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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview with Kathleen Sebelius; Interview with Michael Steele; Interview with Laura Bush; Interview with Abdullah Abdullah; Interview with Fareed Zakaria; The President Speaks to Students; Bill Clinton Recalls Help from Walter Cronkite

Aired September 12, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama tries to lower the temperature of the health care debate after a lawmaker's angry outburst. Does the man who shouted "you lie" at the president distract from the hard work ahead? Plus, the presidential election dispute in Afghanistan gets uglier. This hour, the opposition candidates allegations of fraud and the call at least from his part for the U.S. to send in more troops.

And a high school student gets the president to open up about a very painful chapter in his own life. A controversial school event turns out to be more personal than political.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Game over. President Obama says opponents are playing political chess and should stop trying to score points at your expense. The president spent much of the week pushing for health care reform, sparking climatic and dramatic moments in front of the joint session of Congress. One issue that created a flash concerns people who are not Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie!

OBAMA: That's not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That Republican lawmaker who shouted "you lie" Joe Wilson of South Carolina, he has apologized. And the president has accepted that apology. But what is true regarding health care and illegal immigrants? I spoke about that and more with the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

The president flatly said last night -- and this is what caused the stir out there -- he says, none of the -- the proposals he's putting forward would help those who are here in the United States illegally. Is that right?

SEBELIUS: That's correct.

He made it clear that the bill specifically bars anyone who is in the country illegally from accessing the health insurance system.

BLITZER: But the president also says that, maybe later this year, early next year, he wants the Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which would find a way to allow millions of illegal immigrants to have legal residence in the United States.

Would they then be eligible for all of these benefits that -- that are now being considered?

SEBELIUS: Well, Wolf, I don't pretend to know what may end up in a comprehensive immigration bill.

I think the president has long figured that we need a comprehensive solution to fix the situation where people are in this country illegally. And we need Congress to roll up their sleeves and address it.

What they may decide to do with any number of situations, I don't know. But it's very clear that the health reform bill pending in Congress, the bills that the House wrote, the bill that is out that the Senate wrote specifically ban anyone in the country illegally from becoming part of that insurance system.

BLITZER: Because John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, today, he said you had a chance -- Democrats, we're talking about -- to underline that point during the committee process in the House, but you didn't do it, which raises these questions. Listen -- listen to Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: There were two opportunities in committee for House Democrats to make clear that illegal immigrants would not be covered by putting in requirements to -- to show citizenship. Both of those amendments were, in fact, rejected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was that appropriate, to reject those amendments?

SEBELIUS: I just think it's very disingenuous of the minority leader in the House, who has not been a part of this conversation from day one, who backed away from the table, to suggest that the language that is in a bill which is very specific and very clear isn't sufficient.

Read the bill. It clearly bans those in the country illegally from accessing the system. I guess you could say it four or five more times. But, unfortunately, in spite of over 100 Republican amendments that were part of the House process accepted in the bill, not a single Republican voted for the bill out of committee.

So, I would suggest the minority leader needs to come to the table with suggestions that he thinks would be helpful, and then participate in a process.

BLITZER: The new department -- I guess we could call it the department of public option that is being considered out there, a new government agency, in effect, to have a new health insurance company competing with the private insurance agencies, how big of a bureaucracy, how big of an operation would this be? How many employees, new government workers, would be required to work for this public option agency?

SEBELIUS: Well, again, Wolf, the specifics of what the House and Senate will end up with aren't clear.

What is clear is that in a new marketplace which would be available to those Americans without insurance coverage right now at all or those Americans who have -- or the so-called underinsured, who have limited coverage, they need affordable coverage, so a new marketplace that will be primarily private plans offering a series of benefits, and, as a competitive ingredient, you would have a public option.

BLITZER: But, Madam Secretary, have you not looked at what this new government agency would entail, how many workers, how many people would have to be employed in order to get it off the ground?

SEBELIUS: We haven't begun to do that analysis, because, as you know, there's a version in the House. There's a different version in the Senate Health Committee. The Finance Committee is describing even a -- a third version.

Once we get to a bill and have some language, I think we will start in this agency to flesh that out. But suffice it to say that, whatever it is, we currently have major government programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare, Medicaid. We have our friends at the Defense Department who run a major nationwide health service, the Veterans Administration. So, there are lots of networks to tap into. There's lots of experience already here running a major health insurance program for Americans. And...

