Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. We have one addition to what I read out this morning. The President had a secure video teleconference this morning with Prime Minister Maliki, 25 minutes with staff in, the remainder -- and I don't know how long that lasted -- was a one-on-one. I can tell you that at least during the conversations in front of staff the President congratulated the Prime Minister on the conferences in Sharm el Sheikh. The Prime Minister, in turn, thanked the President for his support.
Then they proceeded to talk about matters of mutual interest, both regional relations, and also outreach within Iraq. The Prime Minister is working with the presidency council to advance the political process in Iraq, including a lot of the legislation that we've been discussing over the last few months, but issues of communications and reconciliation were at the fore. And also outreach to groups within -- you may recall the Prime Minister went to Ramadi and there he met with Sunni leaders, and the Prime Minister reiterated his determination not only to continue the process, but to work for reconciliation within Iraq. So that was sort of the focal point of those conversations.
Q: Tony, do you have any readout of what the Queen said to the President?
MR. SNOW: No. No, those are private conversations; we don't read them out.
Q: Even on the podium, after the ad lib?
MR. SNOW: That was a good ad lib. (Laughter.)
Q: Quality stuff. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the President think his drop in the polls, to 28 percent, has anything to do with our occupation and escalation in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Actually, one of the interesting things is here's a poll where 51 percent of those who responded were either Democrats or -- self-identified Democrats or lean Democratic, as opposed to 34 percent Republican, lean Republican. So you've got a pretty good skew here. And the Newsweek polls do tend to be outliers in that sense.
Q: Is that Newsweek?
MR. SNOW: Yes, that's the Newsweek poll. Look, the President certainly understands that Americans don't like war. He doesn't like war, either, but he also does not like the alternative.
Q: Does he think it has anything to do with his policies, a drop like that?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I would counsel against this one, it was a pretty skewed set of response.
Q: Tony, I know you said you can't give us the content of their actual conversations, but with Great Britain being our primary ally in Iraq, is it safe to say that might come up, that they might discuss it at some point during her visit?
MR. SNOW: Again, the Queen -- the Queen put it in a wonderful way: This is a time to step back and to take a look at the historic relationship between the United States and Great Britain. She talked about going to Jamestown last week. And she talked about the things that bind us, the principles and aspirations. And my sense is that there will be a lot of pleasant conversation. But, again, I'm not going to try and read out whether they get involved in geopolitics. I'll leave that to the Queen and the President to discuss. And, as usually happens -- especially in events of this sort, where the Queen does not play a political role in Great Britain -- we're certainly not going to draw her into such things. We're going to allow them to go ahead and have very pleasant conversations that reflect the long ties, the deep warmth between the two countries. It's a pretty cool day, you know? I think that the pageantry -- and there you saw the President joking with the Queen -- I don't know that a lot of people joke with the Queen, but the President did. It worked out just fine.
Q: You have to say something once he implies she's over 200 years old. (Laughter.)
Q: The governor of Kansas, in the wake of the tornadoes, has talked about the fact that she can't get equipment into the areas that have been ravaged because the equipment is now over in Iraq. What type of help is the federal government going to provide?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, take a look at whether such help has been requested. But what I would do is I would ask you to go ahead to DOD for really the specific answers about that. But there's been an enormous amount of help on the scene already, frankly, when it comes to what's been going on with the tornado. FEMA has certainly been actively engaged, and the administration is doing whatever it can. And if there's a need for equipment, it's going to be arrived -- it will arrive.
As you know, there are prepositioning points throughout the country for National Guard and other equipment in the case of emergency. So some of those plans, again, if called upon, are going to be put into motion. But I just can't tell you precisely how it goes. And in order to get -- the best way to get an accurate response is to call DOD on that one.
Jim. Did you have one? Victoria.
Q: Given that, as you said, the Queen doesn't play a political role in Great Britain, was there a particular reason why the President gave such a political speech?
MR. SNOW: The President -- was it a political speech, or was it one, in fact, reflecting the closeness and the importance of principle?
Q: It was a political speech. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: To you it was.
Q: I think it was a political speech. It spoke a great deal about the war, the war on terror, the war in Iraq. The Queen's speech reflected something that was not political. When you compare the two, and the tone of the two, one was political and one was not.
