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CNN Larry King Live

Analysis of President Obama's Address to Nation

Aired December 01, 2009 - 23:59   ET



LARRY KING CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, is Barack Obama the new war president?

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

KING: What will the decision mean for his presidency, America, the world? Michael Moore is here. He says Obama's caving in. We've got reaction from war vets. And we'll go live to Afghanistan. Those for and against troop escalation will debate it. Can the U.S. win all this?

Next on a midnight special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."


KING: Midnight in the east, 9:00 in the west. The special live edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" following this historic West Point address by the president.

We go first to Tokyo, where Michael Moore is standing by. The Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, his latest film is "Capitalism, a Love Story."

Prior to tonight's speech he posted an open letter to the president. The president didn't listen to you, Michael. You wanted to withdraw. He did not take your advice. What do you think the result will be?

MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I feel very bad for him. I feel even worse for our troops. And I feel a real sadness for the parents of those soldiers of ours, over the next 18 months who will not come back home.

And I think many will ask for what reason did they die? Not to stop Al Qaeda, Larry, because there is no Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Our own CIA says there's less than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

What are we doing in Afghanistan? This is absolutely insane. When President Obama said we were attacked in Afghanistan, I don't think so. I think that 15 of the 19 hijackers, terrorists, killers of 9/11, they were from Saudi Arabia. In fact, there wasn't one Afghanistan citizen amongst them. The only thing Afghanistan had to do with it, they had some monkey bars in the desert that these guys trained on. I've seen the video. But for that? It's absolutely insane, Larry.

We have been in this war for twice as long now as the U.S. was in World War II, twice as long as world war II. We defeated Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini in half the time it's taken us to find Usama bin Laden.

If he had come on tonight and said we're going in with special forces to try and capture the killer, that's a good idea. That's not what he's talking about. He says we'll have 100,000 troops there to find these killers that aren't even there. It's absolutely insane.

KING: He didn't make any kind of case to your satisfaction of the dangers, the differences between Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan? He was opposed to Vietnam, he was opposed to Iraq. But he pointed out the dangers in Afghanistan and what could happen if we do leave. He didn't make any effect on you with that?

MOORE: None whatsoever, absolutely not.

In fact, this is going to be his Vietnam if he doesn't change his mind here. This isn't going to work.

Larry, just think of the logic of what we heard him say. He said that we're going to send more troops over there so we can withdraw in 18 months. I mean, seriously, let me just say that again. We're going to increase the troops so we can decrease the troops.

KING: Of course, the increase in the troops will accomplish what the increase did during the surge in Iraq. It will temper the situation. So by bringing in more troops, they train -- they're able to more quickly train the Afghanistans (ph) to run their own country. That makes some logic, doesn't it?

MOORE: The situation, the surge in Iraq -- the situation was tempered in Iraq because we were able to buy off enough of the people who were killing us.

Now, if we do that in Afghanistan, if we can provide more money to the poppy growers and the people who are running the heroin trade out of Afghanistan -- one of those people according to "The New York Times" and our own CIA happens to possibly be the brother of the president of Afghanistan -- if we're able to outbid the heroin guys, yes, maybe we can have some impact.

But for him to say that -- I mean, I can understand why Republicans and some of the people on the right are like, what are you doing setting a deadline? It's crazy. If they're truly the enemy, you don't say we're going to fight you until 2:00 on July 2nd, 2011.

I mean, it's like if they're the enemy, you fight them until they're done, until you win and they lose. And that's not what he said. He just provided, I think, more fodder for his opponents by giving a deadline. If somebody is trying to kill you, if that's the case that people in Afghanistan are trying to kill us, then how can you set a deadline? The deadline is maybe a week from now or ten years from now, but it's we're going to stop you from killing us.

KING: Isn't by setting a deadline you're also telling the Afghans, the good Afghans, get your house in order, you be ready. We'll take so much of this and then we're going. Wouldn't that then force them, the good guys, to become better?



MOORE: No. That didn't work in Vietnam. It's not going to work in Iraq. It was interesting to hear him essentially praise the Bush policy in Iraq and how it succeeded. It was really bizarre to hear him say some of these things.

And I have to tell you, Larry, I hate to be even saying these things because I honestly think Barack Obama is a good and decent man. He has a good heart. I believe he's a man of peace. I was thrilled that he won the peace prize.

