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Israel's Red Line; Early Voting Begins

Aired September 27, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Israel's prime minister draws a red line. Now President Obama's campaign is responding.

Forget waiting until Election Day. Voting already started in a crucial battleground state.

And are national security secrets being revealed by Hollywood?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A dire warning and a dramatic illustration by the Israeli prime minister. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu literally drew a red line as he urged the world to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Where should a red line be drawn? A red line should be drawn right here, before, before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb, before Iran gets to a point where it's a few months away or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.


BLITZER: Dramatic words, indeed.

Kate Bolduan is here, as always. Kate, stand by.

We also want to talk about what's going on with the Obama campaign's national press secretary, Ben LaBolt. He's joining us live from Chicago.

And very quickly, Ben, does the president agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu's definition of a red line?

BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Wolf, the president reaffirmed in his speech to the U.N. this week that we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and that we do not have a policy of containment.

And I think you saw the prime minister today praise the president for his reaffirmation that we do not have a policy of containment. BLITZER: But his definition of a red line is not that Iran wouldn't get a nuclear bomb. But you saw that 90 percent threshold, which is different what the president and other Obama administration officials have said in defining their red line.

You see the difference there between what the prime minister's position is and what the president's position is.

LABOLT: The president has made clear that we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. He's rallied an international coalition that has applied crippling sanctions to the Iranian regime. And we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon under any conditions.

BLITZER: Will you allow Iran to get to that 90 percent threshold, close enough to potentially develop a nuclear weapon?

LABOLT: The president made very clear in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly this week that we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Then spell it out for us, Ben. How much daylight and where is the daylight between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu with regard to Iran?

LABOLT: Well, I think what you have heard from Israeli officials during this administration is that there's been unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel under this administration. There's been unprecedented security assistance from the United States to Israel under this administration.

BLITZER: Let me just focus in then on the issue of sanctions. You heard the prime minister say that the sanctions have helped, they are putting the squeeze on Iranians, but they really haven't slowed down Iran's nuclear program.

Now the Israeli Foreign Ministry is suggesting there is an opportunity to further tighten sanctions on Iran. Is the Obama administration, based on what you know, Ben, ready to further tighten sanctions on Iran?

LABOLT: Wolf, you know that I'm a campaign official. I don't have access to the sorts of intelligence that administration officials do. I can certain make clear what the president said before the U.N. this week. And that's he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, stand by for a moment, because there are other issues we want to discuss with you out there on the presidential campaign.

It's focusing today, by the way, on Virginia and the state's many military voters.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now with details on what's going on, on that front.

What is the latest, as far as the president and Mitt Romney are concerned specifically in Virginia, Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, all politics is local, so it was no surprise to hear both candidates go after each other on national security themes.

And in their speeches today in Virginia, they focused not only on defense issues, but also the economy. But the state is much bigger than just a battleground state over issues of national security and the economy, Wolf. It's really a Republican firewall for Mitt Romney.


ACOSTA (voice-over): In battleground Virginia, both President Obama and Mitt Romney pulled out the heavy artillery. Before a group of veterans, Romney slammed the president for the massive defense cuts that are part of the fiscal cliff coming at the end of the year.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is still a troubled and dangerous world. And the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating. And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to our military.


ACOSTA: The president once again blasted Romney's hidden camera comments on the 47 percent of Americans he dubbed victims of government dependence.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives.

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what who are dependent upon government.

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign turned Romney's secretly recorded remarks into a devastating new ad, playing the GOP nominee's words under the faces of families and veterans.

ROMNEY: And they will vote for this president no matter what. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I will never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

ACOSTA: Romney, who has courted veterans two days in a row, is out to link national security to the nation's sluggish recovery. He's seizing on new economic data showing the Commerce Department revised down the country's GDP in the second quarter of the year from 1.7 percent to 1.3.

ROMNEY: This is not just one quarter. This has been going on now for years. China's growing much faster than we. Russia's growing faster than we. Our economy needs to be reinvigorated.

ACOSTA: But not all of the numbers paint a gloomy picture. The Labor Department announced it undercounted nearly 400,000 jobs in 2011, meaning that 4.4 million jobs have been created since the president's inauguration, slightly more than the number lost in that same period.

But the president said there's still measuring work to do.