BLITZER: But it would be -- presumably, if it's going to compete with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, or UnitedHealthcare, or Kaiser, or some of these other big private insurance companies, this would be a big bureaucracy, requires thousands, if not tens of thousands, of employees? SEBELIUS: Well, I think what you see in -- in the government programs that are currently operational -- and 43 million Americans have Medicare -- another 39 million are in the Medicaid system that is a partnership with state and federal government -- that the overhead cost incurred by the government is far less than the administrative costs, the number of employees, the number of bureaucrats from private insurance companies.

So, my guess is, we can do a more efficient plan from the get-go. And that's one of the reasons that the costs may be well lower and more competitive.

BLITZER: I'm -- I'm going to show you some pictures of the president last night when he walked into the chamber of the House of Representatives. He was enthusiastically received. You can see he's shaking hands with a lot of the members, kissing some of the other members.

And I wondered, because some people were raising this, at a time of concern of the H1N1 swine flu, is -- is this what we want to see, this kind of activity going on?

(LAUGHTER)

SEBELIUS: Well, we hope that, if members of Congress were sick, that they stayed home. Maybe that was the case. That's what we're urging people to do.

I think, eventually, if H1N1 begins to spread more widely, we may encourage people to do the flu bump, you know, elbow one another, instead of shaking hands or -- or kissing.

At this point, I think the most effective strategy is stay home if you're sick. Don't kiss anyone, but, hopefully, stay away from other folks, because...

BLITZER: I like -- I like that flu bump. We got a picture of...

SEBELIUS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... you doing that -- that elbow -- that elbow bump over there...

SEBELIUS: That's right.

BLITZER: ... so you don't actually touch each other or shake hands at a time of...

SEBELIUS: That's true.

BLITZER: There is a pandemic out there right now. We're all concerned.

Anything else you want to tell us right now about the H1N1 that we need to know?

SEBELIUS: Well, today, I participated in a seasonal flu seminar, driving the message that, right now, seasonal flu vaccine is available. I'm actually going to get my shot tomorrow from the Medical Reserve Corps.

But we sure want older Americans, Americans with underlying health conditions, health care workers, to get their seasonal flu shot right now. We are still...

BLITZER: When is the H1N1 vaccine going to be ready?

SEBELIUS: Well, we think we're still very much on target for mid- October. And, as you know, the clinical trials are under way now.

But having people step up and get seasonal flu shots will keep them that much safer. And then we -- we will begin to get information out about the vaccine sites and where people will be able by mid- October to get the H1N1 vaccine.

BLITZER: If I were there, I would give you the elbow bump right now, instead of shaking your hand, because it's...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... very nice.

Thanks very much, Madam Secretary.

SEBELIUS: Nice to talk to you.

BLITZER: Good luck with all of these issues.

SEBELIUS: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Obama wants to kill any talk of health care death panels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is a lie, plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But Sarah Palin and some other Republicans hope to keep talk of those so-called death panels alive. What does the Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele think about all of this? He's here.

And guess who has words of praise for President Obama? Laura Bush. Wait until you hear her assessment of how how the president is really doing. It's a CNN exclusive.

And alert your children, President Obama has a warning about how they use Facebook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government. But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here, people of both parties, know that what drove him was something more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Joining us now, the Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: Hey, Wolf.

It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: You caused some uproars by suggesting that when the president, at the end of his speech, referred to a very moving letter he received from the late senator Ted Kennedy, you said that was a political tool.

Why was that a political tool?

STEELE: Well, you know, I appreciated the dramatic, you know, lead-in to my being here in terms of that. And I'm not slamming the president on this. I just thought something like that was -- it so personal, in many respects, and particularly so soon after the senator's death, that I just didn't think it was the right time to reveal that or have that conversation or to say it.

That was all. It was just an opinion. It's my judgment...

BLITZER: Because Senator Kennedy, as you know, said that was the cause of his life -- health care reform.

STEELE: Absolutely...

BLITZER: And he wrote the letter and said to the president: "Read this upon my death."

STEELE: Well, I thought -- I interpreted that as, "Read this," -- you know, I want you to read this and understand how important this is going forward. And some say that was his intent, to have it read publicly.

