|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 19, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President day. The President began this morning with a phone call to British Prime Minister Blair. The President called to congratulate him on the victory the Prime Minister had in the vote in the Parliament. The two also discussed the situation in the Middle East, with the road map and their hope that confirmation would take place involving the new Palestinian Prime Minister.
The President then had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, and then convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He also met this morning with the Secretary of Defense. Then he met with the Mayor of New York City, Mayor Bloomberg, as well as Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge, to discuss homeland security issues and also to note how well New York City has worked to prepare itself for any eventualities and to congratulate the Mayor on New York's efforts.
That is on the President's schedule today. I have one other statement for you. President Bush will welcome President Paul Biya of Cameroon to the White House for a meeting and dinner tomorrow, March 20th, 2003. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Has the President consulted with any former Presidents besides his father in terms of -- and does he have the endorsement for the war on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, as I told you this morning, you need to address to former Presidents what they would say about whether or not they support the President's endeavors. In any case, any communication that the President, himself, has with former Presidents I leave as a private matter between Presidents.
Q Well, has he consulted with any outsiders at all, outside of the government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, anything involving the Presidents, I always leave, as is protocol, that as a matter of privacy among the various Presidents. And the President has relied extensively on the information that he has from his meetings with the security team, as well, of course, with foreign leaders whose counsel he seeks on a regular basis.
Q You mean Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, foreign leaders whose counsel he seeks on a regular basis.
Q Ari, can you confirm that the administration has asked Iraqi opposition leaders here in this country to return to Northern Iraq and be in position?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I saw there was somebody on the Hill who suggested that yesterday, and I cannot confirm that. I've not been able to get that confirmed; I don't know.
Q Is the administration talking to these people? And would you like to have them in position, and how do you envision them --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, we talk to those people, yes. And as you know, there are programs underway, working with them, training them, in Hungary. And there was a meeting in Northern Iraq that a White House representative went to several weeks ago.
And the purpose of these contacts and the purpose of this dialogue and meetings is because the government of Iraq must be run by Iraqis in the future. And we have always said that this will be a government that comes from within inside Iraq, as well as Iraqis from outside the country. And so, of course, we have conversations with those people. This is all part of the planning for a post-Saddam Iraq.
Q How long do you expect that American forces would be in control of the country, before you were able to hand over --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's impossible to say. It will be as long as is necessary to do the job right, to provide the security atmosphere for Iraqis to govern their own country. It will be as long as is necessary, but not a day longer.
Q Can you confirm that the United States won't be asking Turkey for ground basing, only for over-flight rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't discuss operational issues of that nature. Anything like that, you need to talk to the Pentagon about.
Q What about the administration's expressed expectation that the Turks, if they go into Northern Iraq, will be under the command of coalition forces? Have you gotten that confirmed?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the same statement I made yesterday. We've made our point --
Q Have you heard anything back? Is it under discussion?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've made our point; we think our point is well understood.
Q Just to pick up on something you said in the phone call with Prime Minister Blair. They talked about the road map. The Palestinian Parliament has now established this position of prime minister and beat back efforts, apparently, by Yasser Arafat to strip it of meaningful power. Does this position now satisfy the President's request that there be a prime minister with real authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was an important development. And the President, having said on June 24th, that one of the most important steps necessary to create an environment for peace between the Israeli and the Palestinians would be internal reforms in the Palestinian Authority, welcomes the steps that have been taken in the Palestinian Authority. It's a sign of progress. What has yet to happen is the acceptance of the position by Abu Mazen, or the confirmation. That has not yet taken place.
Q That position, as it's now laid out officially by the Palestinians, is a position of real authority in the President's eyes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll leave it that the President is pleased with the internal progress that is being made, in terms of the Palestinians seeking internal reforms.
Q Okay. And then, one other thing -- Ambassador Negroponte, at the U.N. this morning, told the other members of the Security Council that he looks forward to working with them in the days and the weeks ahead on issues that the Security Council will be involved in. Can you outline with any specificity what the President thinks the role of the U.N. will be, going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, and this was addressed in the meeting in the Azores and a communique that was issued following the meeting, that talked about the role of the United Nations. This was a joint statement by the four leaders. And in there, President Bush said, as well as the other leaders said, that it's important for the United Nations to have a role in the humanitarian aspects of rebuilding Iraq. And so that's -- you may want to just go back to the exact document to find the precise words. But, clearly, there is a role for the United Nations in the future of Iraq in terms of that humanitarian aspect.
Q Do you expect any political role? In some of these other situations, there have been U.N. officials who have assumed responsibility for civil administration, in Kosovo, East Timor, places like that.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd refer you to the exact language in that document. I've not brought that document with me. But that is the document that sets forth the policy and says it in precise terms.
Q With eight hours to go to the deadline, have you gotten any indication from the Iraqi government that Saddam plans to step down?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. With just a short amount of time to go before the deadline, we have not received, unfortunately, any indication from Saddam Hussein that he intends to leave the country.
Q Ari, first of all, a logistical thing. You released this morning the letter that was sent up to the Hill. But we haven't yet received the back-up material.
MR. FLEISCHER: That was released about an hour ago.
Q Was it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw it was e-mailed out, and so I presume everybody here has it.
Q Actually, I want to ask about the report.
Q The subsequent question I have for you is, the President in his speech two nights ago described the Iraqi threat as one that could be one to five years into the future to obtain either a nuclear weapon or something that could strike us, a non-imminent threat. In the President's mind, is he in this action, setting a precedent that the United States could now act, either preemptively or preventively, depending on how you define it, against a threat that is not an imminent one against the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, here's how the President approaches this. He believes, number one, based on the reviews conducted by the attorneys, that there already exists a legal basis both in international law, as well as in domestic law, for the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein. And that is also found in Security Council Resolution 678 and 687, as well as 1441. The President also believes that there is a gathering threat from Iraq, that with the failure by Saddam Hussein to disarm of his weapons of mass destruction presents a threat to the security of the United States. And therefore, he has come to the conclusion that after exhausting the diplomacy, that military force must be used if Saddam Hussein does not get out of the country.
That summarizes it for him. In terms of precedents, et cetera, David, I think some people have made the case -- and different people will have different historical views of these things -- but you can look at the Cuban missile crisis, of course, where there was a decision made without the United States being "attacked" to conduct a quarantine or an embargo, which, of course, international lawyers will tell you is an act of war.
And so I think you're going to find the historians, legal scholars will have differing conclusions about these matters. But the conclusion the President reaches is that Iraq's failure to disarm presents a threat to the people of the United States and, therefore, he is prepared to use force.
Q Even if you were absent the U.N. resolutions, if they didn't exist, he would still think he would have justification under the current circumstances?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question about that.
Q The report that came with -- the seven-page report, one of the points it makes in trying to make the case that moving against Saddam would help the war on terrorism is that detained Iraqis could help identify terrorists living in the United States. I'm assuming, first of all, by "detained," we're talking about folks who have been captured in the war. Is that correct? And, secondly, what evidence do we have, what reason do we have to believe that detained Iraqis would be able to point us to suspects living in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, let me re-read the report to take a look at that provision, in particular. When I read it -- let me take a look at that, in that particular regard. The report focuses on -- as the congressional requirements dictate -- Congress, when it passed the resolution with huge bipartisan support last fall, laid out several reporting requirements imposed on the administration if a decision was made to use force. The report was required either immediately before or within 48 hours of the use of force. It said before, or 48 hours afterwards.
Q -- for this provision is, is making the argument, as required by the resolution, that a movement against Iraq would help on the war against terrorism. In that section the claim was made that it would help identify terrorists here. If you could provide some guidance as to how we can make that claim.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. What the report required on the question of terrorism, is that in connection -- this is reading from the law that triggers the formal requirement to put together the written report, which was sent last night -- and now I'm reading from the October 16, 2002 statute.
"In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection to use force, the President shall, prior to the exercise of such force, but no later than 48 hours after, make available to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate, a determination that" -- here's the piece on the terrorism section -- "acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th." The report walks through that this is consistent with that.
Q Right. And I think you understand -- I'm not challenging that, I'm just asking about the one, what I think is a new rationale, a new explanation for why the United States thinks it would help --
MR. FLEISCHER: On your specific question, let me take it and post.
Q And I think you just answered, if I had listened to that more carefully -- I apologize -- does the fact that he released it today have anything to do with the timing of military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. What, again, the language is, is this has to be released prior to such exercise, or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority. That's the language of the law. The President, having given the speech to the nation the other night, thought this was the appropriate time to release it.
Q Can you get back to me on the other question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, sir.
Q Ari, do you expect victory in the upcoming House vote on the tax cut? And do you have any update on when you'll be releasing some sort of war cost estimates?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the action pending up on the Hill, the Congress is moving forward with passage of its budget resolutions, and the President is confident that at the end, what he requested will be agreed to, either in large part or entirety or in much part.
The President is heartened to see the process begin, and begin on time in both the House and the Senate. Of course, last year the Senate was not even able to pass a budget, and this year a different Senate is moving forward on passage of a budget.
Too soon to say what the ultimate outcome will be. It will be voted on in the House; they're planning to do it this week. It will be voted on in the Senate; they plan to do it this week. Then it will go to the conference committee, and then it must go back to the House and Senate for final passage. That's, of course, where the President's focus always is strongest on, the final passage. But he's very pleased to see them beginning the work on it this week in both the House and the Senate. And all indications from the House are very strong.
Q And the war cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: War cost -- in terms of the supplemental, the President has said that after hostilities begin, a supplemental will be sent to the Hill. That remains operative.
Q Ari, you mentioned this morning that there was evidence of some "unease" in senior Iraqi circles. Could you share with us any evidence to that effect? And also could you share with us some of the factors the President will consider, sort of the pros and cons, as he picks the time of his choosing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that you can see from ample public reporting, from the many communications that have been had with the Iraqi people through the form of leaflets and other things that are very publicly known, there is unease throughout Iraq.
Q Any evidence that senior officials in that government are trying to defect, have attempted to defect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything about any one individual or another is not something that I would be able to get into. If something like that were to happen, I would imagine it would be a matter of time before it is publicly known. But there's nothing I can get into on that.
Q And the various factors?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's safe to say that the President, having made the speech he made to the nation about the gathering threat and the decision that force will be necessary if Saddam Hussein does not leave, will work very closely with the will work very closely with the Department of Defense and with the military planners on what, indeed, makes it a moment of our choosing. The President will be guided by the best military advice available, and that will help shape his decision.
Q Ari, sort of repeating my question from this morning, and following on that one. Since the President has not expressly promised not to begin military operations before the ultimatum, the 48-hour ultimatum ends, therefore, we could expect military operations to begin at any point in time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into any speculation about when military operations can begin for what I imagine you all know are the obvious reasons. Why would anybody want to give that away?
Q Right, but the White House does not believe it is constrained by the 48-hour ultimatum to stop Hussein not to begin any military operations before that time?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's language spoke for itself about Saddam Hussein and 48 hours to avoid military conflict, and that the use of force can begin at a moment of our own choosing. I'm just not going to go beyond that.
Q You mentioned the language in the letter sent to the Hill that said, if a decision to take military action is made, then this notification would go to Congress. Should we interpret this as a sign that the President has, in fact, made the conceptual decision to use military force?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question about that. The President made that clear to the American people in his speech the other night.
Q So we have crossed that point. He just hasn't made the decision about exactly when forces would, in fact, move against Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President made very plain to the American people that as a result of Saddam Hussein's failure to disarm, and his possession of weapons of mass destruction, he has come to the determination that the only way to enforce the United Nations resolutions now is through the use of force. He gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq in order to avoid military conflict.
Q You've got a problem on the homeland security front in the sense that some states are refusing to mobilize their National Guard for lack of funding. There is some talk of a supplemental for homeland security. Do you intend to do that? Would you do it separately from the money that you would be seeking for execution of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, in the phone call that Secretary Ridge had with the governors the other night, he made it clear that the use of the Guard is a state option, as consistent with Code Orange. And that's something that's been well-established in all the protocols that guide what steps would be taken as the threat level goes up or comes down. And the governors have that prerogative, they have that option as they see fit under the way it's set up.
So I don't view that as a problem; I view that as the way the system is set up, to give governors flexibility in decision- making. There are some states where they may not think that they are terrorist targets and that they don't have to make such decisions to employ the Guard. Other states may see it differently. That's part of the flexibility, based on threat assessment, that is provided.
In terms of funding, we have never ruled out that there would be a homeland security component to a supplemental request. That is a possibility.
Q So you anticipate that it would be rolled into the supplemental that would involve the cost of the war and the initial --
MR. FLEISCHER: What I've said is we do not rule that out; that is a possibility.
Q Back on Turkey. In light of their decision to give the U.S. fly-over rights, does that change the status of the economic package that the U.S. was holding out for --
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, the Turkish parliament has yet to speak on that matter. There are some important leading Turkish voices who have expressed their position that Turkey should grant fly-over rights. But as a legal matter, the Turkish parliament has not yet voted on that. And so it's premature to make any judgments about what actions Turkey will take. We will look forward to hearing the results of that vote.
In terms of the economic package, the previous package that was discussed with Turkey was contingent on their cooperation, their total cooperation in the military endeavor. That total cooperation has not developed and, therefore, the previous package is no longer the pending package.
Q But is the administration willing to consider some smaller version of it? Because another argument for the package, itself, was that Turkey, being so close to the action, was going to suffer real economic damage.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q And so is the administration prepared, if Turkey cooperates at some level, to go back to the table and perhaps try to provide some kind of aid that's, perhaps, smaller?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House has not ruled out assistance for Turkey in this matter. But I don't have anything to indicate beyond that.
Q First of all, to return to the supplemental. Secretary Ridge told us out on the driveway after the meeting that there would be, definitely be a homeland security component to the supplemental. Is he correct, or was he getting ahead of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he's correct.
Q So he will --
MR. FLEISCHER: I will advance it that far. Yes, he will. And that will be made clear in testimony later today up on Capitol Hill.
Q Regarding the meeting involving the Secretary and Mayor Bloomberg, can you give us a little more detail, readout of how that meeting went and what was said?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. Mayor Bloomberg briefed the President on Operation Atlas, which is New York City's plan to protect New Yorkers in the event of terrorist attacks. The President noted that New York City, of course, has a tremendously effective infrastructure designed to combat terrorism. It has been tremendously effective. New York has great resources and great abilities, and the President expressed his pride in that. And they did talk about the fact that there would be some level of homeland security money in the supplemental. And that was the nature of the conversation.
The President also recalled visiting New York in the aftermath of September 11th and just talked again about the great determination in the way the New Yorkers handled the terrorist attack.
Q Were specific funding levels discussed?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no specific funds levels discussed.
Q The Mayor said that his main message on the funding question was that whatever homeland security component there is, the money should not be distributed according to the traditional formula of population because he said New York City would not do well by that, that there's a unique threat here and that that should be taken into account. What's the President's view of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the President differed with the manner in which Congress put in place, the existing, just-passed-into-law money for states and localities, the manner in which Congress did it. Clearly, there's flexibility needed here to get the funds to the areas that need the funds the most, and not to distribute it on any other basis where there would be organizations that have less to worry about getting larger amounts of money.
So I think that the Mayor expressed himself on it. You've heard what he said. The President would very much like to see in the proposal that he has made to Congress this year for additional billions of dollars in homeland security money to have greater flexibility, fewer earmarks in the way that money can be spent.
Q As we're on the brink of war, is there any kind of message the White House wants to send to Iraqi forces? I mean, perhaps an appeal to surrender, or assurances they'd be protected if they gave up?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message to Iraqi forces is this is not your war. This is your regime; don't follow the orders of the regime. The Iraqi people are the innocents who are caught in between. And the President would very much like to see the Iraqi people save their lives, the Iraqi military save their lives, by laying down their arms and by not following their orders.
Q Ari, two things. At 8:00 p.m., what should the American public understand as it relates to potential war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: At 8:00 p.m. tonight, the American people will know Saddam Hussein has committed his final act of defiance. The President has urged Saddam Hussein to leave the country so that military conflict can be avoided. At 8:00 p.m., we will know whether Saddam Hussein has chosen to do that, or not. We have no indications that he has chosen to do that, unfortunately.
Q My second question, why is it that the State Department last week declined a proposal from former Congressman Walter Fauntroy, with a group of ecumenical ministers who went to Iraq and met with Tariq Aziz about total disarmament -- why did the State Department say, no, this is a no-deal issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have made it abundantly clear from the very beginning that this is not a negotiable matter with Iraq. Iraq must comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions and immediately, and fully, and unconditionally disarm. That's not a negotiable position.
Q And Ari, this was last week, and they said they would have total disarmament in exchange that you could buy their oil with U.S. dollars --
MR. FLEISCHER: If that was the case, you'd have thought Iraq would have done it. It's not a quid pro quo. Iraq needed to have followed the binding resolutions of the United Nations.
Q Ari, for awhile now we've been asking when the President is going to have an open discussion with the American people about the benefits and the costs of any war. Yet in his speech last night -- or Monday night, we didn't hear anything from the President about the potential risks of this war. Why hasn't he --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President warned the American people there will be sacrifice in this road ahead. The President made that plain. And if you're asking the question of costs, in terms of dollars, not human lives --
Q I'm asking about human lives.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said that. The President said that in his speech the other night that there would be sacrifice. And I think the American people understand that. The American people clearly have seen what has been developing for months and months and months, as a result of the diplomatic endeavors that the President tried, while making plain and certain to the American people and to Iraq that if Iraq did not disarm, force would be used. And the American people understand that if force is used, lives may be lost, indeed. I think there's no question the country understands that.
Q But do you think that they really understand the potential for the loss of human life here if they're using recent wars, like Afghanistan or the first Persian Gulf War, which were very different from this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question the American people understand that. I think if you just talk to people in the street, they'll tell you they understand that there are risks to life, and the President has made that clear.
Q Ari, I realize it's limited to how much you can say, but when are the American people next going to hear from the President, under what circumstances, any idea what kind of timing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to today, at this moment be able to indicate to you this far in advance whatever the next communication will be -- whether it is -- whatever time it may be. We will, at this point, keep you informed, as up-to-date as possible, but I'm not going to be in a position to give you early information.
Q So Americans should not, like, tune into their TV sets tonight at 8:00 p.m. in the expectation to hear the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate about what will or will not happen at 8:00 p.m. tonight.
Q Saddam Hussein is holding tight just like Hitler in 1945, as far as at this hour, a little over seven hours to go for the deadline. And how is the President holding up in the most difficult decision of his life as a President, as a citizen, as a commander-in-chief -- so are we looking also at the same time, when we go and attack -- the U.S. forces go to attack Iraq, they are looking Saddam Hussein dead or alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the President has thought about this for a considerably long period of time, and has thought about this carefully. And if force is used, the President will authorize force, knowing that it was in the cause of peace to disarm Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction, so that Saddam Hussein cannot use weapons of mass destruction later at a time and place of Saddam's choosing, which would leave us at the most vulnerable.
You know, one of the things that's interesting here is we seem to have gone from a debate at the United Nations process where people said, you haven't proved he has weapons of mass destruction, the inspectors haven't been able to find where Saddam is hiding them, to now rampant speculation that Saddam Hussein has chemical, biological weapons that he is getting ready to unleash on American forces. And I think we've seen that in all the coverage from this. That's the very point. If people now accept the premise that he does have weapons of mass destruction, the world could not afford, in the President's judgment, to allow Saddam to make the timing clear from his point of view about when he would use them. If he has them, that's the risk, that's the problem. If he has them, the world cannot afford to let Saddam pick who he would use them on and when he would use them, especially if the world was not prepared to take counter-measures.
Q Let me just follow one more -- after this war starts, tonight, any time when the deadline ends, what is the message from the President for the airlines? Because they are going out of business -- and the travelers and airlines, what is the message? And also as far as the economy is concerned, about oil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's focus is on the entire economy. And that, of course, includes the airlines and other industries that would be affected. Of course, there are economic conditions that predate any possibility of the use of military force that also have to be taken into account. The President does have concerns about these matters, including the airlines. And this is why the President more broadly has been working with Congress on economic growth, which benefits all.
Q Do you have any information on the whereabouts of Tariq Aziz and whether he's been shot or defected?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've seen the reports on the wire; I have no confirmation.
Q Secretary Powell said that there's 30 countries, I believe, that expressed support for the United States position, and 15 others that have secretly said -- indicated something. Can you give us any idea how many of these countries are willing to send military personnel to take part in this campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as always, unless those nations explicitly authorize us to speak about who was using -- sending combat or forces in there, it's not my place to name them. It's their place to name them for themselves.
There may be a moment where, after sufficient authorization is given from foreign governments, more can be said or will be said. But I think it's fair to say, when you take a look at the entire coalition of the willing, what you see are a sizeable number of nations that share the United States people's commitment to disarming Saddam Hussein, and also to the reconstruction of Iraq. And this coalition will speak in numerous ways as different nations contribute differently to it.
There will be a number that are involved in various ways and forms, in combat, or in providing chem or biological teams in the event that Saddam Hussein uses weapons of mass destruction. There will be larger numbers that help in the supply, the over-flight. And other countries, of course, too, that contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.
Q A follow-up on his question. One is that, have the airlines made any specific requests or concern either about money or safety from the White House? And, secondly, once hostilities commence, what is the White House going to do, or how are you going to communicate with the leaders of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your second question, that will be handled in any number of ways. There are legal mechanisms. There are also, of course, as you saw bring the members of Congress down here this week for consultations, continued face-to-face meetings in consultations.
On the airlines, we have been talking with the airlines. We'll continue to consult with the airlines and there's nothing I can report beyond that.
Q Ari, two questions. The meeting at the United Nations this morning, certain foreign ministers went -- Colin Powell didn't go, nor the British Foreign Minister, nor the Spanish Foreign Minister. Hans Blix has presented, or is presenting a report on disarmament. What does the White House think of that meeting going on today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's the prerogative of the United Nations to continue to receive reports that, interestingly, the report continues to show that there are serious questions about Saddam Hussein's disarmament. And so the report is part of a series of items that raise questions that get to the core of the issue. Saddam Hussein has not given the world confidence that he has disarmed. That's what has brought the world to the verge of going to war against Saddam Hussein, so he does disarm.
Q Second question. I think the White House has stated its position that it would like the United Nations to help in the reconstruction of Iraq. And I've heard some reports that maybe the oil money from Iraq's sale of oil could be used for reconstruction. Is that something the White House would like to see?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that the Iraqi nation possesses a number of resources. They are a wealthy nation and they have the ability to do what wealthy nations should do -- and that is to turn their wealth to peaceful purposes, rather than military purposes.
The oil-for-food program is a humanitarian program implemented through the United Nations to provide food to the people of Iraq in the face of a dictatorship that takes all its resources away from the people, doesn't feed the people and, instead, builds palaces and builds bombs. And there's no question that the President believes, and much of the world community, including the United Nations, believes, that Iraqi wealth should be better used to serve the causes of -- the humanitarian causes of the Iraqi people, including providing for their food, their medicine, et cetera.
Q Ari, going back to this idea of this being the first preemptive or preventive war. What are other countries to make of this? What about other countries who might seize on this and take their own preemptive action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I harken back to what I said about the Cuban missile crisis. And you will have different historians come to different conclusions about different events, but, certainly, in the Cuban missile crisis the United States was not attacked; the United States imposed a quarantine or an embargo, which, as I indicated earlier, people can call an act of war. That has been one of the ways people have looked at it.
I think there's no question there is going to be historian dispute about different circumstances. But I'm not sure your premise is accurate on it. But in any case, the President still views this as an unique issue involving Iraq. The President has said this on numerous occasions. He views it as unique because of the history of the United Nations Security Council passing the resolutions that they passed, calling for Iraq to disarm. The President also views this as unique because, in the case of Iraq, diplomacy was tried, it did not work; sanctions were tried, they did not work; smart sanctions were tried, they did not work; pinpoint military strikes were tried, they did not work; repeated days of Cruise missile attacks were tried, they did not work. Given the history of Saddam Hussein and his use of force and his development of weapons of mass destruction, the President views this as a unique threat.
Q So another country -- say, Russia, which has threatened to go into Georgia -- Chechen rebels; or, say, an Arab country might want to take preemptive measures against Israel; or Israel a preemptive measure against someone -- you're saying that the President would say to the, what we're doing here is unique, don't think about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does view this as a unique threat; that's correct.
Q Are the old ideas of containment and the other policies that we've seen since the Cold War, are they disregarded by this administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, indeed, they're not. But what you do have is -- containment was a very sound policy when you had a bipolar world involving the Soviet Union and the United States. And containment, indeed, did work in that world. What you have now in the post-communist era is a world of different types of threats to the United States, some of which can, indeed, be dealt with through containment. Others -- and Secretary Rumsfeld has referred this as asymmetrical threats -- do not apply.
Containment works when you're dealing with more of a rational nation-state, as opposed to terrorist organizations -- terrorist organizations that cannot be contained. Their use of weapons such as we saw on September 11th, flying airplanes into buildings -- you cannot contain al Qaeda. That's one of the reasons the President has engaged in this war on terrorism around the world and has conducted it the way he has. I don't think anybody would suggest al Qaeda could have been, or will be, or should have been contained.
So it's an asymmetrical world. You have different situations, different threats from different portions of the world. And what's so important -- and this is one of the things that I think people are going to look at in the debate at the United Nations -- is for the world to move beyond the defenses of the 20th century and think differently in the 21st century about what is the most effective way to maintaining the peace. And that is going to require different solutions in different regions of the world.
It requires the flexibility of approach that President Bush has shown. He wished that other leaders would show that same flexibility of approach to dealing with the new threats of the 21st century, and not be locked into making mistakes that could be made based on a 20th century philosophy.
Q Ari, you talked a minute ago about Americans already understanding there will be sacrifice and risk. Does that mean that the President doesn't feel a need to address these in a more detailed fashion sometime as the war is starting or before the war starts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not predicting every sentence that the President will make in any future addresses. But I think if you ask the American people, they understand already what sacrifice means. And the President has talked about sacrifice.
Q But the White House had said that the President would address these issues as the time of war came. But I'm not sure -- when you say that he has addressed them, I'm not sure where that was and what he said.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if there's a specific sentence, Bob, that you are looking for. But when the President talks about sacrifice, I think the American people clearly understand what the President is talking about.
Q Just following on Peter's question, the President sees this as a unique threat, but he's not at all concerned that others will see this as a template for them to take their own preemptive strikes elsewhere?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President believes this is a matter that was pursued diligently through the United Nations, is based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 678, 687, and 1441; and that, given the actions of Saddam Hussein, the threat that he presents, the fact that he himself has authorized military attacks on his neighbors before, that he possesses weapons of mass destruction, that this is a circumstance unlike any other found on the Earth.
Q Ari, anti-war groups have said that they intend to stage protests and some engage in civil disobedience as soon as the President gives the order to attack Iraq. How does the President feel about going into war with opposition that's larger and more passionate than during the Afghani campaign? And second, how should authorities respond to civil disobedience that may occur in the coming days?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President views it just the way he's viewed the many protests that have taken place already. It is the right of the America people to speak out. The President, and I think it's been widely recognized that there is an overwhelming strong majority of the American people who see it differently from the protesters. And that's their right to see it that way.
Q -- while war is going on, which they intend to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands it's the right of people to speak in America.
Q What about civil disobedience?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to address that, given whatever the circumstances are, to the local law enforcement officials who would be involved, depending on the circumstances and what is done. That's not a White House matter.
Q Ari, you said a minute ago that preemption is necessary when you're dealing with an asymmetrical threat, but containment works when you're dealing with a rational threat. How does North Korea fit into that? Is North Korea a rational threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the policies that the President has announced in North Korea, of course, focus on working in a multilateral fashion with the other nations involved to make certain that North Korea understands the importance of dismantling its nuclear weapons program. We hope North Korea will respond to that multilateral message of diplomacy. The President has said all options are on the table. That's the approach the President is taking.
Q Let me ask you also about if you could give us an update on the mood here at the White House, the President's mood. Is he doing anything differently today than he does on other days?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has spent today much like yesterday. It's a day of working with the military planners, taking last-minute looks at the various plans of the military planners, and allowing the time that he is given to pass.
Q Ari, opponents of the war in Iraq contend that it will increase terrorism, while the majority of our country seems to believe that decisively removing Saddam will demoralize the terrorist network worldwide. And my question, how does the President assess the psychological effect of this massive military action on the minds of terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think on two levels. One, you can already see that the effort to fight terrorism worldwide, even with the buildup of force in dealing with Iraq, has been very, very successful. Al Qaeda has been severely disrupted. While threats do, indeed, remain, and concerns are present, al Qaeda has been severely disrupted. They have lost their ability to train in Afghanistan, they're on the run, they're scattered throughout the world, it's not safe for them anywhere. They know that at any given moment, any of them can be, like their brethren before them, picked up and brought to justice. And that has a powerful deterrent effect. And the President also believes that the use of force against Iraq will similarly send a powerful deterrent message to terrorists around the world that the United States will do what it takes to prevent terrorist attacks against our country.
Q Page one of today's New York Times quotes Saddam Hussein predicting, "a holy war that would wipe out the ranks of invading American troops." Yesterday, you told us that Baghdad imams called for holy war violence, the drowning of Bush and Blair was opposed by one unidentified imam in Kuwait. And my question is, have there been any other imams or mosques who have publicly disagreed with these calls for holy war and drowning of Bush and Blair? And if any, approximately how many and where? How many, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I hate to say this to you, but you're going to have to do your own research. It's not my place to speak for imams throughout the world.
Q No, no, no, I want to know what the White House -- does the White House think anybody else --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can rest assured, Lester, that the message that you expressed from Baghdad is not a message shared by Muslim leaders around the world.
Q And which didn't share, Ari? That's a non-answer.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Lester.
Q Ari, when the President makes a decision for the troops, will he talk on the phone with Tommy Franks, or will that decision be sent through other channels?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you filled in.
Q You said a couple of times over the last few weeks that the cost issue is going to wait until a supplemental can be sent up to the Hill.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q I'm troubled because the budget process is going forward, we're close to a potential war, close to war right now. Why not share that information? Why not share the calculus this President did to determine that it was worth it to go to war? Why not share those dollar figures with the American public, with Capitol Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course those figures will be shared --
Q Why not now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there are still open questions about the precision of the estimates that the administration is working off of. Much of that depends on events on the ground.
Q If I could follow up isn't -- hasn't the President used some sort of calculation, some figures to decide, yes, this is worth our while, it's worth it to take a hit on the economy, or whatever effect it's going to have on the economy, to this extent, and these are the dollars we figured were worth it --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views this as a matter of -- a moral matter and a matter of keeping the peace first. And that is going to be what guides the decision he makes, not what the cost of this may or may not be. But the President also views it as important to be as precise as possible in providing cost figures to the Congress, so Congress can work off of the most accurate numbers possible. And the time to assess those numbers has not yet arrived.
Q Ari, to return to the question of preemption and uniqueness of the Iraqi threat. Isn't the problem here that uniqueness, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, and that another country might just as sincerely conclude that they face a threat from an enemy that is unique to them and can only be dealt with by preemptive military force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, you have asked me what the President thinks, and I've told you what the President thinks. I think if you have other thoughts about it, you would need to talk to other countries to see what they would say about this. But I can share with you what the President's approach is.
Q He doesn't see that possibility, that some other country might come to that same conclusion just as sincerely, and use this --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said, the President views this as a unique matter in the world.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:59 P.M. EST