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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Obama Declares Combat Over For U.S. Forces in Iraq; More Mosque Fears; Hurricane Earl Still Heading For East Coast?

Aired August 31, 2010 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us.

Tonight: President Obama declares the combat mission over in Iraq. The real question, though, is what his direction will be going forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, of course, here at home. Did we get any answers tonight? We will talk about that with David Gergen, Peter Gergen, Fareed Zakaria, Ari Fleischer, Paul Begala, and a lot more.

Also tonight: growing fear and opposition to a mosque in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and growing fears within the mosque -- worshipers now afraid of their neighbors in some cases, and the fear is growing -- local Muslims getting police protection after an apparent arson attack.

We will ask a leading opponent of the mosque why she thinks her neighbors, who have been practicing Islam in the area for decades, should not be allowed to build a new place of worship. And we will hear from a member of the congregation.

Plus, we're waiting for a late update from the National Hurricane Center on Earl, still a Category 4 monster, still heading for the East Coast. We could know more about it when and where it's going to hit, and we will bring that to you first.

But we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest," with efforts to stop a mosque. We're not talking about the proposed mosque and Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero here in New York, but a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Muslim in -- Muslims in the town have asked federal agents to be on site during services, after the FBI says it has reason to believe that someone deliberately burned construction vehicles this weekend on the planned site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

A spokeswoman for the mosque says they're scared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMIE AYASH, SPOKESWOMAN, ISLAMIC CENTER OF MURFREESBORO: And it's very hard to explain to children what's going on. It's very hard to explain to the little kids, you know, when they ask you, mommy, are these people for us or against us? It -- it's just -- it's really taken a toll on the community.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, there's been a moving in Murfreesboro in one form or another for some 30 years, and a spokeswoman says the existing one is simply too small.

So, this is what they got approval to build, where that suspected arson took place this weekend, that's the plan: a ball field, a playground, a burial ground, parking lots, walking paths, and a mosque.

As for the money to build it, organizers say on the center's Web site that 95 percent of it is from local donations. As for the opposition, people have defaced and destroyed signs at the mosque. They have railed against it, rallied against it. The message that you can see on the sign says "Not welcome," and now what appears to be arson.

During a recent "700 Club" segment titled "Mega-Mosque Nation," Pat Robertson singled out the Murfreesboro center. He said he's not in favor of cities stopping churches from being built or other restrictions on freedom of religion, but he said this is not really about religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE 700 CLUB WITH PAT ROBERTSON")

PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": You mark my word, if they start brings thousands and thousands of Muslims into that relatively rural area, the next thing you know, they're going to be taking over the city council. Then they're going to be having an ordinance that -- that calls for public prayer five times a day.

Then they're going to be having ordinances that they will have be facilities for foot-washing in all the public restrooms and all the -- the airport facilities, et cetera, et cetera. And, before long, they're going to demand, demand, demand, demand, and, little by little, the citizens of Murfreesboro or whatever little town it is are going to be cowed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Mr. Robertson goes on to warn against Muslims' ability to -- quote -- "bribe folks to buy influence. I don't know if anyone's getting a payoff," he adds, "but it is entirely possible."

The imagery is of strange others infiltrating, invading, then somehow subverting the heartland.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spearheaded opposition to the mosque expansion in Murfreesboro, uses similar terms. In that same "700 Club" segment, she offers this explanation of why Muslims in Murfreesboro want to expand their mosque -- quote -- "You have Bible book publishers. You have Christian book publishers. You have Christian music headquartered here. The radical Islamic extremists have stated that they are still fighting the Crusaders, and they see this as the capital of the Crusaders."

Laurie Cardoza-Moore on "The 700 Club" earlier this month. As I said, she's a spokeswoman for Murfreesboro mosque opposition. I spoke to her earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I want to show our viewers something that you -- you recently said at a demonstration here -- here in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURIE CARDOZA-MOORE, PRESIDENT, PROCLAIMING JUSTICE TO THE NATIONS: In Tennessee, like in many communities, we are witnessing a rise of radical Islamic groups -- groups who are bent on building these compounds to further their radical agenda. Many local and county officials across the nation are being fooled into believing that these are just religious structures for worship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: This mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, what evidence do you have the imam, who has condemned Hamas to the Christian Broadcasting Network and Hezbollah, to the vast majority of Muslims who have practiced there for years and years, what evidence do you have that they are recruiting or fomenting terror?

CARDOZA-MOORE: In the past, there hasn't been a problem.

But, Anderson, with the recent statement by Mosaad Rawash on his MySpace page gives rise to huge concern in our community.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Again, which he was -- which he was removed from the board for and then investigated apparently by the mosque.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I -- I don't know the details of that. But -- but what somebody...

CARDOZA-MOORE: He was investigated by the mosque.

COOPER: Somebody -- what is on somebody's -- what is somebody's -- what is on somebody's MySpace page and what they -- you know, I don't know -- we don't know details of that, who put it on there. They say he was investigated by the mosque. You say he's still being investigated.

That's somebody who is on the board of this thing. What evidence do you have that this mosque is somehow -- how many people have they converted to radical Islam and sent overseas to foment terror?

CARDOZA-MOORE: I think there's a lapse in judgment by the leadership to implement a board member or to -- to reinstate a board member who made statements like that to kill Jews.

If they are trying to bring peace, and this is the religion of peace, that doesn't sound like the religion of peace to me, Anderson. I'm sorry. It's a threat to the community, not just the Jewish community or the Christian community. It's the Muslim community, too. What about the women?

COOPER: So, can Muslims be good citizens?

CARDOZA-MOORE: Of course. There are many Muslims who are good citizens. I -- my concern is not with the good citizens. Mine is the -- those who are pursuing a radical agenda.

COOPER: But why not pursue those who you say are pursuing a radical agenda...

CARDOZA-MOORE: That's -- that's all we're doing.

COOPER: ... and allow them to have a mosque where they can -- and allow the vast majority of the population in your town to have a mosque where they can worship?

CARDOZA-MOORE: We don't have a problem with that. We want the ones that have ties...

COOPER: So, you don't have a problem with a mosque being built?

CARDOZA-MOORE: No. We don't want...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What I'm saying is, why not allow a mosque to be built, and go after specific individuals, if you have evidence against them?

(CROSSTALK)

CARDOZA-MOORE: Not if they have board members who are tied to radical extremist groups. Not only should they not build a mosque. They should...

COOPER: So, why don't -- why don't you gather evidence against that board member and allow the -- the mosque itself...

CARDOZA-MOORE: We have. We have gathered evidence.

And the -- and the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department and Homeland Security and FBI are continuing to conduct the -- the investigation.

COOPER: So, what should Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, do to worship? I mean, if -- if they -- if they can't build the mosques that they want, what -- what -- what are you telling them to do?

CARDOZA-MOORE: They have -- Anderson, they have a mosque. Nobody's saying that they can't -- this is not about religion.

COOPER: But they say they don't -- they don't have enough room. They are saying they don't -- they are saying they don't have enough room and they would like to expand their mosque. CARDOZA-MOORE: That's fine. But you know something? There's got to be -- there has to be some due diligence done on the associations -- associations and the ties of the leaders. That is what we're calling into question.

We have done the research, and now we want to -- we're asking questions. Why was this guy reinstated? Why was he on their board in the first place, if they have moderate views?

COOPER: So, your sole opposition -- your sole opposition to the mosque is the fact that this board member had something on his MySpace page?

CARDOZA-MOORE: Yes, his MySpace page and Dr. Bahloul for teaching at a mosque in Irving, Texas, that is under investigation for terrorist-related activities.

COOPER: OK. So, now -- so, there's two reasons why you're opposed to this mosque, one, because the imam of this mosque used to preach at another mosque that you say is under investigation, and -- and because a board member had something on his MySpace page?

CARDOZA-MOORE: Yes, most certainly.

COOPER: That's the sole -- that's -- that's it?

CARDOZA-MOORE: That's enough. That is enough.

It's not about their religion. It never has been. It's about stopping the advancement of radical Islam in the United States of America and in our community.

COOPER: Laurie Cardoza-Moore, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CARDOZA-MOORE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Some strong allegations about the mosque imam and one of its board members there. Right after we finished taping the interview, we made some calls.

First, we got in touch with a local reporter who has been covering the story. He confirms that the board member in question, Mosaad Rawash, was investigated by the FBI because of allegations about statements on a MySpace page. No charges, however, were ever brought, and he was reinstated by the mosque.

And then we contacted the FBI about Ms. Cardoza-Moore's allegation that a mosque in Irving, Texas, where the Murfreesboro imam was once a visiting cleric is or was under investigation by the FBI for terrorism-related activities. Actually, she said it is currently under investigation.

The source we spoke to was unaware of the allegations about the mosque in Irving, was not aware of what Ms. Cardoza-Moore was talking about.

Joining us now is a spokeswoman for the Murfreesboro Islamic Center, Camie Ayash.

Camie, thanks for being with us.

What do you make of what she says? I mean, basically, she's saying that your mosque is sort of a hotbed of extremism, that -- that a member of your board -- first of all, let's start with the member of your board. Why was he reinstated as a member of the board, if questions were raised about something on his MySpace page?

AYASH: Well, when the questions were raised, I want -- I want you to understand, we took those allegations very seriously. We did suspend him from any privileges, you know, at the mosque.

We turned this over to local and federal authorities. Both -- he was cleared by both, local and federal authorities, and so, therefore, he was reinstated.

COOPER: Do you know what it was on the MySpace page? I mean, she was saying that he was making statements against Jews and about jihad.

AYASH: She -- a lot of her allegations are -- are incorrect.

I -- I'm not sure exactly what was on his MySpace page. It was deleted right after he was accused of these things, because he was so worried about his reputation. She set out to slander him, I do believe.

The FBI, though, and local authorities investigated his MySpace page thoroughly, and they found absolutely no links to terrorism.

COOPER: She also says that the imam at your mosque was once a visiting professor at a mosque in Irving, Texas, that she claims is still under FBI investigation. Our source at the FBI says they don't know what she's talking about.

Who -- I mean, is -- is your imam -- my understanding is that he has renounced Hamas and Hezbollah off-camera to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Where in the -- in the spectrum of Islam, where does he stand? How -- I mean, is he radical?

AYASH: He is absolutely not radical. He comes from Cairo, Egypt. He attended Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which, you know, is probably...

COOPER: Which, by the way, she -- she -- I mean, it's a prestigious university. She says it's a hotbed of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

AYASH: Yes, it's a very prestigious university. It could be compared with Harvard here in the United States.

A lot of her allegations are -- are completely false. He is one of the most respected members in our community. He absolutely does not condone -- or he does not approve of any type of terrorist activity. Like I said, he's one of the most respected members in our community.

COOPER: How long has this mosque, has your mosque been in -- in operation in Murfreesboro?

AYASH: We have had members here for almost 30 years. And for her to just now jump in and start making accusations, it's completely ludicrous.

COOPER: So, in the last -- in the 30 years you have had members -- and I guess you've been in your current location for how long?

AYASH: We have been in that current location since the mid-'90s.

COOPER: OK.

So, whether it's at your current location or -- I mean, in your history, your 30-year history, here in this town, have you had good relations with the people in -- in -- in Murfreesboro?

AYASH: We have had wonderful relationships with all of our neighbors in Murfreesboro.

To me, it seems like she's the extremist at this point. She's the one going around the United States, lobbying against Islamic centers throughout all of the United States. It's not just the ones in Murfreesboro. So, to me, she's the one who is terrorizing our community. She's trying to plant doubt and fear within our community.

Since she's began the campaign, it seems as though it's working with some of those. But, you know, I have to point out that Murfreesboro is such a great place. A lot of times, within the media, you just see the opposition. But the amount of support that we have received is tremendous.

This really has been a dark cloud, but it has a huge, huge silver lining. And we're so thankful to everyone who supported us.

COOPER: You know, you saw the thing that Pat Robertson said, basically implying that kind of you guys want to build this big mosque, so then you kind of bring in thousands of Muslims, I'm not sure from where, who are then going to take over the city council and cow the people of Murfreesboro.

Why do you want to build a bigger mosque?

AYASH: Right now, our current facility is about 2,200 square foot, Anderson. It cannot accommodate -- we have over 1,000 members. We have about 250 families, but when you add in children and wives, it's -- it's over 1,000 members. You cannot squeeze us into that -- into that facility anymore. We're kind of packed in there.

We're not trying to build a mega-mosque, either. When we submitted plans to the -- to the city, what we tried to do is share our vision of the future with the city. The actual first phase one is around 6,800 square foot. That's very small in comparison with a lot of local churches there.

COOPER: In terms of where this goes from here, I mean, you have asked for police protection. Are you getting police protection now at the site?

AYASH: We are getting police protection. I think it's very sad that we have to ask for police protection. We're the ones that's being terrorized, and she's the one accusing us of being -- having terrorist activities.

COOPER: The other...

AYASH: To set someone -- go ahead.

COOPER: Sorry.

The other thing she says is that, at some point, someone at your mosque was handing out pamphlets that were made out by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamist organization which is outlawed in Egypt, where it was born, but is -- is popular in Egypt and -- and elsewhere.

I mean, are you guys affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in any way?

AYASH: We're not affiliated with anyone. And the comment she made is -- is a lie, to be honest with you.

COOPER: So, there was -- there was no pamphlet being handed out produced by the Muslim Brotherhood?

AYASH: Absolutely not. I can say 100 percent that's a lie.

COOPER: And -- and do you -- in terms of where -- you know, people who are -- you know, she's making allegations with a very broad brush about Islam. Where are you in the spectrum of -- I mean, what -- what branch of Islam are you? What are you -- what are you practicing?

AYASH: Well, we practice Islam. I'm not really clear on your question.

COOPER: Sorry. Are you Sunni, Shia?

AYASH: Yes, Sunni.

COOPER: OK, Sunni.

And -- and what happens now? I mean, you've gotten approval to build this. Are you going to go ahead and build this, despite, you know, what's going on?

AYASH: Absolutely. Like I said, the supporters that are behind us far outnumber those who are opposed to us. We feel very good about our neighbors. We feel good that they're trying to support us. And we really don't want to focus on the negativity of those who try to become vigilantes and take the law into their own hands and set fire to equipment and threaten us, things like that.

So, absolutely, we plan on moving forward.

COOPER: I have got to go, but final question. The funding for this, you say on your Web site, 95 percent of it is going to come from -- from local residents. The opposition says, you know, many mosques in the United States get funding from Saudi Arabia.

Are you receiving international funding? Will you? And -- and, if so, will you be transparent about where your funding comes from?

AYASH: We're completely transparent. We have an open-door policy. We invite anyone with questions or concerns to come to us.

Ninety-five percent, probably 98 percent of all funding comes from within our congregation. Since all of this starred up, we did start accepting donations from the United States only. We're being very, very careful about where donations are coming from.

So -- but, absolutely, completely transparent.

COOPER: Camie Ayash, appreciate you being on. Thank you very much.

AYASH: Thank you so much.

COOPER: Well, let us know what you think. You can join the live chat under way at AC360.com.

Up next, we're going continue the conversation with our panel and bring you the pretty stunning results of a new poll on how many Americans believe that President Obama sympathizes with Islamic fundamentalists.

Also tonight, his plans for Iraq going forward, did he really give any clear signals of that tonight? We are going to play some of the president's speech and talk to our panel.

We're also waiting for a late update on Hurricane Earl. Chad Myers is going to bring it to us the moment it comes in.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We just got in some late-breaking election news.

