Remarks in Amman, Jordan
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I also want to thank the Department of Antiquities for making this remarkable site available. Before we open this up for questions, let me share some of the principle impressions that came out of our travel to Afghanistan and Iraq. First and foremost, we were extremely impressed by the extraordinary dedication and devotion and skill of our men and women in uniform. What they are doing is very tough work. Our troops are performing brilliantly under difficult circumstances, and they are doing so with extraordinarily high morale. Everywhere we went people are very proud of the work that they do.
And I think it's important for those of us back home to remember that this volunteer fighting force is incredibly proud of their work and are doing it with great dedication. The same, by the way, holds true for the diplomats and the civilians who we met. In many ways, their work is just as difficult and just as important. And all of us back home have reason to be proud. We support their heroic service.
We went to Afghanistan first because it is the central front in the war against terrorism. That is where the 9/11 attacks were planned, and today in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan Al Qaeda and the Taliban are mounting a growing offensive against the security of the Afghan people and increasingly the Pakistani people while plotting to attack against the United States. The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent. We must act now to reverse that deteriorating situation. I called over a year ago for additional U.S. troops to be placed in Afghanistan as well as more non-military assistance and more support from our NATO allies. I'm glad that there's a growing consensus back home that we need more resources in Afghanistan. We should not wait any longer to provide them.
In our meetings with President Karzai and the other Afghan leaders, I stressed my strong commitment to Afghanistan's security and economic development and urged them to work on a more for more basis, more U.S. and NATO support for Afghanistan and more action by the Afghan government to take on corruption and counter narcotics, to improve the rule of law and to make sure that resources and services are actually delivered for the Afghan people.
We also need a policy as both Jack Reid and Chuck Hagel mentioned that compels Pakistani action against terrorists who threaten our common security and are using the F.A.T.A. and the northwest territories of Pakistan as a safe haven. We have to do this at the same time as we deepen our relationship with the Pakistani people and the recently elected democratic government. Together I believe we have to succeed in taking the fight to the terrorists in order to protect the American people as well as the Afghan people. And to do that, we're going to have to support lasting stability for Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as economic opportunity for their people.
In Iraq, we reviewed the gains that have been made in lowering the levels of violence thanks to the outstanding efforts of our military, the increased capabilities of the Iraq security forces, the Sadr cease fire and the decision by Sunni tribes to take the fight to Al Qaeda. We also noted that the political reconciliation and economic development is necessary for long-term stability in Iraq continues to lag.
There is security progress, but now we need a political solution. The message we heard from Iraq's leaders is that they're ready to do more, and they want to take more responsibility for their country. I believe that the best way to support Iraqi sovereignty and to encourage the Iraqis to stand up is through the responsible redeployment of our combat brigades. I welcome that the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline.
My view based on the advise of the military experts is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010. As president, I intend to work with our military commanders to assure that we redeploy out of Iraq carefully with the safety of our troops in mind. And as I've said over the last two years, once we redeploy our combat brigades, we're still going to retain a capability to protect our personnel, to target terrorists and to train Iraqi security forces if there is political progress. In speaking with Afghans and Iraqis, the U.S. military and civilians, we all three of us, I think, were struck by both the peril and the promise of this moment.
If we responsibly end the war in Iraq, we can strengthen our military, step up our efforts to finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and succeed in leaving Iraq to a sovereign government that can take responsibility for its own future. In short, we can seize this moment to make America more secure, to focus on broader challenges like defeating terrorism, reversing this threat of nuclear weapons and achieving true energy security, challenges that I will discuss, among others, with some of our closest friends and allies in the days ahead.
Finally, I'm honored to be here in Jordan, which has been an invaluable ally and partner of the United States for many years. I want to thank the people of Jordan for their friendship and their hospitality. Jordan's leadership is a source of pride for its own people. I've long admired King Abdullah's example of moderation and modernization. I look forward to discussing opportunities to deepen our cooperation on the full range of security and economic challenges that together we face in the region. I know that, as always, the king will be a valuable source of insight.
