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The Last Word: Senator Jim Webb

Aired October 25, 2009 - 12:00   ET


KING: We'd like to welcome back our international viewers. I'm John King. This is "State of the Union."


ABDULLAH: Let's give the people of Afghanistan another chance.

KING (voice-over): The political crisis in Afghanistan. Will a runoff election bolster support for President Obama's war of necessity? Presidential challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah shares his thoughts on corruption, the Taliban threat, and whether the United States needs to rush in more troops.

Then, delicate negotiations on health care, rising unemployment, and pressing foreign policy challenges. Get perspective from three leading senators from across the political spectrum: Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Then, our American Dispatch from Nebraska. The unemployment rate is half the national average and conversion of corn to ethanol one reason the farm economy is showing strength.

And he warns the United States could be seen as an occupying force in Afghanistan. The influential voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia gets "The Last Word."

This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, October 25th.


KING: We begin this Sunday with a man just about everyone predicts will lose an election being held two weeks from now half the world away from Washington in Afghanistan. Before you reach for the remote, take a close look at the enormous stakes. By the end of this year, there will be nearly 70,000 U.S. troops across Afghanistan, stationed, 23 battalions across the country like this.

And remember, right here last weekend, the White House chief of staff said it would be irresponsible of President Obama to decide whether to send thousands more troops onto this battlefield before he knew whether there was -- the presidential election there would produce a partner he could trust.

Let's take a look at that election. In the first round, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, the official results gave him nearly 55 percent of the vote. His closest challenger is our guest today, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, he received half that, but the United Nations investigation found massive fraud, most of it benefiting President Karzai, knocked him down below to 50 percent.

And then President Karzai last bowed to intense international pressure and agreed to that runoff. The stakes are enormous for the people of Afghanistan, for the U.S., and NATO troops risking their lives, and for a first-year president of the United States whose strongest supporters oppose sending more troops and whose most vocal critics accuse the commander-in-chief of dithering at a time they say he needs to be decisive.


KING: Dr. Abdullah, thank you for joining us on STATE OF THE UNION.

The runoff is fast approaching, scheduled for November 7th. And one question people have is, will it actually take place? There has been some talk of perhaps a negotiation, a power-sharing agreement between yourself and President Karzai.

Are there any active negotiations under way at this point?

ABDULLAH: Yes, first of all, I hope that it will -- going to take place on the November 7th. The people of Afghanistan should see the outcome of the runoff and get to work and see their government of choice in place. There isn't any procedures. There isn't any negotiations in that regard and we are all focused on the preparations for the runoff.

KING: In the last campaign, you obviously thought there was considerable fraud and you thought the government was complicit in some way in that fraud. President Karzai told our Fareed Zakaria this. He said, "There were some mistakes, there were some incidents of fraud, but the election as a whole was clean and the result was clear." What do you think of that?

ABDULLAH: The -- to call this a clean election, I think this -- with all due respect to Mr. Karzai, this a bit -- a bit of ignorance, I should say. To say the least. This is like the fraud of the history. And unfortunately, the government was involved, IC was involved. That's according to everybody, international observers, UNAMA, elections complaints commission, the people of Afghanistan.

So to ignore it, just to deny is not the solution. Yes, it was a step forward that the people of Afghanistan participated in the elections, but it wasn't a service to the people to ignore the institutions, the rule of law, and come up with such a process.

But at the same time, one chapter is behind us. It led to the runoff. And we need to get it corrected in order to open the door for the new chapter. So denying it is not a solution, rather than admitting it and correcting it will be responsible leadership. KING: Let's talk about some of those challenges going forward. You mentioned your concerns about fraud. And, obviously, the international community is hoping there will be a more clean election, this time. But the U.S. special envoy himself said on Friday: "I do not expect I will be able to eliminate fraud in two weeks' time. I think that is beyond the realm of what is possible in such a short time."

Are you worried we will have another contested, another, perhaps, corrupt election?

