Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right. Questions.
Q: What do you think the Iraqi government is going to achieve in eight weeks that it hasn't been able to achieve in a year?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, if you go back and look through the report -- I want to remind you of a couple of things. When you talk about the definition of satisfactory in the report, it's in the near-term. If you start looking at the benchmarks, it is clear that the Iraqi government has been moving in the direction of trying to achieve a lot of the political objectives. We're going to have to see. The Iraqi government is meeting throughout the month. They've got some legislative items that they're working on, but we're going to have to see what they do.
Meanwhile, I think -- let me continue, and then I'll let you follow up -- you continue to see the ramping up of Iraqi efforts on the security front; you continue to see also bottom-up efforts in places like Anbar, in places like Diyala. It's important to realize that the -- when the United States announced a way forward and the Iraqi government also began committing more resources, it did, in fact, influence thinking in different parts of Iraq, where people said, you know what, we don't want al Qaeda around killing our people anymore. So you had the tribal chieftains and tribal sheiks making accommodations with the allied forces in Anbar. You've started to see it in Diyala. You certainly have seen it reflected in some neighborhoods in Baghdad.
So you've got to look at it in two ways. The President talked about top down, and that is activity on the part of the government. You also see it bottom-up, in terms of changing perceptions of the U.S. forces and of the Iraqi security forces within Iraq, and also government agencies within Iraq and their ability to provide more capable services. So what I'll do is I'll give you sort of a scattershot analysis.
Number one, you can expect to see continued activity on the military front. As the President mentioned yesterday, the Iraqis are committing $7.3 billion to retooling and reequipping their military. They've also committed $10 billion to economic reconstruction. There continue to be efforts on the political accommodation side. So there are any number of things that can happen, we're just going to have to see.
Q: Well, specifically, do you think things like de-Baathification and their oil law will be achieved by September?
MR. SNOW: We're going to have to see. Again --
Q: Well, of course, but, I mean --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just not going to make prognostications on this. But also, the thing that -- there are others that you look for. For instance, how well is the presidency council working with the Prime Minister? Do you see signs of a political accommodation? If you do not have certain laws passed, do you see a greater sense of cooperation, cohesion and national identity among the various sectarian and regional groups within Iraq, reflected not only at the national level but also at the regional level?
So there are going to be -- when you see the report in September, it not only is going to address benchmarks, but as it said, if you read the early parts of this report, there will be a more comprehensive assessment in taking a look at other factors also that will allow people to weigh the success of the surge.
Q: It seemed like what the President was saying yesterday that no matter what the report of September shows, if General Petraeus recommends the surge to continue, that it will.
MR. SNOW: Well, I mean -- you're assuming that if there is something that would be regarded as dire, that General Petraeus would be saying, you know what, my ego is invested in this. General Petraeus has made it pretty clear that he is not going to be making recommendations for U.S. force commitments unless he thinks it is going to contribute to success in Iraq, in terms of having a self-sustaining Iraqi government. He is not going to put his own men in harm's way if he does not think that it serves the purpose of the mission that has been outlined to him.
So it is not simply a matter of "regardless of what happens." In fact, the recommendations will be a reflection of precisely what is going on in Iraq. And I would -- again, I would suggest taking a very close look at all of this report because there are a lot of interesting data in there. If you simply look at benchmarks, you're going to miss a lot of the fine-print reporting in there that does give you a sense of a whole lot that's going on right now.
Q: And, Tony, could you clarify, in terms of the relationship between Congress and the President, as regards to the war, the President is essentially saying that he is running the war and the Congress is funding the war. At some point, Congress may pass legislation, which attempts to, sort of, run the war.
MR. SNOW: Well, if so, the President is going to resist it. The President is Commander-in-Chief and he feels very strongly about his constitutional prerogatives.
Q: Resist as in veto?
MR. SNOW: You're asking me to respond to something that doesn't exist. I will continue at the level -- I'm sorry -- Martha and then Helen.
