Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

On The Front Line In Libya; Bloody Bombing In Jerusalem

Aired March 23, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, we're watching several important developments, including allied air strikes. They're targeting Gadhafi's ground forces, but Libyan troops have not halted their attacks on civilians.

CNN's Arwa Damon is standing by. She'll take us to the front lines.

Has the U.S. found anyone to take command of the Libya operation right now? And what happens if Gadhafi remains in power for any extended period of time? I'll ask the president's deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough. He's standing by live.

And black smoke at a crippled reactor and radioactive tap water in Tokyo. We've got the latest on Japan's nuclear crisis. We'll hear from an American who was inside that nuclear power plant when the earthquake and the tsunami struck.

Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Allied aircraft now have complete control of the skies over Libya, that according to U.S. and coalition military forces. They say Gadhafi's forces continue, though, to hammer civilian areas. In western Libya's rebel-held city of Misurata, a witness reports heavy tank fire near a hospital. In the east, Libyan troops are pressing the rebel town of Ajdabiya.

CNN's Arwa Damon is joining us now from the front line.

Arwa, what's going on where you are now?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we were just outside of Ajdabiya a short while ago, and what the opposition has managed to do is move their front line forward. It used to be around 30 miles outside of Ajdabiya. Now, they're just a few miles out, but they continue to get hammered by Gadhafi's troops, tanks, and artillery. They were telling us that air strikes did manage to hit Gadhafi's troops that were stationed at the northern entrance to Ajdabiya.

Eyewitness is saying that three tanks were damaged. The problem is that they're telling us the other tanks have been dug into the ground. Only their torch (ph) are jutting out, and for some reason, they believe that the aircraft overhead have not been able to spot them just yet. And this is really an example of where the battle is going to ill go next. If air strikes cannot hit Gadhafi's targets, how is the opposition going to be able to fight back?

They do appear to be becoming better organized. Their vehicles tactically positioned. We saw a number of fighters stringing by, attempting to outflank Gadhafi's troops, but a lot of them telling us that they're really struggling without weapons and equipment.

Wolf, these are men on this front line. They don't even have body armor. And let's all also remember that they're mostly civilians. One young man we spoke to had a guitar over one shoulder, a gun on the other and an RPG cradled underneath his arm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying is that they're by no means ready, any time soon, these rebel forces to march on Tripoli.

DAMON: That does, if what we've seen over the last few days is an indication. Now, it does seem like they're going to take quite, quite some time for them to be able to reach Tripoli. The issue is that they don't have the weapons and the equipment that they're going to need in the sort of face-to-face combat with Gadhafi's troops that are inside the cities out of reach of the air strikes. And so, they're going to have to quickly figure out how to match Gadhafi's military might, how to match the Gadhafi's troop military expertise.

What the opposition is also hoping for, though, is that even though their momentum is slow, they're hoping that as they gain momentum, more and more civilians will feel emboldened to also rise up in their respective cities and towns, rise up against Gadhafi's forces, but there is the realization that this is going to be a long and very bloody battle, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that France has formally recognized the opposition as the legitimate government of Libya. We know that President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton have authorized U.S. officials to be liaisons to talk to this the opposition forces, even though, the U.S. does not recognize them as the legitimate government of Libya, but what evidence do you see there in Benghazi that there are significant cooperation, coordination, if you will, between the U.S., the British, the French, the coalition forces, and these opposition forces in terms of military strategy?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, just yesterday, we were speaking with the opposition forces chief of staff, General Yunis. He was, in fact, formerly Gadhafi's minister of interior, among some senior most officials to have defected when this whole uprising began, and he was telling us that he was in direct contact with the allied forces, when it came to these air strikes.

He said that they, first of all, agreed to the fact that if civilians were in an area, it could not and should not be targeted, but that they were exchanging intelligence and information in terms of where these air strikes should be taking place. The opposition notifying them of Gadhafi's troop movement. So, a very high level of coordination it would chain (ph) between the opposition's military and those that are conducting the air strikes. And that's a pretty significant development, Wolf. BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, Arwa. Thanks very, very much.

The allies may now have control over the air over Libya, but how do they keep Gadhafi's forces from advancing on the ground? I'll speak about that and more with the president's deputy national security adviser, Dennis McDonough. He's standing by live. Also, with the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Ret. U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. He's standing by live as well and much more in Libya coming up.

But other important news on this day. One person was killed, more than 50 others were hurt when a bomb exploded near Jerusalem's main bus station. The bombing is the first inside Jerusalem in years.