ABDULLAH: I am very concerned about this and I think I need to decide in the coming days on what to do about it. Of course, I'll come up with sets of measures and conditions. That's to clean it up as much as possible. But we are not going to take our nation through the same saga. Lives have been lost and international soldiers as well as our own national army and national police and security institutions have made sacrifices.

People lost their fingers because Taliban had threatened to cut their fingers and they did so in some cases. Violence took place throughout the country. I lost many of my campaign people, campaign managers and people who have voted for me. So this is a serious, serious thing.

And if you think that we cannot exclude fraud this time around, so I do not want this upcoming opportunity to turn into another waste. So in that sense, I hope that together with the international community, we can come up with measures that ensures transparency and fairness of the elections.

KING: And what is your own sense of the situation, the level of tension, and the fear on the ground? For example, do you fear for your own safety in these final two weeks of campaigning?

ABDULLAH: It's not a secure environment, there's no doubt about it, but I don't spend a lot of time fearing about my own security. But I am worried and concerned about the security of our citizens, of our people. In some parts of the country, the war is going on, insurgency has taken root. And as a whole, the security situation is not good. So it is a major concern, security.

KING: Secretary of State Clinton was asked the other day about the runoff and she said that she fully expects it to happen on November 7th and she expects the incumbent, President Karzai, to win.

Listen to Secretary Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Is that helpful and is that proper for the United States to be out there publicly saying they believe President Karzai will win?

ABDULLAH: I think Secretary Clinton has talked about the likelihood, probability. And there were times that earlier, before the elections, before the campaign, the likelihood of Mr. Karzai winning an outright, absolute majority in the first round was being talked about.

KING: President Karzai has been asked about the possibility of a negotiated settlement and he has said that that's simply not possible. He said it would have no legitimacy. But he also did tell our Fareed Zakaria that -- and it sounds like he means after the election, because of the confidence in his voice, but that he is more than willing down the road to invite you into a government. I want you to listen.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: If he wants to come and work in my government, he's most welcome. I'm known for consensus and building it, and (INAUDIBLE), and that's a good trademark.


KING: Is he, Dr. Abdullah, known for consensus and coalition- building, and would you welcome a spot in a Karzai government should he win this election?

ABDULLAH: No, I think I left Mr. Karzai's government some three- and-a-half years ago. And since then, I have not been tempted to be part of that government. And my trust in becoming a candidate was not to be part of the same government and part of the same deteriorating situation.

Mine was for a change in this country. Mine was for bringing hopes for the people of this country and making the people of Afghanistan true participants in their politics, in the governance, in the developmental process, in the security situation, and as a whole.

So it's quite different from the criterias which Mr. Karzai has used that other people who are willing to join his government. So absolutely no interest in such a scenario. While at the same time, for the interest of my country, if Mr. Karzai is elected through a transparent and credible process, I will be the first person to congratulate him.

And wholeheartedly congratulate him and wish him well in this country in being the opposition and pursuing the agenda for change, which is changing the highly centralized presidential system into a parliamentary system, going for elected governors, having a truly independent election commission, independent judiciary, promoting the political parties, having the chance and opportunity for a credible group throughout the country and many other things, which is part of my agenda. I'll pursue this in an opposition, provided President Karzai is elected as a result of a transparent and credible process. This will be my hope.

KING: I'm going to take a quick break, but when we come back, we ask Dr. Abdullah about the strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan and whether he believes President Obama should send thousands more U.S. troops.


KING: Welcome back to "State of the Union." Let's continue our conversation now with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the challenger in Afghanistan's presidential run-off election. As this election goes forward, as we wait for the runoff, as you know, President Obama faces a monumental decision about sending more troops into Afghanistan. General McChrystal, the commanding U.S. general on the ground, has said the situation is deteriorating, and he believes the next 12 months are critical, critical to defeating the Taliban.

Do you share General McChrystal's assessment of the security situation, and do you believe that perhaps 20, 30 or even 40,000 more U.S. troops are necessary in your country?

ABDULLAH: I do share Mr. -- General McChrystal's assessment. He's a military general, he's a professional person. He's known for his professional capabilities, and he knows Afghanistan also, very well.