So to see him make this mistake -- I don't think there's any kind of evil or dark place in his heart where this is coming from. I just think that he's listened to the generals. He's taken bad advice.

He's human. We all make mistakes. Somebody told Time Warner to buy AOL. I mean, you know? He's listening to the same kind of people that always seem to give the wrong advice to people in charge.

KING: Jesse Ventura said last night, and he agrees with your position, by the way, that we should consider bringing back the draft and we should have a war tax so that people suffer if we're all going to pay a price for this. What do you think?

MOORE: There would be no increase in the troops if there was a draft and if people had to pay for it.

I actually have proposed bringing back the draft now for some years, but only draft the children of those in the upper five percent income bracket, because if the wealthy have to send their kids over to Iraq or Afghanistan, trust me, there won't be many wars.

KING: We'll take a break. We'll be right back with Michael Moore.

Do you agree, by the way, with the president's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan? Tell us what you think at We'll be right back.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: As commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.


KING: Michael Moore, it's pretty certain, isn't it, if we left, as you wanted to say, you think we should do, leave, the Taliban is going to come right back in, aren't they? I mean, that's a no- brainer.

MOORE: Well, they're already there. They're already there. Your brilliant Michael Ware there of CNN just nailed it right on the head there right after the speech. They're already there. They control vast majorities of the population in areas of the country.

When you say -- when you say the Taliban will come back in, they're not invaders from another country. They are citizens of Afghanistan. And if the people of Afghanistan don't want the Taliban to rule them, just like we didn't want the king to rule us over 200 years ago or the French didn't want Louis XVI, what those people usually do historically is rise up against the oppressor.

It is not the job of the United States or anybody else to help -- to do that for them. We can help. We can supply things to them to help them gain their freedom. But we can't bring the freedom to them through the barrel of our guns. That just doesn't work. It never works. It's not going to work this time.

KING: Be an analyst for us. What do you think will be the result tomorrow? Do you think Americans will support this in the majority or do you think they'll be an uproar against on both sides of the political spectrum? What's going to be the result of this politically?

MOORE: I think most Americans, yes, the polls have shown that Obama has some of his lowest approval ratings when it comes to this particular issue. Americans do not want these wars to continue. They want jobs. They want universal health care. They want the things that this country so desperately needs right now.

So I think that there's going to be opposition from all kinds of Americans to the president on this particular issue.

And I think -- I just -- I don't know who he's trying to please. I mean, I guess we haven't really talked about the money here and the defense industry and the people that are happy when we get to spend another billion or trillion dollars on these wars. But the American people I don't think are going to like this, Larry.

KING: Bob Herbert writing in "The New York Times" today called this a "tragic mistake," and then he quotes Dwight David Eisenhower, former president of the United States, former supreme commander of all troops in World War II. Eisenhower said "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can and as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, and its stupidity."

And then he said, this will impress you, I think, Eisenhower, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed."

That's from a four star general and a president.

MOORE: Yes, and a Republican. That's the way Republicans used to talk, some of them.

Well, that's exactly the case here. You know, we're not -- the allies are not going to come to our aid in this. This is a joke. I think Britain is talking about sending 500 more troops. They'll send token troops over to make it look like they don't upset us too much because they still want our help and our money and all that. But we're not going to get that.

And instead we're going to dump more billions and trillions of dollars of our money into a lost cause. And the idea of going after the killers of 9/11, that's a good idea. But they're not there. They're not there. And it just is absolutely insane to continue this.

KING: Thank you, Michael Moore, as always. Michael Moore from Tokyo.

Next, we'll have a debate on this whole question, President Obama's words for his critics in 60 seconds.


KING: The president took on his detractors tonight, addressing them and their concerns directly. Watch.


OBAMA: First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing.

I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action.

Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.

To abandon this area now and to rely only on efforts against Al Qaeda from a distance would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on Al Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Second, there are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistan in its current state but suggests that we go forward with the troops that we already have.

But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.


KING: Two war veterans debate all of this, next.



OBAMA: I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.


KING: Joining us in Boston, Pete Hegseth. Pete is chairman executive director of Vets for Freedom. He served in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. He currently a captain in the Army National Guard. He's advocated for the deployment of more troops in Afghanistan.

