Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama's Town Hall Meeting: Question 8--Terrorism and Afghanistan

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right? All right, this is going to be the last question, unfortunately. We've run out of time so quickly. Our last Internet question, because I want to make sure that we got all three of our fine students here.

Q Mr. President, it's a great honor for the last question. And I'm a college student from Fudan University, and today I'm also the representative of China's Youth (inaudible.) And this question I think is from Beijing: Paid great attention to your Afghanistan policies, and he would like to know whether terrorism is still the greatest security concern for the United States? And how do you assess the military actions in Afghanistan, or whether it will turn into another Iraqi war? Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that's an excellent question. Well, first of all, I do continue to believe that the greatest threat to United States' security are the terrorist networks like al Qaeda. And the reason is, is because even though they are small in number, what they have shown is, is that they have no conscience when it comes to the destruction of innocent civilians. And because of technology today, if an organization like that got a weapon of mass destruction on its hands -- a nuclear or a chemical or a biological weapon -- and they used it in a city, whether it's in Shanghai or New York, just a few individuals could potentially kill tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands. So it really does pose an extraordinary threat.

Now, the reason we originally went into Afghanistan was because al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, being hosted by the Taliban. They have now moved over the border of Afghanistan and they are in Pakistan now, but they continue to have networks with other extremist organizations in that region. And I do believe that it is important for us to stabilize Afghanistan so that the people of Afghanistan can protect themselves, but they can also be a partner in reducing the power of these extremist networks.

Now, obviously it is a very difficult thing -- one of the hardest things about my job is ordering young men and women into the battlefield. I often have to meet with the mothers and fathers of the fallen, those who do not come home. And it is a great weight on me. It gives me a heavy heart.

Fortunately, our Armed Services is -- the young men and women who participate, they believe so strongly in their service to their country that they are willing to go. And I think that it is possible -- working in a broader coalition with our allies in NATO and others that are contributing like Australia -- to help train the Afghans so that they have a functioning government, that they have their own security forces, and then slowly we can begin to pull our troops out because there's no longer that vacuum that existed after the Taliban left.

But it's a difficult task. It's not easy. And ultimately I think in trying to defeat these terrorist extremists, it's important to understand it's not just a military exercise. We also have to think about what motivates young people to become terrorists, why would they become suicide bombers. And although there are obviously a lot of different reasons, including I think the perversion of religion, in thinking that somehow these kinds of violent acts are appropriate, part of what's happened in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan is these young people have no education, they have no opportunities, and so they see no way for them to move forward in life, and that leads them into thinking that this is their only option.

And so part of what we want to do in Afghanistan is to find ways that we can train teachers and create schools and improve agriculture so that people have a greater sense of hope. That won't change the ideas of a Osama bin Laden who are very ideologically fixed on trying to strike at the West, but it will change the pool of young people who they can recruit from. And that is at least as important, if not more important over time, as whatever military actions that we can take. Okay?

All right, I have had a wonderful time. I am so grateful to all of you. First of all, let me say I'm very impressed with all of your English. Clearly you've been studying very hard. And having a chance to meet with all of you I think has given me great hope for the future of U.S.-China relations.

I hope that many of you have the opportunity to come and travel and visit the United States. You will be welcome. I think you will find that the American people feel very warmly towards the people of China. And I am very confident that, with young people like yourselves and the young people that I know in the United States, that our two great countries will continue to prosper and help to bring about a more peaceful and secure world.

So thank you very much everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)



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