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Bush Approval Rating Sinks To New Lows In Three Polls; Help On The Way To Iraq; Saddam Hussein Is On The Stand In His Trial; Michael Leavitt Under Fire; America's Poultry Industry Worried About Bird Flu

Aired March 15, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

Happening now, is it time for a shakeup at the White House? There's lots of buzz going on right now that the Bush administration may be looking to give itself a shot in the arm. It comes as the president's poll numbers hit another new low.

It's 3:00 a.m. in Iraq, where help is on the way for hard-pressed U.S. troops in the form of more U.S. troops. But can reinforcements keep a lid on the chaos? And could all of this have been avoided?

I'll ask the authors of a powerful new book on the inside story of the Iraq war.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. Have you put canned tuna fish and powdered milk under your bed? The health secretary, Michael Leavitt, is taking heat for his advice on how to prepare for a flu pandemic.

I'll ask him what America really needs to do to get ready.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, more evidence of the president's political problems. His approval rating now at an all-time low in three -- yes, three -- different polls.

A new "Wall Street Journal"-NBC News poll just released shows 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Mr. Bush is doing his job, 58 percent disapprove. And a new Pew survey also out today puts the president's job approval rating at an even lower point, 37 percent.

These new surveys come on the heels of our own poll that signal the president was on a downslide. The CNN-"USA-Today"-Gallup poll released on Monday shows Mr. Bush with only a 36 percent approval rating. That's a record low for our survey as well.

Tonight, those numbers may only be adding to the pressure on the president to bring in reinforcements. As we told you first in THE SITUATION ROOM, some Republicans are now openly campaigning for new people and new energy inside the embattled White House.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now with more.

First of all, what's the reaction, Dana, to these record-low poll numbers?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it used to be that you'd talk to White House officials, they'd say -- they said, we don't talk about poll numbers. Well, the bottom line is, when they look at these poll numbers, they look at them across the board, they say, you're not telling us anything we don't know. They kind of shrug their shoulders.

They understand that the president is at this point in a rut. And what they are trying to do is trying to reach out to their allies on Capitol Hill, something that those on Capitol Hill said -- say that perhaps this White House didn't do enough of and say we're going to try to prove that we get it and try to turn things around.

And primarily, they are going to keep doing what we saw the president do earlier this week and will do next week, talk about the thing that they think hovers over all of this more than anything, and that is Iraq.

But I'll tell you, Wolf, talking to Republican strategists, people who are working on some of the campaigns this year and also looking at what's going on with the president, they say the bottom line is, there probably isn't a lot the president can do right now. The best thing that he can hope for is something that is outside his control, perhaps an outside event that would happen that he would handle well to try to turn these numbers around.

BLITZER: "The Wall Street Journal"-NBC News poll has the president now with a job approval rating of 37 percent. Earlier, you reported 35. It's 37 percent job approval. Ours is 36 percent. The Pew survey at 33 percent.

All record lows, Dana.

What about the talk about bringing in some new blood? What's the latest information you're picking up tonight?

What's the latest informs you're picking up?

BASH: Well, as we talked about yesterday, the idea that this being public from those -- from those who are pushing this, they thought that as soon as it was public, the White House was going to perhaps get their backs up and say, thanks but no thanks. And that's pretty much what we've been hearing all day today, Wolf.

Senior officials say, yes, it is true, there is pressure on them from the outside from friends of this White House and of this president to understanding that he's not going to perhaps fire people, at least bring somebody in, a graybeard as we like to call it in Washington, somebody with experience. But they say at this point, the president really doesn't have an appetite to do even that.

They are listening at the White House. They're listening to all kinds of advice on what perhaps they can do better. But at this point, Wolf, they say that is not a likely thing to happen, bring somebody else in new.

They say when you look at the president's poll numbers, the feeling of the country, they don't believe adding somebody new to the staff -- the president doesn't -- is going to change that.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.

Dana Bash reporting.

U.S. troops certainly have their hands full in Iraq right now. They're fighting against insurgents and they're trying to quell the chaos as Iraqis fight Iraqis in bitter sectarian violence. As we first told you here in THE SITUATION ROOM, reinforcements are on the way.

We have a report, but it contains some graphic images of violence. Just want to warn you about that.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, has the story -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon says the dispatch of a small number of additional troops to Iraq does not mean the country is spinning out of control.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): In the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, U.S. troops engage in a fierce firefight that underscores Iraq's stubborn insurgency is not close to being defeated. In fact, the U.S. is moving some 700 additional troops from Kuwait into Iraq to beef up security during upcoming Muslim holy days.