In Washington, Jon Soltz, co-founder and chairman of He was a captain in Iraq. And they are critical of the execution of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pete, what do you make -- I gather you supported the president's speech tonight?

PETE HEGSETH, CHAIRMAN, VETS FOR FREEDOM: Yes, I did. The core of his speech and the core of his plan were absolutely correct. At the end of the day he listened, for the most part, to his commanders on the ground. And the responses from McChrystal and Petraeus publicly and privately is that they fully support the plan he's laid out and believe it can be implemented.

He has stood up in the face of great pressure from all sides and said "I believe in the importance of this mission and I'm going to give my commanders what they need and we are going to ask our allies to pitch in as well."

So at the end of the day, yes, I have problems with the fact that he talked about a timeline and setting a timeline and hedged on some other issues and made some other statements that weren't as robust as could be.

But bottom line, he has committed more troops, he's doubled the amount that President Bush had there -- we'll have almost 100,000 a year from now -- and given our men and women on the ground a fighting chance to take the fight to the enemy and make sure there's no haven for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

That's a great thing, and the president deserves our support in going forward on this.

KING: Jon, did he at all sway you?

JON SOLTZ, CHAIRMAN, VOTEVETS.ORG: The speech really leaves a lot more questions than answers. Other than the fact that he pinned this whole thing on President Bush, rightfully so, he really didn't answer anything in the speech.

You know, with vote vets, when we talk to our members, there's real concern this administration has done some things for the troops that the Bush administration hadn't done. They stopped the stop/loss policy. They want to give you two years of dwell time.

But if you really add up the math here without expediting our withdraw from Iraq, obviously a war we should have never fought, and you add the numbers of the five or six new brigades we'll see in Afghanistan, you almost put us at surge levels from an up-tempo standpoint.

And I'm just not quite sure the Obama administration, they talk a lot about sacrifices, but what that really means for our war fighters and their families.

At the end of the day, someone has to go and fight. And I really believe, you know, the Karzai election and the corruption that was evolves was a real game changer on the ground. And I don't think he's really held that government's feet to the fire.

And are we in a situation now where we have young Americans fighting and dying, involved in a civil conflict where there's corruption involved with the indigenous government? And I would have preferred him to take a much harder line with the president of Afghanistan.

KING: Pete, don't you ever have second thoughts about maybe this could be a mistake?

HEGSETH: Sure, everyone has second thoughts. You have second thoughts when I was on the ground in Iraq. Can this possibly happen?

But when you look at the fundamentals on the ground, you have to create the possibility for the government to stand up. You have bring the violence down, defeat the enemy to the point where political progress is possible.

And that's where, for all the statements he made of dragging us through the mud of Bush in Iraq, he ultimately has learned the lessons of the surge in Iraq which then Senator Obama opposed. He learned there is a military component to bringing about the conditions where governments, whether Iraqi or Afghani that are at times corrupt and not as capable as we'd like them to be, can prepare to stand up and provide the services so we can bring our guys home.

That's the whole point. Increase with a smart counterinsurgency strategy so that we can eventually create the conditions for Afghanis or Iraqis to fight themselves.

And that's another important thing President Obama addressed. We're really going to robustly try to train Afghan national police, Afghan national army to ensure that they're able to take over.

And to John's point, we have an all-volunteer military. Everybody signing up today knows that they're signing up to either go and fight, be prepared to fight, or train to fight. That's the nature of the situation we're in as a country.

President Obama has made a call to our military to finish this job and execute. And I think it's incumbent upon us to do everything we can to win. Let our generation win the fights that they were sent to go in.

KING: John, respond.

SOLTZ: I think Pete brings up some important points in the debate, which is, first, the counterinsurgency strategy. The counterinsurgency strategy is a failing strategy for the United States. Pete talks about a volunteer force --

SOLTZ: John --

HEGSETH: Excuse me, Pete.

KING: Let him answer the question.

HEGSETH: I will.

SOLTZ: The counterinsurgency strategy is a failing strategy because we're not a nation at war. We're a military at war. And obviously what I would have felt a lot more comfortable tonight if the president was willing, there's a debate about going all-in. This is not an all-in strategy. This is a partial-in strategy.

A counterinsurgency strategy would rely on hundreds of thousands of troops to secure the population, a very rural population in Afghanistan that wasn't like Iraq.

