Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Libya Civil War Carnage; Libyan Rebels Strike Back; Gates: "You All Keep Me Up At Night"; French Ex-President Chirac Goes On Trial; Interview With Bill Richardson
Aired March 7, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.
Thanks for the plug.
Happening now, new moves toward a no fly zone over Libya, as pro- Gadhafi forces step up their attacks on rebel. This hour, new targets, more carnage and the intense pressure for U.S. military action.
Also, the crisis that Libya keeps pushing up -- gas prices across the country. That's creating more economic misery here at home and new political danger for President Obama.
Plus, protesters warn the U.S. Congress may, may be on the brink of stoking new violence against Muslims. Anger and anticipation are building before controversial hearings this week on Islamic extremism in America.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Libya is entering the fourth week of what's now a full-fledged civil war. Moammar Gadhafi's forces are claiming new gains in their pounding of rebel held- cities. Gadhafi maintaining a tight grip on the capital of Tripoli. And the opposition appears to be holding out to Benghazi in the east.
But there are conflicting reports about who's in control of several other key cities, where fierce, fierce battles have been raging now for days. Diplomatic sources at the United Nations say the United States is working with France and Britain on a draft resolution on Libya -- a resolution that includes language on a no fly zone.
President Obama warning once again today that the bloodshed in Libya is unacceptable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gadhafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there. In the meantime, we've got NATO, as we speak, consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in the response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go inside Libya right now and some of the cities where we know fighting is underway -- brutal fighting, in certain places.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is in Ras Lanuf.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Throughout Monday. There have been multiple air strikes on the town of Ras Lanuf, a key refinery town on the Mediterranean coast.
As far as the battle between anti-Gadhafi forces and the Libyan Army goes, it appears that the Libyan Army is holding firm in Ben Jawad, a town about 30 kilometers to the west of here. That was a town that, just a few days ago, anti-Gadhafi forces took and then, however, were forced to flee when the Libyan Army made a counterattack. At the moment, it seems like the Libyan Army is standing firm there. We've watched as the anti-Gadhafi forces have tried to push them back, but it simply has not worked.
Now I went to one of those frontal positions of the anti-Gadhafi fighters. And they said that on the other side, the Libyan Army has massed tanks, short range surface to surface missiles, lots of forces. In other words, it appears that they have concentrated a lot of military power just 30 kilometers to the west of this town.
In this town itself, most of the civilians have fled moving east to Benghazi and areas around there, obviously, because the situation here is so uncertain.
I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Ras Lanuf.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: We're getting late reports right now of fighting in Zawiya, despite the Libyan government's claim that it has taken that western city.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, was there when the bullets were flying.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're about one-and-a-half kilometers -- a mile -- from the center of Zawiyah. We can hear small arms gunfire. And just down the road up here, at an intersection, you can see some soldiers at the intersection just ahead, down here, down the road. There's a main road there. Just along that main road, we saw two big anti-aircraft guns being driven on the backs of trucks across there. And as we have been driving into this area, we've been able to hear heavy artillery gunfire. We're not -- we haven't been allowed to come here by -- with the help of government officials, but getting through the army checkpoints to here, we've been able to do that.
That's the sound of heavy machine gun fire sounds -- heavy machine gunfire cracks. The shots -- I'm just ducking for cover. We're OK behind this wall. So that's the -- that's what we can hear going on on the outskirts of Zawiyah.
We don't know what's going on in the center of the city, where the rebels are. They're about a mile away from where we are. And the exchanges of gunfire indicate that this is still a very, very active military area at the moment. That's a crack, probably not so far from where we are right now. We're just taking cover behind this wall, where we're OK.
So we don't have a clear picture of what's happening. But what the government officials have said is that they control this city right now, they control Zawiyah. And it's very clear that there's a big military operation going on here right now. We've seen checkpoints perhaps as far as three or four miles, at least, perhaps -- no, probably 10 kilometers, seven or eight miles, circumference around the city here.
But from what we can see with our eyes here, the battle is still going on. The fight for Zawiyah is still going on, despite the fact the government claims they've taken control of it.
Nic Robertson, CNN, Zawiyah, Libya.
BLITZER: Nic is back in Tripoli.
He's joining us live right now -- Nic, the first thing that went through my mind when I saw that report is, where's your armored vest?