But U.S. commanders insist the small increase is only temporary, for about 30 days, and doesn't preclude cuts in U.S. troop levels later this year.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I believe that we are not on the verge of a civil war. I believe that the sectarian issues are controllable. I believe that the government of national unity will emerge, and I believe that the Iraqi security forces will continue to improve.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. is facing a difficult mission, hunting al Qaeda terrorists while trying to win Iraqi hearts and minds. This house near Balad, north of Baghdad, was flattened in a raid and air strike that netted one suspect. But the assault also killed a number of civilians, including children.

Worried about how things are going, Congress has created a bipartisan study group to review the exit strategy led by former secretary of state James Baker and former Congressman and 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton.


MCINTYRE: The White House says it welcomes the independent review of Iraq policy and is looking forward to the advice and insights from the panel. It's promising to facilitate, travel if necessary, and provide access to key people and documents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you very much.

Saddam Hussein is urging Iraqis to fight the invaders, as he calls them, instead of each other. That appeal came during another outburst as the former dictator took the stand in his own trial.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has the story from Baghdad -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the 17th day in Saddam Hussein's trial. When it started off, there were no indications as to how unruly it was about to get.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): As he came into court, Saddam Hussein appeared down, less confident than in the past, answering questions from the judge curtly and quickly. Then the trouble began.

Hussein insisting he is still the president. The judge didn't see it that way.

RAOUF ABDEL RAHMAN, CHIEF JUDGE (through translator): Listen, here you are facing criminal charges. This role has ended. Your role has ended. You are a defendant in a criminal case.

ROBERTSON: Reading from a prepared statement, the former dictator began calling on Iraqis to unite and to fight U.S. forces. The judge cut him off.

RAHMAN (through translator): What is this? How can you talk to me like this? You are here for a criminal case, killing innocent people. That is what you are here for.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, FMR. IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): Yesterday, 80 people were found dead in Baghdad. Aren't they innocent? Aren't they Iraqi?

RAHMAN (through translator): This is an Iraqi court. You are not here to deal with political issues.

ROBERTSON: After barely half an hour of Hussein's testimony, the judge ordered journalists out.

(on camera): This was supposed to be the day where Saddam Hussein laid out his defense, a defense much effort had gone into making public. But the trial continued for an hour and 40 minutes under a media blackout. (voice-over): So his American lawyer, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, gave his account of what happened inside.

RAMSEY CLARK, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, his right to a public trial is being denied. He made a very powerful and effective statement about the context in which the trial was taking place.

ROBERTSON: When the trial became public again, Hussein's defense team listed 16 demands, including a response to their claim the court is illegal.

KHALIL DULAIMI, DEFENSE LAWYER (through translator): We have challenged the legality, independence and integrity of the court.

ROBERTSON: In contrast with his brother, Saddam Hussein's half- brother did offer a public defense, saying documents with his signature that indicate he was involved in executing Iraqis are forgeries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I would like to meet one person that said I arrested anyone or interrogated anyone.


ROBERTSON: When the trial reconvenes on the 5th of April, a handwriting expert will be called and Hussein and his half-brother will get more tough questioning from the prosecution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

Zain Verjee is joining us from the CNN Center now with some other news making headlines -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, within the last hour, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly refused to back off from a push to bar a state-owned Arab company from managing U.S. ports. The vote preserves a measure in an unrelated bid on the funding for the Iraq war. This coming despite the fact that Dubai Ports World today confirmed that it does plan to sell off its interests in U.S. ports.

At this hour, a two-person panel at California's Corcoran State Prison is considering whether to recommend parole for Sirhan Sirhan. He's the man who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy.

The parole board has decided against him a dozen times since he was convicted of the 1968 murder. He was originally sentenced to death, but that was commuted to life in prison back in 1972.

One board member who will hear the case was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife is RFK's niece. Legal observers say that it's highly unlikely that the board will rule in favor of early release.

And we're getting more details now about a lunchtime shooting in a crowded Denny's restaurant in Pismo Beach, California. Police said a man walked into the restaurant and opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun. Two people were killed and two were wounded before the gunman turned his weapon on himself and killed himself. Police say there doesn't appear to be any connection between the gunman and any of his victims or the restaurant.

