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All U.S. Troops Out of Iraq by End of Year; Cain Introduces 9- 0-9 Plan; Can Herman Cain Win the Nomination?; Exotic Animals Escape in Ohio; One of the "Strangest" World Leaders is Dead
Aired October 22, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: After nearly nine years, an abrupt end to the United States military mission in Iraq. All American forces will now be home by the end of this year.
Also, the death of a dictator. New details of the final chaotic moments of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. How did he really die?
And Herman Cain surging in the polls, but can he win the Republican presidential nomination?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Today, I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over.
Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end.
But even as we mark this important milestone, we're also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It cost the United States a fortune in blood and treasure, thousands of American lives, hundreds of billions of dollars. But now after nearly nine years, the end of the Iraq War is in sight.
The United States and Iraq were unable to reach an agreement on immunity for U.S. forces going forward so President Obama is ordering all troops out of Iraq by the end of this year.
Our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian has more on the surprise announcement that came forward on Friday. And since then, a lot of people, Dan, have been wondering, why couldn't the Obama administration negotiate an agreement with the government in Baghdad, the government of Nuri al-Maliki that would have allowed some U.S. troops, maybe 3,000, 5,000, some U.S. personnel, one in as many as 15,000. What was - what was the stumbling block that prevented a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think that is a very important question that's being asked. Why in fact did the U.S. not want to keep more of a presence there past that 2011 deadline? And that is a question that will be asked over the next few days.
But I think at the heart of all of this - and you heard it in the president's statement on Friday when he started off is, that he was injecting politics into this. Pointing out that he made a promise back in 2008 when he was running for president that he would push to end the war in Iraq in a responsible way and now he's delivering on the promise.
The president very much touting his foreign policy credentials, pointing out that he was able to get Osama Bin Laden. Pointing out that things are moving forward in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. The president in very dramatic fashion pointing out what this will mean for the members of the Armed Services.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Here at home, the coming months will be another season of homecomings. Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: One of the big questions now is, will the Iraqis be able to handle their own security. And, Denis McDonough, the Deputy National Security Adviser, saying that they had a full review over a five to seven-month period. They do believe that in fact they can. But at the same time, there will be some four to 5,000 contractors on the ground to assist.
Nonetheless, there are going to be challenges in this administration pointing that out. That there will be some tough times ahead. But that the U.S. will be certainly have Iraq in its interests. And the president pointing out that he has invited the Prime Minister here to Washington in December to continue the discussions - Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of - lots of fascination on what happens in 2012, 2013. Because, as you know, there's a lot of concern then that Iran strategically could win out of this entire situation. Dan Lothian at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's go over to the Pentagon right now. Our correspondent Chris Lawrence is standing by. Some Pentagon officials wanted to continue to maintain a presence there, 3,000, 5,000, maybe even 15,000 troops. Is there a significant disappointment where you are right now, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't call it significant exactly today, Wolf. If only because the signs have been out there for some time now that these negotiations were not progressing. That we have reported even as far back as a week ago that the immunity deal just simply could not be reconciled between the two sides.
And I want to piggyback on something you and Dan spoke with about Iran. Yes, I can understand the National Security Team and the White House painting this as a win. But if you look at the bigger context and what defense officials have said over this past year, you know, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said in July that the U.S. had forensic evidence that Shiite Militias were using Iranian-made weapons.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called them a tremendous concern. And his predecessor Robert Gates even went so far as to say that most U.S. troops who were being killed in Iraq were being killed by sophisticated and powerful weapons from Iran.
Well, if you've got your senior leadership making the case that Iran has exerted tremendous influence in Iraq with tens of thousands of American troops there, how can you then sell this as a win by saying that influence will be diminished when all those troops are gone - Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a good question. That's a good point. And a lot of uncertainty in 2012, 2013. Chris, thanks very much.
Let's go to the Middle East right now. CNN's Arwa Damon is standing by. Arwa, you were there from the very beginning, March, 2003. You've seen what's happened in Baghdad, elsewhere in Iraq. All these years later, give us a thought as you - as you see this new chapter about to begin in Iraq.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I really just think it's another chapter of the Iraq tragedy that is in fact unfolding and I say that based on the example of what has happened or rather not happened over the last year.
