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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Administration Sends Big Guns To Capitol Hill To Back Up Call For Troop Increase In Iraq; Airstrikes In Somalia Miss Main Target; Gordon Smith Interview; President Bush's Iraq Plan Has Ambitious Central Idea; Tony Snow Interview; Al Qaeda Threat Appears To Be Growing; David Beckham To Join Los Angeles Galaxy

Aired January 11, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a fierce political fight over the president's call for a troop increase. Some Democrats vow to stop it.

Will Republican rebels help them?

I'll speak with one of them, GOP Senator Gordon Smith, and with the president's point man, the White House press secretary, Tony Snow.

As the top brass makes a pitch for the president's plan, can the new strategy work?

We'll take you to the front lines where the troops will tell you what they think.

And how secure is the homeland?

The latest intelligence assessment shows al Qaeda getting stronger.

Could Middle Eastern militants also target the U.S. for terror?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Bush administration sent its big guns to Capitol Hill today to back up the president's call for a troop increase in Iraq. But they were answering a summons from a Senate panel controlled by Democrats, and they found that Republicans also have very serious reservations about the president's plan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised that the administration won't stick to it if the Iraqis don't hold up their end of the bargain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Among Americans and Iraqis, there is no confusion over one basic fact -- it is the Iraqis who are responsible for what kind of country Iraq will be. It is they who must decide whether Iraq will be characterized by national unity or sectarian conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The battle lines are blurred in this fight over the Iraq strategy. Even some Republicans are warning that U.S. troops are being sent into the middle of a civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NB), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: While there are murmurs of rebellion in the Republican ranks, Democrats are demanding action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Now Congress must use its main power, the power of the purse, to put an end to our involvement in this disastrous war. And I am not talking here only about the surge or escalation. It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops of out Iraq.

BLITZER: The Senate's top Republican, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, is vowing to block any resolution opposing the president's troop increase by filibuster, if necessary.

But some Democrats say they may be able to count on support from among a dozen Republicans who've spoken out against the troop boost.

There are many, many questions about the new U.S. strategy in Iraq, but they all boil down to one -- will it work?

Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, crucial to that question is the fact that this plan hinges on fresh assurances from Iraq's government, particularly Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, that they'll bring Iraq's best and most capable and most reliable troops to the capital and then give them a free hand to go after anyone who is responsible for violence, including possibly the Islamic cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The new Iraq strategy is a last ditch effort to secure Baghdad by correcting the two biggest failings of the old strategy -- too few troops in the Iraqi capital, both U.S. and Iraqi, and too much political interference that has allowed Shia extremists to act with impunity. ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The Iraqi military will be in the lead in these operations. Another is that no parts of this city will be immune, that there will be no more calls from government offices to Iraqi or U.S. forces who have detained someone who is politically connected demanding that they be released.

MCINTYRE: The strategy calls for putting an Iraqi commander in charge of Baghdad and dividing the city into nine sectors. Each would have an Iraqi brigade in the lead, several thousand troops, backed by the U.S. brigade, several hundred troops.

The Iraqi Army and police would clear neighborhoods with U.S. help, but unlike the last plan, U.S. troops would stay and help keep the peace.

While some American troops are already moving into Baghdad, the Pentagon stresses the full deployment of more than 17,000 U.S. soldiers will be gradual, so there is time to determine if the Iraqis are really doing their part.

GATES: I think within a couple of months or so, whether this strategy is, in fact, beginning to bear fruit, it's going to take a while.

MCINTYRE: And it won't be hard to tell. If violence drops, the plan is working.

Gates says the U.S. will be quick to adjust if the strategy fails. But no one in the administration is willing to say what would be next.

RICE: Senator, I do think you go to Plan B. You work with Plan A.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And the Pentagon says that this plan was devised by U.S. military commanders, including General George Casey and General John Abizaid, who, in the past, opposed sending more troops to Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you for that.

U.S. troops fought a bloody battle in the heart of Baghdad this week. Many say they welcome a strategy change, but they're cautious about what it might mean for troops on the ground.

CNN's Arwa Damon is embedded with the U.S. Army in the Iraqi capital -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, most of the soldiers that we spoke to did not hear the president's speech, but they do now know that there will be more troops coming to Baghdad. Spending time with them over the last few days, their reaction before and after the speech is pretty much the same.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to put (INAUDIBLE) of our side. We've got to put eyes out on the other side.