Where's your helmet?
What's the matter with you?
Why weren't you taking better precautions in a dangerous environment lake this?
ROBERTSON: The wall was pretty good security. And the problem here, Wolf, without sort of giving the whole hand away of the way the journalists are operating here, the government won't take us to these places. And the only way for us to go there is to get in a car with somebody who is willing to drive us and drive in. And you go through checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint. And they look in the trunk of the car and they search you. They search the vehicle.
If we had body armor in the cars, helmets and such like, we would be turned around and turned back pretty much straightaway. So the only way you can drive in there is to go in, locate, don't draw a lot of attention to yourself and stay safe, as we did, behind those walls. So, really, that's the best way to do it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I admire how cool you were in the -- when you were hearing those -- the gunshots going on. You didn't panic. But you must have been scared out of your mind when you ducked behind that wall.
ROBERTSON: The first time I ducked behind it, I -- I wasn't so worried, because, obviously, the shots hadn't hit us and we could get behind the wall and we're safe.
But then when you hear those second couple of shots, I get -- I couldn't see what was happening down the road. So you don't know, therefore, what is happening, what's going to come next, is somebody coming up the road?
And you can see me looking around a bit. And when I watch it afterwards, it's a lesson in how adrenaline actually works, because 15 seconds or so after the second set of shots, you actually -- I can hear myself get out of breath just kneeling there. And that's -- I guess that's the adrenaline.
So I wouldn't say we were unfazed by it. We just tried to get our job done as best we could and tell the story and then pack our bags and -- and get out of there.
BLITZER: Well, we're thrilled -- and all of our viewers are thrilled -- that you're back safe in Tripoli right now.
I assume Gadhafi and his -- his forces in Tripoli, which they control rather decisively right now, they -- they're living in this world that they're going to win this war.
Is that everything that -- all the indications of what they're telling you?
ROBERTSON: Oh, 100 percent. They -- they firmly believe it. They think that they can -- that they can beat the rebels in Zawiya and Misurata, 100 miles to the east, and then all the way into the rebel areas further east. And their plan, as far as we can ascertain, is not to try and take all the areas with the big cities like Benghazi, where there are close to a million people living. It is to take the key oil cities and then sort of pressure the rebels to negotiate by essentially saying we've taken these, we can come and get you, let's not do it, let's talk.
And that seems to be their attitude right now.
But -- but what we're seeing in Zawiya, for example, there, is even when you have a professional -- or what is supposed to be a professional, very well-equipped army -- this country is not short of money for equipping the army. They're still having a tough time driving out what they describe as just 100 rebels holed up in the center of the city.
So it makes you realize it's not just what you've got, it's how you use it. And Libya does seem to sort of struggle to use its military in a -- in a very effective and efficient way -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Nic.
Nic is one of our courageous journalists, as all of our viewers know.
Be careful over there.
We understand what you're doing. We appreciate it very, very much.
Serious discussions are underway about imposing a no fly zone over Libya.
So why was a top U.S. general joking about attacking the country?
Stand by for that.
And the question that got Defense Secretary Robert Gates all choked up.
And the Supreme Court gives a death row inmate a new chance to prove his innocence.
BLITZER: Possible Republican presidential candidates on Jack Cafferty's mind.
He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The conventional wisdom is you cannot see India from Sarah Palin's house. So the former governor of Alaska, who quit halfway through her first term, is going to go there -- to India -- and get a firsthand look.
Palin will be on her way to New Delhi next week. She's been invited to deliver the keynote address at a two day leadership event called The India Today Conclave. It's an annual conference that attracts business and political leaders from around the world. Attendees this year will include the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is one of the possible replacements for the deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
Last year's keynote speaker was former President Bill Clinton.
The title of Palin's speech is My Vision of America.
Politico.com reports it comes as no surprise the group invited Palin. India is fascinated with American politics because so many Indians have immigrated to the U.S. and found success here and many of them still have relatives in India.
The Indian press regularly follows the careers of Indian-American politicians, like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, newly elected Governor Nikki Hailey of South Carolina, both Republicans. Palin's support for Nikki Hailey has been credited for giving her campaign a boost. But the media in India also follow closely what's going on in Washington, as well as outside the Beltway. And with that in mind, maybe Sarah Palin can learn something from them while she's there.
