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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Interview with General George Casey; Interview with Governor- elect Bob McDonnell; Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's "The Last Word"; Army's Homefront Strain
Aired November 8, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
KING (voice-over): As the Fort Hood community grieves, more questions about military security and the stress of combat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. GEORGE CASEY, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: This was a kick in the gut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Army Chief of Staff General George Casey gives us the latest on the massacre and the broader question about wartime stress and readiness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR-ELECT: I pledge to you, over the next four years, action and results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Republicans win major off-year election prizes, but is there a national message? We'll ask Virginia's governor-elect Bob McDonnell about health care, rising unemployment and his path to a Republican recovery.
Plus, our "American Dispatch" from Fort Lewis in Washington state. An up-close look at wounded warriors fighting their pain and a solemn farewell to a fallen soldier.
And as the world marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, gets "The Last Word."
This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, November 8th.
KING: We begin this morning with the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. Twelve soldiers and one civilian were killed and 38 others wounded in Thursday's mass shooting by an Army psychiatrist. Fort Hood plans a memorial service on Tuesday and the White House says the president and the first lady will attend. Also on hand will be our guests this morning. The Army chief of staff, General George Casey, whose job includes managing the severe stress of the force because of eight years of war and repeat deployments.
KING: General Casey, thank you for joining us. One of the big questions people want to know is was Major Hasan acting alone? We understand now that he's off the ventilator and that he is speaking to investigators. What do you know about that question?
CASEY: Well, John, obviously, as you know, there's an ongoing investigation, and I can't speak to the particulars of the investigation or to any motivation of Major Hasan's. But I can tell you, I was at Fort Hood with the secretary of the Army, John McHugh, on Friday, and it was at once a gut-wrenching and an uplifting experience.
Gut-wrenching because the suspect is one of our own and it happened on one of our bases and uplifting from the stories that I heard of our soldiers rushing to the aid of one another. But it's a kick in the gut.
KING: If you look at the front pages for the last few days, this is from the "San Antonio Express News." "Iraq vets weren't stunned by spree." Some who knew the suspect doubted his loyalty, stability.
What does that -- what does the Army know about this man in the days and months before this? Because many people say he openly opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are these Internet postings attributed to him saying that a suicide bomber was akin to a soldier diving on a hand grenade to save his comrades.
CASEY: And again, that will be all part of the investigation, and we are encouraging soldiers and leaders who may have information relevant to the information about the suspect to provide that information to the criminal investigation division and to the FBI.
But again, that's something -- you know, there's been a lot of speculation going on, and probably the curiosity is a good thing. But we have to be careful. Because we can't jump to conclusions now based on little snippets of information that come out.
And frankly, I am worried -- not worried, but I'm concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And I've asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that. It would be a shame -- as great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.
KING: You have about 2,000 -- I mean, it's 1,900-something Muslims...
CASEY: About 3,000 active Guard and Reserve.
KING: Three thousand active Guard and Reserves. Do you believe there is discrimination against them to some degree now? CASEY: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I worry that -- again, the speculation could cause things that we don't want to see happen.
KING: This man, Major Hasan, a psychiatrist. He's charged with one of the great missions you have in the Army right now, helping the men and women of the armed services, and in your case the Army, to deal with the stress, the constant stress of these deployments and the like.
And yet, and I don't want to get into the facts of this investigation, I understand, but if you have someone who was known to openly oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, should somebody like that be counseling somebody who might have PTSD and be coming home wondering about maybe a combat operation where they had to kill people, questioning themselves what they did?
CASEY: Yes. Again, I think it's a fair question. It's one that we certainly, as an Army, want to know the answer to, and we will take a hard look at ourselves to make sure that we properly executed our responsibility to organize and train the Army. But again, way too soon to get in there and form any hard judgments about that.
KING: One of the -- if you talk to his family members, one of the things they say is that he was very troubled. He had been troubled for some time, but he was about to be deployed, and he was very, very troubled. And they say that he wanted out. That he had tried to get out of the Army, saying that he did not believe he belonged.
I know you're short on psychiatrists, I know you're on short mental health professionals, but is there any record that he actually requested to be let go?
