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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Reiterates 16-Month Timetable for Iraq; U.S. Military Moves Planes, Bracing for Dolly; McCain Hits Obama Hard on Iraq
Aired July 22, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama leaves Iraq, is determined about troop pull outs as he was when he got there. But John McCain makes a very serious charge about Obama's true intentions.
A billionaire oilman says disaster looms for the United States. T. Boone Pickens warning of $300-a-barrel oil prices, but insists there is a way to avoid it. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain.
And the Dalai Lama says he loves President Bush, but also says President Bush lacks understanding of reality. You're going to hear the Dalai Lama's explanation and what the exiled Tibetan leader says about whether he'd become a Chinese citizen.
It's a CNN exclusive coming up.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Barack Obama was in Amman, Jordan, today, but Iraq was very prominent in his mind. He talked about what he saw in the war zone, what the military leaders cautioned him about Iraq. But Obama also said he remains convinced about his plans for Iraq should he become President.
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has more from Amman -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Barack Obama has wrapped up his Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq portion of the trip. He says he saw lots things on the ground in those countries that back up his policy proposals for the region. But there were quiet voices of dissent.
CROWLEY (voice over): Barack Obama left Iraq as he went into it, convinced that a 16-month timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat troops is doable. Not everyone is on board, including someone who told him so, Obama's chopper companion, General David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that his concern has to do with wanting to retain as much flexibility as possible. CROWLEY: Obama says it's not a matter of ignoring military brass on the ground, but as commander in chief, he would be prepared to overrule it.
OBAMA: I'm factoring in their advice, but placing it in this broader strategic framework that -- that's required.
CROWLEY: Obama and his two fellow senators on the Iraq trip agree that military and political progress has been made since the surge began, but Obama, hit repeatedly by McCain for opposing the surge, balked at calling it a success.
OBAMA: I believe that the situation in Iraq is more secure than it was a year and a half ago. I think that the definition of success depends on how you look at it.
CROWLEY: Obama's first post-Iraq news conference was held on a mountaintop against a backdrop of Amman, Jordan, where he met and dined with King Abdullah, as he will meet with Israeli, Palestinian and European leaders. It's a trip designed to shine up his foreign policy credibility back home, a presidential-style agenda, though Obama has to be careful not to act as though he's already President. This is tricky.
OBAMA: There are a range of factors that I have to take into account as a commander in chief, or a potential commander in chief.
CROWLEY: From here, Obama flew to Israel for a full day of activities in one of the trickiest stops of this trip. He has along the campaign trail said things that have offended both the Israelis and the Palestinians -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Amman, Jordan. And as she says, Senator Obama has a very busy next few days.
Tomorrow he continues his trip to the Middle East. He's in Israel right now. He just landed. He'll also be visiting Ramallah on the West Bank to meet with the Palestinians.
On Thursday, off to Germany, where he plans a major speech at one of Berlin's most famous landmarks, the Victory Column. On Friday, Obama will be in France, where he's expected to meet with the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. Between late Friday and early Saturday, Obama will visit Britain, meet with the British prime minister, Gordon Brown. He'll also travel back to the United States on Saturday, set to land in Chicago.
All right. There's some breaking news we're getting involving hurricane -- actually, Tropical Storm Dolly. But it's expected to become a hurricane.
Let's go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr's working this story.
I take it the military starting to make some precautionary steps? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf, the U.S. military starting to get out of the way of Tropical Storm Dolly. Navy spokesman Lieutenant Tommy Bucks (ph) just confirming to CNN a few moments ago, the Navy is starting to move aircraft.
More than 100 Navy aircraft moving from the Corpus Christi region, Kingsville, moving to locations further inland Texas. Moving on to New Mexico, seven Navy minesweeper ships. Also trying to tie up in a more secure fashion.
The Navy does this, of course, routinely in severe tropical storms and hurricanes. The military cannot risk having these expensive aircraft and ships be damaged. But they learned a big lesson from Katrina. They don't want to go too far in case they're needed to help with the aftermath of any storm -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. I know you'll stay on top of it.
Barbara Starr watching this tropical storm.
We're going to have a lot more coming up on Dolly. Later this hour, we're waiting for a new forecast. That should be coming in later this hour. We'll tell you where the forecast suggests this tropical storm and likely hurricane will actually hit land and when.
Stand by for that.
Let's get back to the presidential race.
While Senator Obama travels, Senator McCain strikes. He's hitting his rival hard regarding Obama's insistence on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. And today he delivered a harsh message in a state he badly wants to snatch back from the Democrats.
Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's covering the McCain campaign for us.
We're talking about a state that's important to both of these candidates, and that would be New Hampshire.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Absolutely important. And let me give you a little bit of political trivia, Wolf.
New Hampshire was the only state that went from the Republican column to the Democratic column in 2004. John Kerry won here. And right now, Barack Obama and John McCain, they're in a statistical dead heat, a tie in New Hampshire.
But the whole idea that it's a battleground for the general election is only one reason John McCain came here today.
BASH (voice over): Senator John McCain looking for a little love. While Barack Obama's got the spotlight overseas, you come to New Hampshire, the primary state that brought him back from the political dead.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Coming back to New Hampshire is also like coming home.
BASH: It was here McCain debuted his favorite line about supporting the then unpopular military surge in Iraq.
MCCAIN: I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war.
BASH: Now, a play on his own words.
MCCAIN: It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
BASH: McCain seized on Obama's comments while in Iraq that, knowing what he knows now, he still would not have supported the troop surge.
MCCAIN: He was wrong then. He's wrong now. And he still fails to acknowledge -- he still fails to acknowledge that the surge succeeded. A remarkable -- remarkable.
BASH: He got wild applause for insisting the U.S. must not follow Obama's 16th-month withdrawal plan.
MCCAIN: He wants to reverse the gains we have made and set a date for withdrawal, which would endanger our progress in Iraq.
BASH: But not everyone agrees.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We entered the Iraq war illegally, immorally and against international law.
BASH: One voter reminded McCain, among other things, the Iraqi government now says it wants troops out. He shushed hecklers in the crowd.
MCCAIN: Could we all be respectful of everybody's point of view?
BASH: She continued.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't it time to end the occupation, Senator?
BASH: He made his case.
MCCAIN: The war was badly mishandled. And we failed. I believed that a change in the strategy and the surge would succeed. And, indeed, it did.
BASH: Her turn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Respectfully, I disagree with you completely. I believe that we are...
MCCAIN: I figured that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that we are in...
BASH: Now, the McCain camp is still trying to take attention away from the Obama trip overseas. One tactic they're using is to try to tweak the media, Wolf. The McCain campaign has a brand new video on its Web site and it's called "Obama Love," and it shows some clip of reporters fawning over Barack Obama -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on that new video that the McCain campaign put out later this hour.
Dana's in Rochester, New Hampshire, for us.
And this important note to our viewers -- I'll be speaking with John McCain about his criticisms of Senator Obama involving Iraq, other substantive issues, domestic, foreign policy issues you care about. The interview will take place Friday.
You can take part in the interview as well. Send us your questions via CNN's iReport. You can submit your questions at ireport.com/situationroom. The interview with Senator McCain, Friday, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's check back with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama is pitching a shutout so far on his trip overseas. What might be the most complicated part of his journey into the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to have gone off pretty much without a hitch.
In fact, Obama couldn't have hoped for better timing, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government choosing the day Obama was in Iraq to say the U.S. troops should be out of his country by 2010. That's a date that matches up perfectly with Obama's plan to remove combat troops within 16 months of when he would take office. And it gives Obama much more credibility on foreign policy, an area where critics say he lacks experience.
Obama is visiting Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, before he goes on to Europe. Meanwhile, his campaign's trying to play down the role of politics in his travels, painting it rather as a listening tour. But Politico points out that's pretty tricky to do when you consider the stagecraft and planning that's gone into some of these events.
Take, for example, Obama's scheduled speech Thursday in Berlin. Tens of thousands expected to be on hand. The campaign, which insists the speech is "not for campaign purposes," might get film crews to shoot it. Maybe for a TV commercial. He's on the cover of "Der Spiegel" magazine in Germany under the headline, "Germany Meets the Superstar."
As for John McCain, Obama's overseas adventures may have turned into a case of, be careful what you wish for. You might get it.
McCain badgered Obama for weeks to go. Go overseas. Go learn something. Particularly, go to Iraq. Now Obama is sucking up all the media attention and generally getting rave reviews for his efforts.
So the question is this: How will Barack Obama's overseas trip affect his chances of winning the election?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you. We'll see you back here shortly.
Incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now, faith issues are bringing rivals together. Barack Obama and John McCain will make a joint appearance for the first time in their rivalry. The man responsible for that is Pastor Rick Warren, the author of "The Purpose-Driven Life."
Pastor Warren, he's here to talk about how he did it.
And the Dalai Lama says President Bush lacks understanding of reality. What exactly does he mean? The Dalai Lama explains in a CNN exclusive interview with our own Carol Costello.
And the nation's reliance on foreign oil amounts to a crisis that one billionaire oilman says the U.S. can't ignore.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
T. BOONE PICKENS, OIL TYCOON: If you don't solve this problem, you don't have to worry about health care and education, because you're not going to have the money to take care of it anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: To many people, the Dalai Lama is a symbol of courage in the face of oppression. But to others, particularly China's government, they've accused him of stirring up violence and of even trying to wreck next month's Beijing Olympic games.
Let's go to Carol Costello. She had a chance to sit down exclusively with the Dalai Lama. She got a little sense of what he had to say -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, first of all, the Dalai Lama is one charming man. He jokes and then he giggles. But make no mistake, this man's words can pack a punch.
He insists he's happy China is hosting the Olympic games, despite China's refusal to grant Tibet religious and political autonomy. He also talked of his love for President Bush and about what President Bush lacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: I was reading so many blogs about you and so many articles, and there was some interesting quotes that they've attached to you. And one of them came from a blog, and it said that you said that you loved President Bush, but he lacks understanding of reality.
Did you say that?
DALAI LAMA: I know him. Because since my first visit, I noticed he, as a human being, very nice, very open, very straightforward. My first call at that time, within a few seconds we had become very close friends. So I love him.
COSTELLO: Well, when you said that he lacks understanding reality, what did you mean by that?
DALAI LAMA: That is, I think, the United States sort of analyzation about the situation. Then, Saddam Hussein there, so- called mass destructive sort of weapons, these things, it seems the information not complete.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: He says, Wolf, that the United States has to look at a situation from all sides, from six or seven different sides. You just can't look at a situation head-on and make a decision without having your homework done. That, in essence, is what he meant when he talked about President Bush.
Also, China and envoys for the Dalai Lama have been talking in the months before the Olympics about the deep divisions between China and Tibet. But the Dalai Lama told me the talks have gone nowhere.
You will hear more about that at 5:00 Eastern.
BLITZER: You're going to have a lot more of the interview coming up in our next hour.
BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. Good work.
Barack Obama and John McCain will be sharing the same stage next month for the first time in this, the 2008 presidential campaign. The Reverend Rick Warren has invited them to appear at a leadership and compassion forum in his mega Saddleback Church in California on August 16th. The author of the best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life" joined me by phone just a little while ago from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
BLITZER: Pastor Warren, how did you do it? How did you convince both of them to show up?
PASTOR RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: Well, Wolf, they've both been friends for a long time. I knew both John and Barack before either of them decided to run for office, had talked with them. Both of them have helped me in the past with our peace plan and with -- they've sent messages to Saddleback at some of our conferences.
And so I just thought let's -- you know, I might be the guy to get them together. So, I called hem up and said, let's do it. And they said, well, we'll do it if you be the only questioner, if you -- don't have a forum, don't have a panel. And if you'll ask all the questions, then we'll do it.
BLITZER: But they're not going to be together. They're going to be separate. These are going to be Pastor Warren and Barack Obama, followed by Pastor Warren and John McCain. But there's not going to be any interchange between the two of them, is that right?
WARREN: Yes. I'm going to -- my plan is to bring them out on stage together at the beginning or at the end. But what I want to do is I want to let each of them talk without interrupting each other. And it's not a debate format.
There will be plenty of time for debates. What I want to do is get people to know the real person like I know them without a time barrier and a buzzer and a time for rebuttal. Let them just speak what they need to say.
BLITZER: The last time we spoke was right after you invited Barack Obama when he was still running for the Democratic presidential nomination. You got some criticism from a few fellow evangelicals out there. You called him in the interview with me an amazing, an amazing man, Barack Obama. Could you see yourself supporting him for president?
WARREN: Well, I don't support anybody for president publicly. I never endorse. I never campaign.
You know, as a pastor, I don't really think that's my role. I have to shepherd both sides of the flock. And I have a church full of Democrats and a church full of Republicans and a church full of Independents.
So, I think they're both amazing men. I've known them for a long time. They're both very, very different.
They have both different theories of government, different theories of leadership, different approaches to life. And I -- what I do is I think, because I know them, I think I can set up an environment that people can actually say, oh, so that's what that guy's really like. And I think I can do that for both John and for Barack.
BLITZER: And we're going to have more of this interview with Pastor Warren coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Fascinating, fascinating pastor.
Osama bin Laden's former driver now facing justice. We're going to have the latest on the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to be tried for war crimes. Jamie McIntyre will be joining us live from Guantanamo Bay.
And imagine your co-worker breaking into your e-mail to leak your secret information. That's what a TV news personality in one major city is now accused of doing.
We'll tell you what happened right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, south Texas anxiously watching and waiting for Tropical Storm Dolly. It's getting stronger in the Gulf of Mexico right now. The U.S. Navy is moving aircraft out of the way. Dolly could be a hurricane by the time it hits land tomorrow.
Our Brian Todd already on the scene.
A Palestinian man goes on a rampage and rams a construction vehicle into cars and buses. CNN's Ben Wedeman standing by with details from Jerusalem.
And they delivered the news and now they're making headlines. A fired Philadelphia TV anchor faces charges he hacked into his former co-anchor's e-mail account and leaked personal information.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As gas and oil prices spiral out of control, lawmakers are exploring ways to try to get them under control. One way, curbing speculation in oil markets.
Today, the Senate voted to move ahead on a Democratic-backed bill aimed at doing exactly that. Speculation happens when speculators bet on the future price of oil, which often pushes prices higher.
Meanwhile, a billionaire oilman has ideas of his own for breaking America's foreign oil addiction.
CNN's Brianna Keilar is working the story for us.
Brianna, tell us about these very fascinating proposals coming from that oilman, T. Boone Pickens.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Well, Pickens told Congress, Wolf, that oil must give way to renewable sources of energy. And, in fact, his company is betting that it will, investing billions of dollars in wind power.
KEILAR (voice-over): He's trying to grab your attention, plastering ads on television networks, including CNN. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
T. BOONE PICKENS, FOUNDER & CHAIRMAN, BP CAPITAL: I'm T. Boone Pickens. I have been an oilman my whole life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now Pickens has Congress listening, too.
PICKENS: We continue to drift like we're drifting, you're going to be importing 80 percent of your oil. And I -- I promise you, it will be over $300 a barrel.
KEILAR: Pickens' solution? Wind energy captured by giant turbines from Texas to Canada. He says they could supply up to 80 percent of the nation's electricity and free up the natural gas currently used to produce electricity, and use it for cars and public transit instead.
In 10 years, Pickens says dependence on foreign oil would drop by 38 percent, and that's just the beginning. By 2050, he says renewable sources of energy would replace fossil fuels. Pickens pitched his plan with Congress deeply divided along party lines over the solution to high gas prices. Democrats are pointing to him to rebut Republican calls for drilling on protected lands.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Here is a man who was my mortal enemy, and he's my pal now. T. Boone Pickens has made a fortune in oil. He's a rich man because of oil. And he said, it's no longer there. We need to move to alternative energy.
KEILAR: But Pickens is an unlikely ally for Democrats. He says he will vote for John McCain. In 2004, he contributed at least $1 million to the anti-John Kerry Swift Boat campaign. And, while he agrees with Democrats that domestic drilling won't solve the energy crisis, he says it would help in the short term.