Here's the question -- what can Sarah Palin teach India about American politics?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume she's getting paid a lot of money to deliver that speech in India.
Do we know?
CAFFERTY: Well, no. I don't know. I can't imagine she'd be going over there for the hell of it. I'm sure there's a hefty price tag attached to it.
BLITZER: I wonder if she's going to get more than Bill Clinton got last year for giving that, because he gets a lot of money on the speaking tour, himself. She makes a...
CAFFERTY: How much...
BLITZER: -- she makes a ton of money, too.
CAFFERTY: Yes. Somebody said he made $10 million one year giving speeches.
BLITZER: Yes. Yes (INAUDIBLE)...
CAFFERTY: But he knows -- he knows something.
BLITZER: She's making millions of dollars giving speeches, too. There's nothing wrong with that.
CAFFERTY: The difference is, Bill Clinton knows things.
Jack, if one of our viewers will e-mail you with the answer, how much she's getting paid for this speech, let me know.
CAFFERTY: I will. But I doubt very much that that's public information.
BLITZER: All right, we'll find out. Jack, thanks very much.
The White House confirms today that sending ground troops to Libya is a possible option, but The Press Secretary Jay Carney says it's not at the top of the list. Most of the talk centers on a no-fly zone as well as the military's role in humanitarian efforts. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who's watching the situation unfold. Chris, three weeks now, four weeks into this war, and we're calling it, deliberately calling it a civil war. The president is very much still weighing all the options out there.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, because at the heart of it, the U.S. does not want to go it alone. U.S. officials want and really need the legal justification that only comes with the United Nations issuing a resolution.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): American military leaders have been asked so often what will you do about Libya that it's become an inside joke.
Welcome back, sir. Our thanks. You got a little bigger plane than normal. Are you going to launch some attacks on Libya or something?
But the range of options is serious, from no-fly zones to more intense intrusions.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: No option has been removed from the table, but ground troops is not sort of top of the list at this point.
LAWRENCE: In a former defense secretary says, even a no-fly zone can't operate solely in the sky.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: In addition, you have to have search-and-rescue teams to back up those planes that might get shot down.
LAWRENCE: William Cohen says any operation can grow beyond what it's originally designed to do.
COHEN: No-fly zone can quickly have mission creep into no-drive zones, and then you're talking about people on the ground.
LAWRENCE: Air force command is in Tripoli. Compared to NATO pilots, Libya's pilots are believed to get four times less training in the air. Most fighter jets are the old soviet-era migs. In all total, probably fewer than 200 are operational. Their helicopter fleet is even smaller, perhaps, no more than a few dozen attack helicopters built more than 30 years ago. Still, U.S. officials insist any military effort needs international backing.
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There is no authorized use of force right now in the U.N. resolution that's out there.
LAWRENCE: NATO has begun around-the-clock surveillance flights near Libya. France, Britain and the U.S. are working on a new draft of that U.N. resolution, one that includes language on a no-fly zone.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATION SECRETARY GENERAL: It is an evolving situation, and as I said, I can't imagine the international community and the United Nations standing idly by. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LAWRENCE (on-camera): The draft, the text of that new draft will probably relate more to triggers, not timelines, so expect -- don't expect to hear we will enforce this on that day, and instead, hear more about if Libya continues to commit human rights violations, then, we can quickly turn what's written on the page into an actual resolution to act -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know the Libyans, they have the shoulder-fired anti- aircraft missiles, those old stingers, but how significant, how robust is their air defense system to shoot down, let's say, NATO or U.S. planes if they were trying to enforce the no-fly zone?
LAWRENCE: In North Africa, probably, second only to Egypt. They've got to roughly about 30 missile sites there along the coast, but, Wolf, some perspective here. Twenty-five years ago, U.S. jets did bomb Libya in retaliation for Col. Gadhafi's support of terrorism. They dropped about 400 bombs and only lost one plane. In the last 25 years, Libya has not updated its air defenses all that much, while U.S. planes are now equipped with some of the latest satellite-guided weapons.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence working the story for us. Thanks, Chris.
