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Inside President Obama's 1st State Dinner

Aired November 24, 2009 - 21:00   ET



LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, attending a state dinner at the White House. This is Obama's first state dinner welcoming the prime minister of India.

Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of you were here when I was honored to become the first president to help celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights.


OBAMA: Some of you were here for the first White House celebration of the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.


OBAMA: Tonight, we gather again for the first state dinner of my presidency with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur, as we celebrate the great and growing partnership between the United States and India.

As we all know, in India, some of life's most precious moments are often celebrated under the cover of a beautiful tent. It's a little like tonight. We have incredible food and good music and are surrounded by great friends. For it's been said that the most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us.

Mr. Prime Minister, today we work to fulfill our duty, bring our countries closer together than ever before. Tonight under the stars, we celebrate the spirit that will sustain our partnership and the bonds of friendship between our people. It's a bond that includes more than two million Indian-Americans who enrich every corner of our great nation -- leaders in government, science, industry and the arts, some of whom join us tonight. And it's the bond of friendship between a president and prime minister who are bound by the same unshakeable spirit of possibility and brotherhood that transformed both our nations, a spirit that gave rise to movements led by giants like Ghandi and King, and which are the reason that both of us can stand here tonight.

And so, as we draw upon these ties that bind our common future together, I want to close with the words that your first prime minister spoke at that midnight hour on the eve of Indian independence, because Nehru's words speak to our hopes tonight: "The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity to the great triumphs and achievements that await us. The past is over and it is the future that beckons us now."

So I propose a toast to all of you.

Does the prime minister get a glass?

Thank you.

Just logistically, we wanted to make sure the prime minister has a glass here.

For the future that beckons all of us, let us answer its call and let our two great nations realize all the triumphs and achievements that await us.


MANMOHAN SINGH, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA: Mr. President, the first lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama, distinguished guests, I feel privileged to be invited to this first state banquet, Mr. President, under your distinguished presidency. You do us and the people of India great honor by this wonderful gesture on your part. We are overwhelmed by the warmth of your hospitality, the courtesy you have extended to us personally and the grace and charm of the first lady.

Mr. President...


SINGH: Mr. President, your journey to the White House has captured the imagination of millions and millions of people in India. You are an inspiration to all those who cherished the values of democracy, diversity and equal opportunity.


SINGH: Mr. President, I can do no better than to describe your achievements in the words of Abraham Lincoln, who said -- and I quote -- "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years."


SINGH: Mr. President, we warmly applaud the recognition by the Nobel Committee of the healing touch you have provided and the power of your idealism and your vision.


SINGH: Mr. President, your leadership of this great nation of the United States coincides with a time of profound changes taking place in the world at large. We need to find new pathways of international cooperation that respond more effectively to the grave challenges caused by the growing interdependence of nations. As two leading democracies, India and the United States must play a leading role in building the shared destiny for all humankind.

Mr. President, a strong and sustained engagement between our two countries is good for our people. And, equally, it is highly important for the world as a whole. We are embarking on a new phase of our partnership. We should build on our common values and interests to realize the enormous potential and promise of our partnership.

Our expanding cooperation in areas of social and human development, science and technology, energy and other related areas, will improve the quality of lives of millions of people in our country. The success of the nearly 2.7 million strong American community (ph) is a tribute to our common peoples. They have enriched and deepened our ties and I thank them profoundly from the core of my heart.


SINGH: Mr. President, I convey my very best wishes to you.

Mr. President, as you lead this great nation, I look forward to working with you to renew and expand our strategic partnership, I wish you and the people of America a very, very Happy Thanksgiving.

Ladies and gentlemen...


SINGH: ...I would like you to join me in a toast to the health and happiness of President Barack Obama and the first lady, Mrs. Obama, the friendly people of the United States of America, and stronger and stronger friendship between India and the United States of America.

OBAMA: Cheers.


Thank you.

Thank you, everybody.

Enjoy your evening.

KING: And the dinner begins.

