Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:03 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Fire away. Questions.
Q: From his remarks this morning, the President didn't seem to be much in a compromising mood, still pretty critical of the Democrats. What's going to be his opening remarks?
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll let him make those to Democrats. Let me make a couple of points about -- it's interesting, it appears that the discussion about compromise is all the White House needs to compromise, it's never asked what the Hill is going to do. Fortunately, when there are talks today I think both sides are going to be working in a spirit of trying to get something constructive done. But as tempting as it may be, I'm not going to tell you what precisely the President is going to say. You'll have opportunities to hear from people who will have been involved in the meeting and they can give you their readout.
What the President is not in the mood to compromise about is an attempt to try to tie the hands of generals or troops on the ground. He's not in the mood to compromise about an approach that creates a sense of doubt among our allies, weakens the Iraqi government. Instead what he wants to do is to pull together a package -- and I think both sides want to do this -- that is going to make it possible to give the troops the full funding and also the flexibility necessary to create conditions that are going to -- of greater security and safety within Iraq, and at the same time, also, as you know, part of the funding here is for ongoing economic development efforts -- all of this is very important for building a secure and stable Iraq. That remains the ultimate endpoint, and anything that works against those goals is not going to be serving our national interest.
Having said that, the President certainly is going to be listening to members of Congress and their concerns. They have known for a long time that they are not going to be able to pass into law the measure that finally made its way up here yesterday. Now we've got to find something that will make its way into law and that will meet the basic requirements that the President has laid out. He will not compromise on issues that involve the effectiveness and the security and the operational ability of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
MR. SNOW: Yes, sure, Terry.
Q: Did the President read the bill before he vetoed it?
MR. SNOW: The President -- we have had plenty of time to review the bill.
Q: Can you talk about the spirit of these meetings today, then? Is the spirit to compromise? I know you're saying you won't compromise on this, that or the other --
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way --
Q: -- he's listening, but is he willing to compromise in some way to get this through?
MR. SNOW: The President is going to be working with Congress to get something done. Again, you may -- maybe I wasn't listening, but I haven't heard the question asked of congressional leaders. The fact is, both sides have to work together. You may describe it as compromise, you can describe it any way you want. There has to be a constructive effort to get a bill that is going to serve our national interest, meet the basic conditions the President has laid out, and provide the kind of -- the support that the troops need.
Q: I'm sure our congressional counterpoints are probably handling that end of it, but can you tell us from the White House podium what spirit the President goes into these meetings with?
MR. SNOW: It's going to be -- it's going to be a spirit of saying, let's work together. It is not -- it is not going to be an antagonistic spirit. And the President does look forward to working with both sides.
Look, he said on a number of occasions in recent days, Martha, that he feels confident that we are going to get acceptable legislation out of this. How that takes place, we'll find out. But this is not going to be an antagonistic meeting where people are sort of glowering at one another. Instead it's going to be one where the President says, okay, let's work together.
Q: We want to know if there's going to be any give, any give out of the President -- from the rule of the people to move out of this war.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we want to move out of this war by succeeding.
Q: Violence escalating every day.
Q: Tony --
MR. SNOW: Wait a minute, let me stop. Helen, the people have been -- if you take a look at what's been going on recently, there have been a number of al Qaeda attacks that had have the -- that have killed innocents --
Q: Did every Iraqi attack --
MR. SNOW: No, but if you take a look at the MO of al Qaeda -- bombing attacks -- as a matter of fact, you've seen some reports, for instance, of Iraqis, even those who are opposed to the government, going after foreign fighters. There's a real and recognizable problem there, and it has to be dealt with. So those who say we need to fight al Qaeda, part of what we're trying to do is to build greater capability there.
Q: We brought them into Iraq.
Q: Tony, on that point, this morning the President said that al Qaeda seems to be a bigger problem than sectarian violence. That seems to fly in the face of what we've heard in recent weeks and months on the ground in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, you've got a shifting series of circumstances, Bret. If you take a look, for instance, what al Qaeda -- it's interesting, because it's impossible to segregate them entirely. You take a look at what happened at the Golden Mosque in Samarra -- very likely an al Qaeda attack that, in turn, spawned sectarian violence over the last year and some months. So al Qaeda's explicit goal, as Abu Musab al Zarqawi said many times, was to create sectarian violence, which was to try to use acts of violence that would set Shia against Sunni, and Sunni against Shia, and therefore, would destabilize the government and also create the opportunity to establish a safe ground for al Qaeda within the confines of Iraq.
