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Interviews with Janet Napolitano, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Peter Canellos, Gary Sinise

Aired March 21, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Could Mexico collapse? The U.S. worries over new dangers on the border. And if drug war violence could spill into the United States. My exclusive interview with the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Two against one, the top House and Senate Republicans are here. They're slamming President Obama. John Boehner says the administration knew about the AIG bonuses. And Mitch McConnell says closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility could put you at risk.

And from the theater of war to a theater near you, as we mark six years since the start of the Iraq War, a touching new documentary gets rave reviews. The executive producer, Gary Sinise is here.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a CNN exclusive. The United States facing a terror threat that's here to stay, but extraordinary new dangers may be building along the Mexican border. Here's my one-on-one interview with the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.


BLITZER: Let's go through some of the threats.

You're talking about the war on terror.

First of all, there's been some confusion.

Do you still use that phrase that there is a war on terror?

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, yes. Terrorism is -- is a -- is a threat that is with us and, sadly enough, will never go away. But the thing is not to create fear about it, but to stay look, there is a risk of terror, either coming from abroad or homegrown.

It's about preparation and being able to recover so that people have the confidence that goes with knowing that we're prepared.

BLITZER: And so do you still consider the United States to be engaged in a war on terror? NAPOLITANO: I consider the United States -- yes, to be very engaged and in working with our international partners and others in preventing terrorist acts from occurring. Here's what was written about Mexico recently by the U.S. Joint Forces Command: "In terms of worst case scenarios for the Joint Force and, indeed, the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse -- Pakistan and Mexico."

And the report goes on to say: "In particular, the growing assault by the drug cartels and their thugs on the Mexican government over the past several years reminds one that an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States."

How worried are you about that?

NAPOLITANO: Well -- and I speak not only as the Homeland Security secretary, but as the two term governor of Arizona, the attorney general of Arizona and the former U.S. attorney for Arizona. So a lot of familiarity with the border and with relations with Mexico.

Mexico is not Pakistan. And so I think that verbiage was incorrect and has led to some kind of incorrect characterizations in the media.

But it is very clear that the state of Mexico, in the person of President Calderon and the federal government, is really taking on these big cartels. And we have an important stake in that battle.

BLITZER: Because he says, President Calderon, he said, on February 26th: "To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false. I have not lost any part -- any single part of Mexican territory."

Which is true, but there are areas along the border that are extremely violent and potentially the spillover for the United States could be enormous.

NAPOLITANO: Well, this -- that's exactly why I'm saying this is an important battle to be waged, but it's being waged by the state of Mexico, the government of Mexico.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the government of Mexico?

NAPOLITANO: I have confidence in President Calderon and I think we want to do everything we can to help them.

BLITZER: Here is a fact, 6,290 people were killed last year in these drug-related wars and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of this year alone. Now what can be done to stop this?

NAPOLITANO: Well a couple of things, number one is like I said before, to support President Calderon. One of the ways we can do that is to recognize that a lot of this violence is fueled by guns and cash that's coming from the United States south into Mexico.

BLITZER: How do you stop that?

NAPOLITANO: Well, you stop it a couple of ways. One is you increase inspections of southbound traffic. We al ready are seizing more cash, more guns going south across our border into Mexico. Number two, you increase intelligence efforts about who is supplying the big bulk loads, I mean we're talking carloads of cash and mega weapons going into Mexico. Congress has set aside money for us to train Mexican law enforcement, not only to train but to properly equip them so they have the wherewithal to go against these cartels.

BLITZER: Does the United States have enough troops on the border with Mexico right now? Would you recommend sending more?

NAPOLITANO: What do you mean by that?

BLITZER: Border agents and then U.S. military personnel.

NAPOLITANO: Right. We have almost 20,000 border agents right there now, that's in addition to state and local law enforcement.

BLITZER: Is that enough?

NAPOLITANO: It is enough in one way, but we are looking at what we can do to augment that. In other words, we're looking at can other federal agents be sent to the border. I will be announcing some of those movements very quickly here, and also, as you know, two governors of states have asked the National Guard be placed back at the border and that's being evaluated.

BLITZER: How worried are you about an influx of illegal immigrants just crossing the border from Mexico into the United States? A lot of them simply want to escape the violence.

