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The Situation Room

Robert Gates Confirmation Hearings Examined

Aired December 05, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And 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, Robert Gates on the brink -- he's a step closer tonight to becoming the Pentagon chief, after telling senators the United States is not winning in Iraq at this point. Did he give aid and comfort to the president's political rivals here in the United States? We will get reaction from a leading Democratic critic of the war, former Senator Max Cleland.

Also this hour, cutting the fat -- a first of its kind ban that is leaving a bad taste in some people's mouths, could it launch a national trend and take the flavor out of some of your favorite foods?

And like father like son, an emotional display by the president's dad drives home the Bush's effort to put family first. We're going to take you behind the tears.

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

Robert Gates may be only hours away from getting confirmed as the next defense secretary of the United States and having the future of the Iraq war thrown directly in his lap. A full Senate vote on his nomination could happen as soon as tomorrow, even as the Iraq Study Group delivers its eagerly awaited recommendations.

Gates got the unanimous blessing of the Armed Services Committee today, impressing members with his blunt assessment of the war. But there are questions tonight about whether the White House was impressed or irked by his candor.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by, but let's go to Capitol Hill first, Andrea Koppel with the latest from there. Andrea?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 15 years ago, Michigan Senator Carl Levin was one of those who voted against confirming Robert Gates to be the director of the CIA. Today, Levin and other members positively gushed about Gates, saying that he was a welcome breath of honest candid realism about the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KOPPEL (voice-over): Moments after posing for cameras, Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asked Robert Gates a direct question.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?


KOPPEL: That short, simple answer fast became a lead story. And after lunch, Gates felt compelled to clarify.

GATES: While I was having lunch and eating my sandwich, I watched the news, and I certainly stand by my statement this morning that I agreed with General Pace that we are not winning, but we are not losing.

KOPPEL: For five-plus hours, Republicans and Democrats alike pressed Gates to shed light on his plan for Iraq. And for more than five hours, the man set to become the next secretary of defense respectfully answered those questions, without making any firm commitments. Connecticut's Joe Lieberman wondered about possibly boosting the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

GATES: That certainly is an option.

KOPPEL: While South Carolina's Lindsey Graham asked the former intelligence chief about the full-out if U.S. troops redeployed in the region, would terrorists follow them?

GATES: Probably so.

KOPPEL: But when Ted Kennedy asked him about how independent he'd be, Gates was eager to answer.

GATES: Senator, I am not giving up the presidency of Texas A&M, the job that I probably enjoyed more than any that I've ever had, making considerable personal financial sacrifice, and frankly, going through this process, to come back to Washington to be a bump on a log.


KOPPEL: Now that said, Gates also conceded that there were no new ideas out there on Iraq, that the strategy and tactics are already well-known. That is a reality check, Wolf, from a former member of the Iraq Study Group, which, as you know, is set to deliver its findings tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be all over that story tomorrow. Thanks, Andrea, for that. Let's go to the White House where the president may not be resting any easier after Gates' Senate testimony. Tonight, Mr. Bush under a lot of pressure, perhaps more pressure than ever when it comes to the situation in Iraq.

We'll turn to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. What's their reaction to what Gates says when he says the United States is not winning in Iraq because on the eve of the election, the president, as you well remember, said, absolutely, yes, we are winning. How are they squaring that?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really can't square it, so they were thrown on the defensive. White House spokesman Tony Snow trying to come up with an explanation and he did accurately point out that in the rest of Robert Gates' testimony, he pretty much was in line with the president. But you're right. You cannot scare the fact that two weeks before these midterm elections, the president said just the opposite.

Could you imagine if say the incoming Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a month before the election had said what Robert Gates said today, the charges of cut and run, and everything else from the White House behind me would have been flying around. But I think the bottom line is, this is a bad story for the White House tonight, maybe into tomorrow.

But long-term, it could help them slightly in the sense that all of a sudden, Robert Gates has something Donald Rumsfeld lost, and that's credibility. With this one comment, all of a sudden Robert Gates has established maybe, and I stress, maybe, he's an independent voice, maybe he will stand up to the president. Time will tell. But for now, he's all of a sudden given himself some credibility, maybe an honest broker now at the table -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All 23 members of the Armed Services Committee, the Democrats and the Republicans, they unanimously voted to confirm him, and we expect very lopsided vote perhaps as early as tomorrow on his final confirmation in the Senate.

