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President Obama's Afghanistan Strategy; Interview With Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson

Aired December 1, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: decision Afghanistan. We're counting down to the president's long-awaited announcement.

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

Right now, President Obama is heading to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Air Force One just took off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. And within about two hours, he will be revealing one of his major decisions yet as commander in chief. We already know a lot about his new war plans for Afghanistan.

He's deploying an additional 30,000 U.S. troops on a -- quote -- "very aggressive timetable," that according to the White House, with a goal of ending the war within three years. That's the goal -- this hour, in-depth coverage of the strategy, the risks and the costs, and new developments in two other high-interest stories as well this hour.

The White House party crashers are now speaking out as Congress gets ready to investigate. And Florida police give Tiger Woods a slap on the wrist. We will have all of that coming up this hour.

But first let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's already at West Point getting ready for the president.

Ed, give us the significance of the president choosing West Point as his venue for this announcement tonight.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, top aides tell me the president chose West Point, instead of the Oval Office, for such a major address because it is the Army that has sacrificed for the war in Afghanistan so much.

And the commander in chief, in two hours, is going to ask for even more sacrifice. We're told by top aides the president will be asking and ordering for 30,000 more U.S. troops, and he wants them fast, faster than even General Stanley McChrystal wanted them in the battlefield, the president saying he wants them in place within six months, very aggressive timetable.

Impossible to note that this speed comes after many Republicans, including former Vice President Cheney, charged that the president was dithering in his long debate process behind the scenes about this.

And, at the time, White House aides were telling me and others that those charges were ridiculous because it was going to take the Pentagon at least a year to get all these troops in place. So why the change now? Why do they think they can get them there in six months? White House aides insist it's not because of the criticism. It's because the president came to a decision that this is the last, best hope of breaking the Taliban, getting a surge to Afghanistan within six months.

It's a bold gamble, especially with support for the war really sliding fast among the American people. That may be in fact why White House aides tell us the president is still working on his speech right now on his way to West Point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Even as he build U.S. force levels in Afghanistan, Ed, he's also going to be speaking about eventually getting out of Afghanistan. How much are we going to hear from him on that?

HENRY: We're told that it's sort of a loose timetable, it's not going to be firm, that he's going to tell the American people tonight that beginning in July 2011, he will start withdrawing troops, essentially 18 months from now, as to whether the Afghans have met some benchmarks.

But that is not a firm timetable and basically it will be based on conditions on the ground, whether he pulls more out in the days ahead. That's very similar to what President Bush was saying about Iraq, not a firm timetable, instead a very loose one that's based on conditions on the ground.

That means -- that may leave some liberals in his own party upset that this is not really a firm timetable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is standing by. We are going to go back to him. Assuming we at some point get some excerpts from the president's speech in advance, Ed will share those excerpts with us.

But let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King, and our war correspondent, Michael Ware. They're here. They're over at the magic map.

This is a very risky decision, John, for the president of the United States right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And let's go through the terrain with Michael's help.

You see the map of the region here. I'm going to pull out a little bit to show you the principal regions within Afghanistan. And as we pull out the map, we will bring it back up here. I will show you several different things and Michael can walk us through the threat.

This is Afghanistan as it is. Let me stop it from moving. Here's the state of play right now, if you look at this now, about 70,000 U.S. troops, the other flags representing the NATO countries. Obviously, in this region, Michael, here, this is the greatest threat. You see the Americans and the Brits carrying most of the burden.

When the new troops go in, where is it most important that they go?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here. You see far too many U.S. flags here and not enough here. This is the heart of the fight against the Taliban as it stands.

KING: And let me shift as you talk. To illustrate Michael's point, the darker the province, the higher the Taliban threat.

WARE: Right.

As it stands right now, President Obama's surge, so-called, his first phase targeted there, Helmand Province, but it took just this small part of it. Yet the Taliban use this whole area as one area of operations.

So, we took a very, very small bite of a very big apple. There's simply not enough troops here. And here along the Pakistani border, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, as you bring them up here, these are some of their sanctuaries in Pakistan. They divide the border up just like the allies do.

Down here, Mullah Omar and his Afghan Taliban are in command. Up here, the Haqqani Network is in command. Up here, you have (INAUDIBLE) here, Pakistani Taliban. So, you have a myriad of enemies.

