For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 5, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
4:03 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Well, as you know, we've had a couple of personnel announcements today. The President has announced John Negroponte will be going to the State Department and Mike McConnell will be the new Director of National Intelligence. In addition, the Pentagon, within the hour, has announced recommendations by Defense Secretary Gates to elevate General George Casey to become Army Chief of Staff; General George Petraeus [sic] to be head of the multinational forces in Iraq; Admiral William Fallon to assume command of Central Command; and announces the retirement of General John Abizaid.
Now, the President has accepted these recommendations and will be forwarding the nominations, and he's pleased to do so. And we're going to have some statements available.
Let me also do a quick explainer, because I know that there has been some frustration on the part of many of you about our inability or unwillingness to confirm information that you thought you had at various junctures. And by the way, there are no further personnel announcements to be made today.
It is important at the White House to make sure that we show proper and due respect for people who are going to be affected by appointments and decisions we make. For instance, the announcements that were made earlier today involving changes at the State Department and the Department [sic] of National Intelligence are things that you have to do proper notifications, especially to members of Congress, in this case. In other cases, you may have decisions that have international ramifications and will involve notifications, as well.
So I, as press secretary, and those of us who work at the White House are not going to get in the position of trying to talk with the press about matters where we have not at the White House completed the notifications that are properly due to members of Congress and other interested parties. As you noted, there was some discomfort among members of the House and Senate about the Petraeus and McConnell announcements because they had not been informed -- and we share those frustrations; they deserve to know first. And we want to make it clear that we have full respect for both of those legislative bodies. But it also will, I think, explain the approach that we have taken, and why.
In other cases, too, when you have nominations of this sort, things may leak out before you finish doing all the steps that you need to take and checking all the boxes you need to check before you can proceed with nominations and the like.
So there's your explanation, and I am now happy to take any questions about these and other topics that may have arisen during the course of the day.
Q The President, in his consultations about his new way forward, is he listening to advice from people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who wrote him today to say, "We do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success"?
MR. SNOW: The sessions we've had today have been really constructive and very interesting, because the President has, in fact, solicited views -- and there are people who have been critics of engagement in Iraq, as well as those who have been supporters. And a couple of themes have emerged.
Number one, nobody is satisfied with the status quo in Iraq, including the President. Number two, there is a recognition that there are a series of facts on the ground that you're going to have to address. You have sectarian violence, it's an absolute must. Which means that in addressing sectarian violence, you not only deal with insurgents, you not only deal with the rejectionists, you not only deal with militias, you also have to find ways after you deal with the violence, itself, of putting together the ability for Iraqis to gather around a unified government, to have reconciliation -- sectarian reconciliation, political reconciliation, a guarantee of political rights, measures designed to make sure that there is an economic future for Iraqis, and so on.
If you take a look at the letter that was sent by Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi, it talks about a renewed diplomatic strategy, and the United States remains aggressive on the diplomatic front. It talks about a sustainable political settlement, which we think is absolutely vital, and have continued to talk about. It talks about addressing sectarian problems, which we consider important.
And I would draw your attention to the first two phrases in the last sentence of the letter: "We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future" -- actually, just the first one. They don't believe the U.S. combat troops provide that solution. That's fine. "We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed" -- that's precisely the kind of dialogue the President would love to have, which is, okay, when you say we want to do anything we can, what is that, and how do you define it a success? And those are the kinds of conversations that are going on.
The President, for the most part, is listening to people, listening to their ideas. And, also, many of the people who are in are expressing the concerns that their constituents have about the situation in Iraq.
So the approach that we have taken -- and there will be opportunities for Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid to speak with the President on this -- is the President will listen. And I think one of the things we will do is welcome them to offer their suggestions.
The one thing the President is committed to is victory in Iraq. Winning in Iraq, in terms of creating an Iraq that can sustain, defend and govern itself, but also understanding that there is a larger war on terror that is even more vital for the United States to pursue -- Iraq is a central front in that war, but it is not the only front -- and that U.S. policy does need -- we need to widen our gaze, to ask the question, are we prepared to continue the battle through this -- and, no doubt, succeeding administrations -- in waging an effective war on terror, so Americans will have a more secure future?
