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THE SITUATION ROOM

Opposition Loses More Ground in Libya

Aired March 29, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Johns, thank you so much.

And that does it for me.

I'm Brooke Baldwin here in Atlanta.

Time to turn things over to my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, in Washington -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, breaking news -- new fighting and dramatic new losses by Libyan rebels against Moammar Gadhafi's forces. This hour, signs that coalition forces may be starting to help the rebels, though, in some different new ways. We have the details.

In Japan, the best weapon against preventing a bigger nuclear meltdown is also a source of radiation contamination. We're taking a closer look at the dangerous dilemma there and the lessons for nuclear power plants right here in the United States.

And will the U.S. Supreme Court green light a massive discrimination lawsuit against Walmart?

Arguments today in one of the most important workers' rights cases the court has ever heard.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Moammar Gadhafi and his troops are being accused of new carnage and destruction, just hours after President Obama tried to explain the U.S. mission in Libya to the American people.

This hour, we have breaking news. We're learning about major, major setbacks for rebel forces in several cities. In Misrata, witnesses say government forces are hammering the city hard, firing bullets over civilians' heads and telling them to run for their lives. Gadhafi is fighting back with a vengeance against rebels, who had regained ground in recent days under the cover of coalition air strikes.

And joining us now in Ajdabiya is our own Arwa Damon. You're with the rebels there. How how are they doing -- Arwa? What's the latest? ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been another bitterly disappointing day for the opposition here. They've lost even more ground to Gadhafi's military. We caught up with them in an area called Bin Jawad. It was the last point that they had managed to advance to yesterday. And they were coming under heavy artillery tank and rocket fire.

They were then forced to retreat from this area, losing not only Bin Jawad, but the entire road in between Bin Jawad and the critical oil town of Ras Lanuf. And there in Ras Lanuf, on the western outskirts, we saw plumes of smoke rising. We heard explosions. We saw the opposition trying to fire back with artillery, with multiple rocket barreled launchers. And we saw units -- reinforcements coming and trying to protect that town, because they're determined not to lose it, as well.

But this is most certainly a very bitter disappointment to the opposition that was hoping to be able to continue with the same momentum all the way to Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, all the way to Tripoli.

But what we have been seeing over the last two days, is as the opposition tries to penetrate further west, nearing toward Sirte, entering those tribal lands filled with Gadhafi loyalists, they're coming up against not just Gadhafi's military, Wolf, but residents armed by Gadhafi, they say, who are also firing at them.

And this is a completely different dynamic to this battlefield. And it does have a very ominous sense to it, especially when one looks to the future.

BLITZER: Is there evidence that the NATO allies and the others, the Arab countries who are helping, are giving them the air support -- the rebels -- that they would need in a place like Ajdabiya?

DAMON: Well, initially when we saw those air strikes taking place in Ajdabiya, they most definitely cleared the way for the opposition to be able to retake control of this city. We saw on both entrances lines of Gadhafi's tanks burned. Their turrets had been ripped off. The armor had melted to the ground. Basically, the opposition, basically, has been able to push Gadhafi's military back because of that air support.

But over the last two days, we've seen Gadhafi's military regrouping, re-attacking and turning this into something of a street to street battle.

Yesterday, they came across this when they entered one small area that's around 60 miles to the east of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. There, residents fired on them. They were forced to flee. They say that today in Bin Jawad it was not only artillery and tank fire, it was also a street to street battle.

This is not something that the opposition is trained for. This is not a military force. They lack equipment. They lack weaponry. They lack the military basics of being able to conduct thorough house to house searches, street to street combat, because they lack cores of discipline. They lack strict command and control. And so this places an entire new set of challenges.

Wolf, the opposition had expected, to a certain degree, that civilian populations, as they pushed westward, would rise up against Gadhafi. And as of now, we have not seen that just yet. And we're seeing them slowly, over the last 48 hours, being driven back.

BLITZER: This war clearly continuing -- a brutal war, very much so.

Arwa, thanks very much. Be careful there. Arwa Damon reporting from Ajdabiya.

