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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Press Conference; President Talks Afghan Exit Strategy; Superhero Mayor's Super Gaffe; Obama Camp Seizes on Bain; Protests in Chicago
Aired May 21, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama's controversial exit strategy for Afghanistan on the world stage here in Chicago, only moments from now, the president expected to hold a major news conference. When it happens, we will bring it to you live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, sits down with me for his only interview with me while here in the United States. You're going to hear what he has to say about the cost of the war, his personal relationship with President Obama, even his personal relationship with Mitt Romney. Stand by for that as well.
And the man sometimes nicknamed America's supermayor is on the defensive right now after making a potential super gaffe. Ahead, what Cory Booker calls nauseating about politics that has his critics accusing him of betraying President Obama.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Chicago. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But first to my exclusive far-reaching interview I just completed only a few minutes ago with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. It's his only interview while here in the United States. We sat down only moments ago.
He took this very striking photo with President Obama and President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari just minutes before the interview. The three leaders are here in Chicago for a major meeting of the NATO partners and what could be potentially another step toward ending the war in Afghanistan.
Listen to this.
HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: No, we didn't have a three- way meeting. We had a three-way photograph taking.
BLITZER: Just a photo opportunity?
KARZAI: Just a photo opportunity.
BLITZER: Why not a meeting?
Why not have a three-way meeting and discuss the most important issues affecting Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States?
KARZAI: It wasn't for us to decide on the three-way meeting. The United States was the host. And perhaps they saw it fit for some other time.
BLITZER: Has Pakistan agreed to resume shipments, trucks, bringing supplies to NATO, U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
KARZAI: I believe they're negotiating with the United States on that question.
BLITZER: They have been negotiating a long time. But as far as you know, as of right now, there's no agreement?
KARZAI: Not to the extent that I know.
BLITZER: All right, stay tuned. We're going to have the far-reaching interview with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. We go in depth on all the key issues involving U.S.-Afghan relations, the steps ahead, how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan. Will U.S. troops have immunity from Afghan law if they remain in Afghanistan after 2014?
The full interview will air in the next hour shortly after President Obama's news conference. He's expected to hold that news conference at the bottom of this hour here in Chicago. We're watching all of this unfold.
Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has been covering this summit in Chicago, and Jessica's joining us right now.
Looking at live pictures, by the way, of the summit.
Jessica, critically important discussions because the U.S. still has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan; 65,000 will remain throughout this year into next year, another two-and-a-half years of troop presence costing billions and billions of dollars. The stakes clearly for the United States, for Afghanistan, for the region enormous.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Enormous stakes, Wolf, and for the president today an accomplishment no doubt that he will able to tout when he goes into this press conference. He will be able to say that at the very least, he has gotten the 60-plus nations that are gathered here on the same page to agree to at least a broad exit plan for Afghanistan.
Today at this summit, they released a declaration saying that the nations have agreed to what they call an irreversible plan for transition to Afghan security control of that nation beginning in 2013 and then full withdrawal of almost all international forces by the end of 2014.
Here's what the president had to say earlier today, Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The strategic partnership agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone. Today, we can agree on NATO's long- term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, to be sure, there are differences among the nations, but what the president wants to emphasize is that all nations are agreed that they will not abandon Afghanistan after 2014. The word the president keeps emphasizing is that the nations are exiting this war -- quote -- "responsibly," and, of course, Wolf, we will also see if the president also has any major announcements to make in the press conference about anything that may have come out of this final session that they are holding as we speak, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Jessica, because President Karzai just told me a few moments ago, as far as he knows, there's no arrangement, no deal yet with Pakistan that would allow the resumption of troop convoy -- of truck convoys bringing supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
It looks like the president just had a brief little three-way photo opportunity with these leaders and no real substantive breakthrough, which is what the U.S. wanted, with President Zardari of Pakistan. What are you hearing?
YELLIN: So, what happened during the summit is President Zardari of Pakistan came hoping for a meeting with President Obama. He didn't get that meeting.
