Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One en route Anchorage, Alaska
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 12, 2009
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
En route Anchorage, Alaska
3:23 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Fire away.
Q Okay. Can we start with Afghanistan, and why the President felt that the options he was presented were not sufficient, why he sent them back?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me start by saying I think everybody thought coming out of yesterday's meeting that the meeting was very productive and that we made progress. I know you may have seen Secretary Gates say today that the President is evaluating the options, choosing what's best in all of them.
What the President wants to ensure is that we take into account -- and understand, so that the American people can understand -- our time commitment and ensure that we have the strongest partner in the Afghan government. And we want to make sure that we continue to work on those aspects.
Q Robert, does he feel that he was being railroaded into a commitment by the generals?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, not at all. I think if you ask the -- I think if you ask the generals, and again, if you see what Secretary Gates said today, the meetings were very productive.
This has been a very rigorous and deliberative process with those that deal with the civilian side; with those that deal with the political side, meaning the government of Afghanistan; with the military; and with others in order to get the best decision possible.
The President outlined the way we would go about making this decision, and that's what he's stuck to. He understands that the key is getting this decision right. And I think he believes, and I think quite frankly the participants from yesterday believe we've made progress doing that.
Q What kind of a role did the cables from General Eikenberry have in the President's dissatisfaction, shall we say, with the options that were presented?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- I'm not going to get into classified material. But I think -- well, I know, because we've talked about this before, whether you're Ambassador Eikenberry or General McChrystal, you have said publicly and privately in these meetings that our success in Afghanistan is most dependent upon the Afghan government being a true partner.
What we have to do is establish a security environment that ultimately can be passed to the Afghans to provide that security. That requires an Afghan national army, an Afghan national police, and a partner in delivering governance and services in order to establish -- in order to further establish a strong central government.
And I think, again, you've heard General McChrystal say, and you've heard Ambassador Eikenberry say, and you've quite frankly heard the President say that it's time to start a new chapter in Afghanistan when it comes to governance. And that's obviously going to play a big part in the decision that he makes.
Q One more. Does he share Ambassador Eikenberry's reported view that a sudden influx of troops would undermine the very reforms that the administration wants to see?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to leave it at -- I'm going to leave it at that every participant in that room understands that our success in Afghanistan is dependent upon having a good and true partner in the Afghan government.
Q Robert, do you feel like this process is winding down?
MR. GIBBS: I do. I do. I think we're making progress. I think the President gets closer and closer every day.
I will say I think all the participants involved would tell you that we have examined issues that will make the President's decision better and give, I hope, the American people confidence when the President explains why he made his decision and what factors went into it, that they'll have confidence in the mission.
Q Robert, what's the next formal step in this process?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't have a meeting schedule. I could -- I will check and see what that process is. There wasn't anything on the schedule as of this morning.
Q There will be another meeting?
MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't -- I think it's probably likely, yes.
Q Any announcement before we return on Thursday?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Sending back these four options to kind of -- he wasn't happy with any of them -- doesn't that delay it a little bit? You keep saying we're nearing the end, you know, getting closer.
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, I think we -- again, I think we've made tremendous progress. I think we're closer to getting a decision after that meeting than we were going into it, because we worked through -- the President and the team worked through a number of issues in making that final decision.
So I think -- I think everybody would say that the meeting was one of progress.
Q How does the United States go about ensuring a strong partner in Kabul?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we've been in -- we have been talking with the government there for quite some time, including throughout the election process, about how to establish better governance. You heard the President in the Oval Office talk about ensuring that strengthened governance and that we had to address corruption. I think everybody understands -- everybody understands that.
Q Are there any sticks, or is it just carrots?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the embassy there is working on -- working on agreements with the Afghan government. And look, I think it's sufficient to say that whether on the civilian side of our effort, whether on the military side of our effort, or on the governance side of the Afghans, the President will want -- has asked for and will want benchmarks to evaluate our progress. That's part of his desire to get a sense of where we are rather than committing to an open-ended conflict.
Q Why wasn't that already integrated into the four plans that were presented to him? Presumably that was discussed before yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Presumably that was discussed before yesterday's meeting. Why it wasn't it in any of those plans?