MR. SNOW: As a matter of fact, if you take a look -- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven -- eight paragraphs, there are nine paragraphs -- I believe one referred to it, and there was nothing directly mentioning Iraq, although there was talk about democracy, liberty, defending liberty against tyranny and terror. It mentions killing the innocent to advance a hateful ideology, whether it's in New York, London, Kabul or Baghdad.
You may call that political, but that is, in fact, a reflection of what's going on the world. And we have seen evidence of that. And we've also seen evidence of terrorists to continue to do that sort of thing. You saw the Zawahiri tape over the weekend. Well, what did he talk about? He was celebrating in his own view -- what he said was celebrating terrorism. At one point he said, "Fie on moderation, I thank Allah for the bounty of extremism, militancy and terrorism and everything else we are labeled with." And he talked about that in some considerable detail.
What he tried to do is manipulate American political sentiments, a big, long section on Malcolm X that was designed to try to foment hatred within the United States. And he called for a rebellion by minority groups in this country. And at the same time, what he tried to do was to misconstrue democratic debate in this country -- small "d" -- in such a way as to try to take political advantage of statements that Senator Reid has made.
So what you have is you have a determined enemy that, in fact, wants to kill Americans. One of the things he expressed some unhappiness about is that he wants to kill 200,000 to 300,000 Americans. Now, again, if you think it is political to make reference to the fact that that is extremism and it is a live force in our lives and is a real consideration, then you so may label it. But on the other hand, there was nothing in here that tried to draw the Queen into any direct political conflicts in this country other than to remind and thank her for the support of the very principles that are the bedrock of the Anglo American system, which have to do with individual liberties, the rule of law and a long chain of events and innovations that stretch back from the Magna Carta to the present.
Q: You would say it's not political.
MR. SNOW: No. No. I would say it is not political.
Q: Thank you. Is the President happy with the election in France?
MR. SNOW: The President is happy with any democratic election. And he has congratulated President-elect Sarkozy and looks forward to meeting him at the G8 next month.
Q: A follow-up on that. Tony Blair is scheduled to step down as head of the Labour Party later this week. Can you talk a little bit about the notion of -- the possibility of the French President-elect becoming the replacement for Tony Blair as the President's best friend in Europe?
MR. SNOW: I believe they represent different countries. (Laughter.)
Q: -- best friend?
MR. SNOW: Again, this is -- this kind of trivializes a process that's going on. And I'm not -- we will have comments --
Q: But the friendship between Bush and Blair was pretty important.
MR. SNOW: It was extraordinary. And it's very important to try to develop and deepen friendships. And whoever may follow Tony Blair as Prime Minister of Great Britain, we hope to have just as close a relationship. You may recall that there was some question early on, because Prime Minister Blair had such a close relationship with President Clinton, about whether he'd have one with President Bush. Well, he did. And why is that? Because of deep shared interests and values, precisely the sort of the thing that the President and the Queen both made mention of today.
What we're hoping for at all times is closer relations with all our allies.
Q: Does it suggest -- given what Sarkozy has said about being there, being at the side when the U.S. needs help -- does that suggest that France might be more willing to do something in Iraq --
MR. SNOW: Again, I think it's very premature to judge these things. What it does mean is that in a hotly contested election with very high turnout, Mr. Sarkozy was elected President.
Q: Can I follow up?
MR. SNOW: First, let me get up here and we'll --
Q: If that's a follow-up, you can take --
MR. SNOW: Is it a follow-up, Connie?
Q: Yes. I just -- on Sarkozy, did the President talk to him --
MR. SNOW: Yes, he did.
Q: Okay. Did they speak about this climate change statement?
MR. SNOW: No, they -- it was just a very short two-minute congratulations, and congratulations on a successful free and fair election, and he'll look forward to seeing him in Germany next month.
Q: Have they ever met?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe they have, but I'll check.*
Q: Tony, back to the President's poll numbers. I know the President says again and again he doesn't govern by polls, and he doesn't really think about them. And yet the polls keep continuing to go down or stay level, they don't seem to rise at all. And he has made a determined effort to try to convince people, he's given many speeches about the Iraq war policy, global war on terrorism, nothing changes. Is he concerned about that, and do you look at ways to try to bring back the will of the American people?
