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Afghan Rape Victim's Chilling Story; From Hawkish to Hands-Off; GOP Candidates Prepare for Upcoming Debate; Super Committee Failure Triggers Sequestration; Officer who Pepper Sprayed Protestors Mocked Online

Aired November 22, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now. We're counting down to tonight's CNN Republican presidential debate on national security as the White House hopefuls try to prove they have what it takes to defend America and its interest overseas.

The congressional "Super Committee" is being blamed for its failure to come up with a deal on the deficit, but is failure really a win. A win for lawmakers on both sides.

And 10 years into the Afghanistan war, a shocking case raising new questions about the success, so-called, of the U.S. mission. A teenage rape victim must choose between prison or marrying her attacker. This unfolding in the so-called new Afghanistan right now.

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

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're here at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, where, just three hours from now, the Republican presidential candidates -- eight of them -- will take to the stage. I'll be moderating the debate here on CNN.

Our focus tonight will be on national security and foreign policy. But the candidates will also address the extraordinary economic problems around the world and right here at home in the United States.

And as the Obama administration tries winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, watch as a chill set in over the so-called Arab Spring and wonders what to do about Iran's nuclear program.

How would these eight Republican hopefuls handle America's constant foreign policy and national security challenges?

Let's get a preview right now on what we might hear from CNN's foreign affairs correspondent -- Jill Dougherty.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an extraordinary time, historic events all around the world. And for some of these candidates who are new to foreign policy, there's a lot to learn before that 3:00 a.m. phone call.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every single one of us is better than Barack Obama.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): If there's one thing all Republican candidates agree on, it's that Barack Obama's foreign policy is a disaster. But when it comes to details of what they would do differently, they're all over the map.

On Afghanistan, Newt Gingrich is dubious about success, but opposes Obama's timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. On Pakistan, he wants to cut U.S. aid.

The air campaign in Libya that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi has become a kind of litmus test on foreign policy in this primary campaign. Gingrich first said he was for a no-fly zone, then he said he wouldn't intervene.

Mitt Romney's position morphed, too. First he supported a no-fly zone, then criticized Obama for going too far to bring down Gadhafi. His big issue is China.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I will. I will crack down on China.

DOUGHERTY: Herman Cain says he's a businessman, not a foreign policy expert and he's had his gaffes.


DOUGHERTY: His foreign policy adviser says Cain is doing his homework.

Rick Perry made headlines when he said...

RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The foreign aid budget, in my administration, for every country, is going to start at zero dollars -- zero dollars.

DOUGHERTY: But he's a hawk on possible military action against Iran and he says if he were president, he'd set up a no-fly zone in Syria, even if the United Nations didn't go along.

Ron Paul, a liberation, wants to zero out foreign policy -- no more wars, close military bases in Asia and Europe.

Michelle Bachmann is an outspoken critic of Obama's policy on Libya. Her other top issue, supporting Israel.

Rick Santorum is the closest to a neo-con -- spend more money on the military and promote human rights around the world. And Jon Huntsman knows his way about foreign policy probably better than any of those candidates, former ambassador to China and to Singapore, he speaks Mandarin. He was U.S. trade representative for George P. Bush. But with his minuscule poll ratings, Huntsman may be better known in Beijing than he is in Baltimore -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see how he does, all of them, how they do tonight.

Jill, thank you.

Can the Republican candidates show a national -- an international audience, I should say, here on CNN, that they have what it takes to keep America strong and look after this country's interests around the world?

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here getting ready for this debate.

So what do these candidates have to prove -- Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, in a word, Wolf, plausibility. They have to prove that they're plausible commander-in-chief, that they're steady, that they're credible. As Jill just showed you, Herman Cain has had some problems on credibility when it comes to foreign policy. He had that brain freeze on Libya. Newt Gingrich has been all over the map, you know, what he would have done in Libya.

So I think these candidates, while foreign policy is not going to be at the top of the voters' agenda, there is still a threshold that you have to cross when you want to be president of the United States. And Americans understand that and they believe it and they want somebody who's strong, credible and plausible.