You certainly has a talent for negotiating with some of the United States' most dangerous adversaries. Just ahead, I'll speak with the diplomat, former secretary at the United Nations and Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson. He's here live in the SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him if he'd be willing to go to Libya and tell Gadhafi it's time to go.
Also, it was mission to help Libya's opposition forces and then it backfired. Also coming up, one key U.S. ally's situation.
BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is getting all choked up during a surprise visit unannounced to Afghanistan. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories here in the SITUATION ROOM. I always say this, but it's sad to me that a defense secretary of the United States ten years into the war in Afghanistan still can't go there without it being a surprised, unannounced, still too dangerous, ten years after this war started.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: It's just depressing when you think about it. You can't go there if you're president, vice president, defense secretary and announce a week in advance or a month in advance, we're going on an official visit. It says a lot about that current situation.
SYLVESTER: It does, and you know what's remarkable is that, in fact, that it has been ten years to begin with, Wolf. Well, the secretary, he was there. He was addressing U.S. troops and got a little emotional when he was asked this question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What keeps you up at night?
GATES: What keeps me up at night? I got that question in front of Congress last week.
GATES: I would tell you that you all keep me up at night. I think a lot about the people out here and what you're having to put up with and the conditions you live in and the sacrifices you make and the friends you lose. I've been doing this now for going on four and a half years and that's -- that's pretty much what keeps me up at night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: He did get emotional there. Well, the visit comes following the recent death of nine Afghan boys and a NATO-led helicopter operation meant to target insurgents. Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had indicated up until this point that U.S. apologies for the incident were not enough, but today, he did accept an apology from Gates.
The Supreme Court is granting a Texas death row inmate the right to pursue DNA testing of crime scene evidence not tested during his trial. Henry Hank Skinner is charged with the 1993 murders of his girlfriend and her two sons. The court's decision doesn't get him off death row but gives him another chance to prove his innocence. Prosecutors maintain Skinner is guilty.
Former French president, Jacques Chirac, is on trial today for allegedly embezzling money from Paris during the time he was mayor. Chirac who had the job from 1977 to 1995 is accused of using public money to pay people to work for his political party. If found guilty, he could face ten years in prison, though, he's denying these allegations, Wolf.
BLITZER: Shocking stuff. I interviewed Chirac back in the 1990s at the G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany. To think that he's now under investigation for that at this stage in his life is pretty sad.
SYLVESTER: And he could get prison time, too.
BLITZER: Pretty shocking. All right. Thanks very much.
More powerful voices are weighing in on the debate over a no-nine zone over Libya. I'll talk to a diplomatic troubleshooter with a unique perspective on the conflict. That would be the former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. He's here live in the SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, protest and anxiety before Congress holds hearings on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans.
And tornado video, literally, tornado video that will blow you away.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: NATO now says it's conducting around-the-clock surveillance flights over the war torn area of Libya. U.N. officials, I should say, are warning we could see even more carnage in the immediate days ahead as Moammar Gadhafi presses on with his brutal fight to hold on to power. Still, no decision yet by the United States and its allies on a no-fly zone.
Joining us now the well-known diplomatic troubleshooter, Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and former energy secretary. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming. You want to be called ambassador or governor. What do you like?
BILL RICHARDSON, (D) FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Call me Bill, after traveling together in North Korea, you can call me anything you like.
BLITZER: Six days in North Korea with Gov. Richardson. We're going to talk about that on another occasion, but let's talk about Libya right now. Somebody at some point is going to have to go to Tripoli, look Gadhafi in the eyes and say, Col, it's over, over. You can either get killed here and or you can leave and go some place else. Who would be the best person to go there and give him that blunt message?
RICHARDSON: Somebody like Colin Powell. Somebody that has foreign policy credentials but also has military credentials. Somebody that Gadhafi knows is close to President Obama. There's a number of people, but I would put General Powell at the top of the list. And I believe this has to happen because Gadhafi is clinging on to power. His options are very limited.
He can either go to Zimbabwe or Venezuela, and he probably is hanging on because he doesn't want to do either.
BLITZER: Is there an Arab leader who can do that? Some monarch or some president who's got the relationship with Gadhafi and say you know what, colonel, you've got to get out of here.
RICHARDSON: I don't believe so. He has kind of been the leader of Africa, along with the Sudanese president, at least of North Africa, Mandela. But I don't know the status of his health. But I think it's going to have to happen soon. The Italians have a lot of leverage over Libya, but I think it's going to take somebody with a very strong American connection.
