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President Bush Slams Barack Obama; McCain Possible Accomplishments as the Next President; Senator Joe Biden Lashes out at Bush Remarks; California Justices Lift Ban on Gay Marriage

Aired May 15, 2008 - 17:00   ET


President Bush touched off a political explosion today and the shock waves are still being felt. During a speech to Israel's Knesset, Mr. Bush suggested that Senator Barack Obama and other Democrats share the same delusions about dealing with terrorists that some American politicians had about Adolph Hitler. Democrats are furious.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's traveling with the president in Jerusalem -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for a president who has repeatedly said he wants to stay out of the '08 campaign, today he jumped right in with an explosive allegation.


HENRY (voice-over): All the way from Jerusalem, a failed shot at Democratic frontrunner, Barack Obama, back in America. Without naming names, President Bush charged some politician support appeasement of terrorists, just as U.S. leaders appeased Nazis in the run-up to World War II.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.""

We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

HENRY: White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino later told reporters the president was not targeting Obama. But other officials privately said Mr. Bush was referring to various Democrats, including Obama, who said he would sit down for direct talks with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.

HENRY: And former President Jimmy Carter, for pushing negotiations with the terror group Hamas. BUSH: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We've heard this foolish delusion before.

HENRY: Obama immediately fired back it was a false political attack, insisting he wants to deploy, principled direct diplomacy to put pressure on rogue states like Iran and Syria.

The president's broadside before the Israeli Knesset, in which he stressed his administration's close ties to Israel, could raise more concerns about Obama with Jewish-American voters, especially since the president also used a reference to the Holocaust to suggest some people do not understand the grave threat posed by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah -- who have all talked about destroying Israel.

BUSH: As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not report in the 21st century.


HENRY: Senator McCain already stoked those concerns among Jewish American voters by charging that Obama is the favorite candidate of Hamas, which the Democrats announced as a smear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry in Jerusalem for us.

Thank you.

In September 1939, after learning the Nazis had invaded Poland, Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho remarked -- and I'm quoting now -- "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." An isolationist after World War I, Borah worked to keep the United States out of foreign conflicts and pushed for a treaty to outlaw war. He was considered the Senate's supreme orator. A speech Borah delivered back in 1919 was instrumental in keeping the U.S. out of the League of Nations.

Borah was on the cover of "Time" magazine three times. In 1936 during his unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination, "Time" magazine declared him "the most famed Senator of this century."

Back home, Democrats are reacting angrily to President Bush's jab from Jerusalem.

Let's go to CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's watching this story for us.

I think it's fair to say, Kate, that Democrats are furious.


President Bush's address has set off a firestorm here among congressional Democrats. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): On Capitol Hill, President Bush's remarks were taken as a political attack on Barack Obama and fellow Democrats circled the wagons around the party frontrunner, Joe Biden lashing out in a Senate hallway.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: This is bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This is malarkey. This is outrageous. It's outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset and make this kind of ridiculous statement.

BOLDUAN: And the Foreign Relations chairman was just as angry in a later conference call with reporters, calling the president's appeasement charge disgraceful.

BIDEN: For this president to leave the country and unleash a political attack on Barack Obama and Democrats, it cannot go unanswered. You know, we're not going tolerate this long distance swiftboating that's going on here.

BOLDUAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it was the wrong time and place for picking a fight back home.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think what the president did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel.

BOLDUAN: And Armed Services chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, said the president broke from a long observed practice of leaving political differences behind at U.S. borders.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: For him to use purple prose such as somebody is appeasing, it seems to me, is totally inappropriate. It has no place to be said anywhere. And it surely should not be said in a place which understands what true appeasement is and was.


BOLDUAN: Now one key John McCain supporter came to the president's defense. And that's Independent Senator Joe Lieberman. He says the U.S. should reject the flawed and naive thinking that by sitting down with terrorist groups and their sponsors, like Iran, they'll stop being threats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kate. Thank you.

