For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 19, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:09 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Okay, a couple of announcements. As you may have seen, there is severe weather hampering the middle part of the country -- hammering the middle part of the country, I should say. The administration continues to monitor the severe weather in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Texas. And FEMA has activated regional response coordination centers and it has liaisons working with the affected states.
Administrator Paulison spoke earlier today with the Governor of Missouri, and he said that FEMA is ready and able to assist its state partners as needed and requested. And FEMA is available if you have additional questions.
Also, two personnel announcements. Today President Bush is pleased to announce that he has selected Kenneth L. Wainstein to serve as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. We will have a statement from the President to release as soon as we finish this briefing, or while we're here. Mr. Wainstein, as you may know, oversaw the creation of the National Security Division of the Justice Department in September 2006. That creation -- the creation of that division was a key component of the recommendations from the WMD Commission.
And under Mr. Wainstein's leadership the NSD has achieved several important milestones -- I'll mention a couple of them, which is the ongoing effort to modernize FISA -- in fact, he was just here not too long ago providing a briefing -- that also included the Protect America Act passage. He has helped bring the surveillance activities conducted under the Terrorist Surveillance Program to under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and he has worked on creating and implementing a comprehensive oversight program for FBI national security investigations.
In addition, the President is pleased to announce his intention to nominate Michael Leiter to be Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which is in the Office of the National -- I'm sorry, Director of National Intelligence. He currently serves as Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Earlier in his career he served as Deputy General Counsel and Assistance Director of the President's Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, also known as the WMD Commission. So we're pleased that both of those individuals will be joining the team.
Q The President spoke today about 90,000 concerned citizens protecting their communities against terrorists, extremists and insurgents. Where does that figure come from? How was it derived?
MS. PERINO: These are the -- this figure comes out of MNFI, the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, and it's the -- also called the Concerned Local Citizens, or CLCs, that are working with the Marines now to beat back al Qaeda. It generally came out of the Anbar province, where al Qaeda had certainly taken over in Anbar and was starting to spread into other areas until the Sunnis there and others that lived in the area decided that they were not going to take it anymore and joined with us. And that's where you got the CLCs working with Petraeus.
Q I mean, was there, like, a census or a head count, or, I mean, is that just a rough estimate?
MS. PERINO: Those are the numbers that come out of MNFI, and I don't know exactly how they count them, but they come out of General Petraeus's operation.
Q And is that 90,000 figure the number that he's using when he talks about a large-scale uprising against Osama bin Laden?
MS. PERINO: That's part of it, sure. And I think that the overall effort in Iraq -- we couldn't have done it on our own, in terms of the security gains that we've had over the past year, in terms of just the American forces. And across-the-board, the Iraqis had a surge of their own, and not only did they have the CLCs that have stepped up, but you also had many more security forces added to the Iraqi forces across-the-board, both from the national police angle and to their military.
But the psychological and ideological struggle, which is part -- something that the President has talked about from the beginning, since we were attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11, this is also something that the President talked about in the speech, that you have a vision -- two competing visions, two competing ideologies. And the ideology of freedom and democracy is winning against al Qaeda in Iraq.
Q The large-scale uprising is all in Iraq -- that's what he's talking about?
MS. PERINO: He said that there is a large-scale uprising in Iraq. I don't have the exact language here, but certainly across-the-board, we are on the offense against al Qaeda not just in Iraq, but in other places where they are popping up. And the competing visions is something that the President has said for a long time. It's not just a military fight -- and everyone else says that, people on Capitol Hill say that, that it's a political and economic fight. And it's an ideological struggle, and one that we are intent on winning. It's going to take a long, long time.
Part of it was -- the first step was to regain control of not just Anbar, but the areas where al Qaeda had infiltrated, which we have largely done in Iraq. Now they're fighting mostly up in the Mosul area. But we have to keep fighting, and part of fighting is joining with the Iraqis. And they've done a lot and they're fighting alongside with us, and they're taking a lot of casualties -- not just through their police or their military, but through the attacks on their innocent civilians.
Q The President had a lot to say about the surge, but he didn't say much about the reason that the surge was put into effect, which was to create some breathing room for political reconciliation, which really hasn't happened. He didn't mention that at all.
MS. PERINO: I realize some people think that that hasn't been anything that happened, but I think if you look at the facts, Bill, I think --
Q Well, why didn't he mention it?
MS. PERINO: In terms of the political reconciliation that they've had?
Q Yes. What is there to brag about?
MS. PERINO: Well, they've passed a lot more laws than this Congress has this year, and they've worked very hard. I mean, they're going from a complete dictatorship where they have no trust of one another -- they've never had democracy, and just in January, late January, they finished passing four -- three or four pieces of -- major pieces of legislation. And they're continuing to work on more.
Politics is alive and well in Iraq. And just today we hear reports that it's possible that the constitutional process that was working its way through, where Vice President Mahdi had suggested a veto against a provincial powers law that -- it looks like that will be withdrawn, which would be a good step. And then you have -- what you have is Iraq actually trying to function as a democracy.
And I think some people who are throwing stones ought to look at the primary system in our own country, especially on the Democratic side, where you have two states where -- Florida and Michigan, where they're figuring out whether or not to seat those delegates. Politics happens. And that's what -- it happens in the United States and it's certainly happening in Iraq. It's not a bad thing that they're having debates about their constitution.
Q So you think that the Democrats should seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I don't really have an opinion, but I'm really interested in the story. (Laughter.)
Q If I can follow on the previous question, in the past the President has, in his speeches, put pressure on Maliki's government and the Iraqi parliament to do more on national reconciliation. Now, does this mean the President is satisfied with what they've done up to date?
Q He didn't mention it.
MS. PERINO: Well, there's a lot of things he didn't mention. There's lots of things he did mention. He can't talk about every single thing every time. As you know, the President talks to Prime Minister Maliki regularly. He talks to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker every single week, if not more often, during the week. And he's constantly pressuring them. And we have people who are there working with them to pull this together.
And just today, look at the reports that they're moving forward, they're making progress on the provincial elections law, which they originally passed in January. Someone had -- Vice President Mahdi had a constitutional question as to whether or not this was the right thing for their country. He had issues that he wanted to be addressed, or he had concerns about a technicality. They were addressed. That's what you would expect in a civil democracy, they have those conversations.
Today what the President was focusing on was the -- revisiting the beginning of the war, talking about what's happening now and talking about the surge, and then the broader global war on terrorism. Just because the President doesn't mention something doesn't mean all of a sudden, Matt, that he's perfectly satisfied. He says repeatedly that he knows that they need to do more.
Q But this was laid out as one of the cornerstone reasons for having the surge in the first place. Now, all he -- he did mention today bottom-up reconciliation --
MS. PERINO: -- what the facts are. You reported -- Reuters has reported on them, on those successes in Iraq yourselves. So I don't understand where you're coming from.
Q I'm just wondering why the President doesn't have anything to say about it. I'd think in a major speech --
MS. PERINO: Well, we could have made it much longer, and we could have had lots of other things in there to satisfy you. But clearly, the President has been talking about this repeatedly; I talk about it repeatedly; so does General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates. There's no shortage of administration officials who are directly talking to the Iraqis, and then talking to you all about how we feel.
Q Can I ask about something that was in the speech? The economy. The President talked about if we cede ground in Iraq there could be an economic impact here back in the United States. Did he mean higher oil prices if there's instability --
MS. PERINO: No, and that's not precisely what he said. What he said was that what is critical is to make sure that we do not allow al Qaeda to establish a safe haven in Iraq or elsewhere because the impacts of such a safe haven could be catastrophic both in lives and on the economy. We know what the kind of impact that just the 9/11 attack had on our country, where over a million people lost their jobs, and our stock markets went into a turmoil, and we had to take significant action in order to help right our economy. So that's what he was talking about, in general, not specifically about oil.
Q What about the possibility of a terror attack here in the United States and how that could devastate the economy?
MS. PERINO: That's what he was meaning, yes.
Q When the President was talking about, what Terry was asking earlier, on the large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, when he's talking about Iraq being poised for a major strategic victory in the war on terror, is there a danger that he is, once again, as critics have criticized him for, overselling progress in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I think that there is a strategic -- there is a significance to what has happened in the turning against -- of the Sunnis in Iraq turning against al Qaeda. It's a significant moment in the global war on terror. The President is talking about it. And when we talk about the gains we've made are fragile and not irreversible, the President is talking about making sure we follow on and carry through this significant event, and work -- continue to work with the Concerned Local Citizens that Terry was talking about, and others, and help bring better lifestyles, more prosperity, schools, roads, and all the other pieces that come after you have a more secure country.
Q But over the past five years, there were many instances where the President has said things like "making progress," "turning the corner." The Vice President says "last throes." Is there a danger that with this kind of sweeping language, he's again raising false hope?
MS. PERINO: Well, Mark, look at the rest of the speech. The President says, this is fragile, it's not irreversible, we have a lot more work to do. The President is being very honest with the American people, that we have made gains -- that's undeniable -- both on the security side and on the political side. And the Iraqis have helped us get there.
But we have a lot more to do. And that includes making sure that they follow through on the laws that they've just passed, make sure that they're implemented appropriately, make sure that we continue to support our men and women in uniform so that they have all the tools that they need for the mission that we've asked them to do, and that this is a long ideological struggle. He's called it the generational -- this is his generation's big decision on how we're going to handle a global war on terror, and do we have the stomach to continue fighting -- because, in the President's mind, we have to stay on the offense or else we'll run the risk of becoming targets again.
Q Dana, the President accused Democrats of exaggerating the cost of the war -- there's several estimates out there. Speaker Pelosi said $3 trillion. Does he consider that an exaggeration?
MS. PERINO: I think she's -- I think she was probably quoting what we were asked about, I think it was last week, by that report. And we have questioned that in terms of -- we don't know exactly how much it's going to cost. And they throw a lot of different pieces into that, in terms of cost of care for veterans going forward. The President says that it's absolutely worth it. The costs are higher than we originally projected; we have admitted that. And the President believes that we're going to give the troops everything that they need. At the end of the day, even though they've been hard-fought arguments, the Congress has come together on a bipartisan basis to provide those funds, because I would assume that they think it's worth it.
I'd give you one example, which is MRAP vehicles. This is new technology for vehicles that can help save the lives of our troops, or at least certainly prevent grievous injuries, and those vehicles are very expensive. The questions coming from Congress aren't, "Why are you spending the money to provide these vehicles?" The questions were, "Why can't you get more of them to these troops faster?" "Don't they deserve them?"
And so we think that, at the end of the day, we will be able to fund these troops with what they need, but we think that it was worth it. The alternatives of not funding the troops or not completing the mission, the cost of that is very real. We know the cost of not being able to thwart a terrorist attack. That cost was extreme -- it was way too high. And the President thinks that the investments we're making now will make our country safer in the long run.
Q I'm trying to figure out if what the President says is an exaggeration. If I understood you properly, you said the $3 trillion cost, if it comes to that, is worth it. Does the President --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if it's going to be $3 trillion. And I think that is the assumptions of how far into the future that you plan on -- it's hard to tell. We don't even know what the projections are going to be in 2011. It's hard to tell what it's going to be 50 years from now.
Q But do I understand that the President is not necessarily speaking of the $3 trillion cost when he speaks of an exaggeration?
MS. PERINO: I think that there have been many different estimates that the President was referring to, not just that.
Q Dana, Senator Biden says there's no end in sight in Iraq. Five years in, I mean, how do you guys respond to that, to that charge?
MS. PERINO: Well, in terms of no end in sight, are we going to be there for a while? Are we going to be there for several more years? Yes. And the President has been very honest about that. And I think that many people in Congress are actually -- that are serious about it understand that we need to be there for a while in order to help Iraq secure the gains that they've made, establish themselves as a fully functioning democracy, not only for the benefit of the region but for the benefit of our own national security. So we are going to be there for a while.
