Barack Obama photo

Interview with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Today"

November 18, 2009

MR. TODD:  Good Wednesday to you from Beijing, Meredith. President Obama left for this Asia trip with a slew of unfinished business in his in box, most notably that decision on a new Afghanistan strategy.  Well, a week later, it does not appear the president is any closer to making any sort of announcement.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I will announce my decision over the next several weeks.  I'm confident that, at the end of this process, I'm going to be able to present to the American people, in very clear terms, what exactly is at stake, what we intend to do, how we're going to succeed, how much it's going to cost, how long it's going to take. And I think that's what is owed the American people, because, frankly, over the last several years, that's not what they've gotten.

MR. TODD:  The president said an option not on the table: Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan any time soon.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Part of, I think, the task here is making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable so that we can make that handoff.  So my goal is exactly what you described -- creating a situation in which our footprint is smaller and Afghan security forces can do the job of keeping their country together.  They're not there yet.  They need help from us.  And that's exactly what our strategy is going to be designed to do.

MR. TODD:  This decision, will it be the decision that ultimately ends the war?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  This decision will put us on a path towards ending the war.

MR. TODD:  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Can you understand why it is offensive to some for this terrorist to get all the legal privileges of an American citizen?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.

MR. TODD:  Pressed on whether he was prejudging a verdict, the former constitutional-law professor expressed confidence in the government's case.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I said was that people will not be offended if that's the outcome.  I'm not prejudging it.  I'm not going to be in that courtroom.  That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury.  What I'm absolutely clear about is that I have complete confidence in the American people and in our legal traditions and the prosecutors, tough prosecutors from New York, who specialize in terrorism.

MR. TODD:  Asked about the growing list of missed White House deadlines, including health care and shutting down the Guantanamo prison, the president said he was not concerned.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Guantanamo, we had a specific deadline that was missed.  The rest of these deadlines that you're asserting oftentimes are deadlines imposed by the media, not imposed by us.

MR. TODD:  Well, you imposed.  I mean, you made -- on health care, you said --

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, the -- on health care --

MR. TODD:  -- "If I don't impose" -- you said, "If I don't impose a deadline" --

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  And that's exactly right.

MR. TODD:  -- "something won't get done."  But you've imposed a deadline and you're not getting it done.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  But internally, we understood that Congress takes time.  It's slow.  The Senate is slow.  That's how it's structured.  Those are the rules.

MR. TODD:  Are you going to sign health care before the State of the Union?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I expect so.

MR. TODD:  But it's probably going to slip past the end of the year at this point.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You will not hear that from me.

MR. TODD:  He laughed off the speculation about his reported weight loss, but admitted the burden of the office does weigh on him.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  My weight fluctuates about five pounds.  It has for the last 30 years.  It's unchanging.  I still wear the same -- some of the same stuff I did when I got married 17 years ago.  My hair's gotten a lot grayer; there's no doubt about that.  But I'm not sure whether that's just because I was about the age where my hair was going to start getting gray.

Having said all that, this has been an extraordinary year, less for me than for the American people -- two wars, worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  I think we've dealt with them well, and I'm confident that a lot of the work that we've done is going to be paying off.

But every day I wake up and I'm thinking, "How can I get those folks who are out of work right now a job?  How can I make sure that people who don't have health care can get health care?  How can I make sure that I'm doing right by those young men and women who are in Afghanistan?"  And I would be lying if I said that those aren't some weighty questions that I carry around on my shoulders every day.

Barack Obama, Interview with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Today" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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