Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:21 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right. First, one announcement, a war on terror-related announcement, before we get to questions.
Today the President signed and executive order to block the property of persons who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq, either through financial, material, logistical or technical support that undermine economic reconstruction, political reform, or humanitarian assistance. The executive order targets terrorists and insurgent groups, including those assisted by Syria and Iran, that are not covered by existing authorities. In other words, what we have is something that fills a gap left in other executive orders to make sure that we have the means to go financially after anybody who is trying to go after the efforts to secure freedom and democracy in Iraq.
Q: Specifically who, Tony? Who is this aimed at?
MR. SNOW: Well, what this is really aimed at is insurgents and those who come across the border. There are a couple of prior executive orders. One deals with financial flows to former members of the Saddam regime, another to members of al Qaeda in Iraq. But there are other players in this game. So anybody who is caught providing support or poses a significant risk of providing support to those who may come across the borders, who may be -- who may not fit neatly into those other two categories, this provides ways of going after those who provide financial, logistical or other support for them.
Q: The Senate is going to hold an all-night session tonight to talk about the President's military strategy in Iraq. Do you think that that's a healthy debate tonight?
MR. SNOW: It may be a healthy debate. It's also likely to be theatrical. What's interesting is that the Senate is going to hold this debate, but it's not going to vote on defense authorization to support the troops.
Q: Well, don't you think that it's an opportunity for both sides to defend their positions and --
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think it is. Look, it's always good to have --
Q: What's wrong with that?
MR. SNOW: It's always good to have a healthy debate. On the other hand, it is a debate in pursuit of what? We want to see Congress go ahead also and do its basic business, which is to fund the government and not try to suspend consideration of things like defense authorization and appropriations, because those are also vital for moving forward.
Q: Tony, when the report -- the NIE says that al Qaeda is likely to try to leverage the gains it's made in Iraq to mount an attack on U.S. soil, doesn't that undermine the President's case that by fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we're preventing them from coming to U.S. soil and attacking here?
MR. SNOW: No, and you asked the same question to Fran, and she reread to you the language of the NIE, which is probably worth doing, because what it really talks about is the fact that it will -- let me just find the particular item there -- what's happening is al Qaeda basically is looking for ways to generate bragging rights that are going to be useful in recruiting or plotting or trying to leverage contacts. Here's what it says: "Of those concerns, we assess that al Qaeda will try to exploit the conflict in Iraq, to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al Qaeda in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate, and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack us here." It does not say that it has a stronger hand. What it says is that it is going to try to exploit, for political and also for recruiting purposes, anything it possibly can out of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
Q: Right. The President was warned of that, though, by the CIA before the war in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, the President had a lot of inputs before the war. The fact is, right after the war, as you recall, there was heavy military action -- what did al Qaeda lose? It lost its home base in Afghanistan. It lost a lot of its senior leadership -- two-thirds of the senior leadership at that time. It lost its ability to operate openly and freely. Certainly Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are no longer circulating publicly. It lost a lot of its ability also financially.
What I talked about in the executive order today is a reflection of the fact that we are putting the squeeze on terror organizations around the world. It lost its ability to move around because intelligence organizations all around the world are keeping an eye on movements of those who may be affiliated with al Qaeda, and certainly remain on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and others.
So the fact that you have al Qaeda in Iraq trying to make Iraq the central front in the war on terror probably is not a surprise. They have got to make a stand some place. But it does not mean that al Qaeda today is stronger or more capable than it was before -- and in point of fact, it's not stronger or more capable than it was a month ago. If you take a look at what's been going on in Iraq in the last month -- and this is a point that is very important to stress -- since the way forward, we have seen a real change on the ground -- Pete Pace described it yesterday, I think, as a sea change in Iraq -- where areas that once had been controlled by al Qaeda are now completely cleared of al Qaeda, and populations once that had lived under the thumb of al Qaeda have turned against them, with the help of tribal leaders. Insurgent groups that had fought against us in the past in places like Diyala have turned around and they are now joining us in the fight against al Qaeda.
So there is a -- when you're fighting an enemy like al Qaeda they will constantly shift their location, their methods, their personnel, and we'll continue to chase them down.
Q: Do you think the President -- since you just mentioned Osama bin Laden -- do you think the President regrets saying in March 2002 that, "I just don't spend that much time on him ... he's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met its match" -- suggesting to the American people that bin Laden wasn't really that big of a threat, that he had met his match already back in 2002?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think what the President is -- what we're saying now is al Qaeda is a threat and bin Laden is a target. But, no, I don't think the President -- the President was also sending a message to the rest of the world that bin Laden who before had been boasting openly about the United States -- in fact, he'd been driven into hiding from which he has yet to emerge.
Q: But he hasn't been killed or captured, either.
MR. SNOW: If we get actionable intelligence, as Fran told you, we're going to act on it.
Q: We had it in 2005, though.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not sure -- you know, I'm not going to try to get into classified information or reports. But the fact is, Ed, that, again, if we find actionable intelligence, we're going to go after it.
Q: The President often -- back on the Senate debate tonight, the President often says the Senate should just let things come to a vote. He often says that about judgeships. Why not just let those democratic resolutions or legislation on Iraq come to a vote?
MR. SNOW: Well, a number of them have. And we've made it clear -- but the fact is within the Senate, the Senate has its own rules and procedures and quite often senators, themselves, decide not to have votes on things because they use the filibuster or whatever power. The President is not going to be instructing Republicans on how to proceed.
Q: Why the theatrics tonight?
MR. SNOW: Because, for one thing, the idea of sort of going through the gesture of having a late night, all-night meeting is highly unusual, as you know, Ann, and you think, well, okay, this might be kind of interesting. So let's all take it for the spectator event it is.
Q: Tony, is it because the U.S. military is stretched and taxed and every other way you want to describe it, in Iraq, is that a reason why when the report says that there is a safe haven in the Pakistan federally administered tribal area that includes the lieutenants and top leadership of al Qaeda, is that why the U.S. isn't going in there, or is it out of deference to Musharraf?
MR. SNOW: No, again, if you talk -- when you talk about the U.S. going in there, you don't blithely go into another nation and conduct operations. We --
Q: Well, the President went into a sovereign nation in 2003.
MR. SNOW: Well, he went into a sovereign nation that was, in fact -- he also had with him the support of 17 U.N. resolutions, including Resolution 1441.
Q: But he could seek similar world support for such an action --
MR. SNOW: Well, again -- but on the other hand, we are working with a sovereign nation which is an ally with us, in this particular case. And when it comes to Pakistan, the United States has, in fact, been continuously working with President Musharraf and we're going to do what we can to try to strengthen his hand in whatever he needs. We have spent -- we have devoted considerable resources to helping him beef up capabilities and presence within the federally administered tribal areas, which are very tough.
Q: With all the complications and diplomacy and everything else involved in this, but just for the American citizen watching this, if we can identify that the safe haven is there, that lieutenants and top leadership are there --
MR. SNOW: Well, it's not as if they've hung out a shingle and there's a great big compound. These are people who, in fact, do their very best to remain concealed.
MR. SNOW: No, this is -- again, the geography of Waziristan and the federally administered tribal areas are something unique. And so certainly there continue to be teams that are looking for them, and the Pakistanis are looking hard for them. But this is not a simple exercise. This is not something where you look down and you see a big, large cleared area. It's not like the camps that bin Laden had in Afghanistan, which, in fact, could be clearly seen. It is also an area in which as you know by custom, if you are brought in as somebody's guest, the locals will do everything they can to hide and support you. And they quite often are very aggressive in fighting against those who come in looking for them.
So it's a very complicated business, but that doesn't mean it's not important and it means that the United States and the Pakistanis are committed to going in there and dealing with it.
Q: Tony, does the intelligence community take a look at all the various al Qaeda offshoots and develop any sort of ranking as to where the most potential threat comes from?
MR. SNOW: I don't think you do a ranking, because it's sometimes hard to disaggregate what's going on. I mean, again, the way al Qaeda operates, Jim, is that not a lot of the communications -- I've just mentioned that bin Laden and Zawahiri and others have been driven into hiding, so how do they communicate? Well, they either tend to communicate indirectly or use the Internet or use different means to try to reach out to people and try to create offshoots and supporters around the world.
I mean, anybody who is trying to spend their time and their resources or to get aid and support to try to kill Americans or come to shores and kill us, all of those rank at the top. You have to try to do what you can to --
Q: So is al Qaeda in Iraq seen as more dangerous than, say, the al Qaeda groups in the tribal lands?
MR. SNOW: Again, what you have are some -- I think it's impossible to say that, and I'll tell you why. Again, a terror organization is based on the ability to dispatch small teams of low budgets to try to commit highly visible acts of violence that are designed either to shake, destabilize or create economic damage in countries around the world.
As the President has often said, they only need to succeed once; we need to succeed every time in trying to intercept what they do. Therefore, the idea that you sort of rank order -- I think what the National Intelligence Estimate says is that al Qaeda in Iraq is seen as the largest and most capable of the al Qaeda organizations around the world. But that doesn't mean that you can rank order them. You have to do your very best to keep eyes and ears on all of them.
Q: Tony, I have just two quick ones. Has President Bush spoken to President Putin on the expulsion of the Russians from England? Does he have --
MR. SNOW: No, he hasn't.
Q: Okay. And also on this Middle East conference, I'm not clear, where is it going to be held and --
MR. SNOW: We don't know yet. And it's really -- I would -- even though I know I used the term "conference" this morning, this is a meeting. It is a meeting that is designed -- it is -- I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not. This is a meeting to sit down and try to find ways of building fundamental and critical institutions for the Palestinians that are going to enable them to have self-government and democracy.
Q: And who is in charge? Former Prime Minister Blair or (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: No, Prime Minister Blair, obviously, as the Quartet representative. It's not anybody in charge. What it is, is a gathering of people who are interested. You're going to have parties in the region; you're also going to have Prime Minister Blair as the Quartet representative. They are going to be sharing ideas, trying to figure out how to move forward.
Q: Tony, does the best available current intelligence say that bin Laden, himself, is in the tribal areas of Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, and wouldn't say.
Q: What do you want the public to take away from a day that has seen the administration talk again about a heightened terror environment, while at the same time again saying there are no credible, specific threats?
MR. SNOW: I think what they ought to take away from it is that we have a vigorous and, so far, successful effort to go against al Qaeda. And, in fact, there ought to be reassurance and, at the same time, vigilance. What you talk about is a heightened threat environment because it is clear that terrorists, in many cases having suffered a series of setbacks, are looking for a victory, themselves. They've tried in England. There is no doubt that if al Qaeda could, it would try to mount an operation in the United States. It is also clear that al Qaeda is weaker than it was on September 11, 2001; as I said, it's weaker than it was a month ago.
But the fact is that al Qaeda members remain determined. They are not going to give up their hatred, they're not going to give up their ideology, they're not going to wane in their determination to go after us. And, again, I will remind you, sometimes a small cell, as we saw a relatively small cell on September 11th, can exact enormous damage. And, therefore, you need to make sure that you continue to be vigilant, and at the same time deploy the kinds of tools necessary to ferret out those who intend to commit acts of violence.
And the fact is that we have means and methods at our disposal, as well as a large coalition of supporters and cooperative governments around the world that we did not have six years ago. We have more intelligence than we've ever had, we have more help than we've ever had, we have more support than we've ever had. And we have also the determination.
But the one thing that it warns against, the NIE, is basically a sense of complacency. That's the one thing that down the road can cause damage if people, in fact, let their vigilance wane. And it's important, I think, to note that.
I think, as I also indicated in describing what the President has done with the executive order today, is you look at everything in your disposal, including using economic means, which have been highly effective in other venues, to try to make sure that you make life as difficult as possible, you go back to the national counterterrorism strategy that we released last year, and it talked about a whole series of efforts. It means going after them in terms of their propaganda, it means going after them in terms of recruiting, finances, on the battlefield. So you look at a whole broad range of ways of going after them, and we continue to try to (inaudible).
Q: When you say you're worried about complacency, don't you also have to be concerned that this fosters complacency and confusion when you say, hey, we're worried that the threat environment is higher, but --
MR. SNOW: We didn't say we're worried. What we're saying is that there is a calculation that the threat environment is higher.
Q: Okay, the threat environment is higher, but we don't have anything specific or credible at the moment.
MR. SNOW: Yes, but you also keep in mind, if you take a look, the National Intelligence Estimate, again, is not a tactical document. It tries to give you a sense, looking broadly forward, at trends that are going on within terror -- within, in this case, terror organizations that mean to commit acts of violence in our homeland.
It is not the sort of thing that is going to tell you, we've got concern about this cell or this cell or this cell. That is part of the ongoing communication on a daily basis, as Fran pointed out, the National Counterterrorism Center has meetings three times a day. And there are a whole series of regular meetings and conversations between senior intelligence and security analysts and organizations throughout this government to keep people abreast and apprised at all times of the latest intelligence on any movements or concerns.
Q: Tony, doesn't all this discussion of the threat posed by al Qaeda on multiple fronts, on which you, yourself, say the government is going after them, suggest that the group should have been crushed entirely before the U.S. took up something like going into Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: Why not?
MR. SNOW: The fact is that this is a group that was --
Q: Why give them the battlefield?
MR. SNOW: Excuse me -- they were already spread out over 60 countries, Wendell, before the war began. Al Qaeda started war against the United States in 1993 with the bombing of the World Trade Center, that continued with actions at Khobar Towers, the bombing of the USS Cole, the bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al Qaeda was already in the battlefield before that war began. Furthermore, al Qaeda had dispersed itself around the globe.
So, in point of fact, what you are asking is a question, why didn't we crush al Qaeda globally before we went into Iraq?
Q: Precisely, yes, that's what I'm asking.
MR. SNOW: The answer is that, as part of a larger war on terror, you're assuming that al Qaeda is a small, contained entity that can be beaten by conventional war methods. And the fact is, when you take a look at asymmetrical warfare, it is something where you constantly have to go after a shifting enemy.
The real question you need -- that this policy answers is, when you have an enemy like this, unlike any that we've ever seen, how do you fight them most effectively? And we are trying to do that by enlisting the help of allies around the globe -- it not simply the United States alone that can do it -- we have enlisted an unprecedented group of nations, in terms of sharing intelligence and doing action against the terror network; we have mobilized people throughout the world, and we've created capabilities that did not previously exist.
So I think you're creating a straw man here. The fact is, al Qaeda, again, was already around the globe. The President -- go back to September 20, 2001, when the President talked about a global terror network spread over 60 nations. He noted that this was going to be a long fight, and it is one that continues to try to reconstitute itself by sowing hatred and communicating in novel and interesting methods.
Q: Are you telling me it was impossible to smash them globally before we went into Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Tony, one more in a series of what you want the American people to take away from the NIE today. If al Qaeda is sort of the biggest threat facing the American people, then to those who say, so what are we doing policing a civil war in Iraq, the answer is what?
MR. SNOW: Well, the answer is, again, what you -- if you take a look at what's going on in Iraq, you've seen sectarian violence down considerably -- really over the last six months. You've seen acts of -- so the civil war construct is a little less strong than it used to be.
Furthermore, what you see in Iraq is precisely the sort of thing that ought to give confidence in efforts in there. Let me make the point again, Jim, that you have seen a province -- Anbar -- which last November was written off as gone. As a matter of fact, you will recall that this was an issue in the Virginia senatorial election, where George Allen was being hammered because he was talking about Anbar and it was lost. How dare you talk about that? In point of fact, Anbar has completely flipped, in a period of months, because what has happened is the determined application of force, the knowledge on the part of the locals that they can rely on that force and support, and the turning of a local population against al Qaeda.
Q: Is Anbar a model for Baghdad?
MR. SNOW: Anbar -- what you're going to have is Anbar is a -- Anbar, I think, ultimately is a model for what you want to see throughout Iraq. But you also have specific problems in different parts of Baghdad. But, yes, in parts of Baghdad you want to see it. And ultimately what you do want to see is that the Iraqi people make the determination not only against al Qaeda, but also insurgents and others who want to destabilize the government the fact they're not going to support them anymore.
Q: But the relationship between being involved in the midst of this sectarian strife, and pursuing the number one threat to the American people is what?
MR. SNOW: Say what?
Q: If you are saying that al Qaeda is the number one threat to the American people, then what are we doing policing a civil war in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: You've just asked me an argumentative question rather than a factual question. I've just told you --
Q: I'm asking the folks who say -- that's what I asked you at the outset, to people who say --
MR. SNOW: And I explained to you why the civil war construct is a lot less persuasive than it used to be.
Q: So people who are concerned about being involved in the middle of sectarian strife shouldn't be concerned?
MR. SNOW: Of course they -- of course they should. But you're dancing from lily pad to lily pad, so let me try to hit each lily pad, give you an answer for each.
Number one, on the issue of sectarian strife, there have been determined efforts on the part of the Iraqi government and the U.S. and other interested parties to try to tamp down on the sources of violence. That's a lot of what's going on, in terms of political reconciliation and accommodation in Iraq today. You have seen significant reductions in sectarian violence, and significantly, after the most recent Samarra mosque bombing, you did not see the kind of eruption of violence that occurred after the bombing in February 2006. Furthermore, what you have seen is a significant turn in the attitudes of Iraqi citizens, themselves, against al Qaeda.
So, first, sectarian violence I'm taking off that lily pad. Now let's go to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been trying to foment sectarian violence. It succeeded in so doing in February 2006. It sees that as the chief method of destabilizing Iraq and creating an opportunity for al Qaeda to gain a foothold, if not a base of operations in Iraq.
What has happened as a result of U.S. policy, and also Iraqis stepping into the lead, is a significant reversal for al Qaeda -- a very significant reversal in areas -- they once thought that Anbar was going to be the hold for al Qaeda -- no more. Similarly, you're seeing the moves in Diyala.
Now, how does this fit into the larger picture? Al Qaeda is trying to use anything it can accomplish in Iraq as a way of recruiting. The most important goal for al Qaeda is not necessarily on the battlefield, but it is strategic. If it believes that it can, through a series of operations or by its persistence, weaken American determination to finish the job, and the United States should leave before the job is done, you can be sure that al Qaeda once again will repeat the words of Osama bin Laden -- that America is the weak horse and that it cannot stay the fight and that al Qaeda, itself, will be triumphant. This is what I was talking about before. He gives it bragging rights at that juncture to recruit, to raise money, and to try to extend operations. So this is how the things are knitted together.
Q: Tony, just to follow-up on that, what would be the implications that you draw from this NIE for the strategy in Iraq? Does it support it? Does it undermine it? Does it -- what is the lesson that you draw?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to do that, because I think it's unfair to those who do intelligence estimates. What they try to do is to paint a picture. They are not trying to do a policy document that will point somebody in a direction. I think it would be twisting the purpose of any National Intelligence Estimate to say that this is an action document that tells us to do A, B, or C.
Q: But you were just saying to Jim that it showed the need to go after the terrorists --
MR. SNOW: What Jim was asking me was a question about methods of going after al Qaeda. He said -- I mean, he asked a series of complex questions that involved everything from sectarian violence in Iraq to the role of al Qaeda in Iraq. And I did answer that based on our overall strategy in the region. I just didn't try to apply it to the NIE.
MR. SNOW: Wait a second, Goyal.
Q: Getting back to the Middle East conference.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Who's going to attend the meeting? Who's going to attend the meeting? And, also, why is the President willing to take on a higher-profile role in Middle East peace-making now, when people have said he should have done it a lot sooner?
MR. SNOW: Well, I can't imagine anybody taking a higher profile than the President did five years ago, when he became the first person ever to talk about a two-state solution, or the fact that he has continued to have meetings here in Washington and elsewhere, with President Abbas, Prime Minister Olmert.
The idea that somehow we've been disengaged is simply false. What the United States has not done is wrap its arms around those who are committed to terror and, therefore, engage in fruitless negotiations that would have led nowhere. Bill Clinton, upon leaving office, famously expressed frustration that he had trusted Yasser Arafat and, therefore, had been deceived when it came to trying to pursue peace.
It is important to note that the President and this administration have also put together a series of conferences where people have met to talk about the topic. The President regularly converses with heads of state in the region about this. So I think what we're doing is we now see a moment of opportunity, as the President said yesterday. It's not only a moment of choice, but a moment of opportunity. We have a government with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad -- Prime Minister Fayyad now no longer temporary Prime Minister -- you have a government in which we have confidence in the leaders, and we also know that there's a willing partner for working with the Israelis. So it does seem that it's an opportune time to try to exploit that development and, at the same time, work with regional partners who have always said that this has to be a top priority, and to enlist their more vigorous involvement, as well.
As the President said yesterday, everybody has got responsibilities. The Israelis have responsibilities, the Palestinians have responsibilities, the Arab neighbors have responsibilities. And this is a time for all of them to step up.
Q: But in terms of him taking on a higher profile, this speech was the first speech that he's given in a while on this topic.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's also -- again, it came the day after you had the cementing of a government with the Palestinian Authority, where you had a President and a Prime Minister with whom the President thinks we have an opportunity to do business. And in fact, on the same day as the speech, Prime Minister Olmert did meet with President Abbas. So you do have -- you've got some people who are committed to peace now, working hard on it. And this is one of these times where you've got an opportunity, the President believes, to seize a certain amount of momentum where people are determined to try to go ahead and cut the knot and try to move forward.
But the first thing you've got to do is build the capability within the Palestinian areas, to have those institutions that are going to be able to -- not only to sustain democracy, but also to sustain peace and security within the area, and to be able to fulfill the Quartet conditions, which are renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and abiding by international treaties. I mean, all those things are still capabilities that they have to work on developing. So you do first things first.
Q: But was there no better moment of opportunity? I mean, a lot of people say that this is actually not the greatest opportunity because Abbas wasn't (inaudible) -- Palestinians.
MR. SNOW: It's not clear that he's weakened at all. And secondly, you look --
Q: Was there no better opportunity earlier? Why was there no better opportunity since (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: Look, it's an interesting thing, when a President goes up and he takes an historic step and he does something that is more forward-leaning than anybody else, and somebody says, couldn't he have done it earlier? That is major league backseat driving, at a point where the President has, in fact, been regularly engaged with the leaders. You make a proposal when you think you're -- when the conditions are appropriate. And we now see conditions that are appropriate, especially with developments within the Palestinian government to move forward. Those conditions were not present before.
Q: Is there any contradiction or is (inaudible) that Congress is talking about withdrawal of troops, the American people obviously are hoping for it, and you're talking about a surge, a new surge --
MR. SNOW: We're not talking about a new surge --
Q: -- General Pace says we may have to have a surge, and so forth. And you talk about commanders on the ground, they'll decide whether they have to have more troops. What is this?
MR. SNOW: It's a war, Helen. It's a war that's being fought based on what actually takes place on the ground.
Let's clarify what General -- what was said yesterday. General Pace said, if they need more troops, we'll talk about it; if they need fewer troops, we'll talk about it. He didn't rule out either of those. In point of fact, we have seen, with a surge that fully became operational less than a month ago, real success -- real success on the battlefield. It has made tangible improvements in the situation and offers some hope that they will create the space that makes political reconciliation possible.
What we think is important to do is to permit not only that process to move forward, but also economic development through our provisional reconstruction teams, and political accommodation with leading members of the Iraqi government. All of those things are essential.
The American people want to see that. What Americans want to see is victory. They want to see success in Iraq. And what's going to happen --
Q: And they also want to pull out.
MR. SNOW: You know, it's interesting, again, I think if they see that there are successes, that things are moving forward, that, in fact, that creates a certain atmosphere of confidence. And we're going to have to see --
Q: Have you been talking to the American people lately?
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes, I do.
Q: Really? You don't seem to reflect what they think.
MR. SNOW: No, actually, I think the American people, A, are not an unamalgamated lump, but instead they're 300 million people who love their freedom and love their opinions. Secondly --
Q: Nobody is denying that. That's not the criteria.
MR. SNOW: Permit me to finish this. The second thing is that a lot of them are understandably tired of war. We're all tired of war and we would all love to have our forces coming home. Furthermore --
Q: (Inaudible) tired of it, it's horrifying.
MR. SNOW: It is horrifying. But what is even more horrifying are the prospects of what will happen to America and what will happen within the Middle East and radiating outward if, in fact, we do not --
Q: Continue to kill people in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Well, you know, you want to kill the people who want to kill us. And there are --
Q: Oh, come on.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I'm sorry, you're absolutely right --
Q: Did the Iraqis attack us?
Q: Since you have talked about successes from the first surge, is it possible, then -- I just want to be clear about what General Pace is saying -- obviously, there are always options on the table and contingencies. But since you've seen -- you believe you've seen some success from the surge, (inaudible) from a security standpoint, is the President leaving the door open to a second surge and sending more troops in because maybe he'll get more success under his (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: No, I think what you do, rather than trying to -- is he leaving the door open? Let's see what the generals have to say. I mean --
Q: Well, he did say looking at possible planning for more troops.
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, but you would plan -- as you know, you do a lot of contingency planning in the Pentagon. But I'm not going to try to prejudge what conclusions they may reach come September.
Q: What significance should we read into the fact, though -- because now you're saying it's a meeting in the Mideast. Yesterday, when you first started teasing this out, you said it's significant, a conference; but now it's a meeting. What's -- why are we backpedaling here?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I think what happened is it was being spun up as a major peace conference where people are going to be talking about final status issues, and that is not the case. And the President made that pretty clear.
You can call it what you want. Call it a confab. You guys have thesauruses and you also have extensive vocabularies -- (laughter) -- but the fact is that it will be a gathering where people really do try to get down to nuts and bolts issues of helping build that institutional capability so that the Palestinian government will be in a position to move on to the next phases.
Q: Tony, can you tell us why Secretary Nicholson is resigning?
MR. SNOW: Yes. A couple of weeks ago he called Josh Bolten out of the blue and said, my work is done and I want to return. Josh informed the President -- that is, return to private life -- the President expressed his gratitude for Jim Nicholson's service and he's grateful he served. He certainly could have served longer if he so desired.
Jim has expressed a willingness to stay on until October, because now you've got the issue of trying to find a successor. Obviously Congress is going on recess pretty soon. It's going to be difficult to get somebody up and through the system. However, you probably do it through the month of September.
So Jim has agreed, but there's no back story here. He called up, said he wanted to leave and move on, and the President accepted his resignation.
Q: Thank you, Tony. You said on July 3rd that it was up to Congress to take the lead on the issue of dealing with the problem of illegal immigration now, correct?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: All right. Recently I spoke to Corey Stewart, the chairman of the board of supervisors of Prince William County in Virginia, which unanimously passed a resolution permitting police to ask people if they're illegal aliens, and then detain them if they are. And he was told, however, by ICE, that they're limited to only a certain amount of people that they can arrest because ICE does not have the processing and detention facilities. Does the administration support greater funding for ICE to have these kinds of facilities for processing --
MR. SNOW: I don't know, John. That's -- one of the things that you're going to see is until you do have a national policy, you'll have county by county, city by city, people coming up with different approaches. And it makes it very complicated to have a unified approach toward dealing with these issues.
But the fact is, I don't have an answer for you on that, mainly because -- you started with a question about Congress, and then you posed me a question about the capabilities of Prince William County. So I'll take a look at it.
Q: I think you said that Congress should take the lead on it. I'm just saying, does the administration --
MR. SNOW: Well, you're asking me to respond to a question about a characterization made by a county official about a conversation with ICE. It's something for which I have no firsthand factual support.
I'll tell you what the President remains committed to, which is immigration reform that allows us, number one, to find out who is here legally and who is here illegally; number two, to go after employers who willingly and knowingly shield and employ illegal immigrants; number three, really, the first -- let me make those numbers two and three -- number one, secure the border, obviously. And number four is to come up with a temporary worker program that not only relieves pressure on the border but makes sure that people who come here to work do so legally.
And, finally, the President realizes that in Prince William County and elsewhere, people are going to be confronting issues about whether people are here legally or illegally. Those are fairly complex issues, and you need to come up with a coordinated, nationwide way of so doing.
Q: Thank you.
END 12:56 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/276127