How long are we going to have troops there and what are the levels going to be? That's what we don't know. And we've already been able to say that after the surge we were able to bring back, because of the successes that we've had this past year, five brigades that will come back by July. And then from there we don't know what the troop levels will be. And the President said he'll be getting updates. As you know, next week he's going to be getting some briefings from both the State Department and the Department of Defense, as he did in the lead-up to the September report that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus provided. So he's going to do similar next week, and then -- and allow them to have their testimony before he makes further decisions.
Q Can I follow up on that real quickly? Because, just curious, as the President heads out over the next eight months or nine months or whatever it is, next year --
MS. PERINO: Ten.
MS. PERINO: But who's counting?
Q You are.
Q Does he have any plans to try to challenge the U.S. -- the American people? If he thinks we're going to be there for several more years, does he have any plans on how to try to motivate them for that -- the next five years, to really want to be there --
MS. PERINO: What you saw from the President today is making the case for why we need to be there and why it's important for national security. And, look, he understands that it's unpopular. The war has been -- the war is unpopular. War in general is unpopular. And this President could figure out a way to be popular. There's lots of different ways that you could figure out how to make -- if you wanted to chase opinion polls, that you could increase your popularity.
But the President, this President has had many things come his way, and the thing that has grounded him are his principles. And going into this next year, the President is going to continue to stand on principle. If more people can understand the reasons that we're there, we think that that's better -- for the better, and we continue to try to make that case.
Q The President warned of the danger that al Qaeda could gain access to Iraq's oil resources. But I don't understand how a fragmented, clandestine, non-Iraqi terrorist organization could produce and sell Iraqi oil on the global market, especially when the majority of Iraqis have turned against al Qaeda. Could you describe a plausible scenario?
MS. PERINO: The purpose of what the President said is that al Qaeda should not be allowed to have safe haven in Iraq and take over --
Q How can they take over Iraq's oil reserves --
MS. PERINO: Well, if we were to leave we would certainly ensue chaos and not be able to -- if we were to leave too soon, it would certainly be chaos and it would be terrible for not only the innocent Iraqis, but the entire region and, in fact, our own national security. That's what the President --
Q But the Iraqis would let a foreign terrorist organization take over their oil?
MS. PERINO: You're missing the point, and I think that you should go back and read --
Q No, I --
MS. PERINO: Yes, actually, I think you are missing the point. And I call on you because I see what you write about how you come here and you really want to have questions asked. And I'm calling on you and I'm providing it to you, but I suggest that you read the President's speech and read it in context, because that's -- what you're suggesting is not what the President said.
Q Dana, with the support, the open support of President Hugo Chavez to the FARC, it is true that you're going to -- that the President is thinking to put Venezuela on the list of countries who support and sponsor terrorism?
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to the State Department, who evaluates those matters. I don't know of any imminent announcements or decisions.
Go ahead, Mr. Lambros.
Q On FYROM, is the President concerned about the unresolved name issue between Athens and Skopje, due to the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest?
MS. PERINO: Sure, the President is hoping that they will come to an agreement before we get to the NATO summit, because he thinks that is an issue that is solvable, and something that they should get done before we head out there at the end of the month.
Q Do you know if he is going to make any initiative at the last moment?
MS. PERINO: Well, I know the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been talking with them, and she'll be here tomorrow to report to the President on her recent trip. So I'm sure they'll talk about not only her trip to Russia, but the upcoming NATO summit.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The statement that "The most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning" was made yesterday in a widely reported speech in Philadelphia. And my question: Does the President believe this statement is true today?
MS. PERINO: I haven't talked to the President about that speech.
Q Oh, all right. California's Democrat Congressman Fortney Stark, who you may remember risked his life in civil rights advocacy in the 1960s, was refused admittance into the Congressional Black Caucus because of his white race. And my question: Does the White House know if Senator Obama refused to join this racially segregated caucus, as did Oklahoma's former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts?
MS. PERINO: Les, you know I'm not going to talk about '08 politics. I told you that before.
Q This is --
MS. PERINO: Come with a question that I can answer.
Q Thank you.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT