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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Sound of Sunday

Aired September 27, 2009 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."

(voice over): It's 11 a.m. Eastern, time for "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday."

Thirteen government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say: the defense secretary and the secretary of state; the former president of the United States.

We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to.

We break it all down with James Carville and Mary Matalin and the best political team on television. "State of the Union Sound of Sunday" for September 27th.

(on camera): The Obama White House says it will take its time deciding whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. One key voice in those discussions, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, is holding his cards tight, but in this, what those who know him well see as a possible hint, he's leaning in favor of pushing for more boots on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think, would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States.

Taliban and Al Qaida, as far as they're concerned, defeated one super power. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a fascinating moment. The commanding general says he needs more troops but the commander in chief says he's skeptical. a man who knows the pressures of the Oval Office says don't overdramatize this apparent conflict. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: I think that what the president has done here is, not to diss the general or say -- but he's saying, look, my responsibility is not just to win military battles but to see that it leads to something bigger -- for ourselves and our security and for the people of Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In high-stakes talks this week, the United States and its allies will push Iran to allow access to a newly disclosed underground nuclear bunker, but a Sunday show of force by Tehran has one conservative senator doubting diplomacy will work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOND: Today's action in firing the missiles is really a poke in the eye to those who think that diplomatic efforts and agreements and inspections are going to change the way that Iran is going. I think, as the "Show Me State" senator, they've shown us enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to.

Joining us now, you can find them only right here together on "State of the Union," Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin.

Welcome.

Let's start with this decision the president faces and what some see is an effort by the military to perhaps put him in a box, publicly saying you need more troops in Afghanistan, when the president says, "I'm a little skeptical, and we're having a strategic review first."

And as we start the discussion, in full disclosure, Mr. Carville, you advised one of the opposition candidates, opponents of President Karzai, in the election.

And to note, you also visited Afghanistan in your days in the Bush administration.

So, James, is it a conflict? The former president, Bill Clinton, you know (inaudible) as well, he's not dissing the general; he's just doing what he has to do?

CARVILLE: Look, he -- we're having a review of strategy. After seven and a half years or whatever, it's called for. People say that Afghanistan is difficult. No, math is difficult. Afghanistan is something more than difficult, pretty near impossible.

But, having said that, the general has a point of view. He represents the interest of the United States military. The president has a larger point of view. He represents the interest of the United States as a whole.

And I suspect, based on what the secretary of defense said and what you see there, they will make some kind of thing, and hopefully it will have some kind of strategy. It's time to have a strategy review. I completely agree with the president with that. I think the secretary of defense agrees with that. Ambassador Holbrooke, who is probably one of the most talented people to ever serve in the Foreign Service, has got this thing under review. And they're going to try something different, and it's called for. Does that mean they're going to withdraw troops? Maybe not. Probably not, but it's time to take a look at this thing because it's really not going very well right now.

KING: You've been through this in the previous war in Iraq. You know the debate from the very beginning. It was, did we send in enough troops in Iraq? Then, later, it was, should we have a surge; should we get out? Public opinion.

When you have the general saying, "I need more troops," the admiral saying, "There will probably be more troops," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- I wanted to mention the admiral there -- and then you have -- you know, you have people saying, well, Biden's very skeptical; Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, is very skeptical, this gets messy.

MATALIN: Well, first of all, it's not a review of seven and a half years. It's a review of the Obama strategy in March, which was to send in more troops for the purposes of securing the election.

Strategy is never a static thing. It's right that he takes time to review his own review. We're in a different situation than when the central war against the terrorists was in Iraq. Now it's back there. And our larger strategy has never been about Afghanistan, per se. It's always about Pakistan.

Pakistan has 50 nukes. Pakistan has an ongoing relationship with the Taliban. The Taliban had a relationship with Al Qaida. That's what we were doing in Afghanistan in the first place, is to wipe out Al Qaida and prevent the reconstitution of terrorist haven and training camp.

So that's why we care about getting it right in Afghanistan. And, you know -- and he's right to take a review of the review. And Gates said, further in your interview this morning, that Odierno had, you know, three months to talk about the Petraeus surge.

So we have time. We don't have a lot of time, but we should do it right. And the president said last week with you, and he's right. The strategy -- the resources should follow the strategy and the strategy should be specific to what we need to do right now, which is ever-changing. It's not a static strategy.

KING: So then let's move to the other big issue. This one became public this week. They've known about it for some time. But Iran has a second facility, apparently designed to enrich uranium. The administrations says it's not for civilian purposes. It is clearly designed to get, in the administration's view, for weaponization purposes.

