Return to Transcripts main page


Libya's Tipping Point; U.S. Response

Aired February 24, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING,CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight Libya appears near a tipping point and its desperate dictator is responding by unleashing vicious mercenaries and wild, bizarre accusations. Moammar Gadhafi says Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are stirring the revolt across the oil-rich nation. Listen to some of this rambling, at times incoherent Gadhafi phone call to a Libyan television station.

A close look at this map explains the Libyan strong man's desperate tone. More and more of the oil rich and gas rich nation now under the control of anti-government forces, including towns closer and closer to the capital of Tripoli. Let's take a look. Here in (INAUDIBLE) over here near the Egyptian border you see a celebration here, anti-Gadhafi, anti-government gentleman in the street.

You see an AK-47 up here in the background celebrating. That town has fallen out of Gadhafi's control. In the second largest city of Benghazi, you see here some of the destruction, this town as well in the hands of anti-Gadhafi forces. You see some of the devastation though from the fighting including some fires in Benghazi as well, government buildings, you the blowout, you see a fire there.

And the big question is will Tripoli fall, and in this video that came in overnight, it is grainy, posted on YouTube. You see violence in the streets. If you look closely you can see fire. If you listen closely at times you hear machine gunfire in the capital of Tripoli. As this plays out the State Department tonight issued a new travel warning, urging Americans to avoid Libya and recommending those already there depart immediately.

Nearly 200 Americans are up here and nearly 100 citizens of other nations, too. They're in a ferry boat at a port in Tripoli waiting for nasty weather to clear so they can sail safely to Malta. The State Department says there is U.S. security on that boat and it says the port is being secured by Libyan forces.

CNN has unparallel resources in Libya and across the volatile Middle East and North African region including our correspondent Ben Wedeman, who is in the thick of the anti-Gadhafi celebration today in Libya's second largest city, Benghazi.





KING: And Ben joins us now live on the telephone. And Ben, describe to us that remarkable scene. This is your second day there again out on the streets watching the celebration. But amid the celebration, are there any fears, any fears that Gadhafi remains in power and things could turn?

WEDEMAN (via phone): Of course there are fears, John. People have lived under Moammar Gadhafi here for 42 years. They've seen him act erratically and violently many times before and they have no doubt that if he were capable he would strike back again. But what we're seeing increasingly is that many Libyans, whether they be diplomats or pilots or soldiers or even some of his own ministers are no longer willing to go along.

They're resigning around the world. The justice minister, the interior minister have already come over to the anti-Gadhafi forces. Today I spoke to a pilot in the Libyan Air Force who told me that he's been in touch with some of his comrades who are still in the area controlled by Moammar Gadhafi. He says that morale is very low. That many of these pilots who have -- refuse to obey the orders of their commanders to take action against the anti-Gadhafi areas of the country have been executed, some of them replaced by Algerian pilots working as mercenaries -- John.

KING: Striking and fascinating, critical details there. Ben, give us a sense. This is a 40-year dictatorship, and yet you see these anti-government forces and people pouring into the streets. Is it organized or is this just a rampant outpouring?

WEDEMAN: It looks like a rampant outpouring. There doesn't seem to be much organization, and certainly among those who actually take to the street. We're told that the people who really led the charge against the Gadhafi forces here in Benghazi were teenagers, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds. Now the situation is changing whereby those teenagers and other young men have sort of stepped back and have other professionals, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, judges who are actually managing the affairs of the city.

But what is clear at this point is that there is not a single leader. There is not a group of leaders who are really pushing this movement. It is fueled by the frustrations and the anger and the anguish of living in an oil-rich country where almost none of the money has trickled down to ordinary people in a country where until just a few weeks ago, speaking out against the regime and speaking your mind could land you in jail or worse -- John.

KING: It is remarkable. Ben Wedeman and Ben is here in the second largest city to the east in Benghazi. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is to the west in Tunisia. He joins us now on the telephone and Nic, are people having trouble as they're trying to flee the violence? Are they having trouble getting out of Libya and across the border? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Varying stories, John. It really seems to depend on exactly when people set off on the main highway. It should be about a three-hour drive from Tripoli to the border. One Austrian oil entrant (ph) told me that the drive was the easiest and quickest he had ever done it. There were fewer checkpoints he said and he wasn't stopped (INAUDIBLE) just one or two.

