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Threat to Iraqi Government: Iraqi V.P. Warns of Walkout; Friends With France Again?
Aired May 7, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAFFERTY: James in Canada: "Just think, Americans might again enjoy drinking fine French wines. Don't be fooled by thinking he's pro-American. French people can't stomach Americans."
Sharon in Toronto: "Before Americans can comment on the election in France, they should be required to locate the country on a map."
Ted in California: "Sacre red, white and blue."
And Bette in Houston: "I think this is terrific. When can we expect the French Foreign Legion to come in and relieve our troops in Iraq?" -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jack, thank you.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, pulled from the rubble -- a survivor found in a town leveled by a killer tornado. We're on the scene. We're going to show you another twister much too close for comfort.
A popular Las Vegas hotel and casino is the scene of a fatal bombing. What happened in the parking garage and why.
And the price of gas hitting a record high and the summer driving season hasn't even started yet.
Are the big oil companies pushing prices up on purpose?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It took only minutes for the tornado almost to erase Greensburg, Kansas from the map. Today, the extent of the disaster is still being measured, but here's what we already know. Authorities say two more bodies have been found in Greensburg, bringing the death toll there to 10, and 12 in all of the storms that struck Kansas over the past couple of days.
But last night, a survivor was also pulled from the rubble, which in some places stands 20 feet deep. Residents were allowed back for several hours today, although little remains of their homes. Many left quickly. A poison gas leak from a damaged rail car forced police to evacuate much of the area.
Let's go live to Greensburg.
CNN's Don Lemon is on the scene for us -- Don, this is a horrific, horrific situation.
The search and rescue operations, do they continue right now? Or have they concluded that no more survivors or bodies are likely to be found?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. Not at all, Wolf.
They're -- it's still a search and rescue. As a matter of fact, as you said, they found someone just -- alive just last night -- and just look at, look at the rubble -- amid rubble much like this. And then today, though, sadly, two people were found, and they announced that just after 2:00 today.
I know your show is about what's happening now. I just want to point out over here, Senator Brownback, the governor, who you interviewed just a short time ago, and a bunch of the officials from FEMA are on the scene now, holding a live press conference to update the media on exactly what's happening here.
But, again, it is a devastating situation here, Wolf. We're talking about a tornado that was almost two miles wide -- 1.7 miles wide, with winds of up to 200 miles an hour. The winds of Hurricane Katrina, 160 miles an hour. So you get the idea of just how much destruction is here.
BLITZER: Don, have you ever seen anything like this in all the years you've been a reporter?
LEMON: Wolf, nothing like this, I and covered Hurricane Katrina. I covered 9/11. I covered the first time that the World Trade Centers were bombed and there was a big crater there. Obviously, a different situation there and it was devastating. And a lot of people died.
But as far as natural disasters go, I've never seen anything that came through so quickly and caused so much devastation -- 90 to 95 percent -- I know we've been hearing a lot about that -- of one town gone, and I mean it is gone -- everything from city hall to the hospitals to the bank.
There is nothing, virtually, standing here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Don Lemon on the scene for us.
Thanks, Don, very much.
The tornado that struck Greensburg was an F5, the most powerful in the classification system by the National -- used by the National Weather Service. And at its widest point, the damage path was 1.7 miles across. The trail of destruction went on for 22 miles. Wind speed was estimated -- get this -- at 205 miles an hour.
Residents of the Kansas area are sending in images of the tornado aftermath to CNN's I-Report. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what are you seeing coming out of Greensburg?
ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're seeing what people are confronted with as they head back in, trying to do some cleanup.
These pictures sent into I-Report from Chris Neal. He headed in with a friend, trying to retrieve some possessions for a family member. He found the town evacuated, debris strewn all over the place and the buildings that are still standing he saw ripped apart.
And it wasn't just in Greensburg. Just northeast, we got these pictures in from Havilland, Kansas. These sent in by Geoff Robinson of a family farm that you can see with entire walls ripped off. If I zoom in on that picture there, you can see part of the kitchen is still intact, but the outer wall is just gone. Robinson says that two combines on the farm were picked up, lifted away and they just don't know where they are still at this point.
