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The Situation Room

National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones Gives In-Depth Insight, In A CNN Exclusive Interview; Cuba Hit Hard by the Global Economic Crisis; Father Waging Desperate Battle to Get Son Back

Aired December 05, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The world watches as President Obama unveils his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Will it turn around the troubled mission now in its eighth year? I'll talk about that, and much more, in my exclusive interview with the president's national security adviser General James Jones.

But the president is getting pushback on the war from some members of his own party. I'll talk to one of them, Senator Russ Feingold.

Plus, a desperate and emotional battle as an American father wages a years-long battle to bring his young son home from Brazil. Now he's bringing the fight here to Washington.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The order is out and in the coming weeks and months, 30,000 additional U.S. troops will be deploying to Afghanistan as part of President Obama's newly announced strategy to turn around the war. One of its more controversial components is the plan to begin drawing down U.S. troops in July of 2011. Only 18 months from now.

All this week, members of the president's war council have been defending the new strategy on Capitol Hill and here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER (On camera): Joining us now, General James Jones, president's national security adviser, former commandant of the United States Marine Corps, former supreme Allied commander of NATO.

General, thanks very much for coming in.

GEN. JAMES JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Thanks, Wolf. It is great to be here.

BLITZER: Should say, retired general.

JONES: Exactly.

BLITZER: Although, once a Marine, always a Marine, is that right?

JONES: Absolutely right.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about the president's new strategy. He says in about 18 months, the U.S. will start to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. How long will it take to get all the troops out of Afghanistan?

JONES: Well, as the president said, it's conditional on the situation on the ground at the time. What the intent is to start the process, it is not a cliff where everyone leaves at the same time. But it is certainly an intent to be able to transition a lot of the responsibility for the management, the conduct, the government of Afghanistan, back to Afghans.

And that's the -- we're going to use a time between now and then to set the conditions to materially change the way the Taliban is operating on the ground, and to enhance the government's qualities of the Karzai government, and work with our friends across the border, the Pakistanis to eliminate the safe havens.

BLITZER: Just to be clear, so right now about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, going to go up to about 100,000.

JONES: Correct.

BLITZER: Starting in July 2011, though, the number is going to go down.


BLITZER: It's unclear how quickly that number will go down.

JONES: It will be a transition that will be based on conditions at the time. But it's clear that we think that this is an achievable goal and that's what the president has decided and that's what we'll do.

BLITZER: Because in this original recommendation that General Stanley McChrystal sent to the president, this is months ago, he thought the U.S. would have to spend years and years in Afghanistan to get the job done.

JONES: That's been part of the problem with our mission in Afghanistan. By the way, not just us, the 42 other sovereign countries, is that it has been rather open-ended. And so the president decided to narrow the mission in terms of time and focus a little bit. And to give some incentives to President Karzai and the Afghan establishment to start taking control of its own destiny.

BLITZER: The theory being, if you don't put a deadline out there's not enough pressure.

JONES: Right.

BLITZER: People will keep it open forever?

JONES: Correct. We can't want this more than the Afghans do. And we think they want it. And we think that we can -- with our allies, by this flow of forces, set the conditions that will give them time and space to achieve those goals.

BLITZER: How did you come up with the July 2011 target date?

JONES: It was based on, as you know, exhaustive review that's gone on for several months. We coalesced around that date based on military estimates and political guidance, decision-making by the president. We decided using the departure time as 1 July, 2011. Because Wolf, you have to remember, we put 33,000 troops in 2009. We figured we could assess our performance on this strategy starting 1 July 2009 going to 1 July 2011. That's a two-year time frame in which we hope to effect about half a dozen things that have to -- have to turn our way.

BLITZER: Because some of the pundits have suggested there's politics at play here. Looking at the political calendar, not just the military strategy. You're a military guy. In all the meetings that you had in the White House Situation Room, was there ever a discussion of politics?

JONES: Never heard it. Not on this issue. There are discussions about what's supportable in the Congress, so on and so forth. But not a political-based discussion on dealing with the flow of forces and the lives of our on the ground.

BLITZER: So, the notion that this July 2011 would be a year before the Democratic presidential convention in 2012, you categorically reject all that?

