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Interview with Fouad Ajami; Syrian Brutal Crackdown Up Close; California: Same-Sex Marriage Ban Overturned; Ohio Critical Swing State; Can NATO Stop Syria's Brutality?; No Parade for War's Heroes

Aired February 7, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, the bloodbath intensifies in Syria amid violence some say the entire world should be ashamed of. Now, desperate steps are being taken to try to stop the regime.

Plus, President Obama pulls a major about-face in the heated battle for campaign cash. You're going to find out what he did that has Republicans using his words against him.

And the Super Bowl champion New York Giants get a roaring welcome home.

Why this parade for heroes on the football field has heroes from the battlefield asking, why not us?

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

Breaking news, political headlines all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We begin this hour with Syria. I can't possibly underscore enough just how dire the situation is there right now. Look at this, women and children, some of them covered up, huddling close together in a room. At least 35 people reportedly killed just today, including a whole family in Homs.

The United Nations estimates more than 7,000 people, mostly peaceful protesters have died since the start of the uprising. Add to that tens of thousands injured, thousands more that have fled their homeland, been arrested or simply disappeared.

We're going to go to CNN's Arwa Damon for the latest in just a minute.

But first, one activist's horrifying up-close look at the desperation on the streets of Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the normal houses. This isn't a poor house. This is not a poor house. This is a normal family living. But this is how -- how they're living now. They never used to live like this in their life.

This is the (INAUDIBLE) that they live in. Everyone is hiding now. Even in the houses, people aren't safe anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know if the rockets are going to come in your living room or in your kitchen. It's not easy if someone loses their -- their kid. I saw mothers crying today. She -- that mother lost her 4-year-old girl and her 6-year-old girl lost her left eye. That's not something easy. Everyone is becoming used to death here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the B and B tanks that the Free Army captured yesterday for a very second. We can't -- the Free Army captured it. The soldiers ran away. That's the soldiers run away while the Free Army was hitting it with RPG rockets.

The tank didn't get damages. This is the driver of the tank. He's a member of the Free -- the Syrian Free Army.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) a tank shell (INAUDIBLE), everyone with it. A tank shell or mortar (INAUDIBLE). It blows and up goes one of the buildings (INAUDIBLE). It just started here two minutes ago. This is a civilian's house. This is a civilian house.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the -- the (INAUDIBLE) there are more bombs. This is where we move them. Look at the tanks (INAUDIBLE). We move them underneath (INAUDIBLE). This is how we move the casualties (INAUDIBLE) in the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw really horrible things that I've never seen in my life, kids in the hospital, a kid with his whole jaw gone; a little girl, a kid, she's four years old. She's dead. Her sister, six years old, she lost her left eye and her mother's in intensive care.

This is nothing. What I saw is nothing. This is all around Homs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Look at the bodies. Look at the bodies. This is -- these are rockets. They bring rockets (INAUDIBLE) rockets are (INAUDIBLE). We've got more than 30 people dead and hundreds of injuries. (INAUDIBLE). All they've got is all over the place, dead bodies all over. Look. These are all dead bodies coming. Look. Look. Look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not animals. We're human beings. We're asking for help. We're asking for your help. (INAUDIBLE) hours now. They're going to kill us all if you don't help us, they'll kill millions and no one will find out about it. Please, someone, help us.


BLITZER: "Please come and help us," you heard that appeal.

Let's go to CNN's Arwa Damon.

She's standing by nearby in Beirut right now -- Arwa, are we seeing the same kind of frustration that we just saw in your reporting?

What are you seeing?

What are you hearing?

What's coming in?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, the desperation that you heard there in the activist's voice, that is exactly what we are hearing from every single person that we have been talking to inside Syria that is somehow involved in this opposition. People's voices really trembling with emotion, with anguish, anger, frustration and pain, unable to understand how it is that since, for the last 11 months, pretty much, similar images have been emerging from Syria, how it is that the world has failed to unite, has failed to help them come up with some sort of a solution.

