Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Interview With South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; War of Words Follows Obama to Iraq; 'New York Times' Refuses McCain Op-Ed; Condoleezza Rice to Iran: Get Serious

Aired July 21, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A war of words follows Barack Obama to Iraq. As his trip gets a lot of attention, John McCain is determined to keep some of the spotlight, pressing Obama to admit he was wrong on something when it comes to Iraq.
Iraq's prime minister says something that sounds a lot like an endorsement of Barack Obama's troop pullout plan. Both he and the White House are scrambling to explain.

And conservative outrage right now -- "The New York Times" refusing to publish an opinion article from John McCain only days after it published one from Barack Obama.

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

Senator Barack Obama gets his own look at what's happening in the war zone and how the United States is doing right now. In Iraq, he spoke to U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian leaders, listened to their assessments and thanked U.S. troops for their service. It's billed as a fact-finding mission. And Obama's campaign stresses he's part of a congressional delegation.

But the specter of presidential politics is certainly very, very evident.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She's joining us now from Amman, Jordan, which is going to be Barack Obama's next stop, with a little bit of what happened on this important day today in Iraq -- Candy.


As you mentioned, Prime Minister Maliki seemed to give Barack Obama little bit of a boost, even as the senator begins to wrap up his trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Barack Obama is 6,200 miles from the nearest U.S. campaign trail, but, as he steps into the international arena, the imagery sent back home is all American, commander in chief- like, a helicopter tour of Iraq with David Petraeus, the general in charge of multinational forces, a chow-down with the troops in Afghanistan, basketball with U.S. forces in Kuwait.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, how is the trip?


CROWLEY: But if there is anything better in politics than imagery, it is timing. And Barack Obama has it.

OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for having me.

CROWLEY: He arrives in Iraq as the Maliki government said it hopes U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2010, pretty much Obama's 16-month timetable.

OBAMA: We had a very constructive discussion.

CROWLEY: And though Maliki says his previous statement that Obama's timetable seemed about right was misinterpreted, and in any case not an endorsement of Obama, it was more than enough for the Obama campaign to claim their candidate is more in synch with conditions in Iraq than John McCain.

OBAMA: Excellent to see.

CROWLEY: Likewise, politics and on-the-ground developments dovetailed in Afghanistan, where Obama visited with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops. The come comes amidst a resurgence of al Qaeda and an increase on attacks on coalition troops there. It lends weight to Obama's argument that the war in Iraq has distracted the U.S. from the real war on terror in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: We have got to have a clear strategic vision that uses all of our power, our economic power, our diplomatic power, our intellectual power, as well as our military power, to help make this world safer.

CROWLEY: The Pentagon-sponsored part of Obama's trip ends in Iraq. From here in Jordan, on to Israel, France, Germany, and England, Obama will be aboard his campaign plane on a journey funded by his campaign.


CROWLEY: Nonetheless, the Obama campaign says this is not a political trip; this is a trip to discuss substantive issues.

And Obama himself told CBS, suggested that he sort of sees this as a ground-laying trip for when he becomes president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, safe trip for you as well. Thank you.

This is Barack Obama's second trip to Iraq since becoming a United States senator. John McCain has been there eight times, spending two days there each time, for a total of, what, some 16 days. McCain made six of those trips since Obama's last visit in January of 2006.

McCain's most recent journey to Iraq was in March of this year, accompanied by two other senators, Republican Lindsey Graham, and independent Democrat Joe Lieberman.

You may also remember McCain's trip to Baghdad in April of 2007, where he strolled through the streets, spoke about how safe it was at one of the marketplaces. But McCain strolled with dozens of heavily armed U.S. troops at his side.

McCain's stroll for today was with President Bush's father. The man who aspires -- aspires -- to be the president of the United States went to see the former president in a place not known for helping Republicans win the White House.

Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's in Kennebunkport, Maine, right now, watching this story.

There were plenty of opportunities for him to hammer away at Barack Obama, right, Dana?


