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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Live Speech to Troops in Alaska
Aired November 12, 2009 - 17:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new details of how the deadly rampage at Fort Hood came to a bloody end. We're now learning that there may be two heroes, as new pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Stand by.
President Obama now on his way to Japan. On a stop-over in Alaska this hour, he'll be speaking to U.S. troops near Anchorage. We're going there live. You'll hear what the president is telling the men and women of the United States military.
Plus, their hopes riveted the nation and sent first responders on a wild goose chase. Now the parents of the so-called "balloon boy" are faces serious charges.
Will they go to jail?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
New developments in the deadliest shooting ever on an American military base. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan has now been formally charged with 13 preliminary counts of premeditated murder in connection with the rampage at Fort Hood. His attorney says Hasan remains hospitalized and heavily sedated, recovering from gunshot wounds. And now we're getting new details of the firefight that brought the massacre to a halt.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from Fort Hood with more.
What are we learning -- Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that scene was so chaotic, there were so many shots fired, that it's been very difficult to separate fact from fiction. But as the officers involved in this rampage start telling their stories, we're getting a better picture of what happened.
LAVANDERA: (voice-over): At first, Sergeant Kimberly Munley received most of the credit for ending the deadly rampage at Fort Hood. But Sergeant Mark Todd also played a crucial role in bringing down Nidal Hasan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our investigation thus far indicates two responding police officers, one male and one female, arrived at the scene and both engaged the armed suspect.
LAVANDERA: Investigators haven't determined which officers' gunshots wounded Hasan. Both arrived at the same time and both fired repeatedly, as Hasan allegedly moved around the Soldier Readiness Building.
Sergeant Munley told NBC's "Today Show" Hasan fired at Todd first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TODAY SHOW," COURTESY NBC) SGT. KIMBERLY MUNLEY: I got out of my patrol car and ran up the hill. And I immediately looked to my left and saw Sergeant Todd. And that's when gunfire started to emerge and we started to take action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Munley was allegedly shot by Hasan three times -- in the right hand and each leg. Todd escaped uninjured. And according to Sergeant Todd's comments on NBC, it sounds like his final gunshots might have ended the shootout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TODAY SHOW," COURTESY NBC)
SGT. MARK TODD, KILLEEN, TEXAS POLICE: I came back around and then that's when I first -- that was the next time I seen Sergeant Munley. And that was at the other location. And that's when I challenged the -- the individual -- for him to -- to drop his weapon, drop his weapon. And at that time, he started toward -- he turned toward me and started firing. And then we neutralized him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Investigators say the final story of what happened in those tragic moments will take time to piece together because of the complex crime scene.
CHRIS GREY, CID: I would caution anyone from drawing final conclusions concerning the actual engagement in terms of who did what until all the evidence is fully analyzed.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAVANDERA: Wolf, obviously, there's a great deal of interest in just how this massacre ended and a great deal of interest in Sergeant Todd and Sergeant Munley, as well. But perhaps the greatest part of this story is that having two heroes is better than one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Two heroes are always good.
All right, thanks very much.
And thanks to both of those heroes.
Ed Lavandera on the scene.
CNN has learned that the existing U.S. options for the war in Afghanistan are unacceptable to the commander-in-chief. A senior administration official telling CNN President Obama wants more details before deciding whether to send thousands more U.S. troops into the war zone.
Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by with more -- Suzanne, what are you hearing?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know the president is traveling. He's on his way to Asia. And he's going to make a quick stop on the side right outside Anchorage, Alaska. That is where they're going to refuel Air Force One and visit with U.S. troops at the Elmendorf Air Force Base.
And what they're telling us is the president is carrying these war plans regarding Afghanistan. But senior administration officials telling me he is not happy with any of them.
MALVEAUX: (voice-over): Wednesday night after President Obama's eighth meeting with his war council on Afghanistan, the commander-in- chief sent his top aides back to the drawing board. He was unhappy with his options and wanted aides to clarify how long U.S. troops would have to fight before the Afghans would take over the responsibility.
Senior aides say the president will not commit to sending a substantial number of U.S. troops until he's assured he has a credible partner in Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think he's correctly recognizing that it's not just about troop numbers; that, in fact, finding leverage with Karzai has to be a crucial element -- a crucial central element of the strategy.
MALVEAUX: Aides say Mr. Obama wants to make it clear that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended. But the president's delay in deciding troop deployments is causing some concern.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: And this process has become long and very messy.
