Question: Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve promised to send more troops to Afghanistan. And since you’ve been very clear about a timetable to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, I wonder, what’s your timetable to withdraw troops eventually from Afghanistan?
And related to that, there’s a Pentagon policy that bans media coverage of the flag-draped coffins from coming in to Dover Air Force Base. And back in 2004, then-Sen. Joe Biden said that it was shameful for dead soldiers to be, quote, “snuck back into the country under the cover of night.”
You’ve promised unprecedented transparency, openness in your government. Will you overturn that policy so the American people can see the full human cost of war?
Obama: Your question is timely. We got reports that four American service members have been killed in Iraq today. And, you know, obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.
I’ve said before that — you know, people have asked me, when did it hit you that you are now president? And what I told them was the most sobering moment is signing letters to the families of our fallen heroes. It reminds you of the responsibilities that you carry in this office and — and the consequences of the decisions that you make.
Now, with respect to the policy of opening up media to loved ones being brought back home, we are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don’t want to give you an answer now before I’ve evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved.
With respect to Afghanistan, this is going to be a big challenge. I think, because of the extraordinary work done by our troops and some very good diplomatic work done by Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker in Iraq, we just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully and you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way.
You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They’ve got elections coming up, but effectively the national government seems very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community.
In addition, you’ve got the Taliban and al Qaeda operating in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And what we haven’t seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that would ultimately make our mission successful. [so the special forces incursions into those regions and predator drone strikes within Pakistan’s borders were just for fun?]
So we are undergoing a thorough going review. Not only is Gen. [David] Petraeus — now the head of CENTCOM — conducting his own review; he’s now working in concert with the special envoy that I’ve sent over, Richard Holbrooke, one of our top diplomats, to evaluate a regional approach.
We are going to need more effective coordination of our military efforts, with diplomatic efforts, with development efforts, with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful.
The bottom line though — and I just want to remember the American people, because this is going to be difficult — is this is a situation in which a region served as the base to launch an attack that killed 3,000 Americans.
And this past week, I met with families of those who were lost in 9/11, a reminder of the costs of allowing those safe havens to exist. [correction: only a handful, not families like these… never mind the Cole bomber situation]
My bottom line is that we cannot allow al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region. And we’re going to have to work both smartly and effectively, but with consistency in order to make sure that those safe havens don’t exist.
I do not have yet a timetable for how long that’s going to take. What I know is I’m not going to make — I’m not going to allow al Qaeda or [Osama] bin Laden to operate with impunity, planning attacks on the U.S. homeland.
This is the same man that derided what we’ve been doing there for years, demanding time tables, demanding withdrawal. Nice to hear he’s finally come around.
And only an idiot like Joe Biden would say something like, “sneaking” the bodies of dead soldiers back into the country “under cover of night”. As if the media has or would ever cover such a return of our beloved fallen with the decorum they deserve. Notice his answer was very vauge on that one.
And like so many answers last night, he rambled as he usually does off-teleprompter.
Anyway, just thought I’d point out this admission of his, whether he realized it or not.