But that's not the experience of others. There were a group of British people trying to leave Tripoli, got turned back in the town of Zawaria (ph), which is a town that has a lot of oil refinery capabilities. That's where Gadhafi's forces went and shot up a crowd early in the morning. And the violence was so bad for this very group many people trying to leave they turned around, went back to Tripoli. Other people, Chinese workers (INAUDIBLE) told me that there were gunmen, militia men it looked like to them, they weren't really sure, standing at the side of the road with weapons.

They were stopped. They were checked. They were searched. They said it was a very scary situation for them. They talked about gun battles and fighting and war over the last few days. So it really just seems to be a varying (ph) experience on the road. Somebody else talked about the hundreds of policemen randomly stopping some cars on the road to the border and not others. So it's very hard to get a clear picture of what I suppose what is clearer, it's a very fluid and dynamic situation on that highway -- John.

KING: Excellent point to make from Nic Robertson, a fluid and dynamic situation, a volatile situation. Again, Nic is in Tunisia. We just talked to Ben Wedeman in Benghazi. Let's check in now with CNN's Nima Elbagir who is on the Egyptian/Libya border. And I understand Nima you're hearing tales of terror and massacre from some of the thousands of Libyans trying to flee their homeland.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, John. Those who have managed to make it safely to the Egyptian/Libyan border are telling stories that they've told us are inhumane. They said they've been witnessing massacres. Some of those we've spoken to said that they actually had to help bury the dead that were lining the streets. Obviously we're unable to confirm the numbers that we're hearing, but quite a few of those who come from Benghazi were talking about five, 600 dead on the second day of the protests on the streets of Benghazi.

Those who fled said that even as they were trying to escape the Libyan government violence that Libyan authorities were opening fire on cars. One family said that another family in the car ahead of them actually were shot by troops and they only just managed to make it to safety themselves -- John.

KING: And Nima, yet and yet, despite this terror and despite this fear, some of those who are coming across hurt are turning to go back to fight?

ELBAGIR: There is a real sense here, John that the Libyans have to do this that they're getting no support from the outside world. We spoke to one man today who managed to ferry his family to safety, but said that he was going to go back and stand with his brothers in Libya. That they felt that it was either stand together, bring down Gadhafi or die together -- John.

KING: Remarkable, remarkable. Nima Elbagir on the Egyptian/Libyan border, we'll keep in touch with all of our correspondents in the region. So what should we make of Gadhafi's latest rambling tirade accusing Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda of fomenting this unrest? Joining us now from New York CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend -- last year she visited high ranking Libyan officials at the invitation of the Libyan government.

And here in Washington CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen -- he's the author of "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda". So Peter Bergen, Moammar Gadhafi rambling phone call to a Libyan TV station says this is all because of Osama bin laden who -- and al Qaeda -- who are giving hallucinogenic drugs, putting them in people's drinks and fomenting this unrest -- at all plausible?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Obviously absurd. You know Osama bin Laden has absolutely nothing to do with this. And as Fran knows well, you know what makes this even more implausible is that Gadhafi had actually negotiated a cease fire agreement with the Libyan Islamic fighting group, which is an al Qaeda affiliate in Libya. This agreement has been going on for two years and in fact, so rather than Osama bin Laden for many (INAUDIBLE) the kind of militant Islamist group in Libya had actually already laid down its arms and was being released from prison by Gadhafi himself. The whole thing is just completely absurd.

KING: So completely absurd. Fran Townsend, as someone who has sat across from Moammar Gadhafi and who has told us in recent days how erratic, unpredictable, bizarre he can be, what does this tell you? Is it the last gasp of desperation?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SEC. ADVISER: It is. I mean he's -- he continues to be both desperate and delusional. Peter has explained to you why it makes absolutely no sense. And I've spoken to sources in the intelligence and national security community that say they're aware of no information that would support this. This is Gadhafi trying to appeal to the fear of other leaders and people in that region so that he might get away with the violence he's visiting (ph) on his own people. It really is outrageous and disgusting.

KING: Fran let me ask you as someone who understands what happens in a tense situation like this. We are told that there are more than 100 Americans, nearly 200 Americans on that ferryboat, 100- plus citizens of other nations. They can't get away we're told because of bad weather, but we are told there are some U.S. security on that boat. Is it safe to assume at this point that there are Navy SEALs and some special operations, some highly trained people protecting those Americans in a very dicey situation?

TOWNSEND: You know John, there's no question that it's easier to protect the Americans that we've identified for evacuation if we put them in one place. There have been some suggestions we shouldn't do that. I think that is absolutely correct. I assume based on conversations I had with folks in the government that as you suggest there are highly trained individuals protecting not only the ship itself, but the entry at the port and the port side to the ferry. And so that's right. They're waiting for the weather to lift. They actually hope it will lift this evening so they'll be able to get out. But there are those questioning why it has taken the United States so long when others -- other nations have gotten their citizens out.