The president got a heads up today from former Secretary of State James Baker on what will be released tomorrow in the Iraq Study Group. What are they saying?

HENRY: It was a very quiet lunch, just the two of them just off the Oval Office. It lasted about an hour. You're right. It was a courtesy heads up and it was requested by James Baker. Tomorrow all 10 members of the Iraq Study Group will be here bright and early, 7:00 a.m., to brief the president fully on the recommendations. What we're hearing is the president will probably make a brief statement, thank them for their work, but not react to the actual recommendation.

He wants some wiggle room, to weigh this, against the Defense Department review, other reviews being conducted by the White House. The bottom line this is where Robert Gates comes back in. He's going to be the chief salesman of whatever the new Iraq policy coming out of this White House will be if he gets this new credibility. He -- that could really help him maybe buy some time with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, two, three months to try a new policy, something Donald Rumsfeld would have not had that sort of a free hand. Based on what you heard from Andrea Koppel, it's clear Democrats and Republicans on the Hill pretty happy with this choice, Wolf.

BLITZER: And on Thursday, the president receives the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Thanks very much -- Ed Henry at the White House.

In the Senate hearing room today, the witness chair wasn't the only place where Iraq policy and politics were colliding. Several presidential prospects put on a fascinating side show, if you will. Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are so many senators eying a bid for the White House that every debate, every hearing, every big event at the Capitol these days is like a mini presidential straw poll, a chance for potential contenders to talk about their platforms, their positions on big issues. And that's exactly what today's hearing for the new defense secretary was all about.


BASH (voice-over): Hillary Clinton arrived a few minute early, just enough time to survey the stage, assess the moment. John McCain chatted up a colleague while awaiting his cue. The subplot of the day's drama, lost on no one. The Iraq war will play big in the 2008 campaign, and this was a place for presidential hopefuls to lay down some markers.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are not winning the war in Iraq. Is that correct?

GATES: That is my view, yes, sir.

MCCAIN: And the -- therefore the status quo is not acceptable?

GATES: That is correct, sir.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: It is quite frustrating to many of us to see the mistakes that have been made, and to wonder whether there is any change that will be pursued by the president.

GATES: This process is going to proceed with considerable urgency.

BASH: Clinton and McCain are the marquee names, but hardly the only potential presidential candidates in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh was just back from Iowa, the state with the first 2008 contests, and his mind was still there.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: You recently gave a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, you keep giving -- you keep a schedule like that, you are going to start tongues to wagging, so just a word of friendly advice.

BASH: Even as Bayh sat in the hearing room, he took a step closer to running for president. Aides announcing he had set up a committee, allowing him to raise money. Nearly one in 10 senators are mulling a White House run. Although the first 2008 primaries are a little more than a year away, this was about early positioning. McCain, trying to protect his right flank by making the case he saw problems in Iraq from the beginning. MCCAIN: Do you agree that at the time of the invasion we didn't have sufficient troops to control the country in hindsight?

GATES: There clearly were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion.

BASH: Clinton voted for the Iraq mission and her greatest '08 weakness could be the anti-war left. She worked the president and vice president's competence into her questions.

CLINTON: Do they care about our men and women in uniform?

GATES: Absolutely.

CLINTON: Do they believe the decisions they have made for the last five years have been in America's best interest?

GATES: I have not had that discussion with any of them, Senator.


BASH: The reality is the politics of Iraq are so hard to navigate, so incredibly complicated that most of the potential presidential contenders do hope that there is some kind of policy shift that the president does enact in the next weeks and months certainly, because they realize that this is something that is divisive and is going to be, as I said, pretty hard to navigate as they get closer to really taking a step towards those first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and elsewhere, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you say, just a little bit more than a year away, which in the world of politics, not very long at all -- Dana, thank you for that.

Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you want to secure a border with Mexico? You better have deep pockets and a lot of patience. It's going to cost $7.6 billion and take five more years to fully secure the 1,993 mile-long border. That's what the Department of Homeland Security told Congress this week.