OBAMA: We're not where we need to be. Not yet. We have got a lot more folks who have to get back to work. We have got a lot more work to do to make the middle class secure again. But the question is, whose plan is better for you?

ACOSTA: An Obama win in Republican-leaning Virginia could deal Romney a crushing blow. The president won here four years ago, becoming the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson.

But in this state, the military vote is not the only game in town. Football fans are everywhere. So it's no surprise a reporter asked Romney about the deal to end the dispute between the NFL and its referees, a question Romney appeared to fumble.

QUESTION: So what do you think about the NFL refs...


ROMNEY: I sure hope they do.


ACOSTA: And, of course, the professional refs are back in business. They start tonight in the game between Baltimore and Cleveland.

But moving back to Mitt Romney out on the campaign trail, he continues his push on national security issues with an event at a military college in Pennsylvania. That is tomorrow, after a fund- raiser in Philadelphia.

And this is a state, Wolf, where he is trailing the president by double digits, but it's a state the campaign thinks it could put into play. I talked to a senior Romney adviser who said just that earlier this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's see if the Romney campaign starts putting some money and buying commercials in Pennsylvania. That would back up their assessment, if in fact that's what they believe.

Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

Let's bring back Ben LaBolt from the Obama campaign. He is the national press secretary.

You saw the revision of the GDP, the economic numbers. Austan Goolsbee, a man you know, the former White House chief economist, he said back in January, "If GDP is growing less than 2 percent or if things go wrong in Europe, he is going to be facing trouble."

How worried are you, Ben, about the fact that the economic growth went down to a pretty poor, what, 1.3, percent?

LABOLT: Well, the president has been clear that there is more we can do to today to grow the economy at a quicker pace.

He has puts a jobs act on the table, had it on the table since last September that independent economists said would grow the economy by another percent and create an additional million jobs. Congressman Ryan has obstructed that plan. Governor Romney has opposed it.

Ultimately, I think, you have a choice between two plans here. The fact is that the president has got a plan -- you saw that two- minute spot -- talking about how we are going to create those good- paying, sustaining jobs for the middle class, create a million manufacturing jobs, reduce our dependents on foreign oil, get college tuition under control.

And Governor Romney still hasn't explained how those $5 trillion tax cuts targeted towards the wealthiest Americans would unleash job creation when they never have in the past. We passed tax cuts for the wealthiest in 2001 and 2003 and it led to a much slower pace of job creation than you have seen over the past few years.

BOLDUAN: But, Ben, you know after four years or moving on four years of his presidency, the president still today saying that it will take a few more years to fix the problem, especially in a place like Virginia and some other key battleground states.

That has to be a tough sell right now for people who are still unemployed and they need a job today. They don't need it in a few more years.

LABOLT: Well, and that's why we had an honest conversation throughout the campaign about where we were in 2008, the progress that we have made and the fact that we need to do more.

I mean, we're overcoming what was the worst recession since the Great Depression. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when the president came into office. That report you mentioned today made clear that more than 5.1 million private sector jobs have been created over the past few years.

Manufacturing jobs were in decline; 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created during this administration. Republicans have obstructed the actions that the president has put forward that could create more jobs today. In fact, he had a piece of legislation that Republicans in the Senate voted down last week that could have created jobs for 20,000 veterans across this country.

He has got plans to restore economic security for the middle class. That's what he talks about in the two-minute ad that you played earlier on the show. And the fact is, Mitt Romney's budget plan would both shrink the economy and could eliminate a million jobs. He wants to cut back in all the areas where we should be investing to create jobs, areas like education and research and development, infrastructure and manufacturing.

Countries around the world are racing to invest in these areas.

BLITZER: Ben LaBolt joining us from the Obama campaign in Chicago -- Ben, thanks very much for coming in.

LABOLT: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Election Day is here, at least for voters in Iowa, where early voting begins today. We're going there live. John King is standing by.


BLITZER: We're still 40 days away from the presidential election, but guess what? Millions of Americans are already casting their ballots and that includes residents of Iowa, where early voting began today.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in Iowa City for us.

John, what are you seeing on the ground there?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a time when almost everyone in this state concedes the president has a bit of momentum, it is a Thursday, not a Tuesday. It is September, as you noted, a full 40 days until November 6, but in Iowa, today's Election Day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank you ever so much for coming.