MR. SNOW: I think, as Americans -- you know, what's interesting is that, for instance, you take a look at some of the debate over the weekend, and you've got -- there seems to be a mind-set sometimes among critics that they are not going to acknowledge changes on the ground. They quite often say, stay the course. Well, we do not have a stay the course policy. Or one in which they say, civil war, when the signals -- or the metrics for a civil war fortunately have been going down, but you do have al Qaeda activity.
The question is, why do we not simply give the Baghdad security plan a chance to work? There have been some encouraging early signs that we certainly don't want to oversell, but on the other hand, we don't want to ignore. And General Petraeus is certainly going to be talking about these.
If you take a look at reporting on your network and others, people talk about tangible changes, not only in places like Anbar province, but also in some places in Baghdad, some of the counterinsurgency efforts in Diyala. You do see that there is greater capability and, furthermore, encouragement, at least in the sense of the conversation today with the Prime Minister indicating that there is will and determination to make political progress.
When people start to see that happening, I think they're going to say, okay. Another thing that's going to be interesting is, there may be more opportunities to get -- I know that there's more embedding going on, so people are going to be able to get a better sense, once again, of what's going on, on the ground -- you've had an opportunity to do it in recent weeks -- to gather a fuller picture, because for instance, the headlines this week, eight Americans died, that is true; but on the other hand, you also had the fact that there have been very successful operations against bad guys, and you have had some pretty significant seizures, whether it be in weapons caches, or insurgents, or killers that they've gotten.
All of that sort of stuff also helps balance out the picture. In many cases, Americans don't get that other side of the picture. They're starting to get it in some of the briefings -- I know that the Pentagon is going to start posting some stuff on "YouTube." It's important to make sure that people are able to draw full judgments. And I think when they see that the thing that they most want, which is a competent military pursuing a noble mission, enjoying some success, doing it at personal hazard, and doing it in a way that is consistent with American principles, they're going to say, okay, this is what we want.
Q: You don't think they've seen that in the past? I mean, this war has ebbed and flowed, and there certainly has been some good news over the years, and yet, the President's poll numbers are not improving.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, but the President also --
Q: And you've tried to make a case over and over. He's tried to make the case over and over.
MR. SNOW: Yes. Well, you know what? Ultimately, again, if -- for instance, I would go back to the Zawahiri tape. What Zawahiri was recommending, for instance, at one point, he started laying out what his ambitions were. And his ambition was, what the President has talked about for some time now, which is a new caliphate, and a caliphate that would extend across much of the world, and it was going to be trying to place much of the world under the kind of oppression -- under the religious oppression that most Americans -- it's not even religious; it is the terrorist oppression that tends to misidentify itself as a religious movement, and to do it in such a way as to terrorize people into surrendering their freedoms.
Then Americans say, ah-ha, you mean Zawahiri really does mean that, that al Qaeda really does mean that. And it's important to realize that the threat is real and ongoing. The President cannot look away from that, and he does not look away from that. It is his obligation as Commander-in-Chief to do whatever is necessary to defend the security of this country.
And that means at times, when it is -- it means at times when people wish the threat were not there, when some political figures say, I'm not going to listen to it, they're telling me something I don't want to hear, I'm not going to listen to it -- and we've heard some of that in the debate. The President says, I have to, because his obligation is to do the right thing. And, sometimes, yes, it will be unpopular, but on the other hand, over time, as people begin to get a stronger sense of what's going on, and they do get a feeling for progress, you can assume that public opinion will follow.
And what's interesting is those who live by the polls better be careful, because if they try to get all their guidance simply from the poll questions, then all of a sudden it turns out that a lot of the things that have been stoutly opposed by some in the political class turn out to be things that have actually provided a basis for hope and success in Iraq -- they'll have to answer for that, too. Polling is not static, and neither are the issues.
Q: Are you saying we want this war, the American people want this war?
MR. SNOW: No, the American people don't want this war, but they --
Q: Well, you say the will -- they had the will?
MR. SNOW: Helen, the American people also do not want the Middle East in flames. They do not want millions of people dying. They do not want the economic dislocation, the geopolitical danger that would be ignited should, in fact, Zawahiri and others get their way. Americans still remember September 11th; they remember the fear it inspired --
Q: But the Iraqis had nothing to do with it.
