|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 9, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
12:51 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, good afternoon. Questions.
Q Thanks. This morning when you were talking about the idea of a debate on Iraq, you said that there's no debate right now about withdrawal right now. The question isn't withdrawal right now. The question is withdrawal over a period of time, by sometime next year. So can you answer that question, whether there's a debate about that?
MR. SNOW: Well, what's interesting is there seems to be a failure to recognize that the President has talked for quite a while about trying to have a surge so that we can bring forces home. And I want to read through a series of quotes that I think makes the case that the story we're talking about is not, in fact, about any kind of generally new deliberations, but the kind of things the President has been talking about really since the advent of Baker-Hamilton.
Here we are on January 10th: "If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home." This is a point the President has made, and some of you have heard him make these comments in off-the-record meetings with reporters, as well.
April 2007: "Embedding the troops, training the troops, over-the-horizon presence" -- this is when he was talking about where we want to be -- "in other words, if there's a problem, be in a position where you can come in and help." The President: "Chasing down al Qaeda and extremists, particularly those from other foreign countries, helping the territorial integrity of Iraq, that's something I'm for. And it would require less troops over time to be in that position. However, I didn't think we could get to Baker-Hamilton because of the impending chaos inside Baghdad." Thus saying there's the desire to get toward Baker-Hamilton, but first you have to address conditions of violence within Baghdad.
May of this year: "I've talked about the idea of having a different force posture that would enable us to be there to help the Iraqis in a variety of ways, protect the border, chase down al Qaeda, embed and train the troops, provide security, psychological security of helping this new government." Again, lower troop levels.
And finally, just the other day, on July 4th: "We all long for the day when there are far fewer American servicemen and women in Iraq, that a time will come when Iraq has a stable, self-sustaining government that is an ally against these extremists and killers. That time will come when the Iraqi people will not need the help of 159,000 American troops in their country. Yet withdrawing our troops prematurely based on politics, not on the advice and recommendation of our military commanders, would not be in our national interest. It would hand the enemy a victory and put America's security at risk, and that's something we're not going to do.
Short answer: We want to get to the situation, we want to get to a condition where the Iraqis do, in fact, have the freedom of space and the security necessary to go ahead and put together the building blocks for a civil society. That not only includes security in the streets, but it also means other things: economic development; it means a rule of law that could be administered fairly through the army, the military services and the courts; it means having electricity and water -- all of those things, the building blocks of a civil society. And that's the way the President's been expressing it from the start.
Q Well, clearly, that's true, and we've all heard him say those things. We've heard you say those things, we've heard other administration officials say those same things. But that isn't the question, because that's talking about an eventual goal, which nobody is arguing with. The question is a simple one: Is there debate now about time to speed up the timetable by which you bring combat troops out of Iraq?
MR. SNOW: There's no timetable. I think -- again, let's --
Q That's not what I asked. I asked, is there a debate about how to --
MR. SNOW: No, you just said -- you just asked speeding up a timetable.
Q I didn't ask, is there one? I said, is there a debate about setting one?
MR. SNOW: Oh, is there a debate about setting one? No, right now, what the discussion in the White House is, let's go ahead and proceed with what Congress, itself, decided to do just two months ago. Two months ago, Congress said, ok, we're going to do the way forward -- we will adopt the way forward, having given General Petraeus an 81-to-nothing vote in the United States Senate. And they said, but we want some reporting here. We want to get a starting point glimpse of this on July 15th, and on the 15th of September, we want recommendations from the generals about how they want to proceed after that.
In other words, it's the same sort of approach the President has always taken, which is, let's ascertain the facts on the ground, let's see what the commanders think is going to be most successful and effective.
What we're going to get in the next week is a series of reports on benchmarks, on a number of benchmarks that had been agreed by members of Congress and also laid down by this administration about how to judge where things stand -- some probably satisfactory, some probably unsatisfactory.
We certainly will find out, we'll be able to read them out. But that gives you a glimpse of where, at the very earliest stages of not only a surge, but an operational surge, where all the forces are in and they're now having an opportunity to work with their Iraqi counterparts, you now have the beginning part and you'll be able to look in two months at how you proceeded on those benchmarks, and also whether generals are going to be in a position to say, we did this right, we did this wrong, this is where we need to go next.