KING (voice-over): Mind made up and ballot cast 40 days early. This opening day line is in Iowa City, this one in Des Moines, Iowa's early voting part of an important and growing national trend -- 35 states now allow some form of early in-person voting, including seven of the nine presidential battlegrounds CNN ranks as tossups.

Here in Iowa, the early numbers and early turnout suggest a big Obama head-start, so far, a nearly 5-1 Democratic advantage statewide in requesting early mail-in ballots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was wondering, Mary, if the president will have your support this November? Awesome.

KING: When it comes to early in-person voting, there's added Obama campaign emphasis on getting younger voters in the bank early.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You may know that in-person early voting starts tomorrow in Iowa. So, basically, for us here at the campaign, every day is going to be Election Day.



KING: Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, led the state four years ago when 55 percent of its ballots were cast early.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire world is watching us.

KING: As President of the university Democrats, Katherine Valde's job is getting her fellow students to vote now.

(on camera): Fair to say, not the most reliable if you just wait for one day?

KATHERINE VALDE, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA DEMOCRATS: Yes. No, I mean, things coming up. You can have an exam. You can wait until Election Day and realize you don't know where your precinct is. With early voting, it just gives us 40 more chances to catch people.

KING (voice-over): Veteran Republican strategist Steve Grubbs concedes President Obama is ahead as September winds down and early voting opens.

STEVE GRUBBS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Anybody that knows football knows that fourth quarter's when most of the action happens. So October will be big. And if Romney has a good start to the month, we will be fine.

KING: But Grubbs warns against making too much of the early rush.

GRUBBS: In 2010, Democrats had an edge in early voting as well. I can't tell you exactly what the edge was, but it was a significant edge, and Republicans still swept the state. It's a difference of strategy. do you put your money in the last three weeks or do you put it in the early voting?

KING: The GOP sent its first early vote mailing just this week.

KAREN ZMOOS, ROMNEY VOLUNTEER: Can Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan count on your support this November election? Excellent. And would you be interested in voting early this election?

KING: Karen Zmoos is credited with making the Iowa GOP's one millionth voter call this cycle.

ZMOOS: I'm calling with a very brief three-question survey about issues that matter to Iowa.

KING: And she is doing her part now as Republicans play early voting catchup.

ZMOOS: We're working hard here. We're rolling up our sleeves and putting our boots on. And we're going at it. So, we still have time.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: And as Republicans play that game of catchup, Wolf, they say one thing that helps them is they now have parity when it comes to statewide voter registration.

They say the biggest help would be though if Mitt Romney turned in a very strong first debate performance next week. When you ask the Democrats what matters most about clearly voting, they say young people. They understand the energy, the enthusiasm is down a bit from the history-making year in 2008. They say if they can get those votes in the bank early, all the better.

BLITZER: If they can get the base to turn out for that early voting, the Republican base, the Democratic Party base.

But the undecided, the independents, I take it, correct me if I'm wrong, John, they usually wait until the bitter end. They want to see the three presidential debates, the one vice presidential debate and then they will make up their mind.

KING: Exactly right, because imagine if you were somebody who was swayed by a TV ad last night or something you saw on the news over the past couple of days. If you cast that ballot today and then there is a big moment in a debate and you change your mind, too late to get it back.

If you're undecided, even if you're a soft supporter, you're likely to wait. The people we're seeing in line for both parties -- and again you find a lot more Obama voters in line today on the first day -- but those are people who are hard-core, who are with their person no matter what.

So that's why the Republicans say in the end, as long as they get their base out, it doesn't matter whether they vote early or late. It is that undecided in the middle the debates will most influence, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: Those debates start next Wednesday.

Thanks very much, John King in Iowa for us.

Kate, those debates are going to powerfully important.

BOLDUAN: Powerful, very important, more so maybe than past election cycles.

BLITZER: I think so.

BOLDUAN: I think so, too.

All right, still coming up, terrorism in the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya. Top Pentagon officials are now speaking out with some of the bluntest language yet.


BLITZER: The man behind that anti-Muslim film that provoked so much anger and rage all across the Muslim and Arab world has now been arrested. He just appeared via videoconference in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us on the phone. He's got details.