This is the picture sent in from Havilland. But he did say that everyone there was safe and was fine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi Tatton with the latest from our I-Report.
If most of us are lucky, this is about as close as we'll ever get to a tornado. The storm chaser, Reed Timmer, shot some really extraordinary video in Ellis County, Oklahoma on Friday.
Take a look and a listen to this video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM TORNADOVIDEOS.NET)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The windshield wipers. Turn off the wipers. Don't get in an accident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is in the path of that storm that's now four miles (UNINTELLIGIBLE) potentially in (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. OK, stop. We're good. Go! Go! Go! Go! Jesus Christ!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... to the northeast at about 30 miles an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut your door. Shut your door. Shut your door.
OK. Go. Back up. Back up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are spotters on the ground. Emergency management directors, there are trained spotters on the ground. We do not want you to be out looking at this storm, a dangerous storm, a potentially hazardous storm in the South Ellis County area now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fall back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Highway 283, that would be Arnett and to the west, moving...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good. Hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four miles south of 51 and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to the roar!
I got it.
Oh, no. Those are structures. Oh, no. No. Wow!
Can you hear that?
Don't move. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: An amazing video of the power of that tornado. And that wasn't the tornado that his Greensburg, Kansas, either. That tornado was at 200 miles an hour.
The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, told us in the last hour President Bush will be heading out to Greensburg on Wednesday. We're watching all of the impact of this disaster unfold.
Moving on to some of the stories we're following right now, a man is dead in Las Vegas, the victim of an explosive device in the garage of a popular casino.
CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us now live from Las Vegas.
What do we know?
What happened -- Thelma.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that right now it is business as usual back at the Luxor. But the explosion actually happened about 30 yards from where I'm standing right now, across the street in that public parking structure right there.
Police say that there were two co-workers who worked for a subcontractor within the Luxor. They were leaving work about 4:00 a.m. They walked to the car on the second floor there. The man spots some sort of device on the roof of his small car. He attempts to remove it and then the thing just detonates.
The man was transported to the hospital, where he dies. The co- worker was not injured. She -- that person is now cooperating with police.
Now, Luxor -- officials say that they did not evacuate any of the rooms at the time. You take a look at -- there's a security camera right at the top right now, Wolf. Police are looking at those tapes to try to see if they can establish who may have planted that device.
BLITZER: What are police saying, Thelma? Terror-related? Mob- related? What is the working assumption?
GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, I talked to a spokesperson a short time ago, Wolf, and he was very clear to say that they do not believe that this was a terrorist act at all or a mob hit. They say that because of the way that this device was constructed -- he wouldn't go into a lot of detail, but to say that it was a very small device, that they feel that this person was targeted. It was intended for that one person. No reason to believe that this was a random act at all.
BLITZER: All right, thank you.
Thelma will stay on top of this story for us.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty.
He's in New York.
He's got The Cafferty File -- whatever the motive, it's scary stuff out there.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, it is.
A very, very bloody weekend for U.S. troops in Iraq, Wolf. Ten American soldiers died there yesterday. Twenty-six American troops have been killed in Iraq in just the first week of May alone. This follows April, one of the bloodiest months of the war. More than 100 American troops killed during April. And it brings the total of U.S. service members lost in this war now to 3,377.
The White House says Americans should brace for more U.S. casualties as the Baghdad security push or surge continues.
Meanwhile, a couple of the Democratic presidential hopefuls suggest that Afghanistan, not Iraq, is where the U.S. needs to put its troops. Senator Chris Dodd said: "Why not go to the place where al Qaeda really poses some threat? Why not go after Osama bin Laden, where we know he's hiding out instead of being bogged down in a situation where we're being used and isolated and radicalizing elements in that part of the world more and more every single day?"
And John Edwards said this: "What I would do as president is as we withdraw our combat troops out of Iraq, I would not leave the region. We're probably going to need some additional troops in Afghanistan, right next door, given what's happened in Afghanistan."
So here's the question -- two Democratic presidential hopefuls suggesting moving U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Is that a good idea?
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Still ahead here, gas prices hitting record highs well ahead of the peak summer season.
Are the oil companies creating a shortage?
A key U.S. senator now calling for an investigation.
Hide and seek -- Democrats accuse the Bush administration of hiding the political affiliation of candidates for Justice Department jobs. They're seeking answers.
And as insurgents take a heavy toll on U.S. troops, a top Iraqi leader threatens to quit. I'll about all of that with retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. -- the U.S. military's Central Command. He's standing by live.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Gas prices are sky high and it's not even the peak driving season yet. Energy companies say they're having refinery problems, but a key U.S. senator is suspicious.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.
She's in New York.
She's watching the story.
What's going on -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, over the past two weeks, the price of gas jumped $0.19. There's been a high number of refineries with some shutdowns and questions are being raised about what's behind it.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW (voice-over): It's a record high in the United States. Consumers now shelling out an average $3.07 a gallon for gas.
The blame? A shortage of supply.
New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer is calling for a government probe into whether that shortage is deliberate.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Are the oil companies cutting back on supply as demand goes up so the price goes up and their profitability goes up?
That's the looming question.
SNOW: Schumer is asking why U.S. refineries are only operating at 88 percent capacity and not full capacity.
A representative from a refinery says it's not on purpose.
CHARLES DREVNA, NATIONAL PETROCHEMICAL & REFINERS ASSOCIATION: To suggest that -- that a refiner is intentionally limiting production just doesn't -- just doesn't pass the economic test.
SNOW: The industry blames disruptions to supply on a number of factors, including refineries still reeling from damage caused two years ago by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
They say there are also maintenance issues at the country's aging refineries, but not enough qualified workers up to the task. An explosion last week caused shutdowns at this Oklahoma refinery.
Still, energy analysts say having a dozen refineries in the U.S. and abroad partially shut at this time of year is highly unusual.
MARY NOVAK, GLOBAL INSIGHT ENERGY GROUP: I cannot remember a May when we have had more than one or two refineries out. So this is extraordinarily different than historic norm.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: So the big question is what will this mean for the price of gasoline?
Some analysts warn that if refineries aren't up and running fully by Memorial Day weekend, they predict there could be another $0.20 hike -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.
It's been a bumpy ride for American motorists when it comes to gas prices.
Take a look at this. About a year ago at this time, a gallon of regular cost $2.91 a gallon. The summer driving season peak on last August, the price went up to $3.04 a gallon.
Then prices suddenly dropped. This year, prices have been jumping from a January low of $2.17 a gallon to last week's high of $2.97 posted by the Energy Department. The Lundbergh Survey puts the current nationwide average $3.07 for a gallon of self-serve regular.
Party politics is not supposed to play a role in the hiring of career officials in the federal government.
But did the Bush administration play fast and loose with that rule?
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli, what are you hearing?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, these allegations are very serious. Congressional investigators are looking into new allegations that another top official at the Justice Department illegally hired lawyers based on their political affiliation.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ARENA (voice-over): Another accusation today that the Bush Justice Department was playing hide the politics in its hiring decisions. Remember, it's illegal to take political affiliation into account when hiring career Justice Department lawyers. But that's exactly what Democrats suspect, that Bradley Scholzman, a former top official in the civil rights division, did, by asking applicants to hide the fact that they were Republicans so they could be hired without anyone charging that partisan politics was behind the decision.
REP. LINDA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: If there's one department in this government that should be above political consideration for hiring and firing, that is the Department of Justice.
ARENA: One former DOJ employee, Ty Clevenger, tells CNN that when he applied for a job, Scholzman directed him to edit his resume to remove information identifying him as a Republican.
Scholzman didn't return our calls and the Justice Department says in a statement political orientation is "not a criterion solicited or considered in the hiring process."
But this isn't the first allegation of political favoritism at Justice. Monica Goodling, the attorney general's former aide, is being investigated for allegedly seeking out Republican hires.
And former DOJ employees say it all points to a far larger problem.
JOSEPH RICH, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The whole hiring process had been changed to put the -- the decision-making in political appointees' hands and that -- that was clear that it was being politicized in that manner.
ARENA: As a result, they allege Justice is compromised. RICHARD UGELOW, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAWYER: And you're getting people who have certain of -- a certain political persuasion and that's not healthy for enforcement of the nation's civil rights laws.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ARENA: Now, the Department of Justice defends its civil rights record, saying the ultimate measure of success lies in its performance. And officials say that it has an overall criminal conviction rate of 98 percent, Wolf, which they claim is the highest ever.
BLITZER: Kyra -- Kelli Arena, thanks very much.
Good reporting tonight.
Coming up, a secret torture chamber uncovered by coalition forces in Iraq.
Who -- who's was it and how many more are there?
Also, President Bush welcomes the queen of England to the White House. Her loyal subject and our loyal employee, Richard Quest -- he's standing by live. He has the story and it includes -- get this -- a breach of protocol.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start in Los Angeles. The mayor there says he will get to the bottom of what happened during last week's immigration rally. Accusations of excessive force arose after police fired rubber bullets and swung batons at demonstrators and journalists covering Tuesday's rally. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he's asked for separate investigations by Police Chief William Bratton and the city's independent police commission. Bratton says at least 60 officers have been removed from street duty for now.
Three no confidence votes and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still standing. The embattled Israeli leader today comfortably weathered the three votes by Israel's parliament. They came after the release of a scathing report on his handling of last summer's costly and inconclusive war in Lebanon.
Mr. Olmert's government could be jeopardized again, though, when his main coalition party holds elections this month. Some members have said if they win, they'll pull the party out of Olmert's coalition.
And news affecting the bottom line. Former CBS Radio talk show host Don Imus' attorney says the network's bottom line will be $120 million lighter when his client's lawsuit is said and done. Attorney Martin Garbus tells CNN he plans to file the wrongful termination suit by next week. CBS dismissed Imus last month for on air comments about members of the Rutgers women's basketball team. CBS says its action was appropriate.
And on Wall Street's bottom line, a new all time high for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Dow packed on 47 plus points, to end the day at 13,312, for its 24th day of gains out of 27 sessions.
The broader S&P 500 rose about 3 1/2 points, to 1509. And the tech heavy Nasdaq fell about 2 points.
Back to you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.
Coming up, there's no letup in the bombings.
Can the new Iraq strategy really start working?
I'll ask the former U.S. commander for the Middle East, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He's standing by live.
And will Freedom Fries once again be known as French fries?
A new president-elect in France likely to bring closer ties with the U.S.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening right now, the International Red Cross preparing to beef up relief efforts for what it calls a worsening disaster for millions of Iraqis. The agency is seeking additional funding of $30 million.
Ford announcing new cost cutting measures affecting more than 1,600 workers. The struggling number two car maker will shut down a Cleveland engine plant for at least a year. It will also close a casting plant in nearby Brook Park, Ohio for good, and that'll happen in 2009.
And it's D.C. scandal take two for defense attorney Preston Burton. A federal judge ordered Burton to assume the case of reputed D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Burton represented Monica Lewinsky during impeachment proceedings again President Clinton.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
U.S. troops pushed into a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad this weekend and stumbled upon what's being described as a torture chamber.
CNN's Hugh Riminton is in the Iraqi capital -- Hugh.
HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraqi security forces and also the U.S. military have seen evidence of torture activity in the past, but this was a particularly intriguing event.
They set out shortly after midnight in Sadr City, the big Shiite slum to the east of Baghdad.
What they were looking for was what they called a senior Shia extremist. They claimed he had links to Iran. They inserted themselves into a particular neighborhood. They went into a house. They didn't find him. They went from house to house. On the fourth house, they found evidence of a torture room.
Inside there, there were clear signs, they said, of bloodstains. They also found handcuffs, face masks, other instruments that were in there. Not only that, they found munitions by the hundreds. They found more than 150 mortar rounds, for example, stacked up against the wall, plus other evidence of IED making equipment.
They did not, in the end, find the man they were looking for. And by this stage, they were taking fire from extremists. They returned that fire. They believe they killed eight to 10 armed opponents. Then they gathered in the experts and they blew up the munitions where they were, causing some disquiet among neighbors. There was damage to neighboring houses. But as Major General William Caldwell said later, had those explosives in an unstable state gone off, the results for Sadr City would have been horrific.
At the end of the day, then, they did not find the man they were looking for, but they found plenty of evidence of what he had been up to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hugh Riminton reporting for us.
Powerful bombings shook Iraq today as well, killing more than two dozen people. At least 13 of them in a pair of attacks in Ramadi.
In the meantime, the Iraqi government was rocked by a threat from a top official. The Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, tells CNN he'll step down and pull his entire bloc out of parliament if the constitution is not amended next week. That's a direct threat from Tariq al-Hashimi.
Joining us now is retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He's a former head of the U.S. military's Central Command. He's also the author of the important book "The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose". It's out now in paperback.
General Zinni, thanks for coming in.
ANTHONY ZINNI, RETIRED U.S. MARINE CORPS GENERAL: Good to see you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. A lot of us remember you were the commander of the Central Command. You had a plan, your predecessors throughout the '90s, what it would take to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And then all of a, sudden the Bush administration comes in, Rumsfeld becomes defense secretary, and they throw a decade of planning out the window.
Is that right?
ZINNI: That's correct. And I think they tried to do it on the cheap.
They didn't think through what the aftermath would bring. They made some bad decisions on the move. Again, we all know that disbanding the army, debaathification, the lack of a real reconstruction plan, brought about all the problems we see now.
BLITZER: Because your plan envisions hundreds of thousands, or maybe a half a million of troops, to actually go in there and get the job done, as opposed to 150,000, or 175,000. Is that right?
ZINNI: Right. It was 380,000 to 400,000. We thought we needed that at a minimum to secure the borders, secure the population, ensure that we had control, and law and order was maintained.
BLITZER: How did they get General Tommy Franks, who was a successor of yours as the head of U.S. military command, to go ahead with this new strategy, to do it with a smaller, leaner military?
ZINNI: Well, I'm not sure. I haven't had that conversation with Tommy. I believe that the military was told that the so-called phase four aftermath would be handled by someone else.
Personally, I would not have accepted that. I know from experience that the military gets stuck with those things in reconstruction, and I would have wanted to know what that plan is. But even at that...
BLITZER: But let me just interrupt you for a second.
BLITZER: Because at the time, you were out of the active duty in the Marine Corps, in the military.
BLITZER: But you were very concerned. You warned your friends, this is not a necessarily a good idea.
ZINNI: Right. I mean, I saw clearly in my mind that the military would be stuck with this. There was no organization, you know, true organization, to go in to do the monumental task of reconstruction.
BLITZER: All right. So now the U.S. is there. What do you do now?
Is this strategy, this new strategy that General David Petraeus is trying to implement right now, is that feasible? Does it like it has a chance of working any time soon?
ZINNI: Well, first of all, it's the right man. Dave Petraeus is exceptional, and I think our ambassador there, Ryan Crocker, another exceptional individual. We have the right people on the ground.
I think what we haven't done, though, is we haven't talked about the broader strategic -- or strategy that we need for the region. We need to reconstruct a collective security arrangement that's been destroyed in the region. We need to think through how we would establish a containment strategy, setting the conditions for what our troops would do, what they wouldn't do in here. Even if this current strategy works, either way we're going to fall back in to some containment, but it's foolish to believe we're going to leave.
BLITZER: What would happen if, as a lot of Democrats want right now, by the end of next March, early April, combat forces are out of Iraq?
ZINNI: Well what can happen, this could become a base for extremists. We could have the sectarian violence spill over into the region. Iranian influence could grow, and their hegemonic designs could create a situation that's worse.
BLITZER: So, what you're saying, as bad as the situation is right now, there's plenty of opportunity for it to get a lot worse?
ZINNI: Absolutely. Anyone that knows this region knows that.
BLITZER: So, realistically, General -- and you've spent a long time studying that part of the world, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf area -- how long do you believe U.S. combat forces are going have to be deployed to Iraq, at least for the time being? How long do you envisage they'll going to be stuck there?
ZINNI: Well, I think you're going to see a presence. Now, I can see that presence may be moving down, but I think for five to seven years you're going to see a presence.
Now, much of that may be less on the combat troops, more on the advisers, security assistance down the road. Some of it will be troops in the adjoining countries where we have allies to help contain it. And look at the broader strategic requirements in the region.
BLITZER: Why can't the Iraqis, who have hundreds of thousands of their men under arms right now, whether in the military, in the police force, why can't they get the job done? They know the language, they know the culture, they know the people there. Why can't they step up to the plate?
ZINNI: Well, we disbanded the army. We're trying to create one from scratch in the middle of a conflict.
BLITZER: It's been going on four years now, the creation.
ZINNI: That's right. It is a very, very complex situation. I don't believe we've created enough of the kinds of units necessary in here, like civil affairs, psychological operations, counterintelligence units. Hearts and minds operations, insurgencies, that's the kind of force you need, in addition to the guns.
BLITZER: General Zinni, thanks very much for coming in. Thanks for writing this book, "The Battle for Peace". It's out in paperback.
ZINNI: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate always having you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ZINNI: Good to see you, Wolf.
BLITZER: General Anthony Zinni, the former head of the U.S. military's Central Command.
Still ahead, with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the new president of France, does that mean there'll be a thaw in U.S.-French relations? Carol Costello standing by with a closer look at what's being called the French fry factor.
Also, the actor Mickey Rooney commits a royal no-no. Our Richard Quest is going to show you a breach of protocol here in Washington today.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Could freedom fries soon become a distant memory? France's president-elect is controversial at home, but he is the president-elect, and certain to find some new friends on this side the Atlantic.
Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She's watching this new chapter in U.S.-French relations.
And it is a new chapter, isn't it, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is a new chapter, Wolf.
The new French president admires America's economy and its moxy, and he admires them openly. Refreshing, isn't it? But don't get too excited.
COSTELLO (voice over): Meet new French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a man who won the French election handily, even though his enemies call him an American neo-conservative with a French passport. Some even called him another George Bush.
From a totally American perspective, though, what does it mean? Could it restore the love?
NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): I want to call my American friends to tell them that they can trust on our freedom -- rely on our friendship. And the casualties of history have been faced together. France will always be next to them when they need us.
COSTELLO: Encouraging words, but many Americans still have not forgotten how former president Jacques Chirac refused to support the United States when it wanted to invade Iraq. Some became so disillusioned, they took the "French" out of fries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're now calling them Freedom Fries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The French are not our friends.
COSTELLO: It's a feeling that has not abated, even though the Iraq war is unpopular now on both sides of the Atlantic. And it's mutual, with many in France making it no secret they do not like President Bush.
TONY EMERSON, "NEWSWEEK INTERNATIONAL": We're definitely at the hate peak in the love/hate cycle with France. And I think -- I can't see that really diminishing seriously until Bush leaves office.
COSTELLO: Still, Sarkozy made it clear he wants good relations with the United States, visiting George Bush in September of 2006, even though back home critics felt it was not the way to get elected president of France.
COSTELLO: Now, don't get me wrong. Most experts say Sarkozy's election is positive for the United States. But when asked Tony Emerson from "Newsweek" if France would help now us get out of Iraq, he just laughed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more analysis on all of this.
Will the election of Nicolas Sarkozy mean closer ties with the United States? We'll turn to our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary William Cohen. He's the chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.
What do you think? What does this election of this president- elect mean for U.S./French relations?
WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think it will improve our relationship. But I think we have to point out, first of all, that our military, the military relations with France, have always been strong, and second perhaps only to Great Britain. We have worked closely with the French over the years.
BLITZER: Even when there are political differences?
COHEN: Yes, even when -- especially...
BLITZER: And the same goes in the intelligence community?
COHEN: Exactly right. And so we've had close ties with the French in spite, or despite the political differences we've had.
I think you'll see relations improve somewhat, but what the new president has to do, first of all, is to get a parliamentary majority. You have elections are coming up. He needs to have a significant majority if he's going to do the thing he's pledged to do; namely, energize his economy.
They have high unemployment, low growth rate. He wants to encourage or incentivize the French people to work longer, rather than the 35-hour week. So he knows he's got to do something to stimulate the economy.
BLITZER: Domestically. But I've spoken to a lot people that know a great deal about France, a lot more than I know, and they say he's going to try to help the U.S., not only in Iraq, but Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Lebanon, North Korea.
There's a whole host of issue where is France could be a lot more helpful to the U.S. than it has been.
COHEN: And I think he will seek to do that. But we have to be somewhat cautious in our optimism here.
He is pro-American. He has said, "I've been accused of being an American, a supporter as such." He said, "I don't apologize for that. I'm a man of action, I admire their ideals."
So I think that we have a different tone. Whether or not he can then translate that into an aggressive foreign policy that support U.S. objectives remains to be seen.
He is joined by and I think praised by Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. I think you'll see a working coalition over there that will be fairly supportive of the United States.
Do I think he'll help us out by sending troops into Iraq? I doubt it at this point. Can he be helpful in going to Afghanistan to support the NATO operation in Afghanistan critically important? The answer, I think he can be helpful there.
We have to look also at the issues that he's talking about. "I'd like the United States," for example, "to be more supportive of the global warming issues."
BLITZER: That's right.
COHEN: That's going to put him at -- somewhat at odds with, perhaps, the Bush administration.
So, I think he'll be helpful. Let's restrain the enthusiasm saying it's welcome. Let's look forward to a new relationship with France. It can only be beneficial to us and to them.
So, I think it's a positive sign, and certainly one we should welcome.
BLITZER: He's got his own domestic problems in terms of anger towards him personally for some of the stances he took when he was the interior minister. And there's been some violence over the past 24 hours as well.
COHEN: Well, he has issues he has to contend with -- immigration. He has to deal with the Muslim population in France, which is not at all as fully integrated as our Muslim population here in the United States.
So, he has tremendous issues he has to confront, but the good news is, he's openly supportive of the United States. I think that will be beneficial again to us, and ultimately to him, and to his support for trying to energize his economy and the European Union.
So, let's look at it as a positive sign and then -- but, again, restrain our optimism until we see how it all plays out.
BLITZER: I think that's good advice, although I do expect in the not-too-distant future he'll be getting a visit here to Washington. He'll get a royal welcome. Maybe not like the queen, but he'll get a very nice welcome here in Washington as well.
Secretary Cohen, thanks for coming in.
COHEN: A pleasure.
BLITZER: And up ahead, the royal visit and a breach of protocol with one of the guests. That would be Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney.
Our Richard Quest, he's standing by. He'll explain exactly what happened. You're going to want to see this.
And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Bill Schneider has the latest snapshot on how the presidential race looks right now. Are there any real surprises?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is in Washington today. You know that. Today there was a little bit of a surprising moment, though, when the queen and Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney actually came together.
Richard Quest is on the scene for us.
All right, Richard, you look lovely in that white tie that you're wearing right now. I know you're getting ready for the big state dinner tonight.
First of all, tell us what happened with Mickey Rooney and Her Majesty.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was one of those, to use a quaint English expression, storm in a teacup. And Mickey Rooney greeted the queen and kissed hands.
Now, the general protocol is that you don't touch the queen. And Mr. Rooney, as you can see here -- there we are -- look at that, gave her a smackaroo on the back of her hand.
And everybody is saying that this is a breach of protocol, it's a no-no, it's a disgrace. I can tell you, Wolf, the queen will not have been offended.
She's wearing gloves anyway, so she didn't have Rooney's spittle all over her hand. And in any case, you know, the queen is bigger than this.
What they will be worried about is that a trend may be started. If Mickey Rooney can kiss the queen's hand, every Tom, Dick and Harry will kiss the queen's hand. But in terms of a breach of protocol, I'll tell you, Wolf, it's very low down the scale.
BLITZER: We see the White House behind you. We see the white tie that you're wearing right now. Tell us what we can expect tonight. The dinner begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right when we go on the air in THE SITUATION ROOM.
QUEST: Lou, it's -- sorry -- Lou -- Wolf -- I feel I ought to tell you, I'm mixing amongst the grands tonight, as can you tell.
The dinner tonight is the first White House -- white tie event of the Bush presidency. That in itself is a mark of respect to the queen and to Great Britain. White tie is more cumbersome, it's more fiddling, it's more complicated, and I can tell you, it's just as well you've not been invited, Wolf, because there isn't a white tie tux to be rented in this city, because I got the last one.
BLITZER: Stand by, Richard. We're going to be getting back to you tonight.
We're going to be carrying some of that. We're going to have live coverage of at least part of the state dinner honoring Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
Our coverage begins a little more than an hour from now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to see what's happening at the White House.
President Bush, by the way, is the fifth president to host Queen Elizabeth. Her first state visit was back in 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower hosted a dinner in honor of the royal couple. The queen returned in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration of the American revolution, danced with President Gerald Ford at the time. A lot of us remember that.
Her Majesty joined President Ronald Reagan for a visit on a rainy West Coast back in 1983 . She joked at that time that of all the British traditions transplanted to the United States, she did not know that rainy weather was necessarily one of them.
In 1991, the queen attended a state dinner hosted by the first President George Bush. That state visit included her first Major League Baseball game. She must have been thrilled to see that.
Up next, Jack Cafferty posing his question of the hour. Is it a good idea to move U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan?
Much more of our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, over the weekend two Democratic presidential hopefuls suggested moving U.S. troops from Iraq into Afghanistan. We want to know if you thought that was a good idea.
Dale writes from Massachusetts, "Jack, moving troops back to Afghanistan is stupid. It sound more like a Republican hopeful than a Democrat. The U.N. coalition is doing a fine job there. The next stop for our folks should be home, on our southern border."
L.M. in Arizona, "Jack, the Soviet Union tried to put a puppet government in Afghanistan and occupy that country. They are now known as Russia."
That would be the Soviet Union.
Brett in Illinois, "If the billions spent in Iraq had gone into Afghanistan, there would be no Taliban, no al Qaeda, no outflow of heroin. Instead, there would be a prosperous, thankful nation, stability in that country, and a base of operations to deal with the other problems in that region. It's not only a good idea, it's what we should have been doing all along."
Bill in Michigan writes, "No way. I've come to believe the reason the Bush administration is increasing troop levels in Iraq is because they believe it's good for the economy. They have created a thriving wartime economy which is hiding the serious long-range threat of a potential 'China syndrome'. They've gotten the attention away from a weakening dollar, the trade deficit, and our spiraling national debt."
Tony in North Carolina, "Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Saudi Arabia. What does it matter where we redeploy our troops if we don't deploy them where they'll be the most good. That would be around Washington, D.C., because it's in this haven of spiders that most of the American problems reside.
Jerry in Alabama writes, "Maybe we should be more concerned about moving FEMA trailers from storage in Arkansas to a town that was 90 percent destroyed by a tornado in Kansas. Sorry to change the subject, but I thought this should be said."
I agree with you, Jerry.
And Kris in California, "The U.S. should stop outsourcing the war in Afghanistan to NATO. That's our real war since the people who did harm to us are there, leading and training al Qaeda. We should get out of Iraq and maybe outsource that war to France, our new friend."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A little rapprochement with France coming up.
What do you think?
CAFFERTY: Well, you know, we'll see. I'm inclined to think that maybe the American people and the French people never had that many problems to begin with. It probably resided, as it usually does in these things, with the leadership. And now that Jacques Chirac is gone and Bush is leaving, maybe there's a chance to get things glued back together a little bit.
BLITZER: I think you're right.
Thanks, Jack, very much.
Let's go to Lou in New York.
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