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Obama, Clinton & Company; India Terror Investigation; U.S. Officially in Recession; Interview with Madeleine Albright

Aired December 1, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama packs his national security team with big names and strong egos. This hour, the challenges ahead for Hillary Clinton and company and their new boss. I'll talk to the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Stand by.
Also, a new nosedive, as you just saw, in stock prices. The Dow closing down more than 600 points. An official confirmation of what most Americans already knew, we're in recession.

And Sarah Palin is ready for another close-up. She's on the campaign trail right now in Georgia trying to help save a GOP Senate seat.

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

Barack Obama is welcoming his newly unveiled national security team to offer vigorous debate within the White House. With Hillary Clinton and other power players in the mix, he's not likely to be disappointed.

The expected push and pull between the incoming president and his cabinet was a hot topic at today's news conference. The Obama/Clinton relationship promising to be as fascinating as ever.

Let's get details. Our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley is covering the transition for us.

It comes at a time, Candy, all of these national security announcements, when there's real serious tension out there in the world.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely between India and Pakistan -- just another trouble spot -- and the sorts of things that Obama's new national security team will be advising him about: what to do, whether to send the FBI, how it's all going to unfold, who he should call.

This is a team really charged with keeping the nation secure. Literally. It decides -- or it helps advise the president on whether to go to war, when to pull out, what to do about budding terror cells, that kind of thing. Certainly the president-elect, as he looks at this team, is going to get a whole lot of opinion.


CROWLEY (voice-over): It is a powerhouse collection of high intellect, diverse opinion and big ego. Exactly.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think that's how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House based on my reading of history is that you get wrapped up in group think.

CROWLEY: Not a wallflower in the bunch. Nominated to be secretary of state, Hillary Clinton will be the public face of U.S. diplomacy. She promised to stand up whenever, wherever is needed.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language.

CROWLEY: Her nomination is a turn of events that would have been jaw dropping nine months ago when she said his foreign policy experience amounted to one speech, and he suggested hers amounted to having tea with ambassadors. Bygones.

OBAMA: This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign.

CROWLEY: Clinton is part of the pragmatic centrist core of Obama's team, a group often more hawkish than Obama has seemed. It includes current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, with close ties to the Bush family. The man in charge of prosecuting the war now will help end it.

OBAMA: I believe that will 16 months is the right time frame. But as I've said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders.

CROWLEY: Retired Marine General Jim Jones, whose position as national security adviser will put him inside the West Wing of the White House, closest to the ear of the president. Jones, a man who once said timetables for withdrawal from Iraq are not in the U.S. interests. Also nominated, Eric Holder, a top Justice Department official in the Clinton years who, if confirmed, would be the first African-American attorney general. Susan Rice, another Clinton administration official who signed up with the Obama campaign, now nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Governor and former U.S. attorney in Arizona, Janet Napolitano, to head homeland security. She is the only one of the six who is not from the Washington or military establishment. They're old hands to advise a young president who not so long ago railed against the ways of Washington.

OBAMA: I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement it.


CROWLEY: Whatever else these selections mean, it certainly points to a president-elect who is very confident as the nation enters the Obama era -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Chicago watching the story.

The president-elect publicly offered his condolences today for the victims of the terror attacks in India. He refused to say whether India might be justified in pursuing terrorists in Pakistan, even as he promised the U.S. would stand with that country during this dark time.


OBAMA: ... cannot be contained by borders nor safely provided by oceans alone. Last week we were reminded of this threat once again when terrorists took the lives of six Americans among nearly 200 victims in Mumbai. In the world we seek, there is no place for those who kill innocent civilians to advance hateful extremism.


BLITZER: Let's get the latest now on the investigation into the Mumbai massacre. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is standing by live.

What do we know, Matthew? What is the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think we have to remember that the investigation is still very much in its early stages. We've still got forensic teams and police investigators on the ground at places like the Taj Hotel, which was the scene of that bloody standoff between the militants and the Indian security forces combing the building, looking for evidence they can find that would give them a better read on which individuals and which group could have organized these attacks. But what we're hearing at the moment from security sources, also being articulated by Indian government officials, is that all the evidence is pointing at some kind of Pakistan connection.