Q: Can you tell me just what David Petraeus's mission is? I am actually unclear about what he would recommend or not recommend, whether it goes beyond what his military mission is. So first describe what his mission is. You say he has a mission.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, because there's an important nuance that has to be added to this. It's not just a Petraeus report, but a Ryan Crocker report.
Today the President had an opportunity to hear from provincial reconstruction teams around Iraq. And Ambassador Crocker was chairing that. So what you have is General Petraeus is working the counter-insurgency piece and working the military piece. You also have Ambassador Crocker looking at the diplomatic piece, looking at economics. The two of them certainly are working with their counterparts in the Iraqi government on political items. But if you want to look at a division of labor, General Petraeus is the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq; it's a military role. Ambassador Crocker also is fulfilling the traditional roles that you would assign to an ambassador.
Q: Understood. So General Petraeus's mission is to set the conditions for political reconciliation, for the political benchmarks. But his doesn't go into the political realm. But the President keeps talking about -- and you all, I guess, keep talking about what Dave Petraeus does; I know Ryan Crocker has nothing to say. So Dave Petraeus's mission is to set the conditions forward --
MR. SNOW: No, the general -- again --
Q: Okay --
MR. SNOW: -- you know what?
Q: Maybe you're not saying that --
MR. SNOW: No, actually what I'll do is, rather than having me try to give you a nuanced answer, call MNFI. They will try --
Q: No, but, Tony, this is important --
MR. SNOW: I just told you --
Q: I know, but the President keeps talking about listening to Dave Petraeus, but if Dave Petraeus's mission is to set the conditions, I can't see how he --
MR. SNOW: No, what Dave Petraeus's mission is, is militarily to provide the security space that's going to allow the political process to move forward.
Q: That's exactly what I'm saying. So the political recommendations and what Ryan Crocker reports -- does he make a recommendation that you keep going? Does he make some sort of recommendation -- let's say -- I'm not even getting into pure and hypothetical here, but if Dave Petraeus, as he's already said, there are some security things that are satisfactory, so in September if he has enough progress that he feels good about it, then does Ryan Crocker say, yes, I think we should continue, too, because the political (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: What happens is, is that the report you're going to get is going to be a joint production between the two, so it will reflect their combined judgment.
Q: Who makes the decision? Does Ryan Crocker make any decisions for the President -- is it solely up to the President, reading those two things --
MR. SNOW: Yes, the President makes the decisions. The other thing that the President has said is that he will take recommendations from both of them and he will review them with senior advisors. So it is not as if a recommendation immediately is self-enacting. The President will take anything that General Petraeus has, he will talk about it with the Secretary of Defense, about it with the Joint Chiefs. Any of the recommendations that Ambassador Crocker may have, similarly, will be considered by the President in conjunction with senior advisors.
Q: Is the Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament taking the month of August off?
MR. SNOW: Probably, yes. Just not --
Q: They're taking the entire month of August off, before the September deadline?
MR. SNOW: It looks like they may, yes. Just like the U.S. Congress is.
Q: Have you tried to talk them out of that?
MR. SNOW: You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August, I'll pass on your recommendation.
Q: Well, Tony, Tony, I'm sorry, that's -- you know -- I mean, there are a lot of things that happen by September and it's 130 degrees for the U.S. military also on the ground --
MR. SNOW: You know, that's a good point. And it's 130 degrees for the Iraqi military. The Iraqis, you know, I'll let them -- my understanding is that at this juncture they're going to take August off, but, you know, they may change their minds.
Q: But have you tried to convince them not to?. Does the U.S. government pressure them not to, because then the September deadline --
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to -- you know, I'm just not -- I'm not getting into the -- the Iraqis understand the importance. It's not a September deadline, it's a September report. I think it's very important, in an age where everybody wants to create a sense of, sort of, finishing up on a deadline -- it's a report, it is not a deadline. It is a report that will, in fact, measure progress --
Q: It's a pretty important report --
MR. SNOW: It is a very -- it's a very important --
Q: (Inaudible.) I mean, a month they're not working.
MR. SNOW: Sheryl, will you let me answer Martha's questions first? And then Helen is next, and then I'll call on you.