Now, before I take some questions, I want to make a comment about the events today in Jerusalem. Today's bulldozer attack is a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long. I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security. Right now my thoughts and prayers go out to all who were injured and to their families. With that, we'd be happy to start taking questions. And identify, if you want to pose a question to either Senator Hagel or Senator Reid. [ inaudible ]
All right. How many questions. OK. That's a bunch. So let me pick these off. First of all, it is true that some of the tribal leaders as well as the local governor in Anbar expressed concern about a potential precipitous draw down of U.S. troops, which is why I haven't proposed a precipitous draw down.
What I've proposed is a steady, deliberate draw down over the course of 16 months, and I emphasized that to them. What became clear in our conversations is that there remains mistrust between Sunni tribal leaders as well as government officials in the Anbar region, and the central government. And so part of executing a lasting stability in Iraq remains reconciling those two groups. There has been a cessation of violence and ethnic strife, but the suspicions are still there. And to some degree, the U.S. forces are seen as a more honest broker in resolving those differences.
What I emphasize is the fact that the U.S. government can't be there forever. The U.S. military can't be there forever. So it's going to be important for the parties themselves, the Iraqi people, to make sure that they're dealing with these underlying tensions and concerns. With respect to the military leaders, I had a terrific conversation - we had a terrific conversation with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. I've tried to emphasize repeatedly that the job they've done on the ground is extraordinary. The two of them I think are as good a team as we've seen. My thanks goes out to them for what they've accomplished.
The issue for General Petraeus - and I want to be careful about characterizing our conversation in detail but I think his concern has to do with wanting to retain as much flexibility as possible. So the issue is not a perception that - let me put it this way. The focus of our conversation was not how precipitous my proposal was because, as he emphasized, he, too, would like to see our troops out, violence reduced, and Iraqi a functioning, stable, democratic government that is keeping terrorists out and is functioning as an ally to us in the region.
In his role as commander on the ground, not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing that goal. And what I emphasized to him was, yes, if I were in his shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander in chief extends beyond Iraq. And so what we saw in Afghanistan, for example, where you've got a deteriorating security situation and all of the commanders uniformly indicated that two to three brigades would be extraordinarily helpful in allowing them to accomplish their goals, the only way we're going to get those troops over there in a meaningful way is that if we are taking them from someplace else.
So that's something that I have to factor in. I have to factor in the perceptions of the Iraqi people and the statements by Prime Minister Malaki and his spokespeople in public, that they are ready to see the Iraqi government take on more responsibility for security. So there are range of factors that I have to take into account as a commander in chief or a potential commander in chief that I wouldn't expect General Petraeus or anybody who's just on the ground to have to take into account.
And, finally, with respect to the surge, we don't know what would have happened if I - if the plan that I put forward in January 2007 to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation, to begin a phased withdrawal, what would have happened had we pursued that strategy.
I am pleased that as a consequence of great effort by our troops, but also as a consequence of a shift in allegiances among the Sunni tribal leaders as well as the decision of the Sadr militias to stand down that we've seen a quelling of the violence.
But as I emphasize a year ago, two years ago, and as I have to emphasize today, ultimately whether or not we're going to have a functioning Iraq is largely going to depend on the capacity of the Iraqi people to unify themselves, to get beyond some of the sectarian divisions that have plagued the country, and to start setting up a government that is working for the people.
And I just want to echo something that both Chuck and Jack mentioned -- everywhere we went, one of the biggest concerns right now is the fact that we got scores of unemployed Iraqi men and women who are not getting the kind of opportunity that I think is going to be important. And given that Iraq is now experiencing a huge surge in their budget because of the rising price of oil, now is a particularly important moment and opportunity for them to start getting some of that money out into the provinces.
OBAMA: Well, you know, I will leave it to the voters to make that decision, and my hope is to avoid a colloquy with the McCain campaign over the next four or five days, partly because I think when we're overseas we're trying to, we've got a bipartisan group here and my hope is that we can focus on some areas of agreement. I think that Senator McCain deserves great credit for caring deeply about the safety and the security of the American people. I think he's made a series of decisions based on his best judgment of what would be good for American safety and security. I've differed with him on a range of those judgments, but I think that in each instance he's made those decisions based on what he thinks makes the most sense.
I can speak about my judgment and say that if you look at the where we're moving towards internationally, a need to refocus attention on Afghanistan and to go after the Taliban, including putting more troops on the ground, and to put more pressure on Pakistan to deal with the safe havens of terrorists in their territory. When you look at the need for engagement with Iran, something that I was scorned for during earlier parts of the campaign, when you look at increasing recognition that we can't stay in Iraq in perpetuity and that a time frame, timetable, timeline, whatever you want to refer to, is appropriate.
