Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Obama Reaches out to Muslims; David Carradine Dies

Aired June 04, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, President Obama reaching out to the world's Muslims, sometimes with kid gloves. In a stunning speech delivered in an Arab capital, the president offers respect and understanding and a closer look at his own links to Islam.

The president's words may leave some Israelis uncomfortable.

Plus, why does he use the word torture and completely omit the word terror?

And long before he was Bill in the "Kill Bill" films, he brought kung fu to television. The actor, David Carradine, dead under mysterious circumstances.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


He was humble, he was respectful and he was understanding. President Obama's effort to reach out to Muslims today was an extraordinary act of conciliation. From his initial greetings, the president's speech at Egypt's Cairo University was sprinkled with words in Arabic.

Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country. Assalam Aleykum. And heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn.

To protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure they can fulfill zakat.


BLITZER: The president noted his own father's Muslim heritage and he quoted several times from the Muslim holy book, as he made references to rich history and accomplishments of Islam.


OBAMA: The Holy Koran tells us...

The Holy Koran teaches that... In the story of Islam, when Moses, Jesus and Muhammad -- peace be upon them.

The Holy Koran tells us all mankind...


BLITZER: The president said his purpose is to seek a new beginning between the United States and the world's Muslims and he made clear that today's unprecedented speech was just the start.

Did he go far enough?

Did he go too far?

Our reporters are gauging reaction throughout the Muslim world, as well as here at home.

We begin with CNN's White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

He took the pulse in Egypt's capital.


OBAMA: It's easier to see what is different about someone.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a trendy Cairo coffee shop and in an old neighborhood grocery store, Egyptians put their afternoon on pause to watch President Obama's televised speech. I watched with them. Then came their reviews.

Translator and tour guide Ahmed Sadik (ph) called it a good speech, but only the intended audience is willing to listen and change.

AHMED SADIK: Well, it takes every Egyptian, every Muslim, every citizen in the world to capture that kernel of truth that Obama had.

LOTHIAN: Wearing an Obama hat that he picked up in the U.S. Ph.D. student Ahmed Ibrahim (ph) says some Egyptians and others in the Arab world needed to hear more.

AHMED IBRAHIM: It's a speech that a lot of mainstream people probably will like. But it's alienated people on the right and on the left.

LOTHIAN: Human rights groups, he said, wanted tougher language on democracy, while for the far right, tougher language on Israel.

IBRAHIM: He did mention that the U.S. does not accept settlements, but he didn't -- he didn't say -- he didn't talk about any strategy for dealing with those issues.

LOTHIAN: In other words, what if Israel doesn't budge?

A concern of store owner Ahmed Desuki (ph), who's been in business here for 14 years.

AHMED DESUKI (through translator): I was expecting from him more than he said, especially in the Palestinian case.

LOTHIAN: All agreed that Mr. Obama's speech is the beginning of a long dialogue to repair a broken relationship.

OBAMA: Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.

LOTHIAN: And Shahera Diab (ph) says in quoting the Koran, the president set the right tone and used the right words.

SHAHERA DIAB: He actually was interested enough to -- to read some of it, you know. And to actually include that in the speech.

LOTHIAN (on camera): One man said for the past eight years, he had been disappointed with the U.S. but that now, things were starting to change. With 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, the Obama administration realizes that winning over others will take time.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Cairo.


BLITZER: The president's message certainly got out there. Beyond the hand-picked audience of some 3,000 at the university and the coffee shop crowds, hundreds of journalists were in Cairo to cover the speech. Major Arab networks carried it live around the Muslim world, with simultaneous translation. And in a sign that the Muslim world is very much part of the changing world, ordinary citizens plugged into social media outlets, expressing in real time how they felt about President Obama and his message.

From an ancient mosque to the much more ancient Sphinx and pyramids, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also got a chance to be tourists in Egypt.

Here's a look at some of the raw video.


OBAMA: This is nice stuff here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you've done your homework. I'm very happy to hear that.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what it is about that, but it...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you look like King Tut.

OBAMA: How do you tell (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the person who is buried here, his name is Kar. And this is (INAUDIBLE) Kar and actually...

OBAMA: That looks like me. Look at those ears.

