Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY
Special Extended Edition: BP Oil Spill
Aired May 30, 2010 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: This morning, a special extended edition of "State of the Union" in the wake of a devastating word of another failure in the Gulf of Mexico. The so-called top kill procedure that has been the central hope for plugging the oil gusher didn't work. The announcement came last night from BP executive, Doug Suttles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG SUTTLES, BP: We have not been able to stop the flow. And after significant review with a what could only probably be called a brain trust of engineers and scientists from BP and the industry, the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior, and further reviews by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu, we have made the decision to move on to the next option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: We will talk with BP's managing director Bob Dudley and Louisiana Senator David Vitter. And then we remember those who have died in service to their country and continue to die now in two ongoing wars.
On this Memorial Day weekend, the military, Iraq, Afghanistan, and "don't ask, don't tell" with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: And Virginia's senior senator, Jim Webb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: I just think it was a bad signal for people in the military to do it this way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: I am Candy Crowley and this is "State of the Union."
The big story this morning, another no-go in attempts to stop that gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.
Joining us now is BP's managing director, Bob Dudley. Mr. Dudley, thank you for getting up early and helping explain all of this to us.
We -- I want to read something that caught our attention. It is from your CEO, Tony Hayward, from a statement last night after you decided that top kill was not working. He said, in part, "I am disappointed that this operation did not work. The team executed the operation perfectly and the technology worked without a single hitch."
So I'm left with the question, so if the technology worked without a hitch and the operation was executed perfectly, what the heck went wrong?
DUDLEY: Well, Candy, we are disappointed. We didn't wrestle the well to the ground last night. We are disappointed the oil is going to flow for a while, and we are going to redouble our efforts to make sure it is kept off the beaches.
What he is referring to there was at 5,000 feet, we did set up a technical operation that allowed us to pump these heavy fluids and bridging materials into the well. That in itself is what he is referring to as having been executed well. People did a tremendous job on the engineering and the many scientists, both from the government and BP, made that part happen. But we were not able to overcome the flow of the well. There was just too much flow out the top and we weren't able to drive these fluids down. So we are immediately going to move now to a containment operation.
CROWLEY: So basically you have moved from trying to plug this gusher, which proved more powerful than the mud, and the next procedure tries to contain it?
DUDLEY: That's right. We will put a cap on the top of this well. We will do a sophisticated operation with robots and make a clean cut across the top of a piece of equipment down there called a lower marine riser package, with diamond saws, and then we will lower down over that a cap to produce it to the surface.
We learned some things from the previous cap that we tried that created these hydrates that made it -- flowed, really. And this time, we will circulate warm seawater down around it to prevent that from happening, and our objective is to contain the majority of the oil and gas.
CROWLEY: Some of our reporters have talked to some scientists and some experts on this who say it is possible when you cut that broken pipe that's on top of the blowout preventer that you could make the oil flow more, that it would just become a bigger gusher, at least temporarily, if not for a long time, if this cap doesn't work?
DUDLEY: Right now, the oil is flowing out the top through a number of holes right there that your viewers will see sometimes right above the top of the well, and then down the end of the pipe. We don't believe that that's creating that great of a restriction. There may be a small increase. But we should not expect to see a large increase, if any, by cutting this off and making a clean surface for us to be able to put this containment vessel over it.
CROWLEY: And when you say containment, it is possible that you won't be able to contain it all, that there will still be a leak, but hopefully a smaller leak? DUDLEY: That's right. It is not a pressure-sealed vessel. But we believe it will get the majority of the oil and gas. Because there is such a high concentration of gas, if there is some gas that leaks out, it will look like a lot, but we think we will be able to get the majority through this dome and then produce it up to the surface.
CROWLEY: And is it safe to say that with each new attempt to try to contain or control this gusher, the chances of success get less, assuming that you started with your best chance to begin with? But now we have an even less percentage of a chance that it will be successful?
DUDLEY: Well, I think the top kill operation itself was something that had a level of uncertainty to it, because it was just something that was so new. We weren't sure we were even going to be able to pump that mud in and maintain those pressures.
This is a containment operation that I think is more straightforward. It is certainly not certain at these depths. It will all be done by robots. So I think we moved to the containment, whereas before we were trying to, in an early way, shut off the well flow completely. Backstopping all this will be a relief well which will get down there by August.
