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Hillary Clinton Speaks at AIPAC Conference; Barack Obama Claims the Democratic Nomination; McCain Taking Aim at Barack Obama on National Security; United Airlines Parking Dozens of Planes; John McCain Holding a Town Hall Meeting in Louisiana;
Aired June 4, 2008 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, again, everyone. You are informed with CNN. I'm Tony Harris.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
Developments keep coming in to CNN NEWSROOM on Wednesday, the 4th of June.
Here's what's on the rundown.
Barack Obama -- the morning after he clinches the Democratic nomination. Nothing but praise and accolades for Hillary Clinton.
HARRIS: John McCain holding a town hall meeting this hour in Louisiana. He is already targeting Obama and his call for change. We will listen in.
COLLINS: United Airlines parking dozens of fuel-guzzling planes, cutting hundreds of jobs. Crude costs, in the NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: The curtain comes down on a long, grueling presidential primary season. But the drama isn't over.
Barack Obama claims the Democratic nomination. But Hillary Clinton is still on the stage. Clinton and Obama both addressing a pro-Israel lobbying group this morning. She says she will meet with the supporters in the coming days to decide her next move.
Obama is celebrating his moment in history. He is set to become the first African-American candidate to lead a major party ticket.
The rhetoric between Obama and Republican John McCain is also heating up. McCain taking aim at Barack Obama on national security and questioning his experience and judgments.
COLLINS: Israel, an important U.S. ally. Jewish voters, a key constituency. More on the democrats' message this morning before the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.
Want to go live to Washington and CNN's Zain Verjee. She's been watching the conference going on all morning long.
A lengthy speech from Senator Barack Obama just moments ago, Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Heidi. It was pretty long. Senator Obama here really trying to reassure many of the audience about his foreign policy ideas. Many there have been worried.
What he has done is really to plunge into ground zero of international policy and discuss Iran and Israel's security. He said over and over again, insisting I will never compromise on Israel's security.
Many in this audience, Heidi, a little bit chilly over his plans to talk to Iran. Very worried. Senator Obama says, look, the danger, he believes, is grave and it is real, and he criticized the Bush administration's policy toward Iran for failing.
He said there's been willful misleading and mischaracterization by various opponents of his Iran policy and he sought to clarify that.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing if and only if it can advance the interests of the United States.
That is my position. I want it to be absolutely clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: Senator -- Obama went on, Heidi, to say that he is under no illusions about the Iranian regime. He said that he is insistent that he's going to try diplomacy. And if that doesn't work he's going to ratchet up pressure, including the pressure of sanctions.
One thing, too, Heidi, he lashed out at Senator McCain saying, essentially, that he just fails to recognize that existing policy just hasn't worked and he insists that his route was the best one.
COLLINS: What, in fact, did he say directly, though, about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
VERJEE: He criticized the Bush administration. He said by getting involved in far too late, he said that he sees the two states living side-by-side in peace, Israel and Palestine. He said, too, interestingly that Jerusalem, he believes, should be the capital but he said that the administration has not gone this far to say that it should be the undivided capital.
There are a lot of applause to that when he mentioned it that way .
VERJEE: He also insisted that Hamas should be isolated and there's no way he would deal with them -- Heidi.
COLLINS: All right. Yes, we saw all of that, Zain. It was an interesting speech, to say the least.
Zain Verjee for us this morning.
I want to go ahead and get you back to the AIPAC conference taking place now. We had promised that we would bring you Hillary Clinton as well when she came to the podium. She has just been introduced and will take to the stage right now.
Let's go ahead and listen in to her as well.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning. Thank you.
CLINTON: Thank you.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.
It is wonderful being here with all of you among so many friends and I feel like this is a giant family reunion. The largest AIPAC gathering in history and I feel like I am among family and thank you for the warm welcome.
CLINTON: I want to thank my friends, Lonny Kaplan, for his leadership and that introduction. I also want to thank Howard Friedman for his leadership as president and to congratulate David Victor on his election.
And I want to commend Howard Core, AIPAC's distinguished board of directors, and all of the AIPAC staff who work so hard every day all year round.
And I particularly want to acknowledge the many students in the audience from around the country, the future of AIPAC and the U.S./Israel relationship.
I want to pay tribute to one member of the AIPAC family and my very good friend who is not with us this year, Congressman Tom Lantos.
