From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The White House released the transcript of President Obama's interview with the CBC (Canada) and the first question had to do with the "Buy America" clause in the stimulus. That led nicely into NAFTA, which was a campaign issue. Obama also laid out the priorities and barometers for success in Afghanistan, where Canadians play a crucial role.
The president said Canadians shouldn't "be too concerned" about the "Buy America" clause. "I think that if you look at history one of the most important things during a worldwide recession of the sort that we're seeing now is that each country does not resort to 'beggar thy neighbor' policies, protectionist policies, they can end up further contracting world trade," Obama said.
But, "[M]y expectation is, is that where you have strong U.S. competitors who can sell products and services, that a lot of governors and mayors are going to want to try to find U.S. equipment or services, but that we are going to abide by our World Trade Organization and NAFTA obligations just as we always have," the president added.
On NAFTA, Obama called stricter labor and environmental protections "side agreements." "My argument has always been that we might as well incorporate them into the full agreement so that they're fully enforceable. But what I've also said is that Canada is one of our most important trading partners, we rely on them heavily, there's $1.5 billion worth of trade going back and forth every day between the two countries and that it is not in anybody's interest to see that trade diminish."
Obama called Canada's efforts and committment in Afghanistan "extraordinary." He stressed diplomacy and said, "I'm in the process of a strategic review of our approach in Afghanistan. Very soon we will be releasing some initial plans in terms of how we are going to approach the military side of the equation in Afghanistan." (The White House is set to release more information on Afghanistan plans/troop levels likely later this week.)
Obama called Afghanistan "still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America. I think it's still possible for us to stamp out al Qaeda to make sure that extremism is not expanding but rather is contracting."
He listed the priorities in Afghanistan as: stopping drug trafficking, establishing a sense of rule of law and solving the border problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Qaeda and Taliban members are believed to be holed up and who are easily able to cross back and forth.
That doesn't exactly sound like Iraq-style nation-building, does it?