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Russia Agrees to Truce, Georgia Says Bombing Continues; U.S. Pressure on Russia; Conflict Threatens Oil Flow

Aired August 12, 2008 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Russia declares an end to punishing attacks on Georgia, but there are reports of continued fighting as Georgians confront the ruins of their homes and their lives.
The White House struggles to keep the pressure on Russia. Are the presidential candidates supporting or stepping on Mr. Bush's message?

And Barack Obama gets closer to naming his running mate. And his top prospects seem to be falling, well, into two groups.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the Georgian city of Gori right now, there is blood in the streets and wreckage of combat. The terrified residents are waiting to see if Russia lives up to its new promise to end air and ground attacks.

Across Georgia, a former Soviet republic and U.S. ally, tens of thousands of people have sought refuge, some escaping the bombardment in cold, wet, rat-infested cellars. The death toll is unclear after five days of intense fighting, but witnesses say hundreds, perhaps even thousands, have died in this explosion of a long-simmering land dispute.

Right now huge crowds of Georgian are showing their support for President Mikheil Saakashvili. Georgia moved Thursday to crack down on separatists in two breakaway provinces supported by Russia. Now, Moscow responded with a show of military muscle that was reminiscent of the Cold War era.

Our CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Suzanne, this could be a very decisive day in this conflict. Of course, the big news coming out of Moscow today, with the Russian president saying that as far as he is concerned, the military operations of Russian forces here in Georgia are over and that he has ordered his troops to stop fighting.

Now, the big question that many people here in Tbilisi, Georgia, in the capital of this city, are asking, does that mean there's going to be a cease-fire? Does that mean there is going to be peace? You're absolutely right, there were demonstrations all throughout the day here in Tbilisi, with people waving the Georgian flag, singing the Georgian national anthem, and showing support for their government and their president. We talked to many of those people at those demonstrations, and many of them say they are not sure that this peace or this cease-fire will actually hold. Having said that, we heard from Georgian authorities today that after the Russian president made that announcement that his forces would stop using hostilities against the Georgians, that two Georgian towns were bombed by Russian airplanes, and also that a contingent of Georgian forces was attacked in the breakaway province of Abkhazia -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Frederik, what are the latest efforts in the diplomatic channels here?

PLEITGEN: There's a lot going in the diplomatic channels today.

President Sarkozy of France, who seems to be becoming something like the top mediator between these two countries, he visited Moscow earlier today, held a press conference there with Dmitry Medvedev, where the two of them put forward a cease-fire proposal that Sarkozy backed. It's six points. It calls for both nations to end their hostility and for Russian forces to leave this country of Georgia.

Sarkozy right now is here in Tbilisi, in the capital of Georgia. He's been holding talks with the Georgian president, Saakashvili. And we're waiting to see what those talks will bring -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Frederik, thank you so much.

The United States and its allies are trying to show Russia that the Soviet-style aggression in Georgia will not stand, but their options are limited essentially. The presidential race in this country isn't making the diplomatic situation any less complicated.

Our White House Correspondent Ed Henry joining us.

The situation a high priority for the president. You know what really struck me, Ed? When seeing the president of Georgia not mention President Bush and the Bush administration, but talked about John McCain saying that, "We are all Georgians now."

How is the White House responding to this? And what are they doing about this situation?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it is very interesting. Top U.S. officials are privately saying they are getting assurances from the Russians that they don't plan to stay in Georgia, but officials here are trying to be cautious about the whole situation.

But as you noted, the presidential candidates, not so cautious.


HENRY (voice-over): One day after President Bush demanded an end to what he called Russia's brutal escalation of violence in Georgia, a more measured tone from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is very important now that all parties cease fire. The Georgians have agreed to a cease- fire. The Russians need to stop their military operations, as they have apparently said that they will.

HENRY: Using the word "apparently" shows how much the White House is struggling to get a handle on Russia's real intention.

QUESTION: Are you weighing any military options, U.S. military options?

HENRY: There are few good options. U.S. military options could dramatically escalate tensions, and it's unlikely the United Nations will take tough action to stop Russia. So Rice focused on steps the U.S. can take to aid Georgia rather than specifics to stop Russia's invasion.

RICE: We are reviewing our options for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Georgia. But the most important thing right now is that these military operations need to stop.

