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Afghanistan Progress; Military and Civilians; War Policy; Oliver Stone Interview

Aired June 24, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Suzanne, and good evening.

One of the many things we take for granted as Americans is that civilians run our government and that the military follows and respects the chain of command. So it was stunning, to me anyway, that the nation's highest ranking military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt the need today to send a clear message to those who wear the uniform.


ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office. I think it is vital for us to remember that if we lose their trust and confidence for any reason, it's time to go.


KING: At that same event, Admiral Mike Mullen talked of his reaction when he read that now infamous "Rolling Stone" profile of General Stanley McChrystal.


MULLEN: I was nearly sick. It made me -- I literally physically, I couldn't believe it. So I was stunned.


KING: General McChrystal is gone, relieved of his command, but the fallout continues and that fallout includes a robust debate now about whether the problems run deeper than a rogue general.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I do not believe we are bogged down. I believe we are making some progress. It is slower and harder than we anticipated.


KING: Many in Congress disagree. They think the war is bogged down. They include liberals who feel that the only way to end it is to bring the troops home and conservatives who see drift but don't rule out sending more troops to fix it and say those already there should be allowed to fight more aggressively. I spoke a short time ago with Republican Duncan Hunter of California and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts asking them first about the president's assessment.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Short answer is that what we saw yesterday was a change in personnel but not a change in policy.

KING: Congressman McGovern, is that good enough for you?

REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It isn't. I have great admiration for General Petraeus and I certainly have great admiration for President Obama but I think our policy is flawed. All of the things that we were told seven months ago that were going to happen today haven't turned out the way the administration told us they would. And here we are about to consider another supplemental. We're in a war here that is not clearly defined, and it's a war that can go on forever and it is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money and I think some of that money would be better spent here at home.

KING: Do you have the votes to block the president from getting his money?

MCGOVERN: Well I'm going to vote against the supplemental and I'm going to push for an amendment calling for an exit strategy. I think if you go to war you ought to have a clearly defined mission, a beginning, a middle, a transition period and an end. I don't know what the transition period and the end are in this war. I'm not even quite sure how you define victory or winning in this war and so we have 100,000 American soldiers over there, they're doing an incredible job, I'm in awe of their dedication and their commitment but it's the politicians here in Washington that are keeping them there. I think we need to rethink our Afghanistan strategy.

KING: Congressman Hunter, are you comfortable, change the general but don't change the strategy.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes and you know General Petraeus basically invented this (INAUDIBLE) strategy. General McChrystal changed it, tweaked it a little bit to make it fit Afghanistan. I think the overall strategy is the same and I think that General Petraeus has some leeway in what he can do now in Afghanistan, whether he's going to tweak that coin doctrine to have more counterterrorism or not.

I think he's able to do that but listen, President Obama has already set an actual deadline for withdrawal. He's gone too far I think in an exit strategy. You know July 2011, I was just over in Afghanistan over Memorial weekend and that pressure bearing down of having only one year left to fix Afghanistan really weighs heavily on all the military commanders over there so I think that we've done enough when it comes to setting deadlines, we ought to be talking about achieving victory, that should be the exit strategy.

KING: Well you mentioned that deadline. Our Dana Bash caught up exclusively with General David Petraeus today, the new commander, when he was making the rounds on Capitol Hill and she put that question to him. Let's listen.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you see yourself doing anything to change the 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawal?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: No, as I said, I support the president's policy and I will also provide my best professional military advice as we conduct assessments.


KING: So am I right here, Congressman McGovern, you want a sooner date and a firmer date and Congressman Hunter, you think there should be no date, period.

MCGOVERN: What I want is a clearly defined mission and that includes an exit strategy. What the president talked about seven months ago at West Point was the beginning of withdrawal. I want to know not just when the first soldier comes home, I want to know when the last soldier comes home and if we can set a real deadline then I think it puts more pressure on the Afghan government and the Afghan people to step up to the plate and to figure out what they want for their future. We're dealing with this guy, President Karzai who is corrupt and incompetent and fixed the last election. I don't want American forces there forever defending a guy like that.

HUNTER: I agree actually with Mr. McGovern on his take on Karzai and the Afghan government standing up, but I don't mind having a deadline at all, as long as our enemy doesn't know it. Al Qaeda knows what the July 2011 deadline is, the Taliban know what that July 2011 deadline is. We don't want them to know it.

MCGOVERN: I don't think the administration knows how this war comes to an end and I don't think there is a clearly defined mission. I don't think anyone could define what winning is. (INAUDIBLE) they're in a very difficult situation. I'm reminded of Lyndon Johnson's you know statement that it's easy to get into war, it's hard as hell to get out of one. It is hard to get out of this war. You know what's happening now is this mission is changing month to month to month.

We are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars that we don't have the guts to pay for, our kids and our grandkids are going to pay for. I'm all for doing nation building in Afghanistan. I'd like to do a little bit of nation building here in the United States of America.