Joining us now from Tripoli, our own Nic Robertson -- Nic, something unusual today. Tell me how unusual it was -- a daytime bombing in Tripoli where you are. What happened?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the first time we've heard it, Wolf. Late afternoon, three heavy explosions within about a minute of each other. The last one a very heavy explosion. It sounded like a large bomb at the very, very least. More than a -- more than many of the missiles and bombs that we've heard so far.

And just before that, as well, we heard coalition aircraft flying overhead low enough for us to hear well and clearly. They flew over for a little while, moved off and came back again. That was about 20 minutes before the bombs fell. And we haven't heard that before during daylight hours, certainly not so loud.

So it does seem to indicate the coalition feels confident flying over this city, even though we've seen anti-aircraft gun defenses, camouflage at the side of the road, surface to air missiles hidden under trees. Perhaps Gadhafi's forces choosing not to use those weapons at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, on another issue that's caused a huge stir around the world, this woman who says she was raped by Gadhafi's supporters, Gadhafi's -- Gadhafi's forces.

What's the latest? Has she been released? Do we know where she is?

ROBERTSON: We don't know where she is. The government says she's been released. Reza Sayah interviewed her mother, in the east of the country, Tubruq. And her mother said she last talked to her daughter, Iman, the lady who came into the hotel here and was bundled out by government officials, last talked to her on Sunday. And no one has been in touch with her yet.

And the best that we can understand is she was released by the government into her sister's custody, into her sister's house here in Tripoli. She's being held under house arrest. But it appears all lines of communication have been cut off. We don't know this for sure. And we certainly, journalists, haven't been able to get to her, to see her, to talk to her, to find out how she is and exactly what's happening to her. So there's a big question mark, Wolf, still, over her whereabouts, and, very importantly, her well being, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll continue to follow her fate.

Nic, thanks very much.

And we'll be speaking with Reza Sayah.

He's just back from interviewing this woman's mother.

His report coming up later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A week-and-a-half into coalition air strikes, the U.S. and it allies say there are no plans to arm Libyan rebels, quote, "at this time." President Obama defended the limits on the military mission in Libya during his pivotal speech last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Speaking of costs, let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence -- Chris, we're learning more about the costs of this war and the evolving strategy.

What are we picking up?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, things are changing. So, the bottom line, more attacks on Gadhafi forces, but less cost to the American taxpayers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): U.S. officials say they're not in Libya to help rebels win a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not part of our mandate.

LAWRENCE: But the coalition is launching missiles at specific units, like the headquarters of Libya's elite 32nd Brigade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of Gadhafi's most loyal units.

LAWRENCE: The coalition has interpreted "protect civilians" to mean it can destroy any weapons Gadhafi could use. In the last 24 hours, air strikes hit munitions depots in two cities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any place that we can see ammunition storage facilities, things of that nature, that -- we're going after those.

LAWRENCE: A mission that's starting with preventing attacks from the air is now focused, not even two weeks later, on destroying targets on the ground. New flying gunships like the A-10 have replaced some of the ships that were firing cruise missiles. These new aircraft fly low, closer to a target and shoot machine gun fire instead of dropping thousand pound bombs. They're designed to fight in and around cities, where rebels are trying to hold off Gadhafi's forces. On Tuesday, the NATO commander that that protecting civilians mandate extends all the way into Tripoli itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that any Gadhafi forces that are demonstrating hostile intent against the Libyan population are legitimate targets.

LAWRENCE: So far, the assault has cost the Pentagon well over half a billion dollars. But most of that money came from cruise missiles and other munitions. The strategy has shifted and now the U.S. forces are focused on refueling planes, jamming communication and striking Gadhafi forces.

So the military only expects to spend $40 million over the next few weeks. And a spokeswoman says: "After that, we would incur added costs of about $40 million per month."

How many months?

It's hard to tell.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: But a stalemate is not an acceptable solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a stalemate is not in anybody's interest.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

LAWRENCE: The NATO commander told Congress that he's seen flickers of terrorist elements within the opposition, but nothing significant.

