Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
When Will the U.S. Surged Troops Come Home; Top Shiite Militia Leader Captured in Iraq; Middle East Nuclear Ambitions Have World on Edge
Aired January 19, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq says when those extra U.S. troops could start coming home -- could start coming home, if all goes well.
And what about the capture of a top militia leader? Is that a first big step?
We're going to have details.
He brokered the first Middle East peace treaty. Now he's taking heat for harsh criticism of Israel. But Jimmy Carter is absolutely not backing down. Thirty years after they take office, former President Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale join me for an exclusive joint interview.
And what's with the weather?
From snow in southern California to hurricane force winds in Europe, can this be a forecast of our future?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates got another look at the situation on the ground in Iraq, where the top U.S. military commander predicts when some American troops could now leave. That comes as U.S.-backed Iraqi troops capture an aid to the anti-American radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. The suspect is said to have close ties to Baghdad's death squads.
CNN's Arwa Damon is in the Iraqi capital.
But let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre first -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that prediction that U.S. troops could start to come home later in the summer comes from the top commander in Iraq, who is on his way out.
The question is, is it clear-eyed thinking or wishful thinking?
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he made his second trip to Iraq in a month seeking ground truth. What he heard from outgoing Commander General George Casey, was an optimistic prediction U.S. reinforcements could leave Baghdad in six to eight months.
GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE: I think it's probably going to be the summer -- late summer before we get to the point where the people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods.
MCINTYRE: Casey has made rosy predictions before. Last year, he predicted violence in Iraq would abate and the year before that, he forecast a significant U.S. troop cut. Neither happened.
But Casey points to the arrest of a prominent spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al- Maliki, as evidence of Maliki's fresh resolve not to allow political interference in military operations.
Still, one chairman of the Iraq Study Group, whose recommendations have been largely ignored, is warning Congress against betting too heavily on Maliki.
LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: The prime minister's rhetoric is good. His performance so far has been disappointing. He has not been effective. He has not proved reliable, nor have many of Iraq's other leaders.
MCINTYRE: But a British commander in Baghdad briefing reporters at the Pentagon had a more upbeat assessment of Maliki.
LT. GEN. GRAEME LAMB, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: I've seen him be decisive, make sound judgments and carry his cabinet with him. I think that he's got what it takes. I said the other day, you know, I like the cut of his jacket. In short, he gets my vote.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MCINTYRE: Gates left Iraq today, just as the first extra U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne are preparing to implement the new Baghdad strategy and before it's clear whether Iraq is stepping up to its part of the bargain. The assessment from General Casey, so far so good. But there's a long way to go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And they've got benchmarks. Gates is going to be watching how all this is implemented in the coming weeks before sending yet more troops in, is that right?
MCINTYRE: That's right. And those benchmarks are pretty clear, involving -- including whether or not the troops show up and whether they, in fact, have freedom of movement and whether that person arrested today, for instance, just gets released tomorrow.
BLITZER: Jamie is our man at the Pentagon.
U.S. officials stress that if the new strategy to work -- is to work, Iraq's government must do its part.
Could the overnight arrest of an alleged death squad leader be a sign of a turnaround?
CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad -- Arwa.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iraqi government is already being put to the test as it tries to move forward with its new security plan. Iraqi security forces, with their coalition advisers, detaining a man whom they have identified as being directly responsible for killing, kidnapping and torturing Iraqi civilians.
Now, he is a senior etu (ph) Muqtada al-Sadr (ph), Abdul-Hadi al- Darraji, Muqtada al-Sadr's people saying that the Iraqis and the Americans detained the wrong man and that they are lobbying the Iraqi government for his release.
In the past, we have seen Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's government favor the Mahdi militia members, essentially blocking any sort of effort conducting operations against them. He has vowed in this new plan that no militia will be operating outside of the law and that there will be no political interference in military operations.
How this all plays out will be a clear indication of Nouri Al- Maliki's intentions moving forward to secure his country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa in Baghdad.
Arwa Damon reporting.
Intelligence analysts from several countries have often said in recent years that Israel's nuclear arsenal, which has never been officially acknowledged by the Israeli government may include a few hundred weapons.
But Arab nations may now be much more worried about Iran's aggressive nuclear program. And the latest clue comes in some startling comments by Jordan's King Abdullah.
