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CNN Larry King Live

Reaction to Presidential Address

Aired September 13, 2007 - 21:25   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf.
President Bush has rejected calls to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and get them out now. But he has OKed a gradual withdrawal of the so- called surge forces and promises more successful things are ahead in Iraq, the more United States troops can come home.

But he also says Iraqi leaders want an enduring relationship with the United States. In other words, Iraq will be on the American agenda long after George W. Bush exits the White House.

We've got reaction to the president's speech from four of his would-be successors -- Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards and John McCain.

We're going to begin with Senator Obama in Dubuque, Iowa.

We thank you for joining us, Senator.

Anything surprise you?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: No. I think we knew the direction the president was going in before the speech. And he reconfirmed, I think, that he is bound to this same failed course that we have seen for the last several years.

There are a couple of key points, Larry, that I just think everybody has to understand.

This is not a significant withdrawal of troops. What this is that we have run out of troops. We can't sustain the surge. And we are now going back to the same levels of troops that we had nine months ago. And there is no commitment for further reductions beyond that. So what we know is that by the next summer, we will still have the same number of troops that we had a year ago. That is not -- that is not progress.

The second thing, Larry, that we know is that the surge was designed to bring about the space where Iraqi politicians could come together and reconcile. That has not happened. And so, on the president's own terms, we have not seen the kind of success that the surge promised to deliver.

KING: Were you prepared, Senator, to be open to possible change of your own thoughts based on something he might have said?

Were you open to it? OBAMA: Well, I took the time in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, as well as the other hearings, to listen to general Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And my assessment is that they have been given an assignment which is to maintain our efforts in Iraq and they've done the best that they can given the extraordinarily difficult situation that's been provided them.

But there was nothing in their testimony that indicated that we got lasting political accommodations that can stabilize Iraq.

Keep in mind that the president's primary success is in Anbar. That's where he's been continually focused on. In Anbar, the decision was made, on the party of tribal Sunni leaders, to start working with the coalition and reject Al Qaeda in Iraq -- which, by the way, didn't exist before our own invasion -- because they made a decision that, for now, at least, it's convenient for them to be getting arms and training from us.

But they have not reconciled with Shias and we have not seen the kind of reconciliation between Shia and Sunni that would actually end the civil war there and stabilize the country. That will only happen when we start bringing our troops home and they start taking responsibility for the kind of political accommodations that are needed.

KING: Were you surprised at the concept that we may be there ad infinitum, for -- possibly like South Korea, I mean that this may go on and on long after Mr. Bush leaves the presidency?

OBAMA: Larry, that -- I think that is unacceptable and the American people understand that it's unacceptable. We need to bring this war to an end now. We need to start bringing our troops home now and have a schedule for a responsible but rapid and phased redeployment out of Iraq.

And I've talked to military experts. They say we can bring one to two brigades out per month. If we started now on that schedule, we could have all our combat troops out by next year.

And if we double our efforts to the diplomatic front, as well as deal with the humanitarian crisis that already exists -- it's not one that might happen in the future as we withdraw. We already have four million Iraqis that are displaced.

If we double our humanitarian and diplomatic efforts as we get this gradual withdrawal, that is our best chance to focus on the real enemy of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That will reduce the anti-American sentiment in Middle East. That's what's going to bring about the long-term national security of the United States. And I think there are many of us who have been arguing that for a long time now.

KING: That's what you want.

What do you think will happen? OBAMA: Well, I am committed, working with other Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate, to try to constrain the president and not give him a blank check. I know that some of the candidates who are going to be appearing after me will argue this is a measure of success and we shouldn't turn away from success. The bar for success has been dropped so low now that it is barely visible. And the American people, I think, will not be fooled by this.

If we're not meeting our benchmarks, if the Iraqi government has not been spurred to a different kind of action and political accommodation, the only leverage we have to get about different behavior from them is for us to bring our troops home. And that is something that I think all of us should be working toward.

KING: And do you think Senator Reed hit the point?

OBAMA: I think Senator Reed did a terrific job. And I think he made the case that the problem is not the actions of General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker. They're doing the best they can. But they're -- they've been provided a mission that cannot work the way the president has designed it.

The way we can stabilize Iraq is if the Iraqi government understands they've got to come to a political accommodation. If we start engaging all the countries in the region in the kind of hard diplomacy that's necessary -- and that includes, by the way, talking to countries we don't like, like Iran and Syria, who have an interest in seeing Iraq not completely destabilized because that would just destabilize their own regimes and to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is already occurring.

