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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Fighter Jet Crashes in Libya; Tracking Gadhafi's Gold; 'Carnage' in Misrata; Tripoli Port Bombing; Gadhafi Addresses Supporters in Tripoli; Critics: U.S. Can't Afford Libya Mission

Aired March 22, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, two U.S. crew -- Air Force crew members make it out of a fighter jet crash in Libya alive. We're taking you to the crash site and telling you how Libyan rebels help keep one of them safe.

Also, President Obama is facing growing anger for ordering air strikes in Libya without the approval of Congress. Now one fellow Democrat is even talking about possible impeachment.

And new U.S. assessments of the radiation risks from Japan's nuclear crisis and new progress inside the plant to shed light on the damage from the tsunami.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some very anxious hours for the U.S. military after the crash of a fighter jet giving way to relief now that the two crew members are safely out of Libya. Defense officials confirming that both the pilot and the weapons officer have been rescued. They say the F-15 Eagle had an equipment malfunction and did not go down because of enemy fire.

Let's talk more about the crash and the rescue, how it played out minute by minute.

We'll go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

Chris, you've been able to see the military's time line. What happened?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. We've gotten a close look at it. And it really proves that no-fly does not mean no risk. I mean this could have been disastrous if these pilots had gone down in an area controlled by Moammar Gadhafi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Two U.S. fighter jets take off from Italy on a strike run to destroy Moammar Gadhafi's air defense. And as they fly over Eastern Libya, one of the F-15s malfunctions.

CAPT. CRAIG WILLIAMS, RETIRED NAVY PILOT: And once you can no longer fly that jet and you've made every effort and tried every procedure in your book, then it's time to jump out.

LAWRENCE: The two man Air Force crew eject and the plane crashes. Their parachutes open, but they land in different areas.

WILLIAMS: And once you hit the ground, your procedures are, first of all, make sure that you're OK or your -- if you're in a two seat cockpit, look for your crew member.

LAWRENCE: Out in the Mediterranean Sea the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit mobilizes on board the USS Kearsarge. And thousands of miles away, Admiral Mike Mullen calls the national security adviser. And the president, in Chile, gets word of the crash.

WILLIAMS: Part of your survival gear on board includes a radio. So you have the communications available to talk to folks and hopefully conduct a rescue.

LAWRENCE: Marines have scrambled Harrier jets and an Osprey. The downed pilot sees local villagers advancing, doesn't know if they're friend or foe and radios for help. The Harrier drops two bombs in the space between the villagers and the pilot -- a non-lethal way to warn them off. And the pilot is able to get on board the Osprey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Now, those bombs they dropped may have been meant as a non-lethal method but they did spray a lot of shrapnel in the air. And we're hearing that at least five of those local villagers were injured -- not killed, but injured by those bombs.

Meantime, the pilot's partner, the other crew member, the weapons officer, fell into an area that was controlled by the rebels who are opposing Moammar Gadhafi. Officials say that those rebels took good care and treated the weapons officer with dignity. And we're told tonight that that weapons officer is now in Europe, back in U.S. hands -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any preliminary guidance on what went wrong with that F-15, why it went down?

LAWRENCE: Not yet and it's surprising because, as you know, Wolf, any of these planes, on a normal basis, gets a thorough run through. But planes that are known -- they know are going to be going into a combat mission over hostile territory even more so. So that is something that the military is going to have to take a long look at.

BLITZER: All right, Chris.

Thanks very much.

Let's go to Benghazi right now. CNN's Arwa Damon got a firsthand look at the crash site. She's joining us with more on what she saw.

You also had a chance to speak with some opposition leaders there, as well.

First of all, what did you see when you went to the crash site, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we saw the aftermath of the wreckage at that crash site. And we also saw a number of residents from the area gathered around it, all of them saying that they were upset that the plane had crashed, but telling us about how the entire area, once they realized what was happening, had basically fanned out trying to look for the pilot, for the weapons officer.

They say that they realized that these were people who were flying a plane to help them and that they wanted to return the favor and offer whatever assistance they could. We ended up meeting one colonel who was part of that rescue effort.