BLITZER: He's still getting nice words from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. He's still praising him, attacking the United States. Even Fidel Castro writing nice stuff about Gadhafi.
But you don't see either of one of them having the guts to tell Gadhafi it's over.
RICHARDSON: No. In fact, probably, if Gadhafi is thinking of exile, those are the only two or three that would take him. You'll recall the Saudi --
BLITZER: Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
RICHARDSON: Mugabe in Zimbabwe. You'll recall the Saudi royal family, they took in Idi Amin.
RICHARDSON: But they said they're not going to take Gadhafi in because he tried to knock them off.
BLITZER: What about you? If somebody said, you know, Bill -- you've met with diplomatic thugs all over the world. We were just in North Korea. What if they said to Bill Richardson, go to Tripoli, and here's the message you've got to deliver to Gadhafi? He would see you, I'm sure, but would you do it?
RICHARDSON: Well, I would do it, but I'm not the definition of the State Department's traditional diplomat.
BLITZER: But you do that all the time. You've been to Syria, to Iran, to Cuba. You've been all over the world in these kinds of situations.
RICHARDSON: Well, obviously, if the president asked me, I would do it, but I don't see that in the cards. I think they want a more traditional diplomat, but somebody is going to have to do it.
BLITZER: And you think this no-fly zone, you've been saying now for the past couple of days, is a good idea, the U.S. should do it, even though Gates and Bill Daley, the president's chief of staff, and others say, you know what, this is not a video game, this is tough stuff?
RICHARDSON: Well, what I have said is that it should be a no-fly zone administered by NATO, internationally recognized. I think if you go through the U.N., you're going to face a veto by the Russians or the Chinese.
I do think there are ways we can help the rebels. We can help them with humanitarian airlifts.
I would support a covert effort to arm the rebels. I think we have to stand behind those rebels, but it has to be international. It's got to be France, Britain, NATO, out-of-area NATO. You've got to be careful about a no-fly zone. You can't just say do it.
BLITZER: In all my reporting, inside the administration, the executive branch of the government, it doesn't seem that the U.S. government has a good handle yet on who these rebels are. If they could trust them, they might give them Stinger missiles or shoulder- fired missiles to knock down Libyan warplanes, but they are not sure they would be giving the weapons to the right people.
RICHARDSON: Look, sometimes you've got to take a gamble, you've got to take a risk. These are rebels. These are young men, young women that want Gadhafi out. They're not going to be a perfect military structure or government structure. It looks like they are forming a provisional government, but I think in the end, the United States and NATO should stand behind those that are trying to get rid of Gadhafi, that they should back them. You've got to be careful how you do it militarily, but all diplomatic assistance, humanitarian assistance, maybe eventually recognize this provisional government once it's formed. But what you don't want is a carnage in Libya --
RICHARDSON: -- and the international community kind of sitting back.
I like what President Obama said, Gadhafi has to come out. He's forming a diplomatic coalition, that's good, but I think eventually it's going to take a military combined effort with NATO
BLITZER: Put on your hat as a former U.S. energy secretary, former governor, if you will, too. Is it time, given the increasing cost per gallon of a gallon of gasoline, is it time to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make sure the price doesn't go over $4 a barrel?
BLITZER: Or $4 a gallon.
RICHARDSON: Yes, I think we need to tap it. We need to tap it to protect the home heating oil prices and situation in the Northeast. We need to tap it to disrupt --
BLITZER: Right away?
RICHARDSON: Yes, to disrupt --
BLITZER: When you were energy secretary, Bill Clinton tapped it.
RICHARDSON: I tapped it. President Clinton ordered me to tap it.
BLITZER: It's only the second time the U.S. has ever done that.
RICHARDSON: That's right, for home heating oil reasons.
BLITZER: Was it a good idea then?
RICHARDSON: It was a good idea, because the price went down, it disrupted OPEC's efforts to try to control the price. What OPEC needs to do is increase production so the price goes down. But if you disrupt it, you send a signal to the markets that the price is too high. And it is too high.
Motorists in America, around the world, it's a worldwide problem. So I would tap it. I would tap it significantly, and I would tap it now.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson, thanks very much for coming in.
RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me. BLITZER: Thank you.
Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin make a new offer in their paralyzing standoff with the Republican governor. Stand by for the latest on the battle over the budget and union workers' rights.
And see for yourself what it's like when a tornado comes tearing through town.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, calls state Democrats' latest proposal to resume talks over his controversial budget plan -- and I'm quoting him now -- "ridiculous."
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.
Well, the Senate leader asked the Republican governor for a meeting today at the state border. Democratic senators recently fled to Illinois in protest over the governor's budget plan. The proposal curbs union bargaining rights and has ignited weeks of fierce opposition. Democrats say they will return to the state only when collective bargaining is off the table.
President Obama has issued a statement saying the United States will resume using military commissions to prosecute alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay. The announcement also indicated the White House remains committed to closing the controversial detention facility. The president had previously pledged to close it within a year of taking office, but has since run into complications.
And dramatic surveillance video from a drug store in the western part of Louisiana as it got pummeled by a vicious tornado. Take a look here.
The twister, which was packing winds of up to 135 miles an hour, killed at least one person and injured more than 10. It caused massive damage over a five-mile stretch and wreaked havoc on Mardi Gras celebrations taking place over the weekend.
Very sad devastation there.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Lisa. Don't go too far away.
Mounting pressure on the United States right now to intervene directly in the Libyan crisis. Just ahead, why one columnist says American credibility is at stake.
And they are A-list pop stars now coming clean about their private performances for the Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. Should Hollywood celebrities be more careful about who they do business with?
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, our CNN political contributor, Roland Martin, and former Bush speechwriter David Frum. He's a contributor for CNN.com, editor of FrumForum.com.
I want to talk about your interview with Colin Powell in a moment. You just heard Bill Richardson say Colin Powell is the guy who could go to Tripoli, look Gadhafi in the eyes, and say it's over, you're leaving.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's interesting. If you read Marcus Mabry's book on Condoleezza Rice, he laid out how Gadhafi was just in love with Condoleezza Rice. Why don't we send her if he has so much affection? She probably could just pull him out of Libya and make this thing real simple.
BLITZER: It sort of makes sense for Colin Powell to go, although I doubt he wants to go.
DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, FRUMFORUM.COM: Well, they are shooting live ammunition at people who tell Colonel Gadhafi it's time to go, and I don't know that he'll take kindly to that. But the president --
MARTIN: Or his wife.
FRUM: Look, here's the president's political strategic problem. In 2009, there is a big protest against the undemocratic regime in Iran. It survives by the application of massive lethal force.
If Gadhafi survives, it's going to be an ugly contrast where Iran survives, Libya survives, Gadhafi survive, Hamas has blood. They all survive. It is the American friends who are non-democratic who are going down before this wave of protests, and that shows that those regimes are more open, but what will it say to wobblers, to people who are on the fence, if America's friends, in a time of crisis, they go down, America's enemies come out stronger than ever?
BLITZER: Because you say -- you wrote this at CNN.com. You say, "America's credibility right now is on the line."
Do you agree with that?
MARTIN: But you did not see though the same rebel forces in Iran in 2009 that you're seeing now in Libya.
FRUM: They were nonviolent.
MARTIN: Yes, right. But again, so this is a whole different reaction.
BLITZER: This is a civil war in Libya.
MARTIN: Yes, absolutely.
BLITZER: Both sides are armed.
MARTIN: Yes. And when you look at the history of civil wars in various countries, now, we can talk about -- it's about the people there driving this, and not us. And so I think -- certainly, I think (INAUDIBLE) in international matters, not just us.
BLITZER: Let me play a clip from your interview with Colin Powell that aired on TV One over the weekend. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have to be careful, we have to watch it. But don't just jump in because the heat of the moment suggests you should jump in. If you're going to not let their planes fly, what are you going to do about the forces, the ground forces that are really doing the killing? The planes don't seem to be doing that much damage compared to what's going on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He makes a fair point.
FRUM: He makes an excellent point. People need to understand that an American intervention does not necessarily mean an invasion, and it does not necessarily mean the use of heavy-handed American methods.