DAMON: During a brief pause in the battle for Haifa Street in central Baghdad, this young Sergeant was willing to talk about what the president's plan would mean to increase U.S. troops here.

SERGEANT JASON DOOLEY, U.S. ARMY: I think it's a double-edged sword.

DAMON: (INAUDIBLE)?

DOOLEY: In one way, bringing more troops could show a lot more force. It could either incite insurgents or maybe they need to back off. You never really know because they do what they want to do and that's what's so hard about fighting here.

DAMON: Hard on these men, the stateside debate about the war they are fighting, at times feeling that they are the pawns of politics.

STAFF SERGEANT ROY STARBECK, U.S. ARMY: I just saw a lot more of the responses to the presidential address than I actually saw of the presidential address. And it just -- it's really aggravating just listening to all these people that have never been over here and half of them really don't even know what's going on over here, just either not supporting the war because they don't like the president or not supporting the war just because they're Democrats or supporting the war just because they're Republicans. And none of them are taking the time and energy to, you know, find out what's actually going on over here.

DAMON: And what is going on over here is complex. Factions of hard core extremists, nationalist fighters and militias, combined with a weak government and struggling Iraqi security forces.

The result is ugly. A change in tactics, most U.S. soldiers agree, is needed.

SERGEANT MICHAEL CASPER, U.S. ARMY: We're trying out something new, another strategy. I mean if it works, it works. If not, we'll just have to figure something -- something else out.

DAMON: From their experiences fighting in Baghdad, the men say extra troops will best be used to help train the Iraqi forces. Even in areas that have already been handed over to Iraqi control, the Americans find themselves still coaching and mentoring the Iraqis, at times down to the very last detail. Here, trying to get Iraqis to make their shots count.

The U.S. soldiers also say when they are around, there is less sectarian violence.

LT. CHARLES MOFFIT, U.S. ARMY: We can only be in so many places at, you know, at one time. So if we move from here to another area, the people that we just prevented from attacking a family are going to notice that we're gone and do that. So if we have more soldiers here, we can be in more places at one time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: But as these soldiers know from experience, the plan translates differently in the streets of Baghdad. And they also know that military power alone is not going to win this battle, despite their best efforts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, thank you.

Arwa Damon on the scene for us in Iraq.

This week's U.S. air strikes in southern Somalia still shrouded in secrecy, but we're learning some key details. It was aimed at top Al Qaeda suspects, but the air strikes missed its main targets.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is the only TV network correspondent in the region.

She has the latest now from neighboring Kenya -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior U.S. official in Kenya confirmed that the AC-130 gunship strike in Somalia did not kill the top three Al Qaeda operatives that the U.S. had been seeking. All men said to be associated with the 1998 embassy bombing attacks here in Kenya and Tanzania.

The official told reporters: "The three high value targets are still of intense interest to us. We are still in pursuit," according to the official.

The official also said, to his knowledge, no U.S. Special Forces were in Somalia, but he would not answer a question about whether there were Special Forces in Northern Kenya, near the Somalia border.

The strike came overnight Sunday into Monday, at a camp along that border on the Somali side based on intelligence from the Ethiopian military. Those forces had been fighting Islamic militants in the region. The U.S. then sent in the gunship.

The official said it was a targeted strike against some 20 suspected al Qaeda affiliated persons. He said that at least eight to 10 had been killed, but again, none of them were the top three Al Qaeda operatives that the U.S. was seeking.

He also said the U.S. was convinced that their air strike did not kill any Somali civilians.

Finally, the official said he couldn't explain why he was so certain of his information -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

Barbara Starr doing some exclusive reporting for us. She's the only TV network correspondent in the region right now.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, if President Bush's speech last night had been a Broadway show, it might have closed after one performance. Not exactly rave reviews pouring in today.

You heard Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He said the speech by President Bush was "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." That's a quote.

He's not the only one from his own party speaking out like this.

Here are some others: "I've gone along with the president on this. We bought into his dream and at this stage of the game, I just don't think it's going to happen.

Or this: "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer. Iraq requires a political, rather than a military solution."

Or: "We've had these benchmarks before and to no avail. Why should we increase our exposure to risk?

These aren't Democrats, not the liberal news media. These are Republicans, members of the president's own party.

Now, granted there are a handful of Republican senators who want to run for president in '08. And their opposition to the president's plan and speech for Iraq might be more rooted in their own political self-interest at the moment than the welfare of the nation.

