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Did They or Didn't They?; "Crashing" As Crime; Paying for Afghan Plan

Aired December 1, 2009 - 17:00   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No problem having thousands of brave soldiers give their lives in Iraq for corporate oil futures, spend millions an hour doing so, but how dare we want to take care of all Americans with a universal health care program?"

June writes: "Both parties fail the purity test big time. Neither party ought to be trying to represent themselves as being free of the same moral failings many of us demonstrate. The Republicans should position themselves as the anti-Democrat Party, who will reverse course on tax and spend politics -- the course we are currently on."

And Doyle in Canada writes: "Hell, no. That would be like me telling somebody else to lose weight."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Literature. We'll discuss.

CAFFERTY: Andre Agassi and Sarah Palin...

BLITZER: Literature.

CAFFERTY: ...number one on "The New York Times" best-seller lists.

BLITZER: Good for them. Good for them.

CAFFERTY: The problem is -- the other problem is there aren't a lot of people who can even read those books anymore. The public schools aren't doing their job...


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now, a major troop increase and a time line for ending the war in Afghanistan. President Obama revealing his plan to the nation tonight. His senior adviser, David Axelrod, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll be joining us this hour. We'll discuss what's going on.

Also, Washington's most notorious party crashers breaking their silence, speaking out, insisting they were, in fact, invited to the White House state dinner. We've uncovered, though, a history of some behavior that they are denying. Stand by. Brian Todd all over this story.

Plus, Tiger Woods getting a ticket, but no criminal charges, as officials close on the book on his mysterious car accident. Speculation, though, is producing some new twists and turns. Stand by. We have new information.

What impact will it have on his billion dollar brand?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


One thing is certain -- and it could be the only thing certain at this point -- Tareq and Michaele Salahi were, in fact, at the White House state dinner.

Were they invited or was this simply a massive failure of White House security?

CNN's Brian Todd has been digging deeper into Mr. and Mrs. Salahi, what appears to be their habit of just showing up -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that White House state dinner apparently is not the first time they've just shown up, according to officials of one prominent group here in Washington. Those officials have given us some information. And for the first time, we've heard the Salahis themselves speak about what happened at the White House.


TODD: (voice-over): They say their lives have been destroyed, that they're shocked and devastated by the negative publicity they've gotten since their appearance last week at the first state dinner thrown by the Obamas.

When Tareq and Michaele Salahi were asked by NBC's "Today Show" to address the White House's assertion that they were not invited, that they crashed the event, they were resolute.


MICHAELE SALAHI, ALLEGED WHITE HOUSE DINNER "CRASHER": Well, we were invited, not crashers. And there isn't anyone that would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that.


TODD: But CNN has learned this isn't the first time the Salahis have gone to a high profile Washington event where questions were raised about whether they were invited. Officials at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation tell us the Salahis attended one of their major fundraising dinners in September, were asked to produce tickets and then were asked to leave when they couldn't. Pictures of them at the event with Congressman Charles Rangel and Patrick Kennedy are posted on the Salahis' Facebook page.

President Obama was also there, but Foundation officials say he never mingled with the crowd and never interacted with the Salahis.

Tareq Salahi told NBC this.


TAREQ SALAHI, ALLEGED WHITE HOUSE DINNER "CRASHER": Yes, we were invited. This is the first time I've ever heard, you know, another false accusation against my wife and I, saying that we weren't invited there. We were invited there by the Gardner Law Group.


TODD: Our calls and e-mail to Attorney Paul Gardner were not returned. The Salahis say they have e-mails to back up their claim that they were invited to the White House dinner. They haven't produced those e-mails or divulged their contents.

A White House official tells us the e-mails are from Michele Jones, the Pentagon's liaison to the White House. Jones said in a statement: "I did not state at any time or imply that I had tickets for any portion of the evening's events. I specifically stated that they did not have tickets, and, in fact, that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance."

The White House official tells CNN Jones left the Salahis a voice mail saying the same thing.

Tareq Salahi's estranged brother, meanwhile, spoke to a CNN affiliate about the couple.


ISMAIL SALAHI, TAREQ SALAHI'S BROTHER: They're really into the whole media thing. And they love the attention and the press. And they've been trying to stay in the public eye for a long, long time.



TODD: Now, we've tried to get a response to that from the Salahis' media representative. We have not heard back yet. The Secret Service, meanwhile, is conducting a full investigation into the incident and the Salahis say they are fully cooperating.

