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tv   Larry King Live  CNN  October 3, 2010 9:00pm-10:00pm EDT

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>> keep up the fight, the good will always prevail. >> and hanna giles. she's keeping quiet about her future plans. but promises there's more to come. >> this is hope right here, guys. >> we love you, hanna. >> larry: tonight, bob woodward and president obama's wars on the battlefield and in the back rooms. the commander in chief shares his fears about a nuclear assault. says america could absorb another terror attack. and rips into pakistan. revealing it all and more to the journalist who takes us inside the oval office. why do presidents keep talking to bob woodward? we'll find out next on "larry king live.
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good evening. he's an old valued friend. we go back many moons. than we both care to say. he's the associate editor of "the washington post." number one "the new york times," best seller. this book just out is number one on amazon. "obama's wars" published by simon and schuster. thanks for being with us as always. this has a double meeting, does it not? >> it does. it's specifically the war in afghanistan, which is, of course, the war that obama adopted in the campaign and said he would take seriously and add troops, which he's done. it's also the war within the administration, particularly between the white house and the military. and they have different views. and there are large tensions. and what i've been able to do is get notes of meetings so you actually see the clash and the difference. and a lot of this has just not
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been settled yet. >> larry: as always well annotated in the back. you don't reveal all the names of your sources of course. are you timing this to possibly effect the election? >> no, no. it's when it got finished. and i wanted to -- this is the first unvarnished view of obama. they're very good, like the bush white house, the clinton white house, at managing the message and letting a little bit out, showing a little bit of leg. in this case, there are tens of pages of literally you are there in the situation room of the white house, watching the debate and the emotions. the intellectual arguments and the uncertainty. >> larry: i'm halfway through it, it's one of your best. >> thanks. >> larry: what surprised you? >> that obama has -- he operates on two levels. he's commander in chief and he's
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supporting the troops. he added 30,000 new troops. but he's the law professor. he's the intellectual. he's the one who looks at the data. and of course the data shows in the afghan war things are pretty dreary, not going well. and so his commitment is there, but he's holding back. he never uses the word "victory." he never uses the word "when." he always talks about, well, we'll succeed and he wants out. >> larry: by the way, brilliantly written about when he goes to dover air force base and watches the bodies come in. other presidents either didn't do or never let it be known that they did. how much did that touch him? did it change him? >> what is so interesting about that, he went in the middle of the night and he said to one of his aides, who was kind of -- well, why are we doing this, to see a bunch of caskets?
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and the president said, i'm going to see how the families deal with this. because the families that are there -- and they met with them individually and of course that's where the real impact of any war is on those who -- >> larry: and he puts a presidential pin on each coffin. >> a coin on each coffin. >> larry: bob woodward interviewed the president. it took place on july 10th. in talking to him about his handling of the war in afghanistan, bob asked the president about the nature of the war itself. here is an audio excerpt. >> the famous 2002 speech. u.s. occupation of undetermined length. undetermined cost. with undetermined consequences. if you think about that, undetermined time, undetermined cost, undetermined consequences. isn't this kind of the nature of all war? >> well, the -- you are
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absolutely right, that -- >> i ask that because you're wrestling with -- >> to quote a famous american, "war is hell." and, you know, once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don't know where it's going to lead. when i entered into office, we had two wars taking place. so once you're in, what you're trying to do is to impose clarity on the chaos. >> larry: you quote him saying he was dealt a bad hand. knew that when he was running, didn't he? >> oh, he certainly did. what's interesting about what he says about war, he just doesn't like war. >> larry: who does? >> no one, you know, certainly no president has, but he realizes that you lose control. and where he says he wants to
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impose order on the chaos, i asked him at the end, there's a quote from a book, a colleague of mine at the "washington post," rick atkinson, wrote of one of the great world war ii histories "day of battle." in it, rick, who is this sensational historian, who's just lived in world war ii, writes about war, and he says it corrupts everyone. that no heart is unstained in the process of war. i handed this to president obama. and he stood there and read it. and he said, i'm sympathetic to this view. go read my nobel prize speech. i went home and dug it out. and there it is, obama saying that war is never glorious. and saying that this war, any war, is manifestation of human folly. >> larry: some wars have been -- world war ii was won. vietnam. korea.
