Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Touts New Jobs Numbers; Iran Shipping Weapons to Taliban?

Aired April 2, 2010 - 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: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: CNN is learning exclusive details about shipments of Iranian weapons to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, bomb components, rockets, grenades, and more, all posing a deadly threat to tens of thousands of U.S. forces on the ground.

Also, disturbing letters from an extremist group sent to dozens of U.S. governors. We have details of the demands and the FBI warning now that's going out.

And it's the number recession-weary Americans have been waiting to see, some positive job growth in March. But there's more to it than meets the eye. We go inside the numbers this hour with White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

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

Roadside bombs the deadliest threat facing U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and now a U.S. source is telling CNN that Iran -- Iran is significant stepping up shipments of bomb parts, as well as rockets and grenades, to Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here with some exclusive details.

What are you hearing, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a senior U.S. defense official now tells CNN that the latest military intelligence, in fact, shows that Iran is planning to smuggle additional weapons shipments into Afghanistan to the Taliban fighters.

Let's go right to the map behind me and take a look at what we're really talking about. The expectation now, the intelligence shows that the weapons are expected to be smuggled across Iran's border into Afghanistan, and, very worrisome, Wolf, possibly down into the southern city of Kandahar.

That is where combat with U.S. troops is expected to begin within weeks. If the Iranians are, in fact, smuggling these weapons in, which is what the intelligence shows, they are stockpiling them there to get ready for U.S. troops. An Iranian source that is not identified by the United States is now offering this information. And some of it has proven to be accurate, we are told. There are rocket-propelled grenades. There are small-arms, perhaps most worrisome, Wolf, verified information that they have found weapons, Iranian weapons with recent serial numbers and dates of manufacture from inside -- pardon me -- from inside Iran, in fact, and they have found manufactured explosives that match the type of explosives they found back in Iraq years ago, when the Iranians were shipping those explosives into roadside bombs in Iraq, killing U.S. troops.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What's the assessment? Why is Iran doing this now?

STARR: Well, you know, clearly the U.S. is ratcheting up, the world community is ratcheting up the pressure against Iran, heading towards sanctions.

The Iranians, perhaps the assessment is, are lashing out, trying to prove they are still players in the region, trying to go after U.S. troops possibly as that Kandahar offensive unfolds in the weeks ahead.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, this relationship that Hamid Karzai, the president, has with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. He was just there and he invited him to Kabul. It's sort of a weird situation. I guess the Iranians see these weapons being used against the U.S., not so much against Karzai.

STARR: That's kind of the feeling here. And the fact is that the intelligence effort right now is to find people, especially Iranians, bring them in for detention, bring them in for interrogation, if they are, in fact, inside Afghanistan, and get them to talk about what they know and where these smuggling route lines are so the U.S. can try and stop these shipments in the days ahead.

BLITZER: Barbara, Barbara Starr, thank you.

The Obama administration is bristling at some recent comments by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. For the first time, he's acknowledging fraud during last year's election, but he's pointing his finger at the west.

CNN's Atia Abawi has that part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan using some very strong words, pointing the finger at the international community, saying that they were responsible for fraud during the 2009 presidential elections.

What's interesting here is the fact that this is the first time President Karzai is openly admitting that fraud did occur during the elections, but he says it's not because of his campaign or the Afghan officials in charge of the electoral bodies during the process. HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): This is the reality, brothers. For this reason today, I come here to talk to the members of the Independent Election Commission about fraud in the presidential election and provincial election. No doubt there was huge fraud. There was vast fraud. The fraud is not by the Afghans. This fraud has been done by the foreigners.

ABAWI: This outburst has given President Karzai's main challenger during that elections, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a chance to come out on the political scene and point the finger at President Karzai, calling him an ineffective leader for blaming the international community.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He went to congratulate and thank those who were -- who are -- mastermind the fraud, massive fraud, yesterday, and, at the same time, put the blame on the parliament of Afghanistan, on the international community, on the people of Afghanistan, on the opposition, on everybody.

ABAWI: President Karzai's words coming at a time where he tried to issue a decree to take control of both election bodies in Afghanistan and take it away from the United Nations. That's the Independent Election Commission, as well as the Electoral Complaints Commission, the parliament denying that decree, because they themselves will have an election process in September of 2010.

And what some parliamentarians fear is that President Karzai will try to rig these elections if the United Nations and the international community is not involved -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Atia Abawi reporting for us from Kabul.