So when you look at what it would take to sustain a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq or Afghanistan, we should be having a conversation in this country about doubling the size of our army divisions from 10 to 20 or from three Marine Corps divisions to six, or how are we going to pay for this rather than put it on the credit card for our kids.

These are the fundamental dynamics that would be important for us to sustain a counterinsurgency strategy. It is a failing strategy. It's this idea of the democracy for peace theory, building democracies, creating these institutions. You can't just build a democracy. And in regards to the Afghan army, this is a critical statement. If you look at the army we've tried to build in the Arab world, we've had huge problems. Not just in Iraq but in Lebanon where Hezbollah is stronger than the western-backed military.

Professional militaries take years to grow. Institutions that support the democracy have to be there. Corruption is a huge problem to prevent that. So building an Afghan army in an 18-month window that somehow is going to be capable where one in ten people in the army are literate, it's a huge challenge. It's even harder than Iraq.

KING: Let me get a break, Jon. Then two distinguished generals will join us, next. Don't go away.


KING: Pete Hegseth remains in Boston. Jon Soltz is with us in Washington. Joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, General Wesley Clark, United States Army retired, former NATO supreme allied commander, vice chairman of James Lee Witt Associates, senior fellow at the UCLA's Center for International Relations.

And here in L.A., Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, U.S. Army retired, former assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, and he's currently executive vice president of Advanced Technology Systems. In fact, General Kimmit worked for General Clark, right, at NATO?


KING: General Clark, what do you make of the speech and what we have heard so far from the critics and those who support him?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: We've had a great show. It was a strong speech, Larry. I think he laid out an important case.

I agree with a lot of the sentiments that Michael Moore expressed. I do think in this case, the president limited the objectives. He's not talking about nation-building. He's not talking about building a democracy.

I think he pointed right at the objective, go after Al Qaeda. He didn't talk about Pakistan, but Pakistan is all over this speech. And the simple truth is that, as he said, you can't get at Al Qaeda in Pakistan without doing more in Afghanistan.

So I think that he's going to put a lot of pressure on the Pakistanis and give them a lot of help and expect them to do a lot more directly against Al Qaeda while the U.S. forces in Afghanistan also work against Al Qaeda and work for a very minimalist objective with the idea of getting ourselves out of there in a responsible way pretty quickly.

KING: General Kimmit? KIMMIT: Well, the substance of the speech was good. We got what we needed. The troops are going to get what they need. The generals are going to get what they need.

What I was concerned was a couple of the comments made by the president that left unanswered questions. First of all, I was hoping to see a speech that demonstrated resolve and commitment. I think many people walked away from that speech unsure of where the president really stands, where America stands. That's not good for our allies and that's very good for our enemies.

Second, there's this unanswered question. What does this mean, this 18-month time line? Do the troops have to come back? What's their mission while they're there? Will they be there for 18 months? What if the conditions don't change?

And then of course the other question simply is where does he really stand with all of this? Is he committed to this fight? Is he committed to the resources?

KING: You're saying he didn't assure you tonight that he is?

KIMMIT: I think people are going to walk away -- when you hear, "We want to end this war successfully" rather than we want to win this war, that leaves some open questions.

KING: Pete, you didn't have those doubts?

HEGSETH: I actually think General Kimmit is right on. The substance of the speech as far as the amount of troops and what the commanders requested is right.

But the proof will be in the pudding in the weeks and months to come and whether or not he demonstrates the resolve necessary to continue to sell this to the American people.

And that phrase is indeed emblematic, the one he -- ending the war successfully, sort of him trying to play the right and the left and talk the words of ending the war but also achieve success.

This needs to be about winning the war. The question is will he take it to the American people robustly and tell them day after day, week after week as this gets difficult that this is something we need to finish?

KING: Jon, was he in between to you, too?

SOLTZ: I actually think General Kimmit, I think his analysis is very spot on in a sense that the president is in a position where he's trying to appease everybody, and he may end up with no support.

In a sense, I felt like the timeline was possibly something for the left to say, hey, the president is in a situation where he's trying to look out for his political base and at the same time appease General McChrystal and General Petraeus who waged a rather political campaign in the press at least to support this increase. So I think that he's in a precarious position. Which one is he committed to? I think we'll find out in the days ahead. But he certainly didn't committee to one strategy over the other.

KING: General Clark, do you question his commitment?

CLARK: I don't question his commitment. He said he wants to go after Al Qaeda. I believe he will. And I believe he'll go after them forcefully wherever they are. And I think the key to Al Qaeda right now is Pakistan and you can't get at Pakistan without being in Afghanistan.

At the same time, this is a part of the world that doesn't tolerate diversity. We're a foreign element there. And the sooner we can get out, the better.

KING: And we'll have more right after this.


KING: General Kimmit, you didn't like the term "ending it successfully." You wanted it to end victoriously. What is victory? What will be victory in Afghanistan? Will there be a parade? What?

KIMMIT: No, there won't be, just as there won't be in Iraq.

To me, we'll be successful in Afghanistan if we defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, defeat unfriendly, unhelpful Taliban in Afghanistan, train and enable the Afghan security forces and assist the Afghan government, leave the place in a better situation than when we got there.

But ending a war in and of itself is not success. Achieving conditions for success allow you to leave.

KING: How long will that take?

KIMMIT: I've said many times that this could be certainly more than the 18 months that the president has laid out. It could be a five-year program, it could be a ten-year program before the last of the American troops would leave.

KING: John, do you think the public would accept that?

SOLTZ: I have to address what General Kimmit said about what success is. A lot of what he talks about, to be frankly honest for people who have to fight this, is a pipe dream.

I mean, an achievable military objective is denying Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan in a very limited focus, not this concept of helping establish an Afghan government and an Afghan military.

This is not -- these are not things that the military can do. Even if you achieve security, there's no interagency process of our government that can get in there and really ramp this thing up. So I think the president has a little bit of time politically. But as we get closer to the midterms, I tend to think this will hurt the Democrats in the midterms. It will alienate the base voters which generally turn out, and I think that really cracks the whip of the president of that 18 month window.

Notice that timetable he set was right before the midterm elections. And I think that's has to do with his political bases that they need to turn out to support Democrats in November of that year.

KING: Pete, do you think the public would accept five years, six years, eight years there?

HEGSETH: I think the public will accept success when it's well defined and articulated and is being executed properly on the ground.

John seems to think counterinsurgency is a fool's errand and just nation-building in disguise. What counterinsurgency is is capacity building, and that's what President Obama talked about, creating the space, to use his words exactly, for the Iraqi security -- excuse me, Afghani security forces to stand up and provide the security so that we can leaf and deny haven to our enemies.

That's a very narrow interest, a very narrow mission that serves our interests and uses a counterinsurgency campaign to do it. We're not talking about nation-building. That's not what President Obama laid out. He talked about capacity building.

It doesn't necessarily take hundreds of thousands of troops if you go it strategically as we learned in Iraq through the surge. It's something that can be accomplished.

And I think John seems to go back to the political thing over and over and over again. It's not about politics. On the left and the right we should be supporting the best strategy for our own national security. In this case, I think it's what president Obama laid out in supporting his commanders.

KING: General Clark, do you see a victory as General Kimmit described it?

CLARK: I think victory here is we go after Al Qaeda, particularly in Pakistan. We do it with the leadership of the Pakistanis, we give them the support to do it, we build a strong relationship with Pakistan, and we leave behind in Afghanistan some kind of minimally stable government.

If we have to go back in there at some later time, if we have to leave a residual force, if we have to leave some special forces and intelligence collectors there, we might have to do that.

But the point is the objectives in Afghanistan are pretty minimal. What we really want to do is go after Al Qaeda. And that's a war that there won't be a victory parade. Mark's exactly right on that. But we'll know when we're winning. We've already done a pretty good job against Al Qaeda. We just need to finish the job a little bit more in Pakistan, and we can't do that if we don't hang on in Afghanistan.

KING: We'll be discussing this a lot in the nights ahead. Thank you all very much.

We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: We'll go briefly to Kabul, Afghanistan, to Atia Abawi, our CNN reporter. How did the speech go down in Kabul, Atia?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting here, Larry, is many Afghans don't know what President Obama said. They're not going to know until tonight's evening newscast.

Even the days leading to President Obama's primetime address, I asked Afghans if they're going to watch, and they said no, it's not worth getting up early in the morning to watch because they said they heard the promises before. They have yet to see tangible actions being made.

But many Afghans, if there is a timetable, they're afraid at the moment just because the Taliban had time and time again said that they will wait it out, that they will not leave.

KING: What was the reaction as you garnered it from our troops there?

ABAWI: Well, when you talk about the U.S. troops on the ground here in Afghanistan, the majority of them welcome extra troops. They say they need them.

When you go to the volatile areas in the south, such as Helmand and Kandahar provinces, these are areas that the coalition troops have been in since 2001. These are areas where they couldn't secure and hold because they didn't have the manpower.

Now they're going district to district trying to convince the Afghans that they're here to stay this time. But even now they don't know if they can do that, because there is some sort of a timetable laid out at the moment.

The marines down there, the army down there, the Canadians even down there are saying that their biggest problem is they can't convince the Afghans that they're actually here to help them build infrastructure, help them build a society. And the Taliban keep coming back to those districts and villages and telling them they're here to stay.

KING: Atia Abawai in Kabul, Afghanistan, we thank you.

When we come back, three guys who know the situation well, Peter Bergen, Michael Ware and Nic Robertson, all together, all with us, next.


KING: First we thank them all for staying up late with us. In New York, Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, best-selling author. His books include "The Usama bin Laden I know" and "Holy War, Inc." Michael Ware, CNN's international correspondent, and Nic Robertson, CNN's senior international correspondent.

All right, Peter, give me your mini-analysis of the speech tonight.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I think it did what it was supposed to. I thought it was a good speech in content. There's been a lot of focus on the pullout in 2011.

But there was a huge caveat in the speech, which is the withdrawal is going to be conditions-based, the transfer of authority to Afghan police and army will be conditions-based. Right now only one of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan is actually under the complete control of the Afghan military and police. That number could be two by 2011, it could be ten. Who knows?

So I think the idea that the United States is going to start withdrawing in significant number this 2011, actually it wasn't in the speech, even though some people have fastened on that as a fact. I think that there was a big conditionality that was in the speech.

KING: Michael Ware, is it going to make a big difference?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, depends how they are used, Larry. Put it this way. As it stands right now, the Taliban war machine hasn't even been dented. Their ability to recruit, to supply, to plan, to command, to execute operations remains untouched.

The U.S. military barely has enough troops to nibble away at them. Even the massive offensive currently under way in Helmand province is just one small bite of a very big apple.

And even these extra troops, which will bring the American presence to roughly 100,000, that's not enough to defeat the Taliban. You have no hope of beating them on their home soil.

So what you want to do is put enough pressure on them to bring about a political solution. And to do that, you're also going to need Afghan allies in the government and in the villages, the tribes, and among the warlords.

I thought the speech was a bit hollow, to be honest.

KING: All right, Nic Robertson, 36,000 plus injured and/or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since all of this started. Is it going to get worse before it gets better? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you put more troops into Afghanistan, which is exactly what's happening, then more are going to get injured and killed.

One of the saving graces, if you will, in Iraq was there was this golden hour whereby any troops that were injured, you could get them to a proper medical facility within an hour. And that meant most people who were brought in there alive could be saved.

In Afghanistan it's an entirely different dynamic. The medical facilities, the troops had in Iraq aren't there in the same number and same distribution. It takes longer to get people from some of these remote mountainous places when they're injured to some of the major medical facilities. That's going to be a challenge.

Perhaps we've heard talk of this sort of pullback to around major population centers. That will keep the majority of troops perhaps closer to some of those medical facilities.

But it's not going to look like Iraq. There are going to be people who would have been injured in Iraq and survived, they will be injured in Afghanistan and they won't survive.

KING: Peter, are you more optimistic based on tonight?

BERGEN: Yes. I mean, I think this is long overdue. Afghanistan was the least resourced post-World War II nation-building operation, if you want to call it that. In Bosnia, the United States spent 12 times more per capita, in Kosovo I think it was 18 times more per capita than what was spent in Afghanistan in the early period.

The Bush administration had an ideological aversion to nation- building. You get what you pay for. The whole thing was done on the cheap. And since then, the Taliban have come back. This time they have morphed ideologically and tactically with Al Qaeda, and as Michael points out, they are quite an effective fighting force.

This is long overdue. We've tried several approaches with Afghanistan. And after the Soviets withdrew, we basically paid no attention to it. The Taliban came in, Al Qaeda with them.

In the post-2001 period we did it on the cheap, and the Taliban came back, and, again, morphed ideologically and tactically with Al Qaeda.

Now we're doing something somewhat serious. It has a fighting chance of success.

KING: Michael, are you pessimistic?

WARE: Well, no, I'm not. I mean, do I see hope. But I mean, honestly, Larry, it's going to take a couple of miracles, a sprinkle of magic, and a good dose of some good luck.

I mean, ultimately, pardon the expression, I'm waiting to see the whites of President Obama's eyes. This war can be won -- not that it can be won, but this war can still be a success if he's prepared to do what has to be done.

Now, tonight, he took one step in that direction, promising another 30,000 troops. But in his speech tonight, apart from that promise of the additional troops, you can throw the rest of the speech away. We've heard it all before.

Let's wait and see if he can follow through on the myriad of other things that he has to do, the building blocks that go into place.

This war, American troops are bleeding and dying because Pakistan supports the Taliban. Why? Because their rival, India, supports the Afghan government. You have Saudi Arabia in there playing the game, as they have been since the Soviet era. You have Iran protecting its national interest. China is spending billions in aid and reconstruction.

There are so many hands at play. So 30,000 troops and a finely worded speech are far to convince me. But o I give up the ghost? No, Larry, not yet. But I need to be persuaded.

When we come back, I'll ask Nic Robertson the same question about his optimism or pessimism. First this.



BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I will rebuild our military. I will finally have a comprehensive strategy to finish the job in Afghanistan.

This is going to be a big challenge. We have a clear and focused goal, to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.


KING: Nic Robertson, we asked the others -- optimistic or pessimistic, based on tonight?

ROBERTSON: Larry, I'm a natural born optimist when it comes to this. I've been with troops in Afghanistan, I've seen their professionalism, their dedication. If anyone can do it, they can.

I think there's a very, very broad way in which we can look at what's happening here in Afghanistan. It's much bigger than Afghanistan. What President Obama and the United States will have to do with this new deployment and strategy is to convince the Muslim world that they're doing the right thing for the Muslims of Afghanistan.

Why? Because in the greater and bigger context, what Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are trying to do is divide Muslims from the west, from Christians, from Jews.

And if he -- if that message and that outlook is able to gain traction beyond Afghanistan, anything we do there will be worthless, because Al Qaeda will go and set themselves up in Yemen or in Somalia or in other places. And we can chase them down there.

So we need to be seen by the Muslims of the world to be doing the right thing in Afghanistan.

I'm also very cautious as well about Pakistan. Pakistan's commitment to what President Obama wants to achieve. It's a very weak government.

And if you look at where the Al Qaeda threat to the United States comes from right now, the people that have been arrested here recently, Zazi, they've been to Al Qaeda training camps inside Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

And it's the Pakistani government who are not yet committed to tackling the Afghan Taliban and the Al Qaeda camps there that we're going to rely on Larry. And that goes beyond these large numbers of troops we're committing.

KING: Peter, do we have no clout with Pakistan?

BERGEN: Do we have no clout? I think we do have some clout. I mean, we're giving them $1.5 billion a year in aid. You know, we have pretty good relationships between the U.S. military and the Pakistani military. We have very frequent visits by Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs. I think he's been to Islamabad more than a dozen times in the last recent years. Hillary Clinton was just there.

On the other hand, Pakistan is probably one of the most anti- American countries in the world. Consistently the United States polls are in the below 20 percent range.

So we have some clout. There's a great deal of suspicion in the United States. When you ask Pakistanis who's the biggest threat to your security, 58 percent say the United States. Only about 10 percent say the Taliban even though it's the Taliban that killing literally thousands of Pakistani civilian.

KING: That doesn't make sense.

BERGEN: It doesn't make sense. It's a country unfortunately that is somewhat prone to conspiracy theories. They believe Blackwater is deeply engaged in their country when there's little or no evidence of that.

And so we have clout, but also there's a great deal of suspicion of our motives.

KING: Thank you all very much. Peter Bergen, Michael Ware, Nic Robertson, thanks for staying up late. We obviously are going to devote a great deal of attention to this in the nights ahead. This has been a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." It started at midnight and 9:00 in the Pacific time zone. And as we leave you now, news around the clock continues on CNN.