Pony Blow lead off today’s gaggle with more push-back.
There were reports that an unnamed military expert had received briefings at the White House that we are continuing alternatives other than democracy in Iraq. It’s just not true.
Which lead to the inevitable follow-up.
Q You said that alternative democracy in Iraq weren’t being considered. Have they been discussed in any shape or form?
MR. SNOW: I’m not aware of that. I mean, I’ve never heard it, as far as I know — no.
Q I wonder how this came up?
MR. SNOW: You’ll have to ask the guys who wrote it. I don’t know.
Q But beyond soul-searching, is the President contemplating changes in policy? To follow on what Helen was saying, because you have these 21 retired generals, diplomats and others today sending an open letter to the President saying they do want a dramatic shift in that policy. You said again a moment ago, stay the course. You could still achieve your objectives maybe with a different course. Is he considering a policy change?
MR. SNOW: The President always considers changes of course. I’ve already talked about what goes on in Baghdad. But —
Q Such as what? What would be one policy change he’s contemplating in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: What they’ve already done is they’ve restructured Operation Together Forward.
Wow, big change there, Pony.
Q Tony, you mentioned, the obvious ultimate goal of getting mission accomplished. When is that going to happen?
MR. SNOW: You tell me. I mean, again — as I’ve also said, you don’t do this by a clock. The President has practiced strategic patience. The term “The Long War” has been used. If you can tell me when terrorists are suddenly going to turn their swords into plowshares, we’ll settle upon that as the date.
Q Is this years in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I mean. I really don’t know. I honestly — I don’t think anybody knows.
Q How do you define when the mission is accomplished?
MR. SNOW: Same way we’ve always defined it, which is when you have an Iraqi government able to sustain itself, defend itself, and govern itself. That has been the clearly stated objective of the President over and over…
Move Them Goal Posts A Bit Closer
Q There seems to be a subtle change in tone. When this conflict between Hezbollah and Israel first erupted, the President was forceful in saying, we must address the root cause. And here you’re sort of saying, hopefully Lebanon will deal with disarming Hezbollah. There seems to be a backing off.
MR. SNOW: No, no, and I’m glad you asked, because, no, I don’t want to give the impression that there’s backing off. You’ve got to address the root cause.
Now what’s going to happen, I think, is it will — Hezbollah will be forced into making a choice, because I think people in Lebanon kind of get it. I mean, they understand that many of those areas have been laid to waste because Hezbollah committed an act of war. They understand that Hezbollah — I’m sorry, I’ll let you — you can interrupt when I’m done with this. But they understand the deep cynicism of Hezbollah, which didn’t do this as an act of liberation for the people or Lebanon; it wasn’t designed in any way, shape, or form to improve the life of the Lebanese people. And terrorist organizations look upon human life as something that’s dispensable, that’s disposable. And as a matter of fact, from time to time, they will actually create this sort of photographic carnival of the carnage by going out and inviting people in and staging scenes.
This is not the way in which you enhance the dignity of people who have been victimized. And we are deeply conscious of the terrible human cost that has already been wrought.
Q But many people on the ground in Lebanon do not view Hezbollah in those terms.
MR. SNOW: You know, a lot of people do. I mean, I don’t know which people on the ground. Again, it’s very difficult to assess. The conventional wisdom is that Hezbollah is suddenly popular. I don’t think — you can think about people’s self-interest. You have a group that you know has been going in and operating independently in a rogue fashion. It declares war on a neighbor. There is a response. This group says, we are going to continue to do it. Now, if you’re a victim of that, you had no party in that, you are not likely to be very happy about it. If you understand that what is going on is that people are being held hostage for political or ideological reasons to a group that is beholden not to the people of Lebanon, but to the governments of Iran and Syria, sooner or later they’re going to say to themselves, this is not a good deal for me. And so that’s part of it.
Hope Is Not A Plan
Q It seems, though, that when you come out here and make a preemptive statement that there is no agreement not to disarm Hezbollah that you’re flying in the face of the evidence on the ground. You know, for example, that politics in the Middle East is deliberately ambiguous much of the time. There is no indication that, in fact, the Lebanese government is going to force Hezbollah to give up its arms. Your preemptive statement this morning seems based on the belief that they should, and that the interests of the people will force it. But there’s nothing on the ground and nothing in past history to suggest that that would ever be the case.
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a couple of things on the ground. You have the movement of 15,000 troops into the region.
MR. SNOW: Well, that’s something. Now, perhaps you’ve been talking to people directly on the ground there, and have a better read out. But we’re now talking about an agreement that is several days old. And if you’re expecting, Bill, for there to be dramatic new things and people sort of running out to the village square and dropping off their Kalashnikovs, we’re not quite there yet.
Q No, but this just strikes me as — someone once said in a far different context that the triumph of “hope over experience.”
MR. SNOW: Yes. However, that was Winston Churchill talking about second marriages. (Laughter.)
Q I believe it was Samuel Johnson.
MR. SNOW: Samuel Johnson speaking — absolutely right, thank you, it was Samuel Johnson. So Dr. Johnson speaking of second marriages. It’s a clever quote. (Laughter.) This is great. No, it’s always good to get corrected.
Budgeting as Meteorology
Q The budget deficit: CBO estimate out today says, Yes, it’s coming down to $260 billion this year, but then will jump to $286 billion next year. And then over the next decade, the total deficit will be $1.76 trillion, even if the tax cuts aren’t made permanent. Aren’t things going in the wrong direction with the President?
MR. SNOW: No, I’ll tell you —
Q As he talks to his economic advisors, is he looking at spending cuts or tax increases to close the gap?
MR. SNOW: The answer is the President is working on keeping the economy growing, and the other thing is, go back and take a look at CBO estimates from last year or the year before. Go back to the Clinton years. It’s an inexact science, and I’m not going to get into that whole methodology.
Q So is the CBO wrong in projecting that the deficit will increase next year?
MR. SNOW: Who knows? The problem with it, it’s like asking if the weatherman is right about next Tuesday. Economic prediction is always inexact. You use this as benchmarks for guiding policy. As you know we do our own estimates, and I’ll stick with the OMB estimates. And I will let our number crunching guys, our econometricians go through the methodologies with you. I’m just not competent to do so.