So that's kind of the nature of the discussions that we've had today. And they've been very good. The tone has been respectful. There have been some vigorous exchanges, but they've been quite interesting, and a lot of us taking notes, because there are things to learn from people who have come by.
Q But, Tony, there's been a lot of talk about expectation, what the President has or has not decided, one being the surge in U.S. troops. Are you saying at this time that the President still has not made that decision about sending additional troops, and he has not signed any order instructing that to happen?
MR. SNOW: I guarantee you, if he had signed orders, you would know about it. He has not signed any orders.
Q He hasn't made any decisions at this time?
MR. SNOW: Again, Suzanne, he has not made final decisions, and he's made that clear to the people in the rooms. He is moving in a direction, but he also believes in doing consultations. So, no, there is no final-final on this yet. But there will be, we expect, by sometime next week.
Part of this is, again, making sure that you have received as much data and as many inputs and as many points of view as you can, so that you can fashion a policy that is going to lead to success, and furthermore, to frame it in a way that is going to enable the American people to understand how you're thinking about this and why it's important for them to support it. So in many different ways, these conversations are quite useful.
Q Tony, Senator Reid this afternoon said that the President needs to hear from people who tell him something that he wants to hear; obviously Generals Abizaid and Casey are not telling him what he wants to hear, and they're out. Can you respond to that?
MR. SNOW: That's inaccurate. That's just flat inaccurate. General Casey is now going to be the Chairman -- I mean, he's going to be the Army Chief, the Chief of Staff for the United States Army. General Abizaid is somebody whose counsel we will continue to value and will listen to.
What you do have is a situation where, as you develop a new way forward, you had the situation in which you also had a couple of guys whose billets were going to come up within a period of time. And the answer is, once you're started on a new way forward, do you change then, or do you change now? And it makes sense to go ahead and make sure that you're going to have your command team that is going to be in place as you're working on this new way forward and enacting it. And I think there's -- he has found very able and capable individuals. Secretary Gates and the President are very happy with the people they are now going to be proposing.
And I think -- surely, Senator Reid is not suggesting that the President doesn't like to hear from people who disagree with him. As a matter of fact, we've thrown the doors wide open to people who bring all points of view precisely because we want to figure out how to get this absolutely right.
And, again, Senator Reid, who has put together this letter -- and there's the implicit offer that they think that they may have a way for figuring out how to help Iraq succeed, look, that can be a very constructive contribution to the debate. So we're looking forward to hearing it.
Q So is there any way between now and the time the President delivers the speech that the President can be persuaded to change his mind about the way forward in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I'm sure there are many things -- factors that the President is going to weigh. That is a question that's very difficult to answer because it's so impressionistic, so I'm afraid I can't give you much help on that one.
Q Has he nailed down which way he's going?
MR. SNOW: Not entirely. If he had, we wouldn't be doing consultations. Again, the President has some notions about where he wants to end up, but he's made it clear to everybody he has not made a final decision. And you often hear him and others referring to it in the course of meetings.
Q Tony, in the last communication the President had with Prime Minister Maliki, he said he was looking for signs of Prime Minister Maliki's will, and he said that he found what he was looking for. But the fact that he's still looking this far in the game, what's changed? I mean, a couple of months ago, he was the right guy for the job.
MR. SNOW: No, I think -- and I think he's seeing it. For instance, the Prime Minister, within the last hour or so, has released a statement where he's talking about making aggressive new moves in Baghdad. And I think there have been a lot of questions here in the United States, and people are asking the question: What are the Iraqis going to do? And those are questions that are worth answering.
Prime Minister Maliki, as I've told you, in our dealings with him, is somebody who seems to be -- who is becoming more assertive and more comfortable with power. This is a guy who has now been a head of state for something like seven months in a country that --
Q Head of government.
MR. SNOW: -- head of government. What did I say?
Q Head of state.
MR. SNOW: Head of state. Thank you. Head of government -- for going on seven months in a country that has not had a functioning democracy before, where people are still trying to figure out how political parties work. And you now see him more comfortable with taking these things on. What the President really is doing is rephrasing a question a lot of Americans have asked, and we think we're starting to see answers for.
Q But when we're talking about will, obviously he hadn't seen something that -- I mean, he's asking questions, that if he already had all the evidence that made him feel comfortable enough, obviously there were questions about --
MR. SNOW: -- Prime Minister Maliki. Again, I think what the President is doing is expressing -- this is -- he's rephrasing a question that a lot of Americans are asking, and we heard a lot today.
Q One follow. Was the President running by parts of -- or possibilities that he was leaning toward involving a new way forward -- was he running that by Prime Minister Maliki to --
MR. SNOW: No, they spent time -- no. This is not where the President is sort of trying stuff out. Instead --
Q Yes, that he had the will to back up what the President wanted to hear?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, no, no. You've got the order precisely backwards. Prime Minister Maliki is the man who's responsible, who's the head of government in Iraq.
Q So he's coming up with the way forward?
MR. SNOW: Yes. If you listen to what was said -- what Prime Minister Maliki did is he outlined his suggestions for taking a look at the Baghdad security plan when he and the President met in Amman. And that has provided a basis for future discussions. So this is not -- I really want to clear up the misconception that the United States is drafting plans and handing orders to the Iraqis, because that's not the case. The Iraqis are playing a very active role and saying this is what we think is going to be the most effective way forward. So this is not done in a vacuum. And the ultimate end result here is Iraqis assuming full control over security and other operations within their country.
Q But the President next week is not going to address the American public with what Prime Minister Maliki wants to do in Iraq, he's going to address what he wants to do.
MR. SNOW: But he does not do this in a vacuum, Jim, he is doing it in concert with the government of Iraq, where Prime Minister Maliki is the man with whom he deals on this.
Q That's why I was asking, was he talking with him about specifics of what might appear next Wednesday or Thursday?
MR. SNOW: They were talking about a range of things, but I'm not going to get into fine points. The point I made yesterday is, he did not say, here is where we're going, here is what we want to do. There was no conversation like that.
Q But if Maliki would -- if he were to listen to what the President wanted to do, and said, "Uh-uh, that's not good," the President would find some other path?
MR. SNOW: I think that is probably the case. But on the other hand, keep in mind that none of these conversations occur in vacuum. The Prime Minister speaks on an almost daily basis with the Ambassador, so, frankly, when you're putting together a plan, you also put it together with an eye on figuring out what you think is going to lead to success. And part of that success is making sure the government of Iraq, which increasingly is going to be leading the action, that this is done in support of that government.
The government of Iraq is not in a support role for us; we're in a support role for them. And, again, I think a lot of the debate in this country is, what are the Americans going to come in and do -- as if it's a unilateral action, and it's just not.
Q With the announcement today the President has replaced the entire senior chain of command for the war in Iraq, from the Defense Secretary down to the head of the Central Command and the ground commander. Is his goal here to find new people who are less wedded to the tactics and the ideas of the past?
MR. SNOW: No, I think -- look, when Bob Gates was named as Defense Secretary, and we also announced the resignation of Don Rumsfeld, the notion of a fresh set of eyes was discussed. One of the things that you do have with the people who are coming in are track records, experience, and at the same time, creativity and ingenuity.
But I would -- the problem with questions like that is that it invites one to criticize or make odious comparisons of people like George Casey, who has been a magnificent head of MNFI, and is going to be a magnificent Secretary of the Army [sic], or John Abizaid, who has been one of the most extraordinary officers --
Q Secretary of the Army?
MR. SNOW: What did I say?
Q Secretary of the Army.
MR. SNOW: No, no, Army Chief of Staff. Thank you, John, you're helping -- it's been a very long day. I've been batting down rumors so long that my head is swimming.
