|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 16, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: I am at your interrogatory disposal.
Q Is the Wolfowitz saga going to play itself out today, or is it -- what do you know about that?
MR. SNOW: I don't know -- again, we've made our position known. We know there are meetings ongoing. But I don't have anything new.
Q And they asked for an adjournment for some discussion. Do you have any idea what that was about?
MR. SNOW: No, I'd refer all questions back there. I don't -- I mean, we're led to believe they are going to be meeting further today, but I don't have anything new.
Q Senator Chuck Hagel said that Alberto Gonzales has lost the moral authority to lead and that he should resign. What's your reaction?
MR. SNOW: We disagree, and the President supports the Attorney General.
Q But what about that idea that --
MR. SNOW: He also does not --
Q -- that the actions laid out in the testimony seemed to undermine the authority of the Acting Attorney General?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, Jim Comey gave his side of what transpired that day. The President still has full confidence in Alberto Gonzales.
Q Was the President given any official notice in advance that Prince Harry would not be going to serve with his unit in Iraq? Was there any consultation involved?
MR. SNOW: I sincerely doubt it. It's the first I've heard, and believe it or not, it didn't occur to us. But I'll get back to you if it did, but my guess is, no.
Q There was a reference to the fact that there are some missing U.S. soldiers and --
MR. SNOW: I know, and again, that's -- but the British military make their decisions.
Q Tony, last night, Senator McCain, at the debate, said that Congress is very close on immigration. That's the word up on the Hill today. What's the feeling here at the White House?
MR. SNOW: Again, as I said this morning, we're very encouraged by the tone of the talks, and as I've said the last few days, what you've had are people working very hard on nuts and bolts, trying to pull together comprehensive immigration reform, and we're certainly happy to hear that and we look forward to seeing what the Senate has to produce.
Q Tony, two questions. Several churches or church groups have announced various plans for sanctuaries where illegal aliens would be sheltered. What message does the White House believe it sends to the nation if a church is in actual defiance of federal law?
MR. SNOW: No comment on that, Les. Next question.
Q What is the President's reaction to the report that Congress has an even lower poll rating than he does, and to Governor Huckabee's notation that Congress spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop?
MR. SNOW: Pretty good line. The President -- look, the President has made it clear that his job is to lead the country and he continues to do that.
Q Tony, I noticed on one of your press releases today about Lieutenant General Lute that there were several quotes -- you may have done this in the past, but there were quotes from General Petraeus saying how great he is, and Ambassador Crocker. Are these things -- you have your press office solicit quotes from people, particularly someone in uniform, to make positive comments about people you know?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't know how the quotes came about. We didn't do it out of the White House press office. But on the other hand --
Q It appears they -- it didn't have any source other than he said it yesterday.
MR. SNOW: Yes, well, look, I think it's -- on the question, does General Petraeus think he's a good and worthy choice, the answer is, yes.
Q And do you think it's appropriate to just send out -- or did they call him up, or how did they solicit these quotes?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, Martha, but it's clearly a burning issue so we'll look into it for you.
Q Following up on Lute, if he was skeptical about the President's surge plan, do you know what changed his mind and what can he do different that Defense and State haven't been both trying to do in terms of troops on the ground and reconstruction and changing --
MR. SNOW: Let's see -- let's walk through a number of those. Number one, a lot of the conversation about surge goes back to comments that were made in 2005, when we had a very different situation on the ground in Iraq. We had just been through an extraordinary year where the Iraqi people had, with great courage, appeared at the polls three different times to consider and ratify a constitution, and to -- had the first elected government in that nation's history.
And there was an expectation early into 2006 that, in fact, things were going very well and it would be possible for the United States to begin withdrawing troops. Then, in the period between February and June, when the government finally got in place, you had the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, you had the flaring up of sectarian violence, and an entirely new set of facts on the ground, which led, first, to a Baghdad security plan that did not work -- Operation Together Forward -- followed by a comprehensive review by the administration about how to make all aspects of the program work.
And General Lute not only supports the way forward, but he also thinks that there is -- that we're making progress. And now it is his job to work in a coordinating role to try to look at everything that's going on under the auspices of the executive branch. Now, you mentioned State and Defense, when in fact, the portfolio is a lot broader. It includes Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and others. You have people from many, many departments and agencies within the federal government that work on different aspects of this.
And the civil justice piece where you're trying to create rule of law and help people establish constitutions and legal codes, there are going to be Justice Department helpers. Where you have people working on agricultural programs, you're going to have agricultural extension agents. There are different areas --
Q They've been there all along.