About 284 miles of the border are currently under what's called effective control, which means in those areas, officials can spot and respond to illegal border crossings. Homeland Security says the plan has been slow to implement initially, but will speed up once officials figure out what works and how to put it into place.

Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security is approaching border security with the same sense of urgency it brought to Hurricane Katrina. These people are worthless. They worry about you taking your shampoo onboard an airplane, but five years after 9/11, during which time they have done virtually nothing to secure our borders, they now come forward and say, well if you'll just give us another $7.5 billion and five more years, maybe we can come up with something. The question is this. The DHS says they need another five years to control the U.S. border with Mexico. Why? E-mail your thoughts to or go to It's disgraceful.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. See you in a few minutes with our e- mail. Thank you.

And coming up, Fidel Castro fails to show up for his birthday party. Is the end near for the 80-year-old Cuban dictator? What does the U.S. plan to do when Castro dies? We have new information.

Big brother is also watching what you eat in New York City. It's the first city in the nation to ban artificial trans fat in restaurants. Could it be the beginning of a trend heading your way across the country?

And a touching look at the relationship between President Bush and his father.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There are growing questions tonight about the health of the Cuban President Fidel Castro after he failed to appear at a military parade this weekend that was also a celebration of his 80th birthday. Those questions about his health are leading to new questions about Cuba's future.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee has the story -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Fidel Castro has been out of sight for over a month, fueling speculation that the transition in Cuba is under way.


VERJEE (voice-over): For his own 80th birthday party, he was a no show.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I can only assume that there would have to be a quite serious condition to have him miss that.

VERJEE: Fidel clearly looks unwell in these recent pictures, still recovering from surgery in July for intestinal bleeding.

ALINA FERNANDEZ, EXILED DAUGHTER OF FIDEL CASTRO: He looks very weak. And it is my understanding that the family asked him to stay peacefully resting.

VERJEE: No one knows exactly what's wrong with him. The guess is it's cancer. The official line, he's on the mend. Today, Cuba's communist newspaper published a message, allegedly from Castro, congratulating his close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his reelection victory. But he was nowhere to be found at Cuba's first major military parade in a decade, once again fueling speculation that the end is near.


VERJEE: Instead, the spotlight was on his 75-year-old brother, Raul, who has been holding down the fort since July. Raul Castro didn't dwell on his brother at the parade, but he did make headlines by offering an olive branch to the U.S.

RAUL CASTRO, FIDEL CASTRO'S BROTHER (through translator): This is the opportunity to once again state our availability to solve through negotiations the prolonged difference between the United States and Cuba.

VERJEE: But the State Department isn't interested in talking until all Cubans can vote in free elections.

MCCORMACK: Quite clearly, there is some sort of transition underway. We don't think it should be from one dictator to another. We think that the Cuban people deserve the right to define what their future will be for them.


VERJEE: The Bush administration issued a report this summer on its plan for a Cuba without Castro. That report calls for U.S. advisers on the ground within weeks to train police and judges for democratic elections on the island, a larger role for Cuban exiles, and in the meantime, a new $80-million democracy fund to bolster opposition to Castro in Cuba.


VERJEE: But officials point out that this U.S. aid package is really dependent on a transitional government in Cuba asking the U.S. for help. No one expects Raul Castro to do that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Zain thanks very much. Zain is at the State Department.

And as with many things involving Cuba, there's often a difference between what appears to be happening versus what's actually happening.

Let's go to Havana right now -- our correspondent Morgan Neill on the ground for us. How are they explaining to the people of Cuba the fact that Fidel Castro is a no show at his birthday parties?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been a great deal of silence, Wolf. Even on Saturday, the day where a lot of people were expecting to see the president, not a word in acting President Raul Castro's speech about his brother's condition. And what that means is that speculation has really been rife in recent days. Range, it really runs the gamut. From those say he's holding off his recovery so his return will be all the more stunning, to those who say they believe the president has already passed on. The main reason for that, he is unable to make that birthday celebration, a big military parade on Saturday, a day that he himself had said at the end of July, asking the country, please hold off on his birthday celebrations, which would have been August 13, until December 2 so that his recovery would have advanced -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are -- it may be a case of wishful thinking. But there are U.S. analysts, as you know, who are already speculating, this is the beginning of the end of communism in Cuba. Is there any sense that there's going to be an immediate dramatic change in Cuba's policies?

