Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
"The Last Word": Queen Noor
Aired July 5, 2009 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: This hour, with another look at community service, this time down here in central Florida. Look at the numbers, here. Nationally, 32 percent of Hispanics lack health insurance. In Florida, overall, 38 percent of the population are uninsured, 54.4 percent, a much higher rate among Hispanics in Florida without health insurance between 2007 and 2008.
Now, many of these uninsured get their help in emergency rooms, which, of course, drives up everyone's health care costs. Others, though, get their care, preventive care and other help, from the Hispanic Health Initiatives. It's a community service group with 75 volunteers.
We visited their headquarters in Orlando and one of their health fairs. Take a peek, right here, at yet another example of community service.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In the Hispanic community, when it comes to health care, what is your greatest problem?
JOSEPHINE MERCADO, HISPANIC HEALTH INITIATIVES: Our greatest problem as a group is the lack of insurance. Here in Florida, for instance, over 60 percent of Hispanics are uninsured.
Before Hispanic Health Initiatives came into being, most of the outreach in the community was through the Department of Health or the hospitals, and it was basically Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00; 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, our community is working.
So, as a result, we do everything in the evening or on Saturdays.
This is our ninth year of doing this annual health fair. One of the ways that this health fair is helping this community is that many of them are possibly getting some of their physical examinations done through us.
Inside we have a number of examinations, such as a vision test. We also have cholesterol, diabetes. Some of the people that are here are finding out for the first time that they are diabetic. Using the word "Hispanic" or "Latino" automatically will tell our community that we probably will speak Spanish.
MERCADO: And for that reason, yes, that will attract them. But our services are open to everyone. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: We'd like to welcome back our international viewers to our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, July 5th. Just as U.S. troops pull back from the most dangerous operation in Iraq cities, President Obama orders a major new military offensive in Afghanistan.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen is here to map out the latest in both wars and to discuss the risks of escalating the fight against the Taliban. Plus, the nation's former Joint Chiefs chairman, Secretary of State Colin Powell, talks about America's foreign policy and his early concerns about the price of the Obama agenda.
And an Arab-American who rose to royalty in the Middle East is now pushing for a world free of nuclear weapons. Her Majesty Queen Noor gets "The Last Word." That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
U.S. marines in Afghanistan are in the early days of perhaps the riskiest military operation since President Obama became commander in chief 167 days ago. The push against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan is the first major test of the president's new Afghan war strategy. So far, one marine has been killed, several others wounded in the offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, an opium rich area critical to the Taliban.
The escalation in Afghanistan comes just as the United States looks to shrink its footprint in Iraq, meeting with some trepidation, last week's June 30th deadline to withdraw from Iraqi cities.
Here to help us with those challenges and more is America's highest ranking military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen. Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION, Admiral. I want to thank you for starting at the magic wall so you can take us up close. And let's begin in Afghanistan. I want you to feel free to step up to the map wall and show us exactly where these marines are fighting and as you do, sir, explain who is the enemy here. Is it just the Taliban? Is it a mix of Taliban or al Qaeda?
MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, John, it's good to be with you. Well, as you indicated, we've recently put in about 10,000 additional marines into Afghanistan, and most of them are in the south. And as it shows here on the map and this is the capital of Kabul, down here in Helmand is where they're really focused. And I'll take you up close down into Helmand where the fighting is really going on.
And you can see specifically in this area of Garmsir, as well as Khan Neshin, which is where the Marines are engaged. But what cuts through there is this river, that Helmand River that -- the whole river valley. And this is really the most concentrated area for opium growing, and we expect significant combat challenges with respect to the Taliban, who have been there. And we haven't been able to both clear -- defeat them and then clear the area. And it's this extra footprint of Marines I think that will allow us to not just secure the area for the Afghan people, but also hold it so that we can develop it and start to move in the right direction economically and from a governance perspective.
KING: In terms of resistance -- sir, I'm sorry for interrupting -- but in terms of the resistance the Marines have faced in the early days, is it what you expected? Or are you concerned that the Taliban are melting into the countryside, if you will, and hiding because they know you're there?
MULLEN: Well, I think generally it's what we expected. There has been some of that.
There's actually been some pretty tough fighting as well. All of that really ties into the expectations that we have.
