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U.S. Military Advisers Heading to Iraq; Can U.S. Action in Iraq Turn the Tide?; 2016 Hopefuls Run into Roadblocks; World Cup Showdown: USA Versus Portugal

Aired June 20, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Right now, up to 300 U.S. military advisers are preparing to deploy to Iraq. Some arriving as early as tomorrow. Their mission, to help the Iraqi military gather critical intelligence on Islamic militants who are taking over towns in Northern Iraq and moving closer and closer to the capital of Baghdad.

Joining us here I Washington, Robin Wright, the Middle East analyst for the Woodrow Wilson Center. Robin, thanks very much for joining us. The strategy that the president has, no combat troops in Iraq, but he's sending 300 special operations forces, obviously, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Beret, these are men and women who are capable of engaging in combat. What is going on here?

ROBIN WRIGHT, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: The real mission is to get on the ground and help make sure that the Iraqi military remains cohesive.

BLITZER: Which it hasn't been.

WRIGHT: Right, particularly as ISIS moves on the capital, that that's no fleeing these forces in a way that makes Baghdad vulnerable. I think to some degree they're baby-sitters, making sure these guys do what they're supposed to do.

BLITZER: With all due respect to these 300 advisers, is that really going to make much of a difference? The Iraqi military is a huge military, hundreds of thousands of troops. In the first sign of trouble in Erbil, other places, what happens?

WRIGHT: Well, I think the really goal is to make sure there's enough time created. Everyone knows there's no military solution to this crisis. That is has to begin with a new government. It has to begin with not just replacing the prime minister but also creating a cabinet that can then reflect the population.

And then more fundamentally coming up with a power sharing formula that makes the Sunni minority, the Kurds, feel that they're invested enough in Iraq to preserve the territorial integrity to protect these orders. Because otherwise, Iraq falls apart. The 300 and potentially maybe a bit more somewhere down the road are really trying to create a window for politics to play out. BLITZER: All right, so Nuri Al-Maliki, let's assume he goes who replaces him? Is there someone who can unite the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds? Is there a Nelson Mandela in Iraq?

WRIGHT: No, there are three names as potential. One is well known to us, Ahmed Chalabi, who initially convinced the United States to get involved in Iraq. Another one is Abdul Abel Mehdi, one of the most popular. And then the former Minister Jabar, known for some of the tougher periods against dissidents in Iraq and might not be as popular.

One of the great challenges is does Iraq bring back the supporters of the Baath party, who were Saddam supporters, now siding with is? Do you bring in tribal leaders, who were at one point, the key --

BLITZER: Sunni tribal leaders.

WRIGHT: Sunni tribal leaders who were the key to the awakening in 2006 and 2007 would pushed back al Qaeda in an earlier --

BLITZER: Because they were paid off by the United States government --

WRIGHT: They were paid off, armed, aided by the United States.

BLITZER: Petraeus was spending millions and millions of dollars every day just paying off these guys.

WRIGHT: And the Iraqi government was supposed to incorporate them either give them jobs --

BLITZER: They stopped paying them off.

WRIGHT: -- bring them into the military, stopped paying them off, stopped giving them jobs, and they turned against the government.

BLITZER: An excellent article you wrote in the "New Yorker" magazine. The modern Iraqi state may not hold. Neighboring Syria is already shattered. The Middle East map defined by European powers a century ago may be redrawn either defacto or globally, the jihadist threat has never been greater. All of those artificial states created after World War I, we're going to see a redivision as we saw, for example, in Yugoslavia, when that was broken up into six or seven independent states?

WRIGHT: We certainly face that possibility. It's not yet a probability, but it's one of the long-term consequences of both the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. You're seeing the border, as you know, wellbeing erased, with ISIS having a force on both sides. And the possible creation a kind of Sunni-Stan that brings together both of those countries. But we're not there yet. That's why the political solution is the only way to prevent both countries from falling apart.

BLITZER: Back in 2006, Joe Biden as a U.S. senator, he was already speculating seriously about breaking up Iraq into three autonomous divisions, regions, if you will. Robin, thanks for coming in. WRIGHT: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, protests erupt in the west bank today. I'll show you what happened to a CNN reporter when he was targeted by security forces. Stand by.