Q But various Republicans have said the President can't wait until September, and they're saying you need to go faster. So, putting aside the timetable, is there a debate for, right now, going on inside the White House for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, as The New York Times said? A gradual --
MR. SNOW: No. No, there's no -- again, ultimately, the President wants to withdraw troops based on the facts on the ground, not on the matter of politics. And I would refer you to the last quote I just read to you, which was from last week.
Furthermore, I know -- there's a convenient shorthand, but I think the position that Senator Lugar and others had was a little more subtle than that. The one thing that they didn't want to talk about was simply withdraw for withdrawal sake. They understand that there is real political pressure here in the country, and they also understand that there's an importance for having demonstrated political success and effort within Iraq.
I think what we have here is, ironically, a pretty shared vision of where we want to go. Jennifer's first answer -- first response to my answer was, well, everybody agrees with that. I think there is general agreement about the end state here. So the question is, how do you get to the point where you can achieve those goals. And I actually think that if you've looked at the statements of Senator Lugar and others, you're going to find that they largely track with the quotes I just read to you from --
Q You said that this morning, as well. Senator Lugar said, "The prospects that the current surge strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited."
MR. SNOW: By September. He also talked about having it done by September. And the fact is we don't think that everything is going to be accomplished by September, and we've never said that. What Senator Lugar, I think, also is concerned about, as you read further into what he says, is that he does not want a situation where we withdraw hastily, we create a vacuum, and therefore we have a longer-term and much more dangerous security environment for the United States.
Q He said most U.S. troops can be pulled out by the middle of 2008, specifically. Do you agree with that?
MR. SNOW: We'll see. I mean, I'm not a general, I'm not going to try to play one.
Q He also said, "Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interest." Do you agree with that? Does that really show --
MR. SNOW: I think it's tied up with our vital national security interest. But I'm not going to -- again, I'm not going to get into a fight with --
Q But how can you say, as you did this morning, you're saying again that Republicans like Lugar are not necessarily opposing the White House when they're saying "our force in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interest" -- how does that agree with what you're saying?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what you've done is -- we went through this last week, where you take one sentence, I'd cite another sentence -- I didn't bring the whole speech with me this time.
Q Well, he's got a speech -- it's 45 minutes. Is there a line in his speech that agrees with your policy?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think there -- the whole series of lines in there. Again, ask yourself what Dick Lugar wants to see. What he wants to see is an effective and integrated diplomatic effort within the region, which this administration has been trying to work through and has been working through. What he wants is more political progress on the ground with the Iraqis. What he wants is better training and capability on the part of the Iraqis. He wants al Qaeda to lose. He wants the Iraqi people to win. I think there are substantial areas of agreement here.
Q Sure, but he's saying that the course you're taking is not succeeding in those endeavors, so --
MR. SNOW: No, he's -- again, we have just started the course. The course has just begun.
Q He is saying time is running out. But he's not a Democrat, he's a Republican, a very senior one saying --
MR. SNOW: I understand that --
Q -- time is running out.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, Ed.
Q But is the White House in denial about that, then?
MR. SNOW: No, the White House is not in denial about the fact, but I think you're in denial about the fact that in the overall contours, there's just not that much disagreement. If you want disagreement, you compare what he's saying with what Harry Reid is saying. If you want a disagreement, you take a look at what Dick Lugar has been saying and what Democratic leaders have been saying, by and large.
What Dick Lugar is trying to do -- and I think this is a sensible thing -- is to try to lower the temperature and find a way where you can get some bipartisan conversations, because in many cases, people have dug in their heels, saying, the President is for it, we're going to be against it. And he understands that if you try to look at this through strictly a political lens, you run a very high risk of ignoring the fact that our national security really is under assault by the forces of terror, and it's important to succeed in Iraq because, as I pointed out this morning, what begins in Iraq, whether it is a Democratic renaissance or a victory in the war on terror, does not end there. And what we want to make sure is that the seed that gets planted is the seed of democracy and not the one of terror and tyranny.
Q I need to correct the record, Tony, because you quoted me and you quoted me incorrectly.
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry.
Q You said that I said everyone agrees with what the President said. I didn't say that.
