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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 12, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Welcome. The President's schedule -- the President is in Camp David; you've seen the rest of the day ahead schedule. Just a couple of announcements and then I'll take your questions.
First, there is a Medicare prescription drug bill that's making its way through the House, H.R. 4. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Department of Health and Human Services -- their actuaries say the bill is going to have little or no effect on federal spending and provide no substantial savings to the government or Medicare beneficiaries. We have a Medicare prescription drug reform that has been saving people significant amounts of money, it is effective. If this bill is presented to the President, he will veto it.
As far as earmark reform, the President has also talked about earmark reform. And he said that any good earmark reform has to meet four objectives. Number one, it has to address -- well, actually five -- it has to address all earmarks, and it has to make it clear who is proposing the earmarks, where the money is going, how much money is going, and why. The Senate is taking a look at an earmark bill that really doesn't do that. As a matter of fact, it doesn't disclose earmarks for federal entities, it doesn't address the practice of concealing earmarks in report language, it doesn't ensure that there is going to be a reduction in the number and cost of earmarks. As you know, the President says at least 50 percent reduction in the number and cost.
Senator Jim DeMint estimates that of 12,000 earmarks right now under the Senate proposal that is being discussed, 11,500 of those would be exempted. Now, all of those need to be under consideration. So in any event, the President remains committed to earmark reform, but to real earmark reform.
Also, I want to address kind of a rumor, an urban legend that's going around -- and it comes from language in the President's Wednesday night address to the nation, that in talking about Iran and Syria, that he was trying to prepare the way for war with either country and that there are war preparations underway: There are not. What the President was talking about is defending American forces within Iraq and also doing what we can to disrupt networks that might be trying to convey weapons or fighters into battle theaters within Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis.
As regards Iran, the United States is using diplomatic measures right now to address concerns -- including Iran's nuclear program. We've been working with the United Nations Security Council, recently got a chapter seven resolution. So this is something that is very important to push back, because I know there's been a lot of speculation about it. Let me just try to put that to rest once and for all.
Q Tony, were you, were other senior White House officials dismayed about the plan's reception on Capitol Hill yesterday and today? What's the reaction, the feeling behind closed doors?
MR. SNOW: I don't think we're terribly surprised. I mean, you knew going in that there was going to be opposition, and you knew that a lot of people had made public statements about the commitment of additional forces to Iraq. But on the other hand, what we now expect is people actually look at the plan.
Americans -- I think if you say, if things have been going along as before and you just put more troops into the situation and into a strategy that we said wasn't working, we wouldn't support it. But, instead, the President's proposal involves a whole series of changes that are designed to make the Iraqi efforts not only more effective, but also more prominent, so that Americans are going to have confidence that the Iraqis themselves are stepping up and taking lead roles in everything from combat operations to reconstruction to diplomatic outreach. That has to happen, and Americans want to see it -- and if there wasn't some doctrinal change in the way in which we conducted counter-insurgency efforts, but there is. So now comes a time when members of Congress are going to have an opportunity to look at it.
Let me also add, Bret, that funding for the forces and to dispatch them to the region, it's already in the budget. So we're going to proceed with those plans. And what's going to be interesting is the members of Congress are going to have an opportunity to see how things are working in the next months ahead. And at that point, they'll also be able to make judgments as we get closer to the time to look at some real legislative effort.
Q Well, on that point, Secretary Gates was asked repeatedly yesterday and today, when will we know whether this is working. And his answer was, in about two months we should know whether the Iraqis are really meeting up with their commitments. So in two months' time, will this administration kind of do another review to see if what they've done is actually working?
MR. SNOW: I think we've tried to make the point that we continue to do reviews all the time. And so there is constant monitoring of the situation. It's not as if you say, okay, we're going to sit back and just wait for two months. We talk every day with the embassy in Baghdad, there is constant interaction with the commanding general and others on the ground. So I think it's important to realize that there is consistent and constant monitoring of the situation, and we'll continue to make adjustments.
And let me also reiterate what we've been saying all along with members of Congress. Most members of Congress come to the White House and said, we think it's vital to succeed in Iraq. They understand what the stakes are. And they also say, we want there to be success for the Iraqi government. If they don't think is the best way to do it, we do want to hear what they have to say. We have listened to and analyzed proposals throughout the entire range of possibilities. And we will continue to listen to people, because the chief objective here is to succeed in Iraq. And if people are proposing things in the spirit of good will and constructively, that's going to be an important addition. And those who think they have a better way, I think have an obligation to step up and share it.
Q You say the Congress is going to have a chance to look at the President's plan. Members heard the President Wednesday night, and yesterday they heard from the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, and there's a lot of opposition to this plan. It's not like they're still going to look at it; they don't like it, many of them.
