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McCain's Plan for Osama bin Laden; Interview With John McCain

Aired July 25, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, one of them will be the next president of the United States. Both of them join us today in THE SITUATION ROOM.
John McCain makes a flat-out vow, telling me U.S. troops will leave Iraq, never to return. Barack Obama says more troops are needed in Afghanistan. And he says U.S. security and the U.S. economy depend right now on America's allies.

We'll have one-on-one interviews with both candidates.

And an airliner rips open in flight. Passengers hear a loud noise, the oxygen masks drop, as the pilot makes an urgent dash for an emergency landing. We have details.

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

An extraordinary day here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Interviews with both major presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the economy. A sharp exchange of ideas on the critical issues that will affect you for years to come.

Just a short while ago, Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain told me he'd bring Osama bin Laden to justice, suggesting perhaps even some sort of internationally-backed tribunal. In a lightning rod issue for Israelis and Palestinians, he said flatly he'd move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And McCain vows U.S. troops will leave Iraq victorious, and for good.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama has said there's a possibility under his plan we may have to go back. I guarantee you, after they withdraw under what we are doing, we'll never have to go back.


BLITZER: Barack Obama, who's argued from the start that the Iraq war was a mistake, wants to redouble U.S. efforts right now in Afghanistan, where commanders are urgently calling for help.

Obama spoke with CNN's Candy Crowley.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We definitely are going to need a couple of additional brigades. Every commander that I spoke to in Afghanistan confirmed the need for more troops. It's a vast country.


OBAMA: A couple brigades from the United States to begin with. What we need in addition is not only more NATO troops -- and keep in mind that the Germans, for example, are sending additional troops, another 1,000 troops that will be helpful -- we also need to make sure that the rules of engagement for those troops are such where they can carry some of the load in terms of fighting.


BLITZER: We're going to be bringing you the full interviews with both of these presumptive nominees, including iReport questions posed by you, our viewers.

But first, just what does John McCain mean when he says he'll bring Osama bin Laden to justice?


BLITZER: If you capture him alive, what do you do with him?

MCCAIN: Of course, you put him on trial. I mean, there are -- there are ample precedents for that. And it might be a good thing to reveal to the world the enormity of this guy's crimes and his intentions, which are still there. And he's working night and day to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

BLITZER: Do you do him a regular civilian trial here in the United States? Or is it a war crimes tribunal, a military commission? What kind of legal justice would you bring him toward?

MCCAIN: We have various options. But the Nuremberg trials are certainly an example of the kind of tribunal that we could move forward with. I don't think we would have any difficulty devising an internationally-supported mechanism that would mete out justice. And there's no problem there.


BLITZER: All right. In a few moments we're going to be playing the full interview with Senator McCain.

But let's bring in our Chief National Correspondent John King.

When you hear him talking about Osama bin Laden, and some sort of perhaps international tribunal, what do you think?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the campaign trail when he brings up Osama bin Laden, Wolf, John McCain says, "I will get him if I have to follow him to the gates of hell." It is a huge applause line for John McCain. What he said right there not likely to influence the election. This is an election about the economy, about the Iraq war. You just had both candidates. But this is the kind of thing that makes some conservatives nervous about John McCain.

They like the fact that he said "Nuremberg trial." If you're going to have an international tribunal, not the existing structures now, the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, because neoconservatives, especially, think those bodies are bureaucratic nightmares that give the defendant way too many rights, too easy to delay the trials on and on and on.

So, I made some phone calls after you told me he said that in the interview, and several people said, why would you outsource this? Osama bin Laden was responsible for a deadly criminal attack -- attacks, plural -- on the United States, have the trial here. But the use of the Nuremberg trial keeps the conservatives from going crazy about something like this.

BLITZER: Because in Western Europe, they don't even -- they don't even have the death penalty over there in Europe, at least in most parts of Europe.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: Also, a very sensitive issue, you and I have covered it for many years, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv. The U.S. has always had its embassy in Tel Aviv, going back to 1948, when Israel was established. But McCain is saying flat out that if he's president of the United States, he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

I asked him, "How soon would you do that? When would you do that?" He said right away. Now, this is in contrast to what Senator Obama said the other day when he was asked about it. He said he didn't want to speculate about moving the embassy.