MR. SNOW: No, no, I didn't say that. You said everybody agrees with those benchmarks. I did not have --
Q I didn't even say that.
MR. SNOW: You didn't?
Q What I said is that everyone agrees what the President said, not that they agree with him.
MR. SNOW: Oh, I'm sorry. Okay. Well, I stand corrected.
Q Tony, back to the debate again within the White House, are you saying it hasn't even accelerated? Given what people like Senator Lugar are saying -- and they're saying September is too far away, you need to assess this now -- is there no debate in the White House about pulling troops back or drawing down now, for any reason -- political, or whatever?
MR. SNOW: No, the conversation is always about what do you do to succeed in Iraq. Again, it seems -- Martha --
Q I understand that. Tony, nobody is debating -- Secretary Gates is not offering suggestions, other people are not offering suggestions about how you draw down short of this all-out victory?
MR. SNOW: Let me -- no, it's not even an all-out victory. What the President said all along is, of course, we're going to draw down, but you have to draw down when it makes sense to do so. And furthermore, what he said is, everybody, take a look first at what's going on.
Here we have people trying to read into -- I mean, you sent me an email talking about reaction to a report that hasn't even been released yet --
Q No, I didn't. I sent you an email -- if you want to talk about our email exchanges -- I sent you an email talking about the mounting criticism on the Hill.
MR. SNOW: I think you said, the mounting reaction to the report, which has not yet been released.
Q No, I did not. I said that -- well, we'll go back and check --
MR. SNOW: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q But what I also asked about is how the White House is reacting to that --
MR. SNOW: What the White House is doing is, once again, saying to members of Congress, two months ago you put together a piece of legislation; you said, give us a snapshot at the beginning. We're awaiting the snapshot. The snapshot will become available; let's see where we stand. Then as a practical matter, you ask yourself, how are the efforts succeeding, or are there places where they are not succeeding? At this point, it would be irresponsible to say we're going to leave before we know what the results are.
Q Tony, you've been saying that for a long time. What we're saying is --
MR. SNOW: We're being consistent.
Q -- you're being consistent, but let me go back to this -- are you in denial? I mean --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q -- surely, you know what's going on there, whether there's a snapshot this week or not a snapshot this week. You have a pretty good idea what's going on --
MR. SNOW: Let me just refer back to what has appeared in many of your networks and newspapers, which is that there seems to be indications that certain parts of the surge, in fact, are working and in important ways, and that there are certain things that still have not been accomplished. So your question is, at the very beginning you seem to have some signs that lead to encouragement -- and it's interesting, people say, well, okay, we've heard that, that's old news. It's not old news.
A year ago Anbar had been written off, and as a matter of fact, many news organizations were running news stories saying, it has been a disaster, write it off, it's gone. Now it's precisely the opposite narrative.
What you have to have in a time of war is the honesty to assess the situation on the ground. You have to have the flexibility and the ingenuity to try to respond so that you're more effective, and that continues to be the case, with General Petraeus and everybody else involved.
Q Tony, I'll just say that on Anbar, the President mentioned the success in Anbar before the surge even started -- in his January speech, he talked about some of the successes in Anbar.
MR. SNOW: I know.
Q But can you please address the question of whether there is more intense debate right now, because not only what Republican senators are saying, but also because the American people are saying it?
MR. SNOW: Are you asking -- let me put it this way. If you're talking about more intense debate in reaction to poll numbers -- no.
Q Okay, then not in reaction to poll numbers. Is there more intense debate because it's clear September may be too far away?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. I think, again, Congress, itself, has laid this out. We're playing right now according to the script Congress laid out. And I think maybe the most sensible thing --
Q Senator Lugar is saying September was too late.
MR. SNOW: Well, let's see what Senator Lugar says when he's had an opportunity to look at a report that will be out within the next week.
Q He's already said it, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Well, he hasn't seen the report.
Q Can you just -- a few back-and-forths ago you started to say something -- "there is general agreement about" -- and I don't know --
MR. SNOW: Yes, okay, general agreement about where we want to be, which is, again, you want the Iraqis in the lead position, you want to make sure you have a rule of law, you want the sectarianism down, you want political accommodation up. I mean, all of those basic things everybody agrees are what you want to have. And there are a number of efforts that are being undertaken by the American and the Iraqi governments and coalition forces to try to achieve those aims.