Let's go live to CNN's Kevin Flower. He's in Jerusalem for us with the latest.

What do we know, Kevin?

KEVIN FLOWER, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, as you said, it was the first attack like this that Jerusalem has seen like this in some seven years, and it was not a happy reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FLOWER (voice-over): It was a site many Israelis hoped they had seen the last of. Emergency response vehicles racing to the location of a deadly explosion near a bus in Central Jerusalem. Medical personnel moving wounded patients from the scene.

YEHUDA MESHI-ZAHAV, CHAIRMAN, ZAKA ORGANIZATION (through translation): We grabbed our equipment, ran here, and saw the situation, and we began to help three people that were in a bad state. One, in a very bad state.

FLOWER: Police investigators say a small bag with an explosive device was left near a roadside bus stop and exploded as passengers were getting on and off. For Israelis, the images brought up painful memories of the second Palestinian intifada about a decade ago. Suicide bombing attacks on buses and other public locations were a regular occurrence. Jerusalem's mayor asked for calm from the city's residents.

MAYOR NIR BARKAT, JERUSALEM: The key is to continue with our normal life, with normal plans. This, alone, will decrease the motivation of people trying to derail or normal life. They will not be successful doing so.

FLOWER: The attacks come as tensions and violence between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militant groups have been on the rise. Dozens of rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza into Southern Israeli cities in recent days, prompting retaliatory strikes from Israel that have killed at least ten Palestinians since Saturday.

Before departing on a foreign trip, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned those plotting for their attacks. "They will discover that the government, the IDF, and the Israeli public have a will of iron to protect the country and its citizens," he told reporters.

FLOWER: Police have not yet arrested a suspect, but some right- wing Israeli politicians were quick to lay the blame.

(SPEAKING IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGE)

FLOWER: The writing was on the wall. The Israeli government is living in a make believe world, and they are dealing with a murderous, terrorist authority that is inciting the murder every day. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, describing it as disgraceful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLOWER (on-camera): Now, Wolf, until recently, Israelis have been described in their country as an island of stability and an ocean of regional chaos. After today and after events this week, that is a claim that's going to be harder to sustain -- Wolf. BLITZER: Kevin Flower in Jerusalem for us on this important story. Thank you.

A sharp escalation of violence in Syria today. Witnesses say 15 people were killed in a clashes between security forces and anti- government protesters in the southern city of Daraa. This amateur video appears to show one confrontation ending in gunfire. Watch and listen.

(VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This is the sixth straight day of protests in Syria. Before the latest shootings, the U.S. Human Rights Office said security forces had already killed six people. More demonstrations are planned in the area. Protesters have a new slogan that goes, "There is no fear."

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with a "Cafferty File."

Then, a closer look at Moammar Gadhafi's forces. What shape are they really in after the coalition attacks? We'll have the latest from the Pentagon plus insight from our CNN contributor, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.

And the House Speaker John Boehner challenges President Obama on Libya. We'll get response from the White House. The president's deputy national security adviser, Dennis McDonough standing by to join us live.

And an American contractor who was at that Japanese nuclear power plant when disaster struck recounts his chilling story for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, a Senate judiciary subcommittee led by Dick Durbin of Illinois is going to hold a hearing on Muslim-Americans civil rights. Aren't they the same as every other American civil rights? I think so. And this is what needs our immediate attention at this time. Sometimes, the people in Washington, D.C. can make you want to stick sharp objects in your own eyes. The Durbin circus comes weeks after Republican Congressman Peter King's circus.

He held congressional hearings on the topic of the radicalization of Muslim-Americans. Those hearings sparked protest and demonstrations. Critics said it was a witch hunt, said they sent the wrong message to Muslim-Americans. So, Senator Durbin is, apparently, going to try to send a different message to Muslim-Americans. Like he doesn't have other more important things to do. These hearings will be the first held by the brand new subcommittee on the constitution civil rights, human rights, and the law.

I mean, we have one of those (ph). Durbin says he's called for the hearings because there's been a recent uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. He says it's important to renew the nation's, quote, "commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our bill of rights,; unquote. Right.

However, according to the "Washington Times," the latest FBI data showed that hate crimes against Muslims account for just 9.3 percent of religious hate crimes in this country, while more than 70 percent of religious hate crimes are committed against Jews. Meanwhile, we have no federal budget, three wars, and we're broke. Lovely.

Here's the question. Should the Senate hold hearings on Muslims' rights in the United States? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's an important subject, you know, and a lot of people are focusing in on it, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Stop it.

BLITZER: Stop what?