And right now, firefighters in Oklahoma City are working to contain two grass fires that broke out today in southeastern Oklahoma City. Their efforts are being frustrated by strong winds gusting up to 14 miles an hour. People were temporarily evacuated from about 30 homes. More than 2,600 fires have burned in Oklahoma since November, destroying half a million acres -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a lot of destruction, Zain. Thank you very much

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, what exactly are the Democrats waiting for? President Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low. Members of the president's own party turned their backs on him as the Dubai ports deal collapsed.

Five different towns in Vermont have passed resolutions calling for President Bush to be impeached. And a new poll out shows that the world most frequently associated with the president is "incompetent." Close behind in this poll are "idiot" and "liar."

And yet, when Senator Russ Feingold stood on the floor of the Senate and introduced legislation to censure Mr. Bush, not a single Democrat supported it. Feingold has accused his fellow Democrats of cowering. He said, "Democrats run and hide when the administration brings up the war on terror."

Meanwhile, over in the House, only a total of 29 out of 201 Democrats have signed a resolution calling for a special committee to investigate the administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence, among other things. The committee would advise if there are grounds for possible impeachment. No one in the House Democratic leadership has signed on to that investigation.

So here's the question: Do you think the Democrats run and hide when the administration talks about the war on terror?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack, for that.

Coming up, pressure on the White House to shake things up. Enormous pressure. Should the president bring in some new blood? James Carville and Bay Buchanan tackle that in our "Strategy Session."

Daily violence in Iraq. Find out why one retired U.S. Marine Corps general says much of it could have been avoided and many American lives potentially could have been saved. He and his co- author, a bestseller already, they're standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, bird flu flying to America. The head of Health and Human Services recommending that we all start buying tuna fish and powdered milk, but is he sending a wrong message to the American public?

Mike Leavitt here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well. I'll ask him some of the tough questions.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Today in our "Strategy Session," one Republican senator says he has concerns about the White House team. And others are suggesting new blood might be needed in the president's staff.

Would new faces help put the White House back on track?

Joining us now, our CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

New poll, Bay, out today. The Pew poll, 33 percent job approval number. That's pitifully low.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: It's low, there's no question about it. But the answer is not to overthrow the guys -- throw out the guys who are committed and loyal and very experienced in the White House.

I, though, would suggest, one, that the problem is mostly the Iraq war. That's the greatest concern the president has. And by putting somebody in the White House, it's not going to change that. The president's problem is the Iraq war.

But it would not be a bad idea to bring in somebody new. Not fire anyone. To bring some fresh face into the White House.

BLITZER: Well, maybe -- should he get rid of Rumsfeld?

BUCHANAN: Oh, no, I would not get rid of Rumsfeld at this time.

BLITZER: Isn't he responsible for the policies?

BUCHANAN: No. The president makes the decision on the war, without question. I would not...


BLITZER: ... new blood in the Iraq war, which is the big shadow hanging over this...

BUCHANAN: There's no question, I think we need new ideas, fresh ideas. And I think the ambassador over there has been speaking and giving some ideas out there, and I think we should start listening to him. BLITZER: Here's what a Republican senator, Norm Coleman of Minnesota said. He said, "I have some concerns about the team that's around the president. All of a sudden, we're hearing the phrase 'tin ear.' That's a phrase you shouldn't hear. The fact that you're hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear to the ground that you need in the White House, isn't there at the level that it needs to be."

What do you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you think there's something's wrong with the personnel, then maybe it helps to switch the personnel. If there's something wrong with the policy, then that's quite another thing.

And how are they going to get someone strong with experience? Who's more experienced than Dick Cheney? Who's more experienced that Karl Rove?

Andy Card has been there for five years. He's a former Transportation secretary. He's probably the most experienced hand in Washington.

And everybody goes through this. And I think Senator Coleman is just popping off.

But you're not -- they're not going to have a strong chief of staff to come in there as long as Vice President Cheney is in there or Karl Rove. They're not going to accept that. And that's just not the way this White House works.

Your point about Rumsfeld, I think the president needs to acknowledge to people that the Iraq war is not going as well as we hoped. And I think it would be some benefit in replacing Rumsfeld and would send a signal to people that, you know, we're going to change some things over there.

BUCHANAN: You know what? I'll tell you what I do think it would help to add somebody, that 10 years out there they're not responsive to what's going on in America, they've been in the White House too long and so they've lost touch with -- with the citizenry. And I think to bring somebody in, also someone who -- who has the trust of Congress -- because right now, Congress, the Republican Congress has taken a different path.

