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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill; President Obama's Poll Numbers Rising

Aired September 20, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: With rumors and speculation rampant, lawmakers were seeking facts, but many were not satisfied with what they heard and they are fuming right now.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been talking to some of them.

Dana, these briefings just wrapped up. What are you learning? What happened?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What happened to, according to members of Congress in both parties, is apparently not much new, and that is not making some of them happy, especially those who are already the most vocal critics of the administration on what happened and the administration's reaction to the bombings in Libya and other unrest throughout the Middle East.

Listen to what John McCain said as he came out of the briefing for the senators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I learned nothing that I had -- in fact, less than I had read or seen in the media.

It's pretty obvious that there's very likely that there was a terrorist organization that's affiliated with al Qaeda that was in Benghazi that had at least some role in this attack which had mortars, had the equipment and rocket-propelled grenades, not exactly a spontaneous demonstration.

BASH: But, Senator, that is not something that you were just told by the briefers in there.

MCCAIN: No, of course not, of course not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, John McCain, of course, is a supporter of Mitt Romney. He is a staunch Republican who has, again, before a very vocal opponent of the administration on many foreign policy issues.

But in this particular case, Wolf, I talked to Democratic senators as well. They weren't as worked up about it, but they also shrugged their shoulders and said we did not learn anything that we did not learn from you all at CNN and other media outlets.

BLITZER: Dana, one of the other big questions is whether the Americans who were killed in Libya had adequate security to begin with, especially on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

What are lawmakers saying about that?

BASH: This is really a political Rorschach test. It depends on who you ask in a big way.

I want you to listen to what the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HOWARD "BUCK" MCKEON (R), CALIFORNIA: I think it's pretty obvious he did not have adequate security. Otherwise, he would probably be here today. So, I'm -- I'm really disappointed about that.

I think when we put our people around the world at risk and don't provide adequate security, shame on us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now I want you to listen to what the ranking Democrat on that same committee, of course, both of them coming out of the same briefing, said on the same question, whether there was adequate security for the ambassador and the rest of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: He had adequate security and this was a pretty heavy armed a group that came fast and unexpected. That's the other thing that they were very clear in there, that there was no prior intelligence telling us of anything even remotely resembling the attack that took place.

So, you know, this was certainly a dangerous part of the world. That's why they brought security, but there was no actionable intelligence prior to this indicating this type of attack was going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Again, no actionable intelligence.

That is something that we are hearing from our administration sources, our colleagues over at the State Department and elsewhere. That is something that Republicans, John McCain and others say that they are talking to their own sources in the region and getting different information about.

One other thing that Adam Smith, the Democrat from Washington, also said is that the ambassador had five State Department security guards. That is something they learned in this briefing and that is something that our own Elise Labott reported this morning, and I think it maybe is in keeping with the frustration up here that they are learning more from our reporting than maybe they're getting from official channels at the White House and elsewhere.

BLITZER: A lot of frustration up on Capitol Hill right now. Dana, thanks very much.

Let's get a little bit more on what is going on.

Joining us now, our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and also our national contributor Fran Townsend. She serves on the CIA External Advisory Board and last month Fran visited Libya with her employer, MacAndrews & Forbes. Kate Bolduan is here with me, as usual, as well.

You know, a lot of speculation, Peter, about who may have been responsible for killing these Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Listen to what the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said, because he has his suspicion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCKEON: Al Qaeda's the name that has been used, and I think that's probably, probably what we're going to find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, you're an expert on al Qaeda. What do you think?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I'm struck by something that hasn't happened, which is no claim of responsibility. You know, if al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate had done this, which is, after all, a pretty big deal, we would have had on a jihadi Web site now a claim of responsibility.

And I was very struck by Arwa Damon's interview with the Libyan prime minister in which he said this is sort of a loosely knit jihadi group relatively small with no links to al Qaeda and that sort of fits with this lack of claim for responsibility.

BLITZER: What do you make of that, Fran? Because Arwa Damon has suggested, and she's quoting the Libyan prime minister as saying there was, in his words, a loose coalition of people, including presumably some al Qaeda-affiliated folks.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, what the question you just asked highlights is the many different versions of this that we have heard.