MR. SNOW: But you're asking how is this "different," and what you have now is somebody who is going to be able to coordinate with folks on the ground. Keep in mind also that he has experience both in Central Command and with the Joint Chiefs in operations, and therefore, has a very keen sense of precisely how operations unfold, and therefore, I think has a very practical base of knowledge about how to get things done, and also where the bottlenecks are, including information.
How many times have people been in the field where somebody says, here is a problem we have, I write notes and it never gets up to the top? Well, part of his job is to cut through that, and to make sure that people in the field are getting the kind of support and resources they need to get the job done.
So it's a much broader job in the sense that, again, you have a lot of different federal departments and agencies involved in the business, not merely of providing security, but also reconstruction and assistance to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. And his job is not only to help coordinate those activities, but also stay in touch to make sure if they have changing needs, as they will, and changing requirements, he's able to stay on top of that so that we can continue to be
-- we can be as effective as possible.
Q On the war funding bill, Senator Levin this morning pulled down his proposal, which would have had timetables, but with presidential waiver. Did the White House oppose that proposal?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
MR. SNOW: Because we made it pretty clear that we don't think timetables are the way to go. What's interesting, Ken, is the Senate also today voted on Senator Feingold's proposal, which was straight-out withdrawal. And they voted against it by a margin of 67-29. It is pretty clear that the Senate decided that it was not going to go ahead and vote on withdrawal with timetables, has voted against withdrawal, and I think that sends a pretty powerful message to those who are continuing to conduct negotiations about the sense of the American people and the Senate, which is the idea of withdrawal is not -- simply withdrawing on a timetable is not something that the American people, or, for that matter, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate support.
Furthermore, our allies think it's a terrible idea, the Iraqis think it's a terrible idea. And the long-term consequence -- it's worth emphasizing over and over and over again -- simply withdrawing creates a vacuum that would lead to catastrophic consequences in terms of absolutely unacceptable bloodshed, horrific casualties. That's what the National Intelligence Estimate said; it's what Baker-Hamilton said. And, again -- call your favorite democratic expert -- they agree that if you create that kind of a vacuum, you're going to have bloodshed.
In addition, if you create a power vacuum that says that the United States is no longer going to be a credible partner in the region, all of those people we now depend upon for security assistance, cooperation, intelligence-sharing and other things, they're going to cut side deals with somebody else. Whether it's the A.Q. Khan network or whether it's Iran, the fact is that they're going to be looking for people who are going to stay in the region and stay engaged.
We need to send the message that we are engaged and that the goal here is success in Iraq. Therefore, you start thinking not merely about -- and the more you start contemplating the consequences, the more compelling it is that we really do have to send the right message. And we're pleased that the Senate did that today.
Q But where is the room for agreement between the President and Congress with that message and the predominant Democratic message of "we've going to change the direction of this war"?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President actually has been changing the direction of the war for quite some time. You take a look at what has been going on, and we take a constant look at the facts on the ground. The most important thing to do is when you make changes, make sure they're based on the realities on the ground. When General Petraeus comes in, listen to what he has to say. It will be useful to figure out what the facts are.
When people are coming in to brief you, and they want to let you know what's going on, it's important to ascertain the facts, and then also, since you support the military, and everybody says they do, give them the funding and flexibility they need to respond to changing facts, whether it be new tactics employed by al Qaeda, new efforts among insurgents -- all of those things -- you have to have the ability to respond just like that so that you save lives and also you discourage bad behavior.
Q So is negotiation continuing on funding with benchmarks, is that the goal? And has any progress been made toward that?
MR. SNOW: Again, we are not going to categorize any of the particulars, but negotiations are ongoing and they do continue.
Q On foreign policy in Iraq, you talked this morning about the challenge of getting the neighbors to engage and support stabilization. And you said that despite these countries being Sunni-dominated and trying to get them to support a Shia-led government in Iraq, they all agree that Iran is the major threat. The problem with that, though, is that Iran is a Shia government, and so they're afraid --
MR. SNOW: But, again --
Q -- they're afraid of the Maliki government being a proxy for Iran. How much of a problem is --
MR. SNOW: Well, Prime Minister Maliki has made it clear that he is a proxy for the Iraqi people, not for another government, including the Iranians. The second thing is, take a look at what happened at Sharm el Sheikh, and you had Sunni governments making commitments to the total I think of -- well, I don't want to recite a figure off the top of my head, but it was a significant financial commitment to that government in Iraq. Yes, you have -- Prime Minister Maliki is a Shia, but you also have Sunni and Kurdish elements within the council of presidents, and you have all of those groups represented in the parliament, as well as within significant political blocks in the parliament. They're also all represented within the cabinet.
