Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
10:26 A.M. EDT
PRESS CORPS: (Applause.)
Q: Where ya been? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Just hanging out. Thank you so much, it's great to be back.
Q: We thought Rove double-deleted you. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: All right. Well, on that note, let me announce the President's schedule for today. He received normal briefings in the morning. There is ongoing a meeting with the U.S.-EU leaders in the Oval Office right now. There will be a working lunch with the U.S.-EU leaders at noon, and a joint press availability at 1:25 p.m. That will be a two-plus-two-plus two, for those keeping score.
At 2:15 p.m., a meeting with TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. It is something that was set up by the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, designed to promote closer commercial ties between the United States and the European Union, creates a mechanism to encourage input to foster a more closely integrated transatlantic marketplace.
At 3:45 p.m., a photo opportunity with the FIRST award winners. FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. The President will participate in a photo opportunity with winners of the FIRST Robotics Competition -- they are from Baltimore, Maryland.
Let me also just -- some personal comments -- and I'll try not to get choked up, so I'll go slow. You never anticipate this stuff, it just happens. I want to thank everybody in this room. You guys -- (thumbs up.) (Applause.) I'm getting there.
Q: We're glad you're here.
MR. SNOW: Thanks. And thanks for the basket. (Laughter.) I want to thank you all. It really meant the world to me. Anybody who does not believe that thoughts and prayers make a difference, they're just wrong.
Q: Take your time.
MR. SNOW: I will, thanks -- especially you. Just a couple things about my situation. I'm not trying to feel sorry for myself, I'm just going to stop being choked up, because you guys have been so wonderful.
I'm a very lucky guy. As I told you before, we were, out of an aggressive sense of caution, going to do an exploratory surgery that did indicate that I still have cancer. Now, I know the first reaction of people when they hear the word "cancer" is uh-oh. But we live in kind of a different medical situation than we used to. And I have been blessed to be treated by, supported by some of the finest doctors in the world. What we are going to do -- we had surgery, where we did disclose -- and there are some cancers in the peritoneum and we are going to attack them using chemotherapy -- I'll start chemotherapy this Friday.
The design is to throw it into remission and transform it into a chronic disease. If cancer is merely a nuisance for a long period of time, that's fine with me. There are many people running around -- and I must tell you, I have received a lot of notes from folks who have had far worse cases than I have, who have survived many years with the kind of regimen that we're talking about, which is chemo up front, and then maintenance chemo to continue combating cancer tells.
I won't tell you how it's going to work out, because I don't know. But we obviously feel optimistic, and faith, hope and love are a big part of all of it.
The other thing is that I hope folks out there who may either have cancer or have loved ones with cancer need to know a couple of things. First, don't go it alone. The support I've received from you and from my colleagues at the White House and people around the country has been an enormous source of strength. You can't -- there's no way to quantify it, but you feel it. You feel it in your heart. And in many ways, that may be the most important organ for recovery, to have the kind of spirit and to realize that, in my case, I'm unbelievably lucky and unbelievably blessed -- and really happy to be back.
The other thing is -- so don't go it alone, and the other thing is be of courage. Realize that in an age like ours, things are happening very rapidly in the medical realm. I'm taking a cancer cocktail this time around, a chemo cocktail that's going to contain two agents that were not in broad use two years ago. Things are moving very rapidly, and there's always hope.
Not everybody will survive cancer, but on the other hand, you've got to realize you've got the gift of life, so make the most of it. And that is my view, and I'm going to make the most of my time with you. I'll take questions.
Q: Tony, has the White House been alerted when the Iran supplemental is coming down? And how quickly will the President act to veto it?
MR. SNOW: Okay, first, we can cut cameras now, because we have cut to the other portion of our thing.
As far as the Iran supplemental, we have not. So the real question --
MR. SNOW: I mean, the Iraq supplemental. Yes. The Iran supplemental would be entirely different. (Laughter.)
Q: Did we leave the cameras on? (Laughter.)
Q: How much is Iran -- (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: As one famous host said, "I-r-a-k."
Q: Oh, we love that. (Laughter.)
Q: Are we still rolling? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, we're not.
No, so we don't know. Again, this is a question --
MR. SNOW: No. And this is a question for Capitol Hill. It's now been passed for five days. We're not quite sure why it's been so difficult to convey it one mile up Pennsylvania Avenue, but we will get back to you when we know.
Q: And why did the President talk without Hashimi yesterday? Why was he talking to the Deputy Prime Minister instead of the Prime Minister?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President has talked to the Deputy Prime Minister, as you know he's hosted him here, and he's had conversations with him before. Part of -- the President deals with leaders throughout the Iraqi government, and so to speak, with Mr. Al Hashimi, as well.
Q: It's not trying to go around the --
Q: Has the administration been notified of anyone else who might be resigning, relating to the D.C. madam?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Does the President have any opinion on the departure of Randall Tobias?
MR. SNOW: Well, he's saddened by it, but it was the appropriate thing to do.
Q: Tony, welcome back. A question from today's Washington Post. Will the President really take part in the Sharansky conference in Prague when he visits that city June 4th, June 5th?
MR. SNOW: That would -- Andre, I'll get back to you on that.
MR. JOHNDROE: Yes.
MR. SNOW: It's yes. The answer is, yes. Thank you.
Q: Tony, can you give us any update on the war czar? It's been weeks and weeks since that story first broke, that you're looking for someone to supplement Mr. Hadley's job.
MR. SNOW: No, but when we have a personnel announcement, we'll make it.
Q: Are you having difficulty finding anyone? Because it seemed they wanted someone right away.
MR. SNOW: Again, we're -- I'm not going to get into the process. We'll let you know when we have somebody.
Q: The U.S.-EU, are they going to have some sort of global climate change agreement today?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, rather than jumping what you all will be able to hear about, everybody will have statements and questions at 1:25 p.m. But obviously a host of predictable issues before the U.S. and the EU -- economic cooperation, trade, energy, environment, such as climate change, security issues, joint security issues. So last year I know there was a very detailed agenda, and we got through a whole lot of items, and there is a similar situation this year. So I think I'll let the leaders address those in a few minutes.
Q: Tony, can we look ahead to tomorrow's "mission accomplished" appearance at Central Command? I'm assuming that this was scheduled with the anniversary in mind.
MR. SNOW: No, it wasn't. No.
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I did not see anything in the briefing notes that would indicate --
Q: What is the -- is there a particular message behind this visit?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it's an annual conference at CENTCOM.
Q: Tony, are we winning the war?
MR. SNOW: Are we winning the war?
Q: Welcome back. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Yes, exactly, welcome back. (Laughter.) You know, April, we're fighting the war, and it's an important thing to understand that the only way to lose the war is to walk away from it, and that this country not only has made a commitment to the people of Iraq, but the people of Iraq have made a commitment in blood and treasure, as well. And we are working to create a situation where that government, in fact, is going to be able to provide for its citizens, not only economically, but most importantly, a democracy that will respect the rights of all, that will protect those rights, and that will be able to stand tall among the community of nations.
Q: How long should we fight the war before we just turn tail --
MR. SNOW: The notion that somehow the United States walks away and there are no consequences I think is the sort of thing that -- it doesn't make any sense. Think of it this way: The United States walks away, who stands to benefit? Answer, terrorists, al Qaeda, the people who are fighting democracy.
One of the reasons -- furthermore, if you are thinking about what goes on within the region, if you are a Middle Eastern power, if you're anybody in the region, and you see this happening, you're going to lose confidence in the United States of America. Let me put it this way: Our allies do not want us simply to leave on a timetable. The Iraqis do not want us to leave. People within the region do not want us to leave, because it does create the possibility of chaos and bloodshed on a horrific scale.
And, furthermore, what it will do is make us less secure as a nation. The fact that it is difficult does not mean that we should walk away from it. As a matter of fact, it is difficult precisely because you have a determined enemy, but we will demonstrate the determination to prevail in Iraq and to help the Iraqis prevail. This is the Iraqis' fight; we are there to assist. And we are building capability on the military side, on the security side, on the economic side and on the diplomatic side. That's part of what will happen in the Baghdad conference.