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we probably won that. they never went south. is anybody going to win this? >> well, that's -- that's his intellectual realization, that it's so complicated and so hard and -- so he won't use those words. and i asked him, well, you can't lose a war on your watch as president. no president can let that happen or be perceived to lose a war. and he said, well, i don't think in those terms of winning or losing. i think in terms of putting the country in a better position at the end. now, that is reasonable and sound. if you asked george bush that question, he would be jumping in his chair and saying, i'm going to win, i'm going to win, i'm going to crush him, bring him on. all of that tough guy language. which people have doubted but also --
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>> larry: they like. >> -- this is the will to win. as you know in contest living in any form, in sport, in journalism, this -- obama had it in 2008, which is "yes, we can." >> larry: all right. as a public though, do you gather from all your investigative stuff, that we're tired of war? >> yes. he says at one place that the american people are sick of this war. and he's exactly right. at one point, he lets on that if he did what he wanted to do, it would be to send 10,000 trainers and, really develop a specific exit plan -- >> larry: you can't do that? >> well, you know, we're in, he's committed. remember, the generals -- think of this. i call them kind of the five blocks of granite. you have general mcchrystal. in afghanistan. general petraeus.
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admiral mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs. secretary of defense gates. and then hillary clinton joined them in saying we have to add 40,000 troops. we have to be very aggressive in our strategy here. and so you have the top people saying to the president, not only should you do this, you have to do it. >> larry: when we come back, we'll find out how bob woodward gets the people to talk to him and did anybody absolutely refuse to? we'll be right back.
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>> larry: we're back with bob woodward. his newest best-seller is "obama's wars," available everywhere. do you ever wonder why a general would sit and talk to you, people who generally don't talk? >> i have time. i have 18 months to work on this. i've known some of these people. it's been published. i've known general petraeus going back to 1989 when he was a major in the army. i've known a lot of the other people and i just came in to the obama white house and said, i want to do this book. one of the key aides said, well, you're not going to find many
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deep throats around here. and at the end of the process, he was reading his notes of these top-secret strategy sessions. because people want to fill it in. >> larry: but you need trust, don't you? that you're going to quote them right? >> it's neutral inquiry. this is not -- i'm not coming from the left. i'm not coming from the right. there's no political -- you know, everything gets politicized. that's not what i'm trying to do. >> larry: did anyone say flat-out no to you? >> yeah, there were a couple of people, but they're not at the center of this. >> larry: how about stories that if people cooperate they get a good shot from bob woodward and if they don't they get raft? you've heard that over the years? >> of course. look at president obama. i mean, a lot of people have read this book and said it's very painful. >> larry: so far it is to me. >> to see that -- he's not sure what to do, that he's perhaps
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overintellectualizing. so people on the right, republicans, can look at this and say, he's not committed. democrats, all kinds of people who don't like the war, could read this and say, you know what, he got it, he understood that this is not just a bad hand, as he said at one of the end -- end of one of these monthly reviews, which he does, he walks out, and they're talking about kandahar and he's being briefed. he says, given that definition of the problem, i don't know how we come up with a solution to this. now, that was four months ago. >> larry: tell you whose strong, biden, right? >> yes, yeah. >> larry: i mean, he is -- he slams the fist down. >> biden, he does, and i asked president obama, doesn't this make you a little uneasy and jumpy? biden makes long passionate arguments. and president obama said no, that's exactly what i wanted him
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to do. i encourage him. get in there and hammer away. which of course biden does. >> larry: does he make a better case than the president? >> some people have read it and -- because biden said, look, send only 20,000 troops. the focus here is pakistan, not afghanistan. and president obama himself, in one of these meetings, said the cancer is in pakistan, this is where the safe havens are. so -- and biden goes on -- some people think it's a little too long, but it's a very succinct argument. and, of course, biden is the one who experienced -- he's older than obama, almost 20 years. knew vietnam. and vietnam is hovering throughout all of these debates. >> larry: it is, isn't it? >> yeah, it is -- >> larry: you lived through that. >> i lived through it. i was in the navy during vietnam.
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and somebody was asking today who did you vote for in 1968, and i voted for richard nixon because i thought he would have a better chance of getting us out of vietnam. it was clearly a war -- well, he eventually did or -- >> larry: how do you win -- >> yeah. >> larry: or i'll ask when we come back, assuming there's a terrorist born today, safe assumption, how do you win a war on terrorism? we'll be right back. and you'll hear more of bob's interview with the president too. don't go away.
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>> larry: we're back with bob woodward. we'll hear more from his interview with the president, the audio, of course. what -- how do you win this war? there's no mission accomplished, is there? how do you win? >> the secret orders, which are published in the back of the book here, that the president issued to everyone after he'd made his strategy decision at the end of last year, say they're four risks, four things we have to look at. one is afghan governance. president karzai. now, in one of the meetings, general petraeus says the karzai government is, quote, a criminal syndicate. now, that's your partner, a criminal syndicate.
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how do you make that better? this is in the news every day. then there's the second risk is the afghan security force. the police and the army. and this is our way out. we have to train them and equip them so we can get out. >> you got to do it but try not to get killed while you're doing it. >> and as one of the people says the attrition rate is so great, it's like pouring water in a bucket with the hole in the bottom. you can't build numbers up because so many are leaving. the third risk factor is international support, which is in peril. support in the country is in peril. and then the fourth, which is really the big issue, is pakistan. and, you know, look -- front-page story in "the new york times" today about the military in pakistan wants to get rid of president zardari because they don't think he's doing enough dealing with the catastrophic floods, dealing with corruption.
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>> larry: they've got a bomb. >> and they've got 100 nukes. >> larry: president obama's comments about a possible terrorist attack on the united states raised some eyebrows. listen in his own words. >> i said very early on as a senator and continued to believe as a presidential candidate and now as president that we can -- we can absorb a terrorist attack. we'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11 -- even the biggest attack ever -- that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger. this is a strong powerful country that we live in and our people are incredibly resilient. >> larry: regarding that quote, if bush had made that quote, or reagan, would have been applauded, right? hey, you can hit us, you're not going to take us, we can absorb it. bring us your best shot.
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that's what he's saying. >> well, but what obama's saying here is -- and, you know, there's been a lot of controversy about it. and i found it unusual that a president was willing to say that on the record -- >> larry: he said he said it in the senate? >> but he didn't. i looked through all the senate career. i had the white house. i had robert gibbs, the press secretary, look through. you know, where is this? and he didn't say that. but there's a certain realism here. and i think -- and, again, the book goes into great detail about the terrorist warnings that the president gets every morning, and it would make your hair stand up. and i honestly think he's preparing the country, saying, you know, somebody's going to get through. it hasn't happened. you can't have zero defects. we're not going to stop them all. >> larry: why are people angry at his statement? >> because it suggests that
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somehow we're, you know -- >> larry: vulnerable? >> -- it's okay, it's okay. i don't think that's what he was saying. and even bill o'reilly the other night, i was on his show, and he said, you know, that's -- the president, you know, should be applauded. early in the obama administration, remember, he actually said, i screwed up, when he made a mistake on something. presidents should be honest. i think the more transparent he is the better. and so, you know, he said we can absorb a terrorist attack. >> larry: let's talk about this former university president who serves two administrations. bob gates. what do you make of him? what's your read? >> yeah, gates. i've known gates since he was bill casey's deputy in the cia in the '70s. >> that's where you met him. >> and there's a fascinating story about gates' view of the world and sense of humor.
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in 1987 when i was coming out with the book "veil" about the secret wars of the cia during the reagan era, it was about to come out and the cia couldn't get a copy. gates called me up. he said, can we get a copy? we won't leak it to "the new york times." i said, fine, send somebody by to get it, come by my house. and he said, i'll come myself. and so he came. walked up on the doorstep. i gave him two or three copies. and he looked at me. and he said, sometime we have to have a talk about security. because obviously yours is better than ours. >> larry: we'll be right back. more on gates. more on lots of things. we'll even have bob read an excerpt from the book. don't go away. ♪
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>> larry: the book, as i said, one of his best, already a best-seller. "obama's wars." our friend bob woodward of "the washington post." you don't have to work there anymore, do you? >> no. but the newspaper business is going through a trauma now. >> larry: no kidding. >> but we got to keep 'em and we got to make 'em better and we got to figure out the business model. you were asking about gates. because gates is secretary of defense. is a key player here. done a rather remarkable job. holdover from bush. he agreed to stay a year. and then last year obama called him in kind of surprised him and said, i want you to stay the whole term. now, that's four years.
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and gates felt preempted, felt that -- the president started negotiating with him. gates felt the president sounds like a rug merchant. and said -- >> larry: he said that? >> and they agreed that he would stay for another year, so he's going to leave next year sometime. >> larry: is he happy or unhappy? >> well, you know, this is -- you know, in any institution when you've got a leader with one foot out the door, it asks, it begs, well, who's taking over, what are the policies, where are we? gates is focused on the job. there's no question about that. but he's thinking about washington state, where he and his wife becky have a home that they love. and this is somebody who's given public service like almost
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nobody else. he's worked for eight presidents or something like that. so who's going to take gates' place? who's going to take rahm emanuel's place? general jones, the national security adviser. >> larry: where is he going? >> he's leaving. so you've got -- again, it's this unsettled nature of exactly -- you know, are we going to win? what happens? what is the draw-down date next july? >> larry: what do you make of this whole staff? i mean, you know all the staffs going back a long way. what do you make of this one? >> it's political. they immediately think about what is the political impact. in one of these meetings, hillary clinton is giving her view, and she says to the president, you have to make this decision about troops in afghanistan. and on the back bench, robert gibbs, the press secretary, hears the "you" and immediately thinks, there's hillary distancing herself, not saying "we."
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part of the team. they're suspicious of her. because of the campaign. david axelrod says to -- >> larry: he's leaving too? >> and he's leaving. but axelrod says to the president, how can we trust hillary? now, i think the president does. but the political staff is, you know, it's the permanent campaign. >> larry: would you say of all the players, in the public's perception, she's the strongest? >> she is. but the white house controls. this is a very white house-centric operation. >> larry: they're not doing a great job of it. >> well, you know, she -- i tell you, she denies it publicly. that taking the secretary of state job is anything to do with politics or her future. do the math. in 2016, she could run and be elected and she'd be younger than ronald reagan. as we know, women maintain their health longer so, you know. she's got these advisers who
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kind of look at all of this and are riding both horses. >> larry: what do you make of the rumor? now everybody talks. that the possibility that the president moves biden to state and hillary runs with him in '12? >> as the vice president? that's in the book. that's one of the calculations by the political advisers -- >> larry: what do you make of it? >> it's possible. hillary clinton is -- she's got women. she has latinos. she has senior citizens. >> larry: it would be a tough ticket. >> and it would be a tough ticket. depends on who the republicans put up. it would be interesting. biden becomes secretary of state. a more visible daily role. she moves to the vice presidency. and, you know, three of them go out there and they're all smiles and no regrets. >> larry: do you -- from what you've learned, are you optimistic that this can come out?
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i'm sure all americans -- maybe a few want them to fail. that this can come out okay? afghanistan? pakistan? >> you know, it's -- it's the hardest case. and there is a time last spring where obama sends general jones' national security adviser and the cia director, leon panetta, to pakistan. after the times square bomber. almost went off. could have killed hundreds, thousands of people. and they read the riot act to the pakistani leadership, including president zardari. and say, look, this is, in our opinion, was a successful attack because pakistani intelligence, u.s. intelligence, didn't figure out that it was going to happen. then read what is called -- fascinating cia talk. called the link chart to zardari. connecting the bomber to
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people in pakistan. these phone calls. these relationships. money transfer and so forth. and they tell zardari if there are all these groups that are planning attacks. if that happens, all bets are off. and things will happen. the president will have to do things you won't like. they have a secret plan. >> larry: they do? >> a retribution plan. so the stakes and the uncertainty here couldn't be higher. >> larry: bob quote from his own book. more to come. the book, "obama's wars." don't go away. doesn't mean it is clean. but with one sheet of bounty, you'll have confidence in your clean. in this lab test, just oney leaves this surface thr than the bargain brands. want confidence that your surfaces can get really clean?
