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THE SITUATION ROOM
Designer Drugs; Obama and Romney in Ohio; How Syria Gets Its Weapons; Inside Syrian Rebels' Bomb Lab; Euro Shockwaves Rattling U.S.; Training to Take on Terrorists; Who Will Be Romney's Running Mate?; Could Bath Salts Caused the Violence?
Aired June 14, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama turn Ohio into their personal boxing ring, pounding away at each other's economic policies in virtually simultaneous speeches, Romney throwing the first punch. It's only round one.
And as the Bashar al-Assad regime uses tanks, artillery and attack helicopters against its own people, the United States and Russia are locked in a bitter dispute over how Syria is getting its weapons.
And innocent-looking packages that you can buy over the counter at a convenience store, but they conceal some very real, dangerous designer drugs blamed for horrifying acts of violence.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It may be the most crucial of the battleground states, and today Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are turning Ohio into their personal battleground. The slugfest takes the form of rival speeches, but one candidate started swinging even before the bell.
Let's go to straight to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's watching it all unfold.
What's the latest, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they were almost dueling speeches, campaign events in the same state on the same day at almost the same time.
But Mitt Romney, perhaps fearing losing the battle of the cable news double box, got the early jump on the president. He started early. And it was probably a good thing for Mitt Romney. His speech was only 18 minutes, the president's, nearly an hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA (voice-over): In the first round of what will be a knockdown-drag-out fight to November, Mitt Romney threw the first punch, beginning his speech 10 minutes earlier than scheduled.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But don't forget, he's been president for three-and-a-half years. And talk is cheap. ACOSTA: But the president wasn't far behind. In a speech designed to frame his economic message, he landed some body blows of his own.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have not seen a single independent analysis that says my opponent's economic plan would actually reduce the deficit, not one.
ACOSTA: Both men duked it out in the swing state of Ohio, where they are neck-and-neck in the polls, the president in Cleveland and Romney 250 miles down the road in Cincinnati.
OBAMA: The private sector's doing fine. The private sector's doing fine.
ACOSTA: Echoing his new campaign ad, Romney repeated his line of attack that the president is out of touch, reminding voters of Mr. Obama's gaffe on the private sector.
ROMNEY: He's going to be saying today that he wants four more years. He may have forgotten he talked about a one-term proposition if he couldn't get the economy turned around in three years. But we're going to hold him to his word.
I'm also unemployed. I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired.
ACOSTA: A new Obama Web video notes Romney has had his share of tone-deaf moments as well. Referring to his GOP challenger as Mr. Romney, not Governor Romney, the president seemed to look past his opponent at times to blame Republicans in Congress for blocking his agenda.
OBAMA: It's the biggest source of gridlock in Washington today. And the only thing that can break the stalemate is you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: The president could have the upper hand in Ohio, where the unemployment rate has plummeted in the last two years, from 10.6 percent to 7.4 percent. And a new Gallup poll shows Americans still blame George W. Bush, not Mr. Obama, for the economy,a metric not lost on the president.
OBAMA: But let's be clear. Not only are we digging out of a hole that is nine million jobs deep.
ACOSTA: But Romney's argument is that the president has run out of time to get the country back on track, which is why Republicans are pointing to what Bill Clinton said in 2010: The nation is still stuck in a hole.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't go back in reverse. Give us two more years. If it doesn't work, you have another election in just two years. You can vote us all out then. But for goodness sakes, we quit digging. Don't bring back the shovel brigade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And we're seeing the return of some aggressive campaign tactics up in Cleveland. The Romney campaign bus was actually circling the president's speech there in Cleveland.
And the Obama campaign says that they're going to fight fire with fire deploying what they're calling truth squads to tail Romney's bus tour that's starting tomorrow in New Hampshire and going across the Midwest. When we asked a Romney campaign adviser here in Cincinnati about all of these aggressive tactics, Wolf, that adviser said this race is not going to come down to mascot-stealing, in his words -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly isn't a little more than -- just a little bit than four months to go. Thank you, Jim.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, as you know, some Democrats had been urging to talk about the president to talk about the future in a little different way, thinking it would be more politically effective. What's going on here?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, today in listening to his long speech, I think what the president was trying to do was kind of thread the needle, because when he talks about the economy, it's not easy for him.
If he talks about how -- what kind of a ditch the economy was in when he took office, he sounds like he's whining a little bit. And if he talks about how far he's brought the economy, it sounds like he thinks we're in really good shape. And people don't want to hear that because they don't feel like they're in good shape. They're not optimistic.
So what he tried to do today was did a little of each of those, but then he tried to take a turn and talk about the future. And what he said was that if you vote for Mitt Romney, you're going back to the policies of the past that got us where we are.
And, as Jim pointed out, he also made the point of essentially attacking Republicans in Congress because nobody likes Congress. Congress has, what, a 9 percent approval rating? And calling it a stalemate and saying part of the reason he hasn't been able to get his economic plan through is because of Congress, and you're on pretty safe terrain when you attack Congress.
BLITZER: Now, so the Democrats -- some of these Democratic critics, they want the president to be more specific. What about Romney?
BORGER: Right. Well, the Republicans are now saying, you know what, you have to be more specific too. Mitt Romney can talk about his 59-point economic plan. When you have 59 points, it's kind of a muddle. Nobody really knows what's in it.
And some, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have said you have got to give people to glom onto, what -- he called it a simple set of messages. The Romney campaign is saying, this is what we're going to do on day one, this is what we're going to do in the first 100 days. But that doesn't amount to an economic plan that people can really compare to an economic plan advanced by Barack Obama.
Now, I'm told by some Democrats maybe the president will do that at the convention in his convention speech, maybe a little bit sooner. Other Democrats say, why does he have to do it? He's already -- he's already outlined his plan. He's already given his budgets to Congress.
I would presume that Mitt Romney would come up with some set of specific proposals some time this summer, Wolf. This is a debate they have to engage on.
BLITZER: I listened closely to the president's speech today...
BLITZER: ... in Cleveland, Romney's speech in Cincinnati. This line jumped out at me from the president's speech when he was talking about the attack ads against him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The other side will spend over a billion dollars on ads that tell you the economy is bad, that it's all my fault.
OBAMA: That's what the scary voice in the ads will say.
OBAMA: That's what Mr. Romney will say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Does he have a point there?
BORGER: Yes. There are going to be scary voices in the ads.
And he has a point that there are going to be lots of negative ads about him saying he hasn't gotten the economy working as quickly as he should have and it hasn't progressed that far. But let me also say that President Obama's campaign has so far spent about $50 million on ads. About half of those ads, Wolf, are negative ads. So both campaigns are going to be doing it because, you know what? They work.
BLITZER: Well, he said the other side will spend over $1 billion on ads. And that may be true.
BORGER: Well, the tally is starting.
BLITZER: A billion dollars just on ads. We know that Sheldon Adelson, the hotelier from Las Vegas and Macau, China...
BORGER: Those are super PAC ads.
BLITZER: Yes, those are super PAC -- that's the other side.
BORGER: Right. And...
BLITZER: And he's just given $10 million to Restore Our Future, one of those pro-Romney super PACs.
BORGER: So you have what the campaign's going to spend on ads and you have what the super PAC is going to spend on ads.
BLITZER: Yes. The other side is the campaign and the super PACs.
BORGER: And if you live in a battleground state, you're going to be seeing a lot of it.
BLITZER: Thanks. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know what? It's all Bush's fault. That's actually where most Americans still put the blame for our economic problems, even though it's been more than three years since George W. Bush left office.
A new Gallup poll shows 68 percent of those surveyed say the former president deserves either a great deal or a moderate amount of blame; 31 percent says he deserves not much or no blame at all. Compare that to the man who has actually been steering the ship for the last three-plus years -- 52 percent say President Obama deserves the blame for America's economic troubles; 48 percent say he's not to blame.
The relative economic blame given to the two leaders is virtually the same as it was last September. As is usually the case, there's a partisan divide here, although Republicans -- this is interesting -- Republicans are more willing to blame Bush than Democrats are willing to blame Obama.
Pardon me. As for independents, they are substantially more likely to blame former President Bush than Mr. Obama. With the economy the top issue for the election this November, all of this is very good news for the president. Even though Americans have more negative than positive views about the economy and the direction it's going, people are more likely to blame the president's predecessor. It kind of makes you wonder at what point President Obama will assume ownership of the nation's problems. Apparently, not yet.
Meanwhile, all of this comes on the heels of another poll that shows President Bush is the least popular ex-living president. Mitt Romney may want to keep this in mind when he looks for a running mate. Several of his potential V.P.s have close ties to Bush, folks like Rob Portman, Mitch Daniels, and of course Jeb Bush.
Here's the question. How long will we blame George W. Bush for our problems? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Meanwhile, there's growing tension right now between the United States and Russia over Syria. Is Moscow supplying the weapons the Syrian regime is using to slaughter its own citizens?
And echoes of the Iraq insurgency in Syria -- we get an exclusive look at opposition forces building devastating roadside bombs. Arwa Damon is standing by.
And an unusual manhunt following a deadly hospital shooting -- details of the search for a surgeon now considered armed and dangerous.
BLITZER: In Syria, government forces have been pounding the opposition with heavy weapons, this video said to be from a Damascus suburb where residents have appealed for United Nations monitors.
Monitors finally reached a town in northwest Syria, reporting it to be deserted, with the stench of death hanging in the air. Another 60 people were reported killed across Syria only today.
The question of how Syria is getting its weapons certainly causing some friction, serious friction right now between the Obama administration and the Russian government.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is taking a closer look at this friction.
Jill, what are you seeing?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the big fights right now between Russia and the United States is over helicopters. And Russian official tells CNN that Moscow hasn't sold helicopters to Syria for years, that they're simply refurbishing them. But the State Department is saying whether they're old or they're new, they still kill people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The Obama administration insists that Russia is providing military assistance to Syria that's being used against civilians and it wants Moscow to suspend all cooperation.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday, despite the tough rhetoric between the two countries, the U.S. is still hoping to work with Russia to stop the violence in Syria.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't see eye-to-eye on all of the issues, but our discussions continue. And President Obama will see President Putin during the G-20 in Mexico.
DOUGHERTY: Clinton accuses Moscow of continuing to supply helicopters that the Assad regime is using to fire on its own people. The Soviet Union gave Syria weapons. Russia sells them weapons.
But the Russian foreign minister insists Russia is simply fulfilling signed and paid contracts relating to air defense. 'Russia does not supply weapons used to suppress peaceful protesters neither to Syria nor elsewhere," Sergei Lavrov said in a statement, "which is not the case with the U.S., who regularly send police weaponry to the region."
That's a reference to the U.S. supplying countries like Bahrain, which have in recent years violently dispelled democracy protests.
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: When we had concerns about how a new set of weapons might be used, we put a pause on our relationship with Bahrain.
DOUGHERTY: As for supplying arms to the Syrian opposition --
CLINTON: The United States has provided no military support to the Syrian opposition. None.
DOUGHERTY: But the Assad regime is using a range of heavy weapons against its own people, including tanks and heavy artillery with aid some say from Russia. According to a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, the administration's strategy now seems to boil down to shaming Moscow to ditch Assad.
JAMES COLLINS, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: There is a great deal of frustration in Washington about our inability to make something constructive happen in Syria. And at the moment, the focus seems to be on why Russia is not doing what we, the Americans and the Europeans, believe needs to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: Yes. So it's real frustration, Wolf.
And, you know, human rights groups say it's not only Russia that is providing weapons. They say that Belarus could be doing it too. And, of course, you have Iran with weapons and money, the opposition as well is getting support from countries in the Gulf. So, it's a very deadly brew that's just getting worse -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Jill, thank you.
And on top of all of this in recent months armed resistance to the Syrian government has certainly increased. Elements within the Free Syrian Army as it's called, that's the opposition, have began building rudimentary bombs for use against the military.
