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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Obama to Make Historic Address on Terrorism. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 6, 2015 - 19:00   ET

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


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[19:00:23] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We begin with breaking news: President Obama's Oval Office address on terror.

You're looking live at the White House there right now where President Obama will speak in just about an hour at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The lectern already set up inside the Oval Office -- a rare backdrop -- he's only used for speeches twice before.

The President's remarks come a day after he huddled with his national security team inside the White House Situation Room. His advisers updating him on evidence suggesting the killers in this week's San Bernardino shooting massacre were radicalized before they gunned down and killed 14 people.

Today the father of one of the shooters Syed Rizwan Farook admitted to an Italian newspaper his son shared the ideology of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

The big question now: can the President reassure the nation he has a plan to destroy ISIS and keep the American people safe?

Our new CNN/ORC polls suggest that maybe an uphill battle for the President. Only 38 percent of Americans right now approve of how the President is handling terrorism. That's down six points from our poll back in February.

We're covering the historic address like no other network can. Our team of correspondents, analysts and guests from across the country and around the world are all standing by.

Let's start our coverage with our chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper. Jake -- the President has a huge mission tonight to reassure the American people there is a strategy to destroy ISIS.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you've cited the number, the disapproval number of people when it comes to President Obama's handling of terrorism, fighting terrorism. It's even worse when they're asked about how he's handling ISIS -- 33 percent approve; 64 percent disapprove.

And when Americans are asked what is a serious threat to the United States? ISIS is rated by more Americans as a serious threat than any other issue, Iran or any other group, 89 percent say it's a serious issue.

So the President and his administration know this is something that the American people are really concerned about, really worried about, and I think there is in this address this evening almost an implicit acknowledgement that the remarks the President has made so far, whether after the Paris attacks or whether after the attacks in San Bernardino this week, all of which are terrorist attacks, have been inadequate, that his response has been off the cuff to a small audience in terms of people watching, the pool sprays, his events day to day but there needs to be an event, a serious event, a serious moment.

This is only the third time he'll be speaking, addressing the nation from the Oval Office and in these remarks, there will be, one assumes, none of the calls that he's made for the American people to have some perspective, insistence that ISIS doesn't pose an existential threat to the United States. The President, his staffers now needs to appear resolute, determined to defeat ISIS, determined to call upon moderate Muslims to drown out the voices of extremism and I expect that's what we're going to hear this evening.

BLITZER: He has to move away from this notion that ISIS has been contained in Iraq and Syria.

TAPPER: Well, look, President Obama and the rest of individuals who look at the statistics can say, yes, you know, actually fatty foods pose a greater threat to the health and well-being of the American people than ISIS does but that's not what the American people want to hear. The American people want to hear that this threat will be defeated and that everything is being done to combat it.

And remember, Wolf, after the attacks in Paris, the President and his national security team and the intelligence community said they knew of no credible threats against the United States. And literally days later, two individuals from California, one of them originally from Pakistan, radicalized, pledging allegiance to ISIS, carried out the worst massacre in the United States since Newtown.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

The road blocks for the President, though, given some of the criticism he has received, and it's been enormous, are pretty significant tonight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I think he's got a skeptical public right now. I mean as our poll shows -- by the way, our poll was taken before the events in San Bernardino -- so I think if you looked at our polls today, it would be worse for the President I would presume. But 68 percent say we're not -- the U.S. military response to ISIS has not been aggressive enough.

And I think the problem for the President is that, perhaps, his national security team did not know of any credible threats and that frightens people more because if they didn't know, the question is, why didn't they know? [19:05:07] And what can you do about this do-it-yourself jihadis that we're seeing right now who are inspired by what they read on the Internet or something far, far away who are living currently in this country? People don't see it, and that's the question, that's the question the American people want answered from the President, which is how can you change your strategy to fight this kind of terror to keep us safer?

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting the setting for tonight's address from the Oval Office -- John. He's only done it twice before, in August of 2010 when he announced the end of combat operations in Iraq and in June of 2010 when the Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred.

It's going to be a little different tonight. Not only is it going it be from the Oval Office but they have a lectern set up in there. He's not going to be sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. He's going to be standing and speaking from behind the lectern.