BLITZER: Protests erupting in the west bank today. I want to show you what happened when our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman tried to cover the protest. Palestinian security forces stepped in. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good, we're good, we're good. No, no, no, he's going to take your camera now. Go, go, go, go. He's not going --


BLITZER: Ben's joining us now from Jerusalem. Ben, I understand this was a demonstration organized by supporters of Hamas. Tell us a little bit more about what happened. The background and most importantly, at least right now, are you OK, our crews OK? Everybody's OK?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everybody's fine. A couple bruises but that's about it. What happened was we went to cover this demonstration and the situation is already very tense on the west bank with the Israeli operations, search operations and crack down on Hamas in the aftermath of the kidnapping of those three young Israeli teenagers.

When we went, it was clear there's a large security presence from the Palestinian Authority. They were not happy to have press, particularly foreign press, covering this event. And initially, we were not hassled or anything, but at a center point, I heard one of the plainclothes policemen there say in Arabic, grab that camera, grab that cameraman.

That's when I tried to shoo our guys out of the area, but it was too late. They grabbed the camera, eventually broke it essentially in half. We're waiting to see if they're going to apologize, but I'm not holding my breath -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but -- and Ben, as a lot of our viewers know, you're fluent in Arabic so you understand what they're saying. You had a chance to speak with the mother of one of those three teenage boys, who's a U.S./Israeli, dual national, who was kidnapped eight days ago. How did that conversation go?

WEDEMAN: She was very sort of restrained, composed under the circumstances. But she told us she's not getting much sleep. She's not able to eat. She's trying to keep the family calm and just sort of hoping for the best. She told us that they are working on the assumption that her son, 16-year-old Naftali, is still alive and the other three.

And I also asked her if she could send a message to the people holding her son, what would she say? This is what she said.

BLITZER: We're going to have to cue that up, Ben. Unfortunately, we're not hearing what she said. We'll fix it and we'll play the statement that she just made. But give us a paraphrase. What was her message?

WEDEMAN: Her message is that everyone, anyone who's got children should understand the need to release them, to let them go. Her son is only 16 years old. And he was simply coming home from school when that happened. Really, she just made sort of an appeal to the humanity of everyone involved who could possibly help to release her son and the other two teenagers.

BLITZER: The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, he has condemned this kidnapping. Hamas has not necessarily condemned it, is that right?

WEDEMAN: Hamas has denied any involvement in the kidnapping. It did praise the kidnapping, saying it's a useful tool to win the release of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who are in Israeli jails. We saw it in 2011, it was a deal between Hamas and Israel that led to the release of Gilad Shalit, that Israeli soldier who in June 2006 was captured by a Hamas and held in Gaza in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

So this business of kidnapping is seen as a very useful tool for the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, to win release of prisoners, but certainly it's something that really muddies the waters in this area, and raises tensions. Tensions are really -- I haven't seen them quite this high in a long time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm worried about what's going on myself, especially the potential for another Israeli conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. That could escalate dramatically. We're watching it closely. We'll stay in close touch with you. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us. I'm glad you and our crew are OK.

After the blunders, comes the backtracking, what has 2016 presidential hopefuls stepping up to say "I'm sorry"?


BLITZER: As the 2016 presidential field starts to form, several hopefuls are running into sort of roadblocks right now. Newly unsealed court documents, county prosecutors accused Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker of conducting a, quote, "criminal scheme" to raise money in order to fight off a 2012 recall effort. Walker insists he did nothing wrong.


GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: The facts of the case are pretty clear. They're not something that I or any Republican allies are talking about. They're two objective judges. Third parties removed from the executive, legislative branch. Both of them have looked at this information. Both have said there's not a case here and, in fact, have taken it so far as to tell the prosecutors to stop, stop their case going forward.


BLITZER: CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston is joining us from the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference here in Washington under way right now. Mark, so how will this controversy around Scott Walker's fundraising impact his re-election campaign for governor, possibly a 2016 presidential run?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, Wolf, I got to tell you, I spoke to one of Walker's top aides just a few hours ago, and they were caught by surprise that this information was released yesterday. But they continue to rely upon what two judges said, the federal judge and the state judge who decided not to pursue these charges.

You have to ask yourself, well, while Democrats are going to try to make a lot of this, they are going to point to that deadline and they think it will be devastating to him. You have to wonder, though, if this will actually help Scott Walker.

Will this rally the base more behind him as he heads into November? He does have a tough re-election. If he does win, wolf, there is a lot of talk about him running for president in 2016.

BLITZER: If he does win. All right, another presidential hopeful, the former Democratic governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer, he made rather inappropriate comments about the outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Schweitzer told the "National Journal," I'm quoting him now, "if you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV and saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say my gaydar is 60 percent to 70 percent."