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Stop it.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: They have the same rights as everybody else in this country. If they're Muslim-Americans, it's like Catholic-Americans, Lutheran-Americans, Mormon-Americans, Baptist-Americans. What's the point here?

BLITZER: Well, you know, they like to have hearings on Capitol Hill. CAFFERTY: They got this brand-new subcommittee, which I didn't know they have. So, I guess, they got to, you know, do what they do. It just boggles some mind.

BLITZER: Thanks, sir. I agree. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Libya's military is taking a pounding from allied air power, but Gadhafi had assembled a vast arsenal of sophisticated weapons. How much damage can his forces still do? Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has been looking into this part of the story. What are you finding out, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. official is telling us that the Gadhafi regime seemed somewhat frustrated by its failure to take Benghazi, but because the rebel group is such a rag tag group, he feels that Libya's army still has the upper hand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Libyan air force is grounded.

And Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets had virtually destroyed Moammar Gadhafi's air defense.

VICE MARSHALL GREG BAGWELL, ROYAL AIR FORCE: To the points that we can operate over his air space with impunity.

LAWRENCE: Despite the no-fly zone, Libyan forces still have numerous mobile launchers. State TV claims they brought down an American fighter jet Monday. U.S. officials say mechanical failure caused the crash of the F-15. The rebels have captured some weapons. Others have been destroyed, but before the war, Libya had about 500 mortars, 2,400 pieces of artillery.

The ground troops, just under 2,000 tanks and armored vehicles. And on the phone from the Mediterranean Sea, a coalition official says some of that is being used in fighting in Misurata and Ajdabiya.

VOICE OF REAR ADM. GERARD HUEBER, ODYSSEY DAWN TASK FORCE: Tanks, artillery, rocket launchers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that outside of the major cities? Misurata? Or is that -- are you noticing those being used inside the cities?

HUEBER: It is outside. And they are making incursions into the city and targeting the population centers in those cities with that equipment.

LAWRENCE: U.S. surveillance planes have seen some attacks by elite units like the 32nd brigade commanded by Gadhafi's own son.

HUEBER: Those forces are fully engaged in the conflict that is attacking those civilian populations.

LAWRENCE: An analyst at the National Defense University says Libya's elite troops get more money, better weapons.

GAWDAT BAHGAT, NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY: Almost every regime in the Middle East has kind of two armies.

LAWRENCE: Libya's version of the republican guard comes from tribes loyal to Gadhafi, dedicated to protecting the regime, but at most, it's 10,000 men.

BAHGAT: That's why, to great extent, Gadhafi depends on foreign fighters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-camera): But a U.S. official tells us that Gadhafi's forces remain relatively well organized and still able to fight effectively in certain parts of the country. The official says that the Libyan army still has sort of a diversified command, meaning it's not just being commanded by Gadhafi's sons but a number of commanders that are still loyal to the regime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Chris, thank you.

The House speaker, John Boehner, has written to President Obama, sharply questioning the military operation over Libya. Boehner says he and other House members are concerned the president committed U.S. resources, quote, "without clearly defining the mission and the American role."

Let's go to the White House. The president's deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, is joining us now.

Denis, thanks very much for joining us.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a very de --

MCDONOUGH: It's always good to be with you.

BLITZER: -- a very detailed letter with specific questions, legitimate questions. I'll ask you a few of them. Give us the answer.

Is it acceptable -- is it an acceptable outcome for Gadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya?

MCDONOUGH: Well, Wolf, I really appreciate the opportunity to respond, but I also think it's a really important opportunity to continue the conversation with the speaker.

The president had a good meeting with him on Friday. We obviously gave him a heads-up and talked with him about it on Saturday. And then we've been briefing Congress this week; that, in addition to the briefings we had gone over last couple of weeks on the situation.

You'll remember, of course, that the discussion of a no-fly zone started up on Capitol Hill. So we, obviously, were able to take that idea and expand it to ensure that we are degrading Gadhafi's forces so we can turn them back from key cities like Benghazi and Misrata, increasingly, today, where he was threatening to show, as he said, no mercy on his own people.

BLITZER: So --

MCDONOUGH: So well, as --

BLITZER: It's --

MCDONOUGH: -- as it relates to the specific question, Wolf, we're not setting out with a policy of regime change here. We set out a very defined goal here, which is we would shape the environment and enable our international partners to take over the no-fly zone. We're on the verge of doing that.

Importantly, over the last couple of days --

BLITZER: Wait, hold on. Hold on, Denis. I'm sorry for interrupting, but you just said something.

You said there's -- it's not a policy of regime change.