The State Department now says that Karzai telephoned the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, today to clarify his remarks. A Clinton spokesman describes the conversation as constructive, says Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the Afghan/U.S. partnership.

Let's talk about this with CNN' John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING, USA" that airs immediately following THE SITUATION ROOM right at the top of the hour, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She hosts "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

I don't know about you, John, but I was pretty surprised, having covered Karzai all these years, since basically right after 9/11, that he would come out and make these rather blunt statements about foreign interference in his country.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Known -- and I have interviewed him -- you've interviewed him -- as somebody who uses pretty genteel language, a gentle guy. The administration took this as a slap. He did call the secretary of state. And he is trying to make amends. But they say they are deeply concerned at the White House, Wolf, not only because he said it, but because it came right after the president made that secret trip over there trying to improve this relationship and trying to get him to take bolder steps against corruption.

It is a sign, administration officials will tell you underneath, that they think here is a guy who still is hedging his bets about who is his friend and who he will listen to.

BLITZER: Yes, I was watching "STATE OF THE UNION" last Sunday morning when you broke the news about that secret trip that the president made to Kabul, and he tried to put a very positive face forward, but this could be seen as a slap.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is totally a slap. And it's also, we should say, the sign of a man that feels cornered.

These are -- these are the kinds of remarks you hear that you think, whoa, this is a man who is feeling a tiny bit desperate here, lashing out at the people that are helping him or trying to help him.

But, look, what has he done here? This is serious. He has essentially said to his country, well, these troops are dangerously close to occupation troops. What does that do but put a target on the back of U.S. troops? That's a serious, serious thing to be saying.

So, this administration has always been wary of Hamid Karzai's ability to bring his country together, because, guess what? If he can't do it, our troops can't come home a year from this summer, as the president's planned it. He needs Karzai to be able to do this, and this is -- I think the White House is alarmed by this.

BLITZER: And it was also clear to me that his cozying up -- and I will use that word deliberately -- to Ahmadinejad in Iraq, going to Tehran, inviting him to Kabul, was deliberately a poke at the U.S. as well, knowing the U.S. relationship, or lack of a relationship with Iran.

KING: Right. At that point, he wanted an invitation to come to Washington. The administration wasn't giving him one, so he starts cozying up with the Iranians. The president of the United States then goes.

But, to Candy's point, here's a U.S. president who took a huge political risk. There will be nearly in a few months 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, billions of dollars spent there on the military and on the aid side. It was the United States and the Bush administration that made Hamid Karzai the president of Afghanistan, so they view this, Wolf, as a very troubling development.

And just to add to the challenge the president faces, you have Karzai doing this in Afghanistan. You also have Mr. -- Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq saying perhaps he won't step down. Maybe he's going to dispute this election as commander in chief, using muscular terms like that.

So, as the president is trying to deal with a lot of challenges here at home, these are two very big ones overseas.

BLITZER: Huge, huge challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I know you will have more coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

What is coming up Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION"?

CROWLEY: Larry Summers. We're going to talk about jobs and the future of the economy. But we're also having the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. on, because guess what? Another trouble spot for this administration, huge tensions right now between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

CROWLEY: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, good. We will look forward to it, 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY."

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then: letters from an extremist groups to dozens of U.S. governors telling them to step down. The FBI is now involved. We have new details.

Also, the largest job growth in three years here in the United States, but the celebration may be premature. We are going to find out what the numbers really mean. The White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee is joining us this hour.

And radicals and extremists seeming to gain ground, despite U.S. efforts, but why? I will ask an expert who has actually had dinner, dinner with members of al Qaeda.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: On a day, Wolf, that we got some indication that the country may be turning the corner when it comes to jobs, we thought it a good time to ask this. If you could have any job at all, what would it be?

An Irish travel agency is offering the latest in a series of dream jobs. The company, RunawayBrideandGroom.com, is looking for honeymoon testers, a couple willing to travel the world for six months and get paid to test out the most romantic wedding and honeymoon destinations available.

More than 1,000 couples have already applied, as you might imagine. The job will send them to resorts in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the United States. The winners will have to blog about their experiences, and write a piece once a month for "The Irish Times." The job pays about $27,000.

The deadline's April 7, so you still have a couple of days left to apply. Australia's tourism bureau began this whole dream job craze last year, when it was looking for somebody to fill the so-called best job in the world. The winner was paid $140,000 to spend six months on an island in the Great Barrier Reef and blog about it.

The tourism agency got 34,000 applications and tens of millions of dollars in free publicity. There have been other similar campaigns, too, one in Florida, where a couple was paid to spend several visiting every theme park and attraction in Orlando and writing about it. Another sponsored a California company looking for someone to be its wine country lifestyle correspondent.

So, on a Friday evening, all of this got us to dreaming a little. Here's the question: How would you describe your dream job?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

And, of course, Wolf, you and I are living ours, aren't we?

BLITZER: I was going to say, Jack, we both have our dream job already, so we're living that great experience.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Speak for yourself.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I am. I totally believe that, and you know I do.

CAFFERTY: No, this is fun. This is not -- you don't have to lift anything heavy. I like this.

BLITZER: Yes, this is a dream job.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: And I'm grateful every day that I have it. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: I am, too. All right.

BLITZER: We're following a developing story right now, a very serious story, that has the FBI warning local law enforcement officials. An extremist group has now sent letters to the governors of more than 30 U.S. states, demanding that they step down or be removed. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working the story for us.

Jeanne, what are you learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those who have seen the letters -- and they run about 80 pages long -- say there's no threats to the violence to the governors, but there is an ultimatum: Resign from office in the next three days, or you will be removed. It doesn't say how.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): The letters were received at state capitals in all geographical regions by governors of both parties.

GOV. JIM GIBBONS (R), NEVADA: We have been advised by the FBI to take it seriously.

GOV. MIKE BEEBE (D), ARKANSAS: What it basically said was that resign and reapply, and we will reinstate you if you will sign this deal. So, we just turned it over to the state police.

MESERVE: In an intelligence note, the FBI and DHS say they are not aware of any immediate threats to specific governors. But Nevada and some other states ramped up security. The letters were sent by the Guardians of the Free Republics, a so-called sovereign citizen extremist group.

MARK PITCAVAGE, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: They oppose virtually every law that's out there, from very simple things such as fishing permits or hunting permits, up to criminal laws, commercial laws.

MESERVE: Online, the group promotes what it calls the restore America plan to remove what it sees as an illegitimate government. And people claiming to be leaders have discussed it this week on the radio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 50 men and women who occupy the office of governor in each of the incorporated states of the United States federal corporation were served.

MESERVE: Experts say the group is part of an explosive growth in right-wing activity.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I think the rage out there has to do with rapidly changing demographics in this country, racial demographics, the fact that a black man has been elected president, the terrible economy and all the angst and fear and frustration that that has brought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Though the FBI and DHS say members of the sovereign citizens movement have engaged in violence, this group says it wants peaceful change. But law enforcement worries that other groups or individuals will see this as a call to violent action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What else do we know, Jeanne, about this group?

MESERVE: Well, I talked to a man named Clyde Brusdred (ph), who helped design the Web site for this group. He said that at this point they have about 2,000 members. They're growing rapidly.

He says there are a lot of regular folks in the movement, but also people inside and outside government and he says, some people in the military. And he says, frankly, they hope that this letter gets them even more publicity, so they will get more members.

BLITZER: Disturbing stuff. Jeanne, thank you.

The Ohio governor, Ted Strickland, is among those mentioned in these letters. He will join John King at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA," right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

One hundred and sixty-three thousand new jobs in March, but a closer look reveals why it may be too soon to celebrate. We will talk about it with the White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

And he left a successful Hollywood career to work in the Obama administration. Now there are reports this actor may be leaving the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: There's another way, by the way, for you to follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at WolfBlitzerCNN. That's all one word.

Encouraging numbers on the jobs front today, word that more than 160,000 jobs fall into the plus column. So, is the recession over? I will ask one of President Obama's top economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee.

Also, inside a global terrorist organization -- my conversation with Hugh Pope. He's the author of the brand-new book "Dining With al Qaeda."

And Internet addiction -- a baby falls prey to her parents' dependence on online gaming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today is an encouraging day. We learned that the economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs. We are beginning to turn the corner.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) OBAMA: As I said, just one year ago we were losing an average of more than 700,000 jobs each month. But the tough measures that we took, measures that were necessary even though sometimes they were unpopular, have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama touting the largest jump in new jobs here in the United States in three years, but with so many Americans still out of work, most people agree that even a relatively good report certainly isn't good enough.