HUNTER: John, but look at this. We know what victory looks like. Iraq, we've achieved victory over there. We only have about 35 Marines left in the entire country. We had General Odierno in today briefing us on it. We're going to be out of Iraq almost completely by the end of next year, that's what victory looks like.

It's a country standing up on its own, able to secure itself, able to protect its own sovereignty, standing up its own police, its own military so we can leave. We're going to do in Afghanistan what we did in Iraq and General Petraeus I think is the right guy to do that because he has proven it there. We're going to prove it in Afghanistan.

That's what victory looks like. We've already shown what it is. If Mr. McGovern had his way we wouldn't have achieved victory in Iraq at all.

MCGOVERN: Well first of all, in Iraq, the Iraqi government only stood up when we told them that we were going to leave. We gave them a date certain and that forced the government to take action. And Iraq and Afghanistan are two different things. It's not like comparing apples and oranges. It's like comparing apples and Volkswagens.


HUNTER: I'm pretty familiar --


HUNTER: They aren't that too disparate.

KING: Congressman McGovern, you're a Democratic congressman who just compared your Democratic president to Lyndon Johnson. Is Afghanistan Vietnam?

MCGOVERN: Well I don't like to make those comparisons but I do think that this is a war that this president inherited and I think he, like Lyndon Johnson is finding it very, very difficult to get out of this war.


KING: Congressman Hunter, you mentioned your service. I want to close on this note, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did something remarkable today. He several times in his statement at a Pentagon briefing went out of his way to say we who wear the uniform answer to the civilians and nobody in uniform should ever think twice about that or ever doubt that.

Obviously, he said he was sickened by this article involving General McChrystal. Did he have to go that far? Do you think there's such a crisis in confidence that America's top uniformed military officer needed to make that clear?

HUNTER: He probably did. Here's why. If you look at this administration, if you look at then Senator Biden, then Senator Obama, then Senator Clinton with the way that they went after Petraeus three years ago and said that Iraq surge was not going to work I think that the military commanders right now, the ones that have three and four stars have a little bit of a burr under their saddle when it comes to this administration because these are the same senators who basically said that General Petraeus was incompetent three years ago.

But now they're looking to him to win in Afghanistan. So I think that there's kind of an undercurrent of that and I think Admiral Mullen did have to go out of his way to say that. To say hey look, it doesn't matter what your personal feelings are. You have to respect the office and as a military person you respect those over you, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with their policies or not, you have to respect them and you have to obey them and that's it, period.

KING: Congressman Hunter, Congressman McGovern, appreciate your time today.



KING: A quick break but then more on this big, new debate in Washington about Afghanistan strategy and when it comes to politics do you dislike the Democrats, the Republicans or both parties; James Carville and Erick Erickson waiting to debate that right after the break.


KING: In the wake of the president's dramatic decision to sack his Afghan commanding general and replace him with David Petraeus? Washington is a buzz with a crackling debate about is that enough? Does there need to be a fundamental change in Afghan strategy and just what is at play here?

Let's continue the conversation with our CNN contributors Erick Erickson. He's the conservative editor of He's with me here in Washington and James Carville, the Democratic strategist from New Orleans tonight. I want to play a little bit more of what Admiral Mullen said today because I was just struck that here it is America's top military commander felt the need in the wake of this "Rolling Stone" article about General McChrystal and what everybody views as contemptuous disloyal conduct, Admiral Mullen making this point to the men and women of the United States who wear the uniform.


MULLEN: We do not have that luxury those of us in uniform, we do not have the right nor should we ever assume the prerogative to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed. We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders. No matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.


KING: James, you wore the uniform. This is one of those things -- this goes back to George Washington. This is the whole founding of the Republic and that this admiral felt the need to lecture essentially the military, hey, listen, this is the rule, was extraordinary.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes and I think that Admiral Mullen (INAUDIBLE) responsibility and he is sickened by the fact that he's the number one uniform, military person in the United States Armed Services and this happened by one of his very good, very senior distinguished commanders I think it's cause for great concern to him.

And how deep this permeates I don't know but clearly it's something he's concerned about. It was a great failure on the part of General McChrystal and his staff and I think that this is a sailor who is showing responsibility here and is troubled that this happened under his watch and I think that's a good thing that Admiral Mullen feels. He should feel that way.

KING: And Erick, I want to you jump in, but first I want to replay for our viewers and for both of you, I was struck interviewing Congressman Hunter, who as he noted, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving to get into politics and run for Congress. I asked him did he think this was necessary as a veteran and his answer was essentially to President Obama, what goes around comes around.


HUNTER: If you look at this administration, if you look at then Senator Biden, then Senator Obama, then Senator Clinton with the way that they went after Petraeus three years ago and said that that Iraq surge was not going to work, I think that the military commanders right now, the ones that have three and four stars have a little bit of a burr under their saddle when it comes to this administration because these are the same senators who basically said that General Petraeus was incompetent three years ago but now they're looking to him to win in Afghanistan.