MCDONOUGH: Correct.

BLITZER: But how many times has the president said over the past few weeks, Gadhafi must go?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I haven't counted, Wolf. Maybe you have. But he has been very --

BLITZER: At least a dozen.

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'd take your word for it, as I always do.

BLITZER: But doesn't that mean regime change if Gadhafi must go?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think you asked -- you're kind of asking a couple of different questions now, Wolf.

You asked whether it was an acceptable outcome. And what we've said is we've set out a very specific goal for our forces, an accomplishable task, which, incidentally, because of their great performances -- our Marines, our sailors, our airmen, our soldiers -- because of their great efforts, we have turned back the forces from Benghazi and we are on the verge, now, of being able to hand over the conduct of the no-fly zone to our allies.

BLITZER: But must Gadhafi go?

MCDONOUGH: Well, that's going to be a determination for the Libyan people to make, Wolf --

BLITZER: But the president says he must go.

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president -- you know, I'm not going to improve on the good answer that the president gave on this question yesterday, which I know you watched and which was obviously a part of his press conference yesterday --

BLITZER: Is that U.S. policy still, that Gadhafi must go?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president did outline exactly what our -- our policy view is --

BLITZER: And he said there was a --

MCDONOUGH: -- which is that --

BLITZER: -- he said Gadhafi must go.

MCDONOUGH: Yes. And he explained to you yesterday and I'm explaining to you again today that the mission we've set out, as it relates to this effort over the last several days, has been to shape the environment, to be able to bring along the international allies so that it's not just our troops and not just our taxpayers who are carrying out these efforts and investing their resources, but rather the whole world, because, frankly, this isn't solely our problem, Wolf. This is a problem for the world. And so we're bringing along the Arab League. We're bringing along the U.N. --

BLITZER: So, I just --

MCDONOUGH: -- we're bringing along our European allies --

BLITZER: I don't want to -- I don't want to be a pest, but if the policy is Gadhafi must go, I assume that means regime change, but you just said the policy was not regime change.

MCDONOUGH: I think you -- I think I was responding to the question that you asked from the letter from the speaker, which I indicated was another good opportunity to continue the conversation with him.

So -- and as it relates to whether it's an acceptable outcome, the question is, we're not pursuing regime change as a result of this military effort. That's -- that's been quite clear since the president addressed it with the American people on Friday --

BLITZER: But you are pursuing a regime change separate from the military effort, is that correct?

MCDONOUGH: Well, we're going to bring a whole range of assets and -- and efforts and resources to this -- to this important policy, Wolf, but it's not going to be solely a military effort. We're asking our military to do an awful lot and they're doing it quite well, in Japan --

BLITZER: All right --

MCDONOUGH: -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq and now in -- in Libya.

But we're going to have to rely on our allies. We're bringing our allies along. We're going to rely on the neighbors. We're bringing them along. And then we'll rely on non-military tools, as well.

BLITZER: When does the U.S. hand over leadership responsibilities to someone else?

MCDONOUGH: Well, as the president has indicated, that's going to be a question of days, not weeks.

We are making good progress. I'm sure you saw the news today, Wolf, where under NATO decision, we're enforcing the arms embargo in the Mediterranean now, as a result of NATO action. We think that's a very positive step forward.

And I think what's interesting is, while over the last two days we've had international, non-US planes enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya. Now, we've also supported that effort. We've provided important intelligence support, important fueling and tanker support and important jamming support.

But the -- but the fact of the matter is, our allies in Europe are picking up more and more of the slack to set up this transition --

BLITZER: And do you think the --

MCDONOUGH: We think that's an important development.

BLITZER: And you think it will be by this weekend?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'm not going to try to get into any kind of calendars with you on your show here this afternoon, Wolf, but the president did say it's a question of days, not weeks.

BLITZER: Who's paying for all of this? Will -- will you ask Congress, Boehner wants to know, if you'll ask for a supplemental budget request to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers have already spent.

Who's going to pay for this?

MCDONOUGH: Boy, I'm not sure where you're getting the number hundreds of millions of dollars, Wolf. I think that's an exaggeration.

BLITZER: Well, each bomber --

MCDONOUGH: But --

BLITZER: -- you know how much a Tomahawk cruise missile costs?

MCDONOUGH: Well, again, if you can just give me a sense of where you're getting the hundreds of millions of dollars --

BLITZER: It's 160 Tomahawk cruise missiles at $1.4 million each Tomahawk --

MCDONOUGH: Is that a --

BLITZER: -- cruise missile. That's already $160 million.