BLITZER: So you don't think the rumors out there that Andrew Card, for example, the White House chief of staff, should be moved and become the secretary of Treasury, replacing John Snow, and then bring in a new chief of staff? You don't think that that would be a good idea.

BUCHANAN: I think the president won't do it unless Andrew Card agree to it immediately. I think the president likes those people around him, but I think he should bring in new blood. And if one of those guys will become and move out secretary of whatever, transportation, I think it would be an excellent move. BLITZER: Here's what Ed Rollins, who worked in the Reagan administration, what he said the other day. He said, "By the time you get to year six, there's never a break. You get tired. There's always a crisis. It wears you down."

"This has been a White House that hasn't really had much change at all. There is a fatigue factor that builds up. You sometimes don't see the crisis approaching. You're not as on guard as you once were."

He's a wise guy.

CARVILLE: You know, sure. But the point is, is that you have a very strong vice president, the strongest ever in Vice President Cheney. You have Karl Rove, who is a strategic center of the White House.

Who is going to come in as a chief of staff or person in that environment? They're going to be neutered as soon as they come in.

They're not -- there's not going to be anything that they're going to be able to do. And they have the White house that they got.

You know, yes, they can do some cosmetic things and they can put Andy Card in as the secretary of Treasury. It's a Washington parlor game. Fine. Let's play it.

Who's going to come in? Is a strong person going to come in and say, the only way I'll come in is if I run the place? And that's not going to happen.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

I'll tell you who you'd have to -- you'd have to bring a governor, a former governor, some big name, somebody who's accustomed to running things, somebody who's not imitated by Rove or Cheney or anyone else. Somebody who knows they're equal and has...


BLITZER: Well, you were in the Reagan administration when Howard Baker came in.

BUCHANAN: I certainly was.

BLITZER: Did he do a good job?

BUCHANAN: Howard Baker I think did -- you know, I, of course, preferred others in that position. But Howard Baker did the job, I think, that the president wanted at the time. I did not like his decisions. But, you know, he was a fine...

BLITZER: You were close to Bill Clinton when he dumped Mack McLarty and put in Leon Panetta.

CARVILLE: Well, things change. I mean, there's an evolving change.

The problem is, is that here, you have the vice president, and you have Mr. Rove. Mr. Rove, there was nobody in the Clinton administration, in the White House that exercised the kind of power that Mr. Rove does. I mean, Vice President gore didn't run an entire war as Vice President Cheney is doing.

My point is, Wolf, they're not going to get a government to come in that's going to just be just part of -- to listen to what Rove or Cheney tell them. He's going to come in and say, either I run the show or I don't. And that's not going to be acceptable in this White House.

BUCHANAN: But it is key that they bring somebody in who understands what's going on across this country today. And they don't have that.

They have been in Washington, isolated from the heartbeat of this country for too long. And that's clear from the port deal.

BLITZER: Well, one thing -- and we're going to leave it here -- but one thing you've got to take into consideration, both Cheney and Karl Rove, both have been wounded in recent months for different reasons. And they may not be as powerful as you seem to think they are, James.

CARVILLE: Maybe, but seeing is believing. And seeing is going to come in and say, you know what, we're going to give up what we have and be subservient to Governor So and So who's coming in. It could happen. I don't seen that happening.

BLITZER: And when all is said and done, it's up to president to see...


CARVILLE: Exactly. Yes, you know...

BUCHANAN: Exactly. He will not fire anybody. And he will not fire anyone on that senior staff, nor should he.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens.

CARVILLE: We'll see.

BLITZER: And I suspect something's going to happen in the next few days.

CARVILLE: Yes, something is -- you know what?


CARVILLE: We don't know, but something is going to happen. This will not continue, I promise you.

BUCHANAN: That is correct That is correct. BLITZER: James Carville, Bay Buchanan, thanks very much.

Military commanders were alarmed, but was the Bush administration listening? Coming up, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general and a reporter, they've written a book. They'll tell us why the Iraqi insurgency potentially could have been avoided.

And is the government prepared for a bird flu pandemic? One cabinet secretary suggests storing cans of tuna, that would be a good idea. What is he saying about that? Why is he saying that?

He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the health secretary.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back.


BLITZER: What went wrong in Iraq? How did a seemingly stunning victory turn into what many consider now chaos?

A powerful new book may offer some answers. It's called "Cobra II: The Inside Story, the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," as told by Bernard Trainor -- he's a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general-turned military correspondent -- and Michael Gordon, the chief military correspondent of "The New York Times."

