Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Looks like Scottie is back in gaggle mode, although yesterday’s gaggle transcript was posted a bit late.

Let’s begin with Helen Thomas.

Q How is the Secretary of State going to explain the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of some of our combatants — enemies, so-called.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we disagree with the premise of your question, because we are a nation that —

Q There is an uproar in Europe.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are nation that is engaged in a global war on terrorism. And there are many partners in that global war on terrorism. But as we carry out the war on terrorism, we act in a way that is consistent with our laws and consistent with our values and consistent with our international obligations. And the Secretary talked about that in an interview the other day.

As I understand, they have received a letter from Secretary Straw, from the United Kingdom — or Foreign Minister Straw, I should say, from the United Kingdom — and they will be responding to that letter in due course.

Q Well, my question is, how is — are you — does the threat from this administration to veto the military spending bill if there is not an exemption on the ban of such treatment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that Steve Hadley talked about this at his recent briefing here in this room, just a couple of weeks ago. And he talked about the difficult issues that we have to address. And he talked about how we’re working very closely with congressional leaders to address those issues.

Q I asked a simple question, Scott. Is the President going to veto military spending if there is no exemption on the ban?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the statement of administration policy that we put out was that if such a step were taken that would weaken our position in the global war on terrorism, and the ability of the President to effectively carry out that war on terrorism, then his advisors would recommend a veto. I think that is what our statement of administration policy said.

OK< now that we have established the fact that the Bush Assministration is still objectively pro-torture, let's moe on to Chimpy’s New and Improved Plan for Iraq.

Q Secondly, about the speech, couldn’t people fairly ask why it is that the President hasn’t had a strategy for victory before November 2005?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that’s inaccurate.

Q Okay. Well, then, what is this document, other than spin —

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me mention —

Q — in a political document? This looks like something you would put out —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it’s a —

Q — in the 2004 campaign. Is that not a fair criticism?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s absolutely unfair.

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: And let me tell you why. First of all, this is a strategy document that the American people can go and look at. They can go to our website at, pull it up, and read through it and see what our strategy is, and see — or hear more about the progress that we’re making on the different elements of that strategy.


But we have been pursuing this strategy since early 2003. What this is, is an unclassified version for the American people and others to go and look at and see the strategy that we have in place. There have been some that have tried to suggest that we don’t have a plan. I know some congressional members of Congress have — Democratic members of Congress have suggested that, and they are flat-out wrong. And not only that, but they are deeply irresponsible to make that suggestion, particularly when our commanders have briefed those congressional leaders on our strategy and the progress that we’re making.

And in terms of your question about — I think you said a PR document or something to that effect —

Q Something akin to what you sent out during the 2004 campaign — we’ve seen a lot of these things.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it clear that our highest priority is winning the war on terrorism. Iraq is central to winning the war on terrorism. And it’s important to keep the American people informed about our strategy and about the progress that we’re making. It’s important to speak to the troops, like he did today at the Naval Academy, and let them know that they our unwavering commitment and support.

And so the President today released this document so that the American people can go and see what our strategy is and have a clear understanding of how we’re going about achieving victory on the ground in Iraq.


Q Scott, if this document is an articulation of plans, strategy and policy that have been in place since 2003, why is it only being released now, on November 30, 2005?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve been talking to the American people about the strategy that we have in place, and this pulls it all together in one document so that the American people can go and look at it and read through it, and understand where we are in terms of implementing that strategy and achieving victory in Iraq.

Q But did you see a sudden need to put together a compendium like this for release publicly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s for the reasons I just stated: The war on terrorism is our highest priority; Iraq is the central front; and we’re going to continue to talk to the American people about the strategy that we have in place. We have a very clear strategy in place. I talked to you earlier about how there have been some Democrats, some critics of this administration who have tried to suggest that there was no plan — and I said that that is deeply irresponsible to suggest that there’s no plan in place, particularly when our commanders have been briefing congressional leaders on the strategy that we’re pursuing.

Let’s talk about just what is realistic.

Q Scott, in the document you all write, “It’s not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy able to defeat its enemies three years after Saddam is finally removed from power.” Does that mean, then, that the administration now believes that it was unrealistic in its own expectations three years ago? Or, did, in fact, you always expect the war to be as intense as this point, three years later — almost three years later, as it is?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it’s a time of war and Iraq is the central front in the global war on terrorism. And you have to be flexible and be able to adapt. That’s what the President was emphasizing in his remarks, that as conditions have changed, we have adapted. We have a dynamic strategy that is in place. Our tactics are flexible and we adjust those tactics as needed. So I think that’s one thing that is important to listen to, in terms of what the President said today in his remarks.


Q But when you say here that it’s not realistic, it seems to suggest that people had unrealistic expectations. And I’m trying to figure out what was the source of these unrealistic expectations? Was it something —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think that over the course of history, we’re going to look back and look at the decisions that were made and the steps that were taken over the course of the time in Iraq. And we’ll let history be the judge of those different aspects. But what’s important is when you’re at war, is that it’s important to learn from your experiences and be able to adapt in order to prevail.

Q And then the last question on this is, if it’s not realistic to expect this in three years, when is it realistic to expect this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you shouldn’t have arbitrary timetables when you’re talking about achieving victory when you’re engaged in a war. The President made that very clear. It sends the wrong message to the enemy; it sends the wrong message to our troops.

The timetable should be based on conditions on the ground. It’s a conditions-based withdrawal that we are pursuing. And that will be based on the commanders on the ground.

Q But we’re not setting an artificial timetable —

MR. McCLELLAN: And as the President said, it takes time and patience as you move forward on building a lasting democracy.


Q But when you say, it’s not realistic, without setting an artificial timetable —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the political milestones that are in place, and the Iraqi people are meeting those political milestones time and time again. They are meeting those political milestones here in just a couple of weeks — December 15th — the Iraqi people will, again, go back to the polls, this time to choose a permanent representative government. And that will be a significant milestone in Iraq’s future.

Q You seem to suggest we know what’s realistic, and I’m trying to explore what you think is —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not sure that that’s accurate. But I’m glad you’re reading through this. We encourage the American people to read through it. And I think you have to look at the whole document —

Q — suggests people who had any expectations of the war being in better shape today than it is, they’re unrealistic. And I’m trying to see what is realistic.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it would be wrong to have an expectation that you’re going to have a lasting democracy in place in just two-and-a-half years. But it is realistic to — well, I would say that the fact that the Iraqi people have made this progress in just two — I’m sorry, able to defeat in just two-and-a-half years is something that is quite remarkable.

Were you were saying, able to defeat?

Q No, I’m just saying there was — the phrase says, it’s not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy able to defeat its enemies in three years. And I’m just trying to explore, then, what our expectations are. I think the public is looking for, maybe not necessarily a specific time table —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the expectations I think —

Q — but what should we find realistic —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that’s spelled out in the document, and people can go and read through that document. I mean, we can go and sit through and look through each different aspect of the document. I’ll be glad to do that. It talks about the progress that’s being made to meet some of the benchmarks that are in place for the political process.

Go ahead.

But Scottie, Chimpy’s New and Improved Plan actually does set some milestones, have they been achieved?

Q In the document, you say victory is defined in stages, three stages: short, medium and long-term. Two questions. First is, does the President believe we have actually achieved any of these stages — short-term, steady progress of fighting terrorists —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, each of those stages is defined in the document.

Q I understand —

MR. McCLELLAN: We’re making real progress on all three tracks of the strategy for victory in Iraq. And —

Q These aren’t the tracks of strategy. These are the definitions of short, medium and long-term victory.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right, and it spells out —

Q Does the President think we have achieved —

MR. McCLELLAN: — how you define that.

Q Does the President think we have achieved short-term victory in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you look at what the short-term — what it says in the short-term, it says we’re — it says, short-term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up Iraqi security forces.

Medium-term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security with a fully constitutional government in place and on its way to achieving its economic potential. The President believes that we’re making real progress when it comes to achieving victory in Iraq and implementing our strategy. We are making progress on the political front, we’re making progress on the economic front, and we’re making progress on the security front.

And in terms of more specific information, I think that our commanders on the ground and our leaders — civilian leaders within Iraq would be in the best place to talk — best position to talk about it in more specific terms.

Q On this spectrum, are you willing to say that we have achieved short-term victory, medium-term victory — any of those?

MR. McCLELLAN: I want to say we’ve made real progress on all three fronts of the strategy for victory.

So Scottie admits that, three years on, even the short-term goals have not been reached. Interesting.

Let’s change subjects and talk about Chimpy’s threat to bomb al Jazeera.

Q Two more Middle East-related questions. I know you’ve been asked before about the so-called al Jazzier memo, but Europeans are making quite a big deal about it. Can you assure them that even if the President did say when he was elected said he was doing that in jest?

MR. McCLELLAN: Can I assure them what?

Q That if the President really did make those comments, he was doing so in jest?

MR. McCLELLAN: Make what comments?

Q About allegedly bombing al Jazeera —

MR. McCLELLAN: Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd.

Q Well, do you know if the comments were made?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what comments you’re referring to. I haven’t seen any comments quoted.

Q Somebody said that they had a memo, or that they took notes during —

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just repeat for you, Connie. Any such notion that America would do something like that is absurd.

Q They bomb them in Afghanistan then — their office.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry? Whose offices? The terrorist offices.

Q We bombed their office in Afghanistan, and killed their — some of their people in —

MR. McCLELLAN: And the military talked about that. What are you suggesting? I hope you’re not suggesting that they’re targeting civilians, because that’s just flat-out wrong.

Go ahead.

“Any such notion that America would do something like that is absurd.”

A classic Little Scottie non-denial-denial, just like the time he called any speculation that Karl Rove was involved in the Plame leak “ridiculous”.