troop delta -- a change in troops greatly in excess of what we saw in Iraq.
Q: So a drawdown will begin in July -- of some magnitude will be --
MR. GIBBS: A conditions-based --
Q: -- if conditions warrant?
MR. GIBBS: A conditions-based drawdown will begin in July 2011.
Q: If they warrant. But if they don't --
Q: But what does that mean? The beginning of conditions-based or the pace afterwards --
MR. GIBBS: No, the pacing and the slope of that.
MR. GIBBS: Again, we are transitioning, in July of 2011, from Americans providing the primary security -- we are giving that responsibility to an Afghan national security force that we have trained over this 18- to 24-month period, putting them in the lead and transitioning our forces out.
Q: And the pace of that will be dependent on the conditions?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the pacing of that, which --
Q: But the transition will not be in any way changed or pushed back?
MR. GIBBS: That's the date that the President outlined last night.
Q: Gates today said the President always has the freedom to adjust that date. Do you disagree?
MR. GIBBS: I don't disagree with that, but I'd listen quite clearly to what the President said last evening.
Q: The President brought up the $30 billion figure as how much this is going to cost, but he didn't get into the details of how --
MR. GIBBS: Right. And I don't anticipate that that's going to be gotten into in the next couple days, understanding --
Q: I was just going to -- what is the time frame of this? Are you guys working with Congress? How is this going to work?
MR. GIBBS: We're going to work inside here and with Congress. I think the President was clear that -- obviously the Pentagon, through its assessments and through its advice, denoted the importance of what we're doing in Afghanistan. The President has dedicated additional resources, and we're going to have to both account for and pay for that.
Q: But is this something that you believe that if you have to do deficit spending, you have to do it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, sure. I mean, in all honesty, Chuck, I don't think there's ever been a military conflict in the history of our country where that hasn't happened. Now, the difference being, we're going to have to account for this. Okay? We have a change in our fiscal situation over the previous eight years not -- partly because, through a process there was no accounting for an increased amount of war spending. As the President said last night, we spent, during this time period before he got into office, roughly a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That has to be accounted for as part of our fiscal situation.
Q: How quickly do you think you're going to be asking Congress for this supplemental?
MR. GIBBS: I think that OMB here and the Pentagon are clearly going to look at what amount of funding is currently -- what amount of funding is currently there, for how long, and then obviously some of this working with the comptroller in terms of the logistics of when, how, and where troops arrive.
Q: But it will be in a supplemental?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get --
Q: That's not a question now --
MR. GIBBS: -- and not one that I think --
Q: That's not been decided yet?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President has been clear on where this has been in the past. But no decisions have been made.
Q: I want to change topics. Is the President concerned with the shakeup at General Motors in the leadership? They've now gone through their second CEO. This is obviously a government-backed board that fired the --
MR. GIBBS: Right. We made -- we insisted on structural changes in order for increased assistance to ensure that the company didn't go bankrupt -- or bankrupt -- obviously they went into a structured bankruptcy, but you know what I mean. Obviously, I think Fritz Henderson has done a good job in a period of transition, but the board of directors runs General Motors, not the President of the United States.
Q: Were you guys given a heads up about this?
MR. GIBBS: I believe at some point somebody probably knew, but we were not involved in any of those decisions.
Q: And one other topic. Is Desiree Rogers going to go to Capitol Hill tomorrow and testify? She's been invited. Has she made a decision?
MR. GIBBS: No -- well, first of all, I think that -- obviously there's an ongoing assessment and investigation by the Secret Service into what happened I guess a little more than a week ago. We are working with and are ready to work with anybody that has questions on that. I think you know that, based on the separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress. She won't -- she will not be testifying in front of Congress tomorrow.
Let me add on to this. One of the -- as the Secret Service has reviewed their security procedures for how people get into this complex, so, too, has the White House looked at its procedures.
Q: So you guys have done your own review?
MR. GIBBS: We have done an assessment.
Q: But how --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me -- you guys are impatient today. One of the things that -- and I mentioned this yesterday in interviews that I did on all of your television shows -- was that we would assess whether or not all of what we were doing was being done in support of what the Secret Service has to do as part of their mission of keeping this complex safe.