KING: And Peter, when you look at the chaos, the anarchy to a degree, and groups not quite organized based on all of our correspondents, but a lot of weapons in the street, a lot of people in the street. There have been some who have quietly raised the risk of something like Somalia, fractured militias, oil resources, possible?

BERGEN: Yes, why not? I mean you know Gadhafi -- you know people getting out of prison. You know it is -- he's had an iron fist on top of his country for 42 years. We saw what happened in Iraq. This is not implausible. There isn't the Shia/Sunni problem, but really there's a great deal of tribal hostility, which Gadhafi was able to manipulate. And inherently (ph) in revolutions we don't know what the outcome will be. We can just hope and pray that it will be something good, but often it doesn't turn out that way.

KING: Peter Bergen and Fran Townsend, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll stay on top of this in the momentous hours and days ahead. A bit later here, a rare CNN interview with the former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, one of several potential Republican presidential candidates that are well usually off limits to us.


KING: I work at CNN. You work at FOX News --


KING: -- and because of that only when you write a book do we get to sit down and have a conversation. What is it like there? You have Governor Palin, Speaker Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Governor Huckabee. Do you guys have practice debates in the green room --

HUCKABEE: You know, I rarely, in fact, I don't think I've ever bumped into Sarah Palin ever at FOX.


KING: But next, Fareed Zakaria joins us to access the odds of regime change in Libya and the challenge ahead for the region and the Obama White House.


KING: So is Libya at a tipping point and how does this revolt fit into the context of the remarkable developments in recent days across the Middle East and North Africa? Let's get some insights from CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Fareed when you watch the reports and you look at the map, more and more of Libya now not under the control of Moammar Gadhafi, will he lose his 40-plus year grip on power?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think it's inevitable. The thing to understand about those maps that you see is most of Libya is a very large country with a very small population. Most of the population is congregated around the coast, so when you hear that Gadhafi is losing those towns on the coast, he's losing most of the population centers of the country.

It seems impossible to imagine that he's going to be able to survive. He's now pleading that he be treated like the queen of England or the king of Thailand (INAUDIBLE) constitutional monarch. It doesn't sound to me like he's got a very strong set of cards up his sleeve. The real question as I've always felt is at some point is somebody in the army or the intelligence service going to turn on him? Because that will make this much easier, otherwise I think you have this -- this could draw on for weeks and weeks, but the outcome is inevitable.

KING: You say the outcome is inevitable. You made reference to his rambling phone call into a Libyan television today where he compares himself to the queen of England. He goes on to say that this is happening in country because Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are giving hallucinogens and other drugs to the people. When we talked yesterday you said when you met with him and interviewed him it was like talking to somebody on drugs. What does this latest phone call tell you about his state right now?

ZAKARIA: Yes, when I heard that he was talking about how people were on hallucinogenic drugs, I thought to myself well, he would know because he obviously knows what it looks like to be on those drugs. No, I think it's just another sign that he's always been somewhat unhinged and probably that has to do with having been in a bubble.

These kinds of dictatorships are so isolated that it's possible to get away with all kinds of things and you get detached from reality. And I think that that's partly why he is taking much longer than Mubarak and the Tunisian president (INAUDIBLE). He has been in this cocoon for 40 years. And it's going to take a lot to break him out of it.

KING: And every day in recent weeks it's brought such drama in this region that I think sometimes we lose perspective and we lose context, so let's try. You just mentioned Tunisia and Benoli (ph), Egypt and Mubarak. We have seen protests elsewhere in the region. You write in your column today about the longer term challenge.

"Bahrain is a close ally, hosting an American naval base with a somewhat reformist monarch. Libya is a repressive rogue state with a cruel and crazy man at its helm. And Washington should move far more forcefully against him. But at some point the Obama administration will have to step back and think about a new American strategy for a Middle East that is in the midst of this historic change."

So you make the case there Libya, a rogue state, be tougher, but the United States is going to have to figure out what to do with its allies like Bahrain and like Jordan if this continues to spread in the region.

ZAKARIA: Precisely, John. This is the big issue that I think that the Obama administration needs to grapple with. What is its general posture going to be? Of course you differentiate. Of course there are different countries and different -- you know you have to tailor your policies to each individual country. But this is a very broad trend.