BLITZER: When you say credible, over the past many decades, the Republicans have been the ones that have bee strong on defense and national security.

BORGER: Yes, that's been the Republican calling card, strong on defense. And what's interesting for Barack Obama is that he -- his highest poll ratings come on national security. Now, don't forget, he's had some successes. He got Osama bin Laden.

And in this field, Wolf, as you know better than I do, there is no John McCain. There is no Republican hawk here like we saw in the 2008 elections. I mean, Mitt Romney disagrees with Barack Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan, but really much more on the timetables of the withdrawal of the troops than anything else.

So these Republicans are going up, whoever's the nominee is going up against a president who really does have credibility on foreign policy with American voters, Democrats and some Republicans.

BLITZER: So how does the issue of Iran and its nuclear program play into a debate, for example, like this one tonight? BORGER: Well, I think it's a very, very important issue. And we asked in our CNN poll -- and let me tell you the question. "The U.S. should use military action to get Iran to shut down its nuclear program." We asked that question.

Democrats -- you see, Wolf, only 12 percent; Independents, only 16 percent; and even Republicans, only 22 percent. So there's really not any large amount of support for getting involved in Iran in a military way.

But these presidential candidates, some would argue, have done a little bit of saber rattling on the issue, saying that first you should use economic sanctions, but then if those sanctions fail, military action.

Well, the administration just slapped some more sanctions on Iran.

What more is there left to do, except maybe slap sanctions on the central bank?

These are questions that need to be answered if these candidates are considering military action over there.

BLITZER: Good points, as usual.

And Gloria is going to be with us throughout the night, before the debate, after the debate. We'll have a lot to discuss...

BORGER: We'll be watching you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

While the Republican candidates get ready to debate tonight two blocks from the White House, President Obama today was in their campaign territory up in New Hampshire.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now -- Jessica, the White House says this was not a political trip.

What was the president doing in New Hampshire today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. A visit to New Hampshire a year before the election, nah, not political.

Wolf, the president was there pressing the message you're going to hear from him non-stop in December, that Congress, and specifically the Republicans in Congress, will be raising Americans' taxes if they don't extend the payroll tax cut in the president's jobs bill. That is the president's message from now until the end of the year.

But he also took a veiled swipe at the Republican presidential candidates who have been campaigning in New Hampshire these days.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, the next time you hear one of these folks from the other side come in talking about raising your taxes, you just remind them that ever since I've gotten into office, I've lowered your taxes, I haven't raised them. That's worth reminding them.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, New Hampshire could be very well a battleground state this year. The president won it handily last time. His team expects him to win it this year in the general election. But in resent elections, it has gone both ways. Democrats have won, Republicans have won. And there will be a stiff fight over it come November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Speaking of New Hampshire and politics, Jessica, listen to this campaign commercial.

And I -- I want to play it right now.



On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama visited New Hampshire

OBAMA: Thank you.

Thanks, New Hampshire.

I am confident that we can see ourselves out of this mess. And I'm not in charge of the economy. We need a rescue plan for the middle class. We need to provide relief for all. It's going to take a new direction. If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose, lose, lose...


BLITZER: All right. That's the Mitt Romney TV ad that was released today.

I know the White House is responding.

Tell our viewers what officials there are saying.

YELLIN: Right. And the key part of that is the president saying if we talk about the economy, we're going to lose. That's taken out of context from 2008, when he was quoting John McCain. And -- and that's not made clear in the ad.

The president has carefully avoided any mention of Romney and certainly this ad. But Press Secretary Jay Carney did address it in -- in his off-camera gaggle today, saying -- this is a quote -- "It's a rather remarkable way to start the campaign" -- Romney's campaign -- "and an unfortunate way to start. And I'm pleased to see numerous news organizations point out the blatant dishonesty in the ad."

Wolf, the campaign -- the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee also hit back hard and add that it's really not surprising that there's been a strong response for Team Obama since they've been engaging Romney, for weeks now, on far less provocative attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to get intense, I should say this, between the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign, assuming, of course -- and it's a big assumption -- if, in fact, Mitt Romney gets the Republican nomination. A lot of Democrats assume he will.


