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Fort Hood Survivor Speaks Out; President Obama Meets With War Council

Aired November 11, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: An incredible story. And don't miss the complete series, "Veterans in Focus: Service, Struggle & Success," hosted by Tom Foreman. It airs Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Happening now: the best political team on television on these stories, a CNN exclusive -- a survivor of the Fort Hood massacre, he remembers a killer loading his gun, firing, then reloading, and seeing blood everywhere. He tells our Dr. Sanjay Gupta how he survived this nightmare.

President Obama, in his Situation Room, he's huddling with his war council over Afghanistan. We're told the president is weighing four options.

And the generals vs. Dick Cheney -- as Cheney and others say Cheney the president is taking too long on Afghanistan, Generals Colin Powell and David Petraeus essentially smack back the criticism.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

On this Veterans Day in the White House, President Obama is weighing one of the biggest decisions he will make as president, possibly sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops to war in Afghanistan.

We have this picture of President Obama in the White House Situation Room surrounding by his war council. We're also getting word of what they discussed.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, for the latest.

Suzanne, what are you hearing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know this meeting wrapped up at 4:50 this afternoon. It lasted about two hours and 20 minutes or so.

The president, of course, has not made up his mind yet, but he was presented with four options on the table. Now, so far, you've heard from the Pentagon anywhere from troop levels 10,000 to 40,000 or so. The one figure that senior administration officials and military officials are confirming for us is one of the options called for 34,000 U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

It's a combination of support, combat, as well as U.S. trainers that would be sent there, kind of a phased-in, three-month basis, if you will, a gradual increase of troops. Those other options that they're talking about, well, they're weighing in some factors here. There are different combination of troop levels, the costs, these kinds of things.

But they're looking at not only the troops deployments. They're looking at the willingness of the Karzai government to cooperate with the United States. That's what the president wanted to hear today.

Also, the U.S.' efforts as well when it comes to civilian support -- what kind of aid does this government need? And, finally, what is the kind of support they're going to get from other allies, from other countries? Those are the kinds of things that the president was asking about. Those were the kinds of questions and conversations that they had today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the sense over there, Suzanne, what else the president needs in order to make his final decision?

MALVEAUX: Well, sure. He hasn't made his final decision yet.

There are a couple things that still need to play out. We heard today that Japan says they will go ahead and invest $5 billion in five years for the Afghanistan effort. What the president is looking for now, as he's headed to Asia tomorrow for a seven-day trip to meet with key allies, what are they willing to do?

There's a NATO conference on troop deployments. What are the allies going to say? Are they going to give? Are they going to withdraw? And then finally he's going to be hosting the prime minister of India when he comes back to the White House after that trip to have a critical discussion with him.

All those things have to come together. He's going to get information about this, we're told, while he's in Asia. He's going to be holding small group meetings to talk about Afghanistan strategy. And sometime, Wolf, in a couple of weeks or so, he's going to lay it out to the American people.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks. We will watch with you.

As Dick Cheney and other critics say the president is taking too long deciding on Afghanistan, Cheney saying he's dithering, two men who worked with Dick Cheney in the White House say otherwise. The head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General David Petraeus, was among those who huddled with the president over in the White House Situation Room earlier today.

He spoke exclusively with CNN about this notion that the president is taking too long deciding.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think this process has just taken too long?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Actually, I think the process has been very productive and very useful. I think there's been a degree of discussion and debate, indeed, that has been excellent. There has been a refinement of objectives, there's been discussion of various courses of action, there have been explanations and discussions about how the civilian component of this will complement what is done by the work of our military troops.

All in all, I think this has been a very productive couple of months that we have spent on this.


BLITZER: At the same time, Colin Powell also believes President Obama should take his time.

CNN's Roland Martin interviewed the retired U.S. four-star general on the Tom Joyner radio show.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, this is a very difficult one for him. And it isn't just a one-time decision. This is the decision that will have consequences for the better part of his administration.

So, Mr. President don't get pushed by the left to do nothing. Don't get pushed by the right to do everything. You take your time and you figure it out. You're the commander in chief in chief and this is what you were elected for.


BLITZER: We're also learning more right now about the man accused of carrying out that deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with the latest on the investigation.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're pulling in more information on potential leads in this case and on those communications that investigators say Nidal Hasan had with a radical Muslim cleric.