What I talk about in that piece is this is a broad trend of the Arabs reclaiming their lands in a sense. The Arab lands have been dominated by the Ottoman Empire, then the British Empire, the French Empire, then the Soviet Union, the United States. Finally the Arabs are trying in effect take control of their own destiny.

What does that mean for the United States? What does it mean about -- what do we do about a very friendly reformed minded monarchy like Jordan, Bahrain, and of course the most crucial of them all, Saudi Arabia. You know, of course we should do nothing to try to topple the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi monarchy has been incredibly helpful to the United States in -- you know in the crucial issue of oil. Saudi Arabia is the central banker of oil for the world, but we cannot be immune to what is going on around the world and we have to make the Saudis understand they need to be move much faster, much further on political reform than they have ever done.

KING: And yet as the administration tries to figure out its way and its new strategy in this small (INAUDIBLE) region can you make the case in the short term, as you talk about Arabs reclaiming their lands, that a non-Arab nation in the neighborhood Iran could be, could be the big winner here?

ZAKARIA: I don't buy that. You know "The New York Times" had a front page story saying Iran is the big winner here. And the argument is with all these dictatorships that are being deposed were pro- American, pro-western so when the street takes over, it will be anti- American, anti-Western. I don't think so.

First of all the truth of the matter is nobody knows what the Arab street really wants as -- you know notice the fact that nobody predicted that this was going to happen. It strikes me that a lot of what they want are western things or things that have at least have been perfected in the west like democracy, liberalism, individual rights, they are Arabs. They are going to be suspicious of Iran.

There is some sense of alignment with Iran, mainly because the Iranians have been out front on the Palestinian issue. But I don't think that -- you know you can't -- you can't revoke the laws of geopolitics. Now as for America, look it's ours to lose. We need to go out there and try to make -- you know make ourselves as credible and influential with the Arab people as we have with the Arab princes. We have had a foreign policy that has been entirely state-to-state.

We need a foreign policy that is more people-to-people. We need the Arab people to think of America as their ally, not just a few monarchs and military dictators. And that's a challenge for us. But you know what -- it's a very American challenge and I think it's one we should rise to.

KING: Perhaps an unavoidable one at the moment -- excellent insights as always -- Fareed Zakaria, thanks.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure, John.

KING: Let's take a closer look at the challenge Fareed and I were just talking about. If you look at the map here, why should Libya be different from Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia for that matter? Well religion is one factor if you look across the region. The bright yellow here Sunni Arab and Sunni Islam majority, across North Africa and most of the Middle East.

But here let's just zoom in on Bahrain. We've talked about the challenge here in recent days. Bahrain is the little tiny dot here, the island nation just off Saudi Arabia, right now a Shia majority ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Why is the United States worried about it falling? Right across the Persian Gulf, Iran, Shia Iran, a Shia majority right now ruled by the Sunni in Bahrain. Critically important to the United States from a national a security standpoint.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet has this installation in Bahrain, 100-acre base, 30-plus ships there, 6,000 American military personnel. A 20-country, 20-country Arab responsibility, 2.5 million square miles of water, the Persian Gulf oil pathways, national security pathways. A critical installation, one reason the United States will look more gingerly at Bahrain than it might perhaps at Libya.

We'll continue the conversation. When we come back, what should the White House do? What are the president's options? That's just ahead.


KING: The Obama administration says an array of options are being considered as it talks to allies about a response for the crisis in Libya. To that end President Obama spoke today with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. What can the international community do? And do critics who say the White House is being too timid and too slow have a point?

A good place to begin with the former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution -- Nic, I want to start with you. You've been in administrations at times of crisis. Listen to Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary here. He is being peppered at the White House saying will the president support a new fly -- a no fly zone. Will there be sanctions? Here's the response.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are no options we're taking off the table. But what we're focused on are the options that we can take to effect the situation in the near term. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nic Burns, no one is saying this is easy, but there are some people are saying why is it this taking so long to see definitive steps from the White House and from the international community?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: John, this is an extraordinarily complex situation on the ground in Libya. I mean there is essentially a civil war under way and the fate of the country is back and forth between the rebel groups and the Gadhafi regime is a very cynical brutal regime and there are a couple of consideration the administration has to be very careful about.

First of all, protection of American citizens and the other international citizens there -- if the administration were to take decisive action of a military sort and lead with other countries, it might imperil the lives of some of the remaining international citizens in the country or expose them to hostage taking. Secondly, this is in essence a situation where the United States may not have the greatest direct influence on Libyan leadership. Some of the European countries -- you named one of them -- France -- but also Italy have a long history. And it may be that those European allies are counseling a little bit of restraint.

KING: I had a conversation this morning with the former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, one of those considering running for the Republican nomination in 2012. And he said he sees essentially genocide, at least beginning inside Libya and he thinks the world community including our president needs to act more quickly. Let's listen.


KING: What would the president of the United States do? What would you do as president? Would you use military force? Would you impose a no-fly zone? If --

HUCKABEE: I think a no-fly zone would be --


HUCKABEE: Yes, a no-fly zone very important because that way you keep him from flying mercenaries in, maybe even a naval armada, somewhere off the three-mile international boundaries just as a presence and even to say we stand ready to do what is necessary to make sure that there's not an active genocide against those people.


KING: Does that make sense to you Bob Kagan or is somebody from the outside who perhaps doesn't have access to the intelligence?

ROBERT KAGAN, SR. FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, you know I don't think anybody is really talking about taking immediate military action now. The question is are we taking the necessary preparatory steps? I'm a little surprised and maybe -- and Nic might understand my surprise about this. Why we haven't had, for instance, a meeting at a senior level of NATO, just to discuss possible contingencies. After all there are all kinds of things that can happen in this Libyan affair which might require some kind of action. I would think in Nic's day there would be a meeting at NATO perhaps of defense chiefs to discuss possible contingencies, not take an action, but preparation.

Secondly, I don't understand, given the record of the previous four or five administrations, in a crisis such as this, why there are not U.S. naval vessels heading toward the general vicinity? What if this ferry can never get away for whatever reason? What if other contingencies that might require some U.S. naval vessels to be in the vicinity for rescue operations, let along for any kind of actions we might want to take in Libya?

I don't think that sending the secretary of state to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday really begins to address the kind of crisis that we're in now.

KING: Nick, what do you make of that? You know the NATO post very well personally. Should there be higher level meetings? Should there be more immediate meetings, as Bob suggests?

BURNS: I agree with Bob very much. You got to assume the worst about Moammar Gadhafi. His ramblings, messianic speeches of the last couple of days and interviews lead everyone to believe that, with his back to the wall, he's going to go out in a blaze of vicious attacks against civilians, peaceful civilians there and others. And so, if that's going to be the case, if we're looking at a looming humanitarian disaster, getting that Naval forces and Air Forces ready to rescue civilians, perhaps Libyans and certainly members of the international community who are there is imperative.

And at some point, there may be an opportunity as this crisis evolves for the U.S. to go to a flight zone. That would have to be in concert with our allies. So, I think NATO is probably the proper vehicle for that right now.

KING: Bob Kagan, your point is that the president should be preparing the American people for this, as well as getting those meetings on a quicker footing.

KAGAN: Maybe this thing will resolve itself in a pleasant way, although I'm dubious about that. But it seems to me there are some basic steps that any president would be taking in preparation. And yes, to some extent, preparing the American people.

And, by the way, yes, the United States does not have a lot of leverage on Moammar Gadhafi, but look, within the regime, within the Libyan military, people are making decisions every day as to whether they should follow Gadhafi's orders and slaughter civilians or they shouldn't.

And there are things that the United States and Europeans and the international community can be doing now to try to affect that decision-making process. If we make it clear for instance that they will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if they undertake those actions. If we make it clear that whatever bank assets they have overseas will be frozen and they'll be impoverished. If they make it clear that at some point down the road, the international community may take military action if it becomes absolutely necessary, we can possibly affect their decision-making in the near term, and in that way, influence the situation and perhaps save lives in Libya.

KING: Bob Kagan and Nick Burns, appreciate your insights in the middle of this volatile situation. Gentlemen, thank you.

BURNS: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thank you.

KING: And still to come: a report the Army illegally used psychological operations tactics on members of Congress in an effort to influence their views on the war in Afghanistan. I'll talk one on one with one of the targeted senators.

And a spectacular liftoff and a final mission for the space shuttle Discovery.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now:

A ferry carrying 167 U.S. citizens remain stuck in Tripoli, Libya's harbor, due to bad weather. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi blamed the revolt against him -- get this -- on hallucinogenic drugs distributed by al Qaeda.

It's a big day for Boeing. It just got the first slice of the $35 billion contract to build a new generation military fuel tanker. A European company originally won that contract.

A 20-year-old Saudi Arabian is under arrest in Texas for allegedly acquiring bomb-making chemicals and scouting potential targets, including the home of former President George W. Bush.

And blockbuster allegations in the upcoming issue of "Rolling Stone" magazine, that the U.S. military used psychological warfare to influence leading members of Congress to try to get them to approve more funding for the war in Afghanistan.