I think that the judgments that I've made over the course of the last two years are ones that match up with the reality on the ground. And ultimately I think that's where U.S. foreign policy is going to have to go. Regardless of who becomes the next president, democrat or republican. I think we're all going to have to strip away the ideology. We're going to have to strip away the politics. The issues are too serious, and the reality is reasserting itself. And that means that the next president is going to have to make a series of very difficult judgments and balance a set of risks based on the best possible intelligence and information available to him.
But, you know, the situation is so serious that we're not going to have time for the kinds of political games or partisanship that I think has come to characterize too much of our foreign policy. Yes? [ inaudible ]
I'm going to have to get a pen for all these triple questions you guys - you know, it's always a bad practice to say "always" or "never." But so let me amend it by saying that I don't have doubts about my ability to apply sound judgment to major national security problems that we face. These are difficult questions, and I don't think that anybody believes they have the perfect formula for solving some of these very difficult foreign policy problems. But I feel very confident in my world view and my ability to shape a discussion that takes arguments and facts into consideration and then come up with the best answer.
Second question was how would I apportion the improvements in Iraq. I don't know, Garrett, how to put into numerical factor on that. There is no doubt that when we put in 30,000 American troops, who are dedicated, who are brave, and who bring extraordinary skill to their jobs, that they're going to make a difference. I think the commanders on the ground themselves would acknowledge that, had you continued to see Sunni leadership align themselves with Aqi that we would be in a different situation right now. That if you continued to see ethnic cleansing in Baghdad or the Sadr militias continuing to engage in some of that activity and constant reprisals, that you'd still have some big problems there right now. But I don't know how to put a number to that.
And the last question was, given that we're going to have to put some resources in Afghanistan, what does that say about my domestic policy? We're spending $10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq. We're not coming close to that kind of spending in Afghanistan. Two or three additional brigades in Afghanistan obviously is not going to take up the entire combat operation that exists in Iraq right now. So I still believe that there are savings to be had. And I should point out that one of the things that we all discussed during our visit to Iraq was the fact that their budget has now doubled because oil prices have doubled.
And one of the problems we have right now is getting that money out the door. Part of that is a lack of capacity on the Iraq government's part and so we need to provide them a lot more technical training and management capacity just to make sure that projects get done. Basic electrification on a region like Anbar could make an enormous difference and they've got the resources to start doing it. But some of it is also willpower and some of it is cutting through the continuing political conflict between the various factions there. And that's why it's so important that we continue to press the Iraqis to move in that direction. It's also important that wherever they want to take responsibility that we encourage them. Jack? Yes. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just trying to get to everybody. They had a front seat. They were lucky. But we'll try to get to everybody. Go ahead.
OBAMA: I'll take the second question first. I've been very clear on that, Jake. I mean, we've been consistent on it. What I said is we'll get troops out at the pace of one to two brigades per month and that we would retain a capacity to protect our diplomatic and humanitarian operations there and our personnel, that we would retain a counter terrorism capacity to go after Aqi. If it was resurgent, to deal with potential reemergence of Shia militias that are trying to assert themselves in a violent fashion, to make sure that we are continuing to train Iraqi security forces.
I have deliberately avoided providing a particular number on that because that is precisely the kind of thing where our military commanders have to tell me what they need in order to accomplish that mission. But my goal is to no longer have U.S. troops engaged in combat operations in Iraq. In terms - look, there are all kinds of things that I learned. I think one of the things that was most eye- opening was the extent to which the poorest border between Afghanistan and Pakistan makes it very difficult for our troops, as good as they are, to decisively defeat the Taliban and the terrorist operations in Afghanistan.
If we don't get a handle on that border region, we are going to continue to have problems, and Al Qaeda is going to and their networks are going to be able to continue project beyond that region. And so one of the things that was driven home was the importance of our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan, which, by the way, may include having a conversation with India and seeing if we can lessen some of the tensions between those two countries.
A lot of what drives, it appears motivations on the Pakistan side of the border still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India. And I think that's an example of aggressive, creative diplomacy. We haven't had a conversation between the Indians and the Pakistanis that has been sustained and meaningful, about how they can arrive at a more sensible arrangement between the two countries. That could relieve some of the pressure and help us go after some of these forces along the border regions.