So they're not neatly divisible. Having said that, you have seen, for instance, the signs of sectarian violence -- the kind of murders that were taking place within Baghdad, those are way down. General Petraeus has laid some of that out, as has the President. So there are some of the things that would be sort of signatures of sectarian violence.
But this is not to say that sectarian violence does not remain a concern, or that it is not something that is going to continue to be a problem. Of course, it will. But what you have seen is sort of a shifting of what's going on, but that is kind of normal in the course of war. There are different things that take place at different times, and a simple categorization of the violence is very difficult to make; things do continue to change.
Q: If I could follow. You say you're not going to negotiate from this podium, but can you say that the President is willing to consider benchmarks with some punitive action if the Iraqis don't meet them?
MR. SNOW: I am not going to negotiate from this. Let me tell you, there are two -- let me give you two things to think about. Number one, it's very important to have metrics by which to measure success with the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government is not our enemy, it's our ally. We are here -- we want to support the Iraqi government and help it build capability so that it can handle security operations, economic development, diplomatic relations, political evolution, and so on. All those things are important. So the key is how do you work with them. And I think if you talk to Democrats, ultimately, the question is how do you build that capability and how do you put together the right set of policies so they're going to be able to move forward?
The second thing is that, again, I am not going to be telling you precisely what we're going to be discussing. But the President is looking for ways to --
Q: Will he consider it?
MR. SNOW: The President will consider anything that anybody offers. The question is what will people have to say when they get there, and certainly he'll be fair. So, again, we're going to be listening to what everybody has to say. This has to be a constructive exercise. But, again, it also has to be one -- and respect shown on both sides, and also respect ultimately for the goal of trying to build conditions for a successful Iraqi government, along the lines where a lot of the basics everybody does agree on, including metrics, which the President laid out a number of those a while ago and you do need to find ways to be able to measure progress.
Q: Tony, the President sort of framed the argument today saying, Americans don't have to choose between being in between warring sectarian sides in a "civil war" -- using that term -- instead, it's a fight against al Qaeda. Wasn't the whole point of the surge to quell the capital and really to diminish the sectarian violence? And now he seems to be saying the enemy is more al Qaeda, rather than --
MR. SNOW: But, again, as I pointed out just a minute ago, Kelly, what you've done is you've indicated that there has been some change in status on the ground since the new Baghdad security plan began to be implemented. And I think that's true. On the other hand, again, nobody wants to take victory laps. For instance, when it comes to sectarian violence, what did you see? You saw members of the Mahdi Army publicly laying down arms. You saw Moqtada al Sadr leaving Baghdad. You saw a series of very swift changes simply upon announcement, and there have been areas in which you have seen reductions in sectarian violence. That reflects the facts on the ground.
You've also seen an attempt by al Qaeda, in response to this, to put together, for instance, coordinated car bombings and the kind of thing, especially near holy sites, not only in Baghdad, but around the country, that probably ought to be construed as attempts to do what happened with the Samarra Mosque bombing, which is to reignite the sectarian tension.
So what the President -- the President is not shifting the analysis; the Baghdad security plan was there to try to learn from the mistakes that we made with the two Baghdad security plans last year. In other words, we didn't keep a 24/7 presence; we didn't move in quickly with economic development; we weren't as fully integrated on a 24/7 basis with Iraqi forces; we weren't the developing -- we didn't give the Iraqis a big enough chip in the game. All of those things are things we've learned from. And you've got David Petraeus, then, who also has considerable success -- he did it in Mosul with counter-insurgency, and is somebody who is our acknowledged expert on the topic.
So what you want to do is you want to keep in mind --
Q: Tony, is it politically persuasive to say the enemy is al Qaeda and not getting in between sectarian groups?