And, you know, Wolf, McCain advisers know that they have finite chances to actually influence Barack Obama's trip. So, they have been working to really boil down McCain's arguments against Obama's Iraq policy.

So, today, it was as simple as, I was right about the surge in Iraq, and Barack Obama is wrong.


BASH (voice-over): On the shores of Maine, to raise campaign cash with his host, the first President Bush, John McCain tried to shrug off all the attention his rival is getting overseas.


BASH: But that belies an intense McCain effort to keep Obama from using his trip, especially to Iraq, to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

MCCAIN: It is the surge that is winning this war. He opposed it.

BASH: McCain's message? Obama may have the spotlight, but I'm the one who should get the credit.

MCCAIN: When you win wars, the troops come home. And we are winning. And the fact is, if we would have done what Senator Obama wanted to do, we would have lost. And we would have faced a wider war. BASH: What McCain aides are trying to protect is one of the few areas he beats Obama, big-time, ability to be commander in chief.

The latest "Washington Post" poll gives McCain a 24-point lead on the issue. And some Republicans are quite alarmed at the Iraqi prime minister's weekend comments that appeared to support Obama's 16-month withdrawal deadline, which McCain opposes.

(on camera): Does it trouble you that that seems to undercut the message that you have against Barack Obama?

MCCAIN: It doesn't in the slightest undercut the fact that it's based on conditions on the ground.

BASH (voice-over): McCain pointed to the U.S. military commander for political backup, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, who said this Sunday about Obama's withdrawal plan.


ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard.


MCCAIN: I hope we pay attention to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly someone who has no military experience whatsoever.


BASH: Now, the name of the game for the McCain camp is try to use whatever tactics possible to get attention for his side of the story. And, today, the way they did that, Wolf, is to let it be known that, on Friday, "The New York Times" rejected an op-ed penned by John McCain that they wanted to publish in "The New York Times," even though "The Times" had published one by Barack Obama.

Now, the reason the McCain campaign did this is a couple of reasons. One is to get attention for the substance of McCain's argument, and also to get attention on their other goal, which is their claim that Barack Obama is getting a lot of attention, and McCain is having a harder time getting the play on his side of the story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have, Dana, a lot more on this "New York Times" flap. Our Howard Kurtz is working that part of the story for us. That's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dana, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, let's take a closer look at Maine right now, the state that Senator McCain is visiting right now. He's campaigning in Maine. It's a swing state. A lot of people say that Maine is one of those swing states. But McCain might be hoping that the former president of the United States can rub off some good luck on him. The last Republican to win Maine was George H.W. Bush. And that was back in 1988.

Maine has an interesting way of handing out its four electoral votes. Two of them are based on the statewide vote, but the other two are determined by how Maine's two congressional districts vote. With Maine's unique system, theoretically, McCain and Obama could conceivably split the electoral votes, with one of them winning three votes, for example, the other one winning just one.

But, get this, that hasn't happened since 1828. That's a long time ago.

Let's check in for another week with Jack Cafferty. He's back with "The Cafferty File."

Welcome back, Jack.


"The world is waiting to love America again." That's a quote from a British newspaper editorial. And many Europeans are hoping that Barack Obama will provide them with that chance.

When Obama travels to Europe later this week, it is expected he will that be greeted as a rock star, I suppose. He's going to be mobbed by huge crowds in Berlin, Paris, London.

A recent poll -- this is absolutely stunning -- this was a poll done in England -- found that 70 percent of Italians, 60 percent of Germans, 65 percent of the French, and 49 percent of Britons would vote for Barack Obama. Compare that to John McCain. He gets 15 percent support from Italians, 6 percent from Germans, 8 percent from the French, 14 percent in Britain.

Books about Barack Obama big-sellers in France. Some European newspapers are describing him as a -- quote -- "John Kennedy of our times" -- unquote.

After eight years of unilateral "my way or the highway" George Bush, Europeans are hungry for the change that Obama is offering, especially when it comes to America's role on the world stage. Been a long time since the visit by an American politician has been so highly anticipated in Europe.

Some European supporters are mindful that too much swooning over Obama could actually hurt the candidate back here in the states, the colonies. The Illinois senator could be seen as elitist among some working-class American voters if he's perceived as being too chummy with the Europeans.

The other caution flag for Obama is his relative inexperience in foreign affairs. And that might explain why Obama was careful to point out to the press this trip was going to mostly be spent listening, rather than offering a lot of his own views.

Here's the question: Why do polls indicate four European countries prefer Barack Obama to John McCain by a margin of 5-1? Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you in a few moments.

John McCain says we are winning in Iraq, but Iraq's government sounding like it's endorsing Barack Obama's plan for pulling out troops. I will speak with McCain supporter Senator Lindsey Graham. He's standing by live right now.

Rejected -- "The New York Times" refusing to publish John McCain's opinion article on Iraq. But it did publish Barack Obama's article only days ago. Wait until you hear the explanation coming from "The New York Times."

And tensions run high in an oil passageway called a choke point. A war between the United States and Iran could choke off 40 percent of the world's oil.

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


BLITZER: Senator Obama toured the war zone today. John McCain continues blasting him for his plan to pull troops out of Iraq over a 16-month period if elected president.

But it appears the Iraqi government itself sort of warmed to that idea. Iraq says its vision is that most U.S. combat troops would in fact be out of Iraq by the year 2010.

Let's discuss this and more with a very strong supporter of John McCain, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He's joining us from Charleston, South Carolina, right now.

Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, sir. Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: Nouri al-Maliki told "Der Spiegel" -- and we went back, looked at the original Arabic, how it translated into German -- and he said, you know what, he more or less agrees with Senator Obama that a 16-month timetable is good for Iraq.

That sort of pulls the rug out of the Bush administration and Senator McCain that says there should be no such timetable.

GRAHAM: As I understand what he said in his statement that followed the "Der Spiegel" interview was that everything is conditions-based.

I wish we could bring the troops home tomorrow, but it's going to be based on what we leave behind. This whole idea of how you leave Iraq is important. But we have got to remember, the goal is to leave Iraq behind where we won, the terrorists in Iraq lost. That's the goal. And the way you do that is make sure that troops come home based on conditions, not artificial timetables. Maliki has not endorsed an artificial timetable. It's always conditions-based. And Senator Obama just says 16 months, without conditions, which is undercutting.


GRAHAM: I'm sorry.

BLITZER: But, Senator, the -- the prime minister in that answer to "Der Spiegel," he himself volunteered that 16 -- he referred to what Barack Obama said, said that 16-month timetable sounds more or less pretty good to him.

GRAHAM: Well, he also said today and yesterday that it's based on conditions. Senator McCain said that, in 2013, at the end of his first term, he envisions Iraq where most of the troops are gone, and we're out of the combat business.

We all see a day soon, rather than later, that we can come home. But the goal has always been to secure Iraq to make sure we win. Senator Obama has never seen Iraq in terms of the global struggle. He wants to leave. He wanted to leave instead of do the surge. And leaving is not the goal. Winning is the goal. And we're going to leave winning.

BLITZER: Well, he also makes the point that he opposed the war from the beginning, and...

GRAHAM: Yes, he did.

BLITZER: ... Senator McCain was, in his words, basically a cheerleader for the war. And he sees that as the biggest blunder in U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War.

GRAHAM: Yes, all I can tell you is that a world with Saddam Hussein is not a better world.

In the Obama world, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. And you know how the U.N. oil-for-food program was working. I'm glad Saddam Hussein's out of power. I'm glad he's dead. And I'm glad we have a chance to create, in the heart of the Arab world, a Democratic government, where Sunni, Kurds, and Shias can live in peace, reject Iran, and deliver decisive blow against al Qaeda.

BLITZER: So, knowing what you know right now, Senator Graham, and knowing what Senator McCain knows right now, even though there were no WMDs, even though there were no links between Saddam Hussein...

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... and al Qaeda or 9/11, you still think it was a good idea to go to war?

