The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 11, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

video screen capture

Press Briefing
video image

1:08 P.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Just a little opening note. We are pleased the government of China has announced that next Monday, December 18th, the six-party talks will resume. We do not know the exact location or details of that, but we are pleased about it and will bring you more details as they become available.

And with that, I'll be happy to take questions.

Q President Talabani has criticized the Iraq Study Group's proposal to increase embed U.S. soldiers to improve security forces, police, soldiers. So is it safe to say that that issue or that item is off the table now?

MR. SNOW: It's safe to say that we are continuing to take a look at the best ways to enable the Iraqi government to sustain, defend and govern itself, to be an ally in the war on terror, to be an effective and freestanding democracy. And the President will announce his plans when he's completed the review, and I'm not going to get any further than that.

Q But he won't do it if a sovereign country says -- the President of a sovereign country says, we don't want this?

MR. SNOW: As I said, we will announce it at the proper time. Good question.

Q Oh, thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

Q The President has described himself as the decider, talks about how decision-making is such an important part of his job. Hasn't he already formulated what he wants to do?


Q So what he learns in conversations that last about an hour or so, that's going to --

MR. SNOW: Well, as you understand -- you're talking about his State Department meeting?

Q And series of meetings over this --

MR. SNOW: It might surprise you to know -- or probably it won't surprise you to know, that before going into such meetings, the President has received fairly extensive briefing papers and other things. And quite often these are the culmination of a long process of reviewing material.

In the case of the meeting over at the State Department today, the President did get a briefing of ongoing civilian efforts, through the State Department, in Iraq. He also got a chance to speak with the heads of four provincial reconstruction teams. And there was some discussion of regional diplomacy. All of those, again, follow on extensive consultations over recent months.

But there are a lot of complex issues still at play. And the National Security Council is working on an overall review. The State Department and the Defense Department have their pieces of this review. And the President is going to hear from all of them. But it's not quite a snap thing, Kelly. I mean, it really is a pretty -- it's a lot of very tough, complex issues, as anybody will tell you, and he's still working through them.


Q The President has also said repeatedly in the past that he will pursue a policy even if it's unpopular, even if it's sort of not held by the majority, is not a shared majority opinion. Does that still hold, as far as the way forward in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, you know, what the President is -- let me put it this way: The President is committed to an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself and be an ally in the war on terror -- that also the goal outlined by the Baker-Hamilton commission. And I think it's probably shared by a majority of members of Congress. So the question now comes, how do you do it, how do you move forward. And I'm not aware that there is widespread discontent with those as goals. I just haven't done the polling. But what the President is working on is taking a look at the proper way to achieve those goals.

The other thing -- and this follows on again to Baker-Hamilton -- is that it does seem now that we're at a moment where Democrats who will be coming into power in the House and Senate, now find themselves in a position where, some not merely having been critics, they're now stakeholders in the final outcome and they're going to have an ability to work with the President on a number of things. But it strikes me, as you leaf through there, that you've got something more specific in mind.

Q I did want to follow up on the specific poll that CBS has just done, our latest poll. And it's one item, but there's several.

Q CBS poll?

Q Yes, CBS poll. If that's okay with Lester. (Laughter.)

Q New York Times?

Q "Should the U.S. set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq?" Fifty-seven percent say, yes, that the U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawing troops. So I --

MR. SNOW: Well, I think the President has made it clear that you do things based on conditions. The President does want to withdraw troops, but you know what --

Q But he's clearly ruled out a timetable.

MR. SNOW: Jim, as I said in response to Terry's questions, I'll let the President announce where he stands on these things when he is prepared to deliver his remarks on the way forward.

Q But you can give us a sense of sort of what his state of mind is, can't you?

MR. SNOW: His state of mind is he's determined and he's determined to work hard on providing the right way forward. What you're asking me to do is to give a characterization of the state of policy. And I can tell you that it remains the President's belief that, yes, you want to withdraw U.S. troops under the proper conditions -- it's conditions-based -- and it is one you are in a position to have an Iraq that can stand up, sustain, govern, and defend itself.

Q Setting a timetable?

MR. SNOW: Like I said, just have to wait and see.


Q Can you talk about the role that Bob Gates will play in this? He hasn't been sworn in yet, as he's the new Secretary of Defense. Where will his voice be in the --

MR. SNOW: It's a good question. I know that Secretary Rumsfeld will be running the meeting this week. There may be -- let me get back to you, because I think there may be a role for Bob Gates, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Q Can you give us a sense, when you're looking at this and the President says he wants to take a fresh look at this, it seems that the same people who've been running the war and who've been making policy for the last three or four years are the same people who he's relying on to take this look at it.

MR. SNOW: In substantial portion, that is correct, but on the other hand, you've had outside critics in. You have the Baker-Hamilton commission. None of those people were direct stakeholders in what took place. And furthermore --

Q Right, but he's doing his own look, and that would be largely that --

MR. SNOW: But it's also -- look, it's not also as if these folks just sort of sat around and stared blankly in a room and said, well gosh, we've been doing this, we don't have any new ideas. They, themselves, have also had conversations with a number of others, and they've been soliciting ideas so that they can think of creative ways and effective ways of moving forward toward that goal.

Q Did they discuss -- in the meeting this morning, did they discuss this idea for a regional support group?

MR. SNOW: No. On the other hand, in a sense there is one with the Iraq compact. So you do have one. But there was no specific discussion of the recommendation in the Baker-Hamilton commission report.

Q Was anything in the Iraq Study Group report this morning?

MR. SNOW: Not really. Again, this was more a briefing in the sense of taking a look at ongoing efforts and going through a list of possibilities for moving forward. But it did not -- let me put it this way: Nobody said, okay, the Iraq Study Group says this. It just wasn't that -- they didn't mark it up that way.

Q So in his meetings this week, it's not like he's taking the book with him, and say, hey, what do you think about this, or should we try that, or -- he's not bouncing ideas off them?

MR. SNOW: No, and I'm glad you asked that, because these deliberations, I think, have in some ways been characterized as a reaction to Baker-Hamilton, and they're not. This process has been going on for some time. Later in the week I'll get you a more detailed sort of breakdown of how this process has worked, so that I can sort of give some flesh to that characterization.

But it is important to note that the study of the situation had been going on for some time. When it became clear that Forward Together too was not producing the kind of results, and when you took a look at the sectarian violence, it became clear that we did need a new way forward and we needed really to start looking at everything, including the assumptions that had guided earlier operations, the realities on the ground, the evolving situation, how we see the dynamics unfolding, how things are working within the region, where you can expect help. As you see -- again, I'm sort of piling consideration upon consideration, but that's really how the process worked.

Q Tony, just a quick follow up; may I?

MR. SNOW: Yes, sure.

Q What exactly does the President want to do next week, if it's next week, for this speech? Does he want to address the nation, is this just -- I mean, what is his goal here in getting this message out? And will it be a compilation of all of these things?

MR. SNOW: It's not a compilation. What the President is going to -- there is obvious concern in the United States about what's going on with the war. And the concern that the President had stated before, that we weren't doing well enough fast enough. And Americans have a right to know where we intend to go in finding a better way forward, and the President is going to outline that.

It is not -- he's not selecting from a menu, one from column A or one from column B, but instead taking a very good hard look at all of the analysis and all of the opinions, and making decisions based on all the input from advisors on what he thinks is the proper way forward. And at that point, he will -- whatever will be -- and because we still have not decided upon it all, I can't tell you time, can't tell you the place, but obviously, he will want the entire American public to hear it.


Q Tony, today the President said that Iraq is the central component in stopping extremists. Has he dropped saying it's the central front in the war on terror? Because he didn't mention that.

MR. SNOW: No. Allow him to vary the phraseology from time to time. It does not mean any change in view.

Q Okay. Republican Senator Gordon Smith, last week, said, "Our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day, it's absurd. It may even be criminal," and that he can no longer support this. What is your reaction to a Republican senator saying that what's going on right now in Iraq is criminal?

MR. SNOW: Well, we dispute the "criminal" part, obviously, and at the same time, understand the senator's concern. We share the concern about not doing well enough fast enough. But do not assume that people are simply being blown up. They are on missions. And as General Chiarelli said last week, "There's not an engagement our people have lost, but it is still important to continue the work of building greater capability and capacity on the part of the Iraqi government and helping them out."

People on both sides are going to have disagreements, much as Joe Lieberman, formerly a Democrat, apparently run out of his party for disagreeing with what was seen as orthodoxy at that time, but Gordon --

Q Republican Senator Smith is challenging the strategy. What he basically said yesterday, as well, was, when you do the same thing over and over again without a clear strategy for victory, that is dereliction, that is deeply immoral. Such is the dispute. He's saying what the President is doing is immoral.

MR. SNOW: Well, then we disagree.

Q Tony, first of all, the --

Q You're just going to blow it off? A Republican senator is saying the President's policy may be criminal and it's immoral, and you're just saying, we just disagree?

MR. SNOW: And what would you like me to say? Should I do duels at 10 paces?

Q Don't you think you should answer for that? You're saying -- you've said from this podium over and over that the strategy is a victory, right? And you have a Republican senator is saying there is no clear strategy, that you don't have a strategy.

MR. SNOW: Well, let's let Senator Smith hear what the President has to say. We understand that this is a time where politics are emotional in the wake of an election. And you know what? Senator Smith is entitled to his opinion. But I'm not sure exactly what you would like --

Q Well, how about answering the central thrust about the strategy, not about, like, politics --

MR. SNOW: Okay, the strategy is pretty simple. If you take a look, for instance -- if you take a look at the Baker-Hamilton commission report, what do they talk about? They talk about building greater capability on the part of the Iraqis so that you can have an Iraqi government that governs itself, sustains itself, defends itself, who's ally in the war on terror is a democracy.

I don't think it's immoral to be a democracy. I don't think it's immoral to have a state that is able to stand up and defend itself against acts of terror. I don't think it's immoral to defend the Iraqi people against acts of terrorism aimed at Muslims.

Q The Senator is not saying that's immoral. He's saying that the U.S. -- he's saying, of course democracy is a great goal --

MR. SNOW: You know what, Ed? Ed, I'll tell you what. You're engaging in an argument and you're trying to fill in the gaps in a --

Q It's not an argument. It's a Republican senator saying it, not me. It's a Republican senator saying it, and he's not --

MR. SNOW: Then tell me exactly what --

Q -- of course he's in favor of democracy.

MR. SNOW: Tell me --

Q Are you saying Republican Senator Smith is not in favor of democracy?

MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know. You just said he said it's immoral; when I listed the elements of the policy, you said that's not what he was talking about. So please tell me what he was talking about.

Q He's saying that day after day, that now U.S. soldiers are patrolling the same streets, that they're caught up in the middle of a civil war -- not about the government there --

MR. SNOW: Okay, here's what's immoral: the killing of American soldiers. We agree.


Q All right, no --

MR. SNOW: Look, you're trying to engage me in a debate, the particulars of which I apparently am unaware and can't find.

Go ahead.

Q All right. First of all, today's series of -- the series of meetings this week -- I mean, the President obviously has lots of meetings that we aren't told so much about, that we don't know about. I'm sure he talks to all of these players all the time. So the public nature of -- or the quasi-public nature of this week's meetings, are those to kind of show the public, kind of, as he's going through his deliberations who he's talking to? I mean, why is it so public now? He's also leaving the White House to do these. I mean, what's the intent of this week's kind of public statements about these meetings?

MR. SNOW: I don't know the intent of the public statements, but it's important for the President to be briefed.

Q But he's briefed often, where we're not filled in --

MR. SNOW: Well, there are briefings going on this week that you're still not filled in on. But on the other hand, quite often when you have briefings of this sort, you are. So I don't think it's a gigantic difference. But, you know, traveling to State and traveling to the Pentagon obviously are making the point that the President is listening to key people in this administration.

And by the way, just to get back to play devil's advocate one last time, because I don't remember people getting this whipped up when Joe Lieberman departed from party orthodox, saying, it's a Democrat saying this. The fact is, at a time like this, people in both --

Q But it's Republicans in the White House right now, though, so it's a little different. The Democrats didn't have power on the Hill --

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I'm just making --

Q But it's not a fair comparison, though. The Republicans run the White House, right?

MR. SNOW: Well, it is when it comes to -- in the context of the ongoing -- but in any event, you're right, I'm getting into the weeds of a pointless discussion.

Q Can I ask you one other follow-up on that, then? What --

MR. SNOW: Let me finish up with Jim, and then I'll come back to you.

Q Gates -- will Gates be in any of these meetings? I mean, whether he's running them or not, will he be in the room?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. That's what I'm trying to find out. I don't know. I know that there are some things under consideration. Let me find out for you and I will get back to you and Martha and everybody else on it.

Q In terms of experts today, how were these experts picked today? Is it because of a certain point of view they may have or --

MR. SNOW: No. I mean, you know who the experts are, and they have been of differing views. For instance, what you do have, you've got an Iraq expert, you've got somebody who is a regional geopolitical expert, you've got three military experts, all of whom at various points have had points of agreement and disagreement with the administration. But they're being brought in because they're smart people who know how to get things done.

Q But will they discussing the particulars of the Baker-Hamilton report with the President?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I doubt it. They're not brought in to do a book review on Baker-Hamilton. That's not the point.

Q Can you give us the list again of the experts, while we're on the --

MR. SNOW: Yes. Let's see. I know that we've got -- let me find my list here, if I still have it: Stephen Biddle, of the Council on Foreign Relations; Eliot Cohen, of the School of Advanced International Studies; and three retired generals, Wayne Downing, Jack Keane, and Barry McCaffrey.

Q And, lastly, in terms of reconciliation, is that -- do you expect, no matter what happens, that that's still a centerpiece of the administration's policy of getting Sunnis and Shiites together and --

MR. SNOW: Well, I think it's a centerpiece of the Iraqi government's policy, and it's certainly one we support. You are going to have to have a government that coalesces not only across regional, but also sectarian boundaries. Going to have to happen.

Q And is the U.S. -- is the administration going to keep reaching out equally to both sides to kind of help bring them together?

MR. SNOW: Well, there are going to be conversations. As you know, Mr. Hashemi will be in town soon, so it's worth mentioning. I think I cut Ed off, and I was snarky -- so Ed, did you have a further question you wanted to ask?

Q I just wanted to ask you, I'm trying to get at the central point. Senator Smith also said, in his speech, yesterday on ABC, "Let's cut and run or cut and walk, but let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have." He's also saying you're not fighting the war on terror smartly.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm just not sure what he's saying, because I don't know what the specific proposals are. What you have given me -- the blanket use of the term "immoral" tells me nothing because when I outlined both the stated aims and the procedures, you said that wasn't what he was talking about. So I'm not sure exactly what he is talking about, other than the fact that Americans are dying, which I think if you want to talk about the targeting of Americans, you bet that's immoral, and furthermore, so is the targeting of Iraqis.

But there is -- look, the President has made it pretty clear, he's not satisfied with the tactics that have been employed, and therefore we're taking a close look at it. So here's what we ought to do: Let's go ahead and go through this period -- because Senator Smith has said what he's going to say for now -- let's take a look at the review, and let's see if we can have more specific critiques if he wishes to give them.

But on the other hand, this is also -- as tantalizing as it is to see Republicans feeding on Republicans, the more important challenge right now is to build a consensus around success. Now I think you've accepted democracy is -- of course I don't want to make you speak for Gordon Smith -- if democracy is a goal, if an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself is a goal, if turning power over to the Iraqis and building capacity is a goal, and all of those are acceptable, then the question is, how do we work together as a nation to achieve those so that in the end we can be proud of an Iraq that has achieved democracy in the face of terror strikes aimed at citizens regardless of their backgrounds, designed to blow up the country so that terrorism may in fact continue to afflict the lives of people throughout the Middle East and suppress their democratic desires?

And if succeeding in that noble aim becomes a national mission, which we think it should and is, and is thoroughly consistent with American traditions and values, then there's an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together to achieve this in a way that American people can support.

Q Tony, as far as the study is concerned, do you think terrorism has gone down or up because of this study? Because many terrorists in the Middle East are celebrating and also the Iraqi government is against the study, and --

MR. SNOW: I don't think the publication of an independent panel report is going to have any immediate discernable effect on terrorist activities. They operate for reasons that have to do really with trying to destroy American morale and also to try to destroy the government within Iraq.

Q What message you think President or this study has for the terrorists across the globe?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- that's too metaphysical, Goyal. The message of this study was to demonstrate that people in both political parties cannot [sic] operate and cooperate in a serious way to try to come up with recommendations regarding victory in Iraq, which would be the successful conclusion of efforts to create the free-standing, free and democratic Iraq we've talked about.


Q There's a new Newsweek poll that says that 67 percent of Americans would support keeping large numbers of U.S. military personnel in Iraq for no more than another year or two. Now we know that the President doesn't like to take very much notice of polls, and this week he's talking to a lot of experts and listening to them, but it seems that the American people are also speaking very loudly. I'm wondering how much is he going to factor in what they seem to be saying?

MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way --

Q And is he going to be listening to them?

MR. SNOW: The President has listened, but the other thing that will be interesting is what I talked about before. Public opinion is not something chiseled in stone. Quite often it's shaped by, among other things, political campaigns. And now there's an opportunity for both parties to work together.

And I think when the President comes out and has an opportunity to make clear what the goals are -- and, again, I don't know that there's widespread disaffection with the notion of a free, democratic Iraq standing on its own, with the United States supporting that, and as Iraq becomes more capable having American forces move out, and to do those swiftly as possible. I think that's something that the American public can support, and Democrats and Republicans alike can support.

We understand right now the anxiety about the situation in Iraq. And the President shares it. But on the other hand, the costs of leaving short of victory could be utterly catastrophic for the region and for the United States. The President has outlined that many times, therefore understanding not only what the stakes are for not completing the job, but also with the promise for completing the job. It's important for people to consider.

Q So seeing as they're also saying that they do want a timetable -- both CBS and the Newsweek poll are saying that --

MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, Victoria, let's wait for the President to deliver his speech. My guess is that you will see, when the President is addressing the American people and addressing many of the concerns you're talking about, it will create a basis of support.

Q What I was going to say was it sounds like, if we're not going to leave short of what you're calling "victory," and the American people are saying that they want a timed withdrawal, and they don't want people there after one or two years, those two don't seem to gel unless we can have victory within one or two years.

MR. SNOW: Well again, we'll see. There are going to be the best efforts to succeed as quickly as possible, but nobody has a crystal ball. But the President has made it clear to Iraqis and to the United States that we want to have this succeed, and we want it to succeed as quickly as possible.

Q May I ask one quick one?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q What role is the Vice President playing this week in the listening?

MR. SNOW: Well, he's listening and asking some questions and he's participating in the conversations.

Q Is he in on all the meetings?

MR. SNOW: He was in the meeting at State, and I assume that he will be in the others, as well.

Q As you mentioned a couple seconds ago, Tony, he's going to meet tomorrow with the Sunni Vice President.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q What is he getting out of these meetings? And what does he have to show for it?

MR. SNOW: Well, if you're looking for deliverables -- you know, walking out with a sheet of paper saying we did X, Y or Z, you're probably not going to find it. But it's important -- for instance, the conversations with Mr. al Hakim last week were quite fruitful in getting not only another view, it turned out to be a complementary view with what we've been hearing about what's going on politically within Iraq and getting a better understanding of how the various political forces work with one another, and also their relationships with one another, but also the possibility of building that moderate backbone that you're going to need for a successful and self-sustaining democracy in Iraq. I expect the same sort of things to be part of the conversation with Mr. Hashemi.

Now, obviously, a Shia leader will have different areas of concern, and also different ways in which he may be able to offer advice and help than a Sunni leader. But the one thing that they do have in common is they are part of an Iraqi government they both want to help -- they both want to sustain and both want to see succeed. And, therefore, I think it's -- the most important deliverable is greater insight into how we best can achieve that goal, and in a way that's going to fit in with the political sensitivities and sensibilities, and the cultural sensitivities and sensibilities of the Iraqi people so that we can build a stronger case for the Iraqis themselves.

Q Do you consider Hashemi to be a moderate?

MR. SNOW: Well, Hashemi is a man -- Hashemi is a duly considered part of the -- he's the vice president of the country, and he's somebody who has lost three members of his own family to violence during this. And, furthermore, he is somebody who is committed to the success of the government and to going after insurgent and militia groups, and those are all important pieces of the puzzle.

Q Tony, one of the things I'm not clear on, on the last couple of weeks is how broadly the administration is willing to change when it comes to Iraq? Because no one argues and no one questions that in an ideal world -- to use your phrase about (inaudible) -- and you could wave a wand and Iraq would go from what it is to being a democracy that's stable nobody argues that wouldn't be a good thing. People argue that what the administration has done over the last three years hasn't succeeded in bringing those things into being.

If the broad types of far-reaching policies -- whether it's timed troop withdraw, petitioning the country, siding with the Shiites openly rather than trying to reconcile the country -- if the broad changes of policy are being dismissed, it seems preemptively, what does that leave when you have a country that --

MR. SNOW: Well first, let me tell you that nothing --

Q -- is depressed about the war and doesn't believe that victory, as you define it, is attainable?

MR. SNOW: Only bad ideas are dismissed preemptively. We have not preemptively dismissed thoughtful ideas about the way to go forward, and I'm not going to give you any more detail because, again, that is up to the President to announce where he goes.

Now, you may decide at that point that you wish to characterize whether it's "bold" or not. The aim is to be successful, to come up with a policy that's going to achieve our stated aims. And, again, I'll leave it to everyone to try to come up with a proper description when that time comes.

Q Are we talking weeks, though, or are we talking that he's willing to make --

MR. SNOW: Like I said, I'm just -- I have a feeling that different people are going to describe it in different ways, and therefore, I'm not going to characterize it. You're just going to have --

Q How do you see --

MR. SNOW: Unfortunately, you're just going to have to wait. It's going to require some patience, but you'll have to wait until the reporting is done and the President has come up with his policy. I'm not going to do winks and nods. I'm not going to say, big, little, in between. I'm not going to do, hot, cold, warm. Because in a number of cases, there's still important issues that are being worked through and worked through hard by the principals. And again, I think, in deference to the President, let him do the announcing. And then if there is a critique, I'm perfectly happy to entertain it and answer questions about it.

Q Can I ask you one other thing on procedure? The NSC report that's in the works now, is that meant to be, A, something that draws from the Pentagon and State reports, or does it exist separately?

MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way: There are reviews ongoing at State and at the Department of Defense, as you know, and the NSC is also incorporating views from throughout the administration in its work. Let me put it that way. As I said the other day, it's not like people are pushing book reports across the table to have the President look at them, but there's a lot of information making its way around. And so -- I know you're interested in the process, but you've got -- State has been doing its work, DOD has been doing its work. The NSC is aware of those and is also compiling an interagency view of what's going on.

Q Is the NSC meant to be the most descriptive of the three?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize. What's prescriptive is what the President suggests at the end.

Q Tony, following on that, is there a concern in the administration that the expectations are building here for a new way forward, and that perhaps a lot of this stuff is already being done?

MR. SNOW: I mean, look, we certainly live in an expectation-rich environment -- look at the expectations surrounding the Baker-Hamilton commission report. But we're in a war, and it's a tough war, and it's going to require some very sound and realistic thinking about the situation on the ground, what's possible, how you achieve it, how you do it -- and how you incorporate a whole host of concerns, from cultural and political sensibilities in Iraq to the ability -- to the pace at which one can build capacity in Iraq, to the behavior of neighbors and the support of neighbors, and what other parties may do to assist the Iraqis. I mean, there are a whole host of concerns that are coming into play here. And I think to use the phrase Yochi used, there are no magic wands.

But what you do have is a serious look. And I think if people step back and say, okay, this is a tough time, we're fighting a dedicated, determined enemy. We're not just going to walk away, so we're going to have to beat them militarily, but there also have to be other means, as we announced in the National Counterterrorism Strategy. We've got to deny them safe haven. We've got to deny them finances. We've got to deny them their abilities to communicate. We also have to establish examples that are going to repudiate everything they say about the nature of free and democratic life.

So there are a whole series of these things that come into play. And I would just -- I don't want to inflate expectations, I don't want to dash them. I just want people to use common sense and have a fair hearing, because this is important business and it's not meant just for the American public, but also for a Congress that's going to be involved.

Q If I could follow, you addressed it this morning, but could you talk about these reports that the Shia leaders in Iraq are looking to oust Maliki?

MR. SNOW: Yes, it's not true. Mr. al Hakim was in town; he was supporting the Maliki government. And in fact, right before he went in to talk with the President, he placed a call to Mr. Maliki. So it's not -- we don't know how these reports got cobbled together, but they're not true.

Q What's your basis for knowing they're not true?

MR. SNOW: Well, the basis is the conversations that some of our NSC staff have had with people on the ground. So there has been communication between the governments.

Q Tony, why is it that the generals that are meeting with the President this afternoon are not generals who are closer to this phase of the Iraq war?

MR. SNOW: Meaning what? "Are not closer to this phase" -- who are --

Q These are retired generals or the generals who either take part at the beginning of the Iraq war, or were in other wars. Why not have generals who actively dealt with this current phase of the Iraq war, instead of these retired generals?

MR. SNOW: The phase -- how would you define the beginning of this phase?

Q Sectarian violence --

MR. SNOW: Okay, so ever since last February --

Q -- and more mass killings of American troops.

MR. SNOW: Okay, so you're talking about from February on. Most of those people are still in -- the President actually does talk with them on a very regular basis, as you know. I mean, he talks with General Casey, he talks with General Chiarelli, he talks with all the generals who are chiefly involved, who have been, in fact, involved throughout.

So I don't know -- typically, when you're bringing in outside experts, the other thing that happens is people with long military experience step back and they're going to have their own views and they're going to be somewhat fresh and perhaps different than one might hear from combatant commanders. I don't -- forgive me --

Q You understand what I'm saying?

MR. SNOW: No, I actually don't understand what you're saying. That's why I'm wrinkling my nose in such a way.

Q Well, I don't want you to wrinkle your nose, I want you to pay attention and answer.

MR. SNOW: Are you saying that you -- is there a critic that you would prefer be on the panel? Is that what you're -- I don't know what you're getting at.

Q I'm not supplying anyone. I'm just asking, viewing the names that are on the list, you have those who are retired, those who are not involved with this element of the war -- that is plain and simple -- versus bringing in the ones that are involved, and to mix the group, versus talking to them by phone --

MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, first, with all due respect, General Abizaid, General Casey, General Chiarelli and others are consulted regularly. I don't think it's necessary to come in and have them have a colloquy with retired generals. Their job is to be working on the war and making progress in the war and helping find a better way forward, which is what they're doing. And it is not in the absence of presidential attention or conversation. So the President has richly met your criterion of people who have been involved since last February.

Q And a follow up, can this war be won militarily?

MR. SNOW: It has always been said that it cannot be won strictly through military means, because you do need an Iraqi government that is going to have the capacity for a civil society in which Iraqi rights are protected, where people feel a shared stake, where you have an economy that can offer jobs and prospects, where you have an educational system that works, where the basic services are up and running. All of those things -- I mean, none of that is new, and the characterization of, "winning militarily" has never been one that --

Q I'll rephrase. Have we lost the military portion of this war?

MR. SNOW: To use General Chiarelli's formulation last week, no.

Q Tony, two questions. On these briefings, is the President asking many questions?

MR. SNOW: Yes. It's typically his nature. There were some presentations, especially -- well, there were presentations both from State Department employees and also by folks on the provincial reconstruction teams. But on the other hand, he asks a lot of questions. And, you know, certainly not above stopping somebody as they make their presentation, asking a few pointed questions, and sometimes the conversation will move off in a different direction as a consequence.

Q And one question on phraseology. For months and months, you have defined, the White House has defined success in Iraq as Iraq sustaining, governing and defending itself.

MR. SNOW: And being an ally in the war on terror.

Q Well, that's what you and the President have purposefully, it seems, added --

MR. SNOW: Actually, you go back to the --

Q -- in the last two weeks, really, on a regular basis.

MR. SNOW: No, go back and look at the speeches that he delivered during the summer, you'll find it in there.

Q It's not a purposeful addition in just the last few weeks?

MR. SNOW: No, it's been in the lexicon for some time.

Q How far back should we look?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to do your homework. We've got fancy ways of finding it out.

Q Oh, I'm going to do my homework, but I want to hear what you have to say.

MR. SNOW: I don't know.

Q Is the briefing today at State and tomorrow at Defense, is this status reports or recommendations from people on --

MR. SNOW: Rather than recommendations, let me put it this way: They're a discussion of options, and the President can ask and explore various options that people have for dealing with a variety of situations.

Q Is it a menu of options, or are these agencies saying, here's what we should do?

MR. SNOW: It's a menu.

Q With no weighting of them?

MR. SNOW: No. The President is the one who makes the decisions.

Q Did he hear anything today he hadn't thought of before, or was new?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. He heard a lot of things, but I don't -- since I have not received each and every briefing paper that crosses his desk -- some are proprietary to the President, and the President, alone -- I cannot characterize for you.

Q On Baker-Hamilton, was there anything in there that this administration hasn't already considered?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. Again, good question; I don't know. I mean, there are some -- again, I don't know.

Q Tony, two questions. One on Iraq, and if I may, the holocaust conference in Iran. On Iraq, if I heard the President correctly this morning, he said Iraq is a central point. He was using the words "a" or "an" letter there, rather than "the." Is that a change --

MR. SNOW: Okay, "the." No, it's, again -- when you have a change -- when you have a one-day change in locution it does not mean a tectonic shift in policy.

Q Do you have any words of wisdom about this holocaust conference in Iran? Anything you want to say about it?

MR. SNOW: No, I just --

Q Can you elaborate or say anything more about the results or the expectations the President has for next six-party talks?

MR. SNOW: We now go back to taking a look at the September 19th accords. That is going to be the basis for further conversation. Obviously, in the end you want a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, you want the ability -- if the North Koreans not only step away from the nuclear program, what becomes available to them are a host of options, all good for the Korean people, North Korean people. So we really are back now to -- the purpose will be, as it was before, to take a look at the September 19th agreement and figure out if the North Koreans are serious about moving forward.

Q Can I ask about one more time on this holocaust conference?

MR. SNOW: No, I just -- no, because I have not spent any time studying it, and I don't want to -- I just don't want to talk about it.

Q -- not upset or anything?

MR. SNOW: Like I said, I don't want to talk about it. It is certainly -- look, let me put it this way: one of the great horrors in human history was the holocaust and one -- as a matter of fact, when one thinks about the holocaust and one thinks about the, one, destruction of human lives because folks practiced the wrong religion or did not, in fact, behave in precisely the way a totalitarian despot saw fit -- one of the things that the world said at that point was, never forget. And we should never forget what totalitarian despots can do when they say that people who do not share their particular view, whether it be on religion or something else, must die.

That's partly what we're fighting in terms of al Qaeda. It's a similar type enemy. And one should always remember the importance of looking back and also looking forward on the dear price people pay when they do not address a menace before it has an opportunity to become even worse.

Q A couple of quick things. Could you describe the sense of urgency there is for the President in trying to bring this to a conclusion, because you aren't yet sure when you're going to present it, so --

MR. SNOW: As I pointed out a number of times, Kelly, the sense -- there's a sense of urgency where the President says, I need it done as quickly as possible, but you also need it done right. We expect that it's -- that we're approaching the conclusion to that process, but until final determinations have been made, and before the President has made a final decision, I just don't want to give you a time stamp for it and then have to come back and say, whoops, we were wrong.

So out of an abundance of caution, I'm not giving you a firm date on anything. But on the other hand, people are working very hard at it. You take a look at this week's calendar, there's an enormous amount of attention, not only on the part of the President, but also all those involved in shaping policy on working this problem.

Q Tony, in the public aspect of some of these events, as you indicated he has meetings all the time, but by making them public, are you trying to demonstrate to the American people a certain level of his consultation? Could you speak to --

MR. SNOW: I think it's important that the American people be aware both of his consultation and his level of concern about getting it right.

Q Tony, you mentioned that the State Department meetings were going to be a lot about the regional implications of Iraq. Did the issue of Iraqi refugee flows come up? And does the President think that the U.S. aid to Jordan, for example, should increase since they're bearing such a high --

MR. SNOW: It did not come up, and I'd refer you to State for competent answers on that, because I don't have it.

Les, and then Paula.

Q In the back.

MR. SNOW: I heard you Paula.

Q Two questions, Tony. The Washington Post reports that yesterday in New Hampshire, Senator Barack Obama was trailed by what they termed "a huge media hoard" of more than 100. And presuming that Senator Obama's remarkable impact has not struck you speechless, Tony, does --

MR. SNOW: Les, you're clearing the room. Hurry this up. (Laughter.)

Q -- does the President, as the head of the GOP, believe that Senator Hillary Clinton is seriously concerned about this Barack boom? Or does he think it's more of a --

MR. SNOW: Did you just ask me what the President -- the Republican President thinks about internal Democratic politics?

Q Yes, as the head of the GOP.

MR. SNOW: Again, the President, I think -- as I've tried to make clear, the President is worried about matters of global war and peace, and he'll allow the Democrats to conduct their own primary process when that process does, in fact, begin in earnest.

Q Okay. From Mexico City, The New York Times reported on December the 1st that the swearing-in of new President Felipe Calderon, which was attended by President George H.W. Bush, included whistles, cat calls, fist fights, screamed insults, pushing matches, and lasted only two minutes before the new President and his predecessor left the room under heavy guard. And my question: What was the President's reaction to this wild event, and what was his father's reaction?

MR. SNOW: Sounded almost like a Joe Gibbs' press conference. (Laughter.) Apologies to Joe, before we go further. No, no reaction to that.

Paula, go ahead.

Q First of all, I'd like to thank you for calling on me after the press corps started to leave.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm sorry to hurt your feelings. I was trying to be fair in calling on people as I saw them.

Q Okay, well, anyway, you mentioned earlier that it's important to win the war because of the catastrophic consequences if we fail.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Well, last week Vice President Gore -- former Vice President Gore mentioned that the consequences of this war would pale in comparison to what will happen to the environment and the economy worldwide if global warming is not addressed before it reaches the tipping point, as far as greenhouse gas emissions. So I just wondered, do you agree with him?

MR. SNOW: Vice President Gore has spoken often and passionately on the subject. There is considerable dispute about some of his -- the scientific underpinnings of his claims. Nevertheless, this is an administration that understands concerns about greenhouse gasses and has done more than any other administration, including the one to which Senator Gore, or former Vice President Gore belonged and addressing greenhouse emission levels and pursuing clean sources of energy and pushing aggressively to make sure that this country not only is cleaner, but also more energy independent for years to come.

So it is -- look, he's free to give speeches.

Q As you know, though, when he was in the former administration, there were proposals on climate change, but they weren't supported in Congress.

MR. SNOW: Well, what was interesting is -- that's right, as a matter of fact, there was a vote on the Kyoto climate treaty that went down 95-0 in the United States Senate. One of the co-sponsors was Bennett Johnston, the other was Chuck Hagel. And it did not get a single vote and was never again pushed by that administration.

So I think what it is -- you need to understand, Paula, that in this country, people really do place a value on a clean environment. There are companies making lots of money right now talking about how clean they are, and good for them. When you -- one of the studies done some years ago indicates that when a society reaches a certain level of prosperity, you move from simple desire to gain affluence to a desire to do other things, like clean the environment. And I think the American public is probably as aggressive on that front as any on the face of the Earth.

And if you take a look at the percentage improvements in air and water quality in this country versus the rest of the industrialized world, you'll find that we're without peer. And having said that, we support all efforts to do a better job within constraints that are going to allow people to maintain their freedoms and their jobs.

Q I have one more question then. Why did the President, in your goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, put it in terms of intensity which, if you meet those goals, could still end up increasing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2012?

MR. SNOW: Well, because what you have here is a developing world. And if you take a look at overall greenhouse emissions, as you know, Paula, they are increasing worldwide. And part of the big debate now is whether all parties, including rapidly-growing economies, are going to be party to agreements of that sort. You will also find that, with a couple of exceptions, none of the European countries have been able to meet those goals.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: All right, thank you.

END 1:51 P.M. EST

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document