TODD (voice-over): A source familiar with the investigation tells CNN Nidal Hasan not only contacted a radical cleric in Yemen, but it's believed he also got communications back from that cleric. Investigators say, during that time, that cleric, Anwar al- Awlaki, was the subject of a federal probe, but the source says all the communications seemed innocent in nature, and says officials are following other leads, leads on connections Hasan may have had with other people who would have been of concern to investigators.

Questions continue over Hasan's behavior while in medical training and the response to that behavior, specifically presentations Hasan gave on Muslims in the military, when, according to one classmate, he was supposed to be talking about health issues.

The classmate, who witnessed one of the presentations, tells CNN, despite the discomfort of others in the room, he doesn't believe Hasan's superiors counseled him about it. And the classmate says he believes it was because they didn't want to alienate a Muslim soldier.

While this was his strong belief, he didn't provide evidence of that. A retired military lawyer familiar with such investigations says political correctness does factor in these situations.

THOMAS KENNIFF, FORMER ARMY JAG OFFICE ATTORNEY: In a post-9/11 world, there are a lot of forces in the military that may be very hesitant to give the appearance that they are singling out Muslim soldiers, even when that individual Muslim soldier may be making statements that are looked at as very incendiary and very questionable.

TODD: A Defense Department official wouldn't comment on that, and there's no specific information that Hasan's superiors didn't address his presentations with him or that they avoided doing so because he's Muslim.

I asked former Bush Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor, if political correctness could have inhibited investigators looking into Hasan's communications.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is no question in my mind that investigators, when they looked at this material, understood very well that, if they decided to pursue this investigation, they would have to justify why they were -- they chose to pursue one of the few Muslim Americans inside the U.S. military, and perhaps alienate him.


TODD: A senior investigative official in this case told CNN he has never heard anything about Nidal Hasan getting favorable treatment because he is Muslim -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There could have been some legitimate reasons, legitimate factors, Brian, why his superiors decided not to counsel him about that, right?

TODD: About the PowerPoint presentations.

BLITZER: Yes. TODD: Possibly, yes.

Tom Kenniff, that former JAG officer, tells us that in these classroom settings in the military, they have a policy of what he calls nonattribution. In order to foster academic freedom, they will tell you that even though they don't agree with something you say, in order to give some academic freedom of discussion, they will not punish you for it.

But he says that in this case, because Hasan apparently strayed so far off the curriculum, he would argue that that wouldn't apply in this case.

So, that's kind of being debated right now.

BLITZER: Lots of second-guessing under way right now, what should have happened and didn't necessarily.


TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

A victim of the Fort Hood shootings is speaking out about his harrowing ordeal. He details that terrifying day to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay will be joining us live for a full report in a few moments.

But here's a preview of what this wounded Army specialist told him.


SPC. LOGAN BURNETTE, FORT HOOD SHOOTING VICTIM: Seeing blood coming from everywhere.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's the first thing -- you saw the blood.

BURNETTE: I got down once the shots were fired, out of instinct.

And, you know, I didn't know what to think. But seeing bullet wounds in the back of a friend's head, seeing friends grabbing their arms and blood just everywhere, it's a pretty hard thing to see.


BLITZER: Tough stuff, indeed. As I say, Sanjay is going to have more of that interview coming up this hour.

Let's go to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: In case you hadn't noticed -- and you probably have, because we talk about it fairly regularly -- the swine flu is now widespread. It's in 48 of the 50 states. Americans are beginning to lose confidence in the government's ability to prevent an epidemic.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows only 51 percent of those surveyed, just barely over half, are confident the government can stop a nationwide epidemic of the H1N1 virus. That number is down from 59 percent as recently as August -- 49 percent say they're not sure the government can prevent an epidemic. And that number is up from 40 percent last summer.

So, the poll also shows only a little more than half of those surveyed think the government and private industry can provide enough swine flu vaccine for everybody who wants it. That number is virtually unchanged in the last few months.

Meanwhile, mothers with children younger than 18 are particularly skeptical about the government's ability in this area, perhaps not surprising, when you consider that children are some of the hardest hit by the H1N1 virus and a lot of people have been unable to get their hands on the vaccine.

