Return to Transcripts main page


Georgia Signs Cease-Fire Deal; Warm Ties With Putin Turn Icy; Alarm Bells About McCain

Aired August 15, 2008 - 16:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Georgia signs a cease- fire with Russia but warns it's staring evil in the eye. This hour, the urgent push by the U.S. and its allies to get Moscow's troops to go home.
President Bush promises not to cast Georgia aside as his one-time pal, Vladimir Putin, leads Russia in a dangerous power play.

And John McCain sets off new alarm bells with conservatives who were uneasy about his White House bid to begin with.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Tom Foreman.


The United States is delivering a stern new warning to Russia to get its troops out of Georgia immediately. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says a cease-fire just signed by the former Soviet republic clearly has not been honored by Moscow. Georgia's president signed the cease-fire plan today after five hours of talks with Rice in Tbilisi. Russia's president says he will sign the agreement, too, but so far there's no commitment from Moscow about when it will withdraw its forces.


PRES. MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, GEORGIA: Unfortunately, today we are looking evil directly in the eye. And today this evil is very strong, very nasty, and very dangerous.


FOREMAN: The anger and suffering in Georgia is growing by the day. The U.N. says almost 120,000 people have been uprooted, most of them Georgians, a week after Russia intervened in a dispute over breakaway provinces.

CNN's Michael Ware is on the ground in Georgia.

Michael, what have you seen today?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, what I can tell you is that America's demand for a Russian troop withdrawal is not only going unheeded, it's actually being defied. As I stand here speaking to you from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Russian forces are closer than they've ever been, about 29 miles away from the city.

Now, also, that's on the eastern front of this war. Remember, the Russians attacked across two fronts. Today we went and visited the western front, which has received very little attention.

Now, at stake over there, on the Black Sea coast, is the all- important seaport of Poti. Now, whilst that was thought to be under Russian occupation, when we got there, we found that indeed, yes, the Russians were there, but only in a very small presence.

They had sunk a number of Georgian vessels, coast guard and navy vessels. They were conducting armored patrols of the city. But they were not controlling the city as such.

Now, we've since heard from Georgian officials that that small element has just pulled out of the seaport. However, there's a much greater concern, Tom.

What we discovered as we continued to explore the western front is that in fact a much larger Russian force is in presence in the west of the country. And in fact, they are digging in.

We saw Russian artillery dug into fields and covered by camouflage. We saw numerous tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of troops that seem to have taken up barracks on a key intersection that cuts the country, commands the rail lines, and still holds the seaport's oil tankers at their mercy.

So the Russians are doing quite the opposite what America wants, and they seem to be pressing their advantage -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Michael, I want to bring the map up here and talk about what you just said and ask you a very important question in all of this.

The location you're in right now, if you went north, you would wind up in the Ossetia region that we talked about, where the Russians first seemed to be hitting hard. The area you're talking about over here on the Black Sea near the oil ports is the other part, Abkhazia. And what you're describing is a situation where the Russians have a substantial presence in the entire upper western quadrant of this country right now.

With that in mind, can this cease-fire work?

WARE: Well, it can, but I suspect that it's going to work much more on Russia's terms than certainly the Georgian government or Washington would like. Very much, the cards remain in Russia's favor.

And as we see on the western front, when the flash point started in South Ossetia, here in the east, Russia used that as an invitation to also invade in the west, into another breakaway enclave, as you say, Abkhazia. But they didn't stop there as they did here, near the capital. They pressed further south into Georgia proper. And as we say, we witnessed near the western town of Senaki, they dug in, in force. Now, that's going to have major implications to any cease-fire. And it's certainly going to be an extremely effective bargaining tool.

With the Russian presence on the eastern and western fronts, deeper inside Georgia, that allows the Russians room to maneuver at the negotiating table. They can hold out, they can keep their troops here, and use it as a so-called compromise to merely pull their troops back to the breakaway enclave.

It's going to be a very effective negotiating technique -- Tom.

FOREMAN: And that close to Tbilisi, certainly something to watch.

Thanks so much, Michael.

Condoleezza Rice is calling the cease-fire plan for Russia and Georgia a starting point. She says the aggression by Russia and what needs to happen next are very clear. Listen.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Georgia has been attacked. Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once. The world needs to help Georgia maintain its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its independence.


FOREMAN: She visited wounded Georgians in a Tbilisi hospital today. She repeated the Bush administration's warning that Russia's military actions will have profound implications for Moscow's relations with the U.S. and the world.

President Bush today offered some of his harshest criticism yet of Russia, accusing it of bullying and intimidation. His words. It's a dramatic reversal of Mr. Bush's relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a relationship he once called remarkable.

So were with our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, we have some more news on that situation -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Tom, it was just a few months ago, President Bush and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met and highlighted their personal diplomacy. But so far, that approach has not influenced Russia's behavior on Georgia.


QUIJANO (voice over): What a difference seven years make.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world.

QUIJANO: President Bush's latest slap at Russia and its leaders...

BUSH: Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.

QUIJANO: ... a far cry from his infamous first read of then Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BUSH: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

QUIJANO: Since then, Washington/Moscow tensions have simmered. A former Soviet republic, Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution not only threatened Russia in its own back yard, experts say, but inspired other democracy activists in the region. Then, in 2005, President Bush delivered a speech in Georgia's capital, making clear his allegiance to their pro-U.S. government.

BUSH: The path you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone. As you build a free and Democratic Georgia, the American people will stand with you.

QUIJANO: Still, President Bush and Vladimir Putin exchanged warm words just a few months ago, punctuated by officially-released images of the two leaders side by side at sunset.

PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): I have always appreciated his honesty and his openness, his willingness to listen to his counterparts. And this is precious.

BUSH: We worked very hard over the past years to find areas where we can work together and find ways to be agreeable when we disagree. It's been a remarkable relationship.


QUIJANO: But critics argue that relationship has not yielded results on Georgia, though the administration says Russia has cooperated in other areas, including curbing Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Still, Georgia is one area where the president's freedom agenda has clearly collided with the Kremlin -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Elaine Quijano at the White House for us.

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty joining us. Jack, what are you thinking about?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Democratic National Convention is now shaping up to be quite a party for Hillary Clinton. Her name will be placed in nomination. She'll give a primetime address. She'll be introduced by her daughter, Chelsea.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will get his own prime speaking slot on a separate night. She will also have her own production team create the introductory video that will precede her speech. It's the same people who produced Bill Clinton's biography video, "The Man From Hope," in 1992. And there's now language in the party platform that refers to the "18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling," and suggests that media sexism contributed to Hillary's defeat.

All of this making it easy to forget that Hillary Clinton is the loser.

Barack Obama and Clinton say they agree to put both their names in nomination after weeks of negotiating, meant to help unite the party, head off potential embarrassing problems at the convention from Hillary's supporters. And you can bet that Obama wants a drama-free convention and sees this laundry list of concessions as a way of keeping the peace.

Others, though, suggest that all of this amounts to little more than extortion. One expert says the Clintons have "got Obama hostage and are exacting their ransom," with all of these convention demands.

"New York Daily News" columnist Michael Goodwin writes that, "Obama blinked and stands guilty of appeasing Clinton." He points out, by giving into here, Obama doesn't stand to get any votes he wouldn't have gotten anyway, and that those who refuse to accept him as the legitimate winner probably won't change their minds because he's caved in. And if he can't stand up to Hillary, how the hell's he going to fare against Vladimir Putin?

Here's the question: When it comes to the convention, has Barack Obama let Hillary Clinton take over?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Tom.

FOREMAN: I have the feeling you're going to hear a lot, Jack. Thanks so much.

The U.S. is reassessing its relationship with Russia. And Vladimir Putin now is seen in a very different, darker way. Were the warning signs there all along?

Plus, it's giving us a glimpse at what the fighting is really like in Georgia. We're getting even more harrowing video of journalists caught in the line of fire there.

And John McCain says he might consider a pro-choice vice president. And some conservatives are all riled up.

Stay with us.


FOREMAN: A little over a week to go before the Democratic convention, and speculation is reaching a fever pitch about Barack Obama's vice presidential choice. Among the names being buzzed about right now: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine; Delaware Senator and former presidential candidate Joe Biden; and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.

On the Republican side, these are some of the possible names on John McCain's VP short list: former Massachusetts Governor and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney; Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty; Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut; and former Pennsylvania Governor and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge.