JONES: That categorically was never mentioned in our Situation Room.

BLITZER: How did you come up with the 30,000 number? General McChrystal, I think, wanted 40,000, you came up with 30,000. How did you come up with 30,000

JONES: Actually, he's going to get 40,000. And the way he's going to get 40,000 is we're going to put in 30,000 U.S. troops. NATO is, we think, going to contribute anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000, at least to start, maybe even more. There's been a lot of enthusiasm in NATO for the way we've done this and the collaborative way we've done this. And we will see on Thursday and Friday of this week the results of the foreign ministerial conference at which this will be rolled out.

Then in order to get the Afghans involved it in, we asked General McChrystal to ask the Afghans for about a 4,000, 5,000-man Afghan force. In RC East and RC West, which are the two main areas that the U.S. is involved in, he will have roughly 40,000.

But the big thing, the change, is the narrowing of the mission and the focusing on the time lines. With those -- once that happened, General McChrystal was able to say I can, you know what, I can do this with 30,000 U.S. instead of 40,000.

BLITZER: And he can live with that time frame between now and July 2011?

JONES: Every member of the uniform chain of command and the civilian chain of command has agreed to this.


BLITZER: All right, do the math. That's some 100,000 American troops will be in Afghanistan, fighting about, get this, 100 al-Qaeda operatives. Why so many U.S. troops for so few al-Qaeda fighters? The national security adviser explains in part two of our interview.

Also, how worried is the U.S. that terrorists may get their hands on Pakistan's nuclear weapons? General James Jones also answers that.

One father is forced to live out every parent's nightmare amid worldwide attention. In a fierce custody battle, he's here to explain if he's any closer to getting back his son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm his dad. I raised him. I have my blood running through his veins. And that connection is there and it's real. And it's my god-given right to raise him and him to know me as his father.


BLITZER: More on my exclusive interview with the president's National Security Adviser, Retired Marine Corps Commandant, General James Jones. We talked about taking on al-Qaeda, the role of Pakistan, and the cost of deploying tens of thousands of additional American forces to Afghanistan.


BLITZER (On camera): The additional NATO troops who are coming and the -- about 40,000 NATO troops right there, who pays for their deployment in Afghanistan? Do their governments pay or do the U.S. taxpayers pay?

JONES: Their governments pay, pay for their deployments. There are certain countries that do not have the wherewithal, smaller countries, and the U.S. government can make a decision on its own to support those countries. By and large the larger troop-contributing nations are paid for by their own governments.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said about fighting al-Qaeda. I'm going to play a little clip. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our overarching goal remains the same; to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.


BLITZER: The goal to defeat al-Qaeda. This is what you told our John King on October 4 on his show "STATE OF THE UNION." Listen to this.


JONES: The good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al-Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.


BLITZER: All right. Less than 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan? And the United States needs 100,000 troops to fight less than 100 al-Qaeda operatives?

JONES: Well, the mission is obviously to keep it that way. The fact remains that al-Qaeda is still operating on the other side of the border, in Pakistan. Is planning attacks against the United States. We have been working very closely with the Pakistani government to make sure that - one of the - they understand one of the preconditions of our success over these next 18 months is that they have to tackle that particular situation. They have to rid themselves of that cancer that exists between those two countries.

BLITZER: But the U.S. troops in Afghanistan are not going into Pakistan.

JONES: Exactly right. But Pakistan can do an awful lot there and we're working with them to make sure that happens.

On the other hand, in Afghanistan, we do have an insurgency. We do have al-Qaeda sympathizers. We have the Taliban that's actively trying to, if they could they would overthrow the country. And we have a compact with the Afghans to try to give them a better future. And what we've said, and we've done this now for eight years, we're going to be there for at least two more years. And then we're going to transition to make sure that they can take over their responsibilities and develop the kind of Afghanistan that they want in their future.

BLITZER: Because it sounds -- excuse me for interrupting.

JONES: Sure.

BLITZER: Less than 100 al-Qaeda guys in Afghanistan. And that the United States needs 100,000 forces. It's still -- I'm not seeing the rationale for fighting 100 al-Qaeda guys with 100,000 U.S. troops.