Health officials now say there are about 32 million doses of vaccine available, which is double what was available just two weeks ago. But it is far, far short of the 250 million doses that were ordered by the federal government.

So, the question is this. How confident are you that the government can prevent a swine flu epidemic? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

Wolf, they came up kind of a day late and a dollar short on this vaccine.

BLITZER: Yes, but you know what? A lot of -- millions of folks still need it, and let's encourage them to get it if possible, especially those the most vulnerable.


CAFFERTY: But it's not available in as many places as it should be.

BLITZER: Unfortunately. Right. I wish it were.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

BLITZER: An exclusive interview with a witness to the Fort Hood shooting rampage. He tells our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, what he heard the gunman shout as he opened fire.


BLITZER: Right now, Republicans may be the least of the Democrats problems when it comes to passing health care reform. Democrats are squaring off against each other in this debate. Of particular concern, how abortion might play into any bill that passes. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is working this story for us. It's a problem even vexing the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.


But the speaker, talking about her, I was standing outside her office until about midnight on Friday night as she was making the decision to go against her own convictions and allow an amendment that restricts abortion. She was under so much direct pressure from the Catholic Church and anti-abortion Democrats, she had to or else the health care bill would have failed.

But there's still a lot of confusion over what the abortion amendment that passed would actually do, so we took a closer look.


BASH (voice-over): Jubilation over passing health care in the House.



BASH: But many of these cheering Democrats are already threatening to block a bill from going to the president's desk unless strict prohibitions on abortion are removed. What are those restrictions?

Ask advocates on different sides of the abortion debate and get different answers.

CHARMAINE YOEST, AMERICANS UNITED FOR LIFE: People still have the choice of having abortion coverage, if that's what they want. But you can't have federal dollars going to abortion coverage.

CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: It's a very far- reaching amendment that would fundamentally change women's access to getting health insurance that covers all of their reproductive health care.

BASH: So, which is it?

Let's take a closer look. It would ban abortion coverage in a new government-run health insurance option. Private insurance in a new government-regulated exchange would also be prohibited from offering abortion coverage to anyone getting taxpayer money for health care.

But private insurers would be allowed to offer separate coverage that includes abortion only to people paying with their own money.

RICHARDS: The intent of this amendment was to ensure that no one under health care reform could purchase a plan that included abortion coverage.

BASH: Abortion rights advocates argue that in practical terms insurance companies aren't likely to offer two plans, and say even if they did, middle-income women eligible for government assistance probably won't pay for additional abortion coverage with their own money.

RICHARDS: How ludicrous is it to think that a woman would ever plan to have an unintended pregnancy and plan to have an abortion?

BASH: But anti-abortion activist say, if government-assisted health care coverage is expanded, current law restricting abortion coverage must be as well.

YOEST: The simply extends what current federal policy is. The ultimate objective of the abortion lobby in this whole fight is to define abortion as health care.


BASH: Now, most abortion rights advocates do call it part of health care for women. And that's one of the many reasons there is such a deep divide on this issue, Wolf.

Several female senators are working to try to come up with a compromise to ease the restrictions on abortion the passed the House. But talk to anti-abortion Democrats still in both the House and the Senate -- these are Democrats -- and they say they won't budge. If that changes, they won't vote for health care.


BLITZER: ... spoke to Ben Nelson, the Democratic senator from Nebraska. He says he wants that House language, that anti-abortion language in the Senate bill, or he's not going to support it, right?


BASH: He said, no matter what else is in this health care bill, this far-reaching health care bill, if the language isn't strictly prohibitive when it comes to abortions, his vote is gone. And they need that vote. They need every Democratic vote in the Senate.

BLITZER: Yes, the difference between 60 votes and 59 votes is success or failure.

BASH: You got it.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, a battle is brewing over -- among House and Senate Democrats over financial reform, and the infighting could prevent anything from happening any time soon.

Let's bring back our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's here with details.

Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I get this question a lot. I bet you get it, too, folks always asking me why does it take so long to get things done in Washington. And the answer is sometimes plans get messed up in this town. And here's an example.

The new proposal to fix the financial mess and avoid another crash, it should be a no-brainer. Fix the financial system, right? Not so fast. Chris Dodd, the head of the Senate Banking Committee, he just came out with a sweeping proposal that sets up a battle royal over who will be in charge of overseeing the big banks.

Now, he's taking on the head of all the-powerful Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, right there. He controls our currency and decides our interest rates. Well, so, slash his power, he's not going to be happy, so, resistance there.

Then, Dodd creates a supercop to oversee all the banks, which would take power away from three other agencies. You see them down there. They're not happy. That means turf battles galoo -- galore, I should say.


YELLIN: Then think about the House of Representatives.

Barney Frank, who runs the House's version of the Banking Committee, well, he's much further along with his own reform plan. It is different, less sweeping, and closer to passing. But that can't become law when the Senate version, Chris Dodd's, is so different.

And then the Obama administration, yes, it has a plan, of course, of its own. They're stuck somewhere between Bernanke and Frank, nowhere near Dodd.

OK, so you have got all these Democrats at odds with each other and no Republicans are signed on to any of these bills. Meantime, you, me, the consumers, we are all still dealing with the same laws that have not changed since the day the financial system started to melt down. Not great, but that's where we are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Seems like the president's got to sit down with Barney Frank, with Chris Dodd, Ben Bernanke, and get into a room and try to work it out.

But here's the question for you, Jessica. Why did Chris Dodd propose this? What is this all about?

YELLIN: Well, the bottom line here is that Dodd is up for reelection, and he's facing a bruising battle.

There are accusations that he's been inside too long and gotten favors from special interests. So, he has to show that he is a man of the people fighting the big banks.

Now, this accomplishes that in two ways. It punishes the Fed, which lots of people blame for missing the financial collapse. It's also guaranteed to set up a brutal fight with Wall Street. So, if big money goes after Dodd during his campaign, that helps him politically, not so helpful if your goal is quick decisive action on financial reform -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Another headache for the president of the United States, no doubt about that.

Thanks very much, Jessica.

President Obama marks Veterans Day, vowing America will -- quote -- "do right by its troops." We're going to tell you what else he said as he paid tribute to the men and women in uniform.



BLITZER: They may never forget the horror they witnessed, survivors of the Fort Hood massacre, one speaking exclusively to CNN about what he saw, how he survived, and the gunman who killed 13 people.


GUPTA: What did he look like? I mean, what was he -- was he -- did he look angry? Did he look mad? I mean...

BURNETTE: Serious, intent. He stood up, screamed "Allahu akbar," and then he just started shooting.



BLITZER: The shootings at Fort Hood won't just leave the physical scars on the people who were injured. They're also sure to leave deep emotional wounds, as survivors mourn the loss of their comrades who died that day and as they relive those terrifying moments when the gunman opened fire.

One of the wounded, Army Specialist Logan Burnette, spoke today to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay is joining us now with more.

Sanjay, did this eyewitness hear the shooter yell out at the beginning of this ordeal?

GUPTA: He did.

And a lot of times, people forget about certain details about what happens in a traumatic situation like this, but Specialist Burnette really remembered everything in very fine detail. Take a listen.


GUPTA: Did you see the guy?

BURNETTE: Yes. He was about from me to that wall.

GUPTA: That's not that far?



BURNETTE: The first thing I saw were the laser sights on his handgun.

GUPTA: You noticed the laser sights?


GUPTA: What did he look like? I mean, what was he -- was he -- did he look angry? Did he look mad? I mean...

BURNETTE: Serious, intent. He stood up, screamed "Allahu akbar," and then he just started shooting.

GUPTA: He screamed "Allahu akbar"?

BURNETTE: He did, at the top of his lungs.

GUPTA: God is great in -- in the Muslim language.


GUPTA: Did you...

BURNETTE: And then he opened up into us.

GUPTA: So he walks in, he looks serious, he's got a...

BURNETTE: I don't think -- he didn't even walk in. Like he -- it was like he had been in the room for a while, in the corner, preparing. I mean nobody was really paying attention out of -- out of the corner of our eye. You know, we were -- we're talking 100 soldiers in this little building going through clinical reviews and all this stuff. And it was like he had just been squatting and stood up. And it -- you know, if you've ever been out to one of our ranges, it was like a popup target. That's what it was. It was like he just stood up and began firing on all of us and then taking steps and reloading and firing again, reloading and firing again.

GUPTA: Against defenseless soldiers?


(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: Sanjay, you also then asked him what else he remembers.