A Secret Service official told us this could lead to criminal charges, which could include trespassing or making false statements -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's the question a lot of people are asking, Brian. Should the White House social secretary's office have actually had some people at those checkpoints to check names, together with the Secret Service?

TODD: We know that's been the practice in previous administrations. The White House and Secret Service officials have told us that was not the plan this time, that it didn't need to be the plan. They say the Secret Service officers at those checkpoints had the guest lists and that the drill was to call the social secretary's office if there was any discrepancy and that the secretary's office would address that. But they say there was no call to the social secretary's office that night.

BLITZER: Lots of questions still remaining to be answered.

Thank you, Brian.

At least one White House official seems to be in no doubt about the Salahis. We're talking about the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

Listen to this.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They were not on a list here at the White House. Their name was not in a security tower in order to get into this secure complex. And they had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner. The president and the Secret Service are rightly concerned about how this happened. I think this matter is continuing to be looked into criminally.


BLITZER: All right. Criminally -- you heard that word -- looked into criminally.

So when things turn to possible criminal action, we always turn to our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Is that a serious -- criminal charges could be filed against the Salahis?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. When you think about trespassing, there is no more important place where one might trespass than the White House. So if they went in there under false pretenses intentionally, trespassing is definitely a -- a possibility.

BLITZER: What about lying to a federal official?

TOOBIN: Well, again, that's where you get into the bizarre mystery of this story because, you know, you worked in the White House. I've been to the White House many times. It's a complicated process to get inside. You have you to give your name, your Social Security number, your date of birth. And there's always a list. And they don't let you go in just on the promise of, well, I -- I have an appointment inside.

So, yes, it is true that the usual custom is to give information. And if that information is false, that could be a crime. But it just doesn't seem like any of the normal procedures were followed here.

BLITZER: But if they have some e-mail that may be a little murky from this Pentagon official saying, you know, maybe you should try it, you might not get in, but give it a shot -- I'm -- I'm just assuming that there is some sort of language in there, because they're -- they're insisting they do have some e-mail suggesting that they could go -- what would that do to all of the potential criminal charges?

TOOBIN: I think it would throw it out window. I think if they have some sort of official government sanction, whether it's from the Pentagon or the White House, that suggests they have a right to be inside, there's no way there could be any criminal charges.

They've also said that they maybe have something from a Washington law firm. That wouldn't cut any ice. But if they had something from the Pentagon, they would -- I -- I think it wouldn't be appropriate that they was there -- they would be there, but I'm sure there would be no criminal charges.

BLITZER: You know, they're getting ready to host -- the Obamas -- thousands of people coming for the holiday parties over at the White House. There will be long lists of people who were invited -- members of Congress, members of the executive branch. Journalists will be invited. I assume that someone from the social secretary's office will join the Secret Service now in reviewing those lists in case, for example, Jack Cafferty were to show up or something like that.

TOOBIN: Well, that's a pretty far-fetched idea that Jack Cafferty would be allowed there under any circumstances.

CAFFERTY: You're absolutely right.

TOOBIN: But -- but, yes, in theory that's true, that would be -- no, but you can be sure that from now on, the rules are going to be enforced to the letter.

BLITZER: This was their first state dinner, Jack. So...

CAFFERTY: You know what they should be prosecuted for?

For being annoying, because they are...


TOOBIN: Our...

CAFFERTY: the nth degree.

TOOBIN: Our prisons are full enough. If that were a crime... CAFFERTY: No. They should...

TOOBIN: ...imagine the...

CAFFERTY: They should put these people in jail for being annoying because they -- they have annoyed the hell out of me for three days.


BLITZER: Get ready. You're going to be hearing -- you know, they're testifying, supposedly, Thursday, before the House Homeland Security Committee.

CAFFERTY: Are we going to carry that live?

BLITZER: I don't know if we'll carry it live, but we're going to be speaking with the chairman of the committee...


TOOBIN: I have -- I have a guess about whether we're going to carry it live.

CAFFERTY: Me, too.

TOOBIN: But these decisions are above my pay grade.

BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this picture. You -- you're seeing some of those who are leaving the White House. I guess they just had their briefing from members of Congress. You see Robert Gates in the middle of your screen over there together -- I think that was Admiral Mullen walking by a long line of vehicles. They're getting ready to leave the White House.

They briefed bipartisan members of Congress, the leadership of various committees in the House and the Senate. And the president will be heading over to Andrews Air Force Base to fly off to West Point and Upstate New York to deliver his big speech later tonight. So, that's a real news story we're covering.