Tell us viewers, Miguel, what happened.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula been ordered to appear before a federal judge, Judge Christina Snyder, for a preliminary bail hearing.

This means that he has been arrested. It's my understanding from sources that he will either pay the bail today or he will be taken into custody. All of this is ahead of a full revocation hearing, a probation revocation hearing.

Remember, he is on five years' probation for bank fraud and he has been talked to by his probation officers and there is clearly a feeling in the federal courts that he violated that probation order and now this is the first step toward that full revocation hearing.

We believe, Wolf, that that hearing has not actually occurred yesterday. Something extraordinary, though, the measures that the federal government is going through for this. Judge Snyder's courtroom has been locked down in downtown L.A., no reporters, no public allowed in, and all reporters are watching it in via -- in another building via television screen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An important development in this continuing story over that 14-minute trailer that was posted on YouTube.

Miguel, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Other news we're also following, we have just learned that the U.S. is removing more staff from its embassy in Tripoli, Libya.

A State Department official tells CNN this is a temporary further drawdown for security reasons. The source says it will be reviewed early next week with the goal of restoring staff as soon as conditions allow, this all coming as Pentagon officials and many are discussing -- still talking about investigating that attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.

BLITZER: And a dramatic warning from Israel's prime minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but would the red line he's calling for really stop Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon? Stand by.


BLITZER: A red line for Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought his campaign against Tehran's nuclear program to the United Nations General Assembly today. BOLDUAN: And if you missed it, at one point, Netanyahu used a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb to illustrate his point, and he literally drew that red line across it.

And his speech was aimed as much at the Obama administration as it was at the U.N. Listen here.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb.

The relevant question is at, what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb? The red line must be drawn on Iran's nuclear enrichment program. And I believe that, faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.

And this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program altogether.


BLITZER: All right, let's discuss this a little bit more right now with two guests.

Jim Zogby is the president of Arab American Institute. And Danielle Pletka is the vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

You heard what the prime minister, Jim, said. I followed up in the last hour with an interview with the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and he elaborated a little bit. Listen to this.


MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: We believe by drawing that red line, you won't be increasing the chances of military engagement, you'll be significantly lessening the chances of a military engagement because the Iranians have been presented with red lines in the past in the Straits of Hormuz and they've backed down. They know the Iranians can see the color red, and they're loathe to cross those type of lines.


BLITZER: All right, Jim, is he right?

JAMES ZOGBY, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: I think that the president handled it very well in this speech. It was tempered; it was thoughtful, but it was also very firm. And I'd go with the way that the president approached it, rather than what Netanyahu is pressing the president to do.

BLITZER: What's the difference that you see between the president's position on Iran and a nuclear bomb versus the prime minister's position?

ZOGBY: Thoughtful versus bombastic. That's the difference. You don't win points by being pedantic and bombastic. You win points and you win support for the position you want to win by being thoughtful, clear and, at the same time, very direct.

BOLDUAN: What do you make, Danielle, of Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech today?

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I thought he was pretty clear. I actually didn't think he was bombastic. I think a lot of people expected him to be much sharper, much tougher on the Iranians and much tougher, frankly, on the United States.

BLITZER: How much tougher could he be, though?

PLETKA: Again, he really tempered every criticism of the United States. You know, there's -- we've heard a lot coming out of Jerusalem about the Obama administration's unwillingness to set red lines. Today, there was none of that throwing down the gauntlet to Washington. He really focused everything on the Iranians, and one of those things, what I was surprised by, was how much applause he got.

BOLDUAN: Really? Well, let me ask you. If there would be a President Romney in the White House, what would be different in terms of U.S. position towards Iran. Do you anticipate, do you think we would see a U.S./Israeli strike on Iran next year then?

PLETKA: I'm not an adviser to Governor Romney and he has not confided his plans about Iran to me, if he has any.

What I think that he's tried to underscore is the question of credibility. Right now what we have is a president of the United States who has said, again, and again, and again, "I will not tolerate, this is unacceptable." But really, on the ground, all we've seen is an intensification of sanctions. But sanctions are only a tool. They need to achieve something.

And the truth is over the last three years. Iran has made more progress towards a nuclear weapon than it has in the previous ten years. So that's really the problem that we face, and what Romney is trying to say, I think, is that the Iranians will take him more seriously and also that he would back Israel.