Last night was the first of many holiday parties that will happen in this complex over the next several weeks. We had staff at the security checkpoint to ensure that if there was any confusion about lists, those would be double-checked with somebody representing the Social Office. That was an assessment made based on something that we believed could have been added, and we've made those changes as of last night.
Q: Follow up, Robert, on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Has there been any concerns about Desiree Rogers' performance prior to this instance?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: No one has questioned the President or told the President that she is a very last-minute person, poor planner?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think you -- you all have been to and seen, either whether you're part of a pool, whether some of you have been to receptions, the remarkable work that they have done in pulling off a lot of events here. The First Family is quite pleased with her performance, and I've heard nothing uttered of what you talk about.
Q: Well, what about the issues of her being in fashion spreads early on in the administration? Did you put the brakes on that? I mean, that is -- it's been raised, it's now public, you saw it in the magazines, her pictorals. You saw her on the cover --
MR. GIBBS: I get Sports Illustrated at my house. I don't -- I don't get --
Q: But could you talk -- seriously, could you talk about that? I mean, was there a concern in this White House that she came out being -- some might have called here the belle of the ball, overshadowing the First Lady at the beginning --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who "some" are. I've never heard that.
Q: Well, it's been bantered around Washington, and it's been in circles -- Democratic circles as well as Republican circles, high-ranking people.
MR. GIBBS: April, that's not a station I live in in life --
Q: -- administrations as well.
MR. GIBBS: No, I understand.
Q: Just answer the question, please.
MR. GIBBS: Are you done speaking so I can?
Q: Oh, yes, I'm done now, yes.
MR. GIBBS: Excellent. I've not heard any of that criticism. I've not read any of that criticism. The President, the First Lady, and the entire White House staff are grateful for the job that she does and think she has done a terrific and wonderful job pulling off a lot of big and important events here at the White House.
Q: Did she invite herself to the state dinner or was she a guest -- did the President invite her, or did she put her -- no, that's a real -- do not fan it off. I'm serious -- no, seriously.
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan.
Q: No, no, no, did she invite herself, or did the President ask her -- her name was on that list, and social secretaries are the ones who put the names on the list. Did she invite herself or did the President --
MR. GIBBS: Was she at the dinner? April, April, calm down. Just take a deep breath for one second. See? This happens with my son, he does the same thing.
Q: Oooh --
Q: Don't play with me, I'm being serious. Do not blow it off.
MR. GIBBS: And I'm giving you a serious answer. Was she at the dinner? Yes.
Q: Was she an invited guest?
MR. GIBBS: She's the social secretary. She had the primary --
Q: Social secretaries are not guests of the dinner.
MR. GIBBS: She is the primary -- for running the dinner. I'm going to get back to weightier topics like 98,000 men and women in Afghanistan.
Jonathan, take us away.
Q: All right, April, please forgive me if I ask this question.
Can you take us back to the November 11th Wednesday meeting when the President came and said he wasn't happy with the options that he was presented? Is that when the staff began working on a more rapid -- a more rapid deployment strategy, and is that when the July 2011 date started to come -- tell us the advent of the July 2011 date.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- look, I think as a structure of this policy in general -- and I don't -- I can see who has notes or go back and look at some of my notes -- I don't know whether -- I mean, July 2011 -- I'm sorry, November 11th was a time period -- as I characterize it, the President was dissatisfied with options that were put in front of him. But throughout this process, Jonathan, the President asked for, and I think everybody involved -- and you can see that certainly from Secretary Gates' testimony today -- first and foremost a strategy and a mission was agreed upon. After that -- after you pick a strategy, you have to resource that strategy.
Again, I don't know whether it was the 11th or what have you, but throughout this process -- and again, this is what Secretary Gates said -- "This approach is not open-ended nation-building. It's neither necessary nor feasible to create a modern, centralized Western-style Afghan nation state, the likes of which has never been seen in that country. Nor does it entail pacifying every village and conducting textbook counterinsurgency from one end of Afghanistan to the other."