Tom bore witness to the worst of human cruelty and devoted his life to stopping it. He taught us to stand up for what's right even when it is hard -- especially when it is hard. And we will always cherish his memory and his wonderful family will always be in our hearts. And finally, I want to thank all of you for coming to Washington, D.C. once again to stand strong with Israel and to strengthen that special bond between our countries.
Being here today, I am reminded of a passage in Isaiah. "Upon your walls, oh, Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels all day and all night, they shall never be silent." Just like the sentinels of old, you are never silent. You never grow weary and you never stop standing up for and fighting for Israel.
CLINTON: Now I know there are some who say you shouldn't be here, who say speaking up for a strong American-Israeli relationship is somehow at odds with America's interests.
Well, I believe that speaking up for a strong American-Israeli relationship is essential to our interests. And I reject...
CLINTON: I reject that our common commitment to Israel's survival and well-being is not in the best interest of the United States of America.
I think you not only have a right to stand up for what you believe in, you have a responsibility as Americans to do so. You are acting in the highest American tradition, exercising a right in trying in our constitution the right to petition your government, and I applaud you for it.
CLINTON: Of course, I am privileged to represent one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the world. Is there anyone from New York even here in this audience today?
I know you will be talking to your members of Congress this week. But you won't need to ask me where I stand because you already know the answer. I stand with you and for you.
CLINTON: United States and Israel have an incredible bond as allies, friends, as partners. We have shared interests, we have shared ideals. And these are not just common values. They are our core values -- freedom, democracy, and human rights, women's rights, a robust civil society.
And we stand with Israel because Israel demonstrates that democracy can flourish in the most difficult conditions, because its very existence is a stinging rebuke to hatred and the holocaust. Because in defeating terror Israel's cause is our cause. And because Israel's struggle is a struggle not just for the Jewish people but for all people who want to live in peace and security under a Democratically elected government. (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: President Harry Truman certainly understood the importance of Israel. He recognized the new nation just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion read the proclamation of independence.
So it is with joy and some sense of relief that we celebrate the 60th anniversary of that day. And for all of the trials and tears, what a remarkable 60 years it has been. From my first trip to Israel in 1982 to my most recent I have seen firsthand what Israel has achieved. The desert is blooming again. And we can be so proud of the role that America has played in this success.
Every American president since Truman has recognized the special relationship and has made it stronger. Israel is stronger because of us and because of you. But even as we celebrate these achievements, we know the work is far from over. Israel is not yet safe. The values that Israel represents are not yet secure.
Our hearts go out in particular to the courageous citizens of cities like Sderot and Ashkelon, who live in fear that a rocket will fall on their homes or their children's schools at any moment. I have seen these security challenges firsthand.
In 2002 I went to this Sbarro pizzeria with then President Olmert, just a few weeks after that tragic suicide bombing there. I visited with victims of terrorism in the Hadassah hospital.
I've been to Gilo and seen the security fence protecting Israeli families from attacks in their own home. And I have stood up and spoken out for their rights to have that protective fence. And as a...
CLINTON: As a senator from New York who has talked way too much, I have seen the tragic toll of terrorism on 9/11 here at home as well. My support for Israel does not come recently or lightly.
I know it is right in my head, in my heart and in my gut. And that's exactly the commitment we need in our next president -- a Democratic president, because the Democratic Party's strong commitment for the state of Israel since the days of Harry Truman endorsed today.
It is one of our party's most cherished values and it will continue under the next Democratic president.
I know, I know, Senator Obama understands what is at stake here. It has honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend and let me be very clear. I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.
CLINTON: I know that Senator Obama shares my view that the next president must be ready to say to the world America's position is unchanging, our resolve, unyielding, our stance, nonnegotiable.
The United States stands with Israel now and forever.
CLINTON: And let me underscore that I believe we need a democrat in the White House next January, because...
CLINTON: ... it is not justice Israel that faces challenges in the 21st century. America does, too. The next president will inherit grave problems, difficult threats, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq.
America's reputation at an all-time low. A continued threat of terrorism at home and abroad. President Bush has moved us in the wrong direction. For all the strong rhetoric you heard from Senator McCain on Monday, he will continue the same failed policies in Iraq and weaken our security, making the Middle East a more dangerous place.
America needs a new beginning in our foreign policy to make our country stronger and, frankly, to make our position in the world more credible, to give us the strategic leverage back that we have lost over the last seven years.
We cannot stand strongly with Israel if we are not strong at home and if we are not respected and considered strong and the leader of the world everywhere else.