This is an outdoor dinner. It's under a tent on the South Lawn of the White House. I've attended a couple of these. The ones I went to were all inside, so they hold a lot more people out there.

We'll have a major panel in discussing all this.

We want to get a quick word or two with Sally Quinn, who's going to be with us later. Sally, the co-founder of On Faith at And she's just launched The Party. That's a column on entertaining in the style section of "The Post".

How important are these dinners, Sally?

SALLY QUINN, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Well, I think the prime minister said it best when he said strategic partnership. You heard their toast. It wasn't anything about music, flowers -- well, it was some. But it was really about the strategy of our relationship with India and India's position next to Pakistan and Afghanistan and China and the fact that they are a huge democracy in that area, that we have so much -- so we depend so much on India's friendship.

They've got the nuclear weapons. The Pakistanis have nuclear weapons. They are -- we export a lot of jobs to India. India is a Hindu country, although there are many Muslims there, right next to two Muslim countries, where we saw there was a bombing in Mumbai, which was a problem.

The Indians and the Pakistanis have a problem with Kashmir.

We need India. And we need them to be our strategic partners in that area if we're going to succeed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So I think that the prime minister really said the key words -- strategy, strategic partnership.

KING: And Sally will join us later when we talk about style.

We'll talk about the White House menu with some people who really know what's cooking, next.


KING: Joining us to discuss all of this, Paula Deen, the Emmy- winning Food Network star and "New York Times" best-selling author. Her husband, by the way, Michael Groover, has a new memoir out about their relationship called "My Delicious Life with Paula Deen."

Walter Scheib is the former White House chef and author of "White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen."

Roland Mesnier is the former White House pastry chef. He spent 25 years creating elegant desserts for American presidents, their families and world dignitaries. And his books include "All the President's Pastries."

And Wolfgang Puck, the famed award-winning chef and restaurateur who owns many, many restaurants throughout the United States.

Paula, this menu included potato and eggplant salad, red lentil soup, a choice of posted potato dumpling with tomato chutney or green curry prawns.

Are you familiar with any of that?

PAULA DEEN, FOOD NETWORK STAR: Not one of them, Larry.


DEEN: How about you, dear?

KING: Nope.

DEEN: None of them sound familiar to me.

KING: So I guess you...

DEEN: Ham and potato soup, yes.

KING: You couldn't have handled this tonight?

DEEN: You know, it -- it would have been...

KING: Walter Scheib is the former White House chef...

DEEN: ...hard, but...

KING: Hold it. Hold it, Paula.

Hold it, Paula.

DEEN: Yes.

KING: Walter is the former White House chef...


KING: Could an American chef come up with an Indian dinner?

WALTER SCHEIB, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHEF: Oh, sure. American cuisine -- contemporary American cuisine is a lot like the American culture, it's got influences from all over the world, none of them dominating, but all of them having an influence. And so, obviously, this -- there's a lot of familiar components in there, too. And I'm sure Paula recognizes collard greens, that are listed a little bit further down there. But, really, this has an -- an Indian take on it, but at heart, pumpkin pie and caramel and pecans, that's all -- all American, too.

DEEN: Yes, I was...

KING: Roland, is this the kind of dessert...

DEEN: I was impressed...

KING: like to prepare?

Do you like -- Paula, Paula, you're talking over me so I can't...




Well, you know, my years at the White House were a bit different. Every dessert were a grand presentation, as you know. And every dessert were designed to actually honor the visiting country and the visiting head of states. So the design was very particular and was only used once, never twice.

And I've served the country of India many, many times. The flavor used in dessert will be flavors that are well recognized in India, that they could affiliate with and could recognize.

I think it's very important for them, when they come to America or to any other country...

KING: I think, though...

MESNIER: ...that they can see what they eat. They can recognize the food.

KING: I think it's the same as the whole menu. I think they probably choose the pumpkin pie because Thanksgiving is coming up in two days.

MESNIER: But we have the does it...

KING: Wolfgang, could this be a challenge for you?

MESNIER: ...what does Thanksgiving mean in India?