How's this going to play out?

KING: It's a fascinating issue, because you remember in our days covering the White House, it is the official policy of the government that the embassy will move to Jerusalem. But then every year, or every six months, the president has to sign a waiver saying, leave it in Tel Aviv for now, because of the sensitive politics. Moving it would infuriate the Arab world.

Short of a settlement, a comprehensive settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israelis and other Arab neighbors, moving it would be a huge diplomatic firestorm. So, for McCain to say this decisively, immediately, there's no question, it will generate favorable headlines in Israel, it might generate favorable headlines among Jewish-Americans, and that could be part of the political play here. But it will be controversial in diplomatic circles, where they say that's the kind of unilateral statement a president should not make, leave it up to the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians first. BLITZER: Because there would be an uproar in the Arab world. The Saudis, among others, would presumably react very angrily, although McCain has taken this position I think repeatedly over the years.

All right. The full interview coming up.

John, thanks very much.

To show he has the foreign policy credentials to be president, Barack Obama has been on a whirlwind tour that's taken him from Afghanistan through Iraq and the Middle East, and on to Europe. He took time out today for a one-on-one interview with our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

You're going to hear that interview. That's coming up. But Candy has a little preview right now.

CROWLEY: Wolf, we covered a number of subjects with Barack Obama: why didn't he spend more time with Palestinians, what sort of help would he ask NATO for should he become president and want to bolster forces in Afghanistan? We also asked the number one question that some people in the U.S. have been asking, what's he doing so far from the campaign trail?


OBAMA: Well, it's very specific. If we have more NATO troops in Afghanistan, then that's potentially fewer American troops over the long term, which means that we're spending fewer billions of dollars, which means we can invest those billions of dollars in making sure that we're providing tax cuts to middle class families who are struggling with higher gas prices. If we've got serious commitments from Europeans to deal with these energy issues in the same ways that we need to deal with them, that will have an impact on our economy.

Issues of trade, issues of the economy, all these issues are now connected in this globalized economy. And so -- but I also wouldn't underestimate the degree to which people in Ohio or people in Michigan or people in Missouri recognize that our long-term safety and our long-term security is going to depend on how we can interact with key allies. And, you know, it's amazing how often I get questions from people about, when are we going to be able to reassert respect in the world? And that's part of the message that we're sending here.


CROWLEY: Obama was not nearly as chatty about political issues. We asked him about speakers at the convention, how he planned to put it together. He said the details haven't been finalized yet.

We also asked him when we might see that VP choice. Again, nothing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

And the full interview, Candy's full interview with Senator Obama, that's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hundreds of ships trapped in the Mississippi River right now because of one accident and a massive fuel spill. Why this collision is costing the American economy hundreds of millions of dollars.

Troops dying in Iraq, not from battle, but from electrocution on base. Today, the head of one major contractor is answering questions on Capitol Hill.

And your questions for Senator John McCain. You're going to hear his answers coming up next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, do you agree with, or will you unequivocally reject and repudiate, the Bush doctrine of preemptive war?



BLITZER: Not one, but two presumptive nominees today in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll hear from Senator Barack Obama later.

First, to John McCain, with a bold vow that U.S. troops will leave Iraq and never have to return, and a strong hint as to how he'd bring Osama bin Laden to justice. And he takes questions from you. Some of our viewers submitted iReports of questions they want answered.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

Senator McCain, welcome back.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be back.

BLITZER: Let's talk about you're elected president of the United States. It's January 20, 2009. First day you're in the Oval Office. After you're sworn in, what's the first thing you do?

MCCAIN: You sit down with your national security advisers and say, how can we keep the peace in the world, what do we need to do, and what actions do we have to take, what actions have worked, which ones haven't, which policies haven't worked? And keep this nation safe and secure.

And then, of course, how do we restore trust and confidence in government? We've got to take some measures to reform the way that government does business, the way Congress does business, and get Americans' trust and confidence back in this country. And that means -- and their government -- and that means reforming the way the government does business, which Americans have lost trust and confidence in.