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>> larry: before we have bob excerpt a little from his own book, we were discussing during the break, and i'll have him tell me, who, if you were the president who would you ask to be the next secretary of defense? >> what's interesting --
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>> larry: you don't want to answer -- >> no, obama needs good news. as he's learned, he's not commander in chief of the economy. but he is commander in chief of the war in afghanistan. gates is leaving. who would you call in to take gates' place? this is the key player. colin powell. and if you think about it, this -- powell served in vietnam. is a -- >> larry: twice. lieutenant seen bad wars. was the chairman of the joint chiefs during the first gulf war. saw this iraq wmd screwup and how intelligence can mislead you and so forth. he's in his early 70s. but there is the person who could come in and say this is how we're going to do it. this is the strategy. when powell speaks, there's no kind of wobble. during the first gulf war, he gave that briefing and said this is saddam hussein's army. what we're going to do, we're
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going to kill it. and, of course, they killed a lot of it. and we got out of that war very quickly. >> larry: as a loyal soldier, do you think he would be inclined to take it? >> i think he would hate it in the idea that anyone is on national television suggesting it. i'll get a call tomorrow. he loves his life. but commander in chief. remember this is a man, powell, who served 35 years in the military and saluted presidents or superior officers down the line. obama calls him in and said, i need you. you're the one to do this. and, you know, maybe powell could figure out a way, and there would be some good news, where we kill the people who need to be killed. and we also shorten the war. >> larry: would sure know how to get along with generals. >> certainly know how to get along with -- >> larry: excerpt, a little --
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>> yeah, this is a moment, key, on the eve of obama's final decision about the new strategy and adding 30,000 troops. joe biden who's been pounding this alternative realizes he's kind of lost. >> larry: he wanted less, right? >> he wants less troops. but he's won on the strategy. and he's up in nantucket over thanksgiving weekend. and he says to the president, i'll come, because the president's going to meet with the whole national security team and hand out this term sheet of his secret orders. "i'll come early and we'll talk." obama, no, no, no. biden, of course, goes anyway. comes to the white house. stands at the portico. as obama's coming down from the residence to go meet with the national security team. and then the following happens. biden says, look, you have to issue these restrictive orders. this is not what you think.
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this is an order. if we don't stick to these orders, there's no exit. we're locked into vietnam. then president obama says something that i think is really important because biden said, look, what you're doing may not work. and if it doesn't work, and, of course, this is interesting that the vice president will speak to the president this way. you may get to the point where you've got to make a really tough god damned decision, man. not "mr. president" but "man." obama says, i'm not signing on to a failure. if what i proposed is not working, i'm not going to be like these other presidents and stick to it based on my ego or my politics, my political security. end quote. this is barack obama saying i'm not going to be lyndon johnson. >> larry: we'll be back with more. "obama's wars." don't go away.
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>> larry: you just read that incredible excerpt. how does biden get away with that? >> yeah, that's exactly the right question. and -- because he lost to a certain extent. he didn't get a reduced troop level. and people have talked to him. and this is about, you know, what, he's age 67. he's reached a point where he knows who he is and what his job is. he tells people, he says, i know i'm vice president, not president. and what the president has done is given him air time, in a sense, unlimited air time in these internal discussions, and in this case, you know, there is -- there's an intimacy here that is rather astonishing. >> larry: calls him "man." >> yeah, "man."
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>> larry: also, i think biden, when he goes on to this show, i don't think he has to check with the white house as to whether he can go do an interview. maybe he does. i don't think he does. >> i don't know. it's -- and you need people who are going to, you know, say, hey, man. >> larry: here's a question that could directly be related to this book. what makes a good commander in chief? >> you have to get it right. you have to have -- i think the key word is trust. you have to have a process. and i think this process was very sophisticated. very intense. and you've got to communicate. i'm getting calls now from mothers on the phone, and i don't want to overdramatize it, but who are -- my son is over there. he's fighting.
