Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

Goddamn, Pony was in full spin modetoday. Here he is on the relationship between Saddam and Zarqawi, a relationship thatChimpy and and his Assministration touted repeatedly.

Q Well, one moreHolden Tony, just one more. Do you believe — does the President still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to Zarqawi or al Qaeda before the invasion?

MR. SNOW: The President has never said that there was a direct, operational relationship between the two, and this is important. Zarqawi was in Iraq.

Q There was a link —

MR. SNOW: Well, and there was a relationship — there was a relationship in this sense: Zarqawi was in Iraq; al Qaeda members were in Iraq; they were operating, and in some cases, operating freely from Iraq. Zarqawi, for instance, directed the assassination of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan. But they did they have a corner office at the Mukhabarat? No. Were they getting a line item in Saddam’s budget? No. There was no direct operational relationship, but there was a relationship. They were in the country, and I think you understand that the Iraqis knew they were there. That’s the relationship.

Q Saddam Hussein knew they were there; that’s it for the relationship?

MR. SNOW: That’s pretty much it.

Q The Senate report said they didn’t turn a blind eye.

MR. SNOW: The Senate report — rather than get — you know what, I don’t want to get into the vagaries of the Senate report, but it is pretty clear, among other things, again, that there were al Qaeda operators inside Iraq, and they included Zarqawi, they included a cleric who had been described as the best friend of bin Laden who was delivering sermons on TV. But we are simply not going to go to the point that the President is — the President has never made the statement that there was an operational relationship, and that’s the important thing, because I think there’s a tendency to say, aha, he said that they were in cahoots and they were planning and doing stuff; there’s no evidence of that.

Obsession continues…

Think that’s bad? Wait until you see what he said to gagglers whoquestioned the appropriateness of last night’s speech.

Q Was the President’s speech last night political?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q How can you say that?

MR. SNOW: Because, I’ll tell you — how can I not?

Q Because — Tony, you were here Friday.

MR. SNOW: What was the political statement? Tell me what the political sentence was. Give me the sentence.

Q I’ll tell you exactly what it was. It was a crystallized greatest hits of the eight-day period in which he made four speeches where he laid out his philosophical underpinnings about the war on terror heading into the election. And he boiled it down, crystallized it and laid it out last night on network TV for 17 minutes. And it was in direct contrast to what you came in here and told us Friday.

MR. SNOW: No, that’s not in direct contrast.

Q Yes, it was. You said Friday that there would be no drawing of lines, distinctions between Democrats and Republicans —

MR. SNOW: And there wasn’t.

Q — it would focus on unity.

MR. SNOW: There wasn’t.

Q Was it a speech about unity, or was it a speech about a proposal about Iraq?

Oh, andthe White House lied to the networks about the speech.

Q Tony, in retrospect, do you think you had any obligation to tell the networks that the speech was going to be kind of a step beyond a commemoration speech, so that if they chose to, they could have given —

MR. SNOW: Let me tell you what I told the networks. I told the networks that the President was not going to be calling out Democrats, that he was not going to be making specific legislative proposals, that he was going to take a look backward and forward in the war on terror. I told them what kind of speech he was going to give. And so, no. You’re accusing me of false advertising without having been in on the conversation.

Q Did you tell them that he was going to offer a defense of the war in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Again, if I had come up here after the President delivered a war [sic] on September 11th without mentioning a conflict that right now there is 147,000 American troops on the ground, you guys would have crushed me. This was not an attempt — the President, again — total text is 20 percent of the text, and total percent that talks about more strategic matters far smaller than that. The bulk of the speech is talking about the war on terror, the people who are arrayed against us, what they intend to do, how we need to move forward. And I make no apology for my characterization, I think it was accurate, and I think — it’s what I told the news chiefs.

But on the other hand, as you know, we don’t sit around and say, by the way, this is exactly what the President is going to say. That just doesn’t happen.

Q But you chose to leave it out of the excerpts that were released early. And I’m wondering how far in advance this Iraq language was written?

MR. SNOW: It had been locked down — as I told some of you yesterday, the full speech had been pretty much locked down 24 hours in advance. This was not a response to certain, “political developments,” it was a natural element in trying to explain where we are in the war on terror.

Arrogant? President George W. Commander-in-Chief-Steely-Eyed-Dear-Leader Bush, arrogant?

Q But two things, are these people that the President is meeting with — the families, the loved ones of 9/11 — saying, yes, we are hurting, now go out and fight in Iraq? And, also, how can it not be political when the President knowingly knows that people are not for this? His poll numbers are way down, and then he’s going to say, let’s put aside our differences and unite. How is that not political?

MR. SNOW: Simple. Your question contradicts itself. What you’ve said is, it’s politically suicidal to talk about it, and yet — yes, you did. You just said it’s an unpopular war, people don’t like it. Well, if he’s trying to score political points he’ll skip it, but you see, the point of this —

Q Some say it’s arrogance; he’s going to stick to what he wants to do.

MR. SNOW: You know what, arrogance in what sense? Who is, “some say”? Some say —

Q Democrats, your critics.

MR. SNOW: Which Democrats?

Q There are a lot of them — John Kerry —

MR. SNOW: Well, I know. We’ve been through John Boehner here.

Q Do you want me to list them? You want me to list the number?

MR. SNOW: You know what I’d like to do is, when you get back to the tonal issue, ask yourself, is it arrogance or is it maintaining fidelity to principle; is it being stubborn or is it being steadfast?

[snip]

But the idea that some say, “he was being arrogant,” you cannot be arrogant when you’re looking into the face of mothers, as he was saying last night, holding children who are never going to know their father. You can’t be arrogant in a situation like that. There is nothing more humbling than being the President in a time of war.

Helen has her eye on the ball.

Q Have the generals asked for more troops, or have they been told not to ask?

MR. SNOW: No, they pointedly have not been told not — there have been no orders to the generals about not asking for more troops. As a matter of fact, the President is constantly going at them, “What do you need?” And so I think that there’s going to be continuing close questioning of, “Do you need more? What do you do if you got a battalion or two more?”

Q If they needed more and asked for more, they would be sent?

MR. SNOW: Yes, ma’am.

Oh Lord. Pony sez thatthe fact that NATO generals are beggin for more troops in Afghanistan shows we are winning.

Q I also have a question about troops, the troops in Afghanistan, Tony. How does the administration feel about the NATO debate about sending more troops in? The President, of course, last night said that administration efforts have chased the Taliban from power, but they’re threatening in the south.

MR. SNOW: Well, they’re threatening in the — there are several things going on, Peter. And this actually — some of this answer is going to apply to Iraq, as well, so I’m going to broaden it beyond your original question. The strategy both in Iran and Iraq is to get more troops on the ground.

Q You mean Afghanistan.

MR. SNOW: What did I say? Yes, I’m sorry, Afghanistan. Thank you.

[snip]

Furthermore, as we’ve talked about before, what’s going on now is that the Afghan government is beginning to extend its sphere of influence. For a very long time, as you know, it was confined around the area of Kabul, and now it is spreading. And, not surprisingly, you are not only seeing a push back from the Taliban, but you’re also seeing an attempt to try to figure out what NATO troops are made of, because there’s also been a transfer from U.S. forces in some places and NATO forces. And guess what? The NATO forces are also winning significant and lopsided victories on the battleground.

These are things that are somewhat predictable, and I think our planners have expected them. When you’re getting both the attempt to expand and extend the effective authority of the government, and also the transfers of military authority — because they’re going to try to test it out and they’re finding out that they’re losing.

Q Does your characterization of significant and lopsided victories extend to what’s happening in southern Afghanistan right now?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I mean, if you take a look at what’s been going on, there have been a number of operations where there have been heavy Afghan casualties. Now, it’s certainly not bloodless, because you have people on the Afghan side who are committed, they’re committed terrorists, they’re committed members of the Taliban. But you’re also seeing significant military action against them.

And finally, after a long absense, your Daily Les.

Q Tony, two questions. Joanne Drake, who is the Chief of Staff of the Reagan Library, she’s faxed Virginia’s Democrat U.S. Senate candidate James Webb the following two sentences: “Using the President’s name, image or likeness implies endorsement, which is neither fair nor respectful of any candidate, certainly after President Reagan’s death. At the direction of Mrs. Reagan, please refrain.” Question, does the President support Mrs. Reagan’s request of candidate Webb?

MR. SNOW: The President is aware of it.

Q Does he support it? Are you suggesting he doesn’t support this —

MR. SNOW: Are you suggesting that the President sits around and reviews each and every campaign commercial and tries to decide — I’m not sure we might have a McCain-Feingold violation if I even comment on this. (Laughter.)

Q — that he wants to avoid this?

MR. SNOW: No, I just think — I hate to say it, Les, but you’ve done it again — (laughter) — asked me a completely inappropriate and irrelevant question.