He's leading the charge as the Democrats respond to the president's comments from Jerusalem on appeasement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, the former Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. He'll be joining us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is not joining Democrats in criticizing President Bush. Indeed, he's stepping up his own criticism of Barack Obama for being willing to talk directly to Iran.

Listen to what McCain said today aboard his campaign bus.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who's the head of a government, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, that denies the Holocaust. That's what I think that Senator Obama ought to explain to the American people.


BLITZER: And coming up, we'll speak with Senator Jon Kyl, a major supporter of Senator McCain. We'll get his reaction to what is going on. Fascinating, important developments on this day.

Let's, in the meantime, check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain took a look into the future this morning, delivering a speech that looked ahead to what the U.S. and the world would be like in four years, after the first term of a McCain presidency. You may recognize some things in here as stuff you've heard before.

Some of the highlights, he thinks the Iraq War will be won, Iraq will be a functioning democracy, violence there will be "spasmodic and much reduced." McCain thinks the U.S. will have welcomed home most of its troops. He thinks the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban won't yet be eliminated, even though bin Laden will be captured or killed.

Recognize -- does this stuff sound familiar to you yet?

It's pretty bold to lay out these objectives like this. It gives the critics a lot to measure you against if, for example, these things don't turn out to actually be the case in four years.

Assuming you win the White House, which is a bit of a leap of faith at this point anyway.

In any case, John McCain seems to be one of the few things Republicans have going for them this fall. After a string of GOP defeats in special elections, a lot of Republicans are hoping that the maverick appeal of McCain will help other Republicans on the ballot.

It's all kind of ironic when you consider the Arizona senator has been at odds with his own party for years on issues like immigration, campaign finance reform and global warming.

Republicans are facing a dismal scenario. One GOP congressman is calling this year's political atmosphere the worst since Watergate. He adds this, "The Republican brand is in the trash can. If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."

Some folks are predicting Republicans could come out of November with a 70 seat deficit in the House alone.

Here's the question: Should Republicans who are facing congressional races in November run away from or run with John McCain?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Jack will be back shortly.

Outrage over comments by President Bush and Senator John McCain. We've heard from Obama's supporters. Up next, the Republican side with the Senate minority whip, Jon Kyl.

He's standing by.

Also, an unusual speech by John McCain today outlining his vision of a future America. You're going to hear how he foresees the Iraq War and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Plus, computers, fire alarms and more overrun by ants. We're going to show you which U.S. city is facing a bizarre invasion.

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


BLITZER: Democrats are up in arms today over the president's suggestion they might appease terrorists and over John McCain's suggestion that Barack Obama would be soft on Iran.

Let's get the view now from the other side. Earlier, we heard from a major Obama supporter, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Let's speak to the Republican minority whip right now in the Senate, Jon Kyl of Arizona. He's a major supporter of Senator McCain.

Thanks very much, Senator Kyl, for coming in.


BLITZER: Was it appropriate for the president of the United States to go to Jerusalem and raise the specter of Democrats appeasing terrorists along the lines of the way European leaders appeased Hitler leading up to World War II?

KYL: I don't think he said Democrats. He certainly didn't name a specific individual. He did talk about a point of view which is present in the United States. I've heard people say it. And I think it's interesting that most Democrats immediately reacted in such a way that suggested that they, too, first thought of Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Because you know what, the reporters who were traveling with the president queried White House officials and said was that a reference to Barack Obama and other Democrats?

And White House officials did not dissuade them from that. They seemed to suggest yes, in fact, it was.

KYL: Well, and of course, I don't know whether it was or not. But the thing that struck me as so interesting is that apparently all the reporters and all the Democrats who have been so outraged at this immediately thought of Barack Obama.

Why would they think of Barack Obama if, in fact, Obama wasn't one of those people talking like that?

And if memory serves me correctly, in some of the early debates with Senator Clinton, Senator Obama did talk about going to countries like Iran and sitting down personally and talking with the leaders. I can't remember his exact words. But that's certainly the impression that I got.

