Interview With Chuck Todd of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 28, 2014

QUESTION: Joining me now, Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, Chuck. How are you doing?

QUESTION: I’m okay. So let me just ask it this simple way: Will we ever look back on the war in Afghanistan and say America won it? It was successful? Describe.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that our objective has been to give the Afghans the ability to be able to fight their war and to ultimately determine its outcome. And I think we are on the road to achieving the transition that the President set out as his policy. The President also – from 2009 when he came in, there was no strategy being implemented in Afghanistan. Most of the focus, as you remember, was on Iraq and resources had been cannibalized from Afghanistan to go to Iraq.

So the President focused on Afghanistan. He set time limits.

QUESTION: That’s right.

SECRETARY KERRY: He set a target for the Afghans to take over security; they did. He set a target for them to provide the security and implementation for an election; they did. And now he’s setting a target for them to assume full control of their military, trained and equipped.

QUESTION: So when will we be able to say this was a success? Do you think we’ll look back on it – is it 10 years? When is it a fair time to judge --

SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t – I can’t measure --

QUESTION: -- whether this war is a success or failure?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think the transition test will come at the end of 2016 and into 2017 as we go forward to see how well their military holds and what the situation is on the ground. But ultimately, every American understands that we cannot determine this outcome for the Afghans. Afghans have to determine this for themselves.

I think Americans can be extraordinarily proud of the steps we have taken to give Afghanistan that opportunity. And now it is really increasingly up to them.

QUESTION: We signed a 10-year agreement. The President is talking about a dramatic drawdown from 10,000 troops, essentially, in 2015, to about a thousand, just enough, which is essentially the same amount of troops we have in Iraq right now. It’s for embassy security, things like that. But there’s eight more years of that agreement, and the next president, without the authorization of Congress, without seeking new permission from Afghanistan, could end up sending more troops back in, according to this agreement. Is that – am I reading that correctly?

SECRETARY KERRY: Chuck, you are. That’s accurate. The agreement does permit it, and the agreement, we believe, will be signed by whoever is elected the next president of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: So we could have more troops in there in three years. The next president could come in and say, “You know what --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s up to – Chuck, I can’t --

QUESTION: -- a thousand doesn’t work. We’re going to go up to 15.”

SECRETARY KERRY: Chuck, no. I – you would have to wait and see who the next president is and what their policy is, and none of us should be prognosticating what the next president may or may not do. This president has set a policy that will bring to a close America’s involvement directly in the war. And we will provide assistance to the Afghans to help them be able to make their best determination about their own future --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- but we cannot want this outcome more than they do. They have to determine their future, and I think Americans can be proud of everything that we have done with extraordinary sacrifices by our soldiers, diplomats, others over the last years, to give Afghans this possibility.

QUESTION: Well, you can’t end a war until you also rescind the authorization that Congress has given the President of the United States, and it’s the authorization back in 2001, this sort of very open-ended – and I know that there has been some initial discussion about how do you get us off of this war-footing? What is the new legislation in Congress? Where are we on this? And is this going to happen before you guys leave office?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no way of predicting what this Congress will or won’t do next week, let alone in a month or two.

QUESTION: But are you – is the Administration going to ask – are they going to provide a – this is what we think the post-war authorization bill should look like that allows for some counterterrorism operations and things like that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we will work with – of course, we will work very, very closely with Congress in consultation with them to determine what the best way forward is. And if people feel that the best thing to do is change that, that will be subject to that consultation. But for the moment, the President is really trying to lay out his vision and his agenda on a global basis for how we are going to use resources that were in many ways excessively focused in Afghanistan and begin to use them more effectively in counterterrorism efforts in various places where we need to.

And today, the President will be announcing a counterterrorism partnership fund --

QUESTION: Right. Right.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- which will amount to about $5 billion, where we will work with Lebanon, with Turkey, with Iraq, with Jordan, with others in the Maghreb and the Sahel and the Levant, in order to do a better job of being able to counter a rise of – increasing numbers of terrorist groups that are really fomenting disorder and instability in places where we need to do better. And I think the President’s --

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you --

SECRETARY KERRY: Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: No – let me ask it this way: Is it a time that we get off a war footing? And if it is, shouldn’t we rescind this authorization from Congress, the congressional authorization? Is it time to rescind that authorization?

SECRETARY KERRY: As we move out of Afghanistan, if we are not engaged in that kind of activity, obviously we should transition. But I don’t think that’s as critical as actually implementing the policy we need to implement, which the President will lay out today at West Point in the graduation speech where he will lay out what we do need to do in various parts of the world. I don’t think that’s going to be affected one way or the other by this authorization, frankly.

QUESTION: Let me turn quickly to Syria. The policy of this Administration has been: Assad has to go. What part of American policy supports – what are you going to do to implement something to support that ultimate goal, and is that still the ultimate Administration goal here, which is Assad has to go?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we don’t believe – in fact, none of the group of 11 nations that have been principally involved in supporting the opposition – all of your Gulf states, Turkey, and then European states – Germany, Italy, France, Britain, and the United States together – all of them believe that Assad cannot possibly lead Syria in the future because he has no credibility, he has no legitimacy, and there is no way that the fighting will stop while Assad is there.

So the answer is that in the recent meeting in London which took place among those 11 nations, they all agreed to step up their efforts to increase the support to the opposition, to increase training against terrorism that is increasing as a result of Assad’s playing footsie with some of them and attracting others to the cause. The fact is that Assad is the greatest magnet for terrorists within the ungoverned spaces of Syria that you could imagine. So he remains a serious destabilization factor.


SECRETARY KERRY: He is – it would be impossible to conjure up how he could make peace or bring peace to the region, and the policy of the United States remains the same. But the President is determined to increase our efforts to have an impact on that outcome.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: Stay with us; find out what Secretary Kerry has to say about Edward Snowden. It was a pretty fiery response; I’ll have that right after the break.


QUESTION: Well, as part of my conversation with Secretary Kerry earlier this morning, I did ask him about Edward Snowden and how he’s changed the way the U.S. intelligence community does business.

Do you believe we’d be having the discussion we’re having about privacy, a public debate that we’re having now, without the Edward Snowden disclosures?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m confident we would be having it because the President of the United States personally made a commitment to try to deal with the issue of privacy, has felt very concerned about America’s posture with respect to not just privacy but also secrecy, and has undertaken to try to address it. Would it have risen --

QUESTION: You don’t think Edward Snowden deserves any credit for this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Would it have risen to quite the level, Chuck? No, obviously. I think that he’s put on the table a greater degree of insight than would have existed, but that doesn’t mean the debate wouldn’t have taken place. But more importantly – much more importantly, what he’s done is hurt his country. What he’s done is expose for terrorists a lot of mechanisms which now affect operational security of those terrorists and make it harder for the United States to break up plots, harder to protect our nation.

If this man is a patriot, he should stay in the United States and make his case. Patriots don’t go to Russia, they don’t seek asylum in Cuba, they don’t seek asylum in Venezuela. They fight their cause here. There are many a patriot – you can go back to the Pentagon Papers with Dan Ellsberg and others who stood and went to the court system of America and made their case. Edward Snowden is a coward, he is a traitor, and he has betrayed his country, and if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.

QUESTION: All right.