CROWLEY: But we are moving toward the possibility as you try option after option that August and those more permanent relief wells may in the end be the only thing that works?
DUDLEY: For shutting off the flow from the well, that's possible.
CROWLEY: But for stopping the gusher completely?
DUDLEY: Right now, we are going to a containment operation. And any of those barrels that we bring out, we'll keep it out of the ocean, and then we will be able to refine this system and either further contain it, and the scientists and engineers who spent all of the night before looking at the pressure data may yet have another idea about how to shut off the flow as well.
CROWLEY: It's just that after some attempts and they haven't worked, you could understand there might be skepticism that we really are looking at August before this gusher can be shut down?
DUDLEY: But, Candy, if we can contain the flow of the well between now and August and keep it out of the ocean, that's also a good outcome as well. And then, if we can shut it off completely with a relief well, that's not a bad outcome compared to where we are today. CROWLEY: It seems to me that looking at these various options that we have been through and the ones that you are now coming up with, that there was not in place any specific plan in case this happened. In fact, we know that BP said that you didn't see this kind of catastrophic event happening. And in any case, you could control it. It now appears that you can't or at least haven't been able to do it for six weeks now. Do you think after this is all over that there are BP executives that ought to resign over the fact that there didn't seem to be any contingency plans for this sort of thing?
DUDLEY: Well, Candy, this is an unprecedented accident in the oil and gas industry. There have been more than 5,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico alone at deep water, 500 or 600 of those below 5,000 feet. BP itself has drilled many of these wells. The failure of the blowout preventers, which is the ultimate multiple redundant fail-safe system, has not happened like this before.
CROWLEY: But still, shouldn't you have been able to kind of foresee? And say, wow, we could -- what happens if all of the sudden, the blowout preventer doesn't work? I mean, things break down. Just because it didn't happen before -- I mean, Toyota didn't have problems with its accelerators before. So I mean, it just seems like somebody somewhere ought to have been in the office of safety precautions and what are we going to do next? And it doesn't seem that was there, was it?
DUDLEY: Well, these multiple redundancies in this blowout preventer -- it's more than just one fail-safe system. It's layer after layer after layer. It's used in the industry all around. And that's why this accident is so significant, because everyone in the industry now has to step back, look at this piece of equipment that generally the industry regarded as fail-safe, go back, figure out what happens, understand it, disseminate that, make sure it doesn't happen anywhere, anytime -- anywhere in the world again.
CROWLEY: BP's managing director, Bob Dudley. Certainly, despite the skepticism, I know everybody wishes you all well in the next attempt. Thank you.
DUDLEY: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: When we come back, we will get reaction on the failure of the top kill from Louisiana senator, David Vitter.
CROWLEY: Joining us now from his home state of Louisiana, Republican Senator David Vitter.
Thank, Senator Vitter. I know you heard...
VITTER: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: I know you heard Mr. Dudley talk, and he says that he believes that BP really can contain this with the next operation or maybe the operation after that. On a confidence scale of 1-10, where are you on believing that?
VITTER: Well, look, I'm done with predicting success. We have been through so many realms. Everybody here in Louisiana is hoping and praying for success. But, quite frankly, all of these failures are enormously frustrating and really maddening.
CROWLEY: Not only that, they are quite damaging. And we are told that this next containment procedure could take four to seven days before we know whether it's...
VITTER: Right. And, as we know, the timeline for the top kill slipped to the right over and over. So who knows? We just want BP and the industry to get on it, do that immediately. And then we also need to really ramp up and improve, in my opinion, the coastal marsh protection plan that the Feds are leading with the state and local government.
CROWLEY: So what do you think another seven days of this kind of incoming oil to your wetlands, your marshes, your beaches, what does that do to Louisiana?
VITTER: Well, you know, Candy, one bit of news, first of all, that was a little lost on folks, because it happened to come at the day of the top kill -- of the attempted top kill, was that the estimate of the flow shot way up. The new estimates are not 5,000 barrels a day anymore, but according to this expert team that the government and others put together, they are 12,000-18,000 barrels a day.