BLITZER: But it's by no means a done deal. It's one of the reasons they're having this debate tonight.

Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Heading into tonight's Republican debate, Michelle Bachmann says she's the only candidate involved in foreign affairs and national security.

Is she right?

Donna Brazile and David Frum, they are both standing by.

Much more coverage in advance of tonight's Republican debate here at Constitution Hall.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're counting down to tonight's Republican presidential debate. You'll see it, you'll hear it here on CNN. The issues -- national security, foreign policy, the economy. That's at Constitution Hall inside.

We're here at Constitution Hall reporting, getting ready for the big debate tonight. I'll be moderating.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're counting on you to take no prisoners.

The super committee...

BLITZER: I heard that.

CAFFERTY: All right.

The super committee is a disgrace. Let me repeat that. The super committee is a disgrace. And there should be a price each of them has to pay for their negligence.

Their failure costs all of us. The national debt continues to spiral out of control.

They did nothing. They knew the consequences of their actions, they chose to do nothing. They were charged with agreeing on $1.2 trillion in cuts to the national debt spread out over ten years. Congress borrowed $1.3 trillion this year alone. It doesn't seem too much to ask. Actions are supposed to have consequences and most of the time, they do, unless, you're a member of Congress.

The Super Committee is just a latest group of politicians who lied to us about reducing government spending. Simpson-Bowles Commission put forth the program for cutting the debt. It was discarded like so much trash, likewise, the Gang of Six. Even before the Super Committee failed, one poll showed Congress' approval rating in an all-time low of just nine percent.

It was the first time Congress registered in the single digits in this poll since the question was first asked way back in the 1970s. The same survey shows Americans have less trust in their government than ever before, and they have good reason to not trust them. The Super Committee didn't even have the guts to walk out and face the public. Tell us why they fail. Tell us what happened.

Instead, they handed the press a piece of paper, announcing their failure, and then disappeared into the wood work like so many cockroaches, but the real crime in all of this is that most of these 12 people on the Super Committee will probably be re-elected the next time they run for office, and that's something we should all be ashamed of.

If you or I failed as miserably at our jobs, we would be out in the street, and that's exactly where these people belong along with the rest of their colleagues that make up our broken, dysfunctional government.

Here's the question, do members of the Super Committee deserve to be reelected? Go to and post comment on my blog. I'll go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Just disgraceful -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. But you're not surprised though, Jack, are you?

CAFFERTY: Absolutely not. You know, what I'm surprised at is we collectively, as a country, don't seem to get it. We keep reelecting these people and sending them back. We are so divided among partisan lines as to be unable to accomplish anything. We have got to change some things or we're going to go right down the drain.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by. We're going to get to you and your e-mail. That's coming up shortly. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, other news we're following right now. More than 1,800 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war there began a decade ago. By the end of next summer, President Obama plans to bring home the 33,000 so-called surge troops he sent there to try to turn the tide, and there were another 60 or 70,000 American troops, though, will remain until the end of 2014. Another three years.

The Republican presidential candidates will be facing questions about where they stand on this issue tonight, but after ten years of war, there are signs right now, unfortunately, that little has really changed in Afghanistan despite this enormous effort that the United States has undertaken in blood and treasure.

CNNs Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now from Kabul. He has a truly chilling story that underscores what's going on there. Nick, tell us what you're seeing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. As the focus is on this NATO drawdown, the pace of it and it really turns into a story about what kind of Afghanistan NATO's going to be leaving behind after a decade of involvement here. Now, we have the story of a victim of a rape known as Gulnaz who was jailed because she was the victim of this particular crime.

And as the story tells us now that even with billions still being spent, women's rights in Afghanistan still have a long way to go.


WALSH (voice-over): Gulnaz remembers clearly the smell of her rapists clothes.

GULNAZ, RAPE VICTIM (through translator): He had filthy clothes on as he does metal and construction work. When my mother went out, he came into my house and he closed the doors and windows. I started screaming, but he shut me up by putting his hand on my mouth.