But if you think the anti-war sentiment is strong in this country now, just wait a couple of years and then try to run for the nation's highest office as a hawk.

Are you listening, John McCain?

Along with escalation of the war in Iraq comes increasing isolation for the president. The number of people who think this is a good idea is now small enough to be considered an endangered species.

So here's the question -- how much longer do you think President Bush will be allowed to prosecute the war in Iraq on his own terms?

E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And still to come, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the growing threat from al Qaeda. We're going to have details of a serious new warning from the nation's intelligence chief and the weapons the terrorists may be planning to use.

Also, the Bush administration out in force trying to sell its plan for a troop increase in Iraq but meeting stiff opposition. We're going to talk about it with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow. He'll be joining us live.

And some loyal Republicans parting ways with the president on Iraq. I'll speak with one of them. My interview with Senator Gordon Smith. That's coming up.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

As we noted, some very high profile Republicans now breaking with President Bush over the plan to send thousands more American troops to Iraq.

And joining us now, Senator Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: It's a pleasure, Wolf.

Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president's major speech last night, his address to the nation.

I take it you oppose his proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

SMITH: Yes, I do oppose it, Wolf. And as I oppose it, I hope that history shows that I am and wrong and that the president is right. But what my belief is is simply that this surge is too late and too little, that it perpetuates the status quo.

I think the Congress needs to use its influence to refocus the American war on terror, and as it relates to Iraq, that interest is to make sure that whatever emerges from Iraq is not al Qaeda and is not Iran, that is bent on spreading Jihadism to its neighbors and to us.

BLITZER: Let's -- let me press you a little bit on how far you're willing to go to make that opposition known.

You heard -- or you may have heard Senator Russ Feingold today say yes, use the power of the purse not only to try to oppose the increase in the number of troops there, but to simply try to get all the troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

Are you willing to go as far as he is?

SMITH: No, I'm not willing to go that far because I do think we have paid quite a price to topple a tyrant. Our military is set up wonderfully for taking out terrorists and toppling tyrants. The American interest is to make sure that what replaces Saddam Hussein is not an al Qaeda organization, is not Ahmadinejad's desires to exterminate its neighbors.

We have an enduring interest in that. We found that out on 9/11. But ultimately there are things we have to do and things that are nice to do. Building democracy, nation building, is nice to do, but that is not the core of the American interest. And I believe that patrolling the streets of Baghdad and propping up this government, if they're unwilling to fight, is a nice to do, but not a have to do.

We simply have to fight the war on terror more intelligently.

BLITZER: Are you with Senator Ted Kennedy, who says you should use the power of the purse to avoid the troop increase, but not touch the troops who are already there?

SMITH: I have this misgiving. The commander-in-chief -- we've got one of them at a time -- has ordered our troops into harm's way. I'm worried that it is dangerous and maybe deadly to our kids if we start taking the bullets away when they're ordered to remain in the foxhole.

I would rather work on the authorization to narrow it in a way that reflects America's greater enduring interest, long-term interests in the war on terror. And I'm not sure I've seen anyone's proposal yet that does quite that.

BLITZER: Your leader in the Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, today was very critical of the Democrats, saying they don't really have any ideas.

I want you to listen to this little clip of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: What is their plan?

I think I know and I think you know. I wish they'd just say it. What they want to do, apparently, is to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he's also suggesting that there may be a filibuster to even prevent a sense of the Senate resolution opposing the president's new initiative.

What do you make of this?

SMITH: Well, you know, the leader makes a good point. John McCain has made it before him.

And that is, what is the Democrat Plan B?

I'm not sure I've heard one other than to leave and to create a huge vacuum in which Jihadists of various stripes would fill that vacuum, to our great long-term injury, if these Jihadists can get control of the machinery of a state like Iraq, with the resources of Iraq.

Those will then be turned on us. But that's where I think we need to refocus the argument. The Plan B if President Bush's Plan A doesn't work, maybe it's his Plan B. Plan C would then be how do we look to America's larger interests in a war from which we can't retreat, and that is the larger war on terror as it relates to Jihadists who would export chaos and terror and mass murder.

BLITZER: It sounds to me like you don't have a whole lot of confidence in the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki that this time, when all is said and done, he's going to step up to the plate and do what he needs to do.