That puts the event already well beyond the Exxon Valdez. And obviously, every more day that that goes on is worse and worse and more significant oil laps up on our coast. You know, Candy, it is not just the coast. Louisiana environment is very unique. What is so damaging and what is so dangerous is when it gets behind the barrier islands and the beaches into the marsh. And that is 100 times more ecologically and economically damaging.
CROWLEY: And so do you think BP has been incompetent here?
VITTER: Certainly, something went way wrong with the event and certainly it seems that BP made enormous mistakes and probably cut corners. In terms of dealing with all of this since then, it is unprecedented, so I don't know. But certainly, there were some horrible things that went wrong and it seems like horrible decisions that led to the initial event.
CROWLEY: Have they been telling us the straight truth, do you believe, post-fire?
VITTER: I don't think they have been transparent enough, real- time enough. I will give you a perfect example. When Thad Allen announced, based on their information, that the top kill was working, it was already 12 hours before that that they had stopped pumping fluids and mud down temporarily because of issues with the pressure.
And my reaction to that is, why aren't we knowing all of these facts, not just me as a U.S. senator, but all Louisiana citizens, why aren't we knowing all of these facts real time? Why doesn't BP and the federal government give an hourly report and say everything they know, the unvarnished truth?
CROWLEY: How has the federal government done? Has there been incompetence there or are you fairly satisfied?
VITTER: I am not satisfied. There has been failure, particularly with the effort to protect our coast and our marsh. And that was the biggest topic of discussion in a very frank meeting we had with the president on Friday.
BP is paying for all of that, but that's really the federal response to oversee and lead that effort to protect the coast and the marsh. And it has been a failure so far. And we explained very clearly the significant changes we think need to happen.
CROWLEY: Well, you need more boom to try to block oil. You need to put up barriers, sort of, sandbars and you have not gotten the money or the permission to do that. Do you think the president...
VITTER: Yes, Candy, that's the perfect -- that's a perfect example. The state and locals came up with a plan on emergency dredging barrier islands well over two weeks ago. For over two weeks, the corps and other federal agencies dragged their feet. Then, they approved moving forward with 2 percent of that plan.
The corps actually permitted almost half the plan. But they approved moving forward and paying for 2 percent. And that's ludicrous. And that was a big topic of discussion in our meeting on Friday with the president and Thad Allen.
CROWLEY: Watching this environmental mess come up and go into your marshes, come up on your shore, why doesn't that dissuade you from ever wanting deep sea or any kind of ocean oil drilling? It seems to me if it is so important, you should be now opposed to that?
VITTER: Well, I mean, by the same token, after every plane crash, you and I should both oppose plane travel. I don't think that is rational. I think we need to get our hands around this event, determine exactly what went wrong. We are going to need a lot of new technology and mandates and procedures to make sure it never happens again. And I will be a big part of that effort.
But to jump from there to say, no domestic offshore drilling, no domestic production of oil and gas, which is basically what you just suggested, I think is a crazy leap, quite frankly.
CROWLEY: I want to play you something the president said on Thursday at a news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me make one final point. More than anything else, this economic and environmental tragedy -- and it is a tragedy, underscores the urgent need for this nation to develop clean, renewable sources of energy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Agree or disagree?
VITTER: Sure, but we are not going to do it next week or next month. So we also need a plan to bridge where we are to that new future. I think the two biggest components of that bridge are natural gas and nuclear. They are here. we can deal with them. They are clean. But, you know, natural gas takes exploration and drilling.
CROWLEY: Senator, I need kind of a quick answer from you on this. We know that we have already -- that there has been the firing of one MMS official who had been overseeing the permit process. Should there be more firings in the federal government because of this?
VITTER: Probably. Certainly MMS. We knew two years ago -- from the scandals two years ago, that there were huge problems at MMS and they weren't cleaned up over these two years. So probably yes.
CROWLEY: Senator Vitter, we really thank you for your time...
VITTER: Thanks, Candy.
CROWLEY: ... out of Louisiana today. we appreciate it.
Up next, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
CROWLEY: As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is the highest ranking military officer in the armed forces. Before we get to our conversation, a look at others who serve under him. Of the 1.6 million active members of the U.S. military, about 30 percent serve overseas in more than 150 countries. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the greatest number serve in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. A quarter of all troops overseas are in those three countries.
The Department of Defense lists eight countries where just one active U.S. military member is stationed. The most significant recent change in troop deployment is the drawdown in Iraq and the buildup in Afghanistan. A year ago, four people were serving in Iraq for every one in Afghanistan but this week, the Pentagon reported that for the first time since the beginning of the Iraq war, there are now more troops serving in Afghanistan than in Iraq. My conversation with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in just a moment.
CROWLEY: President Obama plans to remove all combat troops from Iraq in August, leaving behind about 50,000 support troops. CNN polling provides a snapshot of this country's apprehension on Memorial Day, 2010 -- 64 percent of those polled say they favor the plan, 35 percent are opposed. But that changes significantly in the case of an unstable government or widespread violence. In that scenario, the country is split -- 51 percent say they would still favor withdrawals, 48 percent would be opposed. The new polling also shows growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan. In March, 48 percent favored the war, 49 percent opposed. Now, just 42 percent favor it, 56 percent opposed.
We are here to talk about where things stand with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of other things military is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, thanks for joining us.
MULLEN: Nice to be with you, Candy.
CROWLEY: I want to start first on the oil spill because whenever there is some big catastrophe, people want the military because they sort of see it as an efficient way to get things done. I know that you are there helping with the dispersant, getting that out and other activities. Do you see anything further that the military could do to be helpful? MULLEN: Well, we worked hard since this incident was initiated and had provided, right now, to 1,400 National Guard troops. But we are really responding to their request. We are very much in a support role here.
You have seen Admiral Thad Allen, who I think has been terrific as the incident commander, the incident lead specifically and we are putting every capability that we have. We have brought thousands of feet of booms in terms of being able to try to contain this but it really is not for ours to lead right now because of the technical challenges, quite frankly. And as best I've been able to understand, the technical lead for this in our country really is the industry. You can see obviously the challenges that they are going through to try to figure out how to stop this.
CROWLEY: Is there anything obvious that you think, well, could do this if asked?
MULLEN: There is not anything obvious at all. We have participated in the meetings here in Washington and actually down on the scene. We are offering everything we can possibly do to try to help.
CROWLEY: Let me move on to Iraq. You saw that polling, the scheduled troop withdrawal on the 31st. Despite the fact we have no real agreement on the government months after the election, there has been an up tick in violence. Do you see any way that withdrawal in toto won't happen?
MULLEN: Well, we are very much on track right now to get to 50,000 by the end of August. Obviously, the key issue for Iraq right now is to stand up this new government. Actually, I'm somewhat optimistic in the sense that there has been a recount of the election results and that's come out very well. And we are watching the political maneuverings right now in terms of standing up this government. And while there has been an up tick in violence as there has been since last summer, none of that violence has really resulted in sectarian response or sectarian violence. Certainly, we are very much aware of that. But all indications are that we are on track and we will stay on track to be at 50,000 by the end of August.
CROWLEY: But it is possible that it could slide?
MULLEN: Well, I mean, we plan for contingencies in every situation. And certainly we are very engaged with General Odierno to understand literally day to day how it is working. But right now, the trends are moving in the right direction.
CROWLEY: I want to read you something as it was in the "Washington Post." It was written by John Nagl, who is currently president of the Center for a New American Security. But he was an army officer in Iraq. And he wrote, speaking of Afghanistan and Iraq, "There are many connections between the two wars and the fact we only have one army is one of them. We just don't have enough army to do everything we want to do right now." The underlying text here is we are withdrawing from Iraq because we need to go to Afghanistan. MULLEN: Actually, we are withdrawing from Iraq because we are on a plan that really took a significant step forward last summer when the Iraqi security forces took charge of their own security. We came out of the cities and the trend since then have actually been moving in the right direction.
We will get to a point here over the course of the next 12-24 months where with drawdown in Iraq and also the increase in troops in Afghanistan, though that will -- we will increase in Afghanistan up to about 100,000 or so, when the last numbers of what President Obama approved for Afghanistan last December get on the ground, in the fall, that when we get those troops in Afghanistan, we get down to 50,000, we will be in a position to start to create more time in between deployments, which has been the real challenge, for our ground forces, both the army and the Marine Corps.