And here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. ABDEL HAMID AL MESMARI, LIBYAN OPPOSITION FORCES: One man found his parachute. Someone tell me that the parachute was not far from that point which we were -- we was there. And I'm going directly there. And I know he will be not far from that point. So I am shouting to them, "We will help you. We are coming to help you. You are coming to support us, to -- to -- so, please, if you're hearing me, stand up and present yourself for me."

Then he stand and coming to me. So he have right to -- to afraid. And at first, he was afraid. But I am shooking (ph) with him. And I am kiss him. And I tell him, you are coming for us. You are our brothers. So don't be afraid. You will be safe. We will carry you any place you -- you -- you will be -- want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: The colonel, of course, expressing his gratitude to the young American serviceman. Everyone there expressing their gratitude for the fact that they were risking their lives, they say, to help keep the people here safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You also have some new information about the pilot in this particular incident?

What do you know -- Arwa?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, as far as we're away the pilot, then, after he was taken by the colonel, by residents in the area, ended up at one of the air bases here. He was taken to hospital for treatment and then rested up at a hotel until, as far as we have learned, he was flown out of the country.

We also did have an opportunity, just a short while ago, to sit down with the opposition chief of staff for the army that they have managed to cobble together thus far, Abd Al-Fattah Yunis. He is the man who, if you remember, was Gadhafi's minister of interior, very close to Gadhafi. He was part of the initial revolution that -- that brought Gadhafi into power. He has, of course, since defected, now leading the troops.

There were a couple of interesting things he had to say. He did tell us that he is, in fact, in direct contact with the coalition, helping to coordinate those air strikes. He also told us that they had been having a significant impact on the momentum that the opposition had, saying that they have now been able to drive Gadhafi's forces back to Ajdabiya as they have, but reporting now they're trying to regroup and put together more of a cohesive military strategy.

And he was saying that based on his knowledge of Gadhafi and based on the fact that they were so close for so long, he does, in fact, believe Gadhafi when he said that he is going to (INAUDIBLE).

We also asked about where he thought Gadhafi might be hiding and he described to us an (INAUDIBLE) of underground bunker (INAUDIBLE). And he says Gadhafi (INAUDIBLE) just a case of (INAUDIBLE) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you were breaking up a little bit, but we got the gist of what you had to say, Arwa.

We'll check back with you. Thanks very much.

Arwa Damon on the scene for us in Benghazi.

Gadhafi is fighting to keep his power and his wealth. We're taking a closer look at the pile of gold -- gold. He's literally sitting on billions of dollars worth, we're told.

And Donald Trump is bragging that he took some easy cash from Gadhafi. Stand by to hear what the billionaire and the possible presidential hopeful is saying.

And the skyrocketing price of war -- U.S. air strikes in Libya adding millions and millions of dollars to America's strained budget. Critics are asking if it's worth it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Politics -- yes, politics surrounding the attack on Libya, as well.

That's on Jack Cafferty's mind.

Jack is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Quite a few members of Congress are not happy with President Obama over his decision to allow U.S. air strikes in Libya. They feel they weren't given any say in the whole matter -- pardon me -- which they weren't. And the criticism of the president is coming from everywhere.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas says the no-fly zone in Libya is unconstitutional. Liberal Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio brought up the idea of impeachment hearings for President Obama's actions. No surprise there.

But it's not just the far right and the far left that are up in arms here. Moderates like Democratic senator and former Navy secretary, Jim Web; Republican Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee; they're not happy with the president, either.

Yesterday, President Obama sent an official letter to Congress asserting his authority to make the decision on Libya based on the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. The letter said he was acting in the, quote, "national security and foreign policy interests of the United States," unquote.

The president did hold a briefing for Congressional party and committee leaders in the White House Situation Room last Friday, before any attacks were launched. But many members of Congress say that wasn't nearly enough.

Here's the question -- should President Obama have consulted with Congress before sending the U.S. military against Libya?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog.

This is getting -- it's getting to be a habit. I mean we attacked Iraq. We go into Afghanistan. None of this stuff was ever -- you know, there was never any declaration of war passed by the Congress.

BLITZER: Yes. If you're old enough to remember the Korean War and the so-called police action, whatever they called it. No declaration of war then, either. That was a significant war.

Was there a declaration of war --

CAFFERTY: Did they --

BLITZER: -- in Vietnam?

CAFFERTY: Did they? I can't remember. Was there?

BLITZER: I don't know.

CAFFERTY: I don't think there was.

BLITZER: No, of course not.

CAFFERTY: No.

BLITZER: I think the last declaration of war was World War II.

CAFFERTY: It was when Pearl Harbor got bombed.

BLITZER: Yes. I believe that's -- that's the case. But we'll -- we have excellent researchers who can double check and fact check.

CAFFERTY: You get your crack staff right on that, will you? BLITZER: Yes, we're going to do that.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very, very much.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this.

Major General, retired, U.S. Army, James "Spider" Marks in here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You -- you're an expert on that.

Was there any declared wars -- formally declared wars since World War II?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): You had the War Powers Act for Vietnam, but that wasn't a declaration of war.

BLITZER: There was not a formal Congressional declaration of war.

MARKS: Right. Correct.

BLITZER: So presidents, you know, do this kind of stuff and then there's a resolution from time to time. There was a resolution that was passed in both the House and the Senate leading up, in 2003, to the war in Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but it wasn't a formal declaration of war, right?

MARKS: No, it wasn't.

And what you see here is -- what -- what we know as mission creep. And we've now established a political objective. And the -- the military objectives right now are not aligned with those political objectives, as stated. So you're going to see a creeping action in terms of getting that closer to what the poli --

BLITZER: Well, there's a --

MARKS: -- politicians want to try to achieve.

BLITZER: -- there's a military objective that the United Nations Security Council has approved.

MARKS: The U.N.?

BLITZER: The United Nations has approved --

MARKS: Right.

BLITZER: The Arab League has approved it, whatever. But there's a separate U.S. policy that the president of the United States has approved which goes way beyond that. MARKS: That's right.

BLITZER: The military -- the U.N. has approved a no-fly zone and protecting the civilians in Libya; the president of the United States supports that but says there is a separate U.S. policy of getting rid of Saddam -- Moammar Gadhafi.

MARKS: Exactly correct. We have picked sides in this fight. We are clearly aligned with the opposition forces in Libya. We have stated, the president of the United States has stated that Gadhafi has to go

And so, you have to work your way through the end state. What does this thing really look like? A no-fly zone is not the solution. Clearly, there is going to have to be an insertion of ground forces of some sort because you have to, at some point, monitor the separation of opposition forces and Gadhafi's forces.

BLITZER: Hold on, because we have a lot more to talk about.

Gadhafi may have a means of holding onto power despite the military action being taken against him. The Libyan dictator is believed to be sitting on tons, yes, tons of gold, which could help fund his fight.

Mary Snow has some details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, you know, Libya ranks 24th in the world when it comes to gold reserves.

You mentioned gold and Libya, one of the first images may come to mind is that now-famous statue in Tripoli. It shows a giant golden fist holding an American jet fighter model. It turns out that Libya has much more gold than that, and this comes to light as questions emerge about what money Moammar Gadhafi has to fight his battles since they are there are international sanctions imposed on Libya and assets have been frozen.

Now as the "Financial Times" first reported, Libya's central bank holds close to 144 metric tons of gold. That is worth roughly $6.5 billion. And even though the gold is held by Libya's central bank, economists we spoke with say it is not independent of Moammar Gadhafi. Scott Hornet, an international commercial attorney, says the gold could prove to be a key asset for Gadhafi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT HORTON, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Extremely difficult position right now. He may need to bring in foreign troops, mercenaries. He may need to buy fuel, ammunition, jets, all of this has been subject to sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, which is going to make it extremely difficult for him to do those things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: (AUDIO GAP) -- impose, Mary, the no-fly zone, Gadhafi, how does he cash in on that as far as the gold is concerned?

SNOW: Well, as one analyst we spoke with said, with Libya as a pariah state, it would be very difficult.

There's also the question of transporting gold out of the country. Some analysts say would have to be taken out by land because of the no-fly zone imposed. Chad, for example is cited as one potential country where it might be swapped for something like weapons.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much.

Mary Snow with that part of the story.

A potential 2012 presidential hopeful says he has personal experience dealing with Gadhafi's fortunes. The real estate tycoon Donald Trump says he has done business with the Libyan dictator and has managed to outsmart him in the process. He talked about it in an interview with c CNNMoney.com correspondent Poppy Harlow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I deal with everybody, and I like that.

What I did do with Gadhafi? I leased him a piece of land for his tent. He paid me more than I get in a whole year. And then, he wasn't able to use the piece of land.

So people would say, I did take advantage? Did I this, this. So I got, in one night, more money than I would have gotten all year for this piece of land up in Westchester, and then didn't let him use it. That's called being intelligent.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Do you still have the money that Gadhafi paid you?

TRUMP: You're not talking that kind of money. Do I still have it? What does that mean?

HARLOW: I mean, what happened to the money? Some celebrities have performed for Gadhafi have given that money --

TRUMP: Oh no, I give -- I give --

HARLOW: -- away to charity. Have you given it away? I think that's the question on people's minds.

TRUMP: Sure. I give tremendous -- in fact, the other night, Comedy Central roasted me, they gave me a tremendous amount of money, it has already gone to charity. So I give money to charity. I give that money to charity.

And in fact, I said when I did it, I'm going to take Gadhafi's money, I'm not going to make it easy on him and I'm going give the money to charity. And that is exactly what I did. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Trump has been flirting with the idea of a presidential bid in recent months. He says he will make a decision by June.

Is Arab support for the military mission against Libya crumbling in? Should more countries be helping out? A leading analyst is about to weigh in.

And new concerns about the amount of damage done to nuclear reactors after that massive tsunami and earthquake in Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama is about to be questioned about the war in Libya. We will have that for our viewers. That's coming up, much more on the war in Libya as well.

But first, our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories THE SITUATION ROOM, including an update on a baseball great.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

Federal prosecutors are laying out their case in the perjury trial of Barry Bonds. The former San Francisco Giant was indicted on four counts of lying to a grand jury about his use of performance- enhancing drugs in 2007, just months after breaking Henry Aaron's homerun record. Bonds said he didn't know his trainer was giving him illegal steroids.

Today, his personal trainer refused to testify against him and the judge ordered him to be held in custody until he changes his mind.

Surprising news today about Fidel Castro. The former Cuban president says he hasn't led his country's Communist Party for five years. Castro gave up the title of president to his brother Raul after he became ill in 2006.

Now, it is expected that Raul will officially become Cuba's communist president next month. That's when Cuba will hold its first Communist Party Congress in almost 14 years.

A jump in oil price as investors monitor the war in Libya and escalating tensions in Yemen. This comes despite a report claiming oil supplies in the region outside of Libya have not yet been disrupted. Prices have surged more than 20 percent since mid-February when Libya's pro-democracy movement took form.

High winds are hampering efforts to control a 1,200-acre wildfire in Colorado. Seventeen homes have now been evacuated and hundreds more are on standby for possible evacuation if the conditions there worsen.

Firefighters say the blaze is about 15 percent contained. And, Wolf, no injuries are reported at this time.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much. Please stand by, I know there are other stories coming in as well.

A top U.S. military commander says Gadhafi's air force doesn't have enough strength left to stop coalition air strikes. We are going to see how much damage is being done to Libya's military power.

And Egypt's Interior Ministry now set on fire. Who or what's responsible?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: New amateur video of an explosion in the Libyan city of Misrata. A U.S. military commander says Gadhafi's fighters still are attacking civilians, even after four days of multinational air strikes.

The coalition is vowing to keep using force until Gadhafi stops the bloodshed. One apparent target, a port area in Eastern Tripoli.

Joining us now from Tripoli, our correspondent, Nic Robertson.

Nic, you went and saw some of the damage at a bombing raid at the port there in Tripoli today. What did you see?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were taken to a naval facility in the port area, right in the heart of Tripoli, and we were taken into a warehouse, and inside that warehouse we saw four mobile missile systems that had been burnt out.

What was quite incredible, they were underneath this sort of a tin roof of this big, large warehouse facility and one of the rockets landed right at the back, almost sort of touching the back of one of the rocket systems there. The four of them were lined up and they were all burnt out.

Then at the other side of the facility, there were some -- what looked like more missiles of some description that were being stored at the corner of the facility.

Officials said this was just a training and repair facility, but for us, it appeared to be very much a military-type of target, the sort of target would you expect to be taken out when you are trying to sort of trying to reduce the surface-to-air missile threat posed when trying to enforce a no-fly zone.

And not only that, I think has a psychological impact for Moammar Gadhafi because this strike was right next to a number of naval vessels in the harbor that we weren't allowed to film them, but they were right next to where we were, Wolf.

BLITZER: Was there any indication of casualties, civilian or military? ROBERTSON: We had various assessments of that. One official there told us there were no casualties. Somebody else told us that people had died.

And somebody else, the person who we thought was perhaps giving us the best, most accurate information, a recently commissioned young naval officer just out of university, he told us that a few people had been injured. He had been on his ship. When he was allowed to go ashore, he was helping put out the fire there, and he said just a few people had had light injuries.

But apparently we were told that most people weren't in the harbor area at the time. It was attacked at night, very precise targeting on the missile systems and inside the warehouses themselves, Wolf.

BLITZER: Any other major strikes in the Tripoli area today that occurred?

ROBERTSON: Nothing that we've seen or heard so far. And certainly nothing that the government has told us about or taken us to see so far, Wolf.

BLITZER: So the skies over Tripoli, as they have been illuminated the first few nights, you haven't really seen that, at least not yet?

ROBERTS: There was a small burst, a couple of small bursts of anti-aircraft gunfire, but my guess is, is it was for training or people setting up the equipment because of the weapons systems, because it wasn't sustained and we didn't really hear any sort of explosions around then. So my guess is a few short bursts just sort of training so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Tripoli for us.

All right, Nic. Thanks very much.

Tensions are high across North African and the Middle East. In Egypt, a massive blaze at the Interior Ministry following a demonstration of thousands of workers demanding higher wages. Protesters deny setting the fire. The government says an electrical malfunction could be to blame.

In the al Qaeda stronghold of Yemen, the embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, warns of all-out civil war after his offer to step down at the beginning of next year is rejected. Opponents are demanding he resign immediately.

And in Syria, hundreds of protesters taking to the streets, chanting, "Bring down the regime!" This is the sixth straight day of demonstrations in Syria. Organizers are planning mass protests this Friday as well.

In the midst of coalition air strikes in Libya, there is political infighting over who will take charge of the mission. We'll talk about the support and the concerns within the Arab world.

And can the U.S. afford military action in Libya at a time of budget cuts and belt-tightening? We're taking a look how much the crackdown on Gadhafi is costing the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: After a few days of silence, Moammar Gadhafi is now speaking out. He was just on Libyan state television, and he said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): Demonstrations are all over the world against this aggression, unfounded aggression, against the United States charter. Blatant aggression by a group of fascists. They will be sent to the history's dustbin.

You, oh, you Libyan, great Libyan people, you are living glorious moments, glorious hours. These are the glorious hours.

All wishes are with us. We are living the revolution. We are losing the international world against imperialism, against despots.

And I tell you, I do not scare -- nothing -- nothing scares me. No hurricanes (ph) can scare me.

I don't get scared by the hurricanes (ph). Not even by the place that is sending rockets. I am here, resilient.

I have the right. I am here! I am here! I am here!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. We heard him. He says he is here, Moammar Gadhafi, speaking just a little while ago on Libyan state television.

You saw the crowds there. Let's discuss with Fouad Ajami. He's a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

You hear Gadhafi. He is here. He is railing against the tyrants, the despots and all that.

What do you think, Fouad?

PROF. FOUAD AJAMI, MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Wolf, here is, I think, the greatest story. The pronoun "I" is the most disgusting a pronoun, and that's what you hear from Gadhafi -- "I am here, I am here, I am here." It's the same pronoun.

And he's the one who said he built Libya, he will destroy Libya. And the poor Libyan people who are captives of this man and his megalomania and his insanity, perhaps the liberation is near.

And nothing new from Moammar Gadhafi. He now has a crisis beyond what he expected.

He thought that he would to go to Benghazi, liquidate the free Libya, and just get on it with it. Well, he now faces a superior force in the coalition raid against him. But it's the same -- "I, I." It's the same disgusting pronoun from this man.

BLITZER: So, when the people in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya hear his words, what's the reaction? What would you assume would be the reaction? Because he wants to rally them to his support.

AJAMI: Well, you know, I don't know really know. I mean, you can imagine. I once spoke of this phenomenon as the Stockholm Syndrome in Libya.

These people have been his prisoner. He has been their jailer. He has given them his truth, his green book, his utterances, his insanity. And he's trying to tell them that they are not alone in the world, that the world is with them.

But what's interesting is AlJazeera.net had a survey. Hardly the most pro-American group, you might imagine. Sixty-two percent of Al Jazeera's audience and viewers, 62 percent who came to that survey, said they agreed with the campaign against Moammar Gadhafi. So, I think is it's really Gadhafi against a good deal of the world.

BLITZER: The Arab League, they supported a no-fly zone, they passed a resolution unanimously. That, in part, led to the U.N. Security Council Resolution. The U.S. got involved.

How significant will Arab military support for the no-fly zone, when all is said and done, be?

AJAMI: Well, look, the Arab League wanted to be half-pregnant. And you can't be half-pregnant. We know that.

The Arab League wanted to give a green light to this operation against Gadhafi and then began -- was the light green, was it yellow, was it flickering? And I think, in the end, where we are now, it doesn't really matter what the Arab League said.

The Arab league committed itself at the beginning, and that really is all what we needed, all what the Western powers needed. In fact, I believe, and this remains to be proven, that President Obama was surprised by what the Arab League did.

He expected the Arab League to duck. He expected the Arab League to avoid the great moral choice. And the Arab League, in a moment of clarity, unusual for the Arab League, basically gave this kind of green light that it gave, and we took it as a green light. We didn't wait to detect the color of that light.

BLITZER: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, we see what's happening throughout North Africa and the Middle East. You've been studying this region for a long time. What is happening right now?

AJAMI: Well, look, it's the springtime of people. Now maybe the spring will not end well, but it's still the springtime of people.

And we've talked about this on your broadcast, Wolf. It's old rulers, young populations. It's mass plunder, these rulers with incredible fortunes.

The house of Gadhafi has billions of dollars. The house of Mubarak, in a poor country, where 40 percent of the population live beneath the poverty line, has enormous fortune. And I think these rulers frighten their people.

If you listen to what the Syrians are saying, what the Syrians are saying, they surprised the hell out of me that they actually rose against Bashar al-Assad and his regime. They say no more fear after today. So they have -- the populations of the Arab world have found their courage against this heavily-armed security state, and this fight in Libya is pivotal.

Will the forces of change and the forces of freedom prevail? And will they have the rest of the world beside them and helping them along? Or will the ruler prevail and turn down this revolutionary upheaval?

It's really -- Libya is not just about Libya. Libya is about this Arab Spring.

BLITZER: And very quickly on Syria, because I know you've studied this story, in the early '80s there was a rebellion, if you will. We remember Hafez al-Assad, how he responded brutally, slaughtering a lot of people.

Will his son, Bashar al-Assad, follow in his father's footsteps?

AJAMI: Well, that would be a frightening prospect. I know we are of a generation we remember the city is Hama and the time is 1982. And something like 15,000 to 20,000 Syrians were killed by Hafez al- Assad.

Now, what the son will do, we have no idea. But it's a different world. You can't turn off the light and kill people now as you could turn off the light a generation ago and get away with it.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, we'll call you back. Thanks so much for all your help.

AJAMI: Thank you.

BLITZER: She is the first American reporter to have been killed in Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Just ahead, remembering the teacher who put her students' safety ahead of her own.

And President Obama, he's getting ready to sit down for an exclusive interview with CNN en Espanol in El Salvador. He's just spoken out about what is going on in Libya. What the president had to say at a news conference, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama may be in El Salvador right now, but he's speaking out directly on what's going on in Libya. Just moments ago, he was asked about the situation and said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It means that we have confidence that we are not going in alone. And it is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally. And we will accomplish that in a relatively short period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president saying the U.S. will accomplish the mission in a relatively short period of time. He also went on to say he thinks they will be able to hand over responsibility, leadership within a matter of days, not weeks. The president, upbeat about what's going on.

We are also told he is going to cut short his visit to El Salvador tomorrow to get back to Washington to deal with this war that's unfolding in Libya right now, also the other unrest.

On Air Force One, he was speaking on the phone with the British prime minister about the situation in Libya. While the president has been traveling in Latin America, the backlash against the Libyan operation has been growing on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, what's the concern up on the had Hill all about?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, yesterday, I reported to you about growing concern from both parties about the fact that the president waged military action in Libya without getting permission from Congress first. Today, we are hearing that that concern is not just about consultation, but cost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Just this one Tomahawk missile fired at Libyan air defenses costs $1.4 million. And so far, some 160 Tomahawk missiles were launched, mostly by the U.S., adding up to $225 million. And that's just a slice of the Libyan no-fly zone expense to the American taxpayer.

TINA JONAS, FMR. UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It gets down to how many naval ships have we got in the region? How many aircraft are flying off those ships? What additional military may be deployed to that theater?

BASH: A leading estimate puts the startup cost of military action between $400 million and $800 million, and the price of maintaining the no-fly zone, $30 million to $100 million per week. Fuel alone for each plane is $10,000 an hour.

At a time when the Republican-controlled House is fighting to slash government spending, some say a no-fly zone in Libya is not worth the price.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Cost is definitely going to be an issue. We're trying to find every penny that we can squeeze out of the budget, and then the president is going to go inject us into a civil war that is undoubtedly going to cost billions of dollars.

BASH: For perspective, take a look at some comparisons.

House Republicans voted to cut $2.8 million for nuclear waste disposal. That equals the cost of just two Tomahawk missiles. Republicans also approved cutting $100 million from FEMA for emergency food and shelter. One hundred million dollars is precisely what the high-end estimate is to maintain the no-fly zone in Libya each week.

And what makes the cost of the operation in Libya so murky is uncertainty over how long it will last. The combined no-fly zones over Iraq cost an average of $1.3 billion year and lasted over a decade. And in Libya now, the no-fly zone covers twice the landmass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are going to be those of us who are fiscal hawks who are going to say, OK, Mr. President, you want to be a war hawk, I'm going to be a fiscal hawk. You are going to have to find out where to find those dollars somewhere else in the budget. We don't have any more money to give you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the Obama administration says it's not asking Congress for any more money yet. A spokesman for the president's budget director says that for now, they can fund military action in Libya with existing funds, but how long that will last, Wolf, depends on an unanswered question, and that is how long the military operation in Libya would last.

BLITZER: Yes. My proposal -- I don't know if anybody wants to listen to it, but I will say it. My proposal is there is $30 billion in Libyan assets that the president of the United States has now frozen here in the United States. Keep a running tab of how many hundreds of millions, or maybe a few billion, whatever this costs, and just deduct that from the $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets. This, after all, is a mission designed to help the people of Libya, so it could be money well spent.

They export a lot of oil, they have billions and billions of dollars. Let's find a way for the Libyan taxpayers to come up and pay for the liberation of their own country. That's just my proposal. Call it the Wolf proposal, if you want.

BASH: I'm guessing that might have some legs up here, Wolf. We'll see. BLITZER: I think that the Congress would like that proposal, too, and I think the American taxpayers would like that proposal. Gadhafi might not like it --

BASH: Not so much.

BLITZER: -- but you know what? That's another issue.

Dana, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next. I know he likes my proposal.

Stand by for more on that U.S. fighter jet also that went down over Libya.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Should President Obama have consulted with Congress before sending the U.S. military against Libya?

Lorne, in San Luis Obispo, California, "If consulting with Congress was constitutionally required in this matter -- and there seems to be plenty of confusion as to whether or not it was -- then yes. If not, no."

"Members of Congress criticized him for going too slowly. Members of Congress are currently criticizing him for going too fast. As in most political conundrums, hindsight is the court of last resort. If the Libyan war goes well, then he was right. And if it doesn't, he was wrong."

Mike in New Hampshire, "Jack, he complied with the letter of the law regarding the War Powers Act. That being said, during the weeks that he schmoozed the Arab League and the U.N., he could have been working the Congress a little harder."

Tom in Kansas City, Missouri, "There hasn't been a declaration of war since 1942. Obama notified the leaders of Congress on Friday before any military action by the U.S. occurred."

Jim in Pennsylvania, "Congress? We don't need no stinking Congress. Just follow the Bush doctrine. Make that the Cheney doctrine."

"Hey, it worked for Iraq, version 10.0 and 2.0. Why not for Libya, version 3.0?"

Andy in Vancouver, "Constitutionally, certainly. Practically, nope."

"All these representatives that accused Obama of dithering should realize they have been pushing the due date back for our nation's budget back for months. Who knows how long it would have taken them to figure out what to do about Libya."

Cy writes, "Is there a wrong way to do the right thing? Our basis for action is much more solid and truthful than the sham that got us into Iraq. The critics of this venture fall into two camps, those who abhor war under any circumstances and those who attack Barack Obama under any circumstances."

And Kevin writes, "What suddenly makes Congress so important anyway? What have they done for us lately?"

If you want to read more on the subject, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

I like that last one.

BLITZER: Yes. They're all good. You know, they're all smart people.

What do you think about my idea to let the Libyans pay for this operation?

CAFFERTY: I think it's terrific. I think we're wasting your talents here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You ought to be running the country.

You should run for president. I'll vote for you. I want some cushy government job with my own plane and stuff if you get elected, and we'll get this thing sorted out.

BLITZER: All right. Just a little proposal to save the American taxpayers some money.

CAFFERTY: I think it's a hell of an idea. It really is. It's a good idea.

BLITZER: All right. Let's work on it.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

New progress in the long and dangerous struggle to prevent catastrophe at Japan's nuclear power plant.

And we just heard, you saw it here, a defiant Moammar Gadhafi just a little while ago. We'll talk about what could happen in Libya if the U.S. gets what it wants; namely, no more Gadhafi in Libya.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One hurdle cleared late today at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. The station's owner says technicians have restored power to the control room of the number 3 reactor. That reactor has been a top priority in the race to prevent a possible meltdown. Officials revealed today that two other reactors at the plant suffered more damage in the quake and tsunami than previously thought and will take more time to repair.

The images of devastation are horrifying. Now, amidst the rubble, the first report of an American found dead, a young teacher.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is here. She has the story -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the State Department has just confirmed that Taylor Anderson died in the tsunami in Japan. She was just 24 years old, and she was in Japan teaching English as part of the Japan exchange and teaching program, also known as the JET program.

Today, her friends and family are struggling with this news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Taylor Anderson loved the people of Japan. She moved there shortly after graduating from Randolph-Macon College near Richmond, Virginia, and had been teaching schoolchildren English for almost three careers.

Mary Anne Dalle Valle, Katie Garanlangli (ph) and Virginia Southerton (ph) were Taylor's sorority sisters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was infectious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Always smiling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Always smiling and very funny. Always had something funny to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was her passion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was something I think she was born with, the passion for Japanese culture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She studied it in college.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: when she found out she was going to Japan, I mean, that was just such a blessing for her. It was just her dream come true.

KEILAR: When the earthquake rocked Japan, Taylor was teaching class in the coastal city of Ishinomaki. Her fellow teachers say she stayed with her students until they were reunited with their parents.

MARY ANNE DALLE VALLE, FRIEND OF TAYLOR ANDERSON: We talked about this a lot over the days, but just that she always put people first. You can tell that with the Japanese culture, and even what she did out there the day of the earthquake. She always cared about others more than herself.

KEILAR: Then she headed off, as she always did, on her bicycle toward her apartment. That's when the tsunami crashed on shore. In Ishinomaki, the water was as high as 15 feet.

Seven thousand miles away, Taylor's parents waited to hear from her, from anyone with information about her, turning their kitchen into a communication center. Five days passed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A call came in this morning.

KEILAR: Japanese officials initially told the Andersons Taylor was alive. A day later, authorities told them it was a mistake. Five more days passed.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP (singing): -- how sweet the sound --

KEILAR: Taylor's friends and family held vigil, and then the feared news from U.S. Embassy officials. Taylor's body had been found.

Her parents are now grieving in private. Her friends, mourning an adventurous young woman who lost her life trying to make a difference in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a blessing to every person she met. She was a hero.

We might have lost her physically, but she'll live in on in everything that she did. She'll live on in us. She'll live on in our sorority. She'll always be with us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A very good friend and very good sister.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Taylor was just a few months actually away from returning to America. She was set to return in June. Her family issued a statement. And in it, they thanked people for their support. And Wolf, they also asked them to continue to pray for all those who remain missing and for the people of Japan.

BLITZER: We will, Brianna. Thanks very much.