WALSH: A rapist was the husband of her cousin, but in Afghanistan's draconian society, this 19-year-old was also blamed. Her rape, sex with a married man, was seen as adultery by the courts, and she was sentenced to 12 years in jail. To her, there's only one way out. A dreadful choice.

GULNAZ: I was asked if I wanted to start a new life by getting released by marrying this man. My answer was that one man dishonored me, and I want to stay with that man.

WALSH: Inside the prison walls, she agreed to be interviewed with her face hidden. She can't escapee her attacker. Her daughter is the child of the rape.

GULNAZ: My daughter is a little innocent child. Who knew I would have a child in this way? A lot of people told me that after your daughter's born, give it to someone else, but my aunt told me to keep her as proof of my innocence.

WALSH (on-camera): In Afghanistan, a rape victim's ordeal often simply begins with the physical attack, then there's isolation from society. In Gulnaz's case, the possibility she may have to marry her attacker and then to risk she could be killed because of the shame of her ordeal.

(voice-over) We spoke to her convicted rapist in jail who didn't want to be shown on camera and denied raping her. He says Gulnaz will definitely be killed on release, but by her own family out of shame.

(on-camera) Because of how Afghan justice has treated Gulnaz, she's taken an extraordinary step of speaking out about her attack, but even that has brought her problems.

(voice-over) She spoke openly, her face uncovered, in a documentary about women's rights, (INAUDIBLE) by the European Union, but the EU blocked its release, saying it would endanger her. Yet, the documentary maker say the EU blocked it also because they don't want to make the Afghan justice system look bad. The EU ambassador said it was his call.

VYGAUDAS USACKAS, EU AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: What I'm concerned about the situation of the woman, about this security and well being. That's the most important (ph). That's the key criteria according to which I, as representative of the European Union, will judge.

WALSH: But now, rape victim, Gulnaz, is being judged an adulterer. Her only possibly escape, marriage to her rapist. Something she says she'll accept so her child can continue to have a mother.


WALSH (on-camera): Terrifyingly, the safest place for Gulnaz right now given the threat swirling around her might in fact be jail. In our interview, she did appeal directly to Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to intervene, and it's that kind of intervention that might secure her release without having to marry her attacker, and then, of course, she would need some kind of sanctuary asylum to secure her safety -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hamid Karzai should clearly do the right thing given all the United States and the international community has done for him and for the people of Afghanistan. But Nick, here's the question, does a case like this mean there's nothing more the United States, the international community can do after a decade of intervention?

Does it strengthen the argument to stay on or does it strengthen the argument that it's over in Afghanistan and that it's time to leave?

WALSH: That argument will go on for the foreseeable future. What it does show, though, is how close some parts of the country, some parts of society are still to the kind of justice and functionality. We were more associated with the Taliban. As you point out, many Afghans will be sickened by Gulnaz's story, but there are still parts of the country and society which have yet to be reached or changed by NATO.

And frankly, this also shined a spotlight on that huge gulf between what NATO thought it could do to Afghanistan ten years ago and where the country really is right now. the argument for staying on, perhaps, being that some parts of the country are still so close to a Taliban-style of existence that maybe, maybe, it's important to stick around to ensure the Taliban don't get a foothold again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe that with the U.S. and Nato there in such huge numbers, this could even be taking place ten years into this war. All right. Thanks very much, Nick Paton Walsh. An excellent report for our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's ambassador of the United States is stepping down over the scandal in Pakistan known as memo gate. Husein Haqqani was a close friend (ph) of President Asif Ali Zardari, frequent guest right here in the SITUATION ROOM. He helped the president amend frayed relations with Washington after Pakistan was humiliated by the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden

But he's been implicated in a memo allegedly sent from Mr. Zardari to former joint chiefs chairman, Mike Mullen, asking for his help to reign in Pakistan's memory. Husein Haqqani forced to step down -- stepping down as Pakistan's ambassador of the United States. He did his best as I know personally to try to improve Pakistan's relations with the United States, but right now, he's going to be gone.

