After wasting the first half of the gaggle on Frances “Pinball Wizard” Townsend’s discussion of the rearrangement of the intelligence deck chairs, the gaggleres got down to busines..
Q Can I follow on that? Part of what Senator Rockefeller said was that by using the references to 9/11, that the President was trying to click a patriotic button that would make people more patient. He called it “amazing.” He further said that there was no connection between Osama bin Laden, Iraq and 9/11, and effectively was saying the President was using that national tragedy. How do you respond to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And who made any suggestion of a link to the attacks? [Ack! Was Scottie watching the NBA Draft last night?] What the President was talking about was that September 11th taught us important lessons. It taught us that we must confront threats before they full materialize, before they reach our shores. That’s why the President decided we were going to take the fight to the enemy. We are taking the fight to the enemy abroad so that we don’t have to fight them here at home. We are on the offense, not defense. And that’s the way you fight and wage and win the war on terrorism.
Q I guess the question Democrats have is, is the enemy in Iraq the same enemy that struck the United States on September 11th, 2001?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the President talked about it last night. He said the terrorists have chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. They are the same — they have the same hatred and — let me back up — they have the same ideology of hatred and oppression that the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th held. These are the same kind of people. They are terrorists who seek to dominate the Middle East.
Q So while the President isn’t arguing that Saddam Hussein and his regime were behind 9/11, he’s saying that essentially they’re the same kind of people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, we talked about how his regime was a sworn enemy of the United States. And what the terrorists did was choose to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. No matter where you stood on the decision to go into Iraq — we talked about the decision about why we went into Iraq — I think all of us can recognize that the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. [snip]
Holy Jesus, Holy Jesus, Holy Jesus!
What about Rummy’s 12-year timetable?
Q Last night, the President did not give a timetable. He said he wouldn’t give a timetable. But over the weekend, Don Rumsfeld said that the insurgent activity could last into 12 years and by then Iraqi forces will be policing themselves. What guarantee is this administration going to give U.S. forces will not be in Iraq for 12 years, or 20 years, or 30 years?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, April, first of all, to correct you, Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about typical insurgencies. And I think he was talking about five to 12 years, somewhere in that range. And that’s what he was talking about. And so —
Q He said Iraqis will be policing themselves —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just wanted to put it in context.
The President, as you heard last night, laid out a clear way forward. As we stand up Iraqi forces, we will stand down American forces.
Q Listening to your answer, am I wrong in assuming that some U.S. presence will be in Iraq for as long as it takes, it could be 12 years, 20 year, or 30 years? Am I wrong —
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re trying to set artificial timetables now.
Q No, I’m not. Rumsfeld gave a year this weekend.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to look at the progress that’s being made. There’s a two-track strategy. The President outlined it last night — the political track and the military track. And it’s important that we continue moving forward on both.
Q — troops going in, but as long as it takes, could — as long as it takes, if that is 20 years, is that as long as it takes?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, you’re trying to get us to set artificial timetable, and we’re not going to —
Q Rumsfeld said 12 years this weekend. I didn’t give you that number, your own Defense Secretary gave it.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not exactly what he said.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I’m not going to get into setting artificial timetables. And you have to look at the progress being made on the ground.
Q He gave numbers. I’m asking the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Goyal.
Follow that with this excellent question.
Q In this issue of the administration making the point, the President making the point, better to fight the terrorists there, if you don’t fight them there, you’ll be fighting them here in the U.S., is there an implied statement that if there were an attack here, the Iraq policy would, therefore, be a failure? Is there an implied statement that continuing the Iraq war means there won’t be an attack here?
And then we want to know why the troops hate Dear Leader?
Q Scott, can you clear up something about the atmospherics of last night? A Bragg PAO told me that the White House had left somewhat ambiguous how the troops should comport themselves during the speech last night, that he didn’t want a big pep rally with the rousing hooahs that you always get at most of these base speeches. But then, at the same time, you weren’t really expecting that there wouldn’t be any applause, and that the person who went up to instruct the troops on protocol sort of overinterpreted what the White House was looking for. Is that a fair assessment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I was with the President ahead of the speech when he was visiting with many of the families of the fallen, so I wasn’t there when whoever the military officer was that spoke to the troops. But this was a serious address to the nation. My understanding was that we did talk to the military and talk to them about that, and that’s why you saw at the beginning of the speech that instead of applauding, the troops simply stood up and stood at attention. And I think that they recognized that this was an address to the nation, this was not a rally-type event.
Q Right, but is it safe to say that you weren’t expecting there to be no applause until a White House advance person, either caught up in the moment or whatever, started it?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President appreciates the warm reception he had at Fort Bragg both from the families of many of our fallen that were there he was visiting with beforehand, as well as the troops at Fort Bragg — the troops who have been serving on the front line in the war on terrorism. He appreciated the warm reception he received and was pleased to give that address at Fort Bragg. I don’t know of many Presidents that have gone to Fort Bragg on two occasions. This was his second occasion to go to Fort Bragg. But many of the men and women serving from Fort Bragg are doing an outstanding job, helping us to defend our freedoms and helping to advance freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East.
In today’s edition of your Daily Les, Kinsolving points to yet another contradiction in the assministration’s foreign policy.
Q The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, introduced by Senator Bob Dole, a good Republican, requires that relocation of our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless there are national security concerns, which President Bush has just claimed there are, and he has for every year of his presidency. And my question: Since we are opening a U.S. embassy in Baghdad, how on Earth can the President claim Jerusalem is more dangerous than Baghdad?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, right now in the Middle East it’s a very hopeful period for the Palestinian period and for the people of Israel. And we’ve got to keep our focus on the step that is before us right now. It’s an important step. That is the disengagement plan. That’s where our focus is. The President this afternoon is receiving an update from General Ward, our security coordinator, who is helping the Palestinians restructure and unify their security forces, and from the U.N. special — or the Quartet special envoy, Jim Wolfensohn, who is helping the Palestinian people make sure they have the institutions in place and the economy in place to take over the Gaza area once Israel withdraws from there.
Q Well, is Baghdad — do you believe that —
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, hang on —
Q — is more dangerous —
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, Les, it’s —
Q — is less dangerous than Jerusalem?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, Les —
Q Do you? I mean, could you answer that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s a distinction to get into. I think that the focus needs to be —
Q You don’t want to answer that question.
MR. McCLELLAN: — on moving forward on the disengagement plan and making sure that’s successful, because then it will help us move forward on the rest of the road map. But we need to take that step right now and focus our efforts there.