CAFFERTY: I have another question.


CAFFERTY: How is it that John McCain is out doing reaction to a speech that hasn't been given yet?

BLITZER: Because he wants to.

CAFFERTY: Well, but I mean this is -- isn't this like...

BLITZER: We know a lot of the details of what...

CAFFERTY: ...the cart leading the pony and...

BLITZER: We know a lot of details of what the president is going to say.

CAFFERTY: I mean you've got these politicians out grandstanding and give -- and holding gatherings in front of the cameras to react to a speech that the president hasn't even had a chance to give yet.

TOOBIN: Jack is shocked to see politicians grandstanding.

CAFFERTY: That's annoying, too.

All right.

Should we -- should I do this?

BLITZER: Please.

CAFFERTY: All right. This is a terrific story -- the hypocrisy of celebrities. It knows no bounds.

"The London Times" has a terrific piece -- you can read it online -- called "Taking the Private Jet to Copenhagen."

It's a reference to that upcoming international climate summit, at which probably nothing will be done. The report highlights actors, musicians, politicians and other so-called green celebrities who have fleets of jets, multiple homes and on and on and on. These people leave carbon footprints as they travel through their lives that would put a dinosaur to shame.

For example, John Travolta has five private jets, including a Boeing 707. He once flew to London on one of his private airplanes to tell the British people they should fight against global warming.

Harrison Ford used to own a Gulfstream jet. He now makes due with a smaller Cessna Citation Sovereign eight seat jet and four propeller airplanes and a helicopter.

Oprah Winfrey, who preaches about being environmentally friendly on her TV show, traveled in a 13 seat Gulfstream jet for years -- until she replaced it with a bigger, faster Bombardier Global Express.

Tom Cruise has five airplanes, including a customized Gulfstream jet.

And as for the king of global warming preachers, the former vice president, Al Gore, it's estimated his Tennessee mansion uses 20 times the amount of electricity of an average American home. He spends $500 a month just heating his indoor swimming pool.

Meanwhile, recent owners of gas guzzling SUVs include Gwyneth Paltrow, Barbara Streisand and Cameron Diaz.

All of the above-mentioned people are active to a greater or lesser degree in urging the rest of us to fight global warming.

And that's the question: Why do celebrities who travel around in private jets want to tell the rest of us how to save the environment? Go to and have some fun.

BLITZER: And they will.

CAFFERTY: And they will.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Private jet, commercial...

CAFFERTY: You travel on a private jet, don't you?

BLITZER: No, but I'd like to.

CAFFERTY: Boy, I wish I could.

TOOBIN: I think you can get by with only three jets.

CAFFERTY: That's enough.

TOOBIN: I think three is enough.

CAFFERTY: A couple in the shop for repairs.

TOOBIN: Exactly. Right.

CAFFERTY: And that leaves you one.


CAFFERTY: That should be sufficient.

TOOBIN: Five seems excessive to me.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

We're standing by, by the way, for the first excerpts from President Obama's important speech later tonight -- a preview of what he'll tell the nation about his plan to try to win the war in Afghanistan. Stand by for that.

We're also going to be talking about the plan and the risks involved. The president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, he's standing by to join us live. We have some questions for him.

And Tiger Woods' endorsement deals are worth hundreds -- hundreds of millions of dollars.

Is this silence on his mysterious car wreck putting those deals in jeopardy?


BLITZER: We're counting down to President Obama's important speech later tonight at West Point detailing his plans for the war in Afghanistan, including dispatching another 30,000 U.S. forces and a goal of ending the war within a few years.

Let's talk about all of this with David Axelrod.

He's a senior adviser to the president.

David, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: How long will it take to get the 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan?

AXELROD: Well, one of the things that the president is going to talk about tonight is accelerating that process and getting them there as soon as possible. You know, our hope is to get them in there by the middle of next year, which is an accelerated timetable. But we feel that the -- the sooner that we get in there, we can stop the momentum of the Taliban, train up Afghan troops and begin to transfer authority for -- or responsibility for the security there. And that's -- that's our goal.

BLITZER: So the hope is to get another 30,000 or so beyond the 68,000 U.S. troops who are already there within, let's say, six months.

Now, what is this talk of starting to withdraw troops, though, within three years?