The surge is not merely a security operation; it's an economic operation, it's a diplomatic operation, it is a legal operation in terms of trying to build up the kind of rule of law that's necessary to build up confidence in the Iraqi government. And all those things are ongoing right now. And so when you get a report, it's not merely going to be measuring what troops are doing, but also what provisional reconstruction teams are doing, and what civilians are doing, and what our allies are doing, and so on.
Q There are lots of reports out there, though, that right now the White House is engaged in a debate over what conditions, short of victory, must exist to begin pulling out troops.
MR. SNOW: Again, that's just not an accurate report.
Q Hold on, let me follow, because out of the Pentagon today people -- there are commanders saying "decisions are going to have to be made before September, given the way Republicans are bailing." That's a direct quote. What's your reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: Our reaction is we are continuing to be committed to letting the surge work and let people draw -- you know, you're asking me to respond to a blind political quote from a Pentagon employee.
Q No, I'm asking you to respond to a growing feeling that there's a question, at least, being raised that I think people want a very straight answer to: Either the administration is engaged in intensifying discussions about reducing the number of troops, or it's not.
MR. SNOW: There is no intensifying discussion about reducing troops. What there is, is a -- again, you are talking about a surge that literally just got completed, in terms of troop complements, two weeks ago. And so the idea --
Q And all you -- asked Republicans to wait to give that a chance. And there's an ever-increasing number of Republicans who aren't waiting.
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that's an accurate rendition of what they're saying. Again, if you take a look at the comments, there is anxiety about the political atmosphere, which has been reflected in your questioning, but on the other hand, there is also a recognition that you've got to succeed in Iraq. And I don't think it's inconsistent -- again, the President has been talking about getting to different configurations, exactly what Senator Lugar said. He wants to do it as quickly as possible. That's one of the reasons why you have the surge.
The surge is not an open-ended commitment that says -- it's not an occupation, it's a surge. It's designed to create space so that we can achieve as swiftly as possible some of those basic necessities for the Iraqi people to be able to step up and stand in the lead. And then at that point, the Americans step back into less visible, more support positions, which was recommended by Baker-Hamilton. As a matter of fact, the surge is part of Baker-Hamilton, for heaven's sake.
Q Tony, the surge is for the Iraqi government to make progress, as well. How can you say --
MR. SNOW: Yes, that's exactly right.
Q -- I mean, that's pretty obvious in the July report, that they haven't.
MR. SNOW: You've seen it?
Q No, Tony, I've seen what's happening over there, though.
MR. SNOW: Look, in political --
Q And if they had something to report, that would be pretty stunning.
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure everybody is going to get an "A" on the first report. But it is also pretty clear that it is going to be essential to have political progress in Iraq. We're certainly not going to deny that.
Q Tony, you said earlier that we don't expect -- we don't think everything is going to be accomplished by September; yet you repeatedly said that the President wants to move toward the goals articulated by Baker-Hamilton of an eventual drawdown of troops. So, based on what he knows now, with the information that's been submitted to him by Petraeus and Crocker, does the President have a time frame in his mind, or does he simply have no idea when this elusive date of withdrawal might begin?
MR. SNOW: If you want to understand the way Congress put this together, number one is, the report we're going to get this week is a snapshot: here's where we are.
Q And he --
MR. SNOW: Let me complete the thought.
Q -- he knows what progress has been made so far. Is he convinced in his own mind --
MR. SNOW: Let me try to answer, and then you can come back at me. The first is a snapshot at the beginning stage. Again, some of the forces in the surge have just now become operational, in the last two weeks. It is premature to try to draw any broad-based conclusions on what they've done so far. However, by September, you not only will be able to put together a time line about what various folks in various operations within the surge have been able to achieve, you will also have a recommendation, again by Congress, for Ambassador Crocker and for General Petraeus to be making recommendations. That's how this works. This is not some expectation that everything is fine and dandy and finished, but instead a recommendation about what you do next. And that is how it was set up at the beginning, and that's the way it proceeds.
Q When he speaks this week on this issue, he is not going to say anything about, I envision us pulling back at point X in the future, he is simply going to ask, as he has asked repeatedly --
MR. SNOW: The President?
Q -- for Republicans to wait until September? That's his stance?
MR. SNOW: No, the President is not asking anybody to wait for anything. What the President is trying to do is to acknowledge the reality, which is to set a timetable at this juncture, without even having had a full chance to evaluate what we're doing, is an exercise in political rhetoric. It is not one in, in fact, responding to the strategic realities on the ground. He's got an obligation --
Q So he is not going to lay out a timetable this week?
MR. SNOW: Don't expect -- you won't have to go out and buy new watches this week or set your calendars. There will be no red squares on the calendar at the end of this week. But I'll tell you what we do hope is that the surge, in fact, will achieve its results as quickly as possible, so we can get to a point where we draw down American forces, and we can get to a point where they recede into different kinds of roles than they've been
fulfilling in recent months.
Q What does the President say to Republicans like Senator Lugar, who say we can't wait? What is his response to that?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm just not sure Senator Lugar is saying we can't wait. What he's saying is, he's concerned about the political atmosphere in this country, and he's trying to make sure that we don't rip ourselves apart politically short of achieving the goals. If you look at what Senator Lugar has said about the surge so far, he says it's working. His comments indicate that he thinks it's working.
What he's a little concerned about is the political atmosphere in this country, whether we can hold it together long enough to go ahead and give the surge an opportunity to demonstrate what the men and women of our military, what the men and women who are contractors, men and women working for the State Department and other departments and agencies of the federal government, whether they're going to have an opportunity to demonstrate what their efforts have yielded in the last couple months.
Q Tony, following on that, you said this morning that Zawahiri wants to establish Congress as a battlefield for this war. Is there evidence that he is succeeding? And when people like Lugar and Domenici raise their questions, are they --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. But it's clear that it has always been part of al Qaeda's M.O. that they want to wage a propaganda war. I don't think anything Ayman al Zawahiri is going to do is going to be changing Dick Lugar or any of the others. But it is still clear that what they are trying to do -- the real intended target is American public opinion, to try to figure out if there are ways to weaken American public opinion, to make it more difficult to wage the war. That's nothing new on their part. You go back to October 16th, I believe it was, 2001, when we first started getting the tapes from bin Laden. There's a constant attempt to use these vehicles as ways of trying to wage propaganda against the United States.
Q And there's evidence that it's succeeding, isn't it? The poll numbers?
MR. SNOW: No, I think the poll numbers indicate that war, as I've said many times, is a dreadful thing; people don't want to be in it, the President doesn't want to be in it, but on the other hand, the alternative is far worse. If you have a hollowed-out Iraq that serves as a focal point for a new terrorist organization, you're going to see ripples of terror emanating out of Iraq that will spread past Iran, that will get to Pakistan, that will make their ways to Micronesia, that could jeopardize the oil states, could get across Northern Africa. That's the way it works. That's why you've got two alternatives: What are you going to plant, the seed of democracy, or the seed of terror?
Q Tony, following on Ken's question, you quoted Zawahiri this morning as saying it would be a glorious victory if --
MR. SNOW: If the United --
Q -- if you guys -- what, if you leave early?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q So, when you cite it, though, in that context, it's as if you're giving him credibility and credence to his words.
MR. SNOW: No, I think what I'm trying to say is, don't give credence to his words; make sure he can't; make him eat his words.
Q You're using it as justification as to why you should stay. Isn't there a way --
MR. SNOW: No, the justification for why we should stay is it's the right thing to do.
Q Well, can't the U.S. begin withdrawal, and say -- and shape public opinion that this is not a defeat --
MR. SNOW: No, withdrawal in the absence of a strategic advantage on the ground is an empty gesture. If you withdraw to appease public opinion, and the situation gets worse on the ground, what do you have? You have worse public opinion, and you have a higher requirement either to get forces back into the field at a higher cost, and a higher cost to public morale, or you walk away and you create what everybody agrees is an intolerable security situation. Baker Hamilton agreed with that. The National Intelligence Estimate said the same thing. So, no, you do not withdraw troops as a gesture. You withdraw them in response to military necessity.
