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For Immediate Release
October 23, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Just a couple of preliminaries here, and then we'll be happy to take questions. The President, today and tomorrow, is going to be talking about the economy. And well he should. Since cutting taxes in 2003, the United States economy has undergone an extraordinary period of growth after, frankly, an unprecedented series of challenges that included a recession, September 11th, and since then have also included the costs of two wars, as well as Hurricane Katrina.
Nevertheless, since August of 2003, we have had continuous economic growth; we've had job growth in each of those months. And maybe if you start doing it by the measure that most people look at -- are you working, do you own a home, do you have good prospects -- more people are working than ever before. More people own homes. More people are making -- people are making, on average, more money than ever before. More people have college degrees, and home ownership and college degrees among minorities continuing to grow. And basically, the American Dream club is getting bigger. And the President is going to talk about the importance of continuing to enlarge that club with pro-growth economic policies. And it's certainly worth reminding people where we stand.
In addition, what you have is consumer confidence continuing to rise. Americans understand that things are getting better for them. And so that is the message that we're going to have for the next couple of days. But I think there are other interests out there.
Q The President met with Secretary Rumsfeld today and General Pace. Tomorrow General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad have a news conference in Baghdad. Is something afoot?
MR. SNOW: No. What's afoot is simply trying to keep people apprised of what's been going on in Iraq and how we intend to proceed. But there is nothing dramatically new going on.
The problem we have a lot of times when we talk about this is that there are constantly adjustments being made, so in that sense, there are new things going on. But are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is, no.
Q Are we satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq, that the Iraqi government is -- has achieved?
MR. SNOW: I think what you try to do when you're looking at the Iraqi government is find out what's possible. What we are satisfied is that the Iraqi government is serious about taking on the real challenges that it faces. On the security side, it means taking on militias and also taking on insurgents, terrorists, and rejectionists.
On the economic side, it means building an economic infrastructure that contains not only a legal framework in which people have property rights and redress in cases of fraud, theft, or personal violence, but also the opportunity for investors to come in and realize that their investments are going to be made good, that you have the kind of respect for investment. They have passed an investment law that makes it now possible for international investors to come into Iraq.
Meanwhile, on the political side, reconciliation efforts continue apace, and you have had Prime Minister Maliki reaching out the Shia tribal leaders a couple weeks -- I mean, to Sunni tribal leaders a couple of weeks ago, as well as to Shia leaders last week. There was an international conference over the weekend in Saudi Arabia where Shia and Sunni were talking about the importance of putting an end to violence between Shias and Sunnis.
So what you have is a level of engagement and a new government where the Prime Minister, unlike those who have gone before, really at a much higher level now, is a man of action who is proceeding actively to take on the challenges that we all know exists.
Q Tony, this possible change in strategy story seems to be gaining momentum. We've been through the definition of strategy and tactics in this room. The New York Times had the story yesterday about benchmarks and goals and deadlines. Can you tell us what's new as far as that story line is --
MR. SNOW: It's really not new, Bret. As you probably know in July -- on July 25th, Prime Minister Maliki and the President held a press conference. And one of the things they discussed at that time was the formation of a new organization that would be taking a look at -- a joint committee really -- to take a look at the situation in Iraq on a strategic level and figure out how we could help the Iraqis more rapidly achieve self-reliance. It's called the Joint Committee for Achieving Iraqi Security Self-Reliance.
And part of that is just the practical matter, when you're looking at a problem what do you do? You normally follow the same sort of process: What do you think you need to do? Where do you think you need to do it? And how quickly do you think you can get the job done? And those are the kinds of discussions that have been ongoing really throughout the war. But they've been focused since then, and they continue to be the subject of joint cooperation between -- actually the coalition partners and the Iraqis.
The membership of the committee not only includes senior members of the Iraqi government, but also the U.S. and British ambassadors, as well as the top two leaders in the multinational forces.
So I think it's important to realize that this is really both sides rolling up their sleeves, taking a practical look at all levels. The Iraqis also have very publicly been setting up benchmarks for their own political and economic progress. For instance, by the end of the year, there will be a hydrocarbon law. As you know, the share of petroleum receipts is an enormously important issue, not only economically, but politically within Iraq. They have already agreed to an investment law -- I've just mentioned that a couple of minutes ago -- because that does pave the way to foreign investment. And it also helps enact the Iraqi compact or the Iraq compact which the President and Prime Minister Maliki talked about during our visit to Baghdad this summer. That is one that is, in conjunction with the World Bank and the IMF and the United Nations, is going to make it possible for international investors to come into Iraq again and to make money.