O'HANLON: Well, it is messy, but let's not forget that there is a benefit to -- or there could be a benefit -- or let's hope there's a benefit to President Karzai hearing some of our anguished internal debate, because then he will, hopefully, appreciate that we are not so committed to this as to continue reinforcing failure forever.
MALVEAUX: The president's decision comes after his ambassador to Afghanistan, a former general, Karl Eikenberry, sent two classified cables to Washington, which a U.S. official says expressed concern and reservations about troop increases in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, thanks to the magic of technology, we were able to listen to the briefing from the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who was aboard Air Force One. They are just about in Alaska now. It was pumped into the White House just moments ago, live. He was asked various questions about this -- what is next. It is about evaluating the Afghan government, what kind of steps they're going to make when it comes to governing, as well as their own Afghan military and police and how they're performing.
Robert Gibbs said this. He says: "It's important to focus on how we're going to get folks in, but also how we're going to get them out" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point.
And we're going to stand by and have president's remarks at Elmendorf Air Force Base live. That's coming up this hour, the president speaking to the troops.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates forming a special task force to deal with roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices. Right now, they account for 80 percent of the U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. Today, the secretary traveled to Wisconsin to inspect the next generation of armored vehicles, specially designed to protect troops from IEDs.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has a close-up look -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has come to see this vehicle -- now the military's best hope at keeping troops alive in Afghanistan.
STARR (voice-over): It's called the mine-resistant ambush protected all terrain vehicle, the MATV -- a mouthful of words for this massive new armored truck with a life-saving mission.
(on camera): This both lets you go off road and into remote areas and be more survivable against IEDs?
KEN JUERGENS, SENIOR PROGRAM DIRECTOR, OSHKOSH DEFENSE: Exactly. That's what this is designed for.
STARR: (voice-over): Improvised roadside explosives, IEDs, are now the number of one killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We came to Oshkosh Defense, who builds the trucks, to see just how the MATV can go off road, charging through rough terrain, away from where bombs may be lying in wait.
When a bomb hits this truck, the troops are protected. Unlike other armored vehicles, on the MATV, only the passenger cab is armored.
JUERGENS: We're finding the tires blow away, the engine compartment blows away, but everything here in its crew capsule is protected. STARR: (on camera): This is pretty lightweight.
JUERGENS: Right. And during a blast, you don't want to have a lot of heavy objects that's keeping the weight down. You want this stuff to fly away. So during an explosion, this stuff all goes away.
STARR: The MATV is still massive -- six feet wide, 12 feet tall. The tires alone have a four foot diameter. But lightweight -- unlike its 40,000 pound predecessor, this is only 25,000 pounds. So it can maneuver steep, rough terrain.
Here on the shop floor at Oshkosh Defense, an economic boon for the company and its workers.
(on camera): The Pentagon orders for 5,200 MATVs to Afghanistan has resulted in more than 1,000 additional jobs here. This shop floor now runs 20 hours a day.
(voice-over): Fifty-six-year-old Ron Shirkey was laid off from another job after 15 years on the assembly line.
RON SHIRKEY, OSHKOSH DEFENSE EMPLOYEE: And I was really depressed. I didn't know what I was going to do.
STARR: And then he joined the MATV assembly line at Oshkosh.
SHIRKEY: If I could build those and help keep our -- the people that are protecting us safer with these vehicles, that would be a very motivating job. And it has turned out to be just that.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: Troops in Afghanistan are already being trained on how to use these vehicles. They will start using them on combat missions in the coming weeks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
It was a hoax as elaborate as it was short-lived.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FALCON HEENE: You guys said that we did this for a show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The so-called "balloon boy" blew the lid off his parents' publicity stunt. Today, the charges have now been filed -- and they're facing some serious charges, indeed.
Also, he says his children were snatched from the United States, but when he tried to take them back, he landed in a Japanese jail. Now, major new developments in an international custody dispute.
And we're standing by to hear from President Obama this hour. He's about to speak to U.S. service members in Alaska. We're going there live.
BLITZER: The images of that runaway silver balloon, supposedly with a little child inside, mesmerized the nation. But then we learned it was all one big hoax. Word now the boys' parents have agreed to plead guilty in court tomorrow.
CNN's Don Lemon has details.
He's joining us now -- Don, what can we expect?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, I have a lot to tell you. We can expect, first, that the Heenes probably won't face as much jail time as they could have because of a plea deal. And we just got this mug shot I want to show you of the dad. His name is Richard Heene, of course.
