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THE SITUATION ROOM
Fears U.S. Troop Killer Will Go Free; Pres. Obama To Iran: Give Us The Drone; Lowe's Pulls Ads From Muslim-Focused Show; Fact-Checking Romney's Bet; Cloud of Fear Hangs Over Syrians; Newt Gingrich Pledges Marital Fidelity; Spy Drone Helps Nab U.S. Citizens
Aired December 12, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM happening now. A new honor for U.S. troops killed in Iraq.
A new outrage. This hour, it appears man held for the murder of five American soldiers may soon go free.
Also a new pledge by Newt Gingrich to be faithful to his wife and defend the family. The GOP frontrunner's marital history is at issue in Iowa just three weeks before the first presidential contest.
And U.S. spy drones that have changed modern warfare go local.
For the first time, unmanned aircraft like this one have helped police arrest Americans right here at home.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A handshake and promises to mark the end of eight controversial costly years of war. President Obama vowing the United States won't desert Iraq once all American forces leave by the end of this month. Today, he met with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, over at the White House, as U.S. troops worked to finish their withdraw within the next several days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're taking all of our troops out of Iraq. We will not have any bases inside of Iraq. We will have a strong diplomatic presence inside of Iraq.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): And today we meet in Washington, after we have completed the first page of a constructive cooperation in which we also thank you and appreciate you for your commitment to everything that you have committed yourself to. And anyone who observes the nature of the relationship between the two countries will say that the relationship will not end with the departure of the last American soldier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Since the war in Iraq began back in March 2003, more than 4,400 U.S. troops have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded.
A dangerous angle to the U.S. troop withdraw, a militant held in the killing of five American soldiers in Iraq -- yes, yes -- may soon walk free.
It's a story that our Brian Todd is covering in-depth.
And it's a pretty shocking story, indeed.
Tell our viewers who haven't been following this case, Brian, what is going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: well, Wolf, this was a well planned, very chilling attack back in 2007 -- five American soldiers murdered during kidnapping raid in Karbala, Iraq. The planner of that attack has been in custody for more than four years. And the Obama administration wants to keep him in American custody. But there's now a very real chance that he could slip away.
TODD: (voice-over): A somber wreath laying to honor America's fallen soldiers in Iraq. Behind the ceremony, the murders of five of those troops is a source of real tension now between President Obama, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and their governments.
Those soldiers were killed, U.S. officials say, in an attack planned by this man, Ali Musa Daqduq, the last detainee held by U.S. forces in Iraq. He's been in custody for nearly five years. But with America's military presence ending by the end of December, he may soon go free without trial -- a predicament that outrages Republican senators like Charles Grassley.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This guy is a very, very bad guy.
He's involved with killing five American soldiers. He's an enemy combatant.
TODD: Daqduq, the U.S. government insists, is a long time operative for Hezbollah, a terrorist group with ties to Iran. U.S. intelligence officials say he admitted to working with Iran's Quds Force, which sponsors attacks against Western targets.
In January, 2007, U.S. officials say Daqduq planned a daring kidnapping mission at a U.S. base in Karbala, Iraq, which led to the murders of the five Americans.
Analyst Douglas Ollivant, a U.S. officer in Iraq at the time, says when the Americans captured Daqduq later, he proved not only dangerous, but cunning.
LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT (RET.), NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: And he pretended for a long time he was mute and couldn't speak, because he knew his Lebanese accent would give him away. So he pretended he was mute and -- and a little mentally disabled for a long while to try to convince us that he wasn't someone we should be interested in.
TODD: Senator Grassley and other Republicans have been pressuring the Obama administration to keep Daqduq in U.S. custody and take him to Guantanamo for a military trial. But that would undermine Iraq's sovereignty and potentially undercut the U.S. relationship with Iraq at a crucial time.
With U.S. forces withdrawing, if no deal is reached, the Americans would have to hand him over to the Iraqis. If that happens, the Iraqis could put him through their court system.
But Douglas Ollivant says Nouri al-Maliki's government, under pressure at home and from Iran, could eventually hand Daqduq over to Iran, which would likely free him. Then...
(on camera): Could he attack U.S. interests, Israeli interests?
OLLIVANT: If he's handed over -- if he is handed back over to Iran, I will be shocked if he does not end up working, whether directly for the Quds force or for Hezbollah, against U.S. or Israeli or other Western targets.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: We tried to get Iraqi officials to tell us if they would allow the U.S. to keep Daqduq in custody and if they got him, what they would do with him. They never responded.
