Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 26, 2002 (Full Transcript)QUESTION: On the Canadian call, is there anything that the President finds acceptable in their compromise proposal at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has offered a resolution that he thinks is the way to go. And the President will continue to talk to leaders around the world to make the case for that resolution. And he is confident in the end that his position will be accepted and voted on.
QUESTION: What's his feeling about the Canadian resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Why don't you describe it to me.
QUESTION: I think you're very familiar with it.
MR. FLEISCHER: If there something specific you want to bring to my attention about it --
QUESTION: One thing, it would push back -- push back the timetable.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not established a timetable. The President has said that time is running out, and he has said weeks, not months. And that's the timetable the President has established.
QUESTION: It would establish a deadline, as well.
MR. FLEISCHER: The resolution that the President has proposed in the United Nations or their allies does not discuss a specific hard resolution.
QUESTION: So what do you think about establishing a deadline?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the resolution that the United States, the UK, and Spain have proposed is the right way to go, and that's what he is urging action to be taken on.
QUESTION: If I could just really quickly follow. Is it accurate, then, to say he opposes the Canadian compromise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The point the President is making is that time is running out, and that this issue has to come to a conclusion, that the time is coming for Saddam Hussein to be disarmed. And that's the point the President has made.
QUESTION: Ari, the President is going to talk tonight about the future of Iraq as he sees it. What does he think is the level of sacrifice and some of the downsides to American-led occupation of Iraq after an invasion? And what does he envision the immediate outcome will be, not only in Iraq, but in the area?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will get into this at some length tonight, but this will be a big-picture speech about the situation in Iraq.
It will be a big picture piece about peace and disarmament. The President will talk in the speech about what the future may hold, not only for the people of Iraq, once liberated and allowed to become on their own, democratic; but also what it means for the security of the region, because the President believes that a free Iraq will lead to a more stable Mideast.
QUESTION: What about the consequences of American-led occupation of a country in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made clear that in the event of hostilities in Iraq, the United States will stay for as long as necessary, but not a day longer. And therefore, the President continues to look at this as a situation where the people of Iraq are capable of governing Iraq. And that is the future of Iraq -- an Iraq governed by the Iraqis.
QUESTION: One more question about this. Everybody talks about democracy and liberation for the Iraqi people. He doesn't really believe that it's going to be the sort of democracy that exists here in America, does he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tune in tonight. The President has very strong --
QUESTION: Wait a second. Why do the American people have to wait until a speech before the American Enterprise Institute? Why can't you just answer the question? We're not talking about organic democracy the way it exists here, right? Because if that were the case, then maybe Iraq would be split up in some way.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if I answer your question, are you going to go to the speech? I want you to still attend the speech tonight, David.
QUESTION: You know I'll be in both places.
MR. FLEISCHER: I hope -- (laughter) -- at the same time. No, the President, of course, believes that democracy can spread to Iraq. Why shouldn't it? Democracy is not boxed in. Democracy doesn't live in limits. Democracy, as the President says, is God's gift to the world. Liberty does not come from America. Liberty is a naturally endowed right that comes from the Creator, according to our own Declaration of Independence. There is no reason in the world that the President does not think that democracy can spread. And the President does believe that the people of Iraq are fully capable of living under a democratic way of life. Of course, they are.
QUESTION: Then why are you going to bomb them? (Laughter.) I mean, how do you bomb people back to democracy? This is a question of conquest. They didn't ask to be liberated by the United States. This is our self- imposed political solution for them.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me guess that you will not be at the speech tonight. Helen, the President is going to --
QUESTION: I'll be very interested in what the President has to say because I don't think -- I think if you ask five people anywhere, what's the reason the President wants to go to war, you'll get five different answers. Usually there's one defining moment and solution.
MR. FLEISCHER: Tonight, the President is going to discuss this. I think you will hear the President tonight talk about the threat of Saddam Hussein and how he poses a danger to the American --
QUESTION: In 12 years he hasn't done anything.
MR. FLEISCHER: We will temporarily suspend the Q&A portion of today's briefing to bring you this advocacy minute. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ari, how much is this war going to cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will depend on a number of factors, many of them up to Saddam Hussein and to Saddam Hussein's henchmen. If Saddam Hussein and his henchmen do not follow orders, if they don't follow their orders from Saddam Hussein, that can lead to one scenario. And so it is too soon to say with precision how much this war will cost.
QUESTION: You can do better than that, with all respect. The administration has to have gamed out these scenarios and put numbers, dollar figures to them. And I wonder -- you have been reluctant to tell us what those numbers might be. Why be reluctant to level with the American people about the real dollar costs of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of leveling. There is unquestionably a responsibility on the Executive Branch to provide to the Legislative Branch an estimate about what the war would cost, what the humanitarian operation would cost. And that is a responsibility the administration takes seriously.
Because we take it seriously, I'm not in a position to speculate what the number may be. At the appropriate time, and if the President makes a determination to use force, a request for the funding will, of course, be sent up to the Congress. And then it will be based on the latest information that is available. It is too soon to be able to have any type of reliable number to indicate right now.
QUESTION: But you said there are scenarios. It would cost X amount of money with scenario one. You've had -- you have to have done that. Why not share those, so that people get a sense of what they will be called upon to pay?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because scenarios aren't sent up to the Congress. Supplemental requests for funding are sent up to the Congress based on more recent information, and it is too soon to say at this point -- that's the answer.
QUESTION: Can you explain for us how deposing Saddam Hussein improves the chances for Mideast peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will discuss this tonight, but suffice it to say that Saddam Hussein has provided funding for terrorism in the Middle East for suicide bombers; Saddam Hussein is a force of instability in the Middle East; and the President does believe that the more there is movements toward democracy in the region, movements toward reform, movements toward government that is helpful and reform-minded toward the people, the better the prospect for peace, broadly speaking.
QUESTION: So you're saying that there's a direct linkage between violence in the Middle East and Saddam? It seems to me --
MR. FLEISCHER: Unquestionably. When Saddam Hussein pays suicide bombers to engage in suicide bombing, it's a direct correlation.
QUESTION: It seems to me, though, that historically and ideologically, Iran has been a much bigger influence in that area than Saddam has ever been. But are you saying that if you remove Saddam from power, suddenly you can pave the path to Mideast peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know you will be at the speech tonight, as well.
QUESTION: Ari, many estimates we've seen on the war's cost in tens of billions, up over $100 billion. Can you explain the wisdom of continuing to pursue hundreds of billions in tax cuts when you have this large potential liability out there that could increase the budget deficit? And didn't Lyndon Johnson get in trouble for the same sort of thinking during Vietnam, in wanting to maintain his fiscal program while funding the Vietnam War?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whether or not the President decides to authorize the use of force, it is vital for out country that the economy grow. And the President believes one of the best ways to help the economy grow is to provide the tax relief that can give a boost to the economy and create jobs for the American people. Whether or not the President authorizes the use of force, the American people deserve to have jobs. And whether or not the President authorizes a use of force, it still is important to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors and to strengthen the Medicare program.
I'm certain you would not suggest that if we go to war, seniors somehow don't deserve prescription drugs. There are still a series of initiatives that are important, and the fundamental focus of the President will be on growth policies can help people get jobs and get the economy growing stronger.
QUESTION: So the deficit doesn't matter at all? I mean, he doesn't consider --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, it does.
QUESTION: -- that a factor in the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, it does. And that's why the President is focused on policies that create growth, because the President believes that growth policies are the best way to deal with deficits.
MR. FLEISCHER: Subsequent to the phone conversation that took place, CBS has said to the White House that they would be willing to have other guests on. And I want to make a couple points. One is, I think the American media generally are going to be facing some interesting and difficult decisions as Iraq puts people out to engage in propaganda. I believe that in this case Dan Rather deserves to be congratulated for getting a serious journalistic interview with Saddam Hussein. However, we view what Saddam Hussein has said as propaganda and lies. And so the appropriate response is something that we will, of course, talk to CBS about, to see at what level and who could go out and respond to it. And that's a conversation we'll have with CBS.
QUESTION: But are you going to accept their offer of the President, Vice President or Secretary of State --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicate, we will talk to CBS about the appropriate person to respond and timing of response, et cetera. I made the point I made.
QUESTION: Do you think CBS made a mistake by not taking you up on your original --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I characterize it as I did this morning, and my characterization stands, and that's what I have to indicate on it.
QUESTION: Ari, when you sent up a budget earlier this month, you anticipated an approximately $300 billion deficit. Given all this war planning and talk about subsequent costs, are you anticipating a contingency of a larger deficit than $300 billion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Contingency of what?
QUESTION: A larger deficit than $300 billion.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, it all depends on the status of the economy; it depends on the decisions that get made not only on a supplemental, but on other spending issues pending in the Congress. Clearly, the President has identified priorities. His priorities are economic growth; his priorities are funding homeland security and providing for our national defense. One of the best ways to test whether or not the deficit will grow out of control will be to test whether or not Congress is curbing its spending appetite. And this all goes into what creates a deficit.
QUESTION: You don't anticipate war costs to be in one of those factors?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, I said, in protecting national defense. That's clearly included in the sup.
QUESTION: Ari, you said many times -- whether in reference to foreign protests, domestic protests, questions from the Hill, wherever, that the President welcomes an honest and open debate about how we move forward on Iraq. But given the concerns over the deficit, given the concerns over the economy, isn't it fair to include in that debate, even with all the caveats he wanted to attach to it, some preliminary figures on what this might cost
-- best case scenario, worst case scenario -- so that people around the country and people on Capitol Hill can make up their minds about how we move forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking the same questions over and over again; my answer is exactly the same. Nothing has changed.
QUESTION: The reason we're asking over and over again is it doesn't seem unreasonable to get at least a cost range, with all the appropriate caveats. You know everybody in this room is careful about reporting those.
What's the harm in putting that out? I mean, it's --
MR. FLEISCHER: For the exact reasons I gave earlier. As soon as something is knowable, we will have additional information to share on it. I'd think you would also not want the White House to engage in any speculation about numbers that could fluctuate or be dramatically different. So it's too soon to say.
QUESTION: A recently departed Larry Lindsey put forward an estimate back in December based on a percentage of GDP which was in line with the spending --
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me to follow the example and be recently departed? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That's a decision you can make --
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
QUESTION: The French Prime Minister, can I ask for your response to his assertion that war now in Iraq would be precipitous and illegitimate?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will continue the course of the consultations and the diplomatic discussions with all the members on the Security Council. And France's position is known. President Bush has talked with President Chirac about it. And the process will continue until the day of the vote.
QUESTION: You're not prepared to respond to his assertion that it would be precipitous and illegitimate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that the most precipitous thing in the world would be to leave the illegitimate rulers of Iraq in position to have weapons of mass destruction that they could use against the American people or others in the region. That, to the President, is the most precipitous thing of all.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think Saddam Hussein is a legitimate leader, no. Is he elected by his people? I think he's a brutal dictator and a torturer. Yes, illegitimate.
QUESTION: Is the head of Pakistan legitimate?