MR. SNOW: I understand that. But on the other hand, al Qaeda now has decided to make Iraq the central front. And it's pretty clear --
Q: We decided that.
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. But --
MR. SNOW: We've gone through this many times.
Q: Tony, two quick questions. One, elegant ceremony for the Queen I have witnessed in a long time. My question is that as far as Prime Minister Tony Blair step down as Prime Minister of England, do you think when Her Majesty was carrying any kind of special message from the British --
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to comment or speculate about conversations. But keep -- the President talks to Tony Blair all the time. I don't think he needs to have anybody channeling. And as far as trying to do retrospectives on the Prime Ministership of Tony Blair, let's just wait until he's made his announcements. We're not going to get involved beforehand.
Q: Second, on Afghanistan. The Afghans are saying really now that the message for the President, that they are saying that they hope, after their freedom from the United States (inaudible), that the President or the United States has not forgotten them because of the attention elsewhere, and they are asking President's help because they feel that NATO so far has failed in many areas of Afghanistan as far as tapping down al Qaeda and Taliban.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to get -- number one, that's too vague a charge when you label something to "the Afghans." Number two, the government of Afghanistan certainly understands our commitment. Part of the debate on the supplemental, keep in mind, was not merely about Iraq, but also ongoing operations in Afghanistan, including boosting presence there and boosting capability.
Q: Tony, what are we to read into the Pentagon opting for "YouTube" as part of its communication?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. You'll just have to ask -- that was something they announced last week. I don't know.
Q: We're you part of that --
MR. SNOW: No, but I think it's a good idea.
MR. SNOW: Because it's important sometimes to be able to get -- it's important to get images out that are going to portray a fuller picture of what's going on, on the battlefield.
Q: What kind of images would you like to see on "YouTube"?
MR. SNOW: I'd like to see a little bit of everything, wouldn't you?
Q: Is the White House going to use it, too, or are you satisfied with your own web --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't -- we have no immediate plans for using "YouTube."
Q: On Friday I asked Dana why the President opposes broadening the hate crimes law to cover gays and lesbians. She pointed me to the statement of administration policy saying: We would oppose it solely on the grounds it would federalize law enforcement of crimes already being addressed in the states.
Why is that okay in the case of race and religion, and not in the case of sexual orientation?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I don't think -- I think you're asking a question that's not relevant. The President of course believes in prosecuting crimes of discrimination against anybody. In fact, that is a proper responsibility of states, and many states have already enacted such statutes. And we have a Civil Rights Division to take a look into charges of discrimination on any basis. The fact is that you try to prosecute the laws so that in a society like ours, the law is equally applied to everybody.
On the other hand, if you try to -- what this law would do is create maybe an unparalleled increase in federal police power, and that is something that we do not welcome, especially because the states already have the authority to do this, and furthermore, we feel confident that the rights of all Americans are going to be protected. We have a -- our government is based upon equal protection under the law. If you suddenly start getting into sort of a situation where you start trying to tick off each and every class that may think it's aggrieved, what you're going to do is create an endless cycle where somebody else wants inclusion. But the fact is, the law already covers everybody.
So this should not be construed as an attempt to say that we do not care about acts of violence against individuals. We care about acts of violence against all individuals, and we think they ought to be prosecuted fully and completely.
Q: Tony, I have a definitional question.
MR. SNOW: Oh, good.
Q: Is it possible that some of what the colonists did might be construed by some as terrorism and insurgency?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, you'll have to ask them. (Laughter.)
Q: Do you have their email? (Laughter.)
Q: Funny man.
Q: You were saying that Prime Minister Maliki is committed to making political progress, that he and the President discussed that. Can you outline, in any general sense, what the President conveyed to the Prime Minister about his expectations for what political progress is by this fall?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm going to -- no. Again, I'm going to allow the two of them to have -- they have private conversations for a reason, and many of those remain confidential.
Let me just tell you again what Prime Minister Maliki was talking about, which is to assemble the council of presidents, which do include members of all the major groups, and to sit down in a very practical way and say, let's get this stuff fixed. That was what he laid out. We'll also leave it to him to be a little more specific, because he is the Prime Minister, and it is certainly his prerogative to announce whatever initiatives he may be wishing to put together.
But, again, what you got was a very clear sense from the Prime Minister that it was important to be making progress. And I think he felt a little -- he felt somewhat encouraged by Sharm el Sheikh, because it does create even a better sense of confidence and standing, and it allows him to continue to move forward in a way that says, because a result of this -- as a result of the meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, we're going to be on sounder economic footing, we've got people who have made commitment, and we have people who are committed to the success of this country. And we now have to work together even more closely on things like oil law and constitutional reform and so on. So he mentioned a lot of that, but I don't want to get too specific beyond that.
Q: Can I follow up? By the time that General Petraeus comes back to the President at the end of the summer/early fall, and says, here's where we are, can you say that the President feels confident after talking to the Prime Minister that there will be achievement to point to on the political side by that time?
MR. SNOW: Again, as The Washington Post pointed out this weekend, the Democratic Congress can't even meet its benchmarks. So what you have is a situation where I don't want to be prejudging what's going to happen, but it is very clear that the Prime Minister, and I think others in the Iraqi political system, realize that they want to get things accomplished. And it's not simply because of impatience in Washington, although that's clearly -- clearly exists, but because of their own national necessity. In order to succeed as a country, they have got to find a way to build that sense of shared economic obligation and cooperation through an oil law. They've got to deal with the constitutional issues to build greater confidence between groups. And the Prime Minister has made it clear that as the Prime Minister of all Iraqis, he is committed to defending the civil rights of all, and building on that. So I think that that's -- that was the tenor that was struck in the meeting.
Q: I understand all that. I just am asking you --
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not going to tell you.
Q: You cannot say today that the President feels confident that those things are achievable by the fall? I just want to clarify.
MR. SNOW: Again, no, because you're asking me a crystal ball question that I just think -- I'm not going to bite.
Q: Who initiated the conversation?
Q: Is Maliki confident?
MR. SNOW: Again, Maliki is determined. What you have is a situation where he is reaching out to the other major political leaders. They're going to sit down, they're going to talk it through. What he's doing is what leaders do, which is to try practically to work with everybody who is involved so that you can come to accommodation, and we'll just have to see.
Q: Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Congressman Tom Davis and 17 other Republican House members have called on Attorney General Gonzales, Department of Justice, to administer the polygraph test that Sandy Berger agreed to in paragraph 11 of his plea agreement. And my question, could you give us a substantial answer to these Republicans' request of the Bush administration?
MR. SNOW: No. But I will study it.
Q: At a press conference, Senate Majority Leader Reid, when asked about the Vice President's announcement that he changed his position on Iraq three times in five months, responded, "I am not going to get into a name-calling match with someone who has a 9 percent approval rating." And my question, what is the President's reaction to this, and does he believe that the Vice President's rating is really lower than the now Democrat-controlled Congress?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don't think the President -- President doesn't have a comment on either of those formulations.
Q: Mr. Snow, (inaudible) democracy include the (inaudible) under threat by the military, in the light of the (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: Run that last part by me again -- the democracy threat by military in what way?
Q: It's under threat by the military.
MR. SNOW: I think that's probably an argumentative question and I don't want to get involved, as there's a debate about the presidency in Turkey -- that it is a democracy, continues to function as a democracy. And we will let the democratic process work itself out.
Q: One question on the supplemental. Do you guys have any reaction -- the House leadership apparently is preparing some kind of bill that would give you guys half the money right up front, and wait for the other half for the President reporting on benchmarks and so forth.
MR. SNOW: Again, we've said that that sort of general approach provides a kind of uncertainty that really is not helpful to commanders. But on the other hand, I'm not going to respond in detail to every trial balloon, because we tend to get a lot. What we're doing is we're working with both Houses to try to come up with an acceptable way to provide a flow of funding that is going to enable the troops to have funding and flexibility, the phrase we've used many times. And at this juncture, you got to ask yourself what guarantee you have that, again, something is going to meet that deadline.
So I think the most important thing to do is to pass a supplemental that gets us through this year.
Q: Did Josh go up to the Hill today to talk to Obey?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. No.
MR. SNOW: Don't know. We'll let you know.
END 1:10 P.M. EDT
*The President dropped by a meeting between National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and Mr. Sarkozy at the White House Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006.
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/274575