But the focus of the fight right now is here in Helmand and here in Kandahar. I was just in Kandahar recently. It's the capital of the south, the birthplace of the Taliban, the hometown of the Afghan president. And it is under siege from the Taliban. Indeed, there's areas of the city where police cannot go. The Taliban surround it. And like I said, all of this operates as one zone, according to the Taliban, yet we do it bit by bit by bit.

KING: And one of the key questions, Michael, is here. The United States can send in more troops, but they're sending them in saying Mr. Karzai now must meet benchmarks for training his forces, for building government institutions.

If you look at the past record, you would come away pessimistic that you could do this in the future.


WARE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. It's going to take a long time, if it ever happens, to have what the White House is calling its reliable partner up in the capital, Kabul.

What counts is not the capital, Kabul. I have often joked -- I mean, I lived in Kandahar for a year. I have often joked that when you leave the rest of Afghanistan and go to Kabul, you should have to show your passport, because it's almost like a different country.


WARE: Yes. So, this is where the government is. But that's about as much territory as it controls. We go back to the big map, John, down here, from Kabul down here in Kandahar, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, the Russians even, during the occupation, could never control these areas.

Today, the Afghan government has troops in these areas. The Americans have troops in these areas, but you know who still really controls them? It's the tribes, and it's the old warlords. They're the ones that -- if in this district, the warlord says there will be no Taliban, then there will be no Taliban. They're the men America needs to reach out to.

KING: So, Wolf, an understatement there from Michael, a good assessment of the threat, excuse me. And we will watch this out as we use the map all night as we explain the president's big decision to send in more than 30,000 more troops now and also we can take a look at where some of those new NATO forces will be deployed as well.

KING: It's going to be a fascinating night. And we will explore every important aspect with all you guys. Thanks very much.

Stay with CNN to hear the president reveal his strategy for sending more troops to Afghanistan. Our live special coverage will begin at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, with in-depth analysis from the best political team on television, our war correspondents as well. We're covering the world as no one else can.

Let's bring in Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File."

His critics, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, they have always said he's really not president of Afghanistan.


BLITZER: He's the mayor of Kabul.

CAFFERTY: The mayor of Kabul, exactly. And as Michael pointed out, 90 percent of the country is inhabited by people who don't even know who Hamid Karzai is and don't care.

All right. Remember that argument -- you used to hear it all the time -- the argument against cracking down on illegal immigration in this country?

It went like this. Illegal aliens come here to do the jobs that Americans won't do? Well, guess what? Americans are doing them now, and in greater numbers than ever before.

"USA Today," good piece today that a growing number of American citizens are headed to street corners and parking lots of home improvement stores to try to find day labor work, jobs usually done by illegal aliens.

A UCLA professor of urban planning says it's happening most often in areas where hot construction markets have simply collapsed, and there are lots of unemployed construction workers who don't have stable work. He estimates that the proportion of American-born day laborers has at least doubled in the last three years. Back in 2006, they made up just 7 percent of the day labor work force.

Some of the places that are seeing an increase in U.S. citizens seeking day labor jobs, Tucson, Arizona, Arlington, Virginia, and Los Angeles, California.

Experts say the day labor pool is becoming much more ethnically diverse. Whites, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are all joining the ranks and competing for work every day, work painting, laying bricks or landscaping. It's a trend that will only get worse once unemployment benefits run out and more people are laid off from their jobs.

Nationally, the unemployment rate, 10.2 percent. It is expected to get worse before it gets better. A recent report shows jobless rates increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia in October. Michigan leads the pack, over 15 percent unemployment, probably much higher in the city of Detroit, followed by Nevada, Rhode Island, California, and South Carolina.

So, here's the question: What does it mean when a growing number of Americans are seeking day labor jobs?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

You would have a very difficult time convincing people in certain parts of this country that they're not in the middle of a full-blown depression.


CAFFERTY: This is stuff that it's kind of starting to resemble the '30s, people waiting on street corners, hoping they can get five or six hours working.

BLITZER: Better than getting nothing.


CAFFERTY: Oh, absolutely.

BLITZER: A job is a job.


BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

In two days, the nation could be watching something never seen before, two reality TV wannabes grilled by lawmakers in a hearing about a security breach over at the White House. This time, the Salahis are invited. Will they appear? I will ask the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's holding that hearing. Congressman Bennie Thompson, he's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The couple who allegedly showed up uninvited to last week's White House state dinner for the Indian prime minister is now breaking their silence, insisting they did not crash the party.