So yesterday Schweitzer apologized. Posting on Facebook a statement, I'll read it. "I recently made a number of stupid and insensitive remarks to a reporter from the "National Journal." I am deeply sorry and sincerely apologize for my carelessness and disregard." Did his comments cause Schweitzer any hope of rallying enough support to become a viable presidential candidate?

PRESTON: Well, you know, Wolf, at this point, we're all looking towards Hillary Clinton to run for and easily win the Democratic nomination. There doesn't seem to be another person that's out there that can take her on in the Democratic Party. Schweitzer is something willing to be critical of Hillary Clinton, willing to be critical of people in his own party. That's why we're looking toward him as something who's possibly going to challenge.

The fact of the matter is that Brian Schweitzer wouldn't have been a credible candidate against Hillary Clinton because there is no credible candidate, at least that we can see at this time that can challenge her heading into 2016 for that nomination. BLITZER: Another potential Republican presidential candidate, the Texas Governor Rick Perry, he's also sort of saying he's sorry. He's suggesting he, quote, "stepped in it." Tell us what he said and what he's now saying.

PRESTON: Well, Wolf, this was Rick Perry, the Texas governor, who said in his speech last week, he compared alcoholism to homosexuality. He said if he had the gene, he would be so inclined not to drink. But he viewed homosexuality the same way. Meaning you shouldn't act upon that. It took him a while, though, to actually -- and I can't say he apologized, because he didn't apologize.

For him to address it head on, he did it at a breakfast with reporters. He said he stepped in it. He said you need to be tolerant of everybody and that everybody needs to get a job. I have to say, though, when he had the opportunity to say it on CNN just the other night, he did not. So it did take him a while to apologize. I don't think this will hurt him, though, if he does decide to seek the Republican nomination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It might not hurt him to get the Republican nomination. But in a general election, if he were to get the nomination, it could hurt him big time.

PRESTON: Yes. No question. Certainly at this time when there appears to be more of an acceptance right now of same-sex marriage, we're seeing that across both parties, and certainly with the younger voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mark, thanks very much. Mark Preston joining us. Excitement is building all over the country right now for a big World Cup soccer battle this weekend. It's Team USA versus Portugal. We're going to tell you what challenges both teams are facing.



SONDRA RICHTER: For some people it was like a UFO landed. They're like, what the hell is this? Yes. It's a solar power thing from M.I.T. You can charge your phone here. We call it Benchy.

I'm Sondra, live in the city of Boston. We're here at the MIT Media Lab. We made the future for every park bench. A connected solar powered charger. Cities of the future need to be designed around the human being, around us. We're seeing more and more efforts for sittable cities. So Benchy is a first step into smart urban furniture, which connects us to the city.

We hacked a lot of things together that normally don't make sense. We took six solar panels, three lithium ion batteries, a waterproof USB plug, and then we have battery sensing. So what does that mean? We actually notice when and how many people are charging off of solar energy. And we can communicate that to the Cloud. So the bench right now is actually connected to the internet.


BLITZER: World Cup fever is heating up all across the United States. Lara Baldessara is joining us from Rio De Janeiro right now to tell us how Team USA preparing for the big game against Portugal. What are you hearing, Lara?

LARA BALDESSARA, CNN ANCHOR, CNN'S WORLD SPORTS: Wolf, the U.S. Team, they have left their base in Sao Paulo just moments ago. That gives them a good day and a half in this tropical or amazon rain forest city. It allows their bodies to get climatized. It's really going to be a very strenuous match for both teams involved. It should be very interesting on Sunday.

BLITZER: And so the excitement -- I take it a lot of Americans are there for the game. I remember four years ago I went to South Africa for the World Cup, the USA/Ghana game. The USA lost that time. They beat Ghana this time. A lot of Americans on hand?

BALDESSARA: Yes. There certainly are. The first game that we were at was predominantly American fans in this crowd. They really helped to spur on this team, which all of the players really talked about. It was really special. You saw basically everyone in red, white and blue. We're expecting the exact same thing.

That's despite the fact it's in the amazon rain forest. It's also a really big game for the USA. If the USA beats Portugal, that's the game they're playing on Sunday, and Germany has beaten Ghana, that means the USA is through. So it's huge, Wolf. It's huge.

BLITZER: Huge. We're going to be watching. Lara, thanks very, very much. World Cup fever. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.