A week after the primary, two-term Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is conceding in the very close primary between her and Sarah Palin-backed challenger Joe Miller. Now let's move on to more perspective on both the mosque story and the presidential address tonight.

We have striking new polling numbers. "Newsweek" did the survey. It shows that 7 percent of Americans believe that the president sympathizes with Islamic fundamentalists. Among Republicans, however, the number is even higher. Fourteen percent say that's definitely true. Thirty-eight percent say it's probably true that he sympathizes -- sympathizes. Thirty-three percent of Republicans believe it's probably not true. And just 7 percent say it's definitely not true that the president of the United States of America sympathizes with Islamic fundamentalists.

Let's bring in the panel, CNN's Fareed Zakaria, host of "GPS," senior political analyst David Gergen, former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

Paul, what do you make of this? I mean, couldn't the "Newsweek" results just be maybe another way of people who don't like the president expressing disapproval, or do you really think the numbers mean that the people -- the president of the United States supports Sharia law?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's the former, not the latter, Anderson. I think it's a Republican thing. That's why I don't understand it.

When you break it out by party, it turns out, for example, one of the questions "Newsweek" asked is, do you think the president favors Muslim Americans, or has he been even-handed with all Americans? Fifty-nine percent of Republicans say, oh, he favors Muslims, but 62 percent of independents say, no, no, he's been even-handed.

Set the Democrat aside. They are going to love anything Obama does. This is not what independent Americans think at all. And it's not certainly what Democrats think. It's just a Republican thing. And they could believe -- I think they should have asked, do you believe that the president was complicit in the murder of Elvis Presley? And they would have said, oh, sure, yes, he killed Elvis.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Ari, do you think this is just a Republican thing?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think Paul's last point is exactly why nobody should take this very seriously. It's a political thing.

And I lived on the other side when the liberal Democrat base used to say some more things about George Bush. I think, if you took a poll of them at height of Bush's unpopularity and you said, do you think he's un-American, the overwhelming majority of the Democrat Party would have said yes.

This is our political strife these days from the sides of both parties. It makes sense that the independents don't buy into it. But both parties have their vociferous wings. And I don't think it's to be taken literally. I think it's to be taken as an element of the politicization of all our debates.

COOPER: David, do you -- do you buy that, that this is just sort of the nature of politics, or is there something about President Obama and -- and what at least Republicans in the country see?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it has something to do with President Obama, and it has a lot more to do with 9/11 and the fear of terrorism.

It's a fever. And we go through these periodic fevers. If you go back to the presidency of Harry Truman, with Dean Acheson of secretary of state, there was a widespread view of the country that Harry Truman and Dean Acheson in particular were very sympathetic to communists.

When Richard Nixon first ran for office against Helen Gahagan Douglas, you know, he -- he argued she was pink right down to her underwear. and that conversation has been in American discourse for a long time. And the fevers come and go. We have got another one now.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, David is right. This is part of the paranoid style of American politics. There is a kind of fever

However, what is different about this and what -- compared with the -- the -- the attitude towards George W. Bush -- while Ari is right -- the attitude of Harry Truman, is there is a racial and religious tinge here, and perhaps more than a tinge.

And that's very unsettling, for a country that celebrates diversity to have -- you know, to be characterizing -- Obama is -- would not be characterized this way if he were an elderly white gentleman.

COOPER: So, this -- so, you're -- is this a way of talking about race -- or expressing racial concerns without talking about race?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: I think it's a way of making him seem other, seem foreign, seem untrustworthy, seem somehow, you know, not part of mainstream America.

FLEISCHER: But, you know, it works in both directions, again, because with President Bush, again, being a fundamentalist Christian, there are many people, again on the Democrat left predominantly, who have said he's not tolerant, he's not open, he's not accepting, he's not smart. Fundamentalist Christian was a part of that. He's just simple.

And so it does work in both directions.

ZAKARIA: I would -- I would agree with that, but I think that there's a -- that -- that, in this country of all countries, to have this be layered with race and religion is very harmful...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I agree with that, Fareed, but it is true that some people want to make him see like other. But there are times when he contributes to it himself. And...

COOPER: Well, by talking out on the mosque issue, was that a...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Should he have spoken out?

GERGEN: I thought he should, but, in -- in contrast to his Philadelphia speech on race, where I thought he was superb...

COOPER: During the campaign.

GERGEN: ... during the campaign, really understood and empathized with people who had views different from his, in the -- in the case of the mosque, I thought he showed no understanding of people who objected to the mosque, where it was, but were not anti-Muslim.

There are -- you -- you can -- you can be pro-Muslim and still have problems with where that mosque was going to be put in New York.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: It would be interesting to see if any of those people, the Newt Gingriches, the Sarah Palins of the world, will come out in favor of this mosque in Tennessee, which is thousands of miles from Ground Zero.

GERGEN: I agree with that. I agree with that.

ZAKARIA: My guess is that they will be opposed to this mosque...

GERGEN: But -- but it -- but...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: ... and they will be opposed to every mosque in the country.

GERGEN: Well, but you -- you do -- when you have 60 percent of Americans who think -- were troubled by where the mosque was going to go, they're not anti-Muslim. This country is very tolerant of Muslims.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: There are pockets like Murfreesboro where this fever has struck.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: Yes, but I think that on that case -- in that case, the president uniquely has a responsibility to defend the Constitution.