The Labor Department says that businesses added 162,000 jobs in March. It's only the third month of gains since the recession began back at the end of 2007. And it's a stark contrast to January 2009, when the president took office, and the nation lost more than 700,000 jobs that month, the biggest one-month nosedive during this economic downturn.

But the unemployment rate still stands at 9.7 percent. And economists note that 48,000 of those jobs added last month were temporary hires by the U.S. Census Bureau.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now is the White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

Austan, thanks for joining us.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: Sure. Any time.

BLITZER: Is the recession over?

GOOLSBEE: Well, you know, the recession -- the recovery has begun. I don't think the recession's going to be fully declared over, you know, until some time after.

In some sense, that's just a label. You know, it doesn't make any difference. The fact that more than eight million people have lost their jobs since the recession began in 2007 is all you need to know of -- I thought your description was exactly perfect, Wolf. I mean, it's an encouraging report, but it's not near enough.

I think the president's totally in agreement with that. We have got to do a lot more.

BLITZER: We see numbers saying that maybe as many as 15 million people are still without jobs right now. They're looking for work.

It's 9.7 percent, the unemployment rate. Do you expect that number to go down significantly over the course of this year?

GOOLSBEE: Well, you know, I'm not a -- I'm not a -- I try to stay out of the forecasting game, but I don't see it coming down very substantially over the course this year, no.

You know, if you -- if you talk to the private forecasters, I think we have got to get growth going. We have got to get employment growth continuing. And only after you have some sustained economic growth and payroll job creation, like what you have seen this month, but we need even bigger and we need it sustained, before the unemployment rate will come down, because you have had a lot of people, millions of people, that dropped out of the labor force and don't even count as unemployed.

You know, the job -- because -- this recession was the worst since 1929. And it's going to take a long time to -- for us to recover. We have got to push in these areas the president's been indicating.

BLITZER: And because, even to stay even at 9.7 percent, you have to create at least, what, 100,000 jobs a month...

GOOLSBEE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... because of the people coming into the job market, because of the population growth. So, you're going to need 300,000, 400,000, 500,000 jobs a month to start seeing that number go down.

GOOLSBEE: You know, you got to -- you got to have sustained economic growth and sustained job creation. There's no question about that.

You know, the exact numbers that you need to get the unemployment rate down depend on how many people come out from out of the labor force, but the president is completely right to say the fact that we had one encouraging job report and that this quarter is as way substantial improvement from when he took office.

That we went from minus 750,000 to plus 160,000 is a great achievement, but we're no where near a situation where we ought to be taking our foot off the gas pedal. And his targeted jobs program of let's go for small business credits and expansion, let's go for infrastructure, and let's go for clean energy jobs, I think remain absolutely paramount. We do need that.

BLITZER: All right. Here's some very disturbing statistics. I'll put them up for you. Unemployment rate among white people in the United States in March, 8.8 percent. It stayed the same from February, 8.8 percent.

But among African-Americans, in February it was 15.8 percent, 16.5 percent in March. It's nearly double what it is for whites. And there are complaints, as you know, from the National Urban League, other African-American organizations, you're not doing enough to focus in on the African-American unemployment rate.

What do you say in response to that?

GOOLSBEE: Well, I'd tell you two things. First, it's just a technical matter. The unemployment rate did rise this month among African-Americans, but be a little bit careful because the last month there was a big drop. A lot of people think it had to do with the weather affecting the industries which are more disproportionately African-American.

I think it's unacceptable and extremely high, the unemployment rate among minorities, as well as among young people. And we've had a very high increase in the unemployment rate among men.

I think the most important thing we can do, the president's identified before, is get job growth going and economic growth going. The three areas the president has identified -- small business, infrastructure, and clean energy and manufacturing jobs -- would address some of those sectors that have been the hardest it, and those sectors getting hard hit have -- have really been why the unemployment rate has been as dramatic as it has been.

But this issue of targeted job creation, I think, we need to look at that because in a lot of these groups it's really, really terrible.

BLITZER: You got -- you got some work to do on that front. You got work to do in all of these fronts, but specifically on that front.

I want to shift gears. There was a very blistering attack that the former Clinton labor secretary, Robert Reich, had on the "Huffington Post." And he wrote this.

He said, "The Fed," referring to the Federal Reserve. "Has a big problem. "It acts in secret. That makes it an odd duck in a democracy. As long as it's merely setting interest rates, its secrecy and political independence can be justified. But once it departs from that role and begins putting billions of taxpayer money at risk, choosing winners and losers in the capitalist system, its legitimacy is questionable."

This is Robert Reich. This isn't Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas, who doesn't like the Federal Reserve. This is Robert Reich. What do you say to Professor Reich?

GOOLSBEE: Well, let me say Bob Reich is an old friend of mine and I greatly respect him. I don't think I agree with all of the critique that you're describing there from the "Huffington Post," but I'll probably try to get on the phone and call him and talk with him.

I think what you saw the Fed -- look, if you talk to the people at the Fed, nobody wanted to be in the situation that we have just gone through, where they had to take a series of totally extraordinary actions in order with the -- you know, assistance -- assisting the administration to try to head off a great depression.

So I think it's perfectly appropriate for us to look at and ask, what kind of financial regulatory system do we want? What kind of monetary policy system do we want? But I certainly hope we don't overcorrect in some sense and say, well, you know, the Fed shouldn't be independent or that kind of thing, because I think that could be potentially quite a bad move.

BLITZER: Austan Goolsbee is one of the president's economic advisers.

Austan, thanks for joining us.

GOOLSBEE: It's great to see you again.

BLITZER: Global terror seems to be on the rise right now despite the best U.S. efforts to stop it. Why? We'll talk about it with the author and journalist Hugh Pope. He knows this subject very well. He's even dined with members of al Qaeda.

Plus, airline pilots and antidepressants. We have details of a new change in the rules.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning troubling new details about one of the suicide bombers behind that terror attack on the Moscow subway station this week.

Here to talk about that and more, the former "Wall Street Journal" correspondent Hugh Pope. He's covered the Middle East extensively, writes about his experiences in his brand-new book entitled "Dining with Al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East."

Hugh, thanks very much for coming in.

HUGH POPE, AUTHOR, "DINING WITH AL-QAEDA": Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Good book. We'll talk about it in a moment. But I want you to look at this picture. We have a picture of a young girl, one of the suicide bombers in Moscow, and it's hard for us to understand why these people do this, but you've actually studied this very closely.

There she is, holding -- you can see that gun. She's got that baby face, and she was one of those suicide bombers in Moscow. But you've seen this up close in the Middle East over the years.

POPE: Yes. Death and destruction has been quite common. And I think you have to be very careful about looking at the motivation of such people. Why they get involved.

Obviously once they've had the motivation to get involved with the group, they get brainwashed, they get directed, they get targeted on to something, and clearly this girl, as you say, is too young to decide to do all this on herself.

But how did she take that step? What happened to her and her family back in Chechnya to make -- take this radical step?

In my book I have a picture, for instance, from Gaza where you see a bombed bus, an Israeli bus, horrible picture, it's graffiti. Next to it, you might expect Hamas to have written, "72 virgins for the bomber" or "long live global jihad." But actually what they write there is "revenge."

And I think one should look very carefully at the basic human motivations for these things rather than looking, saying that this is because of Islam or something like that.

BLITZER: Tell us something our viewers don't know about al Qaeda, because you've spent time with them and the book is entitled "Dining with Al-Qaeda," we're going to get to that in a moment, but give us a little something that you learned about this organization that might not be all that obvious.

POPE: My time with al Qaeda was a glancing one. It was Riyadh two months after September 11th. We were all fascinated to know who were those 15 Saudis who were on those planes. And I was inside Saudi Arabia and I asked to meet someone who had known them.

And the chaplain of the camp in Afghanistan where they've (INAUDIBLE), if you like, from the young man who gave them religious direction and was a very pro-al Qaeda person agreed to meet me.

I would just say that the man was somewhat flaky. I mean, he at first threatened to kill me as we started the conversation. But gradually, I understood and he understood that we were threatening to each other. But I would that he thought that I was a spy out there to kill him just as he was threatening to kill me.

And I think the important thing to remember is that when we attack or do things in the Middle East, we don't feel it. Similarly, we only feel what they do to us and I think there's a huge lack of empathy and engagement with the Middle East on a broad front, and getting the context right of what's happening will help everything bring down the -- the level of tensions.

BLITZER: You know this region well. You've spent 30 years covering the region. Look ahead for us. Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. has invested so much blood and treasure.

Years from now, will they have been a success or a failure from the U.S. perspective?

POPE: Personally I see this as rather like someone who has made a big investment and watched the stock plummet. And the question is at what time do you disengage from the stock?

Of course, it's very difficult to admit that you've taken a big loss. It is hard to see how any of these countries can quickly recover. There's no magic wand in this. All the Middle Eastern core societies are eroded. They're terribly thin. All the best people are here in America. They've left. They are refugees. They've gone away.

To rebuild the countries is going to take stability then prosperity and time and then eventually real -- any kind of wealth that's flowing through societies now, the middle-class to grow, will be a tide that lifts all the boats and makes everything better, but that's not going to happen overnight, and unfortunately for the United States, now having gone in, is intimately involved, and the birds are coming home to roost.

BLITZER: It's hard to get out when you still think there's going to be success. Clearly that's the point you're making.

You think the president was right in going to Turkey to address the Muslim world, right to go to Egypt to address the Arab world. But you think he blundered when he didn't go to Israel. Tell us why.

POPE: I think he should be talking to Israel. Israelis are not ready to -- many Israelis are not willing to hear his message about he's for their long-term security. But I think it's very important in these matters, is that this is a key change in U.S. policy.

For decades Israel has been given a blank check. Israel has been able to do whatever it likes and there's been an idea in America that the -- the interests of Israel are exactly the same as the interests of the United States.

I think the recent weeks have shown that the commander of Centcom, David Petraeus, General David Petraeus, has made it clear through these -- through these reports that American national security interests are at risk when Israel attacks or damages or -- or is seen to impinge on Muslim sacred symbol, for instance, Jerusalem.

And I think that Obama drawing a line down and showing, no, we are now engaged in two important Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, we must also protect the sanctity of Muslim symbols because we are in charge of populations that care about this, and at a certain point Israel cannot do everything it wants.

And that is a change. It will take time for the Israelis to understand, but in their long-term security, I think that they have to come to some new arrangements with the Palestinians.

BLITZER: And you think the president should have gone there and told the Israelis exactly how he feels.

POPE: Yes. And maybe it would have taken a year or two for them to believe it, but I think that he has -- if he has good arguments, and I think he does, then he could persuade them.

BLITZER: Hugh Pope's book is entitled "Dining with Al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East."

Hugh, thanks very much for coming in.

POPE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: A couple enters a guilty plea. The death of their infant daughter. Why she died is so disturbing. She was passed over for her so-called virtual sister. Stand by.

And a Florida doctor makes his feelings known about health care reform in no uncertain terms.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi again, Wolf.

Well, pilots taking Prozac are being allowed back in the cockpit. A new government policy takes effect Monday reversing a ban on flying for pilots on antidepressants. The FAA says the old rule was outdated and discouraged pilots from disclosing their treatment.

Pilots taking any of four popular antidepressant will be able to fly if they've been medicated for a year without any potentially risky side effects.

And the eight militia members accused of plotting to kill police officers in revolt against the government won't be leaving their jail cells for now. A magistrate judge ordered today that members of the Michigan base Hutaree militia pose a flight risk if released.

Their defense attorneys are expected to appeal. All eight suspects have pleaded not guilty, but if convicted could face life in prison.

A Florida doctor has a message for supporters of President Obama's health care bill. "If you voted for Obama, seek urologic care elsewhere." So read the sign posted in front of Dr. Jack Castle's office. He says he's not turning patients away because that's unethical, but it's OK with him if supporters of the president choose to go somewhere else for treatment.

And the White House says its Web site is ready for tomorrow's much-anticipated launch of the Apple iPad. President Obama's media team is blogging that Whitehouse.gov will be one of the handful of websites that will be fully iPad accessible.

Another version of the White House Web site, which was also launched today, for users with any kind of mobile device.

And I know you had that he presentation on, Wolf, last night, of how the iPad works, I guess that was yesterday. It was pretty fascinating stuff. It's a really interesting little gadget there.

BLITZER: They're going to sell a lot of those iPads. I suspect there's not going to be enough in the short term. Eventually the price will really go down.

SYLVESTER: Are you going to get one?

BLITZER: I suspect I will.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes. I think you'll probably get one, too, right?

SYLVESTER: I think eventually I will.

BLITZER: Yes.

SYLVESTER: I'm usually slow on these things, but eventually I catch up.

BLITZER: Eventually I will get one, too.

All right, thanks.

There's another way for you to follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. Go to Twitter, I'm on Twitter. You can get my twits at twitter.com/WolfblitzerCNN, at WolfblitzerCNN, all one word.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with your e-mail.

Then Internet addiction taken to the extreme. A couple pleads guilty to letting their real baby die from malnutrition, while they tended to a virtual child online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: On this Friday, the question is, how would you describe your dream job?

Greg writes from Pennsylvania, "Now that's a question I have an answer for. A nice warm sunny day floating down the Susquehanna River. Jim on the jet motor, me on point, beer in the cooler, a couple of good cigars and a limited (INAUDIBLE) in the locker, and getting paid to do. And that's what I call a green job. You can take the job I have now and shove it."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Rose in Ohio, "Jack, any job that gives you a paycheck these days is a dream job."

Scott writes, "A job where I can do hard labor six days a week. A job where I come home dirty, and know that I put in an honest day's work. Blue collar work is the only work for me."

John writes, "One where I don't have to deal with office politics, stupid dress codes and people who think they are more important than they are."

David writes, "I always wanted to be a super spy."

Marvin in Wisconsin says, "My dream job would be to maintain the RNC social calendar."

Marcia in Elkhart, Indiana, "I have my dream job, as a live-in for my dear 90-year-old lady friend. I get to stay home, keep house, garden, care for someone on a daily basis, cook, et cetera. It's extremely rewarding and will have eternal value."

Desert Diplomat says, "I'm a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department. I served my country honorably in Iraq last year. And I'm headed back for a second tour this summer. It's tough work but service to my country's my dream job, and I'm doing it."

John in St. Louis writes, "Working for FOX News. Oh, wait, April Fools' Day was yesterday."

And Rose writes, "My dream job would be to work at CNN with you and Wolf Blitzer. I watch CNN all the time. I like you guys. Happy Easter."

Happy Easter, Rose.

If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.

Wolf, have a good weekend.

BLITZER: Yes. Thanks. And Happy Easter to all of our views out there.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: Here in the United States and around the world. Jack, have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Ominous letters are going out to some of the nation's governors from extremist groups. The Ohio governor, Ted Strickland, is one of those governors. He'll John King later tonight at top of the hour, "JOHN KING USA," in a few minutes right after THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

And a troubling story out of South Korea. How a couple's over- the-top addiction led to the worst story imaginable.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at "Hot Shots" coming in from the Associated Press in Thailand.

A man sits behind riot police. Thousands are taking to the street in support of and against the government.

In Bosnia, a woman decorates eggs that will be handed out for Easter.

Here in Washington, D.C., people admire the cherry blossoms on a beautiful, gorgeous spring day.

And in a picture provided by the U.S. army in Iraq, troops deliver backpacks filled with school supplies.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Finally a bizarre story of addiction and loss in South Korea. A couple's baby dies due to neglect, not because her parents were hooked on drugs. Instead, they were hooked on an online game and a virtual child.

Here's CNN's Eunice Yoon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EUNICE YOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): This 3-month-old baby in South Korea died from malnutrition. Her parents choosing to raise and protect a virtual sibling -- a girl called Anema (ph). It's child favoritism.

And in a nation obsessed with the Internet where top online gamers are treated like rock stars.

In court Friday, the couple -- 40-year-old Kim Jae-beom and his partner, 25-year-old Kim Yun-jeong -- pled guilty to negligent homicide after their arrests last month. The two admitted leaving their premature infant Sa-Rang, or love in English, at home so they could play this popular online game Prius, often for 10-hour long stretches.

Ironically, the point of this 3-D fantasy game is to raise a girl who, as she grows, gains magical powers.

"I think of our baby in heaven," Sa-Rang's father told the judge. "I will be guilty until the day I die."

As part of the couple's defense, their lawyer argued the two are addicted to online gaming, a condition counselors say can be very destructive.

ANDREW LEVANDER, ADDICTION COUNSELOR: Over time in the absence of an intervention, this totally can rip through somebody's life and certainly in this sad case ripped through a family's life very quickly.

YOON (on camera): Prosecutors want a five-year jail sentence but the defense hopes the judge will consider the couple's addiction for the ruling on April 16th.

(Voice-over): Leniency for Internet addiction would be a first in the country.

LEVANDER: In this case the death of their child is such an enormous, egregious consequence I certainly could understand that there are a lot of people who are probably very angry about this.

YOON: Yet, the Kims are expecting their second child. Sa-Rang's father insists, "There will be no second mistake." A couple promising to tackle the responsibilities of real life after too long a journey in the virtual world.

Eunice Yoon, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Don't forget tomorrow, Saturday, THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be back for that. Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.