The de-Baathification law is also something that the Iraqi government has agreed to pursue. There is -- also agreed is a series of streamlining measures to make it simpler for laws to be enacted -- drafted and enacted. A lot of those things have been laid out by the government of Iraq very publicly, especially on the economic and political sides. For obvious reasons, you are not going to publicize all your security moves, because you are fighting against an enemy within Iraq, and therefore, you're not going to want to tell them each and every adjustment you make in response to their movements.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry. Sure.
Q Not to belabor the definition dance that we do here between strategy and tactics, is the administration considering a change in strategy in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, again, we're -- let me go back through what we talk about. The strategy is to help Iraq defend, sustain, and govern itself, using three different approaches, all of which are interlocking and all of which are dependent upon the others, and that's security, economic and political. That's not going to change.
Now, are the tactics by which we take a look at those things going to shift? Of course. What you do is you respond constantly, especially on the security side, to the challenges that may arise in Baghdad and elsewhere. And those continue to be the topics of ongoing consultation and cooperation. General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad are in constant contact with members of the Maliki government. So I hope I've at least answered that part of the question.
Q The Times story reported that top generals and Ambassador Khalilzad were crafting a timetable of sorts for disarming militia. Do you dispute the story --
MR. SNOW: No, the Iraqis themselves have set a timetable for trying to disarm the militia. They want to do so by the end of the year.
Q That's not what the Times is reporting --
MR. SNOW: I know. What the Times was reporting I think reflects the ongoing efforts of the joint committee. But the United States has not said, this is a date.
Q There's no crafting of a timetable going on right now among top generals?
MR. SNOW: I am sure that there is a crafting of timetables going on, drafting of goals --
Q To disarm the militia?
MR. SNOW: To work toward disarming the militia. That is something --
Q Can you give us a sense of what that might be?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Because among other things, I don't know what it is, if there is such a thing. And secondly, that is a topic of cooperation between the two sides. You have to -- again, go back to what I was saying before, Jim, is you look at the problem. You ask yourself, what is the problem? Militias are a problem. How do you -- what do you need to do it, and how long do you think it's going to take? And the Iraqis in many ways are going to be the best judges. But let me also say that the Prime Minister has begun taking affirmative and public efforts to address the issue -- and I mentioned it a couple of times -- not only demobilizing a police brigade, but also making reforms within the Department of the Interior.
I think the Iraqis understand that at a practical level what you're really talking about with militias is bound up with the issue of police reform. So I think there are practical conversations going on about how you do this. But is the United States saying, here's your drop dead date? Of course not. What you're trying to do is work with the Iraqis to focus on trying to do it as quickly as possible.
Q But I think -- and last week is a perfect example -- a lot of Americans are looking at their television sets and seeing that Prime Minister Maliki has to go to al Sadr and ask for his help in calming cities that had been turned over and had to be sort of taken back or supported again by coalition troops. The question is, can you tell the American people, is the President satisfied with the degree of control Prime Minister Maliki has over the militias?
MR. SNOW: Well, Prime Minister Maliki is trying to -- look, Prime Minister Maliki understands he's got to deal with the militias. The second thing is, when you're talking about the meeting with al Sadr, you've got your timing a little bit off. He went down and talked to al Sadr, as well as Ali al Sistani. I think some of the incursions you're talking about occurred after that meeting. But the fact is --
Q -- was before.
MR. SNOW: Okay, but the other -- Amarah I think was afterward. But the fact is that I don't think he is -- what he's sending is a message to al Sadr, which is you've got a political process in this country, you're a player in it, and a key part of that is disbanding the militias. I don't think this is going on bended knee, so much as a head of state dealing with somebody who is a significant political player. So again --
Q What can you tell Americans who are looking at this --
MR. SNOW: What I can tell Americans is that you have the United States, the Brits, the international forces, and the Iraqis all working as diligently as possible and as practically as possible toward solving the economic, political and security needs of the Iraqi people so that Iraq will be a democracy that stands tall in the region, and also sends a message to terrorists around the world that whatever your efforts may have been to derail this democracy, they didn't succeed. And we've now demonstrated that democracy can flourish in that part of the world.