NAPOLITANO: We're not seeing that right now. We just aren't. The very highest numbers of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States, we saw during the economic high points when there were lots of jobs here. As the economy has gone down, so has illegal immigration, plus, we've put a lot more resources on the border over the last 18 months. So for example, in Arizona, there were half a million border patrol apprehensions a few years ago, now there are less than half that. So we've already seen a lot --

BLITZER: Because the economy in the U.S. is so bad right now.


BLITZER: So there's less incentive for these folks to cross the border.

NAPOLITANO: Right. But you know, there always is -- regardless of how remote and I think you have to say you always are evaluating, well, what could happen under worst case scenarios and one of those is, we would see such a surge and we would be prepared if such a thing were to occur. BLITZER: Is the fence or whatever the technical term is, that's being built along the border, is that enough?

NAPOLITANO: A fence will not stop a mass wave of illegal immigration.

BLITZER: No matter how good that fence is.

NAPOLITANO: No matter how good. BLITZER: Because they can always get around it, find ways to get around it.

NAPOLITANO: Over it, under it, around it. Now, some fencing, combined with manpower and technology, as part of a system of border protection, makes sense, but to build a fence from San Diego to Brownsville it's not going to stop such a wave.

BLITZER: Dick Cheney, former vice president of the United States, was on CNN the other day. He told our John King this when John asked him this question, do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11.

BLITZER: Those are strong words from Cheney that the United States now, since President Obama's taken office, is less safe because of the actions he's taken involving prisoners and Guantanamo Bay and other decisions. What do you want to say to Dick Cheney?

NAPOLITANO: Well I'd like to say, if he were sitting in that chair, I said you're just wrong, that this administration is very committed to the safety of this country. That we, I wake up in the morning thinking about what we can do to be more safe, more secure, my colleagues do the same and the president does the same. And that we don't have to have a Guantanamo to have safety.

BLITZER: And the enhanced interrogation techniques that some call torture that the former vice president says were absolutely essential in saving American lives, do you have any regrets about the president's decision to go back away from those so-called enhanced interrogation techniques?

NAPOLITANO: Absolutely none. I think the president has set the right standard. I think it has restored the United States in the eyes of our allies and restored us to the fundamental values that we share.


The Homeland Security Secretary gets ready for new offices in a psychiatric hospital. In more of my exclusive interview, you're going to see the department's future home. The man who tried to kill Ronald Reagan lives there.

The U.S. Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay is the perfect place to host suspected terrorists.

That's where the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell says. He's here. He's upset that President Obama wants to close it down.

And the book is entitled "The Last Lion." The author is here with his account of the fall and rise of Senator Ted Kennedy.


BLITZER: An extraordinary setting and an ambitious plan. An historic psychiatric institution right here in the nation's capital being turned into the future home of the Homeland Security Department. More now by visit, an exclusive interview with Secretary Janet Napolitano.


BLITZER: Let's talk about where we are right now. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world where we are.


BLITZER: Physically.

NAPOLITANO: OK. We are at what was known as St. Elizabeth's Hospital. But this will be the new headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security.

BLITZER: And the St. Elizabeth's, for our viewers who aren't familiar, is a psychiatric hospital.

John Hinckley, who tried to kill Ronald Reagan, he's here?

NAPOLITANO: That's right. It's a very large campus, as you can see. I don't know what is put on the camera. But it's in a very rundown part of the District of Columbia. And right now, of course, the Department of Homeland Security was stood up after 9/11. And we are spread out amongst 40 different buildings in the District of Columbia.

And since we were created, in part, specifically to be able to connect the dots so that we don't have another 9/11 terrorist attack on our country -- that we can prevent it before it occurs better -- it would be facilitated by being in one campus under one roof. And so this will be -- is underway and is part of -- also part of the stimulus package.

BLITZER: And you hope that, what, over the next six or eight years this campus will be completed?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, sooner. Complete in six or seven, but, hopefully, many of our major components, including my office, will be here within five.

BLITZER (voice-over): I got an exclusive look at the Secretary Napolitano's future office in St. Elizabeth's most historic building, the Center Building. She'll work here in the old hospital superintendent's quarters. Just down the hall, the wards.

In the 1940s and '50s, more than 7,000 patients lived here. These will also become offices, including the room where another of St. Elizabeth's infamous residents, the poet, Ezra Pound, was housed -- all of it slated to be restored to its original splendor.