JONES: We're not just fighting al-Qaeda, we're fighting insurgents, and we're fighting insurgent organizations that have ties to al-Qaeda. And if we weren't there would recreate the situation that we had 10 years ago, more than eight years ago now, that would allow them to organize, train, recruit, and launch attacks on the United States and allies.

BLITZER: How big of an enemy force is there? How many guys is the U.S. planning on fighting in Afghanistan?

JONES: The estimate -- the estimate in Afghanistan is about 27,000, right now.

BLITZER: 27,000 Taliban, al-Qaeda sympathizers, plus a 100 or so al-Qaeda operatives themselves?

JONES: Correct. Correct.

BLITZER: But the Taliban is different than al-Qaeda, because there are all sorts of suggestions that President Karzai, even the U.S., wants to try to negotiate with the Taliban. Pay them off, if you will.

JONES: Well, you know, there may be a process of reconciliation and reintegration which the Afghans will subscribe to and that we will help to facilitate. But the criteria has to be arms have to be laid down and they have to be able to join the legitimately elected government.

We have enabled the Afghans to have a chance at a better future. Just as we did the Iraqis. It is now close to time for them to decide, you know, they want this and to what degree they want it.

BLITZER: So, just as you negotiated and made deals with the Sunni insurgents in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq and started paying off some of the tribal leaders, and others, you're prepared to do the same thing with the Taliban in Afghanistan?

JONES: We're prepared to try to provide the afghan people the same opportunities, Wolf. By all polls that we have in Afghanistan show that the Taliban's popularity is less than 10 percent. And I, having been there for several years, and having spent a lot of time focusing on this problem, I'm quite sure that where we are now is that the Afghans are trying to figure out who's going to win this.

At the end of the day, who's going to prevail? And I believe that with this plan the president has recently adopted, that the opportunities for us being on the prevailing side are significantly enhanced.

BLITZER: But John McCain and other critics are saying, you know, by having a date, a date certain, or at least a deadline, for getting out, you're basically telling them, don't worry, the United States is leaving, they're going to be gone and they should get ready for that.

JONES: Well, they're going to be there anyway because it's -- the Taliban is a -- not only a political organization, it also has a violent arm to it. So that's a reality that the Afghans of the future are going to have to deal with. The date is one which signals a transition. Not an end, a transition. And what we want to do is do everything we can so that by the time we get to that date, have enough elements, good governance, reduced safe havens in Pakistan, and much more capable and effective and visible Afghan national security force. Better integration of an economic recovery plan. And an Afghanization plan that shows how much of Afghanistan the Afghans themselves can control. And gradually turn over increasing parts of their country to their sovereign rule.

BLITZER: We know there are plenty of al-Qaeda guys in Pakistan right now, operating in Pakistan. We also know that there are some operating in other countries like Yemen and Somalia, if you take a look over there. Are there more al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen or Somalia, or Afghanistan?

JONES: Well, our best information is that al-Qaeda is feeling increasingly uncomfortable in Pakistan. And as I mentioned, our goal is to make sure that they're very uncomfortable in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And we have evidence that they're moving, at least in some part, to Yemen and Somalia. This organization will always seek the ungoverned spaces or the areas where they perceive they can operate under the radar. So if we can get them out of the Afghan/Pakistan region, that would be good. But this is an organization that has to be tracked, and we're tracking it wherever they go.

BLITZER: So, is the U.S. going to go after al-Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen?

JONES: We will be working with other governments to make sure that they understand what's happening, just as we're doing in Yemen, right now. The Saudis are obviously very concerned. al-Qaeda is not exactly welcome in any one place in this world. And if we can do anything to make them uncomfortable and not allow them to survive anywhere, we'll be safer for it.

BLITZER: Somalia is basically a failed state.

JONES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: The U.S., as you remember, you are a military guy. U.S. has had some experience in Somalia. In Yemen, there is a government, there. Is the government of Yemen working with the U.S. to crush al-Qaeda in Yemen?

JONES: We are in the formative stages of a relationship. Obviously we have a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia. We are sharing information with other governments to make sure they understand where this organization might be going. There's a growing network that's really global about this kind of organization that is increasingly effective and real-time intelligence transfer and real- time arrests of very, very bad individuals that don't mean us well.

