Obama: Bush Administration Lost 'Focus' in Afghanistan
By Michael D. Shear
President Barack Obama said his predecessor's administration had lost its "focus" in the war in Afghanistan, forcing a revamping of the strategy that is aimed narrowly at defeating the terrorists who make their base of operations there and in Pakistan.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation" on the eve of his first overseas trip, Obama said that the increase in troops he has approved is in service to that newly focused mission.
"The focus over the last seven years, I think, has been lost," he told host Bob Schieffer. "We have to ensure that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can serve as a safe haven for al-Qaeda."
Obama's appearance on the Sunday morning talk show was the leading edge of an administration blitz of the airwaves that included an appearance by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on ABC and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Fox News.
Geithner told George Stephanopolous of ABC's "This Week" that the government bailout program known as TARP has $135 billion that has yet to be committed, leaving the government "substantial resources to move ahead with this broad-based suite of initiatives to help get the financial system back in the business of providing credit."
The treasury secretary, who has been under fire during much of his tenure, waved aside questions about whether the administration will ask for even more money to bail out the financial sector.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, in terms of whether we need additional resources," Geithner said. "And, of course, if we come to that point, we'll go to the Congress and give them the strongest case possible and help them understand why this would be cheaper over the long run, for us to move aggressively."
On Fox News Sunday, Gates said he does not expect any change in the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay soldiers.
He also said he expects a missile launch from North Korea sometime soon -- but that the U.S. has no plans to attempt to shoot down the North Korean missile if it is launched.
"We are not prepared to do anything about it," he said.
In Obama's interview, he said the U.S. auto industry is not quite where it needs to be to receive more government funds. But he praised the industry for "serious efforts" to move in that direction.
"We want to have a successful auto industry," he said. "But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge at the other end much more lean, mean and competitive than it currently is."
Obama is expected to announce the results of his auto task force on Monday. General Motors and Chrysler have each asked for billions more, in addition to the billions that the Bush administration loaned them last year.
Reports suggest that the president is likely to recommend approving at least some of that request, while insisting on even stricter timelines for action by the companies and their unions.
During Sunday's interview, Obama also reiterated his desire for a permanent middle class tax cut, pushing back against suggestions that he was willing to let the tax cuts currently in the stimulus legislation expire.
"I'm going to be pushing as hard as I can to get it done in this budget... so we don't see a drop off," he said. Asked whether he will insist that the tax cuts be made permanent, he said: "Absolutely. I still think it's the right thing to do."
On the economic recovery, Obama elaborated on his conversation with the heads of the largest U.S. banks last week. He said he made clear to them that they need to be more sensitive to the outrage felt by the American people.
"Show some restraint. Show some -- show that you get that this is a crisis and everybody has to make sacrifices," he said he told them.
"They agreed. And they recognized it. Now, the proof of the pudding's in the eating. So I expect to see that restraint operate," he added. "Now, the flip side is I've gotta explain to the American people we're not gonna get this recovery if we don't see a recovery of the financial sector. And there's no separation between Main Street and Wall Street. We're all in this together. And it's my job to help keep that focus as we move forward."
Posted at 11:35 AM ET on Mar 29, 2009
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