CNN has obtained through activists video of one so-called Brigade of the Syrian Army is building and using these crude but devastating devices. We've chosen to air it as part of the growing evidence that the opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime is becoming more like an Iraq-style insurgency, pushing Syria closer and closer to an all-out civil war.
Here's Arwa Damon's report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Partly audible below the swelling Jihadi chorus, a voice says, "This is a suicide bombing mission against Assad soldiers in Idlib."
"God is great," the voice declares as a van comes into view, apparently approaching a checkpoint. The camera zooms in.
Outgunned by Assad's forces, some rebels have turned to suicide bombs and roadside IEDs -- Iraq-style guerrilla warfare.
In this video obtained exclusively by CNN, the Dawud (ph) brigade commander, Captain Dawud Hasan Mahmoud (ph), shows how the bombs are made. Cylinders are packed with a lethal concoction of explosives, fertilizer and other chemicals bought locally.
Mahmoud says his men are moderate Islamists, fighting for democracy.
"We want a democratically elected president and the military that is separate from the presidency," he says.
Captain Mahmoud says they are getting no outside help, not from the leadership of the Free Syrian Army nor the Syrian National Council.
"We are relying mostly on mines and making bombs now," Captain Mahmoud explains.
This is how the battle for Syria is now being fought. Protest has become insurgency -- which in turn threatens to become all-out war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Arwa Damon is joining us now from Beirut.
Amazing video, Arwa. The pictures reminded me of what we used to see, still see to a certain degree in both Iraq and Afghanistan, al Qaeda-related suicide bombings, if you will. What are you hearing from your vantage point? Who is responsible for the suicide attacks?
DAMON: Well, clearly, Wolf, as you saw in the video there, at least one attack that was targeting that check point was carried out by this brigade itself. It is however important to note that the conventional members of the Free Syrian Army, including this brigade, say that they only target Syrian government security forces, that they are not targeting civilians.
But what we have also been seeing increasingly in Damascus and Aleppo are attacks carried out by an organization calling itself the al-Nusra Front, and they have been using car bombs, suicide bombs.
And what we're seeing overall is this very frightening to a certain degree shift in the battlefield in Syria. Most certainly is not conventional, and there are great concerns that if the situation continues as it does, these extremist fringe elements could gain more power. And of course that would not bode well for Syria, nor for the region, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon watching this unfold -- Arwa, thanks very much.
Ratings agencies are downgrading European nations as the crisis grows. That's coming up. Why it all could impact you and how it could get worse.
Also ahead, why a famous heavy metal band is helping solve a murder mystery.
And a dangerous storm with baseball-size hail all caught on tape. You've got to see this.
BLITZER: A deadly hospital shooting now an intense manhunt. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this happened at the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. The victim, a 33-year-old woman who worked there was shot and killed on the hospital campus yesterday, putting the entire facility on lockdown.
This is the man police are looking for. Trauma surgeon Timothy Jorden. Police describe him as a person of interest. He's reportedly the victim's ex-boyfriend and he's considered armed and dangerous.
And heavy metal band, Metallica, is helping the FBI seek new clues in the murder of one of the band's fans. Virginia Tech Student Harrington sexual assaulted and killed on the way home from a 2009 Metallica concert in Charlottesville, Virginia. Front man, James Hetfield, has recorded a YouTube video asking anyone with information about this crime to come forward. The band has also contributed to $150,000 reward fund.
And check out this hailstorm in Dallas earlier today. CNN iReporter Martin Sigler shot these amazing images of hail turning his swimming pool into what looks like a boiling caldron. Just in a matter of minutes, the hail went from the size of quarters, to ping pong balls, the baseball size big enough to break windows in a number of the cars in his neighborhood.
It's just pounding that swimming pool there, wolf.
BLITZER: Baseball-size hail. Thank Martin for those iReport pictures. Appreciate it very much, Martin.
We're getting late news of a major move over in Europe -- a move that's making big impact potentially on U.S. stocks. We'll have details right after the break.
BLITZER: The ratings agency Egan Jones has now downgraded France's credit rating one day after it and Moody's did exactly the same thing to Spain sending that country's borrowing costs soaring. Greece remains ground zero, of course, in the eurozone crisis. But all of this could have very painful and dramatic ramifications here in the United States.
CNN's Tom Foreman is standing by to show us how.
What are you seeing there, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you're absolutely right. It remains the focus on Greece right now because Greece seems to have the most trouble and seems to be the most unsettled still. Giant runs with the banks here, people taking out huge amounts of money, but there really is that question. It's sort of a small country, how can it have such an impact?
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN (voice-over): Almost 22 percent unemployment, drastic cuts in services and a shrinking national economy. Greece is a mess right now. And that is a problem for the rest of the world because of this. The euro. It is the common currency for 27 countries and 500 million people. The eurozone is the biggest trading partner of the United States. And this is the biggest trading alliance on the planet. So any upheaval is a worry.
KEMAL DERVI, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL ECONOMY AND DEVELOPMENT: As the European banks get into trouble, that has an effect on the whole world financial system including the U.S. FOREMAN: But even economic experts like Domenico Lombardi and Kemal Dervis (sic) from the Brookings Institute readily admit, Greece is tiny.
DOMENICO LOMBARDI, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, Greece is small. However, it's also an example. And it can be scary. What happens in Greece, people feel that maybe contagion, it may happen in some other countries.
FOREMAN (on camera): So how would such a contagion work? Imagine this trade relationship between the U.S. and the EU as a great big family. Let's make America the dad and Europe the mom. Now, as long as all the kids -- Portugal and Italy and Spain and Greece and Ireland -- play along nicely, we have no problems. But now imagine that Greece grows up, goes off to college, buys a new car, a new wardrobe, a new briefcase. Greece wants to compete in the great big world, but Greece is piling up debt.
Now, to a degree mom and dad can put up with that, but at some point they have to say what if all the other kids start thinking they, too, can play fast and loose with their credit? Now the whole family is in danger of bankruptcy.
(Voice-over): If that happens, investors won't invest, businesses can't grow, consumers can't buy and millions of jobs including many in America that rely on all that trade with Europe could be destroyed.
(On camera): You absolutely believe that what happens to the euro can have a huge effect here?
LOMBARDI: If it is something extreme, no doubt that it will have spillover, significant repercussions on the U.S. economy.
FOREMAN: Do you think the euro will survive this?
DERVI: I think the euro will survive. I'm not sure that every country that is now in the euro will stay in the euro.
FOREMAN (voice-over): For now if the euro can survive the Greek crisis and the potential contagion is contained, that may have to be enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: In a nutshell, Wolf, that's why the euro really matters here. For everything we're trying to do in our government to stabilize our economy here, it can all be tipped over by things that happen over there. And not to make too much of this sort of parent and child relationship, all these countries are independent proud countries. They have their own role to play. And let's not overlook the fact the big mistakes that were made in the United States and by bigger European countries also have set up this problem to make us all so vulnerable.
But in the end that's why Greek finances and Greece itself matters to us, Wolf. And it is going to continue to matter for quite some time.
BLITZER: Good explanation, Tom. Thank you.
Let's get a little bit more now with CNN's Erin Burnett.
Erin, the Dow jumped at 155 points today in part because of big moves earlier in the day by England. What's going on here?
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Yes. So we're just finding out in the past few minutes, Wolf, market was jumping in anticipation of this, that England says they're going to be injecting more money into the economy. They said they're going to do nothing to help the euro, but they're worried that the UK could get hit by the crisis in Europe. So they're injecting more money into their system.
That of course is perceived as good news and it comes along with some other rumors in the market because we've got the Greek elections this weekend that is widely seen as a referendum that Greece could basically be leaving the euro, that could be the domino effect that then affects Spain and Portugal and Italy and others to leave the euro.
That the G-20 meeting this weekend in Mexico, at the end of it they could have some coordinated plan to try to deal with the fallout in the markets if Greece is to essentially vote no on the euro.
But all of these things, Wolf, are still band-aids. And all this talk of central banks of working together, a lot of it still -- it's still just talk. And it's still just -- well, if we say that we'll do something, maybe we won't actually have to do it.
The problem here is severe, Wolf. And, you know, I have to say I think the next country that we could be talking about, and this is what's going to go to the heart of the entire euro is actually going to be France.
BURNETT: France. I mean look at France. You know you had Nicholas Sarkozy going more the way of austerity. Remember, Wolf, back in 2010 when they were strikes all over France because Sarkozy was going to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62? And that was seen as a violation of everything that was -- that was held sacred and expected that French people expected to have.
Then Francois Hollande now, one of his big campaign promises, I'm going to take that back. So he's put the retirement age back to 60. But that's just one example of the way France is dealing with its enormous pension and retirement and ageing population problems, i.e., it isn't dealing with them. That's one of the reasons why you're starting to see France's situation get worse and worse.
You know, Bill Gross, one of the biggest investors in the world investing in -- country debt, told me the other day France is a real problem. Right now Spain cannot get money. It's going to have to get it from Germany. It cannot get money. And if this gets worse and worse, you could -- you could see that with France.
BLITZER: Erin is going to have much more of course 7:00 p.m. Eastern. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."
Thank you, Erin.
Meanwhile sources are telling me a little bit more about Mitt Romney's potential short list for vice presidential candidates. We have some details our discussion coming up in our strategy session.
And coming up in our next hour, a rare look at what's really going on inside Iran. I'll talk with the "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof. He took a remarkable 1700 mile journey around Iraq.
BLITZER: We're going to take you behind the scenes right now in the Middle East as our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr shows us how American Special Operations Forces are training with allies to try to take on terrorists.
Barbara is joining us now.
Barbara, what have you found out?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with the headlines from Syria to Yemen to Iran about the possibility, the possibility, of military action, commandos across the Middle East are training up like never before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STARR (voice-over): Deep in the deserts of the Middle East, insurgents blow up a gas station. Snipers hit their target. This is actually a training range in Jordan. Twelve hundred Special Forces troops from the U.S. and more than a dozen countries are practicing the most dangerous missions.
One scenario, a high-tech jetliner sits on the airfield.
(On camera): This is some of the most realistic training that U.S. Special Operations forces are getting here in the Middle East. An Airbus 300 hijacked. They will come on board and rescue the hostages.
(Voice-over): More training assaulting terrorist safe houses.
(On camera): This is the kind of training that Navy SEAL team got before they assaulted Osama bin Laden's compound. Coming up a dark staircase not knowing what's waiting for them at the top.
(Voice-over): As the U.S. and its Middle East allies consider whether to take possible action against the Syrian regime and even against Iran's nuclear program, they're commando forces are working together like never before.
Navy SEAL Todd Tinsley runs a team out of the Persian Gulf. The basics, he says, remain unchanged.
CAPT. TODD TINSLEY, U.S. NAVY SEAL: Shoot, move and communicate. And that's what SOFT is very good at.
STARR: There are new partners here like Iraq, which is providing this overhead imagery.
TINSLEY: You get in, you do your job and get out without anybody knowing about it. And if you can do that with your partner force and they are able to do that, that's -- that is success.
STARR: Even after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the future of U.S. Special Forces lies in their ability to do whatever it takes.
Admiral William McRaven heads all U.S. Special Operations.
ADM. WILLIAM MCRAVEN, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMANDER: If this is where things really go bad, what we want to be able to do is engage with the host nation very early on, begin to, you know, build up their capability and allow them to deal with the problem so we don't get to the point where it goes boom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: So, you know, you hear an awful lot about those drone attacks, right, Wolf? You know, the secret drone attacks over Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, all of these places. Sure, there is a lot of emphasis on those unmanned attacks, those drones. But what we saw on the ground in the Middle East is troops from various nations working together because they truly believe the next time they have to go and do some contingency the next time they bluntly go to war, they will go together. But if not together, U.S. forces are prepared, as always, they say, to go it alone -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly. All right, Barbara. Thank you. Barbara just back from a visit to Jordan.
One of the key questions in the race for the White House, who will Mitt Romney choose as his running mate? Sources are telling me that at least three people are being very seriously considered right now. Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, John Thune.
Now let's discuss what's going on. Nicolle Wallace is joining us. She's a former communications director in the Bush White House. And Nicolle's book, by the way, "It's Classified" -- that's the name of the book, "It's Classified" -- is now out in paperback.
Nicolle, thanks for coming in. Others are being vetted, I'm sure, as well. But what do you think of these three guys who are out there -- these three -- these three potential vice presidential running mates?
NICOLLE WALLACE, AUTHOR, "IT'S CLASSIFIED": I don't think you could assemble a list of three more serious, competent, qualified potential running mates for Mitt Romney. And I think if you look at what Mitt Romney does really well, it's, you know, articulate a problem, lay out a strategy for fixing it. So what he needs to do in this election is, I think, have someone by his side who's just as deliberate, who's just as wonky. And I think that what was I think made painfully obvious to everyone and especially me in 2008 that going for the thrill and going for the excitement in that selection is -- has its advantages, certainly Sarah Palin brought unmatched enthusiasm to John McCain's campaign.
But when you look at what this ticket, if they win -- and I certainly think and hope that they do, what they're going to face when they are sworn in in January is one of the most complicated and intractable economic crises that is so truly global in nature. It's got historic hurdles and challenges. And so I think if this is the list that the Romney campaign is looking at, then he's in a good spot.
BLITZER: I think they're also looking at some others including Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, for example. I'm not so sure how seriously they're looking at them. But I know that three guys are serious. And my sources are also telling me that John Thune, for example, the senator, Republican senator from South Dakota, he seems to be moving up out of the stretch a little bit, moving up ahead of the pack a little bit, although Portman and Pawlenty are very much in this contest as well.
Someone who did this for John McCain helped pick Sarah Palin four years ago. Give us your sense of the strengths and non-strengths of these individuals.
WALLACE: Well, like I said before, I mean they're three serious, competent, accomplished men. I happen to know --
BLITZER: Does one of them stand out, though, in your mind?
WALLACE: Well, you know, what's funny to me. When you talk about someone breaking out like -- almost like a horse race, that feels like the opposite way that someone like Mitt Romney would make this selection. He seems to make decisions in such a deliberate plotting way that I can't see that campaign sitting around and having certain potential candidates surge ahead of the others.
I really see them looking at this in a very analytical way and making a very reasoned and logical selection. So I actually think that puts someone like Rob Portman, who may not be the most thrilling politician, but maybe the kindest and smartest Republican in the country at this hour. I think that may put somebody like him in really good stint.
I think Chris Christie is our rock star at this moment. I don't think there's anybody that Republicans get more fired up by than Chris Christie. He's almost got a little of that, that excitement that Rudy Giuliani used to create when I was doing presidential campaigns for Governor Bush in 2004.
So I think that we have a deep -- and I also think Tim Pawlenty is not to be overlooked. He's got this quiet Midwestern wit and charm. And he's incredibly easy on the campaign trail. He's low maintenance. He knows all the answers already. He's worked in that great laboratory for Republican policies, a state house, a blue state house. So he's got a lot of strengths that really stand out.
And I think that, you know, what makes me a little sad is someone who writes about a fictional world in which women rule the country and rule the world is there aren't any women on that short list. So I would hope that somebody like a Nikki Haley would end up being on that list or Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina or some of the really strong and impressive women in the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Let's see if any of the women you mentioned or others for that matter are being vetted but we know some of these individuals are in fact already being vetted very seriously right now.
Thanks, Nicolle. Thanks for coming in.
WALLACE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: His successor has been in office now for more than three years, but Americans are still blaming George W. Bush for the bad economy. Jack Cafferty has got more on this question, is it time to move on?
And innocent looking packages that conceal very dangerous designer drugs blamed for some horrifying acts of violence.
BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File." Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Question this hour, Wolf, how long will we blame George W. Bush for our problems?
David in Virginia says, "Until we get out from under the disastrous consequences of his presidency. Bush is emblematic of a winner-take- all, I got mine, screw you attitudes that have destroyed the futures of so many people. It's going to be a while."
M. writes, "Bush will continue to be blamed as long as it's politically expedient to do so. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, or if someone else comes along and makes the situation worse." David in Las Vegas said, "Jack, if I had it my way I would blame him forever for the deaths of American soldiers and the rise of Islamist terrorism. Financially there's a lot of blame to spread around starting with Alan Greenspan who said he thought the banks would police themselves. Good luck with that. Then and now."
Tom in Pennsylvania, "George Bush gets the blame until Hoover's absolved." Jen in California, "Bush -- blame Bush for our problems about the same amount of time the Republicans had blamed President Carter."
Lauren in Chicago, "Maybe you do, but I don't. The blame lies with Bill Clinton for easing import restrictions contrary to law that allowed Wal-Mart to begin sourcing every product it could to China. And Barney Frank for easing mortgage underwriting standards asserting that everyone should have the right to a home without understanding that a mortgage was supposed to be paid back. These two Democrats have created the greatest outflow of capital from a country the world has ever seen. And yet all the pundits continue to blame Bush and fawn over Bill Clinton. What fools."
And Ed in Maryland writes, "Until 2065, that's when the current people will be replaced by people taught in history class that George W. Bush was a great man who saved America from a man in a cave who had access to box cutters."
If you want to read more about this, go to the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
Right at the top of the hour we're going to Cairo. There are dramatic developments unfolding right now on the streets of the Egyptian capital.
BLITZER: Paranoia, hallucinations, even violent bloody attacks all being attributed to a dangerous combination of chemicals that can be bought at gas stations and convenience stores.
Mary Snow is looking into this story for us. She's joining us now live.
Mary, what are you finding out?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this synthetic stimulants are often called bath salts and they're sold in a powdery form in small packages. And to give you a sense of their uptick, poison control centers in the U.S. reported getting about 300 calls in 2010 linked to them. Last year that number topped 6,000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW (voice-over): It's a drug you can buy in cities across the U.S. and it's increasingly making headlines. Dangerous chemical combinations often referred to as bath salts are being blamed for dozens of episodes of bizarre violent behavior.
A New York mother suspected of being high on the chemicals was photographed running around naked before police reportedly used a stun gun to subdue her. She eventually died. She allegedly beat her 3- year-old son. And witnesses described her as being out of control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And she got a hold of one of her dogs. And she was rolling around on the ground her arms wrapped around it, her legs wrapped around it, and she was strangling the dog.
SNOW: It comes weeks after the gruesome murder in Miami where a man ate the face of his victim. Authorities say bath salts may have been involved.
Bath salts is a catch-all nickname being given to a group of synthetic stimulants meant to mimic to effects of illegal drugs like meth, cocaine and LSD. They're sold in convenience stores like this one in New Hampshire where recent raids seized $100,000 worth. An undercover detective who wanted his identity protected on CNN's "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" described a user he encountered.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was actually picking apart her skin saying that she felt when she was on it that she had bugs in her skin. She was severe hallucinogenic. She stated feeling out of body experience and extreme paranoia was one of the indicators that she said that she often feels when she was on bath salts.
SNOW: And earlier this week in Indiana, police raided six gas stations, which were selling them.
Poison centers around the country have seen a rise in calls linked to bath salts. More than 40 states have banned bath salts and other chemicals that can be used to get high legally. But Special Agent Jeffrey Scott with the Drug Enforcement Administration says it's not that simple. He says the DEA last year banned three of the most commonly used chemicals found in these drugs.
SPECIAL AGENT JEFFREY SCOTT, DEA: Even as I'm speaking now, you know, formulations are changing. The chemicals themselves are changing. And, we've seen it as something of a game of whack-a-mole. You ban or regulate schedule three chemicals and then three more appear and then five more. So, that represents a challenge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: And the DEA says the real focus is on the people importing the chemicals and producing them -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mary, thank you.