We got it a short while ago. He turned himself in, Wolf, to authorities in Colorado today after cutting that plea deal. The deal also allows the Heenes to keep their kids and it keeps Mrs. Heene, a Japanese citizen, from being deported.
LEMON (voice-over): It's been almost a month since we all watched that homemade balloon race through the sky, fearing 6-year-old Falcon Heene was inside.
BLITZER: When the balloon finally landed, there was no one inside.
LEMON: Now, the boy's parents have reached a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to charges that the whole thing was a hoax. The D.A.'s office says it's charged Richard Heene with one felony count of attempting to influence a public servant. Mayumi Heene was charged with one misdemeanor count of false reporting to authorities.
Their lawyer says Richard Heene agreed to plead guilty so his wife would face a lesser charge and avoid the possibility of deportation since she's a Japanese citizen. The Heenes' lawyer says he expects prosecutors to try and put them behind bars, possibly up to 90 days for Richard and 60 days for Mayumi.
But long-term, the family would apparently get to stay together. We are told there's nothing in the deal about removing Falcon or the couples' other young children from their custody. A lot of questions were raised about the kids' welfare and how far their parents would go for publicity, as their story first unraveled right here on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
F. HEENE: You guys said that we did this for a show. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LEMON: Well, Richard Heene was booked on the charges against him today and then leased. He and his wife are due in court in Colorado tomorrow morning, Wolf. And we should learn much, much more then. But, of course, a lot of people are wondering about those boys, the welfare of those boys -- and, Wolf, you did that interview live. I can only imagine what you're thinking about this all right now.
BLITZER: Yes, well, this is a major new development.
Stand by, Don.
I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our CNN legal analyst, Lisa Bloom, to discuss this deal -- Jeffrey, what do you think about this plea deal?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it strikes me as a bit harsh. You know, we are privileged to live in a country where it's not a crime to be a jerk, to be a creep, to be a nut. And I think that's really what this family is guilty of. I think a misdemeanor would have been appropriate for both.
But as long as no one's going to jail, it sounds like cooler heads have prevailed here.
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Richard Heene has pleaded guilty to the felony of attempting to influence a government official. That sounds to me like bribery. I mean he isn't -- we don't know any facts, as far as I know, in support of that.
And when someone takes a plea deal in the United States, they're supposed to actually be guilty of that crime. There isn't supposed to be a level of gamesmanship. Here, apparently, there was some horse trading going on so that Mayumi could stay in the country. She was the one who was, arguably, more culpable, because she's the one who picked up the phone and made the call to 911, whereas he was sort of behind-the-scenes and the only evidence against him would come from his wife. And that could be kept out of court by way of spousal privilege.
So because of all this legal strategizing, he ends up pleading guilty to the felony, she to the misdemeanor. But it is a little bit odd.
BLITZER: Do you think it's odd, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Yes, I do think it's odd. But I think everything about this story is odd. You know, I -- it will be interesting to see what he says he did, because, you know, of the many things he did with this ludicrous stunt, it doesn't really seem like he was trying to influence a government official. He was trying to get a reality show. He was trying to get attention.
He did seem to make a false report of a crime, where he endangered the rescue officers, which, to me, is the most important part of this case. But I -- this does smell, as Lisa said, sort of like a plea bargain where they found the result that didn't necessarily match the facts of the case.
BLITZER: I guess influencing a government official could mean, Lisa, that when he pretended to be panicking, his little boy was in that balloon flying over the skies of Colorado, government officials influenced went and took all sorts of extreme measures to try to save that little boy. That would be influencing a public official.
BLOOM: Well, you know, I hear your argument, Wolf. And you'd make a good attorney. But with all due respect, I -- I think that's a bit of a tortured reading of that felony. And I agree with Jeffrey. This is a little bit harsh. Yes, of course, they did commit misdemeanors. They did file false reports. All of the activities of the government officials and rescue workers flowed from that. There should be some legal consequences from that.
But having him be guilty of a felony, to me, I think that's a bit much.
BLITZER: And you agree with Jeffrey that no jail time is really necessary for this?
I mean, do we, the citizenry, want to spend our money to house and feed them?
Do we want to take these parents away from their kids?
Hopefully, they have learned a lesson. I think we over incarcerate people in this country. And in this case, letting them out, have some probation, community service is always a good thing, where they're contributing to the community instead of us paying for them. That's the kind of outcome I'd like to see tomorrow.