KING: Hold it.

MESNIER: I don't know.

KING: I know. Well, the whole rest of the menu is Indian.


KING: Anyway...

MESNIER: That's what I'm saying.


MESNIER: And then, at the end, you have...

KING: We're off to a good start here.

MESNIER: The dessert...


MESNIER: ...the dessert reflects very much what you would get...

KING: I get it, Roland.

MESNIER: the U.S. around (INAUDIBLE).


MESNIER: I'm a little bit disappointed not to see something a little bit more grandiose, something more elaborate for a dinner of that state -- status, you know.

KING: I've got you.


KING: Wolfgang, would it be a challenge -- I've got you.

Would it be a challenge for you, Wolfgang, to cook this dinner?

WOLFGANG PUCK, CHEF: Actually, for me, it wouldn't be a big challenge because we have, actually, Indian influence the dishes on our menu. We make a striped bass, for example, on an Indian set with a little eggplant puree and some lentil puree and the raita around it. And people love it. And I love Indian flavors.

KING: Do you agree with Roland, it should have been an Indian dessert?

PUCK: You know, I really think we should also showcase what America has. You know, we have so many great pastries. You know, why not have a pumpkin pie or a pecan pie or something?

Now, it's obvious about the presentation. It can be presented really, really big.

KING: Paula, would you like to cook a White House dinner?

DEEN: I would love to. I had the first lady, Larry, on my show before the president was elected. And I found her to be very down to Earth in a very, very American -- in her taste for food. I showed her how I fried shrimp and she ate even during the commercial break. She thoroughly enjoyed them.

I asked what their favorite food was and they said hot wings.

KING: All right. Dee -- Deepak Chopra is at the dinner, our famed friend, who appears many times with us.

What's it like, Deepak?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, CALLING FROM STATE DINNER: It's very festive. It's very celebrative. It's just lovely. The energy is great. The prime -- prime minister was very eloquent. And President Obama, of course, was wonderful. We all got to meet him. And I'm sitting right next to Colin Powell -- actually, the president is on the next table. And Vernon Jordan. And there's lots of wonderful Indian people. I feel greatly very fortunate that I am both American and Indian.

KING: Can you pass the phone over to Colin?

CHOPRA: No, he's next door.


CHOPRA: And he's sitting next to the president right now.

KING: OK. I thought you said you were next to him, that's why. I misunderstood.


CHOPRA: I got out to speak to you, Larry.

KING: Oh, you went out to speak.



KING: Thank you.

CHOPRA: I just have -- I just left the table to speak to you. And I should rush back, because it's not polite.

KING: Yes. I know. Go back.

Thank you very much, Deepak.

Walter, do you agree with Roland that the whole menu should have been Indian?

SCHEIB: Well, I think, in the end, the White House isn't a hotel or a restaurant, it's a private home. And, in the end, Mrs. Obama will be the final determiner of what she wants. This is a little bit atypical of a menu. But, again, it does represent making the guest country feel at home. The flavors are going to be very recognizable. But at the same time, you go through all these different areas of India, you end up back home in a very down home. Paula will be happy with a pumpkin pie sort of dessert.

DEEN: (INAUDIBLE) collard greens.

KING: What do you think of the idea, Walter, of bringing in a guest chef?

What do you think of bringing in a guest chef?

They brought in Marcus Samuelsson.

Is that customary, Walter?

SCHEIB: Well, you know, it really isn't customary. But, again, as I say, there's no such thing as custom at the White House. There's tradition, but, again, it's all driven by what the first lady wants to do. And if she wants to invite a guest chef in, what a tremendous honor for Marcus. I think that Chris Comerford, who worked with me for eight years, is doing an excellent job helping him with the logistics, because, to be honest with you, 320 dining at a pavilion on the South Grounds is like doing an off-premise catering.

So Marcus will design the cuisine, but, in the end, Chris and her staff will be the ones who actually make the dinner happen.

KING: Roland, how long do you work on a dessert for a dinner like this?