Be that as it may, the reality of it is that, to me, is more of a diversion and a distraction from the underlying speech itself, which, in my view, the president, I think, missed an opportunity to clearly define in -- in a common sense, straightforward way exactly how we should go about the business of reforming those aspects of our health care system that we have particular problems with.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go through some of the specifics, because he went through a lot of detail during the course of those 45 minutes. One thing he did say -- and it was an implicit reply to the former Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, who wrote an article earlier in the week saying those so-called death panels were, indeed, part of the president's strategy.

Here's what the president said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You don't believe the president is calling for death panels, do you?

STEELE: I don't know what the president is calling for quite frankly. And I think there are various interpretations of the language inside H.R. 3200 that leads people to different conclusions.

BLITZER: But what do you think?

STEELE: And I think -- I think the bottom line -- the bottom line, from my perspective, whether you call it a death panel, whether you call it a commission, whether -- whatever you choose to call it, Wolf, I don't really care. I'm concerned about a body of bureaucrats who are going to be in a position to ration health care. They're going to be in a position to make decisions, whether it's end of life or beginning of life, with respect to what I should be doing for me and mine. That's the bottom line and (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But there are a body of bureaucrats... STEELE: But that's what the...

BLITZER: Aren't there a body of bureaucrats right now in the private insurance industry that make those kinds of life and death decisions?

STEELE: And it's a perfect example of it -- and I agree with the president when he talks about insurance reform. I agree with the president when he talks about the need to make sure that -- that people have greater choice.

How we go about getting that, however, Wolf, is the real debate here. And I don't want to get lost on side issues. I really want to stay focused on what the town halls and all of that has been about over the course of the summer.

The American people are hungry for real answers to some real problems that they have. And the...

BLITZER: All right...

STEELE: And the bureaucracy, in my view, is not the answer.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to this, because this is when the president specifically said that there would be no benefits for illegal immigrants.

And watch what happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: ...who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false.

(BOOS)

OBAMA: The reforms -- the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

WILSON: You lie.

(BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You heard Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina scream out "You lie".

STEELE: Right.

BLITZER: How embarrassing has that been for the Republican Party?

STEELE: It's not been embarrassing for the Republican Party, but it's been very embarrassing for the Congressman. I appreciate the Congressman not doing the typical Washington move and trying to explain it or justify it. He acknowledged within 30 minutes after the speech was over that that was not an appropriate thing to say as a member of the United States Congress to the president of the United States. And he's apologized.

I know a lot of my friends in the DNC and on the left want to make this the brouhaha so, yet again, we're not talking about the president's speech and what he said, we're talking about personalities and how feelings are hurt and all of that.

The key thing to note here about what the president did say with respect to illegal immigrants is important. But more important is what he didn't say. What he didn't say is the fact that there is no way that they can guarantee that illegal immigrants are not able to access the health care system that he's talking about.

Why?

Because what the Republicans want was some verification between illegal and -- and documented. And if I can't tell you access the system and I'm not allowed to ask you whether you are here legally or otherwise for you to prove that you are here legally, if there is a question, then that is a hole -- a gaping hole...

BLITZER: So...

STEELE: ...in which illegal immigrants in this country -- to this country can access the health care system and then we wind up paying for it.

BLITZER: So it...

STEELE: And that's the point.

BLITZER: Are you saying, though, that the president was, therefore, lying?

STEELE: No, I'm not saying -- you're good, Wolf. No, I'm not saying that at all.

Did you hear those words leave my lips?

BLITZER: No, I didn't hear...

STEELE: No.

BLITZER: I didn't hear you say they were lying to him...

STEELE: I'm not saying that...

BLITZER: I heard you suggest that -- that the president...

STEELE: ...nor am I inferring that.

BLITZER: ...was not necessarily fully up front.

STEELE: No. All I'm saying is there is -- there's a sentence that follows that sentence. And -- and I think the American people are entitled to know the entire paragraph with respect to what the administration has intended and -- and will do with respect to illegal immigration in our health care system. And all I've pointed out, as Republican leaders have tried to close that loophole in H.R. 3200, is that if I access this system as an illegal, you don't know that because there's no mechanism in place to you -- for you to verify that I'm in this country legally and I'm not taking advantage of a system that I'm otherwise precluded from taking advantage of.

BLITZER: Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican Party. Mr. Chairman, we'll have you back.

STEELE: You've got it, my friend.