CNN's Aneesh Raman has the story from Cairo -- Aneesh.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's causing quite a stir tonight in the Middle East. The Jordan king, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper "Har'etz" (ph), now says his country wants to pursue a peaceful civilian nuclear program.
Now, why is this such a big deal?
Because it sets the stage for the Middle East to perhaps confront in the coming years a nuclear arms race. Now it was all, in large part, sparked by Iran, which, over the past few months, has been defiantly pursuing a nuclear program of its own.
Tehran says it's pursuing peaceful civilian nuclear energy, but, of course, fears have been raised in the West and parts of the Middle East that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.
And as Iran moves ever closer to nuclear self-sufficiency, countries like Jordan, Egypt and other Gulf States are increasingly voicing their desire for nuclear programs.
Now, everyone's saying they're pursuing peaceful civilian nuclear technology, but keep in mind, governments can quickly adapt peaceful civilian nuclear programs to programs that are pursuing nuclear weapons. And given that the Middle East is in such turmoil, it's hard to find anyone that can predict how exactly these governments will look in five years or in a decade, when these nuclear programs will certainly mature.
So a region very much on edge is now, tonight, confronting the possibility of another nuclear nation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Cairo.
Just when you thought the Middle East was complicated, it gets a little bit more complicated and a little bit more dangerous.
Let's check back with Jack in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm perfectly safe, Wolf.
CAFFERTY: Here's another sign the Bush administration is circling the wagons in the face of possible corruption investigations and what one senator calls an attempt to evade Senate oversight of U.S. attorneys.
The Senate Judiciary Committee says it knows of at least six cases in which U.S. prosecutors have been fired by the Bush Justice Department. These prosecutors have been replaced by interim U.S. attorneys appointed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Here's the catch. Until the Patriot Act was re-authorized last year, these interim prosecutors had to be confirmed by the Senate within 120 days. But Republicans managed to sneak a little provision into the Patriot Act that allows the interim prosecutors to serve for an indefinite period of time without Senate confirmation.
Now, let's see, why would you want to replace federal prosecutors shortly after the mid-term election when the Democrats assume control of Congress?
It wouldn't be because you were afraid the prosecutors you appointed and who have intimate knowledge of some of the goings on inside your administration might be subpoenaed to testify under oath before Senate investigating committees, would it? When asked about this, the attorney general, of course, denied political motives and insisted there was no plan to try to avoid confirmation hearings.
So here's the question -- why would the Bush administration suddenly fire a bunch of federal prosecutors?
E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The Senate Judiciary Committee under Patrick Leahy, Jack, is going to be very, very busy over these next two years.
CAFFERTY: Let's hope they're a little more effective than Arlen Specter was when he was chairing that thing and being little more than a lap dog for the Bush White House.
BLITZER: He's going to be joining us, Senator Leahy, Sunday on "LATE EDITION," Senator Leahy and Lindsey Graham, the Republican, is very, very much different on a lot of issues, including Iraq, when it comes to these two senators.
Up ahead, more of my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.
Does the former vice president take issue with the controversial hew book that has been written by his old boss?
I'm going to ask him about that.
Also, Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, get this -- facing some serious criticism from an unlikely source. We're going to show you why he's under fire right at home.
And snow in usually sunny southern California. Weird weather there while deadly in other parts of the world. We're going to show you what's going on.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Iran's controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is facing an extraordinary outpouring of anger at home, taking heat for his hard line nuclear stance and his in your face foreign policy style.
Let's go straight to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's too early to write his political obituary, but Iran's president is under fire and could be in danger.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) VERJEE (voice-over): His star is falling. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, usually praised for his defiance of the West, now, it seems, he's gone too far and his country has had enough.
Supreme Leader jahh (ph) handed Ahmadinejad a stinging slap over the country's nuclear policy in a newspaper he owns. The paper says: "A U.N. resolution that slammed sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program is harmful for the country and Ahmadinejad, calling it "a piece of torn paper," was too much."
It went on to say Iran's nuclear needed toughness, sometimes flexibility.
Now, 150 Iranian lawmakers, some from Ahmadinejad's own party, are publicly blasting his nuclear and economic policies.
AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: The system of the Islamic Republic of Iran is one that is a system of consensus within the ruling elites. And when the ruling elites, particularly his conservative and hard line supporters, are abandoning him, I think he's in, you know, some significant danger.
VERJEE: A new alliance between reformists and hard line conservatives fearful Ahmadinejad is leading the country down a dangerous road, one he's not capable of navigating.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
VERJEE: And experts say that this move to so-called clip Ahmadinejad's wings may not necessarily lead to a change in nuclear policy, but what they do say is it could lead to a reduction in the rhetoric that we have heard from him in the past -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are State Department analysts suggesting to you, Zane, that this strategy of trying to isolate Ahmadinejad from the Europeans, the United States, seems to be working in terms of fomenting dissent within his own country?
VERJEE: Well, Iranians are certainly feeling it from experts that we've spoken to. They've said look, you know, you've got Ahmadinejad, who's made comments on wiping Israel off the face of the map, the hard line nuclear stance that he has taken are creating major problems in terms of isolating Iran. And also things that have happened recently, too, Wolf.
You've had five Iranians that have been seized in Iraq by the U.S. accused of fomenting the insurgency, and also -- you've also had the U.S. send a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. Now, that's making a lot of Iranians really nervous. You've got tough language coming from Washington, as well.
They feel threatened. And, also, domestically, when you consider the situation there, unemployment is high. There are no jobs that have been created since Ahmadinejad has come into power. There's high inflation and people are really feeling the economic isolation, as well -- Wolf. BLITZER: Zane at the State Department, our correspondent.
Coming up, top advisers parting ways with former President Jimmy Carter over his book about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, calling it one-sided and inflammatory. He'll explain -- that would be the former president -- why he chose to use the word apartheid in the title. That's coming up in my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Plus, trees down, people buffeted by hurricane force winds across northern Europe. We're going to show you some deadly extremes.
Are they tied to global warming?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: One more hat is about to be thrown into the presidential ring.
Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback will announce tomorrow he's running for president.
He's a staunch conservative, but not necessarily on every single issue, and he now opposes the president's troop increase in Iraq.
Senator Brownback is joining us now live.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
A lot of us were pretty surprised that you've now come out against this so-called surge.
Tell our viewers what made you come around to that position?
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Well, Wolf, I've got a long history of this. I've worked on the Iraq issue since the Iraq Liberation Act was carried in the Congress, when President Clinton was in town -- or, excuse me -- when he was in office. And what I'm seeing taking place now is that we have to get to a political equilibrium in the United States.
We're going to be in Iraq for a long time and we need something that Republicans and Democrats can support.
You cannot fight a war with one party for it and one party against it. And I think we've got to get to that sort of accommodation, engage the Democrats in a discussion and ask what will you support and move forward from there.
BLITZER: Are you going to support the Biden-Hagel sense of the Senate resolution that opposes this troop increase?
BROWNBACK: I'm not going to because it doesn't give us the route forward. It's kind of hitting at President Bush, but it doesn't say what will we do.
We will win in Iraq if we don't lose our will. We need that will from both political parties and that's what sort of resolution I'll support, something maybe more along the lines of what Baker and Hamilton put forward.
BLITZER: What do you think is needed right now to win in Iraq?
BROWNBACK: We've got to get to a political accommodation here, because we're going to be there for some period of time, with Republicans and Democrats supporting it.
Number two, I really think over the long-term you're seeing that country become more of a three state, one country type of solution, with a Kurdish area, a Sunni area, a Shiite area and Baghdad being the federal city. I think that's what's going to be required in Iraq.
And to get the parties there to start agreeing to some sort of political accommodation amongst themselves.
A final point. We've got to get the regional countries engaged in a positive way if at all possible. They're -- many of them are playing in Iraq. I just got back from there last week. They are not being helpful. We've got to get them to be helpful.
BLITZER: So you basically have come down, at least for now, the president, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, they're flat wrong when they want this introduction of thousands of additional troops?
BROWNBACK: I'm not saying they're flat wrong at all. This is a viable military option. I do not believe it's a viable political option for us to get parties together so that we can be there for the long haul. That's, to me, what Baker and Hamilton were putting forward. They were trying to get us to some way to pull together on this and we've got to do that.