BLITZER: I don't remember he said he would go there, but he said he would meet in his first year as president with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea.

Here was his response today to the president's remarks in Jerusalem: "It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel and Israel's independence to launch a false political attack. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally, Israel."

What do you think of his reaction?

KYL: Well, that's a pretty political statement, too. And I'm reminded of Shakespeare -- me think he doth protest too much.

Why would he think that the president was talking about him?

BLITZER: Because White House officials were telling reporters that the president was, perhaps, suggesting that this was a direct response to what you just alluded to, Barack Obama's statement he's willing to sit down with leaders of Iran and North Korea and Venezuela.

KYL: Well, that's my point. You can't very well claim that the president surely couldn't be talking about you because you would never do such a thing or contend that it's improper to criticize someone for doing that. I mean either you think it's OK to do it or you don't. And I haven't heard Barack Obama say I was wrong when I originally said that I would sit down with these leaders and that I would talk with them.

BLITZER: But I guess the point they're making is that the Bush administration right now sitting down with these leaders. In North Korea, they've been talking to North Korean officials over the nuclear weapons program they had. U.S. officials in Baghdad have been meeting with Iranian representatives, trying to ease the situation in Iraq right now.

What's wrong with having a dialogue with countries that the United States strongly disagrees with?

KYL: In certain circumstances, Wolf, as you know, obviously there's nothing wrong with sitting down with people with whom you have very grave disagreements in foreign policy matters, if you think you can accomplish something, if it's not necessarily a matter of negotiation, but a matter, in the case of our discussion with the Iranians, letting them know in no uncertain terms that we don't appreciate their involvement in Iraq, where they're literally involved in the training and the supplying of terrorists who are killing Americans.

So there are -- there is a purpose sometimes in talking to people. It's quite another thing for the president of the United States to sit down and have such a conversation. Those kind of things have to happen very -- in fact, I think Senator Clinton herself was critical of Senator Obama, suggesting some naivete in the way that he suggested he would do it.

There are times when these kinds of conversations are appropriate. There are times when they are not. I think the other thing the president was saying is that just sitting down and talking with someone like Ahmadinejad, someone who has called Israel names that I won't repeat on television, with the idea that somehow you're going to persuade him to a different point of view is probably naive.

BLITZER: Do you think that Barack Obama is qualified to be commander-in-chief?

KYL: No, I don't. But I'm a Republican. I'm a very strong supporter of Senator McCain. I do not believe that he would be the best person to serve as the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Do you think Hillary Clinton is qualified to be commander-in-chief?

KYL: I think she has more experience than Senator Obama. You know, every member of the U.S. Senate thinks they'd be qualified to be president. And certainly we could call do the job. But I think some could do it a lot better than others. And I go with the man that has the experience and the proven leadership, my colleague, John McCain.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl of Arizona, thanks for coming in.

KYL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It may bring votes, but John Hagee's endorsement is also bringing John McCain lots of headaches. Now, Pastor Hagee is expressing regret for one of his most controversial remarks. You're going to find out what he's saying today and with whom he's meeting.

And a woman now charged in connection with a suicide some say she instigated over the Internet. You're going to find out how she may have broken the law setting up a MySpace account. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, House Republicans protesting and ultimately defeating a $163 billion war spending bill. One hundred thirty-two GOP lawmakers simply voted "present," allowing them to oppose the bill while not going on record as denying war funding and sending the measure down 149-141. Republicans objecting the measure's Democratic provisions, including increased veterans education benefits and extending unemployment benefits.

New developments in a case involving the Internet and suicide. A 49-year-old Missouri woman faces federal charges for allegedly setting up a fake MySpace account, posing as a 16-year-old boy and carrying on a flirty correspondence with a 13-year-old peer of her daughter's before abruptly ending it. A final message told the girl the world would better off without her. The girl's parents say that prompted the girl to kill herself.