So the idea -- again, if we turn tail, to use your formulation, what it means is that we weaken ourselves, and we weaken ourselves not only over there, but on our own soil, as well.
Q: So you're damned if you do and damned if you don't; you're weakening yourself now, going through equipment, going through troops. And then if you pull out, you damage --
MR. SNOW: No, the fact is, you understand that a military engagement -- if you describe yourself as weakening yourself every time you respond to an enemy, that doesn't strike me as the proper way to frame what happens in a military engagement of that sort. Americans don't like war. We understand that. But Americans also don't like the idea, I don't believe, of a policy that would strengthen al Qaeda, that would strengthen terrorists, that would weaken the United States, and would make us less secure.
It is a tough decision. The President understands that. And it is something that certainly does wear on the American people. But as Commander-in-Chief, the President has a solemn obligation to keep this country safe -- that is in tough times and in good times; that is also when polls are with him and polls are against him. But his obligation is to keep us safe, and he's determined to do that.
Q: Why not set benchmarks with -- political benchmarks with consequences, given that there has been so little, if any, progress politically from the Iraqis?
MR. SNOW: Number one, it gets back to what you're saying. If you try to impose timetables, what you end up doing is you say to enemies, you know, all you have to do is create a little bit of chaos.
Q: Setting benchmarks, not timetables -- political benchmarks for the Iraqis.
MR. SNOW: Well, if you set a political benchmark with penalties, that would imply that you have a timetable, that you have certain deadlines. A couple of points -- and Secretary Rice made some of these yesterday.
First, the Iraqis, themselves, have set up benchmarks, and they share them. The fact that they do not make progress as rapidly as we might like is frustrating. The President has made it clear, and he said it many times, that the patience of the American people is not unlimited. Meanwhile, as you know, the Iraqis have said -- the Council of Ministers has passed an oil law, and there is still activity along those lines. Some of the other issues may take longer. But the Iraqis share the same goals, and we continue to make it clear to them that they need to do -- they need to take these seriously and they need to move forward as rapidly as possible.
Meanwhile, you also have the situation where terrorists are being pretty clever about it: When things seem to be moving in a certain direction, you go ahead and you set up a series of coordinated bombings that's designed once again to reignite old hatreds between groups, or at least suspicions, and therefore, stall political progress.
So you have a whole series of things that affect the political situation. The Baghdad security plan is designed in a comprehensive way to try to address situations so that you can have more rapid political progress. Do we want to see more rapid political progress? Yes. But do we want to be binding people on the basis of artificial deadlines? No.
Q: So you wouldn't rule that out in any sort of --
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to negotiate. What's important right now, when we're talking about the supplemental is, let us give our troops the support they need now. We have already been forced to start reallocating money within the defense budget. By the 15th of this month, it's going to become more acute, and all of a sudden, people say they support the troops are going to have to explain why if they support the troops, number one, they drag their feet on sending a supplemental to the White House. Again, they passed it five days ago. It shouldn't -- it's a pretty simple procedure. In fact, I could walk down and pick it up today. But, apparently, it's still -- some difficulty in making its way from Capitol Hill.
But the President understands that people wanted to make a political statement. Fine. Now step forward rather than having military families suffer and equipment -- not being able to replace equipment as rapidly as necessary or proper, let's go ahead and get on with this and get the bill passed. And the President has made it clear that he wants to sit down with bipartisan leadership, bicameral leadership on Wednesday. He's down at CENTCOM tomorrow, and we'll see how quickly we can get it done. He does feel confident and optimistic that we're going to get --
Q: Just a follow up. Isn't it possible, though, that the Bush administration could set up those political benchmarks for the Iraqis without necessarily setting up a military timetable or deadline --
MR. SNOW: Again --
Q: -- but use, perhaps, resources, money to pull out some of that if the Iraqis --
MR. SNOW: Again, I think --
Q: -- don't manage to meet those requirements.
MR. SNOW: I think what you -- in other words, what you're going to say is, we are going to weaken you if you don't move fast enough. I think the most important thing you've got to do is demonstrate -- number one, you're got to do whatever you can to assist the Iraqis to move quickly. You also have to demonstrate good faith.
A lot of times, you have to ask yourself the question, who are you -- who's behavior are you really going to influence with certain actions? Will you encourage the Iraqis, or will you, in fact, give aid and encouragement to the people who are trying to make the government fail?
Having said that, I'm not going to get up here and start negotiating what may be discussed between the President and bicameral-bipartisan leadership. But he's made it clear what his position is, and he's made it clear for a very long time. People on the Hill have known for three months what the President's position is, and a clear veto message has been out for over a month. And so the fact is the symbolic vote has taken place, everybody come back now; once you finish this up, done your symbolic stuff, come back and do your real work.
Q: If the military can't be used as a leverage, then would the administration be willing to use financial aid as a possible leverage if the Iraqi's don't cooperate?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to -- again, I'm not getting into sort of gaming this other than to say, we work to assist the Iraqis. And the assumption of the question is that the Iraqis don't want progress. They do. It's tough. And, therefore, what you're assuming is they don't really want to do it, but if we punish them, then that will change behavior. And what I'm saying is be careful, because if you set up punishments, you may change behavior for the worse by, in fact, strengthening the hands of the people who want the democracy to fail.
So you have to take all those into account when you're considering policy.
Q: A point of order, if I may. You've inserted twice, and alluded a third time, that the fact that they want the same things we do. I would suggest that that's not at all apparent, from their behavior. And if it's not, in fact, the case, then how does --
MR. SNOW: First, you've got 20 million Iraqis. It is pretty clear that al Qaeda -- their behavior does not --
Q: I'm not talking about al Qaeda, I'm talking Iraqis.
Q: The Iraqi government.
MR. SNOW: Well, the Iraqis -- well, no, again, you take a look -- the Council of Ministers has passed an oil law. Now you have to go through the business of getting something passed by the parliament. I would just point you to Capitol Hill, where things are not moving as rapidly as leaders there thought would happen when they convened this year. No, I'm just saying democracy is not always as prim and predictable as one might think.
The second thing is, if you take a look at the Baghdad security plan, there are 80,000 people providing security in Baghdad right now; the majority of them are Iraqis. Iraqis have been laying down their -- laying their lives on the line. They still continue, after numerous attacks on police and military sites --
Q: Yes, but where does the security work? The security works where there are American troops.
MR. SNOW: Well, but you also see that there has been -- well, go to Anbar. What you have seen there is a shift on the part of tribal leaders -- it's been documented in a number of places in recent days that there has, in fact, been tangible improvement because you have seen a change in the behavior on the part of Iraqis who in the past had not been so assertive against al Qaeda.
So I think it's very difficult to generalize. There are situations that -- there are differences in situations, neighborhood to neighborhood, within Baghdad. But if you take a look at what the Iraqi people have done -- risking their lives to vote, risking their lives to serve -- I think it is pretty clear that they do, in fact, want a stable democracy, and it is a tough thing to do.
Q: Let me follow up on that. I think it was either today or yesterday in the Post, a story about the removal of some Iraqi commanders who had gone after Shiite militias. I mean, so --
MR. SNOW: And there have also been stories of fractures within the Mahdi army. But let me put it this way: We're aware of the stories and we're concerned about them, and those are the kinds of things we do discuss with the Iraqis. It is vital for the success of an Iraqi democracy to have security forces that will enforce the law fairly, regardless of who you are or regardless of what group you belong to. We've said it many times, and that continues to be a point of emphasis.
Q: But then do you guys -- that example, do you see that as lower down the ranks, or is that the Maliki government not wanting to go too aggressively after Shiite militias?
MR. SNOW: Again, it's -- if you've taken a look at what's gone on, there has been aggressive action within Baghdad in Shia neighborhoods. At this point, I don't want to get too far into trying to prospect what may happen. Keep in mind, we are not yet halfway into full deployment within the Baghdad security plan, and we're continuing to work with the government of Iraq. But, again, we're aware of the reports, we're concerned about them, and that will be a focus of conversations.
Q: Tony, is the President at all taken aback by what George Tenet is writing and saying? Is he surprised that Tenet feels scapegoated?
MR. SNOW: I don't know -- I can't -- I haven't had a chance to talk with him about it, Mark, but I think -- Secretary Rice made it clear that she was a little surprised, because George Tenet is somebody who served the nation well. And it is a tough business to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the idea that you're scapegoated was a surprise. He felt strongly about the pre-war intelligence, as did people on both sides of the aisle -- Jay Rockefeller, as well as Jon Kyl. You know, you had three-quarters of the United States Senate standing up and talking -- voting on a war resolution, many people talking about imminent threats. And the intelligence was shared not only within the intelligence community in the United States, with the White House and our intelligence agencies, and the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill, but also foreign intelligence operations.
And, obviously, there were some real problems with that intel, which is one of the reasons why there has also been, on a bipartisan basis, an effort to overhaul in a very comprehensive way the way we go about the business of intelligence. So we do not believe he was scapegoated, but he certainly has his first amendment right to lay out his view.
Q: Tony, what Tenet is saying publicly now is what we were being told privately at the time, which was that the CIA's intelligence was not nearly as strong as the advice the President was getting from the Defense Intelligence Agency and others, and that their admonitions were not being listened to, if you will, by the White House.
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to go back and flyspeck, but the fact is that everybody got listened to. And Secretary Rice -- no, Wendell, it's interesting. The notion that somehow going into a time of war that the President would not take seriously every piece of intelligence or opinion he would get from qualified people is preposterous.
Q: That's one way of putting it, Tony. But the other way of looking at it is the President would not take as seriously what he did not want to hear.
MR. SNOW: Well, that' not the way he operates. I'm sorry, but the President is not the kind of guy who says, tell me what I want to hear. As a matter of fact, you sit in a meeting and you try to do that, you're not going to get very far. What the President wants and demands of his people is -- are their best opinions and their best advice, and that's the way it operates. So --
Q: He got a lot of lousy advice, didn't he?
MR. SNOW: Well, he got some advice that -- you know, it's interesting, Bill, you can say about any war that Commanders-in-Chief got lousy advice, because wars never work out quite the way you planned. But what does have to happen is that you have to follow through so that you do have success.
Q: Tony, two for you. One is, could you share with us some thoughts about the White House's view of Prime Minister Olmert? The report on the war in Lebanon just came out fairly critical of his handling of it. How important is he to the Middle East peace process? And what does the President make of him as a leader?
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, he works very closely with Prime Minister Olmert, and thinks that he's essential in working toward a two-state solution. The President remains committed to it. We're not going to comment on, obviously, internal investigations within the Israeli government.
Q: The other is that on January 11th, Secretary Rice said that the Iraqi government had two to three months to convince the population that it would apply security fairly, treat everyone fairly, whether -- regardless of their religious or ethnic background. Do you think it's met that timetable --
MR. SNOW: I don't know, it's -- again, I would defer questions like that, at this juncture, to folks who are closer to the realities on the ground. It is clear that there has been some progress in some areas. But on the other hand, as General Petraeus has also said, it's going to take a while to continue not only deploying folks in support of the Baghdad security plan, these things do take time.
But, Olivier, the core of your question, is this a violent essential element in having a successful Iraqi democracy? The answer is, yes.
Q: Tony, welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, sir.
Q: I will say that you had a skillful substitute.
MR. SNOW: You know what, thank you. I have -- I want to thank -- what a selfish idiot. Dana and everybody else in the press office have done an extraordinary job. And that should have been the first thing out of my mouth, because the support I got from the White House was absolutely astounding. So yes, a star has been born.
Q: Two questions, Tony. Do you, as presidential press secretary, believe that The Washington Post, in its two extensive stories, gave too much coverage to Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias or not?
Q: Dana, do you want to take this one? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Les, I am here to speak for the President, and I guarantee you he is not going to have an opinion, either. The Washington Post can -- has its own editorial judgment, and we will let it stand.
Q: Follow up on that. Ambassador Tobias --
MR. SNOW: You're going to follow up on the question I didn't answer. (Laughter.)
Q: Yes. Ambassador Tobias --
Q: Good to have you back. (Laughter.)
Q: -- told ABC News that he used Deborah Palfrey's escort service for massages, not sex. Do you believe that many, or any American citizens believe that?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Look, the guy -- I've told you what I'm going to say. We're saddened, and he resigned, and it was the proper thing to do.
Q: Thank you, Tony. And welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q: Last night on "60 Minutes," Director Tenet used some unusually strong language about the Valerie Plame business, in which he said that "that was wrong," her unmasking by the White House, and --
MR. SNOW: Wait, I want to step in, because number one, your characterization does not, in fact, square with the facts of trial.
Q: Scott Pelley's characterization --
MR. SNOW: Which would be incorrect.
Q: All right. So Pelley's characterization, when he said the White House retaliated, was wrong?
MR. SNOW: That's wrong. That's wrong.
Q: Okay. And then Tenet said, "The whole business had a chilling effect on his agency." Your response?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, no. Again, he has his right to free speech and his characterization, but I'm not going to respond to that.
Q: Do you expect there to be one on one talks with Iran this week?
MR. SNOW: It's a question that often comes up. There have been a number of occasions, and I've outlined these before, where we have had so-called one on one conversations with Iran in the context of other issues, in Sharm el-Sheikh and other places, where, for instance, if there are to be conversations with the Iranians, these will not be things that betoken a change in the diplomatic status, they will not be on issues that are unrelated to Iraq. And we have had conversations like that with them before. And as a matter of fact, there was at one time an offer to deal on a government-to-government basis on security issues, and it was the Iranians who ended up turning down the offer.
So there may be conversations, but as Secretary Rice said, if there were, they would involve issues such as the impropriety of sending weaponry over the border or the importance of making sure that terrorists are not making their way into the country, the importance of supporting rather than undermining the government of Iraq, and so on. So it is -- it's not the case, in other words, that there would be -- there would not be conversations about other unrelated matters.
Q: But she can't control the whole conversation.
MR. SNOW: No, but she can control what she discusses, which is unlike what I'm able to do with --
MR. SNOW: Go ahead, Mark.
Q: Hang on, I thought --
MR. SNOW: Okay, Victoria, yes.
Q: And going back to Iraq, given all the things you've said this morning, when, then, do you think could we expect to see U.S. forces out of Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q: Do you have any clue?
MR. SNOW: Again, that's really a question to address to General Petraeus. The fact is, to get up and make predictions, first, is an act of pure folly because you are always hostage to changing events on the ground and changing situations. What we've been trying to do is to respond as nimbly to changing circumstances and also to learn from them. The President has spent a lot of time ordering people to take a good, close look at everything in Iraq and Afghanistan; we've adjusted tactics and strategy -- to get back to our old conversations -- so that we have a more effective approach that, in fact, makes the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan more capable of standing on their own.
What the timetable may be, I don't know. General Petraeus I think is the person who is probably best suited, and he doesn't try to answer that question definitively because it's not humanly possible.
Q: What do you make of Saudi King Abdullah refusing to meet with Prime Minister al Maliki?
MR. SNOW: That is -- at this point, that is a dispute between the two nations. We think it's important that nations in the region understand the importance of an Iraqi democracy that can stand up and also can serve as a bulwark against terrorism, which is a threat to all nations in the region, whether they be Sunni, Shia, or other.
Q: Just one quick one. You said -- back to Randall Tobias. If, as he says, he just got massages, why is it the proper thing for him to do to resign?
MR. SNOW: Well, he apparently thought that it was the proper thing to do, and I will not get into details because I don't know them. Whew! (Laughter.)
Q: Estonia and monuments, are you aware of what's happening there?
MR. SNOW: No, but get back to me, I'll get you an answer.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thanks, everybody. Thank you again.
Q: Thank you. Welcome back. (Applause.)
END 10:57 A.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273538