James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:03 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome, everybody. Before we get started, I thought maybe it would be a nice time to honor some of the people who made this new briefing room possible, and I asked them to come forward. We’ll do some quick introductions for those who are in the room, and then we will get about our daily business of doing the briefing.
I’m going to do this in alphabetical order. Again, these are folks here at the White House who worked very long and hard to make this possible. And for those of you who were skeptical about whether you’d ever get back in, I’m glad you’re back in, and we’re all delighted to have this wonderful new facility.
So those who I wish to come forward: Lt. Douglas Bean, Taifa Coger-Boatright, Kelli McClure, Paul Ostazeski, Tony Overton, Anthony Skafidi, Bob Shanholtz, and Alan Zawatsky. Come on up. (Applause.) Pose for pictures — there you go. I want to thank you all. We’ve had many meetings and many long days, none longer than yesterday, in getting the facility ready. But we’re all delighted to be back. Thank you very much.
Q What was the toughest part of the job? Did you find any old copy around? (Laughter.)
Q Dead rats?
MR. SNOW: Didn’t find copy, but we did get to look at all the scrolled signatures on the swimming pool downstairs.
All right, thank you, guys.
One other note. Some of you are curious why I was not here at the gaggle. We had a conference call with Kevin Bergner in Baghdad, who was giving us an update on some of the activities against foreign fighters in Iraq. And it’s probably worth running through some of those, because there’s some interesting data. And for those of you wanting a little more granularity on what’s going on in the way forward, let me give you a bit of — at least what Kevin had to report. This is all courtesy of MNFI, and also it is on their website. If you want to get further information — MNF-Iraq.com will give you some of the highlights.
In any event, as we have been saying, the number one enemy in Iraq is al Qaeda. Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq, the chief organization for killing innocent Iraqis. About 80 to 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are conducted by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists. And as many as 70 percent of those foreign-born terrorists make their way into Iraq through Syria.
Each month al Qaeda lures 60 to 80 terrorists into Iraq. And there have been ongoing efforts not only to intercept those terrorists, but also to try to disrupt the networks that are responsible for recruiting them.
In May and June, MNFI engaged in a series of activities throughout Iraq, in the north, central and southern parts. They killed or captured 26 high-level al Qaeda leaders — this would include 11 amirs who were city or local al Qaeda leaders, seven facilitators — these are the people responsible for recruiting and smuggling foreigners, weapons and money into Iraq — five cell leaders who commanded terrorist units who work for the amirs, and three network leaders responsible for vehicle-borne IEDs.
Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba — we talk also about going into certain areas that have heavy al Qaeda presence. We’ve talked about breakthroughs in Anbar. In the city of Baquba, which in the last year has been a heavy al Qaeda source of activity, 60 confirmed kills of extremists, al Qaeda in Iraq extremists; 155 extremists captured; 50 weapons caches, 122 IEDs. But maybe more importantly, making it possible for people to begin to return to normal life — 462 metric tons of food — for the first time in 10 months, food and medical shipments going back into Baquba, and 10 truckloads of medical supplies, which is enough to support the entire population.
What we have begun to see, is as there has been success against al Qaeda in Iraq — and some of that success, interestingly enough, was indicated in the most recent Ayman al-Zawahiri tape, where he seems to be worried about dysfunction within the terrorist class. The fact is that Iraqis realize that al Qaeda comes not as a liberator, but as an organization that wants to humiliate the Iraqi people, and far from practicing justice, in fact, has been practicing wholesale, widespread, indiscriminate injustice on the Iraqi people. So you are now starting to get the kind of information that is making it even more possible than ever before for not only U.S. forces, but Iraqi forces to go hard after a lot of the al Qaeda terrorists.
In any event, what again we had today was a briefing in considerable detail. While we get ourselves sort of up to date, and being able to make use of all of our graphic capabilities, we’ll also be able to bring you some maps and other things that add a little more detail to that. But that was the basic gist of the briefing.
Q Tony, today Senator Olympia Snowe joined Senator Gordon Smith in sponsoring a bill that would require U.S. troops to start leaving in 120 days, and it would end the combat role of the United States by April 30th of next year. Another defection; is that a cause for concern?
MR. SNOW: No. Look, the positions of Senator Snowe and Smith are hardly new, and we know their concerns. On the other hand, I think it is important — we’ve just given you a sense of some of the progress that is going on as a result of U.S. and allied activities —
Q But that kind of information hasn’t changed their opinion. There are more people — there are more Republicans who are coming out —
MR. SNOW: You know what’s interesting, you’ve got — Gordon Smith did not change his position. That’s a position he’s had for some time, in terms of being opposed to — he was opposed to the surge —
Q Senator Lugar and Senator Domenici —
MR. SNOW: Senator Lugar is somebody — I believe if you go back and look, he has said that he doesn’t want to cut off funding, and he doesn’t see Congress cutting off funding. He’s not somebody who supports a 120-day withdrawal. He is somebody who is actually looking for a way to create some bipartisan comity so that people can work forward.
What I would suggest, once again, is as we get more results about what’s going on, it’s important to realize that, operationally, the surge is two weeks old, in terms of getting everybody in place, and there are going to be some areas — when the reports comes out, you’re going to find some areas have satisfactory progress, some don’t have satisfactory progress, some are a little too close to call; you’ll be able to take a look at it.
But what the American people deserve is a commitment by this government to continue to work toward creating a democracy in Iraq and avoiding the very pitfall and danger that is outlined in the National Intelligence Estimate, Baker-Hamilton, and every other report, which is creating a vacuum that will transform the victories against these al Qaeda terrorists into defeats against the Iraqi people by creating a vacuum and walking out.
