Return to Transcripts main page


Iraq Sits on Oil Money; Candidates Grill Petraeus and Crocker on Iraq War; Black Voters Under Pressure to Support Obama; American Airlines Cancels Hundreds of Flights

Aired April 8, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, insult to injury. As the price of gas soars in the United States, a key senator wants to know why your tax dollars are paying for rebuilding Iraq when Iraq is actually sitting on billions of dollars in oil revenue right now.

President Bush fights back tears as he gives the Medal of Honor to parents of a Navy SEAL who gave his life to save his comrades.

And Barack Obama raising eyebrows with the boast that he's got more world affairs know-how than either of his presidential rivals.

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

The top U.S. general and the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq both on Capitol Hill today taking heat from Senate panels that include three presidential candidates. Barack Obama is expected to get his turn at the questioning very, very soon. Once he starts asking the questions, we'll go there live.

But another drama is also playing out on Capitol Hill -- issue number one for many Americans. U.S. taxpayers are carrying a staggering burden at a time when Iraq is actually raking in, right now, massive, massive oil revenues.

Let's go live to Capitol Hill. Kate Bolduan is standing by.

Kate, this set off some sparks in the Senate. What do we know about the money part of the rebuilding of Iraq?

KATE BOULDAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, it is a lot of money. Well, back in 2003, the Bush administration predicted Iraqi oil money would pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Well, now five years in, the U.S. is still funding the rebuilding effort. And today senators on both sides of the aisle said enough is enough.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Chairman Carl Levin wanted to know why, with Iraq making billions off of skyrocketing oil prices, American taxpayers are still footing the bill for Iraq reconstruction.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To add insult to injury, in addition to spending tens of billions of U.S. dollars on reconstruction, American taxpayers are also paying $3 to $4 a gallon on gas here at home.

BOLDUAN: In fact, Levin says, Iraq has $30 billion sitting in U.S. banks, but Iraqi leaders aren't spending those funds. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq insisted that's changing.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The era of U.S. funded major infrastructure projects is over.

BOLDUAN: Crocker says this year, the Iraqi government has allocated $13 billion for reconstruction. The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq says American taxpayers have paid more than $47 billion so far.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is rolling in oil revenue -- estimated to reach $100 billion by the end of this year. And apparently it has only spent a small fraction of that on rebuilding. Given $100 a barrel oil, Republican Susan Collins asked why the U.S. continues to pay for training and equipping Iraqi forces.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Isn't it time for the Iraqis to start bearing more of those expenses, particularly in light of a windfall in revenues due to the high price of oil?

CROCKER: Senator, it is. It will be, like everything else in Iraq, a complex process -- what have they got the capacity to do, how do they get the capacity to do it.

BOLDUAN: Afterward, Levin said the issue is far from over.

LEVIN: Ambassador Crocker's statement that "there's -- we are no longer involved in the reconstruction business" is utterly incredible. We are very deeply involved in the reconstruction business.


BOLDUAN: Now, Levin has already asked for a Congressional investigation into just how much oil money Iraq has. Now he says he wants legislation to force Iraqis to start paying more. One idea, Wolf, is that any U.S. money put toward rebuilding would be a loan Iraq has to pay back.

BLITZER: I wrote about this at my blog post at today, Kate. Thanks very much.

I raised the question are U.S. taxpayers right now being played for suckers by the Iraqis, who are raking in all of these billions in oil revenue? We'll continue to watch this story.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commander in Iraq taking questions today from the presidential candidates. Next time they meet, the general could be taking orders from one of them. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker briefing Senate committees on the current state of the war and the future of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Let's bring in our own Suzanne Malveaux. She's been watching this story for us.

I guess the general right now -- and the ambassador -- they're in the spotlight. But potentially the next commander-in-chief is in the spotlight, as well.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of attention that's being paid to the candidates. I've been watching this all day. Right now, they're before the Foreign Relations Committee, which tends to be a bit more critical of the Iraq mission.

Now, earlier today, the commander got some pointed, but polite questions, challenging the administration on when this war will end. But it was nothing like the contentious hearing seven months ago.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): A day off the campaign trail -- six minutes allotted to take on the U.S.'s top commander in Iraq. With cameras rolling, you would expect some fireworks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring the gentleman out of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm afraid we're going to have to ask him to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home! Bring them home!

MALVEAUX: But with the exception of an occasional heckler, the proceedings felt more like a budget hearing than a showdown over the war.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Southern Iraq has not been within our battlefield geometry. There is not an equation in which you have co-efficient...

MALVEAUX: Since Democrats in the Senate have failed to pass anti-war legislation, there's very little they can do to change the administration's present course. So the Democratic candidates used the hearing to remind voters about their own plans to bring U.S. troops home and press the administration on how bad conditions have to get in Iraq before changing course.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working?

MALVEAUX: They argued that the recent U.S. troop buildup has failed to make Americans safer. The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, supports the Iraq War and the troop increase and has the recent drop in Iraq violence to resurrect his campaign. He used the spotlight to take a thinly veiled jab at his Democratic opponents.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The promise of withdrawal of our forces regardless of the consequences would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.

MALVEAUX: McCain, who once acknowledged the success of his candidacy would rise or fall based on the war, inquired about Iraq's most recent failures, only in the politest terms.

MCCAIN: What's the lesson that we're to draw from that, that 1,000 Iraqi Army and police deserted or underperformed?


MALVEAUX: And now these hearings remind us that the candidates do have these day jobs. And while they're on the trail, they're all pretty much equal contenders. But on the Hill, their rankings for time in the Senate really do make a difference. That is why McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, he got to speak early in the day. And that's why we're still anxiously awaiting for Barack Obama late in the afternoon.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much. And thanks for filling in for me last week, as well.

MALVEAUX: Thanks. It was a pleasure.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux doing some good reporting, as she always does.

Here's something you don't often see -- all three presidential candidates were back at their Senate day jobs today. It's a rarity since the 110th Congress began back in January of 2007. Of the three, Republican John McCain has missed the most Senate votes -- 304 votes. That's almost 57 percent of all the votes. Democrat Barack Obama has missed 204 votes. That's more than 38 percent. And his rival, Hillary Clinton, missed 148 votes or almost 28 percent.

Among all senators, all 100 U.S. senators, only South Dakota's Tim Johnson, who spent many months recovering from a brain hemorrhage, has missed more votes than Senator McCain.

When President Bush announced the Iraq troop surge 15 months ago, he also laid out some markers for Iraq to meet.

Let's get a Reality Check right now from CNN's Michael Ware.

He's been covering the war since it began. He's here in Washington right now. He's up on Capitol Hill. He's been watching these hearings all day -- Michael, it must be a fascinating experience for you. But you'll tell us about it in a second.

I want to go through what President Bush told the nation 15 months ago when he addressed the nation, January 2007, about these benchmarks, these goals that the Iraqis were supposed to fulfill and what he predicted -- what he said would happen. And let's get a Reality Check on what actually has happened.

For example, he said the Iraqi government takes responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November, 2007. That's last November.

That exactly hasn't happened yet, has it?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The short answer, Wolf, no, it hasn't. Wolf, a number of Iraq's provinces are now under Iraqi control. They are predominantly the Kurdish regions in the north -- which have been self-autonomous even under Saddam since the no fly zone -- and the Shia-dominated provinces in the south, which are under the control of Iranian back militias and political parties.

This is Shia areas where there's very few Sunnis. There's relatively no presence of al Qaeda. And, essentially, as one Western diplomat calls much of the south, it's little Iran without the flag. So we have some provinces under Iraqi control, but we can hardly call that a success. And certainly the entire country, you have to be kidding. No way.

BLITZER: All right. The second thing he said as a benchmark, to give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

Have they done it?

WARE: Well, there is an oil revenue sharing law, but just because you've got something on paper, doesn't mean it's happening on the ground. It's still bogged down in the process. Certainly it hasn't gone to every Iraqi. The Sunnis certainly aren't seeing the results of that. So, in essence, it's like a half tick. Yes, there's something, but it isn't everything. No, we can't put our full tick in that box, either.

BLITZER: The third thing he said is to show it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.

We did some checking. The Government Accountability Office says they've pledged $10 billion, but last year they only spent 4.4 percent of that. The White House says they spent 24 percent of the $10 billion. They still have a long way to go on that front.

WARE: Absolutely. And I think in this year's budget, they have pledged perhaps another $13 billion or something of that order. But again, who cares?

You're not seeing it on the ground, either because of security reasons or sectarian political reasons, where there is no delivery of aid into areas that have been hostile to the government, particularly, say, in the Sunni west. So, no. No tick in that box either, Wolf. Certainly not for the ordinary Iraqi, who's eking out their miserable lives amidst the war.

BLITZER: Now, here's another thing he said. To empower local leaders, Iraqis will hold provisional elections later this year, meaning in 2007.

Now they're expecting to hold the elections later this year, meaning 2008, is that right?

WARE: Oh, that's correct. And not only the delay, but this has been a difficult birth, this legislation. It was touted by the U.S. mission as part of the political surge -- one of three key pieces of legislation that were finally bludgeoned through the Iraqi parliament. Yet this one was kicked back by the Presidential Council, effectively a veto.

After some backroom dealing and the bashing of heads together, that legislation for the provincial election is back on. But we still have to draw up provincial elections law. And the clock is ticking on how to do that.

At the end of the day, if these elections are held, again, it's mainly Iran's parties who look to benefit and we're going to see a decentralization of security and power, so that governors and the provincial councils away from the central government. Not a tick.

BLITZER: One of the benchmarks he did mention, to be fair to the president, he did say they would reform the de-Baathification laws.

They have reformed those de-Baathification laws to a certain degree, haven't they?

WARE: Well, if you happen to, you know, one day throw in a couple of bucks and actually join the Baath Party. But, in essence, the real Baathists that this is supposed to target, the people who this is supposed to bring back into the community, they're not touched by this legislation. And, hello, this is Shia-dominated government -- a government comprised of factions all of whom primarily are linked to Iran in one way or another.

Do you really think they're going to let the Baathists back? The proof is going to be in the pudding. And right now, their pudding stinks. It's not fit to serve it.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, because you're going to come back in the next hour. We'll talk about these hearings today. As I said, it's probably interesting for you. Normally, you're in the war zone, but you're on Capitol Hill right now.

We'll get back to you in the next hour, Michael. Thank you.

His Senate colleagues turned presidential rivals have had their turns questioning General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Barack Obama is now momentarily due to get his turn in the spotlight. Once he starts the questioning, we'll go there live. That's a live picture you're seeing from the Hill.

But let's go to CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I've watched some of the hearings today. And you may not even know the answer to this question, but did anybody ask Ambassador Crocker or General Petraeus why the tens of billions of dollars in oil surplus money that the Iraqis are sitting on is not being used to either reimburse the United States' taxpayer for his efforts or to pick up the tab for the reconstruction costs?


CAFFERTY: This money is just sitting in banks.

BLITZER: Right. Carl Levin, among others, raised that issue. I wrote about in my blog post today at Some are suggesting, American taxpayers -- Jack, I know maybe you're not one of them -- are being played for suckers by the Iraqis right now.

CAFFERTY: No. But I mean did anybody ask them why is this money sitting in a bank account instead of being used to pay us back for some of the hundreds of billions of dollars that we have squandered in that quagmire over there?

BLITZER: Yes, they've got a technical reason about IMF rules about money reserves.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: But it's a pretty complicated reason.

CAFFERTY: Yes, we'd like to help you. Check with me next week. OK. Thanks, Wolf.

Controversy sprinkled with violence and ill will is accompanying the Olympic torch as it makes its way across what is supposed to be a 23-city international tour designed to build interest and goodwill for the Summer Olympics. Stops in London and Paris produced large scale demonstrations by people protesting China's human rights record.

Imagine that.

The torch has now made its way to San Francisco, where the flame is actually being kept at an undisclosed location for security reasons -- possibly Dick Cheney's house. Yesterday, protesters were scaling the Golden Gate Bridge. They tied a Tibetan flag and two banners up there calling for a free Tibet. There's a six mile relay planned in San Francisco tomorrow. Already, one of the runners has dropped out because he's afraid for his safety.

Meanwhile, the president of the International Olympic Committee tells the "Associated Press" that the group's board is going to discuss now on Friday whether to end the international part of the Beijing Olympic Torch relay because of all these protests.

Beijing organizers have said the month long international relay will not be stopped. In fact, the vice president of the Chinese organizing committee insists the Olympic Torch has been "warmly welcomed by the local people in each city." This is Communist China's version of Baghdad Bob.

Here at home, there have been growing calls for President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Games. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the only head of state so far to join with Mr. Bush and announce he will attend. Several world leaders have said they'll skip the opening ceremonies. Others remain undecided.

And, of course, this whole thing might have been prevented a long time ago if the IOC had listened to those people who argued against awarding the Olympic Games to China in the first place because of their dismal record for human rights.

A long way to go. Sorry about that.

Here's the question: Did the International Olympic Committee make a mistake awarding the Summer Olympic Games to China?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

The torch has been extinguished and is being hidden in San Francisco -- Wolf.

I mean...

BLITZER: What does that mean? What does that mean?

CAFFERTY: It's unbelievable.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow. We're going to have a lot of coverage on that tomorrow.

All right, Jack. Thanks very much. We'll see you in a few moments.

We're standing by to hear from Barack Obama. The senator getting ready to ask questions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The two witnesses there -- there's Barack Obama. Momentarily, once he starts asking the questions to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, we'll bring you that live.

African-American supporters of Hillary Clinton facing what some are calling a guilt trip. Some say they're under growing pressure to back Barack Obama and they resent it.

Some Republicans want to see her name on the ticket in November, but does Condoleezza Rice see herself as a potential vice presidential candidate?

And an Evangelical pastor putting John McCain in some hot water with some comments on Catholics. Now he's making some waves in Israel -- and he's talking to CNN.

Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ...the effective operations that you've been...

BLITZER: Senator Obama has just started his questioning, talking about al Qaeda in Iraq.

Let's listen in.

OBAMA: In that narrow military effort, we are successful.

Do we anticipate that there ever comes a time where al Qaeda in Iraq could not reconstitute itself?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think the question, Senator, is whether Iraqi security forces, over time, with much less help, could deal with their efforts to reconstitute. And I think it's a given...

OBAMA: That's my point.

PETRAEUS: I think it's -- I think it's a given that al Qaeda Iraq will try to reconstitute, just as any movement of that type does try to reconstitute.

OBAMA: I don't mean to --

PETRAEUS: And the question is whether...

OBAMA: -- I don't mean to interrupt you, but I just want to sharpen the question so that -- because I think you're getting right at my point here. I mean if one of our criteria for success is ensuring that al Qaeda doesn't have a base of operations in Iraq, I just want to harden a little bit the metrics by which we're measuring that. At what point do we say they cannot reconstitute themselves or are we saying that they're not going be particularly effective and the Iraqis themselves will be able to handle the situation?

PETRAEUS: I think it's really the latter, Senator, that, again, if you can keep chipping away at them, chipping away their leadership, chipping away at the resources, that comprehensive approach that I mentioned, that, over time -- and we are reaching that in some other areas already, as I mentioned.

We are drawing down very substantially in Anbar Province, a place that I think few people would have thought we'd be in the situation we're in at this point, now, say, 18 months ago. And, again, that's what we want to try to achieve in all of the different areas in which al Qaeda still has a presence.

OBAMA: OK. So I just want to be clear, if I'm understanding. We don't anticipate that there's never going to be some individual or group of individuals in Iraq that might have sympathies toward al Qaeda. Our goal is not to hunt down and eliminate every single trace, but rather to create a manageable situation where they're not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq, is that accurate?

PETRAEUS: That is exactly right.

OBAMA: OK. And it's also fair to say that in terms of our success dealing with al Qaeda, that the Sunni awakening has been very important, as you testified. The Sons of Iraq and other tribal groups have allied themselves with us. There have been talks about integrating them into the central government.

However, it's been somewhat slow, somewhat frustrating. And my understanding, at least, is although there's been a promise of 20 to 30 percent of them being integrated into the Iraqi security forces, that has not yet been achieved. On the other hand, the Maliki government was very quick to say we're going to take another 10,000 Shias into the Iraqi security forces.

And I'm wondering, does that undermine confidence on the part of the Sunni tribal leaders that they are actually going to be treated fairly and they will be able to incorporate some of these young men of military age into the Iraqi security forces?

PETRAEUS: No, that is ongoing, Senator. As I mentioned, there's well over 20,000 who have already been integrated into either Iraqi security forces or other government positions. It doesn't just have to be the ISF, it can be other positions. And there are thousands of others who are working their way through a process, with the Iraqi National Committee for Reconciliation and the Ministry of Interior and so forth.

It hasn't been easy because in the beginning, certainly, there was understandable suspicion about groups that were predominantly Sunni Arab, although about 20 percent are actually Shia, as well. But the process is moving. It's not been easy, but it is actually ongoing. And it is generally, now, a relatively routine process, although it takes lots of nudging.

OBAMA: OK. Let me shift to Iran.

Just as -- and, Ambassador Crocker, if you want to address this, you can. Just as it's fair to say that we're not going to completely eliminate all traces of al Qaeda in Iraq, but we want to create a manageable situation. It's also true to say that we're not going to eliminate all influence of Iran in Iraq, correct?

That's not our goal. That can't be our definition of success, that Iran has no influence in Iraq.

So can you define more sharply what you think would be a legitimate or fair set of circumstances in the relationship between Iran and Iraq that would make us feel comfortable drawing down our troops?

CROCKER: Senator, as I said in my statement, we have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.

OBAMA: Do we feel -- do we feel confident that the Iraqi government is directing these -- this aid to these special groups? Do we feel confident about that or do we think that they're just tacitly tolerating it? Do you have some sense of that?

CROCKER: There's no question in our minds that the Iranian government, in particular the Quds force, is -- this is a conscience, carefully worked out policy.

OBAMA: If that's the case, can you respond a little more fully to Senator Boxer's point. If, in fact, it is known -- and I'm assuming you've shared this information with the Maliki government -- that Iran's government has assisted in arming special groups that are doing harm to Iraqi security forces and undermining the Iraqi government, why is it that they're being welcomed the way they were?

CROCKER: Well, we don't need to, again, tell the prime minister that. He knows it...


CROCKER: ...and is trying to take some steps to tighten up significantly on the border. In terms of the Ahmadinejad visit, you know, Iran and Iraq are neighbors. A visit like that should be in the category of a normal relationship.


CROCKER: I think what we have seen since then, in terms of this -- this very clear spotlight focused on a malign Iranian influence puts that visit into a very different perspective for most Iraqis, including Iraqi Shia.

OBAMA: OK. Mr. Chairman, I know that I'm out of time, so let me just -- if I could have the indulgence of the committee for one minute.


OBAMA: Thank you. I just want to close with a couple of key points.

Number one, we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record. I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you've pointed out, al Qaeda in Iraq and increased Iranian influence in the region, are a direct result of that original decision. That's not a decision you gentlemen made. I won't lay it at your feet. You are cleaning up the mess afterwards. Undermining it is important as we debate this forward.

I also think that the surge has reduced violence and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia jockeying for power that underscores how complicated the political situation is there and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it.

I believe that we are more likely to resolve it -- in your own words, Ambassador -- if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind -- and this is where we disagree -- includes a timetable for withdrawal. Nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran.

Because if Maliki can tolerate, as normal neighbor to neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them, as well. I do not believe we're going to be able to stabilize the situation without them.

Just the last point I will make. Our resources are finite. And this has been made -- this is a point that just was made by Senator Voinovich. It's been made by Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, Senator Hagel, there is a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources. Our military is overstretched and the Pentagon has acknowledged it.

Our -- the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I think, is feeling a lot more secure as long as we're focused in Iraq and not on Afghanistan. When you have finite resources, you've got to define your goals tightly and modestly.

And so my final -- and I'll even pose this as a question, and you -- I won't -- you don't necessarily have to answer it. Maybe it's a rhetorical question.

If we were able to have the status quo in Iraq without U.S. troops, would that be a sufficient definition of success? It's obviously not perfect. There's still violence. There's still some traces of al Qaeda. Iran has influence, more than we would like.

But if we had the current status quo and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success? Would that meet our criteria, or would that not be good enough and we have to -- we'd have to devote even more resources to it?

CROCKER: Senator, I can't imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown.

OBAMA: That wasn't the question. No, no, that wasn't the question. I'm not suggesting that we yank our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an end point. That's what all of us are trying to get to.

See, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of al Qaeda, no possibility of reconstitution, a highly effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian, functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country's struggling along, but it's in the a threat to its neighbors and it's not an al Qaeda base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable time frame. And that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee's been trying to drive at and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

CROCKER: And that's because, Senator, it is a -- I mean, don't like to sound like broken record.

OBAMA: I understand.

CROCKER: But this is hard, and this is complicated. I think that when Iraq gets to the point that it can carry forward its further development without a major commitment of U.S. forces, with still a lot of problems out there, but where they and we would have a fair certitude that, again, they can drive it forward themselves, without significant danger of having the whole thing slip away from them again, then clearly our profile, our presence, diminishes markedly. But that's not where we are now.

OBAMA: Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Thank you. On a second round we'll ask you to go back and answer the question that you were asked, but haven't answered. We'll do it on a second round.

BLITZER: All right, so there you have it, the questioning from Senator Barack Obama. He's going to have another round of questioning, as all the members of the Senate Foreign Relations will have later, a second round, we just heard from the Chairman Joe Biden. Factual questions by Senator Obama including the Iranian involvement, what's going on right now.

Let's get some analysis from our man up there on Capitol Hill, right now, Michael Ware, normally our man in Baghdad, but you're watching this hearing.

What did you think of that exchange, that Senator Obama had with Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus?

WARE: Well, like much of what I've witnessed today in the Armed Services Committee now in foreign relations, we're not learning anything new. And the questioning by any of the members of the committees is hardly probing. And it seems to be more about politicizing or political grandstanding for the members of the committee's benefit themselves. I mean, it seems like there's so much wasted opportunity here.

Now, obviously Senator Obama was trying to wrap things up and give it a sharper edge to try and pull all these fragments of the testimony that are very much fuzzy on the edges and say, well, look, you know, what is it that can get us out? What is it that can do this?

But I have to say, you know, his questions, like so many others, from so many other people, reflect what strikes me as fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of the fight in the Iraq or the nature of the current situation in Iraq or what it's going to take to hold this country together, even as messy and as ugly as it is right now.

So, I have to say, overall, including Senator Obama's exchange that I think you just witnessed, it's -- it's frighteningly disappointing.

BLITZER: Well, give us one example of a question you would have liked to have heard.

WARE: Well, for example, when we're talking about Iran. We all know they're there. No need to ask, you know, what are Iraqi intermediary are saying. I'm sure you've sent messages there. We all know that. It's been in the papers for goodness sakes. People rant about it on TV.

Let's find out what exactly are you doing to curb Iranian interference. Come on, come clean. What are you doing? How are you cutting out this tumor of Iranian influence?

Because at the end of the day, there is no real answer. But it's American policy remains light and fluffy on that, as well there are Persians, there are Arabs, the Iraqis are firmly nationalist, there's a long history but they are scarred by the Iran/Iraq war and let's cross our fingers and hope the divisions are enough to unite them. It hasn't helped with Lebanese Hezbollah and their Arabs.

It hasn't helped with Hamas and Palestine and their Arabs. There seems to be very little clarity on the main issue of this war which is America's competition for influence with Iran.

Now, why that's not being drilled home? I have no idea. And I think it reflects the nature of the body -- general body of knowledge held by members of the committee. I mean, I just see a lot of oxygen being wasted here. I wish I could jump in with my own boxing gloves and have a go at it myself.

BLITZER: All right, stand by.

There's still a lot more questioning today. We've got a full day of hearings tomorrow as well, maybe some of those questions you want asked will be asked and answered.

Michael will be with us shortly. Thank you. Michael Ware, up on Capitol Hill.

Coming up, a leading Evangelical pastor speaking out about the surprise backlash from his endorsement of John McCain.


PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, CORNERSTONE CHURCH: The controversy that was started by the Catholic league saying that I called them a false cult and the great whore is completely false. It is true that the Book of Revelation in the 17th chapter speaks of a great whore but that was written by the apostle John, not me.


BLITZER: Now Pastor John Hagee is in Israel where he talks to CNN about the controversy. You're going to hear this coming up.

Also, you're going to find out why some African-American supporters are facing what they say feels like a guilt trip over their support for Hillary Clinton. Plus, the Olympic flame arriving in the United States, prompting massive security. We'll take you live to San Francisco where a protest march is happening right now.

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


BLITZER: Some African-American supporters of Hillary Clinton say they're coming under growing pressure to back Barack Obama instead and some of them resent it.

CNN's Carol Costello is here. She's watching this story for us.

All right, so what's going on? You spoke to African-American voters who support Hillary Clinton. What are they saying?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, it's been emotionally draining for them. They face enormous pressure within their own communities to vote Obama. And now there's this poem celebrating a vote from a black man jumping from e-mail box to e-mail box, suddenly urging African-Americans to do the right thing.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for a black man, and I cried.

COSTELLO (voice-over): It's an anonymous poem titled "Today." It's made its way unsolicited into e-mail boxes across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I should die before the presidential election, it will be OK.

LISA HAWKINS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Because today I voted. I voted for a black man, and I cried.

COSTELLO: For Lisa Hawkins, though moving, the poem was unwelcome. A form of emotional blackmail.

HAWKINS: When I received this, I felt as if it was a guilt trip. I was offended.

COSTELLO: Hawkins is a Hillary Clinton supporter. Something she says has become a heavy burden. The poem only added to it.

HAWKINS: I feel like a traitor to my race or I'm made to feel that way.

COSTELLO: For many in the African-American community, Obama's candidacy has become a movement. And Clinton supporters are feeling the heat. The film director Spike Lee slammed them -- "Ooh, Massuh Clinton was good to us, massuh hired a lot of us, massuh was good!"

Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, they have to understand this is a new day. It's like a tide. And the people who get in the way are just going to get swept out into the ocean."

TENE DAVIS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: It makes me very angry and it makes me angry because, again, I don't think that race should play such a strong factor.

COSTELLO: Tene Davis also supports Clinton. While proud of Barack Obama's candidacy, she suspects some of the overwhelming black support he enjoys is guilt driven. She says his supporters use every ploy to get voters to switch.

Some even saying a vote for Obama is the realization of Dr. King's dream. Some Obama supporters say that's fair.

KENDAL MINTER, OBAMA SUPPORTER: That's a call that calls into arms and calls him to the polls and calls them to do the right thing and pull the right switch on Election Day. Go for it.

COSTELLO: But for voters like Davis, who also revered Dr. King, it's just wrong.

DAVIS: I think that's wholly inappropriate. I don't know if Martin -- obviously Martin is no longer with us, so no one would have known what he wanted us to do.

COSTELLO: One thing Davis does know for sure, she's tired of the guilt. Hillary Clinton is her candidate, and no, she won't change her mind.


COSTELLO: Now, all of the people we talked for this story said the pressure to vote for Obama is not coming from the candidate but it's coming from family or friends and that may be a tougher place for it to come from, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol Costello, doing good reporting for us. Thank you.

In news around the world, the evangelical pastor whose endorsement caused him controversy for John McCain is in Israel right now where he spoke to CNN about the backlash.

CNN's Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem with details -- Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, controversial Pastor John Hagee is on a ten-day tour of Israel and he's gotten a warm reception here.


SHUBERT (voice-over): They came by the hundreds. A handful of Pastor John Hagee's flock of thousands of faithful followed him to Jerusalem to show Christian support for Israel.