CLINTON: We have a rare moment of opportunity to change America's course and restore our standing in the world. And we must seize this moment by leading our friends and allies in building the world we want rather than simply defending against a world we fear.
We must build a world that will be safer, more prosperous, and more just.
I believe security and opportunity go hand in hand. When children have hope, a real belief that there is opportunity ahead for them, we hope to dry up the swamp of fear and pessimism that breeds terrorism. That means supporting education, not just for boys but for girls, too.
It also means...
CLINTON: ... that real economic opportunity can't grow where there is no security. And that opportunity alone is not enough to overcome extremism.
I have been very specific about how I would make this new foreign policy vision that I share, and I think many of you do as well, a reality. Today I want to lay out three principles that I hope will guide us in all that we do with Israel and why it is important to put that relationship into the broader context of what foreign policy is in the best interest of the United States.
First, I have a bedrock commitment to Israel's security because Israel's security is critical to our security. When Islamic extremists, including the leaders of nations, proclaim death to America, death to Israel, we understand that our two nations are fighting a shared threat.
And those of us in this room know this bond is so much more personal than any security agreement or risk assessment. We know a shared threat can also mean shared sorrow. When eight young men were killed in a Jerusalem yeshiva in March including a 16-year-old American named Abraham David Moses, we reunited in our grief.
So I strongly support Israel's right to self-defense. Israel has both the right and the obligation to defend its citizens and I believe America should aid in that defense.
CLINTON: I am proud to support the $2.5 billion in security assistance for Israel and foreign aid bill and I am committed to making sure that Israel maintains a military edge to meet increasing threat.
Part of our commitment to Israel's security is a commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I'm deeply moved by the legacies of so many leaders who have sacrificed so much in the quest for peace like my friend, Yitzhak Rabin, and the warrior, Ariel Sharon, who is in our thoughts and prayers.
CLINTON: We must support Israel and in making the tough choices for peace. And I believe that U.S. diplomacy is critical to making progress and consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.
We need to talk to all sides but all parties must know we will always stand with Israel in its struggle for peace and security. Israel should know that the United States will never pressure her to make unilateral concessions or to impose a made-in-America solution.
CLINTON: Palestinians will need to do their part by renouncing violence and teaching their children the ways of peace and tolerance. We must show the Palestinians and the moderate Arabs that the path of reconciliation is better than the terrorist road to self-destruction.
I am deeply concerned about the growing threat in Gaza. Hamas has built a military force equipped with sophisticated weapons from Iran. Hamas' campaign of terror has claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Israelis. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. It has shown no commitment to peace or to renouncing violence.
So we must be clear about how we feel about our next president negotiating directly with Hamas. Here's how I feel: until Hamas renouncing terrorism and recognizes Israel, negotiating with Hamas is unacceptable for the United States.
CLINTON: And we must continue to demand a return of the Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and by Hezbollah, Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, Gilad (INAUDIBLE) Shalit. I have been privileged to know Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, and I was proud to sponsor the resolution that passed the Senate calling for their immediate release.
I will not stop fighting and pressing for these soldiers to come home until they finally are safely home with the families that are waiting for them.
The second principle is a simple one. No nuclear weapons for Iran.
CLINTON: Iran is a country whose leaders, whose president denies the holocaust. He defies the international community. The government trains, funds and arms Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists in attacking Israeli civilians.
He threatens to destroy Israel. Just this week, he said that Israel is about to die and will soon be erased.
We can never let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The next president will have to deal with the Iranian challenge from day one. This is not just in Israel's interests. It is in America's interests and the world's interests. And this is a threat that I take very seriously.
I made co-sponsor of the Iran Nonproliferation Act. I support calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard what it is -- a terrorist organization.
CLINTON: I have also said that should Iran ever, ever contemplate using nuclear weapons against Israel, they must understand what the consequences will be to them. But we must do everything in our power to prevent such an unthinkable day from ever happening.
And the best way to do that is to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons in the first place. We should start by developing an international consensus against Iran's nuclear program with a set of tougher sanctions if Iran continues to defy the international community.
We should also work with Israel and moderate Arab neighbors to roll back Iran's influence in that region. If the Iranian government wants to become a responsible member of the international community, we would wholeheartedly welcome that change.
But Iran simply cannot be allowed to continue its current behavior and I wish to underscore, I believe that we are further behind in constraining Iran today because of the failed policies of President Bush than we would have been had we taken a much more aggressive engagement course earlier.
That is why it is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.
Now my third principle is standing up against hatred and anti- Semitism wherever it is found. And it is not only Israelis and Jews who need to be speaking out against anti-Semitism, it is every fair- thinking person who understands that it directly affects you as well.
CLINTON: I have spoken out for years against anti-Semitism and Palestinian school. I am appalled, still today, the Palestinian textbooks reject Israel's right to exist and describe Israel's founding as a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history.
That is not education. It is indoctrination. We also know...
CLINTON: ... that the Saudis have textbooks describing Jews as wicked and we were all revolted when Iran's president held a conference to deny the holocaust.
But our vigilance against anti-Semitism must go beyond the Middle East. It must receive no quarter any where in the world. The next president will face a test of resolve on this issue. At the 2009 Durbin Conference, also called Durbin II.
I will never forget how the world's first conference against racism became a mockery of itself when it descended into anti-Semitism and hatred.
The debacle at Durbin must never be repeated. We should take very strong action to ensure anti-Semitism is kept off the agenda at Durbin II and if those efforts fail, I believe the United States should boycott that conference.
The challenge of fighting anti-Semitism is indeed great. But we know it is possible to change hearts and minds. We saw it recently when Magen David Adom was finally included in the International Red Cross after years of being singled out for being Israeli.
On one of my trips to Israel, I met an MDA member named Natan, an Ethiopian Jew who had saved many innocent lives where he tackled a terrorist carrying explosives. It was a miracle that Natan had survived. His valor was extraordinary. And it was just what you would expect from a member of the MDA.
That's why I was so proud to take up the MDA's cause, sponsoring legislation and speaking out. And I was very pleased as all of us were, that the International Red Cross righted this historic wrong.
On a personal level, I was honored when Natan accepted my invitation to come to New York and walk with me in our salute to Israel parade. In a way we are still walking together. And the image of this very dignified Ethiopian Jew, now an Israeli, walking in that parade down Fifth Avenue, bearing the scars of his heroic rescue effort to prevent the terrorists from destroying more lives, it was one I will carry with me my entire life.
Because that was really Israel. It wasn't just everyone on the sides of the streets waving. But it was this -- was this proud young man who had kept Jewish traditions alive as a long string of those, for centuries, who had done so and who had finally come home to Israel and had given so much to protect the country that had given him a new life.
CLINTON: So while it can be easy to be discouraged, when we look at the challenges ahead, we can never lose our resolve and never give up hope.
What gives me, not just hope, but the underlying reality that can be delivered by those who work together, is that the power of the values we share with Israel are such an unshakable and unbreakable bond.
And the difference that America can make is so critical. Let me leave you with just this glimpse of why America matters and why AIPAC matters.
In her memoir, one of my personal heroines, Golda Meir, wrote about the wonderful moment 60 years ago when Israel joined the family of nations and America stood at her side.
Here's what she wrote: "A few minutes after midnight, my phone rang. It had been ringing all evening and as I ran to answer it, I wondered what bad news I would hear now."
Doesn't that sound familiar?
"But the voice at the other end of the phone sounded jubilant. 'Golda, are you listening? Truman has recognized us.' I can't remember what I said or did, but I remember how I felt. It was like a miracle, and I was filled with joy and relief." That was the decision that won one American president made to be there for Israel at a time of need. That is the decision that the next president must be ready to make as well.
To the members of AIPAC, just know your cause is just, your voice is strong. Washington and the world is listening. So go forth and speak up for what you know is right.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless America. Thank you all very much.
COLLINS: All right, there you have Senator Hillary Clinton speaking at the AIPAC conference today, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and there annual policy conference, Washington, D.C. So we have heard from both of the former contenders. As you well know last night Senator Barack Obama clinched the nomination for the Democratic presidency. So there you have it.
We also have Senator McCain who will be coming up a little bit later on. He is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on a campaign appearance. You may remember, he's also appeared at the AIPAC conference on Monday.
HARRIS: A landmark election. What impact does Barack Obama's success have? We will talk with civil rights leader the Reverend Joseph Lowery. That's next.
HARRIS: Barack Obama standing tall this morning, the democrat's presumptive presidential nominee. Last night Obama collected enough delegates to become the first African-American to lead a major party's presidential ticket.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: America, this is our moment. This is our time, our time to turn the page.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: Wow. A historic match up ahead for November. Let's talk about what Barack Obama's campaign means with one of his supporters, civil rights pioneer, the Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, is now chairman of the Coalition for the People's Agenda, promoting education and accountability in politics. That was quite a night last night. Just your overall general impressions of the young man last night? As you refer to him -- the young man.
REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, COALITION FOR THE PEOPLE'S AGENDA: Barack I think summed it up on that clip. "This is our moment," America. While I have a very personal and emotional feeling about it, it was the nation's moment. And I have never been so proud of America as to finally realize that it's happening, that a major political party in this country has offered both a woman and an African-American as a choice for the nominee for the presidency. It is America's moment. It doesn't mean the end off all racial disparities, but it does mean the beginning of a new era of opportunities in race relations, to let justice roll down like waters, and be the family that the creator wants us to be.
HARRIS: I want to take you back to 2006. Our Don Lemon caught up with you at, what, that must have been your 37th birthday party, and he asked you about Barack Obama. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think of Barack Obama?
LOWERY: Don't know him very well. I'm impressed with his intelligence. I haven't seen him grab any tough issues yet, but I think he has a bright future.
LEMON: Do you think he's ready?
LOWERY: For what?
LEMON: To be the president?
LOWERY: Well, he's more ready than George W. Bush was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: OK, there you go -- there you go delivering the blow with the velvet glove, I suppose. Doc, let me ask you, you weren't sure about him initially. But what changed your mind? Because you were one of the earliest to say he is my guy.
LOWERY: Well, the same that changed the mind of voters across this country when he came on the scene. When they get to know him, they see in him the things that our young people saw long before you older people began to peep into his intelligence, into his commitment, into his psyche, into his soul. To get to know him is to see a young man who I believe has been called, and I know preachers...
HARRIS: Hang on now. Really?
LOWERY: I think he has been called. I don't think there's any other explanation for his ability to go in to South Carolina, and North Carolina, and Georgia and Alabama. And I spoke in his stead in Mississippi at the Democratic Party dinner, and watched Mississippi white people stand up and cheer for an African-American for president of the United States. There has to be some divine intent for this to happen. I'm proud of America.
HARRIS: There is Joe Lowery trying to raise Barack Obama up to some level where he is anointed, touched by God himself. Come on, don't do that. Don't put that on him.
LOWERY: Those are your words. I said there was divine intent in the whole scenario, that I think God does move in the affairs of men, and God does call men and women forth to be his spokespersons at different times in history.
I think America's moment is now with Barack Obama at the leadership, the helm of the leadership. It's a new era for opportunity for race relations.
HARRIS: All right. One more question for you. From your friend, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to last night, from "I Have a Dream" to "yes, we can" last night, "this is our time," for you personally as a pioneer at the forefront of so much of the civil rights movement, what does this mean for you personally? LOWERY: Well, I probably can tell you better when I wake up, and I will come to realize reality is the name of this game.
But 45 years ago, August 28th, when the Democratic Party will name him officially as the ballot carrier for the election in 2008, it will be 45 years since the march on Washington. And when Martin gave the "I Have a Dream" speech and when we were petitioning the president of the United States -- we weren't even sure he was listening -- to this moment when this man is on the threshold of becoming the president of the United States, it's a marvelous transition, and America has been blessed by the touch of the divine, to move towards the day of justice when justice rolls down like waters, and I hope that it means we are coming together now as a family, so that we can all stand together and say, black will not have to get back, brown can stick around, yellow will be mellow, the red man can get ahead, man, and white folks will see the light, folks. That's the day that's coming.
HARRIS: Always great to talk to you.
The Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery. Thanks for your time, as always. And your perspective.
LOWERY: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
HARRIS: My pleasure.
COLLINS: The next step for Hillary Clinton, is there really a future as the No. 2? We'll talk with senior political analyst, David Gergen, after this.
COLLINS: Quickly want to take you directly to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the presumptive Republican nominee for president is speaking.
Let's go ahead and listen in to Senator John McCain.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... the more we hear the better off we are.
And I'd like to begin by extending my congratulations to both of the candidates for the nomination of the Democratic Party for president of the United States. And I'd like to congratulate Senator Hillary Clinton, on the hard-fought campaign that she waged, for the hard work she did throughout this campaign. And I know that as a father of three daughters, that Senator Clinton has inspired women all over America to believe that they can achieve the highest office of this nation. And so I congratulate her on her campaign.
I congratulate Senator Obama, on his success for his spirited campaign that he ran and the inspiration that he has provided to many Americans. And along those lines, my friends, I sent this morning because of my belief and the spirit of town hall meetings, and the participation of people in the Democratic process and probably what can be viewed by many as the most important election that we have had in a long, long time. With perhaps the greatest differences between the two candidates.
This morning I sent Senator Obama a letter inviting him to join me in town hall meetings around the country. It's an idea that was borrowed from an agreement between President Kennedy and Senator Goldwater. Senator Goldwater, as you know, is my predecessor in the United States Senate and in many ways, the real reason why the conservative movement did enjoy the success that it has across America. A great and wonderful person. He and Senator Kennedy and President Kennedy, as you know, enjoyed a very good personal relationship. And they had an agreement that in the 1964 election taken place, that they would have traveled around the country and had town hall meetings all over the country.
The agreement was made between President Kennedy and Senator Goldwater, which would have happened, had not the tragic event in Dallas, occurred. I suggest the town hall meeting format, as I said. Because I believe that it's the best way. I don't think we need any big media-run productions, no process -- questions from reporters, no spin rooms. Just two Americans running for the highest office and greatest nation on Earth, responding to the concerns of the people whose trust that we must earn. I even suggested we travel to them together on the same plane. Probably help out on energy savings.
Given our expenses, I know my campaign would agree to it. And what I would like to do is have 10 town hall meetings, one a week, between now and the democrat convention. Maybe have 200 to 400 people, chosen by an objective organization. Have them show up and come to these town hall meetings all over America.
The first one I would suggest to take place on June the 12th. And that would be in New York City, in Federal Hall. The place where the beginnings of our government took place. And I would be there on the 12th and I would hope that Senator Obama would also. It was in the spirit of President Kennedy's and Senator Goldwater's agreement. In the spirit of the politics of change and do our country good, that I have asked him to join me and participating in these town hall meetings across the country.
There are many issues and challenges that are facing Americans. You know, I think Americans are tired of the ways presidential campaigns have been run in the past. All the gimmicks, the phony sound bites and photo-ops, campaigns that always seem to be more about the candidates' interests than the public. And I hope that Senator Obama agrees. Joint town halls would show we both understand that this election couldn't be more important to the future security and prosperity of American families. It's indeed, as you well know, a change election. No matter who wins this electric, the direction of the country is going to change dramatically. But the choice before the American people is between the right change and the wrong change. Between going forward and going backward.
Senator Obama, truly has the opportunity to embrace a new kind of politics, by committing to participate in these history making meetings. And join in the higher level of discourse that Americans obviously would clearly prefer. My friends, we're the world's leader. And leaders don't hide from history, they make history.
But if we're going to lead, we have to begin by reforming the tenor of political discussion in our campaigns. Only then, will the American people trust that we can reform a government, that as you know, lost its ability to do so. I hope that Senator Obama, will accept my invitation.
And now I just -- I would -- if I can make this work, I will discuss a couple of issues with you very briefly so that we will have time for your questions or comments. And by the way, if you have a question and then a follow-up to that question, I'd be glad to hear that as well. And again, I want to thank our veterans for being here. Thank you. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for being here.
First, I'd like to talk to you, just for a second, about a compelling issue that has probably risen to the top priority of most Americans today. And that obviously is energy. The cost of a barrel of oil continues to go up and up and up. And you continue to pay more and more and more every time you go to fill up your gas tank. And my friends, it is a compelling national security issue as well as economic issue, as well as environmental issue, that we eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.
Now, I have great confidence, I have great confidence in the innovation and technology and the ability of the American people to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. Which is crippling our economy, harming our environment, and truly a national security issue. We're sending -- depending on where the price of oil goes, $500 billion, $600 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. Some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. That cannot continue. That cannot continue. I think you're tired of borrowing money from China to pay for it. So...
It's half of our trade deficit. It is half of our trade deficit, my friends. And it's growing all the time. And so I can't predict to you where the price of oil will go. But I can tell you that I don't believe it is going to come down to a level where it's been before, until we become independent of those sources of oil. And that can only be done, in my view, by exploitation of existing reserves, obviously in the United States of America. But most...
And this state plays an incredibly important role in that aspect of our economy. But we also have to have wind and solar and tide and nuclear. We have got to unleash the innovation of America and go to these alternate fuel sources.
And I'd also like to point out to you, that nuclear power has also got to be part of any solution to our energy problems. Nuclear power my friends, is safe. Nuclear power is cheap and nuclear power is clean. My friends, the United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for more than 50 years with nuclear power plants on them and we've never had a single accident. You know the French. We always like to imitate the French, as you know. 80 percent of their electricity is generated by nuclear power. And by the way, in case you missed it, we now have a pro-American president of France, which shows if you live long enough, anything is possible in this world.
So, we can do it. We can do it with wind and tide and solar and the development of a battery that will take a car 100 miles or more, before you have to plug it in. I know everybody in this room would think about purchasing one if it was affordable and available today. I mean, it is there. But we must do it. And Americans need to be led and I'm not telling you that you have to shiver in the dark. I am telling you that we can unleash American innovation and technology and it has to be our highest priority.
In the weeks ahead, I'' be talking about different aspects of how we will attain, within a few years, energy independence from our foreign oil supplies. My friends, I can't...
My friends, just a little more on the national security side of it, very quickly. I can't tell you what Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela, is going to do. Who has control over a lot of our oil supply. I can't tell you what's going to happen in the Persian Gulf. I can't tell you what the Iranians are going to do. I can sure tell you that they're up to no good. But I can tell you from a pure national security aspect, not just the incredible price, but our nation's security, we cannot be dependent on these and other places such as Nigeria. That there's either instability or people who are -- share none of our values, none of our standards and none of our goals for all of the world. So, we can do it and I'll be talking a lot more about it.
Now I want to talk to you about one other issue, if I could, which continues to be a very big element in the decision making process the American people make. And of course, that's our national security and defense of this nation and the role of our military and the situation in Iraq. Now, first of all, I would say that we are proud of our brave veterans and we are proud of all of Americans who have served. Our greatest generation was here today and so many others.
And you are proud. And you are so proud of our Louisiana Guard and Reserve. The Louisiana Guard and Reserve has served in ways that are greater than at any time since World War II, my friends. You all know them, you know the strain. You know some have been back to Iraq three and four times. You know how difficult it's been for their families. And no guard has ever served with greater distinction than our national guard has in this conflict, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I know you're proud of them. But we've got...
But we've got to relieve the strain on them and their families. And that means a much larger military, including a much larger Army and Marine Corps. My friends, the United States Army and Marine Corps are one-third smaller than they were at the time of the first Gulf War. So we can recruit and keep and retain the best of America in our military. Now, all of us are saddened, all of us are saddened by the sacrifice that was made, has been made, in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 4,000 brave young Americans made the ultimate sacrifice. And we grieve for them and their families.
And let's have straight talk. The war was very badly mishandled for nearly four years. And it was mishandled and we paid a very heavy price in the sacrifices that were made. But -- and at that time, I said that strategy wouldn't work and we needed a new strategy. And I was criticized by Republicans. And I was criticized by democrats. And I was criticized for being disloyal. But my friends, I knew what the right strategy was. And that new strategy being implemented by one of the great generals in American history, David Petraeus, is working and it's succeeding.
And it's been hard and tough. But recent events my friends, have shown that we are winning in Iraq. We are winning there. And that's what Americans want us to do. Now, in the three major cities in Iraq today, Mosul, Basra and Baghdad, Iraqi military and government has control with American support. It's not American military control with Iraqi support. This is a key element, my friends. Because the key to our success in Iraq, as we've always known, was the Iraqi military and government functioning effectively.
The Iraqi army is now functioning effectively. Six months ago in Basra, it was controlled by militias and mafia-like organizations. Now that -- it's -- sure, there are still problems. But it is under the control of the Iraqi government. In Mosul, a great battle is waging. The Iraqi military is succeeding. Soder City today, is quiet. 2.5 to 3 million people live in Soder City, and it was once basically, a free fire zone. It was one of the most dangerous places in all of Iraq. Today it is quiet and under control of the Iraqi military and government.
Now, does that mean that everything is fine? Of course not. It means we still have the remnants of these Jihads and militias and others. Al-Quaeda, according to the head of the CIA, is on the run. But they're not totally defeated. But they've certainly taken significant setbacks. And my friends, that means that we are drawing down from the pre-surge levels. Three of the brigades have come back, two more of the brigades will be coming back by the end of July. The additional Marines have come back. There's still some support troops that will remain there. But General Petraeus, has said that in July, he will look at the whole situation and then make recommendations to the president and the Congress of the United States.
I am hopeful, because of this success, that we will be able to withdraw more troops.