BLITZER: And what about what a lot of people call issue #1, the domestic economy, which seems to be in real serious trouble right now and, by almost all accounts, will still be in serious trouble in January of next year? What's the first thing you do on the economy?

MCCAIN: Restrain spending is the first thing we have to do. We have to restrain out-of-control spending.

We have to reform government. We have to embark on measures to keep people in their homes, to keep their taxes low, to create new jobs, and to get our economy back moving again. And that's part of the trust and confidence.

We've got to regain the trust and confidence of the American people, because we have to act together. We have to put our country first.

The Congress and the government is fundamentally gridlocked, as we know. And that's why we see the all-time low approval ratings of Congress. And so we have to sit down together, Republican and Democrat together, and start working for the good of this nation.

Keep people in their homes, provide them with affordable and available health care, create new jobs all across this country. And we can do it.

And one of the major, major aspects of this, of course, is energy independence. The price of a gallon of gas is killing, is harming fixed-income Americans very badly. They are the ones that drive the oldest automobiles and drive the furthest. And so we have to have this positive movement and mission, a national mission, to become independent of foreign oil.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get to all those issues one by one. Let's talk a little bit about some national security issues.

You're president of the United States. You vowed that you will capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Now, we know that President Bush, since 9/11, has been doing the best he can. What would you do differently?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm not going to telegraph a lot of the things that I'm going to do, because then it might compromise our ability to do so. But look, I know the area. I've been there. I know wars, I know how to win wars, and I know how to improve our capabilities so that we will capture Osama bin Laden, or put it this way, bring him to justice.

We can do it. I know how to do it.

BLITZER: If you capture him alive, what do you do with him?

MCCAIN: Of course you put him on trial. I mean, there are ample precedents for that. And it might be a good thing to reveal to the world the enormity of this guy's crimes and his intentions, which are still there, and he's working night and day to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

BLITZER: Do you do him a regular civilian trial here in the United States, or is it a war crimes tribunal, a military commission? What kind of legal justice would you bring him toward?

MCCAIN: We have various options. But the Nuremberg trials are certainly an example of the kind of tribunal that we could move forward with. I don't think we would have any difficulty devising an international -- an internationally-supported mechanism that would mete out justice. And there's no problem there.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the war in Iraq right now.

Charles Krauthammer, "The Washington Post" conservative columnist, he writes that the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, in recent days "... voted for Obama, casting the earliest and most ostentatious absentee ballot of this presidential election."

If you were president, and Nuri al-Maliki is still the elected prime minister of Iraq, and he says he wants all U.S. troops out, what do you do?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I know Prime Minister Maliki rather well. I know that he is a politician. And I know that they are looking at upcoming elections.

I know that he knows, and the other leaders know there, that it has to be condition-based. Any withdrawals -- which we will withdraw. We have succeeded. The surge has succeeded, and we're on the road to victory.

And we will be out of there. And we may have a residual presence of some kind, as I've always said, but the fact is, the surge has succeeded.

And the fundamental here is that I supported that surge when it was not the popular thing to do. Senator Obama opposed it, said it wouldn't work, even voted to cut off the funds for the men and women who are fighting over there, and still -- and he still doesn't understand to the point where he doesn't agree that the surge has succeeded.

No rational observer who sees the conditions in Iraq today as opposed to two years ago could possibly -- could possibly conclude that the surge hasn't succeeded. So he sees it as a political issue. He doesn't understand the importance of this victory and the consequences of failure and the benefits of success.

If we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do, which by the way, initially would have been the troops out last March, we would have had greater Iranian influence, we would have had an increase in sectarian violence. We would have seen possibly a wider war in the region which would have drawn us back. So I can assure you that Prime Minister Maliki understands that conditions have to be kept. And I want to tell you again, General Petraeus, one of the great generals in history, strongly disagrees with Senator Obama, and our highest ranking military officer also says it would be a very dangerous course.

We're not going to go down that road.