What he got instead was a quick opportunity to exchange words with the president on the sidelines of one meeting earlier today and then a quick photo with President Obama and with President Karzai later today.
He did not get that big meeting for precisely the reason you point out. He and his country did not come to terms with the U.S. on an agreement to open these supply routes back up for the U.S. to bring both troops and supplies in and out of the Pakistani country, in and out of Pakistan, because Pakistan simply, as my sources are saying, asking too much money for this.
And so this is not going to be negotiated, U.S. sources are saying, at a presidential level. It's going to be negotiated below the presidential level back in the region. And so there is no resolution here at the NATO summit, so the two presidents did not have that sit- down meeting. It's going to be -- it will happen. The U.S. is insistent this will be resolved maybe in some weeks, maybe in some months, not here, and so no big meeting, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, because, as you know, Jessica, it's been going on for some six months since some U.S. the accidentally killed some Pakistani troops. The Pakistanis have been demanding a formal apology from the United States, from the Obama administration.
There have been a lot of high-level meetings at the White House about such a policy. But in this election year, it doesn't look like the United States, the Obama administration is going to apologize to Pakistan. And that's been one of the issues stalling the resumption of these truck convoys bringing supplies in from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
We will see what the president has to say in his news conference on this sensitive issue coming up in a few minutes.
Jessica, thanks very much.
While members of the NATO alliance meet here in Chicago, protesters are taking the city by storm. Today's more peaceful demonstrations are drawing a sharp contrast to some violent clashes on Sunday that left dozens of protesters, eight police officers injured.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us now with the latest on the protests.
What is the latest, Paul?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, I'm standing just outside Barack Obama's campaign headquarters. And about 200 protesters here are beating on drums and they are conducting a peaceful demonstration, so all is calm right now, as you said, in contrast to what happened yesterday.
The temperature's also much cooler. Got up to about 94 degrees yesterday. Let me go ahead and bring in the superintendent of Chicago police, Garry McCarthy.
And, Superintendent, tell us basically what the strategy is here. Are you going to let these protesters stay here for a while or just what?
GARRY MCCARTHY, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Yes, we're going to let them stay.
You know, this is exactly what we have been doing virtually all week. There have only been a number of scheduled permitted events. Other than that, we have had unscheduled marches and rallies. And we have said from the beginning that we're going to facilitate people's right to the First Amendment, free speech that we all enjoy as Americans, while preventing criminal behavior.
And I want to make a distinction, certainly publicly, that yesterday was not a clash between protesters and police. That was a clash between criminals and police. These are protesters and we're facilitating their right to do what they're doing.
VERCAMMEN: You have also questioned how many protesters were actually injured. And there have been some reports that some of the protesters took some sort of paint, put the paint on, and then went up and confronted police. Can you tell us about that?
MCCARTHY: Yes, that's factual.
We had a number of people who observed that. We have statements from them and Know it to be true. So, the people who we put our hands on, 99 percent, we probably got them in custody. But in the pulling and shoving, there might have been some people that we lost.
We have only had 93 arrests, I believe, for the entire period of this week regarding NATO-type protests -- or NATO protests in regards to the event. So, you know, I think the issue is that, you know, the news isn't what happened. The news is what didn't happen. We didn't get the numbers that we expected, and, at the end of the day, I think that it's been a largely successful event.
VERCAMMEN: Some of the protesters had said that they felt that they were dealt with unjustly, that you were heavy-handed, that you didn't need to use the batons. What would you say to those protesters?
MCCARTHY: I would say that's nonsense.
Very clearly, the video is going to show a group of people getting together, attacking and charging the cops. I had a cop stabbed in the leg. I got hit with flying debris, as did a lot of our cops. That was something that we knew was going to happen. We could have told you that months ago. It's going to continue, and that's why we have to draw the distinction. This is free speech; that is criminal activity. Those are criminals; these are protesters.
VERCAMMEN: We appreciate your comments. Thank you so much for taking time out, Superintendent McCarthy -- Wolf, throwing it back to you now.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. We will stay on top of this part of the story as well.