This has been a Taliban stronghold for a significant period of time. It's grown over the last two or three years. And so what the Marines are there for is to really concentrate on that, clear that area -- I'm sorry, defeat the Taliban that's there, clear it, and then hold it so that, again, we can start to build.
And we think it's going to be a pretty tough fight for, you know, a fair amount of time. You know, weeks to months, certainly, at least.
KING: And you talked about this could be weeks or months for this fight. I want your assessment of the broader picture in Afghanistan in the context of what I would call potentially mixed signals on troop levels in Afghanistan in the past week.
General Jones was quoted in a McClatchy newspaper article as saying, "The troops that are there are the troops the mission is going to get." And sir, you were quoted in "The Washington Post" as saying that if General McChrystal says he needs more, you will go to the president and say, "Mr. President, we need to send more."
Are you concerned at all that there's a mixed message in terms of what it will take in Afghanistan?
MULLEN: Well, I think General Jones and I and the president are all on the same page in terms of what we have to do now. President Obama has committed these troops, they're arriving as we speak, and will through the rest of this year. General McChrystal, who is the new military leader in Afghanistan, is going through a 60-day assessment. His guidance from me and from Secretary Gates is make your assessment, come back and tell us what you need. Make sure that every troop we've got there is somebody that we absolutely have to have, and then based on your assessment, we'll look at future requirements. And all of us are on the same page with respect to that view and his intent.
KING: I want to ask you, sir, to shift over.
KING: I know you have a map of Iraq as well there. If you can pull that up for me, a pretty big week in Iraq. The deadline on June 30th to get out of the Iraqi cities. And as you pull the map up now, I wonder if you can play for me the video that shows our footprint before and our footprint after.
MULLEN: Sure, John.
This is obviously Baghdad, and you can see in the middle where our footprint was. And now, actually in the outskirts here, indicated here and here, is where we've moved our forces. We've moved our forces outside the main cities. You can see here, outside Baghdad, where we have our cities, and we're in support of the Iraqi security forces.
I mean, big transition. We've actually been coming out of the cities for the last eight months. We're at a period of time where we're in support of the Iraqi security forces.
We've reached a very clear agreement with the Iraqi political military leadership, with their military leadership, on how this was going to work. And I'm confident in what I've seen so far that us moving out of the cities has been a very positive step.
KING: And 130,000, roughly, Americans in Iraq right now, due to be down to 50,000, sir, by about a year from now. And then, ultimately, all those troops out unless the Iraqis request more to stay by the end of the 2011.
Any reason -- you mentioned it's only five days. Any reason at this point to think that schedule will not be kept?
MULLEN: No, not that I'm aware of right now. And clearly, we have an agreement with Iraq to have all troops out by the end of 2011.
The focus area now is this obviously -- sustaining this security, and then focusing on the elections, which are the beginning of next year. That's the next really big event, and the politics associated with that are critical. And most of the issues right now are for the political leadership in Iraq to resolve.
So we focus on the January time frame. After January, we see a significant drawdown of our troops getting to 35,000 to 50,000 in about the August time frame, a little over a year from now. And from everything I see right now, we're on track.
KING: All right. Admiral Mullen, I'd like to invite you to take a seat and be more comfortable so we can continue our conversation.
Admiral, you just showed us on the map there what you think is the strategic situation in Iraq. I want to talk to you a little bit about the images we saw this past week.
As the United States kept its promise and kept that deadline and pulled out, there were celebrations in the streets. Iraqi citizens celebrating the U.S. troops moving out of the city, many of them calling those troops occupiers. And in a statement, Prime Minister Maliki focused on the Iraqi government, saying, "The national united government succeeded in putting down the sectarian war that was threatening the unity and the sovereignty of Iraq."
People in the streets calling your troops occupiers. The prime minister not thanking them in his speech.
I'm just wondering -- to the parents, the spouses and the siblings of the more than 4,300 Americans who have given their lives so far so those people had the rights to be in the streets demonstrating, so that Prime Minister Maliki could have a Democratic government, what kind of message does it send to them?
MULLEN: Here's a country that two years ago, was in very, very bad shape, spinning out of the control, and it was really because of the dedication of our young men and women and those sacrifices that we're able to turn it around and put the country in a position to have a future that is bright and was indicated, I think, by that celebration. And I know from my engagement with Prime Minister Maliki, as well as the rest of the political and military leadership in Iraq, they're very appreciative of everything that we have done.
KING: I want to move on, sir, to an issue that comes up from time to time that's very emotional and a tough political arguments, and that is whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the United States military.
You are the nation's highest ranking military office. And at your confirmation hearing two years ago, I want you to listen to this. You said it was the right policy to have "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULLEN: It's a policy that came in at a time -- in a time it was greatly debated at the time that it was actually put in place. I'm supportive of that policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You said "supportive" two years ago. Sir, I sat down in recent days with another gentleman who held your job, retired general Colin Powell, who supported the policy when it was implemented but now says it should be reconsidered. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the policy and the law that came about in 1993 I think was correct for the time. Sixteen years have now gone by, and I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country. And therefore, I think this is a policy and a law that should be reviewed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Two questions, sir. And let me start with the advice you give the president.
Do you still believe the policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should stay, and is that your advice to the president, even though that is contrary to the promise he made in the campaign? MULLEN: Well, what General Powell talks about is the policy and in fact the law. And with respect to that, we clearly are carrying out both that policy and law. And we'll continue to do that until it changes. Secretary Gates spoke recently about reviewing the policy to see if -- to make sure that we were executing it in the most humane way possible. It's very clear what president Obama's intent here is. He intends to see this law changed.
And in my advice, you know, I've had conversations with him about that. What I've discussed in terms of the future is I think we need to move in a measured way. We're at a time where we are fighting two conflicts. There's a great deal of pressure on our forces and their families. And yet, again, the strategic intent is clear.
And if we get -- and I am internally discussing that with my staff on how to move forward and what the possible implementation steps could be. I haven't done any kind of extensive review. And what I feel most obligated about is to make sure I tell the president, you know, my -- give the president my best advice, should this law change, on the impact on our people and their families at these very challenging times.
KING: I want to close, sir, on this July 4th weekend, with an issue that I know is very close to you and that I know is of much concern at the Pentagon. And that is the care for the wounded warriors coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. You recently sent a memo to Secretary Gates after a trip to talk to military men and women about this, and the suicide rate is up, alcohol use is up, the divorce rate is up. You mentioned at Fort Hood there are only eight soldiers at a time allowed in the mental health symptoms classes. Fifty thousand troops are on that base at any given time.
What message does the president need to hear, the Congress need to hear, and, in fact, the American people need to hear, perhaps, sir, about what more needs to be done to make sure that these men and women coming home get everything they need?
MULLEN: Well, I think leaders throughout the land and throughout communities in our country need to reach out and make sure that we are meeting the needs of these great, young Americans who have sacrificed so much. And not just the military members, but their families.
And while we've made a lot of progress in the last several years, we still have an awful long way to go. There's a great deal we don't know about the combat stress, post-traumatic stress. There's a great deal we don't know about the signature wounds of traumatic brain injury, whether it's mild or severe.
And in fact, young people, young families want to contribute to society. They still have dreams, and those dreams include getting to school, sending their kids to school, having a good job for both members of their family, and hopefully being able to own a home someday.
And I think all of us in America need to pay this -- or repay this debt, that they've done so much for us, and do it in a way to make sure that they're in great shape for the rest of their lives.
KING: Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sir, thanks for spending some time with us this morning.
MULLEN: Thank you, John.
KING: And up next, an exclusive interview with a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell. We'll hear his take on the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether he still supports President Obama's agenda after five months in office. STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: We've seen over the last 12 years a great mobilization. And now with President Obama being heavily committed to service and putting more emphasis on it and more money into programs, United We Serve, as he talked about recently, I think the country is coming together, realizing that it's a problem for all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell here on STATE OF THE UNION earlier today talking about the importance of community service. He also shared his thoughts on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the price tag of President Obama's ambitious agenda.
KING: I spent some time at Walter Reed this week. And it is a heroic place. And you meet many heroes. You also see some things that leave you with a very sober opinion, these men and women coming back with these horrible injuries and yet they are survivors and they are smiling and they are fighting to get back into the community.
And you have the injuries. You also have the PTSD issues. And we've seen the suicide rate go up. Do you believe, as the man who once led our military, that the government of the United States and the people of the United States understand the 10-, 20-, 30-year commitment that is going to have to be made to these men and women?
POWELL: I think we do. In the early years of this conflict, I don't think we were sensitive enough to the fact that some of these horribly injured soldiers coming back, youngsters who would have died during in an earlier war, were going to require not just hospital care and then a little bit of transition, but they were going to require life-long care.
At the Memorial Day concert on the lawn, we celebrated one of these soldiers who was grievously injured in the head and he's going to require custodial care from his mom and sister for the rest of his life and the rest of their lives. And I'm not sure we have ever prepared ourselves for that kind of intense demand on our system.
It's going to require the government, including the Veterans Administration, the Pentagon, but the community is going to have to step forward as well. Because they're going to be living in a community. And so we need community assistance as well.
KING: We saw a critical deadline this past week in Iraq, the deadline for the United States forces to pull out of the major cities. And they have pulled back. I spoke to General Odierno. He says he's confident that this plan will work and that U.S. troops ultimately will be out by the end of 2011 as now planned.
One of the striking scenes on the streets was Iraqis celebrating this and essentially criticizing the occupiers and saying they had a great victory over the occupiers as the United States forces pulled back from their major cities.
Did that strike you as odd in a sense that these people, and we're watching them on the monitor, would not have the right to be out in the streets like this. Has the relationship, I guess, become poisoned over time?
POWELL: No, I don't think it has become poisoned. But I think we should just pocket this. They are happy. They have made it clear from the very beginning that they wanted to be free and independent. And they didn't want to be an occupied nation, which is what they were when we were there. And now that is starting to change.
But this is not yet over. As General Odierno has said and as the president said recently, it's now up to the Iraqis to solidify their representative government system and to make sure they have the security forces that can handle all of this.
POWELL: But I'm glad that the deadline that was set by President Bush some time ago with Mr. Maliki has been met and our troops were able to step back from those kinds of active operations on the 30th of June.
And the Iraqi people are happy. They're now responsible for their own destiny.
KING: And it has cost more than $700 billion, and more importantly, more than 4,300 American men and women have been killed in Iraq. Looking back, was it worth it?
POWELL: Well, that's a judgment history will have to make. You never know what these costs will be. And it's not just the young Americans who gave their lives nobly, but thousands more who were injured and live with those injuries.
So history will have to make a judgment. A dictator is gone. A despicable regime is gone. And the Iraqi people have been given a chance to have a representative form of government living in peace with its neighbors.
We'll have to see what history's judgment of that will be. KING: A general who is now serving in a position that you once served in, as national security adviser, is just back from Afghanistan. And I'm sure you saw the story in The Washington Post, talking about, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops. We tried that for six years."
Where are we heading in Afghanistan, and do you agree with that prescription that the emphasis needs to be on government-building, economic development, not more troops?
POWELL: I think it has to be all of the above. Now, whether you need more troops on top of the 20,000 that the president has already added to the force, I'll let that be a judgment made by the commanders on the ground.
And General Petraeus certainly understands this better than anyone, as does general Jones. I have great respect for both of them. But General Jones makes an important point, that it can't just be a military solution. Because, if the people don't see their lives getting better through an economic development; if they don't see a government that seems to be responsible for their well-being and acting on that responsibility; if they don't see a government that is functioning properly, that is not corrupt and is not working hard to better their lives, then all the troops in the world are not going to make this better.
KING: An issue you wrestled with as a commander in the military is back in the news today and that is whether gay and lesbian Americans should be allowed to serve openly. The president, as a candidate, promised to reverse that policy and he has faced quite a bit of criticism from that community for not acting more quickly.
But this past week he had an event at the White House for gay and lesbian Americans, and he promised them this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I believe "Don't ask, don't tell" doesn't contribute to our national security. In fact, I believe...
... I believe preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And Secretary Gates is now saying he's exploring some flexibility in the current policy, waiting for whether Congress passes a law reversing it -- some flexibility that, under some circumstances, perhaps some openly gay or some people who have been outed, perhaps, should be allowed to stay and serve. What would you do?
POWELL: Well, the policy and the law that came about in 1993, I think, was correct for the time. Sixteen years have now gone by, and I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country, and therefore I think this is a policy and a law that should be reviewed.
I am withholding judgment because the commanders of the armed forces of the United States and the joint chiefs of staff need to study it and make recommendations to the president and have hearings before the Congress before a decision is made. It is not just a matter of old generals who are, you know, just too hidebound.
There are lots of complicated issues with respect to this, and I think all the issues should be illuminated. And I hope that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders, working with the secretary of defense, will give this the greatest consideration and make their recommendation to the president and to the Congress.
KING: More of our conversation with Colin Powell when "State of the Union" returns.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. Let's continue our conversation with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
We are about to have a Supreme Court nomination confirmation hearing, and it is clear now from all involved that we're going to have a spirited conversation about affirmative action. It is an issue that you have discussed many times over the course of your life.
Any advice for the senators in both parties as this goes forward? Let me ask you first if you know Judge Sotomayor?
POWELL: No, I do not.
KING: She's from the Bronx.
POWELL: She's from my neighborhood, yes. She seems like a very gifted and accomplished woman. She certainly has an open and liberal bent of mind, but that's not disqualifying. But she seems to have a judicial record that seems to be balanced and tries to follow the law.
And so I hope we do have a spirited set of hearings. And Supreme Court confirmation hearings tend to always meet that standard. And she ought to be asked about everything from both the left and the right.
What we can't continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor who is announced, and based on one simple tricky but nonetheless case at the Supreme Court has now decided, have her called a racist, a reverse-racist, and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we're mad at her.
Fortunately the senators who will sit on this hearing in the Judiciary Committee after a few days of this kind of nonsense said, let's slow down, let's examine her qualifications the way we're supposed to at a confirmation hearing.
KING: The guy who used the term "reverse-racism," you didn't name him, but it's Rush Limbaugh. And he has said some not so favorable things about you, saying this guy says he's a Republican but then he supported Obama, so he's not really a Republican.
You're a Republican.
POWELL: Yes. And Mr. Limbaugh, of course, is entitled to his opinion but he's not on any membership committee. He doesn't decide who I am or what I am no more than I decide who he is or what he is.
So we've had this running debate, let's call it that. And he's entitled to his opinion and I'm entitled to mine.
KING: One of the questions people would ask when you say, I'm still a Republican, you've supported President Obama and you did make quite clear your reasons for doing so. Are you going to support him for reelection or is it too soon to answer that question? POWELL: It's too soon to answer that question. And I get asked questions like that all of the time. I have voted Democratic over the years, I've voted Republican. I voted twice for Ronald Reagan, twice for the first Bush, and twice for the second Bush.
And I voted for Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. I always try to find the person that I think is best qualified for the highest office in the land. I believe that our country is best served when there are two strong parties, strong parties that have opposing points of view -- political points of view.
POWELL: That's what makes this country great. And they can debate those points of view.
I think we run into dangerous territory in this country when the two ends of the political spectrum become so dug in and nasty and everything is ad hominem and driven by cable television and blogs and all kinds of other things that our positions get so hardened that we can't find a way toward the center, which is where the country is.
KING: You're very complimentary of the president when it comes to community service, that message he gave on fatherhood. I want to ask you a question about some of his other priorities. But I want to ask in the context of the speech you gave to the Republican National Convention in 1996.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I became a Republican because I believe, like you, that the federal government has become too large and too intrusive in our lives. We can no longer...
POWELL: We can no longer afford solutions to our problems that result in more entitlements, higher taxes to pay for them, more bureaucracy to run them, and fewer results to show for it. (APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: First reaction looking at that clip is you could probably sell your aging secrets because you look great.
KING: But has the president of the United States in that regard, when it comes to financial institution bailouts, General Motors bailouts, spending by government, whether it's health care reform, whether it's the debate now about climate change, when it comes to spending and the reach and role of government, does President Obama meet the test Colin Powell laid out in '96?
POWELL: Well, first, let me say, that was a pretty good statement, I thought. And I believe in all of those things. But I also believe that we should have a government that works. I don't like slogans anymore like "limited government." That's not the right answer.
The right answer is, give me a government that works. Keep it as small as possible. Keep the tax burden on the American people as small as possible. But at the same time have a government that is solving the problems of the people.
People want their problems solved. And very often it's the government that has to do that. So let's have good government, effective government, whether you call it limited or not. And I think the think of the challenges that President Obama has now is that he has got so many things on the table and these are issues that the American people find important, health care and so many other issues.
But I think one of the cautions that has to be given to the president, and I've talked to some of his people about this, is that you can't have so many things on the table that you can't absorb it all and we can't pay for it all.
And I never would have believed that we would have budgets that are running into the, you know, multi-trillions of dollars and we're amassing a huge, huge national debt that if we don't pay for in our lifetime, our kids and grandkids, and great-grandchildren will have the pay for it.
So I think the president, as he moves forward with his initiatives, has to start really taking a very, very hard look at what the cost of all of this is and how much additional bureaucracy and will it be effective bureaucracy be needed to make all of this happen.
KING: So it's early, but you're a little worried.
POWELL: Hmm? Yes.
KING: Is that a fair way to put it? POWELL: Yes. I'm a little concerned. Concerned would be a better way. I'm concerned at the number of programs that are being presented, the bills associated with these programs, and the additional government that will be needed to execute them.
KING: As you go forward, you say you talk to his people (INAUDIBLE). You say you talk to his people. What's your relationship with him?
POWELL: Very good.
KING: Have you talked to him much? Does he seek your advice?
POWELL: I have met with him not too long ago. I don't insert myself. But we stay in touch.
KING: I want to close with a couple of questions. One, on a cultural discussion in the United States right now, the country is saying farewell to Michael Jackson. He was without a doubt a trailblazing entertainer. There are other parts of his life that people have found quite troubling. I was watching on our air this past week a tribute to him at the Apollo Theater, which, of course, is near where you...
POWELL: Know well.
KING: ... where you grew up. What did he mean to America?
POWELL: He was a great entertainer and he crossed so many lines with his skill and the skill of his brothers. I always remember him most vividly as a young boy with his brothers, the Jackson 5. These fresh, exciting kids with the 'fros in the early '70s singing those wonderful songs, "ABC." Don't ask me to sing it.
But that was what I remember about Michael. During the heyday when he was doing "Thriller" and the other things, I was either in Vietnam or Korea or somewhere. So he is not quite of my generation.
But his art spanned three generations and is worthy of all the tribute that he is receiving for his art. Yes, there were some challenges in his life, yes, there was a great deal of controversy about him, but he has now passed on, let's celebrate his art.
KING: We live sometimes at too fast a pace, I would argue. And I wanted your reflections on what July 4th means to you. And I want, before I let you speak, to tell you when I was at Walter Reed, and it was a stunning visit, I asked -- we were sitting down with two men in the Army who had served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are now helping the wounded warriors at Walter Reed.
And when I said to them, you know, this is the holiday where we will put flags in our yards, or you'll see flags all out in the streets and people will have their barbecue and they might go to a parade, but you guys wear them right here every day on your shoulder. And the gentleman I was speaking to got a little choked up. I got a little choked up. What does July 4th mean to you and do you think sometimes in our rush we forget?
POWELL: These young men and women who have volunteered to serve their country and who have paid a price for serving their country are so deserving of all the tribute we can give them. And even after they've been wounded and even after you've seen them up at Walter Reed, they wear that patch proudly and they're proud of having served. And it's something they will never forget when they go back into normal life.
And so July 4th still represents a remarkable date for us to all stop and reflect on what our founding fathers achieved on July 4th, 1776, and the noble sentiment they gave to the rest of the world that all men are created equal and governments serve the people and the people serve the nation and no group of individuals serves the nation as bravely and with such courage and sacrifice as our young men and women in uniform.
So July 4th, let's, as we were told by our founding father, shoot rockets and celebrate, let the bombs go off and celebrate and praise our flag, but let's not forget that the freedom we enjoy, the freedom that we declared we would have in 1776, still has to be won every single day. And it's won by all of us but especially by these young men and women in uniform.
KING: Seems the perfect place to say thanks for coming in.
POWELL: Thank you, John.
KING: General Powell, thank you, appreciate it.
And as we focus on service this fourth of July weekend, we'll talk with a woman whose causes include ridding the world of nuclear weapons and promoting better understanding between the Arab and Western worlds. Queen Noor gets "The Last Word."
KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday. Two Monorail trains crashed in Disney World in Orlando, Florida earlier this morning. One driver was killed. In a statement, Disney officials say the monorail has been shut down and the company is working with law enforcement officials to determine what happened. Officials say no Disney guests were seriously injured in that crash.
An autopsy is scheduled today on the body of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, who was found shot to death yesterday in a Nashville condominium. Police say he was shot multiple times including once in the head. The body of a young woman was found lying nearby with a single gunshot wound. Police say they are not actively looking for suspects. Those are headlines on "State of the Union."
My interview with Her Majesty Queen Noor right after a quick break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: More than two dozen news makers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows, but only one gets "The Last Word" and that honor today goes to Her Majesty Queen Noor. She is the chair of the King Hussein Foundation and she joins us from London. Your Majesty, one of your major causes is try to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It's a cause that the president of the United States says he shares. Three months ago in Prague, he gave a dramatic statement to the world. I want you to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States as a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So, today, I state clearly and with conviction, America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In the week ahead the president of the United States will travel to Moscow for a critical summit with the president of Russia. When it comes to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, what is the test that you would apply to this big meeting? QUEEN NOOR, KING HUSSEIN FOUNDATION: Well, this meeting will follow on statements that they made that were quite historic in Prague right before the G-20 meeting. Where for the first time ever, the American and Russian presidents committed to the total elimination of nuclear weapons to work together to that goal.
The global zero initiative, which I am a founder of, that was organized last year and first launched last December, has created a commission that is presenting today a series of recommendations that we hope both presidents will consider before their July 6th meeting.
And those recommendations are the result of work by political and military experts on trying to create the framework for a phased, verified movement towards a global zero accord, an accord that will be signed by all nuclear and nuclear capable nations, we hope, within around 14 years that we can achieve that goal, building on the commitment of the Russian and the American presidents whose countries together encompass about 90, well over 90 percent of the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons.
KING: You make the point about that goal and it is a worthy one. I moved over to our map here so I can illustrate the point you just made. Back in the day, this was largely a conversation between the United States, which has about 10,000 nuclear weapons and Russia, the former Soviet Union, and I'll swing the map here, which has about 20,000 nuclear weapons.
But you can see China is now in the nuclear club, India and Pakistan in the nuclear club. Great Britain and France up here, Israel over here and you have, obviously, Iran and over here in Asia, North Korea who are aggressively pursuing nuclear programs on their own. How much does it trouble you that in some ways I guess the phrase might be, the genie is out of the bottle and do you think now it's possible, it's possible to put it back in?
NOOR: The dangers of the proliferation of these weapons and nuclear materials that today exist in 40 countries to make another 100,000 bombs over the 23,000 estimated that we have today, that the danger of those materials ending up in the hands of terrorists or misused by governments is increasing by the day.
We have two paths. One is to continue along this path of proliferation to a nuclear proliferation tipping point at which we may not be able to pull back, or to move towards a path towards global zero.
KING: The president of the United States just a month ago was in the Middle East and in Cairo, he gave a very important speech, an effort he said to turn the page and have a new beginning between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world. I want you to listen just a snippet from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Has the speech changed the conversation in any significant way?
NOOR: His tone is extremely important and this also applies to the nuclear issue, in that he's making it very clear that there cannot be separate sets of standards for different countries or different regions of the world. There has to be consistency. There cannot be exceptions to international norms. And if we're able to work along those lines, on mutually respectful terms, we can succeed in the Middle East and elsewhere.
KING: I want to show you something to follow up on this point that I find quite fascinating. This is a poll taken in Jordan, of course a country you know so well. If you look, ask the people of Jordan what they think about President Obama, his favorable rating is 58 percent, a very low unfavorable rating. But if you ask them what they think about the United States, it's almost flip side, 56 percent of Jordanians view the United States unfavorably. So they seem to like this president in the Arab world but they still don't like the United States. What is the challenge for the president to change that number?
NOOR: I think that what the problem has been for a very long time is that American policy has not been consistent with American principles and rhetoric. And I think many in the region are wondering, hopeful, but wondering, can President Obama mobilize the support in the United States and elsewhere where required to see through his vision of peace in the region, a peace that is based on justice, that is based on the removal of illegal obstacles to peace, that is based on the rights of all living in the region, and is based on the freedom from occupation of the Palestinian people.
KING: If you talk to the Israelis, they're a bit nervous about this president, because after eight years of George W. Bush, they thought they always had a consistent friend who would side with them.
And they are now questioning whether this president, by publicly pressuring them on settlements and other steps, has taken a different tack. Do you see a different tack from the United States?
NOOR: I think this president is a truer and more honest friend to Israel as well as to others in the region than perhaps anyone that has preceded him. He is talking about what is in the best interests of the security of the people of Israel as well as the security of Palestinians and others in our region.
And the security of all Israelis is going to depend on whether they can live at peace and with -- in respectful and -- on a respectful basis with Palestinians and others in the region, whether they can show that they're willing to live by international law and international norms, and by the agreements that already exist that have provided a framework for that peace.
KING: We're spending quite a bit of time on this program talking about community service on the July 4th holiday weekend here in the United States. Tell me what community service means to Queen Noor and where does that passion come from?
NOOR: Well, it began when I had the privilege of growing up -- of living in Washington, D.C., during President Kennedy's administration. I -- Martin Luther King was one of my heroes, I marched with him.
President Kennedy's exhortation "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," and then the Peace Corps became actually my goal for what I might contribute, not only to my country but to the larger world.
KING: Her Majesty, Queen Noor, we're grateful for your thoughts and insights on this holiday weekend here in the United States. And we wish you the best.
NOOR: Thank you, John, very much.
KING: Thank you. Take care.
And coming up, a call to service right here in the nation's capital. We'll take a look at a summer mentoring program for inner city schoolchildren. Stay with us.
KING: In debating where to travel this July 4th holiday week, we decided to focus on community service, people who selflessly give their time and their talents to help others. There are such projects, of course, all across America. But we decided to take a trip just a few miles from our offices right here in Washington, D.C.
Let me show you why. These statistics are quite staggering. The national graduation rate, nearly 70 percent. In Washington, though, it is below 50 percent and down nearly 9 percent from last year. Again, nationally, about 12.5 percent of the popular lives below the poverty line. In Washington, that number is nearly 20 percent.
So the need here is obvious. And one way to help is through national service, community service. In the AmeriCorps National Program, there are 75,000 participants, 1,500 of them right here in Washington. And 6,000 additional slots will be added in September because of the Obama stimulus funding.
Now in the summertime, a lot of that community service work is focused on helping children in low-income neighborhoods where the schools are struggling. That is where we met, right here in Washington, D.C., a remarkable young woman named Tora Burns.
TORA BURNS, AMERICORPS: Everybody, I should see your eyes on me. Wiggle your fingers. We're going to get all of the jitters out. Everybody check it out. Give me a smile.
KING (voice-over): Leading the classroom with an infectious smile.
BURNS: What I want you all to know is that we can all make a difference.
KING: Recycling is the lesson of the moment. Community service her cause as long as Tora Burns can remember.
BURNS: I would ask my mom, well, can you help the old lady out of the building or something? She would be like, you're only 6 or 5, why are you trying to help everyone?
KING: An urge reinforced, she says, by a jarring memory from her high school days in Detroit.
BURNS: And I saw a man kill another man. And I was just sitting at the red light. And it was kind of like -- you have that moment where you're like, oh my gosh, someone lost their life.
No child should have to live like that. No child should have to see things of that nature.
KING: Tora is spending her summer at this Washington, D.C., school as an instructor for Heads Up, a local mentoring effort targeting low-income neighborhoods that is aligned with the AmeriCorps National Community Service Organization.
BURNS (singing): We recycle every day, just to show the world the way. Recycle!
KING: And during the school year, while attending Howard University, she is a volunteer mentor in a program run by America's Promise, the organization founded by retired General Colin Powell.
BURNS: I've always wanted to be a teacher. And I feel like this experience will help me in the long run as far as my career and understanding children.
We're going the teach you. That's my job. I'm supposed to teach you. So by the time you're out of here, Seb (ph), you're going to be able to count better than anyone else your age, OK?
KING: Valuable experience for Tora and invaluable help to Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her efforts to turn around D.C.'s struggling public school system.
MICHELLE RHEE, CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: When you have a school system like ours where the kids are so far behind where they need to be, then one of the most precious resources at your disposal is time. And our children need more time. So this year we've significantly increased the number of kids who are participating in summer school.
BURNS: Will it prevent the sun from going black? Is that your question?
They say the craziest things, but every now and then you have that "a-ha!" moment. And I feel like you learn a lot more from them than they learn from you. When you see that -- it's like a sparkle in their eye and they're happy when they're learning, I think that's when you see the change.
KING: Just 19 years old, pushed by her parents and by her teachers, now Tora pushes herself and her 12-hour days while her family and friends are enjoying summer vacations.
BURNS: It all boils down to the children, you know? How dare I be a student in college and be selfish and not do something to help my community. And I feel like children are at the center of it all.
KING: I'm John King in Los Angeles. Have a great Sunday. We'll see you next week.