Ready for the Fight: Rolling Stone Interview with Barack Obama

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What about the two biggest concerns at the moment, Syria and Iran?
The ongoing massacre of civilians in Syria is an example where the international community has to speak out forcefully. There are no easy answers in terms of us putting a stop to these killings, but we have to apply every bit of pressure we can to effectuate a peaceful, or at least more peaceful, transition to a legitimate government inside of Syria.

As for Iran, I came into office in 2009 saying, "Let's see if we can end 30 years of mistrust between the United States and Iran." That outstretched hand was rebuffed, in part, because Iran embarked on repression of its own people after the elections in 2009, and they continue to pursue a nuclear program that nobody in the international community believes is simply for peaceful purposes. So we have another round of talks taking place between Iran and the P5-plus-1 – we just announced them today. There is a window of opportunity to resolve this issue diplomatically, and that is my fervent preference. There's no reason why Iran shouldn't be able to rejoin the community of nations and prosper. They have incredibly talented and sophisticated people there. But this continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons capability continues to be a major challenge, and it's going to be consuming a lot of my time and energy over the next several months.

You've been in office three years now. What's the world's hardest job like on a day-to-day basis?
Like every other job, you have good days and bad days. Like every other job, if you're willing to be self-critical and you're putting your all into it, you get better at it over time. I think I'm a better president now than when I first came into office. I think that my team is more efficient and can see around corners better than we could when we first came into office. As several people have pointed out to me who have been in previous administrations, this is a hard job, period. It's a really hard job when you're in the middle of the worst financial crisis in your lifetime, and two wars at the same time, and major challenges involving terrorism and climate change.

And everybody telling you how bad you're doing every day.
You end up having a very thick skin. I entered here with a thick skin, and now my skin is even thicker. Part of what you understand is that you are a person, but you're also a symbol. If things are going wrong, then people are looking to you to fix them. And sometimes, if you're just frustrated in your efforts, you're going to be the object of their frustration. You don't take it personally – you just recognize that it goes with the office and the desk and Marine One and all the other aspects of being president.

I heard you liked the TV show Homeland.
I did, it was a great show.

In the show, a drone strike destroys a madrassa and provokes an assassination attempt on the vice president of the United States. What did you enjoy about it?
What I liked was just real complicated characters. Obviously, there's a lot of overdramatization of what our days are like around here day to day, and how our national security apparatus works. But the characters involved are not simple, black-and-white characters. It's a terrific psychological study, and that's what I enjoy about it.

What other TV shows or movies or music have you been enjoying?
I haven't had a chance to see a lot of movies lately. I think the last movie I saw was The Descendants, which was fun, because it was going home. I saw Clooney the other day, and I joked to him that those were all my old haunting grounds. It actually captured that part of Hawaii that's not just rainbows and sunsets.

What do you read regularly to keep you informed or provide you with perspectives beyond the inner circle of your advisers?
[Laughs] Other than Rolling Stone?

That goes without saying.
I don't watch a lot of TV news. I don't watch cable at all. I like The Daily Show, so sometimes if I'm home late at night, I'll catch snippets of that. I think Jon Stewart's brilliant. It's amazing to me the degree to which he's able to cut through a bunch of the nonsense – for young people in particular, where I think he ends up having more credibility than a lot of more conventional news programs do.

I spend a lot of time just reading reports, studies, briefing books, intelligence assessments.

I'll thumb through all the major papers in the morning. I'll read the Times and Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, just to catch up.

Do you read Paul Krugman?
I read all of the New York Times columnists. Krugman's obviously one of the smartest economic reporters out there, but I also read some of the conservative columnists, just to get a sense of where those arguments are going. There are a handful of blogs, Andrew Sullivan's on the Daily Beast being an example, that combine thoughtful analysis with a sampling of lots of essays that are out there. The New Yorker and The Atlantic still do terrific work. Every once in a while, I sneak in a novel or a nonfiction book.

I thought you were going to say Playboy.
No [laughs].

Most people, when you ask them to sing in public, get kind of nervous about it – they don't really want to do it. But you got up there at the Apollo Theater and nailed Al Green. What was going through your head when they asked you to do it? Did you know you were going to nail it?
The truth is, here's exactly what happened. It was my fifth event of the day. It's about 10:30 at night, and we go up to the Apollo. I wanted to hear Al Green. The guys who were working the soundboard in the back, a couple of real good guys, they say, "Oh, man, you missed the Reverend, but he was terrific, he was in rare form." So I was frustrated by that. Since I was on my fifth event and had been yakking away for several hours on all kinds of policy stuff, I just kind of broke into a rendition of "Let's Stay Together." And they're like, "Oh, so the president, you can sing, man. You should do that onstage." [Senior adviser] Valerie Jarrett was with us, and she was like [whispers, making a slashing motion across his throat], "No, no..." I said, "Yeah, I'll do that. You don't think I can do that onstage?" I looked at [press secretary] Jay Carney, and he was tired too, and he said, "Yeah, go for it." So I went up there and we did it.

I can sing. I wasn't worried about being able to hit those notes.

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