In the last year, the Iraqi government has failed to fully form. Security has absolutely not improved. Basic services have not improved. If anything there is a growing discussion amongst many Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, about the reemergence of old sectarian tensions. There are great concerns that the Maliki government is really acting as a dictatorship that is trying to pretend that it is a democracy.
And so many Iraqis, especially in the central parts of the country are much less optimistic about their future right now than they were a year ago. It's very, very bleak, Wolf.
BLITZER: What does this say to you that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki couldn't get enough support to work out some sort of status of forces agreement with the United States that would have allowed some U.S. troops to remain as trainers, advisers, I'm specifically referring to the influence of Iran in the government of Iraq.
DAMON: Well, when it comes to the sticking point during those negotiations that failed, that was the issue of immunity and that is actually something that all Iraqis would agree on. They do not want to see immunity for U.S. troops just because of the past history.
The number escalation of force incidents where Iraqis were shot at checkpoints during raids, innocent victims. They will also go back to the Blackwater incident that the Iraqis will quite simply call a massacre. And that for them is unacceptable.
But one also has to remember that radical Shiite Cleric Muqtada al- Sadr issued a very, very stern threat. He's quite simply said that if the U.S. military extended beyond this deadline, he would reactivate his Mehdi (ph) militia and they would make it their mission to target these American forces. This is something that the Maliki government, the prime minister himself, most certainly was taking into calculations. That shows you his influence.
That also shows you Iran's influence. Because at the end of the day, it was Iran that pushed the Sadr's (ph) block and the Maliki block together to form the government that we have right now. Many people will look at this right now and they will say that the U.S. has effectively handed Iraq to Iran already.
BLITZER: And I know there's a lot of U.S. officials here and others are very concerned that in recent months the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki including the prime minister himself effectively have sided with the Bassar al-Assad, the president of Syria in the face of the turmoil that's going on in Syria. Aligning Iraq for all practical purposes with the stance of Iran in support of Bashar al-Assad.
I know that's a source of great concern. But as someone who has watched the situation in Syria unfold, give me your thought.
DAMON: Well, it most certainly is a clear example of just how much influence Iraq -Iran actually does exert over Iraq, because Maliki has been very firm in saying that the Syrian president needs to be given a chance to reform. He most he certainly has not been siding along with the pro-democracy activists, which is quite ironic when we think about the history and everything that has taken place and transpired in Iraq itself.
And one also has to look at how the Maliki government has dealt with the demonstrations inside Iraq itself. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, activists themselves have all issued reports as to how the Iraqi government itself was using indiscriminate force to try to control the demonstrations happening within its own borders.
If we look at what's happening in the region, in the bigger picture with all of the Arab upheaval that's happening, all of these various revolutions, one sees a clear axis of countries siding on one or the other. When it comes to Syria, Iraq clearly has chosen to side with the Syrian government. Clearly chosen to take a stance against the U.S., against the West.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon, who spent an enormous amount of time over these many years in Iraq, knows the story as well as any journalist does. Arwa, thanks very, very much.
The death of Moammar Gadhafi for the first time in more than 40 years, Libyans are without the dictator and his shadow. We're checking with our correspondent on the ground.
Also, the Obama administration is pushing to sell thousands of U.S. government buildings. We get an exclusive look inside one of them.
Plus, Herman Cain, we have new details on his controversial 9-9-9 tax plan.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A stunning death and the climax of a long and bloody revolution. We're learning more about the final chaotic moments of the former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was killed this week in his home town of Sirte. Let's go straight to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's joining us in Tripoli.
I know they're still celebrating, a lot of Libyans right now. But walk us through what we know as of right now on the actual circumstances of Gadhafi's death.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does appear that there was some kind of an air strike on a convoy. A combination of French war planes and a U.S. predator drone on a convoy that was trying to break out of the Gadhafi-controlled quarter of his home town of Sirte. That convoy appeared to have been hit.