BLITZER: But if Maliki persists, you're president and he says he wants U.S. troops out and he wants them out, let's say, in a year or two years or 16 months or whatever, what do you do? Do you just listen to the prime minister?

MCCAIN: He won't. He won't.

BLITZER: How do you know?

MCCAIN: Because he knows it has to be conditions-based.

BLITZER: How do you know that?

MCCAIN: Because I know him. And I know him very well. And I know the other leaders. And I know -- I've been there eight times, as you know. And I know them very, very well.

And the point is...

BLITZER: So why do you think he said that 16 months is basically a pretty good timetable?

MCCAIN: He said it's a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground. I think it's a pretty good timetable, as we should -- our horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground.

This success is very fragile. It's incredibly impressive, but very fragile.

So we know, those of us who have been involved in it for many years, know that if we reverse this by setting a date for withdrawal, all the hard-won victory can be reversed. We're not ready to do that. Too many brave young Americans and their families have sacrificed too much.

But we will be out. And the difference is, we'll be out with victory and honor and not defeat.

Senator Obama has said there's a possibility under his plan we may have to go back. I guarantee you, after they withdraw under what we are doing, we'll never have to go back.


BLITZER: John McCain also makes some controversial comments during our one-on-one interview.


BLITZER: If you were president, would you move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?



MCCAIN: Right away.


BLITZER: Up next, the flash point issue involving U.S. diplomacy in Israel. And he's answering your questions also about what he would do to keep the U.S. safe from attack.

Much more of the interview with Senator McCain coming up.

Plus, Barack Obama canceled plans to visit wounded troops in Germany. Now bloggers are going wild. Obama's campaign is explaining.

We'll have a report. That's coming up as well.

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


BLITZER: Remember our interview with Senator Barack Obama, that's still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A special day here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Both of these presidential candidates speaking to CNN, and a sharp dispute between the nominees-in-waiting over Iraq.

Let's get back to my one-on-one interview with Republican Senator John McCain, which also includes some on-camera questions you've submitted to the senator through our iReports.

Take a look.


BLITZER: You also made a very serious charge against Senator Obama. You've repeated it, you say you stand by it, that he would rather lose a war to win a political campaign. Raising questions about, you know, his motives.

Joe Klein, writing in "TIME" magazine, says, "This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation."

Those are pretty strong words from Joe Klein, whom you obviously know.

But tell us, what are you charging? What are you accusing Obama of doing? MCCAIN: I am accusing -- I am stating the facts. And the facts are, that I don't question Senator Obama's patriotism. I'm sure that he's a very patriotic American. I question his judgment because he lacks experience and knowledge, and I question his judgment.

I'm not prepared to see the sacrifice of so many brave young Americans lost because Senator Obama just views this war as another political issue which he can change positions. And everybody knows that he was able to obtain the nomination of his party by appealing to the far left and committing to a course of action that I believe was -- I know was wrong, because he said the surge would not work. He said had wouldn't succeed.

No rational observer in Iraq today believes that the surge did not succeed. So he just treats it as another political issue because he doesn't understand, and he doesn't have the knowledge and the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary.

And this war has enormous ramifications. If we had lost it, we would have faced enormous challenges in the region, throughout the world, increased Iranian influence, perhaps even having to come back in a wider war. So he simply does not understand, and treats it as another political issue.

BLITZER: But he says that when it comes to judgment, back in 2002 and 2003, early 2003, before the war, he made the right call in opposing the war to begin with, and he says you blundered, you made the wrong call in supporting going to war against Saddam Hussein.

MCCAIN: I would be more than happy to go through all of that again, and historians will. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was bent on the development of weapons of mass destruction, and I'll be glad to discuss that.

The fact is, what did we do at a critical time when we were about to lose the war? We were losing the war.

Senator Obama wanted to get out, I wanted the surge, which was not popular. The surge works. And now what do we do in the future? Do we continue on the path to victory -- and we've succeeded -- or do we set a time for withdrawal and jeopardize and possibly reverse all the gains that we have made? That's the question on the minds of the American people today.

BLITZER: We invited our viewers, Senator McCain, to submit some video questions for you. Sort of our video version of a town hall meeting.