But at the same time, this is one part of the strategy. Additional troops -- we should have been in a position eight years down the road not to call for more troops, but for lesser troops. We are not there. Why? Because of the failures of the current administration in Afghanistan. Any success for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will depend on the credibility of your partner, on the legitimacy of your partner.

KING: You are very critical of President Karzai in the past and it seems that you have little faith that he could be that honest credible partner going forward, should he win run off. So what would your message to the American people be who are torn on this decision their president faces?

The American people are divided. In his own Democratic Party, most people are against sending more troops in Afghanistan. If President Karzai wins, are you saying it would be a mistake for the United States commander-in-chief to send more troops because he would not have a credible partner?

ABDULLAH: I think it's for the United States to make that judgment but everybody has the record of the past eight years. There was a golden opportunity that throughout the world. I remember as foreign minister and I was proud of that situation. That we used to enjoy bipartisan or multi-partisan support throughout the world. And that was in sending troops, more resources, diplomatic and political support. That golden opportunity we missed.

KING: What is the security situation now? How big of a threat is the Taliban in your country and how big of a threat is Al-Qaeda within the borders of your country? ABDULLAH: The security situation is deteriorating unfortunately at this stage. And from three highways which leads -- four highways which leads to Kabul, or from Kabul to the -- leads to the rest of the country. Three are insecure, just 15 kilometers outside Kabul, in the outskirts of Kabul.

This is not the fault of the international community. I think there are major, major failures in domestic policies as well which has led to this. So, yes, mistakes have happened. But the security situation is not good. And I think it can be reversed; and still we have time.

KING: Some in the United States have accused the president of dithering, saying that the general on the ground in Afghanistan says he needs the troops, and because of the security situation, the president should act now and then deal with the results of your election.

Others have said, of course, he should wait to see who wins that runoff and who his partner will be in Afghanistan. Is the president undermining the safety of your country, the security of your country, and perhaps even the security of his own troops by waiting?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think to the extent that I can answer your question, John, it's -- if the president of the United States decides today that he is going to send troops, that doesn't mean that they are going to be here tomorrow. It takes months and months before these decisions are implemented.

So, I think it's perhaps right for the president of the United States to see what is, what is then -- that is which is undertaken. That by no chance means that hesitance in the decision.

That's, I think, studying the situation in a critical time, so I think the president of the United States is doing the right thing.

KING: Well, based on your assessment of the Karzai record in the past and your doubts about his possibilities in the future, if President Karzai wins this runoff, if you were President Obama, would you send more troops to Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: That's -- that's very -- that's very difficult. So I would rather put myself -- think about what will I do as Dr. Abdullah, here in Afghanistan, if Mr. Karzai's elected once again in the runoff.

KING: A diplomatic answer from the former foreign minister of Afghanistan. Dr. Abdullah, thank you so much for your time today. ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

KING: And don't forget, coming up right at 1 p.m. Eastern, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS." This week, Fareed speaks exclusively with Dr. Abdullah's political opponent, Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: You know there are many people that worry that there will be lot of fraud in this run-off election. Is there anything you can do? Is there anything you can say that would assure people that this election will be free of fraud?

KARZAI: Well, the last election wasn't as bad as it was claimed. It was a lot better. This election, we should try to have better. Afghanistan is a poor country in the western terminology, a third- world country, has gone through years of war. The institutions are just young, doctors, democracy that resembles a toddler. It walks and falls.


KING: You can see Fareed's entire interview with President Karzai, coming up at the top of the hour, only here on CNN.

And up next, here, a look at top stories breaking this hour. Then, three senators with diverse views discuss the health care debate. "State of the Union" will be right back.


KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday.

A major security setback in Iraq. Two powerful car bombs exploded near government buildings in Baghdad today. Officials say at least 132 people were killed, making it the deadliest attack of the year. More than 500 others were wounded.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's political rival says he will not join the Karzai government if the incumbent wins the country's upcoming runoff election. Speaking on this program earlier, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah says his mission is to change the country for the better, not be part of, quote, "the same deteriorating situation."

The runoff between the two candidates is set for November 7th.

Several senators today pledged their bipartisan support if the president asks for more resources to respond to the H1N1 flu outbreak. President Obama has declared a national emergency to deal with the rapidly spreading virus. That declaration allows the government and hospitals to cut through red tape and speed up the process of treating patients.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." When we come back, three senators, two Democrats and Republicans, quite diverse views, discuss the health care debate and how it affects you.


KING: Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Big policy decisions being made in the health care debate, and the politics are getting pretty bruising. Senator Nelson, on your television set today in Nebraska, you will see an ad by a group, The Americans for Tax Reform. They say you signed an anti-tax pledge back in 2006, and that, if you support the Democratic health care proposals, you will be breaking that promise to the voters of Nebraska.

Let's listen to a snippet of this ad.


ANNOUNCER: The only senator in his party to stand with taxpayers and take the pledge, no tax increases. Senator Ben Nelson. But now others in Congress want hundreds of billions in new health care taxes.


KING: You had a conversation, Senator Nelson, with your leader, the majority leader, on Friday. He needs your vote to get to the magic number of 60 in the Senate on procedural issues. You have raised serious concerns about the public option.

If there is a vote and Harry Reid needs 60, have you promised him, even if you disagree with the proposal and might vote no on the proposal, you would give him your vote on the procedural issue?

NELSON: I've made no promise. I can't decide about the procedural vote until I see the underlying bill.

It would be, I think, reckless to say I'll support the procedure without knowing what the underlying bill consists of. And it's not put together yet. It's a draft -- it will be a draft bill sometime next week, submitted to the Congressional Budget Office for the -- the review of the costs. And until I've seen a complete draft, I'm not going to...

KING: Let me -- let me jump in.

KING: Can you support...

NELSON: ... I'm not going to...

KING: Can you support a public option where states could opt out so there is a public option in the federal legislation, or will you only support a public option where the state would have to opt in, so there is not a national program already created?

NELSON: Well, I certainly am not excited about a public option where states would opt out or a robust, as they call it, robust government-run insurance plan. I'll take a look at the one where states could opt in if they make the decision themselves. Look, I'm a Jeffersonian Democrat. I think the states can make decisions on their own about their own citizen. And so I certainly would look at that. But I'm not sure where this is going. I don't think we know at this point in time. So I don't think I can make any decision about anything until I've seen everything.

KING: Senator Brown, let me come to you. A big state, health care's a huge issue. I'm wondering if you share the frustration that many progressives on the House side share when they're told, well, the White House is pushing this idea of a trigger, maybe, because they want to keep Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the one Republican who has backed it in the Senate so far. There are many who have said, this is the United States of America, not the United States of Maine. Does the White House have the calculation wrong here?

BROWN: Well, I'll answer the question about the trigger first. The trigger says, let's give the insurance companies two more years after they've had five decades since World War II to do things right. They continue their practices of pre-existing condition. You know, reports recently that a woman that has a C-section, by some insurance companies, will be denied care because that's considered a pre- existing condition. A woman that's been a victim of domestic violence, that's considered a pre-existing condition because her husband or boyfriend or whomever is more likely to hit her again.

I mean, the insurance companies have had their chance to do this right. We need the public option now. We need it in large part because it will inject competition into places where they don't have it. In southwest Ohio in my state, two insurance companies have 85 percent of the market. They need more competition to discipline those companies, to make them more honest, to bring prices down.

That's why the trigger simply doesn't work. We don't give the insurance companies two more years or three more years to get their act together. They've had their chance. We need -- I'm fine with the state opt out. If Nebraska or Utah doesn't want to do the public option, their governor and legislature can pass a law saying, we're not going to give our citizens that right to have a public option.

KING: Is that a line in the sand for you? Many have said you might lose Olympia Snowe if you don't have a trigger. Will they lose Sherrod Brown if you do have a trigger?

BROWN: No, I don't draw lines in the sand. I've gotten a lot of pressure from progressives saying, draw a line in the sand. I don't want to do that. I want to get the best bill possible. But I see that the public overwhelmingly wants a public option. Seventy percent of physicians according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation want a public option. At least 52 or 3 or 4 Democratic senators have said they want a strong public option, according to Tom Harkin, the chairman of the committee. I think that's the best thing for our country.

KING: Well Senator Hatch, come in on this, because you hear these two Democrats making their case for health care reform and what they hear from Republicans is no public option. These two disagree, perhaps on exactly how to do it, but they're both open to some proposal. I want to show the front page of "The New York Times." Small business faces sharp rise in health care costs. The story goes on to say, "Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent, double the rate of last year's increase. That means the annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010." If, Senator Hatch, there can be in your view no public option, that's too much of a government role in this, what is the Republican answer to force the insurance companies to bring down rates?

HATCH: Well first of all, we know that Medicare, for instance, was enacted in 1965, that's a public option. Today, it's $38 trillion in unfunded liability. Medicaid is going broke within the next 10 years. We know that if the Democrats get 60 votes in the Senate, we're going to have a public option.

It may not be called that and they may call it an opt-out, but I guarantee you the process will go there. And why? Because they're going to have this in bill that they're going to cover people, 133 percent of the poverty level. And that's, like I say, that's 33 percent above New York's current expenditure. It's almost double what our expenditure is in Utah.

If that happens and states can't live with it, you're going to have a fiasco on your hands. So this vote to stop 60 votes in the Senate is really crucial. Now Republicans, we have six various plans. I agree with those who say that the states can solve their problems better than the federal government. Anybody who believes that this 1,500-page bill -- by the way, Hillary care was only 1,300 pages. That gives you some idea. That's just the bill out of the Finance Committee. Anybody that believes that's not going to raise taxes, not increase the deficit, and not affect our benefits, that's why the American people are so concerned.

They know that if the federal government takes over this, we're all going to be in trouble and it all comes down to whether or not we can stop them from getting 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans would like 50 state laboratories, 50 states working on these things with yes, the help from the federal government and doing it in accordance with the needs of those states.

If we did that, I think you'd find a really good health care system that would incrementally grow, be better, save costs, save -- bring down insurance premiums from where they are going to go if we don't. And I have to say, you know, stop the federal government from taking over everything in our lives.

KING: Let me ask the two Democrats quickly in closing, after hearing that, Senator Hatch's impassioned case, Senator Brown, to you first, and quickly, please. Do you care about having a Republican vote on this bill or do you just want to get the bill?

BROWN: I would love to see Republicans' votes. On the Health Committee, on which Senator Hatch and I sit, we accepted 160 Republican amendments, a couple dozen from Senator Hatch that I think improves the bill. So it comes down to philosophically, and you can hear that in Orrin's comments, that Orrin and his party don't much like Medicare.

HATCH: We love Medicare. We don't like the way it's run.

BROWN: He talked about the $38 trillion which is really a myth of unfunded liability. The fact is, Medicare works, government can play a positive role. Medicare has 3 or 4 percent overhead, administrative expenses. Private insurance has 20 to 30 percent.

So the public option is just going to keep the insurance companies more honest, it's going to help bring prices down. It's an option. You can choose Aetna or Cigna, you can choose a company just down the street from me, Medical Mutual if you live in Cleveland or Akron, but you can also choose the public option, just an option, that's all we're asking.

KING: Senator Nelson, very quickly, you're from a conservative state. Can you vote for this bill if you don't have, what I'll call, Republican cover?

NELSON: Well, I've said, I think essentially what the late Senator Pat Moynihan said that any landmark legislation ought to have about two-thirds of the Senate. When I said that, that obviously means that I think it ought to have bipartisan support. And I think if you go with a state-based public option, you can get bipartisan support. I think we're all more comfortable, the people will be more comfortable if the states are engaged in taking care of the situation, recognizing that Utah's problems and California's problems are different than Nebraska's problems.

KING: Gentleman, we thank you all for coming in today. Senator Hatch, Senator Brown, Senator Nelson, thank you very much. We'll have you back another time, I promise you.

KING: Up next, one of the Senate's most respected voices on military matters tells us what he thinks Senator Obama should do on Afghanistan. Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia gets "The Last Word" next.


KING: Sixteen newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows today, but only one gets "The Last Word." That honor today goes to Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. Welcome to STATE OF THE UNION.

I want to start where I left off in the health care debate, the debate on the public option. Should it be an opt-in for states, an opt-out for states? Should we wait and have a trigger? What kind of a public option, if any, can get Jim Webb's support?

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I think Ben Nelson has the classic quote that it's very difficult to talk about one part of this unless you see it all in total and that's been the difficulty since day one.

It's something that I actually said to the White House more than four months ago, that they should have come down with a very clear template in terms of what they were expecting.

From that, we should have had hearings and then the Congress should have legislated. And having done it the reverse way with the five different bills percolating up through the committees, it's really difficult to see even what we are voting for.

And with respect to the insurance programs, I think the real focus and Sherrod Brown touched on it is what has happened to the profit margins in private insurance over the last 20 years because they've been really off the charts.

So if we're opening up the client base, so to speak, even though we're looking at pre-existing options and these sorts of things, what is that going to do in terms of controlling costs of insurance if we don't have an alternative?

Probably the best approach, the ideal approach, would be to have not-for-profit insurance companies like they have in many of the countries in Europe, particularly Germany.

KING: So would you prefer the co-op approach then by Senator Conrad or do you think there has to be some kind of a public option, a government option?

WEBB: In an ideal world, we should be looking at not-for-profit insurance companies. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to make a good living but it's only been in the last 20 years that the profit margins have gone so high.

KING: And what happens if Leader Reid comes to you and says, we don't have a perfect world. I have a public option. States can opt out. He needs your vote.

WEBB: I think that concept is an interesting concept. As you know, it's fairly recent in terms of the discussions that we've been having on it. One thing that I did say to the leader is that I will vote to proceed forward to debate. That doesn't mean that I will necessarily at this time commit myself to voting for the result of that debate.

KING: If he needs 60, he has your vote?

WEBB: We need to have the debate.

KING: Let's move on to Afghanistan. As you know, the president faces a hefty decision here for commander-in-chief. The general says he needs as many as 40,000 troops, maybe even more than that, to defeat the Taliban.

They're waiting for the election to play out. As that goes on, the former Vice President Dick Cheney has said you're dithering, the commander-in-chief should take decisive action and send those troops.

WEBB: Well, first, I think if you look at the way the Bush administration moved this and maneuvered this country into the war in Iraq, you can see the long-term results of bad decision making.

The process that this administration is using I think is a very proper and smart process, and too many people have been characterizing this as the military versus the administration or General McChrystal not being listened to. General McChrystal is one voice. We have people in this administration who have a tremendous amount of experience. Jim Jones, the national security adviser among them. And he has clearly, he has more actual combat time I think than any high-ranking general on active duty today, plus he was commandant of the Marine Corps, plus he commanded NATO forces.

So this deliberate process is what we need because we're going to end up living with the results for a good period of time. And I don't think, by the way, that they should necessarily be viewed as being tied to the election either.

KING: Let me fall on that point because we had Mr. Abdullah, the challenger in that election and most suspect he will lose this election, his point without making a recommendation to President Obama is, if you think this election and the reelection of President Karzai is going to get you an efficient government, end the corruption, improve the training of the Afghan police and army, his message was essentially think again. Look at the past record. That's what you'll get in the future. Do you agree with that?

WEBB: I tend to agree with the comment that this election is not going to in and of itself validate the new government of Afghanistan. There's a couple things we probably need to be looking at in that area. One is that we have this debate where people compare the situation in Afghanistan to Iraq or to Vietnam. And it's really neither.

In my view, it's more like Lebanon in the 1980s. I was there as a journalist in Beirut with a very weak central government, very strong factions around that they were trying to build the Lebanese national army in the absence of an actual strong Lebanese national government.

If you look back to '01 when the Afghani government was formed in Bonn, in the agreements in Bonn, it was a victory for that time because we got international agreement to proceed forward with this constitution.

But I think it was probably flawed in the sense that this new constitution gave too much power to a central government in a country that is so disparate and removed from the central government concept over its history.

So one of the things Abdullah has said and others is that you probably are going to need devolution of power for the long-term health of the Afghani government.

The question is, is that all going to happen in the time period that we have where we're apparently going to be putting more troops in at some level and trying to build an Afghan army, a large Afghan army in the absence of a viable government? And that's I think the issue that's holding up the decision right now.

KING: One more foreign policy question. You made a high-profile visit to Myanmar, a country formerly known as Burma, not that long ago and helped secure the release of an American who was being held there. The administration is now sending a delegation and critics would say, why are you meeting with this abusive military regime that holds so many political prisoners? What is to be gained from this?

WEBB: Well, the purpose of the trip was a piece of a five-nation trip I made through Southeast Asia. I've got a long experience in Southeast Asia, going back to more than 40 years ago. And I was the first American leader to meet with General Than Shwe, the head of the military junta.

And my view is we need to move forward with some sort of a dialogue with all of these regimes in order to try to bring about better conditions. And if you look at the past two months, I think we've seen movement forward without abandoning the aspirations that we all have for eventual democracy in Burma.

KING: I want to close with this, it's on the front page of just about every paper in the neighborhood here in Washington, D.C. Your governor's race a week from Tuesday. And it's been great state for Democrats in recent years but your Democratic candidate is down now in some polls by about a dozen points and there's a bit of a disagreement between the gubernatorial campaign and the Democratic White House. This is a quote from the "Washington Post," "Obama, Kaine," meaning the current governor of Virginia, "and others had drawn up a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds," the candidate now, "chose a different path."

Is there dysfunction in the Democratic family?

WEBB: I don't think there is. I think the template for the election this year is by virtue of turnout realities and this sort of thing a lot different than it was last year. So you can't apply the same model.

Since Virginia is in election season every single year, we tend to focus at the very end of a campaign, particularly in these off-year elections. So I think when people really take a good, hard look at Creigh Deeds and what his life story is and compare him to the record, philosophically and otherwise of his opponent and the people down- ticket with his opponent, I think they're going to start gravitating back toward him and certainly hope so not only for Creigh Deeds but we have some really fine candidates down-ticket who are running.

KING: If that does not happen and Creigh Deeds loses this election, to what degree is that a referendum on the first year of President Obama and his policies?

WEBB: One of the things I learned by being in the Reagan administration is never answer a what-if question.

KING: And all the frustration about spending...

WEBB: Well, setting the question aside, Virginia is almost a demographic mirror of the country. It's -- Northern Virginia is high- immigrant, high-tech. Southwest Virginia is very rural and has had hard times because of the coal industry and the tobacco industry going away. Southside has lost an enormous amount of manufacturing jobs. More than half the jobs there just this decade. The Norfolk/Virginia Beach has the highest concentration of military people in the country. And I'm sure people will be looking at the voting patterns at different parts of Virginia to try to figure out what the lessons are from last year and the crises of this year.

KING: That's why we have our wonderful map. We'll be using it on election night. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, thanks for coming in today.

KING: And up next, this week's "American Dispatch" from Nebraska's fertile farmlands, the economy there doing comparatively well, in part thanks to that crop you see right there. It won't end up in your gas tank. It will end up in your gas tank, not on your dinner table.


KING: One of the reasons we love to travel is to try to figure out what makes this state different from that state. You look at this map, here, and the different colors. The bright yellow is high unemployment. Michigan leads the nation, 15.2 percent. This dark blue -- those are the states with the lowest unemployment. These three right here, under 5 percent, including the state of Nebraska, 4.9 percent unemployment.

We went out this week to take a look at why. And the farm states tend to doing better, in part, they say, because the ethanol market has improved some.

Nebraska is right here, number two. Iowa ranks number one in ethanol production, Nebraska, number two. It's helping the economy there.