AXELROD: Well, the president will talk about this tonight. But there -- there will be a time frame under which we will begin withdrawing these -- the troops -- this additional level that we're now adding. And, you know, we're -- we will have enough of a time frame to begin showing results for the additional troops and the training. We believe we'll be in a position to -- to make that -- to make that transference. We want to target the -- the enemy there. We want to train the Afghan Army. And then we want to transfer responsibility. And this will all be on an accelerated timetable.

BLITZER: So you're basically suggesting you -- you can do all that within three years?

Is that the goal?

AXELROD: I'm not putting a -- a time -- an end, you know, a timetable. I think, as with Iraq, we will begin a -- we will begin to draw down on those troops and we will do it in conjunction with the commanders on the ground, you know, at a pace that we feel is responsible. But we will -- you know, this is a -- the president made clear, this is a -- an action that has a -- has an end to it.

BLITZER: But a lot of the critics, including people who are basically supportive of what you're trying to do, like John McCain, they say having this kind of end game, a sort of a deadline or -- or an exit strategy, when you're going to start withdrawing, is a mistake, because that will merely encourage the -- the adversaries there, the enemies there, to wait patiently, wait for the U.S. to leave and it will get our allies there nervous about the commitment of the U.S. when all is said and done.

AXELROD: Well, I...

BLITZER: What do you say to those critics?

AXELROD: I'd say, first of all, no one is saying that we're going to end our partnership with the -- the Afghan people. But we are, at some point, going to have to transfer responsibility for security to them and I think everybody -- everybody understands that.

But what this will do is give a sense of urgency to the leadership in Afghanistan to get serious about the issues they have to deal with, including not just building up the army but also dealing with issues of governance and -- and corruption of delivery of services to people, things that are needed in order to strengthen them against the challenge that they face.

We don't want to create a sense of dependency, the sense that we will be there forever and therefore they don't have to get serious about the tasks at hand.

BLITZER: What happens if Hamid Karzai, the president, doesn't live up to the benchmarks that you're putting forward?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that he has every -- every incentive, Wolf, to do so, because he -- ultimately, his -- his tenure depends on withstanding these incursions, withstanding this insurgency. And he can't do that, ultimately, without an adequate security force and an adequate army, police, and without dealing with the issues of corruption in governance that weaken his -- his position.

So I think he has every incentive to -- to go along. The president had a lengthy talk with him yesterday. I think that he understands -- and, in fact, he addressed some of these issues in his inaugural speech, what he -- he felt the obligations of his government and his people were.

BLITZER: Does President Obama support a war tax that would be imposed on the American people to pay for the war in Afghanistan, as Democratic Congressman David Obey and others are recommending?

AXELROD: Well, look, you know, we've now gone through eight years of -- of two wars and unpaid for by the last administration. That's one of the reasons we have the fiscal mess we have. And we're going to have to deal with all of that, including the additional cost of -- of this particular action.

But we want to deal with it as part of our entire fiscal approach, not in a piecemeal way. And we need to do it in the context of the economic problems that we face, as well.

But there's no doubt that we need to acknowledge not just this expense, but the expense of all of the -- all of the war that's been fought from now until then in Afghanistan and Iraq, and deal with it and our entire fiscal challenge. And this president is committed to doing that.

BLITZER: Does that include a war tax?

AXELROD: Wolf, we're going to deal with it as -- an entity. I don't think attaching a -- measures to a particular mobilization of troops is necessarily the -- the precedent you want to set.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, thanks very much for coming in.

AXELROD: OK. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And we're going to have complete coverage, as you know, of the president's speech. Our coverage will start at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right after THE SITUATION ROOM. The president will be speaking around 8:00 p.m. Eastern at West Point. Complete analysis with the best political team on television coming up throughout the night here on CNN.

We've seen the damage to his SUV, but will Tiger Woods' mysterious wreck damage his personal brand, as well?

Stand by.

And Alec Baldwin calling it quits -- with a catch.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?


Well, it was a short-lived tenure for GM's top gun. CEO Frederick "Fritz" Henderson has resigned after eight tumultuous months steering the country's largest automaker. Now, the company says it will conduct an international search for a new CEO.

Meanwhile, though, G.M. Chairman Ed Whitaker, Jr. will take over. Henderson succeeded Rick Wagoner last March after the Obama administration ousted Wagoner during a government-led reorganization.

Well, there was some good news to tell you about today on Wall Street. The Dow added 127 points today, closing at its highest in more than a year. Investors appear to have shrugged off worries over Dubai's debt problems, advancing for a second day and picking up where they left off before the scare. Also behind the boost, General Electric and Comcast are nearing a deal over NBC Universal.