The point is that these are enormously capable people, and they have served their country well, not merely during the war in Iraq, but for many, many years. And we continue to value their contributions. So that's why I'm answering the question the way I do. I think the more sensible thing is -- as I pointed out before, you've got people whose billets are going to expire; do you make the changes in the middle of the way forward, or do you do this up front? And what you then look for are people who are capable.
With David Petraeus, you have somebody who has experience in counter-insurgency experience within Iraq. And that's an important thing. And Fox Fallon is somebody who obviously is well known and well respected for his abilities, as well.
Q Tony, are there, in fact, differences between the President and the Joint Chiefs over whether to increase troops in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, I mean, I've seen a lot of press reports. What's interesting is that you get blind quotes in these things. The President relies on the expertise and the advice of people within the chain of command. He's still the Commander-in-Chief, and as Commander-in-Chief, once he decides on a way forward, the people within that chain of command are the ones who figure out the best way to execute it. But these things are not done in a vacuum. And the President has always been somebody who defers to commanders on a lot of key issues, because they're going to know a lot of the vagaries better.
Again, at this point, what I would suggest, while everybody is trying to put together a narrative, surge or no surge, we'll have an opportunity next week to talk about a lot of these things, so that it's not -- the questioning is not indirect. You can ask direct questions about real policies then.
Q Thank you, Tony.
MR. SNOW: No, thank you for correcting me twice today. That's been very helpful. (Laughter.)
Q My mother says it's rude.
MR. SNOW: I'll drink a coffee to wake up. It's not rude at all. Thanks. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. This is arguably the most significant shake-up in the military command since the President has taken office, or at least since General Pace became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Did General Abizaid or any of those who are going to civilian life in this submit a letter of resignation, or have an exit interview with the President that you could enlighten us on?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of at this point. I know there's been some communication with General Abizaid. Again, look, what you're talking is --
Q Written communication?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I know there's been verbal communication, of which I'm aware. I don't know if there's anything written. I'll try to find out. But those going to civilian life number one. So you find that General Abizaid is retiring after 33 years. And, again, he is somebody who is an extraordinary officer, and somebody whose counsel we'll continue to value and solicit.
Q Can you describe the process of consulting with Congress? In other words, how were the members chosen today? What will be the next wave of members? How are you -- and just to follow up on Terry's question, is it the case the President is actually going to do a sit-down with Pelosi and Reid --
MR. SNOW: He will be speaking with them before it's all done.
Q But they will be --
MR. SNOW: Let me just tell you -- and I'm going to go no further, because I probably have gone further than I should. The rules under which we do these meetings are ones where we say members of Congress -- we're not going to tell who is in the meetings. And they can decide whether they want to go out to the sticks or speak to reporters.
Q So how many were in today? Just how many?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell you.
Q Just a number.
MR. SNOW: No.
MR. SNOW: Because it's just -- it's one of the standards and procedures that's been used in these meetings.
Q You were going to tell --
MR. SNOW: Look, you're fishing for process. I'm simply telling you that these were significant meetings. And part of this is that out of respect for members, we're going to abide by the ground rules. And the ground rules are, we're not going to say who was in there, but they can certainly feel free to come forward and speak.
Q So how is it going to proceed?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's going to proceed in much the same fashion as happened, which is that people are going to be coming in, and they're going to be speaking with the President. And he is inviting very candid comments. He wants to hear what people have to say.
It's interesting because you've got a new Congress where you've got Democratic leadership and he is openly and eagerly soliciting the views and ideas of Democrats. And he continues to do the same with Republicans. And so you've got both sides, and there is -- look, there is considerable concern in this country about what's going on in Iraq. And members have made no secret of that. And the President absolutely agrees with their concerns.
So what you have are some -- they're refreshing, because everybody assumes that when we talk about bipartisanship that it's just sort of happy face, kumbaya stuff, and we're really lying through our teeth. And the fact is that these meetings may not be happy face/kumbaya, but they have been very constructive in the sense that people are talking respectfully about important issues, and expressing their ideas. And some of them are quite interesting. And we're taking them into account.
Q So you go around the room and everyone gets a chance to speak? I mean, you said it was a very interesting process. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Those who wish to speak, speak; and those who don't, don't.
Q And has he heard anything he hasn't heard before?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think so. I think so. And, no, I won't tell you what it is.
Q Wouldn't it be more useful at this point for the President to say, well here's where I'm going, what do you all think about that? If it's --
MR. SNOW: No, because when that happens, there will be some of that, as well -- when he's decided upon the way forward --
Q But then it will already have been decided. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, wait a minute. You just told me -- what the hell do you want me to do here? (Laughter.) I'm saying he's going to -- he's consulting before the decision, he's consulting after the decision, and when I tell you that he's consulting before the decision, you say, why don't we do it after? And then when I say he's doing it after, you say, why didn't he do it before?
Q I'm questioning the use of the word "consulting." He's listening. Well, that's fine. You know, members of Congress can come in and pop off all they want, and then he says, okay, here's my plan, guys; I took into account what you wanted. But if it's real consultation, it's kind of like, well, here's what I'm thinking, what do you think about that? Instead of, you all tell me what you think, okay, fine, here's the plan.
MR. SNOW: Well, I guarantee you the President will do the latter. He is doing the former. Please give him proper credit for inviting people in to express their views. And guess what? My guess is, when he says, here's how I plan to go forward -- my sense is that members of Congress -- who tend not to be showing reticence as a general proposition -- after all, they get elected by talking -- they're going to share their views then, as well.
So you get both. I mean, come on. There's going to be an opportunity for people to express their views on it, and that's healthy.
One, the President has a plan. Everybody is going to find out what it is. And there will be vigorous and healthy and important debate about it. And what we're trying to do is to make sure that members of Congress, in fact, do get the hearing.
Q How concerned is the President that a surge is, in fact, going in directly the opposite direction from that which the voters made very clear they wanted to go in, in November?
MR. SNOW: What you're doing is you're asking me, is the President concerned about the public opinion and ramifications of a policy that he may or may not have chosen. When the President chooses a policy, we can do the public polling questions. I think at this point it's preliminary.
Q What sort of role or value does the Pelosi-Reid letter about troop surge and saying they disagree with that policy play into the President's thinking going forward to next week?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I will go back to what I said before, which is that there also is a discussion in here about their determination, as they say -- they're very clear about it -- where they say, "we want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future." We want to hear what their ideas are. But that's -- our view at this point is that we are in a -- we are in a period right now where we're listening to members of Congress and we not only want to hear what they have to say, but if they have alternative plans and views, we're interested in hearing that, as well.
The point of the exercise, and the point of the deliberation about a way forward is to get it right. And over the recent months, the President has invited into the White House people with widely divergent views on how to proceed. And he has had people who have been harshly critical of his policies, because we do want to hear as much. And other people within the White House also have had conversations with people with widely divergent views.
The approach to the way forward, understanding that sectarian violence had risen to absolutely unacceptable levels, and that two attempts with Baghdad plans had not addressed it adequately, the idea is, you need to take a very clear and fresh look and incorporating as many points of view as possible so you get this right.
So the ultimate objective here is not to engage in sparring, but to engage in an open dialogue with people on both sides of the aisle.
Q Tony, one on the Middle East, one on North Korea. The President last night said that he favored a Quartet meeting at the appropriate time. What factors are going to shape what the appropriate time is? Does it have to happen after Secretary Rice comes back?
MR. SNOW: I think it's likely to happen after Secretary Rice comes back. There are going to be some opportunities for the Quartet to get together sometime in the relatively near future. But nothing yet has been completely ironed out. But Secretary Rice will be -- it's certainly going to be after her upcoming trip.
