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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Hello, everybody. I want to begin with two statements by the President, and then I will take your questions.
First, on the passing of former U.N. Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick. From the President. "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Jean Kirkpatrick. As a professor, author, ambassador and advisor to Presidents, she influenced the thinking of generations of Americans on the importance of American leadership and advancing the cause of freedom and democracy around the globe. She defended the cause of freedom at a pivotal time in world history, and her courageous service as our United Nations Ambassador inspired her fellow Americans and lovers of liberty around the world.
"Jean's powerful intellect helped America win the Cold War. Her insights and teachings will continue to illuminate the path ahead for the United States in the world. We send our condolences to Jean's family and friends, and on behalf of all Americans, we give thanks for her extraordinary life."
And on today's jobs report: "Today we received a new report that confirms the continued strength of the American economy. The November jobs reports showed that 132,000 more Americans found work than last month, and that job creation in previous months was stronger than first estimated, adding 42,000 jobs to the numbers released last month. The unemployment rate remained low, at 4.5 percent. This is good news for American workers, and they are also seeing good news in their paychecks. As we look forward, our goal is to maintain the pro-growth policies that have strengthened our economy and will stimulate the creation of good jobs and higher wages."
Also a quick readout on the President's meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership this morning. Following on the trend that really began with the Baker-Hamilton commission in its presentation of a report, there was once again a pretty good and interesting spirit of bipartisanship in the room, in the Cabinet Room today. The President began by suggesting that they regularize such meetings in the weeks and months to come, and that it not be simply confined to Iraq, which, obviously, was an important area of interest and concern, but also other domestic issues that the United States faces.
And as he went around the room, those sentiments were echoed by one and all. There, I think, was a general understanding that there is a time for campaigning, there's also a time for governing. And Democrats and Republicans around the table expressed a desire now to move into a governing mode, understanding that whether it be the war in Iraq or other key and pressing domestic issues, Americans really would like to see people getting along and working well together. And you saw that echoed by Speaker Hastert and incoming Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, Senator Durbin, Senator Frist, who is leaving, of course, and the President. So it was a very good meeting.
And with that, questions. Terry.
Q Senator Durbin said that the President told him that he was open to changing tactics in Iraq, but the Senator said that he questioned -- the Senator, himself, questioned whether or not the President was ever going to support the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group, particularly when it came to pulling out, starting to bring American troops home.
MR. SNOW: I believe what the -- which conclusion did he have in mind?
Q He says, starting to bring American troops home, redeploying them to safer places, holding Iraq to new standards of responsibility --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, there are a couple of things --
Q -- and opening up a new line of diplomacy.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well let's walk through -- I mean, what we've said, and will continue to say, is that we're taking a close look. Senator Durbin, I believe also said that he thought that there would be some disagreement on Capitol Hill with a number of the recommendations, and in his view, that they would not all be taken.
Having said that, when it comes to troop movements, it's always been the case that we think that you're going to have to have it dependent upon the facts on the ground. But the Baker-Hamilton commission, itself, echoed recommendations from General Casey. For instance, "We should seek to complete the training and equipping mission by the first quarter of 2008, as stated by General George Casey on October 24, 2006." So I'm not sure that there's a big disconnect there.
What the Baker-Hamilton commission did reject is what it referred to as "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq, and it also rejected partitioning of the country, and even dividing up into semi-autonomous units.
What the President is going to do is what you would expect a Commander-in-Chief to do, which is to take a careful and thoughtful look at the report. And as you know, there are other recommendations and suggestions and analyses coming his way in the very near future. And it's his job -- and people around the table understand this -- to try to come up with the best complex of policies.
I think maybe the most important take-away, or one of the most important take-aways from the Baker-Hamilton commission report is the spirit of bipartisanship I've been talking about, but also, at the very beginning of the section on the way forward, there's a sentence -- and I'll read it again, I've read it here from the podium before, but it's worth noting. It says, "We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the President: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."
So having accepted the goal, you now have the practical responsibility on the part of the President -- and we certainly hope, with the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans -- to find out the most sensible way of achieving that goal.
Q So if the goal is the same, should Americans expect that there's going to be a dramatic difference?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize anything before the President announces it. I think what the President has been very straightforward about is that we need better ways of addressing the issue of sectarian violence. We need to be working with the government of Iraq to increase its capabilities, not only militarily, but also in terms of its domestic policing efforts, to help them build a stronger economy, to help them move toward political reconciliation, to be reaching out and working diplomatically with neighbors, and to get everybody within the region, and a position of supporting the Iraqi democracy. So all of those are really key parts of what he is going to be talking about.
But I am loathe to characterize it because, frankly, the final recommendations have not been delivered, nor has the President determined what he will recommend as the way forward. But as you know, he will let you know.
Q Tony, Senator Reid said that he didn't feel by the President's actions or his demeanor that the President is going to do anything different. He said that after the meeting. He also said that he didn't hold out much hope for consultation. After these reports -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, the National Security Council --
MR. SNOW: Well, can you -- when he said, "not much hope of consultation," with whom?
Q With Congress.
MR. SNOW: Well, I will tell you what the President said --
Q No, no, here's the question. After the reports come out -- the internal reports -- how much consultation will there be with Capitol Hill before the President lays out his way forward in this national speech?
MR. SNOW: What the President said clearly was that he intends to consult with Congress, and that he -- the door is open. And what also -- there's a flip side to that question, Bret, which is whether those who say, "Mr. President, as Commander-in-Chief, we listen to you," bend to support him. And whether they, in fact, accept the goal of an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. That also is an important part of the dialogue.
But let me say, with all due respect, that the President made it clear that he did intend to consult and that it would be in a spirit of bipartisanship where he would welcome all views and hope to get honest views. But he is Commander-in-Chief, and that's something that the people in the room also realized.
Q Senator Durbin said that in the meeting the President compared himself to Harry Truman, when talking about Iraq, saying that President Truman dealt with a war that many were against, but eventually had proved right. And the sense that Senator Durbin said he got was that he's trying to position himself in history. Can you address that?
MR. SNOW: No, that's -- you know, it's interesting, because Senator Durbin did try to engage on that a little bit. No, I think what the President was pointing out is that Harry Truman had a difficult choice, because coming out of World War II, we began to face something that we had never faced before, which was an ideological enemy with a global ambition and global reach, that had capabilities, and that we were going to have to figure out how to face over an extended period of time. And it required commitments that were unprecedented in American history, and it took 60 years, but we did win the Cold War.
And so I think it's important to note that the President was really not trying to compare himself to Harry Truman so much as to talk about the duration and nature of the struggle. It's international, it has an enemy that's absolutely dedicated to killing Americans. So what the President was very clear about is that it may require different types of tactics than we used in the Cold War. It's a different kind of war, but it does have the ideological and international dimensions.
And he also pointed out that the freedom agenda remains an important centerpiece, as it was in the Cold War. It really was a fight between totalitarianism and forces of freedom, and that also is one of the central underpinnings. But he says -- he said during that is that, A, it's an ideological struggle, and B, it's important to send proper messages rather than mixed messages. And that really is an invitation to Congress here. If you want to think back, because I believe Senator Durbin is somebody who does support the kind of approach the United States -- I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he seemed to be saying that he supported what Harry Truman did.
At that time, you had Senator Vandenberg, of the opposing political party, saying that partisanship ought to end at the water's edge, and that it was very important that we send unified signals, and that's where the President, once again, was saying, to send -- to send a proper message, rather than a mixed message.
And so it really is an opportunity for both sides to work together, and I understand there are going to be times where there will be disagreements, and I do -- but I do also know that people in that room understand that the President is Commander-in-Chief. But this is a Commander-in-Chief who today, at the very outset, without ambiguity, without pulling punches, without pulling wool, said that he would like to have regular consultations, and he will.
Q Just a quick piece of housekeeping on these internal reviews. Because my impression was, after the gaggle, they were -- all of those -- State, Defense, NSC -- were still, sort of, to come. I thought Secretary Rumsfeld said this morning that the Pentagon review, well-scrubbed, had been delivered already.
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. I'll have to double check on that, but I'm not aware of it. There is a Pentagon review ongoing and Pete Pace, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is doing the report. But the others, I mean, there are meetings as recently as today on some of the topics, so people are still taking a very careful look at a lot of the issues.
Q As far as the reception that the President gave to the Baker commission report, a number of press accounts from a variety of papers said that after the Blair-President news availability yesterday that the President was sort of chilly.
MR. SNOW: That was Hunt. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, it was not just Hunt.
MR. SNOW: It was Hunt. I called him about it.
Q Well, do you disagree --
Q No, I called you.
MR. SNOW: That's right, you called, and then I complained. That's right, I guess I got the order wrong.
Q Do you disagree with the characterization?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I do. I mean, I don't think it was a chilly reception. If you take a look -- go back, look at the tape -- it didn't look like the President was being chilly. And, furthermore, having been in the meeting with the Baker commission -- Baker-Hamilton commission, and having been in meetings with the President, he understands that it's a serious document and you give it a serious look. It's also worth taking a hard look -- I mean, frankly, I have a feeling that if you want to apply any sort of climatological metaphors, you might want to think about some of the conversations on Capitol Hill yesterday, because there were critiques on the Democratic and Republican sides, as you would expect.
Q But I guess my question is, because especially in these two specific areas, engaging Iran and Syria, and troop withdrawals, the President seemed to address both of those with, essentially, long-held views, nothing fresh.
MR. SNOW: Wait a minute, I'm not sure -- I mean, I just read to you the section on so-called troop withdrawals that cites General Casey, to whom the President says he defers on these --
Q I'm talking about when he says, "Yes, I'd love to have them out if conditions on the ground warrant."
MR. SNOW: Right, which is what they say in this report.
Q But he seems to be setting -- not exactly.
MR. SNOW: Yes, it is.
Q And he seems to be setting up ways in which he doesn't have to engage exactly along the lines of the Baker commission is recommending --
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this --
Q -- especially when it comes to Iran and Syria.
MR. SNOW: Okay, let's break these apart. First, let's talk about the military side. The President will make what he considers the proper military determination, but I think you're making way too much. Again, I'll go back to what it says about precipitous withdrawal, because I think, frankly, the Baker-Hamilton commission was a little tougher on some of the proposals that were being floated during the campaign season.
It said, "It would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitous withdrawal of troops and support. A premature American departure -- premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions." And it talks about the fact that, of course, if things do not proceed on their present trend lines, you'd have to revisit. So that, to me, seems that they are talking sensibly about a conditions-based approach. All I'm saying is, they obviously look at this. I just --
Q Well, let me widen out, then, add the frame. Is the President -- in your opinion, do you think he's signaling the American public whatever I've said or advocated or dug my heels in about to this point, it's a new day and I'm going to give it a fresh look, and sort of fresh set of eyes on the whole thing?
MR. SNOW: First, I would caution against the "dig my" -- there's this notion that the President has dug his heels in and he hasn't changed anything, whereas, in point of fact, things change constantly. And we've informed you about a number of these --
Q But this is an impression in America, though -- the impression with American citizens.
MR. SNOW: I'm just telling you that maybe you can help, because you regularly get updates from me at this podium. For instance, on digging in -- here you've had the President, who has had two face-to-face meetings with Prime Minister Maliki. We had the unveiling of Operation Forward Together. It did not produce the results desired, he demanded better. The President also has been talking with regional allies. We have had the Iraq compact. We have had efforts to try to work with the Iraqis on political reconciliation efforts. You have had ongoing diplomacy on the part of the Secretary of State throughout the Middle East. The point is, that's not a dig-your-heels-in stance, it's a very aggressive and assertive stance. But what the President has said is, we need new tactics.
Now what he will not change is, in fact, the thing that the Baker-Hamilton commission -- again, the very first thing that they said is the goal, but this is critically important -- and he agrees, and he's not going to change this -- the goal stated by the President, an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. What is important and is open for wide-ranging reviews is, what's the best way to do it?
Q So you think -- last question -- this is a time, obviously, when there's a focus about the way forward in Iraq in the country that there probably hasn't been with an intensity just because of the report, in a while. That the President is signaling the American people that he is open to a brand new, wide range of new approaches.
MR. SNOW: Yes, sure. He's been pretty clear about that: Bring us a new approach to that goal. Absolutely.
Q But he signaled yesterday with Syria and Iran that he still is holding the same position, saying that Iran has got to suspend their enrichment, but the Baker-Hamilton group said there shouldn't be any precondition.
MR. SNOW: Well, what it said -- well, on the other hand, it also did not question that condition. As you know, what they did is they set aside the U.N. Security Council issue, and they did not quibble with it, because the Security Council has had the same condition. And I read that as they're accepting the U.N. Security Council's demand that Iran does, in fact, suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
What you have is a set aside, a different thing, that said that the United States should do diplomatic engagement. Well, guess what? We have been. Zal Khalilzad, when he was Ambassador to Afghanistan, had talked to the Iranians about border issues. Colin Powell had been in a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in which there were Iranians in attendance in 2004. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, has been in meetings with Iranians with regard to the Iraq compact. It is not clear whether that does or does not meet the conditions, the notion of direct engagement. But this much is clear: If you're going to have talks, you have to have something constructive to discuss. And it is important to realize that it's not simply an exercise in chatter, but something in trying to get a job done.
And it is important that the Iranians understand that they need to be playing a constructive role not merely in Iraq, but also in the larger Middle East; and, furthermore, that it is not going to be possible, it is not acceptable to use good behavior in Iraq as a bargaining chip on a potential nuclear program that could destabilize the region and potentially the entire world.
So that's where -- you know, it's interesting. There's kind of a balancing act within the commission. I think if you want to say -- well, I'll leave it at that.
Q So, Tony, can you just clarify, are you saying that the administration would object to regional talks involving Iran and Syria, as well as Bush administration officials, regarding Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Let's see what -- first, what materializes. But the one thing that we have said is, you need to let the Iraqi government, you need to let the Prime Minister assemble regional groups. It's an important sovereignty concern, and one that we share, that the Iraqis put together regional groups that deal with their own internal situation. And, therefore, lets find out what Prime Minister Maliki has to suggest, and we'll do it.
But I can say this, Suzanne, again, if you're using the Iraq compact, there have been times when representatives of both countries have been in attendance.
Q And what can we expect next week? I know that he's going to be meeting with Secretary Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld. Do we expect in those meetings with the State Department and Pentagon that he's going to get those reports from them? Or is this --
MR. SNOW: No, this is not an exercise where they sort of push their homework across the table. Instead, what he is going to get is some briefing. For instance, the State Department, they'll talk about the political and economic situation in Iraq. Obviously, of great importance, as well, is the reconciliation process.
He's also going to hear from provincial reconstruction teams. And Secretary Rice, Ambassador Khalilzad, and the provincial reconstruction team leaders are going to take part in the briefing. So obviously there's going to be a lot of discussion of fact, and there will be some discussions of ideas. But this is not, in any sense, sort of a final report time in any of the meetings. He will be getting briefings.
Q And can we expect that would happen the following week?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don't know. I know it's frustrating to everybody, but here's what the President wants. He wants the reports done, he wants them done thoroughly, completely, and competently, as quickly as possible. And we have talked about his possibly delivering whatever recommendations he may have before the end of the year, but we can't -- we just are not in a position yet, because the work is not completed and the process of vetting them has not been concluded. So I can't give you a firm date or any of the details of what may come, but as soon as that's available, we'll obviously let you know.
Q Tony, to be clear, there are going to be written reports from each of those --
MR. SNOW: Well, to be clear, you're going to have a little bit of everything. I mean, you're going to have people talking. There will, obviously, be some things that are documents. There will be any number of things. But is it going to be a glossy report that can be sort of shoved under the doorjamb of august media organizations? Probably not.
Q Iraq. Before I have my question, if I may make a quick statement for the record.
MR. SNOW: Please, not. I'm here to speak for the record. Let's stick to the -- Goyal, I love you, but --
Q Okay. Question is, as far as Iraq war is concerned, we are giving billions of dollars to many Arab and Muslim countries. Why their troops are not there to be killed or to fight the war for their brothers and sisters? Not many major Muslims and Arab countries are there, only the global --
MR. SNOW: We believe that -- for instance, today the President talked with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. And this may also get back to lending further context to the issue of Iran and Syria. Prime Minister Erdogan has just returned from visits to Iran and Syria, and he gave a readout of those meetings. One of the things that the President was making clear is that regional allies, Muslim countries, can play a constructive role, and they are doing so.
We are not going to be in the position of telling people to commit troops to Iraq. But what we are trying to do, and we are finding a good reception, is for people to work constructively so that this government can stand up, can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. That is of paramount importance, a free, democratic society standing on its own in that part of the world.
o what you do, as you know, Goyal, is that you use a number of different levers in that case, economic cooperation, and in fact a number of regional partners have been active in that area. Similarly, on reconciliation, Sunni, Shia and Kurd, they can all play a role in that. So there are any number of constructive things that the regional partners can do, and we accept them.
Q To follow up quick. As far as if this war continues like this or disrupting a more, much more larger war, let's say, what is the (inaudible) for global war (inaudible) and from the area, because most of the country get the oil from this region, or through this region? So --
MR. SNOW: Well, rather --
Q -- (inaudible) any plans for --
MR. SNOW: Rather than trying to deal with vast, hypothetical questions, let me just repeat what the President said many times, which is that one of the important stakes in Iraq is to make sure that you have an independent, free, democratic society that's able to stand on its own. If you don't, you have the possibility -- and this is mentioned explicitly within the Baker-Hamilton report -- of an Iraq that will be susceptible to terror organizations taking control and perhaps also having access not only to oil, but the revenues it generates, and therefore being in a position to wreak havoc throughout the region, if not the world.
So that, clearly, is one of the reasons why it is important to pull together bipartisan and national support and national unity behind the goal of that freestanding Iraq. There is real national interest and concern that this is something that's not only going to affect me, it's going to affect my kids and my kid's kids. And it is important to do this right and to do it unified as a country.
Q When I was talking with a radio talk show host this morning, it was said to me that it was inappropriate of the President yesterday to laugh after he said that it was bad in Iraq. Could you speak to that please?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, I don't remember it, and we appreciate the -- look, the fact is, here's a President, if by this -- actually, maybe you can help me, because what I have is a statement of people's emotional reaction. What exactly -- to what did they take umbrage, and what did they think it implied? Did they say?
Q They took umbrage to the fact that a question was asked by the reporter from the BBC that the President had said that it was unsettling. And the President replied that it's bad in Iraq, and then he laughed. They thought that that lent an air of levity to the proceedings that they didn't think was appropriate.
MR. SNOW: I see. The BBC question, I think, was in fact -- he was parsing and bantering a bit with the President.
Q The bantering hadn't happened at that point.
MR. SNOW: No, I think if you go back and look at it -- in any event, let me put it this way -- let me try to soothe the anxieties. Anybody who doubts the President's seriousness hasn't been looking or listening, period. This is something where, again, he signs letters of condolence to every family that's lost a loved one. He is briefed on it on a daily basis. He understands the national security is at stake here. He not only hears about this, but he gets regular briefings on intelligence about ongoing terror efforts to kill American citizens.
After September 11th, it's a different world. And it is a world where, I guarantee you, the terror organizations are looking for any possible way to do two things: number one, to kill Americans; and number two, to divide the American public. So if, in fact, there is a desire on the part of the radio talk show hosts to reach an Iraq where human dignity once again has an opportunity to express itself within the context of a free and democratic society, and if they want to be helpful, we're open to all suggestions and support, because it is a time for people maybe to stop looking for offense and start looking for ways to be constructive and helpful.
It's a real moment of opportunity when it comes to these things. And that is the approach the President is taking. Certainly, if people tried to draw from that that there is an air of levity when it comes to the human toll or the difficulty of the challenge ahead, I assure you, there is none.
Q Tony, who does the President have coming? There are some outside advisors coming Monday; is that right? And what's he expecting to get out of that?
MR. SNOW: Let's see, let's take a look at the Monday week ahead, if you bear with me. I'm not sure I'll have -- it's just senior State Department officials on Iraq. He's going to be over there. And the outside experts, I don't have a readout. But as you know, we've had a number of meetings with outside experts. And what you end up doing is, again, getting people who will give you their full and honest assessment about what's going on. I'll try to get you more. I don't have anything on it right now.
Q Tony --
MR. SNOW: You've been interrupted. Go ahead.
Q Tony, Secretary Baker said that one shouldn't treat this report as a fruitcake --
MR. SNOW: Fruit salad. (Laughter.)
Q Fruit salad.
MR. SNOW: And he's right. Nothing should be treated as a fruitcake. (Laughter.) That, I think, is a human rights violation.
Q We won't get into fruitcake status. (Laughter.)
Q Not to treat it as a fruit salad because obviously it was a report indicating the opinion of a large section of the U.S. political establishment wanting to change the policy of the United States. Each of these parts is interconnected, and Baker and Hamilton both indicated that one without the other is not going to work. But it seems, judging from the President's statement, and also from what you said today that he is, indeed, treating this a fruit salad.
MR. SNOW: No, I think what he's doing is treating it as a report -- you know what I'd do is take a look at what happened on Capitol Hill among Democrats, as well as Republicans yesterday. I think what you're trying to do is to -- we have actually not taken a position on any specific recommendation. There are people who have. It's natural to think that that would happen.
Members of the Baker-Hamilton commission made it clear that they don't expect everybody to agree with each and every jot and tittle, but also that we do respect the fact that a lot of these issues are interconnected, and ought to be taken seriously as such.
And the President, as Commander-in-Chief, still has the obligation to take seriously every bit of analysis and advice he gets, and to make his own decisions. And as I said before, he's not going to outsource that, but he certainly is going to -- he has received, with gratitude and admiration, the work product of 10 members -- five Democrats and five Republicans. He also will do the same when it comes to State Department officials and National Security Council departments, and the Department of Defense, and others who are involved in a regular and ongoing basis with what's going on in Iraq, which is exactly what you'd expect. And I think the best way to take something seriously is to examine each and every part of it and to look at it carefully and to move from there.
Q Thank you, Tony. It's been reported that Secretary Paulson has held over --
MR. SNOW: Okay, let me stick with Iraq first, unless this is an Iraq question. Is this an Iraq question?
MR. SNOW: Okay, let's hold off. Let me finish Iraq, and then we'll get to that.
Q I know the administration review involves the State Department and the NSC and all that. But the President often refers to his military advisors. And I'm wondering, are Pete Pace's recommendations going to be first among equals, then?
MR. SNOW: No, I think it's -- I know there's an attempt -- and this question has also been asked about Baker-Hamilton -- surely -- look, the President doesn't sit around and say, ah-ha, this is the one I've been waiting for, because they're all ones he's been waiting for.
And what you do is that you look at all of them and you weigh them -- and it's one of the reasons why everybody is saying, well, when is it going to be ready? Well, you know what? These are enormously complex issues, getting back to the previous question, you can't look at them in isolation. You really do have to think about an integrated policy that has an economic component, has a political component, has a regional, diplomatic component, has all of those components.
And maybe what we see is a moment of opportunity for Americans to lower the partisan tempers that always flare up during election time, and now move to a position of governing. And that's one of the things that was discussed in today's bipartisan leadership meeting.
If, in fact, you accept the goal of an Iraq that can govern, sustain, and defend itself, then you have a practical job before you. And what the President is going to do is to look at every contributing factor of it. And as the generals, themselves, say, this is not something that is strictly a military operation; it has a lot of other components. And, therefore, you're going to look at each and every piece.
Q Did the President talk about the quote from Senator Vandenberg that you mentioned earlier --
MR. SNOW: No. No.
Q Did that meeting come up?
MR. SNOW: Only in the sense that the President did welcome bipartisanship. I've got to say that each and every person talked about this being a moment of opportunity and a moment of bipartisanship, and it was also stressed that if people simply opposed proposals because the other guy supports it -- as has happened in recent years in American politics -- it's not going to get anywhere, it's going to be bad for the country.
So now it's time to be fair-minded, and also for people to be reaching out. Understanding, there -- look, there are going to be times when people lock horns, and there are going to be times when tempers flare and people say -- I mean, that's all going to happen. So don't expect this suddenly to be all peace and love.
But on the other hand, there is a chance -- and I think the people in the meeting all recognize this -- to prove something to the American public: that in a time of divided government, you can get things done. As a matter of fact, one of the participants said that quite often the most -- a couple of them, one Democrat and one Republican, said that quite often the most significant things get done in times of divided government.
And so it's a opportunity, as I've said before and as the President has said before, with Democrats in a position now of responsibility, both in the House and Senate, it gives them not only the opportunity, but the incentive to work with this White House to deal with some of the most vexing problems, not only on the foreign policy front, but the domestic front.
Les. Oh, I'm sorry, wait. Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you, Tony. Will Secretary Gates --
MR. SNOW: Are you Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I'll get to you.
Q Go ahead.
MR. SNOW: And I'll get to you, too. All right, go ahead.
Q Will Secretary Gates make an early trip to Iraq to confer with General Casey and Iraqi leaders?
MR. SNOW: Well, he's already said that he will go there -- if he's sworn in, he will go there soon.
Q Tony, since our good colleague from CBS was allowed to ask what I counted as eight questions today, could I, on rare occasions like today, ask a mere three?
MR. SNOW: If Ann will permit.
Q That was one. (Laughter.)
Q Oh, no. That was a motion of procedure. (Laughter.)
Yesterday, leaders of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade told WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem correspondent how very pleased they were with the Iraq Study Group's suggestion, and proclaimed it as a great victory for them over America. And my question: If we were to remove all our troops from Iraq, how could we prevent these terrorists from moving West and committing a new kind of 9/11 here in the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: There are two pieces to understand. Number one, the report, itself, talks about the importance of going after terror within the region. And it says very explicit things about the roles of Syria and Iran. So I don't know what -- they must not have read the report. They must have watched accounts on al Jazeera or something -- sorry if al Jazeera is here.
But the fact is that in this particular case, the President has been pretty clear that the purpose here is not to foment terror or to create vacuums, but to create freedom and also destroy the case for terror.
Q Republican Congressman Rohrabacher and 49 others have petitioned the President about U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean who, Rohrabacher said, "are heroes because of their actions. Over a million dollars in illegal drugs were stopped from being sold to our children. Bringing felony charges against them is a travesty of justice beyond description." Question: Why is the President delaying a pardon of these men, who face prison next month for shooting this drug dealer in his buttocks?
MR. SNOW: This is the same question you asked me once before, and when I tried to make the simple point that it's inappropriate for me to talk about pardons, you had WorldNetDaily run up a big thing that Snow wants to let people go free. So let me just tell you, as you know, it's inappropriate for me to comment about pardons.
Q I've never said that.
MR. SNOW: I know, but WorldNetDaily did, and so I just thought I'd save both you and your publishers the trouble, in understanding that it is inappropriate for a press secretary to be announcing pardons or even be discussing them.
Q Syndicated talk radio host Michael Savage said yesterday that co-chairman Jim Baker belongs to a law firm that represents Saudi Arabia, which he said major media is refusing to report. Is that true? And, if so, why was Baker made co-chairman with no members from any of our armed forces?
MR. SNOW: Number one, Jim Baker's legal connections are well known. And, number two, Congress appointed Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton as the co-chairs, so that's the appropriate place to take it.
Q Concerning the breadth and the depth and the detail in the Iraq Study Group, and the flurry of consultations the President has had, should Americans expect a full, dramatic new way forward from the President, or will it be more tinkering on the margins?
MR. SNOW: You know, I don't -- because I don't even know how you define such a thing. Keep in mind that the President -- what the President is going to be is assertive, and he's going to show leadership. But I cannot tell you precisely what's going to happen. The idea that -- you know, you already have upward of 150,000 troops on the ground. And as people at the Pentagon have pointed out to me, the logistics of, boom, doing something suddenly is just not possible. But on the other hand, what you can talk about is a fresh new way of addressing the challenges that we face, which are different than the challenges we faced a year ago.
After the Samara mosque bombing in February, you had success on the part of Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq in fomenting sectarian tension. And that now is a focal point. At the same time, you have an Iraqi government that has now been elected, has had six months in office, is beginning to assert itself on a number of these fronts.
And so I think what you're going to be able to do is to have the President take a fresh look at a constantly changing and evolving situation, and come up with proposals that are going to assure the American public that when it comes to that goal -- again stated in the report, an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself -- that the United States is going to help the Iraqis win. And I think when Americans see a path forward, that is what we're hoping.
What you look for may not be splashiness or boldness, as you may call it, but what you look for is a serious proposal that addresses the real concerns of many Americans about, are we pursuing victory, and if so, how. And those are the questions that will be answered.
Q Tony, real quick, you talked about the challenges of governing, moving forward. By all accounts, this is the first time the President has met with the Blue Dog coalition since he's been President. They're a growing group -- or they've grown. Can you talk about the significance of that group, and is it now essential that he work with them to get things accomplished?
MR. SNOW: Look, the President has met with the representative leadership in the House and Senate, he's met with Democrats, he's met with Republicans. And I think what it does indicate is that there's a determination on the part of the President to get stuff done. As we've said many times, the last two years of this presidency are not going to be years of leisure, but, in fact, we hope, years of accomplishment. And the way to do that is to seek out ideas and also seek out the support of people on both sides of the aisle. You're going to have Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.
Q Are Blue Dogs more important today than they were?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. The President considers them important. And the fact is that he's going to be reaching out. I think what is significant is that you're having members of both parties also coming to the White House. Bret, I think there's a mutually agreed recognition -- if you take a look at the congressional approval numbers, which have fallen 10 points since Election Day, that it's important to demonstrate that this country can govern itself, and that people of both political parties can pull together and can do things that are vitally important in the foreign policy areas as well as domestic policy. And the President has made it clear that he's eager to do that. And, you know, you've got a number of Democrats who have made it clear that they're eager to do the same thing.
So I would not single out any group because, again, what you will see -- you've seen it some this week, you'll see it in weeks to come -- is the President is going to invite a lot of people over, and he's going to talk to a lot of people. And he's going to do what Presidents do in a time like this, which is try to build support and build consensus for important initiatives. And he's going to listen to people, because from time to time you're going to have both sides going back and forth and figuring out, okay, what can we agree to and what can we get done.
One of the points he did make is that the Baker-Hamilton commission does set a good example in this sense. You had people who disagreed about issues, and yet they worked it out. And that's an important thing to do when it comes to the ongoing legislative business of the United States Congress and the President as he deals with this new Congress.
Q Can I get one non-Iraq question in, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Thank you, Tony. It's been reported that Secretary Paulson has not closed the door on raising taxes in his discussions with Democratic congressional leaders. Does the President rule out raising taxes, including lifting the income tax cap on payroll taxes, and lifting the marginal income tax rates?
MR. SNOW: What the President believes in, and he's talked about it before, the President believes in cutting taxes. He also believes in addressing the long-term problems we face with entitlements, both Medicare and Social Security. Having not been party to Secretary Paulson's discussions, I'm not going to be in any position to characterize what's going on. But I think you know as well as I do that the President is a tax cutter, and he also wants to address Social Security and he believes that we ought to be able to have market incentives in there so that future generations are going to be able to take advantage --
Q So you are ruling out a tax increase? Or you're not?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm not -- I'm not commenting either way. I'm not ruling it up and I'm not ruling it down, because you know what, as you and I have seen in the past, definitions of these things can be very squirrelly. And I would just rather not get locked into a debate about it. Let's wait and see what happens. But you know the President's record when it comes to taxes, and he's a tax cutter.
Q Thanks, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Thank you. Yes.
Q Quick one. You may have seen the report last week about Kashmir. General Musharraf has said that he may be willing to give up Kashmir if there are more --
MR. SNOW: You and I discussed that. I really don't know. I'll try to find out.
END 12:59 P.M. EST
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