Take care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The former First Lady Laura Bush, what kind of job does she think President Obama is doing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I think he's got, you know, he's got a lot on his plate. And you know, he's tackled a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And what does she think of Michelle Obama? We have an exclusive interview with Laura Bush.

Plus, former President Bill Clinton, he's opening up about the Monica Lewinsky scandal and what Walter Cronkite did to help him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She's kept a low profile since leaving the White House nine months ago, but that doesn't mean Laura Bush hasn't been very busy. Her most recent endeavor, a trip to Paris, where she spoke about global literacy.

CNN's Zain Verjee caught up with the former First Lady there for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: What's it like for you being a private citizen?

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, it's great, really.

(LAUGHTER)

It really is nice. We're enjoying our home in Texas a lot. We have a new house in...

VERJEE: Furniture yet?

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Getting some furniture. We had a lot of fun working on that. We're both working on our memoirs, writing our memoirs.

And then we're also building the presidential library at SMU with the institute that will be a part of it. VERJEE: How is President Bush doing? Is he glad to be out of the spotlight?

BUSH: He's doing very well. Thank you for asking. He's riding his mountain bike a lot. He likes that. And he's very disciplined about writing his memoirs. In fact, I'm ashamed every...

VERJEE: Better than you?

BUSH: Yes, a lot better than me. He's always been a lot more disciplined than I am. So he's working on those. I keep telling him that I have gotten to the second grade in my memoirs.

(LAUGHTER)

VERJEE: How do you think the world will remember him?

BUSH: Well, I think the world will remember him for really what he is. And that's what I think people will get to see, both from his memoirs and from mine.

And that is somebody who stood for freedom and who stood for the security of our country. And I think people know that. I think the people that really know him know what he is like, and they -- they see what -- what he stood for. And that's the freedom of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you think Michelle Obama is doing?

BUSH: I think she's doing great. I think she's doing very well.

VERJEE: What strikes you when...

BUSH: Well, I saw her...

VERJEE: You've been there...

BUSH: I saw her at the funeral -- Teddy Kennedy's funeral last week -- and I asked her about the girls and how they're doing. And I know what she's doing. You know, it's what every woman who moves there does and that's try to make it a home, both for her husband, who's the president, and for her children.

VERJEE: President Obama is giving a back to school speech and there's so much controversy over that.

Do you think it's a good idea?

BUSH: I think that there is a place for the president of the United States to talk to schoolchildren and encourage schoolchildren. And I think there are a lot of people that should do the same and that is, encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dreams that they have.

I also am happy that it seems like they have not -- the Obama administration has not backed off the accountability part of the No Child Left Behind act that President Bush worked with Ted Kennedy on to pass. And I think that's really important.

We want every American child to have the very best education possible. And I think that's what those -- that legislation really demands.

VERJEE: Do you think he's doing a good job, President Obama?

BUSH: I think he is. I think he's got -- you know, he's got a lot on his plate. And, you know, he's tackled a lot to start with. And that's probably made it more difficult.

VERJEE: So you've been very busy?

BUSH: I've been busy. I've been very busy.

VERJEE: What about your daughter, Jenna? She's going to be a correspondent and contribute...

BUSH: That's right.

VERJEE: ...to "The Today Show." What do you think?

BUSH: I'm proud of her for that. I think she'll have a lot of fun with that. She wants to bring stories about education, because she's a teacher as you know. And she's continuing to teach as well to the attention of the American people.

VERJEE: And maybe she'll get to interview you and be in my spot?

BUSH: Yeah, that'll be fun.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: He accuses the Afghan president not only of rigging the election, but also of strengthening the Taliban. My interview with the Afghan opposition candidate, the former Afghan foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

And beware of Facebook. President Obama offers that and other advice to kids who want to grow up to become president of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Afghanistan's electoral complaints commission has tossed out presidential voting results from several polling stations because of fraud. And there are thousands more complaints to sift through. As a partial recount continues, so does an extraordinary feud between the top two candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Kabul, the former foreign minister of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who's the major challenger to the current President Hamid Karzai in these elections. Dr. Abdullah, thanks very much for joining us. Do you believe that Hamid Karzai is stealing this election?

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, DR., AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has already tried to steal the elections. And it has been stating massive fraud prepared in the past two years. Preparations were made for this. I have absolutely no doubt about this.

BLITZER: What, if anything, can you do about that?