And you know, some have predicted the world will end in 2012. Well, Wolf, brace yourself, because we have news that is perhaps just as cataclysmic. TV and film star Alec Baldwin says that's when he plans to quit acting. Say it isn't so. The Emmy Award winner tells "Men's Journal" magazine: "I'm not young, but I have time to do something else." He hasn't said exactly what that is. But Baldwin is scheduled to co-host the Academy Awards in March.

He's a great actor. I'm going to miss him if he leaves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, you know, he might not leave. You never know.

NGUYEN: Yes, I'm sure we'll see him around.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Right. I don't think he's going to leave. I think you'll -- I think we'll see Alec Baldwin.

We're standing by for President Obama to speak over at West Point later tonight. He'll be presenting his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. We're moments away from getting some early excerpts from what will be in his speech. We'll discuss that and more. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Tournament officials announced that ticket holders could get refunds now that Tiger Woods has cancelled attending his own tournament out in California this week, but what about his sponsors? After all the publicity, will they be asking for their money back? CNN's Mary Snow has been -- is here. She's been digging into this part of the story.

What are you finding?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, financially speaking, Wolf, he's like no other athlete. Last year alone Tiger Woods earned $105 million just from sponsorship deals. That's according to "Sports Illustrated," and that's more than any other athlete in the world, and the Tiger Woods brand is riding out this media storm.


SNOW (voice-over): At the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks California the talk is about who is not there. Tiger Woods usually hosts the tournament but cancelled his appearance that included a press conference. As he keeps silent about his car crash, some media experts say he's making a mistake. They say even though he only faces a $164 fine for a traffic citation, he needs to go beyond the statement he's released.

GENE GRABOWSKI. LEVICK STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: It opens the door to speculation, and it allows everybody to create their own story in their own mind which is what's going on right now.

SNOW: Gene Grabowski works with crisis and says unless Woods takes control of the story it will lead tabloids to answer questions about a one-car accident in the middle of the night and his wife's role.

GRABOWSKI: I think the bigger toll is the toll it will take on him and his family. The burden that he'll have to bear, everywhere he goes he'll hear and see people whispering.

SNOW: As far as Tiger Woods the brand, so far nothing has changed. Some of his main endorsers have come out to show they are standing by him, including Gatorade, Gillette and his biggest endorser Nike which said in a statement, "Tiger and his family have Nike's full support. We respect Tiger's request for privacy, and our thoughts are with Tiger and his family at this time." It's those lucrative contracts that allowed Woods to become the first athlete to earn $1 billion in his career.

"Forbes" calls him the first $1 billion athlete. Why is he so successful?

DAVID DUSEK, DEPUTY EDITOR, GOLF.COM: Again I think that Tiger Woods is a corporate pitch man, he's great on camera, the fact that he is known globally, not just a brand well known here in the United States or well known in Europe. He's a global brand.

SNOW: And those who cover the business of sports say unless the story takes a drastic turn Tiger Woods, Inc. isn't affected.

KURT BADENHAUSEN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, FORBES MAGAZINE: I don't think this hurts the Tiger Woods brand one bit. His endorsement deals for the most part are all long-term contracts that have been with Tiger since the beginning of his career, and they are certainly not going to walk away from him.


SNOW: And it doesn't appear right now that interest is waning in this story. Five days after Woods hit a fire hydrant and a tree, if you look at Google right now, on the top ten stories being searched; seven of them have linked to Tiger Woods.

BLITZER: Lots of interest. We're getting a lot of reaction as well, and it's not gone away by any means.

SNOW: Probably the most widely covered $164 traffic citation ever, right?

BLITZER: I think that's a fair statement. Thanks. Mary Snow reporting.

Tonight President Obama is expected to lay out a plan to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people but getting back the goodwill of some of his key political supporters here in the United States could be a tougher problem. CNN's Kareen Wynter has been looking into Hollywood's disappointment.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some outspoken players in Hollywood are warning the commander in chief you're making a mistake.


WYNTER (voice-over): President Obama is about to speak, but some in Hollywood don't like the message.

ROBERT GREENWALS, FILMMAKER: I think there will be betrayal. I think thereby pain and I think there will be grief.

WYNTER: Filmmaker Robert Greenwals and outspoken liberal activist who produced a documentary against further engagement in Afghanistan is among those decrying the president's plan to boost troop levels.