They say that they continue to be victims of this brutal onslaught by the Assad regime. They continue to lament the fact that everything seems to be paralyzed at the global and international level and while dialogue continues amidst the various powers, they are the ones, at the end of the day, who continue to suffer.

And many of the activists are also saying it's too much, what we're going through is too much. And they keep asking how long it is that they're going to have to endure this kind of pain and suffering?

And that is a question that, at this stage, Wolf, no one can really answer.

BLITZER: Do we have a sense, from the opposition, what they really want?

Do they want, for example, as Senator John McCain in Washington is suggesting, do they want the U.S., the Europeans, the Arab world, to start sending them weapons?

DAMON: You know, Wolf, there's a lot of conflicting emotions when it comes to that specific aspect because, on the one hand, everyone who we've been speaking to from the opposition is fully aware of what the consequences of that would mean and that it would most certainly put Syria on a very bloody path toward an all-out civil war. But at the same time, many of them say they feel that at this stage, there is no other option. They say that the window for dialogue with this government closed a long time ago and unless they can somehow be some sort of a match for the weapons and for the numbers that the Assad regime has at its disposal, they are, quite simply, going to die. Many of the activists say that they feel that every single day is their last. And they feel that unless there is some sort of international military intervention -- although deep down inside, they really don't want to take that route -- but unless at -- unless, at this point in time, it does materialize, they are eventually, at the end of the day, going to be wiped out by the Assad regime while the world watches.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon doing amazing reporting for us.

Thank you very much.

And this breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Just a little while ago, I spoke with the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

I asked her to look in the camera and speak directly to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Here's what she said.


BLITZER: You're being seen around the world, including in Damascus, right now. I want you to look into the camera, as you are, and assume you're speaking directly to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

What would you say to him?

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I'd say the United States stands with the people of Syria, fully and unequivocally, in their aspirations for peace, for democracy and for a brighter future. Your days are numbered. And it is time and past time for you to transfer power responsibly and peacefully. The longer you hang on, the more damage you do yourself, your family, your interests and, indeed, your country.


BLITZER: Let's dig a little bit deeper right now and get some more analysis with the distinguished Middle East scholar, Professor Fouad Ajami.

He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution out in California.

Professor Ajami, is the world doing enough right now?

What else should the world be doing?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, Wolf, the world is not doing anything. The world, really, is watching. And I think the last chapter, the last -- this -- this episode at the U.N. Security Council, we went to the Security Council and everybody hung their hopes on the Security Council. And the Obama administration, I think, basically argued that somehow or another, Russia will see the light of day. They really didn't worry about the Chinese. They thought the Chinese were just coming along for the ride.

They were worried about the Russians. They convinced themselves that they could sweet talk the Russians into dropping their veto. The Russians wouldn't do so, because Vladimir Putin, in a way, it's really -- his regime is very much akin to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

And the Russians were committed to the tyranny in Damascus. And we saw what we saw.

BLITZER: Because, you know, Bashar al-Assad still has the support not only of Russia and China, but as I pointed out to Ambassador Rice, even some neighboring countries, strong support from Iran, from elements in Lebanon, even from the supposedly pro-US regime in Baghdad and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.

So he may not be as isolated as a lot of people in the West like to think he is right now.

AJAMI: Yes, I was watching the interview you did with -- with Ambassador Rice. And it's very -- what you said is quite important and quite interesting to underline.

When you take a look at the Damascus regime, if they look to the west, there is a government in Lebanon which is really a sat trap (ph) of the Syrian government. This is a government that answers to the man in Damascus, that answers to Bashar.

Now, on his eastern border, there is this odd regime of Nouri al- Maliki, the American midwife regime, which should be ashamed of itself for the support it has given to Bashar al-Assad. It has given it on sectarian grounds, that basically they think the Shia led government in Baghdad believes that the Alwali-led government in Damascus is its natural allies.