SMITH: I hope, Wolf, I'm wrong. But as I read history, and I read a lot of it, the Sunnis and Shias have been butchering each other for four times longer than America has been a nation. I don't know that we have the troops, certainly not the Army as we're currently configured, and certainly not the patience, the lives, the limbs, the treasury to try to make this right.

And that's why I am skeptical of nation building in Iraq. They can build their nation. We can't.

But what we need to make sure that what emerges is the kind of nation that is responsible -- that's, in a general sense, our central issue. It is not nation building. It is, in fact, the war against Jihadists who would export terror to our shores.

BLITZER: Senator Smith, thanks very much for coming in.

SMITH: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, can the president convince a skeptical Congress and American public that more troops are the answer for Iraq?

I'll speak live with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow. That's coming up this hour.

Also, he's coming to America -- one of the world's biggest soccer stars. We're going to show you what's going on.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

House Democrats making good on another campaign promise. Lawmakers voted 253-174 to increase funding for controversial research on stem cells, including those taken from human embryos. The White House says the measure supports the destruction of human life and President Bush vetoed an identical bill last year. The House vote falls short of the two thirds majority needed to override another veto.

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut the latest Democrat to throw his hat into the ring for the 2008 presidential race. But unlike others, he's skipping the usual exploratory committee and he's jumping right in. He joined us in THE SITUATION ROOM in the last hour, giving Wolf his reaction to the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: There's no doubt that they want us to speak honestly about the (INAUDIBLE) I think we ought to be voting on that before they go, rather than have them on the ground there and be cutting off the resources for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: If you didn't hear that well enough, you can see more of Wolf's interview with Senator Dodd tonight in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

News impacting small businesses including a new advertising opportunity. Get this. The Transportation Security Administration is expected to approve ads in those little trays you use at security screening checkpoints, you know, to send your shoes and your keys and your cell phones through the x-ray machine? They'll be right at the bottom of the little tray. In exchange for the ad space, companies would pay a fee to the airport and provide free trays and tables to the TSA.

And small business owners, well, they're a little less confident about the U.S. economy right now. The National Federation of Independent Businesses says its optimism index fell three points in December and it says fewer small business owners expect the economy to improve in the first half of 2007. All of that based on a random survey of more than 400 small business owners.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.

Carol Costello reporting.

Coming up, al Qaeda -- the nation's intelligence chief say it's still the number one threat facing the United States. We're going to have details of his new warning and why he's so concerned.

Plus, a growing number of Republican lawmakers opposing a troop increase for Iraq. I'll talk about it with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, the Bush administration facing firm opposition as it tries to sell Congress and the American public on the president's order to send thousands more troops to Iraq. It's an uphill battle for the White House.

Coming up, I'll speak with the White House press secretary, Tony Snow.

Plus, the debate growing increasingly bitter on Capitol Hill, where one Republican calls the new deployments -- and I'm quoting now -- "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam."

Some lawmakers want to cut funding. Others are calling for a resolution against the deployments. And that's now sparking talk of a filibuster.

And a serious terror warning from the nation's intelligence chief, saying the number one threat facing the United States is Al Qaeda. We'll show you why.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More than 21,000 new U.S. troops being deployed to Iraq, President Bush saying the extra force will help finally secure Baghdad. But each of those service men and women will face the same dangers that have led to the growing U.S. casualty count now topping 3,000 dead.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's got more about what's happening actually on the ground -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's plan has an ambitious central idea: sweeping security in Baghdad. But getting there will involve what one soldier calls inch-by-inch fighting in a capital of six million people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): From the top, the new mission is to clear and secure Baghdad's deadliest neighborhoods.

How's that gone so far?

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The clear part of the operation went fairly well and fairly smoothly. The problem is, that there were insufficient forces, both Iraqi and American, for the hold phase.

TODD: Jon Powers and Garett Reppenhagen know something about clearing and holding a city. For a year in Baghdad, Powers patrolled the streets looking for insurgents. His Army unit depicted in the film "Gunner Palace."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GUNNER PALACE")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down!

(END VIDEO CLIP, "GUNNER PALACE")

TODD: Reppenhagen, a former Army scout and sniper, has a descriptive phrase for the year he spent in Baquba going house to house.

GARETT REPPENHAGEN, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: It's an (INAUDIBLE) experience.

TODD: And that's only if you get to a house. Try getting past the roadside bombs first.