MR. GIBBS: Governance?
Q No, the wanting to have benchmarks and then --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, some benchmarks have been discussed. But what the President -- and what we've talked about before is the President is -- the President believes that -- we have been there for eight years, and we're not going to be there forever. And it's important to -- it's important to fully examine not just how we're going to get folks in but how we're going to get folks out.
Q To what extent has this review taken time away from focusing at all on Iraq?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously -- I'd say two things, most importantly. One, I think the President would be the first to laud the work of the Vice President in ensuring that an elections law was passed by the Iraqis, because what that is ultimately going to allow us to do is keep the timetable of commitments to draw our combat forces down from Iraq.
So it's something that doesn't necessarily get a lot of attention, but the passage of that law and the upcoming elections will go a long way toward winding down our combat commitment in that country.
Q What is he doing on the plane? Is he getting briefings, working on Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: He's made some calls. He has -- and he's just been up in the -- mostly in the cabin doing a bunch of reading.
Q Is he going to continue -- I mean, he's asked for additional refinements of these options -- is he going to get any of those back while we're traveling?
MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don't know what the formal process is. I assume that he will -- well, he will continue consultations and questions about this throughout the trip.
And let me just give you a brief rundown of what we're going to do. Obviously we'll land at Elmendorf. There will be a -- be on the ground I think for a couple of hours. Within those couple of hours, the President will do mainly three things. One, he'll meet with the family of a soldier I believe killed in Afghanistan -- let me double-check that, I thought I had that before I came back -- meet with a family.* Secondly will meet with a group of about 12 troops. He does this usually when we travel to bases -- meet with them, ask them -- basically give them a chance to ask their Commander-in-Chief questions about their experiences in the military.
Q Can you (inaudible) about these 12, just chosen at random?
MR. GIBBS: I believe they're random. I'll double-check. And then lastly he'll speak to about 2,000 troops and employees, DOD and civilian, and some of the -- some folks from the community before we depart on our second seven-hour flight to Japan.
Q Anything special about the remarks we should know?
MR. GIBBS: No. I'll go back and read the -- I think he's tinkering with them and we'll get a final out to you, see if there's anything new.
Q Can you talk about what's going to happen in Japan? I was going to say tonight, but whenever it is.
MR. GIBBS: I don't even -- we were just talking about that. Is this tonight, or tomorrow, or how do we --
Q Or yesterday.
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- yes, I don't know what day -- let me get -- let me get a schedule. Obviously he's going to do a meeting and a press conference when we get there. And I anticipate that obviously with the leader of Japan will talk about -- the President will first thank them for their renewed commitment to Afghanistan. They'll talk about the international economy, climate change, as well as North Korea and non-proliferation. I think those will be the main items on the docket. We'll have a better sense of what they talked about after the meeting.
Q -- the bases, the base agreement?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that will come up too.
Q Is there going to be any news on that?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of, but I'll double-check.
Q What is the President's position on the base agreement? Secretary Gates said that it's time to move on, and Bader has said that -- suggested that there are more talks forthcoming. Is this an open question right now?
MR. GIBBS: Let me wait -- let me wait and get a -- I'd rather get what they talked about on that rather than surmising.
Q Robert, what's the calculation for Mrs. Obama not to do this trip?
MR. GIBBS: There are two calculations. One is Malia, and the other one is Sasha.
Q She's got a bunch of other public events while we're away.
MR. GIBBS: She does, but she has, first and foremost, that responsibility, and being away for so long, she's taking care of that.
Q A couple of housekeeping things? Do we have a date for this jobs summit that the President spoke about?
MR. GIBBS: Early December, but I don't believe a final date has been picked.
Q Okay. And I guess a related question: Is the President going to Copenhagen?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an updates on that. No updates on that.
All right? Let me got check on the family of the soldier. I believe it's Afghanistan but I'll double-check on that.
Q Can you give us the name of the -- the name --
Q Yes, the name would be helpful.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let me see what the military normally does on that.
3:38 P.M. EST
*Mr. Gibbs confirmed that the soldier was killed in Afghanistan.