KING: Thank you, Senator, as always.

We'll see you on the trail.

OBAMA: It's great to talk to you, Larry.

Thank you.

KING: Senator Barack Obama in Dubuque, Iowa.

When we -- we'll take a break.

We will check, we'll go to Atlanta with Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

That's next.

Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is return on success. The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy. (END VIDEO CLIP)


KING: You're watching a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE following the president's important speech on Iraq, delivered from the Oval Office. We're now joined in Atlanta by Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who has, in the main, supported this president and his Iraq policy.

Anything you disagreed with tonight?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought the president was correct to follow General Petraeus' recommendation. We sent the general there. We sent him there to perform a mission, to have this surge work. It appears from all of the neutral observers that it has worked better than anybody anticipated, not that it's perfect. There are a lot of things that still have to be done.

But we had people go there who were former critics of the war, even some Democrats who looked at it and said, it's remarkable the amount of success that General Petraeus and the troops have had.

It seems to me that our goal is in Iraq is no different now than it was at the very beginning. The goal of the mission in Iraq is to provide safety and security so we can have an ally in Iraq against the Islamic terrorists.

And that was the mission that most of the Democrats agreed to in 2003. They've kind of changed their minds about that. I think the language I quoted actually came from Hillary Rodham Clinton that the goal, the mission in Iraq is the safety and security in Iraq. And of course, the end purpose of that is so we can have an ally against Islamic terrorism.

If we can be successful in that, I don't see the idea of running out and withdrawing and retreating.

KING: Define success. When you say safety and the like, that is subjective, right? We might say we'll never be successful. It will take 100 years until you're totally successful. How define it?

GIULIANI: Larry, that's what they used to say about crime in New York, right? We'd never be able to reduce it. How do you define safety and security? How you define it is, a society in which people can send their children to school, a society in which people can go to work. A society in which the blessings of democracy and liberty mean something.

When people are living in fear, democracy is just a theory. So what we have to do here is to provide enough safety and security so that the Iraqis can work out a stable government for themselves.

You know the most hopeful signs there? The local governments that are developing. Governments develop, actually, democracies develop from the bottom up, not from the top down. And General Petraeus, I thought, had a really brilliant insight with regard to that. And this is not easy, but it's really important. Think of the consequences of what the Democrats want to do. Retreating and running away in Iraq. It will bring us back to that same position of weakness we had in the 1990s.

And if you understand Islamic terrorism and you really pay attention to it, they take advantage of weakness more than they do with strength. So we're much better off in being on offense against them, being strong.

We've got General Petraeus there. It seems to me despite the attacks that some of these Democrats have made on his integrity, this is a man of honesty and integrity. He's doing a good job. Let's give him a chance to succeed.

KING: When someone says to you, Mayor, the goal may be wonderful and it's great to hear, why is it worth close to 4,000 lives?

GIULIANI: You know, Larry, I heard General Petraeus answer that question a while back. You know, do you re-examine the goal every time there's a loss of life? And the general said yes. And you do. And there's nothing that you can say to someone who has lost a loved one there. I mean, I lived through that when I was mayor of New York.

But the reality is that this is necessary to keep ourselves safe from Islamic terrorism. If we learned anything in the 20th Century, if we learned anything from September 11th, it has to be to be on offense against Islamic terrorists.

They were killing more Americans when we were on defense in the '90s than they have since September 11th, since we've been on offense. So, you know, the sacrifices that have to be made for freedom and democracy fall unequally on some people. It's a terrible thing.

But I mean, the way all of us can join in this is to support General Petraeus, you know, to give money to those organizations that are raising money for the families of the soldiers who were lost in Iraq or in Afghanistan. But, unfortunately, until we get to the perfect world, this is what being part of the military is all about.

And we really respect these people, and I was really upset with the attacks on General Petraeus' integrity that took place from We are going to put an ad in The New York Times refuting that. And I was really disappointed in Hillary Clinton's attack on the general's integrity, kind of joining in that and her failure to condemn

KING: Mr. Mayor, you mentioned General Petraeus a lot more than you mentioned President Bush. Is that due to current popularity?