What did he say?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, it was interesting, because as we -- you know, the interview went on for some time. But when I asked him specifically about, you know, the thing that he remembered the most, it ended up being one of the most difficult questions and -- and answers, because, again, he remembers things so vividly.

Listen to this.


BURNETTE: The blood -- seeing blood coming from everywhere.


BURNETTE: I got down once the shots were fired out of instinct. And, you know, I didn't know what to think. But seeing bullet wounds in the back of a friend's head, seeing, you know, friends grabbing their arms and blood just everywhere, it's a -- it's a pretty hard thing to see -- and not having any way of defending yourself.


BLITZER: Did you have a chance, also, Sanjay, to speak with him about his own wounds?

GUPTA: Yes, I did, quite a bit. And I talked to his doctors, as well. But, you know, he was shot three times, Wolf. And one of the things that he told me -- and I'm still just thinking about it. You know, he was shot once in the hip after he just threw a table at -- at the shooter, at Hasan, because he had no weapons on him. And then he was shot. And then he started to crawl away. And it while he was crawling away that he was shot twice more.

But despite all that, he -- he really didn't really want to talk about his wounds as much as what this meant overall to him and the military.

Here's how he put it.


GUPTA: You know, the thing that's striking about you already, Logan, is that as you're this is what I got, this is what I got, you were fine. But as soon as you started talking about your unit and your friends, I can see that that's where you -- that's what hit you.

BURNETTE: Well, yes. It's -- you know, self for the service (ph), that's part of -- part of our motto, part of us being in the uniform. But it's -- you know, it's one thing when you hear about crime on the streets or something. But when you're in uniform and you're with these people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and you're getting ready to go to a war zone with them, you have the utmost -- the utmost trust in them, as well as they do in you. And -- and you know that and you feel that. And to see that bond broken immediately, in an instant, it's -- it's hard to deal with.


BLITZER: Very hard to deal with that, indeed.

Sanjay, thanks for doing this interview.

And wish that soldier our best. And we wish all of those who were injured a speedy, speedy recovery.

To our viewers, you can catch a lot more of Sanjay's exclusive interview with that wounded Army specialist later tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" -- a chilling account of the shooting and a look at the victims' road to recovery. It's all on "A.C. 360" right here tonight, 10:00 p.m.

President Obama is paying tribute to the troops on this Veteran's Day, both living and fallen. This morning, he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Then he gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, where he thanked all the men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving their country.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In an era where so many acted in pursuit of narrow self-interests, they've chosen the opposite. They chose to serve the cause that is greater than self, many even after they knew they'd be sent into harm's way. And for the better part of a decade, they have endured tour after tour in distant and difficult places. They have protected us from danger and they have given others the opportunity for a better life.


BLITZER: President Obama also visited Section 60, the burial ground at Arlington for U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Millions of American -- America's war veterans are still living today. One hundred and eight-year-old Frank Buckles of West Virginia is the only surviving American veteran of World War I. But there are close to 2.3 -- 2.3 million surviving veterans of World War II. There are about 2.6 million veterans of the Korean War. Almost eight million veterans of the Vietnam War are still living. And there are more than two million veterans who served during the first Gulf War, including troops who weren't necessarily deployed to the war zone. That also does not include those still on active duty. And plenty of troops are still on active duty who served during that first Gulf War.

Public opinion is not necessarily in President Obama's side when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. We're going to take a closer look at some telling new poll numbers with the best political team on television.


BLITZER: Some revealing new poll numbers on Afghanistan, just as the president's been meeting today with his national security team over at the White House Situation Room.

Let's talk about that and more with the best political team on television. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Paul Begala; Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of the conservative Web site; and CNN's own Joe Johns.

Here's a -- a question we asked in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll -- do you think that eventually there will be or will not be a stable democratic government in Afghanistan that can maintain order in the country without assistance from U.S. troops?

The key word, eventually. That's a long time, eventually.

Yes, there will be, 32 percent; no, will not be, 64 percent; no opinion, 4 percent.

Sixty-four percent, Paul, believe that there's not going to be a stable democratic governor -- government in Afghanistan.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And, in fact, I'd say that's pretty optimistic, that 32 percent of Americans think there will. I -- I would have to count myself in that 64 percent.