So I would push back a little bit against the narrative by simply directing you to take a look at what happened at Sharm el Sheikh, where, in fact, Sunni governments did step up in support of the government of Iraq. And we welcome that and we look at that as a basis for further progress.
Q Back on Lute. Why did it take so long, now into the fifth year of the war, to come up with somebody of his seniority and stature?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I think what happened is, again, as you're taking a review, it became clear to us that this -- as you develop -- as you move into a new phase of the war -- keep in mind, we are still in the process of deploying people in this new way forward, as the President called it, and therefore, it seems proper at a time like this also to task somebody with the job of keeping an eye on all the different players who are involved in it.
What we do have is a different set of policies governing what's going on in Iraq. It is something that is government-wide in its scope, and therefore, it is appropriate to have somebody coming in, in a new position, in support of a new philosophy and a new way forward in Iraq, not only to monitor progress, but to do everything possible to assist those on the ground to help them succeed.
Q So you think this is a new need and you did not need someone to do this for the previous four years?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to try -- I don't know. I don't have an answer for you. I'm telling you that's what he's here to do now.
Q After Prime Minister Blair leaves office, does President Bush believe that the United Kingdom contribution and involvement in Iraq will remain constant? Would he advise them not to reduce their presence in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Right now, what -- I'm not going to speculate on what happens. Tony Blair still has -- is going to remain an active Prime Minister, and what is going to be discussed between the President and Prime Minister are things before them right now. Certainly, the war on terror is going to be the central issue. In addition, they're going to be talking about the G8; they'll be talking about things like Darfur and the Middle East -- again, the issues that they constantly converse about. So what you're having tonight is a working dinner with the President and the Prime Minister.
As far as trying to do speculation about what lies ahead, I'm not going to do it. I will point out something I mentioned yesterday, is that Gordon Brown, one of the first things he did -- one thing he did recently is he made a point of coming here and talking to American national security officials, which is -- again, a British Prime Minister is going to do what he or she thinks is necessary and appropriate for defending British interests. And it is appropriate to let them make those judgements. I'm not going to do any speculations.
Q Well, if the United States forces are involved in a surge, would it matter whether the U.K. contingent decreased in size?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the British have already discussed what they've been doing down south, which is that they are retooling the way in which they do it -- in which they have their force structure. But on the other hand, there is still a firm commitment to maintain their presence there.
Q Tony, two questions. I know what you've been saying about Wolfowitz in the past, but it's gotten more serious overnight. Is the administration concerned at all that the World Bank loses further prestige, that it might lose money and influence while this continues to go on?
MR. SNOW: Again, what we've talked about is we don't think this personnel matter is a firing offense. We also think it's important that the World Bank build -- maintain its integrity as an institution, and they're going to have to have talks about how to achieve that going forward.
Q I have another question.
MR. SNOW: All right, yes.
Q Well, first, there's a follow-up. Don't you think that it has any effect at all on the World Bank?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to -- I really don't -- I don't even know how to answer it, because it's a notional question that is not something where I can think of a single metric that would be useful that will allow me to answer that question in a manner that I could defend.
Q I have another one. In view of your --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, let's hold it at three. Three will be your - three is your quota.
Q In view of your stunning success the other night at the battle of the bands --
MR. SNOW: Oh my goodness.
Q -- did you get a record contract? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, I did not. I got a lot of advice to keep my day job. (Laughter.)
Q Also on Wolfowitz, there are international reports that the U.S. was asking for more time to deliberate at the World Bank.
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not commenting on anything going on in terms of deliberations over at the World Bank. I'd have you call them.
Q Also, will the President be rallying for support with the U.K. when he speaks with Tony Blair?
MR. SNOW: Again, I've already laid out what I think is likely to be the topics of conversation. But I don't know -- the fact -- whenever you sit in on a meeting with those two guys, they talk about what's top of mind for them. And I'm not going to prejudge because they tend to be very wide-ranging conversations, free-wheeling, interesting. Unfortunately, none of the rest of us are going to be in the room tonight, so they're just going to have to have the interesting time all by themselves, but I'm sure they'll do just fine.
Q You don't expect global warming to come up? I mean, that's an issue --
MR. SNOW: It very well may. It very well may. The President -- look, a couple of things on global warming. Number one, let's make it clear about the U.S. commitment to climate change, which is unparalleled in the world in terms of financial resources, in terms of support for science, in terms of advocacy, in support for new technologies. And the President has made it clear that his view on this is, global warming exists; it has human contributions. And what we need to do is to figure a way forward that is going to enable economies around the world to grow, and at the same time, to pursue the laudable and necessary goals of cleaner air and a cleaner environment.