KING: I mean, even if they disagree with everything Senator Biden, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton said at the time, they're not allowed a burr under their saddle, are they?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know whether they are, they're not, I think a lot of them do and that's the problem and I was really actually surprised by some of the language the admiral used for referencing party politics and what have you. There are a lot of people in the military enlisted and otherwise who bristle under this administration, who think that this administration does not hold them in the view that they should, but that should be irrelevant.

They shouldn't have that. Unfortunately, a lot of them do. I think some of them probably got a little cushy during the Bush years where it was very rah-rah with the military. And this administration which went in with a lot of them not thinking this administration liked them very much. It's -- but it's a problem for the military. It shouldn't be our problem. It should be their problem.

KING: I want to get your take on some new numbers. One of the questions we ask in times of crisis, whether it's changing your commander in Afghanistan or James, dealing with the oil spill where you are in Louisiana is what toll does it take on the president. A new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out and for the first time in the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" polling, more Americans disapprove of how President Obama is handling his job than approve of it. Forty-eight percent disprove; 45 percent approve. That's down a bit, 48 percent approved back in May. And if you look through the history there you see that for the first time, James, in this survey more Americans disapprove than approve. Mean anything?

CARVILLE: Yes, I mean, you know, his numbers started slipping down a bit. I mean this is what happens when we're in bad economic times, we got a war going poorly, we're in the midst of a lot of things. I think he needs to make a better, stronger case. I think that he can, but you know I cannot find in history a headline that says unemployment above you know nine percent, incumbent swept back into office.

This is very difficult (INAUDIBLE) but you know one of the interesting things and it's very likely that in 2010 more jobs will be created under President Obama in one year than were created under President Bush in eight years. And I think if they'd make those kinds of statistics available to the American public I think it could help some but no, it's understandable.

KING: And here's a new number in our CNN polling that I found fascinating. You ask people are you mad at the Democrats, mad at the Republicans, mad at both parties. All Americans, 53 percent say they're angry at both parties. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats say they're angry at both parties, but here's what is stunning. More Republicans say they're angry at both parties than Independents, only a small margin --

ERICKSON: As well they should.

KING: -- as well they should you say --


KING: But why are Republicans so mad at their party?

ERICKSON: Because Republicans had the White House and Congress for so long and what did they do with it? They expanded government. They may not have expanded it at the rate Barack Obama did but prescription drug benefit, the no child left behind, that liberals and conservatives both hate. And then at the end of the Bush administration you had these stories on the Bush administration, these policies on fiscal issues, on bank bailouts, it was George Bush who started the auto bailout. It was George Bush who started TARP. Conservatives in particular in the Republican Party a pox on all those houses as far as many of them are concerned.

KING: Mr. Carville, are you mad at both parties? CARVILLE: To be fair I'm pretty much of a partisan, but yes, I'm mad at the Republicans and I get disappointed at Democrats. I think we fumbled it up on Wall Street --


CARVILLE: -- something terrible. But yes, I'm not probably the most objective person to ask.

KING: Fire up the breaking news banner, James Carville is mad at the Republicans, there's a little breaking news for you. All right, appreciate both of you gentlemen. Hang on, a lot more to come in the program tonight.

When we come back, we'll go Wall-to-Wall and you've all talked about BP's efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, is BP doing anything wrong? We're going to go up to Alaska look at what's called the liberty project, one of the big questions now in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico, is the company taking liberties with safety and the environment up in Alaska? We'll go close to that.

And you don't want to miss "One-on-One" tonight, the director Oliver Stone never afraid of controversy, his new movie says Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela is a good guy. Really -- Oliver Stone says he's misunderstood. You'll want to listen to that.

And in "Play-by-Play" tonight, remember Rand Paul, he was the Tea Party favorite, the outsider, anti-Washington Senate candidate from Kentucky -- guess where he is tonight. Right here in Washington spending some time with a lot of Republicans who voted for something he says is horrible.

And also the presidents of Russia and the United States, burger presidents, we'll show you their lunch today and we'll maybe explore whether the first lady who is trying to convince children not to be obese to lose weight, she won't like what she sees.


KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight a look at a controversial BP drilling project, and guess what? It's not down here in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe you saw a report about this in "The New York Times" today. We're going to take you from the Gulf of Mexico up to Alaska. Everyone knows there's oil exploration up in Alaska, let's go in a little bit closer here and look at what is called the Liberty Project. It is right up in here.

This is where BP says there is a vast oil reserve, where the yellow is. But the drilling will be done from way over here on Tern Island up there. Why how is that being done? Why is BP so interested? The oil was discovered here in 1982; in 1997 the appraisal for drilling was confirmed. BP estimates there are 120 million barrels of recoverable oil right here in the Beaufort Sea. Why is this controversial?