So I see over the next couple of years, an ability to get to a point where we are home twice as long as we are deployed. So right now, as far as troop numbers are concerned, I'm comfortable. Clearly, there is linkage. But we are not coming out of Iraq so we can support Afghanistan. Right now, in the plans we have, we can do both.
CROWLEY: Let me ask about Afghanistan. You have an important vote coming up on Capitol Hill soon that will continue funding for the two wars.
CROWLEY: Some resistance even from Democrats who -- some who went over -- Nancy Pelosi said in a recent interview, she is not altogether sure that the president, Hamid Karzai, really has done enough to stem the corruption that is within the government. Are you satisfied he has done enough?
MULLEN: He was here a few weeks ago. And we had a very, very positive visit with him, and what came out of that visit from my perspective -- and I spent a fair amount of time with him and his ministers -- was a commitment to a strategic partnership and the evolution of this partnership. And President Karzai knows very clearly what he needs to do with respect to corruption. CROWLEY: Has he done that?
MULLEN: He has taken some steps and my interaction, not just with him but his ministers, they know that things like the major crimes task force, which we have in place, they are participating in. They know they have got to set up the kind of rule of law and judicial proceedings and structure in order to deal with this over the long term. And so we are moving in that direction.
Clearly, a lot more needs to be done, but from my perspective, President Karzai knows what he needs to do, what he has to do, and we're moving in that direction.
CROWLEY: Did the move on Marjah take longer than you thought it would, in the Helmand province?
MULLEN: Actually, the way Marjah was planned and executed was what we expected. Some of the governance piece of this, which is the piece you set up after you provide security, has been a bit more challenging, but I think realistically, this was going to take many months to get to a point where it was irreversible. And we are not there yet. Actually during the day, security is much improved. The bazaars are open. There are schools open that weren't open before. And there are still challenges that the Taliban are creating in the -- at night. And we understand that. This is pretty normal counterinsurgency. These are counterinsurgency responses, and so we see that, we know what we have to do to address it, and it's going to take several more months for it to really settle out and so that it won't be reversed from where it was.
This is it, this is an area the Taliban ran for the last two and a half years. That it was going to be difficult and challenging, something we expected. But I think certainly from a strategic, a strategy standpoint, we are going to be able to see our way through this.
CROWLEY: If you will stick with me for a minute, I have more to ask on Afghanistan, Pakistan and other spots. We will have much more with Admiral Mullen right after the break.
CROWLEY: And we are back with Admiral Mike Mullen. Let me ask you about another hot spot in Afghanistan, Kandahar, really the stronghold of the Taliban. When will we know that the U.S. and allied forces have been successful in Kandahar?
MULLEN: Well, we have really started shaping this operation over the last several weeks. And it won't be an operation that is a D-day kind of operation. Probably, the most critical part of Kandahar is going to be the setting of the governance. When I was there a few weeks ago, it was very clear in dealing with the elders that I spoke with at a shurah that they are anxious to have not just security, because that's critical, but also that medical care, education, jobs, the standard things that citizens around the world expect from their government, they are anxious to see the governance and the government in Kandahar in the city and in the province itself provide for its people.
CROWLEY: Kandahar is the whole ball of wax, isn't it? I mean, as Kandahar goes, so goes Afghanistan?
MULLEN: I think it is -- I liken it to Baghdad during the surge. I think Kandahar, the focus on Kandahar, it is where the Pashtuns certainly are central. There is a very complex set of relationship between the tribes there that in fact make that place tick or don't let it tick. I also think it is reflective of the entire country.
So what we're doing in Kandahar, what we will do with our Afghan partners and in many cases with them in the lead and our coalition partners over the next several months will really be critical, and I think by the end of the year, we'll certainly from a trend standpoint know whether this thing is headed in the right direction or not.
CROWLEY: Before we talk about, don't ask, don't tell, which I do want to get to, let me ask you about a report that special ops have began to move into various countries, including Iran. What can you tell me about that and can we see this as a prelude to getting ready in case Iran does build nuclear weaponry?
MULLEN: Well, I routinely don't talk about operations specifically. Clearly we have a continued focus on Iran, on their continued -- my belief, their continued desire to achieve nuclear weapons capability. We are in the sanctions world right now with respect to moving sanctions through the U.N., which I think is very important. And I am still hopeful that the diplomatic side, the engagement side will continue to lead these efforts. But as far as speaking about specific operations, I just -- I just don't do that.