So in the interview with the Defense Secretary Gates I asked; he said the military options aren't great; you could set them back at some time. But I asked him, your former boss and your friend, the former vice president, Dick Cheney. We know he said -- told Chris Wallace a few weeks ago, late in the Bush administration, he was an advocate of using military force against some of these sites.

So I asked the defense secretary, was it this site?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The former vice president, Dick Cheney, is on record as saying, in the closing months of the administration, he was an advocate for possibly using military action against some of these Iranian sites. Was this one of his targets, this facility we've just learned about?

GATES: Well, I think -- I'll just let his statement speak for itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He -- he didn't want to play, but it was a big grin there, I got. Mary Matalin, you know the vice president's thinking. Was this what he was thinking about?

MATALIN: Well, we'll all just have to read Dick Cheney's book, won't we, when it comes out, to find out what his thinking was.

(LAUGHTER)

But, clearly, what we know generally is that smart power doesn't work without strong muscle behind it. And as Evan Bayh said this morning, the only time the Iranians paid any attention to us or came us to was when they were afraid they were next in line, when we started using our strength.

So if the military option -- you can't just say it's on the table. They have to believe that it's on the table. And that's what's going on here. As you showed in the earlier segment, the construction gains that were made while we've been talking -- and this includes in the last administration -- everybody made the decision to have smart power or the era of diplomacy and let the construction continue, and now, look how far they've come. The farther they've come, the harder it is to take it out.

If we end up having to take it out; if there's noncompliance when the P-5-plus-1 meets in October, or by December, whatever the deadline is, but it better be sure. It better be certain. The consequences should be enumerated and the inspectors have to have a free rein.

KING: Please?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I think the president had a good week on Iran. We saw -- we saw real, real cooperation. We saw it with the French. We saw the Russians, by the way, checked the intelligence twice to make sure it was right. How refreshing.

And I think that they are very serious about this, and I think that Iran's going to see it. But the other thing that we know is the military is not particularly keen on the military option for any number of reasons, and the next thing we know, to an absolute certainty, sanctions can work. We've proved that in Iraq.

It was one of the great things that the aftermath of the Iraq war showed us, that they had dismantled the nuclear program and that they can be successful.

I think that the world is -- I think Iran has found itself in a very uncomfortable situation, and I think the world is ready to squeeze the noose them.

You're right. You can't -- you can't take away the option of doing something militarily, but I think that, between now and December, they're going to have a very uncomfortable time. I think these guys misplayed their hand, and I think they're going to see how much they misplayed it here in the coming months.

KING: If Iran misplayed its hand, as you put it, it's time for the administration to play its. And this is the first time we're going to see this team.

As you mentioned, the president stood side by side with the president of France, the prime minister of Great Britain. His secretary of state is the one who's going to have to monitor the situation most closely. She says this, Iran says this is a peaceful facility; the world is wrong; there's nothing to worry about.

Hillary Clinton says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: As the Russians said in their statement and as what we believe, and what this meeting on October 1st is to test is, fine, prove it; don't assert it; prove it.

Words are not enough. They're going to have to come and demonstrate clearly to the international community what they're up to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: We know these international inspectors (inaudible). Mohamed ElBaradei -- I probably mispronounced his name -- the guy's the real deal. And they're -- they're going to insist on, like, real inspections.

CARVILLE: And most of the time these people come in, as Hans Blix was, these people are pretty good. We'll have a pretty good sense of what's going on here.

MATALIN: If they are allowed to call their own shots. Right now the White House has admitted that the IAEA and ElBaradei only get to go in at the permission and at the time that the Iranians say.

Even as we speak, even as we're walking to the P5+1, these are people on the ground that are skilled at moving the evidence. So by the time they let them in and all of the wrangling it takes to get them in -- now I'm not saying that they're not skilled inspectors, but part of what is not pinned down is if the inspectors don't get to call the shots, they'll just keep moving the game.

And we do know -- we think we know by deduction and the intelligence, unclassified at this point, we're still classified, that there's another hidden facility. So it's not -- it all would come together, including the sanctions, if the Chinese are really on board.

We can't hurt them with sanctions if the Chinese aren't going to buckle down on gas and oil. And we need the Russians, and we need the international community not to just talk, talk, talk, but to really shut down on banking and other technical provisions.

KING: All right. We're going to take a quick break with Mary and James. But when we come back, we'll talk domestic politics, including, you just saw the former president of the United States talking there about world challenges. He's talking again about, you'll remember this, the vast right-wing conspiracy. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back talking with CNN political contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin.

An interesting moment, one of the first things the president did was say we'll close down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and we will do it within a year.