PICKENS: Offshore, OCS drilling, ANWR drilling, yes, all of it. I want to get off of foreign oil.
KEILAR: There are some critics of Pickens' plan, though. One who testified before Congress today said the U.S. runs the risk of trading its dependency on foreign oil for a dependency on foreign natural gas, since most of the world's natural gas produced in the Middle East and Russia, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.
And joining us now, the oilman himself, T. Boone Pickens.
Mr. Pickens, thanks very much for coming in.
PICKENS: You bet, Wolf. BLITZER: How much time do we really have? Because we have seen your commercials. The numbers are alarming, the transfer of wealth from the United States going around the world. How much time, realistically, do you think the United States has?
PICKENS: I think you're neck deep in it right now. I don't think you have any time. I think you have got to -- you have got to make your energy plan move forward.
And, you know, if you're saying are we going to -- is it disaster tomorrow, probably not, you know, but it could be. In certain circumstances, it could be disaster tomorrow.
BLITZER: But you're worried about the United States going bankrupt; is that right?
PICKENS: Well, I'm not saying we're going to go bankrupt. I'm saying we can't pay for a lot of things we want to pay for. What I am saying is, from a security standpoint, we could -- we could really be in terrible shape, if, you know -- importing 70 percent of your oil, and only having 3 percent of the reserves in the world, I mean, we're in -- we're in terrible shape on energy.
But we can solve that problem with our own resources, if we will go to work on it.
BLITZER: All right, and I want to get to those resources in a moment.
But let's talk about, you know, the sort of change. You have been an oilman your whole life. You have been drilling for oil. You're 80 years old. And I guess the question is, why now? What took so long for you to come around to this realization that there's a disaster for the United States out there?
PICKENS: Well, if you go back and look, Wolf, 10 years ago, I was saying that we will be at 60 percent imports by the end of the century. That was true. It happened. People said, Boone's crazy. That isn't going to happen.
It did happen. I have been pretty good on speaking up and predicting things. But now what's happened is that you're -- you're at a very critical point, but we're also at a critical point in this presidential election, too. And I don't think this issue has been elevated into the debate to the level I want to see it elevated.
It's number one. If you don't solve this problem, you -- you don't have to worry about health care and education, because you're not going to have the money to take care of it anyway.
BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong. You were a lifelong Republican. You supported President Bush back in 2000. "The New York Times" says you were among those that bankrolled the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth against John Kerry.
But, right now, where do you see these two candidates, neither one of whom, I believe you say is not doing the job?
PICKENS: I didn't say they weren't doing the job. And I'm not sure that they totally understand the urgency of what I see. And maybe they just don't think it's as -- as critical as I do.
But, here, you -- you don't talk about things that are going to happen 10, 20, 30 years from now. You talk about things you can fix as quickly as you -- as possible. And I think you can have a lot done in less than five years, if we move in the direction that I'm talking about going.
BLITZER: And you're talking about wind, solar, and natural gas. Those are the three pillars, clean, productive energy that you want to see this country move toward. Let's talk about each one of them, wind, for -- for example.
How much is it going to cost to generate the kind of energy from wind in the Plain states and in the Midwest that the country -- the country really needs? How much money are we talking about?
PICKENS: Well, you can do 200,000 megawatts of wind for $500 million -- $500 billion. And that's a lot, no kidding, but...
BLITZER: Help us under that in terms of -- you know, of what that means for the American people.
PICKENS: OK. Well, $500 billion, I mean, to do 20 percent of our of our power generation requirement, but what the government needs to do is to give -- the private sector will do that. The private sector will do it. What we have got to do is to get from the government access to corridors from the wind corridor to the East and West Coasts.
BLITZER: We're talking from Texas up to the border of Canada?
PICKENS: That's right. And -- but you have got to -- you have got to figure out how you're going to move the power once it's generated. And -- you know, and the government's got to open up those lanes for you from east and west.
And -- but the Department of Energy has done a great amount of study on this. And they have shown that the grid could be established and installed for something like $70 billion to $100 billion. So, it's not some insurmountable deal. The problem is, is to that the government opens it up. And my answer to that is, go the Eisenhower route on the interstate highways, is the way to go.
BLITZER: All right. And you're saying that, between wind, solar, natural gas, a huge chunk of America's dependence on imported oil could be removed.
PICKENS: I say you could do -- in five to 10 years, you could get 38 percent of your imports taken care of. That would be $300 billion a year we would save on the outflow from the...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: At the current cost of a barrel of oil.
What about drilling offshore? There's a debate. As you know, McCain says, yes, go ahead and drill off the coasts of Florida and California. Obama says, no.
You're an oilman. What do you say?
McCain says, OK off the East and West Coasts. I say East, West Coast and ANWR. Get it all. I mean, to get off of foreign oil, that is the enemy. Get everything you can get. You cannot drill your way out of it. But you're drilling, and whatever you are able to find and put into the domestic system will help us. But you -- you aren't going to be able to find enough to take care of all the imports that we have.
BLITZER: What about nuclear?
PICKENS: Nuclear, fine, do it. Anything in America, do it, and get off of foreign oil.
BLITZER: And you're ready to put some of your own money behind all of this as well. How much are we talking about? We know you're a billionaire.
PICKENS: I have -- in the 4,000 megawatts that I'm building at Pampa, Texas, that that's going to cost $10 billion. So, I'm putting my money where my mouth is.
BLITZER: T. Boone Pickens, thanks very much for coming in.
PICKENS: You bet. Thank you.
BLITZER: He was Osama bin Laden's former driver. Did he also know the target of one of the planes hijacked on 9/11? CNN's Jamie McIntyre is standing by. He's live at Guantanamo Bay. He will be joining us for the latest on Salim Hamdan's war crimes trial, the first of its kind.
Are GOP leaders telling party members to save themselves from voter backlash? Rank-and-file Republicans may be getting a green light to actually side with Democrats. We will talk about it in today's "Strategy Session."
And we will also have more of Carol Costello's exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama -- why the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader says he could potentially become a Chinese citizen.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: For the first time, a prisoner being held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is now on trial for war crimes.
Salim Hamdan is a former driver for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He's charged with conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
Let's head out to Gitmo.
Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by with the latest.
How did it go, Jamie?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, prosecutors here in Guantanamo are really trying to make the case that Salim Hamdan was not just some low-level driver, but somebody who really was on Osama bin Laden's inner circle.
In his opening argument, Lieutenant Commander Timothy Stone, the lead prosecutor here, made the argument that Hamdan actually knew about some of the targets on September 11 because he overheard a reference to the dome, an apparent reference to the Capitol, and an attempt to hit it.
He said -- quote -- "Virtually no one knew the intended target. But the accused knew," he said.
Now, the prosecution is making the exact -- I mean, the defense is making the exact opposite argument, claiming that, in fact, all Salim Hamdan was doing was working for a paycheck. The evidence is, he worked for wages. He didn't wage attacks on America, said Harry Schneider. That was the -- one of the civilian defense attorneys. He had a job because he had to earn a living, not because he had a jihad against America.
The first witness called today, Wolf, by the way, was a special forces officer, who says -- who testified that he saw Hamdan driving a car that had SA-7 missiles bound for al Qaeda. But, on cross- examination, he had to admit he couldn't say for sure that Hamdan was the driver of the vehicle where the missiles were found.
This trial's expected to last four to six weeks. And we will be keeping an eye on it -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Jamie is at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba monitoring this first-ever trial of this type. We will get back to Jamie, obviously, in the next several days, a lot.
Meanwhile, in our "Strategy Session": Just too good to be true? The McCain campaign turns the table on the news media and the Obama campaign.
And every senator for himself or herself sensing doom at the polls -- Republican senators are given free rein to hold their seats.
Jennifer Palmieri and John Feehery, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: John McCain is taking a musical jab at Barack Obama.
Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri. She's also the senior vice president for communications at the Center For American Progress here in Washington. Also joining us, the Republican strategist John Feehery.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
He's having some fun, McCain, and his campaign going after the mainstream media, which he says is in love with Barack Obama. I will play a little clip of a new sort of Web ad he's got out there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: The feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech, my -- I felt this thrill going up my leg. I don't have that too often.
The biblical term for it, since we're in a biblical era, is deliverance. We're being picked up and moved to where we have to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What percentage of mainstream media is in the tank for Barack Obama?
TERRY MCAULIFFE, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Oh, probably 90 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the backdrop to all of that.
BLITZER: There's a little brief picture of Jack Cafferty and Wolf Blitzer in that ad as well.
BLITZER: But what do you think? Does he have a point? Is the mainstream media in love with Barack Obama?
JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think as, you know, someone who worked for John Edwards and watched Hillary Clinton, I think the mainstream media is very interested in the Barack Obama story.
I don't think -- but I think that, you know, Hillary Clinton tried this strategy, attacking the media, and it doesn't tend to be a winning strategy. She complained during the primary. As a matter of fact, I noted most of those video clips I saw were from the primary. It was -- I think it's more a reflection of some of those anchors -- not this one -- not liking Senator Clinton, so much as liking Senator Obama.
But it's -- it's generally the sign of a losing campaign when you decide the best strategy for me is to attack the media.
BLITZER: What do you think, John?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, Howard Kurtz said over the weekend that there might be a big backlash against the media because of their love with Barack Obama.
You know, we're entering -- where the media is under a lot of stress. They have the Internet. Revenues are going down. So, you have this advocacy journalism that is going on, where they are mixing opinion with fact. And it's really hurting the media.
And the fact of the matter is, they love Barack Obama. Lee Cowan himself from NBC News said: I can't -- I'm giddy about him. I love Barack Obama.
And this is throughout the media. Now, this is really hurting the media itself. I'm not sure if -- and I don't think it's hurting Barack Obama. I think it's actually helping him. You only see this manifest itself in this -- you have all the anchors going over and following his every movement in his vacation -- his trip to -- to the Middle East and to Europe.
BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on one second.
BLITZER: Just hold on one second.
All right, Senator Obama has just arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel. And upon his arrival from Amman, Jordan, he made a brief statement, reaffirming his strong support for Israel.
We will play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want input and insight from Israelis' leaders about how they see the current situation. I will share some of my ideas. The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken, one that I have affirmed throughout my career, and one that I would intend to not only continue, but actually strengthen, in an Obama administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's going to spend the night tonight in Israel. And, then, tomorrow, he has meetings with the Israeli leadership, as well as the Palestinian leadership, in Ramallah out in the West Bank.
This is a diplomatic mine field whenever you get involved, John, in Israeli/Palestinian affairs, as you well know.
FEEHERY: Especially with a lot of the important Jewish votes here in the United States. And a lot of Jewish voters are a little bit uneasy about Barack Obama, even though he has a lot of staff -- people on his staff who are Jewish. He has -- a lot of the Jewish community is a little bit nervous about him and how strong he's going to be in protecting and defending Israel.
BLITZER: This will be an opportunity, as a result, to make a statement, not only to the American-Jewish community, but to other supporters of Israel out in the United States.
PALMIERI: Yes, it's been a very high-stakes trip, but I think it's been incredibly successful, and that he -- you know, there was definitely risk involved, but it's gone -- it's gone really well.
And I think that him having the opportunity to go to Israel is important. And it's just sort of the dichotomy, I think, between seeing Obama in the Mideast and then John McCain playing golf with elder President Bush.
I mean, McCain sort of brings some of these problems on to himself. Maybe if he was doing something more interesting, anchors would fly over to cover him. But he's not offering a really great choice.
BLITZER: Well, he has made several important trips. He went to Iraq himself, went to Colombia, went to Canada.
But I think that it seems to me the McCain campaign was sort of caught flat-footed this week. They had to know it was going to be an incredibly important week for Obama. Maybe they just thought they would sit back and hope that he had some troubles over there.
BLITZER: But it is a problem for Senator McCain to compete with this enormous publicity he's generating.
FEEHERY: Well, he's not going to compete, and I think he knows that. That's why this ad is so telling, because you know that whatever coverage that Barack Obama is going to get out of this trip, that the media's got to ask the tough questions. And, so far, they have only been showing kind of the lovefest that people have for Obama overseas.
And, you know, it's actually -- people are wondering about the media's judgment.
BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys. John, thank you very much.
Jennifer, always a pleasure.
Some stories we're working on here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Should he stay or will he go? Jay Leno goes undercover to get to the bottom of his future over at NBC.
And we're standing by for an update on Tropical Storm Dolly. Has it gained enough strength to become a hurricane, as it bears on down on Texas and the Mexican coast?
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Momentarily we will be getting a new forecast on Tropical Storm Dolly. Has it intensified and become an actual hurricane? We will go live to the National Hurricane Center. Our Brian Todd is standing by live on the scene as well. Stand by, momentarily, for that.
In the meantime, let's check today's "Political Ticker."
Al Gore's online appeal -- the former vice president is urging party faithful to give money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to put Barack Obama in the White House and to win Congress. Gore also says Republican groups plan to spend $300 million in attack ads targeting Democrats. His e-mail solicitation is part of the DCCC's 100 days of action campaign. Lawmakers will contribute $2 for every $1 given by outside donors.
Donors to New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg's reelection campaign may to have miss the Boss in concert. The Democrats' campaign has scuttled plans to buy premium tickets for Bruce Springsteen's concert at Giant Stadium this Sunday for $108 apiece and give them to supporters who have donated at least $1,500 to the campaign. The campaign says it dropped its ticket request after Giant Stadium officials expressed concern.
Speculation is heating up that John McCain will pick Louisiana Governor, perhaps, Bobby Jindal as his running mate. McCain is set to meet with Jindal tomorrow. The McCain campaign reportedly is considering announcing his vice presidential pick maybe as early as this week, perhaps seizing on a bit of the spotlight from Barack Obama on his high-profile trip to the Middle East and Europe. But there's been no decision, as far as we know.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out CNN.com/situationroom. That's also where you can download our new political screen saver.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, how will Barack Obama's overseas trip affect his chances of winning the election in November? Nancy in Tennessee says: "I think John McCain's criticism of Barack Obama for not visiting Iraq has backfired. John McCain is probably wishing he didn't tell Barack to see the world in seven days. Voters now see how Barack can handle himself with leaders of all countries. It will definitely give him a leg up when the polls open in November."
Stephen writes: "It won't affect him at all. He was going to win before the trip. And he is going to win after the trip.
Susie in Washington says: "The commotion overseas is indicative of what is going on at home. Obama is a fad, hyped up by the media. He has yet to prove any real substance, just rah-rah talk of change and hope. I am leaning toward voting for him, only to see if he can actually deliver on any of these ephemeral promises. My guess is, just like the totally ineffective Democratic Congress led by Pelosi and Reid, he will not amount to much."
Raoul in New Orleans: "The media attention he has gotten so far is proof. While he has been abroad, Senator McCain has told us Senator Obama is to blame for our high gas prices, Iraq shares a border with Pakistan, and he is going to pick a V.P. soon. Does anybody care? No. If Senator Obama were had said one thing as shocking as any of this, he would be in more hot water than a crawfish boil."
That letter was from New Orleans. They boil a lot of crawfish down there.
Tony in San Diego: "He will have accomplished more this week than Bush did in two terms. Done."
Mike in Albuquerque: "The trip will give him enough free media coverage to blast him into orbit. That should put him over the top."
And Jay in New York writes: "Obama looks and acts presidential overseas, while all we hear recently from the McCain camp are sound bites of McCain whining about Obama. Doesn't that tell you something, Jack?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to this my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there. There are hundreds of them posted. We're getting a lot of e-mail today on this question, Wolf.
BLITZER: Not surprised, Jack. Thanks very much.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, there's breaking news. Dolly is now a hurricane. And hurricane warnings on the Texas coast are bringing new fears of massive flooding -- residents already scrambling to get ready or get out of the way as Dolly gathers strength in the Gulf. Stand by.