Let’s kick off the gaggle with that liberal meanie, Helen Thomas.
Q In a follow up for — from this morning’s briefing, I said that the President was aware in the run-up to the war that there were no weapons — no weapons — unconventional weapons had been found, and you sort of denied that it was in the memo.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this morning you said that the President was aware there were no weapons of mass destruction. And that is not what that article spelled out.
Q This is what it — the memo says: The President and Prime Minister acknowledge that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq in the run-up to the war.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, let me remind you and take you back to that time period, because there was a U.N. weapons inspection team that was looking at these issues. And that team put out I think some sort of interim report back in December of ’02, and that report showed that the regime was not coming clean. And we said at that time that the regime was continuing its pattern of non-cooperation and that if they continued —
Q They also said they didn’t find any weapons.
MR. McCLELLAN: — if they continued down that path, then we were prepared to use force. The President pursued a diplomatic solution. That’s why we went to the United Nations. That’s why we passed a 17th resolution that called on the regime to disclose or face serious consequences.
Q The memo says he wanted a war, basically that he was determined, and there were no weapons found.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, that’s not an accurate assessment, and you know it. Because you covered —
Q Is this memo wrong?
Obsession continues, click “Read More”.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you covered us at that time period. And let me remind you, go back to that time period, look at the public comments that were made, look at the numerous statements that were made by the President of the United States. We were continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution, but we recognized that it was necessary to prepare and plan accordingly in the event we would need to use force, and that’s what we were doing at that time, as well.
But Saddam Hussein was given every opportunity to comply, and he continued to defy the international community — even when he was given one final opportunity, or face serious consequences. So let’s not rewrite history. It was very clear what was going on at the time.
Q Is this memo correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t — I haven’t seen that memo, Helen.
Q You haven’t seen The New York Times’ memo?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve seen The New York Times.
David Gregory with a rare follow-up. Methinks our press corps is learning.
Q Well, let me just follow on that. There’s nothing in there that suggests that this is not an accurate reflection of a conversation that the President had with Prime Minister Blair, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our public and private comments are fully consistent.
Q And therefore the guts of this appears to be accurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re talking about “guts” of. Let’s be specific in what we’re talking about.
Q Well, comments made about the inevitability of war, the President’s feeling about that at one —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the President was making numerous public comments at the time, David. You covered those comments. The use of force was a last option, but we recognized that it was necessary —
Q It was his mind frame, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: — to prepare and plan, and that’s what we were doing at the time. And if you go and look at the public comments at the time, going back to late in the fall and winter period of 2002, on into 2003, we were making it very clear what the regime needed to do. And if it didn’t do it, we were prepared to enforce the Security Council Resolution 1441, which called for serious consequences.
Q It didn’t call for going to war.
Q Let me ask you a more fundamental question. The President — according to this report of this memo — said to Prime Minister Blair that he didn’t expect that there would be any sectarian violence. That’s obviously proven — he was disproven. That is, in fact, the case that there is sectarian violence. Some worry about the prospects of civil war.
My question, though, is the President’s judgments, this administration’s judgments about the war that did not come to pass, that created a credibility problem with the American people with regard to how they view this war, does that not hurt the President when he now says, we need patience and we have to persevere?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, you made a very long statement there, and I’m not accepting the premise of the beginning of your question that that’s an accurate reflection of things. We’ve talked about what we anticipated and what we didn’t anticipate and what we prepared for.
We are working to transform a troubled region of the world, and that goes directly to our own security. The Middle East has been a breeding ground for terrorism. We had a false sense of stability because of previous foreign policies of previous administrations. This President made the decision after September 11th that we were going to take a comprehensive approach to the war on terrorism, and that we were going to work to spread freedom.
Q You’re getting off point.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it’s very much on point.
Q Well, if I was too long-winded, let me just — let me just be more precise.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q The President assumed incorrectly, hindsight tells us, that there would not be sectarian violence after the invasion. Is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there were certain things that we anticipated, and certain things that we didn’t anticipate. The President has talked publicly about what some of those were. And we’ve also worked to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground. Any time you’re engaged in a war — and the President talked about this issue last week — things aren’t going to go necessarily according to the plans. You’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be able to adapt and adjust to the circumstances on the ground. And that’s exactly what we have done.
Q Scott, had the President decided on the 31st of January to go to war with Iraq regardless of whether there was a second U.N. resolution, and regardless of whether weapons of mass destruction were found?
MR. McCLELLAN: We were preparing in case it was going to be necessary, but we were continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution in that 2003 time period. And all the — there was a lot of public comments made at the time, leading up to the decision to go in and use force, and remember, even 48 hours before we began Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam Hussein and his sons were given one final opportunity to leave the country and avoid serious consequences.
Q So would you dispute what’s in this memo, which says that, in fact, that decision had been made by January the 31st, and say that the President had not decided to go to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I was asked that earlier, and I think I addressed that when I just said we were continuing to pursue a diplomatic course. You can go back and look at all the public comments at the time. The President made numerous public comments. You can look at other officials in the administration and what we were saying, but Saddam Hussein — that’s why I pointed back to — remember, there’s a December report, or interim report by the weapons inspector, the United Nations weapons inspector, and it showed that the regime was not coming clean.
We said that they were continuing their pattern of non-cooperation at the time. And we also made it very clear that war was the last option, but if the regime was not going to come clean, then we were prepared to move forward and use force.
Q Did the President talk about several ways to provoke a confrontation with Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question when Ed asked his question.
Hooookay. Scottie says that the president made several public statements about pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iraq, so when faced with clear evidence he had secretly decided to go to war no matter what happened we should ignore that evidence and focus on what the president said in public. Whatever.
Time for a little reality denial.
Q Is there a widening rift between U.S. and Iraqi forces? There seems to be a huge difference of opinion over the raid that took place, and even whether it was a mosque. And I was wondering, is the President concerned about this? THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that you ought to look to our military, in terms of what the facts are on the ground. Our military put out a statement earlier. I don’t know if they provided additional briefings at this point; I’ve been in some meetings with the President. But I’m not going to get into trying to discuss the situation on the ground, particularly involving operations that take place there.
Q Could the Iraqi government’s version of events be very different?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re referring to when you say, “Iraqi government.” I don’t know what you’re referring to there.
Q Well, there are statements from the U.S. saying it wasn’t a mosque, and the Iraqis —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right. And the military statement that was put out said that this was a special — Iraqi special operations forces that was involved in this, and the United States was simply providing an advisory and supporting role.
And now, Your Daily Les.
Q Two months before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in the case of Lawrence vs. Texas, laws against sodomy are unconstitutional, Senator Rick Santorum told the AP, if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual gay sex in your home, then you have the right to bigamy, incest, and adultery, you have the right to anything. And my question: Does the President disagree with this Republican Senator and will he ask the Justice Department to oppose the pro-polygamy lawsuit, Bronson vs. Swenson, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you might want to check with the Justice Department on what involvement they may have in any particular case. I don’t know about —
Q I want to know what the President — does he agree with Santorum?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’ve heard the President’s views.