The high price of gas may be keeping a lot of people from traveling this Memorial Day. AAA is forecasting a small decline, not quite 1 percent. But it is significant because the last time we saw a drop in Memorial Day travel was in the aftermath of 9/11.

And take a look at this -- ants, tens of millions of ants swarming in the Houston area. The little pests have been nicknamed crazy raspberry ants and they love electrical equipment. Swarms of them are blamed for shorting out electrical boxes, fouling computers and even causing the alarms to malfunction. Experts suspect the ants arrived in Texas on a cargo ship from somewhere.

And they won't get back on and go back where they came from, either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Oh, terrible.

All right, Carol, thank you.

John McCain looks into the future in a remarkable speech. For a short time today, McCain asked us to imagine the year 2013. We're going to show you how McCain's vision measures up with reality and how it compares to Barack Obama's policies.

And a pastor expresses regret for calling the Catholic Church -- and I'm quoting now -- "the great whore.

Is it enough, though, to take the heat off John McCain's campaign?

There are new developments today. Plus, California's landmark gay marriage ruling -- you're going to find out how it could impact the rest of the nation.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Myanmar's military rulers are vowing to punish anyone caught hoarding aid meant for cyclone survivors, something the junta there itself is suspected of doing. Human Rights Watch says countries delivering aid should insist on monitoring shipments.

Hezbollah is lifting its blockade to the road to Beirut's main airport and the group is promising to end blockades of the government buildings if progress is made toward filling the country's presidency, which has been empty since last year.

And an American Jewish billionaire questioned by Israeli police as part of the corruption probe into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Slim Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham calls allegations he made illegal campaign contributions to Olmert insulting.

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

John McCain looked into the crystal ball today. The presumptive Republican nominee imagined life after four years in a McCain White House.

Brian Todd is imaging that, as well. He's looking into this story.

A very different kind of political speech we heard today from McCain.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've never heard anything like it before, Wolf.

Important to note, though, John McCain said he's not guaranteeing that all these things are going to happen. These are the things he wants to achieve, things that he thinks can happen in his administration in the first term.

So we thought it would be worth it to compare that with what Barack Obama's ideas are on the same topics, specifically regarding national security, because those are where John McCain's most bold projections come in.

On the issue of capturing bin Laden, John McCain said by 2013, he believes bin Laden will be captured or killed under his watch.

How about Barack Obama?

The same thing. His top national security aide told us they believe firmly they can get bin Laden, capture him or kill him by 2013.

On the issue of terrorist attacks, John McCain says by the end of his first term, no terrorist attacks will have occurred on U.S. soil since September 11 of 2001.

We asked Barack Obama's people the same thing. The same response. They firmly believe no terrorist attacks will have occurred on U.S. soil. But they're going a step further. They say that they are going to try to lockdown all loose nuclear weapons by that time. They believe they'll do it, so that they can assure that there will be no nuclear attacks by that time.

Also, on troop strength in Iraq, a real point of difference here. John McCain says most troops will be home by the end of his first term.

Barack Obama's plan is much more ambitious, the time line much quicker. All combat brigades will be withdrawn, he says, within the first 16 months of when he takes office. So he plans to bring the troops home much, much sooner.

On the overall war in Iraq and how it's going to end, John McCain says the war in Iraq will be won by the end of his first term -- again, not guaranteeing. He's projecting. He wants to do this. And he says Iraq can and should, will be a functioning democracy.

Now this is where Barack Obama really hits some points of nuance. We asked his campaign several times, does he believe the war will be won?

They said there are no good options here, but they're not saying it cannot be won. They say it can only be won if the U.S. pursues what they call "a diplomatic surge" and if U.S. leaders pressure Iraqi leaders to come up with a political solution.

And we also drilled down on McCain projections with some outside analysts, who told us what they think is realistic and what's not.