OK, yes? Yes, sir. Go ahead, yes.
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I just want to say that the reason that I haven't focused on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is because I'm spending tomorrow visiting Israel and the West Bank. And so I was going to save some of these comments until I actually had these conversations tomorrow. It wasn't that we were avoiding the issue. We just came back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is my firm belief that it is in the interest of both the Israeli people and the Palestinians to arrive at a peaceful settlement.
It is a very difficult process. There is a lot of history that exists between those two people. That history is not going to vanish overnight. People's memories are long. There's been bloodshed and disputes that date back generations.
And so I think it's unrealistic to expect that a U.S. president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region.
OBAMA: What a U.S. president can do is apply sustained energy and focus on the issues of the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I do believe that an ultimate resolution is going to involve two states standing side by side in peace and security, and that the Israelis and the Palestinians are going to both have to make compromises in order to arrive at that two-state solution.
Now, one of the difficulties that we have right now is that in order to make those compromises you have to have strong support from your people, and the Israeli government right now is unsettled. You know, the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas.
And so it's difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace the way, for example, the peace between Israel and Egypt was brought about. Those leaders were in a much stronger position to initiate that kind of peace.
So one of the things I think the United States is going to have to do is to help build capacity, make sure that Israel feels secure. And obviously the tragedy that happened with the bulldozer does not help with their security. That breeds a sense of insecurity.
And that's why terrorism is so counterproductive, as well as being immoral, because it makes, I believe, the Israelis want to dig in and simply think about their own security regardless of what's going on beyond their borders. I think the same would be true of any people when these kinds of things happen and innocent people are injured.
On the other hand, I think that the Palestinians have to feel some sense of progress in terms of their economic situation, you know, whether it's on the West Bank or Gaza, if people continually feel pressed, where they can't get to their job or they can't make a living, they get frustrated.
OBAMA: And it's hard for them if they see no glimmer of hope to then want to take a leap in order to make impressions.
And so, I think what the United States can do is -- is to help to create more -- a greater sense of security among the Israelis, a greater sense that economic progress and increased freedom of movement is something that can be accomplished in the Palestinian territories.
And with those confidence building measures, that we get discussions back on track.
OBAMA: Well, you know, we've been going back and forth on this for a very long time. And I think that there's been an artificial construct that's been created where you essentially have two choices: Either I am so rigid and stubborn that I ignore anything that happens during the course of the 16 months in which our plan is being implemented, or, alternatively, I just have an indefinite open-ended commitment that is never driven by clear -- a clear timetable or a set of goals.
And I reject that -- that those are the only two options. I think it is -- what I've consistently said is that my job, should I be commander in chief, is to set a vision, a strategic vision, of what's best for U.S. national security. I strongly believe that what is best for U.S. national security is to initiate a phased withdrawal and to set a timeframe that is very consistent with what the Iraqis are now saying and I think can be accomplished.
OBAMA: I've also said in the past -- this is not new -- that if, for example, you started seeing a resurgence of ethnic violence that was -- that presented the possibility of genocide, that I would always reserve the right as commander in chief to intervene -- hopefully, with the international community.
So facts have to affect your decision-making, and, you know, over the course of 16 months things are going to constantly change. But that doesn't detract from the importance of setting a set of clear objectives and having a sense of where you're trying to steer the ship. And that's what we haven't had, and that's what I think is so important.
OBAMA: This is my hometown paper so I got to call on him.
Go ahead, Mike.
OBAMA: I will call you.
Reporters are the same everywhere, aren't they?
OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me -- I want to avoid being too specific in characterizing my conversations with Prime Minister Maliki. But all three of us certainly raised the importance of the central government, including Sunnis in an aggressive way, into the government; (INAUDIBLE) resolving the hydrocarbon law, resolving the issue of provincial power, resolving the issues of DeBaathification and amnesty; and making sure that we actually implement these (INAUDIBLE).
Because one of the things that we've been seeing -- and I think Ambassador Crocker would acknowledge this -- that oftentimes you can get laws passed or at least a draft out with much fanfare and then there's not the follow-up and the execution that gives all the factions confidence that we're going to be moving forward.