We will win in Iraq if we can keep standing and keep pushing forward. But we can't do it with one party for it and one party against it.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little politics right now.
You're going to announce tomorrow that you're running for president. None of this exploratory committee stuff, is that right?
BROWNBACK: I had an exploratory committee formed about two months ago. That phase has gone very well for us and so we'll be putting forward the full announcement of getting into the race tomorrow.
BLITZER: You bring a lot of excellent conservative credentials, although some conservatives don't like your position in support of the president's position on immigration reform, including a path toward citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
Why are you with the president on this? This is a very sensitive issue among a lot of conservatives, at least as far as I can tell.
BROWNBACK: It's a very difficult issue, Wolf, and I do think at this point in time what we need to do is secure our borders and show people that we're serious about securing our borders. And then over time, deal with this issue of what we have of people here now illegally and a future flow.
I do think, over time, you're going to have to increase the number of legal immigrants into the United States.
But I supported the over arching package because I think at some point in time you have to deal with all of the aspects of this -- a comprehensive solution. That didn't work last year. I think at this point in time what we need to do, let's get the borders secure, show people we're serious about it and then work on the other pieces of the puzzle.
BLITZER: How worried are you that that kind of position might turn off the base of the Republican Party?
BROWNBACK: It may, but, you know, Wolf, I just -- in this business, it seems to me that you have to do what you think is the right thing and the right way to go to move things forward. And stand and articulate that and show people why you think that's the right way to move on forward and then you let things move the way they will.
I thought that's the right way. I still think you're going to have to deal with it in a broad scope strategy in the future.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. Sam Brownback, he's running for president of the United States.
We'll be speaking, as they say, early and often, Senator.
Thanks for coming in.
BROWNBACK: Thank you, Wolf.
All the best.
BLITZER: Have a good weekend.
And this programming note. CNN is a partner in the first presidential debates of the campaign season, with back to back debates among the Democratic and the Republican presidential candidates on April 4th and 5th of this year. Stay tuned for that.
Coming up, more of my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Find out why the former president thinks his controversial new book may actually help bring peace to Israel.
And China, now with a satellite killing missile in its arsenal.
Can the U.S. protect its orbiters? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, an optimistic prediction that the increase of U.S. troops to Iraq could be short-lived, perhaps as little as six months. The top U.S. military commander there, General George Casey, says it will be late summer before Baghdad residents start to feel a bit more secure. The first of some 21,000 additional U.S. forces are preparing to deploy right now.
Also, the Senate bracing for a possible slowdown over Iraq next week, when dueling resolutions against the troop increase are expected to come to the floor. A group of moderate Republicans is working on one resolution objecting to the language in a bipartisan rival resolution, specifically the word -- the use of the word "escalation."
And the House of Representatives voting unanimously to revamp the page program in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. The new rules create greater oversight and protection for the young pages. Foley resigned from Congress last September after sexually explicit Internet messages he sent to male pages were revealed.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Nearly 30 years ago, he steered Israel and Egypt toward the first Middle East peace treaty at Camp David. Now he's under some serious fire for harsh criticism of the Israeli government.
But Jimmy Carter is sticking to his guns.
Thirty years after they took office, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale joined me for an exclusive interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Mr. President, you have written a best-seller entitled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." It's generated a lot of controversy, as you well know.
Fourteen members of the Jimmy Carter Center, the board of counselors, wrote a letter to you on January 11th. Among other things, they said this in their resignation: "It seems that you have turned to a world of advocacy, including even malicious advocacy. We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support."
Was it a mistake to include that word "apartheid" in the title of this book?
JAMES CARTER (D), FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No, it was not a mistake. You know, there are two basic thrusts in this book, and they are very important ones.
One is to rejuvenate the dormant or dead peace process in the Middle East after six years of absolutely no effort, not one single day of substantive discussions to bring peace to Israel. And the second one is to end the abominable and relatively unknown horrible prosecution -- or persecution of the Palestinian people. And that's the thrust of the book.
And not a single critic of the book, so far as I have seen, addresses either one of those issues in a negative way. Most of the criticisms of the book have been the one word in the title, "apartheid," and the other one is personal attacks on me.
