Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:51 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Eighty days after President Bush submitted his troop funding bill, the Senate has now joined the House in passing defeatist legislation that insists on a date for surrender, micro-manages our commanders and generals in combat zones from 6,000 miles away, and adds billions of dollars in unrelated spending to the fighting on the ground.
I just spoke to the President in the Oval Office, and as he said he would for weeks, the President will veto this legislation, and he looks forward to working with congressional leaders to craft a bill that he can sign. It is amazing that legislation urgently needed to fund our troops took 80 days to make its way around the Capitol, but that's where we are.
Q: Dana, when will the President veto the bill?
MS. PERINO: We still don't know when we will get the bill. We don't know when we're going to get the bill, so we'll make that decision once we have it.
Q: Will the goal be to veto it as soon as possible?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President has said that he wants to get the money to the troops as soon as possible. And so as soon as we get the bill, the President, as you could imagine, would make good on his promise to veto it, and then we'll take it from there. And you can assume that the President would soon meet -- quickly after that -- with the congressional leaders in order to start work on the bill.
Q: One other on this. Do you see it as a procedural step to veto it and get on with the next stage, or do you see the White House staging some sort of event around it?
MS. PERINO: A little bit too early to preview, but the main point is the President is going to veto the bill, and then get to work with the congressional members on the next step.
Q: Dana, the latest CBS News poll has 64 percent of those polled in favor of setting timetables for an Iraqi withdrawal of American troops. And that dovetails, I think, with an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that had similar results yesterday. So, clearly, the administration is not on the same page with the majority of the American public.
MS. PERINO: I've said it many times before, and I'll just repeat it. We understand that Americans are tired of this war, they are weary, and they are frustrated, and they want the troops to come home. We want the troops to come home as well, and you're talking about a date for withdrawal. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. He stands on principle. He does not make decisions --
Q: But what is --
MS. PERINO: His principle is that he is not going to put our troops into the position of having a date -- a surrender date without providing the Iraqis the chance that they need in order to get the political reconciliation that they need.
Q: But here's my question. Isn't his principle, at this point, clearly in opposition with the majority of the American people?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to -- I can't tell you exactly how your poll ran, or how the question was phrased. I do think that the American people would understand that rashly pulling out quickly, without conditions being right on the ground, is dangerous for the long-term security interests of the United States. Now it is incumbent upon this administration to explain why we think that is the case, and I understand that there are people who disagree, people who are ready for the troops to come home. The President strongly believes that setting a date for surrender is not the way to do that.
Q: Let me just follow once on that, because I think what's most interesting in this poll is that two weeks ago the number was 57 percent, and now it's 64 percent. So Americans are watching, they've been watching the last two weeks. The movement is against what the administration's position is.
MS. PERINO: Jim, you've covered the White House long enough to know that this President does not make decisions or change with the wind as the polls change. He understands that it's not popular. He understands how he could be popular, but he's going to continue to have the principled stand that he has.
Q: This isn't an issue about popularity at this point, it's a question of which path are you going to take. And the President continues to stay on a path which, at least the polls as a representation of some kind of national opinion, seem to suggest are more divergent than ever.
MS. PERINO: Jim, one thing I would say is that it's not just the President who believes that a precipitous withdrawal is a bad idea. General David Petraeus, who was on Capitol Hill yesterday and gave a press conference today, has said similar, as did the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton group, as did the National Intelligence Estimate that is the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies that looked into this issue. They all said that a precipitous withdrawal would be devastating for Iraq and for the region, and then ultimately have negative consequences for the long-term security of this country.
Q: Dana, the President has often said that he understands the patience of the American people is not unlimited. But should we interpret that to mean that patience should extend to the end of his term?
MS. PERINO: What the President has asked is that -- he understood last November that people wanted a change in the war. He himself said he wasn't satisfied with the way that it was going. And so he took pains to have a comprehensive review in order to create the Baghdad Security Plan now being implemented by David Petraeus. What the President has asked for is for the Congress to give -- and the American people to give this plan a chance to work.
And what you heard from David Petraeus this week -- I'm sorry, I should call him General Petraeus -- is that he doesn't have all the troops there that he's asked for. That should be about mid-June, he said, when they will all get there. They're having small signs of success, the sectarian violence is down, but we have the spectacular bombings from al Qaeda. And he said that sometimes, you start to -- he can see progress on the ground, but that can be overtaken by one spectacular bombing by al Qaeda in a major market that kills hundreds of people. And these are not just -- this is not just killing of American troops. These are innocent men, women, and children of Iraq who are trying to go about their daily lives.
And the American troops are there to help try to protect them and to allow this new government to get the de-Baathification law finished, and get the oil law finished. And we understand that it's very difficult for them, but we also -- I can assure you that the President is constantly in contact with Prime Minister Maliki, pressuring him and pushing him and showing him how to lead that country so that it can be one that can sustain, defend, and govern itself.
Q: Dana, why isn't it working? I mean, General Petraeus talks about -- the security situation is obvious. But what has to happen here is for the political track to kick in. It hasn't. How do you expect the American people to have patience with Maliki again? This is where we were last year.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think if you listen to David Petraeus, it's not exactly where we were last year, and that he has said the sectarian violence is down by a third.
Q: But Maliki has not made that much progress.
MS. PERINO: There has been some progress. And granted -- and President -- we recognize that there are many issues, like those three that I just mentioned -- the de-Baathification law, and the oil law, and the provisional regional elections -- provincial elections -- has not moved forward fully, it's not finalized. But there has been progress and steps forward.
Q: But isn't that the key to all of this?
MS. PERINO: It is key. It is absolutely key. But I think that everyone should keep in mind, we have a fully functioning democracy that's been in place for 200 years. Our Congress, it took them five years to pass one energy bill.
Q: The President told the American people and addressed Maliki in January that the time for this to happen, this political progress, was now. What does that mean?
MS. PERINO: And I think that they are starting to make some progress. The oil law has now --
Q: How long is now?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry?
Q: How long is "now"? What does "now" mean? What's the President --
MS. PERINO: The President has said -- well, I think the way that I would look at it is that the President has said, we're going to try the surge to try the -- to quell the violence there in Baghdad so that the government can have a little bit more time. And as I've just told you, General Petraeus said they're just about two months into the surge, and they don't have -- he doesn't have all the troops there that he wants, and it's going to take a while.
And as I said yesterday, General Petraeus will provide an assessment towards the fall, and that's, I think, when -- I think that's how I would look at the time frame.
Q: Can we also go to something you said this morning, which you said, opponents of the administration have misconstrued the carrier appearance by the President four years ago. I don't know how they've misconstrued it. The President said, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
MS. PERINO: And he specifically also said, and this is a quote, "We still have difficult work to do in a dangerous country, which needed [sic] to be rebuilt." He also said, "The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time." And he has also said -- let me remind you what he said on January 10th --
Q: But he said major combat operations are over. I mean, I don't even know why you're still arguing about that. I think the President --
MS. PERINO: What the President has said -- what we were talking about then was the fighting -- we toppled the Iraqi government, we toppled the Iraqi army, and that was a pretty quick succession of events.
But what the President then said, and he said on January 10th, is that he acknowledged many times that the U.S. underestimated the insurgence and the foreign fighters' ability to foment sectarian violence and to perpetrate terrorist attacks. And then he also said, "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."
Q: So why quibble over something like this, that he said something that really didn't happen?
MS. PERINO: The President -- because of what -- I think that if you only take the one line, that the end of combat operations -- major combat operations, that's true, but the President also --
Q: Yes, but the banner is consideration, as well.
MS. PERINO: Okay, well -- and that's what I meant by that this morning. And we have explained it many times. And you know what? I have a feeling I'm just on the losing end of this battle because the left has decided to believe what they want to believe, which is that the President was saying that the war was over and the troops were coming home. That's not what he said, and I just told you specifically what he said, and I encourage people to read the whole speech.
And that ship -- I'll get to you in a second -- USS America [sic] Lincoln had been deployed for well over its stated period. It was supposed to be gone for six months, and I think it was several months later, that they were coming home. And it was the ship that -- that mission was accomplished. And the President never said, "mission accomplished" in the speech, and people use it that -- now I understand that that's what the banner said, I understand that. But I'm telling you what the President --
Q: I'm concentrating on the President's words, more than that.
MS. PERINO: But Martha, what the President said is that the transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time. It is -- we still had difficult work to do in a dangerous country which needed to be rebuilt.
Q: Do you believe the timing of all this is related to the May 1st anniversary, which is coming up, in terms of --
MS. PERINO: I would certainly hope not. I think that if that's true, that it is very troubling that Democrats would be so cynical to use our troops in that way, to use troops for a political PR stunt, and to withhold money from the troops and their families. We already know the hardships that are happening from the military based on this.
And I also think that given that they say that they want to provide funding for the troops, it is curious why they didn't appoint conferees for two weeks, and I'm not sure if that had anything to do with this particular timing. I know that their on-the-record quotes are saying that it's just a coincidence, but certainly, the background chatter that they're providing to you anonymously would lead you to -- would only lead me to conclude that they are using the troops for their own political PR stunts.
Q: Dana, though, last year it was a Republican Congress that took 118 days to get you a war funding bill, and the White House didn't complain that it took a long time. So why is 70 or 80 --
MS. PERINO: There's a key difference. One is that -- a couple of things. We did not provide the Congress the detail in the request that we did this year with the budget. In fact, we provided it to them later than when the budget came out. This year, we heard their complaints, and we got the request for the supplemental to them the same day as we sent up the regular budget of the United States.
In addition to that, there were some complaints, but the major key difference is, last year we knew that eventually -- that we were going to get a bill that the President could sign.
Q: The point is, though, that it took 40 days longer for a Republican Congress to pass a war funding bill, and the money still got to the troops in the field. So isn't this -- aren't you exaggerating the effect on the troops in the field? Last year it took 40 days longer.
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think that we're exaggerating at all. I think if you look at the words from the military, from Secretary Gates and General Pace, that those are real things, and this stage in the war is different than last year. We're in a surge right now. And I think the other thing that they're looking at are some of their long-term procurement contracting issues, that they need to have this money now.
I think you can't underestimate the importance of realizing that we realized that we would get a bill last year that we could sign.
Q: But on the question of major combat operations, isn't it more broadly just that, when you said earlier that the American people are weary and frustrated, they want the troops to come home, isn't that due in part to the fact that the President set unrealistic expectations with speeches like that, which suggested to the American people that this was going to be done very quickly?
MS. PERINO: As I said, the President has acknowledged numerous times that he and the administration underestimated the sectarian violence and the ability of al Qaeda in Iraq to foment these spectacular -- I'm sorry, to perpetrate these spectacular bombings, in which hundreds of innocent people are killed. And he said that where any of those mistakes were made, that the responsibility rests with him. And I think that the American people can rest assured that their Commander-in-Chief, number one, takes on that responsibility, and number two, has only the best interests of their security in mind when he makes these decisions.
Q: What's your latest pronouncement on when you will know -- since General Petraeus is here now briefing people, when you will know whether or not the surge is working?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to leave that to General Petraeus, who said that it would be sometime in the fall in which he would give an assessment.
Q: Dana, looking beyond the veto, you said that the President will be talking to members of Congress. What is the White House position? Is it your position that you will accept nothing less than a clean bill -- no pork, no timetables, no benchmarks -- or is the White House -- is there any give in this from your end?
MS. PERINO: I know that those are all the questions that are burning on your mind. I am not going to negotiate from this podium. I think the best thing to do is let the President get the bill, veto it, and then as I said, you could assume that he would be meeting quickly with congressional leaders. And I'm going to let them talk about it from there.
Q: We assume that he is willing to compromise, to a certain extent, to meet them halfway or part way.
MS. PERINO: Sheryl, I'm not going to negotiate at all from here, give any sort of signal in any which way or form.
Q: The President has accused the Democrats of holding up funding to the troops. But it's the President's veto that will, effectively, put the funding -- stop the funding in its tracks. So if this is so urgent doesn't he at least share some of the blame?
MS. PERINO: No, Matt --
Q: -- some of the blame for the holdup, for failing to have his White House and his fellow Republicans achieve a workable compromise with the Democrats?
MS. PERINO: No. For several weeks the Democrats have known that if the bill, in its current form, is sent to him, that he would veto it. They've also said that they don't plan on cutting off funds for the troops. And given that, since they don't have and they know they don't have the votes to override the President's veto, it is their responsibility to send the President a bill that he can sign. They said -- they insisted on sending him a bill that they knew he couldn't sign. They insisted on sending him a bill that he would veto. And what he had said is, I will reluctantly do so, and then we'll have to get about the business of working on a bill that I can sign. And as you -- as Sheryl's question just indicated, we know that they're going to do that. So the responsibility rested with them.
Q: Dana, as the time line issue is lingering, and Americans are in the polls saying they're tired of this war, they want change, does the administration feel that there is pressure that something has to give? I'm asking that as General Barry McCaffrey, someone who has talked to the President, the President has listened to, said that -- let's give Bob Gates another year, and if the game hasn't changed, it's time to go.
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I don't understand what your question is.
Q: The question is, is there pressure, is there pressure on this White House, understanding that Capitol Hill, you have people that you're talking to; the American public is saying look, something has to give --
MS. PERINO: Of course there's pressure. And that's why the President kind of changed strategy in January, and is hoping that the American people and the Congress would give the new strategy a chance to work.
Q: But the issue is, is there pressure on this administration to turn around and walk out? Does this administration feel that pressure?
MS. PERINO: I think the President feels pressure to accomplish the mission, fulfill the mission that he's promised to the troops and to their families, and -- why are you looking at me like that?
Q: I understand, but you're not answering --
MS. PERINO: I'm answering your question.
Q: Not really. The pressure is to turn things around. He hasn't turned it around.
MS. PERINO: April, what I'm saying is that the surge, as General David Petraeus explained today, he doesn't have all the troops that he has said that he will need in order to fulfill his mission. And so the pressure is to let that process get underway and let the troops get there so that they can fulfill it.
Q: That will take 10 years, and the American public is not going to wait --
MS. PERINO: It's not going to take 10 years. He said they'd be there by mid-June, April.
Q: No, no, no, to turn things around -- you're saying it's going to happen immediately --
MS. PERINO: No, none of us have said it's going to happen immediately. We have said that we are up against a very determined enemy. This is a sworn enemy of the United States who are being helped by other sworn enemies of the United States. This is very serious. We are deluding ourselves if we think that we walk away, that everything is going to be okay, and that we can just let that region fester and not have any consequences for it, and not have to suffer the consequences of our actions here in Washington. And that is why the President has the principled stand that he does. And he is the Commander-in-Chief, with the long-term national security interests of this country in mind with every step of the way.
Q: The General today said that, essentially, this is not an open-ended commitment. He talked about the American clock ticking. He talked about in September he'll give an assessment. And he was asked if he thinks it's not working, will he tell the truth, and will he say we should get out of there, and he said, yes, I will tell the truth about that.
MS. PERINO: As one would expect.
Q: Right. So is the White House prepared for a report like that in September, where he comes back and says, we should leave and --
MS. PERINO: We are very clear-eyed about the situation, and we are also very heartened and honored that General David Petraeus is leading this mission.
Q: Again, though, I'd have to say, is the President determined to stay there, no matter how many options he runs out of?
MS. PERINO: The President is determined to win in Iraq. I think that the bill that they sent us today is mission defeated. And the President wants us to win in Iraq, not only just for the long-term security interests of this nation, but because 12 million people in Iraq came out and they voted, and they wanted a new government and they wanted a constitution. And they said -- they wanted -- they thanked us for allowing them that opportunity, and now we have a responsibility to help that young government stabilize, to get themselves some laws that will get on the books, and will establish some political reconciliation.
Granted, Martha, this is very tough going; it is slow going. But we have to have slow, focused, persistent work, and encouraging patience on behalf of the American people. As you said, there's a -- there's this talk about an American clock versus an Iraqi clock, and sometimes the two don't tick at the same time.
Q: I want to ask about the political briefings that were given to --
MS. PERINO: Can we stay on Iraq, just in case, and then -- anybody else on Iraq?
Q: I have one more about the oil law, de-Baathification, the constitution stuff. Is it your thought that if there was no terrorist element in Iraq right now, if al Qaeda all packed up and went wherever home is, would the Iraqi government have oil and de-Baathification and constitutional issues worked out, what, weeks, months?
MS. PERINO: Jim, I'm not going to answer that hypothetical, because al Qaeda is in Iraq. They have said this is the battle for them to win.
Q: Let me rephrase that. What is a reasonable period of time for the American people to expect the Iraqi government to work out these critical measures of political accomplishment?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to start the stop watch on the Iraqi government. We encourage them to do it soon.
Q: When you say that, you're not going to then, nobody -- then it's again -- it's going to go on forever.
MS. PERINO: No, it's not. Listen, the Iraqis also want progress, and they want it fast.
Q: But there's been lots of reports this week that say, regardless of the terrorist activity, there are people inside the Iraqi government who are saying, you know what, this just isn't going to happen. So therefore, you have American troops in Iraq, essentially to reach goals that are unreachable.
MS. PERINO: I think that even in our Congress, you can find people who say that we're never going to get an immigration bill this year, or we're never going to be able to get No Child Left Behind reauthorized. Look, we're all working towards it. This is a new democracy, and I think that they deserve a little bit of time to be able to get things done. That's what our -- that's what we offer our Congress, as well.
Q: But you can't define "a little bit of time."
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to do that to them.
Q: Dana --
MS. PERINO: Let me go to Ben.
Q: Part of the Democratic plan is to hold the Iraqi government accountable. And the President often talks about accountability, not just in foreign policy, but how lawmakers should conduct themselves, how elected officials should spend the public's money, and I'm wondering, where is the accountability in the President's plan? You talked about in pressuring Maliki, patience is not unlimited, but where's the accountability? Where's the teeth to it?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- well, one, I think that the President realizes that one of the -- you don't necessarily work with a government that way, with a sovereign government that way. The President has said he's not -- his patience isn't unlimited, and the American patience isn't unlimited. We've also -- as I've said, I mean, nobody wants peace and stability in Iraq more than the Iraqis. So they feel a lot of pressure on themselves in order to accomplish what is going to be very hard for any democracy. And it would be hard for this Congress to be able to pass those things through.
It's very complicated. But I think that we have to look at this objectively. One of the things that they did do that they are being held accountable for, is they passed a bill in Iraq to spend $10 billion of their own money to start help rebuilding that country. And I think that that shows commitment on their part.
Let me go to Martha, and then Sarah. Okay.
Q: When you talk about how long this could take and it's a tough battle, Admiral Fallon recently came out apparently saying that he doesn't want the term "long war" used anymore.
MS. PERINO: I saw a newspaper report about that. I don't know. I just -- what I do know is that what the President has said is that this will be a generational war, and I think that people who have -- understand that the enemy that we face -- and I know that Admiral Fallon is one of them -- that this is going to take a long time. I don't know. I'd have to --
Q: That seems at odds with what the administration is --
MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to Admiral Fallon. I saw a briefing about that -- I'm sorry, a report about that. But there's no doubt that it's going to take a generation in order to help stamp out this enemy.
Q: It is a long war.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Sarah.
Q: Thank you. Same topic. If the President won't accept benchmarks and a timetable to go with them, what will he do to make Iraq -- the Iraqi government effective --
MS. PERINO: Sarah, I've answered that question several times today. I'll refer you back to the transcript.
Keith, go ahead. I'm just -- let's move on. Keith.
Q: Okay, on the political briefings, there seems -- there's no shortage of political information out there. Why does the White House feel it's necessary to give these employees these briefings in the first place?
MS. PERINO: I think that's kind of ridiculous question. I mean, there's -- sorry, I usually don't say those things, but I do think that that one was. Look, there is nothing wrong with political appointees providing other political appointees with an informational briefing about the political landscape in which they are working.
Q: I understand. That's not an answer, as ridiculous as the question was.
MS. PERINO: What, you think that we should just look at the CBS/New York Times poll and make our decisions based on that?
Q: It's 20 briefings --
MS. PERINO: Jim would agree.
Q: Well, I'm trying to get to the motivation for this, and it's 20 briefings --
MS. PERINO: The motivation is to provide people information.
Q: But why? Why do they need this information --
MS. PERINO: Why are you asking me these questions? You're asking information, as well.
Q: No, no, but --
MS. PERINO: My point was that you're asking --
Q: Was there any intent to try to tell people that they need to do something about the election, and to take some action?
MS. PERINO: These are information -- they're informational briefings about the political landscape.
Q: Okay, so there was -- there was no intent to do that? Who -- did they ask for the briefings, or was it the White House that decided they wanted to give these briefings?
MS. PERINO: I think it sort of goes both ways. I do know that political appointees around the government -- I used to work at an agency, and you are interested in -- the reason that you're here working for the President is that you want to support his policies and his agenda, and so it's good to get information from time to time.
Q: Well, who's idea -- it was the White House idea, initially, or was it the agencies?
MS. PERINO: I think that these briefings -- well, I know the Clinton administration had similar briefings. Where did they originate? I don't know. I couldn't give you a date.
Q: Can I follow up? I just wondered why, then, did, according to apparently six witnesses that have apparently spoken to Congressman Waxman, say that at the end of the one of these briefings the head of the GSA said to, I think it was Scott Jennings, one of Karl Rove's aides: What, then, after getting this briefing can we do to go help Republican candidates? And he said, let's talk off line about that.
MS. PERINO: I never talked to Scott Jennings about that. I think that --
Q: Well, why would he suggest that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not going to speculate as to what he would have meant by that or not. I mean, he could have meant that that was an inappropriate comment to make in front of other people and talked about that off line, instead of embarrassing her in front of --
Q: But if you don't know the answer to that, how do you know that no laws were broken or there was nothing unethical, if you --
MS. PERINO: Checking with Counsel's Office and talking about informational briefings about political landscape, that that is okay, that that is acceptable; there is nothing in the law that says you can't do that, it's not unethical. And it is something that is absolutely reasonable and appropriate, to provide political appointees with information about the landscape in which they're working.
Q: But what if at the end of those briefings there were other conversations about, then, how you could help --
MS. PERINO: "What if?" "What if?" I'm not answering "what ifs," Ed.
Q: But you don't know the answers to those questions, do you? I mean, how can you make a blanket statement that no laws were broken, as you said this morning, when you don't really know what happened at these briefings or after the briefings?
MS. PERINO: You're asking me to prove a negative and I can't -- nobody can do that.
Q: Then how can you make a blanket statement saying no laws were broken? You just made blanket statements without knowing the details.
MS. PERINO: The question is whether or not the political briefings are inappropriate, unethical or unlawful. And the answer to all three of those questions is, no.
Q: Even if, at the end of it, an aide to --
MS. PERINO: "Even if," "Even if," I'm not -- you can --
Q: Well, but six people who were there say it; it's not just a random "if." Six people.
MS. PERINO: Right, but what I'm saying is you don't -- I have not spoken to Scott Jennings about this, I don't think that I will. If the Office of Special Counsel wants to look into this, they are more than welcome to -- but I'm not going to get into the middle of someone else's investigation. I'm not going to do it.
Q: Did the legal Counsel's Office approve -- all of these --
MS. PERINO: As a general rule -- as a general matter, yes, they had approved them.
Q: But they didn't go back to them for each one, to approve each one?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, no.
Q: But isn't a political landscape, in part, describing vulnerable districts and areas where the Republican Party might have trouble in an election season?
MS. PERINO: I think that's what -- yes, of course.
Q: Dana, is it the President's view, then, that this Office of Special Counsel inquiry is not warranted?
MS. PERINO: I didn't say that.
Q: I'm asking you.
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: But if you're saying these briefings are perfectly appropriate --
MS. PERINO: If the Office of Special Counsel wants to inquire about something, that is their right and I'm not going to say whether or not it's appropriate or not. He can inquire and talk to the Counsel's Office about it. We've worked cooperatively with them in the past, and we will do so this time, as well.
Q: Dana, I need to clarify something, get you to clarify something really quick. You just said that this is going to be a generational war. And I said something earlier about the American public may not allow the -- accept this, going the way it's going for another 10 years. And you said, it's not going to be 10 years.
MS. PERINO: Oh, I think there's a distinction -- I think that that was about the global war on terror, and I think your question was specifically about the surge.
Q: Dana, just back on Iraq for a second. What would be a reasonable period of time for the President to assess whether the surge has worked or not and he had to readjust?
MS. PERINO: As I've said several times, General Petraeus has said that he won't know until the fall, at that point he'll give an assessment. And I think that the President will defer to his commanders on the ground for those assessments.
Q: When he gets that assessment, though -- when the President gets that assessment, at that point is the President open to readjusting?
MS. PERINO: Wow, is this, like, hypothetical question day? (Laughter.) I'm not going to say. I think that the President is going to listen to his commanders on the ground, he's going to get an assessment for General Petraeus -- but he's not going to wait until the fall to get an assessment from General Petraeus, they talk quite often -- sometimes weekly, or more.
Q: I want to ask about former CIA Director Tenet's new book coming out. He says, in defense of enhanced interrogation techniques, while insisting the United States does not torture, says, "These are people who will never, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who's responsible for the next terrorist attack." Does the President support these because the ends justify the means?
MS. PERINO: Well, Goyal, first of all -- Wendell, sorry --
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Sorry, I was looking at Goyal. I have not seen the book. I'm not going to comment on the book. What you're suggesting is, does the President support torture. The United States --
Q: I am not talking about torture or the book, in this case. I'm talking about enhanced interrogation techniques, which the President has commented on.
MS. PERINO: The President wants our intelligence agencies to follow the law and to make sure that they get the information
that they can get in order to protect this country. That's what he supports.
Q: Is this a situation, the use of these interrogation techniques, that is specific to now in the global war on terror? Is it policy that's likely to continue? Is it something we're going to be seeing 10, 15 years from now?
MS. PERINO: This is like a hypothetical question day. I can't look 10 to 15 years in the future. What I can tell you is that this President, and I'm sure future Presidents are going to have the responsibility of protecting the American people. We're ensured that the intelligence agencies follow the law and make sure that any information that is needed from suspects that are picked up, that those laws are followed and that that information is used -- any information gleaned from it is used in order to protect the American people, or our allies around the world.
Q: This is also a matter of interpreting the law. These enhanced interrogation techniques have come under some criticism from officials of other countries. Has it complicated the U.S. relationship with our allies?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that there might be some people who disagree with the United States on that, but I've never heard anything -- I've never heard anything or witnessed anything specific about that. And I think that our allies, who we share information with, are supportive. I would just have to point you back to -- and this has nothing to do with enhanced interrogation techniques, that I know of, but last August, when we worked with the Brits in order to prevent a spectacular al Qaeda attack of blowing up airliners over the Atlantic Ocean. We share information with our allies in order to protect innocent men, women, and children from terrorists who want to kill us.
Q: But again, I'm talking about the interrogation techniques used on, in particular, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. And the President has said that this was effective, former Director Tenet says we got more information from him than all the other agencies were able to glean from other suspects. So it takes me back to these interrogation techniques, in particular. Are they something that we're using now in the global war on terror that we won't have to use five or 10 years from now?
MS. PERINO: Wendell, look -- I don't know anything more than what the President or George Tenet have said. And I'll just -- I'm just going to have to leave it at that. I can't look at -- I can't look in a crystal ball 10 to 15 years down the road. It would be wonderful if we would believe that terrorists are not going to exist in the world 10 to 15 years from now. But I'm not going to -- nobody can make that prediction.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead.
Q: Dana, first of all, you've done an excellent job in Tony's absence. We look forward to his return on Monday. I wanted to return to the case of Pat Tillman. We, of course, spoke about that yesterday. Yesterday, I asked if the President had spoken to the family of Pat Tillman since the IG report came out, or since the family has complained about the numerous falsehoods that were told to them. And you replied that it would be inappropriate for the Commander-in-Chief to do so. But at the same time, from that podium, you said that he feels deeply sorry for the family and all that they've gone through and he hopes that people are held to account. Why couldn't the President express those thoughts directly to the Tillman family? Why couldn't he call them up directly and express not only his condolences for his death, but his regret for the way in which the Pentagon essentially lied to the family?
MS. PERINO: As I said, I'm the President's spokesman. I provided that comment yesterday because I speak for him. I also know that the President provides a personalized letter to everybody, every family who loses a family member in the war on terror. And what I meant by it would be inappropriate for the President to get involved is that there is a command influence issue. And when the Department of Defense is investigating something, it would be inappropriate for the President to insert himself in that process. He believes that Secretary Gates and General Pace and others that came before them were honest in their assessments of what happened. They found out that there was a question of wrongdoing, a question of a cover-up, and that's why we have the information that we have now and that's the way our system of government works.
Q: As far as the President learning that his death was from friendly fire, you said yesterday that from all indications it was well after the funeral. First of all, where are you getting that from and what is your definition of "well after the funeral"?
MS. PERINO: I'm getting that just because there is no indication the General McCrystal memo ever made its way to the White House. There's just no recollection on the part of anybody else that the President would have learned about that before the funeral that was held on May 3rd.
Q: Does the President feel regret as to the way the family was treated by the Pentagon --
MS. PERINO: Yes --
Q: -- and people from the Army?
MS. PERINO: Yes, I expressed so yesterday. Absolutely.
Q: Dana, two quick questions. One, as far as global war on terrorism is concerned, Iraqis want to have freedom, they are free now today, but there is terrorism going on and the Iranians are supporting still terrorism in Iraq. And, also, Osama bin Laden has people claiming that they are behind terrorism in Iraq. My question is that are we still really going -- how are we going to find Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda people? Because many people are saying that if we eliminate Osama bin Laden or his people, then you can eliminate terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
MS. PERINO: What I can assure you is that there are people all around the world that are united in trying to hunt down Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Q: And, second, just quick. Yesterday President spoke about malaria, no more malaria. And there are 15 countries from Africa, and also we know that millions have died of the diseases in the past and Africa and around the globe. My question, yesterday President was talking about 15 countries in Africa.
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q: But malaria also has spread in other parts of the world also. What role U.N. is playing and also if President is going to talk about global war on malaria?
MS. PERINO: When the President talked about Malaria Awareness Day it was not just in Africa -- obviously, that's a huge problem, but we recognize that malaria is something that hurts men, women and children all around the world, especially the children.
I'll take one from Lester and then we'll be done. Les, go ahead. Just one.
MS. PERINO: I've got to go.
Q: Yesterday, a Republican National Committee cited the AP report that Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said the following: "If you want to hear anybody's true views, you cannot do it in the same room as the press. If you want to hear the truth from them, you have to exclude the press." What's the President's opinion of this prescription of the end of press freedom in politics coming from a former governor and national chairman of one of our two main parties?
MS. PERINO: Let me decline to comment now. I'll take a look at the comments; this is the first I've heard of them.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273527