MR. SNOW: The characterizations here are not part of a sales pitch, they're an attempt to try to reflect what's going on on the ground. General Petraeus, when he does this, is laying out what he sees. Now, it's entirely conceivable that a month from now you'll have sectarian problems. We hope not. But again, I think you're trying to use a political lens for statements that really are designed simply to say, look, we have shifting realities on the ground.
The President laid out plenty of evidence for that last week. And so has MNFI on a pretty regular basis. They try to do what they can to make the statistics known and the data available to everybody. So it's not an attempt to try to change the characterization for political reasons.
Q: Can I just clarify, following Kelly's question, when the President laid out that construct in the speech today, the civil war-al Qaeda construct, it seemed that he was saying there is a civil war.
MR. SNOW: No, if you go back to the National Intelligence Estimate, what you had was -- again, look at what NIE said, which is that you have some clashes that are consistent with civil war, and inconsistent with the notion of a civil war. I am not going to get us back into that whole sort of debate about how you define a civil war. The fact is that we have a situation where we are working to develop for the Iraqis the ability to establish institutions and also conditions on the ground that are going to be conducive not only to creating a stable democracy, but giving people an active incentive to join in. But I'm just --
Q: I don't want to go back there, either, except the fact that the President seemed to say it clearly today.
MR. SNOW: Again, it's -- the position -- it's just much more complicated than that.
Q: Okay, let me follow one more time on the idea of -- the compromise, which you said the Democrats have not come out and said what they wanted, that everything seems to be us asking you what the White House is willing to do, but we're not hearing it from Capitol Hill.
MR. SNOW: I'm just curious from a questioning point of view that -- yes.
Q: Well, there's been reporting and the Democrats said very clearly yesterday that the time to push troop withdrawal deadlines was over, but they were willing to do some work on benchmarks, attaching --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well again, we look forward to the conversation. I'm still not going to --
Q: No, but wait a minute. They're being very clear about what they're willing to do and what they're pushing as far as an approach. And I think it's only fair that you give some indications as to whether or not that's something in the ballpark here.
MR. SNOW: The fact is that there have probably been four or five separate proffers from a number of individuals in the Democratic Party, none of which seem to reflect yet a consensus on the part of the party, which is one of the reasons we're asking the leaders in. So what you're asking me to respond to is one of many ideas that have been floated.
Again, I think it's more constructive -- let everybody have their conversations, and you're going to have to be patient. There are going to be discussions. People will be at the sticks today, they'll have comments to make. But I think what you're going to see is a good-faith effort out of the White House, and we think also that the signs we've gotten from Capitol Hill are a good-faith effort to try to get something done that will achieve the basic goals that the President laid out and will allow us to move forward.
Q: Tony, I want to go back to the notion of al Qaeda versus sectarian violence. One of the things you and the President have cited is progress in al Anbar recently. That was taking place before the new strategy even began.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: So you keep trying to tie that in with the new strategy, when, in fact, it's really the long war strategy from before it even started.
MR. SNOW: All right, let me break this down for you. What's happened in Anbar, it's not -- what happened in Anbar is, Sunnis were tired of having foreign fighters come in and kill their people, and they decided to turn against them; God bless them. What has happened --
Q: Right, and it happened months ago.
MR. SNOW: Okay, but since the beginning -- but my response was still germane about Baghdad, which is -- and you know the figures -- that the benchmarks for sectarian violence, the killings, where you had people going in and killing people wholesale, seemingly merely on a sectarian basis, you had individual murders and that sort of thing going on in areas of Baghdad, those numbers, fortunately, are down. But I do not want to, again, give the impression that we're trying to say, the sectarian violence is at an end. But by the measures that people have been using to gauge such things, they've been down.
Now, if you take a look at, again, the things that have been indicative and typical of al Qaeda activity, such as a single driver going in, blowing himself up, killing a lot of people, or on a timed basis, and the use -- foreign fighters being involved in these activities, those, in fact, have increased in recent weeks. That is primarily what we've been seeing of late. So all that's doing is reflecting as accurately as we can what has been going on on the ground.
Q: But answer that question about al Anbar. I mean, the President, again, cited progress in Ramadi and al Anbar, because that seems where the most progress is, and that was before the new strategy.
MR. SNOW: Well, the strategy -- but on the other hand --
Q: So what are we supposed to take from that?
MR. SNOW: What you're supposed to take is there's good news. Thank you for reporting it.
Q: But it has nothing to do with the Baghdad security plan, but we keep tying it to it.
MR. SNOW: Well, Anbar is not -- no, no, it does -- actually, it does --
Q: -- the progress, the real progress -- I saw last August.
MR. SNOW: I know, Martha. But also what you have seen is -- and you might want to call your buds, because a lot of people in Anbar do make this point -- when it was announced that there would be another 4,000 U.S. forces in Anbar, it did, in fact, have the effect of strengthening both the confidence and the resolve of the people there. There have been many attempts over time to try to roll back the progress that had been made there. As a matter of fact, that is not new. You've seen progress in places like Ramadi, and you've seen the resurgence of violence. In this particular case, you have seen an effective and extended period of success there that we hope will continue.
And it is worth noting that as part of the Baghdad security plan there was also a complement of 4,000 U.S. forces that would be there to supplement ongoing efforts in Anbar. You're right, the progress began before, but it has continued. And I think it is reasonable to argue that this will certainly help sustain the success. But also a lot of credit has to go to tribal leaders and also Iraqis in Anbar who have decided to lay down arms, or to go from being people fighting the government to folks who stand in lines and sign up to become members of the police forces, while others are trying to keep the peace.
Q: Are there 4,000 more there? I don't know.
MR. SNOW: I don't know that all of them are there yet. I'll find -- you can actually call the Pentagon --
Q: Are any of them there?
MR. SNOW: We'll find out.
Q: The veto message the President sent up to the Hill argues that what the Democrats are doing is unconstitutional. How can that be unconstitutional when they seem to be exercising their power of the purse?
MR. SNOW: No, they're also -- but when you start getting into operational details that impinge upon the President's prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief, that does raise legitimate constitutional issues.
Q: The President earlier today defined success in Iraq. He said, "Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our country that, as you know, have a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives, and that's what we're trying to achieve." What is the President talking about when he says there's parts in our own country where a certain level of violence that people will accept?
MR. SNOW: It means that you have places with high crime rates. And it is something that is quite often a fact of American life that we don't like and it is something that is a matter of constant and ongoing concern. But you could construe that as violence, and it is. If you take a look at drug-related violence that has wracked many of our cities -- and now, increasingly, in rural areas, as well as suburban -- that is a form of violence. If you read stories over the years that constantly take a look at murder rates and rape rates, and every time we come out with either the Bureau of Justice statistics or FBI with its reports, it's a standard part of reporting.
So what he's really talking about is that there's certain kinds of violence that do, unfortunately, exist in a society, but he was not arguing, for instance, that there are militias afoot or that sort of thing. He was simply saying, at some point, you need a level of violence in a society, crime or whatever, that is not going to be undermining your ability to have a functional democracy. And of course, the endless experiment within democracy is always to make it more effective and attending to the needs and safety of the people.
Q: If the President is using that as an example of saying that the Iraqis, if they find a certain level of violence that is acceptable, that's defined now as success?
MR. SNOW: Yes, in other words, what he's saying is that if you can have a society that can function more or less normally, where you will have effective police forces that are able to dispense justice fairly, regardless of who you are; you have a growing economy; you have a rule of law; you have political institutions that reflect and protect the rights of all; you have a political system that is able to adjust over time and to -- amid compromise and full debate; you have diplomatic roots set down so you are a strong and functional player within the region. All of those are parts of being a successful state.
Q: But the President -- he argued that this is about freedom, this is about democracy. But when the President defines success as a level of violence, where people feel comfortable about living their daily lives -- that bar is very, very low. That's much lower than a democracy or freedom agenda.
MR. SNOW: No, it's not. No, it's not. I mean, look, Washington for many years was the murder capital of the United States of America. I believe we are still able to do our jobs. Now, really what he's talking about -- he's talking about that. He is not talking about --
Q: How do you define an acceptable level of violence? I mean, how can that possibly be defined?