Q Tony, Iraqi leaders -- having read today's New York Times -- are saying that they do not want an early U.S. withdrawal because that would lead to all-out civil war. Isn't that the kind of leverage that the administration could use to establish not soft, undated benchmarks, but actual deadlines for actually achieving these not-yet-achieved benchmarks, with consequences?
MR. SNOW: You talk about from the Iraqis? Are you talking about the Iraqis?
Q The Iraqi government. If you believe in the al Maliki government --
MR. SNOW: It's a hard one for me to answer because really, what Foreign Minister Rubai was saying is, if you create a vacuum, you're going to reap the whirlwind; that's what he was saying. And I'm familiar with the argument. The presumption is that the Iraqis are not also serious, themselves, about trying to get this done. I think they are. It's highly complicated. You've got a lot of complex considerations. It also bears on Martha's point earlier.
Americans want to see some political progress in Iraq. They understand what the pressures are. They hear about it all the time, I guarantee you. So it's not something of which they are blithely unfamiliar. I think they're trying hard at it and they need to keep working the issues. But it is not obvious that simply by leaving and creating a vacuum would create greater confidence and stepping forward. On the contrary, what it may lead to -- and this is something that many in the region have warned about -- is people just dividing up and taking sides and creating an even more unstable area, some siding up with the Sunni nations, some siding up with the Shia, some trying to cut their own deals.
It's not necessarily the case that by trying to back out "to teach a lesson" that you would do that. What you would do is undermine an ally at precisely the point where you're starting to see some progress in going after al Qaeda, you're starting to see some progress going after Jaish al Mahdi, using the Iraqi people themselves, the very things that we've been talking about on the security front -- and creating the image or strengthening the perception that bin Laden has been trying got push around for years, that the United States is the weak horse, we cannot stand through the fight and, therefore, you cannot rely on the United States for security commitments. For that to take hold would be devastating to this country in the long run.
Q Isn't there a need to set deadlines with consequences that would focus the minds of the Iraqi government?
MR. SNOW: Again, we've been through this. We've made our position clear.
Q Can I switch to something else?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's --
Q Can I just ask, when you are talking about going after al Qaeda, why, then, did the U.S. not go after bin Laden in 2005, when it appears you had actionable intelligence about a meeting involving al-Zawahiri, bin Laden, other leaders, you stopped --
MR. SNOW: -- the report, and you know we can't talk about classified operations.
Q John Conyers is writing a letter to the White House seeking White House testimony on the Libby pardons.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q What is the White House response to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what's interesting about the letter is two admissions within the letter itself. One is, I recognize the clemency powers of presidential prerogative. And the second is, that he calls to waive executive privilege, seeming to imply that you've got executive privilege, as well.
So we received the letter just a couple minutes before we came over here. The Office of Legal Counsel has not had a full opportunity to review it, but those two things did come jumping out. They seem to concede what we think are the principal elements, which is that the President does have a clemency power and he also has executive privilege that covers the conversations and the deliberations that go behind communications with the President.
Q So you're not likely to provide any --
MR. SNOW: Again, I won't speak on behalf of Fred or give an official communication.
Q A follow-up question, if I could, Tony, on Fred's letter -- took issue with the request that the White House provide an extensive description of every document covered by an assertion of executive privilege, calling that unreasonable. Why is that?
MR. SNOW: Right. Well, among other things, if you take a look at it, simply the -- let me just go back to it -- first, aware of no authority by which a congressional committee may direct the executive to undertake the task of creating and providing an extensive description of every document covered by an assertion of executive privilege.
So, first you have a legal question, whether, in fact, there is any legal writ for doing this from a congressional committee. It also says, given that the descriptions of the material in question already had been provided -- these people have the information necessary -- this demand is unreasonable because it represents a substantial incursion into presidential prerogatives, and because, in view of the open-ended scope of the committee's inquiries, it would impose a burden of very significant proportion.
So, the reasons are listed pretty clearly in the letter.
Q On the face of it, it would seem logical that the White House defend its assertion of executive privilege on every document for which it claims such privilege.
MR. SNOW: Well, there are some for which -- well, yes, for which it claims a privilege, that is correct.
Q So, and then --
MR. SNOW: Documents for which you don't claim privilege, they have access.