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. I am glad that the Saddam Hussein regime is over. I'm glad a democracy's beginning to emerge in the heart of the Arab world. We screwed this up 100 ways off the fall of Baghdad. The surge saved Iraq from chaos. Senator Obama said no to the surge. He said it would fail. He was wrong.

We're on the verge of winning. And when he comes back from Iraq, I wish he would acknowledge two things, that the surge worked, and we're going to win.

BLITZER: The other point he's making is that the U.S. took the eye off the ball, the al Qaeda/Taliban ball in Afghanistan, devoted energy to Iraq...

GRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: ... and, right now, we're paying potentially a very disastrous price in Afghanistan, which he sees as the heart of the war on terror right now, because we neglected Afghanistan, at the expense -- because of -- because of Iraq.


BLITZER: Do you want to respond to that charge?

GRAHAM: Yes, I would.

The heart of the war is not a place. It's an idea. The reason al Qaeda followed us into Iraq, it's the worst nightmare for the al Qaeda/bin Laden regime to have a group of Sunni Kurds and Shias living together in peace, where a woman can have a say about her children.

So, al Qaeda came to Iraq to make sure that this experiment in democracy would fail, because it would be a big blow to their agenda. The biggest success of all from the surge is that Muslims in Iraq turned on the al Qaeda. With our help, they delivered a punishing blow to al Qaeda. The biggest loser in the surge has been al Qaeda.

The biggest loser in the surge has been al Qaeda. You have got to win in Iraq and you also have to win in Afghanistan. To say that Iraq was not central to the overall war on terror misunderstands what would happen if you lost. If we lost, Iran would fill a vacuum. They would be stronger.

If al Qaeda had run us out of Iraq, then they would claim victory. And moderation would be really hard to find in the Mideast. So, we're winning in Iraq. And that will help us win in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: All right, Senator -- Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: See you back here in Washington.

All the news that's fit to print -- Barack Obama's editorial made "The New York Times." So, why did an op-ed piece by Senator John McCain get rejected? Now there's a controversy. It's making a big splash out there on the Internet. We will update you on what we know.

And subway blitz -- an Islamic group plans to paper trains with advertisements explaining the Muslim faith -- taking center stage, a controversial with alleged -- repeat, alleged -- ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

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



BLITZER: The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, puts the squeeze on the Bush administration and Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan. Is he putting the squeeze on the administration? And what's going on? We will update you on what's going on.

And a U.S.-led task force is trying to keep much of the world's oil moving through a critical passageway. But will Iran stand in the way? Our Wilf Dinnick, he's aboard a warship in the area right now.


WILF DINNICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here on the bridge, they're trying to identify every single boat out there. They're looking for an anomaly, any boat that seems out of place. The real threat here is an attack from a small unidentified vessel.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Senators Barack Obama and John McCain together on the same stage. "The Purpose Driven Life" author, Rick Warren, has invited the White House rivals to a forum at megachurch August 16.

McCain may win support from Christian conservative James Dobson after all. The Focus on the Family chairman says he thought he would never say this, but he says he might -- repeat, might -- actually endorse Senator McCain.

And will smog put a cloud over the Beijing games? Not if China can help it. We will fill you in on the extreme measures it's taking to try to clear the air for the athletes.

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

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, may be taking advantage of the U.S. presidential election to play some political hardball of his own and get the Bush administration to agree to his terms on how long U.S. forces should stay in Iraq.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's working this story for us.

Some conflicting signals coming out of Iraq, some confusion, but it seems the Iraqi prime minister is coming pretty close to endorsing Barack Obama's strategy.


Some advisers to the Iraqi prime minister suggesting that, in fact, he is trying to put the squeeze on the White House here by suggesting he's in synch with the Democratic presumptive nominee.


HENRY (voice over): President Bush keeps saying he doesn't want to get involved in the presidential campaign.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I'm loath to respond to a particular presidential candidate.