War isn't cheap and the effort in Afghanistan cost the United States taxpayers about $2 billion a week. Let me repeat that. $2 billion a week. Imagine what that could do right here at home. Just ahead, we'll ask one congressman if that money is actually well spent.

And we've also -- we've already heard Newt Gingrich suggests some changing child labor laws, but how about his foreign policy? We're taking a closer look at that. Much more as we get ready for the Republican presidential debate here at constitution hall in Washington D.C. I'll be moderating. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Just a couple of hours away from the Republican national security debate here on CNN. And as we're getting ready for that, the frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, has unveiled his national security team. His advisers have serve every president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, and they include among others, James Woolsey.

He was a former Clinton CIA director, Robert McFarland, a former Reagan national security adviser, and others. Let's talk about this and more with our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile along with CNN contributor, David Frum from You had a chance to look at this list. What do you think? You know a lot of these guys.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do know a lot of them. I was able to talk to some of them just before the debate. It certainly represents the hawkish side, the interventions side of the Republican Party. What is as important as the personalities on the team, though, are the way a candidate assembles and uses his team. Sometimes, these teams are very powerful as they were, for example, with John Carey in 2004. And sometimes, the candidate becomes very much his own adviser and the team, they kind of have a frustrating experience.

BLITZER: I suspect Newt Gingrich is his own adviser. He knows this stuff he's been dealing with in, what, for 50 years, but he'll have some senior advisers there.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: A lot of neocons, a return to bygone era, including one of Dick Cheney's advisers on Middle East policy (INAUDIBLE) and in terms of Iraq. Team men to women, it tells you that Newt Gingrich, if elected, will pursue a very tough military policy across the board.

BLITZER: Because Mitt Romney's got a lot of these, what they call neocons, advising him as well. You've seen those guys.

FRUM: Yes. And Mitt Romney has a very orderly process with a lot of different circles, rapporteurs who report to rapporteurs. What you're getting --

BLITZER: Explain to our viewers what that means, rapporteurs. I know what you mean, but most of our viewers don't have a clue.

FRUM: The way these councils work, it isn't that all of these advisers get the candidate on the phone. There will be divided into subcommittees, and then, there will be a chairman or a rapporteur from the subcommittee who then will report to a master, chairman of master committees, and that person will have access to the candidate. The work process has to be done in an orderly way, often, less orderly.

And what you learn from these processes is not who's going to be in the White House, because a lot of Obama's people ended up in the White House, but how will the White House work. Will it be orderly? Will it be more improvisational, more fluid, more hierarchical? What kind of staff system does the candidate like?

BLITZER: In this particular case, we know who the president's national security advisers are because they've been around for the past three years.

Michele Bachmann, she was on AMERICAN MORNING here on CNN earlier today. She says she is really looking forward to tonight's national security debate. I'll play a clip.


MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm excited to go because this is my favorite topic of all, national security. I sit on the House intelligence committee. Of all of the candidates in the race, I'm the only one who's currently involved in current affairs and national security. So this is one of my favorite topics. And CNN always does a great debate, so I'm looking forward to it tonight.


BLITZER: Tell that to Ron Paul, the congressman. He's on the foreign affairs committee as well, so I assume he's got some involvement in foreign affairs and national security. But she's got a lot to prove tonight because her numbers were up, they went down. But she wants to make a comeback.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: This is an opportunity for her to really show that she has some expertise in an area where I think most Americans will clearly look at their experience. She's on the House intelligence committee, and since Iraq and Afghanistan, that committee has really looked into a lot of military and national security issues. So we'll see if she bring any special gravitas to this particular area of the committee.

BLITZER: And she says she loves foreign policy.

FRUM: She had a good debate on the CBS-"National Journal" foreign policy debate, as did Rick Perry. Both of the actually put in good, solid performances, Perry after a series of not so good, not so solid performances.

I think you may hear some interesting things from Rick Santorum, who has thought very hard about a lot of these issues and who is more than the social conservative firebrand that he's often reputed to be.

BLITZER: He's a very smart guy, Santorum. Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, and a lot of folks disagree with him, especially on some of the social issues, but on national security he served in the Senate and he knows a lot of this stuff.

BRAZILE: He's been flying a little bit under the radar. Maybe this is his moment to get a little bit of national attention. But Michele Bachmann made a mistake in her last foreign policy debate, I think, on torture. She seemed to be in what I call the extreme lane of the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Defending waterboarding.

BRAZILE: Defending waterboarding.

BLITZER: How come some Republicans still defend waterboarding even though the president outlawed it?

BRAZILE: Not only that, but even people in the Bush administration called it immoral and that it didn't really help them with the intelligence and many of America's enemies. Tonight, I'm going to look and see if there's some consistency, if they go beyond the applause line, the red meat, and see if they have a real vision --

BLITZER: Anything special you're looking for today?

FRUM: I'm looking for, and maybe you're the one who can tell us if this will happen, whether we can get beyond the Middle East. Whether we talk about Mexico, for example, where there's a near civil war, whether we talk about the relationship with Canada, where there is a lot of unhappiness with the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. We've got this imminent financial crisis, economic crisis in Europe that can touch the United States. This hemisphere, I think there are a lot of issues beyond this one hot region of the word. They kind of a short shrift in the CBS-"National Journal" debate.

BRAZILE: Maybe is it time to lift the American embargo on Cuba. I'm also interested in that issue, and of course, the African continent as well. BLITZER: We've only got a limited amount of time, guys, so we'll do the best we can. Don't go too far away. The debate, 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Jon Corzine's next trip to Capitol Hill may, may not be as pleasant as his many earlier visits. Why the former U.S. senator from New Jersey could soon expect some harsh questions from his former colleagues. We're following that story.

Also, a mad dash to save the Pentagon's budget following the super committee's failure. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. And Lisa, tough questions for MF Global's Jon Corzine. Lisa, what's going on.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The House Financial Services Committee plans to grill Jon Corzine about the widening scandal at the bankrupt brokerage firm. The former New Jersey governor and U.S. senator resigned as MF Global CEO after its bankruptcy. It's not clear if Corzine will attend the hearing. The committee has the power to subpoena him. The trustee administering the bankruptcy said Monday that more than $1.2 billion in customer funds at the firm may be unaccounted for.

Florida A&M's famous marching band has been suspended as the university investigates the death of a member. He was found unresponsive on a bus found in front of a hotel Saturday night after a football game. A task force is examining whether his death could be a result of hazing.

And after six months in space three astronauts are safely back on earth. American commander Mike Fossum plus two flight engineers from Japan and Russia successfully landed their spacecraft in Kazakhstan. The trio arrived at the International Space Station after a total of 167 days they spent in space, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work. Thanks very much for that.

The congressional super committee taking a lot of heat for failing to reach a deal on the deficit. But is failure really a win for both sides?

And we're counting down to the Republican presidential debate on national security, 8:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.


BLITZER: Lawmakers on Capitol Hill may actually regard the super committee's failure as something of a success. Let's go live to our Congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan. Kate, did the super committee's trigger help the group fail? What is going on here?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's so interesting. The trigger was called the quote-unquote "sword" hanging over the head of the committee, so painful it would motivate the committee to act to reduce the deficit.

But that's a very good question. Did the trigger have the opposite effect and make it easier for the committee to actually fail? Senator Rob Portman, Republican member of super committee, he said as much last night, telling reporters that the trigger, quote, "made it easier to avoid making some of the tougher decisions on the mandatory side and on the revenue side."

But that seems to be that the cuts were guaranteed even if the committee didn't reach agreement, so at the very least, it seems, the trigger, while not the intention, seemed to have softened the blow of the committee's failure, especially since both sides have another year to fight it out before the cuts would set in, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's right. None of those cuts, the $1.2 trillion, are supposed to take into effect 2013 after the presidential and congressional elections. But Kate, aren't there serious political motivations in play here as well? In in other words, didn't both parties have something to gain from not reaching an agreement by this super committee?