NEILL: Well, if anything that we've seen over the last four months, it would really be the opposite. What we've seen is we shouldn't be expecting rapid changes here. While it's true that Cubans would like to see some things change, in particular (inaudible) they would like to see more economic opportunity. You have got to remember that the opposition here is small and doesn't have a great deal of reach within the Cuban people.

That's not to say there won't be some changes. Even Cuban government officials will say any time you have got new leaders, new people in leadership positions, you can see new ideas, new policies. But what they are talking about, and from what we can tell, what realistically seems something we can expect to be changes within this system, under the communist party, not changes of the system itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan Neill in Havana for us -- Morgan, thanks.

And still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the war in Iraq and the blunt assessment by Defense Secretary-nominee Robert Gates that America is not winning. I'll talk about it with former U.S. Senator Marx Cleland, a Vietnam War veteran and a former member of the Armed Services Committee himself.

Plus, father knows best. CNN's Jeanne Moos on the Bush boys and the family patriots.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


A bold move by New York City Board of Health is leaving a bad taste in some people's mouths. It's voted to ban trans fats in all food service establishments in the city.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York with details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an unprecedented move, affecting everything from four-star restaurants to fast food chains. New York is giving restaurants until July to eliminate some products using artificial trans fats and in 18 months they will be banned outright. Some predict it won't be long before other cities follow.


SNOW (voice-over): A ruling on how french fries are cooked or how cupcakes are baked may not seem like a big deal. But a vote by the New York City Board of Health to ban artificial trans fats at restaurants and other food service establishments could blaze a path for the rest of the country. The restaurant industry is not happy and says the city shouldn't have the final say on what's allowed in kitchens.

SHEILA WEISS, NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: I don't feel that a municipal a health agency should have the power to ban a product that FDA has already approved.

SNOW: While it's not a banned product, health officials say trans fats have been linked to heart disease. They are often found in things like cooking oils and shortening. One reason they're used, they help foods last longer. But nutritionist says the harm outweighs the benefits.

CATHY NONAS, DIETITIAN, NORTH GENERAL HOSPITAL: This is like lead in paint. This is like smoking in restaurants. And this trans fats are bad for your health.

SNOW: And some businesses have learned products that are bad for your health could be bad for business, big change of bracing in adapting their cooking far beyond New York. Wendy's, for example, says it's cut out cooking oil with trans fats. The company that owns Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken says it took two years to find a substitute.

JONATHAN BLUM, YUM! BRANDS, INC.: It's hard to find substitutes that taste great. And so that's the first issue. We wanted to find something that was finger-licking good for KFC. And we were able to do so with the new oil that we switched to.


SNOW: And McDonald's says it's been testing alternatives for five years. It says it will be ready to comply with New York's rules in time but isn't prepared just yet for a national rollout. And besides New York, Chicago is also considering limiting trans fats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York City for us. Thanks. We'll see if New York City sets a national trend.

Just ahead, Defense Secretary-nominee Robert Gates says the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq. I'll talk about his controversial testimony with a former member of the Armed Services Committee and Vietnam War veteran, former Senator Max Cleland, a serious critic of this war. Plus, "60 Minutes" Andy Rooney known for speaking his mind, now he's speaking out about something you might have seen on the Internet, and Andy is not very happy at all. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, is the U.S. winning or losing the war in Iraq? Defense Secretary- nominee Robert Gates first said the U.S. is not winning the war then figured he should clarify what he means. I'll ask a man who could soon be working for Gates what he thinks and speak with a former Democratic senator, a severe critic of the war, Max Cleland of Georgia.

Also, Saddam Hussein signals he's fed up with feeling insulted. The former Iraqi dictator reportedly wants to skip the hearings for his current genocide trial. The Associated Press saying he wrote the trial judge a letter, claiming the judge insults him repeatedly.