Q It would seem that Fielding is saying that you shouldn't have to describe -- you shouldn't have to detail precisely why you were claiming executive privilege for every document of which you claimed.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's correct, because among other things, they already have the basic information they need, and what they're trying to do there is to solicit information about the deliberations. If you're asking, why you decided to assert privilege, what you're also asking for is the nature of the very deliberations that themselves are privileged.
Q Okay. Let me ask another question, which is, why you conclude that the committee has already decided to issue subpoenas, whether or not it gets the documents?
MR. SNOW: Well, that was something that Senator Leahy had referred to. When you had it -- if you look at the third from the final paragraph there, he is quoting from the letter from Senator Leahy, himself. "Your letter states that your committees" -- I'm sorry, from Senator Leahy and Representatives Conyers -- "will take the necessary steps to rule on the President's privilege claims and appropriately enforce our subpoenas, and that the committees will enforce the subpoenas 'whether or not they have the benefit of the information,' only one conclusion is evident: The committees have already prejudged the question, regardless of the production of any privilege log. In such circumstances, we will not be undertaking such a project, even as a further accommodation."
Q Congressman Conyers says it is Congress and the courts that will decide whether the implication of executive privilege is valid, not the White House, unilaterally. Do you disagree with that?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to try to -- ultimately, if he thinks it's going to be resolved by -- what he's trying to make is a factual determination of whether Congress, either through contempt, or courts trying to render a verdict on it, will have the ultimate say. I'm not going to try to do anything more than -- he's given you some of the three options for resolving it. I would offer option four, which is accommodation, which we have been trying to do from the very beginning in terms of making available people for extensive interviewing and documents -- more than 8,500 pages of documents, we've pointed out, have been produced -- and we have also offered for extensive interviews of the key players people want to hear from. So the question is, do you want the information?
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. USA Today headline: New Gallup data shows confidence in Congress at all-time low, juts 14 percent of Americans. My question: Since 14 percent is so much lower than the polls reported public confidence in the President, doesn't this suggest that the new Democratic congressional majority, after a half a year in power, have earned this all-time low rating?
MR. SNOW: Well, I won't try to read too much into polls, other than to note that this Congress certainly is under performed by the standards that it set for itself upon taking office. But on the other hand, it's just my sense that there is a political atmosphere in this town where people are seeing if Democrats and Republicans -- you guys have got to do better; you've got to get your work done, and that the politics quite often seems more personal than substantive. And I think that does rub a lot of people the wrong way.
Q As both The Washington Post and The Washington Times reported the arrest and jailing on charges of speeding 100 miles an hour, with possession of marijuana, plus four other un-prescribed drugs as a third-time arrest -- does the White House believe that anything Scooter Libby was charged with doing was as dangerous to the public as this?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into that case. I know who you're talking about.
Q At the White House Conference on the Americas this morning, President Bush said that -- he called on Latin American governments to be open and transparent. How does he square that with the White House letter this morning to Chairmen Leahy and Conyers? Because that's not really being open and transparent.
MR. SNOW: Sure, it is. The assertion of executive privilege, when you're talking about open and transparent, is to make sure, for instance, that you know how financial laws work, or how your government works. There has always been in the United States a certain area of secrecy. By the way, it also applies to members of Congress, because members of Congress are not open and transparent about the confidential information or guidance that they get from their aides, or for that matter, quite often the confidential help, support, whatever they may get from outside lobbying organizations that have a great deal of interest and business before the Congress.
So the point of fact is that if you want to call that not being open and transparent, there does have to be, for politicians who have very difficult jobs, the ability to get honest counsel from people who are working for them. That's all this is about. This is not about trying to throw a big smoke cloud over how the government works.
Q Let me come back once again to -- and you referred to it earlier -- the whole question of making people available and the grounds on which you will make them available -- the example of Karl Rove and the whole question of whether they're going to be sworn, whether there are going to be transcripts on which we go round and round and round -- that goes back to open and transparent.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, because if you have somebody who is under legal punishment for not telling the truth, they can stand before members of Congress and answer any question that's posed to them, that's a pretty good way of having transparency. What we're trying to do is to maintain a certain level of -- well, let me just put it -- I'll leave it at that. But the fact is that the administration has made available the information. That's not a lack of transparency. What it is, is the lack of a show trial.