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that they've been able to take a look at all aspects. A number of things have been leaked out. But, for instance, the roles that the Iraqis would play, the way in which the Iraqis would be working together, furthermore a discussion of the fact that when Iraqi -- U.S. support battalions are not going to move into Baghdad until the Iraqis have gotten there first. I mean, there are a whole series of steps in here that seem to answer a lot of the concerns members of Congress have had. They said, okay, you need to -- we need proof that the Iraqis are stepping forward; we need a demonstration that the Iraqis care about this more than we do. And I think that's an important thing to do.
What I'm telling you, Terry, is that there is a natural reaction of people to say, you've said that the old way wasn't working; are you just throwing more troops in a way that doesn't work? And the answer is, no. So what we're inviting people to do now is -- we've heard their original reaction -- spend some time looking through the proposal. And we understand that there's going to be discussion. But I think it's worth giving the entire range of policies that the President has put together, look at them as a package. We expect people are going to have opposition. I also expect that if you do see progress that a number of those members of Congress are going to say, okay, they're going to look at it fairly, too. They're going to want to see what happens.
Q Everyone from the President on down has said that this depends on the cooperation of the Iraqis. And yet, to date, nothing has been heard from al Maliki, as far as I know. He's declined to endorse this, though invited to do so. There's no expression of enthusiasm over there.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, that's not true. As matter of fact, the Prime Minister, as I pointed out, on Wednesday he talked in a very forward-leaning direction about going after militias, and he mentioned the Sadrists by name. On Thursday he mentioned Muqtada al Sadr. I'm sorry, that -- yes, Wednesday and Thursday. Then yesterday, his press spokesman, in the weekly briefing, talked about the fact that they have been working with the Americans and that as the plan moves forward it is in concert with the Iraqi government. But there's also another --
Q But he's declined to speak about it.
MR. SNOW: No, and I'm glad you raise that, because that's urban legend number two of the day. And I think some news organizations that have reported this are prepared now to issue corrections.
He did not decline. He was never scheduled to make comments about it yesterday. It was his spokesman's normal weekly briefing. And somehow that has been reported or misreported as the Prime Minister not showing up for a briefing.
Q Sure, but wouldn't you think that under the circumstances, with all of the rollout that's gone on here, that you would want the principal ally to endorse this in the most public and positive way?
MR. SNOW: You know, you've got an interesting political dynamics. You can turn it around and say the Iraqis have made clear their support. And, implicitly, the Prime Minister not only has talked about key elements in a way that I think addresses key American concerns, there has also been very aggressive action within Baghdad proper that demonstrate that there, in fact, are new ways of coordinated operations with the Americans and the Iraqis going after dangerous places within Baghdad. That is not only walking the walk, it's talking the talk, and he's doing both.
The Prime Minister -- you also have to ask, do you want the Prime Minister to -- do you want to treat him as a sovereign head of state? And the answer is, yes. And he has made it clear that he's cooperating with the program, and he's also made it clear, I think through his words and deeds, that he's addressing key American concerns, such as saying to Shia militias, you're not exempt. And he's done it by name. He's talked about the Sadrs, he's talked about Muqtada al Sadr. You know, you can forward your recommendations for more effective PR in Washington.
Q Was he asked to embrace the American plan in public?
MR. SNOW: This is -- no.
Q Nobody in this administration asked him to make some public endorsement of the President's strategy?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I can double-check for you, but I'm not aware of anybody calling up and saying, will you please give a speech. But, again, what you have is the day of, the day after, and also a subsequent briefing by his press spokesman that go into this, that are supportive of the plan.
Q But when so many people are concerned about how much the al Maliki government will be responsive, I think Bill's point is there seems to be a bit of a void in hearing from him after?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what you're saying is he's not responding to the U.S. press corps. What he's doing is, he's responding to the Iraqi public. He's the sovereign head of state in Iraq. And what he's been talking about the last couple of days were what his constituents want to hear about -- and that's everything from pension reform, to going ahead and moving aggressively against terrorists in Baghdad and elsewhere. So he is answering the key questions that his people have been asking. And certainly his spokesman was supportive of U.S. efforts yesterday when asked by the press.
We're going to hear from the Prime Minister. There are going to be opportunities for this.
Q One more.
MR. SNOW: Yes, sure.
Q Maybe two more, actually. When you made reference to "there's already funding in the budget," a lot of Congress members are talking about using the power of the purse. Could you be a little bit more explicit about what funding already exists to enact this --
MR. SNOW: Well, this is -- I mean, we have ongoing military operations financed until later this year, and this is a part of ongoing military operations. Later in the year, members of Congress will look at a supplemental budget appropriation that covers all military operations. We've already mentioned the incremental military costs of what the President has proposed is $5.6 billion. That is a tiny faction of the overall appropriation that Congress will consider. And like I said, let's see how the debate unfolds.