Well, they're having problems doing that. And the defense secretary, Robert Gates, he says he was one of those who said, if you're going to do this, have a deadline. He says the deadline gets you to move. But he now acknowledges it would be very tough to keep that deadline. And of course, there are many people out there saying, I told you so, including Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The policies should have been formulated and then implemented and then you would have had a time frame that you wouldn't have to say, hey, we can't keep one of our first commitments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How did they get into this mess?

MATALIN: Well, that's because the first week he was in office, he did two really stupid things, and they both were politically motivated.

One was, without a plan, saying, we're going to close Gitmo. The other one was signing the stimulus bill, which has caused him no amount of problems. It has affected all of his other policy-making.

The problem with being political on security issues is that it makes -- it gives people pause in all of the other security issues, whether or not they're related. And every time you have to walk back from something in the security vein, it has exponential impact on your credibility.

So he should have had a plan. He should have been serious about it. It's not -- nobody wants to say, I told you so, he has just caused himself so many problems by not having a plan in the first instance.

And what Gates was saying was, if you say, look, I'm going to close this down and I have a specific time frame, then you get Washington to be serious. But to make a political statement like that, the ramifications are political.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, two things Mary said, one, the stimulus is enormously successful. Goldman Sachs is worth 3 percent of GDP in the quarter, so.

Secondly, was smart to put a deadline before policy? No. And Senator McCain is right. I mean, you know, you can't -- some things you can sit down, you can certainly (INAUDIBLE) that are successful The idea of saying, we're going to have a deadline and we're going to figure a policy out on how to reach the deadline, probably wasn't the smartest thing they ever did. And they're sort of realizing that now.

KING: All right. So let's step back again. A man that you have worked for and are very loyal to, and a man you have sparred with for most of the past two decades, Bill Clinton, is out there. He did the Clinton Global Initiative this week, and he gave a Sunday interview this week. And he's talking about the politics of the moment. This is a guy that won two presidential elections, so he knows a bit about what he's talking about. And he looks at the landscape right now, and he's grading the Republican Party, Mary.

He says, sure, you're hurting the president, but essentially where's the beef?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not really good for the Republicans in the country, what's going on now. I mean, they may be hurting President Obama, they can take his numbers down, they can run his opposition up, but fundamentally he and his team have a positive agenda for America.

Their agenda seems to be wanting him to fail, and that's not a prescription for a good America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How is he doing as a political analyst of the moment?

MATALIN: He's the best politician in the interplanetary system. I really do respect his political skills. He is completely wrong, talking points, blah, blah, blah, he ought to tell the truth.

The Democrats control all three branches of government. They have a filibuster-proof Senate because now they have changed the rule in Massachusetts. There's one set of rules for Democrats, one for Republicans. They're going to change the rule to have reconciliation, which will tear up the country. They have 60 percent of the House.

There is no Republican -- if they could pass it tomorrow, the problem is not with the Republicans for them, it's with the Democrats. The Republicans are raising more money, recruiting more candidates, because people are opposed to what the president and his party are proposing.

It's not that they're listening to the Republicans, they're not, but they're very clear in opposition to the president and his party. And I will say again, they could pass it without a single Republican vote.

So this is no vast right-wing conspiracy, this is a split up, desperate, Democratic Party in chaos.

CARVILLE: OK. A couple of points here. The Republican Party have doubled down on Rush Limbaugh's January pledge that they want this president to fail. They've taken Republican ideas, Senator Grassley, the individual mandate, they've put it in there. Senator Isakson, end-of-life counseling, they've put it in there.

And by the way, they're making some real progress here. They've got real bills out of committee. This thing is moving along. And by the way, the image of the Republican Party has not gone up one iota.

And I think the smarter Republicans see that this failure-at-any- cost strategy is not working. And people are starting to see through this, that President Obama has had a pretty doggone good September here. And I think he is on-deck to have a better one.

It's all about the economy failing and health care failing, and I think both of them are going to do a little bit better than people think.

KING: I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: ... report that the only time this president does better is when he changes the subject or he changes the rules. Every piece of data suggests that the Republican position is improving, only if in relative contrast to the Democrats going down.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: All right. Let's stay for a moment on the -- because I said we would mention it after the break, and Mary brought up that term that we came to know during the Clinton years -- the Clinton presidential years, the vast right-wing conspiracy. It was on his mind.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Your wife famously talked about the "vast right-wing conspiracy" targeting you.

GREGORY: As you look at this opposition on the right to President Obama, is it still there?

FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Oh, you bet. Sure it is. It's not as strong as it was because America has changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, this week, there was breathtaking proof that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy. It was revealed in Rolling Stone that Philip Morris paid -- paid a woman named Betsy McCoy to plant a piece in The New Republic, all right?