Q You talk about them setting up benchmarks, and you're telling us there's nothing new here with these markers.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Have they met all the benchmarks? Or have they missed benchmarks?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know.
Q And I'm assuming they missed some benchmarks, which is, perhaps, why the President, the other day in the interview with George Stephanopoulos, said he wouldn't take any dawdling. Now, you keep saying the Iraqi government is doing a fine job, saying the right things, going forward. The President said he wouldn't stand for any dawdling. Where does that come from?
MR. SNOW: I think you can -- the two statements are reconcilable. Look, I don't want to say whether they did or didn't make benchmarks because I don't know. But it would be reasonable to assume that there are things that don't work out as planned and, therefore, what you do is adjust.
The President understands also -- I don't think the President is accusing anybody of dawdling, but it's the one thing he doesn't want to happen. And it's one of the reasons why it actually fits into this whole notion of trying to set goals and work toward them. What does that do? It creates an incentive for the Iraqis now that you've got a unified plan to move forward and move forward aggressively. The Iraqis also have every incentive in the world because the violence in their midst certainly is not in their interest. The threat to their economy is certainly not in their interest. And they want to solve these problems desperately. So I think it helps -- it helps both sides work together.
And what Prime Minister Maliki has done -- I think it's significant -- in recent days is to step up. He's a Shia leader, and yet he is now taking affirmative steps on Shia factions that he thinks have been contributing to the violence. That's an important step.
Q But isn't the problem here -- I mean, you talk about the Iraqis wanting to move forward, wanting this to work. But isn't the problem that some people in the Iraqi government -- Maliki, perhaps -- doesn't want it to work quite the same way you might want it to work?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so, because Maliki -- I'm not even sure that -- let's back up. What do you mean by, the way --
Q -- a Shia-dominated government, the Shiites in control. I mean, do you see any problem with Maliki --
MR. SNOW: Well, one of the things -- so you're worried about Shia dominance and no protection of minority rights. That is something that was addressed within the constitution itself. It certainly --
Q Exactly. But is Maliki behind that to your satisfaction and the President's satisfaction, despite the sectarian violence?
MR. SNOW: Yes. But Maliki also understands that it's important to address the sectarian violence both on the Sunni and the Shia side. You also have a Sunni Deputy Prime Minister, and you have a Kurdish President. Everybody has got an interest in making this work, and they're all trying to do their best.
Q Can we talk about what Dan said this morning --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- Diane Sawyer asking about incentives for these benchmarks and markers, and he said, reconstruction.
MR. SNOW: And this is -- because I talked to him about this. I didn't do a very good job of this at the gaggle, so let me -- so I did talk to Dan. And it's really kind of a practical point, which is for Iraq to succeed -- I've already mentioned the interlocking interests of security, economy and politics. And a lot of -- especially in a place like Baghdad, there is still enough uncertainty about the security situation that you're not going to be able to do the kind of reconstruction you consider necessary until you've handled the security issues. So when you sit down -- and his view is, setting these goals together, working on trying to put together benchmarks is an important way of focusing and combining efforts so that everybody is playing off the same play book, looking at the same goals and working together. And the real incentive is, once you've solved that piece, then you're ready to take the next step, which is equally vital, and that's reconstruction of areas that have been hit very hard by violence and terror within Baghdad proper.
Q Going back to The New York Times article, the White House said over the weekend the article was not accurate. But I was wondering if you can spell out exactly what you see as not accurate about it. It's talking about a plan for benchmarks that would be set and offered to the Iraqis, not with the threat of withdrawal, but with the understanding --
MR. SNOW: Because the process is not one where we say, take it or leave it, or here are the benchmarks. In fact, it's much more collaborative than that. And the two governments are working together. And it's more people sitting down with a clean sheet of paper, if you will, and saying, what do we need to do, what's the best way to go about it. It's much more collaborative.
To the extent that -- and the fact is that the efforts are not new, they have been ongoing. They, in fact, have been reported in the August 90-10, although very briefly, in the August 90-10 report to Congress, and no doubt in subsequent ones they will be sketched out in greater detail. But this process has been going on for some time. It was announced by the President and the Prime Minister in July.
Q But just because something is new doesn't mean it's inaccurate. I mean, is it inaccurate that the Bush administration is considering a plan whereby --
MR. SNOW: I believe what it said is that the Bush administration was considering a plan of laying down a series of deadlines by the end of the year. Was that correct, something like that?
Q By the end of the year, and if those deadlines aren't met, there wouldn't be a threat of withdrawal necessarily, but there would be an understanding that there would be changes in military strategy if they weren't carried out.
MR. SNOW: No, again, we're not in the business of issuing ultimatums, and that part of it is inaccurate. Now, there are a series -- at the end of the year, the Maliki government is going to be saying, okay, here's where we are and these are some things we need to do. So there will be consultations at the end of the year, much as there are consultations on a regular basis. But is there sort of an end-of-the-year, United States comes to Iraq and says, this is what you must do? No.
Q Well, that's not exactly the way the Times put it. The Times said that there would be an understanding that there would be a change in military strategy or other steps.
MR. SNOW: No, no. No, again, you're working collaboratively -- no, because it sounds as if the United States would be engaged in punitive measures, which is not -- it's neither the intent, nor the design of the process we're talking about.
Q I don't think it used the word "punitive measures."
MR. SNOW: I know, but the way you described it fits that description.
Q Tony, you say there isn't a new plan, a new strategy, anything new in what I guess The New York Times is reporting, but is the White House concerned about the growing pressure from Republicans for something new? Obviously, Senator John Warner, recently, and Senator Specter this weekend, saying if you've got a new strategy, bring it out now; Senator Biden, in a conference call today, saying he's talked directly to senior Republican colleagues who are prepared to enter into a bipartisan effort to force a substantial change in the way we're moving in Iraq. Does that concern the White House? These are Republicans.
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. The first -- Senator Warner has said he does not want a withdrawal that is based on facts other than those on the ground. Furthermore, the kinds of changes he's described are precisely the ones that we've been working with the Iraqis on, which is a constant revisiting of the methods by which you try to achieve security objectives within Iraq, including in Baghdad, and even as far as sectors of Baghdad. So there's nothing inconsistent. As a matter of fact, I believe the President came out and said he agreed with Senator Warner.
Senator Biden -- it's interesting because a lot of the critiques Senator Biden has issued over the months are things that we have done -- for instance, the petroleum law; for instance, political reconciliation.
So I think that there is a basis for it, and maybe the best way to do it is for both sides to take a good look at what's going on and work with the administration. The President has been the object of a lot of incoming fire from Democrats who have simply been willing to pronounce everything a failure without, A, analyzing the facts, and B, analyzing their own positions, which have shifted regularly over time.
We absolutely welcome bipartisan cooperation on this because that would be a recognition that, A, the war on terror is absolutely vital for American security, B, we cannot walk out of Iraq without having secured our objectives, and C, the unity of the American people is something much to be desired, because in a time of war, and especially a tough, long war, you do need the support of the public over the long haul.
Q Is there a change in the administration "stay the course" policy? Bartlett this morning said that wasn't ever the policy.
MR. SNOW: No, the policy -- because the idea of "stay the course" is you've done one thing, you kick back and wait for it. And this has always been a dynamic policy that is aimed at moving forward at all times on a number of fronts. And that would include the international diplomatic front. After all, the Iraq compact is something we worked out with the Iraqis before visiting the Prime Minister in Baghdad earlier this year.
So what you have is not "stay the course," but, in fact, a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government, and, frankly, also by the enemy, because there are constant shifts, and you constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing.
I think you also see much more aggressive efforts on the part of the Iraqi government because the Prime Minister understands the importance -- the vital importance of reconciliation. The third reconciliation conference will be taking place next -- is it next week, week after next -- on the 4th. He is working on the reconciliation front. There has been considerable, and continues to be, action on the economic front. And obviously, we're continuing to cooperate in security. That is not a "stay the course" policy.
Q A quick housekeeping question for one of my colleagues. When does the President intend to sign the Secure Fence Act, which --
MR. SNOW: That's a good question. And that's still being worked out, but it's going to be soon.
Q Tony, can you just -- I think we're all confused, because there's a lot of walk-back on a lot of issues. There's, it's not this, it's not that, Dan didn't mean that. What happened over the weekend with Generals Casey and Abizaid? Did you make any progress? Are you moving forward? Are you moving in some direction --
MR. SNOW: Well, let me just tell you --
Q Is there anything here to report?
MR. SNOW: To report is that the President has regular meetings like this. They have not been reported previously, but this time, the President said, I'm going to be meeting with General Abizaid. And so the meeting was made public. But this is --
Q But details about the meeting. If the President says something like that --
MR. SNOW: Yes, but here's --
Q -- you should tell the American people what you're doing.
MR. SNOW: No, you should tell them that you're having regular consultations. But when it comes to specific tactical decisions, of course, you're not going to describe what's going on.
Q I'm not even talking about -- let's not even go there with the strategy-tactics thing. But you're talking about --
MR. SNOW: Are you sure?
Q I'm sure. I'm sure. I don't want your head on the microphone again.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q But if you're moving forward, tell us how you're moving forward because we don't really see it.
MR. SNOW: I know. And, unfortunately, it's one of the frustrations, again, when you're talking about working on tactical measures, for instance, what are you doing to secure Baghdad. We're not in a position to make that public, for the understandable reason that it, in fact, will influence your ability to achieve those goals.
The President was getting a regular update on the situation on the ground, as well as an update on the interaction between the American leadership, which would be Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey, and Iraqi leaders on all these issues. So it's a regular update. And they continue to talk about, okay, what's the situation -- what's the status, what's going on, what do you think we need to do. It's the way the President handles it, too.
Q Can you tell us anything, any readout from that meeting? What's the status? How does the President feel about it?
MR. SNOW: You've got the basic readout we gave you the other day, and I can't go beyond that.
Q Tony, quick -- there's 65 active duty troops that are coming out with a letter today, saying they think the occupation should end, and they're saying that -- this is part of the military whistle blower. Any reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, it's a Fenton Communications job, which means clearly it's got a political edge to it. But number two it's not unusual for soldiers in a time of war to have some misgivings. I believe at least two of them have served in Iraq proper, active duty. We don't know how many have actually served --
Q I think the majority of them have.
MR. SNOW: But let's say they all did. You also have more than -- you have several hundred thousand who served in Iraq. You have reenlistment rates that have exceeded goals in all the military. You've had a number of people serving multiple tours of duty. And it appears that there's considerable --
Q They don't have much choice.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I mean they do have choice. If you've got a chance to sign up or not sign up, and you decide that you're going to sign up again and go serve in Iraq, it means it means something to you. And so I believe that there is also -- you get 65 guys who are, unfortunately -- no, not unfortunately -- 65 people who are going to be able to get more press than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they're proud of their service.
Q Tony, I remember a few months ago, we were in the East Room, and Maliki was there, we were talking about the plan to secure Baghdad. And maybe this is a kind of more specific version of what we've been asking. That plan, is it going to be changed drastically? Is the President satisfied? Is it what was expected when the plan was put out?
MR. SNOW: Are you talking about Operation Forward Together -- or Together Forward?
MR. SNOW: I think -- look, it is pretty clear that the first iteration didn't achieve the results that were desired, so that they're continuing to work through ways to improve and adjust so that you do have the security that you want. And it really does come in three parts. You not only need to go ahead and deal with the security issues. Once you're there you have to be able to clear and hold. And at this point, we're still working with the Iraqis to come up with ways to make sure that we have the right not only mix of forces, but tactics that are going to enable us to deal with the violence.
Q But was this expected when that plan was announced, that reordering of that plan was announced? Was the President thinking it would be more orderly by now or --
MR. SNOW: What you do in a time of war, you don't sit around and -- I think anybody who has been a Commander-in-Chief knows that there's a certain folly to having ironclad predictions about what's going to happen. You hope it's going to succeed. And if it doesn't you work to fix it. And that's how the administration has approached this challenge.
Q And is the framework still -- is there still confidence in the framework?
MR. SNOW: If by the framework you mean training up Iraqi forces and professionalizing the police, and at the same time, using U.S. forces in a supplementary role, yes, that remains the general approach. Now the question is, what measures do you need to take within that framework to make sure that you not only secure troublesome Baghdad -- I mean troublesome neighborhoods and violent neighborhoods in Baghdad, but keep them safe afterward. And that's the challenge and that's what they're working to address.
Q Tony, it seems what you have is not "stay the course." Has anybody told the President he should stop calling it "stay the course" then?
MR. SNOW: I don't think he's used that term in a while.
Q Oh, yes, he has, repeatedly.
MR. SNOW: When?
Q Well, in August, because I wrote a story saying he didn't use it and I was quite sternly corrected.