Let's go over here and take a closer look at this project. One reason is even though this is out in the sea it's not considered an offshore drilling project. Why is that, take a look here -- I'll give you a closer look in a minute, because it has statuses onshore because the drilling is taking place from an artificial island. Let's take a closer look at that artificial island.

We'll bring it up right here for you; you see it built right here. This is all built out of gravel and sand out into the water. BP built this and you can see access from land on a small causeway right there. How is this going to work? Let's take a closer look here and bring this up. It's quite remarkable. This is that little island we just showed you up here, the drilling rig goes down.

It's only 20 feet of water; this is not the deep, deep water we're dealing with in the Gulf of Mexico. Twenty feet of water but then watch this drill, watch the scope come down, the drill goes down two miles deep into the ocean bed and then comes this way underground. They have to angle the drill as they come through six to eight miles from the drilling point over here to the Liberty Oil Reservoir. Now could anything go wrong with all that complicated drilling?

It is a massive project. It is unprecedented. The administration says it's going to keep a very close eye on this. You see the statement here "In light of the BP spill in the Gulf and the safety reforms the administration says it is implementing, we will also be carefully evaluating this project's proposal for oil spill response, blowout prevention -- you remember that term -- and other safety requirements that they would be required to meet."

Now BP in a statement tonight to CNN says hey look, this is not an offshore project, but it says if the administration has any questions it will be more than happy, more than happy to answer those safety questions as it goes on. It's a fascinating project. It is innovative technology, BP says, but given what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico, a lot of questions worth asking and worth trying to get the answers.

When we come back, a fascinating conversation with the controversial director Oliver Stone; he's here to go "One-on-One". He'll talk about war, his own service in Vietnam, and a new movie that has a take that might make many of you mad.


ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One."

KING: Over the years Director Oliver Stone has never shied away from taking on controversial topics or getting political in his work. His new movie does both. "South of the Border" focuses on how Latin America's current leaders, including Venezuela Hugo Chavez rose to power and how they're portrayed he believes mischaracterized in the U.S. media. Oliver Stone joins us now to go "One-on-One."

I want to get to the new movie in a minute, but I want to get your thoughts on current events, specifically the sacking of General McChrystal in Afghanistan. You're a Vietnam veteran and a lot of your work is focused on the soldiers and what it's like to be in a controversial war. This general was sacked by the commander-in-chief because of conduct viewed as unbecoming and even contemptuous.

OLIVER STONE, VIETNAM VETERAN: Yes and when it first happened I was thinking about the Roman Empire when it was falling apart and do you remember the Praetorian (ph) guard, which was the special operations command of that era. They took power. They became emperors and they subverted the authority of the emperor. That's what happens when it starts to fall apart. This is the cracks, you know. It's not -- it's clear that the experiment over there is not working. It's a disaster to me. It's a dead end. That's my opinion. It's -- I always say it was another Vietnam and so was Iraq one and so is Iraq two.

KING: But when you say the cracks --


KING: Do you think that some in the military are actually revolting against their civilian authority or this is one general who went rogue?

STONE: It's revolting, but this is an expression and opinion that is, you know they can't win with the political impediments that they have. It was the same opinion they had in Vietnam, by the way. You know after Vietnam a lot of us said it was the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. We didn't do it right.

Other people said no, it was the right war. We won that war. We beat them. There's (INAUDIBLE) books about it. (INAUDIBLE) they just wrote one and they say it was the military who -- and the media that killed it off -- so it's going to be the same friction. I mean America has to decide what it really wants. Do we want to be world policeman? Do we want to be an empire?

Do we want to go to these places where they don't want us, where they have different colored skin, different feelings, different mentality. How would you like to be an Afghani or an Iraqi -- you see American soldiers there. We don't ever ask what they're thinking. It seems to me they don't want us there. Unless we're prepared to stay there and live, we're doomed. McChrystal was a great fighter. You know he's a killer. He's a trained Doberman. He's good at it, but and frankly he's very smart because he's a guy who said let's not kill civilians, which is -- wasn't the way we did in Vietnam. He really did put a leash on it, but his goal is wrong, and it won't work.

KING: What then do you make of the commander-in-chief who says this is a change in personnel, not in policy, a change in leader not the strategy? Because you yourself have said of the president, you say it's ironic a so-called liberal president should be the one to screw the lid on the coffin.

STONE: Well, it makes sense he has to. I mean the thing that -- he has to do it because otherwise he'd lose complete authority. But what is surprising is he's asking his -- the head of the whole region, CentCom Command, Petraeus, to step down in authority to take this post. That shows a complete breakdown in the military to me, because the military is not based on one man, a leader and ego, anything like that. The idea is that this guy can't do the job, the next guy steps in, but you don't promote down. It's like asking Eisenhower to lead a division in World War II after he's led D-Day.