BLITZER: And they really did have great leverage on them, because she is -- she's not a U.S. citizen. And if she would have been convicted -- pled guilty to a felony, Jeffrey, she would have been deported.
TOOBIN: Yes. And that -- that's very harsh. And, also, you know, one issue that's came -- that came up between you and Don is whether the children should be taken away from their parents. You know, I think, we should recognize what a major, major step it is. You know, there are lots of parents out there who do far from perfect jobs. But it is a huge thing to remove children from their parents, as crazy as the parents may be.
Barring some really terrible proof of real danger to these children, I think we probably ought to leave that one alone, too.
BLITZER: I think we'll leave it alone right now, guys.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.
BLOOM: Thank you.
BLITZER: President Obama is on a stopover on his way to Japan. He's about to speak to American servicemen and women near Anchorage, Alaska. You're looking at these live pictures. The troops are getting ready to meet the commander-in-chief. He'll speak to them. We'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, a new twist in an international custody dispute that landed a desperate American father in a Japanese jail.
And some alarming new numbers on the so-called swine flu. And we meet one man who spent a month in intensive care fighting for his life.
BLITZER: This story just coming in from New York City. Federal prosecutors are now moving to seize four -- four mosques in New York City and a skyscraper owned by a non-profit Muslim organization. That organization is called the Alavi Foundation. It's suspected by U.S. authorities of being under the influence of the Iranian government. Prosecutors say the Foundation has been helping to illegally funnel money back to the Iranian government.
Let's bring in Jeff Toobin, who is just, as all of us are, beginning to learn about this dramatic development.
This sounds like a big deal -- Jeff. It's not every day that the federal government seizes four mosques and a skyscraper under suspicion of being controlled by the Iranians.
TOOBIN: It really is. And this is part of something that really was a great emphasis of the Bush administration, which was to hit what we regard as terrorist nations, terrorist entities, in their pocketbook and take their property, take their money if it's in the United States.
What's especially striking about this case is that 650 Fifth Avenue, a 36th story building in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, is one of the things that -- that the government is trying to seize. It's worth many millions of dollars. And just the court papers illustrate how complicated it is for the government to try to identify these assets and seize it, because it's not a simple thing of simply taking the Iranian government's property.
This is property that apparently, according to our government, was held in a shell foundation, secretly. They accuse some of the people involved with obstruction of justice, a multi-year investigation. We'll see if they'll be able to make this stick in the courts. BLITZER: Yes. They're saying that they're going to go after $500 million in assets of the Alavi Foundation, an alleged front company. And they're also seizing Islamic centers not only in New York City, Jeffrey; but in Maryland, California and Houston. They're also seizing more than 100 acres in Virginia and that 36 story office tower and that skyscraper in New York that you were talking about.
It comes at a delicate moment in U.S./Iranian relations -- or shall we say lack of relations, when the Obama administration has been seeking to reach out to the Iranians trying to deal with the nuclear program there.
This is going to, I suspect, complicate that relationship.
TOOBIN: I certainly hope that there was a conversation between Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton before this -- this indictment was dropped, because this is a tremendous insult to the Iranian government now. It is permissible under American law. They are not allowed to secretly own property in the United States.
But, also, you know, what makes this especially a dicey proposition is because of some of these properties are mosques. And mosques -- the worship within mosques is protected by the First Amendment. Now, it is not legal for the Iranian government to hide their money by owning a mosque. But the intersection of the anti- terrorism law and religious freedom is a complicated one. And you can be sure that if this case goes to court, that'll be one issue that the judge has to deal with.
BLITZER: And it's interesting that in these formal documents, they're referring to this as a counterterrorism seizure. Iran being a country the State Department lists as a country that sponsors state terrorism -- groups the U.S. considers to be terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah or Hamas, if you will, they fund these types of organizations. They're calling this a counterterrorism seizure.
What does that say to you legally, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Well, what was interesting about the press release from the -- the U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara in -- in Manhattan is that he thanked the FBI's counterterrorism unit. You know, most of the time, criminal and civil investigations are run out of the other parts of the FBI. But the FBI counterterrorism apparently ran this investigation.
And that just shows how the mission of the FBI has really changed since 9/11, that counterterrorism is much more of a focus than it used to be. And they are trying to bring more cases in American courts that previously had simply been surveillance of, you know, terrorist suspects. Now, they're really trying to take their money and -- and arrest them if they can.
