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Transcript of President Obama's Interview on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno Transcript of President Obama's Interview on the Tonight Show With Jay...

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Transcript of President Obama's Interview on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno

Below is a transcript of President Obama's interview on Tuesday's Tonight Show With Jay Leno as provided by NBC.




JAY LENO:  It's an honor and a privilege to welcome my first
guest back to the show.  Welcome the 44th President of the
United States, President Barack Obama.


Welcome back.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  It is good to be back.

JAY LENO:  It's good to have you back, sir.  Of course, the big
news this week, Gaddafi is dead.  Rebel forces -- killed by rebel
forces.  Your reaction?  Your take on this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is somebody who, for 40 years, has
terrorized his country and supported terrorism.  And he had an
opportunity during the Arab spring to finally let loose of his
grip on power and to peacefully transition into democracy.  We
gave him ample opportunity, and he wouldn't do it.  And,
obviously, you never like to see anybody come to the kind of end
that he did, but I think it obviously sends a strong message
around the world to dictators that --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- people long to be free, and they need to
respect the human rights and the universal aspirations of people.

JAY LENO:  Now, the mob mentality -- and it was a rebel mob, I
guess.  It wasn't a government --


JAY LENO:  -- they televised the death.  Your thoughts on that?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, obviously, that's not something that I
think we should relish.  And there was a reason after Bin Laden
was killed, for example, we didn't release the photograph.  You
know, I think that there's a certain decorum with which you treat
the dead even if it's somebody who has done terrible things.

JAY LENO:  Now, you took some heat for the whole
leading-from-behind tactic here with Libya.  Explain that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the truth was, we -- this was a phrase that
the media picked up on.

JAY LENO:  Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  But it's not one that I ever used.


THE PRESIDENT:  We lead from the front.  We introduced the
resolution in the United Nations that allowed us to protect
civilians in Libya when Gaddafi was threatening to slaughter
them.  It was our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our
pilots who took out their air defense systems, set up a no-fly
zone.  It was our folks in NATO who were helping to coordinate
the NATO operation there.  And the difference here is we were
able to organize the international community.  We were able to
get the U.N. mandate for the operation.  We were able to get Arab
countries involved.  And so there was never this sense that
somehow we were unilaterally making a decision to take out
somebody.  Rather, it was the world community.  And that's part
of the reason why this whole thing only cost us a billion
dollars --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- as opposed to a trillion dollars.  Not a
single U.S. troop was on the ground.  Not a single U.S. troop was
killed or injured, and that, I think, is a recipe for success in
the future.


JAY LENO:  Let me ask you about that because, with
Osama Bin Laden, I remember the night before you were at the
correspondence dinner and the whole deal.


JAY LENO:  How hard was it to make that decision to send in those
Navy SEALs? because that could have been --

THE PRESIDENT:  It could have been a disaster, but the reason I
was able to do it was -- when you meet these SEALs and you talk
to them, they are the best of the best.  They are professional.
They are precise.  They practice.  They train.  They understand
what exactly they intend to do.  They are prepared for the worst
in almost every circumstance.  So even though it was 50/50 that
Bin Laden would be there, I was a hundred percent confident in
the men, and I could not have made that decision were it not for
the fact that our men and women in uniform are the best there is.
They are unbelievable.


JAY LENO:  Now, you just announced the troops coming out of --


JAY LENO:  -- Iraq.  We have, like -- 4,000, I think, were


JAY LENO:  Billions of dollars spent, nine years.  What was
accomplished?  What did we accomplish there?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, Saddam Hussein is gone, and that's a good

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  The Iraqis now have the opportunity to create
their own democracy, their own country, determine their own
destiny.  And I'm cautiously optimistic that they realize that
the way they should resolve conflict is not through killing each
other but, rather, through dialogue and discussion and debate.
And so that would not have been possible had it not been for the
extraordinary sacrifices not just of our Armed Forces, but also
their families.  You know, when you think about the rotations
that over a million of our troops went through --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- and reservists and National Guardsmen and
-women and the strain that that placed on those families during
this long period, it's remarkable.  So I think Americans can
rightly be proud that we have given Iraqis an opportunity to
determine their own destiny, but I also think that policymakers
and future Presidents need to understand what it is that we are
getting ourselves into when we make some of these decisions.  And
there might have been other ways for us to accomplish those same
goals.  But the main thing right now is to celebrate the
extraordinary work that our men and women did.  Having them home
for the holidays for good is going to be a big deal.


JAY LENO:  Let me ask you now, many members of -- many members of
the GOP opposed withdrawing from Iraq.

THE PRESIDENT:  It's shocking that they opposed something I

(Laughter and applause.)

JAY LENO:  But, I mean, wasn't it originally -- didn't they want
to get out of Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, I don't know exactly how they are
thinking about it.  You know, as you said, we've been in there
four years, over 4,000 young men and women killed, tens of
thousands injured, some of them for life, spent close to a
trillion dollars on this operation.  I think the vast majority of
the American people feel as if it is time to bring this war to
a close --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- particularly because we still have --


You know, we still have work to do in Afghanistan.  We are
transitioning to Afghan lead there.  Our guys are still -- and
gals are still making sacrifices there.  We would not have been
able to do as good of a job in decimating al Qaeda's leadership
over the last two years if we had still been focused solely on
Iraq.  And one of the arguments I made way back in 2007 was, if
we were able to bring the war in Iraq to a close, then that would
allow us to go after the folks who perpetrated 9/11, and
obviously, we've been very successful in doing that.  We are not
done yet.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  But al Qaeda is weaker than anytime in recent
memory.  We have taken out their top leadership position.  That's
been a big accomplishment.


JAY LENO:  Can I ask you about taking out their top leadership,
al-Awlaki, this guy, American-born terrorist?  How important was
he to al Qaeda?

THE PRESIDENT:  Do you what happened was we put so much pressure
on al Qaeda in the Afghan/Pakistan region --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- that their affiliates were actually becoming
more of a threat to the United States.  So Awlaki was their head

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