|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 3, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:49 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon and welcome back. I hope you enjoyed your August. Let the briefings begin. I have two announcements I'd like to make before we begin. The President and the Prime Minister, Jean Chretien of Canada, will meet in Detroit, Michigan, on Monday, September 9th. The two leaders will review progress made on the intensified border cooperation agenda between the United States and Canada that was especially established in the wake of the September 11th attacks against the United States. And they will discuss other bilateral, international matters.
In addition, the President will welcome President Alvaro Uribe to the White House for a meeting and a working luncheon on September 25th. The United States is committed to helping President Uribe and the Colombian people defend their democracy against the threats of violence, of terrorists, of narcotics traffickers. President Bush looks forward to a productive dialogue with President Uribe on many ways which we can work together to further strengthen our partnership and achieve our common goals in security, human rights and trade. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.
Q Ari, is the President willing to prepare to sacrifice American and Iraqi innocent lives to take out Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President is prepared to protect innocent lives.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is prepared to protect innocent lives. And that is why the President has said that Iraq is part of the axis of evil. That is why the President has called on Saddam Hussein to honor the commitments that he made that ended the Persian Gulf War, to live up to international obligations that Saddam Hussein committed himself to. And that's what the President believes.
Q He doesn't think it would take any lives to carry out his mission?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you say "his mission," I'm not sure what you refer to.
Q His goals to depose Saddam.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, regime change is the bipartisan policy of the United States government, enacted by --
Q No matter what the cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- enacted by a previous President, enacted as a result of a Democrat President and a Republican Congress agreeing that the world would be safer, the region would be safer if Saddam Hussein was not in control.
Q No matter how many Americans or Iraqis are killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're presuming that the President would engage in military operations to carry out regime change. The President has said he's made no such decision on that topic.
Q But he has said that he believes he has -- he's asserted he has full authority to go ahead, if necessary, with military action on a scale sufficient to topple Saddam. What other President has ever engaged in that level of war without --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that the President has said that, Terry. The President is aware that his legal counsel, from a strictly legal point of view, has judged that the President, in his role as Commander-in-Chief under the Constitution and under two other matters -- one dealing with the terms of ending the Gulf War in 1991, the other in terms of the 2001 authorization to use force vis a vis the war on terror -- that from a strictly legal point of view that the President would have the authority to act. But that's a very different cry from what the President may ultimately do if he decides to take any military action, because the President also understands that there are many other important circumstances that would need to be considered prior to taking military action, involving Congress and Congress' role, diplomacy, historical precedence vis a vis the Congress. So that's a different -- the legal issue is a different issue from the practical issue.
Q I'm interested in the assertion of executive power that the legal counsel is making, that the President needs no further authorization to make war on a sovereign nation and change its government, with a substantial number of U.S. troops involved. What other President has ever claimed that ability? Would that be LBJ in the Vietnam War?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just -- again, I want to assert to you that the President understands that when it comes to protecting the American people and people around the world from threats to peace, including Saddam Hussein's threat to peace, the President knows full-well the importance of public opinion in a democracy, the importance of having a country support any such endeavor. He understands the importance of congressional opinion; he understands the importance of world opinion. All of these are vital factors to the functioning of democracies. The President fundamentally understands that.
Q If the President understands it, when does he plan to begin to make the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're assuming again a decision is made in which a case needs to be made. As the President indicated, he has not made any decisions yet. But I assure you, knowing this President as well as I do, I assure you that if the President were to make the judgment that a case needed to be made, the President would make it visibly, publicly, collegially with the Congress, with our allies. The President understands that that is how democracies function. And the job of the President is to lead a nation in making such a case. That would come from the President if it gets to that point.
Q There's a widespread public impression based upon the statements that the President and others in the administration have already made that he seeks a military solution, whether it is correct or incorrect. Don't you run the risk of backing yourselves into a corner where no other solution is possible unless he speaks out soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this issue raises one of the most fundamental matters of a democracy, of a presidency, leadership, Congress' role as well. And these are the very difficult judgments that Presidents of the United States are called upon to make, where they have to ascertain at what point is the price of inaction greater than the price of action. At what point do the dangers presented outweigh the risks of doing nothing. And these are why nations have elections, why they elect leaders, why these leaders have authority to use, why these leaders use this authority in conjunction with the Congress. But again, it presupposes a decision made. No decision such made, but the President understands the vital importance of all the various issues that you're raising. These are the right issues to raise. The President is aware of them all.
Q Ari, will he mention Iraq in the prime-time speech he's going to make on September 11th?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, it's too soon to say.
Q -- talk about there?
MR. FLEISCHER: His remarks on the 11th are going to be, I think, a very dignified and respectful, solemn tribute to those who lost their lives in the attack on our country on September 11th. It will be words of thanks and love to the families of those whose relatives were taken from us on September 11th. And I think it will be a reminder of the importance of liberty and how our United States stands strong throughout the world in promoting liberty. It will be a solemn day of remembrance.
Q Ari, will the President veto the homeland security bill if the version, the Senate version as it stands now passes without the flexibility for hiring and firing workers --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made it very clear directly to the Congress, and he will do so continuing today in meetings that he's going to have with leaders who are coming down here throughout the week, that he will refuse to accept a bill that limits the flexibility necessary to run the department of homeland security in a way that protects the homeland. Right now, under national security rules, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has greater protections than the department of homeland security. And that doesn't make any sense. The President is asking for the same flexibility that other agencies have, the same management flexibilities, same abilities to hire and fire as necessary, to have an agency that is a frontline agency able to carry out and fight and win a war to protect the American people on the homeland.
Q Is he working with Democrats at all to try to negotiate some sort of compromise? As I understand it, it's Republicans only who are coming to the meeting today.
MR. FLEISCHER: Today's meeting is Republicans only, but there will be additional meetings this week with Democrats on this topic. He's been having meetings -- as you remember, before we left, in July there were many meetings on homeland security with senators of both parties. You have to do it with both parties.
Q Ari, two questions. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Johannesburg today meeting with world leaders on the Earth conference. He's sure to get an earful from nations who have been complaining about the U.S. plans on Iraq. Has the Secretary spoken to the President before taking this trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary did speak with the President prior to the trip, of course, and the Secretary is looking forward to this trip, as always. Different topics come up at these meetings, and I assure you that the Secretary is as good at giving as he is getting. And so if he receives any advice, I think the Secretary will also be in a very strong position to give his thoughts and his reflections. He looks forward to consulting with our allies about anything that's on their minds.
Q A follow-up, Ari. Yesterday you said that all the players in the Cabinet are singing from the same page about Iraq, but the perception -- using that word, perception -- out there is there is a difference between what Secretary Cheney has been saying and Secretary of State Powell has been saying. You claim there's no difference.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. (Laughter.)
Q Can you elaborate? Because as far as the perception again, sound that there is some controversy there. As far as inspectors entering Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me go back to the drawing board on the question of inspectors and remind you of something that the President of the United States has said, and it's something that the Vice President reflected on in his remarks, Secretary of State Powell reflected on in his remarks, Security of Defense Rumsfeld has reflected on -- but this is quoting from the President on January 16th of this year, early this year. And he said, "I expect Saddam Hussein to let inspectors back into the country. We want to know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He claims he's not; let the world in to see."
That's what the President said. And then he said, "If he doesn't, we'll have to deal with that at the appropriate time." And I think the Vice President and the Secretary of State were both following up the President's statement and reflecting on the fact that weapons inspectors are a means to an end. The end, to protect America, is not the mere presence of inspectors inside Iraq's borders. The end to protect America is knowledge that Saddam Hussein does not possess weapons of mass destruction. The weapons inspectors are one way to try to ascertain that information. It's not a sure-fire way, it's not a full-proof way. And that's what the Vice President was saying.
Secretary of State Powell said that let the weapons inspectors in, just as the President indicated. In the Secretary's words, he continued, as a first step. As a first step, because as the Vice President said, weapons inspectors alone was not a guarantee that he does not have weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has the ability to hide, Iraq has the ability to maneuver, Iraq has the ability to try to deny the world community the information the world community deserves to know.
Q Ari, following up on that, it sounds like there's a consensus that weapons inspectors are the first step. What's the next step? What is the second step from there, from that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said -- again, I go back to his remarks of January 16th. He said, if he doesn't allow the weapons inspectors in, we'll have to deal with that at the appreciate time. And the President is going to consult with leaders in Congress, he will consult with our allies, he'll consult with members of Congress to determine what the appreciate next step is. And again, the issue is to protect the American people from a leader who has used ground forces to invade two of his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait; who has used missiles to attack two of his neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Israel; who has gassed his own people; who has gassed Iranian people; who has gassed Kurdish people. And if he were to acquire nuclear weapons, there's a real fear about what he would do with those weapons, given how many acts of military violence he's engaged in against others.
And so these are the difficult decisions that Presidents of the United States have to face. This President is facing such a matter, with such a menace in Saddam Hussein. He will face those issues in a consultive way, in a respectful way, in a listening way. But he is not prepared to wish this away, as wishing this away does not protect the country.
Q If he's ready to call this a first step -- if I may follow -- if the administration is ready to call this a first step, is that a signal that you are preparing to go, for instance, to the United Nations and lay out a case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President will consult, as he has indicated, and any additional steps will be things that the President will decide in a matter of -- in the course of time.
Q Is it true that the President has asked some congressional leaders to come to the White House on Wednesday to discuss Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll put out the schedule for tomorrow later today. You can anticipate throughout the week a series of meetings with members of Congress on a variety of topics. And as the President said, he will consult with members of the Hill about the topic of security, about Iraq, about the war on terror. So it wouldn't surprise me if there were meetings this week on that topic. Again, we'll have the schedule out today to let you know definitively for tomorrow. Any such meetings will be seen in that context. This is part of the President reaching out and consulting; this is the President reaching out and leading; and this is the President reaching out and listening.
Q May I also follow up? Is the President concerned about some of the words of caution or criticism from Eagleburger or Baker over the weekend? Is he keeping tabs with that? Is he listening to these remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, in all the words that many of these thoughtful leaders have been expressing, the one constant is that Saddam Hussein is a threat and Saddam Hussein is a menace and the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein. That's also expressed in the bipartisan legislation requiring a regime change as a policy toward Iraq.
The question then is what exactly do you do about it, how do you accomplish that. And there's some very thoughtful conversations going on. That's exactly how it should be in a democracy, in the President's opinion. And so the President welcomes this variety of viewpoints that people have. I think there's no question that there's going to be some people who, just as they did in 1991, say use of military force should never be considered, do not go down that road. That's their right. Those opinions will be heard. They will be listened to. The President welcomes a variety of the voices here. He has not made any decision, so this is what democracies do --
Q Who is he consulting with now on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: A wide variety of people, Helen. He'll continue to talk to foreign leaders about this. He'll continue to talk to members of Congress about this.
Q All those foreign leaders have slammed the door, have said, no, don't do it. And Cheney also wiped out all the options. And the President obviously knows what's in his speeches, and he's closed the door completely for any options for Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: I disagree with that characterization. The Vice President didn't close doors.
Q Can if follow up very quickly --
MR. FLEISCHER: We've got to keep moving here. We've got a lot of people with their hands up. Goyal.
Q Ari, two questions. One, as far as the U.S. attack on Iraq is concerned, General Musharraf yesterday told CNN that he and his country will not go along with the United States and President Bush. This time he didn't want U.S. attack on any Muslim country. And last one, he said Osama bin Laden might not be behind 9/11. So what is going on? Which one is the best friend of President Bush?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all these statements presuppose that a decision has been made to use military force. That is not accurate. And the President will make the case for whatever decisions that he ultimately makes, and when he does he's confident that people, as a result of the consultations, will listen and come to good judgments.
Q And second question, just to follow. When the President leaves next month -- next week at the United Nations, two leaders from Pakistan and India. What message do you think he will have for them? Is he going to try to bring them together at a table, or what is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have more about exactly who the President will meet with during his time up at the United Nations General Assembly closer to the meetings. I anticipate that will probably take place next week, I'll have that information. The President will be having a series of bilateral meetings. The President will have what they call pull-asides, where he gets together with people for small, shorter amounts of time. But it will be a robust agenda where he's going to meet with numerous people, and I'll fill you in a little closer to the event.
Q Ari, to take two issues that you raised related to Iraq, the first is, you quoted the President's comments on the need for inspection last January. In Vice President Cheney's speech a week ago today, he said inspection was actually dangerous because it would create a false sense of comfort that, in fact, Saddam was, as I think his phrase was, back in the box. So, which is it? Do we believe that inspection should go forward even though they are dangerous, or are we supposed to believe that they are dangerous and therefore they shouldn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the history of the inspections when they took place did lead to a lot of question marks. That's why I said that inspections in and of themselves -- inspectors in and of themselves -- are not a guarantee that Saddam Hussein is not developing weapons of mass destruction. The experience when the inspectors were last in Iraq was that Iraq was able to play cat and mouse games, they were able to move things around, they were able to deny inspectors the ability to inspect in areas the inspectors had a right to go into. And so the presence of the inspectors alone did not guarantee that the world community would know that Saddam Hussein lived up to the agreements that he made to have no weapons of mass destruction.
And so that's why the Vice President and the Secretary both said what they said. Inspectors are part of the policy that we expect Saddam Hussein to live up to, but even if he lives up to it, is that a guarantee to the world that he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction? The answer is, no.
Q -- the President ascribe to the Vice President's view that the inspection process is itself dangerous because of the -- of the expectations it would create?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President was referring to those people who, by the presence of inspectors alone, would conclude that Saddam Hussein is now back in accordance with his U.N. commitments. That would lead to a situation of people believing the inspectors could accomplish something that inspectors alone cannot accomplish.
Q Also, Ari, you said just before that the President had to make a judgment, at what point is the danger of inaction greater -- or the risks of inaction greater than the risks of action. I thought the Vice President answered that question on Monday when he said as a straight-out statement that the risks of inaction were greater than the risks of action. Which view does the President agree with?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is, at what point does that become a conclusive point for use of military force. That was in the context of the questions here presupposing that the President made a decision about military force. As I indicated, the President has not made that decision.
Q If I could follow that with just a very simple question we seem to be dancing around a little bit. Does the President think inspectors should go into Iraq, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does.
Q He does. So he still holds that that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the position of the administration is that --
Q -- and so forth that Cheney expressed, he still thinks it would be a good idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the commitments that Saddam Hussein pledged he would live up to. Saddam Hussein said he would allow inspectors in. Saddam Hussein has not lived up to that commitment.
Q -- try taking one logical step then beyond that. If Saddam does allow those inspectors in, does he avoid regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: The policy of the United States is regime change, with or without inspectors.
Q What possible incentive is there for Saddam to allow inspectors back in, unless they're going to overthrow him --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that there's a real sense around the world that agreements should be honored; that when one nation ends a war through an armistice with a coalition of other nations, the nations' terms for ending the war should be honored and obeyed. What type of agreements can the world expect if people can sign them, promise them, and walk away from them no sooner than they promised?
Q But if those inspectors go back in, have the unfettered access they seek and certify to us that he's honoring those agreements, does he still -- does he avoid regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the issue is whether or not Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors are a means to that end. And the policy of this government has been that regime change will make the world a safer, more peaceful place.
Q But if they certify that he's --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, if you're making the premise for your question faith that Saddam Hussein will allow the inspectors unfettered access to go anywhere, any time, to obtain all available information, I'm afraid to say that history has not borne out such faith in Saddam Hussein.
Q So the inspections are just a formality?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're asking a series of hypothetical questions premised on whether or not Saddam Hussein would allow absolute unfettered inspections with a right to go anywhere, so they can verify to the world community he does not have weapons of mass destruction.
Q Those hypothetical questions do go to the nature of what our allies have been saying to us, which is, hey, you've got to let these guys take a crack first.
MR. FLEISCHER: And as I indicated, the President believes the weapons inspectors need to be let back in.
Deb. He said it many times.
Q Ari, there are reports today that a number of outside experts think that Saddam has several tons of chemical weapons. Does that reflect the administration's thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any specific intelligence, and if I had it wouldn't be the type of thing I could discuss. We do know that Saddam Hussein possesses chemical weapons.
Q On a related topic, do you expect the President to discuss Iraq when he speaks to the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have more information about that closer to the speech.
Q Ari, if the President agrees with Vice President Cheney that we can have no real confidence in weapons inspections as an effective means to determine whether or not Saddam is living up to his commitments or not, why go down that road? Why even bother? What is the point of weapons inspections if they're not an effective tool?
MR. FLEISCHER: Can you imagine the situation which world leaders say to Saddam Hussein, just because you broke international agreements we're going to let you continue to break international agreements, that we're no longer going to hold you liable for the promises and the pledges you made? If you're asking, shouldn't the United States say to Saddam Hussein, you don't need inspectors in there, that would be an irresponsible position for world leaders to take. Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the commitments that he made.
Q To what end, though? What in the administration's view is the point, other than a purely formal and legalistic one of going down the road and making Saddam let a lot of those inspectors back in? Is there any point to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The point is to try to give the international community as much information as is possible about whether or not Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. Again, the weapons inspectors are a means to try to find that out.
Q But Vice President Cheney's view, which I understand --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question really needs to be asked in reverse. I think you need to call the Iraqi embassies around the world and say to them, why won't you let them in.
Q One last one, one last question. The President seems to agree with the Vice President that the ability of inspectors to gain that information is very limited. What's --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think again, the question is why did they throw them out in the first place; what was it they were hiding; and why won't they let them back in.
Q Thank you, Ari. Welcome back. Is there any consideration here of lifting the executive order regarding assassination of foreign leaders? And if so, does it have to be made public?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've never heard any topic of conversation about that.
Q Is there any way you could look into any consideration of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if there's anything to that. I haven't heard anything about that.
Q Ari, you used the phrase a couple of times, that weapons inspectors are not the only means to determine whether or not he has weapons of mass destruction. What are the other means?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a variety of means, and I think it's fair to say that concerns will remain about whether he has weapons of mass destruction. And that's because, as the Vice President indicated, there is an ease of movement of some of these weapons, there's ways to hide what you're doing. The point is that Saddam Hussein needs to be part -- Iraq needs to be part of a community of nations that lives in peace with its neighbors. The history of Iraq is that it hasn't lived within peace, it has attacked its neighbors repeatedly. It continues to attack in violation of agreements made to end the Persian Gulf War. Coalition pilots who fly missions to protect the no-fly zone over Iraq, that continues to be a flagrant violation of international law. And these are the issues that Saddam Hussein, despite agreeing to make the war -- put the 1990 war at an end, has thumbed his nose at the international community.
Q I think one of the things that confuses all of us is there is an inherent risk in this by the administration's own words, and that is that once you send in the inspectors, you seem to be saying there's no way that we can determine whether or not they have been successful because if they don't find anything, we will still suspect they have it. Nevertheless, you are committed to that process. And once you get in there, it seems that you will have another dilemma if they can't find anything.
MR. FLEISCHER: Part of that, Jim, is brought on by the actions that Iraq took. Part of that is because, as a result of the denial for the weapons inspectors who were previously in Iraq, the denial of their access to Iraqi sites, the ability of Iraq to hide things and to move things around, and now to have some four years without any weapons inspectors present in the country, Iraq has created a situation where it is very hard to say whether or not they have developed these types of weapons of mass destruction beyond what we already knew that they had.
And so if Saddam Hussein had lived up to the agreements that he made that ended the Gulf War, this conversation would be moot. We would not have to have it. As a result of the actions that Saddam Hussein took to throw the weapons inspectors out, to deny them access to the facilities that they promised they'd have access to, and now to have four good years of hiding, it does make the job of the world community much more difficult in saying that once the weapons inspectors are back in, if they are back in, we can rest easy. We can't.
Q One more thing, if I may. You indicated earlier the President has great sensitivity to having Congress involved in this, and informing the public and even the international community --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Are you suggesting that the administration is now leaning toward asking for some sort of authorization from Congress? And did you hear Senator Lott's comments this morning saying that the reality of it is that would be the best way to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is exactly as I indicated in Crawford when I reflected on the fact that the President has an opinion from his legal counsel that has narrowly gone to the legal issues. The President understands there are many other issues beyond the legal, which, if he reaches such a decision or approaches such a decision, would come into play.
Q -- about consulting even the international community, you mentioned the President's been talking to foreign leaders. Which ones? And --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, throughout the year the President's been talking to foreign leaders. The topic of international security, the topic of Iraq comes up from time to time in his meetings.
Q But this week there are a number of meetings with people from Congress. Does he have a plan to talk to people, particularly from Russia, China, France, and also the Prime Minister of the U.K.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our practice in the White House is when the President makes phone calls, we do our best to give you a read and let you know what he has said.
Q So none so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing today. Paula.
Q On the homeland security bill, with respect to the flexibility provisions, does the administration believe that those provisions should apply to all federal employees that are being transferred to that new department or hired by that new department? Or does the administration believe it should be limited to only those employees whose job is primarily related to intelligence, counter-intelligence, or investigative work related to counterterrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the language that I last saw in the bill dealt with all employees of the Department of Homeland Security. So it's all the employees who would become part of this newly created government agency.
Q So, for example, if FEMA is transferred, and someone's primary responsibility is disaster relief for hurricanes, they should still have flexibility provisions applied to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the last I saw would cover all employees of the Department of Homeland Security. I don't think they tried to make a distinction going through that one person at this desk would be treated differently from another person at that desk.
Q Ari, you said a few minutes ago the President welcomes all the various voices that have been heard on this issue, particularly from the Republican Party. I'm wondering when the President, who does the President himself look to, to speak for the administration on matters of foreign policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Himself. The President will speak when he thinks the time is appropriate. If he has something to share, he will do so, of course, as he always has done.
But the President has one of the most experienced, wise teams surrounding him, when it comes to defense and foreign policy, of any administration ever assembled. He has a superb team, and each and every one of them is capable of speaking out repeatedly, and they will.
Q So, does that mean that when we hear Dick Cheney speak, or Don Rumsfeld or some of these others, that we should view this as part of a mix of discussions, and that the definitive word is going to come from the President himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you're hearing the same message from all of them. As you know, they meet very often through the National Security Council and through other mechanisms, and so they all hear the same conversations, understand what the President's direction is. And then their job is to go out and share that presidential reflection. Secretary Rumsfeld, as you know, is briefing today.
Q Despite the efforts by the President and the administration to convince our allies of the danger we see in Saddam Hussein and his possible possession of weapons of mass destruction, there seems to be a tremendous reluctance to even discuss a military option, if not out-and-out opposition to military action. Is the President prepared to go it alone if we believe it is that serious as we've been saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me suggest that as you gauge world opinion, as you gauge world reaction to the President and his thoughts about Iraq, it's worth asking, has the President made the case for military action to any of these military leaders? Or are these leaders reacting to a case that has not been made? And I think you'll find the answer is the latter, that you're hearing -- mostly as a result of world leaders answering questions from the press -- answers to questions that have not been raised to a case that has not been made.
But the President understands that through the process of consultation, that if and when he gets to the point where he believes that military action would be appropriate -- if he gets to that point -- then the President will make his case to world leaders. And I think it's fair to say at that point, you'll hear very different reactions from the world leaders than you're hearing now in a vacuum.
Q Ari, is the President confident that Tony Garza will be confirmed by the Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow? Or he has any doubts, because Senator Dodd has some questions bout Mr. Garza's past relationship with Enron?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President hopes that all his nominees will be confirmed, of course. And time is running out for the United States Senate. They have a large number of nominees left to confirm, and they don't have much time in which to do it.
Q You keep saying that Saddam threw the inspectors out, and I'm just -- for the sake of accuracy, I want to be clear. Can you be a little more specific? I -- it was my understanding the U.N. withdrew the inspectors at the request of the U.S.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say when -- I think it's fair to say that when Saddam Hussein changes the circumstances that makes it impossible for the inspectors to do their jobs, denies them access to facilities where they were promised access, and makes it impossible for them to do what the world community expects, it's tantamount to him throwing them out.
Whether or not sequentially you can write the case the United Nations, from a legal point of view, from a diplomatic point of view withdrew them, I think it's vital to speak in plain English. Saddam Hussein created the circumstances by throwing them out.
Q Surely the President read in advance Vice President Cheney's address to the VFW, where he said this: "A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box." And my question is did the President disagree with this, like Colin Powell did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, you must have missed the briefing. (Laughter.) That's what we've been talking about for 45 minutes.
Q I just --
MR. FLEISCHER: I know you have them written down, and so you have to follow them. But you have to adjust them a little bit.
Q But did the President disagree with what he saw Cheney was going to give to the VFW?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the transcript for questions one through 75. You're 76.
Q In the realm of national human interest --
Q -- I'm wondering if you are aware of the web site that has been set up in your honor, with an excellent photograph --
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I remind you that sometimes these briefings are televised.
Q -- no, no, no -- eighteen women who note that they "adore White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer." And their web site, of which I have evidence here in my hand, is labeled, and I quote, "Fleischer's Floozies." My question is, surely you would not be so unchivalrous as to dismiss these adoring ladies with either a "no comment" or an evasion, would you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: All I can tell you, Les, is if it's a web site for 18 women, you should not be on it. (Laughter.)
END 1:25 P.M. EDT