Of course, they care about the health care debate here in Washington, and all the other debates here. But in our "American Dispatch" this week, we learned the biggest immediate worry in small Nebraska farm towns is a wet spell slowing the fall harvest that drives the state economy.


KING (voice-over): The trucks roll in all day, stopping over the giant grates and dumping their golden cargo: Nebraska corn. Tested for moisture and density, then sent here, 50 hours in one of seven mash tanks. Advanced BioEnergy plant manager Grant Johanson says each holds 800,000 gallons.

GRANT JOHANSON, PLANT MANAGER, ADVANCED BIOENERGY: It's probably about 12 hours from the finished product. It could be. Yes, just took -- we were ready to empty this right now.

KING: The finished product is corn-based ethanol.

(on camera): Three hundred thousand gallons a day, what does that get you over the course of a year? JOHANSON: One hundred million gallons a year of finished denatured ethanol.

KING (voice-over): Plus this...

JOHANSON: This is dry distiller's grain. This is a byproduct of ethanol production. It's used locally for cattle feed, a very excellent source for cattle feeders in the area, and it's very high protein, a good fat source.

KING: Trains take the ethanol off to be blended into gasoline. The distillers' grain is shipped out cattle farms in giant truckloads. It all adds up to 45 jobs here and more than 1,000 total in ethanol plants across Nebraska.

JOHANSON: It's greatly improved here in the last four months. You know, we went through 12 to 18 pretty challenging months in the ethanol industry, but it's -- it's greatly improved. It's a good business to be in right now.

KING: The ethanol business is not without controversy. Some critics don't like the generous federal subsidies. Others complain there are better energy sources and that corn should be grown for food, not fuel.

But here, the industry means jobs and, University of Nebraska ag economist Dick Perrin says, a better bottom line for farmers.

DICK PERRIN, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: Corn and soybean prices, which are the main crop here, are up probably 50 percent compared to what they were before the ethanol boom started in roughly 2003, 2004.

KING: Perrin says world population growth and advances in other alternative fuels will diminish the case for corn-based ethanol, eventually.

PERRIN: It's not a big fuel, but I think it's an important fuel in this bridging period until we find other kinds of technologies that will give us the energy supply that we need. But I think it's going to be a bridge for 20 years, probably.

KING: At the moment, Jeff Shaner is more worried about the next 20 days. His family owns 40 acres and leases 5,000, and wet weather is complicating the harvest, too often, lately, idling this massive 12-row combine.

When they can harvest, this corn heads to an ethanol plant 10 miles up the road, a dependable market Jeff and his father Neale Shaner say makes all the difference.

NEALE SHANER, NEALE FARMS: There's a constant demand for corn right here.

KING (on camera): How much different would your business be if there was no ethanol? JEFF SHANER, OWNER, NEALE FARMS: It would be dramatic. You would easily take 10 percent to 15 percent off of the top end. KING (voice-over): To work a family farm for generations is to know the highs are often followed by punishing lows.

N. SHANER: One thing is certain and that's uncertainty.

KING: So as they enjoy the relative stability the ethanol market brings now, the Shaners know it won't last.

N. SHANER: It's like all things. Technology will produce something better, but for right now, it's the best we've got.

J. SHANER: The food versus fuel argument is, you know, it's not my decision; it's a market decision. I do what I have to do in order to support my family, support my employees so that they can support their families.

And so my products get sold to the person who can pay you the most for them. In five years, the market -- I'm being -- if the market is telling me to grow switchgrass, we'll grow switchgrass.

Whether it be corn or soybeans or whatever the case may be, I just hope I'm flexible enough to realize it and change to what needs to be done in order to be successful.


KING: We thank the Shaners for letting us on their farm. And we wish them the warm weather -- the dry weather they need to get that harvest going.

As you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington as often as we can. We made it our pledge on "State of the Union" to travel to all 50 states in our first year; so far, 41, including Nebraska, Florida, and Alaska.

Where should we go next? You can e-mail us at "State of the Union" at Tell us why we should come to your community.

We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Take care.