Today on Holden’s Obsession with [Yesterday’s] Gaggle

Yesterday’s gaggle was chock full of bloggy goodness including this question right out of the gate.

Q Kofi Annan, back from two weeks in the Middle East, says that most of the leaders that he spoke to thought the invasion of Iraq had been a real disaster for them and believe it’s destabilized the region. Do you agree with that?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Do you think it — why not? I mean, it certainly looks like there’s unrest.

MR. SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you why. If you take a look at what’s gone on in the region, you have attempts to establish democracies in Lebanon [against which the Bush Assministration waged a proxy war], you have an attempt to establish a democracy in the Palestinian areas [by a political party that the Bush Assministration characterizes as “terrorists”]. You have democracies now up and gaining their footing in Afghanistan [Kabul, anyway] and Iraq (Huh-the-what now?] . And those are developments that are positive. Now, I’m not going to engage in a further disputation with the Secretary General of the United Nations, but I disagree with the characterization.

Moving the Goal Posts

Q You said earlier on one of the television networks that the U.S. goal in Iraq is not to subdue every bad guy in Iraq. What does that mean exactly?

MR. SNOW: What it means is that it has always been the strategy of this administration to work with the Iraqis so that their military and police forces are able to provide safety and security within Iraq’s borders. It is not America’s job to settle every dispute or to fight every insurgent. Indeed, what we want to have happen is the United States supporting the Iraqis in such a way — you know the formulations, Steve — stand up, stand down. And that hasn’t changed.

Q Is the U.S. goal also to defeat the insurgency?

MR. SNOW: The U.S. goal is to have the insurgency defeated.

Obsession continues…

Helen Remains Focused, Snow Admits His Ignorance

Q Can you give me the administration’s reason why 72 hours and 60 days isn’t enough, and you don’t want to get a warrant to wiretap?

MR. SNOW: I’m not sure if I understand exactly —

Q You oppose getting any warrant for a wiretap.

MR. SNOW: No, we’ve been working — what we’re trying to do is we are working with Congress to find ways to reform FISA so that you’re able not only to have a court proceeding that allows you to gain court warrants when necessary, to do so in a quick and timely basis.

Q But why — you think a warrant is not necessary?

MR. SNOW: No, I’m just — look, call me later. I’ll talk to the lawyers, I’m getting over my head.

War Crimes, Bitches!

Q Let me ask you about this debate the President said is so important with regard to interrogation techniques, because he wants now for Congress to clarify what’s permissible. The President said he did not authorize torture.

MR. SNOW: That is correct.

Q What did he authorize?

MR. SNOW: Can’t tell you.

Q Why can’t you say that, given that the President wants a national debate about what’s permissible?

MR. SNOW: Because there are also classifications. I think if you listen to what the President said last week, you have a conversation that’s permissible — you have a conversation about what’s permissible and a lot of that is classified, and for a very good reason. You do not want to tell the enemy what you do in terms of interrogation because they will adjust and you won’t get information.

[snip]

Q One technique that’s been widely reported on and widely debated is water-boarding. Does the President consider water-boarding to be torture?

MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to go beyond what the President has said, which is that we do not have torture, there have been orders not to torture, and that everything that has been done — and I’m not going to say yes or no to water-boarding — everything that has been done has been deemed by the Department of Justice, which has been the arbiter of such things, as consistent with U.S. law, international law, and our treaty obligations. In the wake of the Hamdan decision, we’re going to make sure that that continues to be the case with each and every method used.

Torture Does Not Work

Q I want to go back to interrogations for a moment. There was a story in The New York Times this weekend that there was some debate about which method of interrogation worked. Law enforcement interrogators were quoted saying that their methods were working, and when the CIA interrogators came in, that’s when the interrogations started to fail and that the detainees stopped talking. The President in his speech said that it was the CIA interrogators who got the information. Is he absolutely certain that the information that was important came from the CIA interrogators? Is there no doubt in his mind?