This is bigger, isn't it?


OBAMA: I think this is the best OTR (ph) so far.




OBAMA: (inaudible). It's awe-inspiring.

All right. I guess we've got to go back to work.


BLITZER: It brings back memories for me, too, of my first trip to Cairo way, way back, in 1977.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File.

Have you been to the pyramids -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: No, sir, I have not. I was just watching that raw footage. There is something remarkably down to Earth and rather unassuming about, arguably, the most powerful man in the world, isn't there?

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, he was a tourist.


BLITZER: Like all of us, he just wanted to see Giza. He wanted to see the pyramids. He wanted to see history.

CAFFERTY: Because that's great stuff. And I like watching that raw footage.

The other thing that occurred to me just watching this -- if we've got a couple of seconds. This is the kind of story that no one can cover quite like CNN can. I mean we've got -- how many correspondents have we got in Egypt covering this story?

BLITZER: Yes, we've got a lot. CAFFERTY: And we have the perspective of people like Christiane Amanpour here in this coun -- I mean it's -- it's tailor made for CNN. So keep it right here.

BLITZER: One of your favorites, by the way, Michael Ware, is going to be coming up later this hour. He's been in the region a long time.

CAFFERTY: Yes, he has. I actually saw Michael in the building a little while ago. We'll look forward to that.

Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, otherwise known as the Abbot and Costello of the Republican Party, are dialing down their rhetoric when it comes to the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.

Gingrich, who just a week ago called on the: "Latina woman racist" to withdraw, is taking that back. He now says his initial reaction to the judge's comments was perhaps too strong and direct.


He says he shouldn't have used the word racist to refer to Sotomayor as a person, even if her words were unacceptable.

And the other gas bag, Limbaugh, says he doesn't know why Gingrich retracted his comment. Limbaugh still thinks Sotomayor would bring a form of racism and bigotry to the high court. But Rush Limbaugh says he may look past that and he's now open to supporting the president's nominee if he can be convinced she has a: "sensibility toward life in a legal sense."

He's talking about abortion there. What a guy.

It kind of makes you wonder who in the Republican Party got to these two. Senator Jeff Sessions, who had commented the hateful talk, is praising Gingrich's decision to take back his racist comment.

It's clear, meantime, that the kind of stuff Gingrich and Limbaugh are saying doesn't make them very popular. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Gingrich with a favorable rating of 36 percent and Limbaugh a measly 30 percent. Compare that to Colin Powell -- a Republican who gets a favorable rating of 70 percent -- and there's little question about which direction the party should be moving.

Here's the question -- what caused Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh to change their tune when it comes to Sonia Sotomayor?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

I would have loved to have eavesdropped on the phone calls that they must have gotten from some of the powerful people in the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Yes. We can only imagine.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on our top story, President Obama's Cairo speech, including what he said about the Israelis, about the Palestinians.

Was there a verbal swipe at the former vice president, Dick Cheney?

His daughter Liz Cheney is here to discuss that, along with James Zogby of the Arab American Institute.

And the president is now in Germany, where researchers have discovered -- guess what -- some of his family roots.

Who are his distant German relatives?

And the shocking death of the actor David Carradine -- we're learning new details.


BLITZER: Let's go back to our top story, the president's historic speech in Cairo today.

Let's discuss this and more with Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president of the United States, a former State Department official.

Also joining us, James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute here in Washington.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's talk about what he said, because he was giving some tough love to both the Israelis and the Palestinians today.

Listen to this clip about what he said as far as the Palestinians are concerned.


OBAMA: Let there be no doubt, the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable and America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.


BLITZER: Key words -- "a state of their own," since the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel right now is refusing -- at least so far -- to say they support a two state solution, Israel and Palestine.

CHENEY: You know, I thought, actually, that clip was not really new U.S. policy. That's the kind of thing you've heard from presidents -- President Bush, certainly, in the past. What I thought was new and particularly troubling was the juxtaposition. You know, when he talked about the Holocaust and horror of the Holocaust, but then in the very next paragraph, when he was done with the Holocaust, he said, on the other hand -- and seems to equate the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the murder, the slaughter of six million Jews to the situation in which Palestinians live today.

And I think that -- that, you know, goes way too far. And I know he was trying to sound even-handed, but I think that begins to be very much appalling, frankly, to a lot of folks and walking away -- putting some distance in the relationship with Israel.

BLITZER: We heard some similar criticism...


BLITZER: ...from John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House...


BLITZER: ...that this moral equivalency -- the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.

ZOGBY: Clearly not and not intended as such. He was playing out the historical narratives of both peoples. This is why Jewish people suffer. This is why they're afraid. This is why they have a feeling that they are insecure. This is why Palestinians have suffered. This is why.

This is -- there is no place the president said this is equal to that or this is the same as that.

What he was saying, to be fair, was this is the narrative. This is the story Palestinians bring to the table. And those who can't deal with that, that there is a Palestinian narrative of suffering, they, frankly, won't get it.

But the president was being fair to both people, relating their story as it was.

CHENEY: But I think it's a...

BLITZER: Anything wrong with that?

CHENEY: Well, I think, obviously, there are two sides to this issue. But I think when you use a phrase like "on the other hand" right after you talk about the Holocaust, you can't help but -- and if it wasn't intentional, it was certainly tone deaf and insensitive to, you know, the feelings of Israelis, to the feelings of Jewish- Americans, frankly, the feelings of all Americans. And it wasn't the only place in the speech where I think -- you know, any American president, frankly, could walk into the Arab world and by putting distance between the United States and Israel get applause.

ZOGBY: Frankly, there's no way...

CHENEY: And I think that's exactly what we saw today.

ZOGBY: There's no way that one can -- can do this without getting criticized by those who simply don't want to hear it. The fact is there is a Palestinian narrative. There is an Israeli narrative. Both deserve to be told. He did not equate. He did not create any sense of symmetry.

The symmetry is these are two peoples who need legitimacy and need respect and recognition of their need for independence and sovereignty. He gave them that and he told their narratives leading up to that. That was important.

CHENEY: But it wasn't the only place that...

ZOGBY: We can't...

CHENEY: ...that we saw, though, Jim.

ZOGBY: We...

CHENEY: It wasn't the only place we saw this sort of attempt to say, you know, on the one hand this and on the other hand that. We saw it also with respect to the U.S.-Iranian relationship.

BLITZER: I want to get to all that in a moment.


BLITZER: But I'll -- what was very, I guess, pointed to me -- and I got up really early this morning, like I'm sure both of you did, to listen and watch this speech -- was the very contrast, the way he talked about what happened on 9/11 and the way your dad and former President Bush would speak about it.

For example, listen to how the president today spoke about the -- what so many people have always called terrorism, although he refused to use that word.


OBAMA: The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism -- relentlessly confront violent extremists.

Combating violent extremism.


BLITZER: All right, James, why would he refuse to talk about the -- use the word terror?

ZOGBY: He talked about 3,000 people -- innocents dying in their homes. He quoted...

BLITZER: But the head of extremists -- violent extremists.

ZOGBY: He quoted the Koran...

BLITZER: But is there a problem in the Arab and Muslim world...

ZOGBY: No. No. Not at all.

BLITZER: ...with the word terror?

ZOGBY: The -- well, one of the problems here is that language has been so sullied in the last administration that there's a need to clean up the discourse. And in doing so, what he did was he made very clear and personalized 3,000 people died. He went and confronted them head-on -- this is not a myth, this is not a conspiracy, this is reality.

BLITZER: All right...

ZOGBY: Bin Laden claimed credit and we will get them.

BLITZER: Because I want to contrast...

ZOGBY: I don't think there is anyone in the extremist community who took heart that this president is being soft.

CHENEY: But I can tell you what they did take heart from, though, Jim. I'm sure they took heart from the president going onto foreign soil and saying that in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States abandoned -- fell short of its values. And I think that is just a tremendous blow to say...

ZOGBY: There is no one in that region who doesn't...

CHENEY: Wait a minute. I let you finish.

ZOGBY: ...know and a whole lot of...

CHENEY: I let you finish.

ZOGBY: ...Americans who...

CHENEY: James, wait a second.

BLITZER: Let her finish.

CHENEY: Let me finish. The extent to which you go onto foreign soil and you suggest that rather than doing their job keeping us safe -- both the soldiers who've fought and died since 9/11, the folks at the CIA, a whole range of law enforcement officials, people who have put in place programs to keep us safe -- you know, it's one thing to have that argument as a domestic political debate. To go to Cairo and to accuse the United States of falling short of its values just strikes me as, you know, a real blow and -- and very disappointing, frankly.

ZOGBY: This -- this president has hanging over his head 4,000 pictures that came from the last administration of gross abuse and torture. They are hanging...

CHENEY: That is outrageous for you to say it came from the last administration...

ZOGBY: They are hanging out there and...

CHENEY: ...Jim.

ZOGBY: ...what he is doing...

CHENEY: I'm sorry, Jim.

ZOGBY: saying yes, what the world already knows, we fell short of our values...

CHENEY: Jim, are you suggesting that those pictures represent...

ZOGBY: And what we...

CHENEY: ...the American military, the armed services...

ZOGBY: They do not.

CHENEY: ...that they are anything except an aberration...

ZOGBY: But they represent...

CHENEY: ...and crime?

ZOGBY: ...aberrations that came from a policy that led to those aberrations.

CHENEY: That's just -- there's absolutely no evidence...

ZOGBY: And the fact is, is that...

CHENEY: ...from that, Jim. That's no...

ZOGBY: ...what he's doing is...

CHENEY: There's no. What he is doing...

ZOGBY: He is clearing the air and making it...

CHENEY: he's trying...

ZOGBY: ...and making it possible...

CHENEY: No, what he's doing is he's trying to get applause...

ZOGBY: ...for America to have a responsible relationship (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: One at a time. One at a time.

ZOGBY: Let me finish that.

BLITZER: Finish your thought then go -- then you go ahead.

ZOGBY: The point here is that we are in a deep hole. And no one -- if you don't get the fact that we're in a deep hole in that region, then, frankly, I don't know what to say. We are. He needs to get out of that hole and he needs to get out of that hole by admitting, number one, that, yes, there were mistakes made; but, number two, we are better than that. We will be better than that. And here is what we are going to do...

BLITZER: All right, Liz...

CHENEY: We've had...

ZOGBY: If you want to talk about confronting...

CHENEY: We've got big (INAUDIBLE)...

ZOGBY: ...the audience in Cairo...

CHENEY: It's my turn. It's my turn, Jim.

ZOGBY: He spoke about the Holocaust in Cairo.

BLITZER: Let her...

ZOGBY: For God's sake, this was an enormous challenge...

CHENEY: Jim, you know what?

We do have big problems in the Middle East. But the biggest problem is not the perception of the United States. The big problems we have are things like the Iranians attempting to get a nuclear weapon; the fact that we've still got terrorists trying to kill Americans, trying to kill our allies; the fact that we have about, in three days, we're going to have an election in Lebanon in which the Iranians have poured billions of dollars and Hezbollah is likely to win and he didn't mention it once.

The difference we have is that I think that the president has got to directly address those issues and not act like there's some sort of moral relativism here and this can all be solved if we sort of go forward holding hands together. There are good guys and bad guys here. And I think it's important to identify who those are.

BLITZER: But, Liz, I think what the president may have been referring to -- and we don't know, because we haven't had a chance to follow-up with an interview with the president -- but there were abuses of American values at Abu Ghraib, for example. Maybe that's what he was referring to when he was saying there were abuses and there were violations of our own values. CHENEY: Yes. But I think it is a big difference -- I mean, if you are an American president and you're going to say something so inflammatory and, frankly, something that pulls the rug out from under, potentially, the people who kept us safe, I think you've got an obligation, at a minimum, to be clear. And he absolutely was not clear.

It sounded to me like a very broad indictment that he knew, frankly, would get him some applause in Cairo. But that -- that is a very different thing than having that debate here in the United States.

ZOGBY: It's not a question of applause in Cairo. It's Colin Powell. It's the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's -- it's John McCain have all said the same thing, that this undercut our values and made it difficult for us to challenge other governments on their human rights policies...

CHENEY: But there is a very important...

ZOGBY: And let me say, we've...

CHENEY: ...debate going on about that.

ZOGBY: ...polled on this.

BLITZER: All right...

ZOGBY: We've polled on this in the region. And what we find...

CHENEY: But polls are no reason, Jim...

ZOGBY: that one of the biggest issues out there is Guantanamo, torture and the way we behaved in Iraq.

CHENEY: But here is the fundamental question...


CHENEY: Here's the fundamental...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CHENEY: that it is...

ZOGBY: And he is gaining support...


BLITZER: One at -- no. Hold on. Let her finish.

CHENEY: Jim, it's my turn now. Is that U.S. -- is it a U.S. national interest for us to make policy decisions here based on polls in the Arab world?

ZOGBY: It is. CHENEY: And my answer would be...

BLITZER: All right. What -- hold on.

CHENEY:, it's not.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CHENEY: It's in the U.S. national interest to do what's going to keep America safe. Now, 90 senators and the vast majorities of American citizens do not believe we should close Guantanamo. Now, if your argument is Barack Obama -- President Obama's policy decisions ought to be guided more by the polls that you're seeing in the Arab world than U.S. polls...

BLITZER: All right, Liz...

CHENEY: ...I think that's a hard one to sustain.

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a second.

I want to -- there's two other things I want to get to and our time is limited.

ZOGBY: Sure.

BLITZER: Here's, in marked contrast to the way -- the way President Obama spoke about violent extremists committing all these acts today, this is a clip of what former President Bush, how he once phrased it. And it caused a lot of commotion.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.


BLITZER: Was that appropriate, the way the...

CHENEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ...former president phrased it?

CHENEY: Absolutely. Look, you know, the fascist nature of the Al Qaeda organization and these terrorist organizations, the extent to which they will kill anybody who doesn't agree with them, the extent to which they want women to live in a completely oppressed way, the extent to which, you know, they -- they are completely unwilling to compromise. What they want to do is, you know, basically commit death and destruction in order to impose a -- you know, Islamic caliphate on the world. I think there's no -- you know, it's important for us to call this what it is.

BLITZER: Let me let Jim Zogby react. ZOGBY: These are bad guys. There's no question about it. And we've got to confront them. But we need allies to do it. And the mistake of the last administration was thinking that you could lead with nobody following and eroding the base underneath...

CHENEY: That's -- that's just not...

ZOGBY: ...your leadership and the allies that you want to have with you.

The point here is that we are, today, safer and more secure than we were yesterday, before this speech was given. This president has provided leadership. He is bringing America home and he is bringing American values to the world in a way that they will be heard and respected precisely because of who he is and the way he has been able to communicate to the world.

BLITZER: Unfortunately...

CHENEY: Suggesting moral equivalence makes us safer is just totally divorced from reality, Jim.

ZOGBY: I do not understand the moral equivalence argument. What I do understand is that Colin Powell...

CHENEY: We've done some bad things to Iran and they've done some bad things to us...

ZOGBY: John McCain and...

CHENEY: ...that's moral equivalence.

ZOGBY: ...the Joint Chiefs agree with Barack Obama...

BLITZER: All right...

CHENEY: Yes...

ZOGBY: ...torture...


BLITZER: Thank you, guys...

CHENEY: (INAUDIBLE) 58 percent of the American people believe that we're safer because of (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: You guys are going to continue this discussion out in the green room.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

CHENEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: A good discussion, indeed. A war of choice -- that's President Obama's description of the war in Iraq. He didn't offer an apology for the U.S. invasion. We're going to talk about that and much more with Michael Ware, who's covered the war extensively for us; and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Plus, the actor David Carradine -- he's found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok. We're learning new details about how he died.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged former Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo with fraud. The SEC is accusing Mozilo and two other former Countrywide executives of deliberately misleading investors about the substantial credit risks Countrywide took to build and maintain its market share. Mozilo is also charged with insider trading for selling his Countrywide stock for nearly $140 million while knowing that Countrywide's business model was deteriorating.

As President Obama travels to Germany, there's word that he has roots in that country dating back to the 1700s. Researchers here in the United States say geology -- genealogy records show the president's sixth great grandfather, Johann Conrad Woelfin, was born in a small town north of Stuttgart, Germany. He sailed to America in 1750 and changed his name to Wolfley upon arrival.

And actor David Carradine has died. Carradine was found hanging from a rope in a hotel room closet in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai police official says investigators found no signs of forced entry into Carradine's room and that an autopsy is being conducted.

We wanted to show you one of David Carradine's most memorable performances.

Here's a clip from the 2004 movie, "Kill Bill, Volume 2", with Uma Thurman.


UMA THURMAN, ACTRESS: You and I have unfinished business.

DAVID CARRADINE, ACTOR: Baby, you ain't kidding.


WHITFIELD: A graphic, tough scene, but certainly the most memorable of that movie. David Carradine was perhaps best known for his lead character in the 1970s television series, "Kung Fu." He was 72 years old -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that, Fred.

Fredricka Whitfield reporting.

Iraq as a war of choice -- the president takes a dig at his predecessor and makes it clear he's looking for a way out. CNN's Michael Ware and Candy Crowley -- they're standing by live.

And the president called another war a necessity. We're going to go live to Afghanistan for reaction to his major speech in Cairo today.



Happening now, a remarkable event in Iran. The country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is slammed on national TV by his main political rival only days before the country's presidential election. We're going to show you what was said.

How easy is it to ship American military parts to places like North Korea and Iran and to groups like Hezbollah?

The answer coming up. It's very disturbing.

And stocks rally on Wall Street. The Dow gaining 74 points; the NASDAQ adds 24.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama pulled out all the stops today in reaching out to the Muslim world. He spoke of his father's heritage and own experiences. Significantly, he never used the word terrorism, but he hit hard on what he called violent extremism and its consequences. Here's part of the president's speech. Take a listen.


OBAMA: Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian. But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the -- at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities, where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

The first issue that we have to confront the violent extremism in all of its forms. In -- I made clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will confront violent extremists who pose a great threat to our security because we reject the same thing all people reject. The killing of innocent men, women and children and it is my first duty as president to protect the American people. The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al-Qaeda and the Taliban with broad, international support. We did not go by choice. We went because of the -- I'm aware that there are still some who would question or justify the offenses of 9/11, but let us be clear. Al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. Yet al-Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people and are determined to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated. These are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake, we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military, we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems when possible. I've made it clear to the Iraqi people that we've pursued no bases or claim on their resources. Iraq sovereignty is its own. That's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next august. That's why we will honor the government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities from July and to remove all troops from Iraq by 2012. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have prohibited the use of torture by the United States and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcomed in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.


BLITZER: Let's talk about what we just heard, especially on Iraq being a war of choice unlike the war in Afghanistan. Joining us now, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our correspondent Michael Ware who has covered the war in Iraq from day one, going back to 2003.

The explanation he gave on Iraq, is that going to work in the Arab and Muslim world, Michael?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is the closest you'll hear from the American administration admitting the war in Iraq was a mistake. It's almost an apology by omission. He makes it clear it was a war of choice unlike the war in Afghanistan, which was a war of necessity. He also says that the Iraqi people better off without Saddam Hussein, there is still some way to go. That's a big thing and I think will play heavily on that part of the Middle East. However, there's also an irony here. You have to look it as a lawyer looking strictly as a structure of this speech. Under the heading of issues between America and the Muslim world, the first being violent extremism in any form. That's where he addresses Iraq and that's where he addresses it as a war of choice and all by a war of mistake compared to Afghanistan. It's almost as if it's a form of extremism. That we are not going to stay.

BLITZER: He makes it clear candy, that the U.S. had no intention of having permanent bases in Iraq or Afghanistan. How is it playing back here?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that rhetorically speaking, Michael's exactly right. I think that what he's pointing to, this was not an apology. As the president left to go overseas, everyone knowing he was going the make this speech, his critics were going, okay, it's another apology tour. The president made it very clear in advance, that isn't what it was. He made it clear, the one big point it seems to me, set aside the rhetoric, the paragraphs, the sub headings of this speech, here is proof positive he is not George Bush. Under that category, well, that was a war of choice and even the word, mistakes, was not used. It was very clear, there's a new guy in town and I'm not George Bush.

BLITZER: That new guy is Barack Obama. I want to bring in CNN's Atia Abawi. She's in Kabul, Afghanistan for us.

I know you've been gathering reaction there on the streets of Kabul, where the U.S. is beefing up its military presence. Listen to this so-called man on the street as we like to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think that he is better for Muslims compared to the last president. There is a hope that between Muslims, America and other nations that we can come together in friendship, uniting all human beings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He may help people, but unless we unite ourselves and help, it's not going to help if others come to help us. We have to unite ourselves.


BLITZER: I know you were trying to get some reaction from women there, but so far, unsuccessful. What happened?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. It wasn't from lack of trying. We did approach women and they gracefully rejected us. We approached a car of women, three generations of women. We saw a grandmother, a daughter and granddaughters. The grandmother said she has so much to say, so much to share to the camera, so much to share with us, but she didn't have permission from her grandmother in the front seat. This is the lives of women in Afghanistan today. They still don't have those freedoms. No woman would talk to us. And we had a grandmother, who's having to ask permission from her grandson, who denied her right to speak.

BLITZER: Atia Abawi's in Kabul for us. Candy Crowley, that chunk of the speech the president had on women's rights was very strong, but the question was asked, is it just words or is there going to be action. Did he tell King Abdullah, let women at least drive, forget about voting but why can't they even drive a car in Saudi Arabia?

CROWLEY: I can't imagine it was that specific, but you cannot go to a region with the expressed wish to say, we respect you, we respect your culture and we are equals and then publicly bash those cultures for what they're doing. What you do is, I think, what the president did, which was saying, here's how we feel about it. There are obviously pro-democracy groups that wanted to hear from him, a very strong support of the rule of law, of transparency, of human rights. There is openly critical and then there's just merely stating, he's what we believe in and we believe is true for all. You can't go head- on while saying, we listen to you and respect you.

BLITZER: And Michael, is this speech, when the dust settles, really going to make much of a difference?

WARE: We shall see. The real test here is can this president back up this landmark speech with action? Is this just rhetoric or is this the reality of his administration because let's face it. At the end of the day, regardless of the parameters or circumstances, we're still going to have more than 200,000 American combat troops on Muslim land as the sun sets today. However, I do think we have touched upon something that is different. That's a retraction of the Bush doctrine. We saw the Bush administration waged into the middle east of this grand vision of reshaping it, perhaps in America's image. Revising the Middle East or at least certainly that of a beliefs of the Bush administration. That would let democracy spring forth. Almost as if inside every Arab is a Democrat. Here, we see President Obama break away from that, saying we won't force any of our government upon any people. This, Wolf, could be the first pillar in a great bridge to Islam, but is the president going to provide the bricks and mortar to complete that bridge. That's yet to be seen.

BLITZER: You know Candy, what struck me missing from the speech is that over the past 20 years, almost every time an American president has sent young men and women off to war, whether you agree with it or not, it was to help Muslims, whether to liberate Kuwait in the first gulf war or Kosovo or Bosnia, or Afghanistan or Iraq, Muslims were involved. There was no reference to that.

CROWLEY: Perhaps it will come up later, but when they left here, when you look at the anniversary of D-day, it is the perfect chance for the president to say, by the way, Americans have shed blood in many, many nations around the world to try to preserve freedom for other people. Obviously, they didn't think this was the place to do it as far as Islam was concerned.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley and Michael Ware, guys, thanks very much.

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad facing off with a challenger in a pre-election debate. It's democracy Iranian style. You're about to hear their heated exchanges.


BLITZER: Democracy in action. It's a staple of American elections to be sure, but seldom seen in Iran - a debate sometimes heated, between presidential candidates hitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against the challenger. CNN's Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM taking a closer look.

First of all, when is this election?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The election is a week from tomorrow, Wolf. Last night, a surprisingly, highly charged presidential debate in a country not known for such open and public discourse.


BOLDUAN: Iran's president confronted directly in an unprecedented, televised debate. As crowds watched from the street outside, the challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi methodically tore into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for what he called the president's theatrical foreign policy and obsession with denying the Holocaust.

MIR HOSEEIN MOUSAVI, IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): The foreign policy our nation's dignity has been hard. Our country has been degraded. Development inside the country has faced problems. There has been increasing tension with other countries.

BOLDUAN: But Ahmadinejad shot back, saying his policies are building Iran's influence in the Middle East and his nuclear program has made Iran a world power.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Bush threatened Iran, but now, things are different.

BOLDUAN: Still, his leadership style came under fire.

MOUSAVI (through translator): I did not say that you are a dictator, but your method definitely leads to dictator ship.

BOLDUAN: The president denied the charge and said his challenger is conspiring with two others to force him from power.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I'm not fighting against one candidate. I'm standing against a combination and with the cooperation of Mousavi.

BOLDUAN: So could next week's election help relations with the U.S.?

AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mousavi wants to bring Iran back into the international community. Now this does not mean that Iran will end its support for Hezbollah or Hamas. It does not mean Iran will end the uranium enrichment program. So I think what we'll likely see is a stylistic shift.


BOLDUAN: This debate was Ahmadinejad's first in what is a series of presidential debates leading up to next week's election. It's definitely something both many Iranian people as well as many people here in the U.S. are watching very closely, Wolf, to see what's coming up next.

BLITZER: Coming up soon we'll talk to Fareed Zakaria about how President Obama's speech in Cairo today the section on Iran may have an impact on the election in Iran. That's coming up soon, thanks, Kate Bolduan.

E-mail and a credit card, is that all it takes to buy parts, used in U.S. weapons, and then ship them to Iran or Hezbollah? We're following an undercover investigation.

And after lashing out at holocaust deniers, President Obama will visit a Nazi concentration camp tomorrow which a relative of his helped to liberate.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "the Cafferty File."


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Burning question of the hour, what caused Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh to change their tune when it comes to Sonia Sotomayor, the nominee for the Supreme Court?

Nicole writes from Philadelphia, "Gingrich and Limbaugh were clearly muscled by top Republicans in to changing their views, in an effort to get the Hispanic vote in 2012. I think Hispanics would be more likely to side with a party that includes their own than a party that calls one of their own successful and qualified Hispanic women a racist."

Jim in Las Vegas, "It ought to be clear by now that the only issue that matters to rush and newt is abortion. Sotomayor has ruled in favor of pro-life groups a sufficient number of times. That coupled with her being a catholic gives the religious right hope for overturning Roe V. Wade, this stance by Republican leaders of the party is exactly what's driving moderates away."

Dave in Brooklyn, "The surfacing of an apparent semblance of intelligence on the part of these two geniuses is a random occurrence of chance. Sooner or later no matter how stupid someone is they eventually will make an intelligent statement purely by accident. Read nothing more into this. They will soon go back to their hate- fired rabble rousing and lies and disparagement."

Richard in New Hampshire says, "Part of the reason they change their tune is to give cover to many Republicans who will be attending an upcoming function where they'll both be speaking. By slightly backpedaling, many Republicans will be able to attend and not seen as approving of their statements."

And Brian says, "Republican funnymen leaders Newt Abbott and Rush Costello looked back and saw that no one was following them, the rest of the evangelical laugh makers were too stunned by Judge Sotomayor's qualifications to respond. The less nuts Republican leaders did make some phone calls. Even at their advanced age they want a few more turns, as the post-Bush job market sucks and it's expensive to be a member of the GOP." I love reading these.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog And get some giggles and laughs you right through the night. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good point, Jack, thanks very much. Don't go far away.

A political cartoon stirs up some controversy with its depiction of Sonia Sotomayor. Critics lash out and the cartoonist weighing in.

Plus unique insight in to the president's speech. Will it work?


BLITZER: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is accusing the Obama administration of defying economics 101. She spoke in Anchorage yesterday.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Since when can you get out a huge national of debt by creating trillions of dollars of new debt? It all really is so backwards and skewed as to sound like absolute nonsense.


BLITZER: Governor Palin went on to claim that the government is planning to bail out debt-ridden states so it can get in there and control the people.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the enemy never mentioned specifically by name, by President Obama, left the word "terrorist" out of his historic appeal to the Muslim world. The best political team on television is standing by. Plus, ancient sites and age-old hatred. How the president's visit is playing in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and right here at home as well. And parts of potential weapons now on sale. Fears that U.S. companies are creating what's being called a terrorist bazaar. We have an exclusive report revealing what money can buy.