McCain's apparent willingness to consider Ridge as his running mate has aggravated his problem with Christian conservatives.

Let's bring in CNN's Ed Henry.

Ed, abortion in the center of this new dustup.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Tom. In fact, you know, a lot of chatter right now John McCain might go outside the box with his VP pick, maybe pick a moderate like Ridge, like Lieberman.

That could certainly underline his maverick image, but it could also infuriate conservatives.


HENRY (voice over): After saying he may pick a running mate who supports abortion rights, John McCain has set off alarm bells with conservatives.

PHIL BURRESS, OHIO-BASED CITIZENS COMMUNITY: Well, there's no question that it would devastate the pro-family movement. And he would more than likely lose Ohio. In fact, I'm almost certain he would lose Ohio.

HENRY: Concern sparked by McCain telling the conservative "Weekly Standard" that former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge "Happens to be pro-choice, and I don't think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out for VP." A thorny issue for McCain as Democrat Barack Obama tries to reel in evangelicals who helped reelect President Bush in 2004.

REV. RICK WARREN, PRESIDENCY CIVIL FORUM: Evangelicals have never been a monolithic voting base. Never. And the people who try to predict which way they're going to go in this election, I think maybe surprised after election date.

HENRY: When Pastor Rick Warren hosts a faith forum Saturday night with the two candidates appearing back to back, the stakes will be especially high for McCain. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows among white born-again or evangelical voters, 67 percent are for McCain, 24 percent for Obama. Strong for McCain, but he's lagging 11 points behind the president's showing in 2004. Exit polls show Mr. Bush beat Democrat John Kerry 78 percent to 21 percent among these voters.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that that inalienable right applies to the unborn, as well as the born. And I believe it applies -- and I believe it applies to every unborn child in the world.

HENRY: Phil Burress says that in key states like Ohio, conservatives are warming to McCain, but they would not work hard to get their friends to the polls if McCain picks Ridge.

BURRESS: I'm not going to say that they would not still vote for McCain, I think they would. But that's not going to be enough to win. You're going to have to get these people out and you're going to have to get them working.


HENRY: Now, many other conservatives are fired up, too. Today, there was a press conference here in Washington with Mike Huckabee, the former presidential candidate on the Republican side, as well as Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council. They're having a big rally on the National Mall on Saturday in advance of this faith forum to complain about both candidates, in their estimation, not really speaking out on issues like abortion, like same-sex message.

That's clearly a warning sign for McCain that he's got to pay attention to some of these conservatives. They're a little concerned about him not speaking out enough -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Ed, and I guess the issue here is not just how people feel about him, but the simple fact that these evangelical groups, these church groups, if they want to, can turn out very effective political machines to get a lot of people to the polls if they're so inclined.

HENRY: Absolutely. It's all about that turnout and making sure, and sort of firing up the base. And that's exactly what you heard from that gentleman from Ohio.

He was saying, look, I'll still go out, my wife will go out and vote for McCain. We're conservatives and we like him. But they're worried that some of their neighbors aren't going to go and bang on those doors and really sort of fiercely get the turnout.

That really helped George W. Bush in 2004 in states like Ohio, that decided the election. There's concern on the conservative side that there's not that intensity right now for McCain -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Ed Henry, thanks so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

FOREMAN: And you can watch Barack Obama and John McCain talk about issues of faith in that forum that we've been talking about right here on CNN. It airs tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And you don't want to miss it.

Now, the Election Express bringing politics to the people. The bus is headed from D.C. to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Bill Schneider is aboard in Des Moines.

Bill, the campaign started in Iowa, but is it still going on there?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, more than ever, because the first caucus state is now a top-ranked battleground state.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Thought Iowa was over for this election? Think again.

Iowa's a battleground state for November. That's a problem for John McCain. McCain never ran an all-out campaign to win the Iowa caucuses, not in 2000 when he came in fifth, not this year when he came in fourth.

McCain put his money on New Hampshire, which he won both years. The New Hampshire contest includes a lot more Independents and a lot fewer evangelical voters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Religious conservatives in this state are slow to warm up to John McCain.

SCHNEIDER: Barack Obama's in a much stronger position in Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama has an incredible amount of residual support here. He built a huge political infrastructure and organization in this state for the caucuses.

SCHNEIDER: So here's McCain at the Iowa State Fair last week trying to make up lost ground.

MCCAIN: I've had the great honor, as I've been walking around here and meeting people and saying hello, to run into our great men and women who have served in our military. And that includes the Iowa Guard and Reserve.

SCHNEIDER: But the military is not a major presence in Iowa. It's a deeply patriotic state, but it's not particularly hawkish.

MCCAIN: We will bring our troops home, but we'll bring them home with honor and victory, and not in defeat.

SCHNEIDER: What McCain needs is help rallying religious conservatives in Iowa. Who can provide that help? The candidate who did win the Iowa caucuses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've sent Governor Huckabee out here to try to convince social conservatives that John McCain's judges are going to be a whole lot better than Barack Obama's. But it's slow.


SCHNEIDER: In 2000, Iowa voted for Al Gore by a margin of less than 1 percent. In 2004, Iowa voted for George W. Bush by a margin of less than 1 percent. The polls now show Obama leading McCain, but by single-digit margins. McCain is not about to write Iowa off for November the way he more or less did for the caucuses -- Tom.

FOREMAN: We'll see how it plays out.

Bill Schneider onboard the CNN Election Express.

Detroit's mayor apparently cannot catch a break. Already embroiled in a scandal involving racy text messages, a judge now decides something that could eventually land the mayor in prison if he's found guilty.

And it's being described as a scene of utter devastation. You will see the aftermath of the fighting in one area where so much of the Russian conflict began.

Stay with us.




Happening now, talks of crisis management with a man who knows about crisis. Retired General Wesley Clark is the former supreme allied commander of NATO. I'll talk with him about the Russian conflict and U.S. options.

Also, their alleged evil intentions, killing Iraqis and American troops, assassins that sources say are keeping hit lists. And those sources say Iran is training these assassination squads.

And one of them is a war hero. The other was not in the military. Guess which of these presidential candidates is apparently getting more money from American troops.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Tom Foreman. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As Russia waged war, he's the man many people saw as running the show, not President Dmitry Medvedev, but the former president, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He was the first to speak on Russian TV, the first to speak with other world leaders. And, at one point, Georgia's president mistakenly said he tried to reach President Putin.

Many people see Putin as the one holding all the real power in this.

Our Carol Costello joins us again.

You have been looking into these warning signs about what's going on with Putin. What have you found?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he hasn't exactly been keeping a lid on his intentions. And some experts say, we should have seen Georgia coming.


COSTELLO (voice-over): The signs were there and -- let's face it -- in hindsight, a cinch to see. Russia's Vladimir Putin has been on a mission since he took power in 1999.

JERROLD POST, AUTHOR, "LEADERS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS IN A DANGEROUS WORLD": This is part of a progression that's been going on for a number of years, where Putin and his -- his Russia is seeking to restore greater Russia.

COSTELLO: Yet this from President Bush, what many now call an unfortunate assessment of Putin.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul.



COSTELLO: It concerned many international observers, because Putin wasn't hiding his goal. He eliminated independent political parties, squashed a free press and ultimately orchestrated the election of a new president who would name him prime minister, effectively allowing him to remain in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is crucial for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in the most important role in our executive branch, that of prime minister.

COSTELLO: "TIME" magazine named Putin 2007 person of the year, calling him a czar. It described his eyes as cool, devoid of emotion and often chilling. He was, after all, a veteran spy.

MCCAIN: In case you missed it, "TIME" magazine made Vladimir Putin man of the year. By the way, I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G, and B.

COSTELLO: Though nothing was ever proved, some Russians experts say they saw Putin's hand at work in 2004, when the president of Ukraine fell ill after being poisoned, and, in 2006, when a former Russian spy claimed on his deathbed he had been poisoned with a radioactive toxin by Russian agents.

And now the invasion of Georgia. Experts say it was beautifully orchestrated by Putin at a time he knew the United States was distracted with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MENDELSON: To date, the master plan has worked. We don't know exactly the consequences for Russia that are going to befall this action. And that is, in part, up to us.