We should consider -- we fought a proxy war with Gadhafi once before in 1987, the so-called Toyota War, where Gadhafi had invaded Chad, the United States then tilted to the defense of Chad, and provided the Chadians with the weapons they needed to expel the Libyans from the country. American weapons, I'm sure some American advisers and American trainers, but no American ground forces. That is the kind of thing that we need to be doing here.
Now, one of the cautions that may be made, as you are saying, because we don't know a lot about these rebels, and they may turn out to be not the nicest people in the world.
BLITZER: Officials tell me we don't know anything about these -- you know, some of them may be great guys. Others, not so great.
FRUM: Probably a prudent assumption they're not the greatest people in the world. But the thing we also need to remember is we have a blood debt (ph) from Gadhafi. This is a Lockerbie murderer. This is the man who received -- this is one of the greatest acts of mass murder against Americans ever. The terrorists who committed that act was received by Gadhafi as an honored guest. We also have a very basic message to send that, you know, we don't know a lot about these rebels, but we know a lot about Gadhafi, and it's unacceptable.
MARTIN: And that's why this president, as the governor said, must look at how do you deal with NATO, how do you deal with international? Because we also recognize Gadhafi has already tried to use America's power as saying, oh, they are the ones behind this. We also have a history in the Middle East, in North Africa of intervening, if you will, and using our power to affect what's happened there politically.
That's also something we must also consider. That is a dangerous precedent for us when people already say we don't like American presence anyway.
FRUM: Fair enough. But consider, how will Gadhafi behave if he survives? Because he has convinced himself that the United States is the cause of his problems.
BLITZER: Do you think he can survive?
FRUM: I have no idea.
MARTIN: Let's hope not.
FRUM: And I think we should not assume he's going to fall of his own weight.
MARTIN: And that's the point. With this whole deal, it can go either way. And so our actions, we must tread very carefully, as opposed to folks just jumping up and saying absolutely, no-fly zone, let's send weapons. No. You have you to understand what you're dealing with.
BLITZER: Can you get China and Russia to agree to a resolution, at least abstain at the Security Council in favor of a no-fly zone?
FRUM: It doesn't look that way right now, and that's why the no-fly zone may not be the right way -- that's another reason it may not be the right way to go. But we didn't have a U. N. resolution for Kosovo, where the American interest is probably less immediate --
BLITZER: I don't even know if the United States can get NATO unanimity on this issue.
MARTIN: Well, look, we talked about President Barack Obama, folks giving him a Nobel Peace Prize and folks loving him internationally. This is when the president must use that goodwill internationally to effect some kind of change.
FRUM: But our European allies are terrified of a civil war there. They're worried about refugee flows. It's 200 miles from Tripoli to the nearest Italian territory, the island of Lampedusa.
BLITZER: It's about 170 miles, to be precise.
FRUM: Thank you very much.
FRUM: And they are worried about thousand and thousands of people trying to claim refugee status. They want an early end to this situation, and the only way you get an early end is for Gadhafi to go. BLITZER: I think the Italians might want them. I'm not so sure the other NATO allies necessarily are that concerned as the Italians are. But there's a history.
MARTIN: And of course they're also driving cars. They also want to see this end soon because of gas prices.
BLITZER: Well, you heard Richardson say tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve right now so you can lower the price, but that's a subject we'll talk about more in the next hour.
MARTIN: All right.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
MARTIN: Thanks, Wolf.
FRUM: Thank you.
BLITZER: Gas prices, as we've been saying, have been going up every single day now for almost two weeks. We're going to hear first hand from Americans feeling the pain at the pump. It's like a tax that has been imposed on the American public.
And we'll take you inside the stronghold of the Libyan rebels., where they are fighting for the country and for international recognition.
BLITZER: Gas prices, on a roller-coaster over the last five years, and they're clearly on the rise once again right now, driven up by the concerns about a Libyan civil war. The average price right now, $3.51 a gallon, an increase of almost -- get this -- 33 cents in only two weeks.
It's the second biggest price jump in the history of the gasoline market. The last one, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's joining us from Memphis, Tennessee, with more.
This is a problem that affects everyone in the country right now, Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. But some people more than others in some ways.
We're along I-40 here in Little Rock, actually. We've moved down the way here a little bit. And the simple truth is, this is the part of the country, this broad swathe of states from about Alabama over to Texas, sort of down near the Gulf, the central Gulf area, that led the country in the increased amount of driving as the country tried to crawl out of the recession.