BOLDUAN: It seems absolutely so. I mean, some Democrats especially more liberal Democrats, they've been saying all along that no deal is better than a bad deal in their view because the trigger limits the cut to entitlement programs and hits defense much harder. It also paves the way for the Bush era tax cuts to expire at the end of next year, which Democrats would like to see happen for at least wealthier Americans, and Republicans have been fighting against that as being part of any super committee deal.

And of course then there's the Republican side. Listen to this from conservatives.


BRENT BOZELL, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER: The media, some of the media, and the White House want you to believe that the super committee failed. But in a very real way that's untrue. The death of any negotiations that will lead to higher taxes on the financially strapped American people is a clear victory for our country.


BOLDUAN: That's from a conservative group, but for some Republicans, especially conservatives, they can also say on some level that no deal is better than a bad deal because the deficit will still be reduced by $1.2 trillion with the trigger and there are no tax increases included in the trigger. Add to that that they can spend the next year running against President Obama on the issue of cuts to defense as he has now said he'll veto any attempt to change and overturn the trigger, which includes about $600 billion from defense.

So if you take it all from a broader view, Wolf, both the Democrats in the minority in the House and Republicans in the minority in the Senate, they also stand to gain politically from failure. Both can now run against the partisan gridlock holding up Congress as they try to win back each chamber, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stage has been set for a lively political debate over the next year. Thanks very much, Kate Bolduan, on Capitol Hill.

Let's a little bit talk more about this issue with a key member of congress. Joining us is the Republican chairman of the House armed services committee, Congressman Buck McKeon of California. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. BUCK MCKEON, (R) CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you made it clear that you're going to do everything in your power to try to avoid that $600 billion cut in defense spending projected over the next 10 years from taking place. But how do you do that since the president has said yesterday he will veto any change in the automatic trigger?

MCKEON: It's like you were talking just a minute ago. Some people are saying this is a victory. Some people are saying it's a colossal failure. I look at it as a very serious failure. This sequestration was set up so it would be so terrible on defense and some of the other areas that there was no way they could fail. Well, we found out that didn't work, but we're still left with these serious cuts on defense.

BLITZER: Well, explain why these are so serious, because if you take a look at $600 billion, that's a lot of money, but it's spread out over 10 years. And even if you were to average it out, $60 billion a year, it's something that the Pentagon could clearly live with given where they were in their defense spending, let's say two or three or four years ago. It's not that much of a cut in the big proportion of the increases we've seen in defense spending in recent years.

MCKEON: If that were the only cut, that would be so, but remember we've already had one tranche out of this where we cut almost $1 trillion. I met with Admiral Mullen just before his retirement, and he told me he had given the chiefs $465 billion in cuts that they had to come up with for the budget that we'll be given right after the first of the year.

So we've already got that $465 billion, and I've been told now the number's 489. We're almost $500 billion that we'll be already absorbing in the next 10 years. And then you add the $600 billion on top of that, you're talking not $60 billion a year, but you're talking over $100 billion a year over the next 10 years. I've had --

BLITZER: Here's an idea. Let me -- I was going say let me throw out an idea to save some money. The U.S. taxpayers, as you well know, you're the chairman of the armed services committee, U.S. taxpayers are spending $2 billion a week, a week, in Afghanistan. That's more than $100 billion right there in a year. And a lot of folks are saying this is money being thrown down the drain. U.S. troops are supposed to be there another three years, at least through the end of 2014. Are you open to cutting back dramatically on the expenses involved in Afghanistan?

MCKEON: We already know that those are going to be cut. They have them in the budget going out 10 years, and everybody knows that that's not going to happen. The troops in Iraq will be coming home the end of this year. And the troops in Afghanistan are going to be drawn down, I think precipitously and too early, but they will be drawn down 10,000 this year, 20,000 next year, before the fighting season is over. And then the rest of them are slated to be drawn down by 2014.

I think what we're talking about though is broader than that. Look at what's happening in Egypt right now. When you did your new year's resolutions, Wolf, this year, you probably weren't thinking about Egypt. You probably weren't thinking about Libya or Yemen or Syria or some of these other hot spots. We know that North Koreans sunk a South Korean ship that almost brought us to war this year. South Korea is saying when that happens again, they're going to take action.