BLITZER: There's really no government in Somalia, so they have free rein. So let me repeat the question. Are there more al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Somalia, right now, than there are in Afghanistan?

JONES: Not -- no, not yet. But it is something that's worrisome in the sense of, if we're really successful as we expect to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they will ultimately want to go somewhere. And we need to track them when they do.

BLITZER: When you say track them, does that include military operations, drones, all sorts of activities as the U.S. does in Pakistan, for example?

JONES: By whatever means. This is a threat to our national security, to the people of the United States and to our friends and allies. As I said, it's not just us. There's a growing international consensus that everyone has to participate.


BLITZER: Is Iran stalling because it's trying to build a nuclear bomb? In the third and final part of my interview with the national security adviser, General Jones says time is running out and the U.S. may, repeat, may have to take, quote, "other measures." What does that mean?

Some things that are free in Cuba won't be free for much longer. The global economic crisis is hitting the socialist state rather hard.


BLITZER: It's a nightmare scenario. Terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. We talk about that as my exclusive interview with the president's national security adviser, General James Jones, continues.


BLITZER: Let's talk about Pakistan. I know you've been there several times. How worried are you about the security safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

JONES: We have worked for many years with the Pakistani military. And we have plenty of assurances that they have good control over their arsenal. Having said that, they live -- Pakistan is region where insurgent groups have allowed to -- been allowed to develop, and those groups have clearly indicated, especially al-Qaeda, that they will do anything to get control of a nuclear weapon.

And unfortunately, if they ever did that, they would have no compunction against using it. So this is a very active topic. It's something that Admiral Mullin and General Kayani talk about. It's something at every level of national security we spend a lot of time on.

BLITZER: This is a really remote prospect or potentially likely al-Qaeda, or some terrorist group, could get their hands on a nuclear weapon?

JONES: I think it's more remote now because we've brought a lot of attention to it over the last few years. But it's certainly something that keeps everybody awake at night.

BLITZER: What is your basic message to Pakistan? When you meet with the leadership in Pakistan, whether the president, or the prime minister, or the military, the intelligence community, what do you say to them? You've been pretty blunt with them lately.

JONES: We have. But, you know, friends can talk directly to one another and our discussions with them have been direct. And it's basically to say that the strategic interests of the United States are very much tied to the South Asia region; and very specifically with Pakistan.

And so we have an option -- we have a choice, really, right now to take this relationship and expand it in a positive way, so that people of Pakistan can have better lives. So we can get rid of these insurgent safe havens that are destabilizing their country, and also neighboring countries. And get on with a more normal relationship based on trade, economics, good relations.

Then we can be of enormous help to Pakistan in dealing with their neighborhood as well. So it's an offer to be very positive over a long period of time. But it's going to have to start, unfortunately, with some very strong action. And we have complimented them for what they've done in the Swat Valley in the South Waziristan. We want to see that action continue throughout the safe havens.

BLITZER: I assume you saw the article in "The New York Times", saying that you, the Obama administration, is going to escalate operations in Pakistan, whether drone operations, or increasing CIA activity or whatever. I know this is very sensitive stuff. And you don't like to talk about it. But you want to react to that article?

JONES: I would simply say it is correct that we are trying to develop the kind of trust and confidence between us and the Pakistani government that allows them the opportunity to clean up their own backyard, so to speak. We would be very helpful to them in that regard. It's a relationship that has the potential of going on for many years.

The message the president has sent is very clear in a couple of respects. One that is regardless of the July 2011 date, we're not leaving. We're not leaving the area simply because we're transitioning doesn't mean we're leaving. We have interests in this region. We need a safe, stable Afghanistan, but we need a secure Pakistan. And we're going to be working very hard to make sure that happens.

BLITZER: Let me tie up a couple other loose ends before I let you go, including Iran right now. Do you believe that Iran is building a nuclear bomb?

JONES: The evidence suggests that Iran has not convinced the world that it does not have the intention to acquire a nuclear weapon and or to weaponize that capability.