Now, of course, the government in Islamabad has categorically denied any knowledge of the attacks or any involvement. It's, indeed, offered to help the Indian government with any investigations to try to get to the bottom of this. What the Indian government wants is for the Pakistani authorities to crack down hard on militant groups that it believes are responsible for carrying out these attacks in Mumbai, India's financial hub.

Now, on the ground, there are other calls for heads to roll, in the Indian government as well, because many Indians blame the central government of the country for failing to act quicker, for failing to prevent these terrible attacks -- nine of them are being carried out simultaneously in Mumbai -- from taking place. The reports in Indian newspapers, that the intelligence services of India may have received tip-offs that some spectacular terrorist raid like this was going to be taking place, was being planned up to a year ago. And so there are big, serious questions being asked now in India about whether the country has the right infrastructure, the right administration to deal with future terror threats.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up, Matthew, so stand by with us for that.

A horrible, horrible massacre in Mumbai in the past few days. We'll watch this story.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty though right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: On Inauguration Day, Barack Obama gets the football. It's not what you think. This football is a small leather-bound metal briefcase that contains the U.S. nuclear launch codes.

It will be handed off to President Obama at his swearing in. And from that moment on, it will go everywhere with him. Think of it as Armageddon in a box.

The world is awash in potential nuclear weapons problems right now. North Korea already has them. Iran is racing toward acquiring them. The main nuclear arms treaty, the reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, expires next year. And tensions between India and Pakistan on the rise in the wake of those terror attacks in Mumbai last week. Pakistan is a nuclear power.

It's a daunting array of problems for any president to confront.

What's inside the football? A secure telephone that can connect President Obama to the nuclear command centers at the Pentagon, Colorado Springs, and Site R, a bunkered nuclear command center which is just over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania.

Through these centers, the president can reach the 1,300 U.S. strategic nuclear weapons which are always on alert. Thirteen hundred of them. There's also a list of various attack options, everything from a single strike to all-out war.

Here's the question: When it comes to nuclear weapons, what should President Barack Obama's first priority be?

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

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

The "R" word. The official report is in about the United States. No great surprise, we're in a recession. What is a surprise, how long this recession is going on.

Also, Ali Velshi is standing by with more on that, plus the breaking news we're following right now. Another huge drop in the Dow, nearly 700 points. Stand by.

Plus, President Bush speaking out about his biggest regret and why Barack Obama won the White House. You're going to want to hear what he's saying.

And former secretary of state Madeleine Albright right here in THE SITUATION ROOM on the challenges Hillary Clinton will face in her old job.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, my own sense is Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine.



BLITZER: It's as if the doctor is finally confirming that nagging pain you've been feeling, except in this case, it's not the physical pain, it's an economic pain. Today, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially handed down this financial diagnosis: the United States is in a recession.

The Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, says the tough times are no surprise to Americans.


HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: The thing that we've known and I've known is that we are in an economy that has slowed down significantly. The American people know that. And I think the American people have known that for some time.


BLITZER: And among other things, the stock market collapsed today once again.

Our Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi is in New York watching this almost 700 points down on this day, Ali. It can't just be because of the official confirmation that we're in a recession.


There is nobody who buys or sells stocks who was caught unaware by the fact we're in a recession. In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research, which is the official arbiter of this, says we've been in one since December of 2007, which is exactly what Americans have been saying.

In fact, it was December of 2007 that we first polled. Fifty- seven percent of Americans thought we were in recession then. We've lost jobs every month since January. That's what this is all about.

Now, you know, in a skittish market like this, after we've seen the tumbles that we've seen, markets will react to any piece of news, good or bad. And right now, there was no good news to report.

We had another slowdown in manufacturing. We know where we are in this economy. But investors, there are two things going on. If there's bad news, they're looking to get out of that market. And remember, we had a very, very big rally. In fact, last week was the best week in 75 years in the stock market. There were a lot of people who were taking this opportunity because there was no good news to sell out, to get that money that they need for other things.

Remember, despite this whole TARP and government bailout, many companies in America, more than half of American companies, are still having great trouble raising money. So are individuals.