HENRY: But the Iraqi prime minister, not so much. Nuri al- Maliki is jumping into the American presidential race, telling a German magazine that Democrat Barack Obama's plan for removing combat troops from Iraq within 16 months is the right time frame for a withdrawal. A Maliki spokesman first suggested the prime minister was misunderstood, but then added that, in fact, the Iraqi government is hoping U.S. combat troops will leave in 2010, similar to Obama's plan.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to talk about Senator Obama's position. He can articulate that himself. I would just tell you that where we come from, we're not going to talk about specific dates.

HENRY: Putting the White House on the defensive could be a deliberate move by the Iraqis to win concessions over the long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq. The Associated Press quoted advisers to Maliki as saying the prime minister has tried to capitalize on the White House's urgency to wrap up the talks by telling aides, "Let's squeeze them."

PERINO: I think it's based on an anonymous source reporting about something they heard in -- that took place in a meeting. Now, do I think that the negotiations are in their final stages and do I think the Iraqis are trying to put forward their best position and to try to show that they can do more? Yes.

HENRY: The Iraqis already won a major concession Friday, when the White House embraced a general time horizon for removing U.S. troops. This, after years of rejecting Democratic timetables.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: At least he's recognizing there must be some timeline set. No one knows yet what a time horizon actually means, and it's clear that President Bush has no plans to withdraw down before he packs his bags in January.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: But Dana Perino stressed that the U.S. believes the Iraqis do not want to pull out arbitrarily, that Maliki still believes that any pullout should be based on conditions on the ground. Time will tell, of course, whether there's a real difference here or just a semantical difference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch, together with you, Ed. Thank you.

For many conservatives, it's the newspaper they simply love to hate. And now "The New York Times" is giving some Republicans even more ammunition for their claims.

CNN's Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post" is joining us right now from "The Washington Post" newsroom.

The McCain campaign pretty upset over what has happened, Howie.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST "RELIABLE SOURRCES": That's right, Wolf. The opinion page of "The New York Times" is precious real estate, which is why Barack Obama used it last week to preview a speech on Iraq. But the price of admission is apparently a bit higher for John McCain.


KURTZ (voice over): The McCain campaign submitted an op-ed piece on Friday, hoping for the newspaper equivalent of equal time. McCain's article criticized Obama for pushing the "... same old proposal..." for a 16-month withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying, "Any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons."

Times' opinion editor, David Shipley, who, as it happens, worked in the Clinton White House, turned down the piece about two hours later, saying it contained nothing new. Shipley wrote, "It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate."

It's fairly common for opinion editors to ask contributors for more details. But for The Times' liberal page to impose a stringent list of conditions on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, days after publishing a similar piece on the subject by the presumptive Democratic nominee, is rather unusual.

A couple of campaign cycles ago, that would have been the end of it. But the McCain camp gave the rejected article and the e-mails to the "Drudge Report," which gave it a big splash online. A Times editor was not immediately available for comment.

A McCain spokesman says his Iraq position "... will not change based on politics or the demands of the "The New York Times.'" (END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And one irony of the Internet age, the rejected piece will probably wind up getting far more attention from the controversy whipped up by Matt Drudge, than if "The New York Times" had just gone ahead and published it.

And we received a statement from The Times this past hour. Let me read it to you.

"It is standard procedure on op-ed page, and that of other newspapers, to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Senator McCain's views in our paper just as we have in the past. We have published at least seven op-ed pieces by Senator McCain since 1996."

"'The New York Times' endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries. We take his views very seriously." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication the McCain campaign is going to rewrite this article or add to it in order to make it acceptable to "The New York Times?"

KURTZ: I've got a one-word answer from the McCain campaign -- no. They have no plans to resubmit this to "The New York Times," and, in fact, they probably succeeded in blasting it out to everybody through the Web site of Matt Drudge and get people like us talking about it.

BLITZER: And if anything could energize that Republican base, something like this certainly can.

Howie, thanks very much.

By the way, if you want to read what The Times wouldn't publish from John McCain, you can go to our Web site. You'll find it all on our Political Ticker, You'll also find "The New York Times" opinion page editor's e-mail refusing McCain's op-ed.

If you think you pay a lot for oil and gas right now, it's frightening to think what we would all pay if the U.S. goes to war with Iran. Tensions running high in an oil passageway called a choke point. And a war could choke off 40 percent of the world's oil.

Also, John McCain's campaign says Barack Obama's partly to blame for what we're paying at the pump right now.

And a potentially dangerous storm, where an innocent name could strike the United States. You're going to find out where and when Tropical Storm Dolly could roar ashore.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Condoleezza Rice has a message for Iran: Enough is enough. The secretary of state says Tehran has two weeks to freeze suspect nuclear activities or face potentially major new sanctions. Rice says Iran stalled at nuclear talks in Geneva over the weekend, even though a top U.S. diplomat was there.

All this, as Washington anxiously eyes a passageway for much of the world's oil. There are fears Tehran could try to choke off that passageway.

Let's go to CNN's Wilf Dinnick. He's aboard a war ship in the Strait of Hormuz -- Wilf.

DINNICK: Wolf, the Strait of Hormuz is only 20 to 25 miles wide. It is a very busy shipping lane that has become a tense area in this part of the world. There are fears that the conflict between Iran and the West could flare up right here.


DINNICK (voice over): This destroyer is cutting through the waters of one of the world's most strategic locations: the Strait of Hormuz. About 40 percent of the world's crude oil moves through this narrow passage. This vessel is part of a U.S.-led task force to ensure security. In the past, Iran has threatened to block the strait's narrow choke point to the Persian Gulf if attacked.

Bob Davidson is the commander of the task force.

CMDR. BOB DAVIDSON, HMCS IROQUOIS: I'm not surprised that they would say those things. As I said, I don't think it's in their interest or ours to close the strait. So I think they would only do something like that in an extreme circumstance.

DINNICK: The Revolutionary Guard can use small boats and sea mines, according to naval officials here. They say that could be a serious threat to even a massive destroyer.

Given tensions between the U.S. and Iran, the commander keeps a close watch here. If there's trouble, he could have up to 15 ships as his disposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assume port protection save (ph) yellow.

DINNICK: This ship goes on alert when it enters the strait, an unsettling operation for the captain.

CAPT. BRENDAN RYAN, HMCS IROQUOIS: My primary concern going through the Strait of Hormuz is the choke point. I have limited options for where I can go. The Strait of Hormuz is only 20 to 25 miles wide.

DINNICK: Not much room to navigate, especially in the crowded shipping lanes.

There aren't just oil tankers here, but also cargo ships, pirates and drug-runners. The vessel does not rely solely on sophisticated radar systems. Several spotters also crowd the bridge, keeping an eye out.

(on camera): Here on the bridge, they're trying to identify every single boat out there. They're looking for an anomaly, any boat that seems out of place. The real threat here is an attack from a small, unidentified vessel.

(voice over): There have already been incidents with Iranian boats. Earlier this year, the U.S. accused Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats of harassing and provoking U.S. Navy ships. Iran reportedly said it was not a serious incident. No shots were fired. But there are concerns here that a situation could spin out of control.

The commander says Revolutionary Guard boats will often pull alongside the task force ships. A few tense moments of checking each other out, and they move on. The task force and crew constantly watching from all angles this narrow strait of water.


DINNICK: Despite all the Iranian rhetoric, naval officials here say they doubt the Iranians could cut off the strait for very long, simply because of the size of the naval coalition here and the presence of the U.S. Navy in the area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Wilf.

Wilf's aboard that destroyer in the Straits of Hormuz.

In our "Strategy Session," John McCain insists he and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, are on the same page.


MCCAIN: The withdrawal will still be based on conditions on the ground, as Prime Minister Maliki has affirmed and repeatedly reaffirmed. Conditions on the ground.


BLITZER: But has the Iraqi leader undercut one of McCain's key lines of attack?

And a new McCain ad places the blame for the U.S. energy crisis on Senator Obama's shoulders. How should the Obama team respond?

Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos, they're standing by, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: There's a new player in the race for the White House. That would be the Iraqi prime minister. Nuri al-Maliki may be pulling the rug out from under Senator John McCain.

Let's discuss right now in our "Strategy Session." Joining us are CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

If you were advising Senator McCain right now, you have Nuri al- Maliki saying, you know what, I sort of agree with Barack Obama, 16 months is a pretty good timeline for getting all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq, more or less. How does McCain deal with this?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, in 2004, Senator McCain made it quite clear that his own views would be shaped by the situation on the ground. Now, we have a sovereign government, and the prime minister is telling the United States he wants a timetable. I think Senator McCain and the president clearly should listen to the prime minister.

BLITZER: All right. What advice would you give Barack Obama right now in order to play this? He's in Iraq as we speak.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I guess it wouldn't work for me to suggest that Barack Obama thank Senator McCain for the surge that worked, which even allows us the progress we've made. It's what allows us to have this discussion about getting out.

BLITZER: I don't think he's going to do that.

CASTELLANOS: I don't think he's going to do that either. Well, I think the advice to give Senator Obama is that, look, if you're a doctor, you don't just put a timetable on curing the patient, you treat him until he gets well. And that's the situation here, you can't just say, hey, regardless of conditions on the ground, we're going to get out at this certain date, no matter what.

And that's still Senator Obama's position. Not politically tenable.

BLITZER: But even the White House is now talking about a time horizon for getting out.

CASTELLANOS: There's no reason not to have a goal. There's no reason not to have a time horizon. But a timetable that does not look at events on the ground, just says we're going to get out this date, whether the patient is cured or not, just is not a good political position for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: As soon as I heard that comment, he volunteered it in the interview with (INAUDIBLE) in Germany, Nuri al-Maliki. He said, you know, Barack Obama's calling for 16 months to get troops out of Iraq, I sort of think that's a good idea, more or less. I'm paraphrasing right now.

You know what went through my mind, Donna -- and I wonder if you agree -- is Nuri al--Maliki sensing, you know what, this guy might be the next president of the United States and this is a good time to start getting on his good side?

BRAZILE: I think the prime minister is well aware that he is holding elections this year in Iraq. The people of Iraq would like to see us out. The surge has allowed the Iraqi government to make some steps toward reconciliation, toward power-sharing.

And Alex, with all due respect to Republicans and others who think that we shouldn't set goals...

CASTELLANOS: No, goals we should set.

BRAZILE: ... the fact is that we need a responsible, orderly transition out of Iraq at some point. And if you don't set a goal -- we had no strategy to get in, we need a strategy to start coming home.

CASTELLANOS: Well, let me clear that up though.

Everybody wants goals. Everybody would like to get out as soon as possible. And I think, you know, if we can get out in the next year or two, or less, terrific. But that's not what Barack Obama said.

What Barack Obama has said, that we're going to get out whether or not we're ready to get out. Whether or not conditions on the ground are allowed. He has said we're going to set a date, a timetable, and get out. We're going to stop treating this patient if he's well or not, and that's the mistake.

BLITZER: He also makes the point that sometimes you need to put pressure on a government like that in order to get the job done. Otherwise, the Iraqis might simply say, you know what, Uncle Sam will take care of us with billions of dollars a month forever, and why not just let them get the job done?


BRAZILE: Three billion dollars a week, that's what the American taxpayers understand. They know that our troops have given the Iraqi government the space to begin the reconciliation process. They have over $300 billion in oil reserve, let them spend some of that money and bring our troops home.

CASTELLANOS: Good points all, which is why Republicans and Democrats agree, let's bring our troops home, but let's do it when we win, when we're in condition to do so, not just, hey, it's time to pack or bags.

BLITZER: All right. I want to play this clip from this new McCain ad on the price of gas, the energy crisis.


NARRATOR: Gas prices, $4, $5, no end in sight because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil. Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. I think you can blame a lot of people for rising prices at the pump. But to say Obama is to blame right now, how did he get the price of a gallon, $4 some places, $5 a gallon?

CASTELLANOS: Buried there in the records somewhere, I'm sure.