BLITZER: And going after these mosques right now and these Muslim centers, these community centers, coming only a few days after a Muslim-American, a major in the United States Army, is accused of killing 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, it's going -- it's going to put additional strain on the entire fabric of the Muslim -- Muslim community's relationship with non-Muslims. At least, I suspect there is concern in the Muslim-American community already about this.
TOOBIN: I suspect there is. But I also think that, you know, Americans are smart and they understand the difference between a Muslim who committed a heinous and evil act in Texas and, you know, the Muslim -- the Muslim church, the Muslim religion and the -- your other Muslims in the United States. So, you know, I -- I think people are capable of making intelligent distinctions here.
OK, Jeffrey, stand by, because we're going to continue to follow this story. A major development right now -- federal prosecutors taking steps to seize four -- four U.S. mosques and a New York City skyscraper owned by a non-profit Muslim organization believed to have ties to the government of Iran.
We'll follow this story and update you as we get more information.
Meanwhile, another international legal case we're following. There's a new development in the story of Christopher Savoie. Savoie is back in Tennessee after being released from a Japanese prison. His crime -- he was arrested, charged with attempted kidnapping for trying to take his own children from his Japanese ex-wife.
CNN's Kyung Lah is in Tokyo with the latest.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prosecutors here in Japan have decided to drop all of the criminal charges against American Christopher Savoie. Savoie is a Tennessee father who was embroiled in a bitter custody dispute with his Japanese ex-wife over their two children.
His ex-wife, a Japanese national, abducted the two children out of the United States and brought them here to Japan. A U.S. court then awarded Savoie full custody. Savoie came here to Japan and tried to whisk the two children out of Japan back to the United States.
Well, Japanese authorities stopped him. Now, Japan does not recognize U.S. custody orders, so Savoie was arrested and he was charged with kidnapping. He sat in the Japanese jail almost three weeks. He was, though, eventually released.
This move by the prosecutor's office now completely drops the charges against him as far as the criminal case. As far as the custody battle, though, there is a long road ahead. The family telling CNN that he remains a grief-stricken man. He is unsure if he will ever see his two children again.
BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting for us from Tokyo. Thank you.
A startling announcement from the CDC. A new analysis of the data on the swine flu cases in the United States. It shows a much, much higher number of deaths than previously reported. Elizabeth Cohen will be here with the whole story.
And we're also standing by to hear directly from President Obama. He's going to be speaking to U.S. troops at Elmendorf Air Force base in Alaska. It's a stop over as he heads toward Japan. You'll hear his remarks coming up live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. You're looking at live pictures from Elmendorf Air Force base. U.S. troops are getting ready to receive the commander in chief, the president of the United States. He's on a stopover there in Alaska going to Asia, going to Japan, eventually to China. This is a major trip for the president of the United States. We'll carry the president's remarks live once he starts speaking. I'm anxious to hear what he tells these troops on this day. There's a lot going on.
Let's discuss with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our senior political analyst David Gergen. It's a very sensitive time right now for the commander in chief. He's got a big decision on Afghanistan he's got to make. And he's coming under a lot of pressure. But the stakes are enormous.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He sure is, Wolf. That's interesting. This is, I think, the fourth military base he's visited in about the last 30 days. He's gone as well to Walter Reed. He's gone to Arlington cemetery.
BLITZER: Dover, Delaware, to receive the coffins.
GREGEN: He's been in commander in chief mode. I think it's appropriate as he's trying to wrestle with the decision on Afghanistan. As he goes to Asia, he's gotten himself into a heck of a controversy about whether he's delayed these decisions too long. Some like Colin Powell telling CNN yesterday he's doing it the right way. Others who are saying, no, no, no. He's dithering.
BLITZER: That would be Dick Cheney.
GERGEN: But there are a lot of people. Frankly, I do think the process has gotten very messy. Very sloppy. As a commander in chief you don't like to have all these leaks out there. So it reveals, you know, deep divisions within your own team. It's hard to convince the public when this is all over, I've got a great option. This is the way to victory. It doesn't inspire confidence when it gets this sloppy.