(on camera): How much money in the stimulus package has been earmarked for this project? NAPOLITANO: This project is $650 million. It will equate to 33,000 jobs in this area -- a $1.2 billion immediate stimulus to the local economy. And if you look at this area of the District, you'd understand that this would be very beneficial to the overall quality of life in this area of the District.

BLITZER (voice-over): It's a strategic location -- more than 300 acres on a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. with some of most sweeping, spectacular views of the Capitol.

(on camera): The theory is that you have a big campus like this -- and we'll have, you know, beautiful shots of it. The theory is you'll -- you're going to do for the Department of Homeland Security what DOD, the Pentagon did, when they moved out to Virginia or the CIA when they had their huge campus out in Langley, Virginia. That's the theory behind having this huge campus for the Department of Homeland Security, which is now spread out over, as you say, dozen of different locations.

NAPOLITANO: Yes, that's -- that's one of the theories. And, again, when you go down to where the Pentagon is -- I think when the Pentagon was created, there were many of the same arguments were made about being a bad neighbor, not helping the local economy and the like. And those have not been born out.

BLITZER: So you're ready. The country, you feel, as far as homeland security is concerned, is, or shortly will be, in very good hands?

NAPOLITANO: We prepare, we prepare and we prepare, yes.

BLITZER: Good luck.

We're all counting on you.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.


BLITZER: President Obama says the buck stops with him to prevent bailed out companies from giving fat bonuses.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, I'm responsible. I'm the president of the United States. We've got a big mess that we're having to clean up.


BLITZER: The president says he's angry, but he suggests some Republicans are faking it. I'll ask the House Minority Leader John Boehner to respond.

And the charges the president is moving too quickly to shut down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, he's warning about a dangerous situation. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


OBAMA: I closed Guantanamo. That was the right thing to do. But I made the -- but in making that decision, I said, we're going to take a year to figure out how are we going to deal with the folks who are detained there, some of whom really are dangerous folks, who if we just release them, could do us harm.


BLITZER: Terror suspects on the loose. That's one frightening image seized upon by opponents of the president's security policies. I spoke with the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.


BLITZER: Let's talk about national security right now. Including the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and I know you are very focused in on this right now. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, told our own John King on Sunday that he believed that the steps taken by president Obama since taking office on these terror related issues have undermined U.S. national security, made the U.S. weaker. Do you agree with the vice president?

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what I do feel. I do feel that an arbitrary decision to close Guantanamo by a certain date doesn't deal with the issue. And the issue is we have the worst of the worst at Guantanamo. These are the worst terrorists you can imagine. We let some of these suspects down there go, 12 percent of them have gone back to the battlefield. And have tried to kill Americans. And some succeed in killing Americans. We know that no one has ever escaped from Guantanamo. And so if you are going to make a hard decision to close Guantanamo by a certain date, then you need to answer the question, what are you going do with them? A couple of years ago we had a vote in the senate about moving prisoners at Guantanamo to the United States. The vote was 94-3 against putting the terrorists on American soil. So my criticism of the new administration is maybe it is popular in Europe to say you are going to close Guantanamo, although by the way, European visitors at Guantanamo, one from Belgium said it was better than their prisons. You can make that decision but what are you going to do with them? These are extraordinarily dangerous people.

BLITZER: They say they are going to study it for a year and make them as long as a year before they decide they are not closing it for at least a year. That's what they say but let me get back to the question --

MCCONNELL: But that's the whole point, Wolf. If you are going to announce a time for closing it, what are you going to do with it?

BLITZER: Looking for answers now. We are going to move these prisoners, whether to Europe, other place, continental United States, going through a process of reviewing.

MCCONNELL: Can I suggest the answer? BLITZER: Why.

MCCONNELL: They are in the perfect place now. They are being treated well. All the visitors know they are being treated well. These are minimum combatants and we know the American people overwhelmingly do not want them here in this country. We at the direction of the Supreme Court set up a military commission system to try those who need to be tried, a system for trying them. This is not broke. We don't need to fix it.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the vice president that Dick Cheney, when he says that he believes president Obama has weakened U.S. security since taking office?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I believe is what I just said. I do not think that the president should have an arbitrary deadline for closing Guantanamo. He used to have an arbitrary deadline for getting out of Iraq. He adjusted that. He adopted the policy of the previous administration not only to Iraq but Afghanistan. He has shown he can adjust his sales. To pick an arbitrary date to close Guantanamo when you have no idea what to do with these hardened terrorists who have been involved in killing Americans is, in my view, not the right course of action. I hope he will remember consider during the course of this year -- you know the previous administration wanted to close Guantanamo and never did it because there was no good answer to the question of what to do with these terrorists.

BLITZER: Republicans who want to close it, too, including John McCain.

MCCONNELL: President Bush did, too. He never actually did it. Never put an arbitrary deadline it because there is no good answer, Wolf, to the question of what to do.

BLITZER: You don't want go as far as what Dick Cheney said. I will leave it at that. I will not press you any further. Thanks for coming in.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Mitch McConnell is the top Republican in the Senate.


BLITZER: President Obama keeps telling the American people just how angry he is that the insurance giant AIG gave out big bonuses after taking billions in federal bailout money, but he's questioning whether his critics' anger is genuine.


OBAMA: I think it's very important to remind ourselves that there are a whole bunch of folks now who are feigning outrage about these bonuses, that a year ago or two years ago or three years ago said, well, we should never meddle in these compensation plans. These are the best and the brightest. They know what they're doing. That's part of the market. And now suddenly, they're outraged. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's talk now more about who bears responsibility for the AIG mess. I spoke with the top Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner.


BLITZER: How did you interpret what he was saying?

BOEHNER: I'm not quite sure what he was talking about, Wolf.

Listen, nobody in America wants all of this money to be given to our financial institutions in the form of a bailout. This is rubbing the salt in the wounds of American families and small businesses who are already hurting.


BLITZER: Because he seemed to be talking -- to me -- to me, as I heard him say that, he seemed to be saying, all those Republicans who want a free market, who want to deregulate, who want the government off the back of these huge corporations, look what they're -- look what we got as a result of all of that.

BOEHNER: Wolf, you have to understand, there was no deregulation of anything in the financial services industries. As a matter of fact, there was an increase in regulation.

What happened in all of this is that some people got creative in terms of how they could create new products -- new products at different parts of the company -- that were in the unregulated part of the company that caused this infection of our entire financial system.

And so there's plenty of blame to go around here. But this is diverting the attention from the fact that -- somebody in this administration knew that this money was going for bonuses and somehow that language got into this bill.


BOEHNER: And all of this is at the hands of the Democrats who control Capitol Hill, control the White House, and who produced this bill.

BLITZER: Back in January, our own Mary Snow was reporting there's hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses that are still to be paid out by AIG, but apparently no one was really paying all that close attention to that. But you make a fair point, Congressman Boehner.

One final question before I let you go. If the federal government, if the administration now says we need to spend a few more billion dollars to help AIG, are you going to be with them?

BOEHNER: I'm going to have some serious doubts about that.

Listen, this problem is not going to be solved by continuing to throw money at it. And I just think it's time for the federal government to have an exit plan. How are we going to start to get the taxpayer money back out of these companies and back into the treasury and minimize the risk to American taxpayers?

BLITZER: Congressman Boehner, thanks very much for coming in.

BOEHNER: Thank you.


BLITZER: On St. Patrick's Day, President Obama paid tribute to a great Irish American.


OBAMA: Teddy Kennedy wishes he could be here tonight, but I guarantee you this much. The very thought of all of you gathered here has his eyes smiling and he expects you to party.


BLITZER: I'll discuss Senator Kennedy's remarkable, nearly five- decade career in politics with the editor of his new biography.

Also, two brothers fighting in Iraq and a third brother documenting it all on film. It makes for a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the Iraq War now entering its seventh year. I'll talk about that with the actor, Gary Sinise. He's executive producer of the new documentary, "Brothers at War."

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



OBAMA: The one person who has touched all of us, fortunate enough to walk these halls with his mentorship and his friendship, the hardest working Irish American we know, friend to all, father to some, Teddy Kennedy.


BLITZER: President Obama paying tribute on St. Patrick's Day to Senator Ted Kennedy, largely absent from Capitol Hill in recent months as he battles brain cancer. Peter Canellos and his colleagues over at "The Boston Globe" paint a revealing and fascinating portrait of Senator Kennedy in a brand new book entitled, "Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy." Peter is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Congratulations on this new book.

PETER CANELLOS, EDITOR, "LAST LION": Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Let me read this line that you write. Whatever his state of ambivalence, Ted had never seemed to doubt that he would at some point have to run for the presidency. After all, everyone told him so. Do you believe now at the end of his career, he is disappointed he never became president of the United States?

CANELLOS: I don't think so. I don't think he's personally disappointed. I think there was a moment in 1968 when he kind of realized, right after Bobby Kennedy's assassination, that he wasn't going to be living his life for himself. He was going to be living for his parents' ambitions, for his brother's unrequited dream of the White House in Bobby's case and thwarted dream in Jack's case. So I think he really wanted to be president, because he wanted it sort of for them, for the Kennedy family, for the Kennedy restoration. But I don't think that in the way that people sort of know what's important to them or want to see their skills, you know, have their greatest expression, I don't think he wanted it for himself.

BLITZER: You suggest in the book, you and your colleagues, that he and the Kennedy family seemed more devastated by Bobby Kennedy's assassination than JFK's assassination. Why do you believe that?

CANELLOS: Well, obviously, both were devastating. For Ted, especially, though, Bobby's assassination meant that he was the head of the family. You know, this was the youngest of nine children. This was somebody who was not the recipient of all of the parents', you know, hopes and dreams. Suddenly is standing at the forefront. And it's not just the Kennedy family, it's, you know, half of the United States. I think people today don't really realize or remember, you know, as completely as they could, just how much the Kennedys were the focus of American politics at that time. So half of the United States wanted Ted kennedy to be president. And he was 36 years old and not prepared for it.

BLITZER: His son, his son's battle with cancer, as all of us remember, a devastating battle. Is that the reason, you believe, that Senator Kennedy became so passionate about health care?

CANELLOS: There were a number of moments. His own plane crash in 1964 when he spent six months in a bed that had to be rotated and turned around. You know, an aide, Jerry Dougherty, told one of our reporters, you know, how he had a conversation with Kennedy after that. And Kennedy knew that Dougherty had tuberculosis for two years in college. And he was like - and he knew that Dougherty's father was a police officer.

And he said, how did your family handle this? You know, how did they afford it? And Dougherty said it was a devastating. And he saw in Kennedy a sort of realization that the medical treatment the Kennedys so frequently drew on wasn't available to most people.

BLITZER: You reveal, you and your colleagues, what he says now was his biggest political mistake. And it goes back to 1971 when Richard Nixon was president of the United States.

CANELLOS: Yes, in 1971, Richard Nixon was proposing a national health plan that frankly sounds a lot like what we're discussing here in Washington right now, working through private insurers to get everybody covered. Kennedy didn't want that. He wanted a more sweeping national plan. He felt that it didn't include things that needed to be included and rejected it out of hand. He now says this was a terrible mistake. And I think he realizes that, you know, if they had passed national health insurance with the goal of universal coverage in 1971, he would have had 37 years to try to get it right. You know, to try to add benefits and to try to change things. And I think you also saw the germ of his later legislative philosophy, which was to achieve things incrementally that you might not get in one giant bill.

BLITZER: It might not be perfect, but it's better than nothing. That was - that came to be his inclination, not only on health care, but on other issues as well.

CANELLOS: It did, but there was also a greater sort of strategy behind it, in that I think he knew and knew that he had a safe seat. He knew where he wanted to go in these areas like civil rights, immigration, health care, education. And so he could see the whole picture where other senators couldn't. So some of these incremental steps where people would support him here and then a different coalition would support him there, he was the defining sensibility to push these big changes in the way that government interacts with people in all these areas.

Ted Kennedy was one of the early supporters of Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. You write this on page 408. "At times it seemed as if Ted and Obama were using each other. After almost 45 years, the Camelot mystique was losing its luster and Ted was hoping Obama could restore its power. But Obama, who had youthful charisma to spare, craved the support of the Kennedys for a different reason." All right, go ahead and explain.

CANELLOS: Well, I think Ted Kennedy's life was dedicated to sort of keeping alive the flame of his brothers. And he has dedicated himself to that. He's also dedicated himself to training future generations of Kennedys in what the family's public service creed is all about.

But I think that, you know, he realizes that there's no Kennedy on the horizon right now who's likely to become president. And he's confronting his own mortality. This was before the cancer diagnosis, but he was 76 years old. And he saw in Obama somebody who did embody some of the qualities of Jack Kennedy. And he thought that sort of imbuing Obama at this crucial moment in the campaign, by making Obama kind of an honorary Kennedy, he could pass some of the Kennedy mystique on to Obama.

BLITZER: And his niece Caroline Kennedy believed that at well. How disappointed were they when she decided to drop out of that opportunity to potentially become a U.S. senator?

CANELLOS: My impression is that Ted Kennedy is a doting uncle on Caroline and would want Caroline to have anything that she wanted. I don't think there was any sort of larger game plan within the Kennedy clan to sort of promote Caroline. I think it was something that she herself decided. And obviously, you know, he being a supportive uncle, wanted her to get it. But I don't think there was some wider Kennedy-wide kind of dream of seeing her step forward.

BLITZER: And finally, how's he doing right now?

CANELLOS: I think we know the same thing that you know, which is that, you know, he's back in Washington. And he's able to talk to people frequently on the phone. And he's pursuing his dream of universal health care right now. He's made sporadic appearances. He's obviously not 100%. But you know, he seems to be able to contribute.

BLITZER: We hope only for the best. One final question. You subtitled the book "The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy." Why?

CANELLOS: Because all of those hopes and dreams we talked about were on his shoulders in 1968. People expected him to be president. People saw him as filling Bobby and Jack's shoes. And then for several decades, he didn't. And there was disappointment surrounding him. And many people felt he was morally compromised after Chappaquiddick incident.

But in the last couple of decades, he cemented a legacy that is greater than any legislator in the industry of the United States almost. He's dominated in four major areas -- immigration, civil rights, health care, education that touch everybody's lives. So he's had a tremendous impact.

Peter Canellos is editor of the new book, together with his colleagues at "The Boston Globe" "Last Lion." Peter, thanks for coming in.

CANELLOS: Thank you, Wolf.

We normally don't see Jack Cafferty in THE SITUATION ROOM on Saturdays, but he's here today with some advice for President Obama. And he's talking very candidly and very movingly about his own personal life.

Also, "Brothers at War," a new film documenting the impact of the Iraq on one family.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's changed. Joe's always really afraid to argue with me or yell at me. Now whenever he gets mad, he just screams.


BLITZER: Actor Gary Sinise is the executive producer, but he wasn't on the project from the beginning. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And he reveals what compelled him to join this powerful project. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



OBAMA: They are our best and brightest. And they're our bravest enlisting in a time of war, enduring tour after tour of duty, serving with honor under the most difficult circumstances, and making sacrifices that many of us cannot begin to imagine.


BLITZER: Twenty years ago this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs was elevated to cabinet level. And President Obama marked the anniversary by honoring America's military men and women. The milestone coincides with the release of a new documentary about two brothers, who went to fight in Iraq and another brother who needed to know why.


BLITZER: And joining us now is Gary Sinise. He's the executive producer of the new documentary, "Brothers at War." Gary welcomes thanks very much for coming in.

GARY SINISE, EXEC. PRODUCER, "BROTHERS AT WAR": Thanks very having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm going to play a little clip from this film and then we'll discuss. Let's play the clip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I found was unlike anything I expected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three guys with rifles!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My understanding grew of the tougher, uglier side of war that soldiers like my brothers know all too well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) fully geared up. It's like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's changed. Joe's always really afraid to argue with me or yell at me. Now whenever he gets mad, he just screams.


BLITZER: All right. Tell us, Gary, why you made this documentary?

SINISE: Well, Wolf, thank you for having me. I actually came on to the movie after the fact. The movie had been made, it'd been shot, edited, and was looking for a distributor. And a buddy of mine knew the filmmaker Jake Rademacher (ph), and he thought that I would appreciate the film. So he connected Jake with me. And we sat down, watched the movie together.

I fell in love with this family. That was actually a little bit of the action that's in the movie toward the end of the film. The movie is really about a brother's love for his two brothers and his need to discover why they serve and what they're doing over in Iraq.

So he puts a camera crew together. He's able to embed with his brothers' unit. And through the time that he spends in Iraq with his brothers, those who are serving with his brothers, he learns more about his brothers, he becomes closer to his two younger brothers, and he learns more about himself. BLITZER: And this being the week of the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, what do you hope that viewers, Americans and others who watch this film, what will they emerge with?

SINISE: Well, Wolf, I spent a lot of time in, you know, for many years now, supporting our veterans, our Vietnam veterans early on in the '80s and the '90s and now our active duty service members. I visit them on bases all over the country and all over the world. And I meet their families.

And what I saw in this film is what I see on bases and in military communities where I go. There's a lot of people out there that are very dedicated, serving with integrity, a high degree and high level of honor. And they're making sacrifices. And they're suffering. And they need our support. And they need our help. And this movie kind of tells their story a little bit through the Rademacher family that Jake belongs to and his brothers are serving in the war. And he wanted to know about them. And he does a good job in finding out about them with this camera crew that he takes over there.

BLITZER: And it's not only what's happening in the war. What happens to them when they come back and reunite with their families? And this is just the story of a couple brothers, three brothers, if you will, but it's a story that can be multiplied many fold.

SINISE: It is. And what's interesting about this is that because it's told from a brother's point of view about his two brothers, it's very personal. It's not a journalist going in search of a story or, you know, putting a documentary together. It's a brother who wants to know a little bit more about his brother. So it's got a lot of the heart. And it's a little bit different than what we're used to seeing on the news.

For example, some of the action that you saw there, that's an Iraqi unit that came under attack that Jake and the Marines were embedded with. And they were on patrol, an IED went off. They discovered that it was a Syrian that triggered the IED with a cell phone. And this Iraqi unit stands up to the terrorists right there. And there is a great moment at the end where we get to see the Marines working hand in hand with the Iraqis and the Iraqis' pride in what they did that day.

BLITZER: I know you've spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of time with U.S. men and women of the military. Six years into the war, do you have some thoughts about whether it was worth it?

SINISE: Well, I was there in 2003 twice. I went over there about two months after the fall of Baghdad and in June of '03. Then I went back in November of '03. And then I didn't go for '04, '05, '06. I went to Afghanistan in '06. I went back in '07 at the beginning of the, you know, just as the surge of troops was starting to arrive.

And it was very tense there. And the troops were -- the troops that were there were hopeful that this new surge in troops and this new effort was going to bear some fruit. And then I went back in '08, and I found that things were very, very different. Bases that I visited the year before that were under attack constantly hadn't seen an attack in six months.

So I'm hopeful and the troops that I've met are hopeful that there's going to be a positive outcome. We just hope that the Iraqis can stand up, take control, and defend their country. And hopefully, you know, we will be able to pull out and leave that place in defense of itself. And this fragile democracy will survive.

BLITZER: Gary, thanks very much for supporting the men and women of the United States military. The film is entitled "Brothers at War." Thanks for coming in.

SINISE: Thanks, Wolf. You can go to to see where it's playing.

BLITZER: Thank you.

SINISE: Thank you.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty calls it like he sees it every single day. He's here with his take on the new administration, the old administration, the Clintons. And he gets very, very emotional in talking about his own life.

Plus, the week in pictures, always worth a thousands words.


BLITZER: You hear Jack Cafferty call them as he sees them every day right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And he's keeping it very real in his brand-new book entitled "Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving our American Dream." Congratulations, Jack, on this excellent new book. And I want to talk about it, because it's a great book. I loved reading every single page of it, because it is pure Jack Cafferty.

Let me read to you a quote from the book. "Now that President Obama's in the White House, he must sustain the same tone that got him to the White House." All right, what do you mean by that?

JACK CAFFERTY: Well, I think he captured the American imagination during the campaign partly because of George W. Bush and the guy Dick Cheney had been talking about on this program all day, setting a table that he understood the hunger for change in America.

And he said the right things. And he toppled the Clinton machine in the primaries. And he beat McCain in the general elections. And he turned some red states blue. And now he's got the job.

And for him to be successful, he has to, I think, continue to communicate that same sense of earnestness and legitimacy and honesty, something which was in real short supply the last eight years, to all of us. If he does that, then I think he has a chance of being maybe one of our most successful presidents ever. BLITZER: His job approval number's still very high, in the 60s, as you know. But he's made some mistakes so far. And you're blunt in not only praising him, but when necessary, criticizing him.

CAFFERTY: Well, you can't do that job without making some mistakes. I think they, you know, they dropped the ball on vetting some of these cabinet nominees. It's embarrassing that, you know, the Tom Daschles of the world show up in the public spotlight at his behest and have been riding around in a limousine for a couple of years and supposedly don't understand that that's income and they have to pay taxes on it.

I mean, you know, that kind of stuff is sort of inexcusable.

On the other hand, it must be just overwhelming. I have no idea what it must be like to take over the reins of this country, particularly with two wars going on and a recession, etcetera. So you know, you've got to give him a little room. But he needs to be careful, you know. Do your homework, dot the I's, cross the T's.

BLITZER: I love the personal stuff in the book, I love the whole book. But I'm going to read to you one sentence here, because it goes beyond what you wrote in your first best seller, "It's Getting Ugly Out There." "I just wanted to walk through my career and do the drinking, do the my marriage and do the drinking, do the parenting and do the drinking. You've been off the booze for a while now, haven't you?

CAFFERTY: Twenty years and counting. It was 20 years in January of 2009. And I'm proud of that. And if I haven't stopped, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. I wouldn't have been anywhere, probably.

But what happens with an addiction like alcohol is you try to finesse it. And you can for a while. You know, you finesse the booze with the marriage and the kids and the job. But eventually, the hunger for the chemical becomes the dominant force. And it occurs to you at some point that you're jerking everybody around, including yourself.

And you can no longer finesse this stuff. I mean, every day is predicated on how soon can I start drinking, how much can I drink, how much can I get away with, can I lie my way out of it with my wife, can I keep my bosses from finding out? On and on and on.

So at some point, it just becomes an exhausting exercise. You just can't do this anymore. And I reached that point. And I stopped, thank God, and I haven't had, even wine at church for 20 years plus.

BLITZER: Thank God for that.


BLITZER: Here's what you write about parenting. And you've got some great kids. "I'm no Dr. Spock and would be the last person to tell anyone else how to raise children, but I'm old school. Kids want boundaries, they want limits."

CAFFERTY: I think that's true. And I always made it kind of clear to the girls that, look, you know, on the big issues, there are certain expectations. You will go to school, because you don't have anything else to do when you're a kid except play and go to school. So go to school, do your best, respect your teachers. You will go to college. That's not an option, etcetera.

You'll obey the law, you won't, you know, do certain kind of things. On the smaller stuff, you can give them some latitude. But I think on the bigger stuff -- and I didn't have that as a kid. My childhood was a mass of inconsistency and absence of a lot of boundaries. So I tried to put some structure into the girls' lives and probably overdid it at times. But they've all turned out great. And I'm so very proud of the four of them. I dedicated the book to the four of them. And you know, I'm extremely proud of them.

BLITZER: And they are so extremely proud of you, Jack. And I want to recall, because you write about it in the epilogue, that very sad day back in September, a day all of us will remember with sadness. You write this.

"Change comes in many forms. There is good change and there is the kind of change that blindsided me on September 5th, 2008, and tore my world apart. In an instant, the most important person in my life was gone, seemingly healthy one minute, dead from cardiac arrest following surgery less than 24 hours later. I was crushed."

And we're talking about your wonderful wife. It was so sad for all of us, but I know how painful it was for you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I was very lucky to have an extraordinary marriage the second time around. 34 years plus with this woman. And she's the reason that I quit drinking. And she is most of the reason that these kids turned out the way they did. And she was my best friend and all of the things that go with it. And I can't talk very long about it, because I'll get myself messed up here, but I miss her every day in every way that you can miss someone. And -- but I'm blessed to have had a wonderful, wonderful second marriage. I mean, she was one in a million.

BLITZER: She certainly was. And that's only the beginning. We're only touching on this book, "Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving our American Dream."

Jack, on behalf of all of our viewers out there, thanks for writing this book.

CAFFERTY: Well, and thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me about it. I hope people who read it will enjoy. You said you did and I'm happy.


BLITZER: British royal marines playing rugby in the Afghanistan dust. Just one of our hot shots, pictures worth 1000 word.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. In India, a boy dives into the water to cool off. In France, a demonstrator holds a red flare during a strike of angry workers. In Afghanistan, royal marines from England play a game of rugby in the dust. And in Iraq, U.S. Army soldiers wait to go on patrol at a Baghdad neighborhood. Some of the week's hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us weekdays, 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.