For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 12, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, a couple of preliminary announcements and then we will go to questions. President Bush will welcome President Nursultan Nazarbayev of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the White House on September 29, 2006. Kazakhstan is an important strategic partner in Central Asia. The President and President Nazarbayev will discuss a range of issues, including democracy promotion, the war on terror, energy diversification, expanding prosperity and our common commitment to working together to advance freedom and security.
The President also will welcome Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the White House on October 2, 2006. This meeting will provide an opportunity for the President and the Prime Minister to enhance further the strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, and discuss increased cooperation in the war on terror, including countering the PKK, and in advancing freedom in Lebanon, Iraq and the broader Middle East. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister these and other important issues, including Turkey's pursuit of political and economic reforms and U.S. support for Turkey's accession to the European Union.
And with that, I'll go to questions. Terry.
Q Last night, the President asked Democrats and Republicans to put aside differences in the war on terrorism. And I wanted to see how you think that's going, a day later, when Harry Reid accuses the President of playing election year politics and House Majority Leader Boehner says of Democrats, "I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people. They certainly don't want to take the terrorists on and defeat them." So --
MR. SNOW: Apparently, there are differing points of view. (Laughter.)
Q Even at that, you don't think it's -- so did the President fail in his mission?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. It's interesting, we're going to have a lot of political conflict this year. Perfectly understandable, acceptable, predictable. That's the way it works. But yesterday gave the American people a chance to reflect on September 11th and how it froze us in an instant and made us understand that there was something out there we hadn't seen before, hadn't even expected, didn't have any suspicion that it existed. And that was a network of terrorists who would use any means possible, including things that are -- at least for you and me -- unimaginable, which was to turn airliners into weapons of mass destruction.
It also revealed that there was an ideology abroad that said that freedom is a terrible thing and that people were going to twist and pervert the Koran in an attempt to create a holy war, when, in fact, theirs was an ideology of despotism and terror, and that they were serious about it; that they had plans; that they were organized and that they were trying to kill Americans. We all realize that. Before that day, I daresay very few people in this room were then focusing in any serious way on Osama bin Laden.
So we learned about that. And as a nation, we remain united to beat those guys. And we remain united in our desire to remember the people who died -- the President yesterday having met with friends and family of many of them.
So, no, I think Americans are united on the important things, and they also understand that in politics there will be a vigorous debate about how best to pursue the goal. But I don't think there's any disagreement that, ultimately, our freedoms are precious, and that this country is an extraordinary place that remains not only the beacon of the world but the envy of many, and that it is our responsibility to preserve that for this and every future generation. And Americans also understand political seasons.
Q But, Tony, wait --
Q Do you think that both sides -- Democrats and Republicans -- want to defeat the terrorists?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I do. I mean, I think -- I don't think --
Q So you disagree with --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get in a debate over statements that I haven't seen. I think that there are going to be plenty of debates about who is going to be more effective in waging that battle. But I'll let John Boehner and Harry Reid duke it out on their own. I'll speak for the President.
Let me get to David, and then I'll get to you, Martha. Go ahead, David.
Q As you well know, this is not a campaign season about whether America is a great place or not, right? I mean, it's a lot more substantive than that, and it has to do with the path that this President took the country after 9/11.
Now, when a Republican leader of Congress says, "I wonder if Democrats are more interested in protecting terrorists than they are in protecting the American people," as a spokesman for the President, do you think that it's your duty to say that that's out of bounds or not?
MR. SNOW: Frankly, again, this is one of these things -- I haven't even seen the Boehner statement. But let me make a larger point. When people call the President a liar or a loser, that happens. There have been all sorts of names and smears aimed at the President. And he understands and he's a big enough boy to deal with that.
The other thing is that in this present political season, unfortunately there will be a lot of -- there's going to be some name-calling. You know what? I think you and I agree. Let's figure out what the substantive issues are, let's get past the name-calling, and let's get down to it and let's talk about it.
Q But this is important, because, as a matter of fact, the Vice President said over the weekend to Tim Russert that the sort of debate we're having in this country, about withdrawing troops from Iraq, emboldens the terrorists. Now you have a Republican leader of Congress saying the Democrats may be more interested in protecting terrorists than the American people. Does the President agree with that?
MR. SNOW: What you've done is you've taken two things. Let's focus on what the Vice President said, which is that withdrawal from Iraq would embolden the terrorists. I think it's true. Osama bin Laden has made it clear. And one of the things he says is if the United States is pushed from Iraq, it will be to the eternal humiliation of the United States.
So it is clear from the standpoint of bin Laden, who, in the past -- and you quite kindly corrected me on a misstatement back in August, when I got it wrong -- bin Laden drew the conclusion when we left Somalia that the Americans didn't have what it took to stick it out. See, that's the way that the enemy is looking at this. So as an objective statement about the way in which bin Laden views the United States, that is a true statement. I'm not going to get into trying to characterize what John Boehner said.
Q Because you certainly would get into it if somebody accused the President of being a liar. I mean, do you want to let a statement like this stand from a Republican leader of Congress?
MR. SNOW: Like I said, you're presenting me with a statement I haven't seen. I'll tell you what, I'll get back to you on it.
Q It's been out there for a couple of hours. I think you had ample time to see it.
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, no --
Q Let me ask you this final point. Can you describe how it's possible to oppose the President on the war on Iraq without emboldening the terrorists?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Yes, absolutely. There are ways to do it. But also, if you say we need to leave right now, without preconditions -- and I'm not sure anybody says that, but I'll give you a hypothetical -- that would embolden the terrorists. If the end result was that we left Iraq and we did not have an Iraq that was able to sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself, that would embolden the terrorists.
If the terrorists have the ability, if the terrorists draw the conclusion that they can use political means -- because they can't defeat us militarily, so it has to be a political battle -- if they can use political means to drive us from Iraq and make Iraq a place from which -- like Afghanistan before -- that could mount terrorist attacks and set up their own headquarters, and this time have, in addition, oil as a weapon -- then that, in fact, is the kind of situation that we can't let stand.
But there are ways of -- you can disagree over a lot of things. If you share the objective of having an Iraq -- and this is what's kind of interesting about the debate last night, because if you look at the President's speech, he talks about an Iraq that's going to be able to be democratic -- I don't know that that's controversial with anybody -- an Iraq where Iraqi forces are going to be able to defend Iraqi ground. I don't know that that's controversial. I think those are the things -- to answer your question, and I'll let you get back to this, to answer your question, it is possible to disagree. But on the other hand, if you are proposing a position that says to bin Laden, in effect, Iraq is yours, then that is not the kind of thing that I think is going to lead to victory.
Q Do Democrats want to protect terrorists more than the American people? What do you think?
MR. SNOW: Again, I know you think that in the last hour -- I had an hour to prepare, because we had long meetings --
Q I'm asking you that question -- forget about what John Boehner said, I'm putting the proposition to you. Do you have an opinion on that topic?
MR. SNOW: Do I think -- no, I think --
Q That Democrats are more interested in protecting terrorists than the American people?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Tony, your own commanders have said the biggest threat in Iraq is sectarian violence, the threat of civil war. And, yet, the President keeps talking about the threat of terror. You're again saying the biggest threat there is Osama bin Laden. The President last night said the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad. Why do your commanders say the biggest threat is civil war? The President keeps saying it's terror.
MR. SNOW: I think they say sectarian violence. I think we're leading to the same place, Martha, which is if you have --
Q Which is the threat of civil war, sectarian violence.
MR. SNOW: -- if you have an anarchic society that collapses, and therefore you end up having a rudderless, weak, divided society -- as you had in Afghanistan, which paved the way for the Taliban to take over -- then you've got a situation that is ripe for the kind of terrorist breakthrough that we're talking about in Iraq. I think that the disagreement you're looking for is more apparent than real here. The President is aware, and he talks regularly -- he's got a conversation later this week with General Casey. We keep constant watch on this stuff, and we do care about it and we do know the sectarian violence is a key factor. And the end result of sectarian violence -- civil war, if you want to put it that way -- I think the formulation is, if trends continue, then we could move towards civil war, that was what General Abizaid told Congress.
So it's several -- I don't think anybody is projecting imminent civil war, but if you have instability --
Q But they're also saying the threat of terrorism is small, percentage-wise.
MR. SNOW: You're mixing two different things.
Q No, I'm not.
MR. SNOW: Yes, you are, and I'll explain why. I'll explain why. If you end up having the government of Iraq collapse, then you'll have a situation that is ripe for creating terrorism. That's what we're talking about, the end result is a terrorist state.
Q Okay, then let's go to the area where terrorism is a very serious problem -- al Anbar province -- where your commanders say terrorism is a very serious problem. And you had a senior Marine intelligence officer say if you did not get more troops there, the situation would continue to deteriorate.
MR. SNOW: Well, there a couple of things --
Q Are they going to get more troops there? How are you going to stop it?
MR. SNOW: Well, two things. First, his combatant commander is briefing the press even as we speak; he started just a couple of minutes ago. Earlier today, General Zellmer, who outranks the Colonel, but is aware of the report, said that, "Recent media reports fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the al Anbar province. The classified assessment which has been referred to in these reports was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency. It was not intended to address the positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have."
He goes on to say that it is clear that there's violence in al Anbar province. The answer is, if the President gets a recommendation from the combatant commanders to send more troops to al Anbar province, they will get them.
Q So what the intelligence officer said, who has been there seven, eight months and seen conditions on the ground every single day -- I believe General Zellmer is not there every single day -- what he says is what?
MR. SNOW: What he says is something to take seriously. I suspect that there are many other data points to be gathered from people in al Anbar. And as you know, what the job of a commander is, is to go and sort through that very intelligence and figure out the best way to proceed.
The idea that somehow, somebody has a vested interest in failing in Al Anbar is preposterous and you know it. Everybody, including the colonel who writes the report, wants to succeed there. And so --
Q But I also know what those reports are, and how meaningful they are if someone has been on the ground for eight months?
MR. SNOW: I understand that. And there have also been a lot of other -- you're assuming that there's only one person who's entitled to speak on it. It is conceivable that other people have differing assessments. And I do think that the person who has direct operational responsibility will do more than simply sort of pull his chin and try to come to a conclusion. It is his job to assess the intelligence he gets, not merely from that colonel, but from many others, and to come up with an assessment.
Let me reiterate: The President has made it clear -- he doesn't want anybody BS'ing him, he doesn't want anybody lying to him, he doesn't want anybody shading the truth to him. He has made it absolutely clear to generals that the job is to win. And the first think you have to do is, to the best of your ability, cut through that fog of war and tell him what the situation is and what they need to get the job done, and that continues to be the case.
Q Well, one more, Tony, just one more. Do you believe -- does the President still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to Zarqawi or al Qaeda before the invasion?
MR. SNOW: The President has never said that there was a direct, operational relationship between the two, and this is important. Zarqawi was in Iraq.
Q There was a link --
MR. SNOW: Well, and there was a relationship -- there was a relationship in this sense: Zarqawi was in Iraq; al Qaeda members were in Iraq; they were operating, and in some cases, operating freely from Iraq. Zarqawi, for instance, directed the assassination of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan. But they did they have a corner office at the Mukhabarat? No. Were they getting a line item in Saddam's budget? No. There was no direct operational relationship, but there was a relationship. They were in the country, and I think you understand that the Iraqis knew they were there. That's the relationship.
Q Saddam Hussein knew they were there; that's it for the relationship?
MR. SNOW: That's pretty much it.
Q The Senate report said they didn't turn a blind eye.
MR. SNOW: The Senate report -- rather than get -- you know what, I don't want to get into the vagaries of the Senate report, but it is pretty clear, among other things, again, that there were al Qaeda operators inside Iraq, and they included Zarqawi, they included a cleric who had been described as the best friend of bin Laden who was delivering sermons on TV. But we are simply not going to go to the point that the President is -- the President has never made the statement that there was an operational relationship, and that's the important thing, because I think there's a tendency to say, aha, he said that they were in cahoots and they were planning and doing stuff; there's no evidence of that.
Q Was the President's speech last night political?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q How can you say that?
MR. SNOW: Because, I'll tell you -- how can I not?
Q Because -- Tony, you were here Friday.
MR. SNOW: What was the political statement? Tell me what the political sentence was. Give me the sentence.
Q I'll tell you exactly what it was. It was a crystallized greatest hits of the eight-day period in which he made four speeches where he laid out his philosophical underpinnings about the war on terror heading into the election. And he boiled it down, crystallized it and laid it out last night on network TV for 17 minutes. And it was in direct contrast to what you came in here and told us Friday.
MR. SNOW: No, that's not in direct contrast.
Q Yes, it was. You said Friday that there would be no drawing of lines, distinctions between Democrats and Republicans --
MR. SNOW: And there wasn't.
Q -- it would focus on unity.
MR. SNOW: There wasn't.
Q Was it a speech about unity, or was it a speech about a proposal about Iraq?
MR. SNOW: It was speech about -- let me -- out of the entire speech -- well, let's take a look at the Iraq section.
Q Let's do that.
MR. SNOW: Let's have some fun. (Laughter.) If you look at the Iraq statement -- let's back up. We're in a war on terror right now -- I'm going to start at the back and move forward, because the back end is something very important, which is Osama bin Laden, mastermind of September 11th, the person that many people talk about and still have concerns about, calls this fight, the fight in Iraq, "the third world war." And he says that, "Victory for the terrorists in Iraq will mean America's defeat and disgrace forever."
We are in Iraq. It is now seen as the central focal point of the war on terror by the very people who mounted September 11th. If the President of the United States, in talking about September 11th, did not make reference to the plans and the strategy and the beliefs of the very people who mounted September 11th on the anniversary of that date, it would have seen as dereliction. And you guys would have been out here just clubbing me like a baby seal, saying, why didn't --
Q No, I think it would have --
MR. SNOW: -- let me finish and then you can come back -- saying, why on earth did you -- why didn't you talk about Iraq; I know why it is, because the President is being political and he understands that Iraq is unpopular.
Last week the question was: Isn't it true that he wants to talk about the war on terror instead of Iraq. If this is supposed to be political, according to the calculus that is constantly presented to me, it's kind of a weird way to do it.
Instead, what the President was making reference to after September 11th -- the war on terror didn't end on September 11th, it began. It lifted the veil to us on a world that we didn't know existed, that we have to respond to. And it is also a real fact that the war in Iraq is clearly part of that war on terror, and where we proceed with it.
Q You've got to stop right there, because that --
MR. SNOW: Why do I have to stop right there?
Q Because that is the central point that will be debated in the next eight weeks between Democrats and Republicans. That will be in large part what the midterm elections are decided on.
MR. SNOW: I agree.
Q Okay, So if the President takes time in a speech that was advertised by you at this podium on Friday as being non-political and no drawing of distinctions --
MR. SNOW: I said it was no drawing of partisan lines.
Q -- and he gets up last night and lays out his case, and essentially it is an advertisement for the next eight weeks --
MR. SNOW: What you're saying is he shouldn't have talked about Iraq. Is that what you're saying?
Q I'm saying that it wasn't consistent with what it was billed.
MR. SNOW: No, I disagree, and I'll tell you why. Throughout the day, by the way, you're getting an interesting contrast.
You had Congressman Moran going at a memorial service in Arlington and bashing the President. The President never once talked about a Democrat by name yesterday, never once said, my policy is this, their policy is that, they're wrong, I'm right.
What I told you was there would be no drawing of partisan distinctions, and there wasn't. And furthermore, if you look at the section, what part of this -- this controversy -- "Al Qaeda and other extremists from across the world have come to Iraq to stop the rise of a free society in the heart of the Middle East." That's not offensive. How about, "We're training Iraqi troops so that they can defend their nation." Both parties support that. "We will not leave until this work is done." Quick show of hands for everybody who wants to leave until the work is done.
The point is that the use of the term "partisan" I think is being now tossed around as a way to fend off the debate or say, how dare the President talk about it. I guarantee --
Q No, because it was. This was supposed to a pause in all that, for 24 hours.
MR. SNOW: And it was. But if you look at it, what the President is explaining -- and everybody in vast majorities of both Houses of Congress agree, it was important to go ahead and address the issue of Saddam Hussein. And you have wide support in both Houses of Congress. Both Houses of Congress agreed to going into this war. We're there. We have to deal with it. For the President to ignore it -- let me -- I'll give you anecdotal evidence. Yesterday morning, we're in a firehouse in New York, talking with a lot of people who lost friends and buddies. Later in the day we went to Shanksville, and the President worked a long semi-circle of grieving family members. At the Pentagon there is -- as you saw, it was a very emotional meeting with family members. Not one said, don't fight, give up, quit, get out.
But the President did not want to try to turn this into a Democrats versus the Republicans thing, but you cannot talk about the war on terror without talking about Iraq. And furthermore, you can't talk about September 11th, especially when Osama bin Laden, himself, says, Iraq is at the center of all this -- without mentioning it.
What he tried to do was to lay it out in as neutral a way as possible and explain why he did it. And furthermore the question was, why are you there? This was the question that he answered.
This was not an attempt to stir the hornet's nest. Meanwhile, Senator Levin, before the speech, on Lou Dobbs hammering the President. You had people, as you all know, had their talking points out, accusing the President of being partisan the instant the speech was over. There was no talk out of the White House yesterday of Democrat versus Republican.
And, furthermore, a good 90 percent of the speech has to deal with the things that draw us together, including many of the sections -- many of the sentences on Iraq were expressions of things that are utterly uncontroversial with both political parties.
Q But, Tony, when the President said yesterday that the worst mistake -- talking about Iraq, that the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorist would leave us alone. Who is he referring to, though? Isn't he suggesting implicitly that --
MR. SNOW: No, he's not --
Q -- that's what his critics believe?
MR. SNOW: No, he's making a statement. Look, here's the question that people will ask, should we leave right now or not? Under what conditions should we leave? The President says he wants to get out, everybody wants to get out. The question is, under what conditions?
No, what he was actually doing was summarizing testimony that General Abizaid had given, and what General Abizaid has told him directly, which is, if we leave they will follow us. That's what he was trying to do. He was repeating what he's heard from the key General in the war.
Q But he said the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out the terrorists would leave us alone. Has someone suggested that they feel the terrorists would leave us alone if we left Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, what he's trying to do is to repeat to you exactly what the terrorists think. That sentence is not an attempt -- look, I have a feeling that some people may feel pain because they think it's pointing to them. It's not pointing to them, it's pointing at the terrorists. It's pointing at the terrorists who, again, want to engage in the fantasy -- they've learned the hard way once, and let's pray they don't learn the hard way twice -- they don't realize that we love our liberty and we love our country. And if they strike, we're going to strike back. That's what that's all about. That's as much a warning to terrorists as anything else. It's not a desire to start pointing fingers at members of Congress.
Q Tony, when he says, let's put aside our differences, what is he referring to? Is he referring to Iraq or something else?
MR. SNOW: Look, I think it is perfectly possible and laudable -- getting back to David's question -- people can disagree about Iraq, they can disagree. But let's do it in a way where we keep our eye on the ball, which is to win the war on terror and do it in a constructive way to figure out how best to get the job done. If somebody wants to do it, that's fine, but don't start finger-pointing and all that kind of thing. I think the most important challenge facing the American people right now is to realize that it's a long war. And one of the key calculations of bin Laden and others is we'll run out of patience -- we won't, but that's their calculation.
And what the President -- look, it would be great if both political parties right now would start realizing that the national interest is to win the war on terror and to present a united front. It's not likely to happen in a political year. There are going to be disagreements. It's been that way in every war and in every administration, but we'll get through it.
Q I didn't have my hand up, but I do have a question. So it works out well this time.
MR. SNOW: Well, you'd had your hand up before, and you looked so eager, that I just --
Q I'm always eager.
MR. SNOW: Do you want to me wait and call on somebody else, and then you can figure out what your question is?
Q No, no, no.
Q I had my hand up.
MR. SNOW: I didn't see it, Helen. I'll get back to Helen next.
Q Anyway, on the unity question, the President, I'm sure, would tell the Democrats that calling him a liar is not constructive, but he's not the head of the Democratic Party, he is the titular head of the Republican Party. Assuming what you've heard Boehner being quoted as saying, would the President say that that sort of rhetoric is likewise not providing a sense of unity?
MR. SNOW: Look, I'm just -- I'm not going to get drawn into something I haven't seen. Let me put it this way -- take a look at what the President has done. With all the names that have been -- all the names -- with all the stuff that's been thrown at him, look for one time that he's responded in kind. Look for one time. I mean, that's the example. And I'm just not going to play on the Boehner question.
Q But I'm not --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, ask Boehner, all right?
Q But I'm just saying in terms of setting a tone of the dialogue --
MR. SNOW: We'll set the tone. We'll do our best to set the tone.
Q Tony, just to come back to one more question in the speech last night. The central Democratic argument today is that the inclusion of a defense of an unpopular war in a political year was inappropriate to a day of mourning. I gather you disagree?
MR. SNOW: Absolutely, because that's not what the speech was. Did you listen to the speech? I mean, the fact is
Q I've got the whole --
MR. SNOW: I know. What's interesting is that you had a lot of people who were ready to punch the "send" button the moment the speech was over. Fine. They decided they'd engage in partisanship. And there's going to be a debate about it. I mean, we're going to rumble on all those issues, I suppose. But to tell the President, who spent extra time with family members, walking person to person to person in New York and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C., that somehow he didn't get the proper tone to strike, while other people were making partisan points during the day, it's just wrong.
I mean, again, if you want to take a look at the speech, there was -- we took great pains not to say "Democrat versus Republican." The President did have an obligation as Commander-in-Chief in a time of war to let people know what he was thinking. But it's fair game for people to criticize him on it, and we're sure it's going to happen.
Q Have the generals asked for more troops, or have they been told not to ask?
MR. SNOW: No, they pointedly have not been told not -- there have been no orders to the generals about not asking for more troops. As a matter of fact, the President is constantly going at them, "What do you need?" And so I think that there's going to be continuing close questioning of, "Do you need more? What do you do if you got a battalion or two more?"
Q If they needed more and asked for more, they would be sent?
MR. SNOW: Yes, ma'am.
Q Tony, about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's trip to Tehran, after all the President and Defense Secretary have said about Iran's interference in Iraq, what's the White House response? In this joint press conference today, Prime Minister Maliki was asked specifically about that, and said, basically there's no problem, there are no obstacles; went on to say the relation with Iran remained excellent. What's the response there?
MR. SNOW: The response is we are still concerned about Iran's trying to support sectarian elements, but also we understand that Prime Minister Maliki is doing what he needs to as a head of state visiting a neighbor that has some power and certainly some influence, there being a lot of Shia Muslims, including Prime Minister Maliki. And we will do everything we can not only to support the Prime Minister, but also to say to the Iranians, play a constructive role.
Q This administration clearly still believes Iran is interfering in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: We want to make sure they don't.
Q I also have a question about troops, the troops in Afghanistan, Tony. How does the administration feel about the NATO debate about sending more troops in? The President, of course, last night said that administration efforts have chased the Taliban from power, but they're threatening in the south.
MR. SNOW: Well, they're threatening in the -- there are several things going on, Peter. And this actually -- some of this answer is going to apply to Iraq, as well, so I'm going to broaden it beyond your original question. The strategy both in Iran and Iraq is to get more troops on the ground.
Q You mean Afghanistan.
MR. SNOW: What did I say? Yes, I'm sorry, Afghanistan. Thank you.
Q I thought we had news there. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Thank you. Oh, man, everybody was going to be pounding there -- in Afghanistan and Iraq is to get more troops on the ground -- more Afghan troops and more Iraqi troops. And that continues to be a focal point in both theaters of war.
Furthermore, as we've talked about before, what's going on now is that the Afghan government is beginning to extend its sphere of influence. For a very long time, as you know, it was confined around the area of Kabul, and now it is spreading. And, not surprisingly, you are not only seeing a push back from the Taliban, but you're also seeing an attempt to try to figure out what NATO troops are made of, because there's also been a transfer from U.S. forces in some places and NATO forces. And guess what? The NATO forces are also winning significant and lopsided victories on the battleground.
These are things that are somewhat predictable, and I think our planners have expected them. When you're getting both the attempt to expand and extend the effective authority of the government, and also the transfers of military authority -- because they're going to try to test it out and they're finding out that they're losing.
Q Does your characterization of significant and lopsided victories extend to what's happening in southern Afghanistan right now?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I mean, if you take a look at what's been going on, there have been a number of operations where there have been heavy Afghan casualties. Now, it's certainly not bloodless, because you have people on the Afghan side who are committed, they're committed terrorists, they're committed members of the Taliban. But you're also seeing significant military action against them.
Q Can you give any kind of look ahead for the rest of this series of speeches, how many there are going to be, and particularly if there is one at the U.N. I think coming up?
MR. SNOW: David and I talked about this before. Obviously, the war on terror and all the parameters of the war on terror are going to be very important, and we're going to talk about it. I'm not going to give you an itemized list of how many addresses, but it is clear that we will talk about the international community's role in fighting the war on terror when we get to the UNGA. But beyond that, I really don't want to try to get too far into it. We'll give you more details as we get closer. And we'll also, on Friday, give you a full schedule of all the proposed meetings -- all the meetings and other activities scheduled when we get to New York next week.
Q Is there just going be that one in New York, or is there going to be additional --
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm going to tell you about New York, and I'll tell you others as they -- when I'm ready to.
Q Tony, in retrospect, do you think you had any obligation to tell the networks that the speech was going to be kind of a step beyond a commemoration speech, so that if they chose to, they could have given --
MR. SNOW: Let me tell you what I told the networks. I told the networks that the President was not going to be calling out Democrats, that he was not going to be making specific legislative proposals, that he was going to take a look backward and forward in the war on terror. I told them what kind of speech he was going to give. And so, no. You're accusing me of false advertising without having been in on the conversation.
Q Did you tell them that he was going to offer a defense of the war in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Again, if I had come up here after the President delivered a war [sic] on September 11th without mentioning a conflict that right now there is 147,000 American troops on the ground, you guys would have crushed me. This was not an attempt -- the President, again -- total text is 20 percent of the text, and total percent that talks about more strategic matters far smaller than that. The bulk of the speech is talking about the war on terror, the people who are arrayed against us, what they intend to do, how we need to move forward. And I make no apology for my characterization, I think it was accurate, and I think -- it's what I told the news chiefs.
But on the other hand, as you know, we don't sit around and say, by the way, this is exactly what the President is going to say. That just doesn't happen.
Q But you chose to leave it out of the excerpts that were released early. And I'm wondering how far in advance this Iraq language was written?
MR. SNOW: It had been locked down -- as I told some of you yesterday, the full speech had been pretty much locked down 24 hours in advance. This was not a response to certain, "political developments," it was a natural element in trying to explain where we are in the war on terror.
One of the things -- it might be interesting, since -- because there's been a lot of pressure about -- is it a political. You might want to flip it around, too. I don't want to give you editorial advice, but go ahead and go through the sentences, and say to Democrats, do you disagree with, "We will not leave until this war is done," or do you disagree with, "We're going to train Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation." Are you going to ask them -- even to disagree with the fact that, "Congress and the United Nations saw the threat, and after 9/11 Saddam Hussein's regime posed a risk the world could not afford to take." Ask them about their own record on this. It's worth doing.
How about the question, "The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power." The President has been saying it for a long time; go ahead and flip it back, and ask people what they think about it.
These were not designed to be sort of punch you, I'm-going-to-pick-a-fight things. They were designed to remind the American people in a time of war why we're there, and, furthermore, what the people who started this war in the first place think of it, which is, they think it's front and center, and they think if they win there, we're dead.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One on Osama bin Laden. I have been saying here in the White House for the last 10 years that Osama bin Laden was the biggest threat and for the last five years, I have been supporting --
Q The question?
MR. SNOW: Goyal, question?
Q -- war on terrorism.
MR. SNOW: Thank you for the --
Q My question is that your own CNN and WTOP is disagreeing on all that. U.S. military officials and CIA were (inaudible) and they're saying that they have no access. My question, why Pakistan is not giving access to the United States CIA and military (inaudible) -- Osama bin Laden from there?
MR. SNOW: A couple of things. First, the United -- Pakistan has been a valuable ally in the war on terror. And Pakistan also is able to operate within its own sovereign territory. And the government of President Musharraf has been working aggressively and cooperatively in the war on terror.
Q And, secondly, a final follow, yesterday, thousands of people marched in Washington against terrorism and for interfaith, and people from Muslim faith, Hindus and -- all faiths around the globe. My question is here that when we have spiritual leaders from India, they are talking here in the temples of unity and peace and love and freedom, but when we have from other sides they are talking hatred in the mosques here, how can we defeat the ideology from the other side, when they preach hatred against Americans in the mosques (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into characterization. You've just characterized every mosque in the country, and I don't feel at liberty -- I don't feel at liberty to --
Q All the Muslims (inaudible) --
MR. SNOW: That's right. And the point is that, for instance, we had the service at St. Paul's in New York the other night. And we had Imam Siddiqi with us. And he talked about how terrorism is not something that Islam supports. We want more Muslims standing up and saying, sorry, this not our religion, this isn't right. And we're perfectly happy when that happens.
Q Tony, going back to the speech again, on a day that many said that this speech center on just with 9/11 alone, it was a day of mourning and remembrance, how can you explain that this was not political as the President dealt with controversial debates that's been debated back and forth in this town? Not only was it about Iraq, but he went into the issues of the Mideast peace. How can that not --
MR. SNOW: How is peace controversial?
Q But when it could have stood alone, 9/11, the mourning, the sorrow, the remembrance --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you why, April. People who lost loved ones on September 11th don't want us simply to think about September 11th. They want to think about September 12, 2006, they want to think about September 11, 2007. They want to make sure that we are committed to making sure that other families don't have to go through the same grief.
And so when you're giving a speech, you absolutely remember those who died. But I'll tell you what, the people who remain behind don't want any deaths to be in vain, and they don't simply want these to be people who are frozen in time. Look, you know what I'm wearing right here? I got this -- no, I got this wristband yesterday from the family of Captain Dahl, who was one of the copilots of Flight 93. They've named an elementary school after him. They are looking for ways to make sure that there is an active engagement in the enemy that killed the people they love, and they want the President to be talking about it. For them, one of the key areas of solace is to know that people give a damn enough to continue to try to fight back against the people who killed the ones they love.
Q But two things, are these people that the President is meeting with -- the families, the loved ones of 9/11 -- saying, yes, we are hurting, now go out and fight in Iraq? And, also, how can it not be political when the President knowingly knows that people are not for this? His poll numbers are way down, and then he's going to say, let's put aside our differences and unite. How is that not political?
MR. SNOW: Simple. Your question contradicts itself. What you've said is, it's politically suicidal to talk about it, and yet -- yes, you did. You just said it's an unpopular war, people don't like it. Well, if he's trying to score political points he'll skip it, but you see, the point of this --
Q Some say it's arrogance; he's going to stick to what he wants to do.
MR. SNOW: You know what, arrogance in what sense? Who is, "some say"? Some say --
Q Democrats, your critics.
MR. SNOW: Which Democrats?
Q There are a lot of them -- John Kerry --
MR. SNOW: Well, I know. We've been through John Boehner here.
Q Do you want me to list them? You want me to list the number?
MR. SNOW: You know what I'd like to do is, when you get back to the tonal issue, ask yourself, is it arrogance or is it maintaining fidelity to principle; is it being stubborn or is it being steadfast? You've got a President whose principle is the same. And April, neither you, nor I, or anybody else in this room will ever go through what the President had to do after September 11th, which is to know that Americans died, and that as President everybody is going to be looking at how you handle it and how you step up to the plate. The President has been absolutely steadfast from the beginning, I'm not going to let them win.
And he has tried in many ways -- and part of what we did last week was to lay out various ways -- it is extremely broad. It is not simply a battlefield. As a matter of fact, that's one small portion of an overall battle. Ultimately, it involves a battle of hearts and minds, a philosophy where you allow freedom to take root so people know that hope is not only something -- is a faint wish, but it is an option that they have if they are free.
And the President, far from trying to -- I know that everybody is -- the construct that's been laid out is the President was trying to make political points. No, he's trying to explain what we're doing to fight back. And understanding -- I mean it was understandable, and in some ways predictable that people were going to punch back. And now we're going to have a political season where we debate all these things, which is good. It's good that we're going to have a debate about this.
But the idea that some say, "he was being arrogant," you cannot be arrogant when you're looking into the face of mothers, as he was saying last night, holding children who are never going to know their father. You can't be arrogant in a situation like that. There is nothing more humbling than being the President in a time of war. And you can ask any President who did it. And George W. Bush is no different than his predecessors, Democratic or Republican, who lies awake nights asking himself the question, how can I get this done and get our people home?
It is the natural inclination -- you've seen how the President reacts and responds when he gets before the military. He gets choked up because he knows how tough it is. He knows what the atmosphere sometimes is politically. He knows that these people are committed to it. You've got an all-volunteer army; first war in which we've had an all-volunteer army because people are committed. And he wants to make sure that he can get as many of them -- he would love to get each and every one of them home safe. It is simply not possible to be arrogant as a Commander-in-Chief in a time of war.
Q Tony, two questions. Joanne Drake, who is the Chief of Staff of the Reagan Library, she's faxed Virginia's Democrat U.S. Senate candidate James Webb the following two sentences: "Using the President's name, image or likeness implies endorsement, which is neither fair nor respectful of any candidate, certainly after President Reagan's death. At the direction of Mrs. Reagan, please refrain." Question, does the President support Mrs. Reagan's request of candidate Webb?
MR. SNOW: The President is aware of it.
Q Does he support it? Are you suggesting he doesn't support this --
MR. SNOW: Are you suggesting that the President sits around and reviews each and every campaign commercial and tries to decide -- I'm not sure we might have a McCain-Feingold violation if I even comment on this. (Laughter.)
Q -- that he wants to avoid this?
MR. SNOW: No, I just think -- I hate to say it, Les, but you've done it again -- (laughter) -- asked me a completely inappropriate and irrelevant question.
Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q University of New Hampshire Professor William Woodward has announced that the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington were orchestrated by the United States. Since New Hampshire's Democrat Governor John Lynch described Professor Woodward as "completely crazy and offensive," the President would not disagree with this governor, would he?
MR. SNOW: Again, you've asked a question about matters that -- the President has more important stuff to do than talk about professors whose own governors consider them wackos. So I will leave it at that.
Q How about Syria?
MR. SNOW: Syria, okay, yes, that's a -- go ahead.
Q -- the President's reaction to the attack --
MR. SNOW: The Syrian -- a couple of things. The Syrian police forces did their job. And they were professional about it. Now the next step is for Syria to play a constructive role in the war on terror, stop harboring terrorist groups, stop being an agent in fomenting terror, and work with us to fight against terror as Libya has done. That's the next step for Syria.
Q Any more information on who --
MR. SNOW: No, we really don't, and this is -- it's always difficult to figure out who is responsible and claims of responsibility and so on. I know it's under some discussion.
Q I'm (inaudible) from Turkey.
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q And you talked about the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, coming to visit the White House.
MR. SNOW: I even said Erdoğan. I didn't say Erdoğan. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, the pronunciation is Erdoğan, since you don't have the "g" in English with the symbol on it, Erdoğan.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q So my question is about the PKK terrorist organization. As you know, Turkey has been fighting with the PKK terrorist organization for long years, and has been asking support from the United States. The United States has been giving some support to Turkey in some sense, but we are still losing a lot of soldiers in Turkey, in the eastern part of Turkey.
MR. SNOW: Okay, are we getting close to the question? Are we getting closer to the question?
Q What other concrete steps is the United States planning to take against the PKK terrorist organization? The Turkish people --
MR. SNOW: Well, as I announced, the Prime Minister and the President will be talking about PKK on October 2nd. Far be it from me to jump whatever announcements they may have to make. I believe that that's theirs.
Q Do you think that Turkey will be able to get better (inaudible) support from the United States that it's looking for --
MR. SNOW: I repeat myself. I'm not going to -- I will let heads of state announce the agreements that have been reached by heads of state.
END 2:04 P.M. EDT