CASEY: John, again, I can't get into anything dealing with the motivations of the suspect. And that will all come out in the course of the investigation. I can tell you that we have put a huge effort into the mental fitness of this force over the last several years.
You know, since 2007 we have mounted a major stigma reduction campaign that has greatly reduced the stigma to coming forward, to get help for mental problems. We have a lot -- we have a way to go. But what I'll tell you, the stigma against mental health is not necessarily just for the Army. This is a societal problem that we all have to wrestle with.
KING: And you mentioned the stigma of mental health. I was out at Fort Lewis in Washington state, just as this shooting was unfolding at Fort Hood, your largest installation in Texas. One of the guys I met is a remarkable hero. His name is Danny Dudek. He is a lieutenant colonel, was in the surge in Iraq, was paralyzed from the waist down.
In the old days, he would be sent home from the Army. But he wants to serve, and he now runs the warriors in transition unit out there. They have 500 to 600 soldiers. Some have just sprained an ankle or broken a leg, but others have traumatic brain injuries and PTSD and lost limbs, and many of them are trying to get back on the battlefield.
They have in that unit, one social worker, social worker, not a psychiatrist, for every 50 troops, which they say is great progress. But I want you to listen to Lieutenant Colonel Dudek who talks about how they could use more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. DANNY DUDEK, COMMANDER, WARRIOR TRANSITION BATTALION, FT. LEWIS: We're all making strides and working really hard to improve on the great behavior -- you know, the traumatic brain injury center that we have here, but, you know, to some soldiers, it's just -- you know, we can't get them -- all brought to them and we just don't make it on some of these soldiers. And that's just not acceptable to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We just don't make it on some of these soldiers. What is it that you need? Is it more time, is it more money, is it more studies?
CASEY: No, certainly not more studies. You know we have hired over -- just in the last two years, over 900 more medical health providers. The tri-care regions have hired over 2,800 providers. We've instituted a program with the Department of Defense called Military Family Life Consultants, where we get certified behavioral health specialists and resurge them towards the returning brigades.
It is a challenge across the country in the number of mental health providers that are available particularly in rural areas. And it's something that we all need to work together.
KING: I want you to hear your own words from about two years ago. This is General Casey testifying at the House Armed Services Committee, September 2007, about this very challenge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY: We're also challenged by the lack of availability of mental health specialists, both inside the Army -- I think we're under 80 percent -- and in the civil sector supporting our bases. And we're taking measures to increase the number of mental health specialists that are available to soldiers and families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY: At least I'm consistent.
KING: You said you've made progress since then, but I guess the question is, is it good enough, and what else can be done, in the sense that if you pick up the "Washington Post,' they say the Army currently has 408 psychiatrists for its force of 545,000 people?
That would be a woefully low number to many, given all the stress these men and women are under.
CASEY: But -- I mean, psychiatrists aren't the only providers here. I mean there's a range of different providers here in behavioral health specialists. And again, we continue to grow and build a number of providers for our soldiers and family members. And I think that we ought not forget about that. It's not just about the soldiers, it's about the family members and it's about the children who are affected by this.
KING: There was a remarkable woman, police officer, who came to the aid on Fort Hood. And a question I have faced from women on the staff, if you look on the Internet and look at blog postings, there are many who say if this heroic woman could come and essentially disable this shooter and stop the killing and perform so admirably, why can't women have a more active role in combat operations?
It's a question, of course, you have faced.
CASEY: Yes. And I don't think there's any question that women have played a much more active role in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, there is no front and rear lines in the type of combat that we're fighting today.
And frankly, if you look at the number of the victims, both killed and wounded, there were a good number of female soldiers who were part of that processing. They were headed off to combat.
KING: If you had five minutes with Major Hasan, what would you ask him?
CASEY: You know, someone asked me that the other day. And I said the same thing. I can't go there right now. We have to let the investigation take its course.
KING: Can't go there because of the investigation or can't go there because of your own emotions about the incident?
CASEY: No, can't go there because of the investigation. And anything I might say as the leader of the Army could hinder that investigation or prosecution down the road.
KING: Do you believe he would be prosecuted in the military system or in the civilian system?
CASEY: That is something that is being actively worked between the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.
KING: Much more to discuss with General George Casey, including whether the troops exist, where would he find them if President Obama decides to send thousands more to Afghanistan.
KING: Some important context before we continue our conversation with the Army chief of staff, General George Casey. Let's take a look here at the stress on the United States military. A hundred eighty-eight thousand troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 750,000 members of the service have been deployed at least twice in the past eight years. Up to 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans and 20 percent of Iraq veterans experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
KING: Let me ask you a broader question about the potential impact of this. Fort Hood is the largest Army installation. It is critical to getting forces overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, other operations around the world. Will this incident and the investigation and the potential impact on the soldiers at Fort Hood affect the decisions you have to make about rotations of troops?
CASEY: Right now, there is no operational impact of this particular incident. That may change over time as we look at the specific impact on some of the units that we're scheduled to deploy. But broadly, across the Army, this will not have an impact on our ability to provide trained and ready forces to Iraq and Afghanistan.
KING: It does happen, though, at a time the force is under significant strain. I want to go back through some time, just to go through this. This is in August of 2007, you talked about the significant strain Iraq and Afghanistan were placing on your ability and the Army's ability to respond to challenges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY: Today's Army is out of balance. We're consumed with meeting the current demands and we're unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies, nor are we able to provide an acceptable tempo of deployments to sustain our soldiers and families for the long haul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's fast forward from 2007 to just last month, October 2009, and it sounds like the situation hasn't improved much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY: We are so weighed down by our current demands, it's difficult to do the things we know we need to do to preserve the all-volunteer force and to prepare to do other things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And at this moment, General Casey, the president of the United States has been meeting with his war council, deciding, should I send 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, maybe 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan. As the president nears that decision, if he says 30,000 troops, 40,000 troops, do you have them? Where do they come from?
CASEY: Back to your question here about the levels of stress. I mean, the Army remains out of balance. But we started in 2007 with a program to get ourselves back in balance by 2011. And since 2007, we have added 40,000 soldiers to the active force, which is a significant step forward, and we're off at 15-month deployments.
We're beginning to come off of stop-loss, and we're beginning to gradually increase the time the soldiers spend at home between deployments. So we are making progress, and we are frankly in a better position today than we were two and a half years ago.
We need to continue to make progress toward that goal one year out, two years back for the active force; one year out, four years back for the Guard and Reserve. We have scientific studies that we've just completed that shows that after a year in combat it takes you about two years to get stress levels back to normal garrison levels. And so we need to continue to make progress towards that goal.
KING: Can you continue to make that progress if the president has to send 30,000 or 40,000 more troops, decides to send...
CASEY: We'll have to look at the specifics of the president's decision, but again, as I said, we have already made progress, and I would look for that progress to continue.
KING: To what do you attribute the suicide rate? If you look at the charts -- and we have some of the numbers, you can go back to 2004, 67 suicides in the Army. 2005, it was up to 87. Then the numbers jump, 2006, 2007. 2008, 140. So far in 2009, 117.
And about a third, about 35 percent of these suicides are from soldiers who have not yet deployed. What does that tell you?
CASEY: What it tells you is that predicting human behavior remains very, very difficult. I mean, as you saw on your chart, since 2004 we've increased our suicides by an average of about 18 a year. Last year, we exceeded the civilian rate.
Unfortunately, the progression will remain about the same this year. We'll exceed the number of suicides last year. We've had a very aggressive program to get after this, to include a suicide stand-down across the entire Army.
One of the things as we looked at the challenges facing the Army was that we felt we were a little light on the preventative measures, in giving soldiers the skills that they need to prevent mental problems and suicides.
And so we instituted in October a program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which is a long-term development program designed to build resilience in our soldiers. And it's already implemented across the force.
Tomorrow, we'll have 150 sergeants and a few family members up at University of Pennsylvania going through the first course to build master resilience trainers. And our goal is by next year to have one of these trainers in every battalion in the Army.
So we're looking at it both from the preventative side and from the assistance and treatment side. KING: And when you sit here and you think, you know, long way to go, but you've made considerable progress from where you were, and then something like Fort Hood happens. Do you say, isolated incident, or does it make you rethink? Are we really making all this progress I think we're making?
CASEY: We have to go back and look at ourselves and said -- and ask ourselves the hard questions. Are we doing the right things? But, again, we'll learn from this incident. It's way too early to draw any kind of specific conclusions from it, but we'll ask ourselves the hard questions about what we're doing and about what impact -- what changes we should make as a result of this incident at Fort Hood.
KING: How does General George Casey deal with stress? These issues that your men and women are facing every day, and perhaps thinking a little bit more about it on this Sunday because of the tragedy last week. How do you deal with it?
CASEY: I'll tell you, Friday was, as I said, a gut-wrenching and uplifting day. And my wife and I went home, talked a lot about it. And then yesterday, I went for a long bike ride. And I find that's helpful, just to get a little physical activity.
KING: The president of the United States will be down at Fort Hood on Tuesday for a big memorial service. I know the brass from the Pentagon will be there as well. What is the message you need to hear from the commander in chief at this moment?
CASEY: I think the message that the commander in chief will come up with is the same message that he came up with in his Saturday radio address. That as horrific as this incident was and what it showed about the bad side of human nature, the reaction of our soldiers is something to be extremely proud of.
And the full -- and I think he'll also let them know, let the people know that the full support of the United States is behind them.
KING: General George Casey is the Army's chief of staff. Sir, thanks very much for being with us.
CASEY: Thanks, John.
KING: When we come back, a shift to politics. Republicans made some inroads in Tuesday's off-year elections and we'll talk with one of the big winners, Governor-elect Bob McDonnell of Virginia, about the big issues facing his state and the country -- rising unemployment, health care reform.
We'll also ask whether his victory is the start of a Republican comeback. Stay with us.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King returns in just moment but first we want to give you some of your headlines here.
The president has delivered a challenge to lawmakers. Now that the House has passed a bill overhauling health care, the president says it is time for the Senate to act. He's encouraging Senators to get to work on their version of that plan. But passage is less certain. So many Republicans oppose that measure.
It was a late night on the Hill with passionate debate going on after most Americans had already called it a night. Here are some of the voices who spoke out in favor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DONALD M. PAYNE (D), NEW JERSEY: There will be a positive emphasis on prevention with vaccinations, mammograms and colonoscopies that will be covered with no out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, there will be lower premiums for million of all Americans who will see the donut hole. I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and vote for this bill.
REP. PETE STARK (D), CALIFORNIA: I encourage each of my colleagues to join me in voting yes. I can assure you these guys aren't going to have to pay for it in the future.
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D), NORTH CAROLINA: We have an obligation, constitutional and moral, to provide for the general welfare of every American citizen. Allowing a broken health care system to continue to bankrupt families, businesses and hospitals, and deny coverage to millions is a failure of duty. We must act now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right. Now for the opposers. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: If your kitchen sink is leaking, you fix the sink. You don't take a wrecking ball to the entire kitchen. This bill is a wrecking ball to the entire economy.
REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: You know the constitution starts out "We the people." If this bill passes, especially this section, let's scratch out "we the people" and write in the phrase, "we the subjects of big government."
REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: This bill is not a health care bill. This bill is an affront on the moral, morality of the provision of American health care.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: And I don't think there is a member on either side of the aisle who doesn't realize that this is unsustainable. That this will wreak havoc on our country, wreak havoc on the future for our kids and our grandkids.
REP. HOWARD MCKEON (R), CALIFORNIA: Support the Republican alternative and oppose the Pelosi plan. This is an absolute disaster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And the lone Republican Party who voted yes on the House bill joins us tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
We want to get you the latest on the Fort Hood shootings. The suspect is breathing on his own. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is in critical but stable condition. He was taken off the ventilator last night.
The condition of some of the victims have also been upgraded. Seven remain in intensive care.
You know, Louisiana isn't taking any chances on Hurricane Ida. The storm has barely entered the Gulf of Mexico and the governor there, Bobby Jindal, has already declared a state of emergency. The state is advising residents to log on to getagameplan.com -- getagameplan.org, I should say. Again, getagameplan.org. Ida is expected to begin impacting the U.S. Gulf Coast as soon as tomorrow night.
I'm Don Lemon. See you back here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King returns in just a moment.
KING: Joining me now from South Bend, Indiana, fresh off his big win Tuesday night as the Republican governor-elect of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.
Mr. McDonnell, thanks so much for joining us. I want to start with the health care debate in the House of Representatives last night. In the campaign, your campaign, a successful campaign in a state that President Obama had won just a year ago, you were very critical of the House Democratic approach.
Can this work as you go to become governor of Virginia? Is this workable for you, the way the House approaches this?
MCDONNELL: I haven't read all 2,000 pages of that bill. I did watch a little bit of the debate last night, John. I think there's legitimate issues of cost and access that have got to be addressed at the state and the federal level.
My concern is just from hearing from Virginians over the last couple of months is the increase in cost, less choices, perhaps longer waiting lines, and more government control. Families and businesses in Virginia told me they're very concerned about those, taking money from Medicare, maybe $400 billion.
So I need to digest what happened last night. I only saw a little bit of the debate. But the public option does not seem to be something that is going to help us in Virginia.
KING: The public option is in the House bill as they create a national public option to compete with private insurers. On the Senate side, the debate is whether to have an opt-out or an opt-in. MCDONNELL: Right.
KING: Right now Leader Reid's proposal would allow states to opt out. Others have said, why not create an approach where states could opt in? That would be a key choice for a governor.
Do you want -- would you prefer an opt-out or an opt-in, I guess, is the best way to ask the question.
MCDONNELL: Well, either way, my preference would be not to have Virginia participate from what I know this plan contains. So -- however they structure it that if it gives flexibility to states, I think that's a good thing. We've outlined a number of things I think we can do at our state level, John, that will help our people have more access at a lower cost, but I'm very concerned about turning this significant section of the American economy over to the federal government.
KING: You're in an interesting position, the new Republican governor of a state that voted for President Obama had had five of the last seven gubernatorial elections won by the Democrats. For the first time in nearly 40 years has two Democratic U.S. senators.
Yet you were very clear in your campaign that if you see something happening in Washington that you don't think helps the people of Virginia, you will stand up. I want you to listen to yourself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCDONNELL: I believe that a governor needs to stand up to Washington. I don't care if they're a Republican or Democrat. If they do things that are bad for Virginia, that are going to kill jobs or raise taxes or create new bureaucracy or hurt small business, I will be a governor that will stand up and say, that's not good for Virginia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You've made clear health care is one of those issues, especially on the question of the public option. What else? Where else do you see yourself at odds with Washington?
MCDONNELL: Well, first, I look forward to finding the common ground. For instance, charter schools and merit pay. The president was very nice and called me on Wednesday, and we talked a little bit about that. I look for those kind of areas of common ground. It's what I did as attorney general. I want to continue to look for those.
But -- and Senator Warners and Webb called me as well, and we had a very nice chat and pledged to do what's good for Virginia. But bills like card check, cap-and-trade, some of the unfunded mandates on business and the stimulus bill, some of the other micromanagement of the free enterprise system, significant tax increases, those are the things, John, that I don't think are good for our citizens or good for our business.
And I believe in our federal system that the governors, Republican and Democrat around the country, closer to the people can make some of these decisions better.
KING: Your Democratic opponent and Democratic critics tried to campaign against you as someone who was captive to the far right, who would advance the far right social agenda. You smartly and strategically focused on jobs.
I want you to listen to a snippet of one of your campaign ads, one of your signature promises.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCDONNELL: I grew up here in Northern Virginia, so I understand how vital transportation is to growing our economy and creating jobs.
My plan -- new money for transportation, while protecting education, funding and not raising taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Not raising taxes, sir, that last line. Thirty states have had to raise taxes or fees or other revenue-increasing measures in the wake of this painful national recession.
Are you convinced, with national unemployment at 10.2 percent; Virginia's unemployment is 6.7 percent -- can you restate that promise that you will be a four-year governor who does not raise any taxes in Virginia?
MCDONNELL: Yes. I mean I think that's the worst thing you do in a recession is to raise taxes on -- on the citizens. We're going to have hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes at the federal level with this health care bill. When the tax cuts expire in 2011, it's going to be a crushing increase in new taxes.
People told me everywhere I went, John, they wanted the government to work better, be more accountable, be more user-friendly, be more transparent. So I've promised audits of our state agencies, finding ways to innovate, to consolidate, to privatize. People want a better bang for their buck out of their government and don't want to have a tax increase every time we have an economic downturn.
We had one about every decade since the Great Depression. And if the tax increase is the only resolution, we're never going to control government spending.
KING: Republicans were thumped in 2006, thumped again in 2008, and they now have a governor-elect in a state that President Obama had carried and said was convincing evidence of a turning Democratic tide.
What is Bob McDonnell's message to a Republican Party as it prepares to head into a midterm election season looking for a road to recovery?
MCDONNELL: Well, I think one of the reasons we were very fortunate to win is we stuck to our conservative principles. We translated those into common sense, practical solutions. You played the clip. We talked about job creation and transportation, economic development, energy, government efficiency, keeping taxes low.
All these are kitchen-table, bread-and-butter issues, John, that citizens all over the state told me, this is what we are concerned about right now.
Secondly, be positive. I think that's one of the reasons we were fortunate, the message, overwhelmingly, on TV, was an uplifting, positive message about how we can improve Virginia economic development.
And three is just stick to your word. I've said things that I'm going to do. I'm going to bring people together on both sides of the aisle, find those common solutions and get people to work together for the good of Virginia. I think, if we do that, Republicans have bright days ahead.
KING: And what about on the social issues on a state level? Does a McDonnell administration wants to advance any new initiatives on abortion, any new initiatives governing or regulating same-sex marriage?
MCDONNELL: We've already passed the constitutional amendment on the marriage issue. I've made no secret, throughout my career, I'm pro- life. I believe we need to defend the sanctity of innocent human life.
But I do think we need to find those areas like adoption, improvement in the adoption laws, the fatherhood initiative. President Obama has been -- been a leader on that. I'm looking for ways to implement that. Because people on both sides of that issue think we need to find ways to reduce the number of abortions.
But, overwhelmingly, John, I've got to focus on creating jobs, improving the economy, and managing this budget. That's what people, I think, overwhelmingly elected me to do and that will be my focus.
KING: Bob McDonnell is the Republican governor-elect of Virginia. And, Governor, when you have that title full-time, come up from Richmond and visit us some day. We'll check in how you're doing.
MCDONNELL: Hey, that's a great offer, John. Thanks a lot.
KING: Next, he was part of one of the most iconic moments in the past century. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, shares his memories and what it meant to him and to the world.
Mikhail Gorbachev gets "The Last Word" next.
KING: Seventeen newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows, but only one gets "The Last Word," and that honor today goes to a man who helped make history, the former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Mr. President, thank you for joining us on the eve of this historic moment. In an American classroom today, a student who has no memory of the Berlin Wall falling is taught this. That it was the end of what Ronald Reagan called the evil empire, the collapse of communism and a victory for freedom and democracy.
Twenty years later, sir, how do you see the lesson? How would you teach the moment of the wall falling?
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET UNION PRESIDENT (Through translator): Well, a lot happened. A great deal happened 20 years ago. And during those 20 years -- first of all, a very important event happened in the Soviet Union in 1989, and that was free elections, the first free elections in the history of Russia.
For the first time, the voters could vote in a competitive elections, in an open way. They elected the parliament of the state, and the parliamentary system was launched, as well as separation of powers, and that was a big breakthrough in the country's development.
It was the creation of a new state, in effect. Glasnost, pluralism, political, economic pluralism -- all of that was testimony that our country was moving along the path of democracy.
At the same time, this affected -- even though we did not interfere in other countries, but our process affected and influenced the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. And here, again, we did not interfere.
The citizens of those countries decided what kind of a regime they wanted to have, who they wanted to be president, what kind of government. All of that was part of the velvet revolutions -- you called them velvet, and not velvet revolutions, but it was profound change.
And add to this, the fact that we were at that time successfully improving relations with the United States. We signed a treaty that eliminated two classes of nuclear missiles. So all of that showed that important fundamental changes were under way.
KING: Let me follow with this question. If you look at the early history, you see Gorbachev, Reagan, Thatcher, transformational figures in history. The United States has a new president now that the world is just getting to know in Barack Obama.
Do you view him, sir, as a transformational figure in history?
GORBACHEV (Through translator): Well, I do believe that the president, the new president, Barack Obama, really is facing a very difficult challenge. He needs to express, to give expression, in his policies to the changes that are expected today.
Three years ago, I was giving a lecture in someplace in the Midwest of the United States, and there were more than 10,000 people in the audience. And one person, when they started asking questions, one person was particularly insistent, they're asking what is my advice to Americans? He said, things are not going right in America. What's your advice? What should we do?
I said, well, I don't think we should give advice to Americans because no one should impose one's views. It's for you Americans to decide what you need. And I said that soon you will have elections and you will decide.
Nevertheless, he insisted. And then I said, I cannot give you a prescription, a recipe for change, but I believe -- I said that Americans need their own perestroika. And the 12,000 persons who were in that arena rose and gave me an ovation.
And I said to my interpreter, Pavel, who's still working with me, I said to him that, "Well, America is on the brink of big change."
And therefore, yes, President Obama is a president of whom a lot is expected, a lot of change is expected. Had there not been this kind of hope, I don't think that he would have been elected.
Yes, a lot is expected of him. His -- the other candidates, they -- the others were too much associated with the previous period, and people, therefore, did not trust them.
I believe that the election campaign in the U.S. was unique. It was unprecedented. The whole world was watching, and a great deal became clear to everyone, including the Americans.
And the fact that so many people voted, the turnout which was unprecedented in many years meant that people understood that a lot depended on their choice and that's why they decided to take a stand.
I learned today that Congress, the House of Representatives, has approved the reform of the health care system, and I'm glad that this happened. It means that he is leading and people are following. And a lot, of course, is still ahead of us.
The Senate will consider this. But, still, the fact that this process is under way on an issue on which President Clinton slipped and could not achieve it, today this is under way and I think this is very important.
So when I speak about Obama, well, of course, it's a big theme, and I want him to have enough strength for all of those reforms. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to conduct reforms in countries like Russia and America.
KING: Mr. President, you made the historic decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The president of the United States is now facing recommendations that he sends maybe 20,000, maybe 30,000, maybe 40,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Should he send more troops, or should he get out?
GORBACHEV (Through translator): I think that what's needed is not additional forces. This is something we discussed, too, years ago but we decided not to do it. And I think that our experience deserves attention. We decided to emphasize the domestic developments in Afghanistan, national reconciliation. We gave a chance to return to participate in the country's affairs the various clients that affected the situation. We addressed also this issue through an international conference, and we were in consultation with Americans, with the Iranians, with Pakistan and with India. And I think that such an issue should be addressed in this way.
Of course, when we are facing a dangerous concentration of terrorism, and we see that in this situation, certainly, terrorists must be defeated. But the overall emphasis must be on the dialogue, on the revival of Iraq, probably Afghanistan, of the long-suffering people of that country.
Yes, the withdrawal from Afghanistan should be the goal.
KING: Up next, we head out west, to Fort Lewis in Washington state where you'll up-close as soldiers and their families deal with the physical and mental strain of eight years of war.
KING: Earlier in the program, you heard from General George Casey about the stress and the strain on the military and the investigation into the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. So I was out at Ft. Lewis, Washington as all that played out, way out here on the West Coast, on this army post, just as they heard about the tragedy at the base in Texas.
At Fort Lewis, 30,000 military personnel are based there, 18,000 are currently overseas serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stryker brigades are the specialty of Fort Lewis. It has been a terrible, tough few years for the base, 230 soldiers from Fort Lewis killed since 2001.
It is a remarkable place. And as they were dealing with the tragedy unfolding at Fort Lewis, trying to find out what was happening to their colleagues in arms, they also were burying one of their own. And as you go across the base, you see wounded warriors trying to fight their way back to good health and back to the battlefield.
KING (voice-over): The pain is excruciating.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't lock your right knee. There you go.
KING: But to Specialist Michael Ballard, pain is the price of progress.
SPC. MICHAEL BALLARD, FIFTH STRYKER BRIGADE, FT. LEWIS: We ran over an IED in Afghanistan. I broke the top of my femur with the plate and screws. Now -- actually two months later, I'm actually able to walk, do some walking on my own. Physical therapy is coming along every well. KING: Once the hip heals, Ballard will need knee surgery. His mission, all this struggle is about more than just walking pain-free.
(On camera): What's your ultimate goal?
BALLARD: To get back out in the fight, return to duty.
KING (voice-over): Eight-plus years of war have taken a heavy toll on the army and its major installations, communities like Fort Lewis. As it said farewell to one of its men this past week, Private First Class Brian Russell Bates was killed in an IED attack in Afghanistan, Fort Lewis buzzed with news of the horrific shooting underway at Fort Hood.
COL. KERRY HAYNES, CHAPLAIN, FT. LEWIS: We are a community of brothers and sisters at arms and an event like this affects us all.
KING: All the more shocking here because the post is a soldier safety net, a place to be with others who understand, a place to train, a place to honor and remember. And now, more than ever, a place to repair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, six...
KING: Many like Specialist Ballard have physical wounds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's 10 pounds more than you did last time. Keep going.
KING: Other wounds are harder to detect. At the Fort Lewis Warrior Transition Battalion, twice a month on average, a soldier either attempts suicide or tells counselors of suicidal plans.
BRIG. GEN. JEFF MATHIS, SENIOR COMMANDING GENERAL, 1 CORPS, FT. LEWIS: What we now understand more than anything else is that there is a cumulative effect. We understand this not only from multiple deployments, but from multiple -- as you said, explosions or incidents that take place.
KING: Two-thirds of Fort Lewis' combat troops are already overseas. Yet Brigadier General Jeff Mathis says troops and their families know the debate about sending more troops to Afghanistan could mean more deployment cycles.
MATHIS: If we continue to see these kinds of deployments, will there be stress on the force? Absolutely. I meet with families. We have consultants that meet with families, trying to do everything we can to ensure that we're alleviating that stress in every way. So I would like to see longer dwell times, but we're going to do what our nation asks us to do.
KING: Lieutenant Colonel Danny Dudek went to Iraq after the last big political debate about sending more troops.
LT. COL. DANNY DUDEK, FT. LEWIS: I was a unit, I was part of the surge. I was a fourth Stryker Brigade.
KING: On his office wall, constant reminders.
DUDEK: July 2007 and an explosive form projectile which is a pretty vicious type of an IED came through the back of the Stryker. It killed the kid next to me and hit me in the back. It damaged my plate and hit my spine and immediately I couldn't use my legs.
KING: On his wrist, a reminder of the comrade killed in the attack and his experience now shapes Colonel Dudek's command of the Warrior Transition Battalion.
As many as 600 soldiers at a time, with issues ranging from ankle sprains to post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
DUDEK: I don't think we've really cracked a nut on how to really get at PTSD and TBI. This is the most complex job I've ever had, being in a battalion where people are going through the most difficult thing they've ever had to deal with.
KING: Specialist Ballard's goal is to get back on the battlefield. Colonel Dudek's injuries are too serious for that, but he's in the army to stay.
DUDEK: Having to separate from the uniform is really the heartbreaking piece of it. That's the hardest thing I can't imagine is not being a soldier. Taking the uniform off is something I dread. I have to be honest with you. I really want to be a soldier and have the uniform on until they make me take it off.
KING: Our thanks to Colonel Dudek, Specialist Ballard and all the heroes we met out at Fort Lewis. As you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington -- this Washington, Washington, D.C., as often as we can. We've made it our pledge on STATE OF THE UNION to travel to all 50 states in our first year. So far not bad. Forty-three weeks, 43 states, including Washington, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Check our CNN.com/stateoftheunion where you can see what we learned when we visited your state. And we'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Take care.