OBAMA: I do see some progress. I think that the willingness of the Maliki government to go after Shia militias was a confidence- building measure. I think the Sunnis looked at that and said, well, it is possible that this army that is being created -- which, by the way, I think has improved significantly. They're not yet capable of operating entirely independently, but are taking the lead in more and more actions on the ground.
I think that was a step that gave some confidence. But more is going to have to be done.
I think resolving the big issues like the hydrocarbons law in a way that gives Sunnis the impression that their voice is heard, that's going to be important.
Now, the willingness of Sunni cabinet members who have resigned to now return, to have those cabinet seats filled, and a sense that the Sunnis are going to participate aggressively in the upcoming elections, that, again, is I think a sign of progress.
You know, what we want to get to, I think what the Iraqi people want get to, is a point where you've got disputes and arguments, but they're happening within the context of a functioning political process that ultimately leads to improvements in the lives of people. And that's where I think we should be focusing a lot of our effort.
This is a good place...
OBAMA: I think he has gained a lot more confidence from the Iraqi people as a consequence of his actions in Basra and Sadr.
Either of you guys want to comment on this -- this part, because you were in these conversations.
HAGEL: That's all right. Go ahead
Yes, sir. Go ahead.
OBAMA: I'm sorry. I need you to speak up. You were speaking up very loudly when you wanted me to call on you.
OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me be absolutely clear. Israel is a strong friend of Israel's. It will be a strong friend of Israel's under a McCain government -- administration. It will be a strong friend of Israel's under an Obama administration. So that policy is not going to change.
OBAMA: What I think can change is the ability of the United States government and a United States president to be actively engaged with the peace process and to be concerned and recognize the legitimate difficulties that the Palestinian people are experiencing right now.
And recognize that it is not only in the interest of the Palestinian people that their situation improves, I believe it's also in the interest of the Israeli people, because it is going to be very difficult for Israel ever to feel secure if you don't have some sense of opportunity and prosperity and stability with its -- its neighbors.
And so, you know, my goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I'm sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs.
Now, the other thing I have to make a point though is is that everybody's going to have responsibilities and obligations in this process. And sometimes I think there's a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other instead of looking in the mirror and saying, what can be done to improve the situation?
So, for example, I think with respect to the Palestinians, obviously it is very important to resolve the internal differences between the Palestinians. It's going to be very difficult for the Israelis to resolve a significant peace agreement if they don't know who they should be dealing with and who can actually enforce an agreement. But I just use that as one example.
OBAMA: I believe that the situation in Iraq is more secure than it was a year and a half ago. I believe think that the definition of success depends on how you look at it. Originally, the administration suggested that the key measure was whether it gave breathing room for a political reconciliation. So far, I think we have not seen the kind of political reconciliation that's going to bring about long-term stability in Iraq.
But there's no doubt that security has improved. And there's no doubt that the extraordinary sacrifice of American men and women in uniform have contributed to that success.
In terms of my conversations with General Petraeus, there's no doubt that General Petraeus does not want a timetable. I mean, I think he said that publicly. And he is -- and, as I said, in his role, I think he wants maximum flexibility to be able to do what he believes needs to be done inside of Iraq.
But keep in mind, for example, one of General Petraeus' responsibilities is not to think about how could we be using some of that $10 billion a month to shore up a U.S. economy that is really hurting right now? If I'm president of the United States, that is part of my responsibility.
OBAMA: General Petraeus' responsibility, as commander on the ground in Iraq, means that if one of his two-stars or three-stars says, "You know, we really need to pursue this electrification project and it's going to cost X millions of dollars, and because we can't get political reconciliation right now, it's better for the U.S. just to go ahead and spend its money, despite the fact that Iraq has seen its budget double," General Petraeus' judgment may be, "You know what? It's worth it for me, in order to accomplish my tasks inside Iraq, to go ahead and do that."
If I'm president of the United States, I've got to be thinking, "How else could I be using that money? And should I be putting more pressure on the Iraqis to spend some of that money themselves?"
OBAMA: Well, no. I mean, look, you know, I think, again, the notion is is that either I do exactly what my military commanders tell me to do or I'm ignoring their advice.
No, I'm factoring in their advice but placing it in this broader strategic framework that -- that's required.
OK? Thank you very much, everybody.
Barack Obama, Remarks in Amman, Jordan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/278282