ABDULLAH: I think we are still waiting for the legal process, which is the election complaints commission work, which will be looking into the complains which are a few hundred serious complaints and thousands of others, which includes like hundreds of polling stations which were never opened, but hundreds of thousands of votes have been reported from those school stations. So these are the types of complaints that we have registered and ECC election complaints commission is looking into that.

Mr. Karzai is declaring himself as the winner, which I think he is in a lose situation because he has lost credit before the eyes of the people of Afghanistan as well as the international community by engineering such a massive fraud.

BLITZER: There have been some allegations that people on your side were cheating as well. Is that true?

ABDULLAH: I wouldn't say that there aren't violations in any other candidates part. There might be. But what I'm calling is for an investigation into those claims. In our cases, none of those things like no polling station opened and then votes being reported has been the case. So what we're talking about is massive fraud, not violations here and there which might have happened by sympathizers of the candidates, including myself.

BLITZER: Why is the Taliban still so popular, maybe even growing more popular, in Afghanistan right now?

ABDULLAH: I think they are not popular, but they are strong, stronger. Because of the failure of the current administration, because of the failure of Mr. Karzai and his government.

He turned a golden opportunity into a disaster situation. And that helped insurgency. And today as well by rigging, by trying to steal the vote of a nation. He has done another disservice to the people, which can only lead to the strengthening of the Taliban. So Taliban are not popular, but they are strong. But if you have people on our side, then the Taliban are an anomaly in this country. And they could be isolated. But not with illegitimate rule, with legitimate outcome of a credible and transparent elections.

BLITZER: What do you want President Obama and the U.S. administration to do?

ABDULLAH: First of all, I would like to thank the U.S. for its support throughout the process from the beginning eight years ago. You remember those days. We started from below zero. And Afghanistan has made headway in this renewed commitment by current administration.

Obama's administration is welcomed in Afghanistan. This will only work when you have a partner in Afghanistan, which has a legitimate base. An illegitimate administration cannot be sustained. So unfortunately, if the fraud decides the outcome of the elections, this will be a failure for all of us, including the U.S. That will be a very unfortunate situation. So what I expect from the administration is to support the credibility of the process and let the votes of the Afghans decide the future of this country. That's what is expected.

BLITZER: Do you want the United States to deploy more troops to Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: More troops are needed. There is no doubt about it. But we should not be in a situation eight years down the road to ask for lesser troops rather than more troops. That's, again, because of the failures of the current administration in Afghanistan and some other mistakes in parts of the international community.

BLITZER: Afghanistan is the world's largest supplier of opium, of poppies that goes into heroin. What would you do differently than President Karzai in terms of stopping this? Because most of the world's supply comes from Afghanistan.

ABDULLAH: If anybody claims that my brother is in charge of drug trafficking in Kandahar like Walid Karzai, brother of Mr. Karzai, I'll be the first one to stop that. Yes, there are numerous allegations about this, and things are such. Drug traffickers should be stopped. Those who are involved in this illegal business have to be stopped. And I think the farmers have to be helped with substitute crops or alternative livelihoods.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that President Karzai himself is making money out of this?

ABDULLAH: I think there are a lot of allegations about his brother Walid Karzai in Kandahar. There are lot of -- evidence is provided, international media. International organizations have been talking about it.

So even if that's a rumor, this has to be stopped. And he has to come clean about it. But there is no doubt that some senior officials or senior people, figures in personalities which are associated with President Karzai's government are involved in this. So the list of the main people which are involved, I think they are available with the administration. I have no doubt about it. But Mr. Karzai has not taken any action.

BLITZER: Dr. Abdullah, thanks very much for joining us.

ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We've invited President Karzai to come into THE SITUATION ROOM, respond to Dr. Abdullah's allegations. So far, he has declined. But we hope he'll change his mind.

All right, let's bring in Fareed Zakaria. He's the editor of "Newsweek International," the host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." These are really serious allegations that Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is making against Hamid Karzai, who's been such a powerful U.S. ally in Afghanistan. The stakes clearly are enormous.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Oh, this is huge. You see what happened with the Obama administration is they did a strategic review. They sent in 17,000 troops, 20,000 troops, depending on how you count it. And they said they were doing it to support the elections.

The whole hope here was that the elections would provide clarity, would give legitimacy. They assumed Karzai would win, but he would have a renewed mantel of legitimacy. That entire strategy is now awry. And it's almost as if we need to go back to square one and say, okay, what do we do now that you have an Afghan government that is not seen as that legitimate, no matter how this turns out, and the 17,000 or 20,000 troops have not produced a demonstrable increase in security? What do we need to do?

BLITZER: Well, some have suggested, and I think you're one of them, that maybe it's time for a dramatic departure from U.S. policy and actually start talking to the Taliban.

ZAKARIA: Look, I think there's absolutely no way to make peace in this country without making tribal alliances, alliances with various tribes. A lot of them are so-called Taliban. They're fighting against the government. But many senior officials, administration officials, military people tell me that maybe 80 percent of the people we're fighting are in it for the money or disgruntled with Karzai or disgruntled with some act of some government official. We should be trying to buy these people off.

BLITZER: As the U.S. did in Iraq when they started handing out thousands of dollars checks or cash to individual tribal leaders and it worked.

ZAKARIA: Look, this is the only long-term, sustainable strategy. Tribal alliances making deals. Because when people talk about building up an Afghan army, you've got to remember, this is not Iraq. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. So the U.S. military has said they want an Afghan army that's 400,000. A 400,000- person Afghan army would cost about $3 billion a year. That is three times Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product. You would be spending 300% of GDP on the army.

BLITZER: Tell us what you're going to be doing this Sunday on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

ZAKARIA: It's all Afghanistan. We're trying to do the kind of strategic review of Afghanistan that we hope the administration is doing. We have Dr. Abdullah on, Ashrav Ghani (ph), and another of the candidates, four experts with four very different views, and Michael Ware from Kabul. BLITZER: It's going to be an important show. 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." We'll be watching, as we always do, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Obama talks candidly with schoolchildren about his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He was sort of arrogant and kind of overbearing. And he had his own problems and his own issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to show you the rest of what the president had to say about his father and talk to the teenager whose question prompted the president's very personal response.

Also, former President Bill Clinton honors Walter Cronkite at a memorial service in New York and recalls how Cronkite reached out to him during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama urged America's students this week to study harder, figure out what they're good at, and never give up. It was a pretty straightforward pep talk after critics warned him not to drag politics into the schools. The president did offer something unexpected.

Our Brian Todd went to the school where the president spoke. And he interviewed a student who asked Mr. Obama a very personal question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The political buildup was all the talk around this event, critics charging the president and his team of politicizing a back-to-school speech. The White House denied that, but did change the wording of its guide for teachers and parents taking out a phrase about what kids could do to help the president. On stage, Mr. Obama never strayed from his central message.

OBAMA: If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.

TODD: Inside these hallways, you wouldn't really know this is ground zero for the great education speech debate here at Wakefield High School. The kids were really just buzzed about seeing the president up close, hearing his message about personal responsibility, and for some of them, engaging him on a personal level. The most poignant moment, not about education or politics, but the deeply personal. It came during a roundtable with ninth graders before the speech. A 15-year-old boldly asked the president of the United States about his own father.

BRANDON CORTS, WAKEMAN H.S. FRESHMAN: How do you think your life would have been different if he would have been there for you?

TODD: It brought a remarkably candid answer.

OBAMA: He was a very, very smart man. He was sort of arrogant and kind of overbearing. And he had his own problems and his own issues. So my mother always used to say that if he had been around, I probably would have been having a lot of arguments with him all the time.

TODD: I later caught up with freshman Brandon Courts.

What inspired you to ask him that question?

CORTS: His -- just the way that he had the same problem that I had, you know, not really having his dad in his life, but he still ended up becoming, you know, the president.

TODD: Brandon talked about his parents' divorce, a dad who moved away several years ago. A single mom raising him and his younger sister. He said he'll never forget his unscripted moment with the president.

CORTS: He made me feel real responsible for taking care of myself and my family because my mom works really hard.

TODD: It all came on a very intimidating day for the young man, his first day of high school, his first-ever day of public school. Brandon previously went to a small church school with a graduating class of seven and just started at a high school with nearly 1,400 students.

Brian Todd, CNN, Arlington, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The president took a number of questions from those high school students in Virginia, including a future politician. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSE: Hi, Mr. President. My name's Jesse. When I grow up, I would like to have your job.

OBAMA: Okay. Good.

JESSE: Is there any advice you could give me or career paths, things I need to know?

OBAMA: Well, let me give you some very practical tips. First of all, I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the Youtube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life. And when you're young, you know, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. And I've been hearing a lot about young people who, you know, they're posting stuff on Facebook. And then suddenly they go apply for a job, and somebody's done a search. And you know, so that's some practical political advice for you right there. That's number one.

Number two, look, obviously doing well in school is hugely important. Especially, you know, if you don't come from some political family where they've got you all hooked up. You know, if you're going to succeed, it's because people are going to think that, you know, they have confidence that you can do the job. So really excelling in education is important.

Number three, find something that you're passionate about and do that well. You know, there are a lot of people who decide to go into politics just because they want to be important or they like the idea of having their name up in lights or what have you. The truth is is that I think the people who are the best elected officials are the people who they've found something they're good at. They get really -- whether it's they're a really good lawyer, they're a really good teacher, they're a good businessperson. They've built a career and learned something about how to organize people and how to motivate people. And then they go into politics because they think that they can take those skills to do some more good, as opposed to just wanting to get elected just for the sake of getting elected.

And we have a lot of -- I'll be honest with you - I mean, there are a lot of politicians like that who all they're thinking about is just how do I get re-elected. And so they never actually get anything done.

But that's not just true in politics. That's true in life. I think, you know, even if you didn't want to be president, if you wanted to be successful in business, most of the most successful businesspeople I know are people who -- they were passionate about some idea about a product or a service. And they really got into that. And then the money was a byproduct. The money came because you really did something good, as opposed to you just thinking about how do I make money, you know.

You talk to somebody like a Bill Gates. That guy was just fascinated with computers. And that's everything he was thinking about. Now, he got so good at it that he then ended up being a very good businessman as well. But his focus was on how do I create something that actually helps people or is useful to them. And I think you should have that same attitude, whatever it is that you decide to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama answering questions from high school students in Virginia.

Bill Clinton remembering the dark days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and one man's act of kindness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: He did something for my family that was so simple. And even now it's hard for me to talk about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The former president explains how he and his family were helped by the late anchorman Walter Cronkite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There was a full house this week at New York's Lincoln Center for the memorial service for the longtime CBS "Evening News" anchor Walter Cronkite. President Obama paid tribute to him, calling Cronkite a voice of certainty in a world that was growing more uncertain. And former President Bill Clinton remembered a gesture of kindness from Cronkite at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT: I thought he was an astonishing man. I liked his inquiring mind and his caring heart. And he did something for my family that was so simple, and even now it's hard for me to talk about. But in a very tumultuous summer in our personal life, 1998, we were up on Martha's Vineyard. And Walter Cronkite picked up the phone and said, "Betsy and I want you to go sailing with us. You and Hillary and Chelsea. We'll just go out and sail around." He said, "Somebody might take a picture of it, but so what?" I'll never forget that.

At the time, I could have done with a picture with Walter Cronkite.

(LAUGHTER)

I say this because that wasn't something he had to do. He was 81 years old. He was a good man. Yes, he was a great journalist. And he lived a fascinating life, which made him long to know and to understand and to share his knowledge and understanding. He was almost painfully honest.

One of the most interesting things to me about his autobiography and some personal conversations we had later about his role in trying to advance public discourse was what he thought about the limitations of television news, what he spent his whole life doing. He said, "I did the best I could, but really I think people should read more newspapers."

Can you imagine anybody else 'fessing up to that? So I'm here to say thanks to his family and to his wonderful late wife for a man who was important in all our lives, a great citizen and a profoundly good human being. That's just the way it was. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Walter Cronkite, anchor of "The CBS Evening News" from 1962 until 1981. He died in July at the age of 92.

Stars burst to life. It's a photo from the Hubble space telescope, just one of our "hot shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

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BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this week's hot shots. A photo from the Hubble space telescope shows stars bursting to life in space.

In New York, President Obama and former President Clinton listened to speakers at the memorial service for the late CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite. In India, Hindu devotees prepare to bathe in the river Ganges. And in Switzerland, check it out. A cheetah cub eats his dinner at the Basel zoo. "Hot shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

This week marked the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A somber ceremony at Ground Zero here in New York honoring the victims and saluting the heroes. The names of each of the 2,752 people killed on this site were read aloud. Similar remembrances were also held at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the other planes crashed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.