And then the aftermath, rebel ground forces engaged with people emerging from the convoy, including Gadhafi himself. Now this is where it gets murky. We've seen a number of videos emerging with Gadhafi bloodied and in the custody of these rebel fighters. He seems to be alive still. And then at some point, he starts appearing in these amateur cell phone videos and snap shots dead with bullet wounds to his torso and to his head.
The Transitional National Council here, the leadership, they say that he died in a subsequent crossfire caught between opposition and pro- Gadhafi forces. There are some questions raised whether he could have been summarily executed by the rebels who captured him. That's a claim that's been denied by the National Transitional Council, Wolf.
BLITZER: So in the weeks to come and months, I should say, looking ahead a little bit, Ivan, what's the prospect? What are the best - best estimates that you're hearing from folks there in Libya on the ground? Because there's certainly a lot of work that still has to be done.
WATSON: Absolutely. There actually is a road map in place that the current de facto leadership has signed on to. They're going to declare Liberation Day. And what that does is it starts a clock ticking. They've committed to within 90 days, establishing an electoral body, and some kind of an interim government, a new prime minister. And then within eight months, holding national elections.
And that's incredible when you consider that this is a country that doesn't have any political parties, no independent media. It barely had any civil society. And they're going to try to hold a national election in a country where nobody can remember voting in any election in recent living history.
BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the scene for us. We'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you.
The death of Gadhafi is certainly being praised around the world. But for families of those killed in the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing, the moment is still very bitter sweet.
Our National Correspondent Susan Candiotti has been following this part of the story. And I know you've been speaking with some of the family members, Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have.
You know, Moammar Gadhafi's demise gives a sense of relief and justice for some victims' familiar who lost loved ones when a bomb exploded Pan Am 103. It was a terro attack in 1988 that killed more Americans, nearly 200, than any other attack before 9/11.
For Brian Flynn, who lost his brother J.P. on that flight, Gadhafi's violent death helps fulfill a promise he made to himself and to his brother more than two decades ago.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): When you heard the news, what did you think?
BRIAN FLYNN, PAN AM 103 VICTIM'S BROTHER: I was thrilled. And I didn't expect to have that reaction. I had been dreaming about this for more than 20 years. But it was always with the sense that you don't want to be the vengeful one that thinks I want my brother's murderer killed, but in a way you do.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Flynn's big brother J.P. was coming home for Christmas after studying abroad when a bomb killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland.
(on camera): To you and to the other families, what did Gadhafi represent?
FLYNN: He was an unrepentant murderer of these innocent kids coming home for Christmas. So he did represent, you know, the essence of evil to us.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): We showed him video of Gadhafi's body for the first time.
FLYNN: It's too bad they couldn't kill him more than once.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): On a personal front, what are your reflections on this day about your brother?
FLYNN: I remember promising my brother that I wouldn't let it go unanswered. That I would do what I could to get him. I definitely believe that I've honored him and fulfilled my promise by doing what I could.
CANDIOTTI: You know, I look at his picture over your shoulder.
FLYNN: Yes. That's where he usually was, so it makes sense. He was a classic big brother. Even today I feel as if - hopefully he's proud.
CANDIOTTI: And Brian Flynn says he wants to thank both the Libyan people for bravely standing up to Gadhafi, and to apologize to them. Saying he wishes the U.S. had done more sooner to help bring down Gadhafi's dictatorship - Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Susan, thanks very much.
With Gadhafi's death comes the end of a contentious four-decade relationship with the United States. In 1986, Libya was implicated in the deadly nightclub bombing in West Berlin that left one American service member dead. It was then that President Reagan coined this now infamous term for the brutal dictator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, we know that this "Mad Dog of the Middle East" has a goal of a world revolution, Muslim fundamentalist revolution, which is targeted on many of his own Arab compatriots. And where we figure in that, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Reagan ordered the United States to bomb Libya and impose economic sanctions on the country.