MR. SNOW: The President — look, what you’re trying to do is to draw me into a process dispute about who got when. The President said that the CIA interrogation program yielded information that you would not have received elsewhere and was absolutely vital in establishing some of these links. So, read the text; he stands by his words.

Q So it was the CIA interrogators, not the law enforcement before that who didn’t use the alternative methods?

MR. SNOW: Under this program — this was not something where there was sort of a jousting. These people were under the jurisdiction of the CIA from the beginning — my understanding. We can go back and look at it, but it was my understanding that they were immediately in the jurisdiction of the CIA, and not within intermediate questioners. There may have been some other instances; I just don’t know.

Pony Blow Defines Islamo-Fascism — Or Not

Q Can I ask you about the term, Islamo-fascism, that the President has used quite often in explaining the nature of the threats that we confront —

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q A little slow day, I was reading a dictionary — (laughter) — and I’m looking at the term —

MR. SNOW: Big print, little print? (Laughter.)

Q Small words. The definition of fascism: “A philosophy or system of government that’s marked by stringent social and economic control; a strong centralized government, usually headed by a dictator; and often a policy of belligerent nationalism.” It doesn’t quite seem to fit what we’re talking about — something that exalts the nation above the individual and centralized government? How does that fit?

MR. SNOW: Well, it actually does fit.

[snip]

Now, listen to what Osama bin Laden has said. He has said that his envisions an “Islamic nation,” to reestablish the caliphate — I don’t know if it would still be headquartered in Baghdad, but if you want your pristine historic analogy, that’s where it would be, and it would extend from Asia all the way back to Spain, because memories are still raw about 1492 when the Moors were expelled from Andalusia. That’s what he’s talking about. So in that sense, what you end up having is strict centralized government under repressive conditions, the likes of which we saw with the Taliban. If you look at the interpretation of sharia law that has been championed by bin Laden and others, it fits all of the descriptions you’ve had. And if you talk about an unbroken government using those kinds of regulations over an extended landmass, which is what he’s talking about, that it does fit the description.

Redefining Relationships

Q Just one more. Back to something from yesterday, you said that the President never said there was an operational relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi. Are you saying he didn’t suggest there was a relationship —

MR. SNOW: He said there was a relationship —

Q What does that mean?

MR. SNOW: What it means is — again, had you been in Iraq before the war? You may have. And I had, too. And you understand —

Q Before the war? No, no —

[snip]

Q They said there was no relationship.

MR. SNOW: They weren’t — a relationship means that they were there. We knew they were there.

Q So all of your comments about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi — we just knew they were there. Did we know what they were up to? I mean, how far does that go?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. We’ll have to look at the documents —

Q No, but that’s important, Tony.

MR. SNOW: How so?

Q You don’t know — I mean, there was a lot of rhetoric coming out of the White House in the build-up to the war, and since, that there was this relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi, and thus linking them to al Qaeda.

MR. SNOW: No, the argument has been that Saddam Hussein was a supporter and sponsor of terror. And we talked more often about, for instance, the fact that people who went in and committed suicide bombings against Israelis were getting paid bounties, and that Saddam was working as best he could to try to support and foment terror.

Q — no relationship with al Qaeda, no relationship with Zarqawi.

MR. SNOW: That’s right, no operational relationship, as far as we can tell. But they were there. And Zarqawi was committing acts of terror while he was in Baghdad, but we don’t — look, if we had the goods, we’d share them, but we don’t have the goods to demonstrate —

Q But Saddam Hussein didn’t know about that?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I don’t know if he knew about it. What we have been unable to demonstrate or discover is whether they’re sitting around in the map room, spreading out the map, saying, okay, you bomb there. We just don’t have that kind of granularity in terms of the relationship, and therefore, we’re not going to go — we’re going to — not going to out-run the facts.

Poppy’s Mouthpiece

Q Is Jim Baker currently serving as a key advisor to the White House on Iraq, including making a trip to Baghdad?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I mean, as you know, he’s been part of the commission that’s been taking a look at these things. I don’t know how you would — are you asking, has he been doing some surrogate work for us in Baghdad?

Q Yes.

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I’ll find out. If you can give me a more precise question, that would give me something to go on.

Q Has he been advising the President on how to proceed in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, what you’ve had are discussions that have been co-chaired by Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, a bipartisan group that’s been in a number of times to talk with the President about developments in Iraq. In that sense, yes, he has been providing some advice. But whether there is some sort of official — some unofficial cover where he’s passing — I don’t know. I’m not aware of any.

Q But that’s all in the context of the Iraq Study Group, what you’re talking about?

MR. SNOW: Yes. Yes.

Q Nothing beyond that, as far as you know?

MR. SNOW: I’m not aware of any. But if you’ve got something specific you want to toss at me, I’ll ask a direct question. I just don’t know.

Letting Osama Go

Q Tony, in Afghanistan, there’s been a spike in Taliban activity recently, some 2,000 people killed this year, increasing efforts to destabilize the democratic government. Is the White House, then, concerned about the fact that recently, when a significant number of Taliban leaders were attending a funeral and they were in the sights of a U.S. drone, that our rules of engagement there prohibiting attacking anyone in a cemetery came into play and they were allowed to walk free?

MR. SNOW: Well, I’m aware of the story. I don’t have — I have not received any guidance on it, but I think it’s safe to say, on matters like rules of engagement, it’s best to kick that over to the Pentagon. If you need help, Martha can get you in touch with the right people. (Laughter.)

Q I know who to get in touch with over there.

Q Maybe not the right — (laughter.)

Q Seriously, though, I mean, if Osama bin Laden is still believed to be hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, wouldn’t the White House — if this, indeed, is — if these are our rules of engagement, would it not be a prudent time to reexamine them, considering that they would, I assume, apply to him, as well, if he were in a cemetery, that he could not be attacked?

MR. SNOW: I’ll repeat what I said: Ask the Pentagon about this one.

Q No concern, whatsoever, then?

MR. SNOW: I’m not saying that. I’m saying I have not — it’s been a very busy day, it continues to be a busy day, and I’m not sure anybody has had an opportunity to study fully the report and, therefore, to provide the proper emotional or factual response.

Osama Not A Priority

Q So we will get [Osama bin Laden] during this presidency?

MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I mean, that’s kind of crystal-ball gazing. In a time of war, you can never make facile predictions about who you’re going to get or when.

Your Daily Les, Part I: Les Follows Up On Osama

Q Yes, Tony, two questions. WorldNet Daily notes that the official —

MR. SNOW: What notes?

Q WorldNet Daily — eight million —

MR. SNOW: What’s that?

Q Eight million viewers. The official transcript, they note that the official transcript of the March 13, 2002, presidential press conference has the President responding, “I truly am not concerned about him,” when he was asked about Osama bin Laden. Is it possible the President is still not so concerned about bin Laden?

MR. SNOW: I think — you know what, here’s the deal. What you’re seeing is that the operational capabilities of al Qaeda have been significantly degraded. But bin Laden still remains somebody who, from time to time, can smuggle out an audiotape, and Ayman al Zawahiri continues to do the video tapes, and therefore, they remain targets of interest. But there are also many other players in the war on terror, and the idea that you focus solely on him would be a mistake, which is why what you do is that you target the broader terror network through all the means we laid out last week in the strategy paper.

Your Daily Les, Part II: Kinsolving Reverts to His Old Self

Q The Washington Times on page one reported that the Congressional Black Caucus will remain exclusively black. Does the President support or oppose this racial segregation, which excluded California Congressman Pete Stark, who risked his life for civil rights in Mississippi, because Stark was born white? Now, wait a minute, are you going to just evade that question?

MR. SNOW: No, I’m going to laugh at it. (Laughter.)

Q You’re going to laugh at it?

MR. SNOW: Olivier.

Q All right, okay, you think it’s funny?

MR. SNOW: Yes.