It’s an important debate to have. We understand that there are Republicans who are concerned about it. But we also understand that the American people, taking a look at the polls — everybody likes to look at the polls — want to hear what the generals have to say, and they want to hear what the military has to say. They’re going to begin to hear precisely what those generals have to say about progress on the ground.
Q Tony, every time a reporter suggests that Republicans like Domenici, Lugar, Voinovich, have broken with the President, we’re told that we have a fundamental misread of what’s going on. But Senator Lugar and Senator Warner right now are not so much engaged in an effort of bipartisan comity, as you say, they’re trying to find a way to shape a new course in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, what we have — two things. Number one, we have a new course in Iraq, and it’s two weeks old.
Q They’re trying to force a change in mission.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think they’re trying to force a change in mission. If you go back and look at what Senator Lugar said, among other things, he did say he was looking for bipartisan comity. Look at the original floor statement, look at his appearance on your network, and you will find that what he’s trying to do is to create a more congenial political atmosphere.
Q Isn’t he trying to meld the various bipartisan dissatisfactions with the administration course into one cohesive piece of legislation —
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure —
Q — that will force a change in course?
MR. SNOW: What’s going to force a change in course is victory. That’s what will force a change in course. What you are talking — you have to have a change in course that is based on the realities on the ground. And what we have been saying, and we continue to say, and you’ll have an opportunity to look at it, is, look at the results within Iraq. Ask yourself, where are we making progress; where are we failing to make progress. But it is way premature to try to draw judgment on a Baghdad security plan — furthermore, going back to Senator Lugar, Senator Lugar said, yes, from what I see, there have been successes. He is worried about whether there’s going to be enough political space in this country to permit the surge to succeed. We think it is incumbent to go ahead and make the case as factually as possible about what’s going on so people can draw judgments about it.
Q I have one more follow on that, because I want to contrast what the President said yesterday and what you just said about victory as a real possibility, as the ultimate goal for the administration, and what seems to be a growing sense in Congress and the American public that they’re not interested in victory as defined by keeping troops there beyond next spring.
MR. SNOW: You don’t define victory as keeping troops there. Victory is defeating al Qaeda.
Q Well, the people have given up on the idea of victory, don’t you think?
MR. SNOW: I don’t — no, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Look, I think —
Q You don’t think the American people have given up on the idea of victory?
MR. SNOW: No. Check your email. I mean, I have a feeling that people will be willing to say, no, we want victory.
The question is — and it’s a legitimate question to ask — is this the proper way to achieve victory? One of the reasons why the President went back and revisited what we were doing in Iraq after the sectarian violence of last year was it wasn’t working. And so what you try to do is to come up with a plan that is going to build greater capacity on the part of the Iraqis — because ultimately, we’re not going to win the war; the Iraqis are. And the entire emphasis on the security plan is creating political space, but at the same time, also building capability so the Iraqis are stepping forward.
And I’ve just laid out for you a series of metrics — we’ve talked about Anbar; now you’ve got Baquba. You also have apprehensions of foreign fighters. And what you do see is a very important change in the mind-set of Iraqis themselves about who the enemy is. The enemy is al Qaeda.
Q Doesn’t it point at the whole deal that there is, essentially, a divide in this country between whether victory is possible, and a growing number of people saying, you know what, let’s stop talking about victory?
MR. SNOW: Okay, let me put it this way: What Americans don’t want is terrorists at their doorstep. Americans do not want terrorists at their doorstep. And if you think that simply packing up and leaving is going to make this country safer, you’re wrong. That is the judgment of everybody involved in the intelligence community; it is the judgment of military officials. The fact is, the simple withdrawal is not going to suddenly inspire al Qaeda to lay down arms and to declare peace. Instead, if you listen to what Zawahiri was saying on his own tape this week, he’s trying to encourage people to come after the Americans.
Q Tony, is al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda the same organization?
MR. SNOW: Al Qaeda in Iraq is obviously an offshoot —
Q Is it taking operational instructions from Osama bin Laden?
MR. SNOW: That I’m not competent to tell you.
Q Why did the President say yesterday that the same people who attacked us on September the 11th was the crowd that is now bombing people in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Because when you talk — Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was, in fact — if you take a look at recruitment, is there a nexus, in terms of the ideology of Ayman al-Zawahiri and also the folks that you’re fighting with al Qaeda in Iraq? These are foreign fighters. These are not people who just came in from — these are not folks who came from Iraq.
Q Are they coming in on Osama bin Laden’s orders?
MR. SNOW: Are they coming in on his orders? What you’re trying to do, I think, a little bit, Maura, is create a straw man, in the sense of saying that bin Laden, himself, is the only person who can be construed as being operationally capable within al Qaeda. What you saw, for instance, with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a vigorous correspondence between Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two. I think it is safe to say that Zawahiri certainly is active in the efforts. And furthermore, among the other things that Kevin Bergner was pointing out today is a very vigorous propaganda and recruiting effort — they did find a house, I believe it was in Samara, that had extensive materials that do, in fact, reflect what’s going on in al Qaeda.
Q They have similar ideologies, but are they the same organization? You’ve just said several times from the podium that they’re the same organization; the President said it yesterday.
MR. SNOW: No, I said it’s al Qaeda. If you look at what Zawahiri says, the organization, itself, is different than it was in the year 2001. Again, go back and read — the tape that was released earlier this week, he says what everybody knows now, which is that it’s become more of a franchise operation, but it doesn’t make it any less determined to kill Americans, and it doesn’t make it any less capable of spreading money around to organize killing actions designed to destabalize Iraq. And furthermore, it also does not deny them the capability or the determination, as Zawahiri, himself, said this week, to make Iraq — as we have said for a very long time — the central front in the war on terror.
