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President Bush Wraps Up Public Phase Of Listening Tour At The Pentagon; Mowaffak al-Rubaie Saying That Iraqi Security Forces Ready To Lead The Way; Search for a Killer in Ipswich, England
Aired December 13, 2006 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a worsening war, a worried public, but President Bush says he will not be rushed into deciding a new course for Iraq. The president huddles with top advisers and says he'll reject any advice he feels would lead to defeat.
If the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia would back Iraq's Sunnis. King Abdullah gave that warning to Vice President Dick Cheney, a source tells CNN.
Might that weaken ties between the allies and between the Bush family and the House of Saud?
And in England, five women found dead in 10 days, all believed to have been prostitutes. Now many fear a modern-day Jack The Ripper is on the loose.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Top Pentagon officials weighing in today on the way forward for Iraq. President Bush meeting with the joint chiefs of staff, as well as the outgoing defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and his replacement, Robert Gates.
In a statement afterward, the president spoke directly to U.S. troops in Iraq, pledging what he called his unshakable commitment to securing peace and adding the stakes are simply too high to just give up. He also said he won't be rushed into a new policy.
Meanwhile, a warning from Saudi Arabia. A U.S. source tells CNN King Abdullah read Vice President Dick Cheney "the riot act" -- that's a quote -- over the situation in Iraq and said that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia will back the Sunnis in their struggle against the Shiites.
We have complete coverage for you today with CNN's Nic Robertson in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.
But let's go to the White House once again with Ed Henry -- Ed. ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president would not tip his hand on a new strategy, but he made clear that he's determined to take his time to get this right.
HENRY (voice-over): President Bush wrapped up the public phase of his listening tour at the Pentagon with a direct message to U.S. troops wondering about his next move in Iraq, declaring that despite the public pressure, he's not bringing them home any time soon.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have my unshakable commitment in this important fight to help secure the peace for the long-term.
We're not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm.
HENRY: With even his incoming defense secretary, Robert Gates, saying the U.S. is not winning in Iraq, the president tried to reassure the nation that military commanders insist progress is being made.
BUSH: In the months of October, November and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.
HENRY: But amid criticism his administration has downplayed the sectarian strife, the president was brutally frank.
BUSH: The violence has been horrific. Scores of innocent men, women and children are being brutally killed by ruthless murderers.
HENRY: The president revealed he delayed his speech unveiling a new strategy because he does not want to be rushed into a snap decision.
BUSH: I've heard some ideas that would lead to defeat and I reject those ideas, ideas such as leaving before the job is done; ideas such as not helping this government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job. I've heard interesting ideas. I won't share them with you, because I want to -- I want to make sure I continue to collect those ideas.
HENRY: But people familiar with the deliberations say one idea the president is considering is sending more troops to Iraq, at least for a short period of time. Obviously, though, that could be a controversial move -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly would be.
Thanks very much for that, Ed.
And as the president weighs what to do, he's getting conflicting advice on whether sending more troops to Iraq will help turn around the war or simply add fuel to the fire.
Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre with that part of the story -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for months, U.S. commanders have insisted that that would not help in Iraq. Yet, now that option is something that the president is looking at very seriously.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): President Bush is considering ignoring the advice of the Iraq Study Group and some of his top commanders, by ordering tens of thousands of U.S. reinforcements to the worst parts of Iraq. It would be a desperate attempt to stop the killing that has undermined the chances for political reconciliation. But it's also an option that was flatly rejected just last month by the top commander for Iraq, General John Abizaid.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.
MCINTYRE: Abizaid says he polled every division commander in Iraq and they agree with him. But critics who have the ear of the president argue the current military leaders are too stuck on their old strategy.
KEN ADELMAN, FORMER PENTAGON ADVISER: The generals in the Pentagon are going to say, you know, steady as she goes. But that means, in essence, steady as she sinks.
MCINTYRE: Ken Adelman was a former adviser to outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He once predicted toppling Saddam Hussein would be a cake walk. Now he says his former boss is in denial about how dire things are.
ADELMAN: What I would do is double the American troops in Baghdad for the next six months. And I would change the commanders in Iraq. Generals Abizaid and Casey are patriotic and wonderful people, but they haven't gotten the job done.
MCINTYRE: The big question is whether a surge of troops in the short-term would really change the outcome in the end. Most experts are pessimistic.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There was a time where a combination of the best army units and the U.S. could control Baghdad and limit the Mahdi Army. I don't know if that's still possible.