White House officials disagree, saying flatly that they were not on the invitation list. One invitation is not in dispute. The couple has been formally invited to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, as it investigates the apparent security breach.

Mississippi Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson is the chairman of that panel. He's joining us now live.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

Have the Salahis agreed to testify?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, we have every reason to believe that they will be at the hearing on Thursday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you -- well, do you have a contingency plan if they decide not to testify, for example, offering them immunity from prosecution if they testify?

THOMPSON: Well, there are a number of things that we can offer. But we will talk to them tomorrow through their attorney to make sure that we're on the same page.

Our goal is to try to get as much information about what occurred at this state dinner as possible and how this security breach happened. The White House should be the most secure home in America. And this breach brought a real vulnerability to light.

BLITZER: The head of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, we're told he has agreed to testify, is that right?

THOMPSON: That's correct. He will be our first witness at the hearing.

BLITZER: What about the social secretary at the White House, Desiree Rogers? You have invited her to testify as well. Will she appear?

THOMPSON: Well, the Republican committee members have invited them, but I understand just recently the White House indicated she will not be in attendance.

BLITZER: Do you want her to testify?

THOMPSON: Well, no.

From my standpoint, White House security is the responsibility of the Secret Service. And I would not want to mix the security responsibility for the White House with other issues. This is strictly, from my vantage point as chair, a security issue. BLITZER: Because there's been some criticism that someone from the social secretary's office should have been together with the Secret Service at that first line of entry to make sure that only people on the list were actually allowed to go forward. You've heard that criticism.

THOMPSON: Well, I have heard that criticism. And to some degree, there is validity.

But from the legal standpoint and from the protection standpoint, it's the Secret Service. They're provided this list. Those individuals who were on the list will have to show identification. They should have been vetted. So, there is a strict procedure that's been followed for years as to how people get into White House events.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the Secret Service right now?

THOMPSON: I absolutely have confidence in it.

Men and women do well. They serve us well. Millions of people are screened down through the years. But I think this particular situation has identified a vulnerability. Whether it was human error or somebody who found a weakness in our system, our job as legislators is to look at it and make sure that it doesn't happen again.

You oversee the Secret Service, because you oversee the Department of Homeland Security, your oversight responsibilities. Ron Kessler, who has written a new book on the Secret Service, the journalist, says that there's been a 400 percent increase in the threats against President Obama since he took office. Is that your information as well?

THOMPSON: Well, that's not my information. I'm told that the threat level right now with President Obama is about the same for any other president. However, while he was candidate Obama, there was a significant increase in threats at that point.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to just ask you one quick question on Afghanistan, because I have spoken with a lot of members of the Congressional Black Caucus who aren't very happy with President Obama right now for deciding to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Is the president making the right decision tonight?

THOMPSON: Well, it's a very difficult decision. He's commander in chief. I look forward to his presentation. And I hope he makes his case where he can get the majority of the members of Congress to support him.

BLITZER: You're with him on this, or you're not?

THOMPSON: Well, I'm with him, but I reserve the right to listen to his presentation.

It's difficult. Obviously, I'm privy to a lot of other information, but I have to go home to my constituents. And they right now are not very happy about this war.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. We will be covering the hearing on Thursday. Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: One thing we know about any plans for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, they will include an exit strategy. We're told by White House officials the president will discuss that later tonight. A report on how that might -- repeat -- might work, that's coming up.


BLITZER: The president is set to finally announce his Afghanistan strategy, what, in a little bit more than an hour-and-a- half from now. Senior administration officials say part of the plan is to bring most of the American forces home starting within three years.

Here's CNN's Fred Pleitgen on what could be critical to any U.S. exit strategy.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Afghan soldiers search caves in a Gaza Kale (ph) village in southern Afghanistan, looking for Taliban weapon stashes. The man in charge of this operation, First Lieutenant Mohammad Nabi, of the Afghan national army, who admits his men still have a long way to go.

"It's like when a child is born," he says, "you have to teach that child, and it could learn a lot."

It doesn't look like much, but what you see here is supposed to be a fundamental part of America's exit strategy from Afghanistan. The U.S. soldiers are stepping back, acting only as so-called combat advisers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's their operation. They plan all these missions out and we just go to help them out.

PLEITGEN (on camera): The U.S. says the key to making this project succeed is simple, the Afghans have to take more and more of the responsibility so that in the end, they can operate without the Americans.