HENRY: The presidential candidates are not being so diplomatic, with Republican John McCain going much further than the White House in denouncing Russia on WIPF Radio in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian empire. Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian empire.

HENRY: Democrat Barack Obama, who interrupted his vacation Monday to lash out at Russia on camera, released a tough written statement Tuesday. "Now is the time for action, not just words," Obama said of Russia. "It is past time for the Russian government to immediately sign and implement a cease-fire."

Both candidates also keep calling Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and are not shy about what they tell him.

MCCAIN: And I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, today, we are all Georgians.


HENRY: You heard John McCain right there saying, "I speak for all Americans." Rather remarkable.

And as you noticed, Suzanne, even more remarkable, you had the president of Georgia just a few moments ago at a huge, huge rally in Tbilisi recounting that conversation for the crowd, that conversation he had with John McCain. There was a huge roar from the crowd about a U.S. presidential candidate being involved.

Every four years there's a little awkwardness between the current White House and those candidates out there when there's a foreign policy issue. It seems a little bit more awkward right now -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Sure, Ed. And you and I were both out there when President Bush visited Georgia, and we saw the kind of warm reception he got. Thousands of people gathering there, and we see that again today before the Georgian president.

What does the White House make of all of these kind of conflicting messages or these various messages that are coming from the candidates themselves? Is it getting in the way of theirs?

HENRY: They continue to say that it's not interfering, that the president is not too focused on what the candidates have to say, that he's got to still do his job for the final few months. But the bottom line, as you know full well, there's that old adage about America speaking with one voice in a crisis. Right now it certainly sounds like we're speaking with three voices -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. I guess they just can't help themselves at this time.

HENRY: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Well, on top of the bloodshed in Georgia, there is this disturbing reality for people all over the world: oil pipelines smack dab in the conflict zone in the midst of an energy crisis.

Here's CNN Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, let me give you a sense of why this is important.

It's really just about a million barrels of oil that goes through Georgia every day, but right now we only have about a two-million- barrel surplus in the world. We make about 87 million barrels of oil in the world every day. We consume about 85 million.

Let me show you on a map what we're looking at right now.

You can see Georgia is the green country in the middle. It is between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Caspian sea is entirely landlocked, so if you get oil out of there, you've got to get it out by pipeline.

The countries around it, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The West needs a way to get the oil out, so it used to go through that blue pipeline you see which goes through Russia to a port on the Black Sea.

But what happened is, about five years ago, the western-led consortium decided to build a pipeline that goes through friendlier countries, Azerbaijan, then Georgia, then through Turkey, and over to the Mediterranean, where that fuel goes to Middle Eastern and European countries. That pipeline is shut down, but it wasn't shut down because of this fighting. It was shut down last week because Kurdish rebels had attacked that pipeline and set fire to a portion of it. That's most of the oil.

BP, which leads this consortium, has also shut down that line which goes from Baku on the Caspian Sea, the red line which goes to the Black Sea. So, right now, of the four pipelines that run through Georgia, three of them are shut down. About a million barrels of oil is not getting through. Oil markets are not reacting strongly to this news, but we'll continue to monitor it for you -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Ali.

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty joining us.

Jack, great to see you. What are you looking at?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some Hillary Clinton supporters want to make sure that the upcoming Democratic convention doesn't turn into a coronation of Barack Obama. You know, the guy who one the primaries?

A humorless organization called The Denver Group ran an ad in a Capitol Hill newspaper demanding that Hillary Clinton's name be placed in nomination at the convention and demanding that speeches be allowed in support of her nomination. These are folks who have many demands.

And if they don't get their way, they are threatening a revolt. Threatening and demanding.

The ad says, "Will Howard Dean and the DNC turn the Democratic Party into the Boston Tea Party?"

More demands. They demand a roll call vote on her nomination, presumably after those speeches that they're demanding. This, despite the fact that she lost and dropped out of the race months ago.

Of course, Clinton herself has not ruled out the idea of placing her name in nomination, saying that her supporters would experience a catharsis if their voices were heard.

Another group of Clinton supporters is planning a march in Denver on the same day that she is expected to address the convention. And there are Clinton delegates who have started collecting signatures on petitions to place Clinton's name in the nomination.

They say their effort is about respect. Baloney. In their heart of hearts, what they really want is to wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama.

They won't be able to do that, but in the process of trying, they can go a long way toward diminishing the historic nature of Obama's achievement, disrupting the convention itself, taking the spotlight away from the nominee, and slowing his momentum going into November. Is this what they call party unity? Here's the question: In order to satisfy Hillary Clinton's supporters, should her name be placed in nomination at the convention? Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: It should be very interesting, Jack. I'll be at that convention and we'll see how many of those demands actually get met.

Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You bet.

MALVEAUX: Less than two weeks before the Democratic convention, Barack Obama's VP short list, well, it may be getting just a bit shorter. And some of this potential running mates' strengths could make up for his weaknesses.

Plus, as a Hillary Clinton ally tells it, John McCain infamous celebrity ad against Obama is working.

And we'll get the latest from Russia on its agreement to stop the violence in Georgia. I'll talk with Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin.


MALVEAUX: We're following breaking developments in the battle between Russian and Georgian forces. A potential (ph) cease-fire is in place. The big question is, will it hold?

With us now is Vitaly Churkin. He is the Russian ambassador to the United Nations.

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: First thing, it's been reported that the Russian foreign minister has essentially said that Georgia's president must go.

Is this the position right now of the Russian government?

CHURKIN: It is our recommendation, yes, because we think that he has performed some horrific acts toward the people of South Ossetia, some major crimes against humanity have been committed which can been qualified as genocide and ethnic cleansing. And it would be good for everybody, for him, his country, and the international community, if he were to go.

MALVEAUX: So what does that mean? What does Russia do? Is there any action that your government is taking to make that happen?

CHURKIN: No, it is just our recommendation. We are not going to deal with him directly. Of course, there are others in the Georgian capital, other people with whom we can talk in the government of Georgia.

MALVEAUX: With all due respect, this is obviously a democratically-elected government, with the president the head of it. What makes you think that Russia's in a position to determine their leadership?

CHURKIN: Russia -- Russia -- we are not determining the leadership. We are expressing our opinion. Of course, it's for the people of Georgia ultimately to decide who is going to be their president.

MALVEAUX: Secretary Rice said earlier today that the violence, the military operation, must cease. What is the situation on the ground now? Have the -- have your forces pulled back?

CHURKIN: Well, first of all, President Medvedev have given orders -- has given orders to our armed forces to end the peacemaking operation in Georgia. And secondly, there was a meeting in Moscow between President Sarkozy of France and President Medvedev, and they came up with six principles for the settlement of the situation there.

And one of the principles is that fighting must stop. The other is that there should be freedom of -- access to humanitarian assistance.

The Georgian forces must go back to their initial bases. Russian forces will go back to the lines where they were on August 6th. Russian peacekeepers will stay.

However, they will be taking measures to make sure there is heightened security, until there is an international arrangement for that. And then there's going to be international discussion of the future status of Abkhazia and Ossetia, and heightened security for them.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Ambassador, tell us, give us a timetable here. Has this started? When will Russia begin to pull back its tanks? When will those ships leave the Black Sea?

CHURKIN: Well, first of all, two things have to happen. First of all, we need to be sure that there are no provocation from the Georgians, that really they pull out of South Ossetia and they go to the places from where they cannot relaunch their assault on South Ossetia.

And secondly, we must make sure that the Georgian government accepts the six principles which have been worked out by the president of France -- he is also presiding in the European Union now -- and the president of the Russian federation. And then things on the ground will be worked out as a practical matter, and things will start hopefully rolling in the positive direction.

MALVEAUX: So, just to be absolutely clear, has the bombing stopped? CHURKIN: Yes, it has. If there are no provocations from the Georgians, yes.

MALVEAUX: So, it has already stopped?

CHURKIN: You know, I'm not on the ground. I'm sitting here in New York. So, I cannot give you up-to-the-minute information. If there -- if there are no Georgian provocations, then there is no Russian military activity, I can tell you.

MALVEAUX: But certainly the Russian government officials that you are speaking to are telling you that the bombing has stopped?

CHURKIN: Well, there has been an order of the Russian president to stop the fighting and to respond to Georgian provocations if there are any. And I have no direct information, up-to-the-minute information of what is happening on the ground.

MALVEAUX: I want to point to an op-ed here from the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who essentially says that he believes that perhaps Georgia got a wink and a nod in terms of its own operation to move forward, a green light from the West. He said specifically that "... Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expected unconditional support from the West and the West had given him reason to think that he would have it."

Do you agree with him?

CHURKIN: Well, this is a long quote, and I don't have to subscribe to every word Mikhail Gorbachev has to say. But what is clear is that the United States has had a very close relationship with Mr. Saakashvili.

Now we are told the United States is going to try to sort out how come he started this operation without, according to them, direct green light from the United States. But let me tell you what...

MALVEAUX: Do you have any proof? Do you have any proof of that, there were any signals coming from the United States that gave the green light?

CHURKIN: Well, we do not want to believe that the United States has given a green light to this adventurous (ph) act, but our American colleagues are telling us that they're investigating now what may have happened in the channels of communication for Mr. Saakashvili to have behaved in such a reckless manner.

MALVEAUX: I want you to listen to what President Bush said, a very strong and forceful warning. Take a listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These actions have substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russian relations with the United States and Europe. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Does this concern your government?

CHURKIN: Well, this was yesterday. Now we have a new reality, when there is a joint Russian/French initiative to resolve the conflict.

Of course, we hope that we'll continue normal relations with the United States and other members of the international community, including the European Union. However, if there is interest on the part of some people in the United States to undermine our relations, to curtail our relations, we might as well let the United States deal on its own with some of the issues we work together on internationally.

MALVEAUX: What does that mean, the United States on its own?

CHURKIN: Well, it means that there are plenty of things. You know, we have equal interest, we believe, in mutual cooperation between the Russian federation and the United States. And we should look and try to resolve international and regional crises like the one we've seen in Georgia in the past few days, and others.

So, we hope that this thing is going to be overcome. We are not happy with the way the United States has been behaving, and essentially propping up Mr. Saakashvili in the past few years. But...

MALVEAUX: Is there anything your government is going to do to follow up on that? You say you're not happy with the Bush administration?

CHURKIN: Well, we're going to do the things that we have been doing all along. We are going to talk frankly to them. And I hope they are going to draw some conclusions.

Well, let me give you one example. The United States has been a major arms supplier to the Saakashvili government. And I've heard media reports lately, for example, that -- yesterday, as a matter of fact -- that Israel, which has also been one of the arms suppliers, is reconsidering its relationship in the arms area with Georgia. So, we hope that the United States will draw some of those conclusions in the political and other fields, and will draw a proper conclusion about Mr. Saakashvili.

I heard my colleague, Ambassador Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, say today on the waves that Mr. Saakashvili may have made some tactical mistakes. If this kind of an invasion of a region with thousands of dead is a tactical mistake, you know, you must stop treating Mr. Saakashvili as a naughty child. He deserve a more serious assessment of what he has done in terms of war crimes, genocide, and ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us here on THE SITUATION ROOM. Appreciate it.


MALVEAUX: Soaked in controversy, one conservative group prays for rain of biblical proportions to drown out Barack Obama's moment in the spotlight. But that has unleashed a flood of criticism.

And many are considered, but only one can be chosen. So who will Obama pick as his running mate? Could he be weighing two competing factors?




Happening now, diplomatic bad blood leaves blood in the streets. Amid efforts to end the conflict in Georgia, we look at efforts to help those suffering residents trapped in the warfare.

Regarding helping you pay less for oil and gas, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reverses herself on one option. But President Bush warns of political trickery.

And some troops flying to fight the war are fighting the airlines over one thing, checked bagged fees. Some troops are forced to pay out of pocket at the airport. Wait until you hear what the airlines have to say.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some call them Obamacans. They are Republicans who support Barack Obama. Today, that group grew at least by one. Former Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, he's a Republican moderate with extensive foreign-policy credentials. Now he is behind Obama, saying that the United States needs a new foreign policy approach.

Meanwhile, what approach Obama takes regarding a vice president, well, that's anybody's guess.

But CNN's Jessica Yellin joins me for this guessing game. We will see who is on the short list.

This has got to be a story you have got to love, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. Everybody has a different set of names.

But the candidates believed to be on Obama's short list generally fall into two broad categories, Suzanne, those who would reinforce Obama's message of change and those who would reassure voters about some of Obama's perceived weaknesses.