I think the point the ad is trying to make is that Obama's position is the same as the Democrats in Congress. They voted over 80 percent of the time against using American energy sources and developing them. Developing offshore oil, ANWR, shale to oil.

Those things Democrats voted against 80 percent of the time. Republicans have voted for them over 90 percent of the time.

BLITZER: McCain opposed to drilling in Alaska, in ANWR as well.

BRAZILE: And McCain also opposed drilling offshore just a year ago. So the ad is misleading, it's dishonest. Gas prices are rising...

CASTELLANOS: Oh, I don't think so.

BRAZILE: ... almost a penny a day. And John McCain has been in Washington for almost 30 years. And McCain recently said that this problem is 30 years in the making. It's supply and demand.

Look, I come from a state that allows offshore drilling. Even if we open up every spigot tomorrow all over the country, we would not reduce gas prices right now.

CASTELLANOS: But if we don't open up some American spigots -- look, we're going to have foreign countries drilling off our coasts and selling us our own oil soon.

BRAZILE: Well, the oil companies should use the 68 million acres that they now lease from the federal government. Start drilling there.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it right there, guys, because we're out of time. But thanks for coming in.

BRAZILE: More tomorrow.

BLITZER: There will be many opportunities.

BRAZILE: All right.

BLITZER: We're standing by, by the way, for an update on Tropical Storm Dolly. Will it be upgraded to a hurricane? And where in Texas could it strike?

Also, Middle East tensions caught on camera. A teenager catches an Israeli soldier apparently shooting a blindfolded prisoner at close range. And hundreds of dead and injured baby penguins are washing up on the shores of Brazil. What's behind this very bizarre phenomenon?

We'll tell you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The man who says he's about change changes his plane. The Barack Obama campaign plane has some new touches.

It has "Change we can believe in." Obama will use it for his next scheduled stop on his foreign tour. That would be in Amman, Jordan.

But one person will not be among the reporters traveling with him. That would be a writer for "The New Yorker" magazine which recently published that very controversial illustration of Obama on its cover. It's unclear if there's a connection at all.

John McCain will have a serious message on a solemn occasion. He'll talk about the need for service on the seventh anniversary of 9/11. McCain will talk about that at a national forum on public service in New York City.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: "The New Yorker" was told there wasn't enough room on the campaign plane.

BLITZER: Right. That was what they told "The New Yorker."

CAFFERTY: That what?

BLITZER: That's what they told "The New Yorker," that there's a limited number of seats and their reporter is not going to get one of them.

CAFFERTY: That's correct.

The question this hour is: Why do polls in four European countries, Italy, France, Germany and Great Britain, prefer Barack Obama to John McCain by a margin of 5 to 1? I mean, simply stunning.

Byron in Oregon writes: "They're tired of either being ignored or bullied by the Bush administration, and they think McCain would be too close to more of the same. They see Obama as charismatic, someone who will respect their views, and who they can work with. The election of Obama would open a lot of new possibilities for cooperation on major issues like climate change and the war on terror."

Mac writes: "They're Europeans. What difference does it make what they think? We're the ones who will be stuck with him if he wins. Let's hope we're not left with an amateur for a president." Steve writes: "As a British citizen, seven-year resident of the United States, easy to see that the rest of the world knows what a lot of the Americans are still struggling to understand: If we want the whole world against us, we can just continue as we are, try to control the world instead of help guide it to a better future for everyone. If we want to regain our standing in the world, things have got to change."

James in Atlanta writes: "Having resided in Europe some years ago, I found many Europeans love America, they love our culture, imitate our love for democracy. I found they wondered how we elected Mr. Bush. Hey, a lot of Americans wonder the same thing, and if he truly represented American feelings around the world. Here comes Mr. Obama with talk of unification, hope and peace."

Vio (ph) writes that: "Europe historically has been more liberal than the U.S. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Europe drools over Obama and winces at the thought of McCain. But since when did America ever chew her fingernails over what Europe thinks about her?"

Carlos writes: "Peace, Jack. Simply peace."

And F. in Oklahoma City: "It's because McCain referred to Czechoslovakia, twice."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at And look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.