REPPENHAGEN: Sometimes they're in trash. They'll hide them in animal carcasses. They'll hide them in trees or on light posts.

TODD (on camera): You told me something pretty mind-blowing about the curbs in Iraq. What did they do?

REPPENHAGEN: Sure. One of the things we learned to identify is they would make false curbs and have an IED built into the curb. So as you're going down the street, you had to find that difference in the curb, otherwise it may explode.

TODD (voice-over): Best to avoid using any vehicles, they say. To easy to get trapped.

When attacked from a building, Reppenhagen says soldiers have to counter with overwhelming fire, take out the target, then clear the entire building. It can take hours.

In one chaotic exchange, he describes firing back against a sniper in a building, having to take out another man who was rushing in and out to deliver him ammunition. At one point, that man took cover behind a car. His unit, he says, lit up the car, then looked inside.

REPPENHAGEN: There were three innocent kids that were kidding in the car. Not aware that, you know, there was going to be a battle in Baquba that day. And all three of them were killed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Just a snapshot of what U.S. and Iraqi forces will continue to go through in the months ahead. When I asked Powers and Reppenhagen if 21,000 more U.S. troops, plus Iraqis, are enough for those urban operations, they said there really is no right amount for that kind of fighting -- Wolf. BLITZER: Brian, as you speak to these guys, what's the bottom line, what is -- is there a sort of consensus emerging?

TODD: The consensus is that taking a city and holding a city, especially one as huge as Baghdad, is going to extremely, extremely difficult. Just what they described going through block by block.

Even the noises. When guns go off and you don't know where it came from in an urban setting, the sound echoes off buildings. You don't know whether it came from in front of you, behind you, to the side. Something as simple as that and you have to react to it and your buddies have to react to it.

That happens almost, you know, block by block. And in a city as big as Baghdad, how long do you figure that's going to take?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Thank you, Brian. Good reporting.

President Bush today went on the road to push his new plan for Iraq. He met with troops at Fort Benning, in Georgia, some of whom will soon be among the more than 20,000 headed to Iraq. For the troops it's a case of following orders. But can the president sell his plan to an increasingly skeptical Congress and public?

Joining us now from the White House, the press secretary, Tony Snow.

Tony, thanks very much for coming in.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president seems to be losing a lot of support -- forget about the Democrats, but from his Republican base. Some of the senators who in the last day or so have come out against his troop increase proposal, Sam Brownback, Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich.

These are good foot soldiers in your battle. What's going on?

T. SNOW: Well, these are people who have also disagreed with the president on other things, Wolf.

You know what I think is happening? Is we're at the beginning of a process now where people are going to take a look at a comprehensive plan. What a lot of people have done is said, OK, we don't want troops growing in. And so they look at that one piece.

What we're saying to the American public is, look at all of the pieces. See how it all works together.

This is not just Americans going in on their own. As a matter of fact, what we've said to the Iraqis is, you've got to be in the lead on everything. That includes military operations, that includes putting up money for economic development. The Iraqis have committed $10 billion in the last week. That includes going after everybody.

In the last two days, Prime Minister Maliki not once, but twice has talked about Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mehdi army, and the fact that you cannot have people operating outside the law.

I think a lot of Americans want to succeed in Iraq, and they want to know how we intend to succeed. The top line about whether you want troops or don't want troops, I think over time is going take a backseat to a more thoughtful debate about how all these pieces fit together.

And the other thing is, we understand that people are going to disagree. We understand that people are skeptical about the Iraqis. And we're also perfectly willing to entertain better ideas.

So, if people say they want to succeed in Iraq, then, OK, if you don't like our idea, you got a better one, we want to hear it.

BLITZER: All right.

Here's -- the president last night in his speech spoke of U.S. troops going in to deal with, in his words, "a vicious cycle of sectarian violence." Other people saying it's already a civil war.

The former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, now the ranking member, John Warner, he asked this question in the "Boston Globe" today: "Young men and women of U.S. forces and coalition forces should not be caught in the crossfire of a civil war prompted by who should have succeeded Mohammed in what -- in what is it? -- 650 AD?"

To a lot of your critics, including Republicans, it looks like you're sending these U.S. troops into a no-win situation.

T. SNOW: Well, there are a couple of things to take into account, Wolf.

Number one, you have the precedent of Shia and Sunni living side by side. And you've got mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad itself.