GIULIANI: No, no. It's due to the fact that I said a long time ago that I'd be -- I'd probably be very much influenced by what the general had to say. I said that during several debates. I think one of them even on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. And I'm just following what I thought made sense then. I thought the president gave an excellent address tonight. I think the idea of return on success is a good idea. The idea that we're going to -- we're going to determine what we do in Iraq based upon our ability to provide safety, security, and a stable situation in which we emerge from Iraq with an ally in the terrorist war against us.

Remember, Larry, this is just a battle in a much wider war. The Democratic candidates rarely use the world "Islamic terrorism," if at all. But that's what we're involved with here. We're involved with their war against us. Iraq is a part of it. If we get it right, we're going to help ourselves. If we get it wrong, it can be much more difficult for us.

KING: See you in October, Mayor. Thanks.

GIULIANI: See you at a ball game, Larry. Thanks a lot.

KING: You bet. Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

In a couple of minutes we'll meet John Edwards and John McCain. But first let's go to Iraq itself and check in with Anderson Cooper, who will host "AC 360" at the top of the hour.

What's up, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, thanks, we're live in Baghdad tonight, looking at President Bush's address to the nation. We will look at exactly what he said with our panel, including CNN's Michael Ware, who has done as much reporting on the ground here in Iraq as anyone else.

Also the president's words, how they have changed over the course of the war, how the definition of the mission has changed and the definition of victory has changed as well. We'll examine that.

We'll also have some other news. The impact of Hurricane Humberto in Texas, and in Utah, the trial begins for polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

All that and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.

KING: That's "AC 360" with Anderson, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. When we come back, senators John Edwards and John McCain following the Bush speech. Don't go away.


BUSH: Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we're ready to begin building that relationship in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're now joined in Chicago by Senator John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, a Democratic presidential candidate. Did the president say anything, Senator, tonight that you could support?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only thing he said that I could support is what he said about the brave men and women who have sacrificed on behalf of the United States of America wearing the uniform of our country in Iraq. I think the rest of it was a sales job.

It's a continuation in a series of P.R. jobs where the president is trying to convince the American people that the surge is working, that we're making progress in Iraq. Not addressing the absolutely fundamental underlying question, which is, has there been any serious political progress between the Sunni and Shia?

And the answer to that question is no, and for that reason, the president doesn't focus on that. And that's the reason America needs to be leaving Iraq.

KING: Wouldn't an immediate withdrawal, though, bring chaos?

EDWARDS: No. I think if what we did is we did it in a smart way, what I would do if I were president today is take 40,000 to 50,000 troops out immediately, engage the Sunni and Shia in a serious effort to reach some political compromise.

I mean, the question -- the underlying question is, how long are we going to wait for them to make some political progress? No one believes that there can be stability in Iraq without there being some political progress there.

And until and if that political progress occurs, there will not be long-term stability in Iraq. So the question is, how long is America going to be there putting American men and women's lives in the way, billions of dollars of taxpayer money while we wait for them to do what they're supposed to do.

They've had years to do it now, and I think it's time for us to shift the pressure to them, for them to feel the heat, and the way to do that is to start pulling out troops and to continue to pull out troops, in my judgment over the next nine or 10 months.

KING: General Petraeus sure impressed Mayor Giuliani. Did he impress you?

EDWARDS: Listen, General Petraeus has served this country honorably and he deserves respect for that reason. But I listened to Mayor Giuliani just a minute ago when you were interviewing him, Larry. This is the same thing we've been hearing for years, 9/11 directly related to Iraq -- 9/11 is not related to Iraq, and the American people now know that. But they continue to say it. The president said it again tonight.

They continue to talk about fear. They continue to focus on the connection between the war in Iraq and what happened on September the 11th. There is no connection. There is a serious threat of Islamic terrorism. There's no doubt about that.

And as president of the United States, I will use every tool available to us to make sure that we go after these terrorists where they are and stop them before they can do us harm.

We'll also do something this president is not doing, which is actually have a long-term plan to undermine the forces of terrorism. But what we have to recognize is that in Iraq, America is policing a civil war.

And unless and until the two sides to that civil war start moving towards reaching some agreement, which based on what I see is not happening, America is going to have to change strategy.

I actually believe the Congress has a responsibility in that regard. You know, I think what happened in the election in November of 2006 is the American people gave Congress a mandate. And that mandate was a mandate of change.

