Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 2, 2003 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: How is the President reacting to the stress
of the war? There's an article that suggests in quotes from his
friends that he feels he's being tested, that he feels burdened by
this. How would you --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can only say that I think the
people who are talking are not people who have spent much time with the
President. Because my read of having seen the President is the
following -- and I see him often -- I think it's fair to say that
the hardest part was the lead-up to the decision to use force. I think
for any Commander-in-Chief, for the President, for this President --
that, to him, represented the most difficult time of deciding whether
or not force must be used, knowing that it would put American men and
women in harm's way.
Once the decision was made, this is a President who is very
comfortable, who is very steady with the decision made. And that's
what I see in him. These are serious times. We are a nation at war.
And the President is always cognizant of that. Tomorrow, when the
President goes to Camp Lejeune, he's going to meet with some families
whose servicemen or women have lost their lives in Iraq. And that is
something the President thinks about. But he also keeps in mind the
purpose of the mission, the nature of the mission, the importance of
the mission. And that's what I see in him.
QUESTION: Do you feel that he feels burdened and that
he feels that he is being tested?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I really can't say that. I think --
when you say burdened, I don't know how to define what the word
burdened means. I think any time a President of the United States
authorizes the use of force, when this President has authorized the use
of force, he understands the serious nature of that. But when he does
so because he feels so strongly and so deeply, and has he has shared
with the public the important reasons why force has to be used, the
President is somebody who has set his sights on a mission and is proud
of the men and women who are carrying out the mission, and he is
resolved to see it through.
He is comfortable with the decisions that are made. And I think
that you'll see tomorrow at Camp Lejeune that it's going to be a
private meeting with the families. As you know, the President does
think carefully about these decisions to put people in harm's way. And
he cares deeply about that.
QUESTION: Ari, has the U.S. any contact with the
Iraqis, or any third- party intervention to end the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I know.
QUESTION: Ari, can I follow up on Ron's question?
You said he had a hint of it earlier in the day and he knew something
was going on. Did he know that there was a rescue mission underway to
try to get one of the POWs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I really am not going to go into any more
depth than that, than what I said. Just, without being specific, there
was some generalized information, obviously of a highly classified
nature. And -- but as far as the timing, the tactical aspects, he did
QUESTION: I'm not asking about any of that. I'm
asking -- and I know it's classified, but now everyone knows that DOD
received intelligence that Jessica Lynch might be alive and that they
were going to launch this special operation mission to get her.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I'm just not at liberty to get
into any more specifics about what it was that the President got
QUESTION: I'm trying to get a sense for how much the
President is tuned in to the daily developments on the ground. I mean,
this is a big deal, obviously.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I say he's tuned in,
he's tuned in. He's tuned in; the Secretary informed him about it at
ten of 5:00 p.m.
That was part of the regular briefing that the President receives
on all events, particularly something like this. But on many of the
different events in the theater, the President is told about it.
Earlier in the day he received some generalized information about some
possibilities -- or this possibility, and I just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Possibilities of what?
MR. FLEISCHER: This possibility, that what transpired later
in the day may happen.
QUESTION: What transpired later in the day?
MR. FLEISCHER: The rescue. And that was singular.
QUESTION: Iraq has a debt, an external debt of about
$100 billion. It's a huge burden, obviously, even with its oil
reserves -- run up by Saddam Hussein, unelected dictator, building
palaces and weapons. And there is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, he was elected. He had 100
percent he said.
QUESTION: I stand corrected. There is a proposal out
there that once Saddam Hussein and his regime are gone, that the people
of Iraq should not be burdened with this debt, that it should be
forgiven, partly to liberate them from this conduct of Saddam Hussein,
and also to teach banks and corporations and countries who lent such a
tyrant that kind of money a lesson not to do it in the future. Does
the President have a feeling on what should be done with Iraq's debt?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that all of these issues are going
to be the issues that are going to be part of the reconstruction
effort. And these decisions will get made with the international
community. Obviously, there are a number of nations who have money
that is owed to them -- owed by the state. The state will continue
to exist. And so, therefore, it is still an important issue. The
people of Iraq will have a role in this, as well. So I don't think
anybody can tell you what the outcome will be.
The one thing that is certain is Iraq is a wealthy nation. Iraq
has vast resources. Iraq will have -- unlike Afghanistan, for
example -- Iraq will have a huge financial base from within upon which
to draw. And that's because of their oil wealth. And that should
serve benevolent purposes in the future, should serve peaceful
purposes, should serve trade purposes in the future. It has a future,
also, where the trade sanctions will get lifted one day.
QUESTION: So you aren't ruling in or out debt
forgiveness for Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I'm just saying I think it's too soon
for anybody to give any assurances on one way or another. As I said,
state-to- state relations continue, even if a regime is changed.
QUESTION: Can I ask a more specific question? Does
the United States know now that forces are within 15 miles, perhaps
closer to Baghdad, the day after this regime falls -- literally, the
day after -- who runs the financial system in Iraq? Who runs its
diplomacy? Who runs its oil fields?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this will be part of the whole
QUESTION: But we don't know that yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when the day the Taliban fell,
did we know the name of the new President of Afghanistan? No. The
point is, the best way to ensure the future stability of a country is
to take care first of the security matters, which is first, to make
certain that the regime is disarmed, to make certain that Saddam
Hussein and those around him are not in power. And things will evolve,
and I think things will evolve in different parts of the country at a
different pace. Already you're seeing some talk by the British of
empowering Iraqi officials to run certain affairs in some of the areas
that they have now controlled.
And so, again, I think you're going to see different things,
different regions of the country. But broadly, the effort is designed
to make certain that security is enhanced. They'll be additional
handovers of roles to the Iraqi people from both within and without.
QUESTION: There seems to be a new big push going on
towards Baghdad at the moment, and the Pentagon said today that the
toughest fighting may be ahead of us still. One of the criticisms of
this administration is that the rationale for the war has seemed to
change over time. So, for the record, at this point, would you say
what -- how would this administration define a victory?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been unequivocal.
He said it in his speech in Philadelphia, he's been saying it on all
his remarks, and I think this is something you've heard repeatedly out
of the Pentagon: this mission in Iraq is about the disarmament of the
Iraqi regime. It is also about making certain that Saddam Hussein and
those around him are no longer in power so they can do this again to
the Iraqi people or to the world. Those are the two missions.
QUESTION: It has to be both things in order to be a
victory? One or the other doesn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: It always has been. And that is the purpose
of the military effort.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the threshold is for
Defense officials coming to the President and asking for some sort of
fresh authorization, aside from any classified matters? Are there
circumstances under which they must come to him for a fresh
MR. FLEISCHER: You know there is really nothing that's been
brought to my attention like that. What happened is, here, the
President develops a war plan with the experts, with the National
Security Council, with the DOD, with the generals, with the CINC, with
the Secretary of Defense. The plan is approved. And Tommy Franks' job
is to carry out the plan. And that is what is happening.
I can't, off the top of my head, Jim, give you an example of
something that only the President can authorize. But, again, I think
it's important to understand the President's approach to how wars are
won -- the President's approach to how important it is for the
Commander-in-Chief to make certain that there is accountability by
asking questions about the mission so that people in charge of the
mission can answer to the President about how the mission is being
conducted and carried out.
But the President wants to make certain that the commanders in the
field know that they are comfortable making the calls and making
That's part of the whole military approach, too. When you talk to
top military officials, they'll tell you they don't micromanage the
actual levels on the battlefield. There are decisions that are made by
lieutenants. There are decisions that are made by captains. There are
decisions that are made by majors, et cetera. And that's how the
President thinks wars are best won.
QUESTION: The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw,
has called for a postwar conference sponsored by the U.N. of Iraq's
various -- leadership of Iraq's various ethnic groups, with the hopes
that one of them would emerge as the next leader. Is the U.S.
endorsing this plan? And, if not, why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll continue to work with all
parties about the leadership of Iraq. But I think that, again, as the
President has made clear, the leadership of Iraq will come from the
Iraqi people. There are those who have lived and suffered under Saddam
Hussein's regime that the President thinks should have very important
role in the governance of their own country. There are people who
fled, have lived abroad who also should have an important say and role
in the future of their country. And we will continue to work with
these groups on the exact formulation of the best structure, the best
form of government.
QUESTION: So this particular forum, you believe,
sponsored by the U.N. is not the best structure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are numerous forums. We're
going to take a broad look.
QUESTION: Ari, briefly on the Lejeune visit tomorrow
and the remarks the President is going to make in public, the Pentagon
today was just reporting the destruction of two divisions, U.S. forces
within two dozen miles of Baghdad. Is it safe to assume the
President's going to again underscore how much of the fight still
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will talk about the
progress being made in the war. And he continues to be pleased with
the progress that is being made. But as was pointed out, the Pentagon
today, difficult days, difficult times very well may lie ahead. And so
I think as much progress is being made, people have to be tempered,
calibrated to the reality of the situation on the ground and not go too
far in one direction or another. Events are as they are, and progress
is being made.
QUESTION: And last thing, there's been a lot of
discussion in the British press about the annoyance that the Brits have
that they are not allowed to be in on the business. What is the
President's response to Mr. Blair, or anyone in that government, about
whether the Brits can compete for that business?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President does not decide who
gets contracts. These are issues that are to be decided by the USAID,
as part of their contracting authorities and their decisions.
QUESTION: As far as the President is concerned, the
British would qualify if they can do the work?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that all
the rules are followed. He believe they're being followed, and USAID
makes these calls.
QUESTION: And that would be the same for the French?
MR. FLEISCHER: USAID makes these calls.