GERGEN: He also has a...

ZAKARIA: And the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is -- is -- is -- it pertains to the...

GERGEN: But that's not the only argument about that. Yes, but the argument -- there were other arguments. And he didn't -- as opposed to the Philadelphia speech, where I thought he really understood people who did not think like he did, I did not think he showed much sympathy or understanding about different perspectives.

ZAKARIA: But that does not -- to me, to my mind, that is not a license to then start painting him as some kind of weird, dark-faced foreigner who actually secretly sympathizes with al Qaeda.

FLEISCHER: But if you talk about not painting people with certain faces, you just said that probably Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich oppose every mosque in this country.

So, you're doing it here tonight on the show, too. So...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: Sure. Let -- let...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: But that's -- that's equally unfair.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: I will lay this down on the -- on the show.

If they will come out in favor of the construction of a new mosque anywhere in this country, I will be impressed. I have not heard...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: But, no, what you said was you think they oppose every mosque in this country.

ZAKARIA: No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: ... every new mosque. Let me amend it and be clear what I'm saying.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: What I'm saying is, if the problem is, you don't want a new mosque right next to 9/11, well, what about the one in -- in -- in Tennessee? What about the one in Texas? What about the one in California? (CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: There are protests against all of those that have been funded, organized, and -- and supported by many of the people who are supporting -- who are -- who are against the mosque near Ground Zero.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: And -- and we heard from the woman in Murfreesboro that there -- there are -- and the -- the Muslim woman -- that there are a lot of people in Murfreesboro who actually favor what they're doing. She's impresses by the outpouring of support.

I would say that most Americans had been very embracing of the Muslim religion. And we have been -- most Americans have been very tolerant. And George W. Bush himself spoke out.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But it's interesting now that there is this...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: The president has a special responsibility to stand up for individual rights and -- and -- and minority rights when they are -- when they are placed under pressure by -- by majority suspicions.

GERGEN: But there are not just the rights of the Muslims. There are also rights of the -- of the families who -- who were -- who lost loved ones. There are other rights involved here. There are other sort of perspectives.

ZAKARIA: What other rights...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: And that's why the mosque...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: Are those questions asked of any preacher setting up any other house of religion...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: That's why the mosque two blocks north of Ground Zero is unique.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: What's that?

ZAKARIA: Are those questions asked of any preacher setting up any other house of religion anywhere in the country?

GERGEN: When the pope -- when the pope, after there was a big controversy about putting a Catholic convent...

ZAKARIA: That was his decision. There was no question that they had the right to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Had a right to do it, to put their Catholic convent in the Auschwitz, and the pope said, I don't think it's a good idea.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We have got to take a break.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We will continue the conversation. We have got more -- we will have more on the politics up in Alaska of Lisa Murkowski now conceding. Joe Miller is now the Republican -- or the candidate for Alaska.

We're going to dig deeper on the Republican side, at least, opposing the Democrat, on what President Obama said tonight about the mission in Iraq, Afghanistan, the tough times here at home.

And, as soon as they come in, new data on where Hurricane Earl is headed. It is a monster storm right now,and where on the East Coast the Cat 4 storm could hit -- details from Chad ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up: Hurricane Earl takes a dangerous turn, mandatory evacuations ordered tonight for portions of North Carolina, as the Cat 4 storm whips toward the East Coast -- federal emergency teams already in place, we're told, bracing for the worst.

Chad Myers joins us ahead with an update from the National Hurricane Center. That will be shortly.

First, though, some of tonight's other important stories. Isha Sesay joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson.

Rough weather in the Gulf is delaying BP's efforts to kill its damaged oil well. Officials today had planned to replace a blowout preventer, a crucial step in permanently sealing the well. However, according to authorities, winds may ease enough by the weekend for work to continue.

In Chile, the drilling is under way in the effort to reach those 33 miners trapped since early August. The men are surviving on supplies funneled in from above. According to medics, tomorrow's menu will include rice and beef, their first hot meal in three weeks.

Zsa Zsa Gabor rushed to the hospital this morning after her husband found her unresponsive. The 93-year-old has suffered a series of setbacks following complications from hip surgery. A spokesman for Gabor's daughter says doctors told her the situation is not life threatening.

And in Las Vegas, drug charges filed against Paris Hilton. Prosecutors say a bundle of cocaine fell out of her purse after a traffic stop over the weekend.

COOPER: Wow.

SESAY: According to the police report, she says she thought it was -- Anderson, she thought it was chewing gum.

COOPER: Really? Are you serious?

SESAY: Here's the thing, you know. People are thinking that the chewing gum detail in the story is kind of like the juiciest element. Get it, juicy, gum?

COOPER: Yes.

SESAY: Moving on. They think that it's the juiciest element of this police report. But it actually isn't. What struck me was the fact that it says in the report that it's when -- when Paris asked for her purse to be handed to her so she could put lip balm on. That's when the cop says he...

COOPER: That's when it fell out.

SESAY: That's when it allegedly fell out. So here's my thing: a police report with lip balm and allegations of cocaine that they thought was chewing gum, it's like a plot from a bad British soap. So you know?

COOPER: A bad -- that's very true. Isha, we'll check in with you a little bit later.

Still ahead -- a bundle of cocaine. What was she thinking? President Obama declares Operation Iraqi Freedom over in his Oval Office speech, marking a milestone. What it means for the country. Our political panel returns.

Also, the breaking news out of Alaska: Lisa Murkowski conceding defeat to Joe Miller, the Palin-backed candidate. We'll talk about that with Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala.

Also, breaking news on Hurricane Earl: officials ordering mandatory evacuations as the big storm, massive storm takes aim at the Carolinas. Chad Myers, meteorologist, joins us with the latest from the National Hurricane Center, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news tonight. Two-term Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski conceding the Alaska GOP primary. The winner in a very close race, Sarah Palin's candidate, Joe Miller. Back again with our panel: Fareed Zakaria, Ari Fleischer, David Gergen, Paul Begala. Also with us, national security analyst Peter Bergen to talk about the president's speech tonight.

But let's talk about Murkowski just quickly. Ari, yet again, I mean, a sign of the power of Sarah Palin for the endorsement.

FLEISCHER: This is actually good news for the Republicans, now that it's finally over. It was a shock that Lisa Murkowski lost, but now that it's going to be a unified field, Alaska is safe territory for Republicans. And it will be -- it will be a seat Republicans are going to win.

COOPER: So Sarah Palin, though, Paul Begala, is now, I think, what, 5 for 5 in this last round?

BEGALA: Oh, I think she's lost a few and won a few. But first, congratulations to her; good for her. Congratulations to Mr. Miller, who won a very unlikely upset up there.

But here's the interesting thing politically about Alaska. Alaska gets $1.84 back from Washington for each dollar they send down here. And it's a welfare state. It gets a whole lot more from the rest of the states.

You know, it sits on an ocean of oil. And I was OK with that, because they kept re-electing Ted Stevens, the late senator who was chairman of the appropriations committee and the king of pork.

Now, the Republicans at least have nominated a guy who says he doesn't want any more federal spending. I think that's good news for the other 49, because we can bring that money home. We don't need to spend any more money in Alaska. They're swimming in oil. Now they're going to nominate a senator candidate who says he doesn't want any more federal money. I say amen. Why don't we bring the money home to the other 49 states, who might use it?

COOPER: President Obama spoke about the need for money tonight. Maybe he'll be listening to you, Paul.

The end of the combat. He also spoke, obviously, on the point of the Oval Office address, his second, about the end of the combat mission in Iraq and the president's speech. Let's play some of what the president said tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq while redoubling efforts to strengthen Iraq's security forces and support its government and people. That's what we've done.

We've removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We've closed or transferred to the Iraqis hundreds of bases. We have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq's security forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Out of Iraq by the end of next year, that was the promise from President Obama. He said the combat mission's over, but America and will provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

Ari, you were obviously working for George W. Bush. I'm curious to what you thought as you listened to this. And obviously, not a great speech but a historic moment.

FLEISCHER: Well, my first thought was 7 1/2 years ago I was in the Oval Office when the president gave a speech committing us to Iraq. And it's appropriate. Americans don't like to commit troop abroad. And when we do, we want to win, and we want come to come. And the president -- I think President Bush has won (ph) because of the surge.

And then, in December of 2008, remember when the shoe was thrown at him? That was actually the announcement of a security agreement with the Iraqi government to bring our troops hope at the end of 2011.

The day had to come. So I'm glad the day was able to come and that President Obama gave a speech where he could thank the troops who also made this possible who really deserve all the credit for making it possible.

COOPER: Do you think he should have said more about President Bush?

FLEISCHER: You know, I think it would have been gracious of him if he'd mentioned the surge, but the problem he has, for President Obama to put the words "President Bush," "Iraq" and anything good in the same sentence, the Democrat base, which already doesn't want to show up in November -- what will Nancy Pelosi see if he starts talking like that?

So I understand -- I wish he was more gracious about it, but he has his own Democratic political imperatives, and he has -- he followed those tonight.

COOPER: Paul, what did you think of the speech? We haven't heard from you tonight.

BEGALA: Well, I think it was -- first, he was trying to do three different things, right? Say we're going to withdraw from Iraq, but we're going to surge into Afghanistan, but we're going to withdraw from there, too. But then, we're going to take care of folks here at home. I want to pick up, though, on this point that Ari makes about the surge, because it is staggering to me. First off, the surge was only necessary because President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld went to war with too few troops, because they wanted to prove General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, wrong. That's why we needed it in the first place.

Second, it could have never succeeded without the preceding Sunni awakening. Iraqis themselves had to decide. It wasn't the American surge and then -- that cured it. It was the Sunni awakening.

But I'll make a deal with President Bush. We'll give you all the credit for the surge if you take half of the blame for the lies that got us into the war, by which I mean Iraq -- excuse me, Ari, by which I mean...

FLEISCHER: No, Paul, it's not right.

BEGALA: ... by which I mean Ari himself saying Iraq was an imminent threat to America, by which the president of the United States saying it was a mushroom cloud that could become a smoking gun, by which I mean the threat of unmanned aerial drones that Saddam supposedly had that would gas America, the connections that they allege which were false between al Qaeda and -- and Saddam's regime.

So, you know, there was so much they got wrong about this. Some of it just was botched, and some of it was deeply dishonest. And the notion that somehow George Bush is owed any moment of grace here is appalling to the history.

