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THE SITUATION ROOM
Feingold Announce Withdrawal Timetable from Afghanistan; Zinni Talks about Defeating the Taliban.
Aired October 10, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The eyes of the world on President Obama: his surprising win of the Nobel Peace Prize, coming as he decides how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan.
Also, what if the U.S. launches a military strike on Iran's newly- revealed uranium enrichment facility. I'll ask retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He was a top U.S. military chief in the Persian Gulf.
And snubbed by the White House, I get exclusive reaction from the Dalai Lama. We go one-on-one. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the situation room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee. Let me be clear, I do not view it as recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's the news that caught the world by surprise. President Obama winning the Nobel peace prize. It's a daring and unusually political move for the Nobel committee. And the peace prize comes as war sit high on the president's agenda. He's trying to decide right now what to do next in Afghanistan. While commanders call for more troops, some influential voices in congress are speaking up against the build up they're calling for a timetable to draw down.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. Thanks for coming in. The u.s. wants to fight Al Qaeda. How does that translate into action right now from your perspective as far as this debate over Afghanistan is concerned?
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, the problem with the debate is it's really about Afghanistan and whether to put more troops in Afghanistan. This is an international struggle against Al Qaeda. And the idea of increasing troops at this time in a situation that doesn't involve the leadership of Al Qaeda to the exclusion of putting those kinds of resources and help all over the world of facing Al Qaeda doesn't make any sense to me at all.
BLITZER: What would you do? FEINGOLD: Well, I'll tell you, Richard Engle, one of your competitors, is a guy certainly has not shied away from talking about the need for military action. He said today in an interview that it is time, honestly, to start thinking about leaving Afghanistan. And the way I think we ought to do it is to say to people, look, we're not going to leave right away. But there's going to be a flexible timetable that indicates to the Afghan people and the American people that we're not going to be there indefinitely. Because the idea of us being there indefinitely is counterproductive, it helps unified the Taliban, it helps drive the Taliban into the hands in coordination with the Al Qaeda. And not only so much in Afghanistan but particularly in Pakistan. So it's really the opposite of what we need to do. It does not make sense and it's a very serious error if you want to be serious about going after Al Qaeda international.
BLITZER: Those on the other side senator say if the u.s. were to do that, the potential for Taliban comeback in Afghanistan would be significant. Now Al Qaeda could not move back in, they're aligned with the Taliban. We would be back to where we were on the eve of 9/11.
FEINGOLD: And Wolf, that's exactly the simplistic kind of argument that passes as real debate about this issue. We talked about this yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I asked Dr. Sageman, what about that argument? He said it's wrong, the idea that Taliban and Al Qaeda would be able to re constitute themselves in Afghanistan the way they were before doesn't make sense. They were not hiding both. They're trying to avoid getting caught, they're trying to avoid the kinds of steps that I believed and it's targeting them and getting them where they are.
The idea of somehow think we're going to comeback and be able to set this all up in Afghanistan again really is not proven. And why wouldn't they do it somewhere else? Why wouldn't they do it in Somalia? Why wouldn't they do it in Yemen? What are you going to accomplish by getting further stuck in Afghanistan and not dealing with the fact that not only Al Qaeda's leaders are in Pakistan but that the leadership with the Taliban is in Pakistan. It's not the only place where Al Qaeda is in fact, generally speaking, the belief is that Al Qaeda is not in particularly in Afghanistan but we should be going after Al Qaeda, and find to re do every village in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: So, how do you do that in Pakistan beyond what the u.s is already doing, launching predator drones, this pilot less aircraft that trying to kill as many of them as they can find?
FEINGOLD: Well, Pakistani military and government is trying to step up to the plate with our support. You know, we were able to eliminate from various efforts, a person who was responsible for killing Benazir Bhutto. They have taken a more aggressive stance through the Pakistani military stabilizing the SWAT region. So working with us and others, principally on their own, of course, that country is indicating that it wants to step up to the plate. That's how you deal with it. I don't thing we will going to have a policy and anti-Al Qaeda strategy of simply invading every country where Al Qaeda is. This is not what we do to get somebody in Somalia and this is not the way to win this battle.
BLITZER: It sounds like you have confidence in the Pakistani government. Do you have confidence in their government or President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that he and his people are doing the right thing?