Q Tony, why do you keep saying that the surge troops have only been in place for two weeks?
MR. SNOW: No, I said fully operational. I said fully operational.
Q The President has been indicating that basically these troops have only been in place for two weeks, you have to give them a chance. The President announced his policy in January; they’ve been there in some part for five months.
MR. SNOW: We’ve been pretty precise about it, which is, of course, some of them — as a matter of fact, we have pointed to successes for forces that had been in Anbar since January. So we’re certainly not disputing that.
But what we’re talking about is, if you are going to try to take a look at the totality of operations, why do you try to draw a conclusion when the final pieces of that puzzle, the final pieces of the outfit only got themselves into theater two weeks ago? That’s all we’re saying.
Q Why — before the President’s speech yesterday there were indications from White House officials that the President was going to be talking to the American people about how he shares their concern about troops not coming home; he gets that, et cetera, and then he ended up giving pretty much a traditional Iraq speech. He didn’t really say anything new at all on that front.
MR. SNOW: Look, he’s said — you know what happened is, a lot of people got hyped up because they got some bad news reporting that there suddenly was going to be a dramatic shift in our position. There was no dramatic shift at all.
Q — they were getting it from the White House — you saw The Washington Post headlines, Bush plans to stress next phase in Iraq war —
MR. SNOW: Right, and I believe, with all due respect to our Washington Post colleagues, it may have conflated what happens in September — let me outline again the process by which the Petraeus-Crocker reports work. The first Petraeus-Crocker report, which will be out by the 15th, is going to give us a snapshot at the very beginning stages of having full deployment in the Baghdad security plan. On September 15th there will be a further report that, again, takes a look at all the benchmarks, but also will include recommendations about how to proceed.
Now, if you take recommendations about how to proceed, along with the President’s determination to follow the advice of generals, then you have the prospect that there may be some shift in posture or strategy based on the realities on the ground, after September and after the recommendations. But there was never any plan — and that’s why I say, I can’t answer for inaccurate reporting. But the fact is that there was never any plan to try to change the —
Q Tony, you just said that the benchmark report, the preliminary report that’s due out this week, that it’s a snapshot.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q The President, back in May, he was at the Pentagon, made it seem like benchmarks were a big deal; he said, I’m for that, and said that the Iraqi government, basically — he said, “Without political progress it’s going to be hard to achieve a military victory.”
MR. SNOW: Yes, that’s true.
Q So he seemed to be putting a lot of emphasis on benchmarks. Are you now downplaying them because they’re not going to be good and the Iraqis are not meeting them?
MR. SNOW: No. I’m just telling you — I’m trying to explain, again, you put together a Baghdad security plan; you tell everybody, hey, Ed, it’s going to take five months; it’s going to start in February, it’s going to wrap up in July. It’s July. So now we’ve got all the pieces in place. Why don’t we take a look at where we are when we started? I say it’s a snapshot because it is. It’s a snapshot of —
Q But Senator Lugar and others are saying, again, as was pointed out before, you don’t have that much more time. You’ve got to come up with a new strategy. And you’re saying “snapshot” as if you’ve got a lot of time. You don’t.
MR. SNOW: You know what we’ve got? We’ve got a mission to succeed in. And I think you keep — and it’s interesting, it’s reflective of the political debate that somehow the calendar, in and of itself, devoid of any calculation about what this may mean for American security, and devoid of any calculation about what may be happening on the ground, that the calendar alone rules. That’s really not the fact.
And I think you’re going to find, as people begin to get more information about what’s going to go on, they’re going to be curious. They’re going to want to find out why is it that men and women in combat in Iraq have the highest re-enlistment rates. Answer: They feel part of a mission. Question: Why do they feel part of a mission? Because they think they’re achieving something very important.
Q Why didn’t the Army meets its recruiting goals for the second month in a row, just a couple days ago?
MR. SNOW: It did not meet them for the second month in a row, but it came close.
Q You just said the re-enlistment rates are so great. Why did they miss —
MR. SNOW: The re-enlistment — well, ask about the re-enlistment rate — I’ve just told you about the re-enlistment rates —
Q But you didn’t cite the recruitment —
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, please cut me off.
Q No, I’m sorry, you didn’t say the recruitment levels.
MR. SNOW: Well, okay, if you want to take a look at the overall recruitment levels, it’s still over the quota for the year. But what I wanted to point out to you, Ed — and please listen to this part — it’s the people who are fighting who are, in fact, signing up in much higher numbers than quota. Why is that? Ask yourself the question, because it’s an important question. Americans are curious about their young men and women who have placed themselves in harm’s way; something’s going on. And in some cases, they’re beginning to see military progress, and they’re also beginning to see exposed the brutality of the people who have come across the borders to try to destroy the situation in Iraq and try to destroy the democracy in Iraq. All of those are pieces people are going to look at.
Now, what you have hit on is the central political fact in America today, which is, people are tired of the war, they want out of the war, but they also want the country to be safe. And it is a balance that we are going to have to reach through a long and considered and sometimes heated debate. That’s the way it’s going to work.
Q Tony, can you pin down whether this Iraq interim report will be released tomorrow or Friday?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Tomorrow or Friday?
MR. SNOW: I can pin it down, I’m just not at liberty to.
Q Will you?
MR. SNOW: No, I won’t.