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what is going on here? it seems that they're divided. it seems that they don't agree. why doesn't the president talk about winning? we're talking about degrading the enemy. not killing them. what does that mean to my son with his rifle in the foxhole? and so forth. and so the commander in chief's got to get up there and say -- sometimes you have to meet the ambiguity and kind of say maybe this sounds ambiguous. but this is where i stand. this is what we're going to do. quite frankly, i don't want to overplay this, but colin powell or somebody like that going in there who's going to say, you know what, i've been there, done this. i mean this is -- colin powell is a walking history of -- >> larry: war. >> -- the united states military, going back to vietnam, everything. >> larry: do generals have to like -- talk about guts, truman
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fired mcarthur. >> that's right. in the book, one of the themes is the generals won't give the president options. he, at the meeting. i mean, think of this, the white house situation room, in the basement. i've been in that room. it's elegant. no windows. big black chairs. and they're sitting there. and the president said, you told me you were going to give me three options today. you're only giving me one. and the chairman of the joint chiefs says, yes, and the president turns to gates, the secretary of defense, and said, bob, this is unacceptable. and gates says, yes, mr. president, we owe you that option. they never give it to him. he has to figure it out himself. >> larry: "obama's wars" is the book. bob woodward is the guest. we'll be right back. hoo? omnaris. [ men ] omnaris -- to the nose! [ man ] did you know nasal symptoms like congestion
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>> larry: there's no slow news day anymore. >> leon panetta is quoted as saying this is a crazy kind of war. >> larry: it's a crazy kind of world. >> it's a crazy kind of world. exactly. >> we all know and you all know this when we were at the white house recently, obama walks into the room with a stride a very self-confident guy. what does he worry about? >> he told me that. he just kind of volunteered. he said my number one worry, the thing i'm worried about is terrorists setting off a nuclear weapon in an american city. and that would be a game changer. turns out at this time last spring they conducted a secret exercise in the white house called the continuity of operation exercise. what would they do in the government if this happened. and in the exercise scenario, terrorists set off a nuke in indianapolis, indiana, and thousands of people were killed and they deal with how the
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government handles it. the problem is in the exercise they never talk about what the media does, what the public does, what the congress does. now, if something like that happened, god forbid, the media's going to go crazy, congress is going to go crazy. the public is going to go crazy. this can't be -- you can't just look at this as something the federal government, the intel agencies, and the president and the white house are going to have to deal with, and people i talk to who were participants in this said sadly were woefully unprepared to deal with something like this. >> larry: also, we're a democratic state, so you can get into this country. >> oh, yes. so true. >> larry: all can you do is all you can do, right? >> we're vulnerable. so this is -- i did four books on bush, and in the last interviews i did with him there was a fatigue there. and i talked to somebody who was
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working with him on his memoir which will be out in a month or two, which is going to be interesting. and what's bush doing? well, he's working on his memoir, and he's recovering from the presidency. >> larry: back with our remaining moments with bob woodward. we'll have another excerpt after this.
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>> larry: we're running out of time unfortunately. we have another audio clip from bob woodward's july interview with president obama talking about his biggest concern when it comes to another possible terror attack. i think we just discussed that. let's listen. >> what you've seen is a metastasizing of al qaeda where a range of loosely-affiliated groups now have the capacity and the ambition to recruit and train for attacks that may not be on the scale of a 9/11, but
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obviously could still be -- >> one man, one bomb. >> one man, one bomb, in times square, on a subway, which could still have obviously an extraordinarily traumatizing effect on the homeland. and that makes our job tougher. it means that the information we need to go against those networks is more granular. it has to be more specific. and all those are significant challenges. >> and then he said what he worries about is a nuke -- >> larry: before you leave, clinton in '94 took a big hit in the congressional elections and came back and won in '96. assuming he gets hit, how will he handle that?
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>> obviously we don't know. but it's a good thing for politicians and people and journalists to suffer setbacks, make mistakes, kind of reorient, repot the plant and kind of say, okay, now this is the way forward. and if you look at obama, he hasn't had a lot of setbacks in his life. and this will be the real test in the world of the economy, in the world of dealing with congress, in the world of making that emotional connection with the american public, in the world of wars and terrorism. he's got some things that are too unsettled and he clearly has the capacity, i think really in all of this, there's a lot of criticism leveled at him. one of the things you do as a journalist is you have to ask
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the question is this good faith or bad faith? and i think everything he does is based on good faith. i think he really cares about all of these things. i think he devotes extraordinary amount of time. he needs more help, quite frankly. i think some of the people around him, as we say, have not served him as well as they should and he needs to identify the people out there who can really march up to the war and the economy and dealing with congress. >> i only have 30 seconds, is he going to get hit bad in november, do you think? >> it looks like it. look, this is a country that votes its resentments. the declaration of independence, two-thirds of it, is a list of grievances against george iii. we have grievances and we vote them, but that's democracy. i wouldn't worry about that.


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