Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 25, 202003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a number of statements
I'd like to make, so let me begin with those.
President Bush will host British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp
David on March 26th and March 27th -- that's Wednesday and Thursday
this week. The United Kingdom is a close ally and the largest
coalition military partner with us in Iraq. The President and the
Prime Minister will discuss the progress of the conflict in Iraq,
urgent issues of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and helping the
Iraqi people build democratic institutions.
One question that the White House often receives from the American
people as the developments on the war unfolds is, what can individuals
do to help, particularly to help our troops who are serving abroad.
And today I'd like to bring to people's attention that the USA Freedom
Corps has launched a new resource for people seeking to support our
troops, their families, and their communities, and this is called On
The Homefront. By logging on to usafreedomcorps.gov, people can get
information on sending letters and care packages to our troops
stationed away from home, and they'll be able to find other sites on
that web page to link on -- such things as Operation Dear Abby, which
sends email messages to deployed troops of any service from people's
home state. Defend America is an on- line thank-you for the troops.
And Operation USA Care Package provides a way to send purchases of
items requested by troops, such as sunscreen, disposable cameras,
prepaid calling cards, and other items for the troops.
Finally, one other item on the humanitarian relief picture. The
United States is currently providing $105 million to international aid
agencies to help the Iraqi people, including $60 million to the World
Food Program, $21 million to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,
$10 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and $8
million to the International Organization for Migration.
We're also providing 610,000 metric tons of food, worth $300
We have deployed approximately 3 million humanitarian daily rations
in Kuwait and other locations, to meet emergency food needs. This is
the largest number of HDRs -- humanitarian daily rations -- ever
forward- deployed for contingency use.
To assess the needs and coordinate the efforts, we are deploying a
62- person civilian disaster response team, the largest of its kind
ever. To provide this relief, coalition forces have seized the
southern port of Umm Qasr. The coalition is working to get this port
up and running. It will be a gateway for food and other relief items.
Coalition forces are currently sweeping the port for mines, a necessary
prelude to allow incoming humanitarian traffic. Two Iraqi tugboats
carrying mines have already been interdicted.
This is a major step in providing humanitarian aid and resuming
ration distributions to the Iraqi people. The President mentioned this
in his remarks this morning at the Pentagon. It remains a very
important priority and we will continue to pursue it.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: There's some doubt about whether aid is
actually flowing. And there's an aid crisis, there's a water and food
crisis in Basra, we understand, and there's no indication that we're
aware of that any help is reaching these people. When will it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, there is assistance that has
been reaching people. As the troops move through, they have been
providing relief to the people that they encounter as often as they can
QUESTION: -- that's sort of a case-by-case basis.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. And as I mentioned, there's
a massive stockpiling that stands by and ready. And what is at stake
here is the mining of the harbor that was done by the Iraqis, which
only serves, once again, as a reminder of how Iraq is willing to starve
its own people to accomplish its military aims.
QUESTION: -- immediate crisis on your hands.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the only way to deal with that crisis is
by removing the mines that were laid by the Iraqis in order to get the
QUESTION: So nobody gets fed until the mines get
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the ships will sink if you don't
remove the mines, and nobody will get fed and the situation become even
worse, if the ships back up as a result of them sinking. The British
ship, Sir Galahad, is equipped with 700 -- 76,000 days* of supply of
food and approximately 1,500 tons of water. It's ready to go. The
Australians have two shiploads of wheat, each carrying 50,000 tons,
awaiting off-loading. So the mine operation is continuing. It is a
priority. And as was noted in the briefing in the Gulf this morning,
40 percent of the water for Basra has already been turned back on.
QUESTION: The President said Sunday that this
humanitarian aid would begin flowing in 36 hours. Was he -- did he
misspeak, or is this an example of where the coalition plans haven't
gone as quickly as you would hope?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, massive amounts of
humanitarian aid should begin moving within the next 36 hours. They
are moving. We desire to get them to their end object. And as I
mentioned, there is one impediment to aiding the long-suffering people
of Iraq, and that is the removal of these mines.
This is a real sign of what the Iraqi regime will do. They are
willing to block their own ports, starve their own people, stop
humanitarian aid from getting through. All the efforts that we are
making in the middle of a shooting war to feed the Iraqi people are a
reflection on how the United States and our allies fight wars.
QUESTION: -- point, but I just want to make it clear
-- is this -- is the aid proceeding to the Iraqi people on a
timetable set out, or has the coalition been delayed, because of the
fighting on the ground, in getting the aid to the Iraqis?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a question of the mines. It's not
the fighting on the ground, it's a question of the mines.
QUESTION: But isn't it more than the mines?
Obviously, the Iraqi regime has mined this harbor, and that is a wicked
thing to do. But the coalition battle plan was to bypass Basra and
leave the more than half-million citizens there essentially to fend for
themselves until we could get this aid flowing. It's not that we can't
only get ships into Umm Qasr; it's that we didn't take Basra, which is
now a scene of utter chaos and total unpredictability, and there's no
telling when aid will flow there. Does the administration take any
responsibility for the plight of the people in Basra?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration is the one, working
with our allies, that is working to get the food and the water to the
people of Iraq. The people of Iraq have been put in harm's way as a
result of the actions of the Iraqi military, of the Fedayeen, and the
brutal regime under which they've lived that doesn't care about the
people of Iraq. And that's why the United States and our allies are
the ones put in this position, working through, as I mentioned, a
series of groups, providing money and transport. We stand ready,
willing, and able. The mines need to be moved and the mines will be
moved. The people will be fed.
QUESTION: But it does seem, based on, as Ron points
out, the President on Sunday saying, within 36 hours massive amounts of
aid should begin to move -- and perhaps the prediction that we heard
quite a bit, that the people of the south, and particularly Basra, will
rise up -- that you didn't expect this. That you did not expect there
to be this --
MR. FLEISCHER: We didn't expect the Irani -- the Iraqis to
cease caring about their own people, to cease feeding their own people,
to put up impediments to this humanitarian relief supplies? That's the
nature of the Iraqi regime. They've been doing it for years.
So, no, Terry. I think what you see here is, once again, in the
classic sense, of the United States working with our allies as being
someone who cares and provides for the humanitarian needs of people
worldwide. You have an Iraqi regime that has laid mines in an effort
to block shipments of humanitarian supplies -- as well as other reasons
that they laid the mines, for military purposes -- the consequence of
which is that the humanitarian relief, which the United States is
dedicated to providing, will get there as soon as the operations can be
cleared, to get the mines removed.
QUESTION: Ari, not until the President ordered war to
begin and he addressed the American people last Wednesday did he
prepare the public for what would be, in his words, a longer and more
difficult military fight than many have predicted. Why didn't he do it
sooner? And what does he believe the level of patience is of the
American public? At what cost is the public prepared to pay for
achieving this end?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I think the American
people have fully understood all the way along that there is risk, that
there is sacrifice, as the nation prepared for war. And the President
was very overt with the country about -- that this could result in the
use of force.
I want to cite for you three specific instances in which the
President laid it out rather explicitly, going back in time. One was a
week ago last night, a week ago Monday, March 17th, when the President
said, and I quote, "Americans understand the costs of conflict because
we have paid them in the past. War has no certainty except the
certainty of sacrifice. If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power,
he will remain a deadly foe until the end."
And then on Wednesday last week, March 19th, the President said, on
a campaign on the harsh -- "A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation
as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some
predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country
will require a sustained commitment." And then again, Saturday, in the
President's radio address, he had a very similar message.
So I dispute the premise. The President has said this
consistently, and I think the American people have been prepared for
this and they understand the sacrifices that must be made in order to
disarm the Iraqi regime.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on that, because given --
given your precise preparation for a question like that, it seems to me
MR. FLEISCHER: You're easy to read, David. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I guess so. Well maybe that -- then maybe
that means that there's some level of defensiveness, that perhaps the
President is worried that the American public may be less patient than
he advised them to be. Is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just anticipate your questions well.
QUESTION: Wait a second, Ari. This is wartime.
That's a dodge of the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking me why am I prepared to answer
QUESTION: No, that's not what I asked you. I asked
you, does he feel that the public did not adequately bring up its
expectation for what we are facing.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and as I answered your question at the
very beginning, I said that the American people, in the President's
judgment, have been well-prepared for this. And the American people
understood -- as the President repeatedly, going back to September 12th
at the United Nations, talked about the possibility of the use of
The American people understand it when the President talks about
the use of force, they understand that means that lives can be lost.
The President made that perfectly plain in those remarks that I quoted
QUESTION: Ari, if I could just take you back to your
comment before about how you didn't expect the Iraqis to interfere with
the humanitarian aid.
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say that.
QUESTION: You said, we didn't expect the Iraqis to
step in and help starve their own people and so forth --
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say we didn't expect; I said this
is something that we've seen throughout Iraqi history, where they have
starved their own people. It's a sign of how the Iraqi regime has
treated its own people. I think that's what I said.
Go ahead. I hear there is a question coming.
QUESTION: The essence of the question here is, you
said that the humanitarian aid is delayed because of the demining
operation. But, clearly, Basra, which is where the biggest need is
right now and the second largest city, does not appear to be in a
condition where you could deliver aid without fear of military action
against the aid-givers. In retrospect, did the plan that you folks had
call for an ability to get that aid into Basra, assuming that you got
past the mining issues, by this time? Or did you expect that it would
take weeks or months to be able to deliver that aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Pentagon planners
for any more precision on exactly what their plans called for. I can
assure you from the President's point of view that the focus on
humanitarian aid remains a paramount issue. And as was mentioned in
the briefing in the Gulf this morning, 40 percent of the water for
Basra has already been turned back on again. And it remains unclear on
who turned the water off for Basra, how it got turned off and who
turned it off.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, Ari, if I could just follow up
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, David.
QUESTION: The second issue is, yesterday we were
hearing from both Secretary Powell and then others at the Pentagon that
there was concern about a red line around Baghdad that would -- once we
crossed, there could be a use of chemical or biological weapons. Is
this based, to your understanding, on any new intelligence? Or is this
basically a recycling of a fear that we've heard many times before,
which was the Iraqis could use chemical and biological, which they do
not appear to have done yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to address that to the
Pentagon. That's something they've talked about repeatedly.
Dana. Lester, we're going to save you for last.
QUESTION: For last?
MR. FLEISCHER: For last. Or close to it; maybe
QUESTION: Two questions. One, can you describe the
most important issue when the President meets the Prime Minister? Is
it that the troops have advanced to a point close to Baghdad where you
have to make key decisions about where to go forward? And also, Dr.
Rice was up at the United Nations today. Can you discuss at all her
conversations and the disagreement between the United States and the
United Nations -- and with the United Kingdom to a degree -- about how
long the United States would have an interim authority, led by General
Franks and down through, before it ceded any power to any U.N. -
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the discussions at the United Nations
were about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. That's what the focus
of it was. We reiterated our concern about the humanitarian
situation. We also discussed the status of the oil- for-food program,
which is pending at the United Nations, which is a matter of some
discussion among the various members of the United Nations.
There was discussion of the post-conflict Iraq and our desire to
secure sovereignty for the Iraqi people just as soon as possible. We
also talked about -- Dr. Rice talked about the protection of human
rights in Iraq. These remain issues that are important, that we will
continue to talk with the United Nations about.
QUESTION: No details about who would be securing
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have every detail of a private
conversation. But I -- you many want to take a look back at the
statement that was made at the Azores, where we very publicly discussed
the importance of the United Nations playing some type of role in the
humanitarian reconstruction efforts.
QUESTION: And your sense of point A, for Bush-Blair?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry? It's just as I indicated. There
are a variety of topics that will be on the agenda, and I think you'll
be able to find out additional information after the meeting is over.
QUESTION: Yes, on the question of humanitarian aid,
the U.N. oil- for- food program, even if it gets cranked back up, you
don't really anticipate any of that aid getting on the ground and to
Iraqis until the end of hostilities, do you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are two components here. One
is, the United Nations has for a long time, since the sanctions were
imposed on Iraq, had an oil-for-food program, which Saddam Hussein
broke and used the money -- diverted the money for food for the purpose
of use for his military. The United States has committed, as we
discussed earlier, to the immediate humanitarian relief of the Iraqi
people by providing food on the ground as quickly as is possible and
doable on the ground.
Beyond that, there's a longer-term commitment, and that is, that
the oil-for-food program, which is a United Nations- administered
program -- so you have two aspects going on at the same time. The
immediate need is to provide the food on the ground through the means
available as a result of the war and efforts underway, having troops on
the grounds. The other is longer-term.
QUESTION: So the U.S. and British would be the first
phase while hostilities continue. The U.N. humanitarian aid wouldn't
really come in until hostilities had ceased, but during this interim
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure I can say hostilities
I don't think that there's a firm timetable on it. The point is,
there is a program at the United Nations for a longer-term approach,
and it remains always important to provide that food for the Iraqi
people, and the discussions at the United Nations run the longer-term
approach to it. In the interim, the meanwhile, we are doing everything
possible on the ground to provide that humanitarian relief.
QUESTION: Could you clarify for us exactly what role
you expect or want the U.N. to play in the reconstruction and
administration of Iraq in a post- Saddam era?
MR. FLEISCHER: I refer you back to the statement made in
the Azores that described the anticipated role. It will be a matter of
some discussion, I think is fair to say.
QUESTION: Ari, can you -- you mention the mines in
the harbor. Can you outline your understanding of how extensive the
mining is? How much -- how many have been removed, and what their
understanding is on the timetable for clearing the port?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's something that DOD would have to
get into. I can describe for you, as a general manner, what the
situation is, but DOD would have that specifics. I don't have them.
QUESTION: You don't have an expectation on when -- so
is there --
MR. FLEISCHER: As soon as is doable, and it just depends on
what they find as they're underwater and how many they find.
QUESTION: And is there then -- while that work is
going on, is there an effort to open up a land route that will begin
the flow? I mean, is that --
can you describe how that is working?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, from the President's point of view,
every effort is being made to provide this assistance. When you want
to get into the specifics of how is that being accomplished on the
ground, that remains a DOD issue.
QUESTION: The money that you mentioned, the $105
million -- is that new money, money transferred this week? How old is
-- can you give some context to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Which money are you referring to, the
QUESTION: You started out by describing the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The international aid money?
QUESTION: The humanitarian relief money that the U.S.
has provided, $105 million -- when you detailed the list --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the existing funds, and, of course,
in the supplemental appropriation bill that was sent up to the Congress
today, there is a request for additional funding, which would be
provided for in this current fiscal year, so it could flow
immediately. And that includes additional humanitarian relief for the
people of Iraq. So it's two parts.
QUESTION: Is there -- two questions. One is, is
there concern by the White House that this guidance weapons jamming
system that Russia supposedly has supplied to Iraq is still being
used? And second, why are the President and Prime Minister Blair
meeting at Camp David this week rather than at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they're meeting at Camp David just
because it's a very good place to kind of sit down in a more informal
atmosphere and to have discussions. If you recall, Prime Minister
Blair came here before for a visit that was supposed to take place at
Camp David and it ultimately got canceled because of the weather, and
it was held here in its entirety. So there is a little bit of makeup
So it will be a meeting at Camp David. There will be a public
component to it, so you will all be receiving shortly your invitations
to Camp David. And so they'll be up there on Thursday. I look forward
to seeing you all there.
QUESTION: What about the Russians supplying the
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that was addressed rather smartly
this morning in the Gulf in their briefing about what they found with
the jamming equipment. It is a matter of some diplomatic concern that
remains a disturbing item. And we continue to have the talks with
Russian officials about it.
QUESTION: On the expectations issue, I just wanted to
read back to you a quote from the Vice President from March 16th on
Meet the Press. He said that he thought the regular Iraqi army would
not try to put up a fight. "My guess is, even significant elements of
the Republican Guard are likely, as well, to want to avoid conflict
with U.S. forces and are likely to step aside."
So can you really say that the American people were accurately
prepared for the battle that we're now facing, based on comments like
these, and based on the fact that the President really didn't talk
about it until we were, you know, days away from the conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think the President started
talking about this in September when he talked about the use of force.
And the American people understand when the President talks about the
use of force, it entails the potential for loss of life. I think it's
rather plain, and the American people have understood that. And the
American people have understood the case that the President made and
the rallying call he made to leaders around the world to make certain
that we did not put our people in a position where Saddam Hussein could
use weapons of mass destruction against us later.
When you take a look at the fighting tactics employed by the
Fedayeen, when you see how he is willing to have civilians surrender,
armed then with weapons -- because they're not civilians -- feigned
civilians who pretend to surrender and then attack, it tells you that
we're really dealing here with elements of terrorism inside Iraq that
are being employed now against our troops. It's a reminder about the
nature of this regime and what they will do, and what they are capable
of doing, and their desire to do it if they can link up with other
terrorists and reach our shores.
As for the Vice President's statements, as Secretary Rumsfeld
pointed out in his briefing today, we are only in the opening days of
this war. So I don't know how you can reach any conclusions about the
accuracy of these statements until you allow sufficient time to pass.
I think if you're making judgments within the immediate commencement of
the hostilities, you're making judgments too soon about their likely
outcome. So I think the Vice President said what he said because he
had reason, good reason to say it.
QUESTION: So you think that his prediction could
still pan out that the Iraqis wouldn't fight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you, the Vice President does not
say things lightly. So when the Vice President says something like
that, he has good reason to say it and to think it and, therefore, to
QUESTION: Ari, six days after the hostilities began,
there's still speculation about the fate of Saddam Hussein. Is there
anything concrete about that, or is all that just being spread to quite
further destabilize the Iraqi regime in the first place?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, nothing new to report on that.
QUESTION: Ari, you said a few minutes ago, we're
seeing elements of terrorism inside Iraq, citing the Feyadeen
surrenders and the donning of civilian attire by fighters. Is it the
administration's view that through these activities, these groups have
put themselves in the same category as terrorist groups proscribed by
the administration, and perhaps even al Qaeda itself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question that there is a
body of law that even governs the conduct of war. And as President
Bush stated, in the conflict with Iraq war crimes will be prosecuted,
war criminals will be punished. And we're seeing a growing pattern of
war crimes, war crime violations committed by the Iraqi regime, with
the use of human shields; mistreatment of prisoners of war and various
acts of perfidy, feigning injury or surrender, the improper use of the
flag of truce, and fighting in civilian clothes. This is another
reminder to those smaller number of Iraqi officials who would follow
orders or who would engage in this behavior, do not do it, because you
will be tried as a war criminal.
QUESTION: Ari, paraphrasing the President earlier
today, he said that the war would be long, and he also said that we
know the outcome -- we will win. Does that win, is that win allowing
for negotiations? And also, if not, does that win deal with military
issues were Saddam Hussein and his sons be killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has stated two reasons for
this. One is the disarmament of Iraq, the complete disarmament of
their weapons of mass destruction. And the second is to change the
regime so that the Iraqi people in the world don't have to deal with
this again. And those are the objectives of the military campaign.
Then the President says, the objectives will be achieved, the end is
clear, the outcome is certain. Those are the two facts that he is
QUESTION: But can you remove Saddam Hussein without
death and negotiation?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will find out.
QUESTION: And disarm, I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into negotiation. I
think the President has made it abundantly clear what the purpose of
the mission is.
QUESTION: Ari, Condi is headed up to the U.N. Blair
is coming in to consult with the President before going up to the U.N.
Are you all concerned that the folks at the U.N. might take it out on
the U.S. in post-Saddam Iraq, might try to take some sort of revenge
for what they see as ill treatment at the hands of the President, and
maybe block your efforts, your desires for setting up a post-Saddam
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- well, one, the answer is,
no, we are not concerned about, I think what you -- revenge. The
purpose of the United Nations is to foster the ability of the
international community, in this case to deal with humanitarian
crises. That's a serious responsibility. And the President has called
on the United Nations to honor that responsibility.
Clearly, when it came to the security side, through the United
Nations Security Council, the United Nations failed to act, failed to
speak. But I think it's a sign of the President's commitment to
international procedures that we continue to work with the United
Nations while we also do our own work on the ground to take care of the
humanitarian situation in Iraq.
QUESTION: Ari, speaking of public expectations and
preparation, a Pew poll released today found on Friday and Saturday, 71
percent of the public thought the war was going well. By Monday, that
had dropped to 38 percent.
If the public was so well-prepared for this, why would a weekend
of, by historical context, relatively minor casualties so shake their
confidence in how well the war was going?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak for every poll out there.
There have been a number of other public polls that indicated different
results. And I think that if your question is, can one day's events
move the public, then your answer is, the public obviously has
temporary positions that will move around somewhat. But that won't
deter the President, whether those numbers are lock, stock at record
levels in behalf of support of the President, from carrying out this
mission. That's the purpose of the President's endeavors here, is to
continue the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. And as the President said
this morning, we are making steady progress, steady advancement toward
QUESTION: The question is, if they had been better
prepared, would there be such swings in public -- you know, in their
confidence. You know, if they had --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if there are swings up, there are
And there are other polls that show no swings at all.
QUESTION: First of all, by the way, we would love to
Camp David if you can get us all up there by bus. Can you look to the
future relations with Russia, France, Germany and Turkey -- how do you
see this administration repairing them --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that, number one, the mission
is underway in Iraq, and that is very important. There is a mission to
be accomplished involving the disarmament of Saddam Hussein from the
weapons of mass destruction that we have expressed so many concerns
about. And I think as the mission is successful, different nations
will take a look at this and think about the positions that they took,
and then examine their own relations with the United States.
Of course, the United States will continue to work with other
nations. We have other interests, we have values that we share. And
we'll be interested in hearing other nations' reactions, as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ari, France says it is allowing
U.S. and British warplanes to overfly France on their way to bomb
Iraq. Is that an olive branch from the French?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is that what from the French?
QUESTION: An olive branch from the French.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I will let the French government
speak for itself about the actions it takes.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how many times we can
expect to see the President talk about the war in public, how he plans
to use the bully pulpit to maintain support for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think he's going to be talking about
it often. This is very serious and important business. This is
something that is front and center right now for our country, for our
troops, for our people and for the families at home. And this is
something the American people should expect to hear the President talk
about and talk about frequently, and they will.
QUESTION: Every day? Every other day? Or is there a
specific plan --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no magic number, Bob. But the
President is going to be talking about it often, as he did today, he
will tomorrow, he will Thursday. So you're going to have a lot of
listening to do from the President.
QUESTION: Beyond the statement in the Azores, how
does the administration -- does the administration plan to prepare the
American taxpayer for the burden that he or she will have to bear
probably well into the future for reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very interesting question, and one of
the issues that the President focuses on when he makes this
determination to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein is the cost of not
acting. If the United States failed to act and Saddam Hussein
continued to possess weapons of mass destruction that he could then use
at a time and a moment and a place of his own choosing, what would be
the cost to our country? What was the cost of September 11th?
The Office of Management and Budget has estimates that the cost to
our country were in the hundreds of billions of dollars as a result of
September 11th, both in terms of the economic costs, in terms of the
direct government-incurred costs, and also, of course, no one can
measure the costs of human life that were taken on that day. And
that's also how it's important to focus on this issue.
So, yes, there is a price tag attached;,the President sent it up to
the Hill today, for the direct action we are taking to disarm Saddam
Hussein. But the President is guided by preventing the other costs
from being incurred.
QUESTION: -- precisely to September 30th, and beyond
that stretches possibly years of costs for rebuilding and stabilizing.
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly. And there will be costs beyond
this year, and the President has said that we are committed to
providing security for Iraq and to stay as long as is necessary, but
not a day longer. Throughout this process, the supplemental
appropriation that was sent up today will fund costs through September
30th -- it is for this current fiscal year. In good order and in short
order, the Congress, in regular order, will take up next year's budget
and they will examine the costs to be incurred then.
But simply because there are long-term costs does not in any way to
this President suggest that those costs should not be paid. That's
like saying at the beginning of the '50s, because we had a totalitarian
communist state that we had to concern ourselves with to protect the
American people, that there were costs of the Cold War that should not
have been incurred because those costs would last for a considerable
period of time, as well. That's the approach the President takes.
There's no way to put an exact time limit on how much it will cost.
And one other issue on the cost, too, that's important to consider
when you talk about the burden on the American taxpayer: Iraq is a
wealthy nation, Iraq has resources. Those resources have been diverted
from feeding Iraqi people to building a military. It is foreseeable,
it is certain, that the Iraqi government, a future Iraqi government
will use those resources to feed themselves, to take care of
themselves, to reconstruct their own country with their own resources
that are generated from within Iraq, and not to mention the billions of
dollars that are frozen Iraqi assets around the world that are
available also. The President just announced that action last week on