So if companies can't raise money, individuals can't raise money to spend, we don't see where this recovery comes from. That's kind of what added up to cause this drop. But remarkable. I mean, Citigroup and Bank of America both off more than 20 percent today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Almost 680 points down on this day.


BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thanks very much.

As President Bush prepares to leave the White House, he's doing something he rarely does. He's talking about things he regrets.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano.

Elaine, I was pretty surprised by some of these latest comments from the president.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was interesting. This interview was done last week, we should say, by ABC News. It's going to air later tonight. But President Bush, in that interview, said his biggest regret was bad information that he and others got on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Charles Gibson asked President Bush, "You've always said there's no do-overs as president. If you had one?"

The president replied, "I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein."

"It wasn't just people in my administration. A lot of members in Congress prior to my arrival in Washington, D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."

Now, Gibson also asked whether the president would still have gone to war in Iraq if he had known that there was no WMD there. The president said that was an interesting question. He said, "Look, that's a do-over that I can't do," and that it was hard for him to speculate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. He also says something else that was I guess unusual for this president about his role in this war. QUIJANO: Well, that's right. President Bush basically said that when it comes to being a wartime president, that certainly is something that he did not set out to do. Charles Gibson again asked him, "What were you most unprepared for?"

The president replied, "Well, I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents, one of the things about the modern presidency, is that the unexpected will happen."

And again, Wolf, this was an interview conducted last week. It's going to air later tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Right now, by the way, Sarah Palin is testing her political influence by campaigning in Georgia's Senate runoff. Listen to this.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Saxby doesn't just run with the Washington herd. And with one party in control of the House and the Senate and the White House right now, we need now, more than ever, public servants who will speak for themselves.


BLITZER: The Alaska governor trying to keep her profile and her popularity up there.

Plus, was Hillary Clinton a foreign policy player when her husband was president? Madeleine Albright weighs in on the woman poised to inherit her former job as secretary of state.

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


BLITZER: The 2008 election is not over for everyone. Tomorrow, in the state of Georgia, voters will decide between Republican incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss or the Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. They're locked right now in a tight runoff election that could help determine the balance of power in the next Senate. So Republicans are leaving nothing, nothing to chance.

CNN's Dana Bash is in Duluth, Georgia.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sarah Palin back on the stump as if she never left.

PALIN: Thank you so much, Georgia. BASH: With adoring signs and "Palin for President" T-shirts, it may be easy to forget Palin came to Georgia campaigning for someone else, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, facing a runoff election Tuesday.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: You have the opportunity to determine whether or not we're going to have 41 Republican senators in the United States Senate to make sure that we shape bad legislation or kill bad legislation.

BASH: Chambliss is trying to hold on to his seat by warning conservatives that if he loses, Democrats would have 59 senators, one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority. He had pleaded with Palin to come help him get out the conservative vote.

CHAMBLISS: Would you please help me welcome Governor Sarah Palin!

BASH: Happily becoming the warm-up act at his own final rallies.

PALIN: If the majority party seeks to limit our rights under the Second Amendment, we need Saxby to remind them, no, those rights will not be infringed upon.

BASH: Democratic challenger Jim Martin called Palin's four-stop tour with Chambliss desperate.

JIM MARTIN (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Bringing in Sarah Palin is not going to help him because the voters of Georgia want somebody who will stand up for them in Washington, somebody who understands their issues.

BASH: But Martin has had help from political stars, too, like Bill Clinton.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Jim Martin a lot. And you should, too. He's the kind of person we ought to have in public life.

BASH: Barack Obama recorded a radio ad and a robo-call.

OBAMA (voice-over): Jim supports my plan to get our economy moving again. Jim Martin's a man of his word.

BASH: But the highly popular president-elect would only go so far in risking his political capital here. He declined to come campaign with Martin.


BLITZER: All right. That was Dana Bash. She's on the scene for us in Georgia. We're going to have more on this story coming up. And we'll have complete coverage, clearly, here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton is promising to be an aggressive secretary of state for Barack Obama.