They didn't like what was happening in Iraq. They wanted to see a change of course in Iraq. And they expect the Congress to stand their ground against this president, and that's exactly what they should do.

The Congress should stand its ground. They should not submit a single funding bill to this president that doesn't have a timetable for withdrawal.

KING: Thanks, John, as always.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Larry. Great to be here.

KING: Senator John Edwards, former senator of North Carolina.

Right now let's go to Hudson, New Hampshire, standing by is Senator John McCain, 2008 Republican candidate, a former POW and decorated Vietnam veteran.

What did you think of the speech, Senator?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was a good speech, Larry. I think the president laid out the situation well, and I think that he pointed out the folly associated with us setting a date for withdrawal.

And I think what I find interesting is the lack of appreciation on the part of many of my friends on the other side of the aisle of the success that we have achieved in a relatively short period of time after four years of failure under the Rumsfeld doctrine and strategy, which was a disaster as many of us pointed out long ago.

But I think the speech was good. I think the American people are beginning to appreciate the progress that has been made. And I think if we stay -- continue with this strategy, we can succeed and I think General Petraeus has made a great impression on the American people.

KING: You call the Rumsfeld thing a disaster. Do you think that four years has carried over into the public opinion now?

MCCAIN: Sure, I do, Larry. I think Americans are saddened and frustrated and angered over the failures of nearly four years of the Rumsfeld strategy and Casey. Many of us saw that we were doomed to failure, and books have been written about it.

But the point is that now we have this new strategy for barely six months, there is success. There is political improvement on the ground. I believe that when we extend the security, we'll see more political progress.

Are we disappointed in the Maliki government? Of course. But those critics as you are hearing about the lack of political progress are the same ones six months ago that said there was no military progress. So I believe we've got to continue the strategy, and if we don't, there will be chaos and there will be genocide in the region.

And by the way, that testimony came from General Jones and his commission who said, if we set a date for withdrawal, the U.S. national security interests will be jeopardized.

KING: What, Senator, will be success? Define success.

MCCAIN: Sure. It is a functioning government with a stable military situation with the overwhelming majority of the burden being carried by well-trained and well-equipped Iraqi troops and the social and economic process moving forward, which is the case in some parts of Baghdad and Anbar province and other areas.

Is it long and hard and tough and are Americans tired of hearing "a few dead-enders" and "last throes"? Yes. But we can and we must continue this successful strategy.

KING: How long will we be in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I think we could be in Iraq for a long period of time. We've been in the Balkans for years. We've been in South Korea for years. But the point is, are we going to have American casualties? Are we going to have a strategy that succeeds, that Americans are playing a support role and eventually leaving? Yes, I think we can achieve some more success within months.

KING: Within months?

MCCAIN: Yes. We can achieve more success. Not total success. This is a determined enemy. This is an enemy that had almost four years to have their success. Now we're just beginning to reverse it.

KING: Senator, how goes the campaign, by the way? You were up. You were down. Where are you now?

MCCAIN: I think up and down. We're doing fine. We're having a lot of fun. Good turnout at these no surrender rallies, a lot of patriotic Americans are turning out and again, especially here in New Hampshire. I understand the sorrow and the frustration. I have to point out the consequences in the region and in Iraq when we failed. And I was around, Larry, when we had a defeated Army. I don't want to see that happen again.

KING: No surrender, that is your new theme, right?

MCCAIN: Just until we have this fight on the floor of the Senate beginning next Tuesday, and then we'll be back to the Straight Talk Express and we'll be glad to have you on board. We'll have a special wheelchair for you.

KING: Thanks, Senator, as always. Good seeing you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: Senator John McCain from Hudson, New Hampshire. He has a terrific new book out by the way. Not a political book, but a book about people who did extraordinary things.

Speaking of extraordinary things, we have two Iraqi veterans who disagree on this war. They're next. Don't go away.


BUSH: To the Iraqi people, you have voted for freedom, and now you are liberating your country from terrorists and death squads. You must demand that your leaders make the tough choices needed to achieve reconciliation. As you do, have confidence that America does not abandon our friends and we will not abandon you.



KING: Now joining us in Washington, two veterans diametrically opposed to the concept of the Iraq War. Pete Hegseth is executive director of Vets for Freedom. He was a first lieutenant. Served in Iraq with the 3rd brigade of the 101st Airborne. And Adam Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He served in Iraq as a member of the United States Marine Corps.