BLITZER: Jim, do you see a major difference between Romney and President Obama?

ZOGBY: Absolutely. The difference is, is that President Obama is winning friends and allies and trying very hard to build international coalitions based on respect. All that was squandered in the eight years that preceded his administration, and the slow, steady process of regaining trust has been a difficult one.

Look, he didn't get a magic wand when he was elected. He got the shovel that George Bush was using to dig deep holes, and he's trying to get out of that hole. The prerequisite for any international action, as, for example, we want to see on Syria, can only come about if you have allies willing to back you up. We had that with Libya. We don't have that with Syria. Right now, it's very dangerous with Iran. We do not want to see a unilateral action by anyone with Iran, but international pressure is mounting, sanctions are working. President Obama saying the red line is no bomb and, frankly, I believe he means it.

BLITZER: Do you want to respond?

PLETKA: I do. You know, Jim paints a very nice picture. You know, shovels and all the rest of it, but you're really a numbers guy and I think the numbers speak for themselves. The truth is that we're even less popular in the Middle East than we were on to the Bush administration. Everything that President Obama did...


ZOGBY: Those are my numbers and that's not exactly a fair case. We're at the same level and the reason why is because too many of the things...

PLETKA: Oh, it's all George Bush's fault. Come on, that's getting a little...

ZOGBY: President Obama did not deliver, but one of the reasons he wasn't able to deliver on many of the things was the obstructionism he faced here at home.

PLETKA: Come on. You have never seen...

ZOGBY: The slam down that he got by Congress last year was embarrassing to the United States of America and took a heavy toll.

PLETKA: You've never seen an administration that has kowtowed more and tried more in the Arab and the Muslim world to gain friends and influence people, and the truth is that it's policy that matters. It's not sucking up that matters.

ZOGBY: If you look at the way Libya and Egypt has responded to these crises, for example. You saw something that did not happen in the past, and that is...

PLETKA: You mean no condemnation of the violence from the president?

ZOGBY: ... a Libyan government -- Oh, my God. He condemned it, and in fact...

PLETKA: He condemned it 48 hours later.

BLITZER: I want to just interrupt for a minute, because you have a new poll that's out that your organization released, the Zogby poll. Your brother, John Zogby, is the pollster. How important is the U.S. outreach to the Arab and Muslim world to your vote. This is among likely Arab American voters throughout the United States. Among Democrats, 86 percent very or somewhat important. Among Republicans, 85 percent. So there's a consistent added to that it's really important to reach out to the Arab and Muslim worlds.

ZOGBY: And my community is a bridge to that world and needs to be taken seriously. The Arab vote matters and, frankly, what they're saying is they favor President Obama still. But there's a bit of a gap...

BLITZER: Overwhelmingly?

ZOGBY: Overwhelming, almost two to one. But there's a gap between the vote that he got in 2008 and now. And part of that's based on some disappointment, but he has time to grow it between now and November.

BOLDUAN: I mean, 85 percent of Republicans say outreach is important to them. I mean, do you think, when we're looking at this presidential race, do you think Mitt Romney has done that? Has done enough outreach, especially when you look at his reaction right after the Libyan attacks and the protests in the Middle East?

PLETKA: Outreach to who?

BLITZER: To the Arab world.

PLETKA: Outreach to the terrorists that committed the attack in Libya, or outreach to the Middle East?

BLITZER: ... Reach out to terrorists. You know, they want to fight the terrorists, but they want to -- people do want to reach out to the Middle East.

PLETKA: I think that any president of the United States, whether it's going to be Obama or Romney, is going to have to reach out to the Arab world.

The problem is, in the Arab world the thing they most fear right now is a growing and a threatening Iran. That's what we hear in the Gulf. That's what you hear in the Labotte (ph). That's what you hear from everybody. They're not afraid about having their hand held. They're afraid about whether America is going to have their back.

And privately, they are telling everybody that that's their biggest concern. But America is retreating, and we hear all this about a pivot to Asia. And they're really worried we're not serious about their problems any more.

BLITZER: I want to move on, but do you want to say anything about that?