That "Rolling Stone" article says Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island was one of the targets of the operation. And he joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, you're not only a member of the United States Senate. You're a West Point graduate, a former Army Ranger. You know a little bit about psychological operations.

Were you a target, sir?

REP. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: I never sensed there was anything unusual last year, in contrast to my other visits over the last 10 years.

KING: And yet, if you read this article in "Rolling Stone," let me read you a quote from it, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes says, "My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave. I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use those skills on senators and congressmen, you're crossing a line."

General Petraeus has asked for an investigation. If the investigation concludes that General Caldwell did indeed ask that these tactics be employed against members of Congress and other travelling VIPs for the region, what should the punishment be, Senator?

REED: Well, first of all, I think General Petraeus is absolutely correct in initiating a very serious investigation. The results of those investigations should determine what happened. You have to establish if there was a violation of regulations or rules, if the nature of that violation, we're far from any type of sort of conclusion and also ultimate sanction.

KING: If you were the president or the secretary of defense, though, and it turns -- the investigation turns out that General Caldwell did indeed ask this be done, what would you do?

REED: Well, I don't think you can prejudge. You have to look very carefully at what was done. This is an issue that raises very serious questions. First of all, whether it was appropriate. Secondly, could it have been done legally according to regulations by someone not involved in psychological operations? Third, there's the issue that came up in the article of whether there was any type of retribution towards this psychological warfare officer.

All these are serious issues. They shouldn't be prejudged. They should be investigated thoroughly. And that point, when the facts are all in hand, the determination should be made.

KING: What went through your mind when we read this article and you read these allegations?

We're talking about Jack Reed, again, a West Point graduate, a former Army Ranger; John McCain, who, of course, was tortured by the Vietnamese; others from Congress, Joe Lieberman, Al Franken, Carl Levin, Congressman Steve Israel -- even Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is on the list in this article.

What went through your mind when you read it?

REED: Well, my first reaction was, you know, trying to think back over the course of the multiple trips I've made to Afghanistan. And nothing stuck out unusually.

KING: And you didn't scratch your head at all and say, holy, you know what, you know, what I actually -- do you think it actually be vulnerable? Do you think they could use that tactic on you? REED: You know, I think we have all to be very, very careful. That's why I think you must bring through any of these deliberations a very questioning, skeptical viewpoint. You know, having spent time as a young officer not in Vietnam, but in a Vietnam era army, I think -- I understand or at least grew up with the notion that you have to be questioning. You have to look at the institutional, the organization incentives that people have. Everyone is an advocate for a certain position.

So, you bring, I hope, a very, very weary and questioning mind to all these deliberations and you try to supplement, you know, an interview or a briefing by one individual with multiple different sources so you can compare, contrast and draw a conclusion not based upon, you know, a session, an intent session or otherwise, but on a whole range of experiences.

KING: You think Congress should look into this or wait until the Army investigation is done?

REED: Oh, I think we have to wait for the Army to complete its investigation. This has to be done seriously. It has to be done very, very thoroughly. And it has to be done in a rather timely way.

This is -- these questions shouldn't be hanging out. There shouldn't be any sort of cloud hanging over what we hope is and what we assume is a very candid dialogue between military personnel and the United States Congress. That has to be sort of the basis of the relationship.

KING: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island -- appreciate your time today.

REED: Thanks, John.

KING: Still to come:, the last mission of the space shuttle Discovery.

And next, a rare CNN interview with the former and possibly future presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.


KING: The second consecutive night I get to use my old friend here to go back in time. Last night in our conversation with David Axelrod, we showed you the Obama-McCain map from 2008.

Tonight, let's take a look at 2008 and the Republican primaries. Mike Huckabee, right here in Iowa, he started off big. The former Arkansas governor did winning the Iowa caucuses. But from there, things went downhill. The dark states, that's Mitt Romney. This red, that's John McCain who, of course, won the most and went on to win the nomination.

But Governor Huckabee now has written a new book. And because of this, we had a chance to sit down and have a conversation about what's in here and whether he'll run again. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's talk about Mike Huckabee, "A Simple Government." Now, let's talk more broadly first.


KING: Governor Romney writes a book. Governor Pawlenty writes a book.


KING: They start travelling the country and people, who do what I do for a living, connect the dots and say this is a precursor to a presidential campaign. Are you at that point from a certainty standpoint or still a question mark?