MR. SNOW: No, he stopped using it.
Q Why would he stop using it?
MR. SNOW: Because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is, when, in fact, it's just the opposite. The President is determined not to leave Iraq short of victory, but he also understands that it's important to capture the dynamism of the efforts that have been ongoing to try to make Iraq more secure, and therefore, enhance the clarification -- or the greater precision.
Q Is the President responsible for the fact people think it's stay the course since he's, in fact, described it that way himself?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Tony, two questions. I was looking at your -- statement. It's a good statement, but why do you think violence has escalated so in Iraq during Ramadan? And do you think there's any chance that it will abate now that Ramadan has ended?
MR. SNOW: You can hope it's going to abate, and I -- I know I had promised and I still need to make the calls on getting you a good answer on the Ramadan -- why violence escalates during Ramadan. I don't know. It's a worthy question. It's something that they knew was going to happen, but I don't know why, and I'll find out.
Q Just one domestic. Do you have any read on the conservative voters in this country who think that they will be going to the polls to support --
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely.
Q -- to campaign or --
MR. SNOW: Well, anymore Iraq questions? Do you want to -- anymore? April, okay. April and David.
Q Earlier you said something about the insurgent activity and I gave a statement from P.J. Crowley from the Clinton administration. Again, I'm trying to put clarity in this. Once the insurgency was allowed to reach maturity, it was not going to be resolved militarily. And you said something to the extent it takes political --
MR. SNOW: No, apparently, I think what -- I don't want to speak for P.J. without having seen it, but the way you've portrayed it creates a straw man, the idea that this was a conflict that at any point was going to be solved strictly through military means, because that was never the approach that this administration took.
There was always an understanding, especially when you're trying to create a democracy, that you've got a very important political element not only -- and the political element expressed itself through three elections last year. And now you have the formation of a constitutional government in Iraq. But in addition, it has -- you also have the continuing challenge of bringing more and more people into the political process and out of the business of armed conflict. In addition, you have an economic piece. That also was always part of U.S. strategy.
So if somebody were to argue that this was ever seen as strictly a military action, that simply would be wrong.
Q Do you agree that the insurgency is maturing, as even the NIE said, that a new generation is coming in with the perception of a win, and they are perceiving a win? And look at what's happening this month alone.
MR. SNOW: I'd be hesitant to try to read the minds of insurgents. They're not going to win. And I think what's important to understand is that the American military and the Iraqi government are determined to prevail and will continue to make adjustments necessary to achieve that end. It is clear that those who are fighting -- and it's not -- you've got a whole series of different factions. You've got outside forces, you have Baathists, you have people that are involved in the sectarian violence. So you're not dealing with one problem. You have to do several approaches even at the military and peacekeeping level to figure out how to address the problem.
But having said that, there is certainly no wavering of the will of the key parties in terms of addressing this and tamping down the violence and allowing Iraq to stand up as a democracy.
Q And lastly -- you say politically -- we're on the road politically. But our political -- international political support has eroded from the beginning of this war in Iraq. How are we politically pulling the international community to help support us when it continues to erode even more so --
MR. SNOW: Wait a minute. What's happening is the international community is supporting the Iraqi democracy. I just mentioned a meeting over --
Q But not the war.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think -- look, that is a broad enough claim -- let me put it this way: Nobody wants a war. But you also have to have a peace that is not going to lead to further bloodshed. The Iraqi people themselves lived in "peace" under Saddam Hussein and hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. But they were done so outside the vision of television cameras or the watchful eye of a Western media. It is important that the Iraqis get what they deserve, which is a chance to live in peace.
And therefore, it is heartening to see the international community working on the Iraqi compact. And it is clear that there is a vested interest in building the kind of stability and security we've discussed. The meeting over the weekend in Saudi Arabia dealing with sectarian tensions, that's an important signal that other countries in the neighborhood are also committed to helping the Iraqis.
So people may -- governments may have concerns about the United States' role there, but the good news is they seem to be dedicated and devoted to the idea of an Iraqi democracy, then the people responsible for that democracy want us to stay, want us to help, want us to help them get the job done.
Q Do you know if the Iraq government is concerned about America pulling out because of a loss of political support in this country?