And the Jordanians, I think, are, in many ways, they are sympathetic to the rebellion in Syria, but they're timid.

So when you consider the borders of -- of this regime, the borders of Syria, there's only one border they really worry about, which is the border with Turkey, which is where the opposition is based, because the border with Israel is, for all practical purposes, sealed.

BLITZER: Good point.

Fouad, don't go away. I want to continue this conversation.

But our Tom Foreman has been taking a close look at the current situation in Syria. And for a lot of folks out there, it's starting to remind us of what happened in Hamah, in Syria, back in 1982, when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad's father, scorched that dissenting town, killing thousands of people.

And I want Tom to remind us what happened in Hama.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Wolf, this really is -- it's an anniversary time there and many people are talking about that very event.

Here are the two towns. Homs down here, Hama up here. That's exactly what happened in Hama, 30 years ago this week, Wolf. What happened, essentially, was that the -- the Syrian forces moved in to stop this revolt there. They encircled the city. And then, for three weeks, they pounded it with artillery, tanks and eventually moved in on the ground.

But, basically, they reduced so much of it in here to simple rubble, because nothing was done to stop them. It crushed the revolution. Amnesty International believes that between 10,000 and 25,000 people were killed in that period of time. And that crushed that revolution.

So the question and the fear for many in this current uprising is, is that what's on the way for Homs down here?

What we know so far is that they have more than 60 checkpoints throughout the city, which we would assume, again, because we don't have reporters in there to verify all this, that what that does is sort of segregate the city. It allows them to control the flow of people from place to place to place.

Beyond that, here's what we know, Wolf. Just like we saw up in Hama many years ago, in places like Baba Amro, which is one of the most -- the centers for the resistance down there, we know that right now, that there has been a very strong presence of tanks around the city. Presumably, they're covering the major roads like this and cutting them off, again, making it difficult for medical supplies, food to get in or out. We're talking about Soviet T72-style tanks. This one is from Iraq, as you can see by the flag. But nonetheless, it would be Syrian tanks.

These tanks weigh 41 tons each. They are about 12 feet wide. So they'll be somewhat limited on the narrower streets. But a tremendous amount of firepower. We know that there are dozens down around this neighborhood.

In addition to that, we know that Katusha rockets are one of the chief methods being used to attack here, as far as we can be told by people on the ground there. Katusha rockets have been around since the World War II. They, in fact, are mounted and able to move very quickly. You can fire up to 40 to 50 of them in a matter of moments. They chare -- carry tremendous firepower. They're light and they're quick. They're not very accurate. But when you start pounding an area like this, you understand, Wolf, why so many of the Syrian opposition forces fear that what they're seeing is a reprise of what happened 30 years ago.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

I remember that story -- that tragedy vividly.

Fouad Ajami is back with us.

He remembers it well -- as well. Fouad, if we go back and -- and take a look at what Hafez al- Assad did then, can we expect the son to follow the fa -- father's example now?

AJAMI: Now, Wolf, remember, Hafez al-Assad's wife, widow and the mother of Bashir, she's still around. And the reports are -- they indicate that the mother, in fact, is ask -- is counseling the son to do exactly what his father did.

This is a fight to the finish. It's scorched earth. And, by the way, Wolf, on last Friday, it was the 30th anniversary of the massacres of Hama. And the -- the people of Syria gave that Friday a name. And the name was Forgive Us, Hama.

This time around, we've closed the circuit. We've move from Hama to Homs. This is the capital of this big fight.

And, yes, I think for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it's a fight to the finish. And I think American diplomacy really has to face the truth that we can't just simply sit idly by and that we wasted an enormous amount of time going to the Security Council when the results should have been foreseen.

And the choice isn't between boots on the ground and doing nothing. There are a whole lot of things we can do -- arming the opposition, helping the opposition, recognizing the opposition as the government of Syria.

We have not doing any of this yet.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, as usual, thanks very much.

We'll stay in close touch with you.

