I usually try to cover the gaggle in the order that the questions were asked. Although the following question came late during today’s festivities it is such a good one I’m bumping it to the top.
Q Scott, last week you said that claims in the leaked Downing Street memo that intelligence was being fixed to support the Iraq War as early as July 2002 are flat-out wrong. According to the memo which was dated July 23, 2002, and whose authenticity has not been disputed by the British Government, both Foreign Minister Jack Straw and British Intelligence Chief Sir Richard Dearlove said that the President had already made up his mind to invade Iraq. Dearlove added that intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. Do you think these two very senior officials of our closest ally were flat-out wrong? And if so, how could they have been so misinformed after their conversations with George Tenet and Condoleezza Rice?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct you on the — let me correct you on the characterization of the quote you attributed to me. I’m referring to some of the allegations that were made referring to a report. In terms of the intelligence, the — if anyone wants to know how the intelligence was used by the administration, all they have to do is go back and look at all the public comments over the course of the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and that’s all very public information. Everybody who was there could see how we used that intelligence.
And in terms of the intelligence, it was wrong, and we are taking steps to correct that and make sure that in the future we have the best possible intelligence, because it’s critical in this post-September 11th age, that the executive branch has the best intelligence possible.
And another good one.
Q Scott, the President in the East Room a short while ago said we’re making great progress in Iraq. Last week some senior military officers both at the Pentagon and in Baghdad said the U.S. mission in Iraq could fail. Is the President aware of those comments? And does he believe that the mission could possibly fail?
MR. McCLELLAN: He believes we will succeed in Iraq because the Iraqi people have stepped forward and said we want a free and democratic future. [Bla-blah, people of Iraq stepping up, blah-blahbitty-blah, enemies of freedom, blah.]
Next up: Tripping Little Scottie with the President’s words.
Q Scott, two questions; one on Afghanistan. The President said that — during the press conference that he was very happy to see that Afghanistan is no longer safe haven for terrorists. My question is that we still live under the fear of terrorism, and we are at the war against terrorism or on terrorism, but where are those terrorists that we are still afraid of and where they come from, where are they striking from?
MR. McCLELLAN: Where are they coming from?
Q Yes, where are they — if they are not in Afghanistan —
MR. McCLELLAN: We are pursuing them wherever they are, and we will continue to do so. [Blah-bitty-blah, global war on terra, blah.]
Next up: Tripping Little Scottie with Hamid Karzai’s words (and his own).
Q One other question. Karzai was quite definite in saying that he didn’t believe that the violence in Afghanistan was directly tied to the Newsweek article about Koran desecration. Yet, from this podium, you have made that link. So —
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I don’t think you’re actually characterizing what was said accurately.
Hmmm… Are you saying that the gaggler is not accurately characterizing what you said, Scottie (the gaggler asked this very question on follow-up, but Scottie failed to provide an answer)? Because here is what you said on May 16:
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, it’s — this report has had serious consequences. It has caused damage to the image of the United States abroad. It has — people have lost their lives. It has certainly caused damage to the credibility of the media, as well, and Newsweek, itself.
Sounds to me like a “direct tie” between the article and the violence there, Scott.
Q Scott, President Karzai before today has said that he wants — he says it’s time for Afghanistan to establish some control over the operations of U.S. and coalition forces in their country. In particular, he talked about when U.S. forces raided specific homes of individual Afghani citizens. Today, the President said that he would — the United States would work in partnership with Afghanistan. And in the joint declaration on the partnership, it says “the U.S. and coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and” prearranged procedures — “pre-agreed procedures.”
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q It does sound as if one partner is going to have most of the say here.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it’s consistent with what we do around the world when we have troops in sovereign countries.
Q Where else does the United States insist on having the freedom of action to conduct appropriate military actions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think any time that our troops are going to be fired upon, they’re going to be able to defend themselves. That’s always been the way it is. But as it says in the document that you cited, it says that it’s based on the consultations and agreements with the government of Afghanistan. And that’s the way it is in other places, as well.
Q But, Scott, the United States — must the United States be fired upon in Afghanistan before it can decide to take action?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to the military about this, they’ve have discussions and they will continue to have discussions with the government of Afghanistan about those arrangements.
Q So is this true in Germany?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Is this true in Germany, where we have troops also? Would the United States be able to act after it had consulted — whatever the —
MR. McCLELLAN: We have agreements with the government of Germany on our troops being in their country, as well.
Go ahead, David.