(voice-over): But the challenges are immense. Afghanistan's armed forces have almost no heavy weapons or armored vehicles and the army and police are rife with corruption, drug abuse, and defections. Still, brazen words from the local army commander.

"I'm sure we can provide security for the people here and conduct operations on our own," he says.

Lieutenant Tribble is not so sure.

LT. NATHAN TRIBBLE, U.S. ARMY: If it's like, just not safe or just completely wrong, we'll try to fix it.

PLEITGEN: On this operation, some villages complain, saying the U.S. is no different than the Taliban, claiming the soldiers enter villages, ask questions, and then simply leave.

And remember the searches in the caves? Instead of Taliban weapons, the Afghan soldiers found some frightened donkeys.

TRIBBLE: We got a lot of good information.

PLEITGEN: Still, at the end of the mission, a positive assessment by the American lieutenant and the recognition that while there is still a long way to go, this partnership program could someday be America's ticket out of Afghanistan.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Zabul Province, Southern Afghanistan.


BLITZER: All right, we're just getting some excerpts in from the president's address on Afghanistan. He will be delivering it at West Point.

Let's go to West Point.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, he is getting the excerpts.

Read us a few of those passages, Ed. Tell our viewers what we can expect.

HENRY: Well, Wolf, important to note this is carefully selected by the White House to maximize their message. They leak out a couple of paragraphs to give us a sense of where the president is going.

I think a key one is basically where the president is headed in terms of how quickly he wants to get in with a surge and how quickly he wants to get out long-term, the president saying -- quote -- "The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010, the fastest pace possible, so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."

The president a couple of weeks ago when I interviewed him in China was talking about endgame. He mentioned that several times. That is what this is all about and what he will talk to the American people and the world about tonight, about transferring responsibility to the Afghan government, the Afghan army, but, as you know, easier said than done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he also speaks tonight in one of these excerpts, Ed, about July 2011. He offers a specific target date. What's he referring to? HENRY: Yes.

And the target is for when he wants to begin withdrawing these surge forces. And that's important to note, because it does not mean the end. It means the beginning of the end. And the president's going to be very careful to also say that it will be based on conditions on the ground, whether or not he starts pulling out even more troops after July 2011.

So, the key is, that's about 18 months from now. He's going to do a reassessment, start pulling some troops out. But whether or not he brings out most of U.S. troops at that point -- there is going to be about 100,000 when all is said and done here -- whether he pulls out most will depend on the conditions on the ground, something former President Bush talked about with Iraq.

That may frustrate some liberals who want to see him pull it out faster. It's the same kind of language, conditions on the ground, that we heard in the Republican administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Ed, don't go far away. I know you're getting more information. Ed is already at West Point now, the president aboard Air Force One right now heading to West Point. He will be delivering that speech in about an hour-and-a-half.

We will have extensive coverage, live coverage here on CNN.

When President Obama spells out his new war plans tonight, will it square with his campaign promises. We're going to have a reality check on the mission in Afghanistan. Jessica Yellin is standing by.

And how much emphasis will he actually put on finding and defeating al Qaeda terrorists -- more from the best political team on television. Our lead-up to the big speech continues.


BLITZER: President Obama's promises about the war in Afghanistan, has he been keeping them? As we await the president's speech tonight unveiling his new strategy, he will be speaking about an hour-and-a-half or so from now, we have a reality check of what he has actually said up until now.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She is joining us.

Jessica, what did you find out about what he said then and what he's doing now?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you will recall, first of all, that, during the campaign, then Senator Obama was biting into his criticism of President Bush's so-called war on terror. He vowed that, if elected, he would pursue al Qaeda differently.

Well, we decided to take a look at some of then candidate Obama's promises regarding the war in Afghanistan.


YELLIN (voice-over): Remember how then candidate Barack Obama talked about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to be hoodwinked.

YELLIN: He charged, the Bush administration took America into the wrong fight.

OBAMA: The central front in the war on terror is not Iraq. And it never was.


YELLIN: Over and over he vowed if elected, he would refocus on Afghanistan.


OBAMA: We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate.

We didn't keep our eye on the ball in Afghanistan.



OBAMA: Where we should have been focused on in the first place.


YELLIN: And the president's making good on that one.

Also, on the campaign trail he said this.


OBAMA: I'd send at least two or three additional brigades to Afghanistan.