MCDONOUGH: So the bottom line is, as I think we've indicated, is that we're obviously able to carry this out in the context of the existing Pentagon budget. We'll continue to work with that.

And again, as it relates to the Speaker's letter, it's obviously, as you said, very -- a very legitimate set of questions and we think it's a good opportunity to continue the conversation with Congress.

The bottom line, in the president's view on this is it's important to bring the country along. Obviously, the president solely has this responsibility to deploy our troops overseas. But he thinks it's an important part of this leadership to bring the Congress along on this effort. So we'll continue to work very closely with the Speaker on it, as we have over the last several days.

BLITZER: What about this idea I have, you -- you've frozen $30 billion in Libya's assets here in the United States, keep a running tab and deduct from that $30 billion whatever it's costing U.S. taxpayers? Is that a good idea?

MCDONOUGH: Well, we're working with our friends in the region and we're going to obviously make sure that everybody, after the Arab League voted to establish a kind of policy like this and after the Gulf countries voted to establish a kind of policy like this, we'll obviously be working together with our allies to ensure that the burden is shared across the effort so as to ensure that we have an opportunity to not lay this solely on the American taxpayer and on American troops right now.

BLITZER: Well, Libya is a major oil exporting country. You'd have Libya share the burden, as well?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the Libyans, obviously, would like to be able to begin sending out their oil again.

But the important thing about the assets, Wolf, is that was an early move that the -- that the United States made. We set that money aside now because that's not money for President Gadhafi and his family, but, rather, money for the Libyan people, to make the kind of investments that they want --

BLITZER: Is the --

MCDONOUGH: -- education for their kids and that kind of thing. This is not -- it shouldn't be just a bunch of money for the Gadhafi family.

BLITZER: No. But it should be, perhaps, money, if you're going to liberate their country from Gadhafi, some of that money could go to pay for that, right?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'm not -- you -- you're always full of good ideas, Wolf, and I'm not going to get into the position here of either, you know, denigrating those ideas.

So we'll obviously take that under advisement.

BLITZER: You can denigrate them if you -- if you think it's a -- a crummy idea. That's fine. I'm not -- I'm not that sensitive.

When is the president going to address the nation from the Oval Office or go before a joint session of Congress and explain this military operation?

MCDONOUGH: Well, we've -- as I indicated, Wolf, I think the president thinks it's obviously a very important part of this effort to be in regular consultation with Congress and regular communication with the -- with the country on it.

We're, obviously, asking a lot of the American people. We're asking a lot of our troops, at the moment, from Japan to Afghanistan to Iraq. So that's obviously one of the factors that we're -- went into the idea of bringing along the -- the international community so that we could share the burden.

The president has been talking to the country about it and he'll continue to do that.

BLITZER: But do you think a formal address to the nation is a good idea?

MCDONOUGH: Oh, Wolf, I think it's really important for the president to be in constant communication with the country on it because it is important.

But it's also important for us to keep our eye on the target in Afghanistan, where our troops, 100,000 of them, are making huge sacrifices away from their family.

It's also very important for us to highlight the great work they're doing in Japan, where they're not only helping bring that reactor under control, but also bringing in food and water and some relief to a lot of Japanese in this very difficult time.

BLITZER: All right, one final question before I let you go.

Define success in Libya.

MCDONOUGH: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, the president outlined it the other day, on Friday afternoon, when he addressed the country on this issue. He said that we're in this effort -- in this initial phase, we're carving out a very unique role for ourselves.

We're going to shape the environment. We're going to enable our international partners to take over the conduct of the no-fly zone and we're going to push back Gadhafi forces from important cities like Benghazi, where he was threatening and -- to use his words, "no mercy" on his own people.

I think because of the fine work of our troops, we've been able to accomplish that first goal on Benghazi. We're making very good progress in terms of handing over conduct to the no-fly zone, to our allies, so, again, we can rely on their resources, on their troops and on their taxpayers to help us finish this job.

BLITZER: Denis McDonough, thanks very much. Good luck.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks, Wolf. Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Is a no-fly zone enough when the fighting is fierce on the ground in major cities. Our contributor, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Wesley Clark standing by.

And we've just received new pictures taken inside Japan's stricken nuclear power plant. We'll hear from an American who was there when the disaster happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coalition commanders say the allies have little to worry about from Libya's air defense systems, but can they halt the ground attacks by Gadhafi's forces? Let's discuss with our CNN contributor, the retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander.