On the record, the U.S. government will only say that negotiations with the Iraqi government over this matter are continuing. But one senior official told us, quote, "We certainly hope he remains in custody and faces justice. He remains a very dangerous individual" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Daqduq, he was involved in other attacks, as well, not just the murder of these five American soldiers.
TODD: That's right. U.S. officials say that through that Iran's Qud -- Quds Force, that force in Iran that is so notorious, he trained militants on the use of IEDs, the roadside bombs. So there's really no telling how many Americans he may have had a hand in killing even before that incident in Karbala in 2007.
BLITZER: I can only imagine, Brian -- I don't know if you got in touch with them -- the families of the American soldiers, when they hear that this guy who killed their loved ones in Iraq...
BLITZER: -- might be released -- first of all, that the U.S. would hand him over to Iraqis and then the Iraqis could hand him over to Iran and he's be a free man. I can only imagine how much they -- how -- how they must be reacting.
TODD: it's -- it's going to be very, very upsetting to them, clearly. The Obama administration may have its hands tied here a little bit, if they cannot reach this deal in time to do something with him. They may not have much of a choice. They were put in this place before they took office...
BLITZER: They could easily...
BLITZER: -- if they, if they had the guts to do it, they could just say, we're moving him to Guantanamo or Fort Bragg or someplace else.
TODD: True. They could do that. It would really harm U.S.- Iraqi relations now, at a very crucial time. And going forward...
BLITZER: But don't the Iraqis understand that this guy masterminded the killing five American soldiers...
TODD: they do. They clearly do. There's -- there is one option, that they may be able to put -- put him in Iraqi custody for some time. And that may be an option that the Iraqis would -- would deal with.
But again, they -- they're -- they've had other people in their custody before. They've somehow gotten through the system and gotten away. It's just a...
BLITZER: It's pretty outrageous.
TODD: -- it is disturbing.
BLITZER: All right, Brian.
Thanks very much.
We'll stay on top of this story.
There are quite a few a reasons to be concerned about the future of Iraq. We have more in-depth coverage of the U.S. withdrawal.
CNN's Arwa Damon is joining us now from Baghdad -- Arwa, does it surprise you to hear that Iraq might, when all is said and done, if they get this guy back, give this Hezbollah affiliated killer of U.S. troops to Iran?
How unrealistic is that?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: well, Wolf, we just have to look at recent history that has seen the Iraqis set free individuals who have directly been involved in attacks, the U.S. military says, against its own forces.
Let's just go back to that attack that we were hearing about just a short while ago, the Karbala attack from 2007. It was not just orchestrated by Daqduq. He also had the help of one of the Shia special groups, again, directly backed by the Iranian Quds Force. Two of Ali Musa Daqduq senior operatives, two brothers, Qais and Laith Khazali, were both released from U.S. custody over to the Iraqis. Both of them, Wolf, were then let go under the umbrella of national reconciliation.
One of them, it is widely believed, was let go in exchange for one British hostage, Peter Moore, who was held for around two and a half years. So you have that example right there.
Add to that, the U.S. Embassy has recently issued a warning to its employees and to Americans of a heightened kidnapping threat, a threat specifically coming from these Shia special groups. These groups are still very active in Iraq. And given the fact that it most certainly seems that this government is not going to take any measures to try to aggravate Iran at this stage, it does seem that Iran could possibly put enough pressure on it that should the Iraqis get their hands on Daqduq, we could very well see him go free.
BLITZER: Well, we know, Arwa, that Iran has enormous influence a lot -- on -- on some of these Shiite parties, these political parties affiliated with Nouri al-Maliki's government.
How powerful -- and you've been there from day one. You were there when the war started in March 2003 and you've covered it like no one else all of these years -- how influential is Iran in Iraq right now?
DAMON: It's fairly influential, Wolf. And some here in Iraq, some even members of the government and many analysts will tell you that the U.S. has effectively handed Iraq over to Iran.
That to one side, one must also consider the fact that the two countries do share a long border. There is a fair amount of economic trade that takes place. But Iran still has a fairly solid political and military grasp on Iraq in the sense that these special groups that it backs do still operate in this country.
Additionally, the Iraqi government is quite open when it says that it has to take its own national interests into consideration when it makes certain decisions. And the Iraqi government quite clearly, at this point in time, has decided that it is in its own best national interests to continue to maintain these very close ties with Iran.
This is something the U.S. military and the U.S. administration are very concerned about. They're going to wait and see exactly how Iran decides it play its cards.
Is it going to use these Shia-backed special groups, various other elements that it has operating in this country, to try to expert pressure or to try to perhaps instigate acts of violence as the country tries to move forward without the U.S. military's presence here.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us, doing a tremendous job.
Arwa, thanks very much.
Later this hour, I'll be speaking with Fouad Ajami, the Middle East scholar. We'll go in-depth on this part of the story.
Also, check out my blog, CNN.com/situationroom. I write why I'm deeply concerned about the future of Iraq right now, despite all the optimistic statements we heard from President Obama and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki over at the White House today.
Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How much money does it take it make you rich?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
A new Gallup Poll shows more than half of Americans, 53 percent, say they'd consider themselves rich if they made $150,000 a year.
At the other end of the spectrum, 15 percent of those polled say they'd need to earn at least a million dollars a year before they thought of themselves as rich.
The poll also finds higher estimates for what makes you rich among men, younger Americans, college graduates, people living in urban and suburban areas and parents of minor children.
In a separate question, half of Americans say at least $1 million in net worth would make them rich. That includes savings, real estate, investments, etc.
But it's a far cry from what most people have in the bank. According to the Census Bureau, the median annual household income in this country is about $50,000 a year. And income inequality is skyrocketing. It's estimated between 1979 and 2007, the incomes of poorest Americans grew by only 20 percent. At same time, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans jumped by 275 percent.
No coincidence that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is targeting this top 1 percent. And most Americans agree that rich, including those who make more than $250,000 a year, should be taxed more.
But are higher taxes the only answer to growing income inequality?
Here's the question -- what's the best way to restore some balance between the rich and the poor in this country?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
It could be a $10,000 mistake -- Mitt Romney being ridiculed for offering a bet to one of his opponents.
Could have he have won the wager, though?
And after two failed marriages, Newt Gingrich is making amends to Christian conservatives.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is doing some fact checking for us. Lisa, what are you finding out?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think people were just so shocked by the notion of a $10,000 bet that the substance of the wager seems to have been lost. The issue is over whether Romney in his book abdicated a national healthcare mandate. Perry declined the bet which was a good move for Perry in more ways than one.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's the bet heard around the world.
GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm just saying. You're for individual mandates, my friend.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what, you've raised that before, Rick.
PERRY: It was true then and it is true now.
ROMNEY: Rick, I tell you what. 10,000 bucks. $10,000 bet.
PERRY: I'm not in the betting business, but I'll --
PERRY: I'll show you the book.
SYLVESTER: Mitt Romney's $10,000 bet only seemed to reinforce his rich guy label among some Iowans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a lot of money, so I guess, you know, he wants to bet $10,000, that's his prerogative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's going to hurt his campaign a little bit. Just a little bit, though.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The biggest bet I've ever made? $5.
SYLVESTER: But who would have won that bet between Romney and Perry. The nonpartisan group, factcheck.org says --
EUGENE KIELY, FACTCHECK.ORG: Rick Perry would have been wrong. He would have owed Mitt Romney $10,000. SYLVESTER: So, it turns out Romney was right. The issue is over Romney's book, no apology. The hard cover version has this wording. "It's portable, affordable health insurance. Something people have been talking about for decades. We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting the government take over healthcare."
The paperback which came out later excludes the line, "we can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country." Romney's critics say in his original version, he was calling for a federal individual mandate. But Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that affordable insurances goal, one that should be left up to the individual states.
ROMNEY: The Massachusetts plan was crafted for Massachusetts. For the needs of eight percent of our population that didn't insurance. Not for the 92 percent that did. Obamacare is a plan that takes over a hundred percent of the people in this country and their healthcare. And that's one of the reasons why people don't want it.
SYLVESTER: Perry's aim on the individual plan mandate was a little off. Still, he managed to knock Romney off message.
STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think if you're Mitt Romney, you can't afford to waste a day or two of discussion. And this is going to be a significant distraction over the next couple days. Everybody's going to do a story about it. This is what's going to be the buzz on the blogs and on the TV and the radio. So, that is a problem.
SYLVESTER (on-camera): Romney would have won the wager, but that bet may have cost him more. His Republican opponents are not the only ones having a field day with this one. Democrats are also slamming Romney. Romney already has it shake off his image of being a Wall Street guy. You know, his asset totals between 190 million and $250 million. He's just clearly the richest candidate out there in the GOP field.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Good report. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.