HAGEE: We are united that the Jewish people are a chosen people. They are a cherished people. They are the apple of god's eye. SHUBERT: Hagee and his followers fervently believe that the rise of modern Israel will culminate in the second coming of Christ. But only after a fierce battle in which god only protects those who help Israel and the Jewish people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain will be --

SHUBERT: When Hagee came out for Republican John McCain for president, the candidates embraced him. But Catholics called on McCain to distance himself from Hagee because of anti-Catholic statements like this one posted on You Tube.

HAGEE: This is the great whore of Revelations 17. This is the anti-Christ system. This is the apostate church.

SHUBERT: McCain went from warm embrace, to cold shoulder.

MCCAIN: When he endorses me, it does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for and believes in.

SHUBERT: Hagee says he was disappointed and surprised by the backlash.

HAGEE: The controversy that was started by the Catholic league saying that I called them a false cult and the great whore is completely false. It is true that the Book of Revelation in the 17th chapter speaks of a great whore, but that was written by the Apostle John, not me. I have never, ever, in any way been anti-Catholic.

SHUBERT: Hagee finds a much warmer welcome in Israel. He has poured millions of dollars into projects like this community center in a disputed Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

While Israelis say they appreciate the gesture of friendship, many are uncomfortable with sermons that predict the end of days. Many Jews here ask what happens to them in the final biblical battle.

Some Christian evangelical groups believe Jews will be given a final choice to accept Christianity. Or face god's wrath. Israeli leaders say they, like John McCain, welcome Hagee's support, but don't agree with him on everything.


SHUBERT: Now Hagee completes his tour this week, when he returns to the U.S., he says, he's going to push for a conference in Washington, D.C., this summer, to show Christian support for Israel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The Olympic flame has arrived in San Francisco, its only stop in North America. That city is bracing for the worst at tomorrow's torch relay. With some security measures that haven't been used in years.

Let's go there live. CNN's Dan Simon is live on the scene for us.

Dan, what's happening right now?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are at the United Nations Plaza here in San Francisco. This has really been the center of activity all day long. There are about 300 or 400 protesters here right now. They are marching to the Chinese consulate. The goal, of course, is try to prevent the sort of mayhem, the chaos, that you saw in Europe over the past couple of days.

Take a look.


SIMON: This is just one of the demonstrations greeting the Olympic flame as it arrives in San Francisco. Hundreds of protesters filled the city's United Nations plaza for a Tibetan freedom march and rally. Actor Richard Gere and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu are scheduled to join the protesters for a candlelight vigil tonight, putting a spotlight on China's crackdown on Tibet.

TENZIN TETHONG, TIBETAN ACTIVIST: We simply compartmentalize sports and other activities from what is, you know, are serious issues that we all have to deal with.

SIMON: Scenes like these during torch relays in London and Paris prompted China's U.S. ambassador to personally bring Beijing's concern to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. The city is surrounding the Olympic flame with the tightest security.

More than 500 police officers were involved in the middle-of-the- night arrival ceremony at San Francisco International Airport. It went off without incident and the flame is now being guarded at an undisclosed location.

Officers have had their days off canceled for tomorrow's torch relay. The route along the city's waterfront has already been cut from eight miles to six. And Mayor Newsom says it could be changed up to and even during the event itself.

Security is also being increased on the Golden Gate Bridge after three protesters scaled the suspension cables and unfurled these "Free Tibet" banners yesterday. The span's east side walk reserved for pedestrians will be closed tomorrow, for the first time since 9/11. These protesters say their demonstrations will remain peaceful and lawful, but they cannot vouch for others.

YANGCHEN LHAMO, STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET: We hope that everything goes well tomorrow. We're not incredibly worried about it getting violent and I think at this point what we're concerned about is just get our message out there.


SIMON: What happens tomorrow could have a major impact on the rest of this torch relay. Around the whorl the International Olympic Committee is very concerned about these protests. They're going to have a meeting to discussion whether or not they should even go forward, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch with you tomorrow, Dan, thanks very much, Dan Simon on the scene in San Francisco.

We'll have live coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow during the hours that we're on the air.

President Bush fought back tears today at a medal-of-honor ceremony as he stood with the parents of a navy S.E.A.L. who gave his life to save his comrades.

Here's CNN's pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Twenty-seven-year-old Navy Petty Officer Michael Monsoor already had earned a silver and bronze star, when on September 29, 2006, he found himself on a rooftop in Ramadi, Iraq. On that day, suddenly, an enemy fighter hurled a grenade onto the roof. His platoon commander remembers.

LT. CMDR. SETH STONE, MONSOOR'S PLATOON COMMANDER: The grenade hit him in the chest. Fell to the ground. He recognized immediately the threat. Yelled grenade, and due to the fact that two other S.E.A.L. snipers, our brothers, could not possibly escape the blast, he chose to smother with his body and absorb the impact and lost his life in the process.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the survivors puts it this way, Mikey looked death in the face that day and said, you cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead.

STARR: A president who has had to comfort so many families, now overcome with emotion. Once again, he stands with parents, who have had to bury a child.

Michael's sister Sara recalls a brother who also protected her, and how she felt when the terrible news came.

SARA MONSOOR, SISTER OF MICHAEL MONSOOR: When I had heard this, it was almost like that last piece I'd been placed like, his job was done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For conspicuous gallantly and intrepidity to risk his life, above and beyond the call of duty.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, the pentagon.


BLITZER: The costs of war have mounted since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last testified back in September. The price paid in lives has grown -- 247 American troops have died in Iraq since that testimony. And since then congress has appropriated more than $76 billion for the war, with another $82 billion pending right now.

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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: Did the International Olympic Committee make a mistake awarding the summer Olympic games to China? Here's some of what you wrote.

Mike in New Orleans writes: "No but I think China's making a big mistake hosting the games. It will draw attention to their miserable human rights violations. It will galvanize protests against them. It will elicit boycotts and most of all their filthy environmental conditions will clog up the athletes' lungs."

Josh writes: "I think it was a huge mistake for the committee to put the summer games in China. I understand right now their economy is blooming and the games will help to bring China into the 21st century, but just because America owes them lots of favors and wants to stay on China's good side doesn't mean that we should turn a blind eye to all the human rights violations."

Rose writes: "It was a very foreseeable disaster. Honestly when I was young I though it was important to keep sports separate from politics, that intermingling of athletes helped spread good will. It's an idealistic view of the world I can no longer afford to hold."

M.J. in Illinois: "Jack, I think it was as short sighted as our country's commitment to send our companies to China to exploit cheap labor. We just don't think much about the consequences of our decisions. Do we?"

Jim in Honolulu writes: "Whatever totalitarian dictatorship fears most is that other ideas, ways and people interact with their own. The only guarantee of remaining in power is to shut out all contents of another way of doing things. Putting the brightest spotlight in the world on such a system is the best way to destroy it. Right now we're seeing the Chinese leadership squirming on the international stage. Good job, world."

And Larry writes from Georgetown, Texas: "Yes they did. So now what do people do in the name of peace? Beat up the people that are carrying the Olympic torch."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there. There are hundreds of them.

I hope you find the one you wrote. Or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Thousands of passengers grounded right now. There's news coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's get the update from Carol Costello.

What's going on, Carol?

COSTELLO: I can almost hear the anger from here at airports across the country. American Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights, reports say up to 500 so they can inspect their fleet of MD- 80 airplanes. They are conducting the inspections so they can come up to code with FAA safety regulations.

They are checking the bundling of wires in the wheel wells and it's not over yet. They may cancel hundreds of flights tomorrow. So if you are traveling on American Airlines, best to call ahead. American said it's trying to get passengers to where they want to go as quickly as possible. And they do have a plan for it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow, what a story. All right. We'll stay on top of this one as well, Carol, thank you.

Congressional Democrats moving to challenge plans to finish a border fence. Lou Dobbs is standing by live. He has something to say about it. He's joining us.

And also Obama boasting about foreign policy. You'll find out what he said that's raising eyebrows.

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


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs coming up in one hour. He's standing by. Let's talk to Lou for a second.

Lou, there's this uproar going on about building this big fence along the U.S./Mexican border and now the department of homeland security saying you know what, all the environmental laws don't necessarily have to be upheld right now. This isn't an emergency. They want to go ahead and build the 600 miles or so.

What do you think?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, I think, first of all, they're charged to do so by law. Congress has passed legislation that requires that double fence be laid across 750 miles of the border. And we have to secure this border. For a host of reasons. But legally it's mandated, and it's required that we -- that we build it.

BLITZER: Well, what about the environmental protections that a lot of these -- the people out there want to make sure that nothing is done that would negatively impact wildlife?

DOBBS: Let me say to those -- let me say to those turkeys at the Sierra Club who lead the Sierra Club and misinform their members. Here's the reality. Twenty-five million pounds of trash as a result of illegal immigration and drug runners going across that border. Where is the Sierra Club? Where are those environmentalists to deal with that issue?

This is pure nonsense on the part of the Sierra Club joining this. I mean nothing could be further from a sincere gesture on their part. BLITZER: It's not just them though Lou. It's some members of Congress now.

DOBBS: Can you believe Benny Thompson? The temerity of the man was charged with the responsibility these borders, he is every parent in this country should be writing to Benny Thompson to let him know what they think that he does want to secure a border across which crosses the largest proportion of this country's methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

Benny Thompson, I'm saying it to your face because I want to talk to you tomorrow night and dealing with the reality that that border is absolutely a passage way of death.

BLITZER: We'll see you in an hour and look forward to the interview tomorrow with Congressman Thompson.

Thank you for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.