CROWLEY: Let me move to don't ask, don't tell. You favor repeal, which would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. I want to play you something you said in February about a military-wide effort to see how the rank and file feel about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULLEN: There really hasn't been any significant, statistically significant and objective survey of our people and their families. And that gets to the chiefs' concern and mine as well, which really is engaging them in a way that we really understand their views on this. And that just hasn't been done. And as urgently as some would like this to happen, it is just going to take some time to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Well, all of the sudden, there is urgency. All of a sudden, what we see is the Congress is moving very quickly toward repeal of don't ask, don't tell before that survey comes in, and even though the repeal wouldn't happen until at least 60 days after the survey comes in, I talked to Senator Webb, former Navy secretary, former Marine in Vietnam, who said this just totally disrespects the service for Congress to move before you actually find out how they feel about various parts of this repeal? MULLEN: Well, I have said that from my personal point of view, that I think the law and the policy should change. I have also said and repeated what you just played, that it is important to make sure we get through this review so that we understand that should the law change --
CROWLEY: Really, what's the point, sir, if I could ask, because they are going to repeal it. It is going to be repealed anyway. And isn't there a certain amount of disrespect to say, we are going to repeal it, now what do you think?
MULLEN: I still think, and so does the Secretary of Defense, it is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges should the law change.
Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review. Also, the congressional clock is sometimes pretty difficult to predict. Certainly, the votes last week indicate that it is moving but in terms of when it possibly might change, that's really not done. The other thing that the language does permit, it permits myself, the secretary of defense and the president to certify, and that certification is key in terms of when we would be ready to implement it and whether in our judgment, how it will the change is going to affect the things that are the top of the list for me, including readiness, unit cohesion, recruiting retention. So all that is in very much still in play and in ways, it makes this review in collecting the information and understanding what's going on at the death plate level from our troops and our families that much more critical. So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes.
CROWLEY: Admiral Mike Mullen, thank you very much.
CROWLEY: Appreciate it and good Memorial Day to you, sir.
MULLEN: Thank you.
CROWLEY: And when we come back, a conversation we did earlier with a senator who served as a marine in Vietnam and navy secretary, Virginia Senator Jim Webb next.
CROWLEY: Joining us now, the Democratic senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Thank you so much for being here.
WEBB: Good to be with you, thank you.
CROWLEY: I want to start out with Afghanistan. We have been there almost nine years. We need Afghanistan to get a countrywide military force, a countrywide police force, before we can feasibly leave. At least that's what has been set up. I want to quote a question you once asked which is when is enough enough? We are asking Afghanistan to do something it has never done before. How long?
WEBB: You are absolutely right. And that's the way that I asked the question to General Petraeus and General McChrystal last year when they came forward and announced the strategy. I was Afghanistan in '04 as an embedded journalist before I decided to run for office. I got around in a way that I would never be able to get around as a senator, quite frankly.
The two questions that I put to them were, how are we going to be able to build or help build a national army/police force of this size when they have never done it before in the history of Afghanistan? The largest national army they have ever had was about 80,000. We are talking combined with a quarter of a million people. Can we really do that? Is that a prerequisite for the handoff so that we can leave? And the other is, can you do a national army in the absence of a stable national government? So we have two intangibles that we really can't control that are prerequisites for us to do the handoff.
And the evidence is not in a positive way right now. We hope we can do this. On the ground, people are doing it tactically very well. But that's the big question.
CROWLEY: But Marjah has taken longer than they thought it would take, in sort of getting in control and putting a government in place. What is the answer to the question that you asked them? We know what they think. What do you think? When is enough enough?
WEBB: Well, the question has never been in any of these involvements the tactical success of our military. They are going to be successful tactically in the areas that they work. The question is whether you can put these other pieces together. We are having the same problem in Iraq right now where the timetable has been moving out and there's a question of whether we will be able to meet that timetable and I think quite frankly that we should.
CROWLEY: Let me turn your attention to Korea and something the secretary of state said recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea. And the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: She is talking about the torpedo attack by North Korea on a South Korean boat. More than 40 South Koreans perished. Will not go unanswered? Has it gone unanswered? It seems as though it has. What kind of leverage do we have over North Korea at this point?