TODD (voice-over): It's January 2013 and John McCain believes he's made some remarkable gains in his first term. The Taliban threat in Afghanistan has not been eliminated but...

MCCAIN: The increase in actionable intelligence that the counter-insurgency produced led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants.

TODD: Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen doesn't count that among McCain's more realistic predictions.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Maybe some key lieutenants but Bin Laden himself is not making the kinds of mistakes that get people caught or killed. And he hasn't -- we haven't had actual information on where Bin Laden is since the battle of Torah Bora in 2001. TODD: Bergen points out president Bush has said the U.S. and its allies would get Bin Laden but put no timetable on it and Mr. Bush has access to daily intelligence reports. Another prediction for the war on terror at the end of a first McCain term?

MCCAIN: There still, still has not been a major terrorist attack on the United States since September 11, 2001.

TODD: That Bergen says is more plausible.

BERGEN: The American public is more vigilant. The United States government made it safer. It's much harder to get into the United States if you're a terrorist. Al Qaeda isn't the same organization it was on September 11, 2001, even though it has resurged recently.

TODD: McCain says he's not giving a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. But he says by January 2013 most of them will have been brought home and --

MCCAIN: The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension.

TODD: Analyst Doug McGregor, a decorated combat veteran says for victory to be achieved several other complications have to be ironed out.

COL. DOUGLAS MCGREGOR (RET.), MILITARY ANALYST: Winning from the United States vantage point really consists of coming to arrangements with Iraq's neighbors. Concerning what will happen in that country when we leave it. That's the most important thing.


TODD: McGregor says making those arrangements with Iraq's neighbors is possible because he says they all have an interest in a secure and stable Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, good reporting. Thanks very much for that.

Candidates hope endorsements will bring them votes but for John McCain one endorsement has brought a lot of headaches, at least so far. That would be the endorsement of the evangelist Pastor John Hagee.

Mary Snow is looking into the story.

There are new developments. Mary, what's going on today?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, John Hagee is here in New York. This afternoon he held a private meeting, no cameras in his latest effort to make peace with Catholics.


MCCAIN: I'm very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement today.

SNOW: Three months later fall out continues over televangelist John Hagee's endorsement of John McCain. Hagee met today with one of his most vocal Catholic critics after making comments like this about the Catholic Church.

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, TELEVANGELIST: This is the great whore of Revelation 17.

SNOW: Catholic League blasted Hagee and put pressure on McCain over the endorsement but the league's president called a truce after Hagee wrote a letter to, "express my deep regret for me comments Catholics have found hurtful," saying he has "an improved understanding of the Catholic Church."

BILL DONOHUE, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Yes. I absolutely accept his apology and I think it's -- it took a lot of courage to right what he did.

SNOW: Senator McCain called the apology laudable.

MCCAIN: As I've said many times I accepted his endorsement. I didn't endorse everything that he said. The point is that the fact that he has made an apology I think is very helpful.

SNOW: Another Catholic group says it welcomes Hagee's apology but --

JAMES SALT, CATHOLICS UNITED: The problem is that there's been a long standing pattern of a sense of problematic rhetoric from John Hagee.

SNOW: Like suggesting hurricane Katrina was punishment from God because of a gay pride parade.

HAGEE: I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.

SNOW: Last month Hagee said he shouldn't have suggested knowing the mind of God concerning Katrina. McCain called Hagee's Katrina comments nonsense. In an interview with ABC McCain said Hagee's endorsement was probably a mistake. Why did he seek it?

One political observer said Hagee has followers McCain needs.

CHARLES DUNN, REGENT UNIVERSITY: He probably has the staunchest pro-Israel position among American Protestants.


SNOW: And Regent University professor Chuck Dunn adds that John McCain wants to solidify support from evangelicals who are staunchly pro-Israel. The question is though, will the Hagee flap alienate other voters -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Mary, thank you.

Mary Snow with this part of the story.