More people doing business, more people traveling, more people buying, trying to make things happen. Rural areas, by and large, have moved up in their travel as we've tried to recover. The result is that last year, Americans traveled three trillion miles. That's the highest number since 2007. That's 20 billion more miles than in 2009.
And yet, all up and down these roads, Wolf, I can tell you, many people may not want to talk a whole lot about what's happening in Libya, but they'll sure talk to you about what's happening at their gas station.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gas prices are ridiculous. Me and my wife, really, we have to figure out, should we eat or should I go to work?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I forget something, then I might say, well, I need to run back to the store. Three or four times a day, like I used to, I'm just don't do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes money to operate a car, man, the way the gas prices are going up as they're going up. So I just basically just stay at home. I work and go home and go to church. That's it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: It's very simple, Wolf. What people are saying out here -- we're out here doing the "Building up America" tour, looking at how people are bringing their economies back, bringing their businesses back, and people are really afraid when they look at this, saying, look, this can stall everything out.
And it's not just folks who are driving around for their jobs or to go out and buy things. It's also trucking, Wolf, which you know, the more you move out toward the West, and you get these broader expanses, it's unbelievably important for moving products around.
And think about this -- 54 billion gallons of fuel are used by truckers every year. That's 13 percent of all the fuel in this country.
If that keeps going up, the cost of it, and it reflects through the trucking, then that means all the cost of these products go up. So, Wolf, really an awful lot of folks out here are looking at those fuel costs and they are saying, is this going to impede my ability to build up my part of America? And will it ultimately stall an awful lot of the recovery that's under way?
BLITZER: Because the cost of everything, food and all sorts of other products that have to be transported by land, they're all going up. And that's one reason why you just heard the former New Mexico governor, the former energy secretary, Bill Richardson, flatly say it's time to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve right now to contain that price.
Tom Foreman, on the road for us. We'll check back with you tomorrow, as well. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is asking, what can Sarah Palin teach India, the country of India, about American politics? Jack and your e-mail, coming up.
And are rebel forces in Libya digging in for a long-term civil war? The details ahead.
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What can Sarah Palin teach India about American politics? She's on her way to New Delhi, I think, later this week to keynote an international get-together over there.
Lou writes, "She could teach them that we have a vibrant democracy founded on freedom of and from religion, freedom of speech, even for the media, and the basic principle of equal individual rights. But I don't think she's learned that herself, so there's no telling what she's likely to spew out."
Bud writes, "Maybe you're on to something here. Charles de Gaulle once said that of all the U.S. modern presidents, LBJ best illustrated what America really is -- aggressive, foulmouthed, tough, the whole nine yards. Kennedy and the East Coast types, merely cover-ups for the real deal. Maybe Sarah could be elected after all. Nah."
Jim writes, "You're correct, Jack. Sarah Palin is no Bill Clinton. You do know, however, that our government is broken. And I think Sarah Palin knows that, as well. She may be simplistic in a Ronald Reagan way, but she could help reverse the current trend."
Carolyn writes, "I don't know what she can teach them about her vision for America. Just imagine the poor interpreter trying to translate Palinese to Indian and the polite smiling audience wondering why she's ordering a mousse on rye in the new deli."
Mike in St. Paul writes that, "In American politics, anyone can be president. Anyone. Anyone at all."
Ben, in Maryland, "She can teach them facts should never get in the way. If you don't like the facts, change them, make them up. She could also teach them that you don't have to know anything to succeed in politics. Just tell a good story and then find someone that can be blamed for whatever distortions you decide to make up."
Mark, in Oklahoma City, says, "Jack, will you please try to keep up with the times and get off the Sarah Palin gig? Charlie Sheen is where it's happening now, man."
If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the uprising in Libya now a full-scale civil war as fighting rages between forces loyal to Gadhafi and rebels determined to oust him.
At the same time, unrest in the Arab world as gas prices soaring. And American consumers and businesses, they are feeling is the pinch. What will it mean for the still struggling U.S. economy?
Plus, a controversial congressional hearing on Muslim-Americans and radicalization. Some are comparing it to a witch hunt. We'll hear from the lawmaker behind it.
Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos, all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.