We're not going to leave this story, obviously. A tragedy unfolding in Syria right now.

The countdown is on to the largest contest yet in the battle for the Whit House. Just ahead, while there could be some big surprises in store only a few hours from now.

Plus, a court victory for gays in California, but the battle may not be over yet.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the Catholic Church at odds with President Obama which is not a comforting thought for Democrats in this in election year. It all goes back to the president's healthcare law. Catholic leaders are furious over a provision that would require all employers, including religious ones, to pay for contraceptives through their health insurance plans.

That includes the birth control pill and plan B. Churches are exempt, but religious hospitals and schools must comply. Critics say this provision violates their freedom of religion. The Catholic Church opposes the use of contraceptives, even though a large of number of rank and file Catholics disagree and, in fact, use contraception.

Catholic leaders have called for protests. They're asking the faithful to put political pressure on the administration. They say they plan to fight this thing with, quote, "lawsuits with court decisions and maybe even in the streets," unquote, like we said, not what Mr. Obama wants to hear in an election year, which is probably why the president's reelection campaign now says they're open to compromise.

David Axelrod told MSNBC that they'll look for a way forward that, quote, "both guarantees women that basic preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions," unquote. There are 70 million Catholics in the United States. A lot of them live in critical swing states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Florida. Back in 2008, President Obama got 54 percent of the catholic vote.

So, here's the question. Does President Obama risk alienating Catholic voters because of the birth control part of his healthcare law? Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's" Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

Same-sex marriage supporters in California, they are all smiles today. U.S. appeals court ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. That's the voter approve ban on same-sex marriage, but a stay of the order means couples can't begin planning their weddings, at least, not yet. And those celebrating in California know their fight is, by no means, over.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is joining us from New York now with more. Jeffrey, I assume this is going to simply wind up at the Supreme Court, but not necessarily.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I think what makes the decision today so interesting is that it seems designed to avoid review by the Supreme Court. It's actually a fairly narrow decision, very much tailored to the peculiar circumstances in California, where you had the California Supreme Court say that same- sex marriage was legal, Proposition 8 overturning it.

What the court said was those circumstances violated the constitution. The court said nothing about a universal right to same- sex marriage which presumably would be the issue of most interest to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: So, if the Supreme Court doesn't take this case, doesn't hear the arguments, what happens, practically, as far as same- sex marriage in California is concerned?

TOOBIN: Well, presumably the defendants in this case will ask what's called the en banc, which is the full Nine Circuit to hear this case. Not at all clear that the Ninth Circuit will do that. If the Nine Circuit declines to hear the case and there's no Supreme Court review, then it's over. We'll know that in a few weeks.

If there is the Ninth Circuit review, that just extends this case further, but again, it only applies to California. I think one thing that the gay rights advocates that I've spoken to today are very happy about is they're not sure they have the votes in the United States Supreme Court.

It's very hard to think that there are four votes to say there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. If they keep the case out of the Supreme Court, but win in California, that is what they want. They're not interested in getting a big test case before the United States Supreme Court --

BLITZER: So, let's just be precise. If the full Ninth Circuit doesn't hear any more arguments, and the Supreme Court decides they don't want to take up the case, same-sex marriage in the state of California, like in a few other states in the United States like Iowa, for example, will be allowed to do go forward?

TOOBIN: That's exactly right. If this winds up being the last word in the case, California will join New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, and all the other eight states that will have it shortly. And that's actually -- it's a lot -- when you think about it, it's a lot of people.

If this state -- if this decision holds, that will mean that 20 percent of the people in the United States will live in a state that has same-sex marriage. That's a huge difference from ten years ago when zero percent of Americans lived in a state with same-sex marriage. You know, by legal standards, that's a fast and big change.

BLITZER: Excellent explanation by Jeffrey Toobin, the author of "The Nine," working on a new book, as well, right now. We'll discuss that later. Jeffrey, thanks very, very much.


