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You made a very bold choice for Secretary of State. If she were sitting here with you now and you were to say, "Madame Secretary, here are the three stops I want you to make on your itinerary once you get in the job," what would those three places be?
Well, since we're literally having that conversation, I think, a day or two after this publication comes out, I'm not going to have her read it in TIME magazine. But I mentioned to you earlier some of our key priorities. There's no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority. Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it's an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority. Sorting through our policy with respect to Iran effectively that will be a priority. Dealing with our transatlantic alliance in a more constructive way and trying to build a more effective relationship with the newly assertive and, I believe, inappropriately aggressive Russia, when it comes to the invasion of Georgia that is going to be a priority. And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.
Now, I mention those things, but keep in mind that some of the long-term priorities I identified in the campaign remain just as urgent today. I already mentioned nuclear proliferation. I already mentioned climate change. I think dealing with development and poverty around the world is going to be a critical component of our foreign policy. It's good for our security and not just charity. And so, part of the goal that Senator [Hillary] Clinton and I both share as do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [National Security Adviser nominee] General [James] Jones is moving our foreign-assistance agenda to the center of our national-security conversations as opposed to the periphery. Paying more attention to Latin America. You know, we have neglected our neighbors in our own hemisphere, and there is an enormous potential for us to work with other countries Brazil, for example, which is in some ways ahead of us on energy strategies. That, I think, would be very important. And finally, managing our relationship with China and the entire Pacific Rim, I think, is something that will keep not just me busy but my successor busy.
Was there ever a point in the election when you thought you were going to lose?
When was it?
Well, let me say it this way: There were multiple points throughout the election when I thought I could lose. Including the day I announced. And honestly, you know, we had a bunch of ups and downs in the campaign. I'll tell you what, though: the way Michelle and I talked about it before we made the decision to get in this race was, if we run the kind of race that I wanted to run, if we were engaging people and exciting people and bringing new people into the process, if I was speaking honestly and truthfully about what I thought my priorities were, then I always thought we had a good chance of winning. And if we lost, that wouldn't be such a terrible thing. And that's why I think I stayed pretty steady throughout this race, despite the ups and downs.
There weren't that many occasions during this campaign there were a few, but not that many where I wasn't proud of what we were doing or felt somehow that I was making compromises of my core principles. Michelle and I pledged that whatever happened, we'd come out of this thing whole. And there wasn't any point in this campaign where I thought we were in danger of losing who we were.
You went through a long and grueling campaign, and you won. At what point after your victory did you realize, "I can't do a traditional kind of transition."
It was about a month before the election. Not that I assumed that I was going to win. We had a healthy fear up until election day. But what I was absolutely convinced of was that, whether it was me or John McCain, the next President-elect was going to have to move swiftly. And so we've tried to accelerate all of our timetables: in appointments, not just on the Cabinet but also our White House team; in structuring economic plans so that we can start getting them to Congress and hopefully begin work, even before I'm sworn in, on some of our key priorities around the economy; on laying the groundwork for a national security team can take the baton in a wartime transition. We've been busy, and that's why I have not taken the traditional post-election holiday.
Does that bother your wife?
No, no, I think she wants me to take care of business. We'll take a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays, but we want to make sure that I've got a team in place and that we've got a clear sense of direction.
Now that you're faced with the enormity of it, is there any one thing that really weighs on you as being perhaps an intractable problem?
I don't think there are problems that are intractable. But there are a couple of problems that are extraordinarily difficult.
It is not clear that the economy's bottomed out. So even if we take a whole host of the right steps in terms of the economy, two years from now it may not have fully recovered. I'm confident about our ability to get the economy back on track, but we've got a big hole to dig ourselves out of. And I will be inheriting at least a trillion-dollar deficit even before you start talking about a significant stimulus. And you've got a structural deficit that is in place that will require some very difficult decisions. So managing jump-starting the economy in the short term and setting up a responsible fiscal policy over the long term, at a time when families are hurting and we've got all these unmet needs-that is a huge problem. And I don't think there's some magic trick to dealing with it. It's going to require a careful balancing of priorities and we'll probably make some mistakes along the way. Because some of those choices will engender political resistance, from not just Republicans but also members of my own party.
I'll just lay out some of the other things that keep me up at night. I think Afghanistan is going to be a challenge. I'm confident that it's the right thing to do to draw down our troops in Iraq. I think we can do so in a responsible way and stabilize the situation there. We're going to have to make a series of not just military but also diplomatic moves that fully enlist Pakistan as an ally in that region, that lessen tensions between India and Pakistan, and then get everybody focused on rooting out militancy in a terrain, a territory, that is very tough and in an enormous country that is one of the poorest and least developed in the world. So that, I think, is going to be a very tough situation.
And then the third thing that keeps me up at night is the issue of nuclear proliferation. We are going to have to take leadership in stitching back together a nonproliferation regime that has been frayed. We're going to have to do it at the same time as the Internet has made technology for the creation of weapons of mass destruction more accessible than ever before, and at a time when more countries are going to be pursuing nuclear power. That, I think, is going to be a great challenge.
And then the final thing, just to round out my Happy List, is climate change. All the indicators are that this is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago. It is going to require an enormous effort on the part of the global community to deal with it. And it is not going to come without cost. Trying to bring about that transformation which I think offers huge opportunities for economic growth and job creation over the long term, but will entail some costs in the short term you know, that's the hardest thing to do in politics, right? To make big investments in things that have long-term payoffs. I'll stop there.
What's the best piece of advice that you've gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?
Well, precisely because it's sui generis, the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice. I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there's always a crisis coming at you, there's always a meeting you could be doing, there's always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.
Something that I have already experienced, and I have not fully solved, is how to break out of the bubble, which is extraordinarily powerful ... As a consequence of the security concerns surrounding this office, it is very hard for me to do what ordinary people do. That is the biggest adjustment, and that is not an adjustment I've made yet. And I'm not sure I'll want to make it entirely. The inability to go to the gas station and pump your own gas. Or go to the store and buy groceries. Or take your kids to the park. Those are experiences that aren't just intrinsically good, but they also keep me in touch with what Americans are going through. And so I'm trying to negotiate more space and do so in a way that doesn't put Secret Service members in more jeopardy. I'm trying to negotiate hanging on to some sort of electronic communication with the outside world. And so far, between the lawyers and the Secret Service and the bureaucrats, I'm not sure I'm winning that battle.
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