Thousands of U.S. government buildings vacant for decades costing millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Just ahead, we have exclusive new information on what the White House is now planning to do about it.
Plus, he came from behind and made a dramatic surge to the front of the pack. Here's a question, though, is Herman Cain on his way to winning the Republican presidential nomination?
BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive. A new effort the Obama administration is taking on as part of its push to jump start the U.S. economy and it involves tens of thousands of U.S. government building that are costing American taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.
Let's bring in our own Lisa Sylvester. She's got details. Your investigation has come up with some pretty amazing stuff.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
There are actually 14,000 properties in the federal portfolio that are not being used and 55,000 building that are underused. The Obama administration wants to get some of these off their books and we have an exclusive look inside one of those buildings.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): This building in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. used to be a heating plant for the federal government. But for the last decade, it's been vacant. It's one of tens of thousands of excess of underutilized federal government properties.
KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: So a place like this could be easily converted into a residential development.
SYLVESTER: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is eager to see this building sold off. It's part of the larger Obama administration initiative to cut waste and net $3 billion in savings by 2012.
SALAZAR: That surplus property had basically stacked up all across the nation. And what the president has said is we're not going to do that anymore. We're going to make sure that we get all this extra property out there on the market so that it becomes part of our economic recovery.
SYLVESTER (on camera): This particular building had costs about $350,000 just to maintain. That's for keeping the lights on and for paying security. You can do the math. It's been sitting vacant for 10 years. That's more than $3 million of wasted taxpayer money.
(voice-over): The administration is asking Congress to set up a special board comprised of private and public members to identify other federal properties that the government no longer needs. Similar to commissions set up to close military bases.
Jeffrey Zients, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget estimates the government could raise $15 billion in the first three years alone.
JEFFREY ZIENTS, DEPUTY OMB DIRECTOR: The idea is you put together bundles of properties, rather than dealing with properties one by one. One by one, you run into local political interests and red tape. When you bundle the properties for an up or down vote by Congress, you're able to move many properties at once.
SYLVESTER: Properties already up for sale can be found on an interactive map on the White House website. But there is the question of timing.
(on camera): Is now the time really to sell these properties or should you just wait and see down the line if the federal government might be able to get more money for it? I mean, the prices are depressed right now.
MARTHA JOHNSON, GSA ADMINISTRATOR: Yes, they are. I think for a property like this, and one of the reasons we're being very aggressive about it, is that it is in prime real estate.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): A valuable piece of real estate with a magnificent view of downtown D.C. in Northern Virginia that the federal government believes could fetch a high price even in the slow real estate market.
SYLVESTER: Legislation has been introduced in Congress to establish this type of committee that would be a civilian version of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The White House has also included this proposal in a list given to the Super Committee which has been tasked with cutting the budget deficit - Wolf.
BLITZER: Good, good report. Thanks very much. The government needs money. Deficits are exploding, as we all know.
SYLVESTER: One way to do it. Sell something.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
The end of the war in Iraq, the president promises all U.S. troops will be home for the holidays. We'll get reaction from Capitol Hill, and our expert, General Spider Marks, stand by.
Plus, dozens of exotic animals shot and killed. New details coming out about the tragedy in Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As commander-in-chief, ensuring the success of the strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities. Last year, I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq.
And to date, we've removed more than 100,000 troops. Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country's security. A few hours ago, I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. I reaffirmed the United States keeps its commitments.
He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward. So today, I can report that as promised accident the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president of the United States making the dramatic announcement on Friday that all U.S. troops would in fact be out of Iraq by the end of this year. About 38,000 U.S. forces on the ground right now, but over the next two months or so, all will be coming home. Let's assess what's going on with Retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.
Spider, thanks very much for coming in. The president says the U.S. and Iraq that he and Nuri Al-Maliki are in full agreement on this.
But there were widespread reports, as you well know, that the U.S. wanted to negotiate a new status of forces agreement with Iraq that would have allowed 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground with full immunity from prosecution. The Iraqis said no.