GREENWALS: I think the decision to add troops is tragic because it's fundamentally wrong.

WYNTER: Director Michael Moore is echoing alarm among liberal Democrats who helped Obama win the White House. He issued a scathing open letter to Obama telling the commander in chief that if he goes through with a troop increase, "You are the new war president, and with that you will do the worst possible thing, destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you."

GREENWALS: So this is their refugee camp.

WYNTER: Greenwals traveled to Afghanistan to film his film to argues why the U.S. should withdraw entirely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it's our blood on the line.

GREENWALS: We've interviewed over 120 people for our "Rethink Afghanistan" film and work, and there's a tremendous consensus of opinion about the idea military won't solve it.

TED JOHNSON, MANAGING EDITOR, DAILY VARIETY: Especially among liberals and progressives within the entertainment community, President Obama's decision on Afghanistan threatens to create serious fissures in his support out here.

WYNTER: At an event in New York Monday night, some stars did not want to talk about the Afghanistan question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not here to talk about that.

WYNTER: Others expressed support for the president's plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel quite confident about it. I think he's doing the right thing.

WYNTER: Others were non-committal, but said overall they still back the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have faith in him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you still support him?


WYNTER: But some analysts believe that if enough celebrities abandon the president, it could hurt his image. "Variety's" Ted Johnson notes stars have their own kind of bully pulpit.

JOHNSON: They have the megaphone and the platform. They get the news attention.


WYNTER: Robert Greenwals is planning on making more news himself. He and his team behind "rethink Afghanistan" are already working on a rebuttal to President Obama's address before they have even heard it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Kareen, thanks very much. Kareen Wynter reporting for us from L.A.

The president of the United States getting ready to fly out of Washington, D.C., Andrews Air Force Base with Air Force One. You're looking at live pictures of Air Force One. They will be flying the president and his entourage to West Point in upstate New York where he'll be delivering his major speech on Afghanistan at around 8:00 p.m. eastern. Our live coverage will begin at 7:00 p.m. eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll have extensive analysis of what this speech really means for the U.S. troops heading off to Afghanistan. Stand by for that.

The U.S. -- the Obama administration might have a new plan for Afghanistan, but how do the Afghan people feel from it? We'll hear from our CNN team on the ground in Kabul.

Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by to join us live. He'll talk about his own experiences on the ground in Afghanistan and the major medical challenges facing what will be 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.


BLITZER: We've had a huge troop increase in Afghanistan that's now expected, the biggest challenge could be for the United States to win over the Afghan people as well. Here's a question. Is it too late? CNN's Atia Abawi reports from Kabul.


ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking through squalor, but this for now is home, at least for Zaid and thousands of other Afghans finding refuge from the constant fighting plaguing their towns and villages. U.S. and coalition forces realize that they can't win the war in Afghanistan without the support of the Afghan people, but after eight years of fighting, it's becoming increasingly difficult.

They should negotiate with the Taliban, he says. It's not right. The Taliban shoot one bullet, and then the Americans start bombarding our villages. These men are from some of the most volatile areas of the country. They have seen Afghans killed and maimed, caught in the cross-fires of war. This man was injured when coalition forces bombarded his village in Kandahar province. He is lucky to be alive, and although he is not angry, it is clear who these men believe are causing them the most grief. Why are the Americans in our land, he asks. What can I say? We are powerless.

The displaced families here do not support the Taliban or the coalition forces. They just want peace. Zaid says he doesn't want to stay here longer than he has to and hopes the U.S. and Afghan government can come up with a reconciliation program with the Taliban so he and his family can head back home to Helmand.

Just 20 minutes away inside the bustling capital, a different perspective. They don't want the Americans and coalition countries to leave. They say they need the help. We welcome their arrival if they really expel the Taliban terrorists and al Qaeda from the borders of Afghanistan, he says, but if they come and kill more civilians and destroy villages, then they shouldn't come. Many Afghans welcome a troop increase as long as it's for what they consider the right reasons. NATO plays a key role in Afghanistan, he adds, but still they need to focus on expanding their civilian projects such as reconstruction, job creation and assist the counter-narcotics struggle.

Others believe the country will fall apart without their help. Because of the critical situation and widespread discrimination among the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan, Ali says, we have to welcome the arrival of new troops. At the camp, faces reflecting those the troops will encounter in the war-torn provinces. Afghans will decide who the victor is in this war because the coalition forces and Taliban it's not about war and weaponry, the bigger battle is for hearts and minds.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Kabul.


