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CNN Larry King Live-Transcript

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CNN Larry King Live-Transcript

KING: George W. Bush delivers his next-to-last State of the Union address to the Congress full of a lot of would-be presidents. And an American public that believes he's moving the United States in the wrong direction. Did he say what he needed to say? Will his works make any difference?

Reaction from two high profile White House hopefuls, Democratic Senator Barack Obama and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Plus a whole lot more next on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

The next to the last State of the Union address by President George Bush is history and we begin our portion of this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who has formed an exploratory committee for a 2008 presidential run. Anything surprise you tonight?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) IL: No, I don't think there were any surprises. I think that the president had some serious proposals on health care and energy. I don't think they went as far or as comprehensively as I would have liked but I thought they were legitimate proposals and I think that the Democrats need to step up and offer to work in a constructive way with the president on that. I thought that he talked about with his commitments to dealing with AIDS in Africa and malaria. And I think he deserves great credit for that.

But obviously, the bulk of the speech was devoted to Iraq. And what you saw in the House of Representatives' hall was a real skepticism, I think, on both sides of the aisle about this escalation of troop levels. I don't think that he persuaded either the majority of Congress or the American people that it's the right approach to take.

KING: Did you see Senator Webb's response?

OBAMA: I'm sorry, did I see Senator Whose response?

KING: Webb.

OBAMA: I did see Senator Webb's response and I think that Senator Webb is an excellent spokesman on this issue, not only because he himself served, but more importantly, his son is serving right now.

And this is not somebody who takes these issues lightly. He believes in service to our country. He believes in America's mission around the world. But he also recognizes that the strategy that we pursued has not worked and that the president from the start has taken us down a path that has ended up being destructive to our national security, as opposed to promoting it.

KING: Senator, is -- in the upcoming campaign, is Iraq the overriding issue?

OBAMA: I think that for the country as a whole, Iraq is going to be the most immediate and pressing issue. But I think the country also feels a host of pressures on health care, on energy, on education. I think we are at a crossroads domestically as well as internationally, and so over the next two years, part of what we are going to be needing to do is to have a serious conversation about how we can unify around some serious approaches to these problems.

In some cases, they may require sacrifices. In some cases they may require some tough decisions. The point, though, is that it's going to have to be based on facts and pragmatism, not on ideology and rhetoric. And that's, I think, what the American people are hungry for.

KING: Are you ready, senator, for what you're about to undertake?

OBAMA: Well, I think my wife and I discussed obviously the enormity of running for president. And what we have concluded is that it is important if I believe that I have some unique capacity to bring the country together to at least step forward and offer myself up to the American people.

Those are a series of conversations between my wife and supporters that are still taking place on February 10th. We will have made a final decision.

But I can assure you my life is pretty good right now, Larry. I don't feel compelled by personal ambition. If I choose to do this, it's because in some way I think I can make a unique contribution.

KING: In a sense, whoever runs for president, is saying I'm the best person for this job.

OBAMA: Well, I think you shouldn't run if you don't believe that. And I won't run if I don't believe that I have a vision and the leadership capacity to create a better future for our kids and a better future for this nation.

KING: Senator Clinton, by the way, has decided to reject public financing for her campaign. Are you going to do the same?

OBAMA: Well, you know, this is something that, obviously, we are going to have to take a careful look at. I'm a big believer in public financing of campaigns. And I think that for a time, the presidential public financing system works.

Unfortunately, because funding has diminished relative to the cost of campaigns, I think you will see a lot of people opt out. And even as I support public financing, I think it's very important for Democrats to be competitive in the general election. That's a decision we are going to have to make.

KING: In an op-ed piece in today's "Washington Post," Dick Cheney's daughter Liz described your possible opponent Senator Clinton as hemming and hawing about her vote for the war resolution and lacking steel in the spine. Can you comment on that?

OBAMA: Well, I did not read the op-ed myself. I think that people made decisions to vote for this authorization. Many of them have expressed regret. I'm proud of the fact in 2002 at a time when I was on the brink of running for the United States Senate I called it as I saw it which was that I didn't see strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction. I thought this would get us bogged down in a war that would not improve our national security, which wouldn't provide us with a clear exit strategy.

That's proved to be the case. But at this point what the American people are really are looking forward to is leadership getting our troops home and stabilizing the situation and that's what I'm going to be focusing on over the next several months.

KING: And senator, how does Iraq, how does it all end?

OBAMA: I don't think we will have an optimal solution. One thing that's very important, the president in the State of the Union kept on mentioning the need for resolve in order to achieve victory.

And one thing I have to insist on, the American people have been extraordinarily resolved. More importantly our troops in the field have done an outstanding job and have shown outstanding resolve. But no matter how resolved we are, if we are taking the wrong road, we are going to see bad outcomes. And right now we have taken a wrong road and I don't see the kind of victory that I think the president still imagines, some sort of Jeffersonian democracy.

I think the best that we can hope for right now is that with considerable investment of time and energy and resources, that we can help the Iraqi government stabilize itself but we can only do that if it wants to stabilize itself. It's got to want it.

And that means combinations between Shia, Sunni and Kurd that have not been forthcoming. I think the only way to not change the dynamic is not escalate troop levels but to actually start beginning a phrased redeployment to send the signal to the Iraqis, we are not going to solve this problem militarily. You have got to come together and make some political accommodations.

There are risks involved in that strategy but, frankly, Larry, I think it has a much better chance of succeeding than this one. And I would add that most of the foreign policy experts that heard the last two weeks in the senate foreign relations committee agreed with my assessment, and that included not just those opposed to the war but some who supported it as well.

They felt at this point is send a signal to the Iraqi government that they have got to come to a political accommodation. And we don't do that by escalating troop levels.

KING: Senator, we will be seeing a lot of you along the trail. Good luck.

OBAMA: Larry, always a pleasure to talk to you.

KING: My pleasure. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois.

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