MAJ. GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Wolf, so far, the status of forces agreement is an absolute must whenever you have boots on the ground whether it is a single soldier or a marine or a whole group, 150,000 at its height. Status of forces agreement is absolutely critical. You can't have a presence of U.S. military on the ground unless you have that.
BLITZER: It's nearly nine years, all U.S. troops in Iraq had that immunity. But now the prime minister of Iraq based on -- he says you won't get it anymore if you want to keep troops there.
MARKS: I can't believe for a minute that the president of the United States thought this was a good outcome. I truly can't.
BLITZER: Thought what was a good outcome?
MARKS: That the United States has to completely withdraw because we couldn't get a SOFA, of course, we need to have a SOFA agreement in order for soldiers to be there.
But if we could have achieved a SOFA, I guarantee you we would have had a presence on the ground in Iraq, which needed to be there. Of some size to allow the Iraqis continued help so they could grow their military.
You know, Wolf, it takes about eight to ten years to grow a non- commissioned officer. That is the back bone of every military. They, the Iraqis are not there yet. They need some more time.
BLITZER: They need some help.
MARKS: They do.
BLITZER: The U.S. will be able to train these Iraqi troops if they come to the U.S. bases in the United States. Of course, that's not a problem.
MARKS: No, of course, they could do that. And I would hazard a guess, and I have no inside scoop here, that the United States will still have a very large presence in Kuwait. We have a very good agreement and a very good relationship with Kuwait.
I would imagine that we'll have an over the horizon capability. So that if we could have training conducted there, that's a possibility. I'm guessing that's an outcome.
But clearly, what you want to be able to do is have soldiers and non- commissioned officers and their leaders to train in field exercises and to train in command post exercises on the ground where they live and where they work. You want to be able to do that in Iraq. That's gone.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, some U.S. military central command, which oversees this entire region didn't want just 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq, they want 15,000 or so to remain there to underscore this U.S. military presence in the face of potential advantage that the Iranians, their next door neighbor, are seeking.
MARKS: Take it to the next level. At the strategic level, Iran is the influencer in the region. It is now very, very apparent. Baghdad has made a decision not to align itself with the United States and with the west.
They clearly are looking to Tehran. Now you bring it down. What does that mean in terms of their ability to respond? What is going to happen as we move down the road? What type of conditions have we created?
If the United States had some presence on the ground, it needed also to have the ability to respond in case there was some type of military action. You would never want to put any one of our trainers, any one of our intelligence folks, any medical support at any type of risk.
You need to have a presence. You need to have enough of a stance so you can do something about it.
BLITZER: The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest U.S. embassy in the world, thousands of diplomats. There will still be private contractors who will be assigned to the embassy who presumably will be able to help the Iraqi military, is that right?
MARKS: Very true, but let's take it down to a very specific example. Within the embassy, there will be a military presence.
BLITZER: U.S. Marines who guard the embassy.
MARKS: But there's also a defense attache, architecture that's in place. There's going to be some form of a military representational --
BLITZER: But those are diplomats, they have diplomatic immunity. That's different than military immunity.
MARKS: But they are soldiers, is my point. The United States of America cannot afford to have any form of a military individual without the immunity and the protections provided by SOFA.
BLITZER: So the U.S. military presence in that region, as you point out, in Kuwait there is a robust military presence. In Qatar, there's a U.S. military presence not that far away from Kuwait. Bahrain, even, despite all the problems we've seen. The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet still headquartered in Bahrain. So the U.S. does have a presence there. But it's another thing for the U.S. to completely be out of Iraq.
MARKS: Completely concur with you. It's a strategic mistake. The individual soldier is fine with that decision. He and she will salute and they'll gladly go back home. That's a good outcome for them.
And they'll continue their responsibilities in terms of maintaining readiness and being prepared for that next mission, wherever it is. At the strategic level, we've made a mistake. We've handed this over to the Iranians in terms of influence.
BLITZER: So a year from now, five years from now, if we look at that region, will Iraq for all practical purposes be aligned with Iran and maybe even with Syria?