Anybody that goes to Palestine and looks over the plight of the Palestinians will agree that there's mandatory separation inside Palestinian territory between the Israelis and the Palestinians and terrible persecution and oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. And that's a basic issue that's got to be corrected before Israel can have peace.
BLITZER: Here's what your former adviser, Professor Ken Stein, of Emory University, who worked with you many years at the Carter Center, told us on CNN.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROF. KEN STEIN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: There's too much emotion in the Arab-Israel conflict already, and I think this adds heat rather than light. When you use the word "apartheid," what you are doing is you're saying that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the territories is equivalent to what happened to the blacks in South Africa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that what you are saying, Mr. President?
CARTER: Well, yes, but I make it very clear in the book, as Ken Stein well knows, that this -- this oppression or apartheid separation mandatorily (ph) in the West Bank and Gaza is not because of racism, which was the primary motivation in South Africa, but is based on a small minority of Israeli leaders who have agreed for Palestinian territory. So there's quite a bit of difference there. And I've never alleged that the framework of apartheid existed within Israel at all, and that what does exist in the West Bank is based on trying to take Palestinian land and not on racism.
So it was a very clear distinction.
BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, I've known you for many years. You've always been a very, very strong supporter of Israel.
Are you comfortable with President Carter's use of the word "apartheid" in this new book? WALTER MONDALE (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and I haven't talked about this. I have read the book. I think there's a lot of good materials in there. I do have a few problems with it, but if I might, I would like to talk to the president about it first.
This conference is not about the book. It's about what we did when we were in office. And one of the things we did for four years -- and I was involved working with the president almost daily -- was to pursue policies that strengthened the security of the state of Israel in ways that almost have not occurred under any other administration, and I saw the president daily working to achieve those results. And I admire that.
CARTER: And that's still a major goal of my life, Wolf, is to bring peace to Israel. And I think that this book might be a factor in helping to bring that about.
I noticed that in the last few days, as a matter of fact, President Bush has emphasized that the last two years of his administration that Israeli peace will be a major goal. Condoleezza Rice said that this would be one of her major commitments as secretary of state. And she has said that the framework based on international law would be the foundation for it.
And so these are the kind of things that I was hoping that the book would help to emphasize, and to have an understanding in this nation that one of the most important things for America is to have an Israel -- an Israel that is living in peace with its neighbors. And based on the basic principles of the Judeo-Christian religion and the foundation of Israel -- and that is moral and ethical and legal values -- that's a major issue to which I have committed my life, and I hope in the future I will see Israel living in peace with its neighbors under those circumstances.
BLITZER: Is that possible when you have the Hamas leader of the Palestinians, the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who said this on December 8th, 2006 -- he said, "We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem."
CARTER: Well, he's said all kinds of things, Wolf, in addition to that. He's also said that he would welcome peace talks between the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the prime minister of Israel. And that if they evolved a satisfactory peace agreement and submitted it to the Palestinian people in a referendum and it was approved, that they would accept that as a basis for the future.
So, you can selectively quote anything you want to. The fact is that a major factor in bringing peace to Israel as it was when I was president is for the United States to play the leading role. And this, as Condoleezza Rice has said yesterday, can be done with the full support now of the other members of the quartet, the international quartet. That is, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. So I don't think it's at all hopeless. And I believe there is a clear avenue that has been carved out under my administration and since then that will lead to peace for Israel.
BLITZER: Well, we've got through a lot over the course of 30 years, including what's happening today.
I want to thank both of you for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM here today to join us.
The former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, the former vice president, Walter Mondale, on this, the 30th anniversary, hard to believe, three decades, since both of you took office.
Thanks very much. We'll see you again in another 30 years.
CARTER: Thank you, Wolf.
MONDALE: Thank you.
CARTER: Another thing that -- good thing that happened under our administration was the foundation of CNN, and we were very proud of that as well.
BLITZER: We're very proud of it, too. We remember, June, 1980, Ted Turner in Atlanta, Georgia, putting it all together. And the three of us and all of our viewers enjoying CNN as a result of that. I think Ted Turner deserves an enormous amount of credit as well.
CARTER: That's certainly true. Thanks a lot, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the former vice president, by the way, Walter Mondale, is also blasting the current vice president, mincing no words. Mondale says Dick Cheney seems to have stepped across a very important line.
In our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to hear precisely what that line is. We're going to bring you much more of this exclusive joint interview.
That's coming up later tonight.
Also coming up this hour, a Chinese missile capable of taking out American satellites. We're going to show you how it's exposing U.S. strengths and weaknesses in space.
Plus, details of serious concerns about a "Consumer Reports" article on infant car seats. We're going to have details of the magazine's about-face.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's follow up on a story we first reported yesterday. China's successful test of a satellite-killing missile knocking one of its old spacecraft out of orbit has very ominous implications for the United States. Those eyes and ears in space are vital and vulnerable.
Could China soon be capable of blinding actually the United States?
Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking into this story for us -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the Chinese decided to destroy an American satellite, the scenario is pretty daunting. Most of the planning is being kept top secret by both militaries, but this is what experts say about America's capabilities and weaknesses in space.
TODD (voice over): The first weakness, the U.S. military's dependence on satellites. If hostilities broke out, experts say China could take out dozens of American reconnaissance or communication satellites within hours. Then...
JOHN TKACIK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We simply couldn't function. You couldn't get data through, you couldn't get voice communications, you couldn't get any kind of telecommunications, you couldn't see the battle space.
TODD: The second weakness? Vulnerability.
Experts say many American GPS satellites which guide smart weapons and troop movements are more than a thousand miles into space. Mostly out of range of China's ballistic missiles. But the reconnaissance satellites which take pictures of the targets for those bombs and missiles and soldiers are sitting ducks,
JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: Our imagery intelligence satellites are in orbit only a few hundred miles up, the same altitude as the target satellite the Chinese shot down.
TODD: And, experts tell us, the reconnaissance satellites the U.S. military does have are too big, about the size of a city bus, easy targets. They say efforts are under way to make them smaller and to equip satellites with stealth technology.
How can the U.S. go on the offensive? Like China, experts say the U.S. can jam satellites by throwing noise at them and can hit them with ballistic missiles. Ground-based lasers have also been tested. And an analyst with "Jane's Defense Weekly" believes U.S. military planners are at least thinking of developing satellites with attack capability.
How could one of these orbiters blast another from space?
STEPHEN TRIMBLE, "JANE'S DEFENSE WEEKLY": It can dock with it and damage it in some way, or it can obliterate it by shooting pellets or some kind of munitions.
TODD: But that creates its own dangers. Scientists are already warning, that satellite China just destroyed could have broken into about 40,000 pieces which can travel at high speed through orbit for as long as a decade, and that could obviously damage several other satellites -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story. Thank you, Brian.
People are cleaning up from one of the deadliest storms to hit northern Europe in years, blamed for at least 47 deaths already. We're also seeing severe and unusual weather right here in this country.
Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York. She's watching all these developments for us -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sure a lot of people would agree the weather is strange. From astoundingly strong winds in Europe, to vicious snowstorms here at home, a lot of us are wondering if this is not just another change in the weather, but a permanent one.
COSTELLO (voice over): Call it extreme weather. In Germany, wind gusts as strong as 118 miles per hour. They sent solid steel girders at one train station plummeting 120 feet to the ground. Bad enough that the government warned people to stay inside.
CHRISTOPH HARTMANN, GERMAN METEOROLOGICAL SERVICE (through translator): What's unusual about this storm is that it will affect all of Germany and not just certain zones. That's a very rare event.
COSTELLO: It's almost as bad in Britain. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to hang on to her plane after landing in London.
And I know what you are thinking. What about us? Parts of the United States are suffering, too.
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it could happen again.
COSTELLO: Say it ain't so. Parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and west Texas are expected to get walloped once more by feet of snow coming down as utility crews try desperately to restore power to tens of thousands of people knocked out of service by the last storm.
Between this agony, rare snowfall in Malibu earlier this week, and the recent 70-degree temperatures in the Northeast, you get some extreme behavior.
Chris Henson, who lives in Connecticut, a state that averages a foot of snow in January, went on eBay and bid $200 to have three snowballs shipped from Colorado CHRIS HANSON, MILFORD, CONNECTICUT: I have gotten letters from people going, "You are nuts." You know, "Why are you buying snow?" And I'm like, because I don't have any.
COSTELLO: But before you go the Hanson route, hold on. I asked meteorologists about that gnawing question, are these weather extremes due to global warming?
DENNIS FELTGEN, NOAA METEOROLOGIST: No.
COSTELLO: What is it then?
FELTGEN: It's an El Nino winter, simply put.
COSTELLO: Which means a warming of the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean that temporarily causes shifts in normal weather patterns.
So, take a deep breath. It's going to be OK.
COSTELLO: OK. So maybe you don't feel any better, but consider this: El Nino was already starting to weaken, and by march you won't even remember it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I call it wacky weather to begin with, Carol. Thank you.
Carol watching this story.
By the way, we are getting some new pictures and video of those hurricane-force winds that have wreaked havoc across Europe.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, standing by with details -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these pictures are coming in through I-Report at CNN from the U.K., from Germany, from the Netherlands, because all these places have suffered over the last couple of days from this extreme weather.
This here is the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Thomas Vind sent these pictures in of a crane collapse at the university where -- on a construction site where they are were building a veterinary school.
You can see the damage was quite incredible. Luckily, only six people were hurt with just minor injuries.
Going across to Germany now, these pictures from Holger Rothemund in Nuremberg. She said that this tree crashed near to her house, the windows were blown out of their cars. Luckily, no injuries there.
And we are seeing just how strong the wind has been by some of the video that's being posted online. This on Google Video. We're going back to the Netherlands here. You can see this lad here trying to ride his bike against the wind. People outside the school there in the Netherlands, the gusts were about 17 miles per hour -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi with the latest on that. What a weather situation there is.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He's joining us right at the top of the hour. Want to get a preview of what's going on.
Lou, you are still in Miami?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Absolutely, Wolf. Thank you very much.
Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we are reporting on the dangerous and rising threat of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Has 40 years of U.S. policy in this hemisphere and efforts to isolate Fidel Castro and prevent communism from spreading in the region failed altogether?
We will have that special report for you tonight.
Also, two former Border Patrol agents picking up new support tonight. They were sent to prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department to testify against those agents. Will President Bush take action?
We'll have that story.
And corporate interests and their allies in Congress are simply furious that Democrats have cut $14 million in tax breaks for major oil companies. Will the Senate be standing up for big oil or will it be standing up for working men and women in this country?
We'll have our special report, "War on the Middle Class."
All of that, all of the day's news, and more, coming up here on CNN at the top of the hour.
Please join us.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Lou, let me pick your brain for a second. Oil, per barrel, under $50 right now. We remember it was $60, $65 not that long ago.
What's going on?
DOBBS: Well, what's going on is that we're seeing an actual decline in consumption around the world, and it's the first time it's happened in decades. And that's one part of the story.
The other part of the story is that there's been great speculation in what is called the forward markets, the futures markets in oil. There's also some slowdown in economies in a number of places that is also permitting that slowdown.
But I don't personally believe that anyone should get used to this what is now $51.99 a barrel oil. There's just too much volatility in the market. But the respite is more than welcome. And hopefully we can hold it at near these levels.
BLITZER: Let's see what we can do. Thanks very much. We will be watching you at the top of the hour.
It's coming up in a few moments.
Still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a report that frightened parents and outraged manufacturers now proven flawed. What happened at one of the country's most respected consumer magazines?
And this note. Coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, young Muslims being turned from innocents to extremists. Our Christiane Amanpour on a growing threat facing Britain.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We want to follow up on another story we brought you yesterday. Consumer Reports now backtracking on its reporting about the danger of some infant car seats. Some safety advocates fear the damage, though, has already been done.
Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow in New York with the latest -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a rare retreat for the trusted consumer guide, which now finds itself in the position of separating fear from fact.
SNOW (voice over): It was a warning that horrified parents when Consumer Reports asked, "What if this were your child?" Side-impact crash tests, it said, found most infant seats failed disastrously. So alarmed, the government conducted its own test and says Consumer Reports was wrong
NICOLE NASON, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMIN.: And they really didn't run their tests properly. And when we calculated what they had done, we realized they were simulating crash tests at speeds somewhere between 70 and 80 miles per hour.
SNOW: The mistake? That's twice as fast as the 38-mile-per-hour speed Consumer Reports says they clocked in their tests. The consumer advocacy group has done an about-face, withdrawing the entire report.
KEN WEINE, SPOKESMAN, CONSUMER REPORTS: Of course, what we have to do is commit ourselves as we are to as quickly as possible finding out what went wrong in these tests. SNOW: Spokesman Ken Weine says an internal review has been launched and is now handling a crisis in confidence at Consumer Reports, a publication with a widespread following.
PHIL ROSENTHAL, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": It's sort of the gold standard of product ratings these days, and I think that's why the initial report had such impact.
SNOW: Some safety advocates fear because the warning had such an impact that parents won't use car seats.
PHIL HASELTINE, PRESIDENT, AUTOMOTIVE COALITION TRAFFIC SAFETY: Some parents and caregivers may be sufficiently discouraged that they don't restrain their children at all. And that's absolutely wrong.
SNOW: Consumer Reports is now faced with undoing the damage
WEINE: We take this extremely seriously. It goes to the heart of the DNA of Consumer Reports, which is providing accurate, comprehensive safety information.
SNOW: And as part of the damage control, Consumer Reports says it plans to reissue guidance on the safety of child seats as soon as possible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story. Thank you, Mary, for that.
Up next, Jack Cafferty wondering if the Bush administration is trying to evade congressional oversight. He wants to know why it would suddenly fire a number of federal prosecutors.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Bush administration has suddenly fired a bunch of federal prosecutors, and we wanted to know why you think they would do that.
John in Savoy, Texas, writes, "Well, if you and your group of cronies were suddenly on the verge of facing criminal charges, wouldn't you want to change the players so you could get a better chance of dodging the bullets?"
Janie in Raleigh, North Carolina, "U.S. attorneys are being fired because the administration fears the corruption scandals are leading straight to the White House. While the Republicans were the majority in Congress they protected the Bush administration. Thanks to the voters, the Democrats are now in power. Bush, Cheney and Gonzales have a lot to fear."
Betty in Spartansburg, South Carolina, "President Bush reminds me of a child hiding to avoid the switch. He thinks these temporary prosecutors will by him enough time to keep from being impeached on the selection of charges that he needs to be impeached on."
J.T. in Rhinebeck, New York, "The disastrous Bush gang staying true to form, using below-the-radar firings to halt investigations in an attempt to manipulate public perception. Were the prosecutors allowed to continue, we might get an even deeper sense of how rotten, dirty and immoral this administration has been. Yet another disgraceful display from the team that ruins everything they touch."
Sarge in Indianapolis, "Shakespeare said: 'Let's kill all the lawyers.' The president is being much nicer. He is firing them and giving their jobs to people who support him. The scary question is: why?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and read more of them online.
Now Wolf is going to tell us about the CNN Hummer. Aren't you, Wolf?
BLITZER: We certainly are. It's very important, Jack.
I want our viewers to pay attention. I want you to pay attention as well.
Warrior One is the completely overhauled CNN Hummer. It's now on the auction block, at least tomorrow it will be, in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona.
Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's got a closer look -- Abbi.
TATTON: Wolf, it's one of the vehicles that CNN correspondents and photojournalists used during the Iraq war, and now it's heading to auction. The car came under heavy fire near Baghdad in April of 2003, when it was with the 1st Battalion 7th Marines as they arrived in Baghdad, now gone under an extensive overhaul and headed to auction tomorrow.
All the proceeds will go to the Fisher House Foundation, that provides housing for military families during a medical crisis.
All the details online at cnn.com/warriorone -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This is going to be a great event tomorrow. I want our viewers to pay attention.
I'm going to be in Scottsdale, Jack, tomorrow, personally watching this auction. And I'm thrilled, because the proceeds -- and we hope we raise a ton of money -- are going to help our wounded military personnel.
CAFFERTY: Couldn't go for a better cause. And if that's part of that -- that auction that I watch on one of the cable channels, they get tremendous turnout for that thing. A lot of great classic cars, and they get big bucks for them.
So maybe this thing will raise a ton of money, as you suggest. I hope it does.
BLITZER: I'm proud to be out there, Jack. Thanks.
I'll see you back here in an hour...
CAFFERTY: Don't let them auction you off, though, Wolf.
BLITZER: ... with Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale.
Let's go to Lou in Miami.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com