ZOGBY: Yes. The pivot to Asia means that America is paying attention to Asia. It ought to, but also pay attention to Central and South America. Frankly, we've waited for hemispheric approach to policy we haven't had it. But is American government giving up on the Middle East? No. And it cannot afford to. No. 1, because the economic ties that we have, No. 2 because we're so deeply invested in terms of personnel, in terms of other interests and allies that we have.

I think that the president has been very clear, not only about Iran, but clear about the need to establish relationships with these emerging democracies and to provide them with the assistance they need to move forward. He said we didn't start this Arab Spring. We can't direct this Arab Spring, but we have to be supportive when we can. It's been difficult...

PLETKA: Not in Syria, of course.

ZOGBY: Well, look, if we took the approach that president -- a President Romney or President McCain would have taken to Syria, we would be now today engaged in -- with ground troops in Syria, creating a humanitarian...

PLETKA: You're a pretty aggressor commander in chief for these guys. I don't think either of them has suggested that.

ZOGBY: They called for a humanitarian commander. What does that mean? It means you occupy Syrian territory. Is the world ready for that?

PLETKA: I don't think that's what that means.

ZOGBY: Well, you tell me how you establish the humanitarian corridor without taking territory.

PLETKA: All I can tell you is that mouthing...

ZOGBY: Fighting the war is the American people -- are the American people ready for that kind of approach? The answer is no.

PLETKA: I can't talk over you quite that much, but I don't think ignoring the death of 30,000 people is the right approach.

ZOGBY: No one is ignoring the death of 30,000 people. The regime is horrific, and the president has spoken about that. But the question is, his hands are tied. He cannot act unilaterally. And he can't...

BLITZER; We've got to wrap it up. I will point it out in my interviews with both Mitt Romney and John McCain, they specifically said they are not supporting U.S. ground forces going in. I think they have something more along the line like in air strikes or whatever, or a no-fly zone, which is what they did in Libya.

ZOGBY: U.S. military leadership has been very clear about the fact that, if you establish a no-fly zone, you ultimately have to take out air defense systems which, in Syria, are much more advanced than they were in Libya.

BLITZER: That is true. ZOGBY: This is not a cake walk, as we were told by many Republicans, as we went into Iraq.

PLETKA: Not everything about is about George Bush. We really do need to take our foreign policy seriously now...

ZOGBY: And serious, and we need to be thoughtful...

PLETKA: ... and act like grown-ups who aren't -- you know, that's important.

BLITZER: Can we continue this conversation in the other room?

PLETKA: We're going to take it outside.

BLITZER: No, we'll continue it here in THE SITUATION ROOM but we have a lot more to discuss in the days and weeks to come. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much for coming in.

ZOGBY: The difference between these two guys is very serious, and I would like to continue the conversation.

BLITZER: We definitely will. Foreign policy is critically important, and we report on it a lot.


BLITZER: All right. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's continue our conversation with Jim Zogby, the president of the American Arab Institute, and Danielle Pletka, the vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Jim, you were in Charlotte at the Democratic convention. I was there, the Los Angeles mayor, Villaraigosa. Remember when he declared that they were amending the platform to declare Jerusalem Israel's capital. And I want to play the clip because, at the end, there's an intriguing moment.


MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: All those delegates in favor say aye. All those delegates opposed say no. In the opinion of the chair two-thirds have voted in the affirmative. The motion is adopted. And the platform has been amended as shown on the screen.


BLITZER: Arab Americans were standing there. You were probably not too far away, but they were obviously pretty upset. What do you think of that?

ZOGBY: And rightly so. It was not the convention's finest hour. In fact, cast a poll for -- for a couple of days on the proceedings. We should have been talking the next day about Bill Clinton's incredible speech. Instead I was talking to reporters about this fiasco.

And, frankly, it was -- it shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened the way it happened. The language that got added at the end of the day was inconsequential. I mean, the fact is, is that it said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It's going to be the capital of Israel. But it's also going to be the capital of a Palestinian state if there's got to be peace. It said nothing about that, and it said that it has to be negotiated between the parties. We agree with that.

So all of that -- all of that embarrassment in order to prove a point that nobody needed to have proved, I think was -- was an embarrassment and was wrong.

BOLDUAN: Danielle, another issue that took center stage today at the United Nations with both Abbas and Netanyahu speaking today was the Middle East peace process. Listen to...