BLITZER: The Republican race to the presidential nomination has been a slow-paced affair, but it's about to go into overdrive. The latest on the votes unfolding tonight in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri. First time three states have made their selections for the Republican nominee.

Also, New York celebrating the Giants' Super Bowl win today. Some wonder, though, whether America isn't ignoring a more deserving team.


BLITZER: We're here at the CNN Election Center where less than three hours from now the first results could be coming in out of tonight's big three context, the largest battle yet in the Republican race for the White House. Up for grabs, 70 delegates, 33 in Colorado, 37 in Minnesota. Missouri's primary is non-binding. Newt Gingrich isn't even competing there.

What's really at stake tonight is political momentum. A chance for Ron Paul or Rick Santorum to see theirs (ph). And the serious risk that Mitt Romney might lose some of his. We're watching all of this unfold. Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is traveling with Rick Santorum in Missouri. Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is with Newt Gingrich in Ohio right now.

First to you, Dana, Rick Santorum is really banking, getting something big tonight. He wants to get back in the game.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He absolutely wants to get back in the game. And you know, there have been many, many questions post to Rick Santorum and his aides. What is your path to victory?

We're just talking to one of the senior advisors who said, the path to victory starts with doing extraordinarily well tonight, because what their ultimate goal is to show conservatives out there who still may be looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney who think that maybe he's not conservative enough that there is one person who they can rally behind.

The Santorum campaign believes that if he can show that he does well here tonight, then he can be that person as oppose to Newt Gingrich who has been kind of in head-to-head race with Mitt Romney until now. Now, Santorum has been out campaigning today. He was in two of the states. He'll be in the third tonight.

He was in Minnesota and Colorado. Earlier, in Colorado, he kind of mocked Mitt Romney for now trying to downplay these contests as unimportant.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Colorado is a state that four years ago, Governor Romney won the 61 percent of the vote. He wanted to campaign hard here. He didn't pass it off like he's doing the last couple of days to say these are just nonbinding caucuses. They don't really matter much.

Well, they mattered four years ago. He came out here to campaign in these very same states. You have an opportunity to reset this race.


BLITZER: Dana, you're in Missouri right now. Santorum will have an even there later tonight, but as we said just a little while ago, it's a beauty contest in Missouri right now. So, what's going on?

BASH: That's right, a beauty contest. The number of delegates at stake tonight? Zero. That is absolutely true, and you know, that is a very good question. Why is Rick Santorum banking so much on this state? The reason is because Newt Gingrich isn't on the ballot. And, to prove that point that he's been trying to make that he can do well against Mitt Romney in head-to-head race from his perspective, what will be the conservative vote.

He wants to do well here. And his campaign is also point out very rightly so that Missouri is an incredibly important state for the general election. It is historically a swing state. It is certainly generally has a very diverse population.

And they believe that if he can show Republicans that he can do well in an important state like Missouri, it can carry him forward and put him in a good place to get more momentum for the next really critical round of races, which if course is Super Tuesday, at the beginning of March.

BLITZER: Political momentum very, very important.

Dana, thank you.

Let's go to Joe Johns right now. He's covering Newt Gingrich in a state not necessarily on the radar, at least tonight. We're talking about Ohio. It is a critical swing state, Ohio, as we all know.

What's going on here?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, Wolf, a very critical swing state here in Ohio. However, they don't vote until Super Tuesday, which would be March 6th. So, the question is, what is Newt Gingrich doing here? One of the parts of his strategy that is most important is to try to do well here in the state of Ohio, as well as his home state of Georgia, and then just try to hang around, hang on until he gets farther down and some of the other southern states start voting.

So, what's he doing here in the state? Well, he got out to a fast start today talking about that issue of the day, which is about reproductive rights and whether it would be OK for the federal government to require Catholic charities to pay for contraception.

The administration -- the Obama administration -- has taken a somewhat controversial position on this. And today, Gingrich tried to tie Mitt Romney to the Obama position, saying Mitt Romney himself tried to do something similar to what the Obama administration is doing when he, Mitt Romney, was the governor of Massachusetts. But the Romney people say no.

But listen to how Newt Gingrich is handling this situation when he talks about it.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's been a lot of talk about the Obama administration's attack on the Catholic Church. Well, the fact is Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a very similar pattern again. Over and over you get the same patterns. And I think that a Massachusetts moderate finds it very hard to draw a sharp contrast with somebody who's an Illinois radical. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now, the Romney campaign says that while he was the governor of Massachusetts, he was simply enforcing a law that had been passed over his objection and even his veto, and that he didn't support it at all but he was just basically following the law.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Joe. Thank you.

And to our viewers, remember to stay right here for complete coverage of the primary and caucuses. It begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern with a special edition of "JOHN KING USA." That's followed by complete live coverage of the results at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Politicians try to avoid being tagged as flip-floppers. So why is the president of the United States reversing course on something that could play a huge role in his reelection campaign?

And there are millions of foreclosures in the United States, but this one takes the case. We're taking a closer look at how a one-of-a-kind property was auctioned in Atlanta.


BLITZER: More fallout from Susan G. Komen's short-lived move to yank grants to Planned Parenthood. A top official is now out.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Karen Handel was a senior vice president for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. That is until this morning.

She submitted a letter of resignation defending the charity's original decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood because it's under congressional investigation. Komen later changed its mind on the plan, but Handel writes that she's disappointed by mischaracterization of the strategy and her involvement in it.

Mark Zuckerberg better sit down when he looks at his tax bill. The Facebook founder could owe Uncle Sam up to $2 billion when his company goes public. It's a big hit, and here's why.

He is allowed to snap up millions more Facebook shares for just six cents a piece, but the rest of us will likely pay somewhere in the $30 to $40 range. And that difference, it adds up to billions of dollars, and it is taxed.

Well, a chopper flying along the Florida coast snapped this picture of the Panama City beachfront. Take a look. Don't rub your eyes. Those aren't waves rolling over high-rise condos on the coastline. That is actually fog that forms when the temperature, humidity and winds are just right.

Look at that picture. That is actually fog. That's a pretty amazing picture that that photographer got -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very amazing.

A quick question. I don't know if you know the answer, Lisa, on that Mark Zuckerberg tax bill. Is that the long-term capital gains, 15 percent, or income, at 35 percent? Do you know?

SYLVESTER: You know, that is an excellent question. If I had to guess though -- and this is just a guess -- I would think that that's capital gains, because that's really what you're talking about, is the difference in what he purchased it for and the gains that he made if he were presumably to sell those shares -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That $2 billion, U.S. taxpayers could probably use that money.

Thanks very much.

We've seen big states and small states vote for the Republican presidential contenders, but so far never more than one on a single day. Tonight will change that. Three states voting tonight. Could it change the candidates' destiny?

And there's no way to repay U.S. troops for their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veterans have one idea that could help a bit, and they want to know why it hasn't been done yet.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, the crisis in Syria right now. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, tells me that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered.

What exactly are the U.S. and NATO options on the table right now? Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has more.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Men, women and children are being slaughtered in Syria. Everyone agrees it has to stop. But how?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We should start considering all options, including arming the opposition. The bloodletting has got to stop.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: We don't think more arms into Syria is the right answer.

DOUGHERTY: Last year in Libya, NATO launched an air campaign that saved lives and cleared the way to ending the Gadhafi regime. Would that work in Syria?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is a very different playing field, very different set of players, very different set of possible consequences.

DOUGHERTY: NATO's former supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan, says unless the U.S. wants to go it alone, you need political agreement with other countries. And that hasn't happened yet.

(on camera): If the world community did come together, could you have a Libyan-style campaign?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, EUROPE: First of all, Syria is much different than Libya. You have to understand that. It's much more populated, there's a lot of desert in Libya, wide open spaces.

There's a huge population in Syria. They have better defenses, they have better air defense systems. They have more modern tanks. So it's going to take a much different sort of strategy than what occurred in Libya.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Then there's the neighborhood: Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel.

JOULWAN: You have population areas in Syria that you didn't have in Libya. You have a few large towns, much more difficult. And if you're going to carry out a bombing campaign, what would that do to possible civilian casualties?

DOUGHERTY: Could you create safe havens, humanitarian corridors?

We asked the State Department.

NULAND: Some of these proposals that people are brooding about could not be done without foreign military intervention.


DOUGHERTY: And Wolf, the latest development now is that the administration is considering providing some type of humanitarian aid. It's not defined, and we'll be trying to get some details on that.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much for that update.

Now to the U.S. troops just home from Iraq. Some of them celebrated the Super Bowl -- the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants -- today with a parade on Broadway, the same street once used to celebrate U.S. forces who have come back from war. Now those forces want the same honor -- at least some of them do.

Our Brian Todd is joining us with more on this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, veterans of the Iraq War seem to be taking the lead. They've seen that image of a ticker-tape parade in New York for the Giants, and they're saying they deserve a national level celebration as well.


TODD (voice-over): A fitting tribute to the Super Bowl champs down New York's so-called Canyon of Heroes, but on this day some other heroes are wondering, why not us?

PAUL REICKHOFF, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: I think most Americans agree if the Giants deserve a Super Bowl, so do the one million Iraq veterans who have served.

TODD: Paul Reickhoff, who served in combat in Iraq, is head of the group Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America. He's petitioning government officials to throw a parade for troops returning from Iraq. Along the Giants' parade route, one man who says he lost his brother in Afghanistan puts it more forcefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're dying for -- and getting nothing. And that's (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

TODD: It's a sentiment that's gathered critical mass on the campaign trail.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it frustrates me greatly that as we come home from one of those theaters, that our government, this administration refuses to give them the simple acknowledgement of a job well done with a parade down a main street of Washington, D.C., or New York City.

TODD (on camera): There's certainly a template for it. After the first Gulf War in 1991, parades were thrown for those returning troops right down Constitution Avenue here in Washington and in New York, events that cost millions of dollars and attracted national media coverage.

(voice-over): Impressive showings of troops, weaponry, aircraft. It recalled the rollicking parades after both world wars, but notably missing after Vietnam. For troops from the Iraq War, St. Louis decided to go ahead with a parade recently, and the White House plans on holding a dinner for some Iraq veterans. But top Pentagon officials say a national level parade would be premature.

COL. DAVE LAPAN, JOINT CHIEFS SPOKESMAN: The chairman and other senior military leaders do not think that it's appropriate at the given time with service members in large numbers fighting in Afghanistan to hold a national-level parade in New York City.

TODD: But analysts say another factor at play could be no one wants to be criticized for declaring victory prematurely.

DARRELL WEST, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: It really shows how controversial the war is. Even when it's over, people are debating whether we won or lost. And I think the Pentagon seems to have that mentality of not wanting to declare "Mission Accomplished" in a situation where the outcome is so ambiguous.


TODD: Colonel David Lapan at the Pentagon says the Joint Chiefs chairman is not thinking along those lines, and he says he hopes that a national-level parade will take place as soon as both wars have been concluded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there are other potentially key players in this debate who are hedging their positions on this issue right now, isn't that right?

TODD: That's right. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he thinks it would be great to have a parade in his city, but he says the Pentagon has asked them to postpone any parade as long as there are troops in harm's way in Afghanistan. He says he's going to defer to the military on that.

We also contacted two very traditional veterans groups, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Both told us as much as they would welcome a parade, they do understand why the Pentagon does not want to hold one as long as troops are still in theaters of war.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember covering those parades back in 1991 --

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: -- after the first Gulf War in Washington and New York.

Brian, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has your e-mail answers. That's coming up.

And Democratic super PACs may soon be flush with cash.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: Does President Obama risk alienating Catholic voters because of the birth control part of his health care law?

Connor in Chicago writes, "I don't buy the religious exemption argument for a second. Clinging to completely outdated, archaic views on sexuality and reproduction should be no excuse for not providing your employees quality health care coverage. And in an age when having children is an economic hardship, that health care coverage should certainly include contraception."

Chris in Florida says, "With more than 68.5 million registered members, it's the largest single religious denomination in the United States comprising about 22 percent of our population. As a voting bloc, though, it's fractured on the issues of contraception, sexual orientation and abortion. Official church doctrine is not the daily bread of everyday Catholics, but I think Obama is on thin ice with the recent policy decision about contraception options that drew the ire of the Catholic Church." Eve in Texas writes, "In light of the Catholic Church's history of the handling of pedophile priests, how can the Church have the nerve to call for protests about birth control? What hypocrisy these religious people possess."

John in Alabama writes, "If President Obama can make it optional for faith-based insurance programs to provide birth control or not, the issue will die down. The Catholic Church doesn't want to hurt young people who can currently stay on their parents' insurance until 26 years of age."

Curtis in Philadelphia says, "If contraception was a real issue in the Catholic community, then Catholic schools would be opening, not closing. This election is going to be about the pocketbook, not the pill box or the prophylactic."

And Joe in Pennsylvania writes, "Probably not, Mr. Cafferty. My guess is that Catholics, for the most part, think that the 'be fruitful and multiply' thing is for the past. It is, you know."

If you want to read more about this, go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And this reminder to our viewers. We're going to have full election coverage coming up at the top of the hour.

Also coming up next, though, President Obama calling for his supporters to bankroll a new effort to win in the fall.


BLITZER: Republican super PACs are raking it in. Not the Democrats.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin tells us why.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's usually a line the Obama campaign uses against Mitt Romney. "He'll do anything and change his position to get elected."

Well, today, that's what Republicans are saying about the president.

(voice-over): Not so long ago, the president denounced super PACs.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These special interests can spend unlimited amounts without even disclosing where the money's coming from.

And they won't tell you where the money for their ads come from.

This isn't just a threat to Democrats.

This is a threat to our democracy.

YELLIN: In 2008, he even belittled his opponent, John McCain, because Republican outside groups ran attack ads for him. But candidate Obama blocked Democrats from doing the same.

OBAMA: I've asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics.

YELLIN: Cut to Monday night, when the Obama campaign did a 180, explaining online, " -- the campaign has decided to do what we can to support Priorities USA." That's the super PAC backing President Obama.

Now senior campaign officials and some White House and cabinet officials will attend super PAC fund-raising events. And several major fundraisers tells CNN on a conference call campaign officials gave them the impression they should now encourage major donors to also give to the super PAC.

In practical terms, this means --

KENNETH GROSS, CAMPAIGN LAW EXPERT: So, large corporations, for- profit corporations, not-for-profit corporations, very wealthy individuals with their personal money, labor unions, trade associations, open season on where this money can come from with no limits whatsoever.

YELLIN: One advantage of a super PAC? It can run attack ads without the president's name attached to them.

NARRATOR (voice-over): That's the Romney rule, lower taxes for millionaires like Mitt.

YELLIN: But campaign officials insist the reason they reversed policy is because of all the money on the other side. Priorities USA raised an anemic $6.7 million in 2011, but some of the top Republican-aligned groups raised more than $100 million and have announced plans to quadruple that with a goal of $400 million to defeat the president in 2012. The president's top campaign aides say against that tidal wave of spending, they can't unilaterally disarm.

(on camera): This move would seem to threaten the president's brand as a critic of special interests. But remember, back in 2008 he also changed his position on how he would finance his campaign, and that didn't seem to hurt him with the voters. This would seem to follow the same calculation. There's no point in having a brand if you don't win.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.