President Obama delivered a robust defense of his administration's handling of the crisis in Libya, insisting in an interview on NBC's "Tonight Show" that he and his advisers had "led from the front" in trying to force dictator Moammar Gadhafi from office.
In a sober start to what was generally a lighthearted interview with host Jay Leno, the president sought to distinguish the effort from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting the mission was accomplished without the loss of American lives.
"Not a single U.S. troop was on the ground," he said. "Not a single U.S. troop was killed or injured, and that, I think, is a recipe for success in the future."
Speaking about his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of the year, Obama was asked by Leno what the United States had accomplished in the region. The president pointed to the ouster of Saddam Hussein and said Iraqis have now have the ability to embrace democracy. But he said he hoped the war in Iraq will prompt future presidents to more seriously consider the larger impact of future conflicts.
"I also think that policymakers and future presidents need to understand what it is that we are getting ourselves into when we make some of these decisions," the president said. "And there might have been other ways for us to accomplish those same goals."
Still, he pointed to several foreign policy successes under his watch, including the death of Osama bin Laden. He claimed that al Qaida is "weaker" than ever before.
Speaking about domestic policy, Obama trashed Republican leaders in Washington, blaming them for the political gridlock that has paralyzed the nation's capital. With more than a year to go before Election Day 2012, he argued there was "no excuse" for Congress not to try to work together with him on issues like jobs and economic stimulus.
He also dismissed rumors that he might replace Vice President Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Joe Biden is not only a great vice president, but he has been a great advisor and a great friend to me," Obama said. "I think they are fine where they are."
But Obama's sit down with Leno—his second as president, and fourth overall--wasn't all about policy.
Asked about his smoking habit, the president insisted he has "definitely" quit. He said he deals with the stress of the job by exercising—though he admitted that First Lady Michelle Obama is in much better shape than him. Some mornings, he said, his wife has "already run 10 miles" by the time he wakes up.
Meanwhile, the president owned up to his decision to keep his daughters from watching "Keeping Up with the Kardashians"—admitting that, although he has never watched the show, he is "probably a little biased" about reality television.
"Partly because, you know, there's this program on C-SPAN called 'Congress,' he joked.
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