In three weeks and one day, the Republican presidential candidates will face off in the first test that counts. We're talking about the Iowa caucuses. Our own John King is anchoring his show from Iowa all of this week. He's joining us now from Davenport. All right, John. Give us a little lay of the land over there. First of all, on this one $10,000 bet, how is it playing out in Iowa?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I just had lunch with three Republican voters and none of them brought it up. They did say they were watching debates. They are aware of it, but they didn't bring it up as if, as you will, as a defining moment. But you do get the great sense out here that people are starting to tune in. It' a very different Iowa campaign. Remember, Mike Huckabee was the surprise on the Republican side last time. It was Iowa where Barack Obama proved he could defeat Hillary Clinton and John Edwards back in those days. This state having great deal of activity in 2008. It's been more quiet this year, and some Iowans say the bit of the character of the campaign, the retail politics of the campaign has slipped a bit.
The two guys atop the polls, there's another new one out today, are Gingrich and then Romney. They haven't been here as much as, say, Michele Bachmann or Senator Rick Santorum. They have been all over the state. Bachmann and Santorum doing it the old-fashioned way, and yet, the other candidates are leaning right now, but they're all due out here again for one more debate Thursday night.
Three weeks from tomorrow, 22 days from now, Iowa votes. Gingrich, I'll tell you this, you do pick up the Gingrich momentum and the Gingrich surge. It's not just in the polling as you pick it up in any conversation you have out here with the people. Will Iowa have a surprise, Wolf? That's why we're going to spend the week out here.
But at the moment, it is very clear you have a Gingrich surge. You have a decent level of Romney support. I'm in Scott County, Davenport. Romney actually carried this county last time in 2008, even though Huckabee won the state. And here's another thing. Ron Paul has a very energetic core base of support out here. Some people think he could surprise and win in Iowa. It's hard to see that happening, but he will be an impact, without a doubt.
BLITZER: because a lot of people think Ron Paul has got the best organization on the ground in Iowa. I guess, that's what -- you're probably seeing that. Is that right, John?
KING: Not only does he have an organization on the ground, they're very active on the internet and social media. Again, one of the questions this time, as every campaign, we learn more about the shift in campaign, technology, online organizing, online fund-raising. We're going to have on the show tonight, a unique look at how the social media here in Iowa and across the country was reacting to the big debate Saturday night.
You just played that $10,000 bet moment. We're going to show some interesting reaction on the social media it that. The campaign has changed some, but if you just walk the streets and people see you and recognize you, more often than not, when they run across the street, come out of their way to say hello to you, they tell you and guess what, Ron Paul is going to win here.
Will he win? We'll see in 22 days, but it's great to be out here on the ground in the state. The one thing you do sense, Wolf, 2006 and 2008, you could get the pro-democratic intensity gap. The Democrats had all the energy in 2006 and 2008. You could feel it here in Iowa. Come here this time, it is the Republicans who are fired up. Not only for the caucuses, they think they can take the state next November, too.
BLITZER: And you'll tell us later tonight, but the drums and the guitar as a whole music thing going on behind you.
KING: I'm joining a band.
BLITZER: We'll look forward to that. John, we'll see you later tonight right after the SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" coming up for our North American viewers.
A major home improvement stories being accused of being anti- Muslim. A reality TV show is at the center of a controversy.
And local police, they a suspect with spy technology usually reserve for the battlefield. Lots of news happening today right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, President Obama telling Iran, give the U.S. back that drone.
SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf. President Obama actually confirmed that the Iranians do have the drone that went down on Iran's side of the boarder. Iran's state news agency is showing video of what it says is the American drone and saying experts in the country are planning to copy its technology using reverse engineering.
Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also commented on the drone today saying, she does not expect the Iranians to give the equipment back.
Home improvement retailer, Lowe's, is being hammered by critics after it pulls spots from TLC's all-American Muslim show. The company said after getting strong feedback, it decided to pull advertising saying the program had become a lightning rod. A California state senator has asked Lowes to apologize and reinstate those ads.
Services were held this afternoon for the Virginia Tech police officer shot and killed on campus last week. Officer Derek Crouse was an army veteran and married, father of five. Family, friends, students, and Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, attended the service along with a large contingent of local officers.
And check out this new video. An Ohio prosecutor will consider filing criminal charges after an on-court brawl between Xavier and the University of Cincinnati basketball player. Look at this video. The fight began in the final minutes of Saturday night's game. Each school suspended four athletes over this incident. Brawl is definitely the word to describe that. Geez.
BLITZER: Not a good thing at all.
SYLVESTER: Yes, not good.
BLITZER: Not good for the universities, not good for the players, not good for the fans.