Now, where were we, because --
Q: We were a month off, we have --
MR. SNOW: Okay, so what you're saying -- yes --
Q: -- 130 degrees for the Iraqi parliament, so they need a month off, even though it's 130 degrees for U.S. soldiers.
MR. SNOW: Well, you know, you're assuming that nothing is going on. As I said, there are any number of things going on in Iraq. Let's see what the parliament does during the course of this month. Let's also see what happens, because quite often when parliaments do not meet, there are also continuing meetings on the side. And there will be progress, I'm sure, on a number of fronts.
I'm just -- I'm not in a position at this point to try to gainsay what the Iraqis are doing. We are working with them and trying to help them succeed. They have a vested interest also in doing this and doing it right, and what they've done is they've set a higher bar for their legislative accomplishments than we do because they're trying to operate on a basis not of simple majority, but consensus. It's probably a wise thing to do at the outset of a country that has been driven by strife for so many years. It is a tough business.
But I would suggest not merely looking at the legislative accomplishments, but also, again, taking a look overall at what's going on in terms of creating a sense of national unity, dealing with problems of sectarian strife -- that certainly were rife last year, but are far less prevalent today, at least according to the trajectory mentioned in the report -- and, therefore, take a comprehensive and factual look at all the aspects of what's going on in Iraq.
Okay, Helen and then --
Q: Do we have one-man rule in this country?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: The President --
MR. SNOW: But thank you for asking.
Q: No, no, I'm going on.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I'm sure you are.
Q: The President has indicated that public opinion through the polls -- (inaudible) the polls means nothing. He's going to ignore totally whatever Congress lays down in terms of deadlines, time lines and so forth. What is this?
MR. SNOW: It's the way our democracy works. The fact is, Presidents -- you know, it's interesting, Presidents sometimes will make unpopular decisions because they think that their obligations, in terms of saving lives and providing security to the American people, are paramount. And that's what this President believes.
Q: So do members of Congress and so do the American people.
MR. SNOW: Well, but they're -- you know, the President is the one person who is vested with the constitutional obligation to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
Q: He also has to respond to people, doesn't he?
MR. SNOW: He does. As a matter of fact, I believe he responded to you first yesterday. The President --
Q: -- very, very, very pleased and very kind, but --
MR. SNOW: But the President -- no, the President understands, and I think what you're going to see is a vigorous debate.
I think also that what the President did yesterday was say to the American people, let us all take a careful look at what's going on in Iraq; and let's have a debate about the facts on the ground; and let's also have a debate about what is in our national interest in the long run. And all of those things are legitimate topics for political debate. A President, of course, listens but he also does what he thinks is right, based on his principles and his understanding. It may not be something that people agree with, but it is what he thinks is right.
And, furthermore, this is a President who I think has demonstrated that he is going to do whatever it takes, in his judgment, to keep this country safe and to keep it -- and also to create the tools necessary for fighting a war on terror that began before he entered office and will continue long after he leaves office. It is an ideological battle that is waged in constantly changing ways around the globe and it is going to be a chief concern of anybody -- Democrat, Republican or otherwise -- who is going to occupy the Oval Office for years to come.
Q: It's also the concern of the American people and Congress.
MR. SNOW: And also --
Q: And he should be listening to it.
MR. SNOW: They are.
Sheryl and then --
Q: First, two questions -- to borrow a phrase from Lester. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: That's a new role model. (Applause.)
Q: First, following on the point Martha raised, the President presented a report yesterday that found little political progress in Iraq. Now you are telling us that the Iraqi government is going to take the month of August off. Does the President expect that the government there can make substantial progress toward political reconciliation if they are taking the month of August off? And is he concerned about that?
MR. SNOW: The President has always been concerned about political reconciliation. The President, Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, all of us have made it clear that political reconciliation is a key consideration.
We've also pointed out, Sheryl, that you can't have -- realistically, you can't have that until you create a certain amount of safety. And what has happened in the early stages of the surge is there have been some significant developments in accomplishments on the security front that are going to make it possible. You have to develop conditions under which Shia and Sunni trust one another; Shia, Sunni and Kurd trust one another. And the way you build that basis of trust, first, is creating a certain amount of security so they can go about their daily business.
That, in fact -- we've always said the security part comes first. Now, as we have also said, politics needs to follow. We couldn't agree more. And I am not going to try to pass on advice in advance that the President may be offering to the Prime Minister or others. We continue to have conversations, and we will.
Q: Is he offering that advice? Has he suggested to them, okay, now we've laid the groundwork for your reconciliation and you guys are taking a month off?
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not going to pass on the confidential advice the President gives the Prime Minister.
Q: Okay. Secondly, has the President heard from General Franks after yesterday's press conference?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Does he have any regrets, perhaps, about mentioning General Franks in the context that he did?
MR. SNOW: No, because what the President said is, at the beginning of the war he asked for the best advice of his commanders and he said, what do you think you need? And he continued to ask -- he said it many times; this is not -- you can go back and Google it, but it's, in fact, been a common statement the President has made repeatedly about his earlier consultations. And he constantly said, do you have what you need, is there anything else you need -- is what he says of his commanders at all times.
Q: Was he trying to lay blame on General Franks?
MR. SNOW: No, he was talking -- no. He thinks General Franks did a superb job. The fact is when you come in to a time of war and you encounter things that you did not expect, you need to react to them. Every war features this. And to go back and second-guess the best advice the President got, after consultation with generals and everybody else, is something that maybe historians may want to do later, as the President said. But you make your best judgment at the time based on what you know.
Q: Virginia Senator John Warner made it clear that the progress report issued yesterday was unacceptable to him. The progress made by the Iraqis was unacceptable, he said, to warrant the sacrifice that Americans have been making. Was it acceptable to the President?
MR. SNOW: What the President got was a snapshot -- not a "snapshot," he got an interim report of what was happening at the beginning of the surge. Is it acceptable? No. What's acceptable to the President is having an Iraq that can sustain itself. But we're not there yet. What's acceptable to the President in the long run is a situation where our forces come home in victory and receive the praise that they have earned and deserve. That's what's acceptable.
What's not acceptable is the fact that we are in a world where there are terrorists who are determined to try to blow up democracy wherever it tries to lay in roots, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia or elsewhere. The President does not find acceptable the fact that foreign fighters are flooding -- not "flooding," but they're coming across the Syrian border. And the majority of the major bombings that are taking place in Iraq are as a result of foreigners who have made their way in Iraq through Syria.
The President does not think it is acceptable that weapons have made their way from Iran into Iraq, and that they have been used to kill Iraqis and Americans. The President does not think it is acceptable that al Qaeda has become an invading force that once promised justice to the Muslim and Arab people, and now gives them only humiliation, degradation and death. The President doesn't find that acceptable, either.
So in a world that is filled with unacceptable conditions, what you have to do is to figure out ways to try to change the outcome. What have we done? We have completely retooled our strategy for dealing with the situation and building counterinsurgency efforts within Iraq. We have twinned them with efforts to deal with the practical realities, how do you build a stable society. You create a political system that honors the rights of all, so that everybody can be invested in it. You work on having an economic system that not only is free and offers opportunities for all, but is integrated into a larger regional network. And you invite the neighbors in the region to become part of the Iraq Compact.
In other words, you take a comprehensive look at a situation that you don't find satisfactory and you create conditions where you hope it will be satisfactory. Let me note a couple of developments that have taken place in recent months.
Number one, the Iraqis have, in fact, been committing themselves not only much more in battle, but much more on the front lines of battle. They are now taking three times the casualties and deaths of American forces. They are committing significant resources, in terms of finances -- $7.3 billion to retooling. And we have also -- retooling, equipping, training, recruiting and so on -- and we are also working up procurement efforts that will get weapons to them as rapidly as possible so that they can have the equipment they need.
There are a lot of things going on where the Iraqis also have been stepping up, putting their lives on the line -- as Americans would expect -- for a democracy that we think is essential not only for the security of the Iraqi people, but in the long run for the security of the American people.
