04/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Barack Obama, Michael Smerconish Radio Interview: Pakistan, al Qaida, Iraq And Illegal Immigration

Today, Senator Obama gave an interview to Pennsylvania radio host Michael Smerconish. The focus of the interview was on foreign policy, specifically the redirection of U.S. funds and military efforts towards al Qaida and their safe-havens in Pakistan. Smerconish asked Obama what his approach would be towards Pakistan and the tribal areas that harbor members of al Qaida. Obama highlighted the need for a stronger relationship with the new democratically elected government, as well as making the financial aid Pakistan receives from the U.S. in some ways contingent upon Pakistan making a "serious effort" at halting terrorist activity in the tribal regions.

They also discussed Iraq, which Obama called the "biggest strategic error that we could have made," and illegal immigration.

Listen to the interview below.

Below is the transcript of the interview.

Obama: Hi Michael.

Smerconish: Hey Senator, welcome back to the program.

Obama: Thank you so much for having me again

Smerconish: Yeah, it's good to talk to you. Listen, when we were last together you know that I was pleased with what you had to say about redirecting our efforts toward al Qaida in Pakistan.

Obama: Right.

Smerconish: And that issue I think is even more serious today then it was a couple of weeks ago. New York Times front page Saturday, listen to this, this is the Times talking...they say that there's a "recurring problem for the White House: that the place where the terrorist threat is most acute is the place where American forces are most restricted from acting." What's going to be the approach relative to Pakistan and those tribal regions?

Obama: Well I think what we have to do is first of all establish a stronger relationship with the new government. The problem we've got is that we've backed Mursharaff so heavily in Pakistan that the incoming democratically elected Parliament there mistrusts us. We've got to establish some new relationships, indicate to them that we're supportive of democracy, but insist that we've got to go after these terrorists that it's a threat to democracy in Pakistan and rule of law in Pakistan and stability in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and a long-term threat to the United States of America. I've been very clear if we see targets in Pakistan that we can take out with drone missiles and use the Predators that have been so effective, I think we've got to do so. But what's clear from the New York Times story and what I've learned talking to forces on the ground is that unless we can really pin down some of these Taliban fighters who flee into the Pakistan territories, we're going to continue to have instability and al Qaida is gonna continue to have a safe haven and that's not acceptable.

Smerconish: Are you prepared to stop writing that check if in fact you're not satisfied...

Obama: Absolutely. Absolutely. Look, Musharraf was receiving billions of dollars and not doing much with it. Now I want to ramp up aid to Pakistan when it comes to building schools that teach math and science instead of hatred of Americans. I want to ramp up aid that helps farmers become self-sufficient. I want to make sure that not just in Pakistan, but in Afghanistan, people have opportunities to get out of poverty.

But when it comes to military aid, we shouldn't be propping up Pakistan's military when they're focused on a possible war with India and ignoring the very immediate and real threat of militants who are in their territories. Our aid has to be in some ways contingent on them making a serious effort.

Smerconish: I've had any number of conversations with suburbanites from the Philadelphia suburbs who say to me "well, you know, this Obama, I'm concerned he's going to be weak relative to the "war on terror" because he wants to get us out of Iraq." And what I've tried to explain is that you're talking about a redirection of effort to go after those who really were responsible for September 11.

Obama: Absolutely. Look, Iraq has been the biggest strategic error that we could have made. I mean, not only have we diverted resources that should have been used to pin down bin Laden and al Qaida but we've actually increased the propaganda of al Qaida in their ability to recruit terrorists and train them in Iraq. And, I think that it is very important for us to recognize we've fallen into a strategic trap, we've actually strengthened Iran in the region, which is why our allies like Jordan are so concerned. That is something that I'm going to put an end to. We're going to stabilize Iraq but we are going to hunt down those terrorist networks that are our biggest strategic threat. And Ambassador Crocker when he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee acknowledged as much.

Smerconish: One final question, totally different subject. If I have one regret about the Pennsylvania primary, it's only the paucity of conversation about illegal immigration. And when it does come up it seems like it gets portrayed as the concern of only xenophobes. I don't consider myself one of those, but I'm just worried about whether our infrastructure can take the kind of growth that the folks at Pew research and others are saying we're about to experience in the next 50 years.

Obama: Well, look, here's the bottom line. We've got to have control of our borders. We've gotta invest in border surveillance, border control, using technology effectively. We've got to crackdown on employers who are purposely hiring undocumented workers in order to undercut the wages of American workers. But what we also have to acknowledge is that we have always grown through immigration, that it is possible for us in an orderly, legal fashion to shape a immigration policy that helps to renew cities that have fallen on hard times, make sure that their population continues to grow. But also to make sure that we're not creating an underclass of workers who are under the radar screen and nobody knows and aren't subject to various laws. So what I've said is let's make sure that those undocumented workers register, that they're paying a hefty fine, that they're paying back taxes, that they're meeting they're responsibilities, that they're learning english. But, let's also provide them a pathway to legalization so that we can finally make this an orderly system.

Smerconish: I just wish where the government hasn't been able to fashion a long-term solution that at least we could sorta seize control of the borders now and then figure out what to do with the 10 or 12 million who are here illegally.

Obama: Well I think that's gotta be a priority, but we're gonna have to move this on parallel tracks because unless we can put pressure on employers, they're still gonna be a magnet for people just looking for work. They are so underpaid in Mexico, which is one last thing that we've got to do. Mexico and Central America, we've got to work with them to increase the capacity of their economy to produce jobs that pay a living wage.

Smerconish: I hope you win on Tuesday. We're going to have to have more conversations between Tuesday and the fall.

Obama: I look forward to it. Talk to you soon.

Smerconish: Senator Obama, thank you.