MR. SNOW: No, but what's interesting -- I mean, your newspaper today had a poll that indicates that there's greater support for the war within Iraq than there is in the United States. It's kind of interesting. And what it does indicate also is if you take a look -- the Iraqis understand that you've got an administration that is not going to walk away. And furthermore, it's absolutely in America's security interests to make sure that we get the job done.
And going back to Senator Biden's comments -- there have been a number of people on both sides of the aisle who have made that point. So I think it's important for everybody to pull together and ask the practical question: Okay, if you've got that, then how best to do it?
Q Does the Iraq government have the sense of urgency that if the war continues to go badly, the public opposition may force Bush's hand?
MR. SNOW: No, I think the Iraq government gets enough sense of urgency when IEDs are going off with people who are simply trying to buy sweets at the end of Ramadan. I think they get a sense -- they get a clear sense of the urgency each and every day. And for them, they've got their own sense of urgency, which is, building the capability of taking on, through force when necessary, terrorist forces; reaching out politically when possible to those who might be amenable to joining in peaceably to the new government. They're working it from every possible angle, too. They have every inducement to do so. They're the ones who are dying in greater numbers. It is their country. It's not as if they need a wake-up call. They get it each and every day.
Q Yes, Tony, two questions. Will the President use his pardoning power to free those U.S. Border Patrol agents who were sentenced to prison for shooting and wounding an escaping drug smuggler? And if not, why not?
MR. SNOW: Second question. That's an unanswerable question, Les. The President is the person who is responsible for pardons. You can tell the network, which made you ask that question, that it is nonsensical.
Q All right. The Cincinnati Enquirer quotes John McClelland, the spokesman of the Republican Party of Ohio, as saying that Democratic Congressman Ted Strickland, the candidate for Governor of Ohio, should have known that a man arrested for exposing himself to children was on his congressional payroll, and with whom Strickland took a vacation in Italy in 1998 while leaving his wife Frances at home. Does the President believe it was wrong for this Republican state spokesman to bring up what most of the national media is refusing to report, even as they so repeatedly report the case of Congressman Foley?
MR. SNOW: I'm just going to refer that one back to the Ohio Republican Party.
Q Tony, in line with what you said on the regional and international involvement in Iraq, the Saudi meeting between the Sunnis and Shia, why has the U.S. been so reticent in trying to engage countries like Iran and Syria on this same issue, where they obviously play a very important role in the internal situation?
MR. SNOW: Well, the United States -- number one, we continue to have diplomatic relations with Syria. Secondly, with Iran, Iran knows our position and it's absolutely clear. And furthermore, through international forums, there is indirect communication. So there's no secret on either part what our position is.
Q On the economy a few moments ago, the administration frequently measures the economy in terms of tax cuts, as well as you mentioned wage growth on average being more than before. But what is it in terms of median income? Because that doesn't factor in necessarily high income with low income?
MR. SNOW: Right. No, I believe -- you know what I believe, but I will check.* You know, rather than doing that, I don't want to freelance. We'll attach that as an asterisk for you and let you know.
Q Okay, but as far as the low end of the income scale, minimum wage, which we know hasn't increased in nine years, or been adjusted for inflation. And I believe there are 6.6 million minimum wage earners right now. My question is, does the administration support separating out a minimum wage bill from the trifecta if you can't get the three-pronged bill --
MR. SNOW: The answer is, no. But on the other hand -- and I'm also pulling together data for you on the minimum wage, to figure out how many of these are sole-source of income for families, what other benefits are available.
The President is keenly aware of those at the bottom levels of the income scale, which is why their tax burden has gotten not only lighter, but relatively lighter. It's why you probably hadn't noticed, but the tax burden has shifted even more so to the higher end of the income scales as a result of the tax cuts enacted three years ago. And the key challenge in any economy is not merely to increase at any given moment the pay, but increase the earning capacity of people throughout the economy so that they can move from one job into higher wage jobs. And that includes everything from child support to job training, to income supplements. So there are many different ways in which an administration -- any administration addresses these issues.
Q Are you talking about the earned income tax credit, as well --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to litigate possible things that may be brought up in future legislation.
Q Tony, why the focus on the economy now? It's been hard to get good news on the economy through the doom and gloom on Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's an amazing thing. You take a look at consumer confidence levels, they're sky rocketing. People are feeling good about the economy. And if you take a look at the news coverage of it, it has been overwhelmingly negative at a time when you do have just an extraordinary situation. Today, at least there has been a high during the trading day once again in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I don't know where it's going to end up. But the fact is that you have trends that demonstrate that not only is -- the economy has weathered incredible storms. We have built more wealth in the last three years than at any period in our nation's history, period. That's an extraordinary accomplishment in the face of two wars and Katrina, all of which have taken place since then.
Q Has it been hard to pierce the bad news from Iraq with the economy?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. It has been hard to get people to report on it. That's a question to ask you because people doing the reporting are the ones who write the stories.
Q Just to put a fine point on that New York Times story and your perception of it, on the benchmarks. You're essentially saying what's new about the story isn't true, and what's true isn't new?
MR. SNOW: I like the line. (Laughter.)
Q Is that right?
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, it's -- yes.
Q Why the Urban Trust Bank today? Why billionaire Bob Johnson?
MR. SNOW: You mean -- well, I don't believe he was talking to the billionaire, was he? He was talking to people who actually have been investing in Washington, D.C. and helping create jobs based on an economy that's offered new opportunities.
And again, let me just reiterate what I was saying before. Not only are more people working and earning more than ever before, more are owning homes, more have college educations. And what you want to do is to have a situation that builds upon that, as opposed to some people in the other party saying, you know what we're going to do, we're going to take money out of their pockets. We're going to raise their taxes. We're going to take away tax cuts. And therefore, we think they're going to be better off.
We think that is -- that's a debate we love to have because you have tax increases, which are a proven damper on the economy. And you've got the President urging policies that pretty clearly have contributed to a burst of economic growth that we want to build upon so that there is greater opportunity throughout the country.
Q So why the bank? You never said why that bank.
MR. SNOW: Because it's there. (Laughter.)
First, let me go to Ann.
Q With almost every recent poll showing at least 60 percent of the American people now no longer support the effort in Iraq, what does the President say to those who will walk into a voting booth two weeks from now and say, this is my chance to vote against the war in Iraq? Should people use their vote to vote against the --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell people how they should use their vote, but here's something to keep in mind. In a war on terror, is it wiser to follow a course that is devoted to victory, even though it's difficult, or one that says, let's not worry about whether we're winning, let's just leave? Those are two of the options that have been presented to voters.
Now, they're going to decide on a district-by-district and state-by-state basis on the issues that are of concern. I've been talking about the economy. My sense is for a lot of people, whether they have a better job, are they making more money? Are they saving more money? Are they owning their homes? Do they have a college education? The things that people measure as their own personal benchmarks of success, those are also going to be powerful reasons to vote.
Q Does the President think that the economy will change more minds or guide more votes than the war in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: You know, the President thinks it's important for people to understand all aspects. The presidency is something where the President not only has talked about the economy, he's talked about energy independence, he's talked about education, he's talked about health care, he's talked about entitlements. All of these things affect the lives of Americans, and I dare say, on any given issue, ones of more intense interest to people than others, but they're going to have to make up their minds. But I think one of the things that is important is to clarify the differences between the parties so that people can understand what the stakes may be for this election.
Q A question on Republican warnings about a potential takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in an accusation of race baiting. In warning about what a Democratic takeover would mean, several Republicans - Republicans have repeatedly been pointing to two Democrats in line to chair committees: Charles Rangel of New York who would chair Ways and Means, and John Conyers who would chair Judiciary. And both of those are African American. And today -- James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is also African American, makes this statement: "It's a euphemistic way to say black people will be chairing committees. It's a way of bringing race into the equation." I'm curious what the White House has to say about that, particularly considering how many outreach efforts the President has made --
MR. SNOW: That's counter race baiting. That is an attempt to race bait. The fact is that there's a Democratic -- if Democrats hold the House of Representatives, Charlie Rangel will be the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and John Conyers will be the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I believe also, Republicans have talked about other people who are going to be chairmen of other committees -- Henry Waxman, for instance. So the idea that that's race baiting is absurd. It's simply a recognition of who is chairing the committees.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: All right, thank you.
END 1:32 P.M. EDT
* The figure the President quoted today is for hourly average wages of production and non-supervisory workers. Real wages adjusted for inflation for these workers have increased 2.2 percent in the past 12 months. This excludes the 20 percent of U.S. workers in supervisory and professional positions who tend to earn more. The most recent data for median income, a different measure, is for 2005. It increased over $500 that year compared to the previous year, adjusted for inflation.