We have several hot spots around the world and we're the ones that are basically the only ones that are keeping our ceilings open, that are keeping commerce. And 95 percent of our commerce travels on the sea lanes. We have seven choke spots around the world and our Navy's been the one defending that.

BLITZER: Congressman, I know you're going to be watching our debate on national security and defense tonight, the Republicans here at Constitution Hall. We'll continue this conversation on many occasions. I appreciate it very much for coming in. Thank you. Thanks very much, Buck. He's the chairman of the House armed services committee.

So do members of the so-called super committee deserve to be reelected? Your e-mail coming up next in the "Cafferty File."


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for the "Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the question this hour is do the members of the super committee deserve to be reelected? Bob says "We're becoming a third world nation controlled by a puppet government by unseen forces. Your question should be do we need a new set of founding fathers while discarding what has been created."

Mike in Minneapolis writes "Considering that this went on behind closed doors and I wasn't invited, I'm going to stay calm and admit I don't know what happened. I do know that half the super committee no longer pledges allegiance to the flag but literally to Grover Norquist, for which the offense is much greater than a matter in simply not being reelected."

Peter writes, "No one in the current Congress should be reelected. Members of the so-called super committee should have their pay returned to the people. This committee did do one thing, though. It showed the politicians are in it for themselves and to hell with everyone else." Daniel writes "It was a set-up for failure. You can't have an equal amounts of members from each party and expect them to budge. We need a new president. How many days until the next election again?"

Jen in Seattle writes "Some just got reelected. How do you consider counter immoral representations of negotiations when they're going to be in office screwing things up another six years?"

Michael in Dallas writes "Did I miss something? Wasn't this another fight over the extension or expiration of the Bush tax cuts or at least a debate over government subsidies for private jet owners? I think half the committee should be sent packing."

And Curtis in Philadelphia writes "To be brief, no. To be verbose, hell no."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog,, or post on THE SITUATION ROOM Facebook page. Good luck tonight Mr. Blitzer. I'll see you after Thanksgiving.

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

When we come back, Jeanne Moos.


BLITZER: Pepper spray can hurt, but online mockery stings for a lot longer. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First an officer hosed down protestors with pepper spray. Now he's getting hosed back, peppered with ridicule for watering my hippies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was like watering the garden like this.

MOOS: Now he's spraying everyone from Santa to Jesus at the last supper. He's spraying Lassie. He's spraying Snoopy. He's become what's called a meme, an idea reproducing across the web, even spraying another internet meme, a keyboard cat. He's spraying the Beatles on their "Sergeant Pepper" album. He's spraying to stop the flag raisers at Iwo Jima. His pepper spray replaces the torch on the Statue of Liberty.

He's spraying in famous painting of historic moment at national monuments. And now we know why House Speaker John Boehner cries. He too has been pepper sprayed by the now infamous officer.

His real name is Lieutenant John Pike. But he's been tagged with the nickname "pepper spray" Pike. That's the name on his fake parody twitter account full of bellicose tweets. "Want to see the super committee do something? Give me 10 minutes with them in a locked room with spray."

The hacker group Anonymous went after Lieutenant Pike by publicizing his phone and address. Some even created the pepper spray cop's lament.


When FOX News Anchor Megyn Kelly described pepper spray this way.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: It's like a derivative of actually pepper. It's a food product, essentially.

MOOS: She was mocked. Megyn Kelly on the electric chair - "It's a massage chair, essentially." Megyn Kelly on mustard gas - "It's a hot dog condiment, essentially."

(on camera): She would probably like to eat her words, as long as they weren't seasoned with pepper spray.

(voice-over) On, critics are writing reviews of actual pepper spray, calling it the Cadillac of citizen repression technology. Pepper spray is being aimed at old people and the village people. It's even being shot up Marilyn Monroe's dress. Anyone care to give thanks for pepper spray on turkey day?

Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. But I'll be back in two hours for the Republican presidential debate. Meanwhile, the news continues next on CNN.