Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Helen has Scottie spinning out of orbit over Chimpy’s proclamation of a never-ending occupation of Iraq.

Q At what point did the President decide that during his watch there would be no major withdrawal from Iraq? And what did he —

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s what he said.

Q What?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s what he said.

Q Well, he said, future Presidents will have —

MR. McCLELLAN: In fact, a couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a very specific question, when will there be zero or no troops in Iraq. So he was responding to that specific question. But we are already seeing a reduction in our troop levels. Our commanders on the ground — the President has made it very clear repeatedly that our commanders on the ground will make the determinations about our troop levels, based on conditions.

[snip]

Q Well, my point is at what point — I mean, what has been the reaction? The headline was that we were going to stay there well into another presidency, possibly.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t write the headlines, and I think it’s wrong for any —

Q This is the impression the President left.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no —

Q You say no?

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree. There were some articles that put it in — in some of the coverage — that put it in the full context. If you look at exactly what he said and exactly what he was asked —

Q — future presidencies and new Iraqi —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s what I’m getting to, Helen. It would be wrong to suggest that he was saying that there would still be a substantial number of troops in Iraq after he is out of office. That’s not what he was asked. That’s not what he was talking about. What he emphasized again was that troop levels will be based on the decisions of our commanders who will look at conditions on the ground.

Q I’m not talking about troop levels. I’m talking about American presence. And we certainly will have troops there, and he certainly indicated that well beyond his own presidency we’d be there.

MR. McCLELLAN: We’re in Afghanistan — we’ve been in Afghanistan since 2001. There’s still troops there, but it’s substantially down from where it was initially.

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From Holden:

Turns out that nation-building is a bit more complicated than being the President of Legoland.

Q Scott, you and the President both have said in the past that democracies in other countries, especially in the Middle East, may not have — may not look like America’s democracy. Is that what we’re seeing in Afghanistan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are certain universal values that all democracies have. And the President has talked about that, as well. So I think you’re confusing two issues. There are certain universal values that you see in any lasting democracy. And those are ones that I’ve talked about earlier: freedom of worship, freedom of expression, freedom of the people in this room, tolerance. Those are all universal values of freedom.

And we made it very clear that — the President did yesterday — about what our expectations are, that we fought and sacrificed in defense of freedom and to provide freedom to some 25 million people in Afghanistan. Great sacrifices have been made. And we have reminded the Afghan government of that.

Q Is it reasonable, though, for — to expect that non-Muslims would be treated the same as Muslims in a government that’s based on Islamic law?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you should look at the Afghan constitution. It was a constitution that was widely praised for how forward-looking it was and the values that are enshrined in that constitution. And it’s important for the government of Afghanistan to reaffirm the bedrock principles in that constitution, one of which is freedom of religion.