SYLVESTER: Just shouldn't happen, Wolf. Shouldn't happen.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Republican, Newt Gingrich, claims that Palestinians are, quote, "an invented people." We're going to discuss the backlash for his campaign and for his foreign policy if he's elected president.
And find out who would even consider building towers that look like the ones destroyed on 9/11.
BLITZER: Just getting this in. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights telling the United Nations security counsel in a close door briefing that now, more than 5,000 people, mostly peaceful protesters, have been killed by Syrian authorities over these past several months. The death toll now, above 5,000, according to the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
In Syria's home province, the sound of what said to be random shelling by Syrian security forces, continuing opposition forces say Damascus has warned people to stop antigovernment protests, turn in weapons, surrender military defectors or face more brutal attacks. The deadline is unclear, but a cloud of fear certainly hangs over the province.
Let's discuss what's going on in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Joining us, Professor Fouad Ajami, he's a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution and expert on the Middle East. I don't know what you think, Fouad, but how much longer can Bashar al Assad stay in power given what's going on?
FOUAD AJAMI, SR. FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, honestly, Wolf, I don't think there is a really clear answer to this. Bashar seems to defy the laws of gravity.
Every statesman who speaks about Syria prophesies the imminent end and the imminent demise of the Bashar al-Assad regime, but he grinds on. And, in fact, just as his father won, if you will, this terrible war in late '70s's and early '80s, in Hama, Bashar intends to win it in Homs.
And as you said in your lead, we are now talking well beyond 5,000 casualties. We are talking about 1,5000 who have perished in Homs alone, which has emerged as the epicenter of this revolution, mostly because it has a mixed population of Christians, Alawites and Sunnis.
BLITZER: I know a lot of American officials and outside experts are deeply disappointed that Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, so far has refused to go along with almost every other member of the Arab League, with the perception perhaps of Lebanon, in condemning Bashar al-Assad, imposing sanctions on the Syrian regime.
Listen to how President Obama, though, defended that decision today. I was pretty surprised to hear the president say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even if there are tactical disagreements between Iraq and the United States at this point in how to deal with Syria, I have absolutely no doubt that these decisions are being made based on what Prime Minister Maliki believes is best for Iraq, not based on considerations of what Iran would like to see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, we know that Iran has a lot at stake in Syria, but give me your thought when you heard the president say that.
AJAMI: Wolf, I don't think this was one of the president's finest moments, because, in fact, it's not even just about Iran and Iran's desires in Syria. I mean, you, yourself, wrote an excellent blog on Iraq, and I could take one point from it. It's really the matter of Syria for the Maliki government, and for Nouri al-Maliki personally.
Nouri al-Maliki is being sectarian. He does not want to see the triumph of the Sunnis, the Sunni majority in Syria, and the fall of the Alawite (ph) regime. He is completely thinking in sectarian terms. And these are not tactical differences. In fact, the Iraqis have thrown their lot with the Syrians, and I think the Maliki government has made an unfortunate choice.
BLITZER: You know, I don't know if you saw our report at the top of this hour on this.
BLITZER: A Hezbollah terrorist who was arrested by U.S. authorities in Iraq in 2007 for murdering five American soldiers, he's been held by U.S. military personnel in Iraq over all of these years. But potentially, in the coming days, he's going to be handed over to the Iraqis, and then the Iraqis might just let him go back to Iran, to Hezbollah.
I mean, what does this say about what's going on right now?
AJAMI: Well, I think it tells us that Iraq has become in some way a big American disappointment. And again, I return to this blog that you wrote.
This (INAUDIBLE), this Hezbollah member, we should take him with us. He is an American prisoner. He killed American soldiers. And if we think that somehow or another, that we hand him over to the Iraqis and they shall keep him, I think we will be disappointed.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick thought on Newt Gingrich, what he said the other day about the Palestinians being an invented people, if you will. And I just want our viewers to know, I studied Middle East history under Professor Fouad Ajami at Johns Hopkins University, so he is a real authority on this subject.
I'll play the clip of how Newt Gingrich defended his controversial comments. I'm anxious for to you weigh in, Fouad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who are historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons, we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s. And I think it's tragic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he doubled down at the debate Saturday night on this, not moving away at all.
What do you think when you heard that?
AJAMI: Well, you know, Wolf, I think you know Israel, and I know Israel, and I think Israelis themselves reject the Newt Gingrich argument. They don't want that kind of gift.
And the argument made by Newt Gingrich that the Palestinians are an invented people, Newt Gingrich prides himself on being a historian. I have got some news for him. There are a whole series of books called "The Invention of France," "The Invention of Argentina." All nation states in the world are invented.
In fact, there is a whole tradition of studying history that way, how states are put together and how their identity is invented in the political world. Anyway, we know that Newt Gingrich is a good debater. I think presidency is about temperament, it's about being careful, it's about avoiding saying things that are volatile and that are offensive, and I think this was not a very good moment for him either.
BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, as usual, thanks very much.
AJAMI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich also trying to put his rocky marital past behind him. Will Evangelical Christians buy his promises of fidelity?
And another shot of controversy surrounding those U.S. spy drones. Local police in the United States are now using them to track down suspects. That's raising some red flags. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A new defection from Jon Huntsman's presidential bid. One of his early supporters in New Hampshire says he's backing Newt Gingrich instead. The former state official Richard Brothers (ph) says Huntsman's campaign in the leadoff primary state is being mismanaged. Huntsman's camp denies that. The former U.S. ambassador to China is concentrating his campaign on New Hampshire, but has only single-digit support in various state polls.
A new move today by Newt Gingrich to try to appeal to Evangelical Christians in Iowa. He pledged in writing to defend the institution of marriage and be faithful to his wife. Gingrich's record on that subject has been giving his opponents some ammunition.
Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns. He's taking a closer look -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Newt Gingrich today signaled his support for a controversial pledge written by a conservative group that, for starters, wants to deny marriage to same-sex couples. Gingrich didn't actually sign the pledge, but he sent out a document spelling out his positions, which can all be seen as outreach to skeptical voters who could influence the caucuses.
JOHNS (voice-over): He's been married three times, admitted to adultery, and is still trying to get right with social conservatives. Newt Gingrich just released a copy of a letter affirming his general support for a pledge relating to marriage written by an Iowa organization. The marriage pledge has already been signed by Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.
Gingrich's letter pledged generally to support fidelity to his spouse, respect for the marital vows of others, and to oppose redefining of marriage by the government or the courts. The marriage vow is a pledge to do what Bob Vander Plaats and the socially conservative Family Leader Organization in Iowa expect of the candidates. But it doesn't mean Gingrich is going to get the organization's endorsement. At least not yet, anyway.
BOB VANDER PLAATS, THE FAMILY LEADER: Absolutely not. What we did is that we narrowed the field to four, to Speaker Gingrich, to Congresswoman Bachmann and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Rick Perry, and that's where it stands yet today. We're going to get through one more debate this Thursday night in Sioux City, and then I think our board is going to reassess where things are at and whether we endorse or not endorse. And if we choose to endorse, who we will endorse. This doesn't mean that Speaker Gingrich has our endorsement by any means.
JOHNS: As recently as last weekend's debate, Gingrich took some heat for his past.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have always kind of been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner. So I think that issue of fidelity is important.
JOHNS: Richard Land of the influential Southern Baptist Convention wrote about two weeks ago that he had sat in on about 200 focus groups with Evangelicals and said Gingrich has a problem with Evangelical woman. Land wrote that two-thirds of Evangelical women don't trust the former Speaker. Those we spoke with said they all believe in forgiveness of sin, but that doesn't mean they have to support the repentant Speaker or his run for president.
Still, CNN.com's Dan Gilgoff says Gingrich is making progress with Evangelical leaders.
DAN GILGOFF, RELIGION EDITOR, CNN.COM: What was really telling about his response is that he apologized for his past behavior, he admitted to what many consider to be immoral behavior. And what I've been really impressed with is the number of Evangelical leaders I've talked to recently who say that kind of apology, that kind of repentance, has really made a tremendous different for them, so that maybe 10 years ago, they were less forgiving of his behavior. Since he has come clean, converted to Catholicism, has remained apparently faithful to his wife, and, most importantly, has apologized, a lot of these Evangelical leaders have been won over.
JOHNS: Gingrich isn't the only candidate trying to push buttons among social conservatives. Rick Perry put out an ad last week accusing the Obama administration of anti-religious policies -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It caused a lot of stir, that ad.
Joe, thanks very much.
Let's talk a little bit more about Newt Gingrich's marital history and political future. We're joined by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Social conservatives say -- Joe just reports -- they seem to be coming around to Newt Gingrich.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think, look, if this were an election just about personal baggage, OK, and that were the key issue here, Newt Gingrich's candidacy would be a nonstarter. But I think what conservatives and Evangelicals are learning is that there is no perfect candidate for them.
They have Michele Bachmann. They had Rick Perry. They had Herman Cain. Nothing worked out.
So now they are saying, you know what? We need somebody with a vision. We need somebody who can take it to Barack Obama. And they believe that he has got the fire to do that. So they are giving him a second look.
And as Dan Gilgoff said, they believe in redemption. That's very important.
He's come clean. He apologized. He isn't saying that's not relevant. He is saying, you're going to have to decide. And they like hearing that.
BLITZER: So far they seem to be, at least if you believe all the polls. Mitt Romney is beginning to become a bit more assertive in going after Newt Gingrich. Listen to what he said earlier today on Fox, responding to Newt Gingrich's comments about the Palestinians being an "invented people."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It shows a level of, let's say, erratic outspokenness, which may be great in a campaign, but it's not great for someone who is running for president of the United States, representing this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I think everyone agrees, he's going to have to be tougher if he is going it beat Newt Gingrich for the nomination.
BORGER: Right. And he is getting tougher.
And the word "erratic" is very important here, Wolf. I was speaking with some people in the Romney campaign. You're going to be hearing the word "erratic." You're going to be hearing the word "unreliable." And that's because it plays into a narrative about Newt Gingrich that is already established, which is that he is erratic and that he's undisciplined.
And they want to try and reinforce that, because one thing people look for in a president who, after all, serves as commander-in-chief, is somebody who is dependable. So, the Romney campaign is finally getting its message act together.
I think the career politician message, while Romney is still talking about it, didn't really stick on Newt Gingrich because he turned it around on Mitt Romney. This notion of unreliability plays into the marital issues and it also plays into the temperament issue, which, as you know, was a problem, for example, for John McCain in the 2008 election. Do you remember?
BLITZER: Of course I remember. But is it fair to say that the Republican establishment is really worried, still very much --
BORGER: Right. Very worried.
BLITZER: -- more worried than ever that Newt Gingrich could actually get the nomination?
BORGER: Yes, they are very worried about it because they are worried that he's going to implode either before he gets the nomination, if he gets it, or after he gets nomination, in which case Barack Obama would win the election. But here is one interesting thing.
The more the establishment starts piling on Newt Gingrich, the more people who don't like Washington and establishment Republicans are going to support Newt Gingrich. So, actually, he can turn that around and he can say, oh, the establishment in Washington, they are afraid of me, they don't like me, they know that I'm a change agent, and that will appeal to Republican primary voters.
So it's kind of a delicate balancing act there. Some folks in the establishment say to me, we've got to keep quiet.
BLITZER: Good point.
Gloria, thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is asking, "What's the best way to restore some balance between rich and poor in the United States?"
And U.S. spy drones used against international terrorists. Now they are being used by local police. And critics say that may be unconstitutional.
BLITZER: Unmanned military drone aircraft usually used in hot spots around the world. But guess what? They are now being used by police right here in the United States. Some recent arrests in North Dakota are linked to drones, and some people are raising concerns.
CNN's Casey Wian is joining us from Los Angeles with more on this story.
Tell us what's going on, Casey.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's right. Civil libertarians and one influential former congresswoman are raising questions about the use of Customs and Border Protection drones by local police to arrest criminals.
WIAN (voice-over): Customs and Border Protection uses eight unmanned military aircraft to patrol the United States' borders with Mexico and Canada, as well as the southern coastline, looking for drug and immigrant smugglers. It also deploys the drones to help local authorities manage natural disasters like these floods in North Dakota.
But what has been largely unknown before a "Los Angeles Times" report over the weekend is that local police have been using the drones to conduct surveillance flights and arrest criminal suspects. It happened recently in North Dakota, where a local sheriff arrested members of a family involved in a dispute over cattle, and in an alleged armed confrontation with sheriff's deputies.
Former California congresswoman Jane Harman served on the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee and says the drones could allow police to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.
JANE HARMAN, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: This is mission creep. I think it is beyond the mandate that Congress gave the Border Patrol to use drones along our border. We're talking about drones being used over American cities, or in rural areas, over the homes of law-abiding Americans, potentially.
WIAN: Harman says Congress needs to debate the appropriateness of drones being deployed for domestic surveillance, which she says was never discussed. However, a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman cites eight sections of U.S. law that give it the authority to use drones in support of local police.
The agency also says the sensors and cameras used by the drones are similar to those used by its fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, which have been supporting local law enforcement for years. The main difference, the drones can stay airborne for up to 20 hours.