YELLIN: Check -- he followed through within a month of taking office, ordering two more brigades sent to Afghanistan. And now he's upping the commitment.

Then, he said NATO allies must send more troops to Afghanistan and ease restrictions that shield many of them from counter-insurgency work.


OBAMA: We also need to make sure that the rules of engagement for those troops are such where they can carry some of the load in terms of fighting.


YELLIN: Now, progress is limited. Britain and Italy plan to send more troops, but as of now, France and Germany do not. And so far, there's no indication NATO troops will share more of the load.

Then he promised...


OBAMA: I will focus on training Afghan security forces.


YELLIN: Now, he's making good on the promise. The president will be sending more trainers to Afghanistan. But the jury's out on whether the Afghan Army and police forces are up to the task.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, another promise during the campaign. Then candidate Obama vowed that he would define a clear exit strategy for Afghanistan. Well, the White House, as you know, is now saying that U.S. troops will begin withdrawing troops there in July of 2011.

The big question, is that a promise the president can keep -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jessica.

Thanks very much.

Let's talk about this with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger and David Gergen.

He's taking a big chance tonight -- July 2011, that's a specific hard date for the start of the withdrawal.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It is. And, of course, it's drawing enormous criticism from Republicans like John McCain, saying once you set a deadline for withdrawal it just sends a signal to the enemy that they just have to wait you out. But, you know, he's put himself on a deadline, too, because if he fails to meet July 2011, he's going to get hell from his left about -- about failing, and from the country about failing.

So I think he's put himself on the line. It's a -- it's a -- it's a risky strategy, but I must say, it is a very thoroughly thought through strategy. I'm impressed with the quality of -- of thinking that's gone into it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, it's -- it's interesting to me because, of course, during the campaign, President Obama called George W. Bush's surge reckless, you'll recall. And the White House will not call this a surge in any way, shape or form. You will not hear that tonight. You will not talk to anyone from the White House who will say that.

But in effect, what they're doing is saying, look, if you look at the surge in Iraq, which began in 2007, three years later, we're withdrawing troops there. That's what he's saying we're going to do in Afghanistan.

GERGEN: Yes, it's a punch. They're calling it a punch (INAUDIBLE)...

BORGER: A punch. Not a surge, a punch.

BLITZER: Because, you know, he's -- he's -- he's making the -- the so-called hawks happy by sending another 30,000 troops.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But he's making the doves happy by saying, well, there is an end date when they will start coming back.

GERGEN: Or he's leaving both unhappy that he's not going all the way in their direction. That's his -- that's the danger tonight, can he -- can he convince people this is a middling strategy everybody should support or does everybody think I didn't get everything I wanted and I don't like it?

BORGER: And how is he going to pay for it, Wolf?

I mean that...

GERGEN: Yes, I agree.

BORGER: ...that is another big question, because while lots of Republicans support him on sending more troops to Afghanistan, where are you going to get the $40 billion?

BLITZER: Have you heard of something called deficit spending?

BORGER: I have.


BLITZER: Well, I think that...

BORGER: I've also heard of a war tax.


GERGEN: We don't do that in the United States, do we?

BORGER: He's not going to support that.

BLITZER: Don't go away. We've got a good night ahead of us. A lot of analysis coming up.

$164 -- let me repeat -- $164 -- that's the fine that the Florida police have now finally charged Tiger Woods. And that may wrap up -- wrap it up for the police. But it almost certainly won't be the end of this story. Stand by.

And here's something unusual -- Capitol Hill reaction to the president's Afghanistan strategy is not breaking along party lines.

We're going to have some analysis from Mary Matalin and Donna Brazile. And they're standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, early reaction to the president's new Afghanistan strategy mixed so far. And it doesn't cut along the usual party lines.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is gauging all the reaction -- the president briefed some members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, Dana, just before he left Washington to fly to West Point.

What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing from several congressmen who were in the room and also sources who were briefed on the meeting that it was business like and sobering. And, in fact, our Ted Barrett caught up with the number two Democrat, Dick Durbin. He's the number two Democrat in the Senate. He was returning from that White House meeting. He said the president really did emphasize this whole idea of an exit strategy.

Well, Wolf, that is something that Republicans, who are generally supportive of the president, are not happy about. In fact, we were told by several Republican sources that John McCain challenged his former rival, Barack Obama, in the meeting about beginning to withdraw troops in July 2011 and the president responded that it will be based on conditions on the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the so-called progressives in the House, the most liberal in the House?