MARKS: Every reason to believe that that is a real possible outcome. Now we've never opportunity a very good job of predicting the future. So hopefully, that won't be an outcome. But hope is never a methodology.
The only way you do anything is you have the ability to do something. Right now, we've abdicated that to the Iranians. We're letting the Iraqis do that. They cheered their liberation when Iraq was liberated back in 2003. They now scorn their liberators. I think it is a big mistake.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about the next two months, the withdrawal itself. Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq. Is there any danger in this kind of withdrawal? Because in the past, we've heard that the U.S. troop presence goes down and down and down, there's less security for those who were still there.
MARKS: Yes, the security will be maintained. It is certain is a period of vulnerability. You have a huge amount of moving parts. So clearly, there's a physical concern. You've got to take care to make sure that's done exceptionally well.
That's all about physics and very well planned matrices in terms of how that occurs. But you can be very exposed at that time because you're thinking about leaving the area of operations. And you let your guard down. You can't let that happen until the mission is complete.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, there are still 100,000 or so U.S. troops in Afghanistan and they're scheduled to stay there through the end of 2014, which is another three years. So still U.S. military personnel working hard in that part of the world. General Marks, thanks very much for coming in.
MARKS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain sent mixed messages this week on whether he would free a terror suspect to win the freedom of a U.S. soldier. We'll talk about whether Herman Cain can actually win the Republican presidential nomination.
And a residential community turned into a jungle. Behind the drama and the danger when dozens of wild animals escaped in Ohio this week.
BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is changing his 9-9-9 plan a bit with a backdrop of economically depressed Detroit. Cain said those who fall at or below the poverty level would have a 9-0-9 plan. The 9-9-9 proposal you may recall replaces the current tax code with a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent income tax, and a new 9 percent national sales tax.
Opponents have argued that the middle part of the plan would increase taxes on the poor who currently pay little or no federal income tax. Cain says the new 9-0-9 plan would protect those individuals.
I had a chance to interview Herman Cain in Las Vegas this week and I asked him what he thought about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, freeing a thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of one Israeli soldier. Then I asked Herman Cain this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Can you imagine if you were president, we're almost out of time. And there were one American soldier who had been held for years and the demand was al Qaeda or some other terrorist group.
You've got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo. Could you see himself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer. But what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information. I got all of the input, considered all of the options and then the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I can make that call if I had to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Five hours later at the CNN debate, he had a different answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAIN: Let me say this first. I would have a policy that we do not negotiate with terrorists. We have to lay that principle down first. Now, being you have to look at each individual situation and consider all the facts.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: But you're saying, in your words, you said I could see myself authorizing that kind of a transfer. Isn't that negotiating with in this case, al Qaeda?
CAIN: I don't recall him saying that it was al Qaeda-related.
COOPER: Yes, he did.
CAIN: Well, my policy would be we cannot negotiate with terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Later, he told Anderson Cooper that he had misspoke during his interview with me earlier in the day. Let's discuss what's going on with our senior political analysts, Ron Brownstein.
And I guess, the fundamental question, Ron, a lot of folks are asking, he's doing remarkably well not only in the national polls but you look at the poll in Iowa and South Carolina. He looks like he is atop those polls. Can he actually win the Republican presidential nomination?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Probably not in the end. You know, the paradox of outsider candidates, is what makes they will so attractive on first blush is usually what makes people hesitant over the longer term.
Herman Cain is someone who is charismatic and dynamic. But as his answers to your questions and many others that he's faced in the last few weeks suggest, has not really spent a lot of time thinking about running for president or all of the issues that he would face as president.
And usually through sustained exposure, that comes out on the outsider candidates who diminish their appeal. Really, he is really part of a larger phenomenon, Wolf, which was the inability of the conservative Tea Party Evangelical half of the Republican Party to find one candidate they can settle on as their alternative to Mitt Romney.
We're really seeing them stifling through Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and now Herman Cain. It may roll back to Perry before it is over.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about Mitt Romney and Rick Perry right now at our CNN debate in Las Vegas. It got pretty exciting. They got very personal. Let me play you a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm speaking -- I'm speaking, I'm speaking, I'm speaking. You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here is that I get 60 second -
RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, but the merit --
ROMNEY: And then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?