MCINTYRE: Wolf, don't forget the Iraq Study Group rejected the idea of sending substantially more troops, because they said the U.S. military wasn't big enough to sustain that. Now it turns out that both the Marine Corps and the Army are expected to ask for an increase in their size. But it's doubtful that would be fast enough to provide any quick help in Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It takes some time to train a military, Jamie.
Thanks for that.
Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.
Key to any new strategy is the ability of Iraqi troops to stand up so American troops can stand down. Now, Iraq is hinting that may happen sooner rather than later.
Joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Nic Robertson -- Nic, the national security adviser of Iraq, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, suggesting that the Iraqis are, in fact, now ready to take over security of Baghdad, this huge metropolitan area of, what, seven, eight million people.
What's going on?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said that this plan was presented to President Bush by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki two weeks ago, when they met in Jordan. What Mowaffak al-Rubaie is saying is that Iraqi security forces are now ready to lead the way, that the U.S. troops here can just support them, back them up, perhaps with helicopters, perhaps when they get into a really bad firefight.
But what it's suggesting is, is that U.S. troops should pull out of the center of the city, should withdraw into the suburbs and stay out of the way. And this is -- this is his opinion.
Not only that, he says that United States troops also should stay completely out of the sectarian tensions and fights that are going on now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You've just come back from being embedded. You went out in the neighborhoods in Baghdad.
Is this realistic?
ROBERTSON: In some neighborhoods it is. The neighborhood I was in in the west of Baghdad was almost entirely a Sunni neighborhood. And, therefore, it has very low sectarian tensions. You don't have that mix of communities where one half is Sunni, one half is Shia.
And in that area, an area where there are some 2,000 or so Iraqi Army soldiers, there were only 44 U.S. military trainers with them. But that was a small area.
And there are other places where those sectarian tensions are really bad, where a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said right now that the tensions, sectarian tensions are boiling over and the Army can't cope. And I asked a military commander today, what about that massive Shia suburb of Sadr City? Two-and-a-half million Shias run-by an armed militia, the Mahdi Militia.
I said how are you going to disarm that militia?
And he said look, the Army is not in a position to do it.
So generals within the Army here really questioning what the national security adviser is outlining, that they're ready to control the city -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're hearing reports, Nic, that some of those mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, Sunni and Shia living together, are increasingly becoming less so. In other words, the Shia are leaving predominantly Sunni areas; the Sunnis are leaving or getting killed in the predominantly Sunni areas.
Is that happening? In other words, is the ethnic cleansing, if you will, going on?
ROBERTSON: There's almost a sectarian fault line that runs north to south in Baghdad at the moment, where there are these mixed neighborhoods. You get one attack in one neighborhood and an hour later there's a revenge attack that will drive maybe 40 people out of their homes. Then another revenge attack in the other community's neighborhood that will perhaps kill a couple of families.
And what we're seeing is in some of those neighborhoods that the citizens who no longer place any trust and faith in the Iraqi security forces to protect them are now barricading their streets, taking to their streets at night with weapons and they will shoot and kill any stranger that comes into their neighborhood they don't know, because they believe and fear that there are people from the other community -- if it's Sunnis, they believe the Shias will come in, kill them in their beds, take away their women and children.
These are very real fears here. The sectarian tensions are on a hair trigger at the moment and these vigilante groups are out on the streets at night. It's a very volatile situation.
Interestingly, some of the Sunni groups told us they only feel safe when American soldiers are around, because that's the only time, they say, that they can be sure they're going to be protected -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson, stay safe over there.
Thanks very much.
These guys do an incredible job in Baghdad under extremely dangerous circumstances and we're grateful to each and every one of our journalists working over there.
And I know Jack Cafferty is, as well -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Amen to that. Thanks, Wolf.
Most Americans don't think that history is going to be very kind to President Bush. A new "USA Today"/Gallup Poll shows more than half of those surveyed, 54 percent, say that Mr. Bush will be judged as either below average or a poor president. That's more than double the negative rating of any of the five presidents who preceded him.
Twenty-seven percent say the current President Bush will be remembered as average. Only 19 percent say that he will go down in history as outstanding or above average, less than one in five.
Compare that to his predecessors. Sixty-four percent gave President Reagan a positive rating; 45 percent President Clinton; followed, in order, by President Carter, the first President Bush and President Ford.
