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THIS WEEK AT WAR

The Week's War Reporting

Aired January 12, 2008 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TOM FOREMAN, THIS WEEK AT WAR, HOST: Even as thousands of U.S. troops are fighting and dying in a major offensive against al Qaeda, are they being forgotten on the campaign trail? Our world's oil supply being held hostage by Iran's dangerous game of cat and mouse in the Persian Gulf. And President Bush promises peace in the Middle East. But can he, can anyone bring this war in sides (ph) together? THIS WEEK AT WAR begins in one minute right after a look at what's in the news, right now.
TONY HARRIS, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Let's bring you up to date with what's happening in the news right now. Police in Jacksonville, North Carolina believe they finally earth the body of 20-year old marine, Maria Lauterbach. (INUADIBLE) the charred remains were found in the shallow grave in the backyard of a comrade and now the suspect in the case, Corporal Cesar Armando Lauren. An arrest warrant for first-degree murder has been issued to Lauren and the nationwide manhunt is underway. Lauterbach had accused of raping her. She was due to testify against him in a military hearing when she disappeared nearly a month ago. President Bush meets with Arab leaders in Bahrain. He is expected to meet with members of the U.S. Navy's fifth fleet tomorrow. It maintains a headquarters in the Persian Gulf nation after the president (ph) heads to the United Arab Emirates to deliver a speech in Abu Dhabi. President Bush is trying to garner support from Arab leaders to tamper Iran's growing influence in the region. I'm Tony Harris. Now back to Tom Foreman in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: Here is where things stand in THIS WEEK AT WAR. It's still unclear how the politics of the presidential campaign will affect U.S. troops on the frontline. It's not looking good in Iraq as al Qaeda fighters escaped a deadly trap there. The safety of the world's oil supply is in doubt as Iran faces off against the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. And: President Bush promises to leave a Middle East peace agreement for the next occupant of the Oval Office. That's how things stand. Here is where we're going to find what's coming next. Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem where George Bush has spent a week during hands on diplomacy. We'll ask him what's really going behind the closed doors there. Alphonso Van Marsh is in Baghdad. He's been reporting on Operation: Phantom Phoenix - a massive attack on al Qaeda's stronghold. We'll take an in-depth look at Iraq one year into the surge. And finally: Bill Schneider is watching a very different campaign back here in the U.S. In the race of to the White House, is the U.S. military being forgotten? All that THIS WEEK AT WAR.

In this weekend's "New York Times" magazine, Noah Feldman of Harvard University asked: What if the United States were at war during a presidential election and none of the candidates wanted to talk about it? Sadly, this is a pretty good description of what is happening on the campaign trail. Too many candidates avoiding the tough questions of war and peace, are we betraying the troops on the frontline when we won't even demand real answers? Professor Feldman joins us now from Boston and in the headquarters of Politico, executive editor, Jim Vandehei. Professor, let me start with you. A couple of months ago, Democrats and Republicans alike were talking about almost nothing but the war. What has changed?

NOAH FELDMAN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The first element is actually that politicians very much want us to have warm association with them and talking about the war is a little bit of a downer. There's nothing terribly optimistic and I think that's probably the first issue. The second is that, the distance between the candidates on the war has just shrunk. And so, with not so much distinguish them with the moderate, so now (ph) these people saying, we should leave as soon as we can and the hawkish people saying, we should leave as soon as we're able. So, trying to distinguish themselves and that's what they need to do.

FOREMAN: Basically, they would have a timeline of those positions, but what you're saying professor is that you might wind up with about the same amount of time for getting out?

FELDMAN: That's right. Because in practice, once whoever is elected is there, the people who think we should leave right away are going to find that it's not so simple and the people who think we should stick out are going to realize there isn't a domestic political support for that and they're going to have at least move in the direction of withdrawal.

FOREMAN: Jim, there seem to be other reason to why the parties don't want to talk about it. Republicans obviously don't want to be associated with something that's very unpopular right now. And with Democrats, you can't help but think that they don't want people looking too closely at the war because they will see it's getting much better.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO: Well, let's start with the Republicans. John McCain definitely talks about the war all the time and really has made the centerpiece of his campaign, his support for the surge and the fact that he argues the surge is working. But you're exactly right that there's been significantly less coverage and significantly less discussion and it's very, very unfortunate. I think the war has always been in an abstract thought for most Americans. Most people unless you have somebody that fighting over there - brother or sister, you know, some sort of relative, you really view this as something you almost watching on TV. That's something that affects your daily life. You never ask to actually pay higher taxes or do anything to contribute to the war effort. Perhaps, strategically, perhaps, not but to think it's just a fact on what we have right now and I think politicians react to people. They react to polls. They see what people care about. When the economy moves up in the polls and the economy at the forefront of town halls, that's what they talked about. When immigration is a big issue among Conservatives, it seems to be a much bigger issue than the war, that's what Republicans are going to talk about. So, as long as we continue to be in this period where there's a lot of uncertainty about how things are going in Iraq and it's not on the front pages, unfortunately, I think that you're going to see this trend continue and I think it's sad. I think once you do it in general election and there are clear differences between the two parties, hopefully, it will be reemerged as the big issue. Because it should be. It is a huge issue. The next president will have a 100,000 plus troops on the ground, they should deal with this. They should articulate exactly what they would do as president.