President Obama's live news conference expected to begin within the next few minutes. When it happens, we will, of course, bring it to you live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, much more of my exclusive sit-down interview with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. He's weighing in on the war in Afghanistan, his relationship with the United States, even his personal relationship with President Obama and with Mitt Romney.
And the man sometimes nicknamed America's supermayor is doing some damage control after what some are calling a super gaffe.
BLITZER: We're awaiting the president of the United States.
He's getting ready to hold a news conference at this, the end of this NATO summit here in Chicago. The president will be going to those microphones, taking questions from reporters who have gathered in Chicago. The president will answering questions on a wide range of issues, I assume, including the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan over the next two-and-a-half years. Also, I'm sure politics will come up. And we will see what the president has to say.
Following the president's news conference, you'll hear my exclusive interview -- and you'll see it as well -- with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he weighs in on a whole bunch of issues involving U.S.- Afghan relations. I'll give you a hint, he's also furious at one United States congressman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says flatly that congressman, even though he was democratically elected, will not -- not be allowed ever to come into Afghanistan because of certain statements that congressman has made.
The Afghan President Hamid Karzai getting really angry in discussing this issue. You're going to want to see this part of the interview. The entire interview will air after the president's news conference.
Meanwhile, politics, the road to the White House. A rising superpower in the Democratic Party is now doing damage control after making what some consider a super gaffe.
Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now live with the latest on the political firestorm surrounding the Newark mayor, Cory Booker.
What's going on today, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Romney campaign has dubbed it the Bain backfire, the RNC has the episode up on its main page all pointing to what Democrats once considered an Obama campaign super surrogate, but Cory Booker then stepped on his cape.
ACOSTA (voice-over): He's been the stuff of superhero comic books. The Newark, New Jersey mayor who saved an elderly woman from a doing balding. But over the weekend, Cory Booker started a fire of his own.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NJ: This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides.
ACOSTA: Openly criticizing the president's reelection offensive on Mitt Romney's business character at the private investment firm, Bain Capital, lumping it in with Republican attacks on Mr. Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
For team Obama, it was campaign kryptonite.
BOOKER: I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to set here and indict private equity. To me, we're getting to a ridiculous point in America. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they have done a lot to support businesses that grow businesses. And this to me, I'm very uncomfortable.
ACOSTA: Booker's Twitter page instantly lit up, with critics accusing him of betraying the president. That not-so super response forced the mayor to retreat to a political fortress of solitude to explain his comments.
BOOKER: I used the word "nauseating" on "Meet the Press" because that's really how I feel.
ACOSTA: Booker defended his remarks, but he also added that Romney's Bain experience was fair game.
The Obama campaign then selectively tweeted out that less nuanced portion of the video.
BOOKER: I believe that Mitt Romney in many ways is not being completely honest with his role and his record, or even while a business person.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really feel in my heart, people don't know what Romney did to Marion, Indiana, in 1994.
ACOSTA: The Obama campaign just released a new web video on Bain, this time showing Indiana paper plant workers whose factory went bankrupt after Romney's firms seized control of it.
Senior advisors to the president say the GOP contender's business experience is still relevant.
BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: We're not questioning the private equity industry as a whole, we're questioning what lessons and values Mitt Romney took from that experience, and whether that's the economic philosophy you would like to see in the Oval Office.
NARRATOR: Have you had enough of President Obama's attacks on free enterprise?
ACOSTA: But the Romney campaign is now eager to talk about the issue, with the new web video showing Obama surrogate unhappy with the Bain attacks.
But Booker's defense of Wall Street also comes as he's said to be considering a run from the Senate when he'll need plenty of support from high-dollar donors. That is if he can reclaim those political superpowers.
BOOKER: I got this.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Booker!
ACOSTA: Booker indeed.
The Obama campaign said it did not ask Booker to release that web video. For now, a Booker spokesperson says the mayor is not commenting any further on the matter.
But the Romney campaign has plenty to say. One advisor told me, Wolf, that they now see the president as punishing anybody who strays from the Democratic message, even Cory Booker -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper now on this part of the story, as well as new attacks on the Romney campaign coming from the Obama campaign.
Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us.
Gloria, are these attacks about Romney's character, his business experience or both -- what's going on here?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're a little bit of both, Wolf. You know, first of all, the Obama campaign is coming out and saying, okay, Mitt Romney has campaigned about business being able to create jobs -- well, take a look at his business experience, the campaign says, he's a job killer, not a job creator.
But what they're also doing, Wolf, and this is the sort of more subtle attack if there's anything such as subtly in political campaigns -- more subtle attack is to say this is a matter of character. This is about Mitt Romney's values. You know, in one of those calls that campaign advisors have to kind of spin the media, the Obama campaign says these same values would have severe consequences for the middle class.
So, a two-pronged attack that they think is going to work for them in the long run.
BLITZER: What about the reaction coming in from Bain itself? Is Bain reacting to these attacks?
BORGER: Yes, absolutely. Bain is reacting and saying 80 percent of the companies in which we invested did very well.
Also, in a particular attack of Ampad, a company that the Obama campaign just highlighted. They said, you know, we left that company in 1996, we had it since 1992, and it closed in 2000.
So the question, Wolf, is, is the Obama campaign trying to blame Bain for something Bain says was very much marketplace related and by the way, after they left control of it?
BLITZER: Will Bain, some analysts, I guess Democratic analysts suspect will be the case, will Bain become an albatross around Romney?
BORGER: Well, look, that's clearly what the Obama campaign is hoping, Wolf. You know, they'd like this to be an example of how Mitt Romney is uncaring, doesn't care about the middle class, isn't a job creator but a job killer.
I think what Mitt Romney has to do is start attacking back. They run a couple of these web videos, Mitt Romney has come out and said, OK, Barack Obama criticizes private equity, but that doesn't stop him from raising money from private equity. And he talks about creating 100,000 jobs.
I think Mitt Romney needs to get a little bit more focused about how he responds to these Bain capital attacks, Wolf, because they're going to keep coming, it hurt him in his Senate race back in '90s, it could hurt him again if he doesn't sort of sharpen his response.
BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.
We're standing by for the president's news conference here in Chicago, expected to begin any minute from now. We'll bring it to you live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And following the news conference, you'll see -- you'll hear my exclusive interview with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, we go into a wide range of issues.
After 2014, over the next 10 years, will U.S. troops be subject to Afghan law? The answer from the Afghan president says the answer is yes. The U.S. says no. What's going on in this front? It's a sensitive, very sensitive issue. Stand by.
BLITZER: The president of the United States is about to walk into this room and hold a news conference at the end of this NATO summit here in Chicago. The president will presumably open up with a statement about Afghanistan, the exit strategy for the United States in Afghanistan, some other related issues, and then he'll open it up for some questions from some reporters who have gathered at this NATO summit to see what the president has going on. The president has just come from a meeting with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, it was a very brief little three-way meeting, more like a photo opportunity as opposed a meeting, but he's been meeting individually with a lot of these NATO allies and these NATO officials that have come here.
The president now joined by some of his top national security advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Hamid Karzai, my interview with him will follow the president. Here he is.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody.
Let me being by saying thank you to my great friend Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of the city of Chicago and to all my neighbors and friends, the people of the city of Chicago, for their extraordinary hospitality and for everything that they've done to make this summit such a success.
I could not be prouder to welcome people from around the world to my hometown. This was a big undertaking -- some 60 world leaders, not to mention folks who were exercising their freedom soft speech in assembly. The very freedoms that our alliance are dedicated to defending.
And so, it was a lot to carry for the people of Chicago, but this is a city of big shoulders, Rahm, his team, Chicagoans have proved that this world class city knows how to put on a world class event. And partly, this was a perfect place for this summit because it reflects the bonds between so many of our countries.
For generations, Chicago has welcomed immigrants from around the world, including an awful lot of our NATO allies. And I just add that I have lost track of the number of world leaders and their delegations who came up to me over the last day and a half, and remarked on what an extraordinarily beautiful city Chicago is and I could not agree more.
I'm especially pleased that I have a chance to show them Soldier Field. I regret that I was not able to take in one of the cross town classics. Although I will note that my teams did OK. Now, White Sox fan in the back, right on.
Now, as I said yesterday, NATO has been the bedrock of common security, freedom and prosperity for nearly 65 years. It hasn't just endured. It has thrived -- because our nations are stronger when we stand together. We saw that of course most recently in Libya where NATO afforded capabilities that no one else in the world could match.
As president, one of my top foreign policy priorities has been to strengthen our alliances including NATO. And that's exactly what we have done. Two years ago in Lisbon, we took action on several areas, that are critical to the future of our alliance, and we pledged that in Chicago, we would do more. Over the last two days, we have delivered.
First, we reached agreement on a series of steps to strengthened the alliances' defense capabilities over the next decade, in keeping with strategic concept, we agreed to in Lisbon and in order to fulfill our article five commitment to our collective security. We agreed to acquire a fleet of remotely piloted aircraft, drones, to strengthen intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. We agreed to continue air patrols over our Baltic allies, which reflects our unwavering commitment to collective defense.
We also agreed on a mix of conventional, nuclear missile and missile defense forces that we need and importantly we agreed on how to pay for them. And that includes pooling our resources in these difficult economic times. We're moving forward with missile defense and agreed that NATO is declaring an interim capability for this system. America's contribution to this effort would be a phased adoptive approach that we're pursuing on European missile defense and I want to commend our allies that are stepping up and playing a leadership role in missile defense as well.
Our defense radar in Turkey will be placed under NATO control. Spain, Romania and Poland have agreed to host key U.S. assets. The Netherlands will be upgrading radars and we look forward to contributions from other allies.
Since this system is neither aimed at or undermines Russia's strategic deterrent, I continue believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia.
Second, we're now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan. A plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends. Since last year, we have been transitioning parts of Afghanistan to the Afghan National Security Forces and that has enabled our troops to start coming home. Indeed we're in the process of drawing down 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of the summer.
Here in Chicago, we reached the next milestone in that transition. At the ISAF meeting this morning, we agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead for combat operations next year, in mid-2013.
At that time, ISAF forces will have shifted from combat to a support role in all parts of the country. This will mark a major step toward the goal we agreed to in Lisbon, completing the transition to Afghan lead for security by the end of 2014.
So that Afghans can take responsibility for their own country and so our troops can come home. This will not mark the end of Afghanistan's challenges obviously or our partnership with that important country.
But we are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al Qaeda and denying its safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own. We leave Chicago with a clear road map.
Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible end. We also agreed on what NATO's relationship with Afghanistan will look like after 2014. NATO will continue to train, advice and assist and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger.
And while this summit has not been a pledging conference, it's been encouraging to see a number of countries making a significant financial commitment to sustain Afghanistan's progress in the years ahead.
Today the international community also expressed its strong support for efforts to bring peace and stability to South Asia, including Afghanistan's neighbors.
Finally, NATO agreed to cooperate with its partners that have been critical to alliance operations as in Afghanistan and Libya. Today's meeting was unprecedented. Our 28 allies joined by 13 nations from around the world, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Each of these countries has contributed to NATO operations in different ways. Military, political, financial, and each wants to see us do more together. To see the breadth of those companies represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security.
So, again, I want to thank all my fellow leaders, I think the bottom line is that we are leaving Chicago with a NATO alliance that is stronger, more capable and more ready for the future.
As a result, each of our nations, the United States included, is more secure and we're in a stronger position to advance the security and prosperity and freedom that we seek around the world. So with that, I'm going to take a couple of questions and I'm going to start with Julie Pace of AP.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said that the U.S. can't deal with Afghanistan without also talking about Pakistan and yet there's been little public discussion at this summit about Pakistan's role in ending the war.
In your talks with President Sardari today did you make me any progress in reopening the supply lines and if the larger tensions with Pakistan can't be resolved, does that put the NATO coalition's gains in Afghanistan at risk?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, my discussion with President Sardari was very brief as we were walking into the summit and I emphasized to him what we have emphasized publicly as well as privately.