Q I want to follow up on this point, let’s be very clear about this. “Consultation” is one thing, “approval” is another. The United States military forces in Afghanistan do not feel that they need, nor will they ask for anyone’s approval to carry out a military operation of any kind; isn’t that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that — I disagree with that characterization. And look at the joint declaration. It says that this is based on agreements and consultations with the government of Afghanistan. We are there at their invitation, and we are also there to help train and equip Afghan forces — Afghanistan forces so that they can take care —
Q Right. The same thing is true in Iraq, and it’s pretty clear that we don’t get approval from anybody if we want to carry out — I mean, isn’t that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think you’re giving a full picture to the American people when you characterize it in those terms. Any time we are in a country that is sovereign, we are going to have agreements and consultations with the host government. And we are there at their invitation. And we remember that, so I think —
Q I know, but don’t — but let’s not try to fool people, either. “Consultation” is one thing, and that’s important, and then there’s “partnership” —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s not try to. Let’s be clear about what the agreements are.
Q They consult — everybody is very diplomatic about this, they consult. But just as in Iraq, if the United States military wants to do something, there’s no — the Afghan government doesn’t have veto power, does it?
MR. McCLELLAN: But those agreements are arranged with the Afghanistan government. And you ought to talk to the Department of Defense about what those agreements and arrangements are. They’re in the best position to be able to explain those to you.
Q Scott, in Afghanistan, if the U.S. military leadership decided to pursue a mission and, in consultation with their partners, determined the partners didn’t want that mission to happen, would that mission happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the Department of Defense about all those matters. They have discussions with host governments, they have discussion with the government of Afghanistan and they have agreements in place. And you ought to ask them about those agreements.
Q By the terms — the statement put out by the two Presidents today, what is the White House understanding of what would happen in that circumstance?
MR. McCLELLAN: The White House understanding is what the Department of Defense understanding is, and they’re in the best position to address those questions.
Q I just want to come back to this question about the partnership that you speak about. President Karzai has said — and Terry referenced this earlier — that “Operations that involve going to people’s home, that involves knocking on people’s doors must stop, must not be done without the permission” — “the permission” — “of the Afghan government.” Is he stating accurately what the strategic partnership is about?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the most accurate thing you can look to is the joint declaration that was signed just around 11:00 a.m. this morning here in the Oval Office by President Bush and President Karzai. And it says very clearly that “In order to achieve the objectives contained herein, U.S. military forces operating in Afghanistan will continue to have access to Bagram Airbase and its facilities, and facilities at other locations, as may be mutually determined,” and that the U.S. and coalition forces are to continue to have the freedom of action required to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations and pre-agreed procedures. So I think that’s —
Q So they don’t need permission, as President Karzai has said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they have pre-agreed procedures in place. I think that you have agreement with that, right there. It’s in the joint declaration. If you have pre-agreed procedures and policies in place, then —
Q That’s not what he seems to be saying, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: He just signed this joint declaration, and you ought to look at the joint declaration.
Q So when you talk about a partnership, is it fair to say that the United States is the senior partner, and Afghanistan is the junior partner?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it’s a partnership. A partnership, by nature, is equal.
Q That being the case, and the matters regarding the sovereign territory of Afghanistan, would not Afghanistan have an equal opportunity to say, we want certain things, therefore we should get them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a sovereign country, and they are a duly-elected government that represents the people of Afghanistan. We are there at their invitation. But we have a very good relationship, as you heard from the two leaders. This is a strong partnership, and we want to move forward together to address the challenges that are ahead of us. And that’s exactly what we’ll continue to do with President Karzai and other leaders from Afghanistan.
Q But when the President of Afghanistan says, we want more involvement in the decisions that are made militarily, and the United States says, we’ll see, is that an equal partnership?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ll continue to cooperate and consult closely with Afghanistan. That’s what the President made very clear. These are arrangements that are worked out with the host government. I would refer you right back to the joint declaration that Terry cited at the beginning of this briefing for the language in there. I think that that addresses your question.
And finally, your Daily Les.
Q Congressman Barney Frank has for the second time publicly denounced Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean for Dean’s repeatedly saying that Majority Leader DeLay is likely to go to jail and should step down. My question: Does the President agree with Congressman Frank on this issue? And what was his reaction to Dean, as a physician, making fun of Limbaugh’s battle against addiction to painkillers?
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s a Democratic National Committee. There’s also a Republican National Committee. I think the best place to look for a response would be from the Republican National Committee when it comes to that. I think the President has made his views pretty clear when it comes to Leader DeLay. Leader DeLay is someone he considers a good friend and someone that we work very closely with to achieve important priorities for the American people. And that’s what we will —
Q That evasive–
MR. McCLELLAN: — that’s what we will continue to do. I think we’ll let others respond —
Q That means the President really wants Dean to continue forever as Democratic Chairman, isn’t it?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ll let — we’ll let others respond. We’ll let others respond to the Democratic National Committee Chairman.