HUCKABEE: Well, it's a question mark. And part of the reason I wrote the book was to help answer the question because this is a book -- when I finished it, you know, you kind of get tired of a book after a while. You get all the queries from the editors and you just want to walk away from it. So then you have a little bit of time to refresh and then you take another look at it with fresh eyes.

I read this book and I said, this is really what I believe. This is what I stand for. If these were Luther, these are the 95 theses on the door at Wittenburg. So, what I'm saying in this, this is the message -- if people read this book and say, those are some ideas I can relate to, these are ideas I think would be good for the country, then that's going to help me believe that there is real support for what I stand for.

KING: And so, if you read the book, especially the early chapters, as you know, a number of Republicans moving around the country thinking about running.


KING: One of them is the governor of Indiana. And he has said quite forcefully, despite his views, which are similar to your views on most of the issues and the social issues --


KING: -- that he believes there should be a truce -- is the term he uses. Set them aside. Let's focus on the economy, the deficit, the fiscal crisis in the country.

If you read this book, especially again at the beginning --


KING: -- it seems like Mike Huckabee is saying, not only no, but hell no for that argument. Is that right?

HUCKABEE: Well, It's pretty close to that and here's why -- because I make it very clear. And in the very first chapter, I establish that the issues about family and marriage are economic issues. We have a $300 billion a year dad deficit in this country. That's the cost that the taxpayers for dads who disappear and let the government pick up their tabs for the kids.

We have also an issue where two-thirds of the children of this country who live in poverty wouldn't live in poverty if their mothers were married to the fathers of those kids.

So, when people say, I don't want to talk about social issues -- and let me be very clear: And I love Mitch Daniels. I think he would be a great presidential candidate, I think he would be a good president. But I'm not arguing with Mitch Daniel. I'm making the case that you cannot say these are peripheral issues if you really are concerned about the economy because there's an economic consequence of a broken family.

KING: So, let's go through some of it. And you write, "The worst of both worlds, out of wedlock birth and abortion." And you talked about how out of wedlock birth, you find those in poorer states. And more affluent people, you make the case, make a choice instead to get an abortion.


KING: What does a President Huckabee do about that? What is the government's role? Not a Pastor Huckabee --


KING: -- and not a parent Huckabee, but what about a president? What's a president or what do you want the government do about it?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think the purpose of a president is to elevate the point of an individual in every society and every country.

KING: Conversational standpoint or a legislative standpoint?

HUCKABEE: I think it's both. You know, if you see people who are enslaved, you don't just say, hmm, I wish people would not do that. You stand up and you fight it because you believe in the worth and value of every human soul. You don't think some people are worth more than other people.

I fundamentally think that this issue is not abortion. This issue about whether or not we believe that every human being has intrinsic worth and value. I tend to think we do.

KING: Do you propose reversing Roe v. Wade or do you do it more from a bully pulpit standpoint?

HUCKABEE: I think it's a bully pulpit. But I think it goes beyond Roe versus Wade. See? All they did was say that the states no longer could make the decision. The federal government would.

If you turn it back to the states, some states would have more liberal abortion that they have now. It wouldn't necessarily fix anything.

And then you have this geographical morality which I find absurd. That is the logic of the civil war -- that you can have some states where slavery is OK and other where it isn't. That doesn't make sense. If it's right, then everybody ought to abide by it. If it's wrong, then everybody ought to change.

So, the question is: is it right for one human being to take the life of another human being because it represents a financial burden or a social disruption? Now, that's an argument we can have. But once we've had it, then we have to decide that either it is OK or it isn't OK. I say it's not OK.

KING: Those who support gay rights and gay parents in the country will be taken aback by your chapters, your writings about gay parenthood. You called it a socialist parent. I'm going to read some of it.

"I believe that we're in denial about potential problems as we see more and more homosexual couples raising children. Essentially, these are experiments to see how well children will fare in such same- sex households. It will be years before we know whether or not our little guinea pigs turn out to be good at marriage and parenthood."

Some gay Americans, especially gay parents, will take offense at that. They will say --


HUCKABEE: They will take offense to virtually everything I say about marriage and the whole same sex marriage. I think the president stepped off into a deep hole when he decided arbitrarily and I think illegally that his attorney general and his Justice Department will not even defend the law of the land, which is the Defense of Marriage Act.

I think I've spent a page, maybe a page and a half in the entire book dealing with this issue. It will probably get a lot of controversy. I invite people to read it for themselves. Read it and if they think that I'm off-base, fine. Then they can sell it a used bookstore. But I think a lot of --

KING: Should government -- should government legislate forbidding same sex couples?

HUCKABEE: No. Government should legislate affirmation of what marriage is. Marriage is not whatever we want it to be. Marriage is a man and a woman committed in a relationship for life. That's all it's ever been.

Thirty-three states have had this on the ballot, 33, including very liberal states like Maine and California. And in every one of those states, no exceptions, none, those states have affirmed marriage to mean what it has traditionally meant.

KING: You also talk about "don't ask, don't tell." Don't serve. You call it, absurd the policy of your fellow Arkansan, Bill Clinton --


KING: -- put in place when he was president. President Obama --

HUCKABEE: And most people on the other side did, too.

KING: President Obama has now set in place the policy to repeal it. Would a President Huckabee say, whoa, no, we're going back to having -- openly gay not serve in the military, period?

HUCKABEE: I would do what I think a president should do -- and that's listen to your military, its leaders and its rank-and-file soldiers. They're the ones who are going to be most affected by this. This is not a political issue. This is an issue that needs to be decided in the best point for the military.

That's where I would leave it. And I think the decision would be very different than President Obama's decision.

KING: As you know from your last time out, taxation is a big issue in Republican primaries.


KING: And you talk in the book about lower, flatter, fair tax system.


KING: You also said yesterday, there are three ways to answer a question about taxes: Yes, no, not now -- yes, no, or not now. This is not now.

So, you do believe it is possible a president would have to raise tax, I assume because of the deficit in the country.

HUCKABEE: I don't think that's necessary. I really don't think that there is a need for more revenue in the government. What I do think there is is a need to cut the spending.

And I'm just not wanting to put myself in this what I call absolute permanent box. I mean, if we have a nuclear attack on the country, you know, you don't want to say, you know what, I said I wouldn't do anything about it.

My point is: do we need more money? Do we need more taxes? No. We need to cut spending. And that's my absolute point.

What we really need is a restructuring of the tax system we have. It's not just that we are taxing too much. It's that we're taxing the wrong way. We're taxing productivity. We're penalizing the productive and we're subsidizing the recklessly irresponsible.

I would reverse that. I would have a consumption tax. Not a tax on productivity. I would institute the fair tax. KING: We don't get to talk much. I work at CNN and you work at FOX News. And because of that, the only way you write a book do we get to seat down and have a conversation. What is it like there? You have Governor Palin, Speaker Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Governor Huckabee, do you guys have practice debates in the green room?

HUCKABEE: You know, I rarely -- in fact, I don't think I've ever bumped into Sarah Palin ever at FOX. I've rarely ever seen Rick Santorum because he's always in D.C. I occasionally see Newt, who is a good friend and I will bump into him from time to time. Those of us who do the program stuff, the hard-edged, the Newt Gingriches and the Rick Santorums, and the Mike Huckabees and Sarah Palins, we kind of live in our own little pasture over there.

KING: Governor, appreciate your time. Great to be with you.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.


KING: Nice to have a chance to spend some time with Governor Huckabee.

When we come back, Discovery's last mission in space.



ANNOUNCER: Two, one, booster ignition --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the final liftoff of Discovery, a tribute to the hard work and pride of America's space shuttle team. The shuttle (INAUDIBLE) --


KING: A near-picture perfect liftoff the shuttle Discovery this afternoon -- its final mission into space.

There was one cause of brief concern. We can show you the pictures just about four minutes into takeoff -- some pieces of foam. You can see them captured by the onboard camera. NASA though says even though they came off and they did hit the shuttle, NASA says no problem. Discovery now is safely on its way into space.

Let's take a close look at the 11-day mission as we bring this out and take a peek here. It's always majestic to watch those takeoffs.

What will happen over the next 11 days? The shuttle will deliver some storage modules and other spare components to the International Space Station. Also a big external platform for large equipment. Two space walks plan for maintenance and installation up there at the space station and they're delivering R2, the first human-like robot in space. That's a fun trip.

Let's look at the history of Discovery. First launch, August '84. Thirty-eight trips in all. More than 5,600 orbits of the earth. Carried the first female pilot; the first seating member of Congress. A hundred forty-three million miles of flight; nearly a year in orbit.

It took four years to build Discovery.

Now -- so this is Discovery's final mission. That's a big deal.

Other reasons to be so impressed here, though, the shuttle program is due to expire next year. Two more flights planned. Endeavour in April. Final flight in June. Only twice more -- with Atlantis will be the last flight -- only twice more when we have the majesty, the awe, and let's be honest, the trepidation of watching a shuttle liftoff.

We wish the Discovery astronauts a successful 11 days in space. We will track that mission.

We'll see you right back here tomorrow. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.