The White House released this picture earlier in the day to underscore what the President is going to do.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have the Presidential seal there brought into the Oval Office -- the Oval Office, by itself of course, portrays the majesty and the power of the presidency.

But look, the President needs a page-turning moment. You and Jake had been through the polling numbers. This is a major security issue and concern for the American people. It's a major policy conversation the President has to have with his own administration, within the administration and then with the United States Congress.

And you cannot -- you cannot ignore the politics of the moment because of where we are on the calendar. He's in the final year of his presidency. His personal approval numbers, job performance numbers are down. He's trying to tell the American people you can have confidence in me at a time especially when it comes to ISIS but even on his overall job performance the American people don't have a great deal of confidence in him at the moment and he's trying to do this at a time that we have a presidential campaign that is quite vocal and quite loud and most of it right is on the Republican side where they say this president doesn't have a clue.

That's the Republican argument that from the moment he said ISIS was the JV, he has underestimated them and he has not rallied either the American people or the resources of the United States government, or they would argue the resources of the global community to deal with this problem.

So the President very much needs a page-turning moment from a policy perspective. And I can tell you tonight, again, we don't want to overemphasize this because this is a serious issue. When you do talk to Democrats privately, they are very nervous about the current political mood in the country and its impact on them. That's secondary but you cannot ignore it. TAPPER: Very interesting ahead, a young member of the House of

Representatives on my show on Friday, this is not somebody -- he's somebody from the San Francisco area -- not somebody inclined to disagree with the President. And he distanced himself from the President on TV about the issue of whether or not the President takes seriously enough the threat of homegrown terrorists.

That is a liberal Democrat from the San Francisco area. So the fear the Democrats are feeling as John mentioned is very real.

KING: And Hillary Clinton did it again today. Again, she's been very careful. She's tried to be supportive of the President. But again today she says we need a more aggressive policy which is to say the one we have isn't aggressive enough.

BORGER: It is the Democrats who went to the White House and said, you know, we think we need a presidential moment here. We think we need an address. This came from pressure within the Democratic Party to the President saying, you know, you've been a little offhanded about this, you've been a little defensive about this, you need to kind of set the stage and tell the American people --

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stay with us. We're not going anywhere. Much more of CNN's special coverage right after a quick break.

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[19:11:43] BLITZER: You're watching CNN's special live coverage of President Obama's address to the nation. That's coming up at the top of the hour, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to get much more analysis, much more reporting on what's going on.

But first let's take a look back at a moment to a now rather awkward interview from January 2014 when President Obama compared is to a JV sports team. Saying, and I'm quoting him, "The analogy we use around here sometimes and I think it is accurate is if a JV team puts on a Lakers uniform, that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant".

Here's how the President's response has evolved since then.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I've said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I'm confident that we can and we will.

We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

In Iraq, in Syria American leadership, including our military power is stopping ISIL's advance.

And we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq, and in Syria, it -- they'll come in, they'll leave.

Destroying ISIL is not only a realistic goal, we're going to get it done. Russia's going to recognize the threat that ISIL poses to its country, to its people is the most significant and that they need to align themselves with those of us who are fighting ISIL.

ISIL is not going to pose an existential threat to us. They are a dangerous organization like al Qaeda was, but we have hardened our defenses, our homeland has never been more protected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim -- what are you hearing from sources over at the White House about what we can expect to hear from the President?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- we don't expect the President to unveil any big new policy proposals or announce a major strip in strategy for the war on ISIS. This rare primetime address in the Oval Office is more about reassuring the American people that the President is doing what it takes to destroy this terrorist army and that he understands the public is rightly worried about these recent events in France and California.

A senior administration official tells me the President will use this address to pledge to use every tool at his disposal to keep the American people safe. I think we'll also hear what the White House knows about the recent terror attack in San Bernardino and the connection, if any, between the two killers in that assault and ISIS commanders overseas.

The President will also talk about the steps he's taken since the Paris attacks -- the intensified air campaign, plus the recent addition of the British to the air strikes on ISIS in Syria.

But, Wolf, you know, I've been talking to senior administration officials for weeks about this ISIS problem. They believe the public is not fully aware of all of the successes they've had in this U.S.- led coalition. So we'll hear the President talk about that.

And we'll also hear the President renew his call for more gun control laws. You've heard a lot about this Democratic proposal in recent days to bar people on the no-fly list from buying firearms. I think the President will talk about that again.

And finally the President will discuss how this nation must come together in the words of one senior administration official and uphold U.S. values. And the translation to that, Wolf, is that means treating Muslim-Americans just like any other American.

[19:15:00] They feel very strongly that the rhetoric coming out of the Republican race for the White House right now is very counterproductive when it comes to bringing Muslim-Americans on board -- that community on board to take the fight against ISIS and quite frankly to inform law enforcement officials when necessary if a threat develops here in the homeland.

But Wolf, the stakes are very high for this president as you were discussing earlier with John, and Jake, and Gloria. Not only are Republicans doubting his policy; earlier today Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is not winning. That cannot go over well over here at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. She's sort of trying to distance herself a bit from the President in terms of some of his policy statements on the war against ISIS, if you will.

All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. We'll get back to you.

Jake -- if the President is not going to make a major policy announcement tonight but just reiterate what he's been saying, is it worth the primetime address to the nation from the Oval Office?

TAPPER: Well, they obviously feel that it is. I mean, I think a couple of things. One is most of the American people obviously do not follow the day in, day out remarks of President Obama. Things he'd said to the "New Yorker" two years ago, et cetera the way that we do and the way that maybe many viewers of CNN do.

And so the opportunity to speak to an audience that is sitting down to watch the Simpsons, sitting down to watch Sunday night football, that is an opportunity, that is a bigger audience than he has had in recent weeks and months to talk about this issue.

Second of all, as Jim just reiterated, there are a lot of remarks being made that are filling the air that are getting to the American people that have President Obama very, very concerned especially when it comes to the way that the Muslim-American community is being addressed.

Now, I'm told President Obama will talk about the need for moderate Muslim voices to drown out these voices of extremism. But he is also very, very concerned about the fact that it's not just bigotry and it's not just immoral to cast aspersions on the six million to eight million American Muslims, it's also stupid. It's also bad law enforcement policy.

You want to have American-Muslims -- you want to have everybody in this country on the program, on board with if you see something, say something, sharing information, sharing intelligence about individuals who might come into a mosque and be saying something that you find troubling. And that the idea of demonizing so many Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism is immoral and dumb.

BLITZER: Yes. That's well said, indeed.

Let's bring in some of our experts, joining us right now. Dan Pfeiffer, our CNN political commentator, a former White House senior adviser to President Obama -- walk us through a decision-making process, Dan, how the President decides that tonight only the third time in his presidency he's going to speak in primetime from the Oval Office of the White House to the American people -- indeed, to the world? DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf -- this is

obviously -- the primetime national address is the most powerful communications tool available to the President outside of the state of the union, and you do this very rarely. You don't want to overuse it. You need to do it at a time when you know the American people want to hear what you have to say, where they are interested in paying attention.

And I think using the Oval Office for just as you mentioned the third time is a sign that they really want to make sure that this speech is seen and heard and consumed as Jake mentioned not by the people who follow the news use every day, who read the "New Yorker" and watch CNN every day but the broader American public who are just hearing little bits and pieces of what's happening around the world in terms of ISIL and he can really speak directly to them in the new context of post- San Bernardino and post-Paris.

BLITZER: Van Jones, you're also a former adviser to President Obama, you're a CNN political commentator as well. Why is he doing so poorly with the American public right now in this new CNN/ORC poll? How is President Obama handling ISIS? Only 33 percent approve; 64 percent disapprove. Where has he gone wrong?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think tonight he's got to make up some ground. He has both a heart challenge and a head challenge. The heart challenge is he's got to connect better emotionally. I think in trying to contextualize this saying this is not the Soviet Union, it's not Hitler, this is a death cult he sometimes seems tone deaf. He's almost like emotionally removed.

He's got to stop doing that. He's got to connect better emotionally. That's the heart challenge. He can do that tonight.

But he also has a head challenge. Exactly what Jake was saying, there's a smart way to deal with this and there's a dumb way to deal with this. To call this horrible death cult a radical Islamic group is to pay them a compliment. You don't call a -- you don't associate a death cult with one of the great religions. You want to say these are just extremists and terrible people.

You don't say you're going to round up all the Muslims and you're going to suspect all the Muslims. Those are the kinds of things he's got to say. Listen, I get this emotionally but I'm being smart in how I'm approaching this. If he can do both of those, he's going to have a good night tonight.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers is joining us as well. He's a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's a CNN national security commentator. What do you want to hear tonight, Mike, from the President?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I think he's got to lay out a better plan than we've heard. If you recall there, he stumbled a while on, well, we don't really have a strategy and he never quite fully recovered from that. [19:20:02] And we hear fits and starts. He talks about we're going to ramp up air strikes and then you hear that 80 percent of the planes that leave come back with their munitions because they don't have targets to engage in because of rules of engagement and bad intelligence on the ground. And so I think he really needs to finally say I'm going to lay out a strategy on how I'm going to go after ISIS using our Arab League partners and others.

Right now it is just a hodgepodge of press releases about certain things he's going to do or not do, and then they candidly they get off, Wolf, on this crazy -- and this is all about political distraction -- this guns -- getting -- the no-fly list, you can't go buy a gun.

That has nothing to do with what happened in California. We're talking about a radicalized extremist group that has a worldwide infrastructure and we don't really have a good plan to put pressure on it. And that includes diplomacy, military, intelligence -- none of that is weaved together.

If he goes up tonight, the President of the United States, and lays out that plan and says, this is why we're going to do this, how we're going to do it, and we can maintain American values in the process, I think he could do a lot of good in the fight. If he says this is one of those to-be-clear speeches, you don't exactly understand what I've been doing. I think it's going to be a complete failure.

BLITZER: David Gergen, you're our senior political analyst. You advised four American presidents. What advice would you have given him going into this important speech tonight?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He needs a clear, credible plan of action, of new action. It goes beyond words. One of the reasons, Wolf, I believe that he has such a low approval rating in this area is there's a contradiction between what he's saying and what people are hearing from him and what people are actually seeing with their own eyes.

You know, he said, as you noted earlier, that ISIS has been contained. There are no real credible threats. We're making progress. And here people hear from Hillary Clinton, his old secretary of state saying, no, no, we're not winning.

They see Paris, they see California. What are people expected to come out of that? They believe what they see happening. And the fear level in the country now, I think, is returning to the levels we haven't seen since 9/11.

And so from my perspective, for a president to go on television on a Sunday night in primetime, he sends a signal of seriousness and he sets a high bar for himself. In my judgment, words alone will not be enough, reassurances alone will not enough. He needs to go beyond that to a strategy and to a concrete credible plan of action.

BLITZER: General Hertling is joining us. Mark Hertling, our CNN military analyst, retired U.S. General. General Hertling -- military personnel, generals and others they always want clarity of the mission. Will the President from your perspective offer that kind of strategic military clarity tonight on how the United States militarily is going to destroy ISIS?

GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I hope so, Wolf. And I think he has been attempting to do that, but some of the words have gotten in the way. You said it before, the constrained words, the existential threat. Those things are well understood in the military community but the general American public does not really understand those words and what it means.

So what I hope to see happen tonight is first of all he's got to reassure the country that we are ok, that things aren't on fire everywhere you look, that there was an unfortunate occurrence with an act of terror this week in California, but that doesn't mean we can't still go after this strategy that he has outlined.

What I would like to see, truthfully, is a review of that strategy. There is one -- everyone keeps saying there isn't a strategy. The President, and his national security team, does have a strategy. I'd like to see him tick it off, review each element of it and say where we're doing well and where we're not doing so well.

The transparency of saying we've got to revise some things, we've got to maybe do some things differently not just in the military arena but some of the other arenas.

And I'll jump on what Van Jones said earlier, too. He's got to separate what is good and what is the right thing to do versus what a lot of people are saying we should do which frankly are a lot of dumb things that are counterproductive in this fight and will cause more problems as we go against this enemy that has an unbelievably bizarre ideology that we have to eliminate.

BLITZER: Michael Weiss is joining us as well. He's CNN contributor and an expert on ISIS. Michael, you know, I've actually heard some other experts say to me what the President is doing tonight could inadvertently aid ISIS in its propaganda, sort of elevating ISIS right now and help them in their recruiting. Do you buy that?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I don't think he in terms of his rhetoric, he's going to do anything to try and do what ISIS wants the United States to do which is to drive a wedge between the Muslims who live in the west and this awful terrorist organization.

[19:25:00] As I speak, Wolf, the Front National, the fascistic far right party in France just swept regional elections there. They took 30 percent. They're the first party among all political parties. And this is coming right off the back of Paris.

I'm already seeing ISIS say Takfir (ph) this is wonderful. It will show that the Muslims of France that they have two choices, the fascists or ISIS. So the President does have to be careful.

But just one final point here: he has tried to divorce, wrongly in my view and stupidly actually, domestic policy from foreign policy. To say that we must empower moderate Muslims to stand up and denounce ISIS, this is a religion of peace and whatever -- all well and good.

The problem is when moderate Muslims are being saran-gassed and barrel-bombed and the United States is acquiescing to this in Syria, the President's worst comment, the most (inaudible) thing he said was we're just fighting ISIS, the Syrian people, the Syrian opposition is fighting Russia, Iran and the Assad regime. Exactly -- that's the problem.

The United States has not taken up the cudgel. And this is a radicalizing agent like no other for this organization.

BLITZER: Michael Weiss -- everyone, stand by. We have a lot more -- a little bit more than a half an hour or so from now. The President will be in the Oval Office making a major address outlining his plan to destroy ISIS.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

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[19:30:00] BLITZER: As President Obama prepares to outline his ISIS strategy, we have new developments from the investigation into the San Bernardino massacre which may have been inspired by the terror group.

As you know, a violent husband and wife team stormed into a holiday celebration and gunned down and killed 14 people. Until now, we've heard that Syed Farook's wife was responsible for radicalizing him, but now there's new information he was also a follower of ISIS ideology.

Our law enforcement sources are telling CNN that Farook was in touch with people being investigated by the FBI for international terrorism, reaching out by phone and on social media.

CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us now from San Bernardino in California where she spoke to Syed Farook's father and is now attending a vigil out there. Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here in Washington. First to you, Kyung, what did the father tell you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the father is speaking to reporters on and off throughout the day, beginning last night. He did speak to some reporters today saying basically he had much more liberal view, his policies were liberal. His son increasingly conservative, especially as he got older. He gave a very detailed interview to an Italian newspaper "La Stampa" and there we certainly got a very big clue about what he thought of his son.

He said that his son's ideology was - they shared the ideology of Al Baghdadi and that he believed that there should be an Islamic state and he was fixated on Israel. Now, a Pakistani family, family in Pakistan that he has said that they were increasingly concerned about the change, a shift in his character.

So certainly, Wolf, we're hearing now as time goes on, especially from the father, is that it may not have all been the wife, that this slow change may have also come from his son, Wolf. BLITZER: Pamela, what are your law enforcement sources telling you about ways to prevent attacks like the one in San Bernardino, especially when this couple left behind such a relatively small footprint, at least as far as we know right now leading up to their attack?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I have been asking that question to law enforcement officials, Wolf. The bottom line, many of them say, "look, you can't eliminate risk, you can mitigate it" and in this case law enforcement officials say this is a situation where you really need the help of those that knew them, the family members. Perhaps a mom who lived with them and we know, Wolf, that in this case there was a cache of weapons including bombs.

A question is being raised, well, didn't anyone see this and why didn't anyone come forward to the authorities? At this point I'm told there are no indications that anyone did before this terrorist attack.

So officials I've been speaking with say this case highlights the importance of those that are close to people who may be radicalized or showing signs of that to speak up and tell law enforcement.

I'm also getting some new information here, Wolf, you mentioned that he had been in touch with terrorism subjects, those have been under investigation. I'm also learning that Syed Farook has made, had attempted to make contact with terrorist groups overseas, so another indication there that he was radicalized. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect that footprint is going to get bigger and bigger in the coming days for both him and his wife, late wife Tashfeen Malik, as well.

Kyung Lah, thank you. Pamela Brown, thanks to you. We'll get back to both of you soon. Much more of CNN's special coverage leading up to President Obama's Oval Office address right at the top of the hour. We'll be right back.

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[19:36:55]

BLITZER: Live pictures from the White House. The president will be addressing the nation, indeed the world at the top of the hour on the war against ISIS. Leaders all over the world no doubt will be watching as well.

Our senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us now live from London. Clarissa, I assume there's enormous interest especially in the UK where you are now, where the government there has just approved air strikes going against ISIS targets in Syria.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And we've seen since the Parliament, the British Parliament approved those air strikes, British forces have been hitting ISIS pretty hard in since those air strikes began. They've been really focusing primarily, Wolf, on oil wells. Trying to drill down on ISIS' primary source of revenue. We know that the selling of oils taken from those oil fields is one of their primary sources of income, and so that's been the primary strategy.

For British forces going ahead. But certainly that doesn't really speak to what to do about this larger problem that we've seen in the U.S. in San Bernardino about what they're calling a DIY jihad. People who are becoming self-radicalized as a result of propaganda online, going out, buying guns and launching attacks and whatever attacks the Brits or the coalition may be launching against ISIS inside Syria and Iraq, that's going to do very little, unfortunately, to counteract the problem that we're seeing of these so-called lonewolf attacks or self-radicalized DIY jihad.

BLITZER: Clarissa, stand by. I'm going to get back to you in a moment. Jake tapper is with us. Jake, you had a fascinating interview the other day with Michael Flynn, former head of the defense intelligence agency, DIA, part of the Defense Department. He was pretty candid with you about his criticisms and thoughts about what's happening right now in this war against ISIS.

TAPPER: And let's be clear, when the history of this whole ISIS thing is written, there will be a lot of people to blame and a lot of people will not look great in retrospect.

One of the criticisms that is coming from people like Michael Flynn is that they did warn about the potential for ISIS to rise. In fact, in 2012 the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report warning just that, that because of this chasm of unlawful lands and ungoverned societies and the rise of the Islamic state, ISIS, it could grow and it could expand its reach.

I asked him, just a few days ago, why he thought his report that was issued in 2012 before President Obama called them the JV team, why it was ignored. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FMR. DIR. DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I think that they did not meet a particular narrative that the White House need, and I'll be very candid with you. I have said, and I believe that the people that were around the president, his sort of inner circle that were advising him I think advised him incorrectly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:40:00]

TAPPER: The idea was in 2012, the narrative as President Obama ran for re-election was terrorists are on the run, we are winning this war, and that mindset, according to General Flynn and some others in the intelligence community, took hold and the problem was not taken as seriously as perhaps it should have been there retrospect.

BLITZER: And the criticism, Gloria, was that in 2012 the president was up for re-election and he wanted to show the U.S. was winning in this war.

GLORIA BERGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: Against terrorism.

BERGER: And the narrative for the president was that he ended wars and that he didn't start wars. And if you look at, say, Leon Panetta's memoir, he basically had the same complaint about the president which is that certain things didn't fit into the narrative and either - and decisions didn't get made that should have been made. And there's also questions that we've been reading about, and about whether intelligence was overlooked, or cooked or shoved to the side, and I think, you know, that's something that's going to have to be examined now in light of what's going on with this.

BLITZER: John King, there is currently an inspector general's investigation under way at the Department of Defense on whether some of the intelligence that was presented was sort of cherry picked or changed in order to suit what officials in the White House may have wanted to hear.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR "INSIDE POLITICS": And the president says he hopes that didn't happen. What you have is some rank-and-file people at the lower level of the intelligence community saying we were sending up these warnings, we were sending up more serious reports and by the time they got to the policymakers, they had been made more optimistic.

As Jake said, there will be a lot of parties to blame in 10, 15, or 20 years when we know more about this and we go back and look at it. But I think you can say pretty clearly that even Democrats and even some people inside the White House will concede this that the president especially in his public comments and underestimated ISIS has not talked publicly.

The Republicans wanted to say radicalists wanted to make jihad or radicalists (INAUDIBLE) the president is not going to go there, but by saying JV, by saying other things that have minimized the threat, the question is can he turn the page? We're going to hear from the president in 20 minutes. And can the president turn the page and convince the American people, I get it, I have a plan, I'm going to keep you safe?

And I think to David Gergen's point, can he say something new? Because if he says the same things, the problem is you guys talked about the poll numbers earlier, the American people have lost faith in his plans. If he says the same things, can he inspire new confidence?

TAPPER: We should just note, the reason the White House gives, the same reason the Bush White House gave that they don't pinpoint this, label this terrorism as Islamic or Islam-o-fascist or whatever in general is because there's a strong feeling from intelligence experts and military experts that if you do that, you are helping ISIS with the narrative and that is a war between the west and Islam.

BLITZER: We're only about 17 minutes away from the president's Oval Office address on his strategy to destroy ISIS. More of our special coverage right after a quick break.

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[19:45:50]

BLITZER: In about 15 minutes, President Obama will try to reassure a jittery nation after what may have been the first ISIS-inspired terror attack by people living here in the United States.

Joining us now, the former Obama senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. Got a lot of other analysts joining us as well, but Dan, I'm told the president personally pushed hard to deliver this primetime address tonight. He began discussing it with his senior aides Friday night.

Now he's going ahead with this speech. It's not an easy decision for a president to do this. It underscores his desire to convince the American people he knows what he's doing.

PFEIFFER: I think it - you're right. This is not an easy decision. This is as I said earlier the most important communications tool the president has and doing the oval raises the stakes even more. What I think he wants to do here and I've talked to folks in the White House, is try to reset the conversation in country.

He knows people are very concerned post-Paris and post-San Bernardino. There's a lot of very inflammatory dangerous political rhetoric out there. I think he wants to speak to the country and not the folks who follow us day-to-day but the more casual news viewers about his very specific plan, what he's been doing, what we need to do going forward and help people understand the threat.

I think that he thought the best way to do this was do it in the biggest fashion possible which is an oval office address on a Sunday night.

BLITZER: Van Jones, if the president, however, doesn't make news in the sense that he doesn't offer any new policy initiatives, doesn't offer any new strategies, sort of reiterates everything he said until now, he'll be criticized, right?

JONES: He will be criticized but I think he has to acknowledge something which is that we are in a different situation. Up until now he could say, I've kept you safe. Now it's been predicted you'd have these lone wolf threats. We've been talking about it for months. Now it has materialized and not just in Paris but here.

So he's not got to come before the American people and explain what it is that we're going to be doing differently and what we have been doing to keep this to a minimum. I thought David Gergen said something very interesting. He said he feels we may be back at a 9/11 level of fear.

Now, remember, 9/11 was 3,000 people. It was icons going down. This was a few dozen casualties taken. And yet with this new wired world, the social media world, is can spend much less money in a crowd-source way and still put the nation at fear. The president has to speak to the country. Whether or not he has a new plan or not, there's a new level of concern he must address tonight and he will.

BLITZER: David Gergen, should the president declare this a war and seek congressional authorization for the use of military force?

GERGEN: I don't think that's necessary at this point, Wolf. I think what he does have to do is take action. I can't emphasize enough, words of reassurance are not enough. The country is not looking for a father-in-chief tonight.

What they're looking for is a commander in chief who is tough, decisive and wants to win. And is committed to that emotionally and mentally. They're not quite sure he's there yet.

BLITZER: What do you think, Mike Rogers? Does the president need new congressional authorization to launch this war against is in Raqqah, their so-called caliphate capital in Syria?

ROGERS: Well, you and I have talked about this before wolf when I was the chairman of the House Intelligence committee, I believe he needed it several years ago. I think Congress needs to step in a real and meaningful way and give the president authorization for military force. We already have forces engaged in that region.

This is through our elected representatives telling America that they, we have their back. I think that's critical, but here's the other part of this. We need to be very careful not to minimize what happened in California. This is a pattern. ISIS is now in almost 30 different states. It's operating on serious levels both logistically, it's marrying up with former other organizations, Al Shabaab being one of them, Al Qaeda affiliates, almost half of them have pledged support to the mission of ISIS.

[19:50:00]

We have a big and growing problem, and I think the longer the president decides he doesn't want to deal with this head on, the more problem we're having, and as David said, Americans understand this. They saw when the Russian plane went down. They saw the bombing in Lebanon.

They saw the attack in Paris. They saw the attack in California. They're hearing about reports of the beheading plots disrupted right here in the United States. In Australia, in Canada. You can't not understand the weight of what is happening in reality and have a more political nothing to see here move along.

I think this is a very important speech for the president and really for America if we want to finally get Americans together, then we need to do it - this speech needs to help push Americans together on defeating ISIS. If there's any division in this I'm going to be highly disappointed in the president.

BLITZER: Gen. Hertling, every analyst I've spoken to agrees you're not going to destroy ISIS with airpower alone even if the British or French and other countries are involved together with the United States, you need ground forces. 50 U.S. special operations force, maybe another 200 based in Iraq going in occasionally to kill ISIS commanders is not necessarily going to get the job done, either.

How many ground troops from the United States realistically are needed in the next year or two to destroy ISIS?

HERTLING: You know my opinion on this, Wolf. The United States should not be leading the way on this. We cannot go in. This is exactly - this is one of those kind of things where ISIS wants exactly that, they want western forces coming into their caliphate that proves to others on the ground that see, we told you so, it's the west against Islam.

So it can't be us leading, but it certainly - we have to do more than just this coalition of the willing. You know, the coalition of the willing is neither a coalition or willing individuals right now. It's a bunch of nations who claim to want to be a part of this but are not doing much especially the Middle Eastern nations. We've got to get those countries involved.

It's happening to a greater degree in Iraq right now. Syria needs a diplomatic solution. No matter how many military forces you put on the ground there, it is not going to solve this problem. Everything will rise up again against it. And it's just difficult to put a number on forces. That's the easiest thing to do and that's what many of our politicians and especially those running for office are saying, they're throwing numbers out there. Get this many forces and it will solve the problem.

That's going back to what Van said earlier, that's one of the dumb things people are talking about. It's more than just military force on the ground.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everyone, stand by. We're only minutes away from the president of the United States delivering an important address from the Oval Office. Only the third time over the past seven years the president has used the Oval Office address for a primetime address to the nation.

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[19:56:47]

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're standing by for the president of the United States. He's getting ready to address the nation, indeed the world, from the Oval Office right at the top of the hour.

The president set to take the lectern in a rare address from the Oval Office, only the third time he's done an Oval Office primetime address. Jake, this decision that the president made to do it on a Sunday night in primetime underscores his desire to reassure the American people he's on top of this crisis with ISIS and he's going to fulfill that promise to destroy it.

TAPPER: Yes, to reassure as many Americans as he can with the widest possible audience reaching into every home watching television on a Sunday night which is a big night for television, and also to convey with a script what he wants to and not speak extemporaneously, not speak off the cuff, convey the fact that this is not going to be a threat to the United States in any major way, that ISIS will be defeated and I have to say one other thing that we're going to be listening for tonight is how much does he differentiate between the terrorist threat, terrorists coming in from Al Qaeda abroad, and the homegrown terrorist threat because that's really what's frightening, what's extra frightening about what happened in San Bernardino.

BERGER: Our poll tonight shows that 81 percent of the people in this country believes that ISIS has terrorists in the United States, whether homegrown or not, wasn't specified. What the president has to do tonight is tell the American public not only reassure them - I agree with David Gergen - not only reassure them but tell the American people how he's going to fortify Homeland Security in this country to protect Americans who believe ISIS is here in overwhelming numbers.

KING: It's the first night of Hanukkah. We're 19 days from Christmas. The American people have watched people mowed down at a holiday party. They're nervous. Some of them are outright frightened about their own personal safety, about the growth of this organization. And if you look at the polling numbers about 2/3 of them do not think their president has a plan to adequately deal with it.

So they lack confidence about their security and at the moment they lack confidence in their president. That's a pretty steep challenge.

BLITZER: Jake, the president we're told will mention gun control in his address. He's been criticized in the aftermath of what happened in San Bernardino for talking about gun control but he's going to still stick to that we're told tonight.

TAPPER: There is a component of what the president is going to say that the White House believes is a winning issue which is the idea of trying to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who are on terrorist watch lists or on no-fly lists. That was defeated in the Senate by Republicans last Thursday and I don't think it would have affected what happened in San Bernardino in any way. But it is one of many items President Obama is said to be pushing.

BLITZER: We're told the president personally has worked all weekend on this speech together with his top advisers. Every word has gone through not only his approval, but a whole team effort over there to make sure that it's precise and delivers the message to the American people that this war on ISIS will succeed.

The president's remarks getting - the president getting ready now to deliver those remarks, indeed, the next hour of CNN's special coverage of the president's oval office address to the nation begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.