For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:43 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. As you know, we have the Easter Egg Roll going on, on the South Lawn at the moment. And then this morning I told you President Bush met with his National Security Council, including General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, who beamed in from Baghdad, regarding Iraq and their upcoming testimony in the way forward. He will be getting additional briefings on Wednesday, at the Pentagon, from the Joint Chiefs and Secretary Gates, among others. And that is all in the lead up to April 8th and 9th, when Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will provide Congress an update on Iraq.
Q Can you give us any kind of readout from what he heard from Petraeus and Crocker today, any kind of update on the war?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't have anything that I can provide you. Obviously it was a classified briefing. It was a meeting in which the President could hear frankly from them -- from a variety of people, including Admiral Fallon, who was there, from CENTCOM, as he has been in the past. So I don't have anything in detail I could provide you. And the President will get additional briefings from the Defense Department and then we'll work our way towards the President being able to make public whatever he thinks is the next step, but that won't be until after the testimony.
Q When, do you have a date?
MS. PERINO: Not yet. But it will be soon after.
Q The 4,000 U.S. deaths in Iraq -- does the President regard that as a significant milestone? What's it mean to him?
MS. PERINO: President Bush thinks that every single loss is tragic, from the very first several years ago to the ones that sacrificed yesterday. And he's extremely proud of the courageous men and women in uniform and all that they've done to help protect Iraqis, to protect each other and to protect this country.
Most of the families of the fallen that he meets with have one request of the President, which is: Do not let my loved one's sacrifice be in vain. And the President assures them that he is committed to staying and fighting and winning. And one of the reasons he's taking such careful deliberation over the next few weeks as we lead up to the April time frame is because he wants to make sure that the gains that we have secured over this past year are cemented and that we lay the foundation for Iraq to have a democracy where they can govern, sustain and defend itself right there in the Middle East.
The enemy we face is brutal. They have killed thousands of people around the world, innocent men, women and children. And they have killed our soldiers as well. And the President believes that taking the fight to the enemy is the best way to combat them for our own national security. But he definitely feels the loss. He gets a report about every single soldier who passes away, and he always pauses a moment to think about them and to offer a prayer for their loved ones and their family and friends.
Q Aren't there also families of the bereaved who ask him to stop the war?
MS. PERINO: There have been, but the vast majority have all asked him not to allow that sacrifice to be in vain. But certainly there are some.
Q The "vast majority"? Can you say that with certainty?
MS. PERINO: Well, he has said that repeatedly, and that is true for the I think almost nearly a thousand families of the fallen that he's met with.
Q Does he take responsibility for a war he started without provocation that led to 4,000 deaths and 30,000 dramatically injured for life?
MS. PERINO: Helen, as you know, as he said many times, he was the one responsible for making the decision to go to war. He didn't make it lightly. And as Commander-in-Chief, the hardest thing that you do and that he's done, and that any Commander-in-Chief before him and those in the future, the hardest thing that they will do is decide to commit our men and women to harm's way.
Q Did he foresee this kind of catastrophe?
MS. PERINO: I think that he knew that the war was going to require sacrifices and that --
Q By who?
MS. PERINO: Well, of course by our soldiers.
Q There's nobody in his family or this administration in this war.
MS. PERINO: Helen, these are all questions we have dealt with before. I've given you an answer in the President's reaction to the 4,000 and I'm going to move on.
Q Dana, has the President reached out to any of the candidates for the presidency to ask them to withhold their view -- recently in the past few months -- on pulling troops out?
MS. PERINO: No, not that I'm aware of. I think that the President has made public statements about his feelings, and we live in America, so they can do the same.
Q Yes. Dana, apparently the New York Fed just signed off on a deal quadrupling the offer that JPMorgan was making for Bear Stearns, from $2 to $10 a share. And critics are saying the offer, this higher offer, throws cold water on the administration's explanation last week that at $2 a share the government was hardly backing a Wall Street bailout, while letting American homeowners suffer their own fate. They say that this new deal, on top of the $29 billion guarantee that taxpayers are already committed to shows Washington cares more about Wall Street fat cats than American homeowners.
MS. PERINO: I think that you should go back to your experts and make sure that they understand what they're talking about, because this is a deal between Bear Stearns and JPMorgan; the Fed is involved. But this is regards to the Bear Stearns price that JPMorgan is going to pay. The taxpayers aren't bearing any brunt of that price. And part of the Fed's commitment to the country, and their mission, is to make sure that the taxpayers are protected, and that is particularly true in this regard, as well.
Q When the President met with General Petraeus in Kuwait, the President said at the time, if you want to suggest a pause in withdrawals, I'd be glad to consider that. Does this represent a change? Had the President ever thought that withdrawals would continue right through, or had -- extending on after the surge, withdrawal --
MS. PERINO: I don't think the President laid it out that way, because the way he has conducted this situation is to listen to his commanders on the ground throughout. So if you remember, back in January of 2005, the President had said that he thought at that time, after the election in Iraq and after the constitution had passed, that at that point he thought he would be soon recommending troop withdrawals. That didn't happen, because in February of 2005 is when al Qaeda tried to wreak civil war and chaos and to stoke sectarian tensions, which they were largely successful at doing. And it was then in December of 2006 and in January of 2007 that the President went through these types of consultations and decided to send in more troops, commonly known as the surge.
Then, nine months later, after General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker had come back, he listened to his commanders on the ground and they tell him that it's okay, in their opinion, to start drawing down some. So he orders some troop withdrawals. And now we think that there's a natural time from last September to now, in April, to take another look and to make an assessment at that point.
Q Well, did he presume that withdrawals would continue after the surge withdrawals?
MS. PERINO: I would say that he did not presume one way or the other. What he said he would do is listen to his commanders on the ground, and that's what he's doing now.
Q So what they're calling a pause of up to two months in what would be August and -- up through September this year isn't really a pause, it's just not starting anything new.
MS. PERINO: Well, let's let General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come and provide their testimony. I can't say what they told the President in private today. That would be inappropriate, and the President needs to be able to get candid advice from advisors without thinking that it's going to be then negotiated here from the podium.
But regardless of what happens, we know that we've had troops coming home based on success. We have -- we're going from 20 brigades down to 15 brigades. And where we go from there is going to be something that the President will decide and make public to everybody in early April. I think until then we can't say what the President will or will not do because he takes time to deliberately listen to the experts who are on the ground.
Q You call it the return on success, the ability to bring troops home. On the campaign, for example, Barack Obama points out that the President didn't want to bring troops home when things were going south in Iraq. Now things are going well, according to the administration, and the President doesn't want to bring troops home yet. How do you respond to that rhetoric on the campaign trail?
MS. PERINO: The President ultimately -- of course, the President of the United States wants all of the troops to come home, but he's going to do that when conditions are right. Right now we've had these security gains. That's plain for everyone to see. There are starting to be some more political progress with the Iraqis having passed three major laws -- and on the verge of a fourth -- and they're about to hold more elections. And so they're starting to move and cement their democracy.
What the President doesn't want to do is move too quickly in withdrawing our troops and erase all those gains, because the terrorists that we're fighting there, and the enemy still remains very lethal and determined in order to try to intimidate us into leaving too soon.
Q Right. I guess the question is if without firm benchmarks like, you meet this, then we go, there are people who question when are you able to then pull troops out, return on success.
MS. PERINO: Well, that's what I think General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker -- the things that they talked to the President about today, and what they will talk to Congress about in just -- in less than two weeks, is what is that point, and when are they going to feel comfortable. And I'll let them make public when they're going to feel comfortable with that, and then the President will make his recommendation based on not only that information, but that from the Joint Chiefs, from Secretary Gates, and also from the State Department.
Q One more thing. Is the -- how long did the conference call go?
MS. PERINO: It was a two-hour secure video teleconference this morning.
Q And will there be a picture?
MS. PERINO: Possibly. I'm working on it.
Q You mentioned the brutal enemy in Iraq. To what extent was that enemy present before the U.S. invaded?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'm -- there was a report last week that came out from the Defense Department that I would refer you to. It has lots of experts providing input and it's detailed all throughout there.
There's no doubt that Secretary -- I'm sorry, excuse me, Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism. So let me refer you to that report; it's quite detailed.
What we know is that al Qaeda has decided to make Iraq the central front in their war on terror and we are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here. And one of the things that has helped us is a hugely significant event of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq deciding to turn against al Qaeda and to work with us instead to fight against them.
Q But al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq, in its current form or in its post-invasion form --
MS. PERINO: In its current form, no. But let me refer you to that report, they have some very interesting information in there.
Q Do you think that Iraq five years later -- is the region more or less safe, five years later?
MS. PERINO: Look, I -- what we know is that we are facing brutal enemies across the world that mainly focus in this area where al Qaeda has decided to make Iraq the central front in the war on terrorism. Just look at the videotapes from last week from Osama bin Laden. They talk about these issues of the new -- his deputy's tape today, trying to stoke more violence and terrorism in the region. And this is going to be something we deal with for many years to come.