Over the course of this -- and again, I'd have to go back and look at different inflection points -- but the President, on different occasions, discussed not being happy with the options that he had. I don't know whether it was on the November -- during the November 11th meeting. I do remember very clearly the President asking the planners whether or not we could get forces in there faster than what had previously been on force flow sheets -- understanding that original assessments had force flow for well into year two of -- on a time continuum.
So the President sought, in a more narrow mission, a series of resources that he believed fit that narrow mission and a timeline for getting them there quicker. Obviously as part of that -- and as I talked about with Jennifer and others -- we, with this transition point, have set up a time period in which the team believes it is achievable to train that Afghan national security force and begin the transition of responsibility in providing security.
Q: But can you give us any sense of where and when the July 2011 inflection point originated from?
MR. GIBBS: Throughout the process, but I'd have to go back and look more detailed at my notes. I will say -- well, let me go back and see what folks have in terms of the notes.
Q: Can I follow up on that, Robert? Did the considerations have to do with how much -- how long the President thought Americans might tolerate this surge? Or was it a military assessment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, this is a military assessment. And I think, again, Secretary Gates says what we have is a time frame, a mission and a set of resources that all work to make what the President outlined achievable.
Q: Can I try again? On July 2011, what if that date shows up and the judgment is made that Afghan forces aren't ready to assume responsibility?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm not going to get deeply into hypotheticals for something that is almost two years away. The President believes that we have -- again, going through the history of this -- an increase of at least 35,000 troops for at least two years on this July 2009 to July 2011 continuum, an additional 60-plus-thousand troops in that one-year period. He believes and the team believes that is a sufficient time in order to train Afghan national security forces to assume control of providing security.
Now, I do want to address this because I have seen this in a couple -- where people have said, well, isn't the Taliban just going to wait you out? I think it's important that we dispense with what I can't even wrap my head around being a logical argument, okay? If I understand the argument correctly, there's a insurgent -- insurgency that they say is gaining real estate and momentum. So by the President saying July 2011, what we're doing with the insurgency, according to what, again, I consider to be a highly illogical argument, these people are going to recede into the woods, they're going to give up their land, they're going to give up what they control, they're going to stop fighting, and they're going to go away.
And if that's the case, great. That would be the best outcome, because American forces would then take that real estate. We would then have the space, even greater space, to train an Afghan national security force, so that if they want to come back in July 2011 and start this process over again, they'll meet a far larger Afghan national security force to take them on.
The argument, in and of itself, is completely illogical. It makes absolutely no sense. If you subscribe to the notion that an insurgency has momentum, that they're controlling a certain amount of important real estate -- again, if that's the case, then I'm here to say, disperse and we'll take what you have. Then it doesn't --
Q: Bring it on.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- no, no, because -- it's not cocky. It's the logic of -- basically if they had 40 percent of this room and we said, well, we're going to be here until -- we're going to be here for another month and then they left, we would take that part of the room. I mean, the logic does not in any way fit. It's a great and wonderful illustrative illogical canard.
Q: Yes, but that was the prior administration's argument against setting a timeline in Iraq.
MR. GIBBS: But even if they had, do we think that the insurgency in Iraq would have disappeared? Do we think they would have said, you know what, what we're doing is we have this amazing ramp-up in kinetic and violent activities. We've gone to all this trouble to do this. So you're going to tell us you're going to be here until X time, so then we're going to go home, we're going to go away, we're going to go back to our houses and just wait until some date and then we're going to come back and do that. The illogical nature of it is you're giving up what you've then gained.
Q: I just want to clarify the funding stuff. And if you haven't made a decision, that's fine, but in terms of a supplemental versus folding it into the --
MR. GIBBS: That has not -- that's a bridge not yet crossed.
Q: Okay. Will that be crossed before the February 1 budget, before the end of this year?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything on that today.
Q: Okay. Let me shift gears real quick. I know you guys just put something out on the jobs summit tomorrow, and you guys have talked a little bit about this, but what sort of criteria went into the companies you selected, who you guys brought in here? Aren't members of Congress -- they have been here at some of the other summits. What was some of the thinking?