BLITZER: Or lack thereof.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, or lack thereof. Listen to that -- get into that conversation, listen to the comments that I'm sure you are aware of, but listen to these comments that Mitt Romney made at that fund-raiser back in May. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the -- and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.


BOLDUAN: The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish. I mean, what do you make of those remarks? Could -- do these hurt him? I mean, shouldn't he be more optimistic in running for president than he can kick -- kick start this, again?

PLETKA: You know, the peace process is one of those things that constantly comes up. Everybody recommits themselves to it. Everybody brings new vigor to it, and everybody ends up in the same place. And we've seen this with president after president, Republicans and Democrats, Palestinians, Israelis, it doesn't matter what party anybody comes from. At the end of the day, unfortunately, what Mitt Romney said has been the reality.

Does that mean that has to be the future? I don't think it has to be the future, but right now what you see is a Palestinian group, a Palestinian territory that isn't doing any better than it has been.

BLITZER: When he says that Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. If you look at the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister, Salam Fayyad. They've clearly stated they would like to establish peace as a two-state solution with Israel. That's different than Hamas and Gaza.

PLETKA: Yes, of course. But seeing so doesn't make it so. And that's the real problem. You know, they both complain. Both sides complain. The Palestinians complain, the Israelis complain. They're mirror images in many ways, because they are complaining that the other side isn't really willing to do what it takes. And at the end of the day, what we've seen up to now, is that's the reality. They haven't been willing to do what it takes. It's not all on one side.

ZOGBY: They're mirror images.

BOLDUAN: Should President Obama have been doing more, been more aggressive in trying to push for this?

ZOGBY: I think he tried, but I think that what he was unable to do was to deal with the problems in Congress. The slap down that he got from his own Congress when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu and gave him 29 standing ovations in order, as he rebuked their own president, was humiliating.

And across the Middle East, it actually was devastating to people. They said, is this how your Congress treats your own president?

Let me just say, they are mirror images. One is the occupier and the other is the occupied. And when we've polled...

PLETKA: I don't think that's quite accurate. Come on.

ZOGBY: Well, actually, if you say the Palestinians aren't occupied, I don't know what you'd call it.

PLETKA: I think that the Palestinians have had territory for themselves. They've mismanaged it.

ZOGBY: Let me make the point. When we polled in 2006...

BLITZER: One at a time.

ZOGBY: When we polled in 2006 before that election we asked the question, if peace were possible, who would you vote for? Seventy- three percent of those who voted for Hamas who said they were Hamas voters said that they would have voted for Fatah if they thought peace were possible. They didn't think it was possible.

The point is that if you give people the hope that peace will be there and you actually move in that direction, the Palestinian constituency will come along. And I believe the Israeli constituency will come along, too. Right now, you have one leader unwilling to make peace.

PLETKA: And another unwilling to make peace.

ZOGBY: And that's the problem.

PLETKA: You can't have a one-sided version of history, and you can't have a one-sided version of policy. It just doesn't work. The reality is we haven't got a peace. Next president is going to have to dedicate himself to trying to, but clearly the pathway that we've been down so many times hasn't led to peace.

ZOGBY: But the way to start that pathway is not by...

PLETKA: It's not a political winner. That's absolutely true. That's why the president isn't talking about it in the race.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens after the election. My own sense is they've got to try. It's too important. There's a peace group among the Israelis, a peace group among the Palestinians. They've got to find a way. They just need some help from the outside.

My personal recommendation is, whoever is the next president of the United States, they invite Bill Clinton to be the special Middle East peace negotiator. He deals with Haiti. He'll continue dealing with that. He's got credibility and he knows this issue.

ZOGBY: Took the words out of my mouth. I went with Clinton in '98 to Gaza and Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I saw him talk over the heads of both leaderships and win people to his side. His problem was that he pushed too late.

PLETKA: He did, but he gave everything he could at the end of his presidency, and look where we are.

BLITZER: Never too late. Peace is too important.

ZOGBY: And the reason why it didn't work was that it was the end of his presidency.

BLITZER: Whatever the history is...

PLETKA: Let's look forward.

BLITZER: ... let's get Bill Clinton involved. Let's get him involved in this peace process after this election.

