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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

"The Last Word": Mitt Romney

Aired December 6, 2009 - 12:00   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."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): President Obama escalates his war of necessity.

OBAMA: I have determined that it is in our vital national interests to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

KING: Can he win over skeptics who question the exit timetable, the costs, and the legitimacy of the Karzai government? In an exclusive interview, I'll sit down with national security adviser, General James Jones.

Then the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and the No. 2 Senate Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona.

In our "American Dispatch," we visit a military school in Roswell, New Mexico, where for some, an escalation in Afghanistan could mean future orders to the war zone.

He says the president's plan to turn around the economy was a miscalculated failure. Former Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, gets "The Last Word."

This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, December 6th.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We begin this Sunday with President Obama's decision to substantially increase the American troop presence in Afghanistan. The commander in chief says the surge is necessary, but insists it won't be open-ended. The president's new war strategy is raising concerns among his critics and some of his supporters. Here to talk about it and break it down is the national security adviser, retired Marine Corps General James Jones. General, welcome back.

JONES: Thank you, John.

KING: I want to begin with just a short time ago, our Christiane Amanpour had an exclusive interview with President Karzai of Afghanistan. And he says that while he wants to help and he's appreciative of the United States' help, when it comes to getting the Afghans ready by July 2011 to start taking over the security of their own country, he says he might need a little bit more time. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: We will try our best as the Afghan people to do it the soonest possible. But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If it takes longer, they must be with us. There's been some confusion, some on the left saying, 2011, we start to draw out. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates in taped interviews yesterday saying, there's no deadline, there's no firm exit strategy.

Help us clear it up. If President Karzai needs more time, will the American troops stay as long as necessary?

JONES: John, the president's decision on 2011 has more to do with the transition than anything else. We want to see over the next two years more Afghan capacity developed quicker, under -- the rule of law in the government, less corruption, better leaders at the provincial levels and in the ministers, in the ministerial levels. We want to see responsibility taken by the Afghans themselves in increasing doses (ph), more visibility of the Afghan army, better training for the Afghan police. And in 2011, when we achieve those -- we achieve those goals over these two-year periods, we will be able to see more Afghanization of this problem, and we will be able to make some withdrawals of our own troops, because they'll be more capable.

KING: But if they're not more capable...

JONES: But it is not a cliff. It's a glide slope. And so, certainly, the president has also said that we're not leaving Afghanistan. We are here to make sure that Afghanistan succeeds. We can't want this any more than the Afghans do. President Karzai leads his nation the way we think he can, this is a very achievable objective.

KING: And President Karzai also said in that interview, he believes in five years, 2014, the Afghans should be capable. That is his goal of taking control of the entire country. Do you share that assessment, or is that overly optimistic, given the poor history of the past eight years in terms of training the Afghans and then keeping them in the military once they're trained?

JONES: I think it's very good to set goals, and I'm glad that President Karzai has set a goal for his country. We will do everything we can to help him lead that country to that direction, as will the 42 other countries there with us.

The important thing is that after eight years now, we get on with this. We've had five years in his first administration. We can do much better, and I think there's more focus and more sense of purpose now than ever before. The status quo is clearly not working. KING: As you know, there are some critics out there who don't like timelines, and normally military men don't like timelines. Were you comfortable with this during the process when the president said, I want to have a timeline for leverage on the Afghan government, or did General Jones say, you can't put a timeline on the military?

JONES: In this particular case, I think it's a good idea. Because -- and you can see already the reaction, globally, with the other countries who have rallied to the president's side on this, being a very good and useful forcing function that just simply had to be done.

KING: Let's go through some of the criticism. Senator John McCain says if you put a timeline out like this, you're essentially telling the Taliban, lay low if you want and come back a little bit later. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region, all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Answer the point that, essentially, by telling the Taliban, you're going to begin to withdraw in 2011, that why wouldn't they just lay low or creep back across the border into Pakistan and wait this out?

JONES: Well, I think it's important to remember that this ramp- up in troops, another 30,000 on top of the 33,000 that we put in this year, is going to have a very, very positive effect on any momentum that the Taliban claims to have or might have achieved over the last few years. And 2011 is not a cliff, it's a ramp. And it's when the effects of this increase will be, by all accounts, according to our military commanders and our senior civilians, where we will be able to see very, very visible progress and we'll be able to make a shift.

KING: Where's the end of the ramp? If the beginning is 2011, where's the end of the ramp? Is that 2015, 2020?

JONES: Well, the end of the ramp will be predicated on exactly how much progress we're making with regard to the capability of the Afghan national security force, the better governance that we hope to see, both at the national and regional levels and local levels and tribal levels as well. The capabilities of the Afghan national security force that we expect to bring online very quickly...

KING: If you can't give the American people a rough target date -- you have a target date to begin to withdraw. Do you have a target date for the end?

JONES: We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times. We have -- we're going to be in the region for a long time. We want it to be -- we want this relationship to be, as we have with all struggling democracies, we want to be helpful. We want to transition from more of a purely military relationship to a civilian relationship. And we want to establish -- we want to make sure that the people in the region have an opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations in peace and stability.

KING: I'm going to ask you to come with me over to the magic map so we can take a closer look at some of the stakes here. And one of the things I want to do as we get started -- is to just -- don't worry about that, bring that out, I'll come along with you.

I just want to draw a line across the country here. I'm going to essentially split the country in half and then get it to draw -- draw there, and we'll come across here like this. And the reason I'm doing this now is I want to help people understand the stakes here.

First, let's take a look at where the NATO troops are right now. If you look at it right now, here's the deployments as we go. And you see all the American flags mostly inside the line, the Canadians, the Turks in there with us as well, the French, the Brits, some of the Australians, other NATO forces up here.

Now, why is that important? Here's a look. The darker the province, the stronger the Taliban.

Is this going to remain largely, for the most part, an American fight inside this line, where things are the toughest?

JONES: Well, we have nations -- other nations with us inside the line in the southern regions as well.

KING: Go back and show that here.

JONES: Exactly. And more importantly, we're going to have Afghans in this region as well. We have asked the Afghan national security forces to commit between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans in the southern region to bolster our troops.

KING: Down in here?

JONES: Exactly right.

KING: Right.

JONES: Yeah. So...

KING: But will the new NATO forces include combat forces who are going in here and doing the dirty work alongside the Americans?

JONES: Well, yes, I think it will, but the other thing that it will do is it will stabilize the north and the west of the country, which is very important. And secondly, we have other forces that are working in other parts of the country. And that will allow us to move our forces back towards the border regions, where really the most important struggle that we're going to have is to make sure that on the Pakistani side of the border, that we eliminate the safe havens.

KING: Right. JONES: John, probably the most important thing that we need to achieve strategically in the next two years is to work with our friends in Pakistan and make sure that these safe havens are eliminated. If that happens, everyone agrees that if that happens, the strategic effect to the west, in this -- in the country of Afghanistan, will be much, much easier. If the safe havens stay, then the problem is longer and more difficult.

KING: Well, then, help us understand that, then. What is the commitment? Because many have questioned the commitment of the Pakistani government to do that. They say they go after the indigenous Pakistani Taliban, but they are not going up in here, where you have the Afghan Taliban that has come over the border and had refuge. Is part of the new strategy -- is there a new commitment from Pakistan to do more up in here?

JONES: We are working with the Pakistani authorities, the Pakistani military in an increasing atmosphere of trust and confidence and realization that these problems have to be -- have to be tackled. This is a cancer in the region that affects not just Afghanistan, it affects Pakistan as well.

And I think the Pakistani government and the military deserve a lot of credit for what they've done in the last seven or eight months, first in the Swat Valley and second in South Waziristan. And of course we have -- we want to encourage them and help them in any way we can to go into the other areas to make sure that we scatter these insurgents.

If you scatter the insurgents and they don't have a base of operations, then you have the upper hand. And this is how we got into Afghanistan, because this was a base of operations, we were attacked from here, and we want to make sure that Afghanistan does not once again become a launching pad for other attacks against us or our friends.

KING: As a candidate, Senator Obama said that if the Pakistani government was not doing what he thought was necessary as president, that he would send U.S. forces over the border to take out a high- value target. Does that policy remain in effect with President Obama?

JONES: We have high confidence that Pakistan has come to the understanding that they need to take care of the problems inside their border. To the extent that they will do that, this is good news. We're going to be doing everything we can to make sure that that happens. And we will work with them in every way possible to make sure they are successful.

KING: Let me ask you one last question, at the map here. As you look at this region and you push the Pakistanis to do more, one of the question marks is, is he there? Is Osama bin Laden somewhere in this mountainous region right here? When was the last time -- you've been in office now almost 11 months, since you have been the White House national security adviser, have you seen intelligence -- reliable intelligence about where he is? JONES: The best estimate is that he is somewhere in North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border.

KING: Right in here? JONES: Very, very -- exactly. Very, very rough, mountainous area. Generally ungoverned and we're going to have to get after that to make sure that this very, very important symbol of what al Qaeda stands for is either, once again, on the run or captured or killed.

KING: All right. We're going to have to get after that. You mean, a more determined, a more focused, some new effort to get him?

JONES: I think so. I mean, if we -- we need to make sure that the al Qaeda stronghold in North Waziristan, in that region, which is still planning -- actively planning operations, they're targeting us and targeting our friends and allies, does not become a reality.

KING: General James Jones, we'll be back with the general in just a minute. We'll break down more of the challenges ahead in Afghanistan and we'll also ask him about other pressing challenges facing the president. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with National Security Adviser General James Jones. Let's talk a bit about the politics now of selling the president's strategy. Here's the cover of this week's TIME magazine, "It's His War Now." President Obama on the cover greeting cadets at West Point after his big speech last week.

Those who are criticizing this general, saying that we don't need 30,000 more troops and we don't need an open-ended commitment to doing this, many of them are using words that you spoke right here two months ago. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: The good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If that assessment remains correct, fewer than 100 al Qaeda, 20,000 or so Taliban inside Afghanistan. Answer the critic out there who says, why do we need 100,000 U.S. troops and then 40,000 or 45,000 NATO troops to go after 25,000-27,000 people?

JONES: Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that we want to make sure that al Qaeda doesn't -- can't re-establish bases in Afghanistan. But more importantly, this is a comprehensive mission where quite a significant portion of our troop increase will be devoted to training and mentoring the Afghan forces and developing them more rapidly so that the army and the police can have a more successful effect in the country.

So when you're talking about the number of troops that we're trying to put in there, some of them are support personnel, some of them are training, some of them are mentors. It's not all combat troops. So we want to respond to General McChrystal's assessment that the Taliban had, in fact, regained some momentum. I know he was concerned about that.

This will buy the time and space that we need in order to get these other things going. Get the Afghan governance established. Get the Afghan national security forces established. Better integrate the cohesive aspects of our economic development program and coordinate an international effort. It was going to be 5,000 to 7,000 more NATO forces as well.

So this is a -- there is much more energy and positive direction in this than we've had -- and focus, than we've had anywhere in the last few years.

KING: I covered the White House for quite some time, nearly nine years, and both President Clinton and then President Bush, will tell you that being president is a lot different than running for president. As a senator and as a candidate, Barack Obama was very harshly critical of the Bush surge policy in Iraq. And I want you to listen to him on the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The responsible course of action for the United States, for Iraq, and for our troops is to oppose this reckless escalation and to pursue a new policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And yet, if you look at "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," both have stories today detailing the process that you led to get ultimately to this decision. Obama pressed for faster surge. He was so critical of the policy in Iraq. But it says in both of these accounts that on November 11th, he turned to General David Petraeus, the architect of that surge, and said, I need one of those.

Has the president come to appreciate -- would he now call the Iraq surge a success?

JONES: Well, I think -- that Iraq is on the right path. And I think the president recognizes that and understands that the surge played a role in that. But it was -- as you know, more than just the troop increase that contributed to the turnaround, the situation in Al Anbar Province, which was not a surge benefactor, but also coincided to have a popular uprising.

JONES: We are looking for Afghans, as a result of this renewed commitment for the next two years, to also understand that this is their moment, this is their time to coalesce around an opportunity that they have to make their country what they wish it to be. And I think that everyone around the table in uniform or out of uniform coalesced around the strategy and after, as you know, many hours of deliberation, came up -- came up in full support of what we're about to do.

KING: A good general, as you are, listens to his officers on the ground. I want to read you something from a lieutenant on the ground in Afghanistan. Lieutenant Richard Allis says, "We're still not at the point where the Afghans can either stand on their own or at least lead or plan missions. I'd say we're at least four, five years away from that." Four or five years away from that is well past July 2011.

JONES: It depends on where you are on the ground. You could probably find another lieutenant in the north or in the west from another country who would say, "This is pretty calm. This is -- this is pretty good."

KING: General James Jones, the national security adviser, sir, we appreciate your coming in today to help us understand this.

And there are a number of questions about the president's war strategy coming from Congress. We'll sort through those with two leading members of the Senate. Stay with us.

JONES: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

JONES: Appreciate it.

KING: Thank you very much for coming in on Sunday.

JONES: Appreciate it. It's my pleasure. Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Among the concerns being raised in Congress about the president's new Afghan strategy, the wisdom of an exit timetable, how to pay for the war, and whether President Hamid Karzai's government can be trusted. Here to talk about all of those issues, Senate's number-two Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and the Democratic chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein of California. Thank you both for coming in.

KYL: Thank you, John.

KING: Let's start with General Jones. When you were here a couple months back, you said you wanted a timeline, a timetable on the Afghan strategy, because you thought it was adrift. He now calls it a ramp. He says there's no firm date to get out. They hope to start transferring control, as the president said, in July 2011. Does that satisfy you?

FEINSTEIN: It satisfies me, yes, because I think it's a transitional period. I think it sets a goal. I think it enables an evaluation. I think it's a concentrated sense of attention. And if you can begin to remove troops, that will happen. I think this...

KING: "If you can?" No guarantee?

FEINSTEIN: Well, look, you know, the president has said we're there to -- to win. And so if we're there to win, let's have a strategy and the tactics to go with the strategy to win. This surge enables that. It has worked before; it has a chance of working now.

It's a difficult circumstance; there's no question about that. And a lot of the difficulty comes from the corruption in the Afghanistan government. Now, hopefully, if President Karzai cooperates, if we can secure and protect and hold certain areas, you can begin to tamp down this enormous opium population that fuels the Taliban. You can begin to put real agricultural relief and development in places that can replace the poppy. You can begin to build some of the economic development and, most importantly, train both the military and the police so that they can, in effect, hopefully, within 14 months or longer, take care of their own nation.

KING: You are among the Republicans, Senator Kyl, who said, Mr. President, why? Why would you set a date? You can't do that in a sensitive military operation like this. Have they mitigated your concerns some? Secretary Clinton says it's not a firm deadline. Secretary Gates says, you know, it's conditions-based. You heard General Jones saying it's a ramp, that they hope to start to transfer in July 2011, but he couldn't say how long that ramp would run. Have they answered your concerns?

KYL: Well, first, let me say that most of the Republicans with whom I've -- in fact, all that I've spoken with are supportive of the president, they want this mission to succeed very much, and we will do everything we can to support his policy.

I think he has complicated matters by having this firm beginning of withdrawal date. I mean, he said it is chiseled in stone. But what happens the day after and how many troops come down, I think, is the question. And as long as that's conditioned base, it has a chance of succeeding. The reason I -- I said it complicates matters is that, in war, will matters. In fact, the whole object of war is to break the will of the enemy to fight.

KING: Pakistan is one key partner; the other key partner, of course, is President Karzai. And he does not have a great track record if you look back at the last six or seven years.

He did an exclusive interview this morning with our Christiane Amanpour, in which she put the question to him about the president's strategy, will you be ready? The president says in July 2011, you need to start to take control and then quickly take control all across the country. Here's President Karzai.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: We want to have in Afghanistan in another two years the ability to lead operations and provide security for the Afghan people in -- in many parts of the country, especially parts of the country where we have trouble fighting -- and -- and -- and terrorism and trying to bring violence down. By the end of a five years term of -- of the current government, we plan to lead operations for the security of the Afghan people in all of Afghanistan, in the whole country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you believe -- is there a new commitment from him that -- is 2014 a reasonable benchmark to now write down and say, "Let's hold him to it"?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I believe our government has made the point that he has to shape up. And I also believe and hope that we will condition any aid to go directly to localities as much as possible, instead of to the central government and if it goes to the central government, to those ministries that we know are corruption-free.

And there are key strategic ministries, I'm told, that are, in fact, corruption-free. If that's the case, we've got a chance.

KING: Do you trust him?

KYL: He's a very charismatic and very capable leader. If he commits himself to the goals that both he and the president have talked about here, I -- I believe he can be successful, but he's got to commit himself to those goals, and there's no question that there is corruption within his administration and, some assert, within his family.

As a result, again, when I was in -- in Kandahar, for example, tribal leaders there were very distrustful of him, and they wanted us to stay and to be able to rely on our commitment. So he's going to have to change his ways.

But I know he's a -- a smart leader. He knows our support is not unlimited. And in that regard, all of the things that Senator Feinstein said that he's got to do, I think he understands, and I certainly agree with all of those things.

So what choice do we have but to work with him, watch him carefully, push him where we have to, support him when we can, and try to work this together so that we achieve the mission. That's the bottom line here.

KING: You're the chair of one of the most sensitive committees in the Congress, the Intelligence Committee.

What does the intelligence tell you about the possibility -- if the United States' mission is now successful, and you're routing out the Taliban, you're getting the 100 or so Al Qaida left in Afghanistan, if those troops are doing their job, and some of the Taliban and Al Qaida then go across the border into Pakistan, is there a risk of instability in Pakistan, a nation that has nuclear weapons?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm not going to give you any precise classified information. But I am going to say, I -- I think there is a serious concern. I think Al Qaida has, in effect, metastasized. It may be limited in numbers to a few hundred, but they are training, they are funding, they have outreached. You now don't just have Al Qaida, but you have a very serious criminally oriented, ideologic Taliban.

You've got Lashkar-e-Taiba. You've got the Haqqani network. You have a kind of fulminating amalgamation of terrorist groups, each of whom is striking in different places.

I never thought I would see the mosque that was attacked in Rawalpindi, highly secure, restricted to the elite of the military, and yet they were able to strike with impunity, not just one, not just two, but several people.

And I think that if we do not abate this threat in Afghanistan, that Pakistan will be next. I believe they are on a march. I believe that you cannot deal with the leadership. Maybe some of the followers can be changed and you can work with them and you can grow them into decent human beings.

But this is a regime, you know, that has taken women into the stadiums and shot them in the head in the back for minor crimes. This is a regime that has thrown acid in the face of young girls trying to go to school. This is a regime has bombed schools. This is a regime that explodes IEDs from a mile away.

So I think the intelligence is such that it says, this remains to be a threat. and if you don't address it, it will grow. And if they can attack the West, they will.

KING: Do you believe, then, Senator Kyl -- again, to the trust question, you mentioned your trip to the region. Does this Pakistani government understand it, as Senator Feinstein explains it, and will they have a comprehensive, continued and sustained effort, not only against the Pakistani Taliban, but against the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda that have come across the border, or will it be, as we have seen over the years in many cases, episodic, that when pressured, they have some actions and then they pull back?

KYL: The single biggest factor that will influence that decision is our commitment. If the Pakistani leadership believes that we are going to stand with them, that we will support them -- bear in mind, we don't have troops in Pakistan, so they have to do all this themselves. But there are ways that we can support them and have been doing so.

And if they believe in our commitment to be with them, I think they will and I think they have the ability to do that. And what Senator Feinstein said about working together is absolutely correct and critical. But if they believe that our will is limited or our commitment is limited, then, as they have done in the past, over centuries, deals will be made, accommodations with potential enemies arrived at, because they have to stay in the neighborhood long after they think we're gone.

So I go back to what I said in the beginning. If our will does not flag; if our commitment remains strong, I believe the Pakistanis can and will be with us. And as Senator Feinstein said, it's critical in our effort to succeed in both of those countries.

KING: Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona; Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, thank you both for coming in this morning.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.

KING: Up next, a quick check of today's top headlines. Then, he says the president's economic policies are putting the United States in an even deeper hole. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gets the last word.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is responding to President Obama's new war strategy in Afghanistan.

In an exclusive interview on CNN's "Amanpour," President Karzai says it will take at least two years before Afghan forces can begin taking the lead in security operations. He's urging patience from the international community, saying that, if it takes longer, quote, "They must be with us."

President Obama makes a rare visit to Capitol Hill this afternoon. The Senate is meeting on Sunday. And the president will meet with Senate Democrats and urge them to work out their differences on health care reform.

Key sticking points: the government-run public option and abortion language. Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union."

And up next, he's been highly critical of the president's approach to the economy and health care reform. Former and possibly future Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gets "The Last Word," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Twelve newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows, but only one gets "The Last Word." That honor today goes to the former Massachusetts governor and the former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who joins us from San Diego.

Governor, it's good to see you. I want to get up and go straight to the map here, because I want your assessment as a former CEO to the strength of our economy. As you know, the government said on Friday the unemployment rate fell from 10.2 percent to 10 percent. And I want to just play out for our viewers, this is the job losses during the Obama presidency. The high numbers, the high numbers, 11,000. A relatively low number. You feel for those 11,000, of course, but that is the smallest number in the past year.

Does that convince you, Governor Romney, that we have bottomed out and that growth, including job growth, is just around the corner?

ROMNEY: Well, it's a helpful sign, a hopeful sign. But it's not the final word, of course, because you're seeing some Christmas hiring at retailers, but you're not seeing any improvement yet in manufacturing or construction. And until you see numbers there bottoming out, you're still concerned.

Frankly, the stimulus didn't work. The president indicated it would hold unemployment at 8 percent. It rose to 10 percent. We have more people out of work today in America than even during the Great Depression. Not as a percent, but total number of individuals. And this is a national crisis. And we need to reshape this stimulus to make sure that instead of growing government, it actually helps people on Main Street, growing private-sector jobs.

KING: You mention that. And I want to show that to our viewers. You mentioned the number of people unemployed. This is jobs in the recession. And you see, as the rate goes up here, the rate goes up, that's 10.2 percent. It came down to 10 percent. But then if you look at this graph here as it plays out, you mentioned the unemployed persons in millions. In December 2007, 7.5 million Americans. Now we're up at 15, more than 15, approaching 16 million Americans.

What should the president do in the short term? A lot of Republicans have said we're in this deficit, we can't run up more deficits. What should he do in the short term to create jobs? ROMNEY: Well, put the brakes on the stimulus plan. Stop spending money on government, and instead create incentives for businesses to buy things and to hire people, by, for instance, having a more robust investment tax credit, by letting businesses expense capital expenditures in the first year for the next year or two, by lowering the payroll tax. At the same time, stop all the talk about cap-and- trade. That holds back job growth.

And of course, this plan to take over the health care system means that about one-fifth of the economy has put its brakes on and is not willing to invest because they're so concerned.

Look, the president has to recognize that the only way we're going to get this economy going again is by encouraging the private sector rather than continuing to grow government. Massive deficits and growth of government is not the answer.

KING: Let's look at some of the proposals he will lay out on Tuesday. It sounds like you'd agree with some of them. I'm guessing you don't think they go far enough, but here is what we are told the president will do at his job summit ideas. A cash for caulkers, they're now calling it, people weatherize their home. You give them some incentives. The idea is you get more energy-efficient homes, and you also hire people to come in and put in the new windows and take the other steps.

Tax credits for businesses who hire new workers. A payroll tax holiday. Access to TARP -- that's the bailout funds -- for small banks, and an extension of unemployment benefits.

Is that a good down payment, a good plan, in your view?

ROMNEY: A number of those things reflect a good start. But they're not going to get the economy going again alone. You're going to have to have something far more substantial than that. And by the way, TARP has served its purpose. TARP ought to be ended. We've got hundreds of billions of dollars there that is being used as a slush fund by Secretary Geithner and the Obama administration. Stop the TARP recklessness at this point and get ourselves back to creating jobs by encouraging businesses to grow, expand their capital expenditures and hire.

And by the way, when you give people special incentives just to hire new employees, of course you give them an incentive to let current employees go.

The best thing to do is to lower the payroll tax and to give businesses tax credits for making investment.

KING: I want to turn -- you mentioned the health care debate. The president's on his way up to Capitol Hill today. The Democrats are still trying to get 60 votes to move things forward in the Senate. As the health care debate continues, the bill you passed in Massachusetts as governor often gets mentioned. And it has had some pretty good access when it comes to expanding access. Ninety-seven percent of Massachusetts residents are now covered. That is by far the highest in the country. The health care costs for the state were a little more than $1 billion in fiscal 2009. And the state now predicts they will go up more next year.

The cost of the program has been one of the questions in Massachusetts. And among the critics is a man you might see on the campaign trail should you decide to run again in 2012, the Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAWLENTY: If you don't also contain costs and preserve quality, you're in big trouble. And the federal proposal is largely modeled so far after what happened in Massachusetts. They succeeded in extending access, but the cost of that program has now double, triple, and some would say soon to be quadruple what they originally estimated. That would be a bad development for those of us who are concerned about the uncontrollable rise in health care costs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does Governor Pawlenty have your plan right there?

ROMNEY: No, I'm afraid facts are stubborn things, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has taken a good look at the Massachusetts plan some three or four years after it was passed, and it is well within the original forecast. It's about -- a little over 1 percent of the state budget. And in fact, virtually all of our citizens are insured.

And there's an important difference between what we did and what President Barack Obama is proposing. Number one, we solved our problem at the state level. Let states deal with the problem of uninsured individuals.

And, number two, we have no public option. There's no government option. And what's primarily wrong with the president's plan is that he wants to get the federal government into the health insurance business. It's going to require massive subsidies, a trillion dollars of costs down the road.

That is not the right way to go. Instead, let states solve this problem and let them find their own plans. And by the way, if other governors can come up with something better than I did, congratulations. We'll copy one another. But the states should be the laboratories of our democracy, not a federal government, one-size- fits-all plan imposed by Congress.

KING: Let me move your attention to foreign policy. I am going to show our viewers here the cover of Time magazine this week. "It's His War Now." President Obama greeting cadets at West Point after the big speech last week, 30,000 new troops. He says he wants to start bringing them home, send them in over the next 18 months, try to hurry and get most in in six months, then start bringing them home in July 2011.

You said this about the president a little more than a month ago. You said, "I think he's made America less safe in that our friends are more concerned about the reliability of the United States."

The president, of course, would dispute the fact he's made the American people less safe. But with this announcement, sending in 30,000 new troops, getting NATO to commit 7,000, do you see progress? Would you give the president a higher mark today than you did a little more than a month ago?

ROMNEY: Yes. I think he's made the right decision with regards to Afghanistan in a general direction. His decision to support the surge, which, by the way, he did not support when it was an Iraq issue. His decision is the right decision.

And by the way, you're noting that Republicans are not making this a political football. Republicans are saying, yes, we're behind the president. He's done the right thing here. Took him a long time. That was a mistake, of course. I think he is mistaken also in sending these conflicting and confusing signals about the timeline, because you don't want in any way to have the people in Pakistan, the leadership in Pakistan, or the people in leadership in Afghanistan, thinking that somehow we're only in there for 18 months and then we're getting out no matter what. That's not the message you want to have heard.

And I also must admit that when the generals come to the president and say, look, we need a minimum of 40,000 U.S. troops, my first question is not, OK, how can I get it down to 30,000? My question is what's the right number? If 40 is the minimum, is it 45,000 you need or 50,000? I think we may have been a little unwise to cut back on that number. But overall, is it the right direction? Yes. Has he made some mistakes in implementing it? Yes, but we sure hope it works.

KING: Let me close. You are about to go on the book circuit early in the new year. At a Senate event last night where Governor Palin was, her book is doing quite well. Mitt Romney's book "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness" will be released in March. We're showing the cover to our viewers there. Are you going to catch up to Sarah Palin on the best seller list? What's your secret for selling books?

ROMNEY: I'm afraid I'm not going to catch up to her breakneck pace. I understand her publisher came to her with a $5 million up front fee. My publisher's talking to me with about a $5 million number, but I just couldn't come up with that kind of money. I'm afraid my numbers won't be very big. It's not a story about my life. It's a story about the challenges America faces and what I think we need to do to get America back on track to make sure we are, as we've always been, the hope of the Earth. We're a very special nation.

KING: And is it a book that you hope keeps interest in Mitt Romney down the road out there in terms of maybe running again in 2012?

ROMNEY: What I hope it does is have people understand that we're headed on a course of real uncertainty, that this nation could become eclipsed by China or Russia or by others and that's the wrong course. That instead it's essential that America remains strong and that the policies that are being adopted by the Democratic Congress and the president are weakening us in many respects. And we need a stronger America. I lay out why I think that's important. And hopefully people will listen and act accordingly.

KING: We'll give it a read when we get it. Governor Romney, we appreciate your time today.

ROMNEY: Thanks John, good to be with you.

KING: Take care, sir. And up next, we head west to Roswell, New Mexico, where for military academy students the president's new Afghan strategy isn't just academic, it's very personal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president's Afghanistan escalation was the subject of our travel this week, our focus, as we traveled to New Mexico. We went down to Roswell, New Mexico. It's very remote down here. It is the home of the New Mexico Military Institute founded back in 1891. It has over 800 students at the moment and 17 percent of them will go on to some sort of military service.

Let's show you a few of the famous alumni. Conrad Hilton, he founded the Hilton hotel chain. Owen Wilson, the actor, and my favorite, our friend from our sister network HLN, anchor Chuck Roberts, is an NMMI alumni. So in our "American Dispatch," we went to Roswell to take an up- close look at how wartime adds to the sense of urgency and the commitment to service at a military institute whose students operate under a very strict code of honor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): For Jon Huntsman, every push-up has a purpose.

JON HUNTSMAN III, CADET RECRUIT: I want to go in the naval special warfare program. KING: It's a passion born of watching Navy SEALs train during family vacations along the California coast, one he knows could ultimately land him in Afghanistan or another war zone. HUNTSMAN: If you're in special forces, you train, if you train to be in those parts of the world, in times of war. KING: Huntsman is at the New Mexico Military Institute because he needs to boost his academic standing before attending the Naval Academy at Annapolis. With afternoon workouts, new friends on a similar path to service. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. KING: Chantel Ferguson is committed to the Coast Guard Academy. Mickel McGann to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Stephen Reardon's next stop is the Air Force Academy where Deborah Wright also hopes to earn a spot and learn to fly. DEBORAH WRIGHT, STUDENT, NMMI: I've always wanted to fly planes. I just had my heart set on the air force, and I really want to go there and the fact that the country's at war right now really hasn't hindered that decision at all. KING: NMMI is their stepping-stone. Some come here for high school, others for two years of college or for a one-year program specifically designed to prepare students for the major military academies. The uniforms are a requirement as is intense physical fitness training.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know the initial philosophy. KING: But the foundation is a tough academic environment with an emphasis on math and science, an approach superintendent Major General Jerry Grizzle says stresses both learning and leadership.

MAJ. GEN. JERRY GRIZZLE, SUPERINTENDENT, NMMI: My entire faculty, everyone has master's degree and more than half have a doctorate degree and they're teaching ninth graders as well as they're teaching freshmen and sophomores in college. And so the quality and the value of that education is what people seek and they kind of accept the fact that we do that in a military platform. KING: The president's new Afghanistan strategy is of high interest. Just shy of 20 percent of the students here go on to military service, some directly into the army through an ROTC program, other after moving onto the academies.

HUNTSMAN: Being at a military school obviously I think everyone's all for the president sending 30,000 more troops over there.

KING: And yet Huntsman is skeptical of the president's pledge to surge now and start drawing down U.S. troop levels in July 2011. HUNTSMAN: When I heard the date, well, I know we're not going to be out of there in 2011. I think they just kind of threw out a date there just to kind of give the American people, like, a promise, you know? We're going to try to get out of this mess. KING: Huntsman knows a thing or two about politics. His father and namesake was Utah's Republican governor until he was tapped to serve this Democratic president as U.S. ambassador to China. While skeptical about the timeline, young Huntsman gives the commander in chief high marks for adding 30,000 troops against the wishes of most liberal Democrats. HUNTSMAN: It's risky, but it's for the better of our country not for the better of his party. KING: The college students here have lived in a country at war since they were 10 or 11. The high school students, even younger and those heading next to the service academy say friends often question their choices. MICKEL MCCGANN, NMI: Many people say why are you going into the military service? Why would you give your life? But this is what we want to do. CHANTEL FERGUSON, NMMI: Some of my friends are, kind of, wow! Are you kidding me? You're going into the armed forces?

STEPHEN REARDON, NMMI: When I go home, I get questioned all of the time, why do you do it? Why would you do it?

KING: An answer that they feel a call to serve and they come here to learn and to prepare for the challenges and risks of wearing the uniform in wartime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We thank those young cadets and everybody at the New Mexico Military Institute for their hospitality. And as you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington as often as we can. We made it our pledge here on STATE OF THE UNION to travel to all 50 states in our first year. So far, we're on track, 46 states so far including Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and as you see, New Mexico. Check out CNN.com/StateoftheUnion, where you can see what we learned when we visited your state.

We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington, take care. "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" starts right now.