And a story involving cancer cells and cell phones, a new study says cell phone users are no more likely than anyone else to come down with a range of cancers. The study from Denmark tracked 400,000 cell phone users, some for 20 years.

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

More now on our top story, Senate hearings for President Bush's pick to be the next secretary of defense. As Robert Gates makes comments echoing criticisms from some Democrats, what do Democrats themselves think?


BLITZER: Max Cleland is a Vietnam War Veteran, former Democratic Senator from Georgia.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to you listen to these two sound bites, one from the president just before the election and one from Robert Gates today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Listen to these two clips.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're winning and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?



BLITZER: All right, the White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says that there really is no disconnect between the president and the incoming secretary of defense. How do you square those two sound bites?

CLELAND: You can't. Gates is right. The president's wrong. The truth of the matter is, this has been a disaster from the beginning. Gates also said that there was not enough troops going in to secure the country. That's absolutely correct.

I can remember when I was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, we had General Shinseki before us and he said it would take hundreds of thousands of troops if you invaded Iraq to take Saddam Hussein out.

It was also General Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he said if you take out Saddam Hussein and the Kurds and the Shiites and the Sunnis will fight each other like banshee chickens. That's exactly what's going on now. So there were never enough troops committed to secure the country.

And quite frankly, the strategy has been just to hold on and hope that the Iraqis pull things together. The truth of the matter is, we're not only losing, we're losing good young men and women. We've had almost 3,000 killed, some 25,000 wounded, half of which remain for life. It is time for an exit strategy. This is the right moment.

With a new secretary of defense, with a new study -- and God knows we don't need any more studies after four years of war, quite frankly, but this is a right moment to put together an exit strategy and move out of Iraq, move our ground forces out of Iraq and begin to concentrate on the real problem, which is al Qaeda that's morphing into some 60 different countries.

BLITZER: All right, I want to get to that in a moment. But you've raised the issue of Robert Gates acknowledging that the U.S. did not have enough troops at the start of this war. Here's what he told Senator John McCain when he was asked about this sensitive issue.


GATES: There clearly were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion to establish control over the country.


BLITZER: Now, that's clearly a criticism of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who a lot of his critics thought that Rumsfeld wanted to win this war on the cheap.

CLELAND: Exactly. Rumsfeld wanted to go in with 130,000 troops. That's what he convinced the president to do. And quite frankly, it was General Shinseki that argued for 500,000 troops. He was fired. It was General Tommy Franks that argued in the first briefing in Crawford, Texas for 500,000 troops. He was denied that. And so we've been paying the costs ever since.

It is now time, at this moment, this moment of truth, as Hemingway would put it, to exit, to get our ground forces out of Iraq, begin to bring our Guard and reserve home and guard our own country and move on to al Qaeda.

I mentioned -- I found out today that the three-star general now -- the American three-star general now leaving Afghanistan says he needs more troops. So where does this stop? We've got to pull ourselves out of Iraq and the sooner the better.

BLITZER: That's General Eikenberry in Afghanistan, he says there are not enough U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan dealing with that deteriorating situation right now.

I never could understand myself, having covered the first Gulf War, why the U.S. deployed a half million troops to liberate a small country like Kuwait, yet decided to go into Iraq with, what, 150,000 or so U.S. troops. That clearly didn't make a whole lot of sense going into this war.

CLELAND: You really put your finger on it, Wolf. And not many people know this, but that's really what's happened here. General Colin Powell and General Schwarzkopf, Vietnam veterans, they understood you do have to apply the power doctrine and that is go in with superior force and end the war and end it quickly, therefore you save lives.

You go in with inadequate force and no real strategy to take beyond just taking out Saddam Hussein, and you've got 27 million Iraqis you've got to deal with. Now they're turning on us.

It's not so much that the Iraqis can't stand up their own operation. It's that we are there as a thumb in their eye and they won't stand up for their own operation until we leave.

BLITZER: So, senator, let's look ahead. What do you want Gates and the president to do right now? They'll read the Iraq Study Group report tomorrow, about 100 pages. But what would you have them do?

CLELAND: Within the first 90 days tell the military to put together an exit strategy out of Iraq. You have to have an orderly, strategic withdrawal and that is exactly what we need of our ground forces out of Iraq.