You don't do that. So there's something wrong in the military and I say it's a big crack. You know you have to realize that McChrystal may have done the wrong thing but a lot of people agree with him in the military. So there's going to be bad feelings for a long time.

KING: Let's talk about the new movie. You're opening yourself and you're not afraid of it. You've done it in the past to a huge bit of controversy. Many are going to say you are glorifying --


KING: -- South American leaders who don't think like Americans, who don't like democracy. Let's particularly focus on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and before we talk, I want to play one clip from the movie where Chavez is talking to you about what he sees as the motivations of the Bush administration.


PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA: (Speaking in foreign language.)


CHAVEZ: (Speaking in foreign language.)

STONE: Chavez.

CHAVEZ: (Speaking in foreign language.)


CHAVEZ: (Speaking in foreign language.)

STONE: Second.

CHAVEZ: Saddam.

STONE: Hussein. Saddam Hussein.


STONE: Iraq.

CHAVEZ: (Speaking in foreign language.)

STONE: The cause.

CHAVEZ: (Speaking in foreign language.)

STONE: The coup in Venezuela and Iraq invasion.


KING: You say he's grossly misunderstood. Is he a good guy in your view?

STONE: Grossly. Grossly misunderstood. Yes, he is a good guy. I mean it's a long -- that's why the movie was made. The movie, you have to see it. But in short just the clip has to be prefaced by the knowledge that America participated and endorsed a coup d'etat against Chavez in 2002.

Bush was involved in that and knew about it. And that's what we show in the movie so --

KING: They would -- they would say perhaps they knew about it and they didn't do anything to stop it. They would not say they participated --

STONE: Well, listen, they funded money to people who were involved in the coup, CIA knew a lot of details about it. And by the way, the White House endorsed the coup practically within hours after it was over which was never done. It was an illegitimate coup.

So America had no interest in really wanting Chavez be stabilized. And he's consistently been a supporter of his enemies so America is involved. Chavez is talking about that but also you said earlier, not democratic.

He is a democratically elected leader. He's been elected three times and he is a transparent process. He has electronic ballots, paper ballots, monitored by the Jimmy Carter Organization and by the European Union Commission on election, so it's a clean election.

He's cleaner than Florida in 2000 so I mean -- I think and the movie points out all these ridiculous accusations in the American media against him and they --

KING: Not just in the media -- sorry to interrupt. But not just in the media, Human Rights Watch. Nongovernmental organization says that he routinely punishes political opponents. That he puts people like you, guys who want to make movies exposing things, he put them in jail. That he is an authoritarian figure.

Do you disagree with that?

STONE: John -- John, I could pull out my BlackBerry right now. I can put Global Vision on which is an enemy of his. I mean most of the media in Venezuela is against the government. Private media, 90 percent of it is against the government and they're vociferous.

They call, they insult him every day. I can show you from Venezuela an Internet -- any Internet is free. You can say anything you want in Venezuela except calling for the overthrow of the government. And I can you show it's all critical, it's all negative, and he allows it. He lives with it and he goes on. He's trying to change society in a structural way democratically and give the money from oil, the profits from their own country, from the natural resources back to the people. And he's had a successful run at it for about six years.

KING: The secret history of the United States is a current project. What secrets?


STONE: Yes, you'd like to know what the secret is

KING: What's the secret?

STONE: No, listen, the secret is basically the headline that you forgot about yesterday. The secrets are the things that we know about but we have been lost to history, and as a result, I'm trying to -- we're trying to -- I'm writing this with some historians.

From 1900 to 2010, we're looking at the United States, how it developed in the World War II and then after World War II how we became this monstrous national security state that we have now.

And we go into things, the patterns that school kids don't read about in school. And when I got my history, I was brainwashed, so were my kids, by the way. I have three of them, they're brainwashed. And I think I'd like to leave something behind that would perhaps be an alternative way of looking at our history.

KING: Oliver Stone, thanks for your time.

Today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know" is the guy who went for a burger with the president today. You can find him on twitter, too. Wow, times have really changed.


KING: If you're of a certain age you'll remember that on days when the leaders of the United States and Russia met face to face the world seemed to stop and hold its breath. Well, unless you were holding your breath trying to get into Ray's Hellburger today in Arlington, Virginia, you probably didn't notice.

One of those meetings was today which makes the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "Today's Most Important Person You Don't Know" and whose name maybe you can't pronounce. It's Medvedev.

He's from Saint Petersburg. It was called Leningrad when he was born in 1965. He's younger than me. He has a law degree, started a couple of businesses and importantly in the early days, in the '90s, he caught the eye of another Saint Petersburg up-and-comer, Vladimir Putin.

When he succeeded Putin as president in 2008 Medvedev became Russia's youngest leader since Czar Nicholas II back in 1894.

So has the U.S./Russia relationship lost its appeal? Lost its star power? Here with us to discuss it, Neera -- Tanden from the Center of American Progress. I can't speak English today.