The White House told the newspaper "USA Today": "Presidents are often viewed very differently by history than they are by their contemporaries." And some experts agree that with time, President Bush's image could change. It could get worse as well as better.
The question, then, is this -- how will history judge President Bush?
E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
I'll show you in a few minutes.
Up ahead, Saudi Arabia's king -- did he read Vice President Cheney the riot act over the situation in Iraq?
We're going to show you how it could impact efforts to forge a new U.S. strategy.
Also, we'll take a closer look at the relationship between the Saudi royal family and the Bush family, ties that go back generations.
Plus, five victims in 10 days -- we'll have the latest on the hunt for a possible serial killer.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're now on our top story.
President Bush ponders the best way forward in Iraq, but says he will not be rushed. But Saudi Arabia is warning against one option. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has warned the vice president, Dick Cheney, that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia would back Iraq's Sunnis.
Our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This potentially is explosive.
JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be because if Saudi Arabia were to back the Sunnis and the Sunni insurgents, and, who knows, maybe even al Qaeda, in a civil war against the Shiites, it could engulf the entire region because Iraq is a predominantly Shiite country. It sits right on the fault line between Iran and the rest of the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Sunni country, as is Jordan, as is Kuwait. They all have minority Shiite communities, as well.
So if Saudi Arabia were to get involved in this sort of fight, providing financial support, material, maybe even fighters, as well, it could draw in other nations in the region. It could certainly pull Saudi Arabia into it, as well.
Now, this whole idea, Wolf, got started back at the end of November. You remember talking with Prince Turkey al-Faisal, who is the Saudi ambassador to the United States...
BLITZER: At least has been until recently.
ROBERTS: Yes. He just said that he was going to resign. But a former security consultant to Saudi Arabia's ambassador wrote this. And Nouaffa Obad (ph) wrote this about potential options in case Iraq's Sunni population were to fall prey to the majority Shiites. He said: "Options now include providing Sunni military leaders with the same types of assistance, funding, arms and logistical support that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years."
Now, on your program, "LATE EDITION," Prince Turkey said no, no, no, no. That's not true. We disavow those remarks. We put out a statement to the opposite effect.
But we have found out from talking with officials today, Saudi sources who would not go on camera, that yes, in fact, there have been discussions about this. It's all hypocritical right now. It's -- there's a lot of ifs.
But if it came down to that point, that that's something that they would definitely have to look at.
We talked with Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution about that whole prospect.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If the American troop presence were not there to mitigate the war, the Sunni Arabs, with the smaller forces and smaller numbers, would almost certainly lose decisively. There could be substantial genocide in the process. And I think under these circumstances, it would be not only natural, but perhaps even justifiable for the Saudis to consider some level of assistance to the party that would be taking such a beating under the most likely circumstances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So O'Hanlon there saying that the Saudi Arabians might even be justified in providing that sort of support for the Sunni minority in Iraq. And the State Department, as well, saying look it, the Saudis have legitimate concerns about Iran's influence creeping right up to their doorstep.
But everyone who is involved in this, at the discussion level, is certainly hoping that this is something that can be avoided, Wolf, because of this potential for a regional conflagration.
BLITZER: They're worried about a Shia arc, if you will, going from Iran through Iraq, elements in Syria...
BLITZER: ... all the way to Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. They're very concerned about this Shia domination of what, for the last 100 years or so, has been a largely Arab Sunni domination.
ROBERTS: Right. And people say well, isn't Syria a bloc because it's a predominantly Sunni country?
But don't forget that the ruling elite in Syria are members of the Alawite clan, Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shiaism.
ROBERTS: So that arc could stretch right from Iran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
BLITZER: From Hafez al-Assad to Bashar al-Assad. They've been Alawites, indeed.
Thanks very much, John, for that.
The Bush family has had a long and close relationship with the Saudi royal family.
So might this new development affect those ties?
Let's bring in our Brian Todd.
He's picking up this part of the story -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the wake of what's now being called a tough meeting between Vice President Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah, U.S. and Saudi officials are careful not to say the relationship is strained.
But people who study the ties between the Bush family have the House of Saud say the dynamic may never have been less comfortable than it is now. If that's the case, a decades-old family bond may be on the line.
TODD (voice-over): Publicly holding hands and greeting reporters -- gestures meant to send a message these ties will endure. For two generations, the Bushes and the Saudi royal family have forged common political and business interests into historic personal ties.
Experts trace it back to George Bush, Sr.'s first contact with Saudis as an oil executive in the 1960s, then to Bush's stint as CIA director in the next decade.
But Craig Unger, who wrote "House of Bush, House of Saud," says the relationship was cemented when Prince Bandar bin Sultan became the Saudi ambassador to the United States in the early '80s, working with then Vice President George Bush on a massive contract to sell weapons to the kingdom.
That bond, he says, set the tone for the next 20 years.
CRAIG UNGER, "HOUSE OF BUSH, HOUSE OF SAUD": Bandar would end up going to Kennebunkport, Maine. He would just show up in the kitchen there, to Barbara Bush's astonishment. He became known as Bandar Bush. And he would drop by the White House uninvited at times.
TODD: 1991 -- on the invitation of then Saudi King Fahd, George Bush, Sr. launches his forces from Saudi soil and drives Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, in the view of many experts, strengthening the loyalties between the two families.
When it's time for his son to seek office, according to reporter Bob Woodward, the former president enlists Prince Bandar to counsel George W. Bush on foreign affairs.
But experts say September 11th, Saudi opposition to the current war in Iraq and another conflict that strikes emotional cords with the Saudis have frayed family ties.
RICHARD MURPHY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: They've mentioned in particular the Arab-Israeli issue, the Palestinian talks, which this administration has not been seriously engaged in. That's caused great anxiety on the Saudi side.
TODD: Can the family friendship get back to where it once was?
The experts we spoke to seem doubtful. One of them says Iraq has opened up a lot of forces that are getting out of control -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.
When you think things can't get worse, they clearly can.
We'll check back with Carol Costello.
There's an important developing story she is following -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A developing story having to do with those Taco-Bell restaurants and E. Coli. There's an FDA conference going on right now. They now suspect either lettuce or cheese may be responsible for carrying the E. Coli bacteria that made so many people sick in the Northeast.
As you know, 50 some restaurants, Taco-Bell restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, customers who went to those restaurants came down with, you know, bad intestinal problems because of this E. Coli.
At first they thought it was green onions. But now the FDA is saying it might be lettuce or cheese.
We're going to continue to monitor that conference, Wolf.
When we know more, of course, we'll pass it along to our viewers.
BLITZER: Thank you very much for that, Carol Costello.
We're going to get back to you soon, as well.
Coming up, some of the top presidential contenders for 2008 actually on their way to Iraq or in Iraq right now. We're going to talk about it in our Strategy Session with Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan.
And how much experience does it take to be president of the United States?
Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, says it depends.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Happening now, President Bush huddling with top Pentagon officials as he weighs a new strategy for Iraq. But he says he won't be rushed. He rejects leaving before the job is done and vows to give U.S. troops all the tools they need to succeed.
Also, South Dakota's Democratic Senator Tim Johnson hospitalized right now after suffering what his office says was a possible stroke. If he's unable to return to work, South Dakota's Republican governor could appoint a replacement and that could tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
And in Oregon, time running out as bad weather moves in, hampering the search for three climbers missing on Mount Hood. There's a growing sense of urgency, with a storm expected tomorrow packing hurricane-force winds and more than a foot of snow.
I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As President Bush seeks advice over Iraq's future, one Democratic Senator is offering this suggestion -- come up with a policy based on realism, not slogans. He says that's what American troops deserve.
And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Democrat, a key member of the Armed Services Committee.
Senator, you don't want any more U.S. troops to go in, even if, what, the military commanders say they need a surge for six months, 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 in order to get the job done? You think that would be a bad idea?
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think that they would have to justify very carefully the increase in troops. I think they would have to and the president would have to define the mission clearly; also, the resources necessary; the effects on the Army. And I'm a little bit dubious about a short surge, because, frankly, one of the mistakes that we've made persistently in Iraq has been these short little momentary adjustments without thinking the long -- taking the long view.
So I would have to be convinced, I think, that a surge of troops like that, particularly on the order of 20,000 to 25,000 would be effective.
BLITZER: The troops are now getting ready for their fourth, fourth Christmas in Iraq.
If the U.S. hasn't been able to get the job done so far -- and it seems to be getting worse on the ground on a daily basis -- what makes you think another six months, another year is going to make much of a difference?
REED: Well, the critical decisions that have to be made there are not essentially military, they're political, and they have to be made by the government of Iraq. They have to take real steps to suppress these militias. They have to take real steps for reconciliation. And if these political decisions are made, today with economic investment and a real attempt to get people to work, then we might have a different context in which the military effects can work.
So I think the emphasis has to be and should be on these political decisions that the Iraqi government must make immediately.
BLITZER: I spoke the other day with Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, a man you know. He simply says he's at the end of his rope right now, as far as Iraq is concerned.
Are you at the end of your rope?
REED: Well, I believe we're at a moment of critical decision. This is the last best opportunity to get a strategy in place that'll work, that will deal with the regional consequences, that will have realistic goals and resources to accomplish those goals.
Time is clearly running out. When General Abizaid was before the Armed Services Committee last month, he talked in terms of four to six months. And we're losing time.
That's why the president, I think, has to move out very quickly with his revised strategy and make a compelling case to the American public that this is real change that will realistically deal with the issue on the ground in Iraq.
BLITZER: So I take it you're not yet ready to go along with Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich?
He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. He's now running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He wants funding for the war simply to be cut off right away.
REED: I don't think that's the appropriate approach. We have 140,000 American soldiers and Marines and other members of the American forces in Iraq. We have troops in Afghanistan. They deserve the full support of the United States.
I think we have got to get the policy right and that's the responsibility, right at this moment, of the president. He has to look at these facts. He has to develop a path forward that will be based on realism and not on slogans, and one that will recognize that we're in a very serious situation and we have to manage the consequences of the mistakes that he and his administration has made.
BLITZER: He says, Congressman Kucinich, there's $70 billion in the pipeline that's already been approved, appropriated, use that money to withdraw the troops.
REED: Well, I just think that what we suffered throughout, and particularly at the hands of the administration, is a poor strategy, and a strategy that doesn't recognize the consequences of what we're doing.
The administration went into Iraq with the very grandiose ideas of being greeted as liberators, etc. and the reality has to be faced. The reality is that there are real consequences to a precipitous withdrawal. There are real consequences to not getting a stable situation in place or trying all we can in Iraq. And I think we have to be cognizant of that. So I'm not one who would say just -- you know, right now just start pulling out.
BLITZER: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Iraq a real hot-button issue for President Bush and those pressing him to make a course change right now. It's also becoming a popular destination for some would-be presidential candidates. Joining us in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst Paul Begala, and Bay Buchanan, CNN political analyst and president of American Cause.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
First of all, what do you make of the fact that now several of these presidential hopefuls are in Iraq, trying to see the situation up close and very, very personal?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it's good. I mean, travel broadens a person. I don't think they should be under any illusion that they're seeing the real Iraq. Right?
They'll see a very carefully staged program put on by the Pentagon. But even still, there's hopefully some small chance that they'll peel away from all those generals, impressive though they are, and talk to a couple buck privates. That would be my advice to them. Go out and talk to some normal folks, American heroes who are on the ground in the sand fighting this war, rather than just getting the briefings from the generals with all the brass on their shoulders.
BLITZER: Senator McCain is there right now, Senator Lieberman, Senator Thune, Senator Collins, and more are on the way.
BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: And there's no question those who are running for president will use this opportunity. They go out on the stump, Wolf, and they'll say, I was over there, I was speaking to the general, I was doing this, and it gives the feeling that they have expertise and understanding and that it strengthens their message.
But I assure you, it will -- visiting over there and talking to these generals will not change one of their opinion or positions on Iraq.
BLITZER: Why do you say that? Because maybe they'll hear from a commander, you know what, I can't say this publicly, but I'm going to whisper in your ear, this is not working, or this is working. Why do you think they're going to just not hear any honest -- honest to the gut truth?
BUCHANAN: Well, I'm not suggesting they won't hear the gut truth. But I believe what they're over there for is to justify the position, to use anecdotes to justify the position that they've already taken.
They have made up their minds. They've studied this. Many of them have talked to generals themselves and talked to people who are very knowledgeable. And they've made up their minds.
John McCain being a clear case. And so now he's just going to add strength to the argument that he already has by using certain stories that he...
BLITZER: Because when I went there last year with General Abizaid, he invited me in on his briefings. And I heard some eye- popping information from some of these intelligence briefings. The one thing I learned is, the more we learn about the insurgency, the less we know.
BEGALA: Well, that's a good point. And I do think it's good that they go over there. And I think Bay makes a point.
They may want to use this trip as a pivot point to change their position. I don't think McCain will. He still maintains the politically untenable position that we should send more troops there.
Tell that to the American people today. It would be like the captain of the Titanic calling for more icebergs. It is -- it is indefensible politically.
But Chris Shays, a congressman, Republican from Connecticut, one of the strongest supporters of the war, made 14 trips to Iraq. And after each one, he said he supported the war.
But when he was just about to lose his seat in the election in November, he switched. And he said, well, my most recent trip allowed me to switch.
BEGALA: His switch, by the way, saved his political hide. He's still a congressman.
BUCHANAN: His switch was due to the polls.
BLITZER: All right. You know there's a...
BEGALA: It was. It was due to the polls, that's right.
BUCHANAN: It had nothing to do with his trip.
BEGALA: But he used that as a pivot point.
BLITZER: I want to switch gears right now, because a very sad story unfolding in Washington. Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota apparently has suffered a stroke. He's at George Washington University Hospital.
Right now Senator Harry Reid, we're told, is over there with him. And our heart goes out to him, his family. We certainly hope he makes a very speedy recovery.
But talk about the potential, potential -- and let's hope it doesn't happen, because we want him to come back to the Senate strong and firm -- what happens if he can't, though?
BEGALA: Well, I think it's too premature. He is a terrific guy, he's a strong guy, Senator Johnson is.
By the way, his son is in active duty in the United States Army. And he's one of the very few politicians who doesn't have to go to Iraq to know what's going on there. He has family. He's got real skin and blood in the game.
So I just think it's too early to try to, you know, prognosticate as to whether -- except just to say that we're praying for him and we hope he comes back soon.
BUCHANAN: Exactly. There is a Republican governor in his state who, if it turned to that, he would be the one to make the appointment. Clearly, you'd have a Republican senator then.
But I'm with Paul. This is way too early.
I mean, we know in this country when people have strokes there's different levels of strokes, different seriousness, and enormous ability to recover fully. And certainly a young man such as this would be able to do that.
BLITZER: And let's hope he certainly does.
Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.
And coming up, how do you get the right stuff to be president? Our Jeff Greenfield takes a closer look at some past presidents and current prospects all dogged by questions of experience.
And Jack Cafferty is weighing in on presidents as well, particularly the current one. How will history judge President Bush? That's his question.
Your e-mail and Jack, that's still to come.
BLITZER: As the field of potential 2008 presidential candidates grows, some will be trumpeting their experience and others actually downplaying their lack of it. So how much does it really matter?
Here's CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Wolf, the Obama mania skeptics ask a pointed question. Can someone who was a state senator two years ago really be a serious contender for the presidency now? What that question really is about is the oldest question of all, how much experience and what kind to voters look for in a president?
GREENFIELD (voice-over): It's true that Senator Obama would have the thinnest resume of any candidate since Grover Cleveland in 1884, who went from mayor of Buffalo to governor of New York to president in only three years. But throughout history, voters have chosen presidents from a wide variety of resumes.
For example, between 1976 and 1992, voters rejected three out of the four incumbent presidents who ran for re-election. The incumbents all clearly had the experience, but voters decided they prefer a new face. In 2000, Al Gore Jr., with 24 years of experience in Washington, could not prevail over George W. Bush, who had served six years of governor of Texas, a big state but one where governors have much less power than elsewhere.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To show how desperate...
GREENFIELD: Indeed, there are times when the claim of experience can actually backfire. In 1960, Vice President Nixon ran for president with the slogan "Experience counts." But this comment from President Eisenhower at a press conference actually wound up in a Kennedy commercial...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wondered if you could give us an example of a major idea of his that you had adopted in that role as the decider and final...
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember.
GREENFIELD: In the post-Watergate climate of 1976, Jimmy Carter, an ex one-term governor of Georgia, was able to score by pointedly distancing himself from the center of power, claiming as assets the fact that he wasn't from Washington and had never served in the Congress. And in 1992, Independent candidate Ross Perot scored serious points when he cheerfully admitted his lack of political experience this way...
ROSS PEROT (I), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt.
GREENFIELD: And even the idea that in a post-9/11 world national security experience is essential, an argument that helped John Kerry and hurt John Edwards in 2004, that argument may not be as powerful this time. Why? Because the widespread disillusion with the war in Iraq, the war begun under the auspices of old Washington hands like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell, may suggest that experience does not necessarily bring with it judgment or wisdom.
GREENFIELD: That's a notion, by the way, that could have real impact in the Democratic battle, where senators Clinton, Kerry, Bayh, Dodd, Biden and ex-senator Edwards all voted for the use of force resolution.