Q And one more, on urban myth number one. You're not saying that there are not currently battle plans available to the Pentagon for Syria and Iran?
MR. SNOW: I just don't know. There's lots of war gaming. What I'm saying is that this notion that somehow what the President was announcing was a precursor to planned military action -- a planned war against Iran, that's just not the case.
Q In that connection, did the President give orders to invade the offices of the Iranians and to go into Somalia? And what right do we have to do that?
MR. SNOW: Number one, we don't comment about ongoing military operations. There have been --
Q Is it ongoing, or is it over?
MR. SNOW: You're talking about where?
Q In the case of Iran.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what you have was -- what has been reported are actions -- and I'm not going to comment beyond what's been reported publicly -- there have been actions in the northern part of Iraq against something that was originally misreported as an official government facility for the Iranians, and it was not.
Q What was it?
MR. SNOW: It apparently was sort of a liaison place where some Iranians would occasionally come.
Q Well, if it was official liaison for Iran --
MR. SNOW: No, it was not an official office, and that at least has been the characterization we've gotten out of Iraq.
Q Aren't you splitting hairs?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. There's a big difference.
Q And what right do we have to do this?
MR. SNOW: Well, the real question, Helen, is, do you want somebody to intercept those who are trying to kill Americans in Iraq?
Q I'm asking you, what right do we have to be there --
MR. SNOW: I've just answered your question.
Q -- and I don't think it's right for you to turn around --
MR. SNOW: Okay. Then I'll answer the question. It's important to go after people who are trying to kill Americans.
Q Is that their purpose? I mean, or are they in Iraq to help Iraqis?
MR. SNOW: People have made considered judgments about this, and apparently --
Q Why do you keep saying everybody wants to go kill everybody.
MR. SNOW: I think you're the one -- what do you mean, everybody wants to kill everybody? We're not saying that. But we are saying that when somebody gets intelligence that there are efforts to place in jeopardy the lives of Americans, the lives of Iraqis and destabilize the government, that's an important consideration.
Q How about the Somalia announcement?
MR. SNOW: That I can't comment on.
Q Tony, a quick question. The ongoing global war against terrorism, President's war he started on 9/11 and beyond in Afghanistan, you think this has come out of (inaudible) bin Laden's name in many of the briefings by intelligence officials. You think President is frustrated that we still don't have Osama bin Laden? Or how is he being briefed on this, because this is the main -- he said that he will be brought to justice.
MR. SNOW: We have confidence that eventually he will be. Meanwhile, we have not heard a lot from Osama bin Laden. He certainly does not play as prominent a role in the war on terror. He's somebody who remains a target of concern. But at the same time, you've seen al Qaeda has, in many ways, been weakened in terms of its old structure. Now it's adopting new methods where you do have more localized operations.
So bin Laden, of course, is important, but it's also important as you conduct the war on terror to continue to look at all the changes that take place, and again, responding to the changing nature of the threat and the evolving nature of the threat.
Q Tony, on the congressional reaction, didn't you think that not only was it very skeptical, but in some cases very hostile to the President's package, the questioning that was put to both Secretaries Rice and Gates?
MR. SNOW: I think that's a pretty accurate characterization.
Q Even among some Republicans? Are you disturbed by that?
MR. SNOW: Again, you've got to understand, a lot of people are skeptical, and especially they want to find out -- there are several questions they want answered. One is what the Iraqis are doing. And I think it's probably also important to start explaining why it is important to be in Iraq. I think as people begin to look at it -- here you've had members of Congress say, it's vital to win there. Well, the question is, why? And there are a series of reasons why.
Geographically, Iraq is right at the center of the war on terror. You've got Iran to the east, number one global sponsor of terror. You've got Syria to the west, headquarters to a lot of terrorist organizations. But beyond that -- and I've made this point many times, but it's worth developing a little further -- if you have a vacuum that is filled by terror in Iraq, you not only have a staging ground for terrorists, but you have access to the world's second-largest oil reserves, which also gives terrorists access to enormous amounts of wealth that they do not presently possess, and as a result allows them to go on the market and develop even more lethal capabilities, which, in many cases, they've said they're going to aim at us and they're going to aim at European allies.
But it goes even further than that. Suppose now that you're in the neighborhood and you are the Saudis or you're in the Gulf states or a number of oil-producing states, and you traditionally look to the United States for security. You're going to be making your own calculation: Can I rely on the Americans or do I need to cut a separate deal? And if you cut separate deals, that not only raises security interests, but if somebody should decide, for reasons of economic warfare -- and bin Laden had talked often about committing acts of economic warfare -- you also have the possibility of their banding together and saying, we're going to put an embargo on the United States; we're going to jack up the price. There are also economic risks.
So the number -- what happens is you start with one set of risks, and they tend to develop others. And I think Americans -- once you start laying that out, they realize their personal security and their economic security are bound up in the ultimate result of what goes on in Iraq. And members of Congress understand this, which is why their first sense is "and we agree we have to succeed in Iraq."
I think we need to make the point more forcefully so people understand that, and then we're willing to draw on the expertise of everybody to figure out the best way to have that success.
Q But when someone of Senator Hagel's standing says it's the biggest blunder since Vietnam --
MR. SNOW: Well, Senator Hagel has been opposed to this pretty much from the start, so, I mean, it's a pretty good line. But the follow-on question is, then what do you do -- and we're interested in hearing; we've made outreach to Senator Hagel on a number of occasions -- what do you do to ensure the security of America and what do you do to ensure the success of Iraq?
Q You seem to be making a case that if the surge strategy fails we should go in and seize the oil fields, keep them out of the hands --
MR. SNOW: No, I'm not making that case at all. As a matter of fact, I'm not -- I have deliberately not entertained the "if the surge fails," because the whole purpose -- number one, it's a -- I don't know that I like the term "surge." I guess Bob Gates may have used it the other day, but it's -- you've got one battalion now, one in a month, another in a month, another in a month, another in a month -- that's not -- you've got -- or it's strengthening. What did I say? You've got brigades going in, one a at a time.
And so -- and see, Helen's got her favorite term, it's "escalation." You've got "surge." (Laughter.) No, surge is not a term I've ever used. But the point is you're trying to add strength to the forces in Iraq so that they're going to be successful in taking out sectarian violence and also al Qaeda violence, so that you have the conditions under which people can pursue the important business of political reconciliation and economic development. You've got to have all of them.
But if you've got the equivalent of an ongoing riot in Baghdad, with constant violence, you're not going to have the conditions for political achievements. And so, therefore, you've got to put all those pieces together. But I am not -- please, please, please -- trying to signal seizing oil fields or any of that sort of stuff.
Q Tony, by pointing out that the money is already in the budget and you're going to go ahead, it seems to be saying, we're just going to go ahead with our plan for the rest of the year. So what relevance does the administration attach to the congressional debate and the public debate?
MR. SNOW: Oh, we think it's very important, and we welcome the debate. Look, if you take a look at the congressional debate, there actually is a substantial amount of agreement. It seems to me that the locus of this agreement is, do you put 20,000, 21,500, do you put the troops in or not. If you ask the question, do you need to succeed, the answer is yes. If you ask the question, should the Iraqis be taking the lead, the answer is yes. Should the Iraqis be pushing for greater political reconciliation, in terms of the hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification reforms, parliamentary reforms, the answer is, yes, we're pursuing that.
Do you think you ought to be concentrating on economic development as a way of building hope and opportunity in the long run? The answer is yes. Do you think the State Department and U.S. civilian agencies ought to be working in the provinces to develop those capabilities? The answer is yes. There is support for all of those activities, so it does seem -- we are fixed on the debate about troop levels, and yet all the other elements, including the diplomatic pieces -- do you bring the neighbors in, do you try to work through diplomatic means to address problems with Iran and Syria -- the answer to all those is yes. And I don't see anybody in Congress disagreeing with a single one of those items.
So now you narrow the debate down to a couple of simple questions. You have as your basis the desire to succeed. You ask yourself, can the Iraqis do it all by themselves right now? If the answer is yes, then, okay, bring everybody home. If the answer is no, the answer is what do you do to try to build that capacity so Americans can come home. And that becomes the focal point of the debate.
So, again, very substantial against on a lot of the key elements in this package. And that's why I say as people begin to look at it, they're going to see that we, in fact, have adopted a lot of the views, including trying to do some political reconciliation here at home by reaching out across party and House Senate boundaries to try to make sure that we stay in touch with people -- including those who disagree with us -- to hear what they have to say, and what advice they have to offer.
Q So you think the criticism is just going to blow over, then?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. We'll have to see what happens. Look, I expect there to be considerable skepticism for some time because what we have is a plan, but people want to see results. And they want to see results reflected in the increased engagement of Iraq. They want to see real efforts to make sure that the Iraqi government is going after the sources of violence, whether they be Sunni or Shia, or al Qaeda in the case of Anbar province. And those are things that people are not going to see overnight.
As we have said, there's a likelihood that once you have contact and once you have more aggressive action in Baghdad and elsewhere, there's likely to be violent reaction because certainly the people who are trying to bring the government down are not going to go quietly into the night.
But on the other hand, the American people want to see action. They want to see effective action. And they want to see effective action with Iraqis credibly in the lead, and so do the Iraqis. The Prime Minister has made this clear repeatedly. And so now is the time for his government to demonstrate it. And the President said that the other night. He said the Americans -- that this nation's patience is not unlimited. It is limited and people are going to want to see it.
So I expect there to be continued expressions of skepticism until people see some change. And the measures that we have outlined are not things that necessarily are going to happen overnight -- some of these are going to take weeks or months to get in train.
Q Tony, you talked about political reconciliation here at home, and you've also said that if critics of the plan don't like it, they should come up with an alternative. But the fact is that the Iraq Study Group produced a report that created political reconciliation here at home, and that many of the critics of the President's plan have embraced it. When the report came out, the study group was very specific in saying this is a comprehensive plan, it needs to be adopted in its entirety for it to work. So what was it about that plan that the President didn't like?
MR. SNOW: Well, there were some areas in which we disagreed, and the Iraq Study Group is coming out with a comment. But, Sheryl, you're trying to have it both ways. Members of Congress right now who are criticizing what we did were even more vociferous in their criticism of Baker-Hamilton. What we have done -- if you take a look at page 73, where it talks about building capabilities, putting Iraqis in the lead, and there was even some talk about "a surge," that's in there. When it talks about the need to do a regional diplomatic strategy, that is in there. What we don't have -- we take a different view on how you approach the problem of Iran and Syria. The Syrians and the Iranians know what we want.
Q Well, that --
MR. SNOW: That's a key element. And so you find that the areas of disagreement, again, are fairly narrow here. And if you go looking through it -- and we're putting together a document; I'll be happy to share it with you -- there are substantial areas in which we agree with the Baker-Hamilton commission report, but I think you'll also recall that on Capitol Hill, people said, we're all going to take a look at each and every part, and there was some pretty stern criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
The most important thing is that the Baker-Hamilton commission, as I said at the time, did set a very good role model, in terms of cooperation and good will, and the fact is -- it's interesting, you're saying, is the President saying, take it or leave it? The President is the one who makes the decisions, and the Baker-Hamilton commission certainly gave a lot of very valuable advice, much of which is incorporated into the President's plan, and frankly a number of other people on the outside, their recommendations have also been incorporated into this.
Q Let me read to you from their statement. I think the differences on Iran and Syria are clear, and have always been clear, but they say, "The President did not suggest the possibility of a transition that could enable U.S. combat forces to begin to leave Iraq. The President did not state that political, military or economic support for Iraq would be conditional on the Iraqi government's ability to meet benchmarks." I think that is critical, and why didn't he do that?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are two things. I'm not so sure the President didn't make it clear to the Iraqis that they have to deliver. But you also have a problem, Sheryl, if you say, if you do not take this specified action by this time, we're going to cut you off. If I'm a terrorist, what I'd do is I'd just sit back.
There's a little bit of difficulty -- you create a moral hazard problem if you try to be -- if you try to be too definitive in saying "this by this date," because what you end up doing is that you give your opponents the possibility of giving the impression of good behavior without having terrorists addressed directly, and therefore they have the opportunity to wait it out and then wage greater acts of terror in the future.
On the other hand, I think that you'll find that the recommendations that the President has made, and also the tone of his speech is pretty consistent with the aims of the Iraq Study Group.
Q Tony, can I come back to the money question? How late in the year do you figure you have the money for --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. We'll have to ask the congressional -- that's a good question. I don't have an answer.
Q It's not all the way through the year?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, no. I think it's in May or June, I think.
Q But in effect, you're saying to those on Capitol Hill who would consider a vote for cutting off funding, it's moot?
MR. SNOW: No. Look, they're going to have to make their votes. Again, at some point, the way you do this is they'll have an opportunity to have votes later in the year, and they'll have to make their decisions. It's interesting because I don't think -- and maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but I don't think that there are a huge number of people that say, we're going to cut it off. There have been some, and some serious voices, like Senator Kennedy. But that's a debate members of Congress have to have. And the answer is, if you want to cut it off, explain why, and also explain how you're going to explain that to the forces in the field, and how you think that also is going to influence America's larger standing in the world.
Again, a lot of times there seems to be the impression -- you need to expand the vision beyond the narrow strand or Pennsylvania Avenue that separates the White House from the Capitol building, because things like this do have ramifications in terms of how our allies view us and our strength and credibility in the region. And I think members of Congress will be debating this.
Look, we are in the very early stages of what promises to be a vigorous, sometimes emotional, but overall constructive debate. We need to have this debate, and we need to get into the details, and we need to talk about all the possible ramifications. And so I think it's all healthy. I don't want to discourage it, and frankly it's certainly not my role to discourage members of Congress from expressing their opinions.
And when it takes a firmer shape -- when I was dancing around last week about the plan, I couldn't answer direct questions because things hadn't taken shape -- we're in a little bit of that situation right now, too, when it comes to what's going on, on Capitol Hill, because there's talk of resolutions and so on. But I think at this point members of Congress are still trying to assess all the parts of the President's package and figure out what they may wish to say, not only publicly, but if there is going to be some legislative action. I don't think they've made their way through that yet.
Q The brigades that you have spoken of sending over, you've got the money?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q So it's moot. Any discussion right now of cutting off money --
MR. SNOW: I believe that's the case, I believe that's the case. I'll double-check, but I believe that's the case.
Q This is following up on that. It would be short of Senator Kennedy's resolution de-authorizing use of force over there. And at this point, there's no option available to Congress in the short-term if the money --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. That is a question beyond my -- if Congress wants to try it, we can address that. I just, I honestly don't understand the legal or constitutional implications of all that.
Q Tony, if, indeed, there needs to be more of a political component, why not keep the troops as they were, instead of increasing the troop effort there to support the Iraqis? Why not just focus mostly on the political aspect?
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, it's very difficult to focus on the political aspect when you have violence and bloodshed occurring all about you. You do have to have a certain amount of peace so that people can calmly and in good will work through some of the tougher issues before them.
That's not an atmosphere -- I think you'll agree -- because I get question after question every day, what about the escalating violence in Baghdad; how can you possibly survive? The question then is, do you think that is an atmosphere in which you are going to be able to move forward on political matters? The answer is, believe it or not, they've been managing to do it anyway. But on the other hand, it is important to be able to build trust so that people are not worried about their life and livelihood.
And, furthermore, April, one of the key elements in political reconciliation is the belief on the part of the Iraqis that their government is going to represent their interests and defend their rights regardless of who they are -- it's not going to pick favorites. There is skepticism in some parts of Iraq that the government is protecting some and not protecting others, and in that atmosphere you cannot move forward, you have to build the baseline confidence in the government and its institutions in order to proceed with those talks. I think that's a matter of common sense.
Q But, Tony, the President in his speech said words like "failed." And if there was a failure militarily, why send more U.S. troops into harm's way, instead of just taking that component, realizing there's a failure there, and moving --
MR. SNOW: Because if you do not have an improvement in the situation, you will not have the necessities and the basics for doing the political. The two work together. You have to make the -- you have to address the security situation so you can complete the work of security. Look, it appears that the Iraqis are moving rapidly toward passing the hydrocarbon law. That is great. It appears that they are working on deBaathification. It appears that they are working on the election reforms.
But you still have the ultimate question of legitimacy, are they going to protect me or are they going to protect my interests? And if you have some people in the country who believe that their own government is not going to protect them, so that they have to rely on a militia for their safety, or they have to rely on armed bands, or they have to rely on armed groups of Saddamists and rejectionists, then you don't have the basis for the kind of political reconciliation you have to have, and you have to develop that fundamental faith that the government that you are talking about you view as your government, and not as a hostile force.
Q And the last one on this, military experts have said we will not -- we have not and will not win militarily.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we've always said that. We have always said that this is not strictly a military operation. Ultimately, you've got to create the conditions --
Q But they've said we've lost militarily.
MR. SNOW: There have been -- no, it's interesting, there are some who say we are losing, but we can win; there are some who talk about how dire it is. And there is no denying the fact that there is an unacceptable level of violence, particularly in Baghdad, also in Anbar. Although as we've mentioned in recent days, there has been significant progress in Anbar, and we need to make sure that we conclude the deal.
But you go back to the public statements of General Casey or General Abizaid or even the President, we have always said that military action is a way of trying to create the conditions of peace so that you can go ahead and finish the political work.
And what also is different about this plan, you talked about putting U.S. forces in harm's way, what we're really doing is we're putting Iraqis in the lead. And you take a look at it, you've got Iraqi battalions. They're going to number in the thousands -- I mean Iraqi brigades -- and U.S. battalions in the hundreds, which are going to be doing a lot of training and organization. But in the key elements of asserting force, the Iraqis are going to be in the lead.
And, furthermore, what you have is a plan in which you make sure that you've got at hand the resources necessary to meet possible contingencies. So, again, I think it's worth mulling over the elements of the plan. And a lot of this, the American public quite rightly says, look, we've got to see it. And that's a fair request.
Q Does the administration care what's in the hydrocarbon law? Or you just want them to have a hydrocarbon law?
MR. SNOW: Ken, you care what's in the hydrocarbon law. And there's --
Q What's in it?
MR. SNOW: Well, the hydrocarbon law is one that treats oil and natural gas revenues as a natural resource -- national resource and distributes the proceeds throughout the country.
Q Is that a nationalized oil industry?
MR. SNOW: No, what it does, though, is it does collect at a national level the profits. We have -- it's no more a nationalized oil industry than the hydrocarbon law in Alaska makes Alaska a fiefdom of petro-socialism. (Laughter.)
Q That would look nice on a license plate, I'm sure. (Laughter.) Is there opportunity for American oil companies in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I suspect there's going to be opportunity. Part of the Iraq Compact is inviting bidding on business throughout Iraq from around the world. So I don't have a clear answer to that.
Q Thank you. Tony, Defense Secretary Gates wants 92,000 more soldiers and Marines. Where is he going to get them? And is there any desire to bring back the draft?
MR. SNOW: The answer to the second is no. And the answer to the first is, you recruit them.
Q In the new strategy, what does the President believe needs to be done in Sadr, personally?
MR. SNOW: That is a question that the Iraqis have to answer, and rightfully so. The idea that the United States is going to play sheriff or say, this is the target you need to hit, that's inappropriate for us.
I will point you back to what the Prime Minister has said, which is you cannot accept the existence within Iraq of groups operating outside of the law. Again, that's the term of art for militias and other armed bands that commit acts of violence and otherwise try to usurp government authority. And he has singled out Muqtada al Sadr and the Sadrists, as he called them, specifically.
So it is up to the Iraqis to make the moves. And I think a lot of people are looking to see that Shia and Sunni alike -- those who are committing acts of violence and weakening the government, that they are equally held to account. And that's one of the things that a lot of Americans want to see. We are not going to tell the Iraqi government or the commanders in Baghdad whom they ought to be targeting. That is their responsibility.
Q Why is that? Why is that a red light? I mean, we're advising and working together with the Iraqis on all sorts of things.
MR. SNOW: Well, we continue to. But you don't issue orders. And the fact is, Iraq is a sovereign government. I guarantee you, a story comes out, "U.S. says get X." It makes the government look like a puppet. And the fact is you've got a sovereign government, and we are working not only off a plan that they have proposed, but we are doing so in such a way that you have an Iraqi commander over the entirety of Baghdad. You have deputies over the operations on each side of the Tigris River. You divide it up into nine districts, where the Iraqis are going to be in the lead in each of the nine districts.
I think it is incumbent upon us to support the Iraqis, rather than to try to say, well, we'll really run the country and you just follow along. That is not a way to recognize the sovereignty of that government.
Q Tony, I had two on Iran. One is the Patriots that are being deployed, those are new Patriot batteries. They're not things that were planned before. What --
MR. SNOW: The Pentagon is the place to go for answering those types of questions.
Q What country other than Iran in the region could they be meant to --
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'll just send you off to the Pentagon for those.
Q And could you give us an idea of what kinds of things the United States is doing differently regarding those networks in Iran and Syria?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Not even the -- I mean, the kinds of things in general?
MR. SNOW: No. I think the last thing you want to do is to say, we're going to try to disrupt networks and let us tell you how, networks. We live in a world of global communications, and so, no, I can't.
Q Tony, thank you. Two domestics, if that's possible, two domestic --
MR. SNOW: That would be domestic issues?
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
Q We're housekeepers. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I just wanted to be clear on this.
Q Right. What is the White House reaction to The Washington Times reporting that our National Guard troops in the Mexican border near Sasabe, Arizona being required to be disarmed, and who had to evacuate due to incursions by armed Mexicans?
MR. SNOW: Talk to the Border Patrol about that. I don't know.
Q But what is the White House -- that's what -- I want to know what is the White House reaction?
MR. SNOW: I understand that the White House -- the reaction of the press secretary is, ask the Border Patrol.
Q Okay. A nationally syndicated columnist, Phyllis Schlafly, reports the following, and this is a quote: "President Bush pardoned 16 criminals, including five drug dealers, at Christmastime, but so far has refused to pardon two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were trying to defend America against drug smugglers." And my question: If Mrs. Schlafly was at all inaccurate in this statement, you would surely rebut, wouldn't you?
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a couple of things. First, I'm not at liberty to comment about proceedings with regard to pardons. She's referring to a case where, at least according to the facts presented in court, you had an incident in which there was an attempt to pull somebody over. He finally got pulled over; somebody holds out a gun. Sort of scuffling ensues. And what happens is you've got a fellow running away, and a couple of agents eventually in pursuit, firing 14 shots at him -- I think 15, actually. Fourteen by one agent missed, one did strike him in the fleshy hindquarters. He eventually made his way into Mexico.
Now, at the time this happened, they did not know if he was an illegal. They did not know that there were 700 pounds of marijuana. They didn't know any of those things. But instead you had this. They also had received arms training the day before that said if you have an incident like this, you must preserve the evidence and you must report it promptly. Instead, according to court documents, they went around and picked up the shell casings. Furthermore, they asked one of their colleagues also to help pick up shell casings. They disposed of them.
They eventually went before a grand jury -- or before a jury -- and were convicted on 11 of 12 counts, by a U.S. attorney who has prosecuted any number of cases. But the facts of this case are such that I would invite everybody to take a full look at the documented record. This is not the case of the United States saying, we are not going to support people who go after drug dealers. Of course we are. We think it's incumbent to go after drug dealers, and we also think that it's vitally important to make sure that we provide border security so our people are secure. We also believe that the people who are working to secure that border themselves obey the law. And in a court of law, these two agents were convicted on 11 of 12 counts by a jury of their peers after a lengthy trial at which they did have the opportunity to make their case.
Now, they also have rights of appeal. So I don't want to be acting here as -- I'm not going to be judge and jury, but I do think that there's been a characterization that somehow the government is turning a blind eye toward the law in enforcing the law. And, Les, I think that's the important thing. So take a look at the facts of the case.
Q I was going to answer, the only one thing is that the man that was shot in the fleshy --
MR. SNOW: Hindquarters.
Q -- hindquarters, they went down to Mexico and brought him back.
MR. SNOW: To testify.
Q Yes. Even though they had found all those drugs. Now, does that -- is that -- does the President approve of that?
MR. SNOW: Again, that takes us into different legal grounds, and I think you ought to contact legal authorities to get it. But you asked me a different question to begin, and I gave you the answer.
Q Thank you.
Q Back on Iraq real quick. On the sectarian flare up possibility, two of the Iraqi army brigades are supposed to be mostly Kurdish, Peshmerga turned Iraqi army. They're going to be going into Shiite neighborhoods. Then you have the Iraqi police -- nine of the Iraqi police brigades, a lot of those are Shia that we had problems with before. How does the President look at this Iraqi influx and see something that is less sectarian than it was before?
MR. SNOW: Look, Iraq is a country that has Kurds, it has Shia, it has Sunnis, and it has others. And if the nation is going to work effectively, each has to have faith in the other. You have two Iraqi army brigades, not exclusively, but they do include a fair number of Kurds in both of them. The question is, do they operate effectively? Do they gain the trust and faith?
Keep in mind the model we're talking about here, Bret, as they go into neighborhoods, and they're there 24/7. They gain the trust of the local population by going door to door and talking with people. It's not door to door to rouse them out, but to do confidence-building measures, and to do law enforcement, similarly with police units.
We have made absolutely clear the fact that we think that there have been real problems, corruption and violence on the part of police -- and I've said it many times from this podium. But you have to assume that the Iraqis now understand the importance of performing. And. therefore, you need to give them a chance. You cannot say, we're only going to send Shia into Shia neighborhoods and only Sunni into Sunni neighborhoods, because in that way, it ends up being self defeating. You have to operate in a way that's certainly going to be sensitive and smart. But on the other hand, you have to understand ultimately the result in Iraq is going to be that all the major groups understand, appreciate, and respect the rights of one another.
Q And so the President's confidence on this comes from his talks with Maliki, and Maliki's confidence --
MR. SNOW: Well, you're going to have -- look, the President understands that these guys are going to have to demonstrate. And so we're going to find out whether they're -- whether they are going to be able to fulfill their part of the -- their responsibilities here.
Q Week ahead.
MR. SNOW: Oh, week ahead, I'm sorry. Thank you. Week ahead, week ahead, week ahead.
Q And anything on the Greek embassy?
MR. SNOW: Greek embassy, all we know is that there was something described as a rocket. I don't know exactly what that means. It was fired through a window just next to the shield in front of the embassy, hit a toilet at a little before 6:00 a.m. Nobody was injured. I think it's an isolated incident, and they're investigating -- the Greek government is investigating, and so is the U.S. government.
Okay, week ahead. Nothing on the public schedule for Monday.
Tuesday the President will meet in the Oval Office with the Secretary General of the United Nations. And the St. Louis Cardinals will be in the East Room; the President will greet them.
On Wednesday there will be a visit to the National Institutes of Health and a roundtable discussion there. That's in Bethesda.
MR. SNOW: Health care. National Institutes of Health.
There is travel to be announced on Thursday, and nothing at this juncture to announce on Friday. And that is the week ahead.
Q What's the radio address about tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: Radio address is about the way forward, it's about the --
MR. SNOW: Yes, about Iraq and the plan the President has --
Q Is there an NSC meeting tomorrow morning?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so.
Q Why is he not doing anything on Monday on --
MR. SNOW: I didn't say that. I just said there's no public schedule at this juncture.
Q Why is he coming back from Camp David tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: Because he wishes to.
MS. PERINO: I think they have a private dinner on Saturday night, and Mrs. Bush leaves for Paris on Sunday.
MR. SNOW: Yes, that's right, thank you. Private dinner on Saturday, and Mrs. Bush heads to Paris on Sunday. Thank heavens for Perino.
Q Tony, what about Secretary Rice's trip, what the President is hoping she'll accomplish.
MR. SNOW: I think --
Q You said, "thank you."
MR. SNOW: Yes. Give Sean a call over at State. He'll be able to give you a better fill on that.
END 1:23 P.M. EST