BLITZER: Is the answer yes, you believe they are building --

JONES: So I think absent clear statements to the contrary, and evidence to the contrary, which the international community has patiently laid offers on the table for them to be able to explain and to prove what they say they're doing versus what they're actually doing, but in the absence of such proof we have no choice but to increasingly conclude, unfortunately, as time just keeps running out, that we might have to take other measures.

BLITZER: What does that mean, other measures?

JONES: Other measures that would change Iranian behavior with regard to their nuclear programs. There has been for the last several months an offer put through on the -- by the IAEA, to transfer the low-enriched uranium, which was their request, in exchange for fuel.

BLITZER: They've rejected that and said they're going to build 10 more uranium enrichment plants.

JONES: This was their idea, and this was their request for the Tehran research reactor. We proposed several plans and ways in which this could be done. At every turn, thus far, they have found ways to not do it, to come up with other ideas, to delay, to stall.

BLITZER: Are they just playing for time?

JONES: Eventually, that's what you have to conclude.

BLITZER: So will the U.S. impose really stiff -- try to impose really stiff sanctions, working with the international community?

JONES: The president has been clear that he's willing to give Iran, until the end of the year, to kind of show their true colors.

BLITZER: That's a month from now.

JONES: That's a month from now.

BLITZER: And then what?

JONES: Then, in the meantime, we've also taken measures to discuss with friends and allies, including the Russians, the Chinese, Europeans, Persian Gulf nations, what might be in the -- the course of actions if, in fact, we conclude that they're not serious about this. So we'll let the next month run out and we'll see what happens. But it's not going to be -- there will be unfortunate consequences if they don't take advantage of this very reasonable offer to show exactly what it is they mean to do.


BLITZER: The clocking ticking for Iran, a month to go. That according to General Jim Jones.

It appears President Obama will have a tough time selling his plans for Afghanistan to some members of his own party.


FEINGOLD: I'm extremely skeptical and it will not help us in a significant way in the worldwide struggle against al-Qaeda, which is my priority, is the president's priority and is our national security priority.


BLITZER: Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He's here to explain why he and other Democrats could cause the White House some real headaches over the war.

And it's every parent's nightmare -- losing your child in a fierce custody battle. One man's battle is getting worldwide attention and he's here to explain why he won't stop fighting to get his son back.


BLITZER: One House Democrat is likening the new troop surge in Afghanistan to a "shack on fire near a dynamite factory." Quite a few of the president's fellow Democrats are rather skeptical, some even downright opposed to his new war plan.

Let's talk about this with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee.

Did I get that right, Senator?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: The key word being "key"?

FEINGOLD: That's right.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit why you oppose what the president is doing. What's wrong with his logic?

FEINGOLD: It just doesn't add up for me. The president says we're doing this, adding 30,000, 35,000 troops to finish the job. I ask the question, what job? Because the president has been so eloquent in pointing out that our issue is fighting al-Qaeda.

The argument falls apart when you realize that al-Qaeda does not have its headquarters in Afghanistan anymore. It is headquartered in Pakistan. It is active in Somalia, Yemen, North Africa, affiliates of it in Southeast Asia.

Why does it make sense to have a huge ground presence in Afghanistan to deal with a small al-Qaeda contingent when we don't do that in so many other countries where we're actually having some success without invading the country in attacking those that are part of al-Qaeda? It doesn't make sense.

BLITZER: Here's how the president responds to that. I'll play this clip from his speech last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARRACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must deny al- Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.


FEINGOLD: I guess the main point he's trying to make is if the U.S. were to lose, let's say, in Afghanistan, just walk away, all those al-Qaeda operatives who have crossed the border into Pakistan would simply go back to a pre-9/11 situation that the Taliban would control and give them that safe haven in Afghanistan.

That's an incredibly unlikely scenario in my view that al-Qaeda would find that to be the ideal place to return to. The notion that the Taliban would automatically welcome them with open arms is questionable in light of the fact that in the first place they came into Afghanistan with the Taliban's blessing because they had a lot of money to pass around.

Now they're hiding in caves in Pakistan. I'm wondering why the president thinks he shouldn't have ground forces and troops in countries all over the world that are not only potential but current safe havens for al-Qaeda.

Why aren't we doing that approach of a huge land presence in those places as in Northern Africa and Yemen and Somalia? It doesn't make sense. Why this one place where it's not the place al-Qaeda is headquartered in?

BLITZER: Have you spoken to the president about your concerns?

FEINGOLD: I have not had the opportunity but I would enjoy it.

BLITZER: He obviously has given a great deal of thought to all this. He's had many meetings in his own situation room. He's met with his intelligence and national security advisers. He says the U.S. needs 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Then they can start withdrawing in July of 2011. In other words, a temporary surge and then the beginning of I guess the exodus.

Is that something unacceptable to you?

FEINGOLD: Well, yes. Because all you've got here, people are calling it a time line. Time lines I've seen involve several points along the line. It doesn't involve one point in the future that could involve just withdrawing one American troop. There's no sense at all of how long we'll stay there. The withdrawal doesn't even begin for a year and a half and then there's absolutely no commitment to finishing the withdrawal. It simply says we'll begin a withdrawal.

So it's nice to hear the word, the notion that we might not be staying there forever, but there's no meat on the bones. And so that troubles me a great deal. You have this huge surge of troop build-up without any clear exit strategy.

And my question is, what are we going to accomplish with all the human sacrifice and economic sacrifice in the next three years? Is it going to be much better than what we have now? I'm extremely skeptical, and it will not help us in any significant way in the worldwide struggle against al-Qaeda, which is my priority, president's priority and is our national security priority.

BLITZER: Will you vote against funding for this new escalation in Afghanistan? The president says it's going to cost an extra $30 billion.

FEINGOLD: Absolutely. You know, I started to raise this question in the "Christian Science Monitor" before we even knew who the new president was going to be. I didn't like the idea of the build-up that started late last year and put us up to 60,000 or 70,000 troops.

I've been warning this doesn't make sense, and in fact, it may destabilize Pakistan, which many people agree with. And yet they're moving forward with it. Without any, I think, serious regard for the regional consequences of this huge troop build-up.

BLITZER: The president is rejecting suggestions from some of his critics that this could be another quagmire like Vietnam. I'll play this little clip of what he said.


OBAMA: Most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.


BLITZER: Do you see parallels with Vietnam?

FEINGOLD: I'm not interested in Vietnam analogies. You know, our top priority is to protect our country, the people of our country, and deal with the fact we have enormous domestic problems. Taking all these resources, hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificing so much of our military in Afghanistan when we have other international priorities and enormous priorities economically in our country, seems to be a very odd choice in a time of great crisis.

That's the problem, not whether it's similar to Vietnam. That's not my interest at this point. I want to get it right, right now. And it really seems to move in the wrong direction in almost every respect.

BLITZER: As normally a close ally and supporter of the president, how frustrated were you last night listening to his speech?

FEINGOLD: Well, I knew it was coming. I felt it's been coming for a long time. I was somewhat hopeful when the president indicated he wasn't even given an option for a long time that involved any kind of exit or any kind of withdrawal.

I was disappointed when he went with the troop increase, but at least he showed some rhetorical connection to the idea that we ought to not have this be open-ended. I'm hopeful that thought will grow in his mind and that of his advisers, that this really is a potential situation that is extremely draining for the United States and I think counterproductive in our fight against al-Qaeda.

So I wasn't happy, but I respect the president. I think he was thoughtful. I think he cares about getting this right. I think he is sincere about it. I just don't agree with him. It's my job as an elected official to express that, just as it's his job to exercise his judgment.

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINGOLD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what's now free will not be free much longer? We're talking about Cuba, which is being hit hard by the global economic crisis. Now many Cubans are seeing that free actually comes with a rather high price tag. Stand by.

And a father fights to get his son back in an international custody battle. The father is here. He's won some court rulings in his favor. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now involved.


BLITZER: There's no such thing as a free lunch. Except perhaps in Cuba. What if the Communist regime is forced to get rid of some basic subsidies?

CNN's Shasta Darlington reports from Havana that it's already happening.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT ( voice-over): Pedro Guerrero has used Cuba's ration book since it was created in 1963.

PEDRO GUERRERO, HAVANA RESIDENT: Meat, chicken, eggs, everything was on ration card.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): In good times he barely needed it.

GUERRERO: No, this one has changed --

DARLINGTON (voice-over): The retired driver says now that's where he and his wife get most of their food. A lot of people say what you get on the ration book is enough to feed you for about two weeks. Is that about right?

GUERRERO: It's enough to survive for one month.

DARLINGTON: For one month, ok.

GUERRERO: To survive. Not to grow a belly, no. DARLINGTON (voice-over): Despite its isolation, Cuba's been hit hard by the global economic crisis. And many of the benefits and subsidies that Cubans take for granted are being scaled back or eliminated by the socialist state. During a recent speech, President Raul Castro told Cubans what to expect.


RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT, CUBA (translated): The elimination of free services with the exception of those established in the constitution and unnecessary subsidies.


DARLINGTON (voice-over): Last month, Cuba began to close worker lunch rooms which provided cheap, hot meals and helped supplement meager salaries of about $20 a month. Those workers get a daily stipend of 15 pesos. It's less than $1 but enough to buy a box of chicken and rice, or a pizza and soda at lunch stands like this one.

The ration book, a foundation of the country's socialist system, could be the next to go. The communist party daily recently wrote, "The ration book was a necessity at one time but it's become an impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take."

During the Cold War, Cuba rationed everything from Bulgarian blouses to canned Soviet beef. Today, 11.2 million Cubans get basic food like rice, beans and chicken with their ration book. Even so, the government coughs up more than $1 billion a year for food subsidies.

GUERRERO: White sugar.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Pedro says he trusts the state will make sure those who depend on rations to survive will be taken care of.

GUERRERO: We have to be a step by step.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): If the ration book goes, so does a key part of the state's monolithic role in the life of the Cuban people.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Havana.

BLITZER: It's been five years since his little boy was whisked away to Brazil. A heartbroken father is waging a desperate battle to try to bring him home. Plus, South Korea, land of 1,000 Santa's, one of this week's hot shots.


BLITZER: Emotional testimony at a House hearing on international child abduction this week. Among those testifying, David Goldman. He's been fighting since 2004 to bring home his son, Sean, who was just 4 years old when his Brazilian mother left Goldman without warning, taking the boy with her to Rio de Janeiro. There she divorced Goldman and remarried as the two waged a bitter custody battle.

But everything changed when she died in childbirth last summer. Now Sean is living with the man his mother married in Brazil, despite court rulings there in Goldman's favor.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, David Goldman, the father of Sean. You've just come from testimony up on Capitol Hill.

What's the latest, first of all, in the case involving your son?

DAVID GOLDMAN, FATHER BATTLING FOR CUSTODY OF SON: In Brazil, we have had a return ruling in federal court in June. This family, this second abductor as labeled by the federal courts in Brazil filed over 20 motions to try to obstruct and delay justice and constant appeals and delays. We are waiting for a decision in the court of appeals in Brazil any day now to hopefully uphold that return ruling and reunite Sean and I back home here in America.

BLITZER: So you think that within a matter of a few days you might be reunited with your son?

GOLDMAN: That is what I have been told that there is a chance for that ruling to come out any day and hopefully it will uphold the first order, which I'm sure they will still appeal it find a way to stall and delay.

BLITZER: Are there higher courts they can appeal to?


BLITZER: It is unlikely they would abandon it and accept the court ruling; they would continue the appeal process?

GOLDMAN: It depends. The judge can order -- three panel judges can order Sean's return, uphold the decision, let them appeal, not stay the order. A judge, a judiciary has power to do that.

BLITZER: Would that allow your son to come back to the United States?


BLITZER: And you would actually bring him to the United States?

GOLDMAN: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: That is obviously what you want?

GOLDMAN: That's what needs to have done. We are not asking for any favors. We are expecting the rule of law to be followed.

BLITZER: It has been five years since you have been separated from your son. Are you speaking with him? Do you see him?

GOLDMAN: No, not since June. The abductors have seen how close we were and our bond, they did not break, and when they saw this reunion as also witnessed by our Congress who were there, Congressman Smith and Brazilian embassy, American embassy who is in Brazil, as well as the abductors witnessed how -- how our bond was still strong, and the love was still there. They took my son upstairs and -- and tortured him.

BLITZER: When you say "tortured him" --

GOLDMAN: Sleep deprivation, telling him he cannot hug me, he cannot say he loves me, he cannot call me dad, that I have abandoned him, that -- the closer that I get to him, the more they abuse him psychologically.

BLITZER: This is your late wife's family in Brazil, you say, are doing these things?

GOLDMAN: Not that I say. It is in the court records in Brazil. It is recognized and stamped in the Brazilian court records.

BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken out on behalf of you and your son. I want to play this little clip.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Goldman has under every known law of international adoption followed the rules. He has come in, he has made a claim, which is certainly a paramount claim as the biological father with, you know, every right to have custody of his son.


BLITZER: Is the U.S. government in your opinion doing everything it can to reunite you with your son?

GOLDMAN: They need to do more.

BLITZER: What else do they need to do?

GOLDMAN: We need to not mention it once. I am very grateful for the Secretary to talk about it and bring it up with her counterpart and our president to bring it up with President Lula.

However, when we get promises and assurances there will be action, and their judiciary, which is a sovereign judiciary of a sovereign nation, will follow the rule of law, and six months later we still do not have a resolution, we need to do more.

BLITZER: What, does the United States need to do?

GOLDMAN: We need to hold these countries accountable.

BLITZER: Give me an example. What do you want them to do?

GOLDMAN: We just gave Brazil $2 billion in oil funding to research oil off their coast; we have visas we issue; we have favored trade nations; the actual abductors can be sanctioned, they could have properties being frozen and assets being frozen, possible extradition.

We have returned children to Brazil. America has returned children to Brazil since my son's abduction. And since my son's abduction there are 65 other children taken to Brazil, held in treaty violation. To this date, Brazil has never returned one child to America via a judicial order.

BLITZER: So you want the United States to impose sanctions on Brazil until they return your son and others?

GOLDMAN: Well -- and you know, it takes time. Today was the first day, first step of a hearing. The next step will be in a committee that will accept legislation. I am hopeful that Brazil will, before this even gets out of committee to vote, my son will be home and Brazil will follow the rule of law and recognize the reciprocity of this treaty.

They were new to it when we signed on with them. I know Germany took over five years before they returned their first child. And with open dialogue with diplomatic relations and communications, they get it. They return children.

I am hoping as, ungodly painful that this is, that my son will come home before we even have to get to the actual accountability process. But these countries that do not return our children need to be held accountable.

BLITZER: Sean is hold right now?

GOLDMAN: He is nine.

BLITZER: You lost contact with him when he was four?

GOLDMAN: A little over four.

BLITZER: Are you afraid that with each year you will be growing further and further apart?

GOLDMAN: I was afraid of that until I saw him in February and then in June. And the love and the bond was - was what I dared not hope for. It was -- it was wonderful. And, he wants it. And I have raised him for essentially over four years. I also have learned that those are the primary years of the connection of, child and the parent. And that is where the strongest bond is, and I see that.

He is with -- he is being held by a man who is not even related to him; who in the eyes of Brazil was married to his mother for ten months before she passed away. What kind of connection can he have with this guy? I'm his dad. I raised him. My blood is running through his veins. The connection is there and it's real. And it's my God-given right to raise him and for him to know he as his father.

BLITZER: David Goldman, good luck.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. BLITZER: The music superstar, Stevie Wonder gives a speech at the United Nations, just one of our hot shots. A picture is worth a thousand words.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this week's hot shots, coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. In Israel, a boy enjoyed the evening as he flew a kite at sunset.

In South Korea, 1000 volunteers dressed as Santa campaigning to raise money for charity.

At the United Nations, the singer Stevie Wonder gave a speech about disabilities.

And in Taiwan, check it out. A member of the Harlem Globe Trotters showed his skills off on the court to the crowd.

Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. And every time this weekend on CNN International.

The news will continue next on CNN. But we leave you now with Sheryl Crowe at the lighting of the National Christmas tree in Washington.