Senator John McCain says today that, you know, these rebels are not rising up under some Al Qaeda banner. And he wants them armed with weapons, intelligence and training to help them get the upper hand.

BLITZER: Yes, that $40 million, it sounds to me, at least, wildly optimistic. We'll see if that number holds up. I suspect it won't. But that's another story.

Chris, let's talk a little bit about if -- and this is a huge if -- if Gadhafi's forces were to stop fighting. And I say that's a huge if right now.

What would the coalition do? LAWRENCE: Basically, Wolf, first, they would verify what's going on and assess the situation on the ground. Then there would be sort of a series of decisions that go up the chain of command to Admiral Stavridis and eventually the United Nations itself. But yet, while this so-called assessment phase would be going on, there would be a pause in all of the NATO activity over Libya.

BLITZER: Admiral Stavridis is the -- the NATO supreme allied commander.

All right, thanks very much, Chris, for that.

Are we seeing a new level of warfare in Libya?

I'll ask General Wesley Clark, the retired NATO supreme allied commander, about what the U.S. and NATO forces are doing.

And what the U.S. nuclear industry is now learning from the crisis in Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get back to the breaking news in Libya in just a few moments.

But there's other important news, including in Japan.

Every day seems to bring a disturbing new discovery in Japan's nuclear crisis. Officials are going farther in acknowledging just how serious the situation is and how much radiation is actually being leaked.

Lisa Sylvester is here.

She's working the story for us.

Lots of concern -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And for good reason, Wolf.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary says they believe that there has been a partial meltdown at three of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The number two unit's containment vessel may be damaged and water leaking, and now reports that contaminated water has been discovered in a tunnel leading to reactor two's turbine building.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): For the first time, highly radioactive water has been found in a maintenance tunnel outside reactor two at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant. The tunnel, which runs under and behind the turbine, is only 180 feet from the ocean. Japanese officials are trying to barricade the water in the damaged tunnel to keep it from flowing further. Hidehiko Nishiyama with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. HIDEHIKO NISHIYAMA, NUCLEAR AND INDUSTRIAL SAFETY AGENCY (through translator): The door is already damaged so we used sandbags as well as concrete panels built around the opening to prevent the possible overflow of contaminated waters.

SYLVESTER: Water has been pumped in to cool down the reactors and prevent a full nuclear meltdown at the plant, but now, the highly contaminated water, itself, is posing unique problems namely how to contain and dispose of it, but it's not an option to simply stop pumping water into the reactor says Arjun Makihijani with the institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

Some people would say this is a catch-22 because you need the water to cool things down.

ARJUN MAKIHIJANI, INST. FOR ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH: Yes.

SYLVESTER: But at the same time, now, you have a new problem, contaminated water.

MAKIHIJANI: Well, this is the problem with this type of reactor, and if you don't keep the fuel cool, then it will melt down, and you will have worse releases of radioactivity, and you'll have a breach of the reactor vessel, just melt through the reactor vessel. At a certain point, it will melt through the concrete.

SYLVESTER: The plant is running out of room to store the contaminated water, raising the radiation hazard. The potential risk is that it could seep into the ocean and the soil affecting the food supply.

MAKIHIJANI: It will depend on the currents, the tides, the patterns of deposition. This isn't a pipe carrying radioactivity out. This is deposition on the surface, so a lot will depend on the dynamics of whether that pollution will go out, mainly to sea or whether some of it will contaminate the shores. This problem is going to go on for a long time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (on-camera): So that, the contaminated water found in that tunnel is 330 times higher than the dose of radiation an average person should be exposed to in a year, and that little of exposure could increase the chances of developing cancer by 30 percent, that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's not good. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

Now to the fears in this country about a nuclear crisis on the scale of the one in Japan. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne, nuclear experts here are obviously studying the Japanese situation very closely, and they're asking lots of questions. JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And the principal one, Wolf, is, are there lessons for the U.S. nuclear plants in the disaster at Fukushima? Government officials say they are still studying the issues, but even the nuclear industry says some changes are needed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): It was the loss of electricity that started the cascade of catastrophes at Fukushima. Eight hours of emergency battery power simply wasn't enough to keep critical cooling systems operating, but in the U.S., nine out of ten nuclear plants have only four hours of battery capacity, half as much as Fukushima, an obvious lesson, one expert says, is that plant operators need systems to handle longer blackouts.

DAVID LOCHBAUM, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: So, they're not left without any options other than a miracle. Miracles are great, but you can't rely on them.

MESERVE: The nuclear industry says it is looking at staging equipment regionally and other options to keep cooling systems powered up. At Fukushima, spent fuel pools have been the source of some of the radiation. At U.S. plants, spent fuel pools are cooled by fewer and less reliable systems and housed in more vulnerable structures than reactors are. The industry agrees it's something that needs another look.

ANTHONY PIETRANGELO, NUCLEAR ENERGY INSTITUTE: We will enhance safety as a result of Fukushima. We will get these lessons learned. We started that already.

MESERVE: But if something does go terribly wrong at a plant like New York's Indian Point, could the millions of people who live in the immediate vicinity be evacuated? Are the emergency plans of industry and government adequate?

LOCHBAUM: I think our plans are as good as those in Japan on March 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what that means.

LOCHBAUM: It means we would be equally in a dire straits if we were faced with that kind of disaster. We have good plans on paper, if you put them to practice, I think we're going to show that we'll come up short.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (on-camera): For that reason, Congressman Ed Markey made another pitch today for the government to distribute potassium iodine pills which counter some of the effects of radiation to people who live within 20 miles of a U.S. nuclear plant. A law requiring the government to do so was passed back in 2002 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeanne, thanks very much for that report. Escalating political turmoil in Syria right now. It's taking a dramatic toll on the government in Damascus. We have the details coming up.

And more than a million women suing Wal-Mart for alleged workplace discrimination, but they could be facing an uphill battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New signs today the growing political unrest in Syria could be having an effect. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What's going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad accepted the resignation of the government today, this as tens of thousands took to the streets of Damascus in a pro-government rally. Deadly clashes between protesters and security forces have played the country for days. Assad is expected to address the Syrian people tomorrow.

And this controversial 9/11 ad is no longer running. You can see it here. It shows a fire fighter holding a picture of Ground Zero after the World Trade Center attacks with the headline "I Was There." Now, unbeknownst to the company behind the ad, the model in the stock photo is an actual New York firefighter, but he wasn't there, and although, legal, the company altered the picture. Originally, he was holding a helmet, and it says, it regrets the unfortunate coincidence.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments over whether female workers suing Wal-Mart for workplace discrimination can proceed in a massive class action lawsuit. They allege that the retail giant paid women less and offered fewer opportunities for promotion than their male counterparts. They are now seeking tens of billions of dollars in damages. Wal-Mart says it has a long history of promoting women. A ruling is expected in June, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story coming up in the next hour. as well. Thanks very much, Lisa.

He wrote a scathing letter to President Obama demanding answers. Now, for the first time, we're hearing from the House Speaker John Boehner on the president's Libya address.

And arming the Libyan rebels, is that the best solution for coalition forces?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning of serious new setbacks for Libyan rebels on this day. Those rebels had seemed to be making significant gains under cover of U.S.-led air strikes. This as NATO now takes charge of the coalition mission and President Obama's critics digest his defense of the overall U.S. military intervention. Just a little while ago, we heard from the House Speaker John Boehner. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: Some of my questions were answered by the president. I think, but others were not. The fact that the plan appears to be humanitarian mission to stop the slaughter of innocent people in Libya, certainly, something I think most of the Congress would support, but the second part of this plan is that we hope Gadhafi leaves.

I just don't think that that is a strategy, and when you -- when you listen to all of what's going on and all the words, it really is nothing more than hope. So, if Gadhafi doesn't leave, how long will NATO be there to enforce a no-fly zone? That's a very troubling question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A legitimate question, I must say. Let's dig deeper with our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. What else are you picking up on the hill, dana, the reaction to the president's speech?

DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That the speaker is not alone. We talked to a number of lawmakers who say that they have unanswered questions, everything from how to handle Gadhafi, as you heard the speaker talking about, to concerns about the fact that they still believe that this is a costly open-ended mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): President Obama's Libya speech was intended to calm criticism, especially in Congress, did it?

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I give that one an "F." I think he's done more to add to the skepticism of this than he did to calm people down.

BASH: Republican House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers backed the initial military action in Libya. Now, he worries the president lacks a strategy going forward.

ROGERS: It was very open-ended. It was almost non-committal. It was very frustrating even to me who is working to get information on these issues about how he didn't lay out a plan for what's next.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: And I do not feel that the president has fully thought about the consequences of this military action.

BASH: Senator Susan Collins doesn't buy the president's pledge that the U.S. will have only a supporting role.

COLLINS: The Americans have flown 65 percent of the sorties over Libya. The Arab States have barely participated.

BASH: Not all skeptics are unsatisfied. Before the president's speech, Democrat Ben Cardin wanted to know.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D) MARYLAND: How long can we expect to be in this mission?

BASH: And now.

CARDIN: I think the president said very clearly that the mission is about the safety of the civilians in Libya.

BASH: Still he also said many questions remain, and at this hearing with the U.S. NATO commander, senators tried and failed to get answers about an end game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have an estimation on timetable, how long you think we'll be there?

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, NATO'S SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER FOR EUROPE: Sir, I think it's very difficult to ascertain that.

BASH: They expressed concerns about the cost to American taxpayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the cost per Tomahawk?

STAVRIDIS: I want to say 1.5 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my understanding as well? And how many did we drop?

STAVRIDIS: Two hundred.

SEN. SCOTT BROWN, (R) MASSACHUSETTS: I mean, that's real numbers. Here we are wrestling with cutting billions, and we're dropping billions on the other hand.

BASH: In fact, lawmakers in both parties are nervous about the price tag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was disappointed that the president didn't address one of the fundamental concerns most Americans have, and that is what is this war going to cost us and what has it cost us?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Members of Congress will have a chance to press for more answers about that and a host of other concerns that we heard all day today.

Over the next few days will be key members of the president's team here in Congress are going to be giving some private classified briefings and be at some public hearings.

Now the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, said he told his whole caucus today to come loaded with all your questions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. Good report. Let's dig even further with General Wesley Clark, retired NATO Supreme Allied commander.

With NATO now in charge, will it automatically be less robust, those coalition air strikes as opposed to when the U.S. was in command?

GEN. (RET.) WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER IN EUROPE: No, I don't think it will make any difference, Wolf, in the robustness.

BLITZER: If you say that. Let me interrupt, General, because you've got Turkey, you got Germany and got some NATO allies that don't want this to be very robust, and NATO has to be responsive to them.

CLARK: Well, those are policy calls. They will be made through NATO, and NATO will be responsive, but I suspect that the meeting in Europe and the broader political effort will guide NATO to be just as robust as the coalition would have been in the days going forward.

BLITZER: In other words, what we're seeing right now is a setback for the rebel. Some are already suggesting, you know what, with NATO taking charge. Gadhafi's troops are emboldened.

They are really going after the rebels, and that's idea rebels are being set back in various places on this day. Do you see a correlation between NATO's taking over and the new setbacks the rebels are facing?

CLARK: No, none, but I do see a correlation with the weather, and I understand there was cloud cover in Libya today, and that cloud cover increases the risk for the airmen.

And one of the commanders probably said there's a minimum altitude that we're going to stay above, and we're not going to go below that altitude.

That's typical of the way we operate. We stayed above 20,000 feet in Kosovo, and when it was cloud covered, we weren't as effective in spotting targets on the ground.

BLITZER: But we're seeing some low level flying from A-10s, from C-130 gunships and you fly those planes a lot lower than the F-16s.

CLARK: You can but we didn't in Kosovo. It depends on the assessment of the threat and maybe there's places in Libya where the assessment is it's dangerous. They do have man portable systems and vehicle-mounted systems that are dangerous to our A-10s and AC-130s.

BLITZER: Would it make sense for the coalition to start arming the rebels?

CLARK: I think we've got to get the politics right before we put weapons in there, Wolf, so I think the question, is you know works are the rebels? Do they have a government? What do they stand for, and what gives them legitimacy?

Have they been recognized by many states? Does the United States recognize them, and if so, what's their program? And then in the context of that, I think there could be a case made, but right now I don't think there's a case based on international law or legitimacy for arming the rebels.

It looks like an easy win against Gadhafi, and now people want to throw chips on the pile and keep raising the stakes. I think, you know, we're a nation of law. We have to proceed step by step. It's not a foot race.

Gadhafi is not going anywhere except where we want him to. It may take six weeks. It may take six months. If it takes a year, that's OK. Gadhafi is going to go, but what do we stand for as the United States and with our allies?

Don't we stand for the rule of law? And if so, let's proceed step by step on this. It's not about tactical setbacks. It's really about the vision of the new Middle East going forward.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: The so-called Obama doctrine is now set. Why is the administration not applying it to other countries, let's say like Syria?

Stand by for that and from a revolution to an evolution in Egypt. What the Muslim Brotherhood is now doing in Egypt to change its image.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president has now laid out what many of us are referring to as the Obama Doctrine in the wake of the U.S. military involvement in Libya.

But can it be applied to other countries with political turmoil. Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. We asked her to check into this story - Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf, well, President Obama says he would never hesitate to use military force to defend the homeland, U.S. allies or America's core interests, but Libya is different.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Out of the fog of war in Libya, comes the Obama Doctrine, when and why President Barack Obama says the U.S. should take military action.

OBAMA: Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.

DOUGHERTY: Libya was no threat to the U.S., but its leader was a threat to his own people, and that's Obama's rule number one. Act when interests and values are at stake and try diplomacy before military force.

OBAMA: We have been joined by a strong and growing coalition.

DOUGHERTY: Act with the international community, Mr. Obama says, and share the risk and the cost.

OBAMA: The burden of action should not be America's alone.

DOUGHERTY: But the Obama doctrine is doesn't cut it with some, including conservative analyst James Carafano.

JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: In the case of Libya, I think it's a failure.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): Starts here.

CARAFANO: Right. Because, you know, first of all, the only reason anybody went along with the United States is because we have the hard power to back it up.

DOUGHERTY: It did bring international countries together, including the Arabs. They have accomplished what they wanted to do in about a week.

CARAFANO: You just described Gulf War One. We had a coalition. We had international support. We had Arabs on our side. We had a no- fly zone, and the guy was there for years, and then we had to fight a war with him anyway.

DOUGHERTY: How do you apply the Obama doctrine, on would it work to Syria?

CARAFANO: You can't. There's a reason. There's a line there, a line there, a line there. What happens in Syria is really in the interest of Iran.

Turkey has a real interest and Israel has a real interest and those countries are not going to sit by and allow the international community to determine how their interest is going to play out. That's going to turn out to be a plain old-fashioned power struggle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Now on Syria, the Obama administration is using so far words not military action. There's a crackdown on demonstrators, but the Syrian president has taken some steps towards reform.

In Yemen, protesters want President Saleh to go, but he's helped the U.S. in the fight against al Qaeda, and in Bahrain, the U.S. is pushing for reform, but not too hard. After all, it's home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet -- Wolf .

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, thanks very much, Jill, for that explanation of the Obama doctrine as we're calling it. The internet helped fuel the revolution sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. But get this, American companies are helping to censor some key sites. What's going on? That story is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Joining us now for the "Strategy Session," two CNN political contributors. The Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin, they're both here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Guys, thanks very much. Is the president of the United States right when he says non-military force should be used to get rid of Gadhafi?

MARY MATALIN, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He's confusing. I mean, the public wants to support their commander in chief, but this Libyan mission suggests no clarity of mission or consistency of mission.

The Obama Doctrine is no doctrine. It's situational, and that's what's confusing, and you can't -- if your goal is regime change, then you can't take anything off the table, which when he says without force then he's taking a big element off the table.

BLITZER: He says he wants to get rid of Gadhafi, but the military mission is designed to protect the civilians and enforce the no-fly zone. Other non-military action could be used to get rid of Gadhafi down the road.

DONNA BRAZILE, NATIONALLY SYNDICATED COLUMNIST AND AUTHOR: I think the most successful regime changes have occurred when we've seen the people themselves rise up and to take control of their own destiny. The president has been not only consistent.

He has informed the American people every step of the way and in less than 30 days, what we've been able to see is that we stopped Gadhafi from massacring his own people. We've been able to impose a no-fly zone.

We've frozen the Gadhafi family assets, $30 billion, and we've done a lot more behind the scenes to get the Libyan rebels up to speed so that they can protect their own turf.

BLITZER: It is oppressive when you have an international coalition, like the first President Bush had, going into the first war to liberate Kuwait, when you have Arab countries, European countries, the whole world basically aligned against the dictator in that particular case, Saddam Hussein.

MATALIN: Why not the dictator in Syria? Why not the dictator in Iran? That's the -- that's the larger issue.

BLITZER: You would support that then, too?

MATALIN: I would and have supported a doctrine that is not situational ethics.

BLITZER: You want to use military force to get rid of Bashar al Assad or Ahmadinejad?

MATALIN: If you go in you have to go in to win and you have to have a clear exit strategy, and you have to have --

BLITZER: But they are not going into Syria and Iran. They are going into Libya.

MATALIN: What's the difference? You know this region better that most of these people who are in government today. What is the difference between Assad and Gadhafi? What is it?

Syria, we could argue for our interests, we have a greater strategic interest in Syria given its geography as Jill just pointed out, and its interaction with al Qaeda than we do in Libya.

BLITZER: The point being that if Bashar Assad or Ahmadinejad were on the verge of doing what Gadhafi was on the verge of doing in Benghazi, slaughtering tens of thousands of people, would the U.S., would the Obama Doctrine kick in then?

BRAZILE: Wolf, I mean, every situation is different. Every situation is unique, and if we saw the -- those leaders use their tanks to go up against their people to slaughter them, then I think the Obama Doctrine would apply to making sure that we had adequate multi-national support, especially with the Arab league.

Look, we're in Iraq, Afghanistan. We've been bombing Yemen. We've been using drone attacks in Pakistan. We have to make sure that whatever we do we support the people of those countries and not just try to take out people we disagree with or people who are bad actors.

BLITZER: I thought there was at least implicit criticism on this note when the president said the United States does not sit on the sideline, I'm paraphrasing and let people get slaughtered. During the Clinton administration and Bill Clinton himself acknowledges, the U.S. sat on the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda.

Even though he knew in the Oval Office what was going on. So when the president -- this president said that, the implicit criticism is never again will an American president just be sitting on his hands while people are being slaughtered.

BRAZILE: Seven hundred thousand people were at risk of being slaughtered from this madman.

MATALIN: But they are being slaughtered in Iran as we speak and Syria as we speak and Bahrain as we speak. What triggers it, the number being slaughtered? That's a (INAUDIBLE) value. We value each individual life. No clarity or consistency.

BRAZILE: We better be careful not to make this a war on Islam and taking out people we dislike in the region.

BLITZER: Hold your thought because we'll continue this conversation. BRAZILE: We're ready to come back.

BLITZER: Thank you. In Egypt, a major public relations campaign going on right now. The Muslim Brotherhood trying to change its image. How the group hopes to pull it off.

And Gadhafi's possible exit strategy. We have some new information on where potentially he could end up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Egypt is moving the forward with elections. The ruling military council says voters will choose members of parliament in September, But the vote for president will come after that. This amid deep concerns about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. CNN's Ivan Watson has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Egypt's Islamist politicians have an image problem. For years, this is how they've been depicted in the Egyptian media as fanatics armed with bomb belts and guns, waging war against the government.

Now that Hosni Mubarak is gone, some activists are trying to fix this. They invited the journalists to this conference organized by the youths of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's oldest and best organized Islamist political movement.

SARA MOHAMED, UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I'm so excited. It's the first time for us to have an announced conference for the Muslim Brotherhood at all.

WATSON (on camera): Ever?

MOHAMED: Yes, ever.

WATSON (voice-over): Members who once met in secret, now openly debating the future of their movement.

MOHAMED: It must be presenting the youth votes, women goals and their own goals to reach in why the parliament --

WATSON: And there are disagreements. This activist says younger members want a bigger say in the leadership of the movement, which he says was absent in the revolution in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

WALID EL HADAD, ACTIVIST: We were leading in Tahrir Square, but actually our leaders are in the offices and only hear what happens in the square. (INAUDIBLE)

WATSON: Despite some division, analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood won big when 18 million Egyptians voted in a historic referendum on constitutional reform on March 19th.

By a large margin, voters approved a fast track revision of the constitution that favors established groups like the Brotherhood over more secular groups struggling to get organized.

Some more radical clerics called it a victory for Islam. The people said yes to religion said this Salahid (ph) priest. Those who don't like it can leave Egypt with their American and Canadian visas, a thousand goodbyes. Senior Brotherhood leaders have denounced such statements.

DR. IBRAHIM ZAFARANI, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (through translation): Radical groups that may use violence have surfaced in this atmosphere of freedom after the revolution. This distorts the image of Islam.

WATSON: But the referendum taught Egypt's young secular revolutionaries a valuable lesson.

(on camera): Could you win an election tomorrow?

MOHAMAD TAMAN, ACTIVIST: For us? No. For the next parliament elections, we are sure that we are not be able to be ready.

WATSON (voice-over): The Muslim Brotherhood has been part of Egyptian life since 1928 and is battle hardened by decades of repression. Pro-democracy activists are struggling to maintain the momentum of Tahrir Square.

They could barely get a thousand demonstrators to this recent protest. With six months before parliamentary elections, Egypt's secular groups have a lot of catching up to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: Now, Wolf, I can't stress enough how much Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country is in uncharted territory right now. The political landscape rapidly shifting and even the Muslim Brotherhood, which is such a disciplined movement it has yet to register a political party yet officially with the interim government.

And there's an awful lot of speculation that some of the divisions within, between the elders and the youth, for example, could lead to splinter parties coming off of that movement. That's something we'll have to watch very closely in the weeks and months ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Egypt very much a work in progress. Ivan, thanks very much. Ivan in Cairo.

Egypt and other Middle Eastern uprisings started on social media sites. Now we're learning some of the governments tried cracking down on the internet with the help of American companies. Standby for that report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are indications American companies maybe helping sensor the growing cries for democracy sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Mary Snow explains. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, when you think of software filters, one common one is software a parent may use to filter out pornography websites on their home computer.

That kind of filtering technology according to a new report is being used by governments in the Middle East and North Africa to sensor political and social media sites, and some of the technology is made by American companies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Social media sites have fanned the flames of revolution in countries like Egypt as government's crackdown by shutting off the internet. Now a new report finds technology made in the U.S. and Canada is helping the regimes in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa to limit online access.

Jillian York worked with researchers at Harvard and the University of Toronto who found nine state sensors using western technology.

JILLIAN YORK, OPENNET INITIATIVE: It makes it a lot easier for them to block political content in social media sites. We have seen in some places an increase in filtering over the past few months.

SNOW: Among the findings, internet service providers for Yemen, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates used filters by Netsweeper, a Canadian company. A spokesman for Netsweeper told us the company isn't commenting at this time.

Yemen was using technology made by San Diego based Websense as late August but it's since been disabled. That's despite the company's policy against government-imposed censorship. The company told us its policy is strict and that Websense has disabled the product where we learned of customer use that is contrary to our policy.

The report also finds that countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are using smart filter made by McAfee. A McAfee spokesman told us the company cannot disclose customer names. While western technology maybe aiding some censorship, the U.S. government is paying some non-profits to evade censors. Non-profits like the "Tour Project."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so right now, anyone - any web site I'm looking up looks like it comes from the Netherlands and (inaudible) because I'm sitting here in America.

SNOW: Andrew Loman leads researchers who's mission is to remain anonymous online.