Adam, is there anything in the president's speech you could support tonight?

ADAM KOKESH, IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR: Well, he said a lot of things, but first let me just commend Bush for his service in the Air Guard and choosing to go AWOL instead of being part of the war crimes and setting an example for the growing number of soldiers who have the courage to resist the way that he did out of cowardice.

Now he put out a lot of factors about what is going on in Iraq right now, but the spin was the same and pretty predictable.

KING: Pete, did you agree with everything? PETE HEGSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM: I didn't agree with everything, Larry. But I think it's unfortunate that what we do is we make personal attacks when we should be looking at what's actually happening in Baghdad and looking at what -- the progress that General Petraeus is making on the ground, verifiable statistical progress, bringing the violence down, putting it -- bringing us to a situation where eventually political reconciliation will come about, which is what we need to bring our -- eventually bring our troops home with honor.

KING: Adam, in a nutshell, why -- you served there. Why are you opposed?

KOKESH: I'm against this war because it's bad for America. It's bad for our security. It's bad for our ability to defend ourselves. It's bad for our stature abroad. It's bad for our military. And it's bad for my brothers and sisters who continue to lose their lives for a lie.

KING: Did you feel that way while there?

KOKESH: Well, while I was there, I definitely realized the futility of us, as Bush said, providing security for the Iraqi people. That the idea of occupying the country and imposing martial law on it is ridiculous when what the Iraqi people need is rule of law.

KING: Pete, were you always in favor?

HEGSETH: Larry, when he mentions -- I've been in favor of succeeding in this mission. What he mentioned is the Iraqi people need the rule of law. Absolutely. And that's what General Petraeus is now doing. He's using a classic counterinsurgency strategy to protect the population, bring the violence down, which is what will eventually bring about the political reconciliation that is needed.

And that's what General Petraeus presented to the Congress and what President Bush talked about tonight. And that's what we need so that we can have a successful outcome, take out al Qaeda, and stabilize the country.

KING: When Senator Warner asked General Petraeus if continuing with the strategy he laid out would make America safer, he said he didn't know. Did that surprise you?

HEGSETH: Well, also Senator Bayh asked him the same question, and he stepped back from that and said, you know what, Iraq certainly is the central front in the larger fight against al Qaeda. They're looking at the battlefield there and what is going to happen. And we need to ensure we do everything we can to have a successful outcome in Iraq.

KING: Adam, what would success mean to you?

KOKESH: To me? Success would be giving the Iraqi people the right to self-determination and the resources that they need to create rule of law and stability in their country. And the best thing we can do to do that is pay repatriations and remove the American troop presence that is impeding that progress.

KING: Why do you choose to speak out, Adam?

KOKESH: I feel I have a moral obligation with my voice as a veteran. We have a certain power in speaking out and a relevancy in this most pressing debate before America. And with that power comes a responsibility. And I don't think I could live with myself if I wasn't doing everything I could to bring our brothers and sisters home alive, safe as soon as possible.

KING: Pete, was it hard to fight in a war that was not supported in the main?

HEGSETH: Larry, military members are professionals and they are going to go do their job no matter what. But it is difficult when there's a segment of the population here that seems invested in defeat, when you've got some soldiers coming back and saying, you know, we're against this war, and talking about all the things that have happened in the past, when what we need to be looking at now is we've got the right strategy, it's working, let's get behind General Petraeus so we can bring our troops home with a successful outcome.


KING: You're not saying Adam doesn't have the right to speak out.

HEGSETH: Oh, he absolutely has the right to speak out. And I commend him for that. But I wish he would be looking at what is happening now as opposed to things that may have happened in 2003 and 2004.

KOKESH: Well, what I'm looking at that happened in 2003 and 2004 is pretty much the same spin that we're getting on what's going on in Iraq today. And all it is designed to do is prolong this occupation.

KING: We're going to have you both back. Pete Hegseth and Adam Kokesh, thank you so much. Good wind-up to this evening's speech.

Check out our Web site, You can download our newest podcast, Suze Orman. And you can also participate in our quick votes. Our e-mail, upcoming guests, this is all at

Speaking of upcoming guests, tomorrow night, Ryan Seacrest. And then Nicole Brown Simpson's sister Denise. And now we head to Iraq, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" -- Anderson.

COOPER: Hey, Larry. Thanks very much.