MR. SNOW: That's a very good question. I don't have an answer.
Q: Can I follow up on --
Q: Excuse me --
MR. SNOW: I was going to recognize Sheryl, but, April, you'll be next.
Q: When you talk about -- you said, operational details before, with respect to the President's assertion that what the Congress has done is unconstitutional. Are you saying that Congress does not have it within its purview to appropriate money and say what purpose that money can be used for, that they cannot say, this money will be used for support troops, as opposed to combat troops, for instance?
MR. SNOW: Sheryl, if there are attempts -- the President has -- the President needs the ability to operate effectively as Commander-in-Chief, and when people start trying to micromanage that legislatively, that raises constitutional issues.
Q: So it's your position that it's unconstitutional then for the Congress to try to say what kind of troops --
MR. SNOW: I'll give you a general characterization --
Q: -- the money can be spent on?
MR. SNOW: I actually think that this is a very interesting abstract question that's completely irrelevant because I don't think it's going to be a part of the conversation.
Q: It is part of it because the Democrats want to limit the mission. They want to change -- they want to use this bill to change the mission and to move us away from combat troops and into support missions and other missions --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure that that is -- we'll find out. We'll find as we go.
Q: -- talking about what's acceptable in this country. It seems to be a wave of gang violence, as you said, in urban, as well as rural communities. Initiations are creating murders, gang violence itself -- and when you have community leaders to include, black leaders, say genocide of black -- black-on-black crime in urban America. What is acceptable about those -- and they are crippling communities.
MR. SNOW: And this is where -- you're getting into an apples and orange thing, but it's a very good question. Look, no level of violence in the abstract is acceptable. You want people to be able to live in a condition of peace. On the other hand, what the President is talking about is that there will be levels of violence in a society that do not, in fact, cripple the society's ability to function on a daily basis. That's merely what he's referring to.
He has also spoken many times and eloquently about the tragedy of violence within our cities. It remains a concern, and, boy, do I hope that the Iraqis will be in a position where they now can start worrying about those levels of concerns, as opposed to al Qaeda violence, or the possibility of sectarian violence within their boundaries.
Q: Well, I hate to paint a drastic picture, but there is a drastic picture in this country. We talk about what's happening in Iraq -- curfews and things of that nature. We have people scared to leave because of sectarian violence and civil war in their country. You have people in this country scared to leave their homes, scared to go out at night because of violence, because of gang problems -- so, unacceptable may be something that --
MR. SNOW: Again, what we're trying to -- look, that's not acceptable; you understand that. What we're trying to do is to come up with a metric of saying, there's going to be a level of violence in a society. But I think you would agree, April, that if that were the kind of violence that were existing, say, in Baghdad, it would not be a cause to have extended American presence there. That's something that the Iraqis ought to be able to take care of.
Q: And also on Sudan --
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes.
Q: -- on the warrants for the arrests of -- the war crime arrests. Do you have anything -- what's the White House saying about that?
MR. SNOW: We very strongly support accountability for those who are responsible for Darfur, and we expect the government of Sudan to comply with the obligations under United Nations Security 1593 to cooperate with the ICC.
Q: The President, in the course of this speech, said that casualties will likely stay high. He spoke of a systematic al Qaeda attack, the choice of responding to the -- he chose the article "the" not "a" civil war -- he said there's no easy way out. Why this grim tone to this speech today, heading into these talks with Congress?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think it's a grim tone. What the President is trying to do is be realistic. You got problems there. You have violence. For instance, if you recall in the State of the Union address, when we were talking about a way forward, it has always been known that when you go in and you're engaging the people who have been responsible for organizing violence, they're going to fight back. And, therefore, you have seen rising casualty rates within Baghdad. That is -- we predicted that from the very start. We have known that that is going to be the case.
On the other hand, there's also been a rapidly rising casualty rate on the part of the people who are responsible for the violence. What you have also seen is Iraqi forces not only more deeply engaged, but also more successful in going in and rooting out some of these cells, in going in and helping pacify various parts of Baghdad.
The President wants people to understand that a war is a tough thing, and furthermore, that one of the reasons why we need to support our forces fully is to go ahead and meet the threat now, rather than to allow it to worsen, and also to send a clear message to the Iraqi people, we know that you're facing difficulty, a lot of it is from foreign forces, and what we want to do is to make sure that you have the ability to enjoy the democracy that millions of Iraqis voted to put into place originally, knowing that there were going to be difficulties, knowing that there is always the possibility of sectarian violence, and also knowing that it is really important for the Iraqi people to be industrious and creative in trying to overcome those.
We saw today, for instance, the council of ministers has passed on to the council of representatives the draft oil law. That is something that they have been working on for a very long time. And that does not mean that you've got instant passage, but you're going to have -- you've got a process where people are working very hard to try to create incentives that reach past historic enmity and instead give people economic, social and political reasons to look at one another as -- not only as countrymen, but as people who have a stake in your success and you have a stake in their success.
Q: Tony, sorry, just one more related question. For the first time, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom has put Iraq on a watch list of countries where worship is under siege. Among other things, its report cited arbitrary arrests and torture and rape. Is this the kind of thing that U.S. troops are in the middle of here?
MR. SNOW: Peter, I haven't seen the report, so I can't comment on it.
Q: First of all, welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, sir.
Q: When President Bush made an announcement on mangoes from India, I was with him in India in Hyderabad. And yesterday his dream came true. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Susan Schwab, the U.S. Rep, and also Ambassador Ronen Sen, they had a celebration yesterday at the Commerce Department by the U.S.-India Business Council. Mangoes from India arrived, and here is a basket for President Bush, and also for the First Lady mangoes from India. My question is that, what message does mangoes bring, as far as India-U.S. relations are concerned -- trade and other issues?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, it is my first mango-related inquiry. (Laughter.) Goyal, I think what you do see is constantly -- India is a very important partner for the United States. You saw the civil nuclear agreement, also agricultural cooperation. India is going to be vital part also in pursuing the Doha Round. So I think it, once again, reflects what we see, which is not only increasing closeness between the two governments, but also increasing interdependency.
Q: Tony, back to success again for just a moment. Previously, success has been defined as Iraq defending itself, sustaining itself, and so on.
MR. SNOW: Governing itself.
Q: Governing itself. And today we saw success defined as kind of a lower level of violence. Is there a difference?
MR. SNOW: No, this is not inconsistent. This is part of what we discussed before. No, it's not at all inconsistent.
Q: Not a new definition --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: Tony, I've got a couple of questions. The first one is, does the President intend to move at all in terms of his position?
MR. SNOW: The President -- again, I know it's really tempting, "the President moved" -- I am sure that everybody is going to have -- when this is all done, I will allow each and every person to decide how much people have moved or boogied or done whatever they've done during the course of legislative compromise. But the fact is that there will be discussions that we think are going to lead to an acceptable measure that both sides are going to be able to take pride and credit. He's going to be listening and it is his determination to work with Congress to get something that's acceptable.
So my guess is, I will let other people do the definitional stuff later. Why don't we wait and see first what we see, in terms of the body language after today's meeting, and also what we begin to see in terms of cooperation on both sides and discussions -- Democrats, Republicans and the White House, together, House and Senate -- to try to come up with a measure that we hope very quickly can get passed into law, because there is a certain amount of urgency in getting this funding in the pipeline.
Q: In his speech today, he was asked a question about the media and media coverage. And in his reply he referred to free speech. And then he said, "without glossing over the inherent dangers." What "inherent dangers" in free speech was he referring to?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know, because, frankly, I was not at the speech. And I'll get back to you.
Q: Would you, please? It was interesting.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I'm sure it was.
Q: I have a related one.
MR. SNOW: Okay. Let's try to keep this in sort of a related -- that's a good idea.
Q: Thank you. You mentioned the need for metrics and ways to measure progress, but I'm wondering, is there also a need to find ways to hold people accountable for reaching those --
MR. SNOW: Do you think that it's a matter that the Iraqis do not want peace, do not want security? I think they do. So you can look at it one of two ways. Again, you can treat them as the wayward party that you're going to punish, or you can treat them as the partner you want to assist. And it is our desire, in every way possible, as constructively as possible, to help them go ahead and gain those capabilities. Does it mean that you might try to nudge them? Are you going to have conversations with them? That happens on a very regular basis.
But I think there's a characterization sometimes that tends to demean the government of Iraq, where people are laying their lives on the line and it's a very difficult business, and we want to see that government succeed.
Q: Well, how is it demeaning? I mean, people love their children and children are given punishments. Why wouldn't we want to take some way to hold -- or would the President at least consider some way to hold the government accountable for reaching certain goals as a way to prod an ally?
MR. SNOW: Again, you can look at it two ways: Do you prod an ally, or do you weaken the government? Let me put it this way: There are some concerned within the region that the way -- when you frame a question that way, it says we have no faith in the government. Therefore, it creates difficulties within the country because partners to the coalition ask themselves, does this mean that the Americans are not going to help out? Are they going to walk away? Are they going to bail out? If you go back to -- and the fear of the United States doing what the Baker-Hamilton commission called precipitated withdrawal, is palpable. They want to know that we're going to help them succeed.
And so it's important to figure out how you frame it. I think Democrats and Republicans, again, have the same goal, which is, how do you get the Iraqis into a position as swiftly as possible that they succeed in doing these things they need to do? And that will be part of the conversation.
You will notice that I am not going to answer your question when it comes to the way in which you create those incentives. That is properly a matter for discussion between the people who are going to be around the table, and I'm sure they're going to have those conversations. But, again, what you want to do is to find a way to assist that government that does not undermine it, that does not undermine American credibility or prestige in the region, but instead helps to strengthen our interest, helps to strengthen our credibility and helps strengthen that government.
Les, I know that you're not going to be on this issue --
Q: You do? How do you know?
MR. SNOW: ESP. Am I correct?
Q: You're right. (Laughter.) Will you come back?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Thank you.
Q: You said there's a certain amount of urgency in getting this done. Care to be more specific about what it needs to get done?
MR. SNOW: No, because, you know what, as I pointed out, for all the talk about benchmarks, Congress can't meet its benchmarks. If I set up a benchmark it's not necessarily going to be productive. I think everybody wants to get this done quickly. But, no, I do not want to -- I don't want to start the egg timer.
Q: Congressional Research Service has said until July there is not really a problem with funding. Is that incorrect?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, if you talk to the Pentagon, there's already been -- it depends on how you define a problem. You've already got the situation where you have to start moving money between accounts. That is not optimal. And I think probably the best thing to do for our military is to go ahead and keep all parts of it fully funded. And that means going ahead and finishing up this emergency supplemental as quickly as possible.
Q: "Not optimal," does that mean we're in a problem already, or is it just not optimal?
MR. SNOW: I'm saying that -- I'm not going to get into characterizing it, but I think you would agree that if you have a situation where you have to start moving between accounts, that's less good than one where all the accounts are fully funded.
Q: Tony, a senior DOD official said that we have time until June. Is that true? Where there's some leeway for about a month?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to try to characterize exactly what's going on, other than we're moving money between accounts and that's not the way you want to run an operation.
Q: So we should see the President standing firm for about another two to three weeks --
MR. SNOW: You'll see the President standing firm on principle throughout. Look, I want you to understand, because there's a tendency in Washington to say, this is a kind of a legislative chess game and we've got to do this, so this guy moves this far and this guy moves this far -- no. The purpose of this bill, it's an emergency supplemental bill to finance ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have to do that in a way that will allow you to conduct effectively ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is not a chess game. The people over there are not chess pieces. They are American citizens fighting for something that is very important for our long-term national security and our immediate national security. And, therefore, the idea of somehow saying, will the President sort of change in two weeks -- the conditions that he's laid out, in terms of providing funding and flexibility are not going to change. That's not going to change.
But on the other hand, you've got a lot of members who agree with him. Probably a majority. So here is a chance to answer a lot of concerns that members of Congress have about how we look at this, work collegially with members of the House and Senate, then provide the funding and flexibility.
Q: So do you agree with the person from DOD that the hardship is worse in June, and that's when --
MR. SNOW: The hardship continues to get worse. We've already said that there's already been a transfer, it tends to accelerate the middle of this month and it will get worse as time goes on.
Q: Tony, one of the Democrats' arguments is that the American people are on their side in this debate. I'm just wondering, how does the President, how does this White House balance or incorporate the will of the people at the same time as the President taking a principled stand?
MR. SNOW: Well, on the other hand, the American people also have said that if the veto is sustained, Congress ought to go ahead and pass the bill. That's the will of the American people. CBS, Axelrod. The fact is that there are a number of polls. But the problem a lot of times with the polls, it will take a cut at one little sort of a sliver of a much broader debate. And I think what the American people -- of course, the American people want the troops home. The President wants the troops home. Nobody likes a situation of war. But you also don't want a situation that's going to make this nation less secure in the short run or the long run.
Again, you take a look -- one of the things -- here is the National Intelligence Estimate: If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly, this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance, have adverse consequences for national reconciliation. One of the things it also says in the Baker-Hamilton commission report is: al Qaeda would depict our withdrawal as a historic victory. If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos -- which it judges likely -- the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return. Question: Would you like that situation? The American people would say, no.
The interesting thing about public opinion polls is that you can get people to respond to a headline. But the President can't respond to a headline. He has to respond to a war that has enormous complexity --
Q: That he started.
MR. SNOW: -- and has a lot of different pieces to it. And, therefore, the real key is, as Commander-in-Chief his solemn obligation is to make this country safe and to fulfill our security interests, which is what he's going to do. And it's a lot easier, again, to sort of argue about a particular poll question. But there are real security interests that you have to deal with.
Q: Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Does the President agree or disagree with what page one of The Washington Times this morning reports is D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry's proposal to charge all U.S. citizens tolls if they come to our nation's capital? Or does he believe Mr. Barry should either pay his income taxes or go to prison, as prosecuting attorneys have asked?
MR. SNOW: Les, I'm going to send you Article I of the Constitution. You can sort of look through some of the executive powers and we'll get back to you. But that's --
Q: Okay, page one of The Washington Post quotes President Reagan as describing Connecticut's former Senator Lowell Weicker as "a pompous no-good fathead." Does President Bush believe that President Reagan was wrong in this statement, or right, or will your refusal to comment leave everyone wondering?
MR. SNOW: C. (Laughter.)
Q: What? C. You'll leave everyone wondering. (Laughter.) You're a funny man.
MR. SNOW: Suzanne, has a question. Let's --
Q: The President said earlier today, he said, "Either we'll succeed or won't succeed" regarding the Iraq mission. And six months ago, he was asked, are we winning? He said, absolutely. And then it turned to, we're not winning, we're not losing. Now we're here at, we'll either succeed or won't succeed. It doesn't sound like a vote of confidence for the Iraqi -- what should the soldiers make of that statement?
MR. SNOW: I think the soldiers should make that they've got somebody who supports them. And they understand that the mission is not to leave, but to succeed and then leave.
Q: But he says, we'll succeed or we won't succeed. He doesn't sound very confident in our ability to succeed.
MR. SNOW: What he's really talking about is the nature of political debate. Will the United States send a message that we are going to provide the support that will enable the forces to do what they want? As you know, Suzanne, again, the testimony General Petraeus has been giving indicates that there has been some marginal progress. He does not want, again, for people to reach too far in the analysis, but it's there -- not only in Anbar, which predates the Baghdad security plan, but within Baghdad proper.
The point is that the goal here is success, and the President -- success is still an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself. It's one where you will have levels of violence that will not jeopardize the ability of the government to function on an ongoing basis.
So, no, this is not a stepping back, this is not the President embracing gloom, but realizing that it is a complex situation that ultimately the American people -- and you have to understand what the military understands, which is it is tough business, but it is vital, absolutely vital for our long-term security. This is not -- this is a place where failure really is not and should not be an option.
Q: Sustain, govern, and defend, could Iraq do any of those three now?
MR. SNOW: I don't think it is in a position independently to do the three at this juncture. That's one of the reasons why.
END 1:43 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274010