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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 12, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: All right, just a couple of opening comments, and I'll be happy to take your questions. As you know, earlier today, the President began the day by having breakfast with Bob Gates, who will be sworn in next Monday as the Secretary of Defense. He also -- well, now you know it. And there was a secure video teleconference with the combatant commanders, and I think Dana read out the participants earlier.
The President has, as you know, been engaged in a series of conversations and consultations with people on Iraq policy. He is moving toward a decision on how to move forward and, in the process, has been pushing a lot of people on the diplomatic side, and also military, security, and economic side, to come back with answers to some very specific and practical questions. I know a lot of you have been curious about when he would be announcing or talking about the way forward. That is not going to happen until the new year. We do not know when, so I can't give you a date, I can't give you a time, I can't give you a place, I can't give you a way in which it will happen. So all those questions are yet to be answered.
But the most important thing is that the President continues to be engaged in the business of talking about the way forward. He's got some very -- he's assigned some tasks to people to work on and he's got some very clear, practical, tactical and other questions, so certainly the process and consultations will continue. And people are going to be working very hard between now and the time that the President has formulated the policy and is prepared to share his thoughts with the public and the world.
Q Did the military leaders encourage him to just take a little bit more time?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. The President is the Commander-in-Chief; he issues orders. He decided, frankly, that it's not ready yet.
Q When did he decide that?
MR. SNOW: Well, he let us know today. So I don't know exactly when he decided, but he made that clear today. I don't know --
Q Do you suspect it will be before the State of the Union?
MR. SNOW: I'm loathe to suspect. Obviously, this is something that he places a premium on getting done quickly, but also getting done well. And as I've said before, the job has got to be done right. This is not one where you have an expiration date, and if your homework is complete or not, you turn it in. He wants everybody to complete it.
Q But is there an urgency here? We've talked about this urgency before.
MR. SNOW: Well, the urgency -- as I said, there's urgency, but not panic. And I don't want to tell you it's not going to happen before State of the Union. I just don't want to lock in -- I don't want people to have expectations on a specific date because we don't have it for you yet.
Q Is it definitely going to be in January?
MR. SNOW: Well, as far as we know. Again, when we have a date for you, we'll let you know.
Q Could we talk about his video teleconference with the commanders today and with Secretary Gates?
MR. SNOW: And Secretary Rumsfeld, yes.
Q Was this specifically on a way forward, or was this just updating here? Were these ideas of these commanders who have been there for so long --
MR. SNOW: They're a combination of things --
Q Hang on -- these commanders who have been here for so long updating him, or saying, we believe this should happen and that should happen?
MR. SNOW: Neither. It was -- well, there was a combination of things. Number one, there's a readout on people's assessment of the situation. And number two, there were discussions of possible options and ways forward, and there was vigorous discussion about that and the President did ask people to look into some things. But beyond that, I won't get into any finer level of detail.
Q You were there, Tony, right?
MR. SNOW: I was there.
Q Was there anything new?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to characterize. I'll let the President make announcements when he sees fit.
Q Can I also say, did you bring up in any way, or did the President bring up in any way one of the points that the Baker-Hamilton report made, which was that there was under-reporting of attacks in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to -- because once I get into the business of answering things that were brought up, then I open up the floodgates for answering others. I'm not going to answer it.
Q Is a shakeup of the national security team under review?
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not going to talk about anything that may or may not have been discussed, and, furthermore, all deliberations -- and I don't want you to interpret by that, ah-ha, there's a shakeup. I don't want you to interpret it either way, other than as a principled stonewalling. (Laughter.)
Q You can't comment on the report in the Post at all?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to comment on the report.
Q Did any new names come up? Was there any talk of rotating people?
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not going to talk about the deliberations, other than the general characterization I've given you. I will say that General Casey and General Abizaid were part of the briefing.
Q As the President is sort of making his calculations, is he factoring in sort of what the American people have a stomach for?
MR. SNOW: You know, it's interesting, if you take a look at poll data -- and there's a lot of discussion about that -- what's interesting is that a majority of the American public not only thinks that we're capable of winning, but we should. I think that there is understandable apprehension about the situation in Iraq. And what people want to hear is, how do you assess the situation and how do you wish to address it? And those are questions the President is going to answer.