PLETKA: He is the solution to every Democrat's problem.

BLITZER: Well, maybe Republicans would be smart to do it.

All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

BOLDUAN: Thank you both.

BLITZER: A political reporter trying to get answers about a federal investigation gets doused with water. You're going to find out why.


BLITZER: Top U.S. officials still seem to be getting on the same page about whether or not the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, was it not a terrorist attack. What's going on? Erin Burnett is standing by. I know you and your team, Erin, have been investigating. What is the very latest on this?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you know, over the past few days, it's gotten more and more confusing. And from our reporting here at CNN, it does seem to boil down to what appears to be a split between the intelligence community in the United States, including the defense department, and the White House and the State Department on the other side. In terms of the word, Wolf, whether -- whether it was a terrorist attack and also who was responsible.

Obviously, al Qaeda now is different than al Qaeda was a few years ago, but groups linked to al Qaeda, inspired by al Qaeda, are the groups that our intelligence officials in this country are saying was responsible, and they're saying the government knew within 24 hours. So why didn't we know?

We're going to be joined by a top senator who has put out a letter saying he wants all the information, all the cables sent from Ambassador Stevens. He wants all of that provided. Senator Corker is going to be our guest exclusively tonight. He called this Benghazi- gate.

And also, Wolf, Nancy Pelosi says she can win the House. She keeps saying it, so we found out whether the claim adds up.

That's coming up top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to hear. They need 25 seats. A gain of 25 seats for her to become the speaker of the House once again. I'm anxiously looking for it, Kate -- Kate -- Erin Burnett.

BURNETT: Kate's right there.


BURNETT: See you guys.

BLITZER: Erin, thank you very much. Thank you.

When we come back, what one reporter did that got him a good on- the-job soaking.


BOLDUAN: The art world is buzzing over claims that this painting -- we will show you right here -- is a predecessor of the world's most famous portrait, Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." It appears to show his famous subject at a younger age than the portrait that hangs in the Louvre. Experts are trying to authenticate the work. If it really is by Da Vinci, it would be worth more than $300 million. You can be the judge, but I can see a book or a movie being made right now.

BLITZER: Sisters maybe. Well, all a Miami TV reporter wanted to do was ask a couple of questions. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Please don't water the reporter.

MICHAEL PUTNEY, WPLG SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm sorry to bother you, I'm Michael...

MOOS: WPLG's senior political reporter was trying to get a comment from a former candidate reportedly under investigation for campaign improprieties when the man's wife doused Michael Putney. The Miami TV veteran responded the way any red-blooded reporter would.

PUTNEY: I hope you were rolling.


MOOS: And then went on to deliver his stand-up.

PUTNEY: We are all wet.

MOOS (on camera): Maybe the reporter should have approached the door wearing goggles, because the writing was on the wall.

(voice-over) "No comment," the sign on the door read, directing questions to an attorney. "Trespassers will be wet!! You have been warned."

PUTNEY: Thankfully, that was cool tap water. It was kind of refreshing.

MOOS: Sure beats the steaming hot water a bikini barista thrown at a flasher who kept driving through the java girl's drive-through. Water landed...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On his face and his chest, and he said, "Oh, yes!"

MOOS: Politicians at a Romanian talk show seemed less titillated when water flew after they called each other a bidet (ph).

Convicted murderer Joran Van Der Sloot once threw wine on a crime reporter.

Tom Cruise got squirted by British TV pranksters using a fake mike.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: What a jerk.

MOOS (on camera): Now, in the press are pests, but that's not reason to squirt us with bug spray.

(voice-over) At least the guy leaving a Connecticut courtroom shook the cam...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it. I got it.

MOOS: ... before he let a WTIC cameraman have it with hornet and wasp spray.

But what really stings isn't getting doused with water...


MOOS: ... as this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) TV crew was. It's getting wacked with the empty bottle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not appropriate.


MOOS: That's no way to recycle.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

MOOS: ... CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Tough crowd. It's sort of appropriate that you and I and a lot of our journalistic colleagues in Washington tonight are going to a special dinner, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press.

BOLDUAN: Freedom of the press.

BLITZER: An excellent organization. I'm on the board.

BOLDUAN: We may get water thrown on us, but at least it's still free.