WEBB: Well I think that first of all, rightly so, the South Koreans and the United States have been very careful in laying out the evidence in a non-provocative way in terms of containing the situation in Korea. The key factor in the Korean situation in my view is China. Just as in the rest of East and Southeast Asia, I have spent a good bit of my time in my life in this region. And the connecting dots all through East Asia and Northeast Asia right now are making sure that China assumes an overt responsibility for solutions. I didn't see our administration pushing China enough on Korea. China is the patron of North Korea. Korea is a buffer state for China. They listen to China. Kim Jung Il was in China not long ago where he got the big embrace there. And if China won't step up in an affirmative way, then we're not going to get the right type of resolution. So the key to this is our having the courage is to call out China and ask them to be more responsible.
CROWLEY: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it was all laid out how this was going to happen. The military was going to go out, they were going to interview the troops, find out how they felt about them, how they thought it should be, the repeal should be instituted. Suddenly, Congress decides to put this into a defense money bill. And the House has passed it. The Senate is working on it.
How do we look at this as anything other than political at this point? This looks as though a constituency of the Democratic Party said, we may lose in November. We have to get this done now and it looks as though the Obama administration wants in fact to please a constituency of the Democratic Party. Isn't that what this is about?
WEBB: I was really disappointed in the way that this process was accelerated. I was the only Democrat that voted against this in committee markup. I'm the chairman of the personnel subcommittee. I believe we had a process in place and to preempt it in some ways showed a disrespect for the people in the military.
CROWLEY: In some ways, it just smelled political, didn't it?
WEBB: We had -- it wasn't just going out and interview.
WEBB: We were constructing a survey -- a very good survey of all of the services, all of the ranks. I've been very involved with the Pentagon in putting together this survey.
This survey would be brought over. This was Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen who had proposed this. And then we could examine the issue with the input of people in the military. Even when the...
CROWLEY: Well, now you're going to get the input having already passed it...
WEBB: This was not -- they should not have done this.
CROWLEY: And was it political? Was this a decision based on November?
WEBB: Well, there were a lot of people who -- there were a lot of people who feel very passionately about this. I think, you know, everyone can explain their own motivations. But, for me, I just think it was a bad signal to people in the military to do it this way.
And even when the White House gave its support for this Lieberman proposal, the first sentence out of there was, ideally, we should have had the survey in place before we legislated. So it is just the Congress jumping ahead of the process in a way, as I said, I think, quite frankly, was -- you know, despite the need to have some resolution on the issue, this was, I think, a little...
CROWLEY: What's your resolution on this issue? It's going to happen. Are you for that or against that?
WEBB: Well, I think we should have -- we still should go through this process of listening to the input of the military. We have Admiral Mullen, who, I think very courageously, in February, said this was an ethics issue. We have all four service chiefs having said something differently. We need to get out and bring the military into the process, and then come up with a decision. It's a very complicated process.
CROWLEY: But you don't want to take a position at this point? You don't want to take a position on repealing "don't ask, don't tell"?
WEBB: I think we should listen to the military. We should hear from the military.
CROWLEY: Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, thank you so much.
WEBB: Thank you. Good to be with you.
CROWLEY: Before we go to break, a quick recap of today's latest developments with the Gulf oil spill. BP's so-called top kill procedure that everyone hoped would plug the underwater leak has failed. The company says the next step is to lower a cap over the damaged well. That attempt is expected in the next few days. But as BP and federal officials have said, the only permanent solution to stopping what has become the largest oil spill in U.S. history is to build underwater relief wells. That process also under way but won't be completed until August.
When we come back, a last thought on those who have fought and died for the nation.
CROWLEY: On this Memorial Day weekend, a moment to remember the fallen. On the western edge of Washington's Tidal Basin is the memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, assistant Navy secretary during World War I; the president who led the nation through most of World War II. We end with his words.
"I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives.
I hate war." Since World War I, more than 430,000 Americans have died in battles from the 38th parallel to the Mekong Delta, from the Coral Sea to the streets of Fallujah, from Mogadishu to Kandahar. A roadside bomb went off in southern Afghanistan Friday, killing an American, making May the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops there.
Thank you so much for joining "State of the Union." Stay with CNN for the latest developments in the BP oil spill. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.