FEINGOLD: I don't have particular confidence in any of these governments but I do have confidence in these both to Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as many other countries that Al Qaeda is their enemy as well. And that we can find common ground to work with them as we're doing all over the world to find and kill those who are trying to kill us. We did this recently in Somalia. We were able to find one of these guys, we're able get rid of him, and we didn't have to invade Somalia.
So, you don't have to have complete confidence in another countries government. You just have to work together with them to try to find these criminals and understand that that's the best way to deal with this, not having an endless ground war in Afghanistan that really isn't the central focus of this battle now anyway.
BLITZER: So, if the president accepts General Stanley McChrystal and his commander in Afghanistan is recommendation to deploy perhaps another 40,000 troops to Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 U.S. troops who are already either there or on the way to Afghanistan, would you vote to deny funding for those additional troops in Afghanistan?
FEINGOLD: It would be a very serious error for the president to go along with the recommendation to greatly increase these troops and I would take whatever appropriate steps are necessary to try to persuade him not to do it, including using my vote.
BLITZER: Have you told the president that?
FEINGOLD: I told the president several weeks ago and that I thought it was time to look at the flexible timetable. He's listening to a lot of ideas, but I don't think he's listening to that idea and I think it's time he should.
BLITZER: If he accepts this sort of middle road that 40,000 or maybe half that, that would be acceptable...
FEINGOLD: I think that's muddling through. I think there ought to be recognition here. As Mr. Engle said today that it's time to start thinking about how we disengage from this situation, how we put it back in appropriate contexts of an international fight against Al Qaeda rather than an attempt to create nation building. And I certainly don't think we can do it by any 40,000 troops. I certainly don't think we can do it by splitting it in half, as apparently the president and others are looking at. It has to be a real strategy, and the appropriate strategy is to draw down in Afghanistan and use our resources internationally with others in the world who want to stop Al Qaeda to go after Al Qaeda. That is our enemy, not the people of Pakistan. BLITZER: You and I are ruled after member of Vietnam. Are you concerned the president could find himself in a Vietnam like quagmire in Afghanistan?
FEINGOLD: I try to stay away from the Vietnam analogies or even the Iraq analogies. Let's look at each thing as it is. This is the situation where we know there are operatives around the world. We have strategies that are effective and frankly of them more effectively, we used into the Obama Administration and under the Bush Administration to get Al Qaeda operatives. Let's do that. Let's not have a big un-ending commitment that bleeds our military and our resources. Let's just work on Al Qaeda.
BLITZER: Senator Feingold, thanks very much for coming in.
FEINGOLD: My pleasure.
BLITZER: A voice of experience on the battlefield says more troops are need right now in Afghanistan. The Former Centcom Commander General Anthony Zinni maps out where reinforcements are needed and why? And there are deep fears in the region that the u.s. will cut and run from Afghanistan. I'll ask Pakistan's former foreign minister, if he's received reassurances that won't happen. And new revelations about Michelle Obama's ancestry.
I'll talk to a reporter who traced the first lady's roots back to a slave girl and a white man.
BLITZER: President Obama faces one of the toughest decisions of his presidency, whether or not to send more troops into Afghanistan. We just finished hearing arguments against that from Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin who actually talks about the United States leaving Afghanistan. Now an argument for sending more troops from the man who used to command troops in the entire region. We're talking about retired General Anthony Zinni. He's the former Centcom commander and author of the book "Leading the Charge."
General Zinni, thanks very much for coming in.
GENERAL ZINNI, AUTHOR, "LEADING THE CHARGE": Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Eighth anniversary Afghanistan the war. Let's walk over to Tom Foreman and our magic map and get through some of the issues that the president right now is considering his own situation room, 68,000 troops. The u.s. has committed 68,000 already in Afghanistan. Now a debate of the 30,000, 40,000. Where do you stand on this, and Ton help us better appreciate what is going on. This is where the troops are right now. General, tell us about this.
ZINNI: Well, I think obviously, you can see a large part of the country that is not covered. And if you intend to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, you need security, I mean that's important, you can wait hard in mind commits the people they're safe. Do all the non-military things you have to do without security and I think that's the point of General McChrystal's request and I believe he's right.
BLITZER: To send another as many as 40,000 more troops?
BLITZER: Can you guarantee if you do that, the mission will be accomplished?
ZINNI: I don't think you can guarantee anything, but I think you need the space, security space for the ability to do the non-military things and you need the time, the time to develop the Afghan forces, get the government on its feet, convince, certainly reconcilable so called Taliban that maybe we'll want to wean away from the Taliban themselves.
BLITZER: General, these have been the areas, the darkest red, where we have had the most casualties in this country. When you look at this map, you see where the most conflict has been and you talk about more people going in. Where would you put them?
ZINNI: I think it's important to put them where General McChrystal wants to begin the emphasis on building services strategy, a relationship with the people, extend the reach of the Kabul government. He may have to do it in the beginning in sort of almost like an oil stain and moving out. He may want to reach out to certain provinces where the threats are greatest, where maybe the best possibility of successes whether people that can be won over and he has indications of that.
BLITZER: The president says and all of us agree, this is a clearly a momentous decision he has to make, and he needs more time to make sure the strategy is right. Is there anything wrong with taking as much time is necessary before deciding on what that strategy should be and how you implement it?
ZINNI: I don't thing there's anything wrong with reviewing the strategy. I think that's the things that are wrong have been to this is that it becomes too public. We're sort of airing it out unfortunately.
BLITZER: Whose fault is that?
ZINNI: Well, I think whoever leaked the first McChrystal request for troops started the ball rolling and then after that it's become to public on today. I do think there's a problem with taking too much time. And if you take too much time, it looks like you're dithering and you're indecisive, and our allies as well as our enemies and our friends in the region will all begin to wonder if we're really committed to this.
BLITZER: For centuries, General outsiders have tried to come into Afghanistan and control the situation. The British failed, the Soviets as we all know failed. What makes you think the u.s. and its nato allies can succeed in Afghanistan where no outside power has ever succeeded? ZINNI: Well, there's one big difference. We're not here to stay. We want to work ourselves out of the job. I think it's important to commits to people that we are different in that respect. We're not some conquering empire coming here to hold this terrain and exploit it. We want to give it back to the people make seem to the Taliban have done. So, they can make a choice, but they have to see what we can provide too. And what benefit can come from that relationship, but it will take security.
BLITZER: And you differentiate between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Do you think these are two separate operations because we sort of tend to lump them all in?
ZINNI: I wouldn't even lump all the Taliban together. I think, there are tribal leaders and tribal malicious that aren't logically based there or founded and they are working with the Taliban, maybe, for money. Maybe just because they don't want you in the village and you haven't been able to get in there to convince them otherwise. And al then Al Qaeda obviously referred to the foreigners out there are something different. So, I think you have to think about each piece of the enemy.
BLITZER: So, quickly should the u.s. be negotiating with elements of the Taliban?
ZINNI: I think, absolutely, just like we did in Embar (ph) province in Iraq where we found that there were reconcilable elements in those that we were fighting. And my time out here with Pakistanis and Afghanis, they believe honestly, they reconcilable but I think we have one set of conditions where anybody that is negotiating and not separate deals that are done.
BLITZER: Can this be an Afghan solution, or must this be an Afghan Pakistan solution?
ZINNI: Has to be a regional solution. And not just Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban are beginning to stretch a reach up into Central Asia, into Uzbekistan, maybe into Turkmenistan and obviously the Indians play a big role in this, too.
BLITZER: And two nuclear powers.
ZINNI: Two nuclear powers and one that had the Taliban 65 miles from their capital. You saw the bad guys strike in Mumbai and elsewhere trying to provoke maybe another incident. They have been at war at each other three times and this would be devastating.
BLITZER: There's no doubt unless you have better information. The Pakistanis have recently have been much more assertive and aggressive in trying to help the U.S. deal with that treat along their boarder with Afghanistan.
ZINNI: What's kin how is they have long memory about the first Afghan war where it was felt we deserted them with 5,000 refugees there left in their back door, they really shallow in terms of strategic death and unstable country and now they have committed themselves into the federally controlled tribal areas and now into a serious thing. It's going to be a tough fight right along the border, and we cannot let them be faced with a situation where we withdraw from Afghanistan or lower our troops and that becomes a safe haven.
BLITZER: If he were still in charge, would the general push to knock out Iran's recently revealed nuclear facility? You may be surprised that General Zinni's answer in part two of our interview that's coming up later this hour but first, tough questions for Pakistan's top diplomat about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Where is Bin Laden?
QURESHI: Who knows?
BLITZER: Where do you think?
QURESHI: No idea.
BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find him?