President Bush criticizes Barack Obama's views on dealing with foreign powers. How different is it from what the U.S. does right now? We're going to have a fact check coming up, the combination of diplomacy and toughness that makes up America's current policy.

CNN crews reach an area of China cut off by the earthquake. The disaster flattened an entire town. It's something you're only going to see here.

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


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story right now. Democrats furious over the president's suggestion in Jerusalem today that those Democrats might be soft on terror.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's got a reality check for us.

What's going on, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while President Bush is denouncing appeasement and negotiating with terrorists, his own lieutenants are reaching out to America's foes like Iran, like North Korea both those countries on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.


VERJEE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is ready to talk.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And I will meet with my Iranian counterpart any time, anywhere.

VERJEE: But, she says, one condition. Only if Iran stops enriching uranium, a key step toward a nuclear bomb.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, "We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage, then sit down and talk to them." Under pressure, U.S. officials have met face to face with Iranians in Baghdad three times about Iraq. The U.S. wants Iran to stop arming militias that kill U.S. troops.

On Iran's nuclear program right now, it's carrots and sticks. The U.S. and its allies are about to give Iran's leaders new incentives they hope will bring Iran to the table. The U.S. is also squeezing Iran, international sanctions, and pressuring banks worldwide not to do business with Iran.

Meanwhile, Secretary Rice just swore in the highest ranking Iranian American at the state department whose job is to increase exchanges with all countries, including Iran.

U.S. wrestlers have gone to Iran. The Iranian weight lifting team was in Colorado.

GOLI AMERI, ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: My hope is that the more people get to understand each other the more that will have a ripple effect on policy especially with regards to the Iranian regime.


VERJEE: Top U.S. officials have also gone to Pyongyang, Wolf, in North Korea to negotiate and verify that North Korea lives up to its end of the deal to end and dismantle its nuclear program.

Wolf, there's one important distinction here. The U.S. is willing to engage with some of these countries but not willing to engage at all with groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now -- some more insight on this political firestorm. And joining us now, our world affairs analyst, Fareed Zakaria. He's got a brand-new book out entitled "The Post American World." It's already a best seller.

Fareed, thanks for coming in.

FAREED ZAKARIA, WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: What do you make of what President Bush said on this the 60th anniversary of Israel regarding those who say the U.S. should be sitting down with leaders like those leaders in Iran and making the comparison to appeasement and the Nazis leading up to World War II.

ZAKARIA: It was an extraordinarily political statement to make at an event like that. I was actually quite struck by it. It's also somewhat a historical. The president has authorized American diplomats to talk to the Iranians in Iraq. They talked to them in Afghanistan. They talked to them in Bonn, Germany, during the founding of the afghan government during which the Iranians and Americans worked together. The president's own secretary of defense is right now arguing that we should be talking to the Iranians.

So in that context to make that kind of characterization and to call it appeasement, tied to Hitler or talking to Hitler was striking. And it seemed to me very political.

BLITZER: It was widely seen as a slap at Barack Obama who's said repeatedly if as president he had the opportunity, he would sit down with these leaders of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and others. Here's how John McCain reacted today to what the president said in Jerusalem.


MCCAIN: Why does Barack Obama, Senator Obama, want to sit down with a state sponsor of terrorism? What does he want to talk about with -- with Ahmadinejad who said that Israel is a stinking corpse?


BLITZER: He minced no words at all. What do you think about that?

ZAKARIA: He's a candidate. He's running for president. That's fine.

I think it is, again, ahistorical. We talked to the Soviet Union and China while they were forming revolutions all over the world and most recently, let's remember, that David Petraeus has talked to the Sunni insurgents and terrorists who are killing Americans only months earlier. And that a large part of the success of the surge has been the willingness of Petraeus and the American military to talk to the people who they once called terrorists and insurgents.

BLITZER: You raised serious questions about McCain's foreign policy. You wrote this, referring to a speech he gave, "It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years, yet almost no one noticed."

What were you referring to?

ZAKARIA: McCain gave a speech in which he said that the United States should mount a campaign to kick Russia out of the G8, to then expand the G8, the group of industrial nations, to include Brazil and India but not China. And it struck me that this policy of effectively drawing a line and creating a kind of new cold war between the United States on the one hand and China and Russia was really unprecedented. No one had ever proposed something like this before.

BLITZER: Is it dangerous?

ZAKARIA: Well, it means that we are returning to a world of great power tension. If you think about the world we've lived in for the last 20 years, you know a fair amount of global peace, stability and prosperity, it would mean a very different world.

BLITZER: So it would be a resumption of the cold war. That's what you're saying.

ZAKARIA: It would be a resumption of the cold war except this time an economy growing three times as fast as the United States in China's case and in Russia's case with one of the largest oil producers in the world.

BLITZER: Tell us about "The Post American World."

ZAKARIA: I was struck when traveling around the world, Wolf, by the way in which the debate in America and outside is so different. We are still talking about anti-Americanism. You know, one side says it's a huge problem. We've got to woo back the world. The other side says they'll hate anyway.

The world, I noticed, has sort of moved on. They were in a post American phase in the sense they were far more interested in the amazing things happening around the world. What I call the rise of the rest, the rise of 124 countries around the world growing at 4 percent a year. And that economic growth is giving them political confidence. So it's a real mismatch. We don't notice that the world is moving to a very different place in which we are not the dominant.

BLITZER: What is the single most important thing you recommend the U.S. needs to do.

ZAKARIA: I think what we need to do is really come to grips with the fact that the world is changing, the power is shifting, and that we should embrace that phenomenon rather than fight it.

BLITZER: By doing what?

ZAKARIA: We need to bring countries like Russia and China into this global system so that we stabilize it because if they grow strong and outside of it, and I mean all the institutions of global power and patronage, if they grow outside of it the whole system is going to get much weaker. Right now we are still very jealously guarding our spot rather than thinking about what's going to create greater stability.

BLITZER: It sounds like you believe McCain doesn't have -- isn't on board, this vision that you have. But do the Democratic candidates, specifically Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, do they understand what's going on?

ZAKARIA: Obama seems to understand what's going on. I can't tell whether he would actually implement the kind of policies you would need.

It's a big shift for the United States. It really means trying to recognize that our role now is to try and build a kind of global order where we're not necessarily at the center. We'll do fine, by the way. We will be the kind of central pivot. But we won't by the dominant hedge.

McCain I fear, while a very intelligent man I have a lot of respect for has kind of reverted to a very bellicose foreign policy that seems to be doubling down on every bad bet that George Bush has made.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Post American World." The author is Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The major decision by California Supreme Court could wind up impacting the entire nation. While this ruling on gay marriage is historic.

What really happened at the Democratic national convention? You'll be able to watch a lot more of it this year. That story and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: California is now the second state in the United States to legalize same sex marriage. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way ruling a seven-year-old ban unconstitutional.

Let's turn to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's watching this story for us.

I think it's fair to say it's caught a lot of people by surprise today?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sure did, Wolf. No one knew exactly what to expect today. The court went further than many legal observes thought it would, especially because this court has a pretty conservative reputation.


ARENA (voice-over): It was a stunning ruling from a state with a history of legal trail blazing. California's Supreme Court said it's a basic civil right to marry someone you love whether gay or straight.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D), SAN FRANCISCO: It's about human dignity. It's about civil rights. It's about time.

ARENA: California's just the second state after Massachusetts to allow same sex couples to get a civil marriage license and receive the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.

SUSAN LOW BLOCH, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ANALYST: It can have an impact on state law. It can have an impact on other states recognizing the marriage. So it actually can have real legal consequences. I think it also has very important symbolic consequences because they're not being treated like second class citizens.

ARENA: The ruling does not entitle same sex couples to federal benefits such as Social Security but the decision is likely to have a profound effect on the national debate. Not least because about one in ten Americans live in the golden state.

MATT BARBER, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: Well, you know, they say as goes California so goes the nation. And I think there's no doubt that this will have a sweeping political impact.

ARENA: Conservatives say the ruling should mobilize the base of the Republican Party. And that they'll push even harder for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

BARBER: Judicial activism has been growing in recent years and that's exactly what this is. This is just a brazen act of judicial activism. It's absurd.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ARENA: The court did go farther than any of the politicians running for president. All three believe that marriage should be reserved for men and women, though the Democrats support civil unions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kelli, for that.

Time now to go back to Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Question this hour is: Should Republicans facing congressional races in November run away from or run with John McCain.

We begin with Dori who lives in Arizona: "I live in a Republican state, John McCain's state. Don't like what the Republicans have done for or to us. Don't like McCain or his duplicitous wife. See his blasting of Obama for being willing to sit down with the enemies of the country as a reflection of McCain's own cowardess. Enough said."

Friend writes: "Run away from him if they plan on continuing in office for more than one term. Besides, if on the rare chance both Senator McCain and they are elected, they can look forward to four years of embarrassment by an aging senator who seems to border on dementia. For example, this morning after watching Senator McCain hold forth on his utopian vision of how the world will be after his first term in office, I realized there was no suggestion as to how he was going to accomplish any of what he was talking about."

Robert in New Jersey: "After his chicken in every pot, car in every garage fantasy speech today regarding what he sees as his accomplishments after first four years, run is not the word."

Randy in Elmira, New York: "There's no question they have to run with him. The Republican Party is not going to disappear after November. They are in a bad way now but they can certainly change. McCain's a Republican's best hope for re-election. If he can swing voters his way his coat tails might be longer than we think."

Tom in Texas: "McCain, all aboard the good ship titanic. Lifetime employment opportunities overseas, travel, see the world. Welcome to Iraq."

If you didn't see you e-mail here, go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

President Bush's appeasement slam against Barack Obama. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and former Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is calling that outrageous along with a word we can't use on TV. Senator Biden is standing by live to join us.

An entire city of 60,000 people gone after the killer earthquake in China. We're going to have an update from our reporter deep in the disaster zone.

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


BLITZER: Fifty thousand dead. China's news agency is reporting the toll from Monday's massive earthquake could soon reach that staggering number.

CNN's John Vause walked and hitchhiked almost 20 miles to reach one of the hardest hit towns where he found a scene of utter heartbreak. We want to warn our viewers his report contains some disturbing images.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This city was once home to 20,000 people. Now there's only utter devastation. It's not confirmed, but word here is only 5,000 residents have survived.

This man and his sister are looking for their mother. The neighbors called out for her yesterday, and she answered, he says. But today, there is only silence. So they sit there on the sidewalk.

At the end of their street, there's a pile of rubble three stories high, all that's left of an apartment block on one side, an office building on the other.

From a distance the entire city looks as if the next aftershock might bring it all crashing down. Almost every building here has either been destroyed or is badly damaged. The injured are stretched out through the hills. No vehicles can make it in.

When the quake hit, this woman was shopping. She says the ground started to shake. She ran and fell. That's all she remembers before being pulled from the rubble more than three days later.

At the local middle school, there's a steady stream of tragedy. Parents wait, hoping each dead body is not their child. They're just teenagers on the stretchers; the frozen expression on their face is of pain and fear.

Chen Ying has been here since the earthquake destroyed this five story building. She watches and waits for her daughter. I just want to see her, she told me. If she's dead, I just want to see her body.

No one knows how many students are still buried beneath the rubble, how many are alive and how many are dead. Some of the bodies were found embracing each other. Others were huddled underneath desks with their hands over their heads as if protecting themselves from the falling debris.

With each stretcher, the quake's death toll gross ever higher. Authorities believe it could reach 50,000. 50,000 times there will be anguish like this. She just saw her daughter's body being carried away. John Vause, CNN, China.