Erick Erickson is back with us, our CNN contributor and the editor in chief of and Republican strategist Robert Traynham.

It is interesting when Reagan met with Gorbachev, huge deal. Even the Yeltsin meetings in the Clinton days. Huge deal. The Putin meetings with Bush and with Clinton, wow, and this was kind of like yes, OK.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I just think it's ironic that we're meeting with the Russians at a place called Hellburger. It's --


ERICKSON: Works for me, appropriate, I guess. Yes, they're not the -- they're not the threat they used to be. They're not the ally they used to be or the partner they used to be. It's kind of moved to China now. So it's almost second tier meetings now.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: Well, I hope it's actually a sign of the maturation of the relationship. We've reset the relationship. And so I hope the fact that there are people aren't worried about, you know, missiles going off or anything like that is a sign of progress and hopefully we'll have real progress on START this summer which is one of the reasons why he was here today.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, BUSH-CHENEY '04 CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: It's a generational thing, there's no question about it. We couldn't probably see Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sitting down at McDonald's having a cheeseburger so for the president of the United States and for the president of Russia to sit down and have a burger, literally break bread, talk about the future, not a bad thing.

KING: I --

TRAYNHAM: I want to know whether --


KING: I remember Clinton and Yeltsin went into a bar and the post -- that was --


TRAYNHAM: Well, somebody had a drinking problem. We'll just leave it at that.

TANDEN: Right.

TRAYNHAM: And we know who that was.

TANDEN: They will say, hey, burgers. But that's interesting.

KING: All right, let's move to some stories "On My Radar" before I digress too much about Clinton and Yeltsin.

There's a juicy new tidbit from the corruption trial of the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich. His former chief of staff testifies under oath that three days after the 2008 presidential election Blagojevich was confident he could get a Cabinet post in return for appointing a top Obama adviser to the president-elect's Senate seat.

Quote, "The president understands that the government would be willing to make the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as long as he gets what he's asked for. The governor gets the Cabinet appointment he's asked for."

Now Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Valerie Jarrett, the longtime Obama friend now senior adviser at the White House, will likely to be called as witnesses at this trial. Believable?

TANDEN: I think the idea that any of us are paying attention to what Rod Blagojevich said and his beliefs when he was obviously delusional and corrupt.

KING: But this is his former chief of staff under oath. Is he delusional and corrupt, too?

TANDEN: They're all part of -- I mean they were all indicted. They were all part of the same team that was basically milking the taxpayers on a regular basis, so I'm glad that people are being called to testify and being able to clear all this up, because these accusations are ridiculous.

TRAYNHAM: But you know what, John, this is a sad story in Illinois politics. Yet another chapter of a governor going down in flames because of his own wrongdoing. Time will tell whether or not this is something that will come out in truth, and the reason why is because, as we know now, the FBI was tapping the governor's phone calls and his top aides.

So we'll see if in fact this is really the case. Time will tell. I hope it's not the case because if in fact that's the case then clearly not only did Rod Blagojevich do something wrong but perhaps maybe someone in the White House, and that's a big no-no.

ERICKSON: You know, as much as I would love for this to explode into something, there's no love lost there between me and them, Valerie Jarrett isn't -- didn't get an appointment. He's not a Cabinet member. He's an ego maniac. And who knows what he actually told his chief of staff or what his chief of staff actually heard.

Sure he said that under oath but I mean does he know that or is that what Rod Blagojevich was mouthing off of that? KING: All right, move on to another one. Hard nosed immigration reform. Arizona may be getting lots of company soon, and not just from the federal government. Today's "Washington Post" says five states are looking at Arizona-style legislation and lawmakers and 17 others are interested.

In the first three months of this year a record 1180 laws or resolutions dealing with immigration have been proposed in 45 of the 50 states.

This is a crackling issue whatever your view.

TANDEN: Right, but I think the fact that all these municipalities are doing that, people have to recognize that these are new burdens, new costs for localities that at a time when their police are strapped, their localities are strapped, their schools are strapped so they're taking on extra burdens.

This is a real crisis but it really points to the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

ERICKSON: You know, federalism works. Here we have the absence of Washington not doing anything. The states and local governments responding. Some of it possibly unconstitutional, much of it constitutional, unless the federal government acts.

Do we need comprehensive immigration reform? Why can't we just secure the border?

TRAYNHAM: Erick brings up a very valid point. The fact of the matter is that the governors are screaming and saying, we are the one in the front lines, literally and figuratively. We are the one that are having to deal with the local crime issues. We are the one that are burdening our welfare bases because of the illegal immigrants coming in.

The federal government has yet to act, hence the reason why Arizona decided unfortunately that they had to act on their own and you said it a few moments ago, John, and according to "Washington Post" other states are looking at this, too.

They're not trying to be copycats, they're just trying to secure their borders.