MESNIER: Well, for a dinner like this, it could be seven weeks, starting, first of all, on doing mainly...

KING: Really?

MESNIER: ...the decoration made of chocolate or sugar. First of all, we have to come with a special design that we all know, that they will all recognize. That takes a lot of research. We want to make sure that we don't -- we do not commit any mistake by having anything there that should not be there, sometimes flavor wise or design wise.

So it could be several weeks working on a dessert like this until the end, the last two days. This is when the actual dessert takes place. And then the assembly will be done the night of the dinner. So it's quite stressful to put one of those big desserts together...

KING: I'll bet.

MESNIER: ...because (INAUDIBLE) by the White House, you cannot have oops. This is not allowed. No, I'm kidding.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's not like a restaurant, Larry, where you can kind of...

KING: No oops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you can't...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't give them 10 percent off the bill and comp a dessert. It doesn't work that way.

MESNIER: So and another thing...

KING: (INAUDIBLE) restaurants.


MESNIER: You have to remember that at the White House, they do not wait for the food. When they say pick up, they mean pick up the food now. You cannot say, I need five more minutes or 10 more minutes, which -- this is why I'm totally against of bringing guest chefs. And for more than one reason. First of all, they do not know how the White House operates. But this is -- that sets up the place for having disaster -- terrible disaster.

And number two, I think it is a slap on the face of the chef who is there every day feeding the family breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then when it is the time to shine, we bring a guest chef.

KING: Roland, I will...

MESNIER: I take that very offensively...

KING: Roland...


KING: I will tell you honestly, I never thought we'd have major controversy on the show tonight. You have provided it.

MESNIER: Thank you.

KING: Wolfgang...

MESNIER: Thank you, Larry.


MESNIER: I'm always good for that, you know.

KING: Thank you.

You are. I know.

How do you know, Wolfgang, if your meal has succeeded?

PUCK: Well, I really think like at the White House, like I did a big state dinner at a Williamsburg Summit like 25 years ago...

KING: I remember that.

PUCK: ...when Ronald Reagan was president. And I think we trained our staff who came with us really, really well. And I know the timing is really important, but, you know, we have an important restaurant and we do important parties. So the -- really, the way we serve the dinner, everybody wants be to be served on time.

Now, obviously, I think if I would be asked to do a dinner at the White House, I would work with the White House chef and says you know the ins and outs in there. And I will have my flavors in the dishes, but you know the logistics. They know them better than anybody.

KING: Are you look -- is the chef looking through a curtain now to see if they're smiling, if they're...

PUCK: Well, I think so.

KING: He's going nuts?

PUCK: I think I would be. Like when I go at the Oscars, for example, when we do the big party afterwards, I go out in the dining room. I'm sure Marcus is not going to be able to go out in the dining room.

KING: And you're nervous when you do it.

PUCK: Yes. You're very nervous because you want it to be perfect.

KING: I can't let this go, Paula, without asking you, you had a very close encounter with a flying ham yesterday in Atlanta.

What happened?

DEEN: I did. Well, Larry, we were unloading the truck. Smithfield and I had delivered 30,000 pounds of my hams to Hosea Food Bank there. And it was a young man's first day. And he didn't realize that once in a while, I'll send one of the guys with Smithfield out for a pass.

And he was so caught up in the moment and so excited, when the ham finally got to him, he said, "Paula, back at you." And I thought he was just making a statement. I turned around to get another ham out of the truck. And when I did, I was hit solid in the center of my face. And I literally saw stars.

But thank goodness I'm a bigger ham than that one was. So I survived...

KING: How are you now?

DEEN: ...and I'm not even bruised, Larry.

KING: No, you're not even swollen.

DEEN: I'm fine. I'm just careful with...

KING: Hey, thank you all very much, Paula and Walter and...

DEEN: No. When I blow my nose, I'm careful.

KING: ...and Roland and Wolfgang, thank you.

OK. Thank you.

DEEN: Thank you, Larry.




KING: All eyes are on Michelle Obama and what she's KING tonight. The first lady fashion report is next.