Therefore, you have the 20-in-10 program; therefore, you have the program to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 2.5 percent -- actually, by considerably more. We cut it by 2.5 percent in 2005 and we have a much better track record, frankly, than anybody else in the rest of the world. Furthermore, it's clear that Kyoto, as originally written, was not something that was economically sustainable. Very few countries actually met its goals.
So the question is how do you move forward toward these shared goals of reducing greenhouse emissions, creating the basis for widespread global prosperity, including in the developing world? And that means looking for technology -- clean coal, nuclear, biofuels and that sort of thing. So my guess is that they are going to have some conversations about it, but I can't pre-judge what they're going to be.
Q Tony, on the newly created Lute position, is the President adding a new layer of bureaucracy in an attempt to cut through the bureaucracy?
MR. SNOW: That's an interesting way of putting it. What he's doing, I think, is adding -- what he's doing is he's just creating an action officer who can actually deal with the people involved on the ground, to make sure that you've got the proper kind of information flow, you're getting the inputs you need to make the proper judgments about what's working and what's not -- if something is not working, you adjust, and if people need additional assistance in order to get their mission done properly, you try to provide it.
Q Tony, to coordinate and facilitate is great, but doesn't he also need some kind of power to jerk chains, light fires, to actually get things done among competing and sometimes jealous agency turf battles? Will the General be given any special powers? Or what will the administration do to facilitate his authority?
MR. SNOW: I think when you have somebody calling who is an Assistant to the President, dealing directly on -- first, let me step back. The members of the President's Cabinet are committed to the success of these things. Those certainly can serve as points of contact; they are the ones who are going to be responsible for making sure that their departments and agencies function properly. He's going to have the ability to communicate with them. And at the same time, you have to be respectful of chains of command and responsibility.
So I am not -- although there sometimes are turf wars and jealousies and that sort of thing anyplace in government, the real goal here is to understand that the people at the top all have the same not only goal, but responsibility, which is to figure out how to make these programs work, and he's going to be there to assist them.
Q Did the President watch the television thing with the Republicans last night?
MR. SNOW: I'm almost certain he did not, but I don't know.
Q This is the second time -- isn't he interested in Republican gatherings?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q He is. But why -- this is the second time in a row. A lot of other people watched it. Why didn't the President?
MR. SNOW: Do you watch every episode of "American Idol"? (Laughter.)
Q No, I do not. I never watch it. That's television, the junior electronic venue. (Laughter.)
Q This morning you said there were a lot of conversations going on regarding Wolfowitz.
MR. SNOW: Regarding what?
Q Wolfowitz. Are administration officials involved in those negotiations?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm just -- you're going to have to -- look, let me put it this way -- we do have a representative on the board of governors, it is the Treasury Secretary. But beyond that, I'm not going to get into anything that may be transpiring.
Q Are you denying, then, that the administration is negotiating some kind of a deal --
MR. SNOW: I'm not discussing it, yea or nay. What I'm saying is, number one, we support Paul Wolfowitz; and, number two, the issue of the day, which has to do with personnel, it is -- he's said he's made mistakes, but on the other hand, he, in good faith, made offers to try to recuse himself. He got what the World Bank itself admits is confusing guidance from people running the ethics, and therefore it is certainly a mistake, but it is not a firing offense. And we stay by that. We also stand by our support of Paul as the World Bank President.
Q If he wanted to resign would you --
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not -- the moment you start entertaining that, that becomes the headline, and I'm not going to --
Q What I'm saying is, do you think that your argument that those issues should be separated, the conflict of interest question and Wolfowitz's overall leadership of the Bank should be separated -- do you believe that that argument is gaining ground on the board of directors?
MR. SNOW: Again, I don't know. I'm not sitting in on that, and, frankly, I'm not -- as people have pointed out, there are meetings ongoing today, and I'm not inside the room and I'm not keeping close enough tabs to know precisely what people are talking about or where they stand on it.
Q On Falwell, I don't know if this was asked at all, but anybody from the White House going to go to the funeral when it's announced?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q Just one more thing. I think your original quote about Wolfowitz was, "We don't think it's a firing offense, but think that the Bank should maintain its integrity."
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q If there's some problem between those two, how do you resolve the Bank maintaining its integrity if the Bank --
MR. SNOW: Well, what I was really talking about as its integrity, is its ability to serve as a vehicle for helping provide prosperity for poor and developing nations. That is the mission of the World Bank. And when I talk about the integrity, I'm really talking about the integrity and effectiveness of the mission. Again, this is a case where we do not think that what is being discussed rises to the level of being a firing offense, nor should it be something that compromises the Bank's ability to do its central mission.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thanks.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT