Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 20, 2003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a
report on the President's day, and then take whatever questions may be
on your mind.
The President began today when he received a 6:00 a.m. phone call
from his National Security Advisor providing him with an overnight
update on events in Iraq. The President arrived at the Oval Office at
6:55 a.m. Upon arrival he later had his intelligence briefing,
followed by an FBI briefing. He met with the Secretary of Defense. As
we speak he is having lunch with the Vice President.
He will convene a Cabinet meeting later today, at which the
President will welcome the pool. The President at the Cabinet meeting
will discuss the developments in Iraq, remind the Cabinet of the
importance of this mission, of disarming Saddam Hussein. And he will
also, on the domestic front, remind the Cabinet Secretaries of the
importance of pushing ahead with a busy and important domestic agenda,
even in the middle of international events.
Tonight the President will meet with the President of Cameroon in
the Oval Office, and he will have dinner with the President of
Before I take your questions, there's one item I would like to
point out to you. The President would like to thank the growing number
of nations that have joined in the coalition of the willing to disarm
Saddam Hussein. As of today, there are more than 35 countries
currently committed to the coalition, and that number is growing.
Contributions from nations include direct military participation;
logistical, intelligence and political support; specialized chemical
and biological response teams; over- flight rights; and humanitarian
and other aid.
Nations include -- and this is just a partial list --
Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland,
Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom. Turkey, of course,
today in their parliament, voted to grant over-flight rights to the
United States and to the coalition.
It's no accident that many members of this coalition recently
escaped from tyranny and oppression and they understand what is at
stake in bringing freedom and liberation to the Iraqi people, as the
mission of disarmament continues. All told, the population of
coalition of the willing is approximately 1.18 billion people around
the world. The coalition countries have a combined GDP of
approximately $21.7 trillion. Every major race, religion and ethnic
group in the world is represented. The coalition includes nations from
every continent on the globe. And for this, the President is
QUESTION: Has Saddam Hussein or any of his leadership
been killed or captured?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any questions dealing with anything
operational will, as was the routine in 1991, has been made clear on
many occasions, be addressed by the Pentagon, not by the White House.
QUESTION: Is there any indication that Saddam Hussein
will accept exile, and is that offer still on the table?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to hope that Saddam Hussein will
leave Iraq. We continue to hope that Iraqi generals will not follow
orders. It is not too late for them to do that. It is very important,
and the President has said, that Iraqi generals, Iraqi troops lay down
their arms and not engage in combat. This is not their battle, this is
not their war.
This is a war to disarm the Iraqi regime from its weapons of mass
destruction. It would be a welcome event if Saddam Hussein were still
QUESTION: Was the mission a success, in general
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, here in the very early days, the
earliest hours of the disarmament mission, I'm not going to provide a
play-by-play coverage of it. The President has every confidence, as
the American people do, in the men and women of our military to achieve
their objective, which is to disarm the Iraqi regime. He has every
confidence that will be done. But I'm just not, as a general matter of
principle, going to provide a daily and nightly tick-tock like that.
But when I say the President has every confidence, it's for good
QUESTION: Ari, you've emphasized the support that the
coalition is getting, but there's been substantial criticism, as well,
particularly from President Putin of Russia. What's your response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President is very gratified
by the growing list of nations that support the coalition's efforts.
The differences that the President has had, and the United States has,
with a few other nations are well-known. There is nothing new to
that. The President understands and respects the opinions of leaders
like President Putin. Nevertheless, that will not deter the United
States and the coalition of the willing from disarming the Iraqi
QUESTION: Is it going to damage U.S.-Russian
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in the many conversations that
President Bush has had President Putin, the two of them have stressed
that, while on this issue they disagree about whether the use of force
is appropriate to disarm Saddam Hussein, relations between the United
States and Russia are too important for anybody to let them be
damaged. The President doesn't believe they will be, no.
QUESTION: Ari, you noted that Turkey had granted
over-flight rights. What did we offer Turkey in exchange for
over-flight rights? And Turkish troops are now moving into Northern
Iraq. Are they working with U.S. in Northern Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of Turkey, this was a vote put to
their parliament. Their parliament voted for it. Turkey, of course,
is a NATO country and a NATO ally. Previously, there had been
discussion of a package of aid for Turkey that was contingent on
Turkey's acceptance of a total cooperation package. That did not
develop, and that package is not on the table, and that package will
not be on the table. So we appreciate Turkey's acting as they have. I
have nothing for you on the second part of your question.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on a different subject, with
the war having begun, you said that this is essentially in the hands of
the military planners, that most of the day-to-day stuff you'll refer
to the Department of Defense. But to what extent is the President
involved in decision-making on operational issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has given the military
the broad parameters, and of course, the definition of the mission.
And the mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. The President
then delegates to the Department of Defense the operational details of
how best to accomplish that mission. The President monitors it very
closely. The President speaks, as you know, repeatedly throughout the
day, in the private meetings that I mentioned, with Secretary
Rumsfeld. He receives updates from the National Security Advisor
throughout the day, as well, to ascertain whatever facts are the
latest. He asks questions to verify what progress is being made, and
that's the President's role.
QUESTION: But they no longer -- the military no
longer would require a final go-ahead from the President now that
things have begun?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is a war plan that has been
developed over a considerable period of time that the President was
involved with the stages of the development of it, the approval of it
throughout those stages, and now that plan is being implemented.
QUESTION: What's the current assessment of the White
House about that videotape shown in Baghdad shortly after the strike of
Saddam Hussein or someone looking very much like him speaking to the
MR. FLEISCHER: We have reached no conclusions about that
videotape as to whether that is or is not Saddam Hussein, or what time
that may or may not have been prerecorded. We have reached no
QUESTION: So there's a doubt as to whether or not
that's even Saddam?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, there are two issues in
play: Is it Saddam Hussein, or not? We've reached no conclusions.
Was it pretaped, precanned? We've reached no conclusions.
QUESTION: And then on Turkey, did you just tell
Campbell that Turkish forces may be entering Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell said to me that Turkish forces were
entering Iraq. I said to her I have nothing on that.
QUESTION: Is part of the agreement with Turkey that
they will be under the unified commander structure of the coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed from any of our previous
conversations on it.
QUESTION: Could you walk us through the execute order
last night, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me back up one step. I've been getting
many questions from the press, as is appropriate at a time like this
for what the press calls tick-tock, or what people understand as tell
us everything that happened and every step along the way, how decisions
were made, which, of course, is an issue of very important historical
value. As you can imagine, the military planners -- Secretary
Rumsfeld, Dr. Rice, the Vice President -- the people who are in the
room with the President for these meetings are focused on other things
right now. They are focused on winning a war. That's their first
mission and that's where their time is being spent.
I have confidence that at the appropriate time, we will have
sufficient information to pass along, more of a tick-tocky nature that
is appropriate and is important, and it's the White House determination
to try to provide it. But at this point, I'm very constrained in how
much details I can get into as a result of what the principals are
spending their time on.
QUESTION: Ari, does the President have any second
thoughts about whether by launching a limited opportunistic strike last
night against the Iraqi leadership, he gave up any of the element of
surprise of the main attack or complicated its execution in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe your words were, limited
opportunistic strike. The President's words were, the opening phase of
disarmament. And that's how the President views this. This was the
opening phase, the early stages of disarmament, as part of a broad
mission whose goal is the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. And in that
mission, the President has every confidence that it will be achieved.
So the answer is, no.
QUESTION: Both the President and Secretary Rumsfeld
over the last few days have warned the Iraqis against sabotaging,
destroying oil wells. Secretary Rumsfeld suggested this morning that
that, in fact, was happening. To what degree do you have concerns that
that would complicate your ability to finance reconstruction efforts
there, and more generally, what efforts are you making to reach out to
other countries at this point to pay for reconstruction there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make several points on the question
of the situation involving energy and this action that we have seen.
We have received reports from our forces that a small number of oil
wells in Southern Iraq are on fire. We have no additional details or
no information on the extent of the damage. And the exact nature of
the extent of the damage is a terribly important thing when it comes to
actually determining if this is a serious event or a not as serious
The United States and its international partners anticipated that
Saddam Hussein's regime might attempt acts of sabotage against oil
wells. By doing so, Saddam Hussein is trying to destroy the wealth of
his own people, and once again showing the world that he lies, because
if you recall in a recent interview that Saddam Hussein did with CBS
News, he was asked if he would take this step, and he said he would
not, that the Iraqi regime does not burn its own oil wells. Clearly we
have some evidence already this morning, a small number of cases, to
the contrary, which is a reminder of what this war is about, the very
fact that Saddam Hussein will lie. And the issue is, his lies about
his possession of weapons of mass destruction.
World energy supplies are more than adequate to compensate for any
disruption these acts may cause. Saudi Arabia and other major energy
suppliers have increased production and their exports are proceeding
normally in this regard.
QUESTION: And on the issue of reconstruction costs
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's impossible to make any
estimations based on this action. As I mentioned, it's a small number
of wells. And the extent of the damage is not ascertainable at this
QUESTION: Ari, what are the President's benchmarks
for success in this campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's benchmark for success is the
disarmament of the Iraqi regime. That is what has brought the world to
war, in this case. What has precipitated the use of force was Saddam
Hussein's refusal to go along with the United Nations resolutions that
required him to disarm. And in this action, the United States is
enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations.
QUESTION: How will you know when disarmament has
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a series of military events that
you are now witnessing. And you will be kept informed throughout the
progress of those events.
QUESTION: What about Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be kept informed of the progress of
all events, including the leadership structure of Iraq.
QUESTION: No, I'm sorry, what I meant was, what has
to happen to him, what has -- to his status -- for this campaign to
be a success?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the focus is on disarmament. And
disarmament is achieved as a result of numerous military actions that
are being taken. And command and control is one of those actions that
gets taken in the course of combat. And I'm not going to go beyond
that and make any predictions of outcomes for any individuals.
QUESTION: Ari, I had two questions. First on Saddam
Hussein, in response to Helen's question, you said the administration
would still welcome it if he left Iraq. Is that a reflection that it
is at least the early belief that he survived last night attacks? And
if Saddam Hussein or anyone in the senior leadership requested safe
passage, is it too late for that now that hostilities have begun? Or
would the United States --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you should not read my answer to be one
way or another on anything involving bomb damage assessment. As you
know, bomb damage assessment is ongoing. And you should not take that
answer to be one way or another. You should take that answer to be a
repetition of the statement that's been made often here about Saddam
Hussein should leave the country.
QUESTION: And on the question of safe passage, if he
or anyone in the senior leadership suddenly requested it now, would the
United States say, yes, or would the United States say, too late?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if Iraqi leaders turn themselves in,
that would be a very welcome event.
QUESTION: Turn themselves in -- that's not safe
MR. FLEISCHER: Turn themselves in or leave the country.
Requesting safe passage means you're turning yourself in, in essence,
because you are contacting somebody for the permission to pass
through. Any step that would remove Saddam Hussein from power will be
QUESTION: Ari, I have a follow-up to Mike's question,
and then I have a separate one. Are you saying that regime change --
I assume you're saying remains the policy goal in this campaign.
MR. FLEISCHER: One thing you can rest assure of is after a
military action is taken to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime, we have no
intention of leaving Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.
QUESTION: And the President said two weeks ago that
once hostilities began, he would inform the American people or Congress
on the range of possible costs, financial costs.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
QUESTION: When can we expect that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No date has been set. It is a matter that
is under review, and once a determination is made it will be provided.
QUESTION: I would like to talk for a moment, if we
could, about the President's role in the general planning for this. We
have had the general idea that the President had already given the
go-ahead to the military, authorized them to move at their discretion
when the circumstances were best, is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: But in this case, he had to be involved in
making the decision and giving the execute order for this particular
operation for what happened last night. What did the President have to
be involved in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you're going to see in the
course of combat numerous operations of various natures take place.
There will be many discussions here at the White House. I do my best
to give you a description of the meetings that the President has
without getting into the details of those meetings. And it's during
the course of those meetings that the President is informed about
progress in the military action. And the President is informed; the
President lends his judgment. And there are different matters that
require different levels of approval, and if all --
it's a matter of the ongoing conduct of the operation.
QUESTION: In other words, in this particular case,
the timing and the nature of the operation required presidential
approval that would not have been required just for the beginning of
the war, as it had been planned for some time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there will be numerous items in the
conduct of the war that involve operations at differing levels. Some
of those levels may involve discussions or approval from the President;
others may not.
QUESTION: Can you give us some sense of to what
extent the information that was received last night that prompted this
particular mission jumped the schedule that had been anticipated and
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm really not going to get into any
type of operational decision-making or timing issues, things of that
nature. That's not something that I can do.
QUESTION: First of all, do you have any readout on
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been making a large number
of phone calls over the last several days now, to leaders all around
the world. He has reached out to leaders in every corner of the world,
from a number of Arab leaders, who are important, to leaders in other
nations and other continents. It's a very large volume of calls
between yesterday and today.
I did not bring with me the specific list of all those calls. It's
a large number today.
QUESTION: Can you post it, as is your policy, to let
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me see what I can do on providing
more specifics later. And the calls are still ongoing, too.
QUESTION: And the point of the calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: The point of the calls is to touch base with
world leaders about the military operation, to talk to them about the
purpose of the mission -- the purpose of the mission being, as we've
discussed, the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime.
QUESTION: Now, we know, in hindsight, as we all saw
on TV last night, we know how the President opened this war. Why did
he open it this way? There are many ways you could do it. Why this
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, that's a question that gets right to
military recommendations. Why did the President follow the
recommendations of the military? He followed the recommendations of
his national security team because he believes those recommendations
are the best way to win the war and to disarm Saddam Hussein. He
relies on their judgment and expertise. He lends his thoughts to it,
and the action was taken.
QUESTION: But what was his expectation? I mean, this
is a done deal, we all know what it is, it's not a secret. What was
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's expectation of all actions
military will be to pursue the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. That's
what this is about. The reason war has been brought upon us is because
Saddam Hussein refused to disarm. This did not have to unfold this
way. The President gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to disarm the
way other nations have disarmed when they wanted to disarm. And that
meant complying with the United Nations resolutions. Saddam Hussein
failed to avail himself of that opportunity, and then, therefore, he
brought this upon himself. And pursuance of this will now be done
through military operations, and the President's only objective in
making determinations about which military plans are best is what will
lead to the disarmament of the regime.
QUESTION: But did the President hope that a strike at
the leadership of the Iraqi military and government would, in fact,
disassemble the military and make the operation either end soon --
end quicker, or go easier if he could not have the leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, there are millions of Iraqis
who are yearning to be free. There are many who are in the military
and other places of importance in the Iraqi regime who, if they had
freedom, would make different decisions. It's the leadership level at
the top that has imposed this tyranny on Iraq and has brought the world
to the point of the use of force. Clearly, the world will be better
off without these leaders in place. This is all part of the conduct of
QUESTION: Just to close the loop on Jean's question,
that was his expectation for last night's mission; was it fulfilled?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, all bomb damage assessment is
being reviewed by the Pentagon and appropriate authorities.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, one more question, please. Can
you tell us why Rand Beers has resigned his position as the National
Security Council's Chief of --
MR. FLEISCHER: He informed the National Security Council
that he would leave for personal reasons.
QUESTION: Which were -- was his departure connected
in any way with his feeling that the beginning of a war against Iraq
would undermine the mission --
MR. FLEISCHER: I see no evidence that would support that.
He has informed the National Security it was for personal reasons.
QUESTION: Ari, do you read anything into the Iraqi
response thus far to the attack? I mean, they fired a couple of scuds
and apparently set fire to a couple of oil wells.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question best addressed to
military analysts. I see any large number of them on TV. (Laughter.)
I think that's not a question that I can answer for you.
QUESTION: But you see, when we quote those analysts,
you usually criticize us for not going to the people who know.
MR. FLEISCHER: On this case, I refer you to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Ari, do you have anything new on the
timetable for bringing supplemental up to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new since Ed asked the question just
a few minutes ago.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Ridge suggested that
there will be money for homeland security. Can you give us an idea
what kind of figures the White House is working with at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will, indeed, be money for homeland
security in the supplemental appropriation bill that will be sent up to
the Congress. The amount of that money will be discussed when the
supplemental is sent to the Hill.
QUESTION: Ari, a couple of things. Secretary
Rumsfeld this morning, and you, have said that the coalition continues
to grow. But, frankly, many of these countries aren't in the position
to offer an awful lot of military hardware or military resources. We
know that they're offering some logistical support here and there --
chemical and bio weapons hazard treatment and training, things like
that. But are there any nations besides the United States, United
Kingdom, and Australia that are providing direct military assets,
personnel equipment, things like that?
And, the second question, can this war be considered a success,
ultimately, if Saddam Hussein is not either captured or killed?
Because one of the rationales going into it has been the possibility
and likelihood that he, one day, would team up with terrorists and
share with them weapons of mass destruction. The Middle East is a very
volatile region. If he's able to escape somewhere, a man of his
resources with the kind of contacts the U.S. government insists he has,
wouldn't he then still be able to make that kind of exchange that the
White House has been so afraid of all along?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, two points. Interestingly, while,
again, there are, indeed, a large number -- and this gets to the
political issue about is there international support for the actions
the United States has taken, which is a terribly important issue. Does
the United States have allies in the endeavor as a measure of political
support, stated expressed opinion from governments around the world?
The answer is overwhelmingly, yes, representing more than one billion
people on all continents around the world.
In terms of the combat alone equation -- and I remind you, you
can't have combat if you don't have over-flight rights, if you don't
have basing rights, et cetera. So it's really a broad issue.
QUESTION: But in '91 --
MR. FLEISCHER: But narrowing it down to exactly the issue
of comment, which is only one slice of how to measure the world's
involvement, in terms of actual combat operations, boots on the ground,
it's interesting because to lay out the comparison, in 1991, the United
States provided in the mid-70s the percentage of the armed forces in
the region, itself. In this endeavor, the percentage is a little bit
higher, but not much. It's comparable, it's mid-80s. And so what you
can see is, when the decision is made to engage in combat like this,
like in 1991, or here in 2003, the fact of the matter is the United
States of America does provide the overwhelming bulk of the support for
the operation. That's what a reflection about the capabilities, the
size of our military.
The President is very, very pleased to have the operations of other
nations in the world, both in military sense, in terms of the
over-flight rights. There are nations that have provided chemical and
biological training units. They are small in number, but they are
important in terms of the measurement of those countries' commitment to
this cause. And so the numbers really are not that far off from what
it's been before. But the numbers of the coalition, I think, are large
and are growing. That's important, to recognize the coalition of the
willing is growing. And I'm not sure I can say that about the
opposition in this case.
On the second point you asked about if Saddam were to leave the
country, would he be able to -- the issue is the weapons that Iraq
possesses and whether Iraq would pass those weapons off to terrorists.
I think it's safe to say that anybody who would leave the nation would
not be able to leave with those weapons.
QUESTION: So you're ruling out the possibility --
MR. FLEISCHER: The risk is that a regime led by people like
Saddam Hussein would continue to work to build weapons, which then,
because they are in power, they have the covert ability to pass those
weapons on to others. That's the purpose of the mission.
QUESTION: I guess, my question is, though, if he were
to somehow get away, wouldn't there be the possibility, wouldn't there
be the fear certainly within the CIA and the FBI that he still had
MR. FLEISCHER: That he would carry a nuclear weapon with
QUESTION: No, no, that he --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's --
QUESTION: No, I mean, let's be realistic. The man
has a network within his own country. It will take a while to
dismantle that. And wouldn't it be possible and, in fact, more than
possible that he could maintain contact with people who had these
weapons and that they could somehow be transferred to terrorist
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one of the purposes of the
disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime is to dismantle the networks
that supported him in the building or in the transfer of those
QUESTION: Ari, if the United States is at war, and if
you assert that the United States has the right to target the Iraqi
leader and his inner circle as part of command and control, does that
make the President and the White House a legitimate target for Iraqis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Somebody -- a reporter asked me that
question a few weeks ago and my answer this is my answer now; you can
tell anybody who wants to know the answer to that to get their own
international lawyer, I won't do it for them.
QUESTION: I ask you in general terms -- obviously,
we're seeing tremendous security around here -- is the President
confident in his own safety here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Okay -- can I ask one more thing, Ari.
Just in general terms, that's a fear, obviously, that Americans, in
general, have in terms of their own security. We've seen the terror
level go up to orange. Is there any thought that now that war has
actually begun that that might change sometime in the near future?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is always a daily determination about
whether it goes up or it goes down. There's nothing that's been
brought to my attention that would indicate it's going to do either of
As far as the security and the comfort of the American in their
homes and in their places of business, the President understands that
for many people in this nation this can be a tense time. The President
understands that. And he's very sensitive and caring about that. The
President is confident that the steps that have been put in place by
the Department of Homeland Security, the improvements made to homeland
security since September 11th are effective. But there are no
guarantees. But the President does believe that one of the most
important, effective ways to protect Americans in the homeland is to
stop attacks abroad before they can gather on our own shores. And the
biggest threat that we worried about in the case of Saddam Hussein was
that if the world allowed him to, if the world sat on the sidelines,
Saddam Hussein would, indeed, one day bring those weapons to our shore
to attack our people. This action is taken to protect our people so
that day never arrives.
QUESTION: Ari, now, within 24 hours of the war, more
and more people -- more and more countries are joining the United
States against Saddam Hussein, including many from the Arab countries.
Now, what is the reaction from the more Muslim countries in the area
now -- so what role the United Nations will play in this war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, it's not my role to speak for the
other nations in the region, Muslim or otherwise. They are sovereign;
they speak for themselves. In terms of the role of the United Nations,
I think that's an issue that's broken into two parts. Regrettably, the
United States was not able to enforce its resolutions requiring Saddam
Hussein to disarm. And as a result of the importance of the United
Nations and the importance of the resolutions they passed calling for
disarmament, force has been used to make certain that those resolutions
are meaningful. The President is disappointed that the United Nations
Security Council failed to act to keep the peace.
Looking ahead toward the future, there is indeed a very important
role for the United Nations in the humanitarian efforts and the
reconstruction efforts that lie ahead. That is, indeed, important.
The United Nations has fulfilled that role in all corners around the
world with ability in the past, and the President will look to them to
do that again in the future.
QUESTION: Ari, you talked about the coalition
growing. Have any nations joined since the war began last night, or
are we sort of locked in at the number that we had prior to the
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's fair to say the list is
QUESTION: Can you name any?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have a list. Let me see what I can do
about disseminating the entire list of it. I'd like to be able to do
QUESTION: A follow-up. You said that it's no
accident that a lot of these countries were recently under tyranny and
oppression, they escaped tyranny and oppression. Do you think
countries like France have forgotten what it's like to live under
tyranny and oppression.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think countries in Eastern Europe that are
so supportive of this effort remember what it was like to live under
tyranny and oppression. And that's one of the reasons they have been
so stalwart in standing shoulder-to-shoulder on behalf of the cause of
freedom. They knew what it was like to live under the thumb of
others. They see in the Iraqi people a history that they, themselves,
suffered through recently. And from that, that is a reason that their
support is so strong for this endeavor.
The President remembers fondly going to the streets -- going to
Romania, for example, and on the streets of Romania were hundreds of
thousands of Romanians cheering the United States of America and
cheering the message of President Bush when he went there. The
President will never forget that.
QUESTION: Ari, I don't have the exact quote in front
of me, but the President last night took the opportunity to warn the
public that this conflict may take a little bit longer than has been
predicted. I wanted to know what moved him to ask that, since the
administration has made no predictions? And how long does he think the
public's perception of this conflict will last?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President did think it was
important to say to the country that we do not know what the duration
of this will be, we do not know how hard it will be, but he wants to
prepare the country for the possibility. We hope it will not be the
case. But the President wants to prepare the country for the
possibility that this may be longer and harder than some have
suggested. That's why the President said it.
QUESTION: Well, who has suggested it would be quick
and easy that he was referring to assuage the feelings of the public?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are any number of analysts,
again, who have their own opinions and are free to express them.
QUESTION: Ari, over the last few days, there were
several steps leading up to this moment. Obviously, the President was
in the Azores. He gave Saddam the 48-hour deadline Monday night. He
notified Congress on Tuesday. At what point in this process did the
President become convinced that all options, short of war, had actually
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the process began for the
President when the will of the United Nations was not followed by
Saddam Hussein. And that played itself out over a considerable period
of time. The fact of the matter is that if Saddam Hussein had wanted
to disarm, he would have disarmed on the first day the inspectors got
to Iraq, by showing them and providing them the weapons that he had.
Instead, he engaged in a game of hide-and-seek, hiding the weapons that
he had, calling the weapons that he has, such as the Al Samoud II
missiles -- if you remember in that same interview that he carried
out with CBS, he denied in that interview that he had weapons that
violated the United Nations resolutions prohibiting weapons of --
ballistic missiles in excess of 150 kilometers.
So throughout that period, the President saw that Saddam Hussein
was not complying, that Saddam Hussein was continuing to possess the
arms that he had. That led over time to the period that it has brought
us to now. I think that the chances grew slimmer and slimmer in the
President's mind that this could be resolved peacefully the more Saddam
Hussein defied the United Nations. The final decisions were made --
plans were made developed, of course, as you know. I think the final
decisions, of course, to use force were made only recently.
QUESTION: Was there a point where the President said,
that's it, we have nothing left?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was really no one sharp demarcation.
It was the process of watching Saddam Hussein defy the United Nations.
QUESTION: Ari, since this issue is going to come up
probably repeatedly until Saddam's fate is known, why do you see
questions about that as operational when getting rid of him one way or
the other is the President's ultimate goal?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. And again, I want to express my
sympathy to the White House press corps. I understand your desire to
get the operational, even at the most important aspects, answered --
QUESTION: I'm just asking why you see that as
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm going to give you the answer to
that. The fact of the matter is, whether a target is, as Secretary
Rumsfeld said this morning, leadership, command and control, or whether
it is a military target on a battlefield, it is a question of the bomb
damage assessment that must be done in order to determine the outcome
of a military operation, no matter what the target of a military
operation. That is the purview of the Pentagon. That was the
precedent that was established in 1991 in terms of operational details
being discussed by the Pentagon. That's the course that the President
thinks is the most appropriate way to share information with the
American people now.
Those are important questions. Those are questions that deserve
answers. That's why the Pentagon is set up to provide them.
QUESTION: Again, for the record, a question that's
come up before, what's the status of the executive order banning the
U.S.-backed assassination of foreign leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have been informed of no changes in that.
But, of course, we are in the middle now of military conflict. And as
General Myers said this morning, in military conflict, command and
control are legitimate targets.
QUESTION: As part of the long meeting he had
yesterday with his Security Council, did he -- did the President at
any point give specific directions in this particular operation to
avoid civilian casualties?
MR. FLEISCHER: Throughout the process the President has
going way back, as the military planning began -- that all
actions taken by the military need to be done in a way to minimize
civilian casualties. And that is also something the United States
military takes very seriously and carries out on their own, as well.
QUESTION: I understand that. But in this particular
meeting where, presumably, he was reviewing actual operational details,
was that part of the thinking? Was that part of the decision-making
MR. FLEISCHER: Anne, I don't go into details about specific
meetings. That's the President's message; it will apply every day, not
just on one day.
QUESTION: Does it go into his thinking as he's trying
to -- as he was going through this process yesterday? Was that part
MR. FLEISCHER: It is an important, ongoing direction that
the military pursues.
QUESTION: Ari, you said the President was not going
to be a play-by-play commentator now that the war has started. Why is
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is focused on the
mission, and the mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He is
going to set his sights on that mission; provide the military the
resources that they need to carry out that mission. He will not
micromanage it; he will empower the military to accomplish it. And
that means he is not going to every day, every way, comment on every
different development around the world.
We have set up a structure, through the Pentagon, both in the Gulf
and here in Washington, so that these questions can be answered. They
need to be answered, they should be answered. You have the appropriate
people at your disposal to do it.
QUESTION: Ari, Maryland's long-time Congressman
Roscoe Bartlett, who is the President's fellow Republican, says of the
most recent U.N. action, "If the U.N. was good for anything, it would
have been something like this. Since the U.N. was no good for this,
maybe they are good for nothing." If we applied one year's United
States U.N. dues of $800 million to the cost of this war instead of
U.N. dues, doesn't the White House think it would be a better use of
all that money, as well as an object lesson to the U.N.? And I have a
I'd like to follow up on the question before last. Could you
amplify a little bit on how the President is mobilizing the powers of
his office for war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mobilizing the powers of his office?
QUESTION: For a wartime presidency.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you were to put that question to
the President, what he would tell you is, unfortunately, since
September the 11th, 2001, this has been a wartime presidency. The fact
of the matter is that the war on terrorism, the war on terrorism began
September 11th, with the attack on our country. And then the President
has, unfortunately, been in the position of authorizing the use of
force to protect our country in the actions against the Taliban and the
This is a continuation in many ways of that effort, because at its
core, the President's concern is protecting the American people from
the Iraqi regime's possession of biological or chemical weapons, which
they could pass on to terrorists, who if they could, would use them
against us in our country.
So that is the President's approach to this. In pursuit of that,
of course, we are a very fortunate nation to have the millions of
people we have in the American military who are so able and so gifted
in carrying out this mission. That's how the President would approach