BLITZER: People on all sides when they start leaking stuff they think is going to help their particular argument, it does get ugly out there sometimes.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. The most recent leak, apparent e-mail from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan going, whoa, this is not a stable enough government. I've got real concerns about these troops coming in. You're thinking, wait a second. It has not been a stable government now for some time. So why in the middle of we're near it, we're near it, does this pop up? Then we get, well, the president's gone back because he wants an exit strategy. Part of that is the politics of this in the sense that you cannot conduct a war in the United States of America on behalf of the United States of America for very long without popular support. We learned that decades ago. What the president has to do is to be able to say to his base, who is very critical and very hesitant about this idea of putting more troops in, the American public 56 percent oppose this war, he has to be able to say to them, I need to put more troops in. But here's the way out. Here's the end game. Here's where I'm going. I think that's the difficulty. Getting both the political and the policy together so that he has a package that the American public will say, OK. Give him a shot.
GERGEN: I do think one thing he has -- he's doing this very carefully. He will have thoroughly thought it through.
BLITZER: Eight meetings in the White House situation room.
GERGEN: Already. That is pleasing. What's really hard, I think, is it's so plain he doesn't think he has very good options. No matter what he does. There's no really, really good option here.
BLITZER: This is a case that is very interesting, where if he decides to send another 30,000 or 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, let's say 20,000 combat troops, 10,000 trainers to train the Afghan police force and the Afghan military, he could have a lot more support from Republicans than from his fellow Democrats.
CROWLEY: Yes. But interestingly enough, right now the pressure is coming from both the Republicans and the Democrats. Because the Republicans have been pushing him all along not just to say, hey, we're going to support you, you go ahead and do this. But also hurry it up. Hurry it up. There are troops on the ground. They need help. You've got in Democrats going, wait a seconds. We need to hold on. What's this about? What's our strategy? Yes, he could get some Republicans, mostly Republicans on his side on this. But as we move into an election year, as we move into a number of things, you know, he has to watch that. I think in the end that we have to assume, and certainly do with this president or in presidents past, that they are not doing this on a who's going to be with me, who's not going to be with me. If you're up at Dover and you're looking at these bodies that are coming back, if you're, you know, going down and talking to them in Ft. Hood, you get it. And I think that has to be the driving force behind what the president's considering.
GERGEN: You know --
BLITZER: By the way, I want to point out the base commander is introducing the president of the United States right now. He's walking in. Here comes Barack Obama, the president of the United States, the commander in chief. As we see him walk in, I'll just point out, David, it's one thing for a low-level state department employee like Matthew Hoh who was here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day to quit his job and protest over the U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. It's a totally other thing when the United States ambassador in Afghanistan, the former military commander in Afghanistan, when he says not so fast. Let's not send more troops until the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, gets his act together.
GERGEN: That's exactly right, Wolf. It's extraordinary to have now two generals on the ground in Afghanistan, one now wearing civilian clothing opposing each other.
BLITZER: All right. Here's the president of the United States.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you, everybody! Thank you. Thank you so much. Anybody who has a seat, go ahead and take a seat. I want to thank General Troy for the introduction and for his extraordinary service, to Colonel Mark Kemer and your outstanding local leaders for welcoming me here today. And I want to give a shout out to the United States Air Force band of the pacific! I realize that your commander, General Atkins, couldn't be here. I'm told that he got called down to Hawaii. That's a tough assignment. I know a little something about Hawaii. I grew up there. So I hope he's getting as warm a welcome as I'm getting here.
I want to thank your senior enlisted leaders, Command Chief Master Sergeant Robert Moore, Chief Master Sergeant Tom Baker, and Command Sergeant Major David Turnbull. Give them a big round of applause.
And please give some applause to all the airmen and soldiers up here. They look terrific.
It is wonderful to be here at one of America's great air bases. I have to tell you, I'm also really excited because I had, up until today, visited 49 states. So this is officially my 50th state. I love you back. We also have a lot of folks from Ft. Richardson. We've got folks from all across Alaskan command, Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, United States Marine, active guard and reserve. We have our allies and friends from the Canadian armed forces. I see -- I see many spouses here today. I want you to know you are the backbone of our military families, and we honor your service. And I'm thrilled to see the kids who are here today. Hey, guys! Thank you! I know you're proud of your mom and dads, but we're all proud of you, too.
You know, we're here in America's last frontier. Most of you are far from home. I know your service is made a little easier by your unbelievable neighbors. So we want to thank your local and state leaders, Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell, all the people of anchorage for their incredible support. We're also joined today by a leader fighting for Alaska in Washington for you and for all our men and women in uniform, Mark Bagetch is here. Senator Mark Bagetch is in the house. Stand up, Mark, so everybody can see you.
Now, today I'm on my way to Asia, my first visit there as president. The crews are out there refueling "Air Force One." But I didn't want to just pass through. Because this is also, as I said, my first visit to Alaska and my first visit to Elmendorf. And I couldn't come here without taking this opportunity to deliver a simple message, a message of thanks to you and your families. These have been days of tribute.
Two days ago we gathered at Ft. Hood. And we honored 13 Americans taken from us, soldiers and caregivers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We grieved with families who've endured unimaginable loss. And we found inspiration in the wounded. Their spirits unbowed and in those who braved the bullets so that others might live.
Yesterday we gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to salute proud veterans who served on foreign fields long ago and wounded warriors from today. And as citizens of a grateful nation, we are humbled by such service.
Today, we gather here at Elmendorf. And we see the same spirit. The same spirit I saw in the outstanding airmen and soldiers I saw just a few moments ago. The spirit I see in all of you. It's your sense of service, answering your country's call, volunteering in a time of war knowing that you could be sent into harm's way. That's a sense of responsibility on your part. The belief that the blessings we cherish as Americans are not gifts that we take for granted, they are freedoms that are earned. And it's your sense of unity coming from every corner of the country, from every color and every creed and every faith and every station to take care of each other and to serve together. And to succeed together as Americans.
So I'm here to say --so I'm here to say to all of you, all of you who serve, all the families who are here, of all the privileges I have as president, I have no greater honor than serving as your commander in chief. And we have the finest -- we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known, and it's because of you because we've got the finest personnel in the world. That's our most precious resource.
By being here, all of you are joining a long line of service at Elmendorf from the liberation of pacific islands during World War II through a long cold war. You embody that creed, faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor. You uphold that legacy every day. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year you keep America's skies safe. We salute the third wing and the 11th Air Force. You project power across the pacific, returning just recently from Guam, the 90th fighter squadron, the dicemen, and the 525th fighter squadron, the bulldogs. And all the maintenance troops who support them, welcome home! And when disaster strikes, whether a typhoon in the Philippines or an earthquake in Samoa, you're there delivering the relief that saves lives. So thank you, fire birds.
Today we also send our thoughts and prayers to all those who at this very moment are serving on the front lines. They are -- there are airmen from Elmendorf in every corner of the world. There are soldiers from Ft. Richardson, military police in Iraq, the 4th brigade combat team in Afghanistan.
Ft. Rich paratroopers are no strangers to tough assignments. A few years back y'all spent 14 months in Iraq. Now, they're working to bring stability and security to eastern Afghanistan, building roads and medical clinics, renovating schools, protecting the Afghan people, giving them a chance at a better future. They are doing a terrific job, and we salute them.
But with services come sacrifice. All of you know this. You've made the most profound commitment a person can make. You've pledged to dedicate your life to your country. And perhaps give your life for it. Here at Elmendorf and Ft. Richardson some have. There are airmen like Staff Sergeant Timothy Bowls who when a comrade fell sick volunteered to take his place on a patrol in Afghanistan that would end up taking his life. Soldiers from the fourth brigade combat team like the husband and father who gave his life in Afghanistan last week, Specialist Julian Barsfor.
And citizens of this state like Alaskan native Corporal Gregory Flurry. Raised in Anchorage, he joined the Marines and served two tours in Iraq. He loved the corps. He loved Alaska. So much so that he carried the state flag with him everywhere. It was with him last month when he was killed in those helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. A little while ago I had the honor of meeting Greg's family, Donna and Christopher and his grandfather, Albert. And I expressed the gratitude of our nation, and we thank them for being with us here today. Donna, Albert, please stand. Donna, Albert, please stand. There are no words that are strong enough and no tribute worthy enough to match the magnitude of such service.
But to you and all who serve, I say this. The American people thank you. We honor you. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you. So as your commander in chief, here's the commitment I make to you. We'll make sure you can meet the missions we ask of you. And that's why we're increasing the defense budget, including spending on the Air Force and the Army. We'll make sure -- we'll make sure we have the right force structure, so if halted reductions in the Air Force increase the size of the Army ahead of schedule and also improved a temporary increase in the Army. We'll spend our defense dollars wisely, so we're cutting tens of billions of dollars in waste and projects that even the pentagon says it doesn't need, money that's better spent on taking care of you and your families and building the 21st century military that we do need.
I want you guys to understand, I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, but I also -- I also make you this promise. I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary to America's vital interests. And if it is necessary, the United States of America will have your back. We'll give you the strategy and the clear mission you deserve. We'll give you the equipment and support that you need to get the job done. And that includes public support back home. That is a promise that I make to you.
And as you meet your missions around the world, we will take care of your families here at home. That's why the first lady, Michelle, has been visiting bases across the country -- go Michelle. Your family is a priority for our family. So we're increasing pay, we're increasing child care, we're increasing support to help spouses and families deal with the stress and separation of war. And finally, we pledge to be there when you come home. We're improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. I want to salute the outstanding work you do at the hospital here on the base, including your new TBI clinic. Thank you for giving our wounded warriors the world-class care they deserve. We're funding the post-9/11 GI bill. Because we want to give -- we want to give your families the chance to pursue your dreams. And we're making the biggest commitment to our veterans, the largest percentage increase in the VA budget in more than 30 years.
So these are the commitments I'm making to you. Because you've always taken care of America and America has to take care of you back. America's obligation to our military, as we saw this week, is a sacred trust that we are honor bound to uphold. It's the sacred trust that brought a nation together this week around 13 battlefield crosses. It's the sacred trust that leads us to pause on that November day, to give thanks for all those who served before us. It's the sacred trust that brings me here, to say thank you for serving today. Thank you to you and your families for all you do to protect this country. We love. God bless you and god bless the United States of America!
Thank you, everybody. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. So there's the president of the United States, wrapping up relatively brief remarks at Elmendorf Air Force base in Alaska on way his Asia, Japan, China, he's got a big trip coming up. Candy Crowley is here, David Gergen is here. It fits in with this pattern, the thrust of his remarks we've heard over the past few days.
GERGEN: It did, Wolf, but both Candy and were like, whoa, when he said, we'll have your back, when you go to Afghanistan, we'll have your back. And then he went on to say one of the things we're going to do, we're going to guarantee you public support back home. Now, he does not have the public with him on Afghanistan now. What he's real saying is, I've not only got to come up with a strategy to succeed in Afghanistan, but as Candy was saying earlier, he's beginning to recognize, he's got a big job to do here at home.
CROWLEY: It's the sales job, and no one likes to hear that with a military operation. But the president understands that he does have to have this public support, as well as those service people have to have it. And the only way to get that, as far as they can see, and I think that's what we've seen over the past 24 hours, is the president saying, tell me how I get out and tell me how we hand over this country to a stable government. And it's just so complex. But it's clearly what he has to do if he's going to put more troops in there.
BLITZER: Very important questions, no easy answers, as the president has found out himself. Guys, thanks very much. Don't go far away.
We're following a very important story that's just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The seizure of a New York skyscraper and some mosques around the country with an alleged ties to a group supporting Iran. What's going on? Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's a new way for you to test your news knowledge, one-up your friends and see your favorite on-air personalities, perhaps in a little different light. Jessica Yellin is here to walk us through the CNN challenge. Jessica, walk us through now.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you want to kill some time at work playing on the internet, you can test your news knowledge, choose your guide. I'm picking you.
BLITZER: Now you're picking me to host your quiz.
YELLIN: All right. That's you. We'll go to the first question here. People can play this online, CNNchallenge.com. And it's a game --
YELLIN: Timed. We've got to wait for the clock. Here it comes. And it's coming up right now. Clock will count us down. What did a poll taken by the science music of London, England, name as the most important scientific invention?
BLITZER: I would say the x-ray machine.
YELLIN: X-ray machine. Let's see if you're right. You are right! How did you know?
BLITZER: Because the Model-T Ford I didn't think was the most important. X-ray machine saves lives.
YELLIN: I'm into the cars, but whatever. You can keep going through this. We did a great job with that. Do we have time for one more question? The next one comes up real fast. Let's see what it has. All of this has been news that's been reported on CNN. It's really testing your retention. This week marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. When was the wall constructed?
BLITZER: I remember because I was alive, 1961.
YELLIN: That's a good guess and it was right, 1961. All of this keeps going. They get harder as you go along. CNNchallenge.com. You can play at home, play at work, just don't tell the boss.
BLITZER: CNNchallenge.com. Good place to go. A lot of fun. Thanks Jessica.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the best political team on television on these stories. Federal prosecutors take steps to seize several mosques in the United States and a New York City skyscraper. This hour, we're digging deeper on this breaking story and why it could prove to be a big blow to the government of Iran.
Plus, the alleged Ft. Hood gunman, now charged with murder and we're learning that his former colleagues had some serious concerns about his state, his competence and his allegiance to Islam.