The second thing is, if, again, you take as your benchmark wanting to succeed in Iraq, how do you do it? And the thing we've said is, put Iraqis in the lead. Make sure that you've got enough muscle to clear out violent neighborhoods to hold them, and also to inject capital so you've got economic opportunity so people have jobs and they could build good lives.

That's common sense. And again, all we're inviting people to do is to take a look at it.

I think there's been a lot of skepticism, Wolf, about whether the government of Nuri al-Maliki is going to step forward. We believe it is. And we're going to find out pretty soon, because the Iraqis are supposed to dispatch a full brigade of troops into Baghdad by the first of February, another two brigades by the 15th.

See, the way the Baghdad security plan works is, the Iraqis get there first, we provide support -- in much smaller numbers, by the way, the Americans -- and the whole purpose is to be effective with them in the lead.

BLITZER: So if he -- the first test will really be if he and his troops go in and take on Muqtada al-Sadr, the Mehdi army, this radical young Shiite cleric there. If they really -- if they really deal with him in Sadr City, that's going to be a test that we should know the answer fairly soon?

T. SNOW: Well, I don't know. You're going to have to ask people who are doing military operations.

The Iraqis are going to be in the lead. But it is important to go after people who are going ahead and committing acts of violence no matter what their sect. No matter whether they're Shia, Sunni, Kurd, you name it.

The fact is, if they're in there trying to kill innocent people, trying to disrupt the democracy, trying to create a war, then, yes, it's going to be important to go after them. And the key is that the Iraqi government has to be even-handed in doing that.

BLITZER: Last year, November of last year, the National Security Council, Democrats now referring to it, talk about this national strategy for victory in Iraq, a proposal that you put out. What's different now than then? Because they're claiming that there's nothing new, you've tried this in the past, you failed in the past, and you're not really bringing anything new to the table now.

T. SNOW: Well, this is where they need to start taking a look at the fine print. There are a whole series of things that we are doing different. And it's pretty exhaustive.

It has to do with diplomatic efforts within the region, trying to get more investment into Iraq, building civilian capacity in everything from building your local courthouse and running schools, to making sure you get the rule of law. And within Baghdad itself, there is a significant difference, which is, in the past, what we said is, OK, we're going to try to train the Iraqis on the side, get them ready and bring them in.

What we're said now is, sectarian violence has clearly outrun the ability to do that stuff on the side. You've got to get force in right now. You've got to provide security in Baghdad because, as you know, you can't have political reconciliation in the midst of what amounts to a non-ending riot.

What you have to do is you have to create conditions of peace. So, what we do is we have American forces working with the Iraqis. We're going to give them more equipment, we're going to give them more training. We're going to have more muscle, and we are staying in neighborhoods 24/7.

In the past, Wolf, people returned to barracks every night and the bad guys could filter back in. Not going to happen now.

BLITZER: So, they're not going to stay -- they're going to stay? They're not going to leave these positions that they take over?

T. SNOW: That's correct.

The other thing that's moving forward are the -- I've heard a lot of Democrats say, you've got to do the political stuff. Absolutely right.

And one of things that's going the happen in the next few weeks -- and you know about this -- the so-called hydrocarbon law, which allows the Iraqis, all the Iraqis, to share oil and natural gas revenues. That's a powerful incentive for people to come together.

There's a lot of stuff going on. A lot of hard work. We understand and we expect people to be skeptical.

BLITZER: There wasn't much talk in the president's address last night about the coalition, the number of other foreign troops in Iraq. They seem to be losing interest. They're not increasing their presence there as the United States is.

T. SNOW: Well, you know, it also draws attention to something else, Wolf. Actually, a lot of coalition members have changed their mission.

For instance, the Japanese took combat forces out of Muthanna Province, and now they're doing other things. They haven't left. They have shifted their mission.

Fourteen out of the 18 provinces -- and most people don't understand this -- are more or less at peace. In a number of them, there are very few acts of violence on any given day. But what you have is a real concentration. Eighty percent of all sectarian violence within 30 miles of Iraq, about 90 percent of the violence contained between Iraq -- I mean, between Baghdad, Anbar Province, and a little bit a little further north.

The fact is, it's concentrated. You've got to deal with it.

BLITZER: All right.

T. SNOW: And the United States happens to be the part of the coalition that's in those areas.

BLITZER: You're sure you're happy you gave up that TV and radio gig for this?

T. SNOW: I love it. It's rewarding. I'm working for a guy I love and admire.

And you know what? These are important issues, Wolf. And anything I can do to get people thinking about all parts of it, well, that's my job and I enjoy doing it.

BLITZER: He's got a tough job.

Tony Snow at the White House. Thanks very much for coming in.

T. SNOW: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead, the plan to send thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq raising serious concerns amongst some reservists. We're going to have details of what they're saying about the president's decision

Plus, more than five years after 9/11, a top U.S. official now saying al Qaeda still the number one threat facing the United States. We're going to show you why.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The outgoing national intelligence director, John Negroponte, today gave his annual update on terror threats facing the United States. It's at once both grim and familiar.

Let's turn to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the assessment, al Qaeda is still threat number one. And even though the U.S. has killed or captured many of its leaders, the threat appears to be growing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Al Qaeda, back in business and now more than an inspiration to terrorists around the world.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan.

MESERVE: The plots thwarted in London last summer to blow up aircraft with liquid explosives a top-down al Qaeda operation, experts say, and an illustration of the group's growing capabilities.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERROR ANALYST: This kind of idea that the problem we face is (INAUDIBLE) homegrown, ideologically-motivated people looking to al Qaeda as an inspiration. I think it's now pretty clear and has been pretty clear that al Qaeda, the organization, has regrouped

MESERVE: Factors in al Qaeda's resurgence, the experts says, safe bases of operation in Pakistan and in Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Also, new alliances with terror groups in countries like Algeria and Egypt.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al Qaeda may not be as dangerous as it was at the time of 9/11, but I think everything we're hearing tells us that it's more dangerous this year than it was last year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Al Qaeda isn't the only terrorist organization posing a threat. Negroponte says that Hezbollah has grown more hostile and may step up planning for strikes on U.S. interests.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thanks very much.

And remember to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security

Still ahead, George W. Bush, is his policy in Iraq bold, defiant, or just plain stubborn? Our John King takes a closer look at loneliness of leadership. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Also coming up, Mary Snow talks to one Army reservist who tried to train Iraqi troops once before. And he might going back. She'll ask him how he feels about that.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. He's standing by to tell us what he's working on -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

We'll be reporting tonight on a showdown in the Congress over the rising cost of prescription drugs for our middle class. Corporate and special interests wanting to control the prices you pay for your drugs.

We'll have that report

And local and federal law enforcement agencies working together to remove criminal illegal aliens from their communities. That program could be a model for communities all across the country despite what the federal government says.

We'll have the story

And President Bush is struggling to sell his plan to send more troops to Iraq. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, long a critic of the president's conduct of this war, joins us here tonight, as well as two of the country's most distinguished former military commanders to analyze the prospects for success or failure in Iraq.

All of that, all of the day's news coming up at the top of the hour. We hope you'll join us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lou.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's following a story out of Florida.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. A developing story out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

They're now in the process of evacuating the Broward County Courthouse. Apparently, some white powder was found in the mailroom. Between three and five people were exposed to that. Those people have now been quarantined, and then everybody else has been ordered out of the building. Don't know what that white substance is, but they're taking every precaution.

Of course we're following the story and we'll get you more later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

We'll move on to some other news.

President Bush's deployment of more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq is raising serious concern among many military personnel, especially reservists.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us from New York with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president's Iraq plan has sparked debate. And for some, dread, dread they'll be called back to Iraq. One reservist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who served in the first Gulf War and most recently in 2005 says he is torn between his duty and the reality of what will happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

M. SNOW (voice-over): It is these moments, Drew Brown says, when he can relax and just be a regular guy walking his dog after work. But it is these moments as an Army reservists that are never far from his mind. And they grew closer with the president's announcement of more than 20,000 troops being sent to Iraq. Brown expects he'll be among them.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.

M. SNOW (on camera): Tell me how you're feeling after watching that.

SGT. 1ST CLASS ANDREW BROWN, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: Nervous that the call is going happen sooner, perhaps when I'm not ready for it. Nervous that this is simply just a re-wording of the same policies that we have been using before.

M. SNOW (voice-over): Brown says he's concerned U.S. decision- makers don't understand the Iraqi people. He says he came to that conclusion while serving as a drill sergeant, training Iraqi forces in the middle of fierce fighting in places like Falluja.