There's been very little evidence since the American boots first hit the ground seven, eight years ago now -- eight years ago -- that there's a functioning government, much less a free, democratic government. And this is the linchpin of the counter-insurgency strategy that General McCaffrey has advised President Obama to adopt.

Ninety-nine times in that McChrystal report -- 99 times in 566 pages, he refers to the government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and how central that will be to any successful of counter-insurgency.

If you believe, as most Americans do...


BEGALA: ...that there's not a functioning government, then it really -- it doesn't look good...


BEGALA: ...for a counter-insurgency strategy.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS: Well, I -- I think it's a reasonable opinion for the American people to have, that we're not going to establish a stable democracy in Afghanistan any time soon. It's a mistake to make that the end game of American policy. The only end game of our policy should be protecting this country against potential terrorist attack. And (INAUDIBLE) we can do something in Afghanistan that achieves that end, let's do it. But let's not pretend we can make a replica...

BORGER: Well...


BLITZER: You're not bothered by that so many Americans believe, apparently, that American troops are fighting and dying for what?

JEFFREY: Well, they -- what they ought to be -- if, in fact, we are going to lose American lives anywhere overseas, Wolf, it has to be in our interests. And our interests in Afghanistan ought to be defined as protecting the American people from terrorist attacks when they arise there or terrorists who may be trained there. They ought not to be trying to change the internal politics of Afghanistan.

BORGER: Right. But the point is, if you're going to adopt a counter-insurgency strategy to keep Al Qaeda from attacking us in the United States, which is, I think, what the goal is -- nobody -- nobody disagrees on that. It has to be in concert with an Afghan government that has some degree of stability.

And part of the argument -- and I think the way the American people are thinking maybe the kind of discussion they're actually having around that table is, if you put in more American troops, is that just going to give the Afghan Army an excuse to not do its real job, because we're leaving such a big footprint there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You have to wonder, though, I mean if people look at the headlines and they hear about Karzai and they hear about the election and what a mess it was, does that really get through and translate to what they think should happen in policy?

We talk about counter-insurgency, but I talked to one Democratic strategist today who said the words that ought to be coming out of the administration are about counter-terrorism, about stopping terrorists...

BORGER: Right.

JOHNS: ...terrorists from coming to this country. This is why we're doing that. This is why Americans are fighting and dying, to stop terror.

BLITZER: You know, and look at these poll numbers, because if the president -- I don't know if he pays attention to poll numbers. He says he doesn't, but they always say that.

Would you favor or oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan?

Forty-two percent of those in our new poll say they favor, 56 percent oppose.

Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan?

Forty percent favor the war in Afghanistan, 58 percent say they oppose the war in Afghanistan. The president may net -- may not be paying attention, but some of his political advisers certainly are.

BEGALA: Right. And they ought to also be paying attention to Capitol Hill, where, at least in the Democratic Party, this thing is losing altitude, as well. I mean you could have a revolt among Democrats on this.

But what the president needs to do is first decide on the mission and then define the mission for the American people. And terry is right. What -- what I admire about him is he is looking with precision at what our war aims ought to be. When President Bush sent those troops in there, he called it Operation Enduring Freedom and said that our goal...

BORGER: Well...

BEGALA: ...was to rid the world of tyranny and evil. Well, no, it's not. At least it was for him. I disagree. Clearly, President Obama disagrees.

I want to see the kind of intellectual precision that he brings to all topics, most especially to this one.

What are our goals there?

How is this advancing America's national interests?

BORGER: And -- and how...

BEGALA: That's what he's doing.

BORGER: And how do we leave?

You know, making clear that there's an exit strategy here, that it's not open-ended, making that clear to the Karzai government, such as it is.

BLITZER: Because, Terry, as you know, as far as exit strategy, the words Colin Powell immediately come up. And today this -- President Obama got a vote of confidence from both General Colin Powell and General David Petraeus saying, you know what, he's not dithering, he's doing the right weighing all these options.

JEFFREY: Well, they're -- they're giving him the right advice if they're telling him to stay away from the politics. But when you look at that poll, Wolf, here's -- here's the president's political problem. Probably a large chunk of those Americans who are against this war are President Obama's base. And President Obama is never going to get the conservatives on his side. He's been losing the Independents.