PERRY: And they want to hear you say you --
ROMNEY: Would you please a wait? Are you going to keep talking? Are you going to let me finish? Look --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: No matter how many times I see that exchange. I don't remember a debate getting as intense. Do you remember a debate --
BROWNSTEIN: -- Brown and Bill Clinton in 1992 in Illinois. When Brown raced the law firm --
BLITZER: Were you surprised?
BROWNSTEIN: I was.
BLITZER: That Rick Perry came out swinging?
BROWSTEIN: Rick Perry needed this debate I think in retrospect. If he does recover and become a factor in the race again after really skidding, this will be seen as the debate where that marked the kind of turning of the tide for him back in to becoming a serious candidate.
I mean, part of the, he's really faced two problems. Perry emerged and quickly consolidated a lot of the right and then as quickly lost it mostly for two reasons. One was this criticism on his policy toward instate tuition for illegals, which opened up a vulnerability among conservatives.
Made them wonder if he was truly as much one of them as they believe, which by the way is the problem Cain may face on some issues. But the other question was the doubt that he had what it takes to really contest the general election against President Obama because of the weakness of his performance in those early debates.
So clearly going into this debate, they were hoping to address both of those issues. You will see them continue to try to reassure conservatives with the flat tax proposal coming out next week bringing back an issue from the 1990s.
BLITZER: Going with Steve Forbes on that issue is now apparently an adviser to Rick Perry on that. Let's talk about President Obama for a second. He's got a string of national security victories lately going back to May with the killing of Bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki.
This week Gadhafi dies in Libya. We don't exactly know which circumstances. He announces Friday that all U.S. troops are out of Iraq by the end of this year basically declaring victory. The U.S. mission in Iraq is over.
Politically speaking, any of this really going to resonate in the general election next year?
BROWSTEIN: Well, this definitely qualifies, I think you would agree, in the who would have thunk it category. A president only a few years out of the Illinois state Senate running for re-election, and all likelihood foreign policy will be an asset for him in this race.
I think most Americans will see most of this record as being strong. The problem is, as you suggest, that the economy is likely to completely overshadow all other issues. So at the margin, yes, this will help him. It will be a calling card. It will be a way for him to seem presidential next to the Republican nominees. But I think his fate will turn on whether voters believe he has a plan to lead us toward better times economically.
BLITZER: You have a great article in the new "National Journal," rocky territory about Colorado, right?
BROWNSTEIN: The entire mountain west, which has become, as you saw in this debate, increasingly contested terrain for both parties. You know, it used to be reliably Republican, but Obama in 2008, when Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
And because of his difficulty with older white voters who are concentrated in the Midwest. Those states are probably even more important for him in 2012 than 2008. The problem is that while they're a demographic trend that bends tornado the Democrats in all of those places.
When Democrats be in office, whether it's Bill Clinton in '94 or Barack Obama in 2010, they've had trouble holding support from voters in this region who tend to be suspicious of Washington. So Obama has more need for these states. It used to be a luxury for Democrats. Now it's becoming a necessity, but a little more of an uphill climb on that stony terrain.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dozens of wild animal shot dead after escaping an exotic preserve. Did the authorities do the right thing? We'll take to you a preserve right here in the Washington, D.C. area and try to get some answers.
BLITZER: It was truly a bizarre story. Dozens of wild animals were on the loose this week after escaping an exotic preserve and terrorizing residents in parts of Ohio.
In the end, many of them were shot dead by authorities. Our own Brian Todd visited an animal preserve right here in the D.C. area with animals like the ones in Ohio. It was a strange experience, I'm sure for you, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf. You know, the story just ratchets up the debate over whether exotic animals should be brought to preserve that are in some cases thousands of miles away from their natural habitats.