Jonathan Collins (ph) of Tampa, Florida, says he's very liberal, but he says he has no connections to either campaign. He asks this question -- I'll play it for you. Listen to this.


JONATHAN COLLINS, FLORIDA: Can you please, in layman's terms, so that the entire world will know when these events happen, we have won the war in Iraq. Can you please give us your definition.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator. I guess the question is, define...

MCCAIN: Sure. It's the classic...

BLITZER: Define victory in Iraq.

MCCAIN: Sure. It's the classic outcome of a successful counterinsurgency, which strategy is an effective government, a secure environment, a social, economic and political process that's moving forward. Very importantly, a legal system that is functioning to protect the rights of the people. Americans withdrawing, and the Iraqi people having a chance at freedom and democracy, which obviously they were never going to have under Saddam Hussein.

And we avoid the risk of a wider war. We reduce the influence of Iran in the region. We have a positive impact, even as far away as Afghanistan, because success breeds success.

But an Iraq that is a stable, normal country. And it's not over, as I said.

Al Qaeda is not defeated. They're on their heels, but they're not defeated. That's why we have a ways to go.

But the progress, by any parameter, has been dramatically good. And that's the path to victory in Iraq. And you can see it every single day in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, and around the country. And I say, thank God.

BLITZER: I have a bunch of short questions. Hopefully some short answers.

MCCAIN: Sure. Some short answers, OK.

BLITZER: We'll go through it, some straight talk. Some straight talk, as you like to do right now.

If Israel were to decide its existence or its security were threatened and bombed Iran's nuclear facilities, would U.S. presidents stand with Israel?

MCCAIN: I can only tell you, I will not discuss hypotheticals, and I can't.

But I can tell you this. The United States of America is committed to making sure that there's never a second Holocaust. That will be what I will do as president of the United States.

BLITZER: If you were president, would you move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?



MCCAIN: Right away.

BLITZER: Like as soon as you're inaugurated, right away, you would order the State Department to do that?


MCCAIN: I have been -- I have been committed to that proposition for years.

BLITZER: The -- we have this question from Robert Weisman of Skokie, Illinois. He considers him on the liberal side of the spectrum. But he asks this question. Listen to this.


ROBERT WEISMAN, ILLINOIS: Senator McCain, do you agree with or would you unequivocally reject and repudiate the Bush doctrine of preemptive war?


BLITZER: Did you hear that question?

MCCAIN: Well, that's -- that's -- yes, that's a very, very tough question. And it's based on the judgment of a commander in chief.

No nation can wait until it is attacked, when it is clear that there is going to be an impending attack from either a terrorist organization or a hostile nation. So, those kinds of judgments need to be made by -- by presidents.

And, again, you have to have the knowledge and the experience and the background to make those kinds of judgments. Do I favor preemptive war? Of course not. None of us do. But it's the first obligation of the president of the United States to secure our nation and make sure that we are not attacked, and American lives are lost or sacrificed.

So, that's why I said when you asked me earlier, what was my first thing I would do as president, and that's to make sure that everything has been done, and is being done, to secure America's safety and security.

BLITZER: All right, we have got a few more quick questions.


BLITZER: If you were president, would you take steps, would you work to repeal Roe v. Wade?

MCCAIN: I don't agree with the -- I don't agree with the decision. It's a decision that's there. I will appoint judges to the United States Supreme Court that -- that do enforce, strictly, the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench. BLITZER: Do you support a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States?

MCCAIN: Once we have secured the borders -- and I have not changed my position -- we tried twice in the United States Senate with comprehensive immigration reform, which meant securing our borders, a temporary worker program that works, and a path to citizenship for many, not all, but certainly many of the people who are already here illegally.

Americans want the borders secured first. We can do that. And we can establish a truly temporary worker program through the use of biometric tamper-proof documents. And we can put some people -- or a lot of them -- on the path to citizenship, requiring they pay fines, learn English, do all the things necessary, but the principle that they cannot have any priority of those who either waited or came to this country legally.