FLEISCHER: Neither you nor anybody else, including your old boss, Bill Clinton, challenged George Bush when he said that, because the intelligence that they all saw, too, led them to the same conclusion. So I think seven years...

BEGALA: You know they didn't see...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: First off...

BEGALA: They didn't see all the intelligence, because you guys weren't sharing it.

FLEISCHER: This is the night that President Obama said thanks to the military; our troops are coming home. I was gracious enough to praise President Obama for saying that. It's an appropriate moment for our country to bring them home and to welcome them home.

But for you to say that President Bush lied about this, Paul, that is exactly the type of divisiveness we're trying move beyond in this country. When you know as well as I do he followed the intelligence that he was given by the CIA.

BEGALA: He manipulated -- he manipulated and cherry picked the intelligence... FLEISCHER: No.

BEGALA: ... as did Mr. Cheney, as did Mr. Rumsfeld, and that's why 4,427 Americans are dead.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: It was nothing to cherry pick. That's everything we needed to know.

BEGALA: When Dick Cheney said, as he did, that Saddam has long- established ties with al Qaeda, the evidence is overwhelming, you know, the Iraq study group said no that wasn't true.

FLEISCHER: The 9/11 Commission report said Saddam had ties to al Qaeda.

BEGALA: It's just incredible.

FLEISCHER: The 9/11 Commission Report, it said they weren't operational. Our point of view is never let them become operational.

BEGALA: This is -- this is the thing: he was no threat to America. Ari, himself...

FLEISCHER: Now you're changing your tune because you're recognizing the 9/11 Commission report agreed with the president...

BEGALA: They said there were no operational links. There were none.

FLEISCHER: That's correct. We didn't want them to become one.

BEGALA: Well, we don't want Canada to have operational links either. How about we go -- how about we go have Operation Canadian Freedom?

No, look, this was from the beginning, it was a war of choice. It was Mr. Bush's choice, and it was a tragic choice; 4,427 Americans are dead. Thirty-five thousand Americans are wounded, plus those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, plus those suffering from traumatic brain injury. This has been a catastrophe for America, a catastrophe for our armed services who served with such heroism. And for Mr. Fleischer to sit here and expect a pat on the back, it is appalling. It is, as we would say in Texas, I guess it's chutzpah.

FLEISCHER: In Paul Begala's view of the world, we'd all be better off and safer off if Saddam Hussein was still running Iraq.

BEGALA: And those 4,427 Americans were alive.

FLEISCHER: Any time anybody loses their lives in the military, our nation suffers for it. Any one individual, anywhere.

But the point is we now have a new Iraq, an Iraq that has a chance to become a bastion of freedom and, hopefully, an Iraq that can change the Arab Middle East, so it's a more peaceful area where wars don't start. That's what Iraq now gives us a chance to do. And that's why I hope, now with the 50,000 remaining troops, we will be successful, and they don't lose the peace in Iraq, which is...

BEGALA: And we have -- we have a diminished America, a depleted America. We have a divided America. And we have, tragically, military cemeteries that are filling up. That is a hell of a price to pay to get rid of a guy who was no threat to America.

FLEISCHER: No threat to America?

BEGALA: Zero.

COOPER: I want to bring in other panelists in just a second. We've got to take a quick break, though. We're also going to have an update on Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm, where it may make landfall. We'll have details on that with Chad Myers ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Let's continue our discussion on the president's speech with David Gergen, Peter Bergen and Fareed Zakaria, as well as Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala.

David, what do you make of the speech? You were disappointed overall.

GERGEN: I guess we haven't quite turned the page, have we?

COOPER: The president tonight saying let's turn the page on Iraq.

GERGEN: The -- President Obama promised he was going to bring troops home. In this way, he kept his promise. He deserves credit for that.

Beyond that, Anderson, I must say I was troubled by the speech because I felt that, in looking forward, not back, looking forward, the president did not define what the mission is in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and it sounds dangerously as if what's important is deadlines, not success. And I had hoped that we would be leaving, when we left Iraq and when we leave Afghanistan, we would leave more stable countries, more stable governments. I didn't hear that tonight. I didn't hear about success. I heard about we're getting the heck out of here, over to you.

COOPER: And Peter Bergen, 51 people killed in Iraq just last week in attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq and other related groups. Also, obviously in Afghanistan a very tough road ahead. The stability of both those places, how do you see it?

BERGEN: Well, neither -- neither are good. Picking up on something that David said, I thought it was very interesting. The president used the phrase "conditions-based" about Afghanistan. Because that's a way of papering over some very, very significant disagreements that are continuing to exist, I think, between the U.S. military and the political sides of the White House.

COOPER: He said next July we'll start reducing troops but based on conditions on the ground.

BERGEN: Right. And everybody can take whatever they want from that. I mean, it's not really a definition of what David was saying, you know, some kind of vision of what Afghanistan should look like or might look like. It's just a way of papering over significant disagreements that continue to exist about what we're doing in Afghanistan and how long we'll be there.

COOPER: John McCain's point on that is that basically, you're undercutting -- John McCain, who praises the increasing number of troops going to Afghanistan, but says you're undercutting that by setting a withdrawal date, whether it's conditions-based or not.

ZAKARIA: Yes. On the other hand I think that Obama approaches this very much the way Dwight Eisenhower approached foreign entanglements. He thought it was important that the United States assert itself, that the United States military assert itself, but there's always got to be a sense of constraints, of the costs, of the limits to military involvement. And Eisenhower was very careful not to engage in open-ended commitments that were about grand transformation of the war.

And I think Obama and -- both Obama and Secretary Gates have explicitly praised Eisenhower for this. So I think his caution, David Gergen is not hearing church bells ringing in this Obama speech, but that is -- that is Barack Obama. He is very much -- it's odd. He is a kind of hard-headed realist from the Eisenhower/Nixon/Kissinger school, and he does not believe that the role of the U.S. military is to write a blank check to Afghanistan for the next 25 years.

COOPER: David.

GERGEN: Eisenhower believed that if you commit the troops, you commit to when.

ZAKARIA: He didn't.

GERGEN: He did not believe...

ZAKARIA: He basically found a way of getting out of Korea.

GERGEN: He didn't -- he didn't commit the troops in Korea. He was not the one who sent them in there.

ZAKARIA: ... Barack Obama, in case you haven't noticed.

GERGEN: Very careful where he went in, but he was always about we need victory, we need to stand up.

ZAKARIA: Both these wars began before him. He is trying to, in effect, manage them responsibly without creating open-ended engagement. I don't think that it is irresponsible; in fact, it is quite responsible for a president to draw some lines. GERGEN: But the reason we set a date in Iraq to come out now was we said if we set a deadline it would force the Iraqis, would encourage the Iraqis to form their government and be self-sufficient.

ZAKARIA: That was...

GERGEN: That deadline has not worked.

ZAKARIA: That was Bush for the surge. It worked.

GERGEN: This was Barack Obama's argument for pulling out now. That if you set a deadline, things were going to happen. It doesn't -- it's not clear that if you set a deadline...

ZAKARIA: But if we stay in Iraq for another ten years for the Sunnis and Shias find the ideal coalition government that they're going to come on, I don't believe that is dependent on U.S. troops. That is dependent on visionary leadership in Iraq, which might exist with American troops. It might not exist with American troops.

Assuming that the United States can somehow orchestrate, you know, a wonderful, modern liberal democratic Iraq, I'm not sure that that's true.

GERGEN: I don't think that's true. But you would like to think that we are going to leave with a stable Iraq. And if our commitment is only -- we're only staying around for a deadline. That it. We're going to help you, over to you, you're in charge now.

ZAKARIA: But David, it strike me that that's a pretty high number. By the way, there is no distinction between combat and non- combat troops. They can do whatever the president asks them to do. So...

COOPER: We've got to leave it there. Fareed Zakaria, Peter Bergen, David Gergen, Ari Fleischer, Paul Begala. Thank you very much. Really good discussion.

Up next, breaking news, new information from the National Hurricane Center about Hurricane Earl heading for the East Coast in time for the Labor Day weekend. Chad Myers has a live update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news tonight. Hurricane Earl Cat 4 storm barreling toward the East Coast. Mandatory evacuations now in place for portions of North Carolina -- the North Carolina coast as officials brace for the one-two punch of high winds and also surging floodwaters. Let's get the latest from Chad Myers, our meteorologist in Atlanta.

Chad, what's going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Huge waves, too, Anderson. And also the threat of rip currents up and down the East Coast, really putting all swimmers in danger Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now, by Saturday, it gets a lot better, but there still will be waves out there.

This is a large and dangerous storm. Here are the Turks and Caicos, which are south of the Bahamas. But here's Florida, right here. It's already here and a large storm. No effect at all on Haiti. Great news there. People there don't even need a shower, a rain shower. There's Haiti, way down here. And no effect on that island nation there just to the west there of the Dominican Republic.

Still the same forecast for the track. For the next few days, the forecast has not changed. Still a minimal Category 4. It's 115 knots, 135 miles per hour, and it's just a couple of miles per hour in the Category 4. So a large 3, small 4, depending on your point of view.

But the cone of uncertainty or the cone of possibility still through parts of the East Coast, still brushing past the Carolina coast, possibly even passing through Cape Cod. Now, most of the track is east of there. Most of the potential is east.

Certainly, 85 percent chance of this storm missing the East Coast altogether, at least the eye. But 15 percent chance that it does go far enough left that it could hit.

But the problem is, this is a large stomach. You can't just focus on the eye. There's going to be a lot of rain. There's going to be wind. There's going to be those currents. There's going to be the rip currents, of course. And then waves. Waves with this storm are 30 feet out in the middle of the ocean. Can you imagine waves crashing on shore anywhere in the Carolinas, even up to 15 feet that will wash a lot of sand away? There will be beach erosion, and certainly a lot of the beach erosion will come with those waves that could pull swimmers out to sea. If you're going to out there for this weekend, obviously, Labor Day weekend, stay at the pool.

COOPER: So Chad, I hit 43, and my eyes are gone. The writing on that looks small. When -- when are people in the East Coast going to start to notice, you know, heavy winds, rain?

MYERS: The closest approach for North Carolina happens Thursday night, Friday morning. It's Friday afternoon for New York City but still 200 miles away. And for Saturday, for Nova Scotia. So it moves quickly by the time it gets there. OK.

COOPER: Good to know. Chad, appreciate it. We'll continue to follow this tomorrow. A lot more ahead at the top of the hour, starting with a mosque that's nowhere near Ground Zero but still being opposed. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)