KING: Welcome back to our discussion about tonight's state dinner at the White House.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a White House reporter. She was the pool reporter earlier today, when Michelle Obama unveiled tonight's menu and other details. She also covered the arrival of tonight's guests.

Naeem Khan is here. He's in Miami. He's an Indian-American designer. And First Lady Michelle Obama is KING one of his designs for tonight's state dinner. His father and grandfather both designed for Indian royalty.

And Sally Quinn is back with us.

We're going to talk about style tonight.

Naeem, did -- did she pick it out from many designs that you gave her?

How did it work?

NAEEM KHAN, DESIGNED OUTFIT FOR MICHELLE OBAMA: Actually, yes, she did. I designed her three or four things. And the idea was she picked it out from there. But the idea was India, chic, simple, but still very glamorous.

KING: Was she difficult to deal with?

KHAN: No. I mean, actually I didn't deal with her. I had to deal with her stylist, Ikram (ph), who called me and I had to go through her. It was actually very, very easy. They had given me what they need, I designed it, I sent it. And I left it for them to pick it.

KING: Do you choose the color?

KHAN: Of course I did. I chose the color. I chose the embroidery. I chose the cut of the dress, everything. All I had to do was fit it to her.

KING: Now were you nervous when you first saw her walk out tonight?

KHAN: Not nervous. I was so joyous. I mean, for me to be part of this historic occasion, being Indian, and to be part of this was beyond amazing. I mean, I literally fell off. It was an incredible moment for me.

KING: Sally, you're our style expert. Give us your critique of the dress being worn by the first lady?

SALLY QUINN, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMN IST: I would like to congratulate Naeem. I think it's one of the most beautiful dresses I've seen. The cut was perfect. The fabric was perfect. And I love the way it sort of flowed when she walked.

She just -- you know, the bottom of the dress just shimmered. It was exquisite. So I think you've got a great career ahead of you, is all I can say. Have you got any more of them, by the way?

KHAN: I make them by the thousands.

KING: Mia, you're there there on the lawn. Describe for us what the scene was like with the arrival of the guests and everything tonight.

NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It was very much a red carpet arrival of many of the guests. Probably the biggest headliner tonight was Steven Spielberg, but lots of other Hollywood heavyweights there tonight, Blair Underwood, Alfred Woodward, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, and then, of course, heavy hitters from the world of politics, lots of governors, lots of representatives and top officials from the Obama administration.

There were some no-shows. I think people were expecting, for instance -- there were rumors going around that Brad Pitt would show up or even Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey did not show up. But Gayle King was here instead, her best friend.

And also lots of folks from the Obama' personal life, Chicago friends, like Marty Nesbitt and his wife, who, of course, delivered Malia and Sasha. And he said that he was mainly looking forward to reconnecting with his Chicago friends tonight.

KING: You know why they decided to hold it outside?

HENDERSON: One of the things they said was that they wanted to make sure they could have a number of guests. The State Room fits about 150 guests. And that's about the number of guests that Bush had when he hosted the prime minister in 2005.

Tonight, you had about 320. Bill Clinton had a much bigger party, 700 folks there. This White House talked about wanting to have a bigger event, so that's why they held it outside. Some people kind of look and say, it's a tent. It looks more like a pavilion. And of course they decorate this with a floor and lots of floral arrangements all around, so you're not really thinking you're in a tent when you're there. You're kind of distracted from that by all the decorations.

KING: Sally, what will this do for Naeem Khan's career as a designer?

QUINN: Well, as I said, I'd like to have one of those dresses myself, and I can't imagine any woman looking at that dress and saying, how do I get hold of him? I think it's going to really put him on the map. He's already a well-known designer anyway. But I think that from now on he'd better hire a lot more people to work for him, because he's going to be inundated with orders.