QURESHI: You tell me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Is Pakistan telling the u.s. everything it knows? Also, my exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. He explains why he's not disappointed that President Obama isn't meeting with him while here in Washington. Some critics complain the Obama Administration, including the president, is kowtowing to China.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE AMERICA: We are not going to turn our backs on them as we did in 1989 and 1990. We turned our backs on Afghanistan. We turned our backs on Pakistan. They were left to deal with situations in Afghanistan on their own. Their worry is what happens in the future. Will we be there? Will we be a constant presence? Will we be supportive of them over the long-term?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates makes it clear the United States will not turn its back on the volatile issues affecting Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the Obama Administration is urging Pakistan to do more to fight militants' and its side of the border. Many law makers' military officials and even many of you probably wondering what might failure look like in Afghanistan. I spoke about that with the key of American ally, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Foreign minister, thanks very much for coming in.
SHAH MAHMOUD QURESHI, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.
BLITZER: You just met with the secretary of state Hillary Clinton here in Washington today, right?
BLITZER: Did she reassure you that the u.s. is there to stay in Afghanistan and will not just cut and run?
QURESHI: Yes, she did.
BLITZER: What did she say?
QURESHI: She said that they are there, they're committed to a long- term engagement with the region. They want to see a stable, peaceful region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Is it important that the u.s. deploy more troops to Afghanistan right now as General McChrystal is recommending?
QURESHI: Well, that depends on what the generals are recommending and depends on what is the future situation of Afghanistan. I'm not a military expert. That's their decision. What we're looking for is a long-term commitment to the region and to Pakistan.
BLITZER: You want the u.s. Military. The U.S. to stay in the region.
QURESHI: Obviously they have to stay.
BLITZER: Why is that so important to Pakistan?
QURESHI: Because you have learned from the past. You pulled out in a hurry when the soviets were pushed of Afghanistan. And look at the mess and look at the consequences we are facing.
BLITZER: How unstable is that Afghan situation right now? How worried are you about a comeback by the Taliban and Al Qaeda?
QURESHI: Well, we have to be consistent. What I can tell you is in Pakistan, the situation has changed significantly.
BLITZER: Under the new government?
QURESHI: Under the new government.
BLITZER: Because u.s. officials say you're becoming much more aggressive, assertive in going after the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
QURESHI: We have been to concern within Pakistan, we have been to concern inside the Taliban and outside the Taliban and we are really clear that it is the Pakistan's interest to fight, defeat their ...
BLITZER: Would you like to u.s. to get involved directly, come into Pakistan and help you on the ground?
QURESHI: No, we don't need that.
BLITZER: Why not?
QURESHI: Because we keep defeat it ourselves and we showed ...
BLITZER: But if the U.S. came in -- that would even better.
QURESHI: No, it won't be, it would not be accepted by the people of Pakistan.
QURESHI: Because that's a red line, because we have ...
BLITZER: Why should the people in Afghanistan accept that but the people in Pakistan won't accept it?
QURESHI: Because they're two different situations, they're two different countries. The capacities of the institutions of two different countries are different. We have demonstrated through action that our forces, our people are capable of doing the job.
BLITZER: Because right now, the u.s. simply sends these drones, these predator drones over Pakistani territory looking for Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders to kill them, but they don't send troops in on the ground.
QURESHI: No, the point is, they're saying because they understand that the geography is very, very difficult. The terrain is very hostile. And that's the quickest way of reaching them. By the time the ground forces move, the Taliban have done the job and have run away.
BLITZER: The u.s. is it giving you the assistance, the military assistance you need to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda along the border with Afghanistan?
QURESHI: I think our relationship has qualitative improved in the last year.
BLITZER: To the point of what?
QURESHI: To the point of engagement. To the point of believing in the new partnership.
BLITZER: Where is Bin Laden?
QURESHI: Who knows?
BLITZER: Where do you think?
QURESHI: No idea.
BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find him?
QURESHI: You tell me.
BLITZER: You're the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Everybody says he's in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan probably the Pakistan ... QURESHI: The United States is the most informed nation, the most told up nation in the world.
BLITZER: Do you know what's going on in Pakistan.
QURESHI: So do you. Americans are in the region and you have intelligence, government intelligence and you know, a sophisticated force.
BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe that either Pakistan, the u.s., anyone else is any closer to finding Bin Laden?
QURESHI: I think to a great extent, we have in Pakistan, I can speak for Pakistan, and we have to a great extent brooking the back of the militaries, the swatoperation, the militant operation have broken the back, the second tier, the third tier leadership has been eliminated or arrested.
BLITZER: Do you see any evidence that the Taliban or Al Qaeda are moving from Pakistan back to Afghanistan?
QURESHI: I think they're running away from Pakistan, and they're not necessarily running into Afghanistan. There could be other destinations they're looking for it.
BLITZER: Like Somalia or some place like that?
BLITZER: Is that what you seem that's going on?
QURESHI: That's a possibility.
BLITZER: How worried are you that Afghanistan could go down?
QURESHI: Well, we are there to be supportive, and since a democratically elected government has come to office ...
BLITZER: In Pakistan.
QURESHI: ... in Pakistan, our engagement in Afghanistan has improved, other nations are improved.
BLITZER: You Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan?
QURESHI: We certainly have improved our relationship with Afghanistan.
BLITZER: You trust him?
QURESHI: We have to co-exist and we can only co-exist if we build a relationship of trust and confidence, and we intend to do that.
BLITZER: But it's not there yet?
QURESHI: No, its happening, its building. BLITZER: So, a lot more work to do.
QURESHI: Obviously, there is more work to do, but we have covered considerable ground in the last year and a half.
BLITZER: Good luck Mr. Foreign Minister. Thanks for coming in.
QURESHI: Thank you.
BLITZER: A veteran of the battlefield and fears of the ticking nuclear time bomb for the u.s. Retired General Anthony Zinni weighs in on the risks of military action against Iran, and from slave quarters to the white house. New information about Michelle Obama's family history of a reporter who traced the first lady's roots shares the fascinating stories she's uncovered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime.
But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that that will not be met by one person or one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration. It's about the courageous efforts of people around the world.
And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama says she's just as shocked as so many other people around the world that he won the Nobel Peace prize. But the president said he accepts it as a call to action to work with other nations to solve pressing global problems.
Surely one of them is how to resolve the standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. In part two of our interview with retired General Tony Zinni, we pondered a controversial "what-if" scenario over a recently revealed nuclear site in Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There's a huge issue, what to do with the second nuclear enrichment facility near the Shiite holy city of Qom. This is a real perplexing question for the U.S.
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, (RET.) AUTHOR, "LEADING THE CHARGE": Yes. And I think and obviously we hope we can resolve this diplomatically now and the dialogue that's going on, if not, through sanctions. We need international support. Military operations are going to be highly questionable. BLITZER: Is it doable? If you were in charge, could the U.S. launch a sophisticated strike with high intensity bombs and knock out, destroy that facility?
ZINNI: I don't think you can make a guarantee that you could completely take it out. Obviously it's deeply buried, it's scattered around.
What worries me more than that is what the reaction would be. If you go back to Persian Gulf area, you will see that we have troop installations and allies on the other side of the Gulf that could be vulnerable to their missiles.
BLITZER: So when the president of the United States says all options are on the table, the implication being the military option, is that just a hollow threat?
ZINNI: I don't think it's hollow. But I think what people have to understand, if you opt for the military strike, a prudent military planner now has to plan for consequences.
If Iran were to launch missiles at our troop installations in Iraq or in the Persian Gulf, maybe mine the straights and blow up some oil tankers, you can imagine what happens to the economy of the world.
What if the NYS, their intelligence service, activates sleeper cells? What if there's a reaction from the Muslim world about another preemptive attack? And now you have problems that stretch beyond just that region.
A proven commander General Petraeus in CentCom, is going to have to take into account preparations for all of that. This is not just a simple air strike.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this facility if you would, general. This is from digital globe. I want you to look at what has happened in this area. That was about 2005. It looked like this. This is what it looked like in January of this year.
You can see deep dug in areas and rebar work going on over here. All of this is excavated dirt, so they've removed a tremendous amount of dirt digging this quite deeply in.
And this is from GOI. I'll try to bring this other image up from just a week ago. When you look at this sort of thing, what do you think in terms of the ability to strike this and hit these, because these are very deeply dug in?
ZINNI: Obviously, the deeper it is, the more difficult it is. We obviously have some capability. I can't discuss all of the capability, but the depth is important, the hardening of the facilities underground.
And depending on what is where, how many locations are there, do we know where they all are? I think these are all issues that our intelligence community... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So these facilities we saw a moment ago, as you can see now from last week, completely buried. This one is not buried, doesn't look like it will be but could be.
ZINNI: You can't tell. That could be a building over a buried site.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And down below we have some indication of military support facilities in the area.
When you look at all this, I want to widen out to what you were saying about the region. So what and you're talking about that sort of weaponry, we have calculated the range, you can go quite high up in there. You're talking about people over here, anybody over here in this area.
ZINNI: Remember, we have bases down in here, in Qatar, in Kuwait, obviously in Iraq. We have allies with positions there. Obviously there are oil refineries and natural gas refineries.
You know of course the tanker transportation through there. Our fleet is out there, the fifth fleet. There are a lot of potential targets out there. There are fast patrol boats with cruise missiles. Their ability to throw mines off dowels in the water that would be hard for us to detect.
There's all sorts of things that could go on. And imagine not just the military impact but the economic impact around the world.
BLITZER: The price of oil escalates.
Israel, not that far away, right over there along the Mediterranean, a wild card. You know the Israelis. You've worked with them for a long time. What do you think, is it possible they might take their own unilateral action to try to knock out the Iranian nuclear facilities?
ZINNI: I think clearly the Israelis see this as an existential threat. Ahmadinejad has said he's going to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. They take this seriously.
I would doubt they would do it without us either being informed or in some way acknowledging that they're going to do it, because if they didn't, they would leave us unprepared in those places where we're vulnerable, as I mentioned.
BLITZER: But they have to fly over Iraq, fly over Saudi Arabia. It's not easy to get from Israel to Iraq.
ZINNI: Jordan, Iraq into Iran, and those areas, and the obvious issue about who clears that, if it's cleared at all, what could be perceived as an incoming threat, whether we're notified and prepared. Our Arab allies in the region could be vulnerable in some way.
BLITZER: But there's no way the Israeli's could launch F-15s or F-16s and fly over Iraqi air space, let's say, or Saudi air space, without the U.S. government knowing about it?
ZINNI: No, we would know.
BLITZER: What would the U.S. do?
ZINNI: That's a great question. That is a great question. I don't know what we would do. I think that is something we probably discuss with the Israelis. Obviously, it's not public, but certainly we would be aware.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about 1,200 miles roughly from Israel to the missile facilities in this area.
BLITZER: There is one other way they could do it and go around through Turkey and to Iran if they wanted to go up there and avoid Iraqi air space.
ZINNI: Then you're violating other people's air space. It becomes problematic from a diplomatic point of view, a military point of view, how well can they penetrate their air defenses or foil them. The longer it goes, the more you need tanker support and other things that could be more obvious and vulnerable.
BLITZER: Realistically, how much time do you think the president of the United States has right now in dealing with the Iran issue?
ZINNI: First of all, we'll see where the diplomacy goes and the dialogue and we'll see what the motivation is for international sanctions. If those two fail, then I think we're at a serious crunch point.
And at the same time, how fast are they enriching uranium to the point we feel they could actually weaponize it and have the capability. So I think those two factors that are more condition based and drive the timeline are where the crunch point is going to be determined.
BLITZER: In your estimate, and I'll leave it on this note, general, what would be worse from the U.S. national security perspective, Iran getting a nuclear bomb, having a nuclear capability, or the U.S. and/or others destroying, launching a preemptive military strike to destroy those facilities and living with those consequences economic and military, diplomatic, that you discussed?
ZINNI: Obviously that's almost like a lose/lose situation.
BLITZER: Two bad options.
ZINNI: Two bad options. What worries me as a part of that is those young people and the reformers in Iran that have gone into the streets now that were hoping for support and at least acknowledgment of their efforts, they may be encouraged if the dialogue is forced and the hardliners come to the table.
But more importantly, if the international community now embraces this as a serious effort, gets behind them and is serious about the sanctions, that might give us breathing room and an alternative.
This is something important about Iran and Afghanistan. We cannot make these American problems. These have to be international, global problems. Unfortunately, both are becoming our problems, and I think that's where our leadership needs to focus.
BLITZER: General Zinni, thanks very much for coming in.
ZINNI: Thank you.
BLITZER: The Dalai Lama tells me he doesn't feel snubbed by President Obama. In my exclusive interview I'll press the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet about Mr. Mr. Obama's refusal to meet with him during his trip to Washington this week.
Also, what is he expecting from the administration down the road?
And we know a lot about the president's family history, but Michelle Obama's ancestry hasn't been all that clear, at least until now. New information about her family's roots and the link to a slave girl.
BLITZER: It's an issue many of you, people, indeed, all over the world care about, China's control of Tibet. It's a long standing source of tension facing China as the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama visits Washington this week.
We want to remind you of a few facts. The United States recognizes Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China, but the U.S. is concerned about human rights abuses in Tibet. And the push for Tibet's independence gets considerably more international support and celebrity attention than similar movements elsewhere.
Human rights abuses and other issues involving Tibet are all things I discussed with the Dalai Lama in an exclusive interview.
BLITZER: Your holiness, thanks very much for allowing me to interview you.
Let's talk about an important issue in your relationship with the United States right now. You've come to Washington many times, ten times since 1991. Each time, an American president has received you, the first President Bush, President Clinton, the second President Bush.
You are here in Washington right now and President Obama will not see you during this visit. How disappointed are you?
DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: Meeting with the president politically, meeting with an American president, usually I have something of an agenda, obviously about the Tibetan issue. So now president soon goes to Beijing.
BLITZER: He goes to China next month. DALAI LAMA: Yes, next month.
BLITZER: So he already indicated he was willing to speak with the Chinese and seems he must be seriously engaging with the Chinese about the Tibet issue besides some other issue, global warming, these things.
BLITZER: Has he made a firm commitment to you that he will press the Chinese for Tibet's human rights when he meets with them in Beijing next month?
DALAI LAMA: It seems there is some indication.
BLITZER: A personal commitment to you that he will raise the issue of Tibet?
DALAI LAMA: Yes, he will, definitely.
Obama, before his election, he telephoned me. And then afterward, I have some correspondence with him. So he seems very, very not only sympathetic, but he really wants something practical, to do something.
So therefore this time, in order to avoid embarrassment to the Chinese president, and also I received a message through some of the personal channel or private channel through some of my Chinese friends also.
So therefore, I feel that it is better in some cases not just to show a picture, a meeting. I think -- I think more serious discussion is better than just a picture. So I have no disappointment.
BLITZER: You have no disappointment, but your representatives asked for this meeting at least twice, and they were disappointed when the White House said no.
DALAI LAMA: In the beginning, yes. They made some effort. Then I sent a message -- don't do that.
BLITZER: It looks like the U.S., the Obama administration is more concerned about its economic relationship with China, military relationship, political, diplomatic relationship than the human rights situation in Tibet, at least that's the criticism that has been leveled against the president for not meeting with you this week.
DALAI LAMA: This is also interesting, some fact, some point there. But, you know, we have to think more holistic.
So one thing quite sure, he will raise the issue. And he personally has very much engaged in the Tibet issue. So I have no regret.
BLITZER: You don't have a date when you will sit down with president Obama?
DALAI LAMA: No.
BLITZER: Is there a date yet?
DALAI LAMA: I think within the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
BLITZER. By the end of this year, 2009, the beginning of 2010, there will be a meeting between you and President Obama.
DALAI LAMA: Sure.
BLITZER: Where will it take place?
DALAI LAMA: I think Washington.
BLITZER: At the White House?
DALAI LAMA: I think so.
BLITZER: You don't know for sure? You think so?
DALAI LAMA: I think so.
BLITZER: It's been arranged already? Has it been arranged already?
DALAI LAMA: Actually, there is a commitment there.
BLITZER: There was a commitment from the White House?
Our holiness, thank you so much for spending some time with us, and good luck to you.
DALAI LAMA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Her family's ties to America's shameful past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA: I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now researchers have discovered surprising new details about the first lady's family tree, and one ancestor's secret is revealed.
BLITZER: She lives in the White House partly built by slaves. Now research shows the first lady, Michelle Obama, is the direct descendent of a slave and a white ancestor.
The research and reporting is courtesy of the "New York Times." This family tree begins with a six-year-old slave girl name Melvinia in South Carolina. On her father's death she was shipped to his relatives in Georgia. Her value -- $475. When she was about 15 years old, an unknown white man impregnated her. Her first son was Dolphus Shields, the last name for the plantation master. Dolphus later married and became a successful carpenter and businessman in Birmingham, Alabama.
Among his children, Robert Shields. That son married and fathered Purnell Shields. Later the family moved to Chicago.
Once Purnell came of age, he married and fathered Marian Shields. Marion Shields now lives in the White House along with the child she gave birth to, and that would, with Frazier Robinson, back in 1964, that would be Michelle Robinson.
Of course Michelle later became Mrs. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. She became the first African-American first lady of the United States.
Wow. Did you copy all that? Were you watching? Rachael Swarns co- wrote the piece on the first lady's family tree in today's "New York Times." It's a fascinating read, and Rachel is here in the "Situation Room." Rachel, thanks for coming in.
RACHEL SWARNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.
BLITZER: Why did you decide to do this?
SWARNS: We had worked with the genealogist in January who did a little research on Mrs. Obama's family. And unbeknownst to us she spent the next six months digging and digging and digging and gave us a call in September and said, "You won't believe what I found," and we all got to work.
BLITZER: What did she find?
SWARNS: The most interesting thing that she found was the first link to a white ancestor in Mrs. Obama's family.
BLITZER: And we don't know who that ancestor is?
SWARNS: We don't.
BLITZER: There are some hints?
SWARNS: There are some ideas. We can speculate. Melvinia, the slave girl, lived on a farm that was owned by Henry Shields. He was in his 40s when her son was born. He had four sons who might have been of age, but, you know, we don't know who was passing through, who was visiting.
All we know is that in 1870, after emancipation, Melvinia is listed with a nine-year-old boy, Dolphus, who is described as "mulatto" in the census.
BLITZER: And that's the great-great grandfather of Michelle Obama?
SWARNS: That's right. BLITZER: Did the first family, did Mrs. Obama know you were doing this over the past several months?
SWARNS: She did know that we were working on this. We updated her office frequently. We were very hopeful that we might get an interview, and we didn't in the end.
BLITZER: Was there any cooperation from her or her relatives?
SWARNS: No. They decided it was a subject that was too personal, though we did get word today from the president's spokesman that she read the piece, and she did not know this information. She said that -- Mr. Gibbs said she enjoyed reading the piece.
BLITZER: She knew slaves were in her ancestry as the president has publicly spoken about that.
SWARNS: That's right. And she also knew there were longstanding rumors of a white ancestor, but they didn't know who or when or where.
BLITZER: So the information that you and your colleagues at "The New York Times" put together, some of that information was new to the first lady and her family?
SWARNS: That's right. The details, the details.
BLITZER: Did anybody on her staff give you a reaction? Was she happy to know this? Was she unhappy to know it? Did you get any sense of how she felt when she read "The New York Times"?
SWARNS: As I said, the president's spokesman today said she enjoyed reading the piece and that she learned some things that she didn't know about her family.
BLITZER: Because we know a great deal about the president's family because he's written two books basically about all of that, less about the first lady of the United States. And now thanks to you and your colleagues we're beginning to know more.
It's by no means an unusual story, her background, given the nature of our country.
SWARNS: That's right. And in fact there's a lot of attention paid to the president's background. He's biracial and there's been a lot of focus on that. But Mrs. Obama's background, this kind of racial intermingling is very, very common in many African-American families.
BLITZER: I want you to turn around that way and take a look at this picture you see up on the screen. Tell us who these people are. This is a photo courtesy of the Barack Obama campaign, but from -- the adults and then the kids.
SWARNS: OK. So you have Michelle's mother here.
BLITZER: That's Marian?
SWARNS: That's Marian there. And her father here.
BLITZER: Who passed away a few years ago?
SWARNS: That's right, Frazier Robinson. Their first-born son Craig Robinson.
BLITZER: Who's a basketball coach.
SWARNS: That's right. And young Michelle Robinson, now Michelle Obama.
BLITZER: That's her, that sweet little baby down in the corner there.
SWARNS: That's her.
BLITZER: And that's a great little picture.
It's a really warm, loving family, based on everything I've read about the Robinson family.
BLITZER: And the fact that Mrs. Robinson is now living in the White House and helping raise Sasha and Malia, the two little girls, that's really been a benefit to the president and the first lady.
SWARNS: Yes, a very close-knit family. And Michelle Obama's mother has always been very involved with those girls, and it meant a lot to her and the family that she came and moved in with them at the White House.
BLITZER: I don't know this, but I think they'll be grateful to you to help them better appreciate their family tree and the genealogy.
SWARNS: Thank you.
BLITZER: And they might even give you an interview at some point.
SWARNS: Oh, we can only hope.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
SWARNS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Life inside a disaster zone -- it's just one of this week's hot shots.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots coming in from the Associated Press.
In Indonesia, a father carries his son down over trees downed by a landslide. In Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev presents a trophy to the teacher of the year. In Washington, the great grandchild of the late representative Tom Lantos waits to see the Dalai Lama. And in Belgium, a farmer gets a riot policeman a glass of milk.
Some of this week's hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM 4:00 to 7:00 Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International.
The news continues next on CNN.