COSTELLO: So far, efforts by the U.S. and the West to diffuse the situation have been thwarted by Russia.


COSTELLO: So far, the hostilities in Georgia have ended. At least, we think so, although Russian troops are still there. And, of course, Vladimir Putin is still pulling the strings.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Carol. We will check in later.

An untold number of people are dead since the violence began in Georgia. Scores more are suffering, all caught in the crossfire of warfare.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in South Ossetia, where it all began, looking at the aftermath and its many shattered lives.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The twisted wreckage of battle is strewn across the rebel capital. Tskhinvali was center of the fight for South Ossetia. Georgian briefly occupied these streets, reclaiming the breakaway territory as their own, before being driven out by an overwhelming Russian force.

(on camera): After hearing so many reports from Georgia about what's happening inside Tskhinvali, it's incredible to actually be here ourselves to see what the situation is firsthand. You can see, it's a scene of utter devastation.

Look at all this crumpled military hardware here. These are Georgian tanks that were destroyed by the Russians as they pushed the Georgians out of the city. As well, almost every building in this city has been pot-marked by shrapnel or by machine gun fire, if not totally destroyed by the barrage of artillery and rocket shelling that witnesses say rained down on this place.

(voice-over): Russian troops who fought into Tskhinvali describe fierce battles with Georgian soldiers, who had dug in.

"There was a lot of shelling and gunfire," this colonel told me. "Twelve of my men were killed. We only felt safe when our reinforcements arrived."

They're still clearing dead Georgian soldiers from the battlefield. But it's the extent of civilian casualties that have caused so much international concern.

(on camera): Well, we have come to this makeshift field hospital in Tskhinvali, where the people who have been injured in this conflict are being treated.

We have got Lena Obear (ph), her husband, Eurep (ph). They're the lucky ones, though, because, according to the Russians, as many as 2,000 people in this conflict have been killed as a result of the fighting. Now, the Georgians hotly dispute that. But we have come here. And we're going to speak to a doctor to try and get some clarity on it.

(voice-over): At first, there were many wounded, maybe 80 a day, this doctor told me. Most had trauma injuries from bullets or shrapnel.

I asked him about the Russian claim of 2,000 dead civilians. "I can't confirm it," he told me.

But we can verify the hardships civilians who survived the fighting endured. Many, like 60-year-old Valentina (ph), hid in cellars, as the fighting raged above.

(on camera): Can you ever imagine Tskhinvali, South Ossetia being part of Georgia in the future?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course not, no. Of course not.

CHANCE: It seems this confront has only hardened South Ossetia's separatist demands. And Georgia may have lost more than just the war. Hopes of reuniting this tiny nation may also be gone.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Tskhinvali, in South Ossetia.


FOREMAN: So many disturbing sounds and images have been captured on the battlefields between Russia and Georgia, those pictures captured often as journalists were on the scene -- journalists on the scene and in the line of fire, that coming up.

And Retired General and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark gives his take on Russia's intentions and whether a full- scale war is possible, maybe even inevitable.

Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FOREMAN: Breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, and her name is Fay.

Chad Myers is standing by. Chad, tell us what's going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Finally, Tom. We have been watching this storm now for four days, saying, it's going to be Fay, it's going to be Fay. Well, it finally is now a 40-mile-per-hour storm, the very latest from the Hurricane Center.

Now, the track of this storm is a little bit curious compared to where we thought it was going to be a few days ago up in the Bahamas. It now appears like the storm will stay south of the islands over Cuba and then maybe into Florida on Monday or Tuesday.

But the forecast is still for it not to be a hurricane as it makes landfall in Florida. Remember, now, when you get out four to five days, this thing could be east. This thing could be west, but, for now, it does look like Florida's in the eye of this for a while, but as a 60-knot or about a 70-mile-per-hour storm, not quite a hurricane, but close enough. We're going to watch it all weekend all -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Chad. We will check back in with you.

Among those suffering in the Russian conflict we have been talking so much about, the people who risk their lives to let all of us know what's going on, reporters. We have seen some very disturbing images of what has happened to journalists there, one shot in the arm, one even shot in the head.

CNN's Brian Todd joins me.

This really is some quite harrowing video, especially for those of us who do this for a living.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Tom. It gets more disturbing by the day.

Now, often, we in the media are sometimes accused of showing this video to call attention to ourselves, but the fact is, reporters and photographers are often the closest people to the chaos. And they certainly were on Sunday. Look at what happens to these Turkish journalists in their car near the Georgian city of Tskhinvali.

The reporters are screaming a last prayer as they're being shot at. And one of them was shot in the head. But his injuries were not considered life-threatening. The words on screen say it's Thursday. The incident actually happened Sunday. It was shown on Turkish TV on Thursday.

And just like a Georgian reporter who was shot in the wrist this week while doing a live report, one of those Turkish journalists narrated the entire scene, saying -- quote -- "Friends, I got shot in the head. I'm OK now. But in a few minutes" -- then he kind of left it off, Tom. It was pretty harrowing while it was going on. But he's OK now, apparently.

FOREMAN: Unbelievable stuff. And, yet, we really do have to count. These are the folks -- these folks are the ones who get us the news and let us know what's happening.


FOREMAN: And, really, I have such admiration for our colleagues who do this.

Thanks so much, Brian. Thanks for being here.

They know where -- you might think that the election is still months away, but, in a little more than a month, people in some parts of the country will cast their ballots in the presidential election. No kidding. It's going to happen quickly. And the early election might help one candidate more than another. And people think it could be Barack Obama.

Plus, is Wal-Mart going too far? Why some company executives are hoping to persuade their employees to vote for John McCain.

All that coming up -- in THE SITUATION ROOM.


FOREMAN: In today's "Strategy Session": Along with the war between Russia and Georgia, a war of words between the White House and Moscow.

Whoever succeeds President Bush will have to deal with Russia, and both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are trying to look and sound presidential amid the conflict.

Joining me are Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary for Bill Clinton, and Tony Blankley, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich.

Let me ask you both, has anybody won in this among the candidates this week? Barack Obama had statements. John McCain did, too.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": I think it's pretty clear that McCain had the better week.

Obama was on vacation. He was tentative in his opening statements. McCain was forceful from the beginning. He was out every day, making strong and fluent conversations. And not only Obama, but Bush, who was also flat-footed, came to McCain's position by the end of the week. So, I think, in this one, pretty unambiguously, McCain got the better of it.

FOREMAN: Now, McCain obviously has more experience with Russia and with Georgia, obviously, than Obama does. However, McCain also took some fire from some people saying, a little bit too much pounding on the sword, a little bit too much Cold War talk, when maybe there should have been a little tempering of that. What do you think?


And I think there were two problems with McCain's response. I think he did have a pretty good week, on balance. But the first one was that he was a -- he did come off as a bit intemperate to a lot of viewers, I think. And the second was, he got out ahead of the president a little too much.

I sometimes -- I mean, I think it's interesting to think about what a President McCain would have thought about a candidate for any office getting out ahead of the president, making policy, talking to the leader of a country in crisis, and sending his emissaries in Senators Lieberman and Lindsey Graham...


FOREMAN: That really raised a lot of eyebrows. Now, that raised some eyebrows around here, didn't it?


BLANKLEY: But, frankly, Bush got a little mini-Katrina episode the first couple of days. He was out there playing with the volleyball girls when the Russians' tanks were rolling.


BLANKLEY: And I was glad that McCain was out there.

But I think we will judge McCain over the next where by the politics goes. I think that Europe is going to get tougher on Russia. Then, I think it's going to build and build. I think you are going to see NATO conferences. You saw Poland, at the end of the week, just say they're willing to put our anti-missile system into Poland.

So, this is a big event. And I think, by a month or two from now, I think McCain's statements will look, if anything, a little softer than we're going to be sounding by then.

MYERS: And I think it's important for Barack Obama to join the debate, now that he's back from vacation, and to show that he's as ready to lead in a crisis like this as -- as Senator McCain is.

FOREMAN: Let's talk about something we're all going to be joining in that people might have not have expected so much, early voting, and how much it could affect this election.

There has been a steady wave for several elections of early voting moving up in some places. There are some states that allow it as early as September 30. What does this do to this election, and your ability, Dee Dee, to triangulate the finishing line?

MYERS: Well, I think it provides a great -- first of all, I think it's a great service to the country. And I think to ask people to go to vote on one day, and one day only, is too limiting.

So, I think it's a good trend. I think it's a big advantage for Obama. Now, that's the only reason I like it. I think that a campaign with a great ground organization, which Obama has shown throughout this campaign -- it's the reason he's the Democratic nominee. He was able to organize, not just in the primary states, but in the caucus states. He has great organization on the ground in a lot of these states. And I think he will be able to turn his voters out.

It's about giving the voters the opportunity and then turning out the likely voters who support you. And I think the Obama campaign has a sound advantage here.

FOREMAN: Do you buy that this is an advantage to Obama, Tony?

BLANKLEY: It might be. It's an advantage to the candidate with a fading lead and a disadvantage to the candidate who is surging from behind, obviously. (CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Well, I'm not sure if I understand that. Why wouldn't it help the person who is surging as well, because he's getting headlines...


BLANKLEY: No. Because if people vote before the surge is completed, the candidate who's still ahead three weeks out is getting votes, but, by Election Day, it's even, so he's got more of his votes a week out than on the day.

FOREMAN: Ah. So, it's all coming down to the surge once again.


BLANKLEY: Now, I disagree with Dee Dee about what's desirable. I like the old way we had, until 10 or 15 years ago, that the whole nation came on one day to vote.

I remember Nixon's famous line in '68, when he came very close -- he barely won -- and someone said, you know, if the campaign had gone on another week, Humphrey would have won. And Nixon is reputed to have turned to the reporter and said, I knew when the Election Day was.


BLANKLEY: And, as an old political operative, I like the idea of knowing when the Election Day is.



FOREMAN: Let's turn to a different topic here, the vice presidential choices in all of this. Everybody's looking at the Democrats right now. They're closing into the finish line here with their convention coming up.

You have been inside on these things. Has he made up his mind, even if he's not telling us?

MYERS: Well, you know, many of the Obama operatives that I spoke to before he went on vacation said they didn't think he had really made up his mind.

And now, that he's back and had a week to sort of not only have some downtime, rest and spend it with his family, but, to think, I don't know whether he's made it. But the time is very short. He's got to be very close. He's going to do it some time within the next, you know, eight or nine days, and quite possibly within the next four or five.

FOREMAN: What do you think, from looking at it from the outside, from the other perspective?

BLANKLEY: Well, I have been close to one vice presidential selection process.

And until the nominee decides -- makes the -- actually makes the decision, he doesn't know who he's going to pick, because he has to have -- take the input from all the factions in his party, all the calculations, the latest polling. And, so, he may think three days out he's going to pick Jones, and when the day comes and he makes the decision, he picks Smith. So, I don't think...


D. MYERS: And I think it's -- a lot of it has to do with the personal chemistry. There's just something that happens when these two leaders sit down together and talk about the future.

BLANKLEY: And the thing is that they can't tell their selectee until they're ready to go, because that won't hold for more than about 36 hours.


FOREMAN: Really?

BLANKLEY: You just can't.


FOREMAN: And when it comes to that moment, what happens? Does a Bill Clinton or a George Bush or any candidate finally just make a phone call and have a conversation with someone and say, I need to talk to you, and they make the deal?

MYERS: Yes. That's very much how it happens.

And then all of the machinery starts to roll, to roll that decision out in whatever form the campaign chooses.


FOREMAN: But then they have to be ready. As you said, they have to be ready to talk about it, because nobody can keep a secret in Washington.

MYERS: It really does happen in about a day or a day-and-a-half, from the time the person finds out I'm going to be the next vice president of the United States to the moment they're standing there at that press conference.

Or, in the case of the Obama campaign, it's going to be released via e-mail.


BLANKLEY: The thing is, they have got to start telling people. They have got to tell the person they're most closely associated with institution, got to replace me. They have got to tell their wife, beginning -- the top staff. And it just ekes out within 24 to 48 hours.

MYERS: Right.


FOREMAN: We're going to have to go here.

Do you know who it is?

MYERS: I don't. I would love to say I did, but I do not.


FOREMAN: We would love for you to say it, too.


FOREMAN: Good to have you both here.

BLANKLEY: Thank you.

MYERS: Thanks, Tom.

FOREMAN: Barack Obama and John McCain on stage together for the first time in the general election. They're taking part in a forum about faith.

And retired General Wesley Clark live in THE SITUATION ROOM to weigh in on the crisis between Russia and Georgia, and what might happen next. You will want to hear what he has to say.


FOREMAN: On our presidential ticker, the presidential candidates' views on faith will be tested tomorrow when they appear at a forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren. It will be a new opportunity for both Barack Obama and John McCain to try to show voters they're comfortable talking about religion.

CNN's Carol Costello, who has been very busy this afternoon, is taking a look at this.


FOREMAN: And is this really comfortable territory for these men?

COSTELLO: Well, it is for at least one of the candidates, Tom. Both McCain and Obama have spoken out about how religion plays a role in their lives, but one candidate appears to be far more comfortable in that role than the other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCCAIN: I had the great honor of serving in this country sometimes under the most difficult circumstances, which tested my faith and affirmed my faith. Had it not been for my faith in my country, in my fellow countrymen, my fellow prisoners, and my faith in God, I would not be here today.

COSTELLO (voice-over): John McCain speaking out on how faith got him through his years as prisoner of war in Vietnam. While he brings up religion at times on the campaign trail, it's not something he dwells on.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: John McCain is one of these lawmakers who doesn't wear religion on his sleeve, and he doesn't appear as though he feels comfortable talking about religion.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My belief is, is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live, that that is -- that is essentially true. That is fundamentally true.

FOREMAN: Barack Obama speaking to our Campbell Brown about his religious beliefs. While he appears to be more comfortable discussing religion, Obama's faith has also brought him political trouble.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: He doesn't fit the model. He ain't white. He ain't rich. And he ain't privileged.

FOREMAN: Those comments from his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were played over and over in the media earlier this year. Obama eventually repudiated Wright's words.

And, a year-and-a-half after entering the race for the White House, he's still swatting down false rumors that he's a Muslim.

OBAMA: If you get one of these e-mails that says I'm a Muslim, not true, that -- never been a Muslim. This -- this is just stuff that is designed to make people suspicious.


COSTELLO: Religion and the candidates' ability to speak out about issues of faith could be crucial in wooing religious voters, which, of course, is a key voting bloc in the presidential election -- Tom.

FOREMAN: All right, thanks, Carol. We will keep an eye on it.

And you can watch Barack Obama and John McCain talk about issues of faith in that forum right here on CNN. Put a note on your refrigerator, in your pocket. It airs tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You don't want to miss it.

Jack Cafferty joins us again with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what are you hearing? JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, when it comes to the convention, has Barack Obama let Hillary Clinton take over the whole show?

Diane in Florida writes: "Can you imagine if the shoe were on the other foot, if Hillary had won the nomination and Obama were asking to have his delegation recognized? Do you really think Michelle would be speaking one night, introduced by the Obama daughters, and that Barack would have a speaking engagement the next night? Not on your life! Bill and Hillary would have mowed Obama down in a heartbeat, and they still might try."

Martha writes: "It's people like you, Jack, who forget she is not a loser. She earned 18 million votes. Why don't you stop with your stupid questions and always trying to put the Clintons down? Show some respect. She absolutely has earned the right to be acknowledged at the convention. And, with any luck, the voters will get it right this time."

B. writes from Odom, Texas: "I think Senator Obama is being exceedingly gracious to Senator Clinton. The majority of your viewers, including me, believe she and Bill are up to no good. I hope we are wrong. I sincerely hope Mr. Obama has all his bases covered. I, for one, cannot wait for all this intrigue and drama to be over."

Tony in Stafford, Virginia, writes: "You didn't really think Hillary Clinton was just going to lie down and give up, did you? Silly, silly people. Have you learned nothing about the Clintons in the past 16 years?"

Jay writes: "Barack Obama is the nominee, period. There is no takeover. The media are circulating the RNC's talking points with this controversy garbage."

And Brian in Chicago writes: "If all goes well, history will remember Obama for being a pragmatic leader who successfully unified the Democratic Party. However, I will point out Hillary Clinton's campaign has not ended. It has been suspended. Why is that? And is it possible for a campaign to un-suspend upon the unsuspecting?"

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

FOREMAN: Thanks, Jack.