I tend to agree with Peter that the fact that there's no formal claim of responsibility is very sort of un-al-Qaeda-like, although, I do think what we're hearing from sources in the intelligence community, what the prime minister's statement suggests is that these are -- this jihadi group, whoever this was who perpetrated the attack that killed the ambassador, have some links, some communications with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is in that region.

So, look, I think this has been a big game of semantics. Was it an al Qaeda attack? Is this is an al Qaeda-related group? Was it planned or pre-planned? Was it one attack or were there two separate attacks ,a protest and then the attack on the safe house?

There is a lot of sort of gamesmanship going on in the words that are being used. Some of it may be intentional, but some of it really may be, Wolf, we're still in the early days of the investigation and it took the FBI almost a week to get on the ground because of security conditions.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Fran, I know this is -- one other thing we have talked about quite a bit is this element of did Ambassador Stevens have enough protection? Was there enough protection in Benghazi?

You just heard also during Dana's report, there is clearly a split on Capitol Hill as members of Congress are leaving these briefings. Buck McKeon saying it is obvious that the ambassador did not have adequate security and Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, saying something very different. What is your take on this at this point then?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, it's easy to say, we had the tragedy of the ambassador's death. It's easy to say he didn't have adequate security.

I think the right question to be asking that nobody seems to give us a clear answer on is, given -- what was the intelligence you had prior to September 11 about the threat in Benghazi? What we know from all of our sources is that the threat environment was increasingly dangerous, but what did the government know in the classified arena? Did they have -- and how specific was the intelligence about that threat?

And then to judge what his security was, was it adequate against that threat? I think it's fair to say that this looked like a very sophisticated armed attack that killed the ambassador. It may be that that weren't anticipating that. But given what they did know, I think that is the standard against which we ought to judge whether or not his security was adequate.

BLITZER: CNN reported, Peter, last night that the ambassador had apparently told some people that he was on an al Qaeda hit list, if you will. The secretary said Hillary Clinton was asked about that today. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have absolutely no information or reason to believe that there is any basis for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I mean, if he's suggesting to people he was on an al Qaeda hit list, what do you make of that?

BERGEN: I would say any American ambassador to a country with an al Qaeda presence, even a small one, is on an al Qaeda hit list.

That's just sort of a logical -- whether it's Pakistan or Yemen or, you know, the parts of Libya where Benghazi is where so many of these jihadists are actually based and al lover Libya. They're mostly in the region of Benghazi.

To me, it would just be kind of a matter of logic that somebody in his position would feel that he was threatened by these jihadists, whether they're al Qaeda formally or something much looser.

BLITZER: A lot of folks are saying, Fran -- and I want you to weigh in on this hit list notion, but also that it was a dereliction other even allow these Americans in such a sensitive, such a dangerous area like Benghazi, especially on the anniversary of 9/11.

TOWNSEND: Wolf, we give tremendous amount of authority to -- the ambassador is also known inside the government as the chief of mission and he really is. He is the representative of the president and the United States government.

So, I agree with Peter that given his position, he would have been a target of al Qaeda. I think it is important though to say to our viewers the notion that when you hear this phrase an al Qaeda hit list, there's no list. Nobody is walking around with one through 10 in their pocket so they know what their priorities are.

There are targets and some of them are targets of opportunity and they're based upon one's influence and what they represent. In the ambassador's case, it was the United States. But whether or not he would have been able to go to Benghazi would have largely been left to his discretion and then the security team around him would have advised him based on where he was going what the security requirement was.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thank you. Peter Bergen, thanks to you as well.

Even odds for the presidential candidates in Las Vegas and beyond, and we're going inside our brand-new CNN poll numbers from the battleground state of Nevada.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Strong words from both presidential candidates today as they hit the battleground state of Florida. President Obama made a big admission today in Miami when he was asked about his failure to bring change to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I have learned some lessons over the last four years. And the most important lesson I have learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Mitt Romney, no doubt, seized on the president's words at a rally In Sarasota just a short time later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We face a Washington that's broken, that can't get the job done. The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again. He said he can't change Washington from the inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we're going to give him that chance in November. He's going outside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We have got some brand-new poll numbers out from another battleground state, Nevada, which has six electoral votes up for grabs on Election Day.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us with the numbers right now.