This was -- this is not -- in other words, this was a tobacco company paying for a piece printed in a so-called respectable magazine.

Now, I don't know that, in The New Republic in 2006, that, oh, gee, the whole thing was, kind of, a mistake...

(LAUGHTER)

... after they went through all of that. I don't know if The New Republic has called the president to apologize, but I suspect, as we go through, we're going see more and more instances of this.

And every Clinton person, when the president told us the stuff with Taylor Branch, it felt good. And you know what really made us feel good, is Bill Clinton's doing a whole lot better than The New Republic is.

(LAUGHTER)

They're sitting there at the CGI, and everybody went "Yes." That was a great moment to be a Clinton person.

MATALIN: I don't even know what he's talking about, but I'll say...

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Philip Morris paid for a piece in The New Republic.

MATALIN: Well, as if you don't have psycho, crazy, vile, finger- biting-off, blogging nuts, OK? There's -- there's all kind of extremists, which exclude Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and everybody you want to demonize, that this debate, right now, on health care, the stimulus, the outrageous, unsustainable raising of the deficit and the structural debt in perpetuity, this is being opposed by and stopped by Democrats who are representing conservative districts, independents. It's the independents that are moving away from this president. They're moving back to the Republicans. There's every amount of tangible data from our raising more money than the Democratic Party, right now, recruiting more candidates.

It could not be -- I don't know magazines or Betsy or this or that or whatever you're talking about...

(LAUGHTER)

... but there is no conspiracy, other than that people want to have a government that works. They still have some work for this president. He's the one...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: We've seen (inaudible) go from the vast right-wing conspiracy to the vast right-wing talking points.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: I don't get the talking points like you do. Check, check, check.

KING: I thought he wrote the talking points.

MATALIN: He can't write. He can only talk.

KING: Ouch. Ouch, ouch.

(LAUGHTER)

All right, so we're going to end on a lighter note here. I want to send you two out on a more cheerful note. So both the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the current secretary of state of the United States, Hillary Clinton, did Sunday show interviews. Pretty rare -- you have a former president and a secretary of state who happen to be husband and wife. They're both on Sunday shows this morning. Both of the interviews were taped.

So, assuming they're waking up this morning, and first they watch "State of the Union," of course. And then they're deciding, where do we go on the DVR? Where do you go first, there, Carville?

CARVILLE: Oh, you go to the madam.

(LAUGHTER)

And I bet you, when he (inaudible) he said, oh, honey, let's look at you first. We can get somebody to -- you know how you tape these -- TiVo this thing, or whatever you call it. (LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: And the problem with that is?

CARVILLE: Nothing. That's...

MATALIN: We never watch ourselves. So maybe they don't, either. I don't know.

KING: You think he's got the order right, though?

MATALIN: Well, you know, why -- if Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy. That's just, kind of -- you -- hey, how about your household?

KING: There's a good time to go to break, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

Part of my household's about to enter the room, here, and you could ask her on the way out. I bet she would say "Yes." She owns -- trust me, she owns -- I don't even know how to use the thing that she owns.

MATALIN: There you go.

KING: Mary Matalin, James Carville, thanks for coming in.

Up next, we get out of Washington and we listen to you. We head south to the state of Mississippi for our diner conversation about the economy, health care and President Obama's job performance. Stay right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We chose Mississippi for our travels this week, not just to pick up some great coffee. Why would we go down to Mississippi? Let's take you in here.

We were down in the city of Jackson. After being originally down in southwest Mississippi, we went into the city of Jackson.

This was one of Obama's worst states. Only 43 percent of the vote there. We wanted to get a check and see how things are. The unemployment rate, 7.3 percent a year ago; 9.5 percent now. They have lost nearly 14,000 manufacturing jobs in Mississippi in the past year, and nearly 20 percent of the state residents lack health insurance.

So we went to Jackson; we met with some folks at the Coffee Roastery. It's right there -- right walking distance from the state capitol. We wanted to get a sense, eight months in, what do they think of the new president?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The president didn't get a lot of votes in this state. It's not a Democratic state. But he's been in office now for eight months. How's he doing?

(UNKNOWN): Mississippi is a state of extremes. We have extreme liberalism on one side, extreme conservatism on the other side. And so what works in Mississippi usually is governing toward the center. And so we'll be looking to Washington to see whether there's any centrist views that come forth with policy that's good for America.

KING: What do you think so far?

(UNKNOWN): I think he's doing an OK job. I think more people need to back him and the things they're trying to get done. And like he said before, change is going to happen. And I know a lot of people here in my state are not used to change.

KING: In watching the campaign process, it seemed like there was -- it did seem like he was more centrist.

But it really seems more like, when you hear comments like, well, we're the one that won the election; this is how we're going to -- this is how it's going to be, that doesn't seem like we're all sitting down at the table saying, how can we make things better?

And so it seems like politics as usual.

KING: And out here in the real world, how's the economy here?

(UNKNOWN): Things here at the Coffee Roastery, they're OK, but they can get better.

KING: Pinching pennies?

(UNKNOWN): Yes, they're really cutting back, yes. But maybe getting a large latte, they get a small latte or something like that. So, yes, I've seen a change.

(UNKNOWN): The governor's have had to do a 5 percent reduction in education budgets because of the shortfall of tax revenues. We're holding on to that cliff by our fingernails and toenails, waiting for the world, national and state recovery to occur.

(UNKNOWN): You know, Jackson's economy is education, government and medical. Those are the three biggest employers. And, you know, I wouldn't say it's a recession-proof economy, but, while the unemployment has gone up, you know, business has continued to transact, and it hasn't felt like a lot of areas of the country.

KING: Let me ask for a show of hands. If you think Washington needs to pass dramatic changes to the health care system, raise your hand.

KING: Just one.

DUCKWORTH: Our government has proven that they're not effective at running much of anything. So rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, maybe deal with some of the smaller pieces, being able to carry insurance across state lines and more competitive and tort reforms.

COLE: Your operative word was "radical," if you had said...

KING: I think I said "dramatic."

COLE: Well, dramatic. If you had said "rational," my hand would have gone up. I believe America needs a comprehensive, overall rational policy that puts America on par with other developed countries.

I do believe Americans will rebel at radical policy that deviates so much from what the national value system is.

FORD: I don't think they're trying to reinvent the wheel. I think they need to make it better. There are certain things out there with the -- in the health area that, like you were saying, the people in the middle, if you are too poor, you can get it, if you're rich, you can have it, but what about the people in the middle? The hard- working people who work that don't have insurance -- medical insurance?

And I think that's wrong. That you have to take care of the people in the United States.

COLE: We understand when the two parties are trying to X each other out, and we're having to sit there and put up with that junk, you know?

What we're looking for is something where people go in, sit down, talk with each other, work something out and either get it worked out or not, but quit running out of the room, getting on the talk shows and trashing each other, because I don't think we're buying any of it, are we?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A fun conversation there in Jackson, I should not have had that cheesecake, but it was good.

We'll be right back with three members of the best political team on television. We'll talk about the president's big decisions about Iran, Afghanistan, and more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

Iran's state-run TV says the military tested a multiple missile launcher and two types of short-range missiles today. A long-range missile test is expected tomorrow. Those exercises comes just two days after Iran revealed the existence of a second Iranian enrichment facility.

Afghanistan's energy minister survived a suicide car-bomb attack in the western city of Herat today. Four civilians were killed. The military says two U.S. troops were killed in separate incidents yesterday, they're among six NATO troops killed in Afghanistan this week.

Swiss police say Roman Polanski has been taken into custody on a U.S. arrest warrant for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was arrested yesterday when he arrived in Zurich. Polanski fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the young girl. He faces possible extradition now to the United States.

Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.

With me now here in Washington, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. I'm going to begin the segment over here at the wall because I want to set the table for our conversation about Iran.

There are 17 nuclear sites in Iran that the world has been watching for quite some time, but the interest in current days has been on this site here just north of the city of Qom. You see the dots up here. This is some satellite imagery, as we zoom on in, of what this site looked like about three years ago.

Relatively little construction, two buildings there. Now let's fast forward to January, 2009, this takes a minute to develop. Just stay with us and watch this zoom in. Look at this, much more significant development, clearly underground construction here with some steel, underground construction here and again over here.

This is eight months ago, now we want to give you this dramatic image we received just yesterday. Watch this, as this develops, again, that is January. Now we come over to today. They have completely changed the site.

A building here, a structure with a roof in that underground. They've covered this up, tunnels in to the mountain hillside here. Covered this up, tunnels in here. There are ventilation and egress up here. And this is all very remote, as you watch the road follow down.

A location right nearby Iran's Revolutionary Guard down here. You see more military and reinforced structures here.

So as I walk over to the table, Barbara Starr, you heard the interview with Secretary Gates, the defense secretary. He says the military option is on the table, but he also conceded they're not that great. Essentially what you get is you knock the program back one to three years, you don't eliminate it.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Why can't you destroy it? The satellite doesn't lie. This is buried deep underground. There are no bombs that can penetrate through this kind of geology.

The most you can do is drop tons and tons of bombs, create a lot of vibration, a lot of shock waves, and the Iranians can go in and repair it. That's why the military option is not very good.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But they've laid the groundwork now for very extensive investigations into what else the Iranians may have because they're going demand now that the IAEA, which searches through all of these things, actually gets to look at everything in Iran.

That's going to be very important. And they've laid the groundwork now for tougher sanctions, which could make a difference. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And, you know, laying the groundwork for having these demands is one thing, actually achieving those demands is obviously a huge, huge question mark and a huge challenge because, as you've discussed with the senators and others, I mean, you need the help and the cooperation of the international community, including countries like China, which necessarily -- haven't necessarily -- and Russia really for that matter, which haven't been supportive of this in terms of sanctions.

You know, I think we're definitely going see some -- more of a push in Congress for tougher sanctions with regard to Iran. And you heard Secretary Gates say that he wants that.

KING: And as evidence of that, Congress may even be tougher than the administration in pushing sanctions and pushing sanctions more quickly as people ask the question, well, what are they up to?

And Iran says, oh, no, you're all wrong. This is a peaceful -- it's for nuclear energy, you have to trust us. Lindsey Graham, the conservative senator from South Carolina, says, no, he doesn't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY SMITH, GUEST HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Do you really believe the Iranians are currently working on a nuclear weapon?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Absolutely, I believe they are. I believe the Holocaust existed. I've got one rule of thumb, if the president of a country denies the Holocaust, you should believe the worst not the best about what they're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Yes, I don't think anybody doubts that Iran is up to a nuclear weapons effort. That's why they're burying it underground. That's why they're dispersing facilities across the country. And that's why the U.S. intelligence community can never really tell the president for sure what Tehran may be up to.

I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind.

BORGER: But you know, if you look back to the last time they we were talking about weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq War, this, time what you saw was the president of the United States standing with the allies, having investigated this for months and months, having looked at intelligence together, which was presented to them when they met with the G-20 in New York.

BORGER: And you -- you, sort of, saw something, that they were trying to say, let's do it a different way from the way we did it in the runup to the Iraq war.

BASH: That's true. But the other thing that really struck me this morning that is clearly frustrating, everybody in the government, but particularly we heard it from Senator Bayh and we heard it from Senator Feinstein on this program a couple of weeks ago, is the frustration with the intelligence and that they really don't feel that confident in it.

The fact that you held up that -- the estimate, the intelligence estimate from just a few years ago, which suggested something completely different than what we're seeing with our own two eyes in the satellite imagery, is pretty stunning and, I think, very scary for members of Congress, and certainly, I think, for -- for Americans.

BORGER: I think we had some human intelligence, here, involved in this, which gives people just a little more satisfaction that they might be getting it right this time. I mean, you would know much more about that than I do.

STARR: Well, it gets back to the fundamental question for the CIA, every day of the week, intentions versus capabilities.

No one's really sure about Iran's capabilities. The question is, how do you judge their intentions and their ultimate goals, whether they're there now or not?

KING: And the former vice president is on the record. He said on "Fox News Sunday" a couple weeks ago that, late in the Bush administration, he thought they should at least think strong and develop plans to take some of these sites out, to knock them back some.

If there was tension in the late days of the Bush administration, at least the vice president saying, let's do this, and we know Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen were saying, no, thank you, we don't like those options, in this administration, they all at least seem to be (inaudible) on the same page right now?

STARR: Everyone believes, that we speak to, and I think on all of our beats around town, diplomacy first. They want to convince Iran that their national security is more threatened by having a nuclear program. I'm not sure I know how they're going to make that case to -- to Iran, but that's the goal. The wild card always Israel; at one point does Israel see some piece of intelligence and they say that's it?

KING: That would be a big question.

So we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to move down the front page. We've been talking about the Iranian site, right here. When we come back, plan to boost Afghan forces splits advisers; the president pondering sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan; huge policy considerations and a big political fight."

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with CNN's Barbara Starr, Gloria Borger, and Dana Bash.

Let's move to Afghanistan. It's a huge policy question for the president and it is becoming an increasingly divisive political issue.

General McChrystal says he needs more troops, maybe as many as 40,000. The president has made clear he's skeptical about that and he wants to have a review.

I asked Secretary Gates, what if, in the end, the president decides, yes, we're going to send 20,000, 30,000, maybe even 40,000. Where would you get them?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: Well, I think, if the president were to decide to approve additional combat forces, they really probably could not begin to flow until some time in January.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So that, in and of itself, Barbara, gives you some time, but this is a remarkable debate we have going on. The commanding general on the ground is publicly, on the record, saying, I need more troops. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says, we're going to probably need more troops.

Inside the White House, we know the chief of staff and the vice president of the United States are saying, well, wait a minute; we're a little skeptical about this. Is this a conflict?

STARR: Well, it sounds like a divide to me. You know, the military has to say publicly, we're on the same page as the White House; we agree with the president, no matter what the president decides. But there's just no question. I mean, it's not even behind the scenes. Just walk the hallways of the Pentagon this week and this is all anybody is talking about.

This is a big mess, and this is much more than a policy wonk conversation about military strategy. Why is this important? Because, every day that they are not deciding is a day when the strategy is unclear, the goals are unclear, defining how you win is unclear. And very tragically, every day, we see more casualties in the war. And that's going to be a very tough thing for the president to explain. I'm not sure he can wait until January to get this moving.

BORGER: Yes, I think it's really very difficult for him, and I think you have a situation, as General Jones told Bob Woodward today, that, first you have to define your strategy and then you figure out how many troops you need.

And he said, well, maybe General McChrystal would say we need less troops if we have a different strategy. If the president adopts a different strategy, though, he -- it becomes a political issue for him.

He may appease the left wing of his party, but he has to go to the American public and explain why, so soon after taking office, the war he called the war of necessity and not a war of choice, he's suddenly changing.

And there may be good reasons for it, by the way. The situation on the ground may be different. But he has to explain that to a very confused American public.

KING: And where you work, you could see the tensions starting to rise, even Republicans who support him saying, could you please give us a clear exit strategy, and could you send the general up so we could ask him some questions?

But on the left, a few people, still, but a few people saying timelines; you've got to get the troops out of there, and moveon.org, this week, calling it a quagmire. Political pressure building?

BASH: No question, and I think we're going to see some of that spilling on to the Senate floor this coming week. Because, on the Senate floor, they will be debating the defense appropriations bill, which is, you know, government spending for the Defense Department.

And that gives senators opportunities to offer amendments on a host of issues. And I just got an e-mail from a Democratic source who said that they are expecting potential amendments from Republicans saying -- you know, trying to get out ahead of the president, saying, let's adopt General McChrystal's recommendations, regardless of what the president does.

Some potentially -- potentially, one or two amendments from Democrats -- they're not sure, but potentially saying, you know, we do need a timeline.

So the impatience in Congress, which is reflecting, I think, the impatience and confusion among the American people, is absolutely palpable. And we could see it actually formulate itself in public this week. STARR: So the reality check is they put McChrystal in there to undertake a counterinsurgency strategy. That's why they fired General McKiernan. He wasn't putting one in fast enough. They put McChrystal in. And now it's like, well, let's think about it some more.

What has changed on the ground? Not very much. Everyone knew violence would get worse. Everyone knew the Karzai election would be troubled. Everyone knew McChrystal's report was going to be very dire.

None of this is a surprise to anybody. And guess what? the Taliban and the Al Qaida are watching this, and they see vulnerability in the U.S. commitment.

BORGER: But I'll tell you something. I spoke with someone at the White House last week about this who said this president has told us he is not going to be railroaded into making any decision quickly.

BORGER: because he made a decision quickly when he became president to send more troops, you know, so I think he's really going to take his time on this.

KING: Well, Senator Bayh was on the program this morning, and he essentially framed the choice facing the president. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Can Afghanistan, with our help, be a coherent nation state ? If yes, more troops will be warranted. If no, you take a different approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If "no, you take a different approach," let's assume Afghanistan's government is going to be indifferent, corrupt, or worse from now until we're all in rocking chairs. There's still the Taliban and the al Qaeda threat. So do you take a different approach even so?

STARR: Well, there is the, you know, plan B, the Joe Biden plan, which is to use high technology, fly drones, fly aircraft. But Afghanistan is a war, village by village, town by town. That's how the Taliban are fighting it. You're not going to get to that threat at 40,000 feet. And the fundamental question may be, what is the U.S. moral commitment, if you will?

We went into that country. Do we walk away from it?

BASH: And that's -- and that, I think, is one of the biggest challenges for the president right now, is that the answer to Senator Bayh's question is more and more no, we don't think we can have that kind of government in Afghanistan. And that is a growing feeling among members of the president's own party.

KING: It's a fascinating issue, because when I was in Jackson, Mississippi, at our weekly diner conversation, I asked them at the end -- we didn't use this part in the piece, but I asked them, I said, what is the mission in Afghanistan?

All three of them, three very different people,same exact thing. They shrugged.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: They shrugged. BORGER: That's what the president said, but al Qaeda happens to be somewhere else right now.