BLITZER: Given the high price of gas right now, you recently changed your position on offshore oil drilling. But you still oppose drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

If the price continues to go up, could you see yourself changing your mind on ANWR, as it's called?

MCCAIN: These are -- these are ways to attack a fundamental problem, as we all know, that are hurting Americans.

First, let's get offshore drilling going. Let's do it now. We can do it now. Oil company executives say that it could be as short a time as one to two years. Contrary to the belief of some, just the president's announcement of a lifting of the federal moratorium had an impact on the futures cost of a barrel of oil. Let's get going drilling offshore first, and let's do whatever's necessary, and that includes nuclear power, all -- both of which Senator Obama opposes.

BLITZER: You're in Colorado right now. They have an initiative on their ballot in November that would eliminate affirmative action. I don't know if you're familiar with that referendum, but is that a good idea?

MCCAIN: I'm not familiar with the referendum, Wolf. It's hard for me to say. I have always opposed quotas.

BLITZER: On the vice president front -- this is the final question, Senator -- there are stories out there you want to do this before the Olympic Games start in Beijing on August 8, and not wait any longer. Are those reports true?

MCCAIN: I can't comment on the process that we're going through. And I'm sure you understand that every -- every nominee of the party has gone through this. And I appreciate you asking the question, but I can't comment on the process. Thank you, though. And I know you understand.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Of course we understand. I'm not asking you to tell us who it is.


BLITZER: I'm just wondering of the timing of when you think we will know.

MCCAIN: Well, I, again, cannot comment on the process. And I apologize for being so obtuse.

BLITZER: Don't -- don't apologize.


BLITZER: You know, you have every right to be obtuse. You have every right to not answer. This is a free country, as you want.

Senator McCain, appreciate your time.

MCCAIN: But, on this -- but, on this one...

BLITZER: Go ahead.


But, you know, on this one, I'm sure you understand. I'm sure that our viewers understand that, when we start commenting, you really get on a slippery slope. And, sometimes, that's unfair to the people that are under consideration.

And I thank you for having me on, Wolf. This has been a very in- depth interview, and I appreciate the time.

BLITZER: We appreciate your joining us. And we hope you will join us again sooner, rather than later.


BLITZER: Good luck out there on the campaign trail, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


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

Happening now: our one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama, what he says about Senator McCain's criticism that he's doing a premature victory lap on his tour abroad.

Also, a frightening flight for a Qantas airliner packed with passengers. A hole the size of a small car rips open the cargo hold in midair, and the terrifying landing captured on tape.

And chasing drug smugglers on the high seas. Military ships race to keep drug money out of terrorists' hands.

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


BLITZER: A new controversy is swirling around Senator Barack Obama right now. It's all about what he did not do on his recent trip to Germany.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's got some details.

So, what's got the Obama campaign, Bill, on the defensive right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are some things you can do as a senator or as a citizen, but not as a candidate.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In what capacity did Barack Obama speak in Berlin?

OBAMA: Well, tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen, a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.

SCHNEIDER: A controversy broke out after Obama canceled plans to visit wounded members of the U.S. military in Germany. His campaign issued a statement saying, "The senator decided, out of respect for those service men and women, that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign."

The McCain campaign was quick to respond. "Barack Obama is wrong," the McCain spokesman said. "It is never inappropriate to visit our men and women in the military."

In fact, Obama did visit the troops elsewhere, with the congressional delegation, which he called the highlight of his trip.

OBAMA: Everywhere we went in Afghanistan and Iraq, they were just really eager to tell their story of what they were doing. And -- and it was moving.

SCHNEIDER: Bloggers immediately picked up on the canceled visit to the military hospital in Germany. An Obama adviser issued a statement that: "We learned from the Pentagon Wednesday night that the visit would be viewed instead as a campaign event. Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event."

A Pentagon spokesman says that Obama was welcome to go to the hospital as a sitting senator, not as a candidate. Asked why they canceled the visit, Obama's spokesman said: "He was far more willing to take the criticism from some political people or political opponents in a political atmosphere than to put our troops in the middle of our campaign back-and-forth. That is the decision we made, and we are comfortable with it."


SCHNEIDER: Obama's spokesman said, just as the candidate has been criticized for not visiting the troops in Germany, he would have been criticized if he had met with them. Probably true. That's what happens in a campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they're specifically making the point, the criticism that he did have time to go to the gym and work out, but he didn't have time to go meet with the troops. And that's out there on talk radio. It's generating a lot of commotion, as you know, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. That is. That criticism is coming out.

BLITZER: OK, Bill Schneider working the story.

Overseas, Senator Obama is already being treated like he's already a head of state. But, as you just heard from Bill, there is this controversy out there today about American troops, a planned visit, and why Senator Obama didn't show up. We will discuss that in our "Strategy Session" as well.

Plus, a pretty building in the Cayman Islands, but would you believe it's the mailing address for more than 18,000 companies? The investigation on these secret businesses.

And a violent storm, homes destroyed, but, out of all this rubble, a baby found alive. You will want to hear about this one.

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


BLITZER: We're getting this story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's monitoring what we're learning.

What are we learning, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's about those jalapeno peppers, the ones that the FDA found in that McAllen, Texas, distribution center tainted with salmonella. They have now narrowed those jalapeno peppers to a large farm in Mexico.

That means jalapenos grown here in the United States are exempt from the warnings that the FDA has issued. So, if you're going to eat jalapeno peppers, do not eat them if they were grown in Mexico. It's OK to eat jalapeno peppers grown here in the United States. Of course, the FDA investigation goes on, Wolf. They don't know if that farm in Mexico was responsible for all of the people who became sick from salmonella poisoning.

Also in the news this afternoon, the pope and the Iraqi prime minister met today outside of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI and Nouri al- Maliki talked about many of the challenges facing Iraq, along with the need for dialogue among different religions. The pope condemned the violence in Iraq. And the two men discussed the problem of Iraqi refugees. Al-Maliki invited the pope to Iraq.

Some scuffles and stampeding in Beijing, as the final batch of Olympic tickets went on sale. Thousands of people had waited for up to two days to buy the tickets to the Summer Games. Some fans knocked people to the ground and bent metal barricades as they rushed to the ticket windows.

And a professor whose last lecture became an Internet hit died today of pancreatic cancer. Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He gave a lecture called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" in September of 2007, a month after he was diagnosed with cancer. The lecture has been viewed by more than 3.2 million people on YouTube since December. Pausch was only 47 years old -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a really amazing lecture, an amazing book.

And our deepest condolences to his family. What an amazing guy he really was.

All right, Carol, very sad story. Thank you.

In our "Strategy Session": Senator Obama is sounding hopeful in his news conference with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.


OBAMA: I'm looking forward to coming back and being able to spend more time enjoying the wonders of France.


BLITZER: But, in the battle of presidential imagery, is Senator Obama forgetting he hasn't won yet?

And Republicans jumping all over his decision to skip a planned visit with U.S. troops. Are they overreaching, or could this be a defining decision in the campaign? Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- when we come back.


BLITZER: John McCain accuses Barack Obama of going on a premature victory lap overseas. Will Obama's tour of Europe and the Middle East backfire with voters back here at home?

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Check out the pictures, the images we have right behind you, if you want to turn around. You can see obviously Senator Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy today, and when President Bush was there not that long ago, a very similar picture right there.

I guess the question, Donna, is this. Is it appropriate for a candidate for president to be meeting as if he's already the president of the United States with foreign leaders, like this?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question that Senator Obama understands that his journey across the ocean was to reengage these foreign leaders about the difficult challenges we all face.

Senator McCain was recently down in Colombia, held a similar joint press conference, and no one complained from the Democratic side. It's amazing that the Republicans have spent the entire week attacking Senator Obama for meeting with foreign leaders, but when Senator McCain meets with foreign leaders, it's OK.

BLITZER: He went to Canada. He went to Mexico. He went to Colombia. What do you think?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, as somebody who worked on a campaign, and presidential campaigns, you pay a great deal of attention to the staging.

You can't hold the Barack Obama campaign -- you can't hold them responsible for great staging. And I think that this is probably a decision that was jointly made with the folks in France. And Sarkozy is a very smart politician. He knows that Barack Obama is very popular in France. And he wanted to stand right next to somebody who's very popular.

So, you know, I think the only problem, the downside for Barack Obama, is that, guess what, there hasn't been an election yet. So, if he looks like he's getting a little bit too far ahead of himself, he will pay a price here politically.

BLITZER: Do you think he will pay a price? Will some Americans be turned off, in other words, by a candidate for president going around Europe, if you will, as if he were president?

BRAZILE: He is -- he is meeting world leaders. He's talking to people across the ocean. He is once again planting the American flag of leadership on important issues, climate change. He talked about the Middle East with the chancellor in Germany.

This is a very important step for America. He -- he understands that the election is about 100 days away. But he made this trip to learn more about what's going on across the globe.

BLITZER: Because he now says he's on a political trip in Europe -- the campaign is paying -- as opposed to the congressional part of the trip, which was to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq, when he -- when it was Senator Hagel and Senator Reed.

He says it was inappropriate to make a campaign stop at Landstuhl, where -- to meet wounded U.S. military personnel. And he canceled that. That is causing a bit of a commotion today. Is it appropriate to make a campaign stop at a hospital for wounded troops in Europe?

MADDEN: Well, I think it would -- I think it would be. I think that the Pentagon probably has different rules. And that's where campaigns start to negotiate those sorts of things.

But I think what happens here, and the danger for the Obama campaign, is that the perception will always trump the facts and the explanations. Any time you're explaining in a campaign, you're losing. So, the McCain campaign is going to seize upon this as, again, another questionable set of judgments by the -- by Barack Obama, to go and decide to work out, instead of going to visit with the troops.

BLITZER: It's a serious charge. And it's playing on talk radio.

BRAZILE: No, it's not, Wolf. It's playing with right-wing talk radio. Why? Because he visited the troops in Iraq. He visited the troops in Iraq. The Pentagon has specific rules.

I'm a former congressional staffer. When you're on those co- dels, when you're on a congressional trip, yes, it's appropriate to visit the troops. But, when you're on a political trip, you do not land your campaign plan on a military base. The Pentagon had the same rules when John McCain went and campaigned in those areas, and they have the same rules for Senator Obama.

This is just another hypocritical moment for the Republicans, who can't seem to find anything to criticize Senator Obama about.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note, guys. Thanks very much.

MADDEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: The mess at the mouth of the Mississippi River, it's not just about the oil spill. Hundreds of ships are stuck, and it's costing us a lot.

Plus, Senator Barack Obama one-on-one with CNN, talking about the issues that matter to you -- the full interview, that is coming up.

Plus, terror at 20,000 feet. A massive hole rips open a jet packed with passengers. You're going to see what it was like inside.

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


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Madrid, Spanish presidential guards prepare for the visit of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

In Rome, Pope Benedict meets with Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, at the pontiff's summer residence.

In Ecuador, national assembly members celebrate the approval of a new constitution, giving their current president expanded powers.

And, in Pennsylvania, two Australian shepherds are groomed for an appearance at the Lackawanna Kennel Show -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

On our "Political Ticker": Senator Obama has it for a while, and McCain has it for a while, an online event planner.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is checking it all out for us.

Explain, Abbi, what's going on.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the McCain campaign is hoping this new tool will get them more volunteers on the ground. McCain Nation, it's called, just launched, it lets supporters create an event in their neighborhood for fellow supporters for their candidate, or find an event close by.

It could be a straight talk house party in San Francisco, or a Youth for McCain rally in Orlando. Looking around the site, the events planned so far using this tool are few and far between. It did, though, just get launched last night.

On the other side, Barack Obama's online organizing tool was launched last year. And it's become a crucial part of the campaign, with more than 50,000 events organized through this. If you search on Saint Louis, Missouri, for example, today, you will find more than 150 upcoming events put on by Obama supporters.

Do the same search on McCain's new Web site, and you will find none so far. Definitely, online organizing is an area where there's room to grow for the McCain campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.