But I think one of the interesting things about this dinner, Larry, was the number of staff, White House staff they had on the guest list. The guest list was really interesting. I've never seen that many White House staffers and State Department staffers on a guest list at the White House. And I think that may be one of the reasons they expanded it the way they did. And I think this has been such a grueling year for the people in the White House on every level, whether it's the economy or the wars or the environment or the health care, whatever, that I think this is a way of rewarding them. And I think that's a really good thing to do.

There are also a lot of African-Americans on this guest list, which I have not seen that many before. And I think that obviously is a statement that they're making. And then there's a tip of the hat to Hollywood and Bollywood. The Indians have their own film industry. An awful lot of big donors, too. They had a lot of people to fit in.

KING: Got to get a break. We'll be right back after this.


KING: Naeem Khan in Miami, what was the fabric of that dress?

KHAN: OK, this was totally handmade. It's pure sterling silver piets that are hand cut and sewn in a pattern which is floral on a silk chiffon. It's so beautiful. It's totally handmade, entirely handmade. It took maybe three weeks by 40 people to make it.

KING: Where was it made?

KHAN: It was made in India. It's my family workshop. My father and my grandfather, who started this business of embroidery. So I come from a family that makes beautiful, beautiful fabrics for many designers and for many Indians. And most of my embroideries are made in my family factories. That's where it was made. It's an old tradition, many hundreds of years old.

KING: Mia, you were with the First Lady earlier today. Was she nervous?

HENDERSON: She seemed slightly nervous. And she made this comment where she said that on the surface she was swan like, but underneath she was like a duck, paddling and paddling furiously, because there was so much to think about for the evening. But you very much, over the last couple of weeks, have seen a First Lady kind of become more of a First Lady. We'll see more traditional events that she has to do over the next couple of weeks, with December and the Christmas holidays. Tomorrow, there will be the pardoning of the turkey. On Friday, of course, there will be the reception of the Christmas tree.

So she very much is becoming more comfortable in this role as First Lady. And tonight she had on this dress, obviously, that your guest here has described so perfectly. She talks -- you ask her, you ask her aides about fashion, and it's not necessarily her focus. She very much wants to focus on the work she's doing with these young girls. You saw them bring them in today, and important in terms of mentoring and leadership. So that's really her focus. And as much as folks like to talk about fashion, she wants to change the subject and talk about mentoring and leadership and health care.

KING: Sally, fair or not, Washington is not reputed as the style center of the world in fashion. How are the Obamas affecting it?

QUINN: Well, it's still not reputed as the fashion center of the world. People in Washington have to dress carefully, because most people who work here are working in the government or something to do with the government, and a lot of them are politicians who go and travel outside the country. And so you really can't sort of dress over the top here, or at least most people who are in official situations.

Michelle Obama has taken her style just to the right edge, I think. She's a little bit different, a little quirky sometimes, always very stylish, always looks very glamorous in her clothes. She takes risks, which I like. And she dresses very youthfully. And she dresses in American designer clothes, which I also think is a great idea.

But she's more informal than a lot of first ladies. She's not wearing the sort of little buttoned up St. John's suits. She's wearing skirts and sweaters. And I think that she's dressing exactly right for this moment, that people are not --

KING: Well said.

QUINN: People are not as formal as they used to be. And I think she's setting a tone. You can see it. I think she set a tone even that women on television in the last year, since Michelle Obama started showing up in her J. Crew sweaters -- people have stopped wearing sort of business suits, the women, the commentators, started wearing sweaters on television.

KING: True. Thanks, Sally. Thank you all very much. The president's going to tell us next week what he'll do about Afghanistan, about his options. Sixty seconds from now.


KING: Next Tuesday, the president will announce his decision on Afghanistan. Joining us to discuss it, in Washington, Matthew Hoh. He became the first US official to have resigned in protest over US policy there. In Memphis, Tennessee, General Wesley Clark, NATO supreme allied commander. And in Washington -- former NATO supreme allied commander. And in Washington, Tom cotton, a member for Vets for Freedom, an organization of combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Clark, what should he do and what do you think he's going to do?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think he's going to build an exit strategy to get us out of there, but I think it's going to entail more troops in the near term, a lot more assistance to the government of Pakistan, and pressure on the government of Pakistan to do even more in the northwest frontier provinces. And I think he's going to try to start showing signs of progress so we can can see an end in sight.

KING: Matthew, if that's the case, what do you think of it?

MATTHEW HOH, FMR. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for having me here tonight, Larry. I think adding more troops is going in the wrong direction. Adding more troops does two things. It reinforces the Karzai government, a government that we're propping up, you know, on the backs of our young Marines and soldiers. By propping them up, that means the Karzai government will not negotiate with the other side.

The other thing this does by adding more troops is it only enforces or reinforces the Taliban's desire to end the foreign occupation of the country. They're only going to fight harder. So by adding more troops, you take away any incentive from the Karzai regime to negotiate, and you embolden the other side to continue fighting.

My recommendation, of course, is to -- go ahead?

KING: -- leave?

HOH: Oh, not leave. No, one of the things, Larry, is you can characterize it as all in or all out, and I don't believe that's the case. Reasonable people and rational people who are involved in the debate, I don't think anyone is saying all in or all out. I'm not advocating for washing our hands. I'm advocating for a political solution.

KING: Tom Cotton, where do you stand?

TOM COTTON, VETS FOR FREEDOM: I support General McChrystal's request for fully resourced counter-insurgent strategy. Reports of his still classified review released in August said he's requesting anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 troops. I think 40,000 would be a reasonable but low-end figure; 60,000 would allow for a fully resourced strategy. And I hope the president next week will announce that he's going to support the general and give him all the troops he needs for that strategy.

KING: CNN is reporting that the Pentagon planners are expecting deployment of about 34,000 more troops. We'll ask General Clark and our other guests about that right after this.



KING: General Clark, former Vice President Dick Cheney has accused the president of dithering and suggested that his actions toward Afghanistan are due to inexperience. How do you comment on that?

CLARK: I think it's been a very good process of the strategic review. I think they've worked it with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think it's been time very, very well spent. I have to say I'm in sympathy with General McChrystal's request for more troops. I would certainly request them if I were there.

But I also hear what Matthew is saying. I think that's the effort of the review, is to square those two concerns. They are both sets of concerns. McChrystal needs more troops. The government's not responsive. It's not as legitimate as probably we would like to make it.

And the other element is, of course, Pakistan has to do more, because we can't succeed in Afghanistan alone. It's not an isolated theater of war. All that is part of the review.

KING: Tom, every public poll says a majority of Americans want us out. How do you respond to that?

COTTON: Well, the support for the war can ebb and flow based on the case that our leaders make for it. I think one draw back of the long and protracted review is that we haven't had the president and senior Congressional leaders making the case to the American people for why we need to send more troops to Afghanistan, what they're going to accomplish and how we can win. I think once that case is made, once the president explains that we have a victory strategy, not an exit strategy, the polls will begin to turn around, and the center of gravity in the war, which is really not the fight against al Qaeda terrorists or the fight against the Taliban, but maintaining American public support for our great fighting man, will begin to turn around, and the majority of Americans will see that this is an essential fight that we have to win.

KING: Matthew, why did you resign? Why not stay on and fight the fight inside?

HOH: Larry, I'd -- As I said in my resignation letter, I lost trust and confidence in what we were doing there, why we were in Afghanistan. I really came to find that a majority of the people that our young men are fighting and dying against are people who are fighting us only because they're occupied. I came to realize that we're taking one side in the civil war, and our participation there is only continuing this conflict. Our presence there is not doing anything to make the United States safer. Al Qaeda is not present in Afghanistan.

Finally, I had moral issues with us having our young men fight and die to support a regime like the Karzai regime, which is very corrupt and illegitimate.

KING: General, other countries that have gone into Afghanistan have left, Russia most recently. Is this a no-win?

CLARK: I think it depends on how you define win, Larry. I do think that we are a foreign element in a country that doesn't tolerate diversity. I think we have to find a way to leave behind some kind of structure that we can work with that won't be a terrorist state, and we have to get our troops out of there. And I believe that's what the Obama administration is trying to do.

But you can't do this if you're being forced back on the battlefield, and you can't maintain some control over most of the population centers. So I see the increase in troops as an essential weigh station on getting out of the country successfully.

KING: And we'll be back with more of Matthew Hoh, General Wesley Clark and Tom Cotton.

By the way, tomorrow night, Jack Hanna, on Thanksgiving eve, is back with his animals. You're not going to want to miss this one.


KING: The president's first state dinner as president going on at the White House right now. They're eating dinner. They'll be dancing. There will be great entertainment by the great Jennifer Hudson. It's really a state dinner, but not a state dinner, because the prime minister is not the head of state. But they're calling it a -- whatever the White House calls it is what it is.

Tom Cotton, you've been in both places. Did it get frustrating for you?

COTTON: There were days when it was frustrating. I can tell you, though, that Afghanistan in 2009 is nowhere near as bad or as dangerous as Baghdad in 2006 was, when I served there as a platoon leader. And as we learned over the last two years, difficult does not mean impossible and hard does not mean irredeemable. If we can pull back from the brink in Iraq, we can certainly do so in Afghanistan over the coming two to three years, with the proper number of troops and the proper strategy.

KING: Matthew, are you pessimistic about all this?

HOH: I am to a certain degree, Larry. You know, I'm very hopeful that what the president has done these last few months is that they've gone through a review of the strategy, as General Clark is referencing, and that we're going to see -- I know we're going to get a troop increase, which I'm disappointed about.

However, if we can get some type of withdraw date or exit strategy, the important thing with that is we get a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Right now, our forces are fighting and they're fighting guys that are fighting us only because we're there. It is going to keep happening until we withdraw. But what we need to do is find a political solution that brings the two sides of the Afghan civil war to peace and stability.

KING: General Clark, the great, late General Chappy James told me once that no one hates war more than the warrior. And I hear that. But did we ever have a general propose that we leave?

CLARK: It's very hard when you're in uniform to say something's not doable. And in this case what the military is saying is they need more troops. But they also need a lot of other things. They need more economic advisors there. They really need a political strategy. They need stronger diplomacy in the region. They need to work India as well as Pakistan in this. So the military is trying to do the best it can to do the mission they were given. You don't want to ask the military is it time to quit? That's the job of the president. He's got to look at the results, all the tools available. He has to listen to the best advice. These military guys are going to do the very best job they can. They are going to give it heart and soul. They're going to make incredible commitments to get the job done. It's up to the leaders, elected by the American people, to make sure the job they're given and strategy they're given is the right one.

KING: Tom, do you agree there has to be an exit strategy?

COTTON: I would focus more on a victory strategy than an exit strategy. I don't think we can set firm deadlines or timetables. You never know the course of evens in war. In Iraq, there was the debate about timetables. And again, that is really setting a deadline to let the enemy know when we would be leaving.

We do have to be prepared for this to be a long-term, two to three-year troop increase, as we restore some level of security to the country and work with the government to restore its legitimacy among the Afghan people. So, no, I don't agree.

KING: A victory would be -- and, Tom, we have a short time left. What would victory be, Tom?

COTTON: A legitimate government, viewed through the eyes of the people, that can come through elections, which they just had, but it can also come through the state having a relative monopoly on the use of violence inside its borders, control of the borders, the provision of basic social services, and the defeat of the Taliban and other anti-government forces inside of Afghanistan.

KING: In 20 seconds, general, do you think that's possible?

CLARK: I think something less is possible. I don't think this is unwinnable, if you define the objective as we don't want a terrorist state there. We want to help the people of Afghanistan as best we can. And I think we can do that. I think the president's team can put together a strategy that will give us a chance to do it.

KING: Matthew, we know where you stand. Matthew Hoh, General Wesley Clark, Tom Cotton, thank you all.

And don't forget, tomorrow night, Jack Hanna and the animals. Right now, Erica Hill and "AC 360." Erica?