Q: But what is not happening is political progress. What is not happening is rules for provincial elections. What is not happening is a hydrocarbon law. What is not happening are things that you have been talking about being necessary for a year now.
MR. SNOW: And, furthermore, what is happening is that they are working on all those issues. What has not happened in this Congress is passage of a single appropriations bill. The fact is that legislation sometimes requires a lot of hard work. What is happening is that they're working on all those issues, Wendell.
Q: Let me ask another question about that. With the September report, in order to get passing grades, if you will, do the Iraqis have to show results or just show continued working on the issues?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to -- I'm not the person writing the report. I think what you're going to have to -- as you can tell, people have been pretty honest about the situation here and I expect them to write an honest report in September about whether they consider the progress satisfactory or not.
Q: Tony, actually the report says that, doesn't it, that what you'll look for in September is more progress in the satisfactory categories, and some progress or movement in the unsatisfactory categories?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're going to hope for continued progress in all categories.
Q: How pivotal in a general sense is the September report? And is the President truly open to changing course if the progress isn't satisfactory or fast enough?
MR. SNOW: Let me remind you what the President did last year. We took a look at what had been tried, after the explosion of sectarian violence, and we said, it's not working, we need a new way to do this. And I will once again remind you, even though the first deployments began in February, the final deployments didn't complete until several weeks ago. And Congress didn't even approve funding through the fiscal year until two months ago, and didn't pass the law that required this to be written until two months ago. So a lot of things --
Q: But if --
MR. SNOW: No, let me just finish and then you can follow. A lot of stuff has happened in two months, and a lot of stuff that is encouraging has happened in the last two months. We will see what happens in the next two months.
What the President -- what is required of Ambassador Crocker and also General Petraeus is a very thorough look at what's working and what's not working, and recommendations if they think things are not working. The President has always made it clear, you look at conditions on the ground, you adapt, you adjust. And if they see it necessary to make changes, absolutely.
Q: But the President has described the surge as a change in strategy. But a lot of his critics will say that it was just digging himself deeper into the plan that he was already pursuing.
MR. SNOW: It's a completely different way of doing this. I'm sorry, but the counter -- the way we're --
Q: But is he open to a (inaudible) --
MR. SNOW: I just told you --
Q: -- that might not involve -- that might involve scaling back?
MR. SNOW: Again, let's wait and see what we hear in two months, because I'm not going to create a narrative, the President might consider X. What the President is going to consider is, how do we pursue victory? How do we become more effective? That's what the President wants to hear. And he will follow recommendations that he thinks will achieve those aims.
Q: Tony, yesterday the President said at the very end of the press conference -- he was talking about how al Qaeda has been (inaudible) since 9/11. If that's the case, why not go lop the head of the al Qaeda monster off? If that were the case, the war would pretty much be over, if he were to be able to get Osama bin Laden; am I correct?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's -- I'm glad you asked about al Qaeda, because there are several angles to look at this, and if you'll indulge me, I want to walk through a few pieces and you can ask follow-up questions. Number one, the al Qaeda that exists today is not the al Qaeda that existed September 11, 2001. That is an al Qaeda that was a more traditional, top-down organization where you had bin Laden and a series of lieutenants and he issued orders and they carried them out.
That organization was smashed. Three-quarters of its leadership -- or, I guess, two-thirds of its leadership has either been killed or captured. Instead what has happened is that al Qaeda has become a different kind of organization and one that is, in some ways -- how shall I say -- it's sort of post-industrial, if you're taking a look at management models. For instance, what happens now is that you have a decentralized al Qaeda, where you have franchise operations around the globe that communicate using the Internet, using video, using very sophisticated techniques. They share finances; they share tactics; they share recruiting strategies; and they share communications.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, you might remember, sent a note to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- for those who want to know whether there was a link between al Qaeda in Mesopotamia or al Qaeda in Iraq -- he sent a letter in July of 2005. It included one thing that would be construed as an order, which is, please stop beheading people; it's very bad PR -- or, as he wrote: "Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable also are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. You shouldn't be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men in their description of you as the 'sheikh of the slaughterers'" -- et cetera. It's a recommendation to change his behavior.