H. CLINTON: We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries.


BLITZER: How diplomacy may change under Hillary Clinton. Our State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee is standing by.

And a toddler in tears crying out for the mother he lost in the Mumbai massacre. We have new information coming in right now about this child's remarkable escape with his nanny.

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


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

Happening now, Senator Clinton could be replaced with Senator Clinton. Now that Hillary Clinton is set for the State Department, could Bill Clinton take her seat in the Senate? Stand by.

Also, memories of pure hell. American survivors of the attacks in India recalling how they were nearly killed but managed to escape death.

And why are active duty combat troops being assigned to homeland security right here in the United States? Could you be seeing U.S. military troops patrolling your city?

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

Hillary Clinton practiced her diplomatic skills today at the official announcement of her nomination as the secretary of state. The senator getting an early taste of what it will be like to serve at the will of Barack Obama.

Our State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee is joining us.

Zain, no upstaging by Hillary of the president-elect today.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. The sharp disagreements of the campaign were gone, and all seemed forgiven. Instead, a look ahead to the Obama administration.


H. CLINTON: I am proud to join you.

VERJEE (voice-over): Hillary Clinton made it clear, look for a change in how the U.S. walks on the world stage. H. CLINTON: We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries.

VERJEE: The former first lady who visited 82 countries, the member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, now is poised to ramp up diplomacy, or as she put it back in the campaign...

H. CLINTON: The era of cowboy diplomacy is over.

VERJEE: In "Foreign Affairs" magazine, she wrote, "True statesmanship requires that we engage with our adversaries, not for the sake of talking but because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims."

In fact, during the primary campaign, Clinton called Obama naive to suggest talking to Iranian leaders, herself taking a more hawkish view.

As Clinton spoke in Chicago, the current secretary of state headed to India after the Mumbai terror attacks.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know that she will bring enormous energy and intellect and skill to the position.

VERJEE: Both Secretary Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want more soft power like building schools and roads, promoting jobs, versus military power. Both also want major expansion of the number of U.S. diplomats and support staff overseas that Hillary Clinton will need. A new report coming out this week will make the case for how to boost federal spending to make this happen.

Clinton will face enormous challenges -- two wars, nuclear tensions with Iran, North Korea, a rising China, a resurgent Russia, all amid a world recession.

OBAMA: Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.


VERJEE: Amid today's show of teamwork, there could be major internal debates on policy. But Barack Obama says he welcomes differences of opinion.

One key point here, Wolf. As you know, the success of a secretary of state is often measured by the closeness and the access to the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll be watching very, very closely. Zain, thanks very much.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. She served in the Clinton administration. Her book is entitled "Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership." It's now out in paperback. A pretty timely book.

Thanks for coming in.

ALBRIGHT: Well, thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the relationship between Hillary Clinton, who's going to be the next secretary of state, and Barack Obama, who's going to be the next president of the United States. There was apparently no love lost during the campaign when he said this back in November of last year -- listen to this.


OBAMA: If she wants to it out her experience by having visited countries, that's fine. I don't think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration.


BLITZER: All right. So he used your name in trying to undermine her foreign policy credentials, but now I guess all is forgot.

ALBRIGHT: Well, he certainly, in announcing the team, made very clear that he was very happy to have her as secretary of state, and that they would be a great team. And I believe that. And I think that...

BLITZER: But you say they'll be a great team, but won't there be some friction there, some tension?

ALBRIGHT: I think what will happen, Wolf, is something that I actually talk about in my book, is that it is important to have a group of people around the president who have different views, who respect each other's views. But as President-elect Obama said earlier, that he didn't want a bunch of "Yes" people around him, he wants people around him that will, in fact, raise all the issues, not group think. And I think that Hillary Clinton is somebody who is so smart and so dedicated to restoring America's image and being somebody that will provide advice, but ultimately be a terrific team player.

BLITZER: With the exception of her vote in favor of the war, and in his opposition to the war, are there really major, substantive policy differences on some of the key global issues out there?