Q Okay. And with Republican support eroding, why is the President not at least laying out a vision of a smaller troop presence in Iraq as a —
MR. SNOW: If you take a look, number one, a smaller troop presence, if you’re asking, will you withdraw troops just as they’re beginning to have effect — what I would suggest, again, is a little bit of patience, as the President said yesterday. Take a look at the facts. We understand people’s opinions right now. Let’s take a look as the reports begin to come in and as the military, itself, begins to report on what’s going on on the ground. And it’s —
Q But I’m talking about —
MR. SNOW: But, no, because what I’m saying is, you’ve given me — why does any change based on today’s — what we’re saying is that there’s more information coming in. The American people have expressed a desire to find out — not from you, and not from me, and not from politicians on Capitol Hill, but from the people doing the actual fighting — they want to find out what’s going on. And on the basis of that, we expect that they’re going to be fair-minded enough to say, you know what, we think it’s going to be important to give them what they need to succeed.
Q I’m not talking about — I’m talking about a vision, what would it take, under what circumstances would there be in the future to draw down the troops?
MR. SNOW: We’re not going to get into that. If you want to draw down — no, I won’t get into that, because the President has done it many times.
Q Tony —
MR. SNOW: I was taking a breath, I wasn’t suspending the answer. What the President said all along is, when you get to a point where the Iraqis, in fact, not only have done a lot of the political work, but also are fully capable when it comes to police, when it comes to military, when it comes to economic — a lot of those things — and Americans can step back from the front lines, the over-the-horizon support posture — which is where we want to be — that’s a point where you have a dramatic shift in terms of where you’re deploying people.
So it’s a place where the President wants to be. He shares that with Senator Lugar, shares it with a lot of Democrats. They all want to be there. Unfortunately, the facts on the ground right now just don’t justify it.
Q Tony, you said what it’s going to take to force a change in strategy is victory. What does victory look like at this point?
MR. SNOW: Victory — good question — what victory looks like is what I’ve just been describing. We have begun to see a degradation in al Qaeda effectiveness. You have dramatic reductions in sectarian violence, in the success of vehicle-borne IEDs. You’ve seen a number of — even though there is still spectacular explosions, the fact is that the disruptions have gone down.
It also does appear in very public ways, tribal leaders have begun to go after al Qaeda, and also, within Iraq people have begun to go after militias that, themselves, seem to be disruptive of the peace. Those are important indicators that something is going on in terms of not only the self-identification of Iraqis as Iraqis, as members of the country, but also the determination to fight against those who are trying to destroy the democracy through acts of violence.
I cannot give you a precise picture of what it looks like. But what you will have is dramatically reduced levels of violence, the ability for the Iraqi government to operate independently and capably, and it will continue to have on its hands, one guesses, certain external threats of terror, but on the other hand, they’ll be able to handle them. What you will also have is free elections, and you will have an economy that offers opportunities for everybody, you’ll have an education system and all the basics of civil society.
Q Obviously, we’re not there yet —
MR. SNOW: That would be true.
Q — if that’s the priority, why did it take six months to get all the troops in place?
MR. SNOW: Because the military — you ask any person in the military — you don’t just pack everybody up and ship them over. It takes a long time to move the logistical tail, and as a practical matter, that was the quickest the Pentagon thought they could get them deployed.
Q Tony, you just outlined what you believe and what the administration believes victory will look like. Based on what he knows right now, based on what General Petraeus is telling him, how confident is President Bush that we will have a scenario that looks that way in two months? Very confident? A little confident? Not confident at all?
MR. SNOW: Are you talking about everything being settled in two months?
Q No, I’m talking about —
MR. SNOW: What are you talking about?
Q I’m talking about how confident is he that we will have significant progress in two months approaching that goal that you just outlined, so that he can report to Congress that his troop buildup is working.
MR. SNOW: Well, Sheryl, I think what you’re trying to do is to create an expectation that is unfulfillable in the sense of saying, will everything be solved in two months. The —
Q I’m not asking that —
MR. SNOW: The more germane question — the more germane question is, will you have significant progress that will create a level of confidence and faith in what we’re doing? That’s the real question.
Q Okay, so how confident is he that in two months things will be better?
MR. SNOW: Well, we’ll see. I mean, again —
Q No, not “we’ll see.” He knows a lot about what’s going on there.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we’ll see. What you’re asking me to do is to make a prediction about September, and it’s —
Q No, I’m saying that he’s getting advice and he’s talking to Petraeus on a daily basis. He knows —
MR. SNOW: Not daily, but close.
Q Close — he knows what’s going on there now. And Petraeus is on the ground there; he can sense how things are moving. How confident is he that in September things will look different?
MR. SNOW: The answer, how confident, is an unanswerable question. Tell me what metrical you use, and I will try to give you an answer.
Q Tony, ASEAN diplomats are saying that the United States has informed him that the President has cancelled his appearance at the Singapore summit because of Iraq. Can you confirm that? And what is it that —
MR. SNOW: I know nothing of that.
Q You’ve heard nothing on it?
MR. SNOW: No. I don’t know anything about it.
Q Tony, how do you, as the President’s communicator, feel about the Homeland Security Secretary expressing stepped-up concerns about terrorism on the basis of “gut feelings”?
MR. SNOW: Glad we got a Homeland Security Secretary who worries about it all the time. If you take a look at what’s going on around the world, you can kind of understand some of the thinking. We had the experiences in London and Glasgow a couple of weeks ago. And summertime has always been a time of heightened activity, particularly by al Qaeda. And even though we do not have — I think it’s important to balance a couple of things, because you don’t want to create a condition of panic. What you want to do is, as we did when we were in Kennebunkport, is to remind people that it’s a time for heightened awareness.
As you may recall, right after Glasgow, even though we did not and still do not have specific or credible threats against the United States, the Department of Homeland Security went ahead and put out bulletins to law enforcement agencies, transportation agencies and many others, laying out steps for enhanced vigilance. And I think at this time of year, and again also when you’ve got al Qaeda bit on its heels in a place like Iraq, you’ve got to keep in mind they want to make a bloody splash someplace. And it’s important really to be vigilant.
So I think that’s a reflection of Michael Chertoff’s belief that this is a time for vigilance. But I do want to make it clear that, again, there is no specific or credible threat at this juncture to our homeland. But on the other hand, we’ve seen that there are a lot of people who are determined to try to create acts of bloodshed, and we all ought to be on the lookout to help one another.
Q “Gut feeling” — good choice of words? Does it lend credibility to a terrorist —
MR. SNOW: I’ll leave that to his speechwriting team.
Q Does the White House and the President —
MR. SNOW: I’ll call on you next, Helen. Go ahead.
Q Does the White House and the President share that same gut feeling?
MR. SNOW: I don’t want to try to get into gastrointestinal descriptions. I think perhaps the most important thing to say right now is that what the White House does know is that we live in a world where terrorists want to do us harm. And in that world, we can all help each other by being vigilant. And quite often it is the random act of vigilance, the report to a police department, the sighting of something suspicious that ends up helping save lives — or the activities of somebody who decides to get involved.
I think, again, what I’m merely trying to reiterate is something that does become standard, and this is something we talked about even before July 4th, last week, is, keep your eyes open; be on the lookout.
Q You’re initiating this new press room in the strangest way. You deny an exodus of the power brokers in your own Republican Party. You have contributed —
MR. SNOW: I have what?
Q You deny an exodus.
MR. SNOW: Oh, okay. I was asked about two senators, Senator Snowe and Senator Smith —
Q You deny — you shade what they’re saying, and so forth. It may make you happy, but it’s not true. You’re also acting like the resistance in Iraq is al Qaeda and wholly al Qaeda. People fight for their country. We brought in the al Qaeda by attacking them.
MR. SNOW: Are you telling me that the mass graves that have recently been found were created by patriotic-minded Iraqis —
Q I’m telling you that we brought them in, they were not there before. Even the President said that. So let’s get real. Also, you keep speaking for the American people, who are saying exactly opposite of what you’re saying.
MR. SNOW: Okay. Helen, thank you very much, and let me — if I forget any of the points, please remind me as I proceed.
Q You’re welcome.
MR. SNOW: No, she raised a series of points, and I want to respond to them. Number one, on the so-called exodus of power brokers: Gordon Smith and Olympia Snowe have long made clear their opposition to the way forward and they’ve been skeptics of what’s going on. That is not a new position. The people who Terry mentioned today are not new in their opposition. The conversation — we continue to have conversations —
Q You don’t think that any of these people are bowing out?
MR. SNOW: Some of these people have already bowed out, in terms of supporting the administration on this. On the other hand, when you say I speak for the American people — the American people don’t want this war to go on, and neither do we. But on the other hand —
Q No one says so — but the polls show they want out.
MR. SNOW: Well, polls also say they want to hear from the generals what they have to say.
Q I’ve never heard of any polls that say that.
MR. SNOW: Well, look at the USA Today/Gallup poll, which, despite 51 percent Democrats in the poll sample, indicated that 55 percent of the American people said they want to hear — I’m just — I’m telling you, Helen, it was in the paper three days ago, right there.
Q The generals are not running this country.
MR. SNOW: Okay, but the generals are, in fact, conducting military operations, and I thought that was — finally, when it comes to the Iraqi people, when you have 90 percent of the vivid acts of violence being created by outsiders, I think it is safe to say that those outsiders represent —
Q Who brought them in?
MR. SNOW: They brought themselves in. They saw what they thought was an opportunity to destroy —
Q After we attacked and invaded?
MR. SNOW: We’re back to our normal colloquy. Let me get around and I’ll get back to you, Jim. There are a lot of people I haven’t gotten through to.
First John, then —
Q Tony, on executive privilege. Senator Schumer made some interesting points today about Sara Taylor’s testimony before the Judiciary. She came and she wanted to testify and speak about what she could, and his point was that she was speaking about some aspects of internal deliberations, specifically the White House and what they thought of Tim Griffin. Schumer’s point was, we can’t pick and choose, under such a broad executive privilege claim, what you can and cannot testify about.
MR. SNOW: Well, I believe there was a specific factual question about Sara Taylor’s personal opinion on Tim Griffin that would not be necessarily something that would reflect an internal White House deliberation, but was, in fact, was it not your opinion that X — and she said, no, it wasn’t.
So when it comes to the privilege claim, the privilege claim extends to internal conversations and deliberations bearing on those decisions with the U.S. attorneys. And I think she — it’s a fine line, I’ll grant it to you. But I will leave it to her and her lawyers, but it seems to me that she, in fact, did walk the ballast.
Q She did speak about opinions within the White House, not just her own.
MR. SNOW: Again, I’ll leave that to her and her — I understand the argument; I’m sure it will continue.
Q Tony, earlier in the briefing, you said victory is defeating al Qaeda. Are you now saying solely that victory will be achieved by defeating al Qaeda in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: What happens is, if you get all those conditions I was talking about before, which is the Iraq that’s able to stand up for itself, that’s a defeat for al Qaeda. That’s really what I’m talking about.
Q So you’re saying, militarily — not necessarily militarily —
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. Every general — everybody who’s involved in this agrees, this is not strictly a military deal. To have success in Iraq, you have to have a successful society. That means you have to have an economy that’s functioning, you have to have electricity, you have to have water, you’ve got to have a political system, you’ve got to have a rule of law. That’s also why the Baghdad security plan includes far more than merely military commitments, but, in fact, it includes provisional reconstruction teams that have been very active in the past in the provinces, but more recently within Baghdad itself, understanding and acknowledging once you’ve cleaned out a neighborhood, if you don’t create jobs and opportunities, there will be a vacuum and the bad guys will be there in a New York minute.
Q Tony, for over a year, military and national security sources have said there is no way that the United States can win militarily in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Right. We’ve always said that.
Q So what’s the point in having troops there, then?
MR. SNOW: The troops are because the military part is still an enormously important component in the security aspect of victory. When we talk about victory — I think you’re looking at this as simply a battlefield engagement, and it’s not; it’s an engagement with an enemy that’s trying to destroy a society that right now is trying to take root. And therefore, you have to defend all aspects of that society. And that’s not always a military operation.
Q Tony, you just basically gave Olympia Snowe what she’s been saying, it’s time to pull troops out. You’re saying —
MR. SNOW: No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that at all. What I’m saying is that victory itself requires more than simply winning on the battlefield, it also requires rule of law, economic structures, political progress. I think Senator Snowe agrees with a lot of that, as well.
Q Tony, are you sending the July 15 report up to the Hill on Friday evening?
MR. SNOW: We’re not going to tell you when. We’ll let you know when we send it up.
Q Why can’t you?
MR. SNOW: Because we’re not doing it yet.
Q Tony, will we hear from the President on it today — tomorrow, or on Friday?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. When the President wishes to speak about it, I will listen with as much interest as you.
Q One other topic. He had his conversation with Prime Minister Singh of India this morning, talked about the nuclear deal.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q What’s going on there? Is it still stuck?
MR. SNOW: I’ll refer you to State. State has been handling a lot of those conversations.
Q Tony, does the Attorney General owe the Congress an apology for having testified that there was not one verified case of civil liberties abuse after having been repeatedly told or sent memos that, in fact, there were large-scale abuses —
MR. SNOW: What the Department of Justice has said — and I’m afraid I will have to refer you back to their public affairs folks who were putting reporters on the phone yesterday — was that by abuse, he meant, was there any deliberate or malicious attempt to try to acquire and spread around private information that should not have been available. The national security letters obviously have been a problem, and the Department of Justice and others have been, in fact, trying to deal with it.
As far as what the Attorney General should say, I’m going to let him handle that.
Q It is not an abuse for the FBI to have infringed the rules repeatedly and —
MR. SNOW: The question is, did it, in fact, actively violate the civil rights of individuals, or were there clerical and other errors that gathered up information that subsequently was, and properly was, destroyed? Was anybody, in fact, a victim of unnecessary surveillance and abuse, and I don’t know. Now, what — I’m giving you the answer that Justice gave, and I can’t go any further, which is that the notion of abuse was something further than simply getting improper information; it was also doing it on purpose and trying to make use of it.
Q Are you satisfied that the Attorney General was okay with his answer and should not have said, well, there are things going on, and we’re troubled by them?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to second-guess the Attorney General. I’ll let you.
Q Tony, do you think public support for the war will dwindle even further upon release of a report showing sporadic, at best, progress towards the benchmarks?
MR. SNOW: You mean, would the public be dissuaded by one that shows progress toward benchmarks?
Q Well, what is it going to show?
MR. SNOW: We’ll find out. What you’ve just done is you’ve offered your adjectives. I just decided to strip out the adjectives.
Q Well, you said the other day it’s certainly not going to be an “A” on everything.
MR. SNOW: Well, that’s right. It’s a snapshot at the beginning of an operation.
Q Is there some chance this report will increase public confidence in the mission?
MR. SNOW: Ken, you’re going to — you know what, you’re just going to have to find out. I don’t know.
Q Any “F”s in the report?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to — again, you’ll find out soon enough. It will be pretty clear.
Q I just want to take one more stab at clarifying your view. Is Republican support for the war eroding?
MR. SNOW: It’s a good question. I think public — I think what you have is — I don’t know. I really don’t. I think what you do have is a clear sense on Capitol Hill that the war is unpopular with a lot of Americans, that Americans want a demonstration that we are going to make some progress that, in fact, is going to make it worth the blood and treasure — which we think it is and we think will be demonstrated. But I honestly — I’m not going to try to give you, because I do not have the kind of —
Q If you don’t know it’s eroding, could you characterize the degree of Republican support for the war on the Hill?
MR. SNOW: No. Again, what I think is — if you talk about the war in absence of the war aims, it’s very — let me try to
– maybe I’m being too cute here, so you can tell me I am.
Q We’d never say that.
MR. SNOW: But, no, it’s a serious offer, because I think what happens when people think about the war, itself, it’s a difficult thing and it’s something that tears at the heart of any nation. Is the war popular? No. On the other hand, if you talk about the war aims, not merely democracy in Iraq, but also the longer-term prospects of security in the United States, I think people would say, yes, we support that aim.
The question is whether they believe what’s going on is effectively supporting that aim. I think that is the key question. It is one that has not been answered to the satisfaction of the American people —
Q But the question I’m asking is, every day people are picking up the papers and watching television and listening on the radio, and hearing about reports of Republican erosion for support. And sometimes it seems the only place that view is not shared is here.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I see. Do we understand that it’s politically tough for people? Of course, we do.
Q No, Republicans leaving you.
MR. SNOW: Yes, and the answer is, I don’t know. I mean, I just tried to tell you —
Q Well, why is Stephen Hadley on the Hill again today, talking —
MR. SNOW: Say what?
Q Why is Stephen Hadley on the Hill again, yet again? What is it, the second, third, fourth time in the last couple weeks meeting with Republicans?
MR. SNOW: I think this gets back to what I was just trying to say with Jim, Ed, which is that people want insurance that the war aims — which I think the American people actually do share — is reflected effectively in what we’re doing on the ground. And those are questions that the American people — the American people hear body counts, but I daresay not many people have heard about the operations that I just told you about. I don’t think you packaged it; I don’t think many people have. And so I think it is useful to try to give a more robust sense of what’s going on so people can form a judgment.
But the American people, I think, want reassurance that the operations are meeting up with the war aims. And so do members of Congress, because, look, members of Congress went home and a lot of them got an earful. Also some members of Congress went to Iraq, like Lindsey — depending on the party, they seem to have drawn different conclusions. But, for instance, if you listen to what Lindsey Graham and John McCain had to say, they had some interesting things to say about differences now from what they had seen in the past. And so, look, this is a very, very tough political debate in this country.
Q — the American people if, from that podium, you admitted the obvious, which is that Republicans are eroding from you — you won’t even acknowledge what Republicans are saying.
MR. SNOW: Because, for instance, Senator Lugar has made it clear — what he — he still shares the war aims, he still wants to succeed, he still does not support the Democratic proposals. And so what you have is questions about how to do this more effectively.
I don’t look at that as leaving the White House. I do look at it as saying, have you thought about this, and having the kind of dialogue that is sometimes tough within a party, but is also necessary.
Q Will you admit, at least — he doesn’t support the Democratic plans to pull out, but he did say on Sunday that he believes you could pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the middle of ’08. So that’s not your plan.
MR. SNOW: No, he said he would hope — look, we would hope you’d be able to do it, but it’s got to be justified by facts on the ground.
Q Are you at all worried that, as sort of these basic questions are answered and the answer that comes back is not exactly, and it’s not black and white, it’s gray, and all — are you worried that the American people listen to this sort of debate and perceive you and the White House as isolated and out of touch on this?
MR. SNOW: No, no more than I think that they look at you and think that you guys are focused on defeat.
Q Wait a minute, that’s not my question at all.
MR. SNOW: You just asked me if I’m clueless, and I’m asked if you’re a defeatist.
Q Wait a second, hang on. You have Republicans — Voinovich, Lugar, Domenici — people who are involved in shaping a new course for the mission, and they are leaving the President. Every time this gets asked about, you tell us, no, that’s not what happening. When people listen to this back-and-forth, do you think the inference many Americans draw is, the White House is the last place to get the fact that the Republican Party is leaving them?
MR. SNOW: No, I think the White House is the last part trying to say, public opinion polls are not what the war is made of. Military actions on the ground, the brave sacrifices of Americans, the actions of Iraqis on the ground, the changing and shifts of tides of public opinion based on the fact that Iraqis are standing up and putting their lives on the front line, those are the things that ought to be guiding Americans’ opinions.
As seductive as it may be to look at polls, or even to look at — look, you’re absolutely right, there’s a lot of skepticism among Republicans. As I told you, they’re getting an earful from constituents. But it’s also important for us to remind people that the alternative to war is not peace, in this case. The alternative to — the alternative, if you leave right away, is cataclysmic, and I think you’ll find a lot of Democrats and Republicans agree.
So when you have a tough situation — we’re not trying to deny the political difficulties. I mean, that would be foolish. But on the other hand, what we’re trying to do is to share with the American people the fact that there’s a whole lot more going on than speeches in the well of the Senate. There are things going on in Baquba, and there are things going on in Basra, and there are things going on in Baghdad, and there are things going on in Anbar, and there are things going on in Mosul each and every day. And none of that seems to penetrate.
And so part of it — we’ll accept part of the blame. But if you want to ask what’s going on in the war and who’s got a clue about the war — part of this has to do with taking a look operationally at what’s going on. And, again, we’ll accept — I’ll accept part of the blame, because a lot of the important pieces of information that would make Americans proud somehow have not poked through, and we’ll do a better — we’ll try to do a better job.
Q I want to be really clear in saying that, reporters asking questions about Republicans and what they’re doing on the Hill does not make us defeatists.
MR. SNOW: No, any more than my answering your questions makes me clueless.
Q I didn’t say you were clueless.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I’m sorry, the American people thought we were clueless.
Q I’m asking you —
Q How do you suggest the press is focused on defeat, which is what you just said a moment ago —
MR. SNOW: No, what I was —
Q No, no, no, but that’s what you said. So, go ahead, explain what you said.
MR. SNOW: No, what I was doing is that there was a caricature of our position and I responded with a caricature. And I believe I said, no more — I said that that was not true.
Q Okay, so it’s not —
MR. SNOW: Okay, so go back and look at the opening phrase —
Q So, just for the record, the press is not focused on defeat? Do you want to clear that up?
MR. SNOW: Yes, but I’m saying that sometimes you get accused of it.
Q Okay, so Republican Congressman John Doolittle, when he said that Iraq is a quagmire, and “we’ve got to get off the front lines as soon as possible,” do you think he’s focused on defeat?
MR. SNOW: No, I think that’s his opinion.
Q But do you think it’s a quagmire?
MR. SNOW: No, I think it’s a difficult situation, Ed. And the solution to a difficult situation is to look for a way forward. And let me once again say —
Q No, but if somebody — if some Republican comes up with a different opinion, different —
MR. SNOW: No, look, we understand people are going to have different opinions. That’s what the country is made of. And I think I also argued that in today’s pitched political atmosphere, where somebody wants a big defeat or a big victory today, where there is an effort to either create or smash a political party on the basis of something, this is a tough issue. And I think what Americans actually do want — and perhaps I’m guilty, Jim, and if so, I’m sorry, of this — want the temperature lowered so that we start talking in a little more comprehensive terms about what’s going on, without the operations —
Q Are those expectations set by the press, or didn’t the administration at the beginning of the war say that we would greeted as liberators in Iraq? Do you think that set the expectations?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know, Ed. I’ll let you figure it out.
Q Let me ask, Tony, a much less serious question, if I may. With this new briefing room come some new restrictions on our use of it, and they, frankly, are a bit of a problem for the crews and seems to me to enable you to show off this place to tours, but make it much less our briefing room. And I want to ask you why we shouldn’t feel we’ve lost something here with this set that makes you look a lot better?
MR. SNOW: Well, what do you have in mind?
Q I want to know why —
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: If you’ve got a bill of particulars that you’re concerned about, you all know that I’ve gone to bat for you, and will, for matters that you think are important for getting your job done right. So if you’ve got some complaints, send them to me and we’ll work through them. We’ve done this in the past and we’ll do it in the future. I don’t think the public wants to hear us ventilating us about how many vending machines we have, or something like that.
Q I’m not talking about vending machines, I’m talking about get out at 7:00 p.m., I’m talking about leave the place clean — open between — on weekends, so that tours can see. It’s our briefing room.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, it’s part of the White House. The White House also has custodial responsibility. But the fact is, we’ll work on these things.
Q According to what Secretary Chertoff said yesterday, he had this gut feeling that there was going to be a terrorist attack sometime during the summer. And also, according to senior intelligence officials, they told ABC News that there’s an al Qaeda cell either coming to the States or already here. That doesn’t gel with what we’ve been repeatedly told, which is that we’re fighting them over there so that they will not fight us here.
MR. SNOW: Well, Victoria, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to try to come here. There have also been cells that have been interrupted here. So, please, we are fighting them there so that they don’t come over here. But, on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that there are not terrorists that are going to try to find plane tickets, who are going to try to get across the border. Of course, they are.
Q Why are we told the mantra, then?
MR. SNOW: Because it’s true. But the fact is — what you’re assuming is either/or — if we fight in Iraq, nobody is going to try to hop on a plane and come kill Americans? Of course, they are.
Q But the mantra gives people the impression that if we’re fighting them over there, they won’t come here.
MR. SNOW: We have never tried to argue that — we have argued, number one, that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. We have never argued that it’s the only front. And we certainly have not argued that Americans should not be vigilant about what’s going on here.
Q Would you agree that it’s disingenuous?
MR. SNOW: No, it’s not.
Q If my colleagues will permit me to change the subject. Yesterday the former Surgeon General, Dr. Carmona, gave very damning testimony on Capitol Hill, in which he said the administration would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education or prison and mental health and global health issues; he was instructed to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches, et cetera. Why was he given these instructions, who gave them to him, and is there an attempt on the part of the administration to muzzle the nation’s public health spokesman?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, if you, in fact, serve at the pleasure of the President, you have some obligation to share his policies. But on the other hand, there have been some of these that are sort of head-scratchers — for instance, stem cell. Nobody at the White House can recall ever having had any conversation with him about stem cell. Special Olympics — there was some notion that he wasn’t to participate — the President and First Lady are active in Special Olympics. We’re talking about having the torch come through here. We’ve had a special ceremony for Eunice Shriver. We’ve had the Kennedy family over here.
But I think on the particulars — here’s the way it works. Dr. Carmona, as Surgeon General, certainly was free to speak his mind. Apparently he thinks he didn’t. It’s disappointing if he did not use his position to do what — to advocate what he thought were the proper policies. But on the other hand, he is somebody who works for the administration. I don’t know anything —
Q But he’s saying his bosses prevented him from using his position to advocate for the proper policy. Is that true?
MR. SNOW: I’m just not aware of that. The other thing is, he was very eager to get reappointed. So I just — I don’t know. I know that members on the Hill — I know that he was asked questions about, who said this, and so on. And a lot of this is going to have to wash out. I cannot give you specific information. But nobody, as far as I could tell, was, “muzzling” him. But on the other hand, there is certainly nothing scandalous about saying to somebody who was a presidential appointee, you should advocate the President’s policies.
Q First of all, also credit goes to the White House Correspondent’s Association, under the leadership of Steve and Ann here.
MR. SNOW: Okay, yes — let’s get the question.
Q My question is that as far as terrorism is concerned, President Clinton was speaking at Indian American group in Washington, at the Convention Center, and he said that doctors who supposed to save lives, and they became to take lives of the people, who we can trust now — and those happen to be also Muslim doctors. My question is here that Arab League is sending a delegation to Israel for peace. Is the President asking Arab League and OIC to send delegates and also the United Nations to educate the Muslims and to come out, Muslim leaders, against terrorism?
MR. SNOW: I think you’re making a big mistake there, Goyal, in assuming that Islam is something that enjoins doctors to kill. I think President Clinton was making a wise and smart point, which is that doctors should not be killing.
Q Thank you, Tony. Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently made it clear he’s going to abjure the term, “war on terror,” and refer to people who have caused incidents such as that that almost happened in Glasgow as criminals and thugs, a very sharp difference with President Bush, and more in line with what Mr. Zelikow, who used to work at the State Department, wanted to do. Your reaction?
MR. SNOW: Based on Gordon Brown’s — the readout of Gordon Brown’s conversation with the President, their approach and the vigor with which they intend to prosecute the war on terror is largely the same. The rhetoric may be different, but the approach is the same.
Q You don’t have a problem with him not using the term?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to fly-speck his verbiage.
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. As titular leader of the Republican Party, and a friend of Senator McCain, how does the President believe the Senator can recover so many of his resigned staff and raise more money?
MR. SNOW: We don’t get into that. You know that, Les.
Q All right. The Washington Post this morning quoted Senator Vitter’s wife as having said — (laughter) — “I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. I think fear is a very good motivating factor in marriage.” What is the President’s reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: Come on, Les, not going to dignify it.
12:54 P.M. EDT
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