He's fighting this intense battle over the health care bill in Washington, D.C. and he's contemplating making a decision to dramatically increase our troop size in Afghanistan, which those folks who don't like the war, who are his political base, are going to be very angry about.

JOHNS: You know, another thing the polls reflect is the sort of vacuum that's out there in the public, because this administration has spent, arguably, a lot of time trying to figure out what to do rather than telling the American people here's what we think we should be doing.

There -- there's a lot of difference in that, so...

BORGER: Right. You know, and eight months ago, public opinion favored the war in Afghanistan. Now that has completely flipped on this president. And don't forget, when he campaigned, he called it a war of necessity and he cannot escape that now.

JOHNS: And to go back to my Democratic strategist, there's two things. One thing he said, whatever this Obama administration does, they should not do what the Bush administration did. They should go out, tell people what they're going to do, explain it and sell it. That's probably the most important thing.


JOHNS: Explain and sell whatever it is you decide you've got to do.

BLITZER: All right...

BEGALA: With rigor and precision. Not just we're going to rid the world of evil. I'm sorry to keep coming back to that, but you have -- if you're going to take my son and ship him over there, you'd better have a very specific reason.

BLITZER: All right. Hold your thoughts.


BLITZER: We're going to discuss this tomorrow, as well.

Thank you, guys.


BLITZER: Gay activist groups certainly have argued passionately for the repeal of the military's don't ask/don't tell regulation. A lot of other folks have, as well. Now it appears that the policy may -- repeat may be approaching an end. That and more coming up in our Political Ticker.


BLITZER: Let's get to our Political Ticker.

Jessica Yellin is standing by with more.

What's going on -- Jessica? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another Republican woman is going rogue. It's not Sarah Palin. No, Dede Scozzafava. She's a bit of a maverick already. She's a moderate and she has already blasted Palin and other fellow Republicans after conservatives effectively drove her out of the race in New York's 23rd Congressional District.

Well, now, it's Scozzafava's turn.


DEDE SCOZZAFAVA (R), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: Some of the ads were -- were very vicious and some of the robo calls and some of the calls that were being placed, you know, using language such as, you know, "She's a homo lover," "She is a child killer." And that language was coming from people that identify themselves with the Republican Party.


YELLIN: In "The Washington Post," the former Republican candidate also questioned if Sarah Palin fully understood her endorsement when she backed Scozzafava's rival, conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman.

Well, here's some news that could make Republicans smile and Democrats worry. A fresh nationwide poll suggests that slightly more voters are inclined to vote for a Republican in next year's mid-term elections than for a Democrat. Now, that's a switch from other recent polls that showed Democrats were the preferred party choice. The breakdown in the recent Gallup Poll of registered voters, 48 percent would vote Republican, 44 percent vote Democrat. That's within the poll's sampling error, but still, it's a shift that's got to make Democrats sit up and take notice.

Next story, will we soon see the end of don't ask/don't tell?

A spokesman for Representative Barney Frank has confirmed to CNN that the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed to attach a repeal to next year's defense appropriations bill. Now, don't ask/don't tell is a ban on any open admission of homosexuality in the U.S. military. It's been in force since 1993. And according to a gay support group, more than 13,000 men and women have been discharged from the military for their sexuality during that time.

Finally, General David Petraeus has been asked several times whether he's going to be a possible presidential candidate. Never, should we note, has the general himself confirmed he will be.

Well, CNN's Kyra Phillips raised question in an exclusive interview today.

And here's what Petraeus said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Bob Dole and other Republicans have suggested, General Petraeus, that you would be a pretty outstanding presidential candidate for 2012.

Is that door open or do you want to close it right now here in the CNN NEWSROOM?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: I'll close it right here, right now in the CNN NEWSROOM. I will remind you of the great country song that used to ask, what about no don't you understand?


YELLIN: The great country song.

Do you know who sang that song, Wolf, for 1,000 points?

BLITZER: A thousand?

No, I don't -- I don't remember, but I know you know.

YELLIN: It's Lorrie Morgan, "What Part of No Don't You Understand?"

Check it out on YouTube.

BLITZER: Yes OK. Will do.

Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Let's go to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: We've got a quick updater, Wolf.

The CDC now tells us there more than 41 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine available.

The question this hour is, how confident are you the government can prevent a swine flu epidemic?

About half of you don't think there's a very good chance of that happening.

Susan writes: "It's funny how people don't want the government messing around with health care, but then they expect the government to prevent a swine flu epidemic. The government just can't win. What do you want, people? You can't have it both ways."

Jim in Rhode Island writes: "There's only one reason that there's no H1N1 vaccine in the U.S. -- money. If everyone got the vaccine, the big drug companies would not make billions on their over the counter flu medications."

Tina writes: "Why is this even a question? Yes, the U.S. government has not been able to get enough doses of the vaccine out, but that's the private sector's fault. The government can't stop an epidemic. But I'm not without confidence in the U.S. government. It's up to the U.S. people to stop it by taking precautions and using basic hygiene skills."

Annie writes: "I'm about as confident as I am for the government doing anything for us out here on Main Street. Wall Street got their shots -- and then some and we got nothing. And that tells me all I need to know."

Rich writes: "If Rush Limbaugh got scared and fled the country, would anybody wonder where the swine flew?" John in Colorado says: "As it has been for centuries, this is flu season. H1N1 appears to be somewhat of a greater risk, but the solution is really up to more families and individuals than the government. Following President Obama's orders, I've been washing my hands like Lady Macbeth, 24-7. I'm 66. I've never had a flu shot in my life. With that said, although today I feel like a rooster, tomorrow I might be a feather duster."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check the blog at -- Wolf, I'll see you Monday.

My -- I've got a daughter who's getting married Saturday. I'm going to take a few days off.

BLITZER: Well, congratulations. That's extremely exciting. We wish her and her future husband only, only the best.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, sir.

I'll pass it along.

BLITZER: Good work, Jack.

Jack Cafferty going to a wedding -- a proud dad, as he should be.

December 21, 2012 -- does that date mean anything to you?

In a new doomsday movie, it's the end of the world. "Apprentice" -- it's apparently scaring enough people that NASA felt it needs need to set things straight.

You know what?

Jeanne Moos will explain.


BLITZER: A new doomsday movie is creating a lot of buzz out there on the Internet, but not your typical Hollywood chatter. The film apparently is scaring people who actually think the world may end. NASA is now getting into the act by posting a Moost Unusual response to this frightful flick.

CNN's Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Save the date. It could be the last one you save.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: December 21st, 2012.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: December 21st, 2012.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, are you high again?


MOOS: Oh, we're going to be high -- blown sky high.


MOOS: Bye-bye Sistine Chapel, bye-bye U.S. Capitol, bye-bye White House -- you're about to be squished by an aircraft carrier?

The doomsday movie "2012" is coming out.

But don't stop paying your mortgage because NASA assures us nothing bad will happen.


DAVID MORRISON, NASA SPACE SCIENTIST: There is no threat to Earth in 2012.


MOOS: Seriously, folks, there's been so much chatter about this...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Mayan calendar predicts the end of time.


MOOS: ...that NASA is reassuring people on its Web site.


MORRISON: All of the talk about a doomsday is a big hoax.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they tell you not to panic, that's when you run.


MOOS: NASA is having to tell people that another planet isn't going to smash into ours.


MORRISON: Nibiru does not exist.


MOOS: Holy smokes, it's Ludacris.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where to start with this idiocy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many Web pages created by nerds who actually believe this (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE)?


MOOS: And mockery is rampant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gone, gone, gone. Still here, just a lot bigger.


MOOS: But there are true believers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get yourself as far away from the ocean as you can, because they're going to come ripping at you. Get out your voice stress analyzers and find out if I'm telling you the truth.


MOOS: Analyze this.




MOOS (on camera): Talk of the end of the world was just the beginning of a flood of questions. Real scientists, like the ones who answer questions at Ask An Astronomer, are getting messages like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a fourth grade boy who wrote in and said that he was too young to die, but had -- had heard about 2012 and was scared.






MOOS (on camera): Let's see, December 21st, 2012, that gives us about...

(voice-over): One thousand one hundred thirty some days left to live.




MOOS: But if you look to NASA...


MORRISON: Don't worry about 2012 and enjoy 2013 when it comes.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 2012, I'm voting for Sarah Palin because the world is ending anyway.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...





BLITZER: Don't forget, I'm on Twitter at -- all one word.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.