ALBRIGHT: I don't think so. I think that they have very much of a similar world view, the importance of restoring America's leadership and -- but being a partner, not being just somebody that tells every other country what to do, but to restructure the alliances, build up on friendships, try to have a 21st century view of the issues that are out there and deal with one of the big issues of our time, fighting terrorism, dealing with the problems of the broken nuclear non- proliferation, dealing with the great gaps between the rich and the poor and the energy and environment agenda.

So, they share that.

BLITZER: They did have a highly publicized disagreement on whether a president should sit down with foreign dictators without preconditions in the first year of a new administration.

ALBRIGHT: Well they disagreed about at what level to talk. But the point now is to try to find with whom to talk in the first place. And as you know, five former secretaries of state, on CNN, agreed that we should all talk to Iran without preconditions. That is what I think is going to happen, if we can find the right people to talk to.

And they both agree that you have to be prepared for the talks and that it is time to have dialogue with countries that you don't like.

BLITZER: Today at his news conference, Barack Obama was asked that -- he made the point during the campaign that he would support using U.S. forces, going into Pakistan, sovereign Pakistani territory, if there was credible information about al Qaeda or other terrorists there, without necessarily getting the permission of the Pakistani government. And he was asked if India could abide by the same rules. And listen to what he said.


OBAMA: I think that sovereign nations obviously have a right to protect themselves. Beyond that, I don't want to comment on the specific situation that has taken place in South Asia right now.


BLITZER: First of all, do you agree with him that the U.S. has this right to go after al Qaeda in Pakistan without authorization from the Pakistani government?

ALBRIGHT: Well I think that they are working out a way that -- there's an agreement that the Pakistanis understand what the issue is. I think that if we have clear evidence and intelligence that is one part of this. And that is the Achilles' heel of everything, which is whether you have actual intelligence.

I think that what President-elect Obama said about the fact that every country, under the United Nations, has the right to defend itself, that is absolutely true. But it's also true that they are investigating everything right now, and that it is not appropriate for those of us that are not in the government to comment on this.

BLITZER: Do you believe that Pakistan, the government of Pakistan, the new president of Pakistan, is doing everything within its power right now to clamp down on these anti-Indian, these terrorists, many of whom have their bases within various parts of Pakistan?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think President Zardari is trying very hard. When I met with him during the general assembly session here in New York, he knew what the issues were, he knew that he had to get control over various groups within his country. He knows he has huge...

BLITZER: So you have confidence in him?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that he is their president and he is working very hard to try to get control over what is a very difficult place.

BLITZER: But there could be rogue elements out there, in Pakistani intelligence?

ALBRIGHT: Well, my own sense is Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons, it has terrorism, extremists, corruption, very poor and it's in a location that's really, really important to us. And now with this issue with India. So, I think that the current president and the current secretary of state, who's on her way to India right now, have a very big job ahead of them.

And I also do think that the next president, and the secretary of state, are going to have to pay a great deal of attention to that combination of issues, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, that all fit together. That's very important to the United States.

BLITZER: Certainly is a migraine.

ALBRIGHT: Certainly is.

BLITZER: Madame Secretary, thanks for coming in.

ALBRIGHT: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: An orphan crying for his mother, his parents killed in the India terror attacks. There are new details emerging right now about his nanny's heroic efforts to save this little boy.

And it's been awhile since we have heard from him, but vice president-elect Joe Biden, he actually spoke today. What will his role be in the new national security team? Stand by. Our "Strategy Session," that is coming up.


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, former first lady Barbara Bush is listed in good condition as she recovers from ulcer surgery. The wife of former President George H.W. Bush is expected to remain at the Methodist Hospital in Houston for several more days. Mrs. Bush was taken to the hospital a week ago for abdominal pains. She underwent surgery to repair a perforated ulcer. Mrs. Bush is 83.

The mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, is free on bond, after being arrested on federal bribery and fraud charges. The FBI arrested Mayor Larry Langford this morning. A Montgomery, Alabama, investor banker and a Birmingham lobbyist are also named in the indictment. Prosecutors say Langford steered lucrative business to the investment banker and his company.

The banker earned more than $7 million. Prosecutors say, in turn, he and the lobbyist insured that Langford's crushing personal debts were paid off.

There's disturbing news about U.S. high school students and their sense of right and wrong. The Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute surveyed nearly 30,000 students at 100 schools across the country. Thirty percent of those questioned said they have stolen from a store in the past year. Sixty-four percent said they have cheated on a test, and 36 percent said they have used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

But, despite those responses, almost all, 93 percent, said they're satisfied with their own personal ethics and character.

And the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan is down dramatically. There were two U.S. deaths last month. That's down from 16 in October and 27 in September. The U.S. military says the number of deaths dropped last month because of the campaign targeting insurgent leaders and an improvement in Afghan security forces. And it says the onset of winter was also a factor.

Since October of 2001, 623 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, thanks. We will get back to you.

A young survivor of the terror attacks in India is now heading to Israel, along with the nanny who saved him. And the bodies of his parents are being brought to Israel, as well.

Before leaving Mumbai, 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg attended a memorial for his parents, and he wailed for his mother. It's difficult to listen to, but listen to this. He keeps screaming "Ema, Ema," which is mother in Hebrew.




BLITZER: And, this hour, we're learning more about his remarkable escape from that attack on the Jewish center in Mumbai.

CNN's Drew Griffin is getting information on what's going on.

What a painful story this is, Drew. DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really hard to watch that child, Wolf. But we are being told that the Indian nanny literally faced down the terrorists, almost daring them to kill her as she ran from the city's Jewish house with that baby in her arms.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was moments after the attack Wednesday. The Indian nanny Sandra Samuel clutching the child who moments earlier had become an orphan -- 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg crying, but unhurt, was apparently overlooked when gunmen stormed the house, killing his parents, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his mother, Rivka, and four others.

According to the spokesman for the child's great uncle, it was the quick-thinking nanny in the moments of the attack who acted to save herself, then the child.

ROBERT KATZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND VICE PRESIDENT, MIGDAL OHR: As the siege upon the Chabad House began, the nanny locked all the doors and -- when she heard the commotion and went to hide. They broke in to the house. And she heard them running upstairs. And she heard Mrs. Holtzberg, Rivka, screaming "Sandra, Sandra, help. Sandra."

GRIFFIN: The gunmen reportedly were going room to room, searching for targets. Samuel unlocked her door and, according to Katz, dared the terrorists to stop her.

KATZ: Sandra, the nanny, came out of her hiding place, ran upstairs right away, to where Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg were, and found them shot dead in cold blood. The baby was standing there screaming hysterical, crying. And she literally picked him up and made a dash for the exits, almost daring the terrorists to shoot her while carrying a baby.

GRIFFIN: With both his parents gone, Moshe is now being cared for by his maternal grandparents. But it is the great uncle who is expected to provide for his future.

Moshe Holtzberg is the grand nephew of Rabbi Yitzchak Grossman, founder of the Migdal Ohr orphanage, said to be the largest Jewish orphanage in the world -- 7,000 children live on his orphanage's 100- acre compound in northern Israel.

Now, tragically, so too will Israel's newest orphan.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, Rabbi Grossman expected to meet the child at the airport when he arrives, along with the nanny, who we're now learning will be granted some sort of visa or temporary stay in Israel, so the nanny can stay with that 2-year-old during this traumatic turn in that child's life. BLITZER: I'm sure the Israelis will let her stay as long as she wants to stay in Israel. They're going to be grateful to her for saving this little boy's life.

Drew, thank you very much for that report.

Barack Obama will be surrounded by strong, opinionated advisers, but he's making it clear he will be the decider.


OBAMA: I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But, understand, I will be setting policy as president.


BLITZER: We're going to ask our political experts their thoughts on Obama's national security picks. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And he's the seasoned foreign policy expert who will also be the next vice president of the United States. So, what will Joe Biden's role be when compared to Hillary Clinton, for example, on foreign policy?

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


BLITZER: Bill Bennett and Paul Begala are standing by. We will get their take on this new national security team. We will be right back.


BLITZER: It's certainly a diverse group, but it also includes some rather strong and opinionated personalities.

Now that Barack Obama has unveiled his powerhouse national security team, many of you are wondering how so many strong people might actually work together.

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, two CNN political contributors. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. And Bill Bennett is a national radio talk show host.

What do you think about this new team, Bill?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's pretty good, actually. I have been talking to a lot of conservatives about it who are upset with anything Barack Obama does.

But I will tell you, what I have tried to explain to them is, we lost. Our team lost. The other team won. And given that the other team won, this is a pretty impressive team, as things go. It could be a lot worse. This is not Ramsey Clark as attorney general or secretary of state. This is not Cyrus Vance.

This is a centrist group, for the most part. And I am dumbfounded at the selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state- designee. But I told you the Clintons were finished, Wolf. This was it.



BENNETT: This was the end.

BLITZER: They're never finished.

BENNETT: And -- and, yes, that's exactly...


BENNETT: That may be exactly -- what did they say in "The Exorcist"; for God's sake, get out?


BENNETT: There's no getting out.

BLITZER: Well, but -- before I get to Paul, but you think Hillary Clinton, what, is going to be a strong, good secretary of state? Are you happy that she's going to be the secretary of state?

BENNETT: Happy, you know, it's a comparative term.

Look, if you're in a fight, would you -- with a bunch of nasty people somewhere in the world, would you want Hillary Clinton on your side? I think the answer to that is yes. She's very tough. She's very tenacious. She's a competitor. She's smart. It's a terrific job for her. It is the second most important -- with all due respect, it is the second most important job in the federal government, after president.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Paul, because you're hearing a lot of similar praise from many conservatives, that they're really impressed that Barack Obama has not only put together a strong national security team they like, but a strong economic team that they like as well.


And I give Bill, of course, enormous credit for his intellectual honesty. He's held firm to standards. I know, ideologically, he may not be happy that my team won, as it was, and his lost.

But, yes, this is now the president-elect executing on his promises. It turns out he meant what he said in the campaign about reaching across the partisan divide. He has Republicans, as well as Democrats, on his security team. He has diplomatic star power and he has military firepower. I could not be more impressed. Now, they will make their mistakes. OK? We can't hold any presidency to a standard of perfection. But -- I -- you know, I can't see a mistake he's made yet in this transition. I'm very impressed.

BLITZER: There will be some on the far left and, of course, many on the far right, Paul, who will be angry.

Let's go to the far left, the liberal -- real liberal base of the party. They are saying, what happened to change? And some of them are saying, you know, there are too many people who supported the war in Iraq.

How does Barack Obama deal with that kind of criticism from the far -- let's call it the most liberal left?

BEGALA: Right. Very forcefully, I thought today, in his press conference this morning.

I, of course, supported Hillary Clinton for president. One of the reasons was, I -- I knew Hillary was strong, as Bill just said a moment ago. I had some concerns whether Senator Obama, relatively new to the scene, would be strong enough. Yet, he is showing that strength, right?

He's showing strength by -- when the question was asked today, he said, "I will set policy in this administration, and I expect this team, yes, to challenge, but, ultimately, they will execute the policies I put in place."

He showed extraordinary strength, without the sort of bullying swagger that some people who are maybe a little more insecure sometimes show.

BLITZER: Let's go back to what you alluded to earlier, Bill.

Joe Biden, the vice president-elect of the United States, we finally heard from him today. He spoke out at that news conference. Listen to this little clip.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Each member of this team shares the goals and the principles that the president-elect and I have attempted to advance. Each member shares our conviction that strength and wisdom must go hand in hand.


BLITZER: All right. What do you mean that you think Hillary Clinton's job as secretary of state will be more important than Joe Biden's job as vice president? Because, in this current eight years of the Bush administration, Dick Cheney had a pretty important job.

BENNETT: Yes, he did. And he exercised a great deal of authority and a great deal of power. And I'm glad he did. Others obviously disagree with that. But the secretary of state, the modern secretary of state, particularly if you think about -- now, think of the people who have held the position, and think of the distinction that has followed them from that office. And think of the world now.

Look, we're not in abstractions anymore. We're not in a campaign mode anymore, Wolf. We're -- we're talking about sending someone to talk to people in Pakistan, to talk to people in India about that. And that's going to be the first person, the most direct line after the president's phone call, to talk about these issues.

Are these important issues? They are critically important issues.

The vice president is there as backup, as we say in law enforcement, to the president. But the secretary of state is the face and brain of the United States abroad. Are there major issues abroad? Absolutely. That's what I mean.

BLITZER: What do you -- how do you see Joe Biden's role shaping up? What model, Paul, do you see him trying to emulate?

BEGALA: Well, apparently, not the Cheney model, in that, you know, he hasn't misled anybody about intelligence or shot anybody in the face. So, so far, so good for Joe Biden.


BEGALA: What he is doing -- this is really remarkable, though. I -- I know very few grownups with great capacity to change. And Joe Biden is certainly a grownup.

And, look, since age 29, he has been the boss. He's been a United States senator, and, more recently, the very powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Today is the first time he has spoken in public since the day before the election.


BEGALA: That's remarkable discipline.

He's probably spent more time alone, though, with Barack Obama than anyone else outside of Obama's family. So, he is exercising influence in a completely different way now. You know, back during the campaign, his critics all said, oh, he's a gaffe machine. Oh, they won't be able to keep him on the reservation.

You know, now he's low-key Joe in public and very influential...


BLITZER: He's showing a lot of discipline.

BENNETT: Well, he's...

(CROSSTALK) BENNETT: I think he's had a time-out, you know, as we do with kids. I think they have asked him to back off.

But, having said that, let me say, if you're sitting around the table, and you have got Joe Biden, and you have got Jones, National Security Adviser Jones, and you have got Hillary Clinton, and you have got Bob Gates, I mean, this is a pretty good team. This is a group of responsible, adult people.


BLITZER: All right.

BENNETT: And I -- and Joe Biden is a part of that.

He was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He created the position of drug czar. I was the first drug czar. I worked with him. The guy is open to argument and debate. He can be a very reasonable person...

BLITZER: All right.

BENNETT: ... and usually is.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys. Good discussion. Thanks very much.

BENNETT: Sorry, Paul.


BENNETT: I didn't mean to filibuster.

BEGALA: No. Hook 'em, Horns, Bill. We're a couple of Longhorns here.


BEGALA: We're still aggrieved about the BCS.


BENNETT: ... Oklahoma. I think Oklahoma's got it, Paul.


BLITZER: Happening now in Massachusetts: a memorable moment for Senator Ted Kennedy, why he's being honored and who is there to help him celebrate.

Also, does Bill Clinton have any interest in replacing his wife in the U.S. Senate? There's lots of speculation swirling about that.

And should active-duty U.S. military personnel be used for non- combat missions here at home? The debate surrounding an unprecedented move by the Pentagon. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, when it comes to nuclear weapons what, should Barack Obama's first priority be as president?

Meagan in Maryland writes: "I think his priority should be to make other countries aware that we no longer subscribe to the policy of appease us or we will attack. He needs to follow through on his promise to be as diplomatic as he wants the rest of the world to be."

Mike in Louisiana: "Obama should take the lead, make a goodwill gesture of destroying some of our nukes here in this country. The fewer nukes in the world, the less likely an accident could occur."

Debra in Washington: "Of all the issues facing Obama, this one he started the ground game in his first years in Congress with his bill on nuclear proliferation. Now he will use his popularity, along with the charm of Hillary Clinton, to reestablish relationships with the NATO allies and create a strong coalition behind nuclear accountability and control. I think he has in mind a world in which countries don't fight countries, but, if there is fighting, it is countries fighting extremists."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "How about dropping a nuke on the lawless area of Pakistan, where Osama Bin Laden is hiding out, you know, just to send a message on Inauguration Day?"

Dave in New York writes: "He ought to begin talks with Russia, China, the rest of the club, to begin a serious attempt to reduce the arsenals. Nobody needs enough firepower to destroy the Earth 10 times over."

And Jim writes: "First, move all the Israelis to Texas. That way, they will be safe and will add some civilization to a blighted area. Next, destroy as many nukes as possible by setting them to go at about 3,000 feet above Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, thereby assisting that part of the world in its efforts to redecorate and make things warm and inviting. Bright lighting can add so much."

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

Some of you are not well at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

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