General Clark, thanks very much for joining us. I hope you had a chance to see my interview with the president's deputy national security adviser. He said flatly regime change is not the U.S. military objective right now, even though the president has repeatedly said over these past several weeks that Gadhafi must go. Do you understand that -- the contradiction, if you will?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I think I do, because the objective of the national -- the national objective of the United States, the policy is Gadhafi has to go. But that's not the military objective of the operation. That military objective is defined by the authorizing resolution that came out of the United Nations.

Now normally, you would think that, when military force is applied, you would accomplish a decisive political objective all by yourself. But that's not necessarily the case. In 1999 we did an air operation, as you know, against Milosevic, and 16 months later Milosevic was gone.

BLITZER: Except President Bill Clinton was not repeatedly saying during the operation "Milosevic must go." Was he?

CLARK: No, he wasn't. But the point is that you have other means than military means. I think what the administration's trying to do is limit the military means to that authorized by the United Nations and then add other factors in there to achieve the desired political outcome. BLITZER: If they destroyed Libya's -- let's say they destroyed the whole Libyan air force. I don't think they have. But let's say they did. Let's say they destroyed all of Libya's air defense systems. They still have a lot of ground forces. They have tanks. They have artillery. They have all sorts of weapons. They can still endanger civilians, the opposition, if you will.

Does the no-fly zone, in effect, need to be broadened to include, in order to back up the U.N. Security Council resolution, a no-drive zone, as well?

CLARK: They have the authority to do that, actually, with any of these forces that are threatening. The question is, can it be done from the air and can it be done at the -- from the altitudes with the number of aircraft overhead? And probably it's going to take some aircraft overhead. It may take at some point unmanned aerial vehicles so you can stare at the ground and really pick it out. And it may take attack helicopters coming in. Or some aircraft going lower so the pilots have a little bit better view of what's happening on on the ground.

BLITZER: Is it time to start arming the rebels?

CLARK: They're certainly calling for it, from everything that I hear. But I also think there's a lot of arms around there. This is something that political committee that France is going ahead is going to have to decide. It's not within the U.N. Security Council resolution. And it would be a whole lot better if we don't have to arm the rebels to achieve the political objective that the president has cited.

BLITZER: When you say the political objective, you mean getting rid of Gadhafi?

CLARK: Right, right. You know, it's very possible, Wolf, that the impact of the NATO -- sorry, of the air campaign here may be strong enough and disheartening enough for Gadhafi's forces that a majority of them will just melt away. People will come back out again and take their chance on Gadhafi's snipers and the residual loyalist troops.

One thing that has to be done is there is an entry point in Libya in the far south near the border with Chad and Sudan, in which these mercenaries are still coming in. And surely, at some point, we're going to take a hard look at that from the air.

BLITZER: I'm sure the U.S. will, if it hasn't already together with the British and the French. We've got a lot more to discuss, and we will in the coming days. General, thanks very much.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Here's a question. How do you succeed in Libya and beat Gadhafi's forces without putting boots on the ground? We'll talk about that. We'll get into more detail on that, as well. And we'll also hear from an American who was inside the Fukushima plant when that 9.0 earthquake struck in Japan.

And something you may not know about Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to show you the pictures we've just received from Japan. They show the scene inside the control room of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at that stricken nuclear power plant. Workers wearing radiation suits are readying instruments and taking measurements. There's also a photo taken near the entrance of the reactor building showing the damaged interior.

Meanwhile, CNN's David Mattingly has this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANNY EUDY, FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI PLANT WORKER It kind of, like, slowed down just a little. Then all the sudden it got worse and worse.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the quake hit, he was in a turbine building attached to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor No. 1. The shaking was so violent American contractor Danny Eudy says he didn't need a translator to know what the Japanese workers were shouting.

EUDY: You know "run" is "run."

MATTINGLY (on camera): Did you think you were going to make it out of that building?

EUDY: I wasn't sure.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Once outside, Eudy says he saw cracks in the ground around a plant. A hillside had shifted onto the road. And one office building had collapsed. He was confident, however, that the reactors were fine.

EUDY: To the best of my knowledge, everything shut down when it was supposed to. I was not worried about the reactors.

MATTINGLY: But it wasn't long before his Japanese co-workers were shouting the alarm about something else: the massive tsunami, topping the flood wall and hitting the plant. Eudy had already run to high ground over a hill and wasn't able to see the wave. But he was able to see what it did. And that affected him deeply.

EUDY: It just -- it's gone in a matter of seconds. But there's no precursor. No warnings, nothing. Other than when it hits.

MATTINGLY: Eudy was evacuated to Tokyo and within days was back in the U.S., but his thoughts remain with the workers he left behind in Fukushima.

(on camera) Are those workers, in your mind, heroes? EUDY: No, sir. I don't know about heroes. I would just call them like myself. Just workers trying to do the best they can.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Eudy says he is most concerned for those workers right now and their exposure to radiation. He's not keeping in touch with anyone, but he is watching daily from his home here in Louisiana. And he says, Wolf, that he was scheduled to go back to Japan later this spring for another job. He says now he's not sure if that's going to happen.

BLITZER: I'm sure he's rethinking that whole strategy. All right. Thanks very much. Good report, David. Appreciate it.

We've just received word of planes landing at a major American airport without being able to reach the air traffic control tower earlier in the day. Lisa Sylvester will have details right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still no closure for relatives of more than 15,000 people still listed as missing in Japan. Among them, nearly the entire student body of one elementary school.

CNN's Kyung Lah has this very emotional story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Keiko Naganuma (ph), coping with loss comes by denying grief. She stays upbeat for her 6-year-old son, Ron, silently counting the number of her missing family members. "Seven or eight," she says, from her mother to her other son, 8-year-old Koto (ph). He is presumed dead, his body washed away by the tsunami. He was at school.

"No matter what's happened to him, I just want him back," she says. "My child should come home to me. I need to find him." It's a feeling shared by this community, searching for so many young children and mourning a loss that defies life's natural order.

(on camera) When the earthquake happened, students at Ishinomaki (ph) elementary evacuated out of the school. They had no idea a tsunami was coming. Out of 108 students at the school that day, 77 are either dead or missing. That's 70 percent of the children at the school.

(voice-over) Only a shell stands where children learned. Backpack after backpack sits for parents to retrieve. Along with a picture of the school Little League team, the bats they used, art bags filled with crayons, all waiting to be identified and brought home.

But there are no homes for these Ishinomaki (ph) evacuees. You may notice there are hardly any children in this shelter. Those who survived will struggle emotionally. Aid organization Save the Children hopes to ease the onslaught of the trauma, giving child tsunami victims something simple: a place to play inside the evacuation centers.

SHANA PEIFFER, SAVE THE CHILDREN: To have a sense of safety. And to actually also work with the parents in how to support them in this process. It's going to be a long recovery process for children.

LAH: For 8-year-old Miku (ph), one of the 30 survivors of the elementary school, it's a relief. A chance to draw something pretty away from the devastation of the world around her.

The day ends for Keiko Naganuma (ph) without any word about her missing son. She will not fall apart, she says. "I'm not OK," she says. "Of course I'm not. But I have another son. Ron saw the tsunami. His brother is not coming home. So I think he understands. I can see he's pretending to be happy so we don't worry about him."

So mother joins and pretends for her son and for herself.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Ishinomaki (ph), Japan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to all those people in Japan. We'll have the latest on the situation in Libya in just a moment. And much more coming up on "JOHN KING USA" right at the top of the hour.

Plus, a unique look at the extraordinary life of Elizabeth Taylor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, this is a very interesting story out of Ronald Reagan Airport. This happened around 12:10 in the morning Eastern Time.

There was an American Airlines flight that was trying to land. They tried to contact the control tower to get permission to land, and they got no response. That plane landed safely without incident.

And then a few minutes later, about 15 minutes later, the same thing happened to a United Airlines flight. Again, tried to contact the tower, but there was no one answering them, no one responding to them at the time.

Now, there was a controller at the tower, and there are some reports out there -- we do not have this confirmed -- that perhaps the controller might have been sleeping at the time. The NTSB is saying at this point only that the controller was unresponsive. The FAA is now looking into this incident.

And we will continue to monitor this situation and hopefully get some more answers, Wolf.

And in other news, we have new insight also into the cause of the Gulf oil disaster. A new report commissioned by the U.S. government says a piece of drill pipe buckled under pressure and got stuck inside the blowout preventer. That kept the device from stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in what became the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

And the FAA is investigating this incident in which a pilot tried to land his helicopter on the roof of a home in Rockport, Massachusetts. The landing was aborted, but not before sparking chaos in the neighborhood. At least one call to 911. A witness says the pilot was the owner of the home, which is under construction, and does not have a helipad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So he just wanted to land on his own home? Is that what you're saying?

SYLVESTER: Apparently, that's what it looked like. He tried to land on his home. Not a terribly smart idea. He was smart enough, though, to abort that. The FAA is looking into why now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Lisa, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is next with "The Cafferty File." Then Jeanne Moos on Elizabeth Taylor, larger than life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's back, and he has the "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "Should the Senate hold hearings on Muslims' rights in the United States?"

Mark in New Jersey says, "Yes, Jack, they should hold hearings then on the rights of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, the Latter-Day Saints and the Rosicrucians, as well as atheists, animists and agnostics. It will be a good excuse for them not to do anything about the banks, the lobbyists, climate change, energy or job creation."

Stephanie writes, "When Jews are subjected to more hate crimes in the U.S. than Muslims, it's pretty odd that they would have those hearings, except to score political points and seek to protect a specific group's ideology."

Ralph in Texas writes, "This makes about as much sense as the French wanting a committee to run the war in Libya."

Bradley in Oregon says, "I think they ought to have hearings on what the TSA is doing to the rights of all of us at the airports."

Russ in Pennsylvania: "Why? Are their rights as citizens any different from mine? Or are we expecting the Senate to provide special rights to ethnic groups of one sort or another? Hasn't the government done such a great job of promoting diversity as it is? Or are we all hoping for another 4,000 federal laws to be promulgated? Why on earth don't we tell Congress and the president to stop minding our business?"

Paul in Ontario: "I thought everybody in America had the same rights. Or are the rules about to change?"

Lou writes, "Seriously? Nothing more important to do? Aren't they still working on last year's budget? If they worked for me, I would have fired them a long time ago for failure to complete a task. Oh, wait, they do work for me."

And Connor in Illinois writes, "Muslim rights? What the hell does that mean? They're citizens, end of story. They have the same rights as me, period."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Good points. They do have rights, like every other American, whether (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jewish, Muslim, Hindu. We're all Americans.

CAFFERTY: Yes. And Dick Durbin is the one who's organizing this thing, and I think it's just -- you know, it's just silly. He just wants to get his name in the paper, and he got his name in "The Cafferty File" today, so maybe that will suffice.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Be good.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

We're going to have live reports from Libya coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." Stand by for that.

But up next, CNN's Jeanne Moos on the life and the legend of Elizabeth Taylor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Take a closer look now at the life and the work of Elizabeth Taylor.

In 1961 the actress assumes one of her most famous roles, "Cleopatra." In 2001 Elizabeth Taylor flashes her famous violet eyes at an AIDS charity dinner in Venice.

In 1993, the star appears with her close friend, Michael Jackson, at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. In 1948, the 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor feeds birds in London's Trafalgar Square.

She truly was a celebrity of the highest, highest order. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In recent years we saw her like this but remembered her like this.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, ACTRESS: The cat is alive! I'm alive.

MOOS: Alive no longer. The news interrupted daytime chat shows.

KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY": Grown-ups who have a job.

ROBIN ROBERTS, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": Unfortunately, we have just confirmed that Elizabeth Taylor has died.

MOOS: Sometimes the famous, like Larry King...

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN TALK SHOW HOST: She had purple eyes. They were not blue. They were purple.

MOOS: ... remarked on the same things as the not famous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish I could have seen her eyes in person.

MOOS: Barbara Walters had plenty of memories.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Gorgeous face but, I mean, the words that came out of that mouth.

MOOS: She played some of her favorite Elizabeth Taylor interview moments like the time she asked the "what would you like on your tombstone" question.

TAYLOR: "Here lies Liz. She lived." Now I don't like Liz. I hate that name. "Here lies Elizabeth. She hated being called Liz. But she lived."

MOOS: Lived through seven husbands and though she married Richard Burton twice, the press still wanted them together again, even after they were through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still in love?

RICHARD BURTON, ACTOR: Next question.

MOOS: She'd been in poor health for years, and obituaries were written and waiting. Waiting so long that the theater critic who wrote Taylor's "New York Times" obit died himself almost six years ago. His obit for her was published posthumously.

Younger folks seemed relatively unfazed by Taylor's death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a favorite Liz Taylor moment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't.

MOOS: They tend to remember her as the aging celebrity walking unsteadily with Michael Jackson, rather than as the glamorous mega- movie star she was.

She even signed her name with the flourishes of a diva when blindfolded panelists tried to identify her on "What's My Line?" and disguised her voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Might you be described as a glamour girl?

TAYLOR: Well, that's mighty kind of you, I do declare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is your husband Michael Wilding?

TAYLOR: Oh, he sure is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then you must be beautiful Elizabeth Taylor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

MOOS: That title, "the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor," followed her like the whiff of one of her perfumes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Elizabeth Taylor's passion.

TAYLOR: Is he married?

MOOS: She sure was.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: She was truly a wonderful, wonderful actress. We'll miss Elizabeth Taylor.

That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.