BLITZER: The president is now over at Andrews Air Force base outside of Washington, D.C. You see Marine One that carried the president and his entourage, at least some of the people flying with him to West Point tonight from the White House south lawn over to Andrews Air Force base. They will be walking out -- walking over to Air Force One which is not very far away, and then they will take off and fly up to West Point.

Let's talk a little bit about what we can expect to hear from the president, what it all means for the U.S. troops. Joining us now, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, our CNN pentagon correspondents Chris Lawrence and Barbara Starr. Barbara is getting ready to leave for the war zone within a day or two, and Chris is just back from the war zone. I want to talk to both of you about that, but as we await to see the president get off of Marine One, Candy, and head over to Air Force One to fly off to West Point, I think it's fair to say that after the speech tonight this becomes his war. It's no longer the Bush administration's war.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly it's going to be interpreted that, and the other thing is that I think that there is this habit of sort of saying here's the speech, here's what he has to say and now, you know, we move on. The president is going to have to do a much larger, much longer sales job than one speech. This is the kickoff because what he now has to be worried about, just heard about the hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan. He has to worry about the hearts and minds of the people in the U.S. because as you know this war sun popular right now. They are split about spending more troops or bringing more troops home so this is the beginning of what has to be an all-out push to get the American people on board.

BLITZER: And Chris, were you just there and you spoke to a lot of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. What do they really want to hear from the commander in chief tonight?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think they want to hear an overall mission, sort of a strategy, sort of an end goal of what they are ultimately working towards, but then I think a lot of troops will be waiting for what comes next. After the big announcement by the president, they want to hear from their commanders on an individual basis what is going to be expected of their units.

BLITZER: And as he delivers that strategy, and we're seeing him walk on the tarmac now from Marine One over to Air Force One, the plane that will carry him to West Point, Barbara, there's -- I guess there's little doubt that in explaining this mission he's got multiple audiences out there that he's got to address tonight. He's got to address the American people, the U.S. military, the Afghan people, the leadership in Afghanistan, the international community and Pakistan as well.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, and we haven't heard much about the plan for Pakistan yet, have we? The president may have the goal of getting U.S. troops basically out of Afghanistan in three years, but that's going to be largely dependent in no small part on what's going on the Pakistan side of the border where he can control very little. If that side of the border remains a very active al Qaeda and Taliban safe haven three years from now, it may be very problematic to accomplish the goal in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Because were you just there, Chris, and as you know the Pakistanis are very nervous right now with another 30,000 U.S. troops, maybe another 5,000, 10,000 NATO troops coming in. They are going to be pushing some of those fighters across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan, potentially making life for the Pakistanis even more difficult. That's a deep Pakistani concern.

LAWRENCE: It is, and it's not just the -- the militants that are getting pushed back over into Pakistan, but it's all the IED-making materials that are coming back over the other way into Afghanistan. We talked to a lot of troops who say the border is so porous and the Afghan border police so poorly trained at this point that a lot of materials are coming into the country, and they are being used to make bombs that are killing American troops.

STARR: And remember, even as the U.S. is plussing up, if you will, troops in Afghanistan, it is mainly in the south. Already a number of combat outposts on that eastern border with Pakistan have shut down because U.S. just doesn't have the troops to devote the time and attention to that area.

BLITZER: The skepticism we're hearing from some liberal Democrats right now who are not very happy with the president's decision, is that a real serious problem that he has there?

CROWLEY: If -- if the goal is to get the 30 billion, 35 billion a year this is going to cost he's going to get me. It's impossible for me to believe that a president who says I need to send 30,000 troops into an ongoing war, it's impossible for me to believe that his own party is going to turn him down on that. He's got enough Republicans on his side. In the end he'll have enough Democrats, the majority of Democrats I would guess, but the larger point, I think the president mentioned in Elmendorf and one sentence caught my attention. He said I will not send you off to war without the proper equipment and without public backing. You can't sustain a war unless the American public supports it. That's what he's got to do today and on forward.

BLITZER: A little bit more than two hours from now the president will be delivering his speech. We should be getting excerpts from the speech the White House is expected to release momentarily. Don't go away.

Coming up next, our medical expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta just saw conditions in the war zone firsthand. We'll debrief him and "The Cafferty File" and Jack is coming up next as well.


BLITZER: There's the president when he was walking out, you can see he's got some papers in his hand, we're told that's the speech, he's still working on some elements of his big speech, he's going to be delivering it in about two hours at West Point. He's fine-tuning it, we're told, maybe even aboard Air Force One on the flight to West Point he'll be making some final changes before he goes ahead and speaks to the nation and the world later tonight. He'll be talking about major troop levels in Afghanistan potentially leading to an increase in American casualties as well. Let's get some insight from our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

You recently spent some time on the ground in Afghanistan, and a lot of us are really worried about the medical conditions that these troops will have, because there's so many dangers that await them.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's so different than other places as well because of the terrain of Afghanistan. All the medevacs for example really have to be done by helicopter. So Kandahar airfield where we were for a little bit of time is actually the busiest military airstrip in the world, all these planes.

BLITZER: They have a big hospital there.

GUPTA: They have a big hospital there but it's one of the biggest ones really for the whole country, so you have one vascular surgeon for the whole country, just have a couple of neurosurgeons for the whole country. And we're not just talking about U.S. and coalition forces here. The vast majority of the patients that are getting treated and operated there are Afghani either nationals or soldiers.

BLITZER: So the U.S. military is really taking care of not only the U.S. troops, but Afghani allies if you will when they get injured.

GUPTA: Yes and in fact, the time that we were there they were seeing a couple of hundred patients a month. We just talked to them today. They say it's really gone up almost double that now, 300 to 400 patients a month and about three-quarters of them are Afghani. We're talking about major operations here. They estimate Wolf for every 10,000 troops, for example, about 150 will be injured in some way. About 125 will need hospital care. These are big numbers if you think of any kind of trauma centers. Often dusty desert tents, so they're in harm's way themselves trying to do this work.

BLITZER: The first half hour or the so-called golden hour or what you guys in the medical field call it, it's critical, but eventually they want to get the wounded out of Afghanistan and then back to a hospital in the United States.

GUPTA: That's what typically happens. A lot of times they'll have what's known as an FRSS which is a forward resuscitative system. They literally sit right behind the front line troops and they're taking care of patients as soon as they're injured. After that they are choppered back to a larger footprint, a M.A.S.H. unit so to speak and from there to Landstuhl or even back to the states or whichever country. So you know there are lots of different steps to this. And you know we saw patients that were being cared for like a young Afghan boy that I covered for a while, he was taken back to a hospital close to his home and I got to see what the hospitals were like over there, you're talking about dusty water faucets outside. You're talking about no operating room capabilities in some of these places. They're really dependent on these coalition medical forces.

BLITZER: When you were in Iraq, you got drafted and you started saving some lives as well. They could use your help in Afghanistan. Next time you go on assignment they probably will call you. Sanjay, thanks very much.

Sanjay's going to be with us throughout the night as we await the president's speech, in about two hours. He's just taking off from Andrews Air Force base right now heading up to West Point. The problems he's facing in Afghanistan, we're going to assess them with two of CNN's best, John King and Michael Ware. They're standing by at the magic map. You'll learn something about this country. Stand by.


BLITZER: Check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Why do celebrities who travel around in private jets want to tell the rest of us how to save the environment? I probably didn't make it clear before. I have no argument with them traveling however the way they want to travel, just don't tell me not to drive a high mileage car. Just do your own thing.

Matt writes: "When you get to be a celebrity isn't it your right to tell all the people not as rich and powerful as you how they should live their lives? When celebrities start using public transportation and start living in smaller, more energy efficient homes, maybe the public will take them more seriously. I don't see any celebrities giving up their Bentleys or Mercedes for a ride on the bus anytime soon though."

Richard writes: "These celebrity movie stars work three or four months a year. The rest of the time they have nothing better to do than tell us all how to live our lives whether it's about carbon footprints or voting for president. I think they would all be surprised to know that most of us don't give a hoot what they think at all."

John writes: "Maybe the messengers are flawed beings, subject to common human foibles but the message remains true and is of great importance."

David in Kansas City: "The term is limousine liberal, which is described as an individual who pushes his liberal ideology on the rest of us because he/she knows what's best but is too important to take their own advice. They do it because they are self-serving sanctimonious hypocrites. Should we really be surprised? These are the same people who put on award shows every other day to pat themselves on the back and put themselves in the spotlight."

Janell writes: "These people really do care about the environment and global warming. They just feel like they're more important than the average Joe and therefore should be able to leave a larger carbon footprint."

Dave writes: "As a general rule, celebrities ought to be ignored on all issues."

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