Q Does the President believe there is -- within the American public, that they would accept sending more troops to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Again, what you're trying to do under the guise of an opinion question is to ask me a policy option. Let me put it this way: The President believes that in putting together a way forward he will be able to address a lot of the concerns that the American public has, the most important of which is, what is your plan for winning? The other thing is that there is an opportunity here, also, for Democrats and Republicans to work together; whatever the discontent may be with the President, the level of confidence in Congress is even lower. And what you have is a sense of crisis of confidence in government. And this is an opportunity for not only the legislative branch and executive branch to work together, but also --
Q But haven't these --
MR. SNOW: No, but this is an important question, too, because I'm trying to get at what may be some of the causes for public discontent of late, which is there is a sense that you have a government that itself has been at war with itself, rather than working together on important tasks. This is an opportunity to step forward and work together. And as I've said, when it comes to the business of, do you want to win, the answer is yes; and, do you think we can win, the answer is yes. So now what you have -- so you've got sort of a ground -- it seems to me that you've got a pretty promising opportunity for support there, and now you need to go ahead and explain how you're going to achieve those objectives.
Q But he's consulting military folks --
MR. SNOW: That's right.
Q -- and he's consulting diplomats. Is he consulting anyone who is furnishing an opinion about what the American people have a stomach for?
MR. SNOW: No. No, this is not something where you poll -- when you're in a time of war, what you do is you take a look at the realities on the ground. The President understands --
Q -- curious to hear --
MR. SNOW: What, haul in a committee of pollsters?
Q No, not necessarily pollsters, but say, wait a minute, there seems to be some discontent in the country, talking to lots of folks who aren't necessarily wearing a uniform --
MR. SNOW: You don't think the President understands that there's discontent? Of course, he does, and he's referred to it constantly.
Q I didn't say discontent, I asked about a stomach for sending more troops.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's -- number one, the way it's phrased is kind of loaded, and number two, the fact is --
Q What's loaded about that?
MR. SNOW: Say "the stomach."
Q Yes, that there is an acceptance within the American public to send more troops.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I will refer you to the data that may be -- in fact, I think it's from your own poll.
Q CBS poll?
MR. SNOW: Yes, the CBS News poll. What happens is, there is a fairly -- I apologize, because I'm going through -- just 32 percent thinks the U.S. should pull out significant numbers of troops in the next six months, 64 percent believes the U.S. should keep troops there longer. You put that together with 58 percent say that it's extremely or very important that the U.S. succeed in Iraq, and 60 percent believe that the U.S. can still win the war -- that's actually the Gallup Poll, but in any event, the point here is, when you're dealing with a situation like this, if you want to build public confidence you explain what's going on and explain how you intend to go forward. And that's what the President is going to do.
Q Tony, it has been the President's own desire to do a speech prior to Christmas, right?
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q So this wasn't a staff decision?
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q So some might infer that the delay means he doesn't know what to do.
MR. SNOW: No, well, that would be the wrong inference to draw. You probably -- as we've said all along, it's a complex business and there are a lot of things to take into account, and we said we would like, but we didn't make any promises. So I know that one news network announced last night with some fanfare that the President was going to ask for TV time next week. Well, that not only wasn't the truth, it had never been discussed within the White House. So there has been a creation of expectations that there would be a date certain.
But the fact is you would expect and desire a Commander-in-Chief, in looking at a situation, to examine military concerns, security concerns, diplomatic concerns, internal political concerns within Iraq, regional ramifications, how you get people to work in concert with one another. It is enormously complex. And I've also described the way the President thinks in the past, where, suppose you get a policy together; then his strategy is, okay -- or his approach is, you have these policies in place; what happens if, and what happens if. He plays the chess game and he thinks about how others may move and maneuver. And the key is to figure out how you put together not only a policy, but also one that has the resources and the ability to adjust to changing circumstances so that you can pursue success.
And when you do that, that requires tasking of people to go in and come back with better answers. And so what the President is doing now is pushing people to try to provide more input and more information and more insight about factual questions, strategic and tactical questions. This is not not knowing what he wants to do; this is out of an absolute determination to do this right, making sure that he is absolutely convinced that the pieces have been put together, he's gotten the best advice, he's gotten the best facts, and that he now has the policy that he thinks will be the best to move forward.
Q Tony, even you have said, though, that this thing is not just driven by Baker-Hamilton, that this has been going on -- this reconsideration has been going on through -- back at Samara.
MR. SNOW: It's been going on for some time, that's right.
Q Right. So something happened here in the last week that he realized that there was more time needed?
MR. SNOW: No, no -- no, I don't think so. I think what happens is over time, people begin to sort of whittle away at options and to narrow things down, and to come up with different points for discussion. And what happens is, as you narrow in on certain options, then you say, okay, what are practical considerations we have to take into account? There has been no inflection point in the last week that has dramatically changed things.
Instead, what there has been is a constant consideration not only of the facts on the ground, but also trying to think strategically what do you need to do in very practical terms to move forward. We still have a strategy in place that deals with the situation. But the President thinks we need to do better. And so, as he considers the options, he's not going to get rushed on it, he wants to make sure it's done right -- but on the other hand, he continues also to push because this is a matter, as I said, not of panic, but of urgency, because he understands how important it is. But the most important thing to do is to do it right in a way that is commensurate with his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief.
Q So just to get this clear, the reason for the delay is, number one, the complexity of the Iraq issue, and not because the President learned something in the last week that changed his mind?
MR. SNOW: That is correct. There are also even other considerations that I've not yet mentioned. For instance, we'll be swearing in a new Secretary of Defense next Monday. The Secretary of Defense is in the process not only of getting his arms around what's going on within the Department of Defense proper -- and now, as you know, Bob Gates did attend today's SVTS, and he will be shadowing meetings from now until the time he does assume office -- but also he has made it clear that he plans to visit the region and to, as one of my colleagues put it, kick the tires, to get a sense of what's going on. All those things are necessary, too, because his input is not only going to be valuable, but necessary as a man who is going to be responsible for implementing a large part of this.
That is not the single factor that is influencing this. But again, there has not been a single development, it's not Baker-Hamilton-driven. It is simply driven by the fact that as the President moves toward a decision on this, he still has facts that he wants people to examine. He wants policies that he wants people to take a look at, and he has assigned tasks to try to make sure that things are feasible, that everything is lined up in the proper way, that it meets the conditions of being able to work with the Iraqis, that we've addressed all of the regional concerns, that he's tried to take care of every possible consideration and concern before announcing the way forward.
Q Is it possible that the President does not want to announce the deployment of thousands of more U.S. troops to Iraq before the holidays?
MR. SNOW: No, it has nothing to do with that. Cynical, but false.
Q Last one, the Mahdi Army and dealing with that. Earlier in the week, you said -- well, yesterday you said that the story about ousting Maliki --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q --- and the coalition was wrong.
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q However, is it true that there is a coalition that the U.S. is encouraging to try to get the influence of Maliki -- I'm sorry -- of Muqtada al Sadr out of the government?
MR. SNOW: What I will tell you is that the Maliki government -- and we support it -- has talked about the importance of taking on sectarian violence, whether it be in militias or whether it be insurgent groups. It has been the long-stated policy of that government that armed forces that are not part of the Iraqi government were simply inappropriate, and that it was important either to give them -- to have them make a choice: They can integrate peacefully into society, or they're going to have to be taken on in some way, shape or form. But I'm not going to talk about internal stuff.
Q Obviously, there are all these parts coming together on this, and the President wants to present it as one document. But there are urgent things happening in Iraq every day. Are there parts of this that could be brought forward now, should be brought forward now, because of the urgency in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: We continue -- as you know, the combatant commanders have plenty of flexibility to deal with situations on the ground. And you also have seen -- I think as I pointed out, there has been a lot of action on the part of the Iraqi government in recent days. You've had the Prime Minister doing shakeups at the Ministry of Interior; he's been making announcements about not only reconciliation, but dealing with sectarian violence; they have proposed both a hydrocarbon law and laws that have to deal with investment. So a lot of those things that have been discussed --
Q -- which doesn't really change the security right now, which is the most urgent situation.
MR. SNOW: What I'm saying is, is that people continue to respond to urgencies on the ground, and they will do so.
Q But it's "stay the course" until we move forward with his speech?
MR. SNOW: No, it's not stay -- again, we've been through this semantic dispute many times, but it's worth going through one more time. The commanders will continue to try to figure out the best ways to respond to changing situations on the ground, and they will do that not only in concert with Iraqis, but with each other as -- there are missions that are still going on and will continue to go on, to address specific issues.
Q But when he releases this, this is what is going to happen, this is what the country is going to do, this is how the country goes forward. It's going to eliminate what he doesn't want from the Baker commission; it's going to be one big thing and say, security-wise, diplomatically, everything will be --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm going to let the President announce what he's going to announce, rather than trying to get into characterizations. I think what you will have is a pretty comprehensive look at the way forward. And you've got to keep in mind, the touchstone is not the Baker-Hamilton commission, it's the situation in Iraq and it's the situation in the region. That is the touchstone. The Baker-Hamilton commission certainly looked at it, and the President appreciates their efforts. But it's important for the President to go ahead and to continue to task people who work for him to continue asking tough questions and seeking answers that are satisfactory to him.
Q Just one more, and a follow-up to Jim's.
MR. SNOW: Are you counting, Les? (Laughter.)
Q In talking about this --
Q It's ABC, Les.
Q Yes, and there is an ABC poll, as well, that's not so good for you, either. But what Jim was talking about, and what people have the stomach for -- the President has to realize that you have to keep the will of the people --
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q -- in time of war, that that matters in war.
MR. SNOW: Of course, he understands that.
Q How do you address that? How does he think about that? This isn't just what they have the stomach for, this is a reality of war.
MR. SNOW: Yes, it is a reality of war. What's interesting, for instance -- I hate to do this, but let me say a competing network had interviews with soldiers in the field that they did yesterday, and it's interesting -- you've had the experience -- soldiers are not only highly motivated, but they feel proud of what they're doing. That voice never seems to pop through, and I think it's important that people get a sense of that. The President not only hears --
Q I think people do that all the time, so we're back to the media. I mean, people interview soldiers all the time, and that's important. I'm talking about the will of the American people.
MR. SNOW: Well, but the will of the American people, I think, is something that -- the American people want to know, first, what do the soldiers actually think? And the other thing they want -- and I've been through this -- they want to hear what the President has to say about the realities on the ground and what he wants to see our forces do about it. Those are the important things. And I think we can judge what happens. Of course, he understands it.
The other thing I think the President understands is that when you had a political atmosphere that was as highly charged and, quite often, critical rather than constructive, that was something that wore on the American public. And I think the conversations that we have had on a bipartisan basis have been pretty reassuring, because both Houses of Congress know that there is -- and both parties understand -- that this is time for the political class to deliver. And that means to deliver in a way in which you produce victory in Iraq -- an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself.
There is, I think, widespread on Capitol Hill, acceptance of that as the goal. And now there is widespread recognition that is a bipartisan responsibility. I think if people begin to see Congress and the President working together on this, I think you're going to see a change of public opinion.
Q But that doesn't make the war go away, Tony. That's the reality. You just said what the reality is. The reality is Iraq. The reality isn't bipartisan getting along.
MR. SNOW: You asked a polling question about public faith. Ultimately, victory is what will fully restore public faith. As you also know, in any time of war, there are going to be times when a war is popular and times when it's deeply unpopular. And every war we've won has also been, at some point, deeply unpopular. It is now time for the President to go ahead and share with the American public his thoughts. And I think that they're going to be powerful, and I think people do want to hear them.
Q Tony, when the President let it be known that before Christmas was his hope to make some sort of announcement, he knew the situation in Iraq was complex. He knew all the detailed questions. Is it fair to say, is it fair to conclude now because the announcement will not be made before Christmas, that it's more complicated, perhaps, than he initially --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. I think it's sort of facile to try to say, wow, if it's later there must be some defect on the part of the President. I think what happens is people have come back with answers and he said, I want more. And he's not going to move before it's ready. We have also cautioned a number of times -- I think a lot of this, there's a -- I tried yesterday to push back on the expectations game because there was a notion, is it ready? Is it off the shelf? And I said, no, no, no, there's a lot of hard work to be done. And there still is. So what one, I think, would expect from a President is a determination to do it right, and that's what he's insisting upon.
Q And where does this visit this afternoon by the Iraqi Vice President fit into the picture?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, there's been -- the President has been meeting with -- he met with Mr. al Hakim last week, he's meeting with Mr. Hashemi today, he has regular conversations with Prime Minister Maliki. And it is important to have conversations, especially with those who are showing a willingness to support the Maliki government by developing a vigorous center within Iraqi politics that can draw together people across sectarian and geographic lines, because, ultimately, that's going to be vitally important.
As we've said all along, the United States has a role to play, but, ultimately, the Iraqis are the ones who are going to have to create this government that will sustain itself, and they are the ones who are going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting, not only militarily, but politically and economically. And it's very important to get a measure of the people who are involved and to get their honest insights and their assessment of what's going on.
Q Tony, briefly, on Gates and his desire to kick the tires -- does the President want that to happen before he announces something, or is --
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think -- yes. I mean, I think he certainly wants -- he wants to be comfortable that the Defense Secretary is comfortable with what's going on.
Q Tony, yesterday you did say that the President was approaching a conclusion. So is the process now the President looking through competing options, or is the process now the President has a plan he wants to execute, and he's trying to get the details of how to execute that plan?
MR. SNOW: At this point, he is -- how do I put this? He's moving in a direction and he's assigning tasks for people to work out. I know I'm being too vague for you and I'll drive you crazy with the answer, but I don't want to get too much into the deliberative process. What I can say is the people -- let me put it this way: Even when you have a goal, people may express different possible ways of getting to that goal.
Q But there seems to be some talk here of tactics and operational, sort of executions, so --
MR. SNOW: There are a lot of things to take into account, as well as dealing with the Maliki government and coordinating with the Iraqis, and also dealing with the neighborhood. A lot of these things -- again, this is not simply -- although we concentrate mostly on the military dimension, there are many dimensions to a proper way forward.
Q Okay. And today in his meeting with the commanders, was he talking about, again, sort of -- someone asked this, but I wanted to re-ask it, if you will -- was it kind of getting at details --
MR. SNOW: Does that mean I have to re-not-answer-it? (Laughter.)
Q Hopefully, not. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Go ahead.
Q Was he getting, again, a report about the situation on the ground, or was he getting detailed answers about, what if we did X, how would we do Y? Was it that sort of discussion?
MR. SNOW: There was some discussion of the realities on the ground, and it was more of the President posing the what if X, please tell me, get back to me.
Q Will the President be having consultative meetings over the next two weeks that you know of?
MR. SNOW: I expect. I mean, we don't have a full schedule, but as you can tell -- again, he's not going to be kicking up and -- it's just this is going to be a busy time.
Q -- meets with Hashemi this week. Are we liable to see next week --
MR. SNOW: I don't know that you're liable to see a lot of people coming in. But that doesn't mean he won't be working the phones, or at some point getting on the SVTS or so on. There's still going to be a lot of meetings involving a number of players.
Q Tony, back to Karen's question about the NSC. Dana was asked that question this morning and she told us that we shouldn't place much stock in it --
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm just --
Q -- and you are not saying that. So is that your intent?
MR. SNOW: No. As I said, I don't want you to read yea or nay into it. I just am not going to comment on it.
Q Just a couple things here, following up on David's question just now, Tony. We were told this morning that the meeting at the Pentagon was the last of the high profile meetings before the process begins its next phase.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think that's probably right.
Q Okay. Secondly, there have been a number of references here about the Baker-Hamilton commission. To what extent is this delay in the expected announcement an effort to put some distance between the release of, and the reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: It has nothing to do with it, period. Nothing. I think the expectation in Washington on Baker-Hamilton is that this becomes the pivot on which everything turns. And again, as I pointed out, the pivot on which everything turns are the unfolding realities in Iraq and how you deal with them. And the President certainly appreciates the contributions of the Baker-Hamilton commission. But these deliberations, in many ways, have been going on for quite a while, and we're taking a look at a lot of stuff.
Q It seems almost like Baker-Hamilton doesn't factor in at all. Every time you're asked --
MR. SNOW: Well, these --
Q -- let me finish the question, please. If every time you're asked, were the contents of Baker-Hamilton discussed, I believe each time you've said, no.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q You seem to be distancing from that.
MR. SNOW: I'm not distancing from it. We are aware of the recommendations. And I have -- a number of these things have, at various junctures, been considered and may or may not be reflected in the final product. What I'm saying is, nobody said, okay, Baker-Hamilton, let's open up to page 40; ah-hah, they accepted our goals, high five, everybody. None of that stuff has happened.
Q Has everyone involved in these meetings read the full report?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I have. I'm assuming -- but I don't know.
Q Has the President?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One, this is Human Rights Week around the globe.
MR. SNOW: Is this on Iraq? Goyal, let's save that, and we'll continue doing Iraq questions, and then we'll finish.
Q It's been reported that President Bush, in an Oval Office meeting last week, when he was talking about his Iraq policy, said, "I'll be dead when they get it right." In other words, that basically --
MR. SNOW: I don't remember that.
Q Well, he basically seems to be saying that he never changed his policy one jot. Can you confirm that he said that?
MR. SNOW: No, I can't, because I didn't -- I would have written down a line like that, because I keep pretty copious notes.
Q Can you confirm that he did not say that?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to confirm or deny, I just don't know. Let me put it this way -- it doesn't sound like something he would have said. But I did not hear it, and I cannot tell you, because I don't know -- even know what meaning they're referring to.
Let me put it this way: The President is determined
-- he understands that, number one, the war on terror is going to be a long war; number two, it is important to create an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself. And we are working with all our ingenuity and our might to try to support that government and to come up with the right set of policies. If you're talking about he's going to be dead before they get it right in Iraq, again, that does not --
Q He's going to be dead before people get it right, in terms of understanding that he was right with his policies.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I don't know. I mean, I think what the President is talking about there -- that's completely different than what I thought you were asking. Who knows? I mean, I think the President feels -- it doesn't mean that he's not changing. It means that the President has been steadfast in defending and discussing the goal of an Iraq that can defend, sustain and govern itself, to be an ally in the war on terror, and also his analysis of the war on terror -- that you have a totalitarian movement that is designed not merely to crush human freedom, but also to extend its control over a large area, ranging from Micronesia to Northern Africa; and that it's important to resist that, and to do so in what one might consider the early stages, even though al Qaeda has been gathering strength for more than two decades, because it is important to advance the cause of freedom.
And going back to our answer yesterday on the Holocaust, we should have learned that if you allow those threats to continue to gather strength, ultimately the human cost is catastrophic. So those are the kinds of considerations that he has confidence in.
On the other hand, the President is also somebody who wants, A, honest opinions about the best way to move forward; he wants somebody who squares with him on the facts and is straight with him, so that he can make the best possible decisions about how to achieve that end goal of Iraq.
He may have said that it may take some time for people to understand that he was right in viewing it in that way. That would not be unusual. As you know, the President often talks about the fact that last year he had -- he read three new biographies of George Washington, who had been dead at the time for more than 200 years. So the fact is that -- he certainly stands by his analysis of the situation, but also understands that the tactics that have been employed right now are not doing the job, and there needs to be a better way forward.
Q Is he going to talk with people who differ considerably from his view, like people who absolutely want to get out of Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, because that does not, in fact, achieve your goal.
Q You used the phrase "whittling away the options and narrowing things down" and thinking about practical steps. Those suggest he has some very broad goals in mind and now is pressing commanders and the State Department to say, okay, I want to get from here to there, tell me how to do it, what are the risks --
MR. SNOW: I think that's an accurate characterization of some of the questions he's asking, yes.
Q -- specific policy options of whether it's add troops or take away troops, or talk to Iran or not talk to Iran, are we in that specific a --
MR. SNOW: Yes, and I think -- yes, in a lot of areas, yes, absolutely.
MR. SNOW: Same topic? Are we on topic?
MR. SNOW: Save Iran.
Q -- when you talked about bipartisan responsibility, I mean, the President is the decider; Congress has given him everything he wants without much oversight. What are you looking for from the new Democratic --
MR. SNOW: I think what's going to be interesting -- and we've heard this from Democrats -- there is buy-in on saying, we support this goal and let's see what people have to say when it comes to legislative actions that may or may not be necessary, in terms of supporting the goal; but also, publicly, what sort of front do you present to the American people in terms of, do you support the idea of an Iraq that can defend, govern and sustain itself? And there has been a debate and there are differing opinions.
But, on the other hand, I think there is a recognition on the part of members of Congress -- this is what they expressed to the President -- that it is important to demonstrate that we can get work done together on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. And that is the hope that they expressed, and it's certainly something that the President shared. And one of the things he did was reach out immediately to bipartisan leadership and say, I want to do these consultations regularly, not just on Iraq, but also on all other areas of policy. And I think that's part of the overall thing.
Again, if you take a look at these poll numbers I was describing just a couple of minutes ago, the President's numbers certainly are low and congressional numbers are even lower. And I think both sides understand that at this point that a competition to sort of -- let me put it this way: They're going to do better by themselves and by the country working together.
Q So in a sense, they're obligated to fall in line behind what the President comes up with?
MR. SNOW: No. No, I don't think they're obligated to fall in line. I think they're obligated to play a constructive role, and we'll see what happens. Again, let's find out -- when the President announces the way forward, let's just see how the political system responds. It could be a real moment of opportunity. And that is not to say that everybody has to come out marching behind, saying, yes, we'll do whatever you want to do. But, on the other hand, it doesn't rule out the fact that some people on the other side of the aisle, rather than saying he's for it, I'm against it, might say, sounds good, I agree. That also has happened from time to time.
Q Just to follow up on this topic. When you were talking about the poll numbers, you suggested that perhaps they've been depressed out of the campaign. So is that the view that --
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look, the congressional numbers have gone down, what, 16, 18 points since Election Day.
Q I meant the numbers on the war.
MR. SNOW: Oh, the numbers on the war.
Q You said, well, we just came out of the campaign and the public was hearing -- so is that the administration view, that the numbers -- the Iraq war numbers were depressed by -- belatedly, by the campaign somehow?
MR. SNOW: No. I think also -- look, if you take a look at October, 103 Americans were killed in October, and that was a very tough month and it is one where a lot of people were grieving. And I think it's understandable that in such circumstances, people are going to say, well, what are we doing? And I think it is important to give a fuller context.
I know, Martha, a lot of people talk to soldiers, but not as often as possible, perhaps, do we hear people explain why they think the mission is going well, General Chiarelli last week saying we have not lost a single engagement.
But I think it goes even deeper than that, because there is a sense of mission, as you know, when you get over there, that people believe they're part of something important. And there is a level of American idealism in people who have signed up for something in which they're very lives are at stake that is worth having the American people consider. And I'd just leave it at that.
Q Tony, you say this -- I mean, the morale seems terrific among a lot of soldiers. But that's not what is going to ultimately decide the war. You've said a million times --
MR. SNOW: I didn't say --
Q -- and the President has, as well. It's not just a military engagement.
MR. SNOW: I'm talking about public opinion. Because, yes, public opinion will be shaped by battlefield success, as well. And that, ultimately, is going to be the determinate. But quite often -- you've seen a lot of people -- I think there is -- a lot of people who are worried, are these men and women dying for nothing? And quite often what has happened is it's not placed in the context of their describing what they do and why they believe in it. And the notion that there is less context to the military operations leads quite naturally to fears about what are we doing over there, what's going on? And I think those are important questions to answer, and that's what we're going to endeavor to do.
Paula, yes, I promised. Proceed.
Q You mentioned how you thought it would be possible to address both security issues and the domestic agenda. Are you confident that the security problems won't overshadow any ability to reach agreement on the domestic front?
MR. SNOW: No, I think they're separate issues. Just because an issue is difficult, doesn't meant that it outweighs consideration of other issues. As you look forward, there are clear challenges that this country is going to face -- entitlements, education. There are a lot of things where -- that offer substantial hope for bipartisan cooperation on dealing with important issues. And the issues aren't going to go away. You still have security concerns, and you still have the war on terror. But the domestic issues still remain on the forefront for a lot of people.
Q Well, you mentioned -- there is an article in The Washington Post today about a small Pentagon task force that's looking into basically addressing what possibly might be the root of the problem with respect to 70 percent of the Iraqi men being unemployed. And when you talk about realities on the ground, it quotes a top U.S. field commander saying that tackling unemployment could do far more good than adding U.S. combat troops because these people needs jobs. There are angry young men and --
MR. SNOW: Well, I've referred to that a number of times. And actually, the two are not mutually exclusive. In some areas, you not only have the challenge of clearing out terror, but you also need to replace it with hope. And how many times have I been up here talking about the economic and security and political components, because they are all, in fact, interdependent and you do need them all. So I certainly -- I'm not going to get into the debate about more or less troops. But I certainly will not disagree with the idea that reconstruction remains a very important goal.
Q As far as we know, though, there's 100,000 contractors in there. Reconstruction efforts are very difficult because of the conditions on the ground.
MR. SNOW: As I've said, they're interlocking, and there are also different areas of reconstruction. It's a big country, not all parts are affected by violence. It's important to do reconstruction throughout.
Q Since you mentioned entitlements in education --
MR. SNOW: First, let me make sure -- if it's a non-Iraq question -- is this a non-Iraq question?
MR. SNOW: Hold off. We'll finish up the Iraq questions, and then we'll get to the others.
Q In the deliberations for the new way forward, are there going to be deliberations on a new way forward in Afghanistan as well as Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Well, we continue to take a look at the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. That was, obviously, a large part of what was going on in NATO.
Let me once again reiterate, when it comes to thinking about any wartime situation, you constantly have to take a look at developments, what's going on, what's going on behind the scenes, how do you address it, how do you respond to it. So that's a normal course of how you fight a war. But as you know, extensive consultations -- the U.S., the Canadians, the Italians, and others, working on the situation in Afghanistan. There is a NATO force that has been taking on Taliban remnants in the south and really fighting them hard. Although that was certainly not a focal point of what was going on today, it is certainly a continuing concern on the part of military commanders in the region.
Q But in the same sense that the President feels that the strategy is not working fast enough or well enough in Iraq, does he feel that the strategy is working fast enough or well enough in Afghanistan?
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, today's discussion was primarily about Iraq. But it is important to note, especially where you really do have multilateral cooperation, we've been handing off responsibility to NATO in some of the areas. And the President has also said that in coming months we're going to be beefing up our commitments in Afghanistan. It is very important that we respond effectively -- everybody involved -- to the challenge being posed by the Taliban.
Q Two quick questions. This is Human Rights Week around the globe, and human rights organizations like -- are accusing many countries, like China, Burma and also Iran, violators of human rights. But as far as the U.N. is concerned, the U.N. human rights council is made up mostly the countries who are violators of human rights. So will the President also make a statement on this day, where do we stand now? Violations of human rights are really going more down and down, and more countries are facing -- the people in more countries human rights violations.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think, Goyal, the President has made it very obvious that he believes in a freedom agenda, the bulwark of which is the acknowledgment of the dignity of every human life and also the right to, among other things, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of the other cases for U.N. reform has been a United Nations that will support human rights as vigorously as possible. After all, the founding document of the U.N. is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So that obviously is an area of concern.
Q Another question. As far as this election was concerned, immigrants around the U.S. -- what they're saying is that they have voted for Democrats because one of the factors was not only Iraq, but also the immigrants, how they worked the immigration issue. So where do we stand now as far as this immigration issue is concerned?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's an issue that will await the next Congress, and we'll see what happens.
Q Tony, merely two questions. Republican Senator Jon Kyl and former CIA Director James Woolsey have written the President: "The Iranian regime is working to acquire nuclear arms and long-range missiles. When combined with Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to wipe Israel off the map and bring about a world without America, we face the prospect that Iran will have the means to carry out their apocalyptic intentions." And my question: Has the President responded to these two? And does he disagree with their statement?
MR. SNOW: I believe, Les, if you've noted in recent months we've made it very clear that we do not believe that Iran should have any nuclear capability. It does, in fact, have long-range missile capability, as you know. And it has tested long-range missiles recently. That is --
Q So he agrees -- he agrees with Senator Kyl?
MR. SNOW: He agrees. The President -- I'm not aware. I don't handle his correspondence, so I will not respond to a particular letter. But I think you understand the clear contours of the policy, which is why even now we're working within the U.N. Security Council on a resolution noting that Iran should suspend its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities, period.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q Has the President had any reaction to the top of page 1 of this morning's Washington Times headline: "Annan Accuses U.S. of Losing Its Principle, Takes Aim at Bush Foreign Policy"?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q No reaction. Okay, thank you.
MR. SNOW: You're welcome. Let's see, who is -- Kelly.
Q One more on Iraq. Are there still active debates going on about the way forward, or is it more of a refinement? Are there different camps that have developed?
MR. SNOW: Look, there is one camp. It is the camp that works for the President. Now, people are going to have disagreements, and there may be some areas on which there are still going to be debates, but most have kind of been ironed out. I would not rule out the fact that there may be some discussion on some points.
Q Tony, what does "urgency" mean, though?
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know, you guys keep using the term "urgency." What the urgency is, you want it done --
Q You used it.
MR. SNOW: In response to -- urgency means that you want it done as quickly as possible, and you want it done right. That's what it means. It's an important issue. It is atop our list of concerns, and it is something where the President is determined to come up with a better way forward and to get it to the American public in due course, but also, again, with the assurance that he's asked the right questions, he's gotten the right inputs, he's gotten the right advice, and he's ready to go.
Q -- it's grave and deteriorating --
MR. SNOW: April has not had -- I'm sorry, what?
Q But if it's a grave and deteriorating situation, as the ISG report has concluded, and things are ironed out, as you said, then --
MR. SNOW: Again, you don't expect the President to go forward until it's complete. That's the way it works. And you still have military forces in place, you still have General Casey, you still have U.S. forces embedded with Iraqis and working with Iraqis. It is not as if there's nothing going on on the military front. It's not as if we're not collecting intelligence; we are. It's not as if we're not trying to figure out what the enemy is doing; we are. It's not as if we're not trying to work with the Iraqi army to go after sources of insurgency and militia violence. We're doing all of those things. All of that continues.
So when he looks at a better way forward, you still have in place the policies and the individuals carrying it out, but he wants to make sure that he has gotten answered to his satisfaction all the questions and practical concerns. And I think that's the right way to proceed.
Q -- anything to do with the holidays?
MR. SNOW: No, nothing.
Q Like if he announced it -- like if he had it done on Christmas Day, then that wouldn't stop him? You want to get --
MR. SNOW: I honestly don't know, Martha. But our calculation is, it's going to take into the new year. But we'll be happy to call you all back on the 26th if you're
Q Tony, could you tell us specifically what the Vice President's role, as well as Karl Rove's role, are involved in this listening tour, as well as gathering information --
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, it's not a listening tour. And number two, we don't discuss internal deliberations.
Q -- tell us if the Vice President is involved?
MR. SNOW: As I've said, you've seen -- the Vice President has been in meetings and we have announced people who have been in the meetings. And I'm not going to get -- I'm just not going to get into --
Q So since he's in meetings, is it safe to say he is actively involved in the process?
MR. SNOW: He is in the meetings, dear. I think it's -- yes. (Laughter.) Got me. Wait a second. Connie. And then we'll get to you, John. I want to make sure that everybody who hasn't asked a question --
Q Thank you for your statement on Iran. That was good. That last phrase, "the U.S. will continue to support those in Iran and stand with them in their efforts to overcome" --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- can you tell us how much you will support them to the extent of any overthrow? Is there military support? Is there financial support --
MR. SNOW: Oh, come on, Connie. You know we don't answer -- what you're trying to do is to plunge into -- what we do is we support the democratic aspirations of the people of Iraq.
Q Is Karen Hughes' group dealing with --
MR. SNOW: I'll refer that to the State Department. You can ask State.
Q Do the exits of Secretary Rumsfeld and Ambassador Bolton in any way mean a softening of our approach to North Korea?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, Ambassador Bolton left because he couldn't get a vote in Congress. No, our position on North Korea is absolutely the same as it's been.
But one of the things -- look, we're happy that come next Monday, the six-party talks are going to resume in Beijing. And that is a hopeful sign and we hope that the North Koreans now will abide by the September 19th accord as a way forward for them.
Thank you. Oh, I promised John one. Then we'll wrap up with this. Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Tony. On Friday at the session when I asked if the President ruled out raising taxes, you said he wasn't ruling it in or out, and there were "squirrelly" ways of defining it. Could we "un-squirrel" it? Does the administration rule out lifting the income cap on payroll taxes?
MR. SNOW: John, I am not in a position to talk about what -- when we are ready to announce a policy on Social Security, I will be happy to do it. This also falls into the internal deliberation rule, which is, many things are discussed, many are offered, few are chosen. The President will announce which policies are chosen.
END 1:29 P.M. EST
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