FOREMAN: It is interesting you say it. It is sad. I mean we have fellow American being shut out right now. You mentioned John McCain. Here's an editorial that he and Joe Lieberman wrote on the "Wall Street Journal." They said in there: "The question we face, on the first anniversary of the surge, which is on right now, is no longer whether the president's decision a year ago was the right one or if the counterinsurgency strategy developed by General Petraeus is working. It is. The question now is where do we go from here." And professor, it does seem though on the Democratic side, John Edwards is talking very openly about the idea of let's get out in terms of the people who are among the frontrunners but by and large, there seems to be a great reluctance to say anything good about progress in the war.

FELDMAN: That seems to be a correct. I'm not, even though we're not 100 percent sure that the reduction of violence is due by the surge, it's likely that's got very much to with it. I certainly believe that it is. But by the same token, it's also true that the Iraqis recognized that a Democrat is elected we are moving faster to the exits and that gives the Iraqis an incentive to start thinking about how to manage the peace and how to reduce violence themselves. So, if a Democrat is elected, that Democrat could still say despite the fact that violence is down -- great, the violence is down, now, let's get out. I mean, we need to be talking about this in public and the public needs to know - do we all agree with Senator McCain that the surge is working? Or do we think that the reduction of violence is a reason to head for the exits.

FOREMAN: Jim, doesn't this potentially come around and bite the Democrats in the long run though? Because if they won't acknowledge any progress, aren't they the same as the president and the Republicans when they wouldn't acknowledge any deficits or any problems?

VANDEHEI: I think, I mean, predicting in how this plays politically or even for a policy's standpoint long-term is a total impregnable. I think there's questions that should be asked, very questions on both sides. To Republicans when they all basically agree the say the surge is definitely working and I think there's certainly indicators that it has been working. But what is their plan long term? How long as they're going to be committed to keeping a huge troop presence in Iraq and in a what cost and how would they eventually bring them home? Well, I think for Democrats, they want to pull the troops out. They all say, I want to have a withdrawal date. I wanted it to begin a minute I become president. But what we do of the aftermath? I mean, we have to have a vigorous national debate. What do we do with what's left in Iraq? Nobody who studied thinks that it's going to be a place of peace anytime soon. Most likely, it's going to be a place of chaos. Chaos that we instigated. We have some responsibility for it and that politicians have to be able to articulate to the people how do you deal with it. It's a complex issue and I do think once you get to the general election, the candidates will be forced to grapple with this and articulate very clear visions on both sides how they're going to deal with it.

FOREMAN: And Noah, it does seem like we consider the future of this, we have to know whether it's a Democrat or Republican if it descends into chaos, will they send troops back in? Will they be willing to do that? We should be hearing that now, shouldn't we?

FELDMAN: It's absolutely crucial that we get a better sense of that because if we withdraw troops (ph) today quickly, there is a possibility some would say a probability that the violence could go a way up. And we're going to be in a crisis situation of wondering if we were morally responsible for the situation there and if our interest would be badly harmed by a big conflict there (ph) in Iraq spreading to other countries. Do we turn around and send troops back in? Or do use air power as we've already started to do just in the last few days and if so, what are the legitimate targets? Are we willing to bomb civilians if we think it's going to slow down the violence? How much responsibility do we give individual citizens in Iraq for what the militias are doing?

FOREMAN: And I'll wrap it up by quoting into your self. You're writing your article that if this continues: "We will be getting a war policy born of neglect and that will be the policy we deserve." Noah, thanks so much for being here. Jim as well. We're going to stay on this as the election and the war go on.

Later: We will give you a full briefing on Operation's Phantom Phoenix. It is the latest offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq.

But up next: How the Iranian Navy's antics in the Persian Gulf could drive up the cost of the barrel of oil and of course, your prices at the pump.

But first: A look at an incredible story all told by a combat photographer, a look at their work every week. On Sunday, photographer, Hadem Misvan (ph) was assigned to cover Army Day in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. And he caught this joyful image - a man putting a flower in a rifle of an Iraqi recruit. Moment's later: Celebration turn to carnage as Iraqi soldiers drew themselves on a suicide bomber in a vain attempt to protect their comrades. Misvan himself was only five yards away from the blast but he caught these dramatic images as soldiers raced the wounded from the scene or simply stared their wounds gotten and the shock in the attack. In the end, the two Iraqi soldiers who have fallen on the bomber were dead along with nine civilians, one of the dead, the man who only moments before have been placing a flower -- a symbol of hope in the rifle of a soldier of a new Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: A terrifying threat on the high seas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: You will explode after a few minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Very little is clear about what really happened in the Strait of Hormuz. Well, you can see it here along the Iranian coast. The U.S. Navy said from the beginning that they couldn't be sure if these ominous threats actually came from Iranian boats buzzing three U.S. warships. What is clear however is how dangerous any military confrontation would be in these waters -- a choke point for much of the world's supply of oil. To help me explain, Joseph Cirincione, senior vice-president for National Security at the Center for American Progress and here on our studio, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Let me start with you, Barbara. How serious was this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This came within seconds, Tom of being an all-out shooting war between the U.S. Navy and these five Iranian speedboats, attack boats if you will, that poised (ph) to them. One of the ships, the USS Hopper, the captain was in the process of giving the shoot to kill order when the Iranian boats finally at the last second turned away.

FOREMAN: As long as these little boats were far away, it would have been no contest. The armaments of the ships would have utterly shredded them.

STARR: Well, these boats could have been made to disappear of the face of the seas very, very quickly. The issue is - whether or not they would have gotten so close that within seconds they could have rammed the Navy, they could have fired some type of weapons at them before the Navy could have responded. So, there's always that envelop of security where you cannot let a potential threat get too close to you.

FOREMAN: Joseph, the Iranian say, this kind of thing happens all the time. Our ships come near each other. It's no big deal.

JOSEPHY CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, we have a tale of two tapes here. On Monday, we got the U.S. version. A carefully edited four-minute segment that seemed to show a very serious threats, particularly because of that voice over that seemed to be a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation. We now know, later on the week, that this actually was not assuredly from a Revolutionary Guard boat. In fact, there's no albeit (ph) noise -

FOREMAN: The Iranian (INAUDIBLE) which showed them doing nothing.

CIRINCIONE: And we got a five-minute version that helped (ph) stress their point of view - a calm exchange between the naval vessels. I think the truth lies somewhere in between. Clearly, that was not a common place occurrence to bring those, however small patrol boats too close to the warships but it wasn't at all clear that that threat was real, that that might have been some prankster who made that comment over any of the radios from anywhere on the area. The U.S. Navy then, sliced that in to the tape. We have to take a step back and make sure we don't hyper-inflict (ph) these threats to prevent a shooting war that nobody really wants.

FOREMAN: But we know that the stakes are huge here. Look at this. This is the fact file on the Strait of Hormuz. It's only 34 miles in wide in some areas. Forty percent of global oil passes through this area and that percentage is increasing. Barbara, patrols in this area because of Afghanistan, because of Iraq and because of this oil supply must be very serious business all the time.

STARR: This is very tense position. Remember, in early 2007, up in the northern end of the Gulf Coast (ph), British marines and sailors got themselves snatched by the Iranians and we're held in Iran for several days before they were released. This is something that the U.S. Navy remembers every minute. The U.S. Navy is not about to let its sailors to get captured by Iran. Now, the issue for U.S. Navy is really not so much this voice, they have readily admitted perhaps late in the game, but readily admitted they're not really where that voice came from. They say, their view is five boats coming at them, plus, objects being dropped in the water, that this -

FOREMAN: Question of some kind of explosives. And we never found out. But Joseph, why is this being done then? Is this provocation by Iran for some political purpose or this is propaganda from our government for some political purpose?

CIRINCIONE: Probably a little bit of both. I mean, we're very close to Iranian territory, a war (ph) this year. So, the margin of error is very small. The Revolutionary Guard commander could have taken on it on his own initiative to bust these boats.

FOREMAN: What is Iran get out of it if they revoked something like this?

CIRINCIONE: To show that they are standing up to the United States, that they can't be pushed around. The key here is to make sure that nothing like this escalates into a conflict that neither side really want. We should be negotiating with the Iranians, the kind of the incidence at sea arrangement we had with the Soviets, even during the height of the Cold War, channels of communication that can make sure that there's no miscommunication here like the British had with the Iranians that allow them to diffuse that hostage situation.

FOREMAN: There seems to be some kind of back channel communications going on there right now, aren't there?

CIRINCIONE: Some but not consistent enough. In fact, the U.S. Navy commander was complaining that he didn't have the ability to talk directly with the Iranians. It's something we should give our commanders in the field.

FOREMAN: And, when you look at the Pentagon folks, Barbara, when they look at incident like this, they have to be ready not just for the first step which is shooting these boats if they have to, but the next step. And what would that be?

STARR: That is the problem which is once it escalates, once people start shooting at each other, where does it stop? That is fundamentally the problem that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen and he has already privately told these commanders, be very careful. Don't get near Iranian waters, don't get near Iranian air space, don't let yourself get caught into being provoked into some thing we don't want to do.

FOREMAN: In part, because what's the Iranians themselves are having (ph) around 140 patrol boats with anti-ship missiles, land- based "Seersucker" missiles, diesel submarines, mine laying boats, they could certainly make a mess out of it pretty fast. Joseph, thanks for being here. Barbara as well. Nice insights into the whole thing. Barbara is here to stick around for a couple of minutes. Go on hold of you for a flash briefs coming up shortly. Our version of around in just 90 seconds.

And straight ahead: The getaway. How did al Qaeda terrorist escaped thousands of coalition troops just as they were closing in? The full story in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Across Iraq: Thousands of U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers and armed militias are in the midst of the battle right now. Here's how Barbara Starr describes it on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR (voice over): U.S. warplanes dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs in just 10 minutes on insurgent targets. Nearby, soldiers from the third infantry division were in a fierce firefight. It's part of a massive military offensive to clear out what the U.S. hopes are some of the last al Qaeda stronghold.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: For the latest on the battlefront, CNN international correspondent, Alphonso Van Marsh is on our Baghdad bureau. CNN military analyst, retired army brigadier general, David Grange joins me from Chicago. And Ken Pollack, a fellow at a Brookings Institutions is with me in our Washington studio. Well, Alphonso, let me start with you. When we look at these pictures of combat there, we really haven't seeing a whole lot of those kinds of pictures for months now. Is this still the exception or is it the rule right now in Iraq?

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems that the U.S. military really wants to get the message out that they are out there to get al Qaeda and other insurgents, those who are supporting the insurgency against the reconstruction of this country. They want the world to know that they are very, very serious about driving these people out. They're very serious in their efforts to drop down the number of attacks by some 60 percent in recent months. Let the world know that they believe that their way of clearing insurgents out of this country is actually working, Tom.

FOREMAN: So, Ken, when we look at these pictures, do you think we're seeing a sign of truly a mop up as the military is trying to sort of position it a little bit. And if so, how long with that go on?

KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, potentially, it can go on for a long period of time and we need to remember, this is insurgent warfare. Insurgents dig in the population. And even when you got good information about them and we're getting much better information about them in Iraq today, it can be hard to root them out from the population. So, you may not see these big unclaimed (ph) battles very much in the future but you could still see fighting going on for months if not even years.

FOREMAN: I want you to take a look at something that was in the "Washington Post" on Thursday where they wrote: "U.S. commanders expected the fight in Diyala province to be particularly fierce. But most of the 200 fighters they expected to find here appear to have either escaped or successfully blended into the population."

You can see on our map over here. Diyala is this area over here near Baghdad heading toward Iran. It's been the hotspot for sometime now. General, when you're waging a war like this, this is something you have to count on, isn't it? But constantly, an insurgency will turn into people who dropped their guns, changed their clothes and walked into population.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, absolutely and it's a very tough area when you look at the terrain aspects of operations. This is like a suburb, neighborhoods intermixed with agricultural areas. Many places to hide, cache sites (ph) of weapons and ammunitions, a network of informants. So, we have munitions like this dropped, this amount at several reasons. One to eliminate buildings that maybe booby trap, IEDs and road networks that soften up targets before the ground troops go in to eliminate excessive casualties. But one thing to remember when you do operations like this, I could remember from Vietnam, you have B-52 strikes, you can go back in and people still come out of the ground to fight you.

FOREMAN: Alphonso, one of the concerns you are supposing is that any kind of big operation like this is almost to keep hidden. There is a network of people talking throughout the society. So, whenever you get ready for something like this, chances are good, some of the insurgents will know it's coming.

VAN MARSH: Well, I think that's some of what's been experienced in those northern provinces is that an absolutely massive operation, we're talking about some 24,000 U.S. troops, 50,000 Iraqi troops supported by some 80,000 Iraqi police in just those four provinces in northern Baghdad alone. So, somewhere, somehow, word is probably going to get out and that's why we heard and saw and read in "Washington Post," those experiences upon the military officials saying that it seems that those tough fighters that they expected to find from Diyala and other northern provinces don't seem to be there anymore.

FOREMAN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday suggested the military really was quite prepared for this. Let's listen to his comments. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: General Petraeus anticipated this in the sense of - that they would moved and the key is to do in this provinces and wherever there is offensive that's underway, what he has accomplished elsewhere and that is to clear and then hold.

FOREMAN: Ken, this seems to have worked to the west in Anbar province. This basic idea of moving in, you drive them up, even if you don't kill them all, even if you don't capture them all, you gradually deny them safe haven. Can it worked in something as big as Iraq or will you always be playing "Rock Them All" (ph) to some degree?

POLLACK: No. Unless of course if it be the point of strategy here. Traditional counter-insurgency stabilization strategy like that which General Petraeus has brought to Iraq gets away from the "Rock them All" model (ph). You're right. It's nice to kill insurgents when you go in - in a clear operation like this but what is really important is staying - is holding the terrain and not letting them come back in. That's what General Petraeus has been doing. That's why we've been having greater success. Can you do it north of Iraq? That's all by about numbers of people. The reason why U.S./Iraqi forces are concentrating on the northern half of the country is because there's only enough American troops and better Iraqi troops to be able to hold that amount of terrain. As the Iraqi units come on line as U.S. forces get confident that they can leave Iraqis to handle those areas already cleared, that allows you to spread. That's why this kind of strategy is called, a spreading oil stain, or spreading ink spot. Over time, you pushed out, you bring new areas under your control but you don't take new territory until you ready to stay and hold it for the long-term.

FOREMAN: General, how encourage are you about the ability of the Iraqis now to do that, to hold it without so much American help? We're turning over more areas to them including Anbar province, shortly here.

GRANGE: Actually, I'm more confident than I was before, having heard some briefings the other day. Increasing about 100,000 Iraqi security forces with the estimate of 80 percent being capable, more combat capable. So, great improvements. But remember this, the surge involved more troops to include the training of Iraqi troops not just American troops arriving; that support to clear and hold and build strategy; and increased in operations were needed which is what you're seeing north and south of Baghdad. And these provisional reconstruction teams that go out and build and interact with the people on a daily basis. All those things are happening simultaneously at this time with great success. So, I'm very confident right now.

FOREMAN: And Ken, when we look to the future here, do you think ultimately this speeds up, slows down or doesn't change the rate that our troops are coming home here?

POLLACK: I think that ultimately (ph), it just simply continues us on the same trajectory that we were on. Like at the end of the day, the next president is going to decide when those troops come home but when you're looking at things, conditions based on what's going on in Iraq and you seeing that the next president is going to make his decision based on what's happening there. I think we need to recognize if the strategy is going to continue to succeed and I stress if it's going to continue to succeed, American troops are probably going to be in Iraq in some strength for some years to come. This is not the kind of strategy that's going to deliver success overnight. Honestly, there is no strategy that delivers success overnight.

FOREMAN: And with that, Ken, thank you very much. Alphonso Van Marsh in Baghdad and General as well.

Straight ahead: The battle of Battle Creek (ph). A very different campaign and the target now is Michigan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN, ANCHOR: A battle creek, a very different campaign and the target now is Michigan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. More of "This Week at War" in a moment. But first, a look at what's happening right now with the news.

Authorities near Mobile, Alabama, hoped to find the bodies of three other children soon this morning. A duck hunter a baby's body about 5 miles west of a coastal bridge. Police believe the infant is one of 4 children allegedly thrown off the bridge by their father. He is charged with capital murder.

There are fears of a new showdown looming in Kenya. The country's main opposition party is calling for 3 days of mass protest next week against police orders. Hundreds of people have been killed in unrest over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election. African leaders, the U.N. and the top U.S. envoy for Africa are appealing for calm.

Taiwan's president has resigned as party head and conceded defeat as his party was decisively beaten in Saturday's parliamentary elections. A blow to Mr. Chin's drive for independence from China.

I'm Tony Harris. Now back to Tom Foreman at "This Week at War."

FOREMAN: When his fighter jet was shut down over Vietnam in 1967, many assume that John McCain was dead. They were wrong and those who thought that his presidential run had gone down in flames this summer was just as badly mistaken. Enough New Hampshire voters felt that the was in Iraq was the most important issue to keep the 71- year-old senator in the race.

The next battleground is Michigan and McCain's future can well depend on how many people there feel that this questions of war and peace trump those of jobs and social values. Chris Christoff is the "Detroit Free Press" bureau chief in the state capital of Lansing and with me in our nation's capital is CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Let me start with you, Chris.

To what degree is the war is still a big issue there even though the economy is the biggest issue.

CHRIS CHRISTOFF, "DETROIT FREE PRESS": Well, it is the biggest issue. The war is always sort of background noise here, particularly among democrats. I think one of the reasons that John McCain might benefit in these primaries because on the democratic side, there is only one name on the ballot and that is Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama and John Edwards are not on the ballot because of the dispute between the state democratic party and the national party over the placement of the primary before February 5th. So, they pledge not to campaign here and not to have their names on the ballot.

Well, what that does is likely free up a lot of independent voters who would like to vote for Barack Obama to vote for John McCain. At least, that's what he is hoping because that's what happened in year 2000 when he upset George W. Bush here in Michigan. Thanks to a lot of cross over votes from democrats and a lot of independents.

FOREMAN: Bill, do you think that McCain can capitalize on this by saying to people as he is saying the war really does do matter. It's a downer. It's not fun to talk about. It's difficult but you got to get serious about it.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that was the issue that propelled a lot of his votes. Republicans, remember these are republican voters. For the most part, although Chris is correct, in Michigan, independents can vote in the republican primary and they did vote for McCain back in 2000 and they are likely to again for the reasons he elaborated. These are republican voters. The republican voters believe the war is going well. They support the surge. They don't want to talk about it very much. It's not a big issue on the campaign but it clearly is the issue that McCain has latched on to and he has said essentially that my issue was the surge and if the surge is going well my campaign should go well also and that seems to be happening.

FOREMAN: Chris, I may have misspoke of it a moment ago when you look at strategic vision poll from January 4th through 6th. Look at the top issues here because it's very interesting. The number issue for Michigan voters was terrorism 21%, the economy 17%, and Iraq 15%. If you take the first item there, terrorism and Iraq, the third item, and you link them together as republicans in particular -

CHRISTOFF: Right.

FOREMAN: - want to do, that becomes a huge issue for Michigan voters, doesn't?

CHRISTOFF: It actually does particularly for republican voters. Again, on the democratic side, we're not hearing the debate that we might normally hear about the war, both pro and con. And I mean, this is true of other areas of the country and other states, there is a good left wing contingent that's thoroughly and adamantly opposed to the war but we're not hearing that debate because we don't have the candidates that's here on the democratic side discussing it and campaigning for it. So, it does leave the field pretty wide open for John McCain particularly with those core republicans for whom the war on terror is a real strong leading factor on their agenda and because it is, the surge is going well. It does play the McCain's strength and could help him on Tuesday.

FOREMAN: Let's take a listen to what McCain said on Thursday as he really was trashing over the fact that there has been all these progress because it's a surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we had done what the democrats wanted to do six months ago, Al Qaeda will be trumpeting to the world that they beat us. I'll never let that happen. We'll never surrender.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Bill, every state is obviously important but it's also a platform. Time and again, to speak to the nation, as a lot of times still until we vote in the general election, to what degree can John McCain make hay out of this because the democrats do have the problem of things going quite well in Iraq when they said they couldn't possibly go well?

SCHNEIDER: On the security side, yes, but the democrats always emphasize that no sign of serious political progress and they have the advantage. Opinion on the war has not changed. Our latest poll, just released, says that only 33% of Americans say they favor the war in Iraq. That hasn't change in months. So for all the reported successes in Iraq, people's opinions have not turned around. They don't think the war was worth fighting. Americans gave up on this war months ago and if McCain expects to become an elected president by running on the war in Iraq is a great military triumph. That is not going to happen.

FOREMAN: Chris, Bill, you said that many times here before and Chris, give me the read from Michigan there. Same thing, do you feel the people of Michigan have decided about the war have decided and will not change no matter what happens on the ground.

CHRISTOFF: I really do at this point and you're not hearing that as a leading issue coming out of the mouths of candidates. I mean, you hear a lot about the economy. You hear about protection of the Great Lakes. You hear a lot about the auto industry. That's a big, big issue because the industry is still hemorrhaging jobs and hurting the economy. So, you're not hearing it as much as an upfront and in your face kind of an issue. That is the war that is. And I think people have made up their minds. And again, John McCain sort of becomes, I think the default candidate to a lot of people on that issue but they're also thinking what about other things. In that same poll that you quoted, he is leading and this could be real trouble for Mitt Romney. Some people think that his campaign take a real hit here if he loses.

FOREMAN: We'll see how it plays out. Chris, thank you so much. Bill, as well. Thanks for being here.

In just a moment, can President Bush keep his bold promise to forge Middle East peace before he leaves the Oval Office. We'll go to Jerusalem for the answers. But first, we should not that 148 brave men and women from Michigan are among the nearly 4,000 troops killed in the war in Iraq and they almost certainly will not be the last. With that in mind, our weekly salute to some of those who fell in "This Week at War."

(VIDEO CLIP of "THE FALLEN")

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: The peace agreements should happen and can happen by the end of this year. I know its leader share this important goal and I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: This week is Pres. George Bush's first official visit to the Holy Land. Apparently, won't be his last. He is expected to make one more visit within the next year. As he like so many presidents before him devotes the power and prestige of his office to the question of peace in this shattered region.

For a look at the top reality behind all the photo ops, CNN's Ben Wedeman is in our Jerusalem bureau and with me in Washington is Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland.

Ben, let me start with you. The President says he thinks that leaders there are ready for this. Is he right?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, there is exhaustion. You have to remember that for the past seven years, there has been a Palestinian uprising. It's tethering out now. But the economy has really been severely damaged.

On the Palestinian side, people are really desperate for some sort of return to normalcy. So, there is a certain readiness but unfortunately, you got a situation for instance, in Gaza, where Hamas is in control, 1.5 million Palestinians. So even though the leaders are ready, some of the factions simply aren't. And how even if Mahmoud Abbas is able to work out some sort of agreement with the help of the Americans, with the Israelis, Hamas simply won't go along with it. So, there's desire for some sort of settlement. Whether it can actually happen is a very difficult question.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map up here if we can and get a sense of how this might play out. We assume there's Africa over here. Here's Israeli. And we talk about these areas and these factions. There's Gaza over here, largely in the hands of Hamas. The West Bank largely in the hands of Hattah.

Shibley, why is it so hard if the Palestinian people would like to move toward a settlement of some sort, why is it so hard to get these factional leaders to move that way.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, actually what we find appalling is while the vast majority of Palestinians want peace. The vast majority of Arabs are ironically, even in Saudi Arabia, want peace and are now prepared to have peace based on the 6 to 7 borders. Only a small minority believes that the Israelis are prepared to do it or prepared to make the concessions peaceful. So what you have is you have people who want peace but support the militants because the others are not going to do it.

You have the same thing on the Israelis. You have a majority of people who say they want peace but they don't think the other side is prepared to do it. So, what you have is support from militants even among people who think they want peace but in the end it's about details.

FOREMAN: So, they want all the same things, they just don't trust the other side wants the same.

TELHAMI: Roughly the same thing. It's arguable whether they all want the same thing. That's the other thing. We haven't talked enough about details to know for sure. For example, on Jerusalem, we all talk about the two-state solution. Yes, I think in principle there's an acceptance of having a Palestine side by side...

FOREMAN: But how do you slice that ...

TELHAMI: How do you slice them in terms of borders? What about Jerusalem which is such a central issue to both people? What will they accept on that?

FOREMAN: President Bush said something on Thursday which I'm sure will help define things in a way but also may inflame things. Listen to this.

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PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: There should be an to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people. Just as Israeli as the homeland for the Jewish people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Well, then I can not help but think that there will be some people in Israel who will be very concerned about that language. In fact, he calls it an occupation. The fact that he refers to the Palestine openly that way. How are they reacting to that kind of talk? WEDEMAN: Well, there were people here who were not happy with his use of the word 'occupation' but by and large, that's generally accepted as what it is. The United Nations even the United States' government does officially consider Israel's presence in the West Bank as an occupation. Now, it really did, the touchy question is the whole question of Israel as a Jewish state. You have to remember that 20% of the population of Israel is not Jewish. They're Arabs or(Drubs) and the Palestinians in the lead up to President Bush's visit, there was talk about Israeli being defined as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians said we will recognize Israeli as a state but we will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Because it is not, in terms of the population, a Jewish state. So, very touchy issues but President Bush surprisingly was well received by the Palestinians. They had a feeling that over the last seven years, he really didn't have a lot of sympathy for them. He didn't pay much attention to their situation. And when he did come, he surprised Palestinians by expressing some sympathy. Speaking in this sort of strong language that they haven't heard for quite some time.

FOREMAN: Shibley, there's very much a sense that if you want to have peace here though, you got to have the neighbors involved. All sorts of neighbors. We have seen some surprises here. Syria came to the table when we started talking here. I would have expected that at one point. Are the neighbors on board with this and with the 12-month time line, will they give it to George Bush even if they want it or politically because of Iraq and other issues will they say we'll hold it off for the next president.

TELHAMI: I think the neighbors are ready. As I said, public opinion in the Arab world is prepared for a state based on the 67 voters. They think it's important to them. You know last year, the King of Jordan came here to address the joint session of Congress. A rare happening. He didn't talk about Iran. He didn't talk about Iraq. He urged the American public to resolve the Palestinian issue which he believed it was the central issue for him and the rest of the Middle East.

FOREMAN: Quickly, before we get out of time here. Get to that issue of George Bush. Will they give it to George Bush or like releasing the hostages for Jimmy Carter, where they'd say we'll work on it now but hold it for the next president.

TELHAMI: I would like to believe he can do it. They want to believe it but most of them don't have trust anymore. There's been too much history of lack of credibility of American foreign policy failure. The public doesn't believe. I think many of the government's think this may all be instrumental, particularly in the lead up to a confrontation with Iran.

FOREMAN: To be continued, no doubt. Shibley, thanks so much. Ben, as well.

WEDEMAN: My pleasure.

FOREMAN: Coming up, "Flash Brief." All you need to know about the next week in 90 seconds but first out weekly dispatch segment. A story from your week at war. And this week, it's a story of two young people in love in a race against time. Our I-reporter is Dale Britt and she told us her son, Sgt. Jason Britt, a soldier serving with the third infantry division in Baghdad. Jason and his wife, Heather, were married shortly before they joined the Army. And they've been trying to have a child ever since.

Almost nine months ago, his unit deployed to Iraq and a week later, sure enough, Heather found out she was pregnant. Since then, Heather has been posting pictures of their growing son, Christian, on myspace for Dad to see. This weekend, Jason is on his way home but he's at the mercy of military flight schedules and well even Army babies don't always follow orders. So, we wish them luck and we'll let you know next week if Dad arrived home in time for the new arrival in his household.

We would like very much to hear about your week at week. Please go to CNN.com/thisweekatwar and click on the I-report link. It's easy. Stick with us.

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FOREMAN: It's time now for "Flash Brief." Our look at all the things that you should be looking at in the week to come. Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon. We start with Afghanistan. You told us right here that more troops will be going to Afghanistan. What's the score there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: (inaudible) never lie. It's now about to happen. 3,000 Marines headed to Afghanistan by April, just in time for the Taliban spring offensive.

FOREMAN: Kosovo was yesterday's news but now they've elected a former rebel leader there. How is Russia going to react to that?

STARR: Russia is watching all of this very carefully. Russia and Serbia want nothing to do with Kosovo's independence. The U.S. has troops in the regions and is still pressing for just that.

FOREMAN: An awful lot of attention here the last time General Petraeus came back from Iraq and gave a progress report. Now, they're working on another one that should be out in March. What do we expect/

STARR: We expected at this point to see even more troops reduction as the attacks are down, violence is down. There is still a lot of insurgent activity there but Petraeus is absolutely moving towards more troop reduction.

FOREMAN: And the South Carolina primary is coming up. The state with the largest per capita military involvement. Is that going to play out in the election?

STARR: Military families are worried the most about right now is their being forgotten in this presidential campaign. Nobody is talking about the war and their loved ones are still there. FOREMAN: That's where we started out our show and that's where we end the "Flash Brief." Thanks so much, Barbara. Stick with us. In just a moment, a milestone that you can mark on your calendar. A milestone from the past and one from the future. Stay with us.

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FOREMAN: We were looking at the calendar this week and realized that we were standing at a very unique point in time. An intersection of war and politics. One year ago, President Bush defied conventional wisdom and announced that he was turning to a new counter insurgency strategy backed by what he call a surge of combat troops into Iraq.

A year from now, someone new would walk into the Oval Office and had to make life and death decisions for what will almost certainly be 100,000 U.S. troops still in that war zone. It is clear that the first few years of U.S. involvement in Iraq were badly mishandled militarily and diplomatically. We all know that now. It is equally clear that General David Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had made significant progress in the past year. But the future of Iraq and Afghanistan and the lives of our fellow citizens who are over there and in other battle zones around the world will be in the hands of whoever takes the oath of office on the Capitol steps next year around this time.

That's the reality of this election year. That's why we really should all pay attention and demand answers because this election like perhaps no other in recent memory truly is about life and death. And it's in your hands. Thanks for joining us on "This Week at War." I'm Tom Foreman. We'll see you next week.

Straight ahead, a CNN Impact Your World special, "Rescuing Youssif."

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