They gained extraordinary access to documents and decision- makers. Both men joining us now her in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First of all, congratulations to both of you for writing this important new book. I've been waiting for it for almost three years, since you were embedded, Michael, right at the beginning. I knew you were working on a book from day one.

Three years later, General, 2,300-plus Americans dead, half a trillion dollars, thousands of people -- American troops injured. A lot of the problems that are facing the U.S. military today were seen in the early days, but ignored.

By whom?

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.), CO-AUTHOR, "COBRA II": Well, you have to understand that there were a lot of assumptions made and a lot of judgments made that turned out to be wrong. And you can't call anybody that's involved a villain, but, I mean, the planning was inadequate for the circumstances based on erroneous judgments and bad intelligence.

BLITZER: But General Wallace, who was leading the charge, he warned of this insurgency. He said take out the Saddam loyalists, the Fedayeen, don't worry that much about the so-called elite Republican Guard. He was almost fired for that. TRAINOR: Well, I think that's making it too simple a case. Wallace recognized what all the field commanders and all the privates and the sergeants recognized, that the enemy that we anticipated fighting, the Republican Guard, with tank on tank, was not the battle that we were fighting. That the real war was against irregulars who didn't show up on any of the computer screens or in any of the other battles.

BLITZER: They were warning, though, a lot of commanders, saying, take out these guys, but there was a rush, Michael, to get into Baghdad and be very dramatic, if you will, about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

MICHAEL GORDON, CO-AUTHOR, "COBRA II": Yes, Wolf, there's no one factor that explains the insurgency. There were a multitude of considerations.

One was the decision to disband the army, for example, poor nation-building planning. But another was a misreading of what was happening on the battlefield. And in the early days of the war, the U.S. forces had fierce battles. I'm not sure the American public really appreciates the extent of the fighting then in Nasiriyah, Samawa, Al-Najaf. And it was against an irregular enemy that was not under direct command and control from Baghdad.

And I think if this had been better realized in Franks' command post, by Don Rumsfeld, adjustments might have been made that would have made it easier to deal with the insurgency when it emerged in the summer of 2003.

BLITZER: Here's what you write on page 498. You write, "Instead of making plans to fight a counterinsurgency, the president and his team drew up plans to bring the troops home and all but declared the war won."

Was the president not getting the right information?

GORDON: Well, the president was operating on assumptions and what he was -- the president was getting his information from General Franks. And a rather stunning development.

I was in Baghdad at the very palace when this happened. It was on April 16, one week after the fall of Baghdad.

General Franks came to Baghdad and gave guidance to his commanders to draw plans to remove the bulk of their forces by September. He didn't give them orders to withdraw, but to think -- make preparations.

And it was on the basis of these sorts of inputs that President Bush later went on the aircraft carrier, remember, and said that major combat operations had come to an end. But this was a mindset in the White House, too, not just on the part of Central Command.

BLITZER: Some say they wanted to fight this war on the cheap, not have enough troops. A half a million troops were involved, as all of us remember, in liberating Kuwait back in 1991. There was talk that maybe 350,000 would be needed for Iraq, and they went in with, what, 150,000, 200,000 troops?

TRAINOR: Originally, the figure was 385,000. At no point did they feel we were going to have difficulty with the Republican Guard or the Iraqi Army. So getting to Baghdad was not the problem. The problem was, at the end of the day, what are we going to do with the occupation in Iraq. That's where you needed the numbers.

BLITZER: They assumed there would be a welcoming by the overwhelming majority of Iraqi people.

TRAINOR: That's right. There may have been that welcoming if this irregular force called the Fedayeen hadn't been embedded in all the cities and villages in the south of Iraq to keep the Shias down. Saddam Hussein's one main concern was not an American invasion. His main concern was the survival of the regime against some sort of an uprising, which may have been triggered by American actions.

BLITZER: Here's what, Michael, what you write on page 501: "The American war plan was never adjusted on high. General Tommy Franks, who was the overall commander, never acknowledged the enemy he faced nor did he comprehend the nature of the war he was directing. He denigrated the Fedayeen as little more than a speed bump on the way to Baghdad and never appreciated their resilience and determination."

We called his office to get some comment. There has been no reaction from General Franks. Unless you have some reaction to those very sharp words.

GORDON: I tried to discuss these issues with him before writing these words, he didn't want to talk about it then either. I talked with a lot of the senior people involved in planning. It wasn't General Franks alone. I think Secretary Rumsfeld is also part of this decision making process.

As U.S. forces are going to Baghdad, having encountered the Fedayeen, having experienced a very different fight that they had anticipated. Secretary Rumsfeld, General Franks did tell me on the record in 2004, press to off ramp, as they put it, cancel the deployment of the First Cavalry Division. We have not yet secured Baghdad. We have not yet secured Iraq, and yet the secretary of defense was pushing to cancel this division.

General Franks went along with it. It was a very unwelcome development for the senior American commanders in Iraq.

BLITZER: Was it your opinion, I know it's hard for one general to criticize another general, give us your honest assessment, general, was it your opinion that General Franks couldn't stand up to the defense secretary.

TRAINOR: The defense secretary had a unique management arrangement. He would just bear down on people. Keep asking them questions, sometimes unrelated to the issue at hand. Essentially he wore down General Franks, he wore down everybody. In the military there is a culture, when you have an issue, it's out on the table, you discuss it, you debate it, but when your civilian master makes a decision, you salute and say aye aye, I'll do the best I can to make it work.

I think there's an awful lot involved in the relationship between Franks and the field commanders including General Franks. I will say this, I think the military, given their knowledge, should have been pushed back harder against some of the decisions that Rumsfeld made.

BLITZER: The book is called "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq." Michael Gordon, Bernard Trainor. Thanks very much for writing the book and thank you for coming TO THE SITUATION ROOM.


Moving on, canned tuna and power milk. The Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt recently suggested Americans start stashing some under their beds to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic. The secretary is going to be joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM in a few moments. First, let's go to New York. CNN's Mary Snow with some background, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Secretary Leavitt's comment raised eyebrows. Some say all of the jokes about canned tuna fish and powdered milk can overshadow the warning from many health experts that some form of a pandemic, in not avian flu, could be in a not-so- distance future.


SNOW (voice-over): Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt is under fire, after telling a crowd at a pandemic flu summit, quote, "When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed. When you go to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered milk. Put it under the bed."

ELIZABETH WHELAN, AMER. COUNCIL ON SCIENCES AND HEALTH: I was both astounded and disappointed. What we don't need right now is to panic people about avian flu.

SNOW: Dr. Elizabeth Whelan heads a medical group that informs consumers. She says Leavitt's warnings on top of predictions that bird flu will show up in the U.S. within months makes for a false sense of urgency.

WHELAN: It's birds that are being primarily infected. We will see infected birds in the United States. I'm asking people to please take that in stride.

SNOW: H5N1, the deadly strain of Avian Flu that spread through Asia, Europe and Africa, has spread to less than 200 humans who have come in contact with infected birds. Some warn this strain could mutate, sickening more birds or potentially humans. DAVID OZONOFF, BOSTON UNIV. SCHOOL OF PUB. HEALTH: I really do think that bird flu is serious. I think people should be preparing for it. One good thing about what Secretary Leavitt has been doing, he has been raising the warning flag.

SNOW: Health experts also agree with Leavitt on this point ...

MICHAEL LEAVITT, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: When it comes to pandemic, we're overdue and we're under prepared.


SNOW: Secretary Leavitt has also said that no level of government, federal, state, or local, is enough prepared for any possible pandemic.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, thanks Mary very much.

The Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt will explain his controversial remarks coming up next.

If you can't get bird flu from cooked chicken, why are some Americans still frightened. We'll tell you. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This just coming in for CNN. The parole board in California has once again denied parole for Sirhan Sirhan, the man who killed Robert F. Kennedy. This is the 13th time his bid for parole, to walk free, has been denied. Sirhan Sirhan going to spend more time in prison for killing Robert F. Kennedy.

More now on the controversy sparked by the Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt. He suggested Americans stockpile certain food items to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic. I asked him about that just a short while ago.


BLITZER: And joining us now is the secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. You caused a bit of a stir in past few days by suggesting that Americans go out and buy some canned tuna fish, buy some powdered milk, put it under our beds. What exactly did you mean by all of that?

LEAVITT: I was in Lander, Wyoming, and a woman asked me how they could go about accumulating some food. And the point really was it's a good idea to have some food, whether it's a pandemic or for a snowstorm on the plains of Wyoming. If the trucks aren't rolling and if grocery stores don't have food, it's just good, basic preparedness.