TANDEN: You know what I think is unfortunate about this is the fact that we used to have Republican leadership on this issue. Just a few years ago John McCain himself was a leading spokesperson and advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, and because of the right-wing of his party, he has completely flip-flopped and only does these ads now on --


TRAYNHAM: You have Barbara Boxer -- that's a bunch of poppycock. You have Barbara Boxer, who's a Democrat from California, obviously a border state, she came out in support of immigration reform years ago. There are several Democrats that have openly said we need to secure our borders, too.

TANDEN: Absolutely.

TRAYNHAM: Now granted George W. --

TANDEN: I agree. You're right. They have, and they haven't flip-flopped.

TRAYNHAM: Now granted -- now granted, George --

TANDEN: Whereas the Republicans have.


TANDEN: That's why it's not poppycock.

ERICKSON: Democrats control Congress. Democrats control the White House. And let's just back up for a minute. We've got all these states doing what Arizona -- I thought Arizona was crazy and racist for doing it and was holy unpopular. Why do we have so many states -- 45 out of 50 --

TRAYNHAM: The point -- time-out, OK.

KING: Time out. I'm going to secure my border right here for now.


KING: Next in the "Play-by-Play" who's not on the same page as the first lady when it comes to healthy eating? Hmm.


KING: If you're just joining us here's what you need to know right now.

If he hadn't had a busy enough week already, President Obama heads to Canada in about 13 hours. He'll attend the G-20 and G-8 economic summits.

The House just sent the president a bill undoing a 21 percent cut in fees to doctors who take Medicare patients.

Almost a million people have lost their unemployment benefits and cash-strapped states won't be getting $16 billion in federal aid because this afternoon Senate Democrats fell three votes short of breaking the Republican filibuster.

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by -Play."

KING: All right, with us for tonight's "Play-by-Play", Neera Tanden still from the Center for American Progress and Republicans strategist Robert Traynham. Rand Paul, we've talked about him a lot. He's that outsider tea party favorite running for the Senate in Kentucky. He has the Republican nomination now.

Back in an earlier debate one of the big themes was Republicans and Democrats, anyone who voted for the big Wall Street bailout called TARP, that was a bad idea. Rand Paul said that he wanted nothing to do with them.


RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: It all came into being all going back to the bank bailout that many Republicans voted for. Many people stood up about this and I stood up for them from the very beginning on this. Not only that, I won't take any money from any of the senators who voted for the bank bailout.


KING: That was then. Rand Paul is guess where tonight, guys? He's right here in Washington, D.C. He's attending a big Republican fund-raiser. Among the sponsors, a number of Republicans who -- shock -- voted for the big bank bailout as he calls him that he said before those guys would be pariahs.

Now Rand Paul says, well, that was during the primary, I was trying to draw a distinction with my rival, and this is OK.


PAUL: I think even those who might have voted at that time for it, now if you ask them, they'll say no more. I mean I think they will say that we're so far ad hoc from all these bailouts that the spending has got to end.


KING: Times have changed or does that send the hypocrisy meter going like that?

TRAYNHAM: Two things. First and foremost, I'm going to defend him by saying he's in the big leagues now. And what he said in the primary, he said in the primary. But fast forward to today, it's a bit hypocritical.

You got to walk the walk and talk the talk. And that's the main reason why, John, I'm sure she will defend me on this, or help me out on this, why D.C. is so toxic right now and why the American people at home that are watching this program and saying, why don't these people listen?

Why don't these people do what they say they're going to do? Both on the Republican side but also on the Democratic side.

Shame on him for saying and it shame on him for being a hypocrite. TANDEN: Yes, I agree. I mean, and I'm glad you said it because I think the real issue here is the fact that -- you know, you said it. He now won the primary. He got the vote he wanted, he was the darling of the tea party, and now he doesn't need those votes anymore so he's changed colors. And that's the exact thing that the tea party attacks and too bad.

TRAYNHAM: Well, they're furious about him.

KING: Here's a fun one. We have the Twitter poll running over there. Our Facebook page is up on the wall. This president, Barack Obama, he was the guy who used the Internet like no one else. He built a big e-mail list. He was on all the social community networking sites.

He tweets, he posts on MySpace, he does a video radio address on YouTube, and yet today with the Russian president, funny.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: During his visit to Silicon Valley this week, he visited the headquarters of Twitters where he opened his own account.

I have one as well so we may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long.


KING: Twitters. Twitters. He visited Twitters account. Do you have a Twitters account?

TRAYNHAM: I don't have a Twitters account.

KING: You go to the Twitters bookstore?

TRAYNHAM: I don't -- no, no, no. He clearly misspoke there or -- well, I'll keep my comments to myself.

KING: Yes, I --

TANDEN: President Bush did say Internets, so I guess they're all equal now.


KING: To that point, I want you to make clear for the record, by the next event, the president retold the same joke and said "Twitter." So somebody helped the president out. He's got a good staff. To your --

TANDEN: Well, he does have the account.