Meanwhile, on the operational front, the very same letter included the following: "Our situation since Abu al-Faraj is good by the grace of God, but many of the lines have been cut off. Because of this we need a payment while new lines are being opened. So if you're capable of sending a payment of approximately 100,000, we'll be very grateful to you."
In a new era of al Qaeda you still have Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two to bin Laden, communicating using audio and video, and so on, to people around the world. This from last week: "So, oh, youth of Islam, don't listen to them, and I convey to you the mujahideen's commander's mobilization of you, so hurry to Afghanistan, hurry to Iraq, hurry to Somalia, hurry to Palestine, and hurry to the towering Atlas Mountains."
Now, your question is, whether by going into -- one presumes that Osama bin Laden is in the tribal areas -- that simply by killing bin Laden that you will have the problem headed off. No, al Qaeda is a different kind of operation because you now do have franchises. And you saw the case at which, at one point, Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself, was asking for cash from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
However, certainly it would be -- we devoutly wish for the day in which Osama bin Laden is brought to justice. But I don't think that, in and of itself, takes care of the problem.
Q: So are you trying to tell me -- well, are you saying he's really not a player anymore? Is that what you're -- I'm trying to understand --
MR. SNOW: You know, I don't know. That's an intelligent judgment that -- we hear a lot more from Ayman al-Zawahiri than we do from bin Laden. But let me add one other sort of codicil here, and I'll let you follow up. What has also happened since September 11th -- one of the reasons why you have these guys hiding is that we, in fact, have at our disposal not only the cooperation of allies, whether they be the Pakistanis, the Europeans, or others, but we have also taken steps to improve our intelligence-gathering capabilities. As the President noted yesterday, al Qaeda is a lot weaker now than it would have been had it not been for aggressive intelligence and special operations activities that have taken place over the last six years.
Q: Tony, all right, yesterday the President said that Iraq al Qaeda has pledged allegiance to bin Laden, meaning that he's the titular head of al Qaeda. Now, if I'm correct, if memory serves me correct and all the news reports, that Osama bin Laden is the one who went to war with the United States on 9/11, why are we taking such a backpedaling approach as it relates to --
MR. SNOW: No, we're not backpedaling. We're not backpedaling. Again, look, we'd be delighted -- and if anybody has a suggestion of a quick and easy way to get bin Laden, the phone lines are open.
Q: Does this administration really want to find him, bring him to justice -- or kill him?
MR. SNOW: Of course -- we want to bring him to justice. I mean, bin Laden has said he would not be taken alive. I don't know. The fact is, yes, we would love to have him, absolutely.
Q: You've repeatedly linked al Qaeda as the main enemy in Iraq. But this report that you put out says that it doesn't account for most of the violence. How do you square that with --
MR. SNOW: No, what we said -- what you have is a whole series of different contributors to violence, but al Qaeda remains the number one enemy in the sense that it has, in fact, been effective in stimulating and spawning the violence.
For instance, you go back and you take a look at the Samarra mosque bombing. What al Qaeda does is it tries to light the fuse and to set off sectarian violence and tension, and it has been effective at doing that. Furthermore, it does so largely with the use of -- I will use the term, invading foreign fighters, people who have come across the borders who are not, themselves, Iraqis. In fact, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq right now remains an Egyptian, al-Masri. But the fact is that they're the ones who continue to try to use their efforts and have been effective in going in and inciting the kinds of violence that have led to the deaths of many innocents in Iraq.
Q: Tony, can I go back to what Caren was asking? I'm not sure you got the first half of her question. How pivotal is September, especially given the weight that the President put on it yesterday? But in the past, you've dismissed it as, like, another snapshot and we're not sure if it's going to be --
MR. SNOW: I'm not dismissing it. No, it's an important report. Look, the American people -- as the President said yesterday, the American people want to sense that what we're doing is pursuing victory, pursuing success in Iraq, and they want granularity on it, they want facts and they want people to do a measured, thoughtful, accurate report about what's going on. So that certainly is going to be something that's important.
In terms of me getting into chin-pulling exercise or trying to say how important it's going to be, I don't know. What I do know is that this is a debate that is absolutely at the center of American politics and it's also at the center of our national security, not only now, but for years to come. And therefore, it's important that the American people get a full, factual report about what's going on, and that's what we expect them to receive.
Q: Let me follow that on (inaudible) then, you see what's going on in the Hill, not just in the House side but the Senate side. Are you satisfied that you'll be able to hold off the withdrawal mandate legislation at least until then?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look at what happened in the House, there were 10 Democrats who jumped from -- against -- from for to against. They're certainly nowhere near veto strength in the House of Representatives of -- yes, I mean, I think members of Congress -- a lot of this is trying to prepare the ground for an election; keep throwing up resolutions and saying, you know, so-and-so voted against bringing our troops home. It's political play.
I mean, here you have a Congress that can't pass a single appropriations bill, but there are a lot of resolutions that are going to go nowhere. There are a lot of new post offices. And there are a lot of investigations of members of this administration, all of which have been fruitless. So the question is whether this Congress is actually going to investigate or legislate. Right now it looks like it's going to spend more time doing political posturing.
Q: Well, I mean, on Iraq, you're satisfied that you can hold off all this, that --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Tony, the President says he's open to new options. If General Petraeus should come back in September and say, sir, I need more troops, is the President open to that?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to play the "if" game.
Q: Well, this isn't -- I mean --
MR. SNOW: It's a very interesting question. I'm just not going to answer it.
Q: It's a legitimate question.
Q: You were just talking about the vote counts in the House, but isn't that math going to become more difficult for you when you get to the appropriations and -- you know, the defense appropriations and the kind of bills you're going to --
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see what happens. Again, look, if there is a defense appropriations bill that doesn't provide what we need, the President is going to veto it.
Q: Tony, the report had a pretty bleak outlook on disarming militias in Iraq, and I'd like to know whether you think disarming militias is a security or a political goal, and where --
MR. SNOW: Well, actually it --
Q: -- and where it fits on the time line that you've laid out, where you say that security comes first and then political --
MR. SNOW: Well, look, there are a couple of things. If you take a look at the sections, for instance, on amnesty and also on disarming militias, it says that the timing is not quite right for it. As a matter of fact, it says amnesty right now with -- even though it's a benchmark, it would be positively dangerous for Iraq, and that the U.N. and others agree.
What it says is that the conditions right now for disarming are not present, it doesn't mean that people are still not working on them. As a matter of fact, you have seen some instances recently where, in fact, that Jaish al-Mahdi has been forced to sign "truces" with local organizations. And it does appear this is part of the bottom-up process, too. It is not always a matter of -- you know, very interesting things are going on, and so what you do have are reactions by the Iraqi people themselves saying, we're tired of bloodshed, we're tired of militias, we're tired of insurgency, we're tired of al Qaeda; we want the ability to live normal lives.
Not happening everywhere. I mean, look, there is certainly lots of violence and there are lots of challenges ahead. But all I would do is dispute the characterization a little bit. What it says is the conditions are not present for it. Obviously, you want to work until you get those conditions.
Q: Okay, well that will teach me to have a premise before the question.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: But, seriously, though, this is a little bit chin pulling, but I'm interested to know whether you could say that it's a security or a political goal, and where it fits on the --
MR. SNOW: I think it's both. I mean, it's both a security and a political goal, because when you're dealing with militias or insurgencies, you're still talking about something that is necessary for a long-term political success, which is the right of people in neighborhoods throughout Baghdad and districts throughout the country to think that the mere fact of their religious beliefs or their regional provenance is not going to be a cause for somebody to kill them.
Q: Is the existence of militias, in effect, a vote of no confidence in the central government's ability to provide justice and security without regard to sectarian authority?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what happened is that there was a vacuum, especially in some neighborhoods in Baghdad, where early on there wasn't government control and, therefore, militias came in and they said, we're going to protect you. It is part -- one of the reasons why you have these joint security operations now in Baghdad and elsewhere is to make it clear to people that you don't have to rely on militias, that the Iraqi security force, that the allied forces, the local police are going to be in a position to create the kind of security -- and furthermore, the government is going to have to step up, in terms of the provision of basics, and that's also an important point.
So I think the answer to your question, Olivier, is it's both.
Q: Tony, a big-picture question -- because I suppose after the report yesterday, people across the country are wondering, is the President going to change his mind? I think it's sort of the big-picture question. I get the sense from listening that the President sees this sort of as horse race, and that you're at the third furlong of maybe a 16-furlong race, and that it makes -- everybody makes a mistake to get too focused on something very early in the process, which gives him sort of the sense of relax, hang on, we're going to do what we have to do, but it's a long race.
MR. SNOW: Well, the war on terror is not going to end in September, and the terrorist threat is not going to end in September. But I would avoid -- because, look, for me to buy into that analogy, I'll just get absolutely slaughtered. It will just sound like it's glib and dismissive of the sacrifice of our forces.
Q: Well, let me --
MR. SNOW: But let me -- let me try to shape it a little bit, and then you can come back.
This is an attempt to ask what's going on. Now, Congress has laid out a series of benchmarks, and there are certain ways in which you evaluate those. And this report evaluates those, but it also talks about other developments in the country. What happens is that we have a debate in this country where there probably aren't a lot of people who realize that Iraqis are now taking three times as many fatalities, and who don't realize that, in fact, the security operations have completely changed the situation in Anbar, which, just last November, a military official, in a piece that was widely reported, said that Anbar was beyond reclamation; now, in fact, it is one of the great success stories in Iraq.
But there are a number of things where the security forces have, in fact, begun to provide not only the kind of space, but people are responding. For instance, we heard today in Anbar that the chief interest now for people is to start working on provision of government services -- sort of, give me my water, give me my electricity, give me my representative government, which is exactly where you want the Iraqi people to go.
So what the President wanted was an honest look at what's going on so that you can assess the success or failure of things that you are doing and that the Iraqi government is doing and you can adjust accordingly.
The President will continue to be briefed regularly on developments from the generals and ambassadors, and he'll have conversations on a regular basis with the Iraqi government.
Don't think also that somehow we kick back and we don't think about this each and every day between now and September 15th; of course we do.
Q: My point is -- my question is that if the President sees this as a point in time early in a long process, what that allows him to do is say -- it gives him the faith or the foundation to not change his mind because you have to stay in it for a long time to win it.
MR. SNOW: I just -- I don't understand "change his" -- I think what you're saying is --
Q: Change his mind, it's exactly --
MR. SNOW: Does "change his mind" mean leave?
Q: Change his mind -- yes.
MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, the President believes that leaving, in the absence of conditions that will allow the Iraqis to support themselves, would result in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and the kind of security challenge that would make your head spin, because what would happen is that you would have a terror base in Iraq; you would have instant -- you would have a strengthened Iran; you would have a rejuvenated al Qaeda that gets a "see, told you so," would have increased ability to recruit throughout the globe.
Furthermore, our allies in the region -- I've gone through this before, but it's worth doing -- our allies in the region are going to say, well, wait a minute, we're not going to rely on the Americans. We'll cut side deals with al Qaeda or Iran. You'll have increasing instability in Afghanistan that will bleed over into Pakistan, that will have ramifications in India.
On the other side, you take a look at what happens, and you have instability throughout the Saudi peninsula, it moves across the Middle East into North Africa. It's certainly going to have impacts on Europe.
So the President understands that actions have consequences, and far-reaching consequences. And what's interesting about this one, Jim, is there is not wide disagreement on whether that would be the impact of leaving prematurely. If you look at the National Intelligence Estimate, and you look at the Baker-Hamilton report, they both say the same thing.
Q: None of what you've just said would lead anybody to think there's even a glimmer that anything could happen in September that would force him to a major change in course.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the President is somebody who's going to take a look at what the facts are, Jim.
Q: Nothing is going to happen in eight weeks, right?
MR. SNOW: A lot has happened in the last eight weeks. Let's see what happens in the next eight weeks.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:19 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/276109