Q And on North Korea, today the Japanese Foreign Minister came out and said that the United States and Japan are working on a contingency plan to handle a crisis that would overwhelm the ability of the region to absorb refugees from North Korea. Anything new going on there? Any new crisis, anything that you see happening coming down the pipe that --
MR. SNOW: No. People make plans all the time. As a matter of fact, as you noted after -- it is a standard part of any government's preparation to try to take a look at all alternatives, domestically and internationally, and to try to prepare for them. And in this case, obviously, the United States and Japan, as parties to the six-party talks, have interests in trying to address. But that's a bit of gaming. Look, what we're hoping is for the six-party talks to resume soon.
Q Two quick questions. One, as far as talking about India-U.S. relations and the (inaudible) in the new year -- President is very famous in India, and among the Indian-American community here because of that civil nuclear agreement between the two countries. And where we move from here? What is the future of India-U.S. relations beyond this agreement?
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously India is a large, booming, vital country with a rapidly expanding economy, and we are delighted to be having closer and continuing closer relationships with the government of India and the people of India. So there are now before us any number -- there is regional security, trade, the normal set of challenges and opportunities that you'd have in dealing with any global power or ally.
But the Indian Civil Nuclear Treaty was obviously a very important signal to the people of India about the intent of this government and the people of the United States. We look forward to India being a closer and closer ally and an increasingly important one.
Q Will there be another visit between the two countries, a high level --
MR. SNOW: Look, I'm sure there will continue to be high level contacts, but I don't have anything to say about visits at this point, and don't know anything about them.
Q Second question. Yesterday, on the Capitol Hill first House Speaker woman, Nancy Pelosi. She was talking about that from kitchen to Congress, that she is the first woman ever to lead the U.S. Congress. She was talking about new ideas on the Hill, under the new and Democratic Congress. What you think President sees new ideas she will bring, like immigration bill, or --
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see. Look, give her a chance. She just -- they haven't really begun rolling up their sleeves and getting to business, they'll do that next week. I think you allow Democrats -- I'm often asked to respond to hypotheticals about pieces of legislation. Let's let this new Democratic Congress, the new Democratic leaders, and the committee chairs, and those who are drafting legislation, let's see what they have. They've made a lot of comments, and we'll be happy to react once there are things on paper and debates underway.
Q Why I mention (inaudible) is because a lot of small businesses are looking, but they cannot find people, including in the high-tech region --
MR. SNOW: I understand. As I said, Goyal, we're talking in a vacuum right now.
Q Tony, thank you. Will the President invite Wesley Autrey, who is the New York Subway Samaritan, to the White House?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q Since we've waited four hours, could I get two more?
MR. SNOW: As long as they don't take four hours. (Laughter.)
Q They won't.
Q That was the second one. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: That was already one, so what's your other one?
Q No, no. This morning The Washington Times noted, "The Bush administration reached an agreement with Mexico that would permit illegal aliens, after they are granted amnesty in the future, to claim Social Security benefits for the work they performed while in the U.S. illegally, even if they committed felonies by using fraudulent Social Security documents." Could you explain why this is not subsidizing crime?
MR. SNOW: I don't know anything about it, Les. Sorry. Forgive me -- this, again -- I want you to put on your newsman's hat. For the last 25 hours, I've been dealing with who is going to take what position in Washington at which department. And so if I am preparing for a news conference, probably the last thing I'm going to be doing is something which, while it may be of vital interest, it may not be top of mind. So if you wish -- and I've made this offer to Goyal and others -- if you want to ask me a question like this and you really want a good answer, call me beforehand so I can be prepared.
Q I will. Last question: The Internet had a news release yesterday which announced that Cindy Sheehan would join Daniel Elsberg and Michael Ratner of the so-called Center for Constitutional Rights, in calling on the Congress to impeach the President. Does the White House know if that happened, and what was your reaction, if it did?
MR. SNOW: No, I didn't know it had happened. And Speaker Pelosi has already said that no such proceedings will take place. We'll take her at her word. She is, after all, the Speaker of the House.
Q Thank you.
END 4:34 P.M. EST