YELLIN (voice-over): Among those who reinforce the change message, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. He's young, new on the national scene, a Washington outsider who speaks fluent Spanish, and could help win Virginia, a crucial swing state.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Although this has been a traditionally red state that hadn't gone Democrat since 1964, everything I see across Virginia makes me believe that Obama can win in November.

YELLIN: Senator Evan Bayh arguably reinforces the change message as well.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: The time has come for America not to be divided any longer into red states and blue states.

YELLIN: Young, with preteen kids, he's not considered a true Washington insider, thanks to his two terms as Indiana's governor. Indiana is another red state Obama hopes to win.

There's Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius could help make traditionally Republican Kansas competitive.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS: We have strong ties to the presidential nominee. He was raised by Kansans. His mother and grandparents came out of Kansas.

YELLIN: As a woman and a newcomer, she would also make it a clear change ticket, though there are risks in picking a woman other than Clinton.

But, instead of emphasizing change, Obama could pick a vice president who reassures voters on experience and national security, like six-term Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or five-term Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who is very close to Senator Ted Kennedy, one of Obama's most trusted mentors.


YELLIN: And, Suzanne, according to the sources I talked to, we should add two other names, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is a national -- national security heavyweight in the Democratic Party, and, of course, Senator Hillary Clinton. Although most of the sources we all talked to think she's unlikely, they say, you never know -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: They will keep us guessing, I guess, Jessica.

I know we're reading the tea leaves a little bit, but what do you think is the key factor in Obama's decision at this time?

YELLIN: You know, everyone I talk to says it's not about who is going to deliver a state or help him pick up a few more votes. It's about the person he wants to spend that much time with and the person with whom he feels most comfortable personally. People say this so consistently, that I tend to believe it.

MALVEAUX: All right.

YELLIN: Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, thanks Jessica. It's going to be a big story.

YELLIN: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: The conservative organization Focus on the Family has pulled an online video asking people to pray for rain during Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver this month.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, well, you know, this is a little confusing here. They had. Then they put it. What kind of weather now are they asking for or praying for?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, this was a video that was up there online, Suzanne, asking for people to pray not just for a quick shower, but rain of biblical proportions, during the speech, wanting it to start maybe a couple minutes before Obama started talking.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm talking "umbrella ain't going to help you" rain, not "flood people out of their houses" rain, just good old "swamp the intersections" rain. We're not asking for hail the size of canned hams or lightning bolts to set the bunting on fire, just rain, beautiful rain, "network cameras can't see the podium" rain.


TATTON: And you get the picture there.

The narrator says he's calling on the downpour for Obama because he says, "I'm pro-life, I'm against gay marriage, and I want the next president to agree."

It was made by the political arm of the Christian organization Focus on the Family. They say this was intended to be a spoof, a joke. But it seems that some of their members didn't agree, or didn't really get it, contacted the organization. And now the video has been pulled, the group saying, "We never want to mislead people on importance subject of prayer" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Maybe it will be sunny, then.

All right, thanks, Abbi.

The conflict in Georgia is giving John McCain an opening to show off his foreign policy chops. Is he making the most of it?

It can get ugly on the airwaves, but a Democratic insider says a controversial negative ad against Barack Obama is effective.

And, if you're desperate for a ticket to Obama's acceptance speech in Denver, well, you better get out your computer and a lot of cash.



MALVEAUX: Well, that music in a dramatic -- dramatic moment rolled out today in Pennsylvania. John McCain, in the biggest political fight, came out to the "Rocky" theme song and drove into a huge rally in this Straight Talk Express -- all the theatrics meant to suggest that John McCain is the fighter Americans want in times of crises.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joining me now regarding the crisis in Georgia.

Is this McCain's moment, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he is certainly acting as if it is.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): A major international crisis, it could be just what John McCain needs to highlight his strengths. McCain has talked tough from the outset of the crisis.

MCCAIN: Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces out of sovereign Georgian territory.

SCHNEIDER: Initially, Obama's tone was more measured.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is important at this point for all sides to show restraint and to stop this armed conflict.

SCHNEIDER: After speaking to the president of Georgia, Obama's tone got stronger.

OBAMA: No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia, and -- and has now violated the space of another country.

SCHNEIDER: Last month, Obama and McCain were trusted equally to handle international affairs. But McCain had the edge on handling an unexpected major crisis, like, presumably, the one in Georgia.

At a town hall in Pennsylvania that drew an unusually large turnout, McCain talked about the relevance of the crisis to Americans. MCCAIN: There's a pipeline, an oil pipeline in Baku, Tbilisi and Ceyhan which brings oil from the Caspian to points west and traverses Georgia. That's the very pipeline that the Russians tried to bomb.

SCHNEIDER: He played to the emotions when he recounted his remarks to the president of Georgia.

MCCAIN: And I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, today, we are all Georgians.


SCHNEIDER: His statement on the radio was ominous.


MCCAIN: I think it's very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian empire.



SCHNEIDER: Some voters may worry, does he want to start a new Cold War? The risk for McCain is that he could overplay the issue and frighten war-weary voters, whose priorities are at home right now. The Russians are doing a pretty good job of frightening people already -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Bill.

A lot of people paying attention to the candidates' words regarding the conflict.

Thanks, Bill.


MALVEAUX: In the "Strategy Session": John McCain says he's going to come from behind to win.


MCCAIN: I'm the underdog in this race. I'm the underdog. And I love being the underdog. I have been the underdog a number of times in my life. And, each time, I have relished that position.


MALVEAUX: But is he appealing to older voters, concerned that Obama's the voice of a younger generation?

And Tom Foreman is with the CNN Election Express. They're rolling through the battleground states. And, well, we are going to find what's on Ohioans' minds. He's live on the campaign trail.


MALVEAUX: Senator John McCain's been getting a lot of attention for his first negative ad, now that he is running some more, we see. Well, what is behind his new strategy and the portrayal of Barack Obama as a celebrity?

With me in today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala, and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey, editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

I want to start off by first playing this new RNC ad. Let's take a listen.


NARRATOR: For decades, he's been Washington's biggest celebrity.


NARRATOR: And, as Washington embraced him, John McCain hugged right back, the lobbyists running his low-road campaign, the money, billions in tax breaks for oil and drug companies, but almost nothing for families like yours.


MALVEAUX: That's actually the Obama ad.




MALVEAUX: But the question -- the question remains here, are these -- do these negative ads resonate? We hear a lot from guys like you, the pundits, and the media that -- you know, they kind of pooh- pooh this, say it's distasteful. But are they effective?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, they can be, first of all, if they're honest, if they are based on facts that you can demonstrate and prove it's true, and if it goes to a core issue that people really care about.

Negative ads in presidential campaigns are an important expression of free speech. Suzanne, the liberal media is not going to carry the message of the McCain campaign. And, as a matter of fact, they shouldn't carry the message of the Obama campaign. If these candidates are going to get their message out, they have to get it out themselves, including why they think the other guy shouldn't be elected.

BEGALA: Yes, I largely agree.

I will say, first off, the so-called liberal media is so in the tank for John McCain, it's embarrassing. (LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But we can have that debate later.

I also slightly disagree in that what the candidates say matters more. And this is where a presidential campaign is unique. When you're running for county treasurer, or -- or Congress, or even the Senate or governor, ads matter most.

In the -- in the presidential campaign, the free press matters. Still, negative ads, if, as Terry says, they're fair, factual, about the public record, relevant to your life, they're great. When I gave my money to Barack Obama, I wrote on the memo line, "for negative campaigning only." That's how much I like negative...


BEGALA: ... as long as it's truthful and about the public record.

JEFFREY: Let me just add to what Paul is saying, that what the candidates say matters most. The most devastating ad is when you take something the candidate himself said and put it out there where the public can see it.

And talk about the liberal media, there are things that Barack Obama has been saying in this campaign that the liberal media is not reporting, that, if the Republicans want out there, they are going to have to pay to get it out there on their own...


MALVEAUX: I want to play that ad that we referred to before, the RNC, this new video ad. Let's take a quick listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not usually busy whenever it's raining. And it's been busy all day.

NARRATOR: So, act now, and don't delay. We know he doesn't have much experience and isn't ready to lead, but that doesn't mean he isn't dreamy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The aura around him is just really nice

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I love most about him is that he has very soft eyes.


MALVEAUX: The ad is called "Fan Club."

And what we're seeing here, a strategy often used, both sides, but Republicans specifically, to take a strength of the candidate and turn it into a perceived weakness. Here, leadership or popularity or change, now it's -- it's kind of fluff and celebrity.

Is this effective?


I think it could be a lot more effective if it was more specific. That ad is going after a few atmospherics. One is that Obama seems to be running sometimes for president of the world, instead of president of the United States. There's a sort of messianic aura around his candidacy.

I think the ad would be more effective if, again, it used exactly what Obama said. And, by the way, I think speech he gave in Berlin, there are a lot of things Obama said in that speech you might see in ads later in this campaign.

MALVEAUX: The one thing, Paul, that we also saw in that ad was the fact that they used a lot of young people, young faces here.

BEGALA: Right.

MALVEAUX: Do you get a sense that they are -- they are also trying to paint this as some sort of like, you know, young, inexperienced voters, kind of a cultlike thing that is going on over here...

BEGALA: They might.

MALVEAUX: ... as opposed to a grownup campaign?

BEGALA: Yes, I suspect that the McCain people -- of course, McCain, I think, by Election Day, will be 93, 94, something like that -- actually, 72.


BEGALA: I'm sure they view the Obama campaign...

JEFFREY: His V.P. will be 93.


JEFFREY: He's going to need a more experienced guy there...


BEGALA: His nickname for Strom Thurmond was "The Kid." That's how old John McCain is.

But I think that they might view it as a bit of a children's crusade. But I think that's a mistake. I think to indict Barack Obama's leadership by saying he has millions of followers doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

The fact that he's inspired a whole new generation of Americans to service, just as John Kennedy did back when John McCain was only middle-aged, I think that's a wonderful thing. That's a noble thing. It's an inconsistent message to say he's not an experienced leader, but he has millions of people following him.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring up this quote, this from the former chief strategist of Hillary Clinton, Mark Penn, who said in "The Politico": "The tactic meets with media and pundit disapproval, and spawns accusations of negativity, but the reality is that a clever negative ad can be devastatingly effective."

JEFFREY: Yes, there's -- there's absolutely no doubt about it.

I think they're -- like I said, there are things that Barack Obama has said in this campaign that aren't getting covered in the media very much that I think would hurt him with a lot of voters. For example, Barack Obama says he's for full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

On Saturday, in Pittsburgh, the platform committee of the Democratic Party forwarded a platform to the full national convention that says, we oppose the Defense of Marriage Act. That is not getting covered in the press, Suzanne. If the Republicans want that out there, they're going have to put it out in their own ads.

MALVEAUX: Mark Penn not a favorite person of yours...

BEGALA: Right.

MALVEAUX: ... but does he have a point here?

BEGALA: Yes. You wonder, though, did he pay full price for that Harvard degree, right? A good ad works. Wow.

And I would note that he didn't say an ethical negative ad, which I would have included. It's the first thing Terry said, right? Terry is a person -- we disagree politically -- who has high ethics. The first thing he said, if it's fair and factual, if it's on the public record, then if it's ethical, not just clever -- so, clever is important, and humor matters, and Penn is right.

But it needs to be about something that affects people's lives. And it needs to be true.

JEFFREY: I will tell you. If you do a campaign and you are doing ads in a presidential campaign, you know you have the documentation of that that is completely unassailable, even at a higher standard than a lot of journalists in this town go when they're writing stories. You better get it right, or else you are going to have every reporter in town trying to prove you're wrong.

MALVEAUX: I want to turn real quick to something we have been talking about, obviously, the escalation, Russia and Georgia.

Both of these candidates have come out. They have picked up the phone and said, look, I have talked with -- I have talked to the Georgian president, and here's what needs to be done.

Are they stepping on President Bush's message? Does it really even make a difference? Is somebody coming out on top of this?

BEGALA: President Bush is not, I have to say.

First, he looked liked a doofus at the Olympics. I'm sorry to use disrespectful language about our president. But he's patting volleyball players on the rear end and holding up the American flag backwards, while his buddy Pootie-Poot -- the president's nickname for Putin -- Pootie-Poot is invading Georgia.

McCain showed some strength. Obama then showed strength. And it's actually President Bush who look like he's irrelevant here. And maybe that's good for McCain. I don't know.

MALVEAUX: Do you agree?

JEFFREY: We're having a serious foreign policy debate in this country over the wars we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And part of the debate centers on the fact that we really didn't know what we were getting into when we got into these two foreign wars in two countries we didn't know a lot about.

I would want to see these candidates demonstrate that they have a thorough knowledge of really what's going on between Georgia and Russia...


BEGALA: Well, say, be able to pronounce the president's name. But McCain talked to Saakashvili, but he couldn't get the name right.


JEFFREY: Let's have an intelligent debate about what the U.S. interests are there and how each one of these candidates can optimize our interests there.

MALVEAUX: All right, we are going to have to let it go at that.

Thank you so much, Paul Begala, Terry Jeffrey.

Some stories we're working on here in THE SITUATION ROOM: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's primary challenger, a well-known anti-war voice from the left. Should the House speaker be looking over her shoulder?

And subway hacking -- three college students barred by a federal judge from teaching you how to hitch a free ride on Boston's subways.

Plus, on their way to war, some troops are greeted by an unwelcome surprise -- a bill from a leading airliner for their luggage. Deborah Feyerick is covering that story.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. In South Carolina, a mechanic walks by school buses as the rising cost of fuel prices may prevent school districts from purchasing -- purchasing new ones.

In Iraq, a soldier holds the Iraqi flag during a handover ceremony with the U.S. military.

In China, Germany's Alexander Grimm celebrates with a beer after winning his first gold medal.

And, in Afghanistan, a boy rides a donkey as his friend follows along.

That's this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth a thousand words.

And on our "Political Ticker": Barack Obama is hammering John McCain in the Florida ad war. "The Wall Street Journal" reports, Obama has aired more than 9,700 local television commercials in that battleground state so far, at a cost of about $6.5 million.

John McCain hasn't run any campaign spots in Florida, and, yet, the Republican has a slight edge over Obama in state polls.

And here's an update on Obama's vacation in Hawaii. We are told that he has been jogging, golfing, and has visited his grandmother. Yesterday, he went to the movies, seeing the blockbuster Batman film "The Dark Knight." After the show, he had a four-star meal, his second this week.

And anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan has qualified to challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress. Sheehan says she is running because Pelosi failed to persuade Democrats to end funding the war for Iraq.

Yesterday, San Francisco election officials certified that Sheehan turned into enough signatures to get a spot on the November ballot as an independent candidate. Pelosi's spokesman says that the speaker welcomes the challenge.

And, in the Minnesota Senate race, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken are taking their fight online. Minnesota Public Radio reports that the candidates will answer questions on YouTube beginning today. YouTube solicited questions just a few weeks ago as part of the election coverage.

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That is where you can also download our political screen saver, and you can check out the blogs.

Jack Cafferty now joining us with "The Cafferty File."

Hey, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Suzanne. The question this hour is: In order to satisfy Hillary Clinton's supporters, should her name be placed in nomination at the Democratic Convention?

Lots of e-mails.

Jenny in Denver: "Hillary needs to come out now, announce that she will not support any effort to place her name into nomination at the convention. She has the power to unify the party, once she remembers this is not about her. It is about our country. She was the democratic process when she thought she would win. She supported it. She needs to support the process in her loss as well."

Mike writes: "No. I'm sick of Hillary and her so-called supporters. Enough already."

Sue says: "Hillary's name must be placed into nomination. This is no time to ignore the women in this world and the historic nature of her near-win."

Dee writes: "Oh, give it up already. The money for that ad could have been given to a charity or something useful, like paying off madam's debt. If you diehard PUMAs are not going to vote for Obama, then don't and shut up already."


Tom in Las Vegas says: "I say, if it helps unify the party, go for it. The Democrats can't afford any more infighting, so it's time to reach a compromise. And, if they can't do it in their own party, how are the going to do it on Capitol Hill?"

Darla in Edmonton says: "If Clinton's supporters want her name placed into nomination, I would hope that she would have the wisdom to stand at the convention podium and decline. A leader demonstrates their strength and wisdom when they act graciously and with dignity in the face of personal disappointment."

Sebastien in Philadelphia: "No party in the last 40 years has ever won the election coming out of a divided convention. They should pass out pacifiers at the convention for Hillary's Sore Loser Brigade, leave it at that."

And Sue in Phoenix says: "Please, we don't need three presidents. Plus, Bill walking around with nothing to do is a scary thought."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jack, thanks so much.