NBC "TODAY" INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE INTERVIEWER: MEREDITH VIEIRA
MS. VIEIRA: Democratic Senator Barack Obama serves on the Homeland Security Committee, and he is also running for president.
Senator Obama, good morning to you, sir.
SEN. OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Meredith.
MS. VIEIRA: Nice to talk to you. I want to start with this confession from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He claims to have masterminded some 48 terrorist attacks, including 9/11. What is your reaction?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, obviously, just from the confession, we see the scope of planning that was done by al Qaeda and I just think redoubles our need to make sure that we are both securing the homeland, executing the 9/11 commission report, and that we are aggressive when it comes to human intelligence and really snuffing out these terrorist networks.
Unfortunately, we've become so focused on the situation in Iraq that I think we've ended up being distracted, particularly in Afghanistan, from dealing with the kind of very real threats that we heard about today.
MS. VIEIRA: Well, Senator, do you think that we are prepared to deal with the kinds of large-scale plots that al Qaeda seems to favor?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think it's clear that we're not. Obviously we've made some progress since 9/11. But if you look at what's happening in Afghanistan -- now you're seeing the Taliban resurgent; you're seeing al Qaeda strengthen itself -- we have not followed through on the good start that we made in Afghanistan, partly because we took so many resources out and put them into Iraq. And it's part of the reason why I think it's very important for us to begin a planned redeployment from Iraq, including targeting Afghanistan.
MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk about that plan, because you have co- sponsored a bill that sets a target date of March 2008 for the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq. And already Republican Senator John McCain has called that plan a, quote, "retreat, not a strategy."
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I respectfully disagree with John on this. He has been somebody who believes that putting in additional troops is the solution in Iraq. I am absolutely certain that we are not going to see a military solution to the problems of a civil war in Iraq.
What's needed is a political accommodation. And the only way that we're going to get the parties in Iraq to start seriously negotiating is if they recognize that the United States is not going to be keeping the lid on a civil war. They're going to have to arrive at the kinds of accommodations that are necessary to move the country forward. And once we start doing that, we can begin to put our troops into places like Afghanistan, where the kinds of terrorist plots we heard about today have largely been hatched.
MS. VIEIRA: Senator, let's switch gears now and talk about the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has admitted that mistakes were made. He wants to right them. He says he wants to stay on the job as well.
You opposed his nomination two years ago. And this is what you said about the attorney general on Tuesday. You said, "He had shown in his role as White House counsel a penchant for subverting justice to serve the president's goals, and I fear that in an attorney general."
Do you believe, sir, that Mr. Gonzales knowingly subverted justice in this case? And do you want him to resign?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, obviously we don't have all the facts. What I do know is that Attorney General Gonzales has had a tendency to inject politics into decision-making that should be guided by the public interest. He is close to the president and he considers himself the president's lawyer as opposed to the people's lawyer. I don't think that's an appropriate way to think about the office of attorney general.
But I also think it speaks to a larger problem in this administration, and that is politicizing issues that should be guided by competence, practicality, common sense. That's part of what I think the American people really want to see changed in the next president.
MS. VIEIRA: He also says that he did not know the extent of what his chief of staff was doing with the White House counsel. If that is true, what does it say about the Justice Department to you?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think what it says is that we are seeing a continuing process of politicization and a lack of accountability that has been the hallmark of many of this administration's actions. And it's that sort of approach to government that sees this as a perpetual campaign, as opposed to a mechanism to actually get things done on behalf of the American people, that I think are of deep concern.
MS. VIEIRA: And one more question, this one about the presidential campaign. There's been a lot of discussion lately about the marriage factor and how that will play in the race. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, all married multiple times, plus Hillary Clinton has had her marriage troubles as well.
Do you think that the personal lives of candidates give us any indication of what kind of leaders they will be?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I think ultimately people are going to make decisions on the basis of their track record, a candidate's track record in the public sphere. You know, everybody has personal issues. And I think ultimately what people want to know is, what are you going to do on behalf of the American people? And that's how it should be.
MS. VIEIRA: Will you make the personal issues of other candidates an issue in your race?
SEN. OBAMA: Absolutely not.
MS. VIEIRA: All right, Senator Barack Obama, thanks very much, as always.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you.