MR. GIBBS: We can get more detail on this, but obviously what the President is looking forward to tomorrow is having a broad discussion with, and getting ideas from, a whole host of people in the private sector -- people that run fairly large companies, like FedEx, Google; small business owners that -- the engine of our economy that do most of our hiring; financial experts; others that have ideas.
The government alone is not going to create and doesn't have the primary responsibility to create the jobs that will get our economy moving again. That's the private sector. What I think the President wants to do is hear from them on the type of environment that we can have that would allow for that hiring to take place. So I think he's very much looking forward to that. Obviously that will continue in Allentown and throughout next week.
Q: Following up on that, currently the Chamber of Commerce and NFIB are not invited. Is there going to be a review of that, or if that's a final decision, why not have either one of those two at the event tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't know whether FedEx or Google or the small business owners that are represented there are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, their local chamber of commerce or the NFIB. I hesitate -- I think it's pretty clear to say that chambers of commerce throughout this country and small business owners throughout this country will be represented. But there's no -- I don't know why any decision would be reviewed.
Q: So it's not really necessary for them to be a part of submitting ideas to this process of looking for job creation? I'm just asking.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think -- if I'm not mistaken they announced, like, a $20 million ad campaign to do that. So I don't know that they need a -- I have a TV in my office.
Q: Right, I know. But an ad campaign is different from having a conversation within the confines of this property and with the President on job creation. I'm just wondering if you consider that ad campaign an act of hostility that cancels them out of a process to --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. They've got a campaign about how they want to create jobs. I think the President shares the goal of creating jobs. I think whether it's a small business, whether they're a member or not of the NFIB -- this is like a -- this is one of these little Washington deals.
Q: But this isn't an end run around the Chamber's leadership, correct, I mean, going directly to their members?
MR. GIBBS: I hesitate to say -- do you think FedEx is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?
Q: But that's the point --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, hold on. Do you think they are?
Q: In my recollection, FedEx is, in fact, a dues-paying member of --
MR. GIBBS: Okay. I assume if somebody has something to say, they'll say it.
Q: But, Robert, the question is --
MR. GIBBS: Can we get on to something semi-pertinent?
Q: No, I mean, this is pertinent. You guys --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think it is.
Q: The Chamber of Commerce doesn't get any more pertinent.
It's a question of whether or not they're being invited, whether or not the leadership --
Q: Is it specifically supposed to be semi-pertinent or do you want it be pertinent?
MR. GIBBS: For today, let's go with semi.
Q: Semi-pertinent? Okay.
Q: He gets a free question for that.
Q: Some people have analyzed the number of troops available to deploy and said that sending 30,000 troops is tantamount to deploying nearly every U.S. Army brigade possible. Given that about 10,000 soldiers are already in stop-loss, do you know where Defense Secretary Gates is with his review of softening the discharges on "don't ask, don't tell"?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not heard an update from the Secretary on that. I know that obviously the President wants that policy changed. In terms of -- I mean, obviously it's not just Army. This is Army and Marines, as well as -- well, Army and Marines. They are -- this was very specifically asked in terms of whether force flow options would interrupt either Marine or Army policies that have been instituted to give longer breaks for tours of duty and then return home. The Joint Chiefs, to a commander, all told the Commander-in-Chief that they could meet the force requirement without interrupting what they had instituted in order to provide that time at home and away from the tour of duty.
Q: But the troops are stretched thin. I mean, it's not --
MR. GIBBS: No doubt. And I think that the President was very clear in wanting to see the Joint Chiefs to, quite frankly, ask them very directly whether that was the case. There's no doubt that there has been for many, many years a strain on our forces; that that strain has caused repeated tours. And only recently has Secretary Gates and others instituted policies that ensure that we had time outside of a theater of war and that they believe was necessary to maintain an all-volunteer force, which they think obviously is tremendously important, as well as just dealing with the stress physically and mentally on them.
Q: Thanks, Robert. What is the White House reaction to the way congressional Democrats have received the strategy and the speech?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- I mean, I've seen obviously reactions from across the political spectrum and within the Democratic Party. I think some of the concern in such has been expressed to the President for quite some time.
I was not in the congressional meeting yesterday. I was in the previous one, and I think a lot of this was brought up -- their concern for what this would do to our force, what this would do -- what this meant budgetarily and so forth. So I don't think there's any doubt that -- some of this was not unexpected.
Again, I think what the President wants to do both with the public and with members of Congress is continue to talk to them about why he thinks the decision he made was important.
Q: Is he confident that they could be brought around, the key congressional committee leaders?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say I think he hopes that he will continue to talk to them and certainly get their advice about moving forward. But the President believes the decision he made was the right one and will continue to try to make sure they understand that.
Q: Thanks, Robert. The President was deeply involved, obviously, in creating this policy, and I'm wondering, how does he envision his role going forward in the implementation? People who have worked for President Bush said that after the surge -- the Iraq surge was announced in January 2007, President Bush had weekly meetings with Petraeus, Crocker, Secretary Gates and others for the remainder of his term, and that the implementation of the Afghanistan strategy would require a similar sustained involvement by the President. And I'm wondering, what does President Obama see as his involvement going forward?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- let me ask some of the folks at NSC. Obviously there's a structure that will be set up to measure a series of benchmarks. The President receives and is in regular contact with -- obviously sees Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen each week here at the White House. He sees and has seen General Petraeus somewhat regularly and receives both military and political updates each week from Ambassador Hill, General Odierno in Iraq, from Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal in Afghanistan, and has for as long as I can remember. I don't know if any --
Q: Does he get those by videoconference or a --
MR. GIBBS: Sometimes they're video, but there is a weekly written packet that goes into NSC in the White House, again, each week. I don't know if there's anything -- anything will be layered on to do that. Again, suffice to say the President has spent a lot of time, not just over the course of the last couple of months in devising the way forward, but dating back to the transition and certainly in the initial review through the end of March, and was deeply involved both in a trip to Iraq and in continued discussions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q: Robert, when you talk about training of the security forces, are we still talking a national army as opposed to militias that can be deployed in certain provinces? And will NATO be involved in the training efforts? And why the administration doesn't ask more Arab countries at least to do the training part of --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on the last part, on Arab countries in terms of training. I do believe -- well, let me not -- I don't want to get past my ski tips on that. Let me check in terms of the contributions from some in a large coalition already.
Obviously NATO has played and will continue to play an important role in training both an Afghan national army and an Afghan national police force, both of which are part of the larger umbrella of Afghan national security forces. Different countries in NATO have done that, and I can only imagine that increased contributions that will come to this effort, part of that will be men and women dedicated specifically to training. Let me check on the third part of it.
Q: Robert, thank you. In terms of this humanitarian funding, I'm just curious, are you concerned about money being siphoned through corrupt individuals that are part of the Afghan government that will actually give it out to the Taliban? And how would you incentivize to make sure that doesn't happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think many of what -- much of what I talked to Jennifer about on the very question -- we have to -- the President has been clear with President Karzai, both in his recent meeting over the secure video teleconference and phone call after the -- right after he was declared the winner and the next continued President of Afghanistan, that corruption very directly had to be addressed. I don't want to get into the flow of any of that, but suffice it to say that we're making very determined resource commitments both in manpower and in money, from American service members and American taxpayers, that we expect will be used for the purpose they were appropriated for, not for lining the pockets of somebody's friend.
Q: To follow up on something -- to clarify something earlier, did anyone in an office here at the White House in the days leading up to the India state visit request clearance information for the Salahis in case there was space available for them to attend the arrival ceremony?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that --
Q: In the days leading up to the India state visit, did anyone at the White House request the actual clearance information for the Salahis in case --
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with somebody.
Q: Thank you, if you would.
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- this is what it looks like.
Q: We know.
Q: Can I follow on that?
Q: I'm asking --
MR. GIBBS: No, hold on one second. But let me just -- I think what's important is, you've got to have an invitation to get into the White House.
Q: You don't bring your invitation to the door, though.
Q: Sure you do.
Q: You bring your driver's license.
MR. GIBBS: But if you don't have one of these, you can't get into the door, April. If you have a driver's license but you didn't have one of these then you weren't at the dinner. You got to have one of these to get in the dinner. It's an invitation.
Q: Robert, just to confirm, my question is --
MR. GIBBS: I'll have somebody check this out.