WIAN: Now, Wolf, we wanted to find out how widespread this practice was, and Customs and Border Protection told us that these drones flew 4,100 hours in fiscal year 2011. And 274 of those hours were flown on missions related to natural disasters. But they could not tell us how many of those missions were flown supporting local police. They say it's just not in their system to track these flights that way.
So we don't know how widespread the practice is at this point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But given the effectiveness, I suspect we're going to see a lot more of them down the road. If they can use helicopters, fixed- wing aircraft, why not these drones as well? But the debate no doubt will continue.
Casey, thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What is the best way to restore some balance between rich and poor in this country?
James in North Carolina writes, "Has there ever been a balance between the rich and the poor? I've done well in my business. I consider myself rich. However, compared to others, I am poor."
"Sorry to say, but the poor will remain poor unless they work themselves up. The current buffet of entitlement serves to make poor people content with the handouts rather than bettering themselves by working. I'm one of those who still believes the American dream is possible, but not without rolling up your sleeves and working."
Ed writes, "Change the tax code so work is rewarded. Right now, dividends and capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than wages. The current system is great for trust fund babies, but not for most Americans."
John writes, "Train the poor to perform jobs that pay decently and have health benefits. Then provide them with those jobs." Bob in Texas, "Restoration of the middle class is not rocket science. A look at how the economic growth in the post-World War II era happened provides the answers. The prosperity we enjoyed for three- and-a-half decades after World War II was characterized by protectionist tariffs, strong labor and union contracts, and the sensible graduated income tax structure. The decline since can be attributed to the decline of organized labor, flattening of the tax structure, and industrial globalization."
Rex in Oregon says, "I assume that you assume that some of other balance of assets between the rich and the poor is either needed or desirable. What are you, a communist? This is America, where the chips lay where they fall."
"Jack, this is not some third-world country where wealth is manipulated. I'm surprised that your bosses let you think the way you do. Apologize."
And Bob in Iowa writes, "The poor will always be poor and most of the rich will stay that way. But when the middle class can only see the bus going south, and the northbound route has been canceled, we've got to work on the schedule to get the northbound buses running again."
If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.
It looks eerily like the towers that were destroyed on 9/11. You're going to find out who is behind this.
BLITZER: A storm of controversy is building over the design of two skyscrapers in Seoul, South Korea. Does it mock the events of 9/11?
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not even built yet, but already there's a cloud over this proposed building in South Korea because some say it reminds them of a cloud of smoke.
(on camera): Does this remind you of anything?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, 9/11. I think it's in very poor taste.
MOOS (voice-over): In fact, almost every person --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh!
MOOS: -- we showed the architect's rendering to --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.
MOOS (on camera): Yes, it's kind of --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A shiver has just gone up my spine.
MOOS (voice-over): -- associated it with 9/11.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an outrage. I survived the towers, and this actually looks like the explosion of the towers.
MOOS: Ed Walker (ph) was walking by the towers when the first plane hit. He ended up wet with jet fuel.
A Dutch newspaper fueled this controversy by plastering the proposed building on its front page with the question, "Inspired by Twin Towers?"
No way, says the Dutch architectural firm Mvrdv. "We never intended to design a project looking like an exploding building. Why on earth would we? This is quite shocking in this discussion that people think we might have done this on purpose. No!"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think somebody had this in mine when they designed it. I don't think this is an accident.
MOOS (on camera): Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you?
MOOS: But who would do that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: PR. You're talking about their building.
MOOS (voice-over): Oh, folks are talking, all right. And for once, the left --
KEITH OLBERMANN, CURRENT TV: Yes, that's what they want to build.
MOOS: -- Keith Olbermann --
OLBERMANN: Change it. You look like ghouls.
MOOS: -- and the right, Glenn Beck, sound alike.
GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is the most offensive building I have ever seen.
MOOS: The so-called Cloud would actually connection the two luxury apartment buildings and would contain restaurants, a wellness center, pools.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, that's really nice. They should do it.
MOOS: She and an engineer were the only ones we talked to who defended the project.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is typically what an architect does if he wants to do something different. MOOS: An online defender compared comparisons to the twin towers to seeing Jesus on a piece of toast.
(on camera): The architects say they envisioned a cloud, a cloud in the sky. A nice, fluffy innocent cloud.
(voice-over): This image represents the inspiration for their design.
The architects apologized "to anyone whose feelings we have hurt."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what they were thinking.
MOOS: During the three-month design process, the architects say they did not see the connection. Somebody's head is in the clouds.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The news continues next on CNN.