BROWN: They have an expression, "Insha'Allah," literally translated to "As God wills it. As Allah wills." And many times we would say, OK, we need to go to this location and execute this mission. And their response would be 'Insha'Allah."

And as an American military person it is incredibly frustrating to hear that.

M. SNOW: He is torn.

BROWN: On a global scale, I feel a sense of obligation to go. And at the same time, I want to hand things off to them, because they're competent people. They're not stupid.

M. SNOW: U.S. strategy isn't his only concern. He has personal ones, too.

BROWN: Coming home again. And I don't necessarily mean the physical trip home. The threat is what it is, but mentally, I don't know that I would be able to make that transition again.

M. SNOW: Iraq has taken a toll on the 34-year-old Brown. He wears a wristband to remind him of fallen brothers. He blames his time in Iraq for the breakup of his marriage. He also suffers Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Fifteen months after returning home from his last tour, he says he is just now getting used to civilian life. But for him, the president's plan...

BROWN: Yes, it was a little unsettling, because I have a vested interest in it. To most Americans, I don't know that it's going to be that unsettling.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. SNOW: The most sobering for Brown is fighting the war on terrorism. The way he sees it, the victor will be who can hang in longer. And he questions whether U.S. forces can outlive a force willing to live in desolate conditions and die doing it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mary Snow, for that report.

Still to come, the world's most famous soccer player coming to the United States. We're going to show you how the rest of the world is reacting.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The world's most famous athlete is crossing the pond. England's David Beckham will leaving his Spanish team, Real Madrid, in June to join Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.

Here with reaction from around the world is our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the headlines that you cannot miss in the U.K. today, David Beckham leaving to come here, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy when his season ends with Spanish team Real Madrid this summer.

Now, if you are lost, we are talking about soccer. That's the sport that the rest of the world calls football and which David Beckham is arguably the most famous, the most followed, the most photographed player.

But it's not just Beckham that's going to be headed stateside. It's the Beckhams.

David Beckham and his wife Victoria -- that's wife Victoria, AKA, Posh Spice. Who could forget the Spice Girls? They're both going to be heading this way.

And you better get used to them. Beckham has signed a five-year deal, and he's reportedly earning in excess of $250 million -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's nice, $250 million.

Jack Cafferty would take a $250 million paycheck, right?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It sure is something to look forward to, isn't it, Wolf, that guy and his -- one of those Spice Girls coming here? I can hardly wait.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question is, how much longer will President Bush be allowed to prosecute the war in Iraq on his own terms?

Pearl in Florida writes, "President Bush will do as he wishes until he's stopped. A child out of control cannot be reasoned with unless he's not allowed to continue his behavior. The Congress has the means and methods of stopping the catastrophic plans of escalating the losing war in Iraq. Whether it will be a legal vote against the decision, cutting off funds, or his last recourse impeachment, it can and must be done."

Bill in Idaho writes, "We need to do to Bush what we did to Nixon. We baby boomers need to take care of one of our own. We need to finish the revolution we started in the '60s, only this time we're not flower children. We're pissed off senior citizens. Toss this warmonger out of office." Steve writes, "I think President Bush has laid out the challenges with Iraq from the very start. He said the terrorists were ruthless, evil, and kill innocent civilians. They kill Americans just for the fun of it (9/11). Everything was fine on the initial entrance to the war in Iraq as long as it looked like we were winning. Three thousand soldiers is a drop in the bucket for the price that is due for our freedom."

"Now the Democrats want to cut and run. What a bunch of pansies."

Chuck in Pennsylvania writes, "How long will Bush get his way in Iraq? Until about Easter, I think. Then Congress will be nailing his carcass to an impeachment tree. I hope."

And Steven in Washington writes, "President Bush will continue on his chosen reckless path as long as Congress allows him to. The real reason he's opposed to stem-cell research is that he's afraid the research will discover how to grown backbones for Democrats."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of them online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. One of the toughest statements so far critical of the president, it didn't come from a Democrat. It came from Chuck Hagel earlier today, a Republican, a Vietnam War veteran, someone who is bitterly opposed to this troop increase.

CAFFERTY: And he's not running for president in 2008, unlike some of his Republican Senate colleagues who are.

BLITZER: Well, I'm not so sure. Chuck Hagel -- you know, every senator wakes up every morning, they look in the mirror and they see a future president of the United States.

We'll see, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's go to New York. Lou Dobbs standing by.

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