Q: -- if they were under the impression they were being invited, if they could have gotten into --
MR. GIBBS: Again, nobody would have let anybody into the -- under the impression that they had been invited to the dinner because there was no --
Q: I was asking about the Salahis.
MR. GIBBS: All right, I will double-check.
Q: Thank you very much.
Q: Can you get that on eBay? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Don't tell Lester, but it actually is addressed to the Honorable Robert Gibbs. (Laughter.)
Q: Did Desirée Rogers-- after she invited herself for the President?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: Did Desirée Rogers get the invitation by inviting herself for the President --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know. This one says Robert Gibbs and he had a driver's license and got in.
Q: Did she invite herself or did the President invite her?
MR. GIBBS: It said the Honorable Robert -- Sheryl, I'm sorry.
Q: I just want to follow up on what you said earlier about that you've changed the practice and now a Social Secretary -- a person from the office of --
MR. GIBBS: A staff member representing the Social Secretary's Office, yes.
Q: -- will be at the --
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: So was that a decision made by the Social Secretary's Office? In other words -- or did the Secret Service make that call? Who determines --
MR. GIBBS: That was based on an assessment and a review of our procedures made by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.
Q: Okay. And can I -- just previously, when it was determined that it was not needed to have a Social Secretary representative at the gate, was that determination made by the Social Secretary's Office or by the Secret Service?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know about previous decisions. I know Jim looked at whether we were doing enough to complement the work that the brave men and women do of the Secret Service in ensuring the protection of the President, his family, and, quite frankly, anybody that attends an event here, and decided that to ensure that we would add staff.
Q: Right. But in administrations past there was a staff member there and then for this dinner there wasn't. I'm just wondering who made that call.
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer.
Q: Robert, on the jobs forum, do you expect this to lead to a bill in Congress or actions that the White House can take unilaterally? And is there a deadline for getting something done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President will continue to talk about this into next week with a speech about some of the ideas that his economic team have been looking at. And I anticipate that some of the ideas that are talked about will probably be in that speech.
Whether or not -- obviously this is a pretty full plate with Capitol Hill, whether -- I don't know what the legislative calendar is for getting something done this year. I know the President -- we have an upcoming unemployment report and I know the President is anxious to -- has asked the economic team to do whatever is possible to create the conditions for increased job hiring, and I think that's what will be explored at the forum and, again, in Allentown.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. Republican whip Eric Cantor outlined some proposals today such as stopping new regulations on business and freezing any tax increases. Are any of those the sort of ideas that you all could agree on?
MR. GIBBS: I think if anybody has got ideas I think folks would be happy to look at them, and I'm sure people will.
Q: Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: Do you have anything? Yes, ma'am.
Q: Just in light of the recent push by organizations like the NAACP and La Raza for the President to focus more on jobs, at the summit tomorrow are there any sessions to be focused on the higher unemployment rate in minority communities?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that obviously that will be part of -- I believe that will be part of the discussion. There are going to be folks representing a lot of different groups. There will be mayors that will be here that obviously have a keen interest and awareness in this, and I anticipate that that will be something that's discussed.
Q: Robert, can you detail to what extent, if any, the White House's Afghan strategy will involve negotiating with Taliban leaders as a way of compelling them to drop their insurgent threats --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, the --
Q: Taliban leaders --
MR. GIBBS: Right, but negotiate with --
Q: Leaders of the Taliban or insurgent leaders as a way to compel them to drop their threat, as opposed to militaristic means?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would direct you to either COMISAF or the Pentagon on the exact implementation of -- but, again, I think you've heard General Petraeus discuss efforts in both Iraq and now Afghanistan. And the President outlined last night the notion that if there are those that are willing to walk away from the type of activity they've been involved in, reintegration into society is certainly possible.
Q: But it's only after walking away from the Taliban?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you can't be part of the insurgency -- you either are or you aren't.
Q: Has the President discussed on any level, any specificity of the Pakistan-U.S. partnership with Prime Minister Brown?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that. I was -- I'll check with people that were in the videoconference with the Prime Minister on that.
END 2:28 P.M. EST
|Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", December 2, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86969.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project