KING: To your point, you know, they talk at the Obama White House a lot about the things they inherited from George W. Bush, apparently getting the language of the Internet wrong is one of them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you ever Googled anybody? Do you use Google?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Occasionally. One of the things I've used on the Google is to pull up maps.


TRAYNHAM: On the Google.

KING: On the Google.

TRAYNHAM: Well, technically, he's correct. It is a thing. So you say on the Google.



TRAYNHAM: But having to say --

KING: That's a capitalized.

TRAYNHAM: But having said that, no one speaks that way. No one says, you know, on the Twitters and so forth. But, you know, that -- I think that speaks to how presidents are a bit removed from reality.

KING: All right. All right. This is a big one. We have to get to this one right here. I want you to listen to the first lady of the United States. She is trying to do the lord's work, saying American children are too obese, too overweight and they must --


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Eating right, staying active, and giving our kids the bright future that they deserve. And right now, we can be doing better by our kids, because one in three of our children is either overweight or obese in this country.


KING: Setting a good example. That's her message. So look at this. This would be -- that's her -- oh, that's her husband. Wait a minute. And that's the Russian president, and can we get a little closer to that, maybe? We get -- oh, look at that. Those are cheeseburgers, French fries.

TRAYNHAM: Is this --

KING: Yes.

TRAYNHAM: Well, look, I called Rand Paul a hypocrite, I've got to call Barack Obama a hypocrite. Here's why. It's because, you know, he gets in that big limousine, he goes across the river to Virginia and, you know, he eats a bacon cheeseburger.

KING: They have no calories in Virginia.



TRAYNHAM: But the bottom line is, look, I'm sure that burger was very, very tasty, but, you know, got to listen to the wife, got to listen to the missus.

TANDEN: Oh, come on, no one is saying that no one can't have a hamburger anymore.

TRAYNHAM: Oh come on.

TANDEN: Obviously, you can have a hamburger.

TRAYNHAM: This is his second time at this place.

TANDEN: You need to -- you need to -- have a good, balanced meal and people should have fruits and vegetables.

TRAYNHAM: You don't believe your own spin. That's a cheeseburger. That's like --


TANDEN: I do not believe the first lady is banning hamburgers. Thank God.

KING: That is Neera Tanden campaigning for secretary of something or other. All right, Neera, thanks for coming in.

Up next, "Pete on the Street," General Stanley McChrystal has some extra time on his hands. He wants to know what should he do with it.


KING: Special CNN programming at the top of the hour. Here's Soledad O'Brien with a preview.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up tonight at 8:00 p.m., right after "JOHN KING USA," we premiere my documentary, "GARY AND TONY HAVE A BABY."

It's the journey of two men who've been together for 20 years who get a windfall and decide they can finally afford to have a baby. We follow the process, the egg donor, the surrogate, the family members who worry, and Gary and Tony and the ups and downs of what it takes medically, legally, and emotionally for two men to have a child.

That's tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

John, back to you. KING: Our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick, exploring a critical question today. Now that he is no longer the commander in Afghanistan, what should General Stanley McChrystal do?

Hey, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hey, John King. You know it was just two night ago here on JOHN KING, USA that I, Pete Dominick, your offbeat reporter, was almost fired myself in the same position. So I thought what would I do? What should General McChrystal do?

People on the street had some interesting ideas.


DOMINICK: What do you think General McChrystal should do with his free time?


DOMINICK: Which is what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looking for a job.

DOMINICK: Any suggestions?


DOMINICK: Go to Disney World?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get a job with "Rolling Stone."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do like the regular folks doing.

DOMINICK: Which is?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should spend it with his kids like I am.


DOMINICK: Go surfing? You think General McChrystal should be surfing?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And get bikini girls.

DOMINICK: What's your favorite thing to do?


DOMINICK: Play. So maybe General McChrystal should spend his free time playing, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He could fly over the Gulf Coast and start helping clean that up.

DOMINICK: That's a good suggestion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need more -- more hands.

DOMINICK: What about you, buddy? What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with what she said.

DOMINICK: Oh, good move.

What do you do with your free time? Do you want to hang out later?

Miss, get off the phone, Miss. Thank you very much. Don't be insubordinate to me.

Have you ever been fired for insubordination in your life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a metal head, what do you think?

DOMINICK: I think yes, then. Yes.

You're pouring the ice cream. You don't want to pour it on you. I'm going to have to accept your resignation from ice cream eating.

Have you ever fired anybody for insubordination?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But she was an army general.

DOMINICK: Were you -- you were an army general. Yes. So I thought. I thought I recognized you.

Have you ever had to fire anybody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, you know, you're going to have to go. I'm sorry, this isn't working.


DOMINICK: And by the way, what is John King's favorite thing to do in his free time?

KING: Spend it with my children and my family.

Pete, thank you very much. You have a great night. That's all for us. I will see you tomorrow.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien's documentary, "GARY AND TONY HAVE A BABY" starts right now.