Q Sorry, I didn't email you on this. There's an interesting story in The Washington Post about tunnels in Iran near their nuclear sites. Does the administration have any confirmation on this and do you have --
MR. SNOW: No, don't have anything to say about it.
Q Tony, two questions. One, as far as terrorism is concerned, there have been, last week and this week, a number of spiritual leaders from India speaking in Washington, including Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sant Rajinder Singh and also hugging Amma. What they're saying, really, all one message, all of them, that the problem as far as terrorism is concerned is education, that we have to educate better in the United States or the world government must educate those people in countries where the terrorism comes from. What I'm asking you is that we are spending millions of dollars, or hundreds of million dollars on education in a number of countries. Is this working?
MR. SNOW: Look, I think there are many different -- terrorism is something that springs from any number of sources. The most frightening one is just blind hatred. Whether that is something that is a residue of education or lack of education, I'm not smart enough to lay out for you.
The point is that we ought to be doing everything we can to create conditions of freedom that will deny people the despair that is quite often the most useful emotion in recruiting people to lives of terror. And the other thing we need to do is to educate the public about what's going on and how we can play a role in fighting it, and also producing the conditions of freedom globally that are going to offer some hope to people.
Q And second --
Q Can I follow on the Iranian story?
MR. SNOW: No, because I don't have anything to tell you about the Iranian --
Q Can you look into it, please? It's very, very important.
MR. SNOW: I know it is. But it's also asking me to get into intel matters.
Q I have two quick ones for you. One is, did you get a chance to look a bit more into the Turkish-Iraqi tensions and whether you can talk about the possibility of a Turkish incursion in --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to speculate about that.
Q Is there any U.S. outreach to try to calm things down there?
MR. SNOW: At this point, again, we've made our point clear, which is that we certainly share concerns about PKK terrorism, but also we believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Q And in terms of the various benchmarks and schedules, this surge began with a plan to turn over security to the Iraqis by November. Are we still on track to do that?
MR. SNOW: You mean on all the provinces? We'll have to take a look at what they have. I don't think we're probably going to get there, but I'm not sure. I haven't seen the report. Again, November is -- if you're going to look for a November guess, I'd probably wait for the September report, rather than the July.
Q Tony, I know you talked about -- this morning about the possibility of a speech on Iraq. You told us one was not happening.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I wouldn't expect a speech on Iraq this week.
Q Because Senator Warner, who just met with General Lute and Hadley, seemed to indicate that one was in the works.
MR. SNOW: Well, the President is going to be speaking out about it, but it doesn't mean it's necessarily going to be in a speech.
Q Will he speak about it in the press room on Wednesday?
MR. SNOW: You know what? That's for us to know and you to find out.
Q But we'll be here. (Laughter.)
Q Will it be a new strategy, or anything like that?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. Don't expect us to lift a veil and have a whole different strategy. We're not going to have a strategy jumping out of the cake.
Q So what would Senator Warner and General Lute be talking about in terms of -- the President talks about the war all the time. What would be new this week?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- number one, you're getting back into internal deliberations. And, number two, the fact is we have conversations all the time with interested members of Congress about this stuff.
Q Tony, if Senator Warner is suggesting, other Republicans keep their powder dry until the President addresses the nation, that would --
MR. SNOW: If you want to get Senator Warner's take on it, you need to ask Senator Warner. I am certainly not going to speak on his behalf.
Q No, that is his take. He's saying we should wait until the President addresses the nation. Is the President planning on any kind of address?
MR. SNOW: Again, are you talking about an address this week? No.
Q Next week? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: We're not planning a address at this juncture, but I'm not going to rule one out, for heaven's sake. I mean, the fact is, the President talks about it all the time. He gave an address on it on July 4th. So we constantly talk about this.
Q A formal address to the nation?
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. Again, I'm just not having -- you're jumping me with a piece -- I saw Senator Warner when he was in the building earlier; I have had no opportunity to speak with him about it. So you're catching me a little bit short with something abut which I don't know any details and, frankly, don't know fully what his thinking is.
Q Tony, when he speaks -- and you said he would speak -- would that be in response to the report? Is it something about the report?
MR. SNOW: We'll let you know.
Q Thank you.
END 1:29 P.M. EDT