BLITZER: So you're still suggesting to Americans go out and buy some canned foods, some powdered milk and just keep it there, a stockpile for how long? LEAVITT: Well, this is just good, basic preparedness, whether it's for a bioterrorism event or whether it is a pandemic or whether it is a snowstorm or a hurricane. Good, basic preparedness, having a first aid kit, making certain that you have the prescription drugs that you might need -- there are lots of circumstances where Americans may not be able to use the 24-hour convenience store or a grocery store as their pantry. This is good, common sense.

BLITZER: Bird flu has now spread from Asia to Europe to Africa. When do you expect it to hit here in the United States?

LEAVITT: We don't know. But there is a high probability that within the next few months we'll see a wild bird that's infected with the H5N1 virus. That, in it of itself, will not be an emergency.

We have actually seen high pathogenic H5 viruses in domestic birds in this country before. The Department of Agriculture knows how to handle that. It would become a problem only if it was transmitted between people. And of course we're monitoring for that and not just here but all over the world.

BLITZER: Well, what would that do though to poultry industry, to bird lovers, if you will, if we start seeing that virus on birds here in the United States?

LEAVITT: Well, we can, I believe, count on the fact that we'll see wild birds at some point. There's no reason to believe that the United States will be exempt from wild birds who fly over natural pathways all over the world from coming to the United States. It will happen and when it does it won't be an emergency.

BLITZER: What would be an emergency would be a pandemic, namely if this virus mutates and becomes a person-to-person source of transmittal. Is that something -- that's the alarm bell that you're ringing right now.

LEAVITT: We'll have a pandemic if a highly-efficient and virulent, that is to say very powerful virus, begins to pass from person to person. That's by definition a pandemic. And that of course is what we're concerned about.

And there is reason to be concerned. We have this virus going around the world in birds. Every time it gets into a bird there's a cascading probability that it will occur. That's why the scientists are concerned.

BLITZER: Secretary Leavitt, listen to what you said the other day. You said this, "Any community that fails to prepare with the expectation that the federal government will come to the rescue will be tragically wrong." Explain what that means.

LEAVITT: The thing that's unique about a pandemic is that it happens all over at once. And, whereas we could have resources from the federal government in a hurricane or a bioterrorism event or a tornado, we can bring our resources there. There's no way we can get to 5,000 different communities. It wouldn't be because the federal government lacked the will or it wouldn't be because we lacked the wallet. It would be because there's no way to respond everywhere at once.

BLITZER: Here's another quote from Robert Webster, a virologist at St. Jude's Children Research Hospital. He said, "Society just can't except the idea that 50 percent of the population could die. I think we have to face that possibility. I am sorry if I'm making people a little frightened. But I feel that's my role." Is he overreacting?

LEAVITT: Well, Dr. Webster is one of the most respected authorities on this subject in the world. There's very good indication, however, that the 50 percent death rates that we have seeing among those who have even reported are higher than what would actually occur. We're probably seeing the sickest people when they come to the hospital, but Dr. Webster's a respected authority.

In the past, we have seen very predictable numbers of people being sick. In 1918, 1957 and 1968 about 30 percent of the population got sick. And '68 a lot got sick but very few died. In 1918, a lot got sick and unfortunately a lot died. Every virus is different. We don't know what we would be dealing with in such a situation now.

BLITZER: Let's hope it doesn't come forward. But I assume we of course have to be prepared for that worst-case scenario.

Secretary Leavitt thanks very much for joining us.

LEAVITT: Thank you.


BLITZER: And you have heard the warnings. So what impact could bird flu have on American's appetite for chicken? Ali Velshi is standing by with "The Bottom Line."

Also, there's massive oil spill in Alaska right now. Crews are on the scene. We're going to tell you what's going on. Our Internet reporters are watching the situation online. They'll share what they have found. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Ali Velshi is joining us from New York with more on what bird flu could for appetites as far as chicken is concerned -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, poultry is a bit like politics. When it comes to the dangers of bird flu, perception might have more impact than reality. And that has got America's $53 billion poultry industry worried.


VELSHI (voice-over): It's not a question of if avian flu is coming, it is when.

FARHA ASLAM, STEPHENS, INC.: It depends on how the news headlines and the media plays out then the U.S. consumer will react accordingly. If it is very limited likely we will see a very limited pullback from poultry.

VELSHI: Farha Aslam's company has investment banking relationships with major U.S. poultry producers. She says America has limited experience with widespread food fears. Mad cow, which reared its head again this week, first showed up in 2003.

ASLAM: The U.S. consumer did pull back from beef for about two weeks. But once it was clear that it was a one time type issue then we returned to consuming beef back to normal patterns.

VELSHI: But a recent survey from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 46 percent of people would stop eating chicken if bird flu hits the United States. America's biggest seller of fast food chicken, KFC, says all of its birds come from U.S. farms that screen for the H5N1 virus. They are all raised under cover so an infected migratory bird would have a tough time infiltrating.

ASLAM: The U.S. consumer has held in there. We have faith in our food supply and in the USDA and the poultry companies.


VELSHI: Wolf, bad news for poultry companies might be good news for consumers. Poultry prices are already starting to come down. And supplies are piling up. Dark meat has dropped more than 10 percent since October. And boneless breast meat, which is typically in high demand, is now 21 percent cheaper -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi with "The Bottom Line." Ali, thanks very much.

And it's happening right now -- get this -- a massive oil spill costing millions of dollars a day. We're going to follow the action and the oil online.



BLITZER: Right now, at a cost of merely $1 million a day, crews are working around the clock to try to clean up a massive oil spill in Alaska. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is tracking this story online. Abbi, what's the latest?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, temperatures on Alaska's North Slope fall to some 50 degrees below zero, but cleanup teams are working there to address this oil spill, over 200,000 gallons of oil. It's from a 30-year-old pipeline operated by BP Alaska.

The preliminary results of an investigation show it could be from internal correlations of a pipe. BP has inspected this pipeline a lot. It is 30 years old. They did identify areas of concern it, but not in this particular area.

The spill has been contained to under two acres, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is saying that this cleanup's going take four to six weeks weather permitting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch that story with you. Abbi, thanks very much.

Let's go to New York. Paula is standing by with a preview of what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. We're going to talk a little politics tonight, talk about the president's sinking poll numbers, the Pew poll putting his approval rating at 33 percent tonight.

And then we move on to fascinating story of a young man who suffers from a disorder most people associate with women, anorexia. What can be done to help the, believe it or not, millions of men out there like him.

And an absolutely incredible mess on the highway. It was a very rare, very pricey Ferrari. The driver actually walked away from this. Kind of hard to believe when you look at the pictures.

Where did he go? And why before he fled did he tell folks on the scene that he was with the Department of Homeland Security? A very unusual and very expensive mystery at the top of the hour for you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Paula. We'll be watching.

Still ahead -- one more dose of our own Jack Cafferty. He's standing by with his question of the hour. Do you think Democrats run and hide when the administration talks about the war on terror. Jack, and your answers, when we come back.


BLITZER: There he is, Jack Cafferty. I love that tight shot of you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I know you do. Try and control yourself.

Senator Russ Feingold, who introduced legislation to censure President Bush earlier this week, is now accusing his fellow Democrats of cowering. He said, quote, "Democrats run and hide when the administration brings up the war on terror." Nobody in the Senate would back him on this resolution, none of his fellow Democrats.

The question is, do you think Democrats run and hide when the administration talks about the war on terror? A lot of you do.

Tommy in Mount Sterling, Kentucky says, "I'm almost ashamed these days to say I'm a Democrat. The only true Democrat we have right now on Capitol Hill is Senator Russ Feingold. He's the only senator calling for censuring this president for breaking the law."

Nancy writes, "The Democrats haven't crawled from under their desks since 9/11. They need to remember that voters don't like cowards any better than they like tyrants."

John in California: "The Republicans are self-destructing miserably and the Democrats seem incapable of capitalizing on it. They act as if they're paralyzed with fear. I predict the Democrats will again lose in the next election. They're cowards."

Deborah in Glendale, California: "Democrats? What are you talking about? What are Democrats?"

A couple of more.

Aaron in Austin, Texas: "Democrats aren't running and hiding, they're waiting. Know the media spin and accountability that is raised with every action, I'm sure they are simply letting the world see George Bush's incompetence."

And Debbie writes in Cumberland, Maryland, "I believe the Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, during the first Gulf War, when I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent and the Republican Guard -- the Elite Republican Guard -- you remember them in Iraq.


BLITZER: They were doing so bad, you know what a lot of people thought they should change their names to?

CAFFERTY: The Democrat Guard?

BLITZER: The Elite Democratic Guard.

CAFFERTY: I hadn't heard that, but that's very funny.

BLITZER: That was what the line was then, Jack. I'll see you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Remember, we're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Paula Zahn starts right now.