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An Exclusive Interview with Secretaries Clinton and Gates

Aired October 06, 2009 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour. And as President Obama meets at the White House to discuss strategy for Afghanistan, we have an exclusive joint interview with two of his principal advisers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

We want to welcome our views in the United States and around the world to this special one-hour edition of our program. In this rare joint interview at this crucial time for Afghanistan, both secretaries said that the Taliban does have the momentum, leaving open the possibility of a return by Al Qaida. And they also assured their allies in the region that they are in this fight for the long haul.

We spoke at a roundtable hosted by George Washington University, and I joined CNN's special correspondent Frank Sesno, who's also director of the school's media and public affairs department.


AMANPOUR: Welcome. Welcome to you both.

We've been sort of searching back in the annals of recent history, and we can't really find an example such as this, where two sitting secretaries, in charge of some of the most important briefs at the moment, are sitting on stage in an interview such as this.

So we just wanted to start by asking you, how often do you speak together? What is it like working together? Do you pick up the phone and call each other whenever you like? How does it work?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE Well, we actually spend a lot of time together, and it is mostly at the White House, in the Situation Room, which is this room that is especially set up for secure conversations, a windowless domain that we spend a lot of time in, and we also talk outside of those formal meetings.

But, you know, Bob has a -- a lot of experience, which I certainly appreciate, and also a good sense of humor, which makes everything a little bit better.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You know, most of my career, secretaries of state and defense weren't speaking to one another.

AMANPOUR: Precisely why we are.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: In fact, sometimes it was even worst than that.

GATES: And -- and -- and it could get pretty ugly, actually. And so -- I mean, it's terrific to -- to have the kind of relationship where we can talk together, because the truth of the matter is, if the bureaucracies realize that the principals get along and work together and are on the same page, it radiates downward.

And when people discover it's not career-enhancing to try and set your principal's hair on fire because the other person is doing something horrible, it makes a huge difference, and not just at this level, but all through the bureaucracy and the interagency.

SESNO: So what is it that, by doing this and by sending this signal from the top, that you are trying to change?

GATES: Well, I don't -- I don't think we're trying to prove anything. It's just we get along. We work together well. I think it starts with, frankly, based on my experience, the secretary of defense being willing to acknowledge that the secretary of state is the principal spokesperson for United States foreign policy. And once you get over that hurdle, the rest of it kind of falls into place.

CLINTON: You know, Frank, I think that, you know, when Secretary Gates was given this responsibility in the last administration, he immediately began making clear that we had to have a coherent and unified foreign policy; the instruments of American power in defense, diplomacy and development needed to be working together.

AMANPOUR: So given that you're involved in a very difficult situation right now -- the war in Afghanistan, the place where I've spent a long time -- I want to start by asking you, do you think you can win there? Both of you, I'd like to know whether you think you can win?

CLINTON: Well, I think, Christiane, what we're looking at, as we meet to advise the president, is what do we need to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because we see the region as the area of concern, that will, you know, promote American interests and values, protect our country, as well as the allies and other interests that we have around the world?

So I think it's a -- it's a -- a very thoughtful analysis about, what is it we need to do? And -- and we're -- you know, we're trying to look at it from ground up and make sure that we're examining every assumption, because what's important is, is that, at the end of the day, the president makes a decision that he believes in, that he thinks is going to further our core objectives of, you know, protecting our country, preventing attacks on us, trying to protect our interests and our allies. And that's what we're -- we're attempting to do.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Gates, the majority of the American people believe that America can win in Afghanistan. Do you think America can win in Afghanistan?

GATES: Well, from the time I've took this job, I have tried, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, to avoid terms like "winning" and "losing," because they become very loaded in our domestic debate, but they also become loaded around the world. I think the key thing is to establish what our objectives are, and can we achieve our objectives? And the answer to that question is absolutely.

SESNO: Well, let me ask you about our objectives, because back in March, President Obama said several things. He said our clear and focused goal -- that was his term -- was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaida. He said, for the American people, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the most dangerous place in the world, that Afghanistan was an international security issue of the highest order, and that if the Afghan government were to fall to the Taliban, the country will -- and I'm quoting him here -- "be again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

Has any of that changed from then until now in this review?


GATES: I don't think so.


GATES: I think it's important to remember that, as Secretary Clinton said, that the president indicated very explicitly in -- at the end of March that we would revisit the strategy after the election in Afghanistan.

Now, at least a couple of things have happened. One is the new commander has done an assessment and found a situation that -- in Afghanistan that is more serious than we anticipated when the decisions were made in March. So that's one thing to take into account.

The other is, clearly, a flawed election in Afghanistan that has complicated the picture for us.

And so, it seems to me, under these circumstances, and particularly -- I mean, let's be honest. The president is being asked to make a very significant decision. And the notion of being willing to pause, reassess basic assumptions, reassess the analysis, and then make those decisions seems to me, given the importance of these decisions -- which I've said are probably among the most important he will make in his entire presidency -- seems entirely appropriate.

AMANPOUR: So you've both spoken just now very highly of General McChrystal. You've talked about the new commander, his important reassessment, and changes on the ground.

There are obviously two basic choices that you have: either to go all in or to scale back. Some who are talking about scaling back talk about less nation-building, talk about more Predator strikes, perhaps more focus on -- on Pakistan rather than in Afghanistan.

In a public speech in London to military personnel, General McChrystal, when asked about that, flatly stated that it wouldn't work. Can we just show you what he said?


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, AFGHANISTAN: No. And the first -- the first reason is, I believe, you have to navigate from where you are, not from where you wish you were. We are in Afghanistan. We've established relationships, expectations both with the Afghan people, the Afghan government, in the region, and I believe Afghanistan has its own value. It's stability now.


AMANPOUR: So do you believe that, by scaling back over the next 12 to 18 months, you can win in Afghanistan?

GATES: Well, first of all, I think, as you know, we are not going to talk about where the president ought to go or the options in front of him. I mean, I think I just gave a speech this morning in which I said that the president deserves the candid advice of his senior advisers, both civilian and military, but that advice should be private.

All I will say is, first of all, I think Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now. He was my recommendation to the president to lead this effort. And I have every confidence that, no matter what decision the president makes, Stan McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.

AMANPOUR: Could I ask you about the nature of private advice? You have said it; others have said it; General Jones said it this weekend. You know that, during the lead-up to the gulf -- to the second Iraq war in 2003, many of the one-star, two-star, other generals and military officials didn't stand up and challenge the premise that only a certain amount of troops were necessary, and that was deemed to have been a big mistake and deemed to have wasted a lot of time, for instance, in Iraq.

Do you not think that General McChrystal must give his honest assessment in public, because of what happened when that honest assessment was not given?

GATES: I think the important thing is for the president to hear the advice of his commanders and to have the advantage of hearing that advice in private. In all the decisions that were made during the surge in Iraq, the president -- I structured a process where the commander in the field, General Petraeus, the then-commander of Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff each had an opportunity to present their views privately to the president on what ought to be done.

I think that's the way the process ought to work. I think the president -- this president has made it clear he is prepared to spend whatever time is needed in person, not only with the Joint Chiefs and the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but with General McChrystal, to make sure they have had plenty of time to present their views directly to him. That's a commitment he has made to me directly, and I intend to make sure that it's exercised.

AMANPOUR: Could I just ask, Secretary Clinton, what you think about the nature of the debate over the advice?

CLINTON: I think it's important to put this into perhaps some historic perspective. You know, it is unusual for all advice about military matters to be in public for a president.

Now, there is a lot of second-guessing that might go on and historical perspective, but this process that President Obama has put together is, I think, one of the most open, most thorough that I've read about. And it is very much an invitation for everybody to come to the table, and that's what we're doing.

AMANPOUR: We'll be right back with more on this subject right after a break.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To advance security, opportunity and justice, not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces. We need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs.

And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies.


SESNO: Secretary Clinton, you've heard that, President Obama speaking in March about the need to increase the number of civilians -- the civilian surge it's called -- but the civilian task has been -- or the civilian personnel has been way under-tasked. When you came into office, 300-some- odd civilians. You're trying to move to 1,000 by the end of the year or just under it.


SESNO: That's a big increase.


SESNO: But compared to the tens of thousands of the military, it's just a drop in the bucket. Is that really going to change the dynamic? What should the balance be in a conflict zone like Afghanistan if you're going to accomplish the goals that you're out to accomplish?

CLINTON: Well, Frank, I think what we are attempting to achieve is remarkable in a short period of time. As you say, back when the president made those remarks in March, we had about 300 civilians, Americans, in Afghanistan. We will have close to 1,000 by the end of this year.

But it is a kind of a chicken-and-an-egg issue. We want to focus on development, particularly agriculture, rule of law, good governance, economic development, women's empowerment, those kinds of issues. But in order to operate in many of the places in Afghanistan, you have to have a level of security.

So there has to be a commitment to make an area as secure as possible, because, remember, when an American goes in, that person will always be accompanied by, you know, NGOs, Afghans. So the numbers are much bigger than just the direct American hires, because there are a lot of Americans working in Afghanistan who work for charities or nongovernmental organizations.

But our assessment was that, you know, we needed to focus on how to help the people of Afghanistan lift themselves up, have their own opportunities, and it goes hand in hand with our military effort.

SESNO: Secretary Gates, you in many ways launched this conversation a couple of years ago with a speech where you talk -- and you said that we will not kill or capture our way to victory in these places. What should our civilian diplomats be doing that the military is now doing?

GATES: Well, let's -- let's step back, first of all, to that point two years ago when I said -- when I sort of gave my "man bites dog" speech of the secretary of defense, saying there wasn't enough money going to the Department of State.

The reality is, the Department of State and the Agency for International Development were starved for resources for decades. Now, just -- just let me give you an example. Working for me are 2 million men and women in uniform. Secretary Clinton has I think somewhere south of 7,000 foreign service officers. If you took all the foreign service officers in the world, they would barely crew one aircraft carrier. So, you know, just to keep things in perspective.

AMANPOUR: And part of what's happening is that the Afghan people are not getting as much economic development, therefore, not as much help and hope as -- as one might have thought when this started.

So the question I have for you, sir -- both of you, actually -- is that there had been some talk over the weekend about how the United States believes that perhaps Al Qaida has been diminished, the threat from the Taliban is not as great as one might have thought.

So I want to know what you think about the momentum of the Taliban, their long-term prospects, given the fact that today 80 percent of Afghanistan has a permanent Taliban presence, compared to 72 percent a year ago and 54 percent the year before that. They seem to be winning territory rather than losing.

GATES: I -- I can't improve on -- on General McChrystal's assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and deteriorating. And, you know, there are a lot of reasons for it. You have to go back to 2003, 2004, in terms of the Taliban beginning to reconstitute themselves in Pakistan and so on. I mean, that's a historians' debate. We are where we are.

And -- and this -- it kind of goes back to General McChrystal's quote that you aired. You -- you have to start with where you are, not where you wish you were. And -- and the reality is that, because of our inability and the inability, frankly, of our allies, to put enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems.

AMANPOUR: And do you believe that should -- not next week or next month -- but should Afghanistan fall to the Taliban again, that it would again become a base for Al Qaida to have its operations there?

GATES: I think -- I think the thing to remember about Afghanistan is that that -- that country, and particularly the Afghan-Pakistan border, is -- is the modern epicenter of jihad. It is where the Mujahideen defeated the other superpower.

And their view is, in my opinion, that they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which, more than anything, would empower their message and the opportunity to recruit, to fundraise, and to plan operations.

So I think you have to see this area in a historical context in terms of what happened in the 1980s and the meaning of the victory over the Soviet Union in order to understand the importance of this symbiotic relationship between Al Qaida and the Taliban and -- and the other extremists, frankly.

AMANPOUR: So you think they would come back if Afghanistan fell?

GATES: I don't know whether the -- whether Al Qaida would sort of move their headquarters from the FATA to -- back into Afghanistan, but there's no question in my mind that if the Taliban took large -- took control of significant portions of Afghanistan, that that would be added space for Al Qaida to strengthen itself and -- and more recruitment, more fundraising.

But what's more important than that, in my view, is the message that it sends that empowers Al Qaida. Al Qaida, in many respects, is an ideology. And the notion that they have come back from this defeat -- come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States, but NATO -- 42 nations and so on -- is a hugely empowering message, should they be successful.

AMANPOUR: We'll come back with more from both secretaries right after a break. We'll talk more about Pakistan and Iran.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We're going to continue our conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

We were just talking about Afghanistan and the Pakistan area -- part of your joint solution, hopefully, to this regional -- regional problems that exist there.

The prime minister, the president, the foreign minister of Pakistan have all said and have all been very worried about short-termism, short- timerism from the United States. They're concerned that, if you pull back, then they will have to bank not on the U.S. again, but on, perhaps, the Taliban, like they did before 9/11.

What do you say to -- to the Pakistani leaders, who are now doing precisely what you asked them to do -- going after the Taliban, after various militants and terrorists in their own -- in their own country?

CLINTON: Well, what we say is that we want to be supportive and provide assistance and we want to ramp that up. Just this -- this last week, a very important piece of legislation, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, that made a commitment to additional aid for Pakistan's civilian government and to deliver services to the people of Pakistan was passed unanimously, on its way to the president to be signed.

And you're right. When we started this review, one of the innovative conclusions we reached was we had to look at both Afghanistan and Pakistan together. Obviously, we had a great commitment in Afghanistan and there had been military assistance and counterterrorism training provided to Pakistan, but there hadn't yet been a commitment by the Pakistani military and the civilian government, like we're seeing now, to go after the extremists that are threatening them, as well as beyond their borders.

And as Bob said, when we partnered with Pakistan to supply the Mujahideen with the weapons and training that they needed to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, once that was accomplished, we left. And Pakistan feels like we left them holding the bag, because all of a sudden they were awash in weapons, they were awash in drugs, they had all of these, you know, jihadists who had been trained up in conjunction with us. And, you know, we know what happened. We saw that occurring in Afghanistan.

So I think it's rightful of the Pakistanis to say, "Well, how long will your commitment be? How much will you be by our side as we take on these threats to us and, by the way, also to you?"

SESNO: I mean, the foreign -- if I may -- the foreign minister of Pakistan said the fact that this is being debated -- meaning this whole policy review -- whether to stay or not to stay, what sort of signal is that sending, he said. Isn't this undermining the very Pakistanis whom you have pressured to lean on their own extremists in the Taliban and fight this fight?

GATES: Well, first of all, I think that there is absolutely no reason for the president not to consider very carefully the next steps in Afghanistan. I had lunch with the Pakistani ambassador last week, and I made absolutely clear to him: We are not leaving Afghanistan.

This discussion is about next steps forward. And the president has some momentous decisions to make. And while there may be some short-term uncertainty on the part of our allies, in terms of those next steps, there should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis.

That's long term. That's a strategic objective of the United States for -- for a number of reasons that Pakistan is a strategically important country. So I -- you know, if -- if it makes them nervous that we're talking about this for a couple of weeks, frankly, I think that's a transitory problem.

SESNO: I just want to button one thing up. You were talking earlier about your advice and your comments, your public comments, to keep the advice to the president private and candid. Are you trying to muzzle McChrystal?

GATES: Absolutely not. I -- I have told people on Capitol Hill, the minute the president makes his decisions, we will get General McChrystal back here as quickly as possible and up onto the Hill, because I will tell you, there is no one more knowledgeable and more persuasive on these issues than Stan McChrystal.

But it would put -- I believe it would put General McChrystal in an impossible situation to go up in a hyper-partisan environment to the Hill before the president made his decisions and put the general on the spot. I just think that's wrong. I think it's wrong for General McChrystal, and I think it's wrong for the president. And as far as I'm concerned, in this job, I'll do everything in my power to prevent that until the president has made his decisions.

AMANPOUR: We're going to take a break. But when we come back, we'll talk about Iran with Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. We continue our conversation with the two secretaries sitting here.

I want to know if you can tell us, what precisely was agreed between the U.S., Iran, and the other powers sitting at that table in Geneva? Did they actually agree to ship out their low-enriched uranium?

CLINTON: Well, there were -- there were three agreements: One, that there would be inspections, and those inspections are going forward, and they're going forward quickly of the undisclosed sites that the president and Prime Minister Brown and President Sarkozy announced a little over a week ago in Pittsburgh.

They agreed that, in principle, the Iranians would ship out their LEU for reprocessing to be returned for their research reactor. There will be a team of experts meeting to determine exactly how that will be carried out within 10 days.

And they agreed that there will be another meeting, which means that this process doesn't just drag on without any, you know, continuity.

So we think that, on those three big issues, this was a worthwhile meeting. But as the president has said and I and others have also made clear, this is not by any means a stopping point. There is much more to be done. We expect much more.

We know that the Iranians need to understand that they have run a nuclear program that has violated international rules and Security Council resolutions, which they have to bring, you know, into compliance, making it more transparent and accountable. So we have -- we have work ahead of us, but I think that, on balance, what came out of the meeting in Geneva was positive.

AMANPOUR: Just to follow up on the low-enriched uranium, you know, one Iranian diplomat told the press that actually, no, there wasn't that agreement, and I'm asking you whether there is some miscommunication. Are they just agreeing to buy enriched -- further enriched uranium and not ship theirs out? Or do you understand that they are going to ship the bulk of theirs out?

CLINTON: Well, nothing is finished until it's finished. And there's a meeting of technical experts -- I believe it's October 18th -- to see how to put into action what we certainly believed was an agreement in principle. But there's a lot to be done before that actually happens.

SESNO: Do you think the Iranians actually want to resolve this?

CLINTON: We don't know yet. We don't know.

SESNO: Think this is credible?

GATES: I agree with Hillary. I think -- I think the jury's out. And -- and what we have to do is keep them to tight enough deadlines and specific enough requirements that we have some indication of whether they're serious or not.

SESNO: I mean, there's already -- there's already some substantial criticism of this, that -- that from -- from -- from some who are saying that this is another way for the Iranians to play for time and that, in effect, they're being rewarded for having flouted U.N. resolutions all these years if they can take the uranium that they shouldn't have enriched to begin with, get it sent out, and have it brought back, enhanced, and be able to use in a power plant?

CLINTON: Well, but -- but think about what we're -- what we're seeing here, and that is that the uranium that they have enriched would be used for a research reactor, which everybody knows they've been running, which they are entitled to run, but it would not be used for other purposes.

So, yes, does it buy time? It buys time. It buys time for us to consider carefully their response, the sincerity of their actions, and, you know, we're moving simultaneously on the dual track. I mean, we always said we had a track of engagement, and we have begun that with this process, but we also said we would be working with likeminded nations and convincing others to stand ready with tougher sanctions were we not successful.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, Secretary Gates, has your opinion, your intelligence, has anything changed regarding your assessment of whether they're trying to make a nuclear weapon?

GATES: My personal belief all along has been that they have the intention of -- of developing nuclear weapons. Whether they have actually begun that program or not is -- is hard to say, whether they're begun a weaponization program.

But I think, you know, the question is, can we over time or can we in a limited period of time bring the Iranians to a conclusion that -- that Iran is better off without nuclear weapons than with them, and not just in the security sense, but economically and in terms of their isolation in the international community, and so on?

And because -- I mean, my view is, the only long-term solution to this problem, at the end of the day, is the Iranians themselves deciding having nuclear weapons is not in their interest. And if we can't convince them of that, then an array of other options are open.

But our hope, my hope for ever since I took this job has been that -- that we could, through -- through both carrots and sticks, persuade them of a smarter direction for Iran.

AMANPOUR: Isn't the -- the -- I mean, there are basically, I think, three policy options, Iran with some kind of nuclear capability, a nuclear program, but with very strict verification, sanctions to try to get them not to enrich, which so far has not -- have not worked, plenty of holes, plenty of black market, or the military option, which you yourself have cast doubts upon its efficacy.

Isn't the -- the real nub of the debate right now to figure out some kind of way of verifying and inspecting and being able to know if they plan to do something else with their uranium, other than for peaceful purposes, as they claim?

CLINTON: Well, that is, of course, part of the change in calculation that Bob was referring to. We have a very clear objective of trying to persuade the Iranians that their calculation of their security interest and their economic interest should take into account the consequences of sanctions, for example, of increased defensive measures taken in Europe and in the gulf region.

You know, we just worked through this missile defense decision, and, you know, clearly, our new adaptive approach toward missile defense is aimed at protecting our NATO allies and most of Europe from a short- or medium-range Iranian missile.

We have begun to talk with a lot of our other friends and allies about, you know, what they need to feel that they would be adequately protected.

Now, this is not in any way to concede what Iran should do going forward, because some people say, when we talk defensive, that means that we're conceding that they are going to end up with a weapon. No, not at all. We are trying to influence the calculation and the decision as to whether or not they should move toward weaponization.

GATES: Some people have said, in so many words, that I'm kind of wooly-headed in believing that the -- that the Iranians would see not having nuclear weapons as more in their security interest than not.

But the question is, would the Iranians look at that that way if there were proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, if some of their neighbors in the Middle East, beyond those that now have them would develop nuclear weapons? Is that in their interest? Do they think that enhances their national security? I -- I think that's an argument to be made.

AMANPOUR: We're going to continue this line of questioning right after a short break.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back. As we continue our conversation, we were talking about Iran and some way of figuring out the way forward about Iran's nuclear program.

I just want to know, is it good enough to have a strict verification protocol -- for instance, the additional protocol under the NPT, or, indeed, you know, to have shipping out of the LEU? Is that good enough, even if it's not perfect?

CLINTON: Well, this is -- this is a question we're not ready to answer because we don't know what the options in front of us are. We don't know what Iran would agree to. We don't know what kind of pressure could be brought to bear in case they don't agree.

So, you know, our goal is, as it always has been, to try to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, which we think would be very destabilizing in the region and beyond, and that's what we're aimed at achieving through this engagement.

SESNO: Want to...

GATES: And what nuclear sites might they be prepared to be transparent about that have not been declared at this point.

SESNO: I want to ask you about, both, one last question about Iran, and that relates to what the message is to the people of Iran who've been in the streets, who have opposed Ahmadinejad, who spoke out, in some cases have been arrested, wounded or worse, standing up to what they see as a stolen election.

Are you concerned that those in Iran who want real political change are going to be somehow forgotten or abandoned or will not be the focus of American comment and -- and action?

CLINTON: No, because I think we've been very clear in supporting the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people and in speaking out forcefully against the irregularities of their electoral process.

SESNO: Let's talk about 21st century diplomacy and how it's changed and -- and what you're doing, because you both addressed this, different terminology that's often used.

In one particular area, information, I want to talk a little bit for a moment here. You call it strategic communication, you call it public diplomacy, but it's connecting with the rest of the world. It's learning back from what others are saying. It's influencing leaders and persuading publics and knocking down myths or propaganda and maybe, in some cases, propagandizing ourselves.

A lot of this is now done by the military. There is no one person in charge of this. How should this very important information battle be waged and who should be in command?

CLINTON: Well, let me give you two quick examples.

SESNO: (inaudible) State Department?

CLINTON: Yes. You know, a -- a battlefield conflict zone requires the military to respond to, you know, rumors, attacks. They have to have a strategic communications effort, but it must be part of a broader national public diplomacy outreach effort.

I'll give you two quick examples. We were just talking about Iran. We learned that during the height of the demonstrations about the election that Twitter was a major source of information for people who were protesting. And we -- and we felt that was a good vehicle, but we were told that Twitter just was going to have to shut down for 48 hours to do some upgrades to the software. So we called and said, "Please don't shut down, because this is a major communications loop for people on the streets."

In Afghanistan, what we've learned since we got in there -- and these great young civilians who work for me in the State Department working with these great young military leaders working in the -- in our armed forces, they realized that we didn't have a secure environment for cell phones to operate.

So we began looking for places we could put up cell towers. We began looking for how we would incentivize businesses in Afghanistan to spread their cell phone coverage. Why? Because the Taliban and their allies use cell phones to intimidate people. We found out that they were running FM - - illegal FM stations literally off the back of motorcycles. And they were telling people, "We're going to behead this person, we're going to do that."

So we are competing in that space. And, you know, obviously, we have to work together, but we have the lead on it, because it needs to stand for more than just our military might. It needs to represent all of our national interests and values.

AMANPOUR: In Afghanistan, the notion of bombing from the air and going after militants from the air has caused a lot of civilian casualties and a huge drop-off for American public support amongst the people there.

Do you think that it's possible to continue using that as a primary weapon against -- against militants, just in terms of its effectiveness? And do you think that it's moral to use that as a primary attack against the militants?

GATES: Well, I think one of the principal changes that General McChrystal has -- has brought -- and I will give General McKiernan credit, his predecessor, for beginning to move away from the use of airpower, and particularly in offensive operations, and I think General McChrystal has underscored this.

And a central element of his strategy in Afghanistan is to get away from the use of airpower and the potential for mistakes that create civilian casualties and that every civilian casualty is a strategic defeat for -- for the countries trying to help the Afghan government and people.

And I would just say this: We will continue to use airpower to defend our own troops. If they are in trouble, we will use airpower to defend them. Where -- where I think General McChrystal has drawn a line is in using airpower in offensive operations.


AMANPOUR: And on that note, we would like to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for being with us, Frank Sesno, as well, of course, and all of George Washington University. And I'll be back with a closing thought.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us for this unique conversation. And we want to leave you now with this thought -- well, actually, with these faces. They're the faces of young people that I've met in Afghanistan, faces that are filled with hope for a decent future. These people tell us that they don't see the U.S. as occupiers, and they say they don't want the Taliban back. And it's the perspective of the Afghan people. It's their perception of who's winning which will most likely decide the outcome of this war.

Go to our Web site,, for the whole picture gallery and for more of this conversation, including some advice for young Americans from both secretaries.

That's it for now. Thanks for joining us. Goodbye from New York.