First of all, John, what are we seeing in Nevada?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're seeing a dead heat. We're seeing a slight edge for President Obama, but a dead heat when you look at the overall race.

And that is important because Nevada is one of the nine tossup states we have in our electoral map. The president ahead, Governor Romney behind. Nevada is one of the two Western battlegrounds and Colorado being the other. Let's take a closer dig at our numbers.

Why do you have a statistical tie? You have a statistical tie, perhaps a slight edge for President Obama because of what is going on within the state. Among men, you see Governor Romney leads 52 to 43 percent. A flip side among women with a bigger advantage in the gender gap, and 55 percent of the women for the president, 41 percent for Governor Romney.

That's one way to break down the numbers. Another interesting way is by income. Voters who make under $50,000 a year, a big advantage for the president, 20 points, 57-36. Those who make $50,000 or more go for Governor Romney by a smaller margin, but still a majority, 53-45.

One more way to look at this is you look here at the age. We had a big debate about Medicare and big debate about Social Security. The Democrats trying to make the case Republicans would end Medicare as we know it. Well, as you see, Governor Romney is winning among voters -- 50 and older -- 51 percent to 45 percent, a narrow edge, but an edge there.

Among narrow voters, those under at age of 50, you see a decided advantage for the president, 11 points, 53-42. Battleground Nevada very, very close, small state, not that many electoral votes, you mentioned, just six. But they could prove very important.

BLITZER: Very important, indeed, if it's really, really close. How is the presidential race, John, shaping up in some of the other key battleground states?

KING: What we get from our Nevada poll when you look at the others you have seen in recent days in context is an echo, if you will.

We have had so many battleground state polls that are all just about the same, meaning very close. One exception is Michigan. I just got back from Michigan a couple hours ago. Hard to even call this one a battleground anymore. The president is ahead in our poll by eight points. Other polls have shown it as much. Michigan we would lean blue in the president's favor right now.

But look at some of the other battleground states. You will notice a trend, as I pull up the numbers. Ohio, slight advantage for the president. This is a FOX News poll. Some other polls have shown it although tighter and others a little bigger, but a slight advantage for the president.

That is a warning sign to the Romney campaign, seven-point lead in FOX News the poll and Mitt Romney has to win Ohio. New Hampshire is one of the few battleground states where you actually see this, see a very narrow race, still a statistical tie, but this is the only one in the last week or so where it is Romney on top by a few points, three points. Again, statistically, that is a tie, but Governor Romney would rather be the guy slightly ahead than slightly behind, as he is in so many other states.

Wolf, you can click through them. And I will click through quick. Won't take too much of our state. But look at the state of Colorado. A statistical tie. The president on top, 48-47. But that one is a tie. We come over to the state of Virginia. This is several polls combined and what we call a poll of polls. We average them all out. Advantage for the president and again, a warning sign, just like Ohio for Governor Romney.

He needs the state of Virginia. He can win without it, but very, very hard if Romney doesn't win Virginia. The president with an edge there. There are few others, but let me just give you one more in the state of Florida because we saw Governor Romney down in Florida today.

This, again, another new FOX News polls. And there have been other polls recently in Florida that say just about the same thing, a five-point advantage for the president. So, you look at Ohio and you look at Florida and the Romney campaign needs both of those states. They should be a little bit nervous.

If you look at more than the half dozen state battleground polls we have had in the last week, Wolf, again statistically, they're ties but the president has a slight edge in most of them and he can afford to lose a few. Governor Romney has to win Florida and has to Ohio and his path to 270 is a lot harder than the president's.

BLITZER: He has to do great in these three upcoming presidential debates in October as well. Talking about Mitt Romney.

Thanks very much, John, for that.

Foreign policy right now playing a growing role in the race for the White House, especially the issue of Washington's complex relationship with Israel. Romney, Obama and Netanyahu, we're taking a closer look at the tangled triangle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: When President Obama and Mitt Romney spoke at their party conventions a few weeks ago, they each focused largely on domestic concerns but each of them also made it a point to single out one foreign country in particular.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): In addresses that largely focused on domestic concerns, one country in particular was singled out by both candidates in their speeches.

ROMNEY: President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.

OBAMA: Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver.

BLITZER: President Obama came to office determined to make Middle East peace a central tenet of his foreign policy, even if it meant exerting what some of his advisers described as tough love on Israel. He took a harder line on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

OBAMA: In my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I was very clear about the need to stop settlements, to make sure we are stopping the building of outposts.

BLITZER: That angered many Israelis, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And early trips to Turkey and Egypt with high-profile addresses to the Arab and Muslim world without a stop in Israel further exacerbated that relationship. The push for Middle East peace has been stuck ever since and that rocky personal relationship with Netanyahu was further underlined during a tense Oval Office meeting in May 2011, when the prime minister seemed to be lecturing the president.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace. It cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible.

BLITZER: Still, at least in public, they seemed to have moved on. OBAMA: As I said to the prime minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security.

BLITZER: On some of the most sensitive issues, Obama and Romney seem to agree, at least when it comes to the big picture. Jerusalem is Israel's capital. A final peace agreement should include what's called a two-state solution, Israel living alongside Palestine. And Iran must be stopped from building a nuclear bomb.

But there are differences when it comes to specific details on how to achieve those goals. Romney charges that President Obama hasn't been a strong enough ally to Israel in opposing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

ROMNEY: Israel doesn't need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace. It needs our support.

If I'm president of the United States, my first trip, my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country.

BLITZER: And he underscored that during his July visit to Jerusalem.

In a recently revealed tape from a closed fund-raiser back in May, Romney said Israel didn't have a strong Palestinian partner.

ROMNEY: I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace in any way for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way.

BLITZER: But Romney declared his support for a two-state solution during an interview I did with him during his recent trip to Israel.

ROMNEY: The decision as to where the borders would be as we move to a two-state solution, which I support, that is a decision on borders that will be worked out by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

BLITZER: Romney says Obama has rebuffed Israel's security concerns. However, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, told me in July that the relationship with the United States is solid.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: They should tell you, honestly, that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And, indeed, when it comes to the military-to-military relationship and cooperation among intelligence services, Israeli officials, high-ranking Israeli officials insist to me that things have actually never been better between the United States and Israel. Under the Obama administration, the United States has provided Israel with huge amounts of aid for a missile defense system, other military programs. The two countries have worked together on cyber- projects aimed at damaging Iran's nuclear program as well. So, it's a complicated relationship, and we're going to get into more details on this shortly.

BOLDUAN: A complicated relationship. We're going to be digging much deeper into all of this with Dan Senor from the Romney campaign and former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. They're standing by and walking in right now. We will dig into this, Middle East politics, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Middle East politics and the race for the White House.

BOLDUAN: A lot to talk about and we're going to talk about all of that, President Obama, Mitt Romney and Israel, with Dan Senor, foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign, and former Democratic Congressman Jane Harman, now the head of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Welcome to both of you.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I'm a little confused, Dan.

And thanks to both of you for coming in.

Mitt Romney in May when we spoke at that fund-raiser -- we now got the video -- everybody has seen it -- he says the Palestinians want to destroy Israel, there is no real hope for peace.

When I interviewed him in July in Jerusalem -- you were there at the King David Hotel -- he laid out hope for a two-state solution and negotiated boundaries.

What is it, no hope or hope?

DAN SENOR, ROMNEY SR. ADVISER: Well, first of all, his position has always been that U.S. policy should pursue a two-state solution. There should be a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, side by side, democratic states, mutual respect, recognition, and security.

BLITZER: President Obama agrees on that?

SENOR: But what Governor Romney has also said is that when you just have a sober assessment of what's going on in the ground which is in Gaza. You have Hamas, which is in control of Gaza, which supports terrorism, doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist, wants to wipe Israel off the map, firing rockets into southern Israel. In the West Bank, you have Fatah which either doesn't have -- was led by political players that don't have the local, you know, moxie to deliver...

BLITZER: The president or the Palestinian Authority, and I'll let Jane Harman weigh in. Mahmoud Abbas, the foreign -- the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, don't you think they are committed to a two-state solution?

SENOR: Prime minister Netanyahu has been trying to sit down and engage in direct negotiations with the Palestinian nation leadership, with Abu Mazen, for a while. Nothing has materialized.

And what Governor Romney simply said is either Abu Mazen isn't committed to a deal or isn't politically strong enough to do it. When you combine the fact that you have Hamas in Gaza, he's being realistic. There are a lot of obstacles to a two-state solution.

HARMAN: I think it's a missed opportunity. I actually think it's a missed opportunity by the Obama administration, too. I think that Abbas and Fayyad are the best...

BLITZER: Salam Fayyad, the prime minister.

HARMAN: ... people who could represent Fatah.

There is a Hamas problem. However, Hamas has been degraded by the turmoil in Syria, and Hamas has -- I'm not defending Hamas, but maybe there's a chance that some kind of a resolution could be worked out where Hamas would drop some of its more vicious requirements and -- and the myth that Israel could be recognized and so forth and stop the violence against Israel. And I would exploit that.

I think it is in Israel's security interest to make the right deal with the Palestinian state. And I think it is in the U.S. security interest to have that deal made. And I think the clock is ticking on any -- any chance of a moderate leadership in the Palestinian...

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say Romney differentiates between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

SENOR: Absolutely.

BLITZER: In that return fundraiser, he just lumped all the Palestinians...

SENOR: He was doing a high-level, making a high-level observation about how dysfunctional the situation is. You have one entity in control in Gaza, another entity in control in the West Bank.

But I just want -- this is one important point. It is true that we should get the parties to the table. It is true we should move the process forward. We are asking -- U.S. policy, the U.S. government is asking Israel to take real risks for peace.

And it's hard to ask Israel to take real risks for peace when they are questioning how, to what extent the Obama administration stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Israeli government. And in past peace processes have been successful when U.S. presidents stand...

BLITZER: All right. Hold on. I want Jane Harman to weigh in, but there's...

BOLDUAN: I want you to weigh in, Jane. But looking at President Obama over the past four years, you could argue that there -- he has made some mistakes in his handling of Israel, as well. I mean, one most recently that's gotten a lot of attention is this back and forth of not meeting with Netanyahu and becoming -- not visiting Israel since he has been president.

Wolf did an interview with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Peter King. I want you to listen to this, and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: If the president can go on David Letterman, if he can, you know, meet with rappers and hold fundraisers all over the country, he can find time to sit down with our closest ally in the Middle East who is under siege and is literally facing a life and death situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now, that interview, that entire interview will be playing later on "AC 360" but respond to Chairman King right there.

HARMAN: I wish President Obama had gone to Israel during his first term if he's re-elected, and it looks like he will be. I predict he will go to Israel shortly into his second term.

On this Meeting-gate controversy, I think it's way overblown. I don't think a discussion of the meeting between the two leaders should be on the public airwaves. They've met many times and they talk all the time. Our military and intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger.

And I suggest, personally, that this issue be toned down by -- certainly by Netanyahu, because I don't think it serves his interests to handle...

BLITZER: The president has met with Netanyahu more than any other foreign leader.

HARMAN: He has.

SENOR: However, as Jane said, he hasn't traveled to Israel. He's traveled, you know -- the president makes a statement by where he travels. He chose to travel to Cairo, to Istanbul, to Riyadh. I think Jane is right. Meeting issue -- meeting, no meeting, Meeting- gate -- wouldn't be such a big issue if there weren't the history of tension between them, in history. Therefore this gets elevated.

BLITZER: I've covered U.S.-Israeli relations for a long time. Was Ronald Reagan a good friend of Israel?

SENOR: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Did he ever visit Israel?

SENOR: Let me answer that. That's a fair question.

BLITZER: Did he visit Israel?

SENOR: There are presidents who visit Israel; there are presidents who haven't.

What is going on right now in Israel, where the Arab world is up in flames and Israel feels like it's being pressured to pitch a tent in the middle of a hurricane, is -- Iran is getting close to getting a nuclear weapon. There is a special onus on the president of the United States to show solidarity with the prime minister.

BLITZER: You remember the tensions in the Middle East in the '80s from Ronald Reagan worked with...

SENOR: It is worse today.

BLITZER: When Ronald Reagan was president, in eight years he did not visit Israel once.

SENOR: Wolf, Iran is on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon. Israel feels that its security, it's an existential threat. And why can't the president just get on a plane? He's in the region. It's a 40-minute flight from Cairo to Tel Aviv.

HARMAN: I'm fond of you and your passion. I think we need calmness now and a -- and a hand on the tiller that is very steady. I think there are huge tensions in the Middle East. And now is the time, quietly and privately, to work on resolving those tensions.

There is no question, in my mind, whatsoever, that the Obama administration is a strong supporter of Israel. And I was in the room when he told AIPAC about his red line on Iran getting the bomb. And I believe that red line and I think it's the right red line.

SENOR: Do you think, Jane, over the last three and a half years we've seen a lot of spats between the Israeli and U.S. governments, not between the intelligence communities and defense force -- defense ministries, but between president and prime minister that should not have been played out in public?

HARMAN: I think a lot of this shouldn't play out in public. I was just talking to Ambassador Michael Orrin of Israel, and he doesn't think a lot of this should be played out in public either. And he's trying to calm it down.

And the U.N. General Assembly starts next week. I hope that will be a calm period. And what I really wish for is that this campaign rhetoric would die down; your candidate, Dan, would focus on the strength...

SENOR: But Jane...

HARMAN: ... which is the economy and applaud some of the good moves that the Obama administration. In fact, if he joined them, that would perhaps help his candidacy.

SENOR: When the prime minister of Israel feels compelled to hold a press conference in Jerusalem to speak out, scream from the mountaintops about his concern about the administration, our administration's policy on Iran, and it leaks out that there is no meeting, even though the Israelis want one, that's not my candidate, that's not domestic U.S. politics. That's the democratically-elected prime minister of Israel.

BLITZER: Hey, guys, hold on for a minute. I want to continue this conversation. We have to take a quick break. Lots more to discuss.

Kate, don't go away either.

BOLDUAN: I won't.

BLITZER: Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Dan Senor, foreign policy advisor to the Romney campaign. Jane Harman also joining us, the president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, former Democratic congresswoman.

BOLDUAN: Picking back up on the discussion that we're having, Jane, I want to ask you first. Take a look at this poll. It's President Obama's approval rating on his handling of foreign policy. It's dropped five points in the last month, from 54 percent back in August and now at 49 percent.

What do you think of this? I mean, there's a lot that's been happening in August and in the month of September in terms of bringing foreign policy back to the forefront of voters' minds. What do you make of it?

HARMAN: I think it's a dicey time, especially in the Middle East, and people are uncertain how it's going to turn out. And it's not just the two wars. We have fairly clear and solid policies, which I support about ending the Iraq war, which we've done, and withdrawing from Afghanistan in a safe and fairly measured way.

But the rest of what's going on in 20 countries and these protests and the murder of our ambassador in Libya have people unsettled. So, they're waiting for better answers, which is why I said just a few minutes ago, we need a steady hand on the tiller. We need a lot of this stuff handled in private.

We do need an investigation of the security in Libya. I wonder whether that was adequate.

BLITZER: Are we going to get a major foreign policy speech by Mitt Romney?

SENOR: I'm not going to preview any public statements...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He has an opportunity now to...

SENOR: Look, I think, I don't get in the business of polls, but what I think you're seeing is people reacting to this sense of an unraveling. I mean, there's unraveling going on around in the region. You just said there's uprisings in 20 capitals. There's tens of thousands of Syrians dead. It's been over a year since the president said Assad must go. You have Iran getting closer and closer to nuclear weapon. You have people storming our embassies.

And you add all this up and you take a step back, it's not shocking that people would get a sense that something's not going well. There is an unraveling.

BOLDUAN: But if Romney doesn't make a major foreign policy speech now, isn't that a missed opportunity here?

SENOR: He talks about foreign policy all the time. And I would just say that there's a lot of information coming out of the region right now. There's a lot of information coming out of the administration. We take a step back and answer a couple of questions.

One is, what happened over the last week and, more importantly, what is it symptomatic in terms of what were the factors that contributed to the last, were heard over the last few years?

HARMAN: Well, let me say, making Israel and Iran into political footballs, I don't think serves the Romney campaign well. I don't think it serves America well, and I know it does serve Iran well. Let's not go there.

And as far as trying to make sense of this, it will take time. Democracy is messy, and I think that this is a long-term project. I think we have our foreign policy place...

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a second. We're out of time. But I've got to ask you about that Maureen Dowd column last Sunday. She really blasted you, called you a neocon puppet master: "Senor is emblematic of how much trouble America blundered into in the Middle East: trillions wasted, so many lives and limbs lost," referring to your service during the Bush administration when you were in Iraq working with Paul Bremmer, the U.S. ambassador.

SENOR: I'm not going to dignify it with a response. We were surprised to see the Obama campaign was pushing it out.

Look, Governor Romney and Paul Ryan have very strong developed views on foreign policy. Paul Ryan has spoken about foreign policy quite a bit before he was chosen for the ticket. A little bit of research would have dug that up. So I was surprised with the direction she went.

HARMAN: Name calling doesn't help, you know, to my friend Maureen. I think Dan is a patriot. I think he wants to do the right thing. I may disagree with a lot of what he is suggesting lately, but I think taking the longer view, we've got to work at this together and we've got to be bipartisan in our foreign policy. And we've got to win the argument about why, what America stands for.

Just playing whack-a-mole in any version isn't going to win this thing for us. And to win it, we have to persuade people who may strap on a suicide vest if it's...

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, guys, unfortunately.

SENOR: Jane will serve in the Obama administration. If they're taking her advice, we'd be in better shape.

HARMAN: Are you endorsing me?

SENOR: No, no in the next few months before the end of his term, it would be great if Jane could help close out the single, sole Obama term.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks. Thanks, Jane Harman and Dan Senor. Thanks for coming in.

Iran is believed to be developing its own Internet right now. So why does the government want to separate the country from the World Wide Web? Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. All year we've been introducing you to everyday people who are changing the world. We call them CNN Heroes.

Well, now, we announce the top ten CNN Heroes for 2012. The honorees are in random order.

(voice-over) Connie Siskowski is helping for children who are caring for ill or aging loved ones to stay in school and hold onto their childhood.

Pushpa Basnet saves innocent children from growing up behind bars with their incarcerated parents.

Thulani Madondo organizes his Kiptown community to educate hundreds of their next generation.

Mary Cortani enlists man's best friend to give fellow veterans a way to move beyond PTSD and into life, again.

Malya Villard-Appolon has turned personal trauma into a fight for justice for thousands of rape survivors in Haiti.

After using sports to fight his own addiction, Scott Strode now helps former addicts to stay fit and sober.

Wanda Butts brings water safety and swimming lessons to those most vulnerable: black and Latino children.

Catalina Escobar ensures healthy deliveries and solid futures for Columbian teens already facing motherhood.

Leo McCarthy's tragic loss of his daughter sparked his mission to end the mission of underaged drinking.

And where terrorists stop at nothing to keep girls from being educated, Razia Jan fearlessly opens her school each and every day.

(on camera) Congratulations to the top ten CNN Heroes of 2012. Tell us who inspires you the most. Go to CNNHeroes.com online or on your mobile device to vote for the CNN Hero of the Year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Iran may be taking some unusual measures to try to protect its controversial nuclear program. There are signs the country has put its experts to work on what would be Iran's own Internet, separate from the World Wide Web.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have information that Iran is actually developing two Internets: one military, one civilian. Iran says they're in response to cyber-attacks, but experts say there's another motive, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Iran claims its nuclear program is under cyber siege, saying in recent days that power lines for an enrichment facility were sabotaged. The Stuxnet virus, blamed on the U.S. and Israel, had already set Iran's nuclear program back at least a year.

How is Tehran countering all of it? With its own Internets. A top Iranian official recently bragged that Iran will develop a separate military Internet of its own, a national intelligence network, he said, "where the precious intelligence of the country won't be accessible to these powers."

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: And what they're planning to do is basically have a central server here in Tehran which then connects to each and every one of their nuclear facilities as well as all their military installations, some of which are all the way down here in the southeastern part of the country.

TODD: And CNN has now learned Iran is already developing a civilian version of that. Colin Anderson, an independent researcher, is publishing a report on it in the coming weeks.

Anderson, who didn't want to go on camera, tells CNN he recently discovered unusual activity in blocks of computer addresses in Iran, separate from the World Wide Web. He says they were sending content across the country. Anderson believes the Iranians want to be able to disconnect from the standard Internet when they're under attack, maybe even permanently, and function on their own in cyberspace.

(on camera) And here's how they're already doing it. This is the login page for a Webmail site called mail.Iran.ir. Here's where you sign into it. Colin Anderson says this is Iran's alternative, a competitor really, to Gmail. It's already publicly available in Iran. People can send e-mails on this.

It's not completely separate from the Internet right now, but Anderson says in Iran, the government can disconnect from the worldwide Internet service and users would still have access to this service.

(voice-over) Anderson says right now, Iran's internal Internet also connects people with businesses and government ministries.

I asked Cedrick Leighton, former official at the National Security Agency, who's monitored Iran's cyber efforts, about the Iranians' claim that they're building their own Internet simply for their own protection.

(on camera) Is that the only reason they're doing it?

LEIGHTON: They're using this as a way to control their population, and they're doing it in a way that is very, very ubiquitous. It is going to cover all of the different aspects of Iran's social connection to the Internet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And Colin Anderson says on that mail.Iran.ir service, the government can read any correspondence going out or coming in and certainly does so, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Up close and personal with the world's fastest land animal. An unforgettable encounter coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Safaris offer a chance to glimpse Africa's wildlife, but one group of tourists got much more than that. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was just another safari in Kenya when a cheetah the tourists had spotted decided to hitch a ride. Or at least a seat. And thus began 45 minutes of eye- to-eye contact only a foot or two from a creature one couple dubbed

CATE GIRSKIS, TOURIST: Rita. Rita the cheetah.

MOOS: Cate Girskis's husband was the one shooting the video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you feeling there, Girsk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. My heart's going to beat out of my chest.

MOOS: Although not known for viciousness, they easily kill their prey.

GIRSKIS: I'm not sure that I was breathing. And my knees were buckling. My whole body was shaking. She was stunning.

MOOS (on camera): When the cheetah leaped up, the safari guy told the tourists exactly what not to do.

GIRSKIS: Don't move. Don't talk. Hakuna matata.

MOOS (voice-over): The expression made famous by "The Lion King."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Hakuna matata. It means no worries for the rest of your days.

GIRSKIS: He wasn't interested in us at all.

MOOS: For her, the vehicle was just a perch with a view so she could scan for prey.

After 45 minutes, Edward the guide started the engine, and second seconds later, Rita the cheetah stood up.

But soon, she presented a new threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't spray us now.

MOOS: Not at all farfetched. There's a famous "Animal Planet" video in which Keekay (ph) the cheetah answers the call of nature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

MOOS: Through the sunroof into the napkin of a zoologist trapped below. But Rita believed.

(on camera) The tourists realized later that the license began with the letters K-A-T.

(voice-over) Thought spelling "cat" with a "K" is cheetah-ing.

Finally...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, thank goodness. Oh, man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh -- bye-bye.

GIRSKIS: It was elation and relief.

MOOS: They had but one request of their guide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Edward, if we could get a lion up there next.

MOOS: Actually, cheetahs parking themselves on cars and sunroofs are pretty common on YouTube. It's almost as if it's raining cats.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(SHOUTING/LAUGHING)

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: You ever been on safari?

BLITZER: I got to Botswana in 1998.

BOLDUAN: I've been to Botswana.

BLITZER: How did you like your safari?

BOLDUAN: I loved the safari. Did not have such a close encounter with a cheetah.

BLITZER: No, no. Take a few pictures, and...

BOLDUAN: I had a few pictures.

BLITZER: ... ran away. Watched a little bit.

BOLDUAN: I just did the zoom to get a little bit closer.

BLITZER: You're braver -- you're braver than I am.

BOLDUAN: No, I'm not.

BLITZER: Much braver.

BOLDUAN: I could probably watch that. That was a lot of people.

BLITZER: We recommend Botswana.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back one hour from now, 8 p.m. Eastern. I'm filling in for Anderson Cooper, "AC 360." That will start 8 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.