As for Obama, he was still working in Springfield, Illinois, back then -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff, thank you for that.
Jeff Greenfield reporting.
And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our political ticker at CNN.com/ticker. Still to come, two more victims discovered and investigators increasingly fearful they may have a serial killer on their hands. We're going to have the latest on the search.
And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, former Klan leader David Duke, he spoke out at a conference questioning the Holocaust in Iran. Tonight he'll be in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Five bodies in 10 days. British investigators think they may have a serial killer on their hands.
CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh is in Ipswich, England, with the latest -- Alphonso.
ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hopes are fading that two missing women will be found alive this evening. This comes as a mysterious string of murders has this ordinary English town -- in fact, the whole nation -- in shock.
VAN MARSH (voice-over): These may be some of the last known images of prostitute Paula Clennell. Before the mother of three went missing, she was asked why she had worked the streets knowing a killer or killers were targeting prostitutes.
PAULA CLENNELL: I need the money, you know?
QUESTION: Despite the dangers?
CLENNELL: Well, that has made me a bit wary about getting into cars.
VAN MARSH: Police fear Paula may be one of two recovered bodies under investigation outside Ipswich on Wednesday. The latest of five women found dead this month in Suffolk County. Additional police forces dispatched here to help with the hunt for a possible serial killer. The crimes have shocked the nation.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We support the police fully in dealing with the horror of this situation and also with the entirely understandable fear there is in the community.
VAN MARSH (on camera): This is one of the neighborhoods where so- called working girls would pick up their clients from the streets. But the prostitutes have been replaced with police tape. Many of these working girls still hesitant to go to the police.
(voice-over): That's because many prostitutes fear that if they go to the police their illegal activity will land them in jail whether or not the police solve these murders. The lead investigator says as long as there's a killer or killers out there, he doesn't care what they've done.
STEWART GULL, SUFFOLK POLICE: I've got one priority, and that's to find the person or persons responsible for the deaths of these -- these girls. I'm not interested in any soliciting, any curb calling offenses.
VAN MARSH: Authorities say all the women's bodies were dumped within ten miles of each other, leading some to suspect the killer or killers are taunting police.
CLIVE SIMS, CLINICAL FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: This is a person who is targeting specifically these young ladies, and therefore he has specific psychological problems and he is not gaining financially, he's not gaining in anything other than something psychological.
VAN MARSH: Helping the psyche of a local community traumatized by these events, a national newspaper is offering 250,000 pounds, almost a half million dollars for information leading to the capture and conviction of the Ipswich killer or killers.
VAN MARSH: Almost a half a million U.S. dollars. Big money, but perhaps little comfort for this ordinary English town that until now always thought that something like this would never happen here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Alphonso, thanks very much for that.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He's coming up right at the top of the hour.
Lou, what are you working on?
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.
Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN tonight, we're reporting on the federal government's promise to carry out more raids against American companies employing illegal aliens. Union labor leaders are protesting those raids and ignoring the fact illegal aliens actually drive down the wages of American workers.
We'll have that special report.
And the war on the middle class escalating. Many of our senior citizens in this country are falling into poverty. Some senior citizens paying the penalty for overspending in the past. Others caught in a web of bad public policy.
We'll have that story.
And lawmakers demanding an urgent investigation into the safety of our national food supply after this latest outbreak of food poisoning. More than 70 million Americans each year fall ill from contaminated food. One of the lawmakers demanding an investigation is Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro. She joins us here. All of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour. We hope you will join us.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. We certainly will.
Up ahead, more heat for Wal-Mart. This time, it's over a video game based on a popular Christian book series. Critics say the game is too violent.
And later, my one-on-one interview with the former Ku Klux Klansman, David Duke. What's he doing in Iran right now? That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM during the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf.
Hello to all of you.
An expert from the Centers for Disease Control now says lettuce is the most likely source of the recent E. coli outbreak that shut down dozens of Taco Bell restaurants. He says the CDC investigation into the outbreak narrowed the possible sources down to lettuce, cheese or ground beef.
It's not over yet, as you can see. Investigators originally believed the bacteria came from green onions which have since been pulled from all Taco Bells.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian should be a free man again next summer. Michigan's parole board says the assisted-suicide advocate will be paroled in June. CNN has learned that the 78-year-old Kevorkian told a member of the board he would carry out no more assisted suicides if he is released.
He has been serving a prison sentence for a second-degrees murder conviction for the last suicide he aided.
Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery take on the delicate task of folding back one of the solar wing panels of the International Space Station. The 115-foot-long panel needs to retract 40 percent so that another set of solar arrays can pivot.
NASA says it's sort of like folding up a road map. If the crew can't make the adjustment by remote, NASA may send space walkers outside of Discovery to crank the panel by hand.
Peter Boyle, his career spanned several decades, but he may be best remembered as the grumpy patriarch in the series "Everybody Loves Raymond." Boyle died last night in New York of cancer and heart disease. He also starred in the 1970 cult hit "Joe" and 1974's "Young Frankenstein," should I say.
Peter Boyle was 71 years old.
BLITZER: And such a nice man, Carol. I had dinner with him only within the past year or so, and his wife. A really, really terrific, terrific guy, and my deepest condolences to that family.
COSTELLO: A really funny man.
BLITZER: Peter Boyle, a great, great actor.
Wal-Mart is facing pressure over a video game based on the popular Christian book series "Left Behind." Liberal groups say the superstore chain should shelve the game in which players convert or do battle with nonbelievers because they claim the video game is simply too violent.
Let's bring back our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
SCHECHNER: Wolf, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" is a strategy game where you play a Christian army that fights the anti-Christ in the streets of New York City. Now, there's no actual blood or guts or gore because it's not a first-person shooter game, but the Campaign to Defend the Constitution is asking for Wal-Mart to reconsider sales and pull it from stores. They have an online petition they say now has some 25,000 signatures.
Wal-Mart says it's carrying the game in the stores where there's demand and that the game is selling. They're also offering it online at walmart.com. It's also available in some 10,000 other stores nationwide, and Christian booksellers.
Now, the "Left Behind" president of the company, "Left Behind Games," says that any call that the game is violent is actually ridiculous and unfounded. And James Dobson's Focus on the Family agrees. They have a Web site that reviews games, and they say that this one is actually a game that mom and dad can play with junior -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jacki.
Up next, Jack Cafferty's question this hour. In the shadow of Iraq, how will history judge President Bush?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Time to check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Sorry, I was having a conversation with my good friend Sarah Leader (ph). There's a new poll, Wolf, that shows that more than half of all Americans say Mr. Bush, our president, will be judged as below average or poor. Nineteen percent is all that say he'll be remembered as an outstanding or above-average president.
So the question we asked is: How will history judge President Bush?
Fred writes from South Bend, Indiana, home of the fighting Irish, "Absolutely the worst president in history. He should be investigated and impeached."
Patrick in Pasadena, California, "With the situations in North Korea, Iran and Iraq, we may not be able to judge George Bush's position in history until after all of us now living are dead. Unfortunately, that could be next Tuesday."
Don in Ukiah, California, "History is fickle. President Bush's feet will be held to the fire as an example of ungodly idiocy for a thousand years. Who know what historians will say after that? Opinion can change and mercy can appear, but in this case, not for at least 10 centuries."
Randall writes from Savannah, Texas, "President Bush's legacy is all about how the war in Iraq turns out. Obviously, it will be some time down the road before his final poll numbers will be in."
David writes from Michigan, "If Americans don't judge Bush for his crimes soon, history will judge us all along with him later."
And Ray in Beverly Hills, Florida, "I don't know how history will regard Bush, but it will be written in Spanish."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, where you can read more of these online -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Can you really ever tell by the quantity of e-mail that we're getting how -- how passionate the viewers feel? In other words, if you get a hundred or a thousand, it clearly makes a difference.
CAFFERTY: No, no, no. Certain questions are -- trigger a greater response than others. I think we got -- I don't know, it was over a thousand e-mails on this.
Somebody made a good point -- several people, actually -- comparing the low approval ratings of presidents named Lincoln and Truman when the were in office. Lincoln because of the Civil War and Truman because of Korea and the firing of MacArthur. And yet, in Truman's case, 50 years later, he's regarded as one of our great presidents.
So it's tough to tell until some time has passed how the historians will view these things.
BLITZER: And the other important point that a lot of viewers want to consider, as they consider the president in history, a lot of times, you know, historians down the road will come to the conclusion, you know what? After all, he may have been disliked when he was president, but he really was a smart guy.
CAFFERTY: And again, in Bush's case a lot of that will depend, I think, on how the war in Iraq eventually turns out.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much for that.
We're back in one hour. Let's go to New York and Lou -- Lou.
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