It doesn't mean we withdraw diplomatically. Matter of fact, we put an emphasis on our diplomacy, on working with our allies, with NATO, with the U.N., with the Security Council, to help stabilize the area as best we can, because the problem there ultimately is a political one.

Every military man that has really come out of Iraq, including many generals that led divisions there, say this is not winnable militarily because, ultimately, it's not a military solution that will work, it's a diplomatic and political solution. WOLF: But as you know, Senator, the president says if you do that kind of precipitous withdrawal with an artificial timeline it would create chaos and it would guarantee a defeat for the United States.

CLELAND: We've got a defeat on our hands now. We've got chaos now. See, that gives the lie to the existing policy. We've been there for almost four years. And here's the new guy, the new secretary of defense, presumably, who says it ain't working and we didn't go in with the proper strategy and enough force. I mean, that's right, and I hope...

BLITZER: Is it too late to do what Senator McCain or Senator Lindsey Graham or Senator John Cornyn want to dispatch another 50,000 troops to bolster the current U.S. military presence?

CLELAND: Yes, it's way too late. It's way too late. This is Vietnam 1967, '68. This is Westmoreland asking for 50,000 more troops, 100,000 more troops -- 50,000, 100,000 more troops is not the answer, because the answer, ultimately, is not a military one.

It is not -- as General Shelton used to say when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "the American military is a great hammer but every problem in the world is not necessarily a nail."

This is not necessarily a nail that we're dealing with in Iraq.

BLITZER: We're all out of time but a very quick political question. Any chances you'll challenge Senator Saxby Chambliss in Georgia for your old senate seat?

CLELAND: No, I'm not interested in going back to the Senate. I'm interested in working with you on CNN.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator, for that. That sounds like a pretty hard and fast statement. We'll definitely have you back here on CNN right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CLELAND: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: As Robert Gates offers some very con did comments, what do the people who could soon be working for him think of his words?

Earlier, I asked Major General William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.


BLITZER: Very blunt talk from Robert Gates, in fact, Levin later saying it's a "refreshing breath of reality." What do you say to that, your new boss saying you're not winning?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: What I'd say is that we've all recognized that we need to adjust the strategy here right now, that it's not achieved the end results that we had expected to by this time, and General Casey has us on a program. We're looking at it real hard and we've already began to implement some aspects of it.


BLITZER: General Caldwell's current boss has been praised when Iraq has gone right, but borne the brunt of the intense criticism when Iraq has repeatedly gone wrong. Yet he may still be awarded a distinction only a few people have achieved.

Here's CNN's Soledad O'Brien.



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A former U.S. secretary of defense makes his mark. Donald Rumsfeld, engineer of the policies that fueled the war in Iraq steps aside and earns a place as a candidate for "Time" magazine's person of the year.

MICHAEL ELLIOT, "TIME" INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: These are operational decisions that we've made in fighting the war in Iraq, or choices in terms of the number of forces that we've had, in terms of how to respond, the looting of Baghdad in terms of how to fight insurgency, that are properly put at the feet of the secretary of defense.

RUMSFELD: What's being undertaken here is difficult. It is not well known. It was not well understood.

ELLIOT: The choices, the decisions he's made have been extraordinarily significant, not just for tens of thousands of Americans serving in the armed forces and their families, but for people all around the world.


BLITZER: And "Time's" person of the year will be announced right here on CNN December 16th, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, some brand new poll numbers on the potential candidates for president. We're going to tell you who's hot and who's not.

Then, President Bush says he phones his dad every two weeks or so. You might be surprised by what he says he and his dad talk about. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: As 2006 draws to a close, it's the season for the White House wannabes to start dipping their toes into the presidential waters. Are they getting a cool or warm reception? Here's our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: 'Twas the month after midterms, and, all through the land, contenders are stirring and showing their hand. Yes, it's that festive time of year when candidates begin to offer themselves as gifts to the country. But which ones do people really want?

The Gallup poll asked voters to make up their Christmas lists, who they want to see run for president and who they don't want. There are only two that most voters want, both Republicans.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would very much like to be president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: Most voters want McCain to run. Democrats, too? They can't make up their minds. Half want him to run. Half don't.

Rudy Giuliani is right up there with McCain. In fact, Republicans want Giuliani even more than they want McCain. Voters are wary of the top two Democrats on the list.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I don't know what the future holds. And I have no decision ready to be made.

SCHNEIDER: Most voters don't want Hillary Clinton to run. She's at the top of the Democrats' list. Seventy-seven percent want her. But she's near the bottom of the Republican's list. Eighty-eight percent don't want her.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I don't have a particular timetable.

SCHNEIDER: Voters are a little skeptical of Barack Obama. About 60 percent of Democrats want him to run -- not as popular as Clinton. And about 60 percent of Republicans don't want him to run, not as unpopular as Clinton.

Two gifts are about as popular this year as a lump of coal. Most voters, even most Democrats, don't want John Kerry to run. Most voters, even most Republicans, don't want Newt Gingrich to run.


SCHNEIDER: Why are American voters so fussy? Because presidents are not like Christmas gifts. They're very hard to return. Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

BLITZER: Senator Evan Bayh's list is conspicuously missing from that 2008 voter wish list. But as we reported earlier, the Indiana Democrat is now officially exploring a presidential bid. I asked him about his prospects in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier today.


BLITZER: You filed papers today creating a presidential exploratory committee suggesting that you're taking the next step in going toward 2008. Tell our viewers what you bring to the table right now. Let's say that some of the other Democrats who might want to run for president like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama may not necessarily have?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D-IA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I can't compare myself to the others, Wolf. I'll let you and your viewers do that for themselves.

But I can tell you that I have a keen appreciation of the challenges that face our country, an agenda for dealing with those challenges, a proven track record of delivering the kind of results when I was governor of my state that the American people, I think, are hungry for in Washington.

And perhaps more than anything else, Wolf, this -- our nation's capital has broken down. We need someone who can unite Democrats, Independents and Republicans in a politics of common purpose to move our country forward.

That's not happening today. But it's something I demonstrated repeatedly an ability to do and I think that's something we're going the need in the next president.


BLITZER: Bayh says he already has nearly $11 million on hand to run for president. He'll visit New Hampshire this weekend to test the waters in that early presidential primary state.

Senator Barack Obama, a rising star in the Democratic party, will be among our guests tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him what he thinks the exit strategy for Iraq should be. Barack Obama, tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up ahead, two President Bushes, one very close family. Father and son, open up about their personal relationship.

And Andy Rooney, the victim of an Internet hoax. We're going to tell what you's going on, and why he's so angry right now. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's my man Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is the Department of Homeland Security says it needs five years and $7.5 billion to build a fence along the border with Mexico. The question we asked is, why?

Dave in Maine writes: "Why doesn't really matter. But if someone flew along our southern border dropping leaflets containing maps to a certain ranch in Crawford, Texas, the border would be shut down and under control in about five minutes. That's how you deal with the worthless bums at Homeland Security."

Wendy in San Rafael: "If they really wanted to do the job and it was in the best interests of U.S. corporations, it could be done in a year. They need five years to let the status quo continue for their political thunder" -- American big business -- "and then figure out a way to abandon the project altogether."

Kyle in Catlettsburg, Kentucky: "It's funny; I don't remember it taking that long to get our soldiers into Iraq. The troops ought to be here protecting our borders instead of fighting with a country that did nothing to us in the first place."

Jenny in New York: "The DHS needs another five years because they don't want to control the border. Bush's business buddies are making too much money off the illegal immigrants who make it here."

Tony in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: "This is the same B.S. that the administration uses for everything. Iraq War? "The next six months are critical." Border security? "We just need more money and another five years." Let the impeachment begin. It can't be too soon for me."

And Debbie in Georgia: "Not sure why it would take five years. Why not have the team from 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' do it? If they can build a house in seven days, I'm sure they could build a fence in a month. Just have it sponsored by Sears."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read some more of these online.

BLITZER: A lot of them are very, very clever and intelligent indeed.

Thanks, Jack, for that. See you tomorrow.

"60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney is often the victim of Internet hoaxes. Now his name is attached to a racist e-mail circulating online. Fact or fiction?

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner are here to sort it all out -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Andy Rooney didn't write it. He doesn't know who did. And he wants everyone to know that it's not his, according to the Associated Press. is website that's dedicated to debunking urban legends online. And they say that this e-mail, which expresses some intolerant political and personal views, first showed up online in about 2003. It appears making a resurgence now online.

Now, Rooney addressed this e-mail in particular on his "60 Minutes" segment back in October of 2005, saying if he found out who wrote the e-mail, he would sue.

This isn't the first time that Rooney's name has been attached to an essay and circulated online, one that he didn't write. There was an essay that went around, again, in 2003 called "In Praise of Older Women". And again, Rooney's was attached to that. Turns out it was embellished version of an essay written by a man named Frank Kaiser, who writes at a website called -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that. Glad you debunked that rumor.

Let's check in with Paula, who's standing by in New York -- Paula.


Coming up at the top of the hour, we're going to go in-depth on the Robert Gates' confirmation hearings.

We're also going to keep following the top story in crime. It gets more bizarre every day. Tonight, what a former spy's assassination reveals about a seldom seen world of big money, simmering grudges and Russia's new secret police.

And then onto tonight's top story in entertainment. It's a controversy coming to a magazine stand near you. Out today, a big name rapper blasts Oprah Winfrey. Find out why, coming up at the top of the hour.

Hope you'll join us then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will, Paula. Thank you.

And still to come here in the SITUATION ROOM, the president and his proud poppa. Emotions run high as Jeanne Moos looks at the way Bush 41 and Bush 43 bond.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The first President Bush is known as a very emotional guy. But when he choked up during a trip unit to his son Jeb, it got Jeanne Moos to thinking about the Bushes, their family ties, and the current president's problems.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hats off to Presidents 41 and 43. They seem to have a good father-son relationship.

(on camera): How many times do you pick up the phone and call your parents? Once a week? Twice a week?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I call my mom, like, once or twice a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably once a week. MOOS (voice-over): Well, this son says he calls his parents every two weeks or so. The president told Fox News he loves to talk to his dad about things between a father and a son, but not policy.

The elder Bush's feelings for his sons bubbled to the surface Monday when he got choked up speaking proudly about his other son, Jeb.


MOOS: Bush Senior later said, as you get older, you get more emotional about your loved ones. The former president always supports the current president.

BUSH: I've sat there and talked back at the TV, look at that stupid guy on there again, saying ugly things about my son.

MOOS: The father Bush might be talking back to the TV if he sees this part.

(on camera): Who do you think was a better president? Former President Bush or current President Bush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former President Bush.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former President Bush, just more competent, a little bit more articulate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The current President Bush because of his steadfastness. He's relentless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neither one of them.

MOOS: Well, you have a gun to your head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neither one of them.

MOOS (voice-over): Actually, a CNN poll showed that 61 percent think the former President Bush was better than the current president.

We've seen them fishing together. We've seen them speed boating together. It's hard not to be intrigued by their relationship.

In the book "State of Denial", the elder Bush is described as:

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Anguished and tormented by the Iraq War and its aftermath.

BUSH: Is that a question...

KING: Yes.

BUSH: And what's the question? KING: Did -- were you anguished and tormented?

BUSH: No, not anguished and tormented.

MOOS: When we told this man that George W. says he doesn't discuss policy with his dad, this guy didn't believe it.

(on camera): Although, I think that former President Bush kind of says the same thing, they try not to talk about things...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In that case, I'd believe him.

MOOS: Well, that's interesting. You believe the former President Bush but not the current.


MOOS (voice-over): Comedy Central is planning on airing a cartoon series, imagining George W. as a naughty boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm little Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't sass your mother, little George.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, I don't have to listen to you. I answer to a higher father.

MOOS: The Bush family tends to shy away from self-analysis and might like the old TV show...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Father knows best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still think I'm a kid, eh, dad?

MOOS: You know the old saying, like father like son? People seem to like the father the best.

Joanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And that's it for us. Thanks very much for joining.

See you tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Till then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW" -- Paula.