KING: Right. They shrugged. And so even Republicans who support the president, like Bob Corker, listen to him searching for a definition of the mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think it's perfectly legitimate to spend some time trying to articulate what success is. It's easy to talk about what failure in Afghanistan might mean. I think it has been more difficult to actually articulate what success is, and until we can do that, I think it's appropriate to take some time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Appropriate to take some time, but General McChrystal is out there on a ledge then, because he says, I need this now or else the enemy might win.

STARR: General McChrystal's report was illuminating, to say the least. He said the insurgency is now at the point it outstrips current U.S. strategy. And he also said, don't just send me more troops, I need more of everything, more help, more aid, more assistance.

And what's fundamentally on the table here is almost revisiting what happened 40 years ago. Do you fight a war -- why are we fighting a war when we're not clear about our strategy, our goal, what it means to win?

The U.S. military thought it left that idea behind 40 years ago...

KING: Let me...

STARR: ... in Vietnam.

KING: In Vietnam. Let me shift gears for a second. The former president of the United States was out this week a lot because of Clinton Global Initiative. He signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between a man and woman.

But now he told our Anderson Cooper he thinks this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I still think that's where it belongs. That is, I was against the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide, and I still think that the American people should be able to play this out in debates.

I'm just telling -- but me, Bill Clinton, personally, i changed my position. I am no longer opposed to that. I think if people want to make commitments that last a lifetime, they ought to be able to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm guessing on those who favor getting rid of the Defense of Marriage Act and lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military say, thank you, Mr. President. And everybody else who doesn't like this debate says, why are you talking about this?

BORGER: I'm guessing he's not running again for president.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: That's what I'm guessing. You know, I think, look, it's a very difficult issue. He has changed. He now disagrees with the current president of the United States. And it will be interesting to see a Democratic presidential candidate actually say that in running for election.

BASH: And the truth of the matter is, you would -- you know, you may think that he's saying that now because it's however many years ago that this happened, that the mood and the tolerance, frankly, in this country has shifted more in favor of gay rights.

However, just look at the last election. Just look at the lack of discussion that Barack Obama paid, and attention Barack Obama paid to this, and the fact he infuriated the gay movement by not doing that. That just shows you that perhaps among Democrats, it hasn't changed that much.

KING: A quick time-out. When we come back, our "Lightning Round." Two issues, we'll give the correspondents two sentences each. One of them involves a Clinton for president. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right. "Lightning Round" with Barbara Starr, Gloria Borger, and Dana Bash. We're doing this because we can.

Bill Clinton out this morning, asked, will Secretary of State Clinton maybe make another run for president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: It's up to her. I don't -- you know, we're not getting any younger. But I'm proud of what she's doing now. I think she's doing a good job. And I'm honored that -- I think it's pretty thrilling that she and the president have established the relationship they have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Careful.

BASH: Boy, is he lucky he said "we're not getting any younger," and not, she's not getting any younger. (LAUGHTER)

BASH: We just calculated, she would be 68 at the end of what could be, what could be an Obama second term. So, you know, John McCain ran when he was 72. We've had a lot of men run when they were older. Why not?

BORGER: Let's see where the world is. Let's see where the world is, secretary of state.

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: ... up the CNN Election Express bus now.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: There you go. I'd be happy to.

All right. One more. David Paterson is the governor of New York. He happens to be blind. And there has been some pressure on him not to run because his poll numbers are in the tank. Some of that pressure has come from top aides to the president of the United States.

Governor Paterson, if nothing else, has a sense of humor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: I'm blind but I'm not oblivious. I realize that there are people who don't want me to run. I've never gotten an explicit indication, authorized from the White House that I shouldn't run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was his explicit, but I'm running back.

BASH: Yes, I mean, that was his very not-so-subtle way of saying, thanks but no thanks for the advice, Mr. Obama.

BORGER: You know, I think they were trying to give him a job somewhere in the administration, but I think the leak kind of blew that. So I would guess he may run.

STARR: At least there are still people that come to Washington and say what's on their mind.

KING: That is a good thing, isn't it?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Here's the deal. Some people said, Hillary Clinton should run for governor,speaking of Hillary Clinton. She would be a shoo-in there. But she is not going to give up...

KING: She's kind of busy at the moment.

Barbara Starr, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, thank you very much.

And we'd like now to welcome back our international viewers. I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): A wrenching debate over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

KING: And startling revelations about a secret underground bunker in Iran...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: This is an illicit nuclear facility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: ... and a candid assessment of the pressing global challenges from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Plus, the political divides on foreign policy and health care. We'll talk to two influential senators, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Then, our "American Dispatch" from the Mississippi Delta. Unemployment is pushing 20 percent. Things look bleak. And every job matters.

And her son paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, and she says the United States can't leave the work there unfinished. On a special weekend in Washington, a Gold Star mom gets the last word.

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