The problem of terrorism is not something that was built up since the Bush administration came into office; it was decades in the making. And it's going to take us a long time, both militarily as well as economically and politically and diplomatically, to fight.
Q Dana, I've been hearing word more from senior citizens on fixed incomes who are being negatively affected by inflation. I'm wondering if the President has discussed inflation with his economic team and what they're telling him the prognosis is?
MS. PERINO: Sure. They talk about -- he meets with -- first of all, President Bush meets with his economic advisors quite regularly. In fact, just last night he had a conversation with Hank Paulson around 8:00 p.m. He was getting an update on the discussions between JPMorgan and Bear Stearns and the Fed. So he gets regular updates. And obviously the effect of gas prices and inflation are always on the agenda for the President when he gets those updates, at least once a week, if not more. Recently, certainly within the last several months -- I would say since July.
Q But is the rate of inflation worrisome? Are they telling him -- can you tell us what they're telling him about the outlook for inflation?
MS. PERINO: Obviously I'd refer you to the Treasury Department or the Fed, who can talk about those issues in detail. And a lot of those reports are public. The President is mainly concerned that people are feeling the pinch from higher gas prices and he understands that obviously health care prices weigh heavily on people's minds. And across the board the President wants to make sure that this administration is making sure we have pro-growth economic policies so that everyone is benefitting and that we don't do things that will over-correct the economy and make things worse for people.
Q Dana, the new report on home sales -- what does that mean for this administration? Does it mean that some of the programs that you've put in place not long ago are working on homes, or on the home front? Or does it mean that we're still in some softening times that --
MS. PERINO: I think you're referring to the existing home sales report, where it beat expectations. I think people were generally expecting to see a slight decline in the number of existing home sales. It was welcome news that home sales were actually at 2.9 percent of an increase.
We welcome that news, but we can't put a lot of stock into just one report, so we don't know exactly what it means. But we welcome that part of it. And what the situation is in the housing market is that we have an over amount of -- an oversupply, so we need to bring down the number of houses that are out there, and that's what this report did -- two things: that sales were up, and that supply is starting to shrink. Those are trends that we like, and we'd like to see more of that.
Q Okay. And I have another question. On Iraq, talking to some soldiers on the ground there, they're saying that yes, the surge and more equipment have definitely made things better, but once the troops redeploy, it's still a major question as to if the Iraqis can police themselves. What do you say about that, and what are contingency plans? Is there another thought of another surge, or anything after that? I mean, because there is concern on the ground that once they're gone, things are going to go back and the Iraqis are going to -- everything is just going to break loose again.
MS. PERINO: All of those questions that you just brought up are good ones, and ones that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will have input -- have their experience to be able to provide their input to the President, and there will be lots of different discussions. But I would point out to you that just recently, within the last month, there was the big holy day in Iraq and the Iraqis handled all of the security, and there was not one incidence of violence. That was good, that was a good example --
Q That was one day.
MS. PERINO: -- that was one huge event where they had over a million people there. So that's trending in the right direction as well.
But what's going to be critically important is to make sure that we don't move too quickly in pulling more troops out and erase those gains. We have to make sure that the Iraqis can take care of it themselves. Largely they are in many of the areas, but they've got a long way to go in others. So we've got to keep our commitment to the Iraqis, make sure that our troops are fully funded. That's one of the things that Congress is going to have to deal with when they come back from their most recent recess, is get our troops funded so that we can make sure that all the training that we're doing is solidifying and that the Iraqis can then take care of themselves. But it's going to take a while.
Q What's "a while"? Can you quantify "a while"?
MS. PERINO: I can't.
Q A hundred years? Twenty years? I mean, your --
MS. PERINO: April, look, I think that if you look at the facts for themselves and how many provinces they've been able to take over, the progress that they've been able to make, the sacrifices that the Iraqis are making, the Iraqis are serving right alongside with us, and they're -- we're helping to improve their training. By any measure, if you look at their training, as I read the reports from General Petraeus and MNFI, that they're doing much better protecting themselves and also protecting the population. So they're making progress. But I can't tell you how long it's going to take.
I do know that because of the progress that we've made so far, we're able to bring 30,000 of our troops home this year. And then will there be eventual -- eventually will there be more troop drawdowns? Yes. But I can't tell you how many, and how soon. And I need the President to have the time that he's asked for to get briefed, to digest the information, and then allow General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to testify in front of Congress, and then he'll make a final decision and announcement.
Q Dana, on Iraq, according to the AP, 97 percent of the American deaths have happened after President Bush declared major combat ended. In retrospect, does he think perhaps he was premature in doing that?
MS. PERINO: I think I've just answered -- I think I answered that question earlier, Victoria.
Q Not really.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I --
Q Not specifically.
MS. PERINO: It's impossible for me to answer that question, Victoria. Does he know how many soldiers would pay the ultimate sacrifice in this war? No. But that was impossible to know. And he mourns every single loss, and he thinks that the right thing to do is to take the fight to this enemy. It's a brutal enemy that's determined not to just kill our soldiers, but to kill all of us. And our soldiers are there bravely fighting to make sure that we're protected.
Q So does he think he was premature in declaring major combat ended?
MS. PERINO: In terms of -- well, he said that before, Victoria. And I just told you that in -- he has publicly said in January of 2005, he thought he was soon going to be able to announce that troops would be coming home. But what we know that -- we know that al Qaeda sowed terrible violence and stoked sectarian flames. Therefore, we had to regroup and we listened to our commanders on the ground. That's what listening to your commanders on the ground is all about. You have to be -- remain flexible and you have to trust them, and you have to then make your decisions based on your best judgment, after you get briefings, which is what he's doing now.
Q President Bush issued a letter to congratulate the new President-elect in Taiwan, Mr. Ma Ying-jeou, last Saturday. How hopeful is the U.S. now in seeing China and Taiwan resume dialogue?
MS. PERINO: The President did congratulate President Ma. He was pleased that the elections were free and fair. And we do hope that this will give the Taiwanese a chance to realize the prosperity that they have been working towards. And obviously, there are many different people within the region who supported the other party. We understand that, and elections can be hard for others, but we are hopeful, and we do look forward to working with the new government.
Q Mr. Ma has expressed his interest in coming to Washington before his inauguration if such a visit would be welcomed by the U.S. government --
MS. PERINO: Before his inauguration?
Q Before his inauguration.
MS. PERINO: Let me check on that in terms of scheduling. I don't know of anything on the schedule right now.
Q Would the U.S. welcome such a visit by him?
MS. PERINO: Can I check and get back to you?
MS. PERINO: Okay, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. This question concerns three people who are not running for election.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q In the President's dedication to elevating the level of public discourse, he agrees with the Governor of New Mexico's statement that it was gutter politics for James Carville to compare Richardson to Judas Iscariot, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: Not commenting on the '08 election. I'm not --
Q None of these are running for election, Dana. None of these are running for election.
MS. PERINO: Try your next question -- next and final.
Q Does the Bush White House have any explanation of why we continue to diplomatically recognize Red China when they brutally treat Tibet, while we refuse to diplomatically recognize Red Cuba?
MS. PERINO: Let me just say that Secretary Rice spoke to her counterpart in China and expressed the President's feelings. I would also let you know that Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who is the President's Deputy National Security Advisor, had a meeting this weekend, over the weekend, with Ambassador Zhou, who is the Chinese Ambassador to America. He expressed our deep concerns over the widespread security crackdown in Tibet. He urged them to be more peaceful, to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, which is something we have stressed before. So we continue to have conversations with them. And then, of course, the President is getting an update right now from Secretary Rice -- or soon, as soon as he gets to the State Department, about the situation in Tibet.
Q Thank you.
Q Dana, it's very weird for a President to meet a foreign minister of a country, but today he's meeting the India Foreign Minister, Mr. Mukherjee, and also Mr. Hadley. And they met this morning with Dr. Rice at the State Department. What I'm asking is that what is the urgency or what are they going to talk at this time that he has to come here to the White House to meet with the President and high officials? Does that include Tibet or nuclear deal or --
MS. PERINO: Yes. As I said this morning, President Bush is excited to meet with the Exterior Minister of India. There's lots of different things to talk about. We have a broad and deep relationship with India on a variety of issues, including the civil nuclear agreement that you mentioned. And I'm sure they'll talk about other things as well.
Okay, I'm going to go back here.
Q On Pakistan real quick, is there any concern over instability in the country, given that the new government in Pakistan will, in all likelihood, try to reduce Musharraf's power, given that the Musharraf happens to be an ally of the United States on antiterrorism?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said this morning, we expressed our congratulations to the new Prime Minister. We look forward to working with the new government in Pakistan. We've had good relations with them over the past. We hope that that continues. There's lots of different areas where we can cooperate -- not just counterterrorism, but across the board. So we look forward to working with the new government, and we are hopeful that the transition is very peaceful.
Q Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EDT