As we found out at a preserve near Washington, not all these facilities are alike.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): We pass within 10 feet of him in a golf cart. In a split second, Phoenix springs to his feet and begins stalking us. This 500-pound white Bengal tiger is similar to the one that was let out then killed outside the animal preserve in Ohio.
RICHARD HAHN, CATOCTIN WILDLIFE PRESERVE: Wild animals can't fend for themselves in this environment. This is not their jungle.
TODD: Richard Hahn, the director of the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve about 60 miles outside Washington. He's been here 45 years and now oversees a compound covering 50 acres with some 600 animals, many of them exotics.
He has got tigers, timberwolves, lions, mountain lions, many of the same breeds that were sprung in Ohio.
(on camera): Which of those animals are the most dangerous to the community and why?
HAHN: Probably the big cats. The big cats are faster. They're like a house cat, you know, a house cat has instincts to go after anything that runs from it.
TODD (voice-over): Hahn said as much as it breaks his heart, he thinks the authorities in Ohio did the right thing putting down the Bengal tiger there. He says the tranquillizer police tried to shoot it with probably wasn't powerful enough and likely got the tiger more agitated.
(on camera): This is a little baby alligator about 2 or 3 years old. They have 19 alligators here in this preserve, maybe one of his parents down there. The fact that this preserve and others like it keep these animals, raises the debate about whether animal like this should be brought to preserves like this.
(voice-over): Hahn has taken in several animals that were in dire need of care. Like this bald eagle injured by a car. He said the vast majority of his animal came from zoos or pet owners, but it is an argument he's used to.
TODD (on camera): Many people feel that reptiles like, this predators, should never be brought to a place like this or a preserve in Ohio. What do you say to that?
HAHN: Well, unfortunately, bringing them to a preserve like this is probably one of the better choices. These animals were originally sold as pets. And they grew too fast, too big for someone who had them and then they have to go someplace.
TODD: Hahn said some animals are better off at places like his than even in their natural habitats. He points to tigers, which are fast becoming extinct in their environments places like northern China, Russia and India where the trade in their body parts is still very lucrative, Wolf. BLITZER: And Brian, it is not very cheap to maintain animals in exotic locations.
TODD: Not at all. It is expensive to do it right. At this place, the Catoctin Preserve, it costs them about $100,000 just to feed these animals every year. That tiger that we showed you goes through 30 pounds of meat in a day, not very cheap, not very reasonable if you're going to do it right.
BLITZER: But there are places like this all over the country.
TODD: There are and they're popular.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. A brutal dictator with some really bizarre habits. We're going hear from someone who met Moammar Gadhafi in his tent.
BLITZER: Moammar Gadhafi was known for his cruelty and for some pretty bizarre behavior and habits. CNN's Jonathan Mann had a chance to sit down with the now deceased Libyan leader a few years back. Take a look at this.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was the strangest head of state I've ever met. Moammar Gadhafi received me several years ago for an interview in a large tent in Tripoli, a then-quiet port city where just about every billboard and sign was painted with his picture.
Ronald Reagan once called him a mad dog and Gadhafi's behavior was indeed particular. He was famous for his flamboyant dress, his legion of female body guards, and his bizarre fixations, such as a plan to abolish Switzerland.
In person he seemed lethargic. His eyes even behind sunglasses seemed unfocused. His answers through a translator seemed rambling. We never saw the female body guards and his clothing was relatively low- key.
A camouflage shirt festooned with maps of Africa. But that fly whisk never stopped flying. Libya today is in transition. Its revolution has triumphed and its people are demanding democracy. But when I brought up democracy, he threatened to sue me for slander.
If you or somebody else says Libya is not a democracy, he told us, then it would be considered an insult and maybe we could go to court to redeem honor from that insult.
Back then, Libya was a rogue state trying to redeem itself. It had surrendered its most dangerous weapons to the west. It was trying to open its economy to the world. Its leader was the wild card, the unpredictable element. Now he's gone and Libya's future is the big unknown. Jonathan Mann, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Well, That's it for me. Thank you very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4 to 6 p.m Eastern, every Saturday at 6 p.m. Easter right here on CNN. At this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.