We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. That it is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable. That we share a common enemy and the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan and that we need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region.
President Sardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through. We didn't anticipate that the supply line issue was going to be resolved by this summit, we knew that before we arrived in Chicago.
But we're actually making diligent process on it. And I think ultimately, everybody in the alliance and most importantly, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan understand that neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs.
Unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues and join in common purpose with the international community in making sure that these regions are not harboring extremists. So I don't want to paper over real challenges there.
There's no doubt that there have been tensions when ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months. I think they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.
But ultimately, it is in our interest to see a successful stable Pakistan and it is in Pakistan's interests to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism that is in their midst.
So we're going to keep on going at this and I think every NATO member, every ISAF member is committed to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday, your friend and ally, Cory Booker said that an ad that you released that your campaign released was nauseating and it alleged that Romney at Bain Capital was, quote, responsible for job losses at a Kansas City steel mill.
Is that your view that Romney is personally responsible for those job losses? Will comments from Booker and your former auto czar Steve Ratner who have criticized some of these advertisement call on you to pull back a little bit?
And generally, can you give us your sense -- three-part, Mr. President, could you give us your sense of just what private equity's role is stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all I think Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor. He's doing great work in Newark and obviously helping to turn that city around.
I think it's important to recognize that this issue is not a, quote, "distraction." This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success.
And if they're working hard and they're acting responsibly that they're able to live out the American dream. Now I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits and that's a healthy part of the free market.
That's -- that's part of the role of a lot of business people. That's not unique to private equity and as I think my representatives have said repeatedly and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area.
And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries. But understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that's not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.
And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts.
He's saying, I'm a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business. And when you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.
Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how are we paying for their retraining? Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses.
Your job as president is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody's paying their fair share and it allows us to invest in science and technology and infrastructure? All of which are going to help us grow. So if you're main argument for how to grow the economy is, I knew how to make a lot of money for investors then you're missing what this job is about. It doesn't -- it doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity, but that's not what my job is as president.
My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure the company is growing not just now, but in 10 years from now and 20 years from now. So to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about.
It's what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed and that means I've got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I'm thinking about folks who have been much more successful. What I would say is that Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he's putting forward for how he says he's going to fix the economy.
And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job, is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, and both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining. Hold on a second, Alister Bolton?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President, I would like to take you back not to this summit, but the one you hosted at Camp David a couple of days ago. Whether you can assure investors that there are contingency plans in place to cope if Greece leaves the euro to prevent a Lehman like shock to the U.S. and the global economy?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We had an extensive discussion on the eurozone and everybody is keenly interested in getting that issue resolved. I'm not going to speculate on what happens if the Greek choose to exit, because they've got an election and this is going to be an important debate inside of Greece.
Everybody who was involved in the G8 summit indicated their desire to see Greece stay in the eurozone in the way that is consistent with the commitments that have already been made. And I think it's important for Greece, which is a democracy to work through what their options are at a time of great difficulty.
I think we all understand though what's at stake. What happens in Greece has an impact here in the United States. Businesses are more hesitant to invest if they see a lot of uncertainty looming across the Atlantic because they're not sure whether that's going to mean a further global slowdown.
And we're already seeing, very slow growth rates and in fact contraction of all a lot of countries in Europe. So we had an extensive discussion about how do we strengthen the European project generally in a way that does not harm world economic growth, but instead moves it forward.
And I have been clear, I think in not just this week, but over the last two years about what I think needs to be done. We have got to put in place fire walls that ensure that, you know, countries outside of Greece who are not doing the right thing aren't harmed just because markets are skittish and nervous.
We've got to make sure that banks are recapitalized in Europe so that investors have confidence. And we have to ensure that there's a growth strategy to go alongside the need for fiscal discipline.
As well as a monetary policy, that is promoting the capacity of countries like a Spain or an Italy that have put in place some very tough targets and some very tough policies to also offer their constituencies a prospect for the economy improving, job growth increasing, incomes expanding, even if it may take a little bit of time.
The good news was you saw a consensus across the board, from newly elected presidents to Chancellor Merkel, to other members of the European community that that balanced approach is what's needed right now.
They're going to be meeting this week to try to advance those discussions further. We have offered to be there for consultation, to provide any technical assistance and work through some of these ideas in terms of how we can stabilize the markets there.
Ultimately, what I think is most important is that Europe recognizes this euro project involves more than just a currency, it means that there's got to be some more effective coordination on the fiscal and monetary side and on the growth in general.
And I think that there was strong intent there to move in that direction. Of course, they have got 17 countries that have to agree to every step they take. I think about my one Congress, and I start thinking about 17 congresses and I start getting a little bit of a headache.
It's going to be challenging for them. The last point I'll make is, I do sense greater urgency now than perhaps existed two years ago or two and a half years ago. And keep in mind, just for folks here in the states.
When we look backwards at our response in 2008 and 2009, there was some criticism because we had to make a bunch of tough political decisions. In fact, there's still criticism about some of the decisions we made.
But one of the things we were able to do is to act forcefully to solve a lot of these problems early, which is why credit markets that were locked up started loosening up again. That's why businesses started investing again.
That's why we have seen job growth of over 4 million jobs over the last two years, that's why corporations are making money and that's why we have seen strong economic growth for a long time. And so, acting forcefully, rather than in small, bite sized pieces and increments I think ends up being a better approach.
Even though obviously we're still going through challenges ourselves. I mean, some of these issues are ones that built up over decades, all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. As you of the summit try to continue the work of stopping Afghanistan from reverting to its former role as a terrorist haven. Terrorists today in Yemen massacred 100 soldiers. Are you concerned that despite U.S. efforts, Yemen seems to be slipping more on anarchy and what more can the U.S. do to slow that process?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We are very concerned about al Qaeda activity and extremist activity in Yemen. A positive development has been a relatively peaceful political transition in Yemen, and we participated diplomatically along with Yemen's neighbors to diplomatically lead to a political transition.
But the work is not yet done, we have established a strong counter terrorism partnership with the Yemeni government, but there's no doubt that in a country that is still poor. That is still unstable.
It is attracting a lot of folks that previously might have been in the Fatah before we started putting pressure on them there. And we're going to continue to work with the Yemeni government to try to identify AQAP leadership and operations and try to thwart them.
That's important for U.S. safety, it's also important for the stability of Yemen and for the region. But, you know, I think one of the things that we've learned from the Afghanistan experience is for us to stay focused on the counterterrorism issue.
To work with the government, to not overextend ourselves, you know, to operate smartly in dealing with these issues. And it's not unique to Yemen, by the way. I mean, we've got similar problems in Somalia. What's happening now in Mali and the Sahel.
This is part of the reason why not only is NATO important, but these partnerships we're establishing are important because there are going to be times where these partners have more effective intelligence operations, more diplomatic contacts, et cetera, in some of these parts of the world where the state is a little wobbly.
And you may see terrorists attempting to infiltrate or set up bases. I'm going to call on Jack Tapper. Because Jay Carney told me you've been talking to more troops in Afghanistan.
Since so much of the topic of this summit has been on Afghanistan, obviously none of this would be working were it not for the extraordinary sacrifices that they're making.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Mr. President. I appreciate it. Yes, I put out an invitation for some troops and their families that I know. I'll just give you two or three of them.
Mr. President, if this handoff and withdrawal prove premature, what plans are in place for dealing with an Afghanistan that's fallen apart or is possibly again under Taliban rule? And I'll just do one more.
Do you feel that the reporting you receive from the Pentagon fully represents what the on-ground commanders assess? Is there any disconnect between what leaders feel the public and the president want to hear versus what is actually occurring on the ground? These are from troops I've met who served.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me take the second question first. I mean, I think that one of the things that I emphasize whenever I'm talking to Jon Allen or the joint chiefs or any of the officers who are in Afghanistan is I can't afford a whitewash.
I can't afford not getting the very best information in order to make good decisions. I should add, by the way, that the danger a lot of times is not that anybody is purposely trying to down play challenges in Afghanistan.
A lot of time it's just the military culture is, we can get it done. And so their thinking is, how are we going to solve this problem not, boy, why is this such a disaster? That's part of the reason why we admire our military so much and we love our troops because they've got that can-do spirit.
But I think that we have set up a structure that really tries to guard against that. Because even in my White House, for example, I've got former officers who have been in Afghanistan who I will send out there as part of the national security team at the White House.
Not simply the Pentagon, to interact and to listen and to go in and talk to the captains and the majors and the corporals and the privates to try to get a sense of what's going on. And I think the reports we get are relatively accurate in the sense that there is real improvement in those areas where we've had a significant presence.
You can see the Taliban not having a foothold. That there is genuine improvement in the performance of afghan national security forces. But the Taliban is still a robust enemy and the gains are still fragile, which leads me, then, to the second point that you've made in terms of premature withdrawal.
I don't think that there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say, this is all done. This is perfect. This is just the way we wanted it. And now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home. There's a process.
And it's sometimes a messy process. Just as it was in Iraq, but think about it, we've been there now ten years. We are now committing to a transition process that takes place next year. But the full transition to Afghan responsibility is almost two years away.
And the Afghan security forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don't start taking that responsibility. And, frankly, the large footprint that we have in Afghanistan over time can be counterproductive. We've been there 10 years. And I think, you know, no matter how much good we're doing and how outstanding our troops and our civilians and diplomats are doing on the ground, ten years in a country that's very different, that's a strain.
Not only on our folks, but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty so I think that the timetable that we've established is a sound one, it is a responsible one.
Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely. Can I anticipate that over the next two years there are going to be some bad moments along with some good ones? Absolutely.
But I think it is the appropriate strategy whereby we can achieve a stable Afghanistan that won't be perfect. We can pull back our troops in a responsible way, and we can start rebuilding America and making some of the massive investments we've made in Afghanistan here back home.
Putting people back to work, retraining workers, rebuilding our schools, investing in science and technology, developing our business climate. But there are going to be challenges. The one thing that I'm never doubtful about is just the amazing capacity of our troops and their morale.
When I was in Bagram just a couple of weeks ago, the fact that you still have so much determination and stick to it-ness and professionalism not just from our troops, but from all our coalition allies, all ISAF is a testament to that. It's extraordinary. And we're very proud of them, all right.
Since I am in Chicago, even though my press secretary told me not to do this, I am going to call on a Chicagoan to ask a Chicago question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good to see you, how you been?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you, Mr. President. Good to see you in Chicago. Chicagoans look at you standing there with Chicago, Chicago, Chicago on the wall behind you. There's an undeniable sense of pride.
In your view, how did reality match up to fantasy in welcoming the world leaders to Chicago? And did the demonstrators in any way on the streets undermine your efforts, Mayor Emanuel's efforts, to project the image of Chicago you would have liked to have seen?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently. Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience. If you talk to leaders from around the world, they loved the city.
Michelle took some of the spouses down to the south side to see the Komer Center where wonderful stuff is being done with early education. They saw the art institute. I was just talking to David Cameron. I think he's sneaking off, doing a little sightseeing before he heads home.
I encouraged everybody to shop. Want to boost the hometown economy. We gave each leader a bean, a small model for them to remember, as well as a football from soldier field. Many of them did not know what to do with it.
So I -- people had a wonderful time and I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn't have been more gracious and more hospitable. So I could not have been prouder.
Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends is free speech and freedom of assembly. And, you know, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren't all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here because that's what -- part of what America's about.
And obviously Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully and the Chicago police, Chicago's finest, did a great job under, you know, some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny. The only other thing I'll say about this is thank you to everybody who endure the traffic situation.
Obviously, Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you, you know, that's -- what can I tell you, that's -- that's part of the price of being a world city.
But this was a great showcase. And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home. I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. They said I would cause even worse traffic, so I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy.
OBAMA: All right, thank you , everybody.