How are they reacting to this war strategy?

BASH: The most liberal members of Congress, in the House and the Senate, remarkably, came out with a pretty powerful press conference even before the president spoke and blasted this decision.

Listen to one of those liberal members.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate that he's deliberated long and hard over this, but I think he's come to the wrong conclusion. And -- and, you know, what I fear is that we're getting sucked into a war with no end. And that's what our constituents are telling us, you know, when we go back home, what -- what's going on here?


BASH: Now, Congressman Jim McGovern and others say that they're going to do whatever they can to block the president -- this is a fellow Democrat -- to block the president from escalating this war. The biggest tool they have is to try to block war funding. But because there is enough Republican support for this, it's going to be hard for them to do that.

And one other note before I toss it back to you. You know, there's been a lot of talk about a war tax to pay for this escalation. Well, our Deirdre Walsh talked to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, today. She poured cold water on this idea, which is coming from some of her top lieutenants. The speaker said I don't think that has a good prospect -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dana is going to be with us throughout the night, as well.

We're going to get a lot of reaction from members of Congress.

Let's get some reaction now from our CNN political contributors, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, she's here; and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile -- are you surprised, Mary, that the president is getting some positive feedback from your fellow Republicans, even if they don't like this date -- this date that he's announcing, July of 2011, when the drawdown begins?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. They've been saying right along that they would be with him and they -- and he would enjoy their support and that conditions-based link, which is very important, because July can come and go -- of 2011 -- and if the conditions on the ground are not right, he won't be able to do that so no.

So, no, I'm not surprised at all. They have not -- they've been supportive from the beginning.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that Republicans seem to be more receptive to the president's accelerated deployment schedule than so many of the Democrats are?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, VICE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, Wolf, I think the Democrats are clearly going to listen tonight to see if the president really lays out what this new strategy is all about.

Will it make a difference having more troops there?

Is Karzai reliable?

Do we have an exit plan, a plan that will eventually bring our troops home?

And I think it's too early to assess whether or not the entire Democratic Caucus will back this war effort by helping to pay for it next year. But for now, I think Democrats want to hear him out and give him the benefit of the doubt to see if this is a comprehensive strategy.

BLITZER: And the Republicans will vote to appropriate the funds for the war in Afghanistan and a lot of Democrats will.

So he really doesn't have to worry about the so-called progressives or the liberals, does he?

MATALIN: The only thing he would have to worry about -- and Dana just reported it's not going to happen if Madam Pelosi doesn't want it -- is a ridiculous debate over a war tax.

BLITZER: Which is what Congressman David Obey, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee says...

MATALIN: She rules.

BLITZER: ...if you want to go to war, you've got to spread out that sacrifice and -- and pay for it, as you pay for health care or pay for any other initiative.

MATALIN: But she rules and she said no, so that's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Is that a nonstarter, this so-called war tax that Obey and some other Democrats are suggesting be imposed on the American people to pay for the war in Afghanistan?

BRAZILE: Well, it's estimated that this is going to cost us $1 million per individual that we send over there -- an additional $40 billion in a fiscal year...

BLITZER: We're talking about each year.

BRAZILE: Yes -- in a fiscal year where we already had a $1.3 trillion deficit.

So how are we going to pay for it?

We -- we're talking about how we pay for health care, how we pay for education, how we pay for jobs.

How will we pay for this?

And how will we offset this?

With more borrowing. Look, and -- and the president promised transparency. He said he will not cook the books.

BLITZER: So you like the idea of a war tax?

BRAZILE: I -- I like that this is part of the discussion. This is part of the overall sacrifice that we are all going to make (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: You think it's a nonstarter, though?


MATALIN: To this president's credit, he said when he campaigned that this was the necessary war, this is a strategic imperative for our security. He is Constitutionally obligated. That's the number one responsibility of a -- of our entire federal government is security. You don't pay -- we don't need -- and the Constitution doesn't guarantee -- health care or overtaking the energy sector. But we do have to provide -- and that's his obligation and duty -- to protect and defend the country.


BRAZILE: I think we should have a vigorous debate on how we pay for this war. We're having a debate now on how we pay for health care, how we pay for education. Let's have a debate on this, as well.

BLITZER: And we will. I think we will have that debate.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Guys, don't go away.

We're getting ready for the president's speech. About an hour and 15 minutes, about an hour and 20 minutes or so from now.

Tiger Woods -- he isn't talking, at least not yet. But Florida law enforcement officers are, in fact, talking. There's new information coming out -- police announcing their decision regarding Tiger Woods.


BLITZER: Florida police now say their investigation into Tiger Woods' car crash is over.

CNN's Susan Candiotti reports from Florida.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tiger gets a ticket, slapped with a citation for careless driving. That's it.

MAJ. CINDY WILLIAMS, FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: Careless driving is a moving violation and upon conviction, may result in a fine of $164 and four points on a driving record.

CANDIOTTI: After Woods' car bounced off a fire hydrant and slammed into a tree in the middle of the night, his wife Elin told police she used a golf club to bash out the windows to rescue him from the locked SUV. That prompted questions of what led up to his late night drive and whether the couple fought. If so, police are unaware of it.

WILLIAMS: There are no claims of domestic violence by any individual.

CANDIOTTI: The neighbor who made the 911 call...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he unconscious?



Are you going to tell if he is breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I can't tell right now.

CANDIOTTI: That neighbor's attorney held a press conference to say his family, who tried to help Woods, felt sorry for them.


BILL SHARPE, ATTORNEY FOR TIGER WOODS' NEIGHBOR: It was consistent with the car wreck, the minor car accident that he had and inconsistent with him being beat up. And that's the question everybody wants to know.

CANDIOTTI: In a carefully worded statement made Sunday, Woods called unspecified false and malicious rumors about his family irresponsible. Today, "The New York Post" published an interview with a woman who a tabloid reported was having an affair with Woods. Rachel Uchitel denied it: "This is ridiculous," she told the paper. "Not a word of it is true. I told "The Enquirer" and "Star" that it wasn't true. I told them not only did I have information to disprove the story, but I offered to take a lie detector test."


CANDIOTTI: And, Wolf, Uchitel says she only met Tiger a couple of times, as a New York nightclub hostess. And she blames two women she believes to be the tabloid's sources. And she calls those two women, "wicked and stupid."

As for the traffic case here in Florida, it is over -- done. And investigators also say there was not enough evidence to subpoena Tiger Woods' medical records.

But one thing is clear, when all is said and done, he will be asked about this at his next golf tournament, whenever that might be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it won't be any time soon, we're told, at least not this year.

Thanks very much for that.

Susan Candiotti on the scene.

Sarah Palin is working hard to sell her new book.

Stick around. You could be surprised at the latest.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jessica Yellin.

She's got some Political Tickers she's watching -- Jessica, what's going on?

YELLIN: Wolf, how many times does a guy got to say no?

Dick Cheney is saying he does not want to be drafted for 2012. He's throwing cold water now on new efforts by a group trying to push him into the race for president. In a published interview, the former vice president says: "It's been a hell of a tour. I've loved it. I have no aspirations for further office."

Somehow I don't think he'll quiet his fans.

Now, critics are wondering, well, if Sarah Palin is flying a little too high these days as she promotes "Going Rogue," her new book. The former Alaska governor used a private jet during some legs of her book tour.

Now, Palin's camp says that's no big deal. After all, her publisher paid for it. But here's the problem -- it was billed as a bus tour. And the private jet thing doesn't exactly jibe with Palin's regular gal, hockey mom image. But it doesn't seem to make no never mind. "Going Rogue" has sold more than a million copies.

And get this one, Wolf. Every rose has its thorn for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yes, she is getting some heat for reportedly spending -- listen to it, wait for it -- almost $3,000 in taxpayer money on flowers. And that's just between June and October. Pelosi's fondness for flowers is detailed in a line by line account of spending by House offices. The speaker's office is defending its flower budget. They say about a third of it was for the funeral of former housing secretary, Jack Kemp.

Funeral flowers do get expensive, Wolf. But I've seen Nancy Pelosi's office flowers. They're gorgeous. She's got great taste in flowers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She certainly does. I've seen those flowers, as well. But still, $3,000. That's $3,000.

YELLIN: It's a lot of coins.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that,

So what does it mean when American workers right now are looking for day labor work?

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: Disturbing news, Wolf.

What does it mean when a growing number of Americans are seeking day labor jobs?

You know those jobs Americans wouldn't do so we wouldn't kick the illegal immigrants out because they took these jobs?

The number of Americans taking them has doubled in the last three years.

Karl writes: "Here in Silicon Valley, there are a lot of laid off geeks from I.T. and high tech manufacturing out on those same street corners. Manufacturing and support jobs have gone to countries with national health care. That saves these companies 15 to 20 percent off the top. And unless we wake up to that reality, the job migration isn't over and certainly not reversing any time soon. Day laborer could soon become our largest work group."

Kelly writes: "It means we have successfully become a Third World country. Hooray. The jobs will be re-imported to the good old USA, since we'll soon all be willing to work for nothing."

Dick in Indiana writes: "Not very much. Let's do the math. The unemployment rate has doubled since 2006. The number of Americans seeking day labor jobs has doubled. So as a percent of unemployed, the situation hasn't changed very much at all. I would say it's a very silly question and whoever thought it up should go join the day labor job seekers."

Dennis in Penndale, Pennsylvania: "Maybe finally the economy is doing what the government hasn't -- stopping illegal immigration. If we Americans take the jobs the illegals were taking, we can be better off. The only problem is most of these jobs are off the books. That means there's still a lack of tax revenue. At the very least, we have to be pleased that people are trying to work."

And finally, Greg writes from Houston: "What are we supposed to do, Jack? I'm a 47-year-old educated man. I've been unemployed since August of 2008. My unemployment runs out next month. My wife is still working. We have a $1,400 mortgage and kids in college and high school. We've cut everything there is to cut. I'm sitting here in front of the fireplace with the heat turned off. It's a national crisis and the politicians seem to be oblivious. If I have to dig ditches to care for my family, I will. But at my age and with my experience, it's just not right for that to happen to me in a nation that's supposedly a leader in the world."

It sure isn't.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog -- there's lots of them there -- at

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

A sad story, indeed. CAFFERTY: Yes it is.

BLITZER: All right. See you tomorrow.


BLITZER: Thank you.

'Tis the season to shop and one New York store has a Moost Unusual way of attracting attention during this holiday season.


BLITZER: It's that time of the year, when people start to check out decorations in store windows.

CNN's Jeanne Moos found some that are Moost Unusual.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The traditional Santa in the window is known for his red outfit. But changing outfits is what the women in this window are known for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable. They should do it on every corner.

MOOS: Here at the corner of 38th and Fifth Avenue, they're changing their clothes at night...

(on camera): Whoa.

MOOS: ...during the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we change, as soon as the shirt comes off, the crowd triples.

MOOS: They are this season's hit holiday windows. Spectators are sparse at the department store windows across the street. But here there's a constant crowd -- mostly male -- pressing up against the glass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What could be more Christmas than two beautiful women?

MOOS (on camera): In bathrobes.


MOOS (voice-over): Brushing each other's hair, jumping on the couch, kissing the mirror, tossing their hair. They're actually promoting a clothing line, XOXO. But once you step in this window...

(on camera): I'm feeling very overdressed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are. MOOS: Yes. Take it off.


MOOS (voice-over): They're under instructions not to interact with the crowd.

HELENE TRAASAVIK, MODEL: No, I don't make eye contact. But I see them in the corner of my eyes. We can cheat by looking in the mirror.

MOOS: The show goes both ways, looking in and looking out.

TRAASAVIK: They write notes and press it up to the window.

MOOS (on camera): What kind of notes?

TRAASAVIK: I have yet to read it.

MOOS (voice-over): We're pretty sure they're not like the letters to Santa in Macy's windows.


MOOS: See how they preen. Santa doesn't get requests like this.

(on camera): Put on the shoes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put on the shoes.

MOOS (voice-over): That would be the high heels. And when Helena (ph) zipped up Niki (ph), brakes squealed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have the nicest legs I think I've ever seen. I wish I had a pair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's too much. It belongs inside a studio, not the storefront.

MOOS: Some onlookers think the glass is one way.

CAROL POWLEY, CREATIVE DIRECTOR: All these guys can't conceptualize that the women are ignoring them, so it must be a special glass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like they can't see from the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, look. She's dropped something.

MOOS (on camera): She dropped something.



MOOS: Oh, is that it?

They want you to bend over?


(voice-over): Don't be naughty, it's not nice. 'Tis the season for windows that feature holiday trains. But one good caboose deserves another.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



I'll be back with the full CNN military and political team in 30 minutes.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT".