I’m sorry, but Pony Blow is not a very smart man.During today’s gaggle he wound up conceding every point the press wished to make regarding the NIE.
First, Pony agrees that Bush is wrong to say we are “winning” the War on Terra.
Q A couple things. You said, first of all, that al Qaeda has been degraded. Actually, the report said al Qaeda’s leadership has been degraded, but that its ranks have increased. You also just —
MR. SNOW: But operational — okay.
Q Let me just finish and go through here. You also said that — you’re talking about things the administration has done and, yet, the intelligence estimate is taking this into account and coming up with this conclusion that the factors fueling this growth of the movement, they report, outweigh the vulnerability of the movement and will do so for some time. That’s not “we’re safer.”
MR. SNOW: No. It talks about jihadism.
Q It’s also not “we’re winning.”
MR. SNOW: Well, it doesn’t draw judgments like that. You’ve read the National Intelligence Estimate.
Q I’m practically quoting verbatim from the report. I could read it.
Q Well, again, the report says, “factors fueling the movement outweigh the vulnerabilities.” It says they’re not —
MR. SNOW: Yes, but —
Q — that the movement has grown, and that it’s harder to find and harder to prevent attacks.
MR. SNOW: I believe what it says. You’ve gotten it about right.
Q And they’re training new leaders who are being battle-tested in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: No, it says — let’s run through it, because these are all good questions. First, it says — let’s see — what you’re talking about — I’m sorry. Where are we here? Rephrase the one that you’re going after here.
Q Let’s see —
Q The vulnerabilities question.
Q Right. Well, we can go back over — I can read you verbatim —
MR. SNOW: Holden right, here we go. Yes, the — okay, that’s — thank you.
Q — but we’re also talking about harder — you know, the “confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.”
MR. SNOW: Right. Which is precisely why the President has said — if you look back at what the President has been saying, he says it’s numerous and more dispersed. We’re not disagreeing with that. I’m not trying to pick a fight with it.
What I’m trying to tell you is, there’s a difference between an al Qaeda that has training camps, that has the operational ability. What this is talking about is the ability to get people to say, I’m a jihadist, and be angry, to identify themselves as part of a movement. It’s not the same —
Q Tony, he says we’re winning the war on terrorism. That’s what he says.
MR. SNOW: I know.
Q And there are more of them. They’re more dispersed. They’re harder to find. And, yet, the President is saying, we’re winning the war on terrorism.
MR. SNOW: That’s right. But we’re also fighting the war on terrorism.
Obsession continues below…
Next, after trying out the ludicrous claim that jihadists are not terrorists, Pony concedes that the War in Iraq has indeed produced more terrorists.
Q Tony, let me refocus for a second here, because when this story broke, it seemed to me that the question here was whether or not the NIE, at least according to the part that was leaked, suggested that the war in Iraq, as a part of the general war on terror, was creating more terrorists, not fewer. And it seemed as though the administration’s first response had to do with how the information came out, or that it was a small part. Is there — do you have an issue with that statement?
MR. SNOW: Yes, as a matter of fact, I called you and took issue with it because there’s a difference between causation and something that’s simply — two phenomena that happen to go side-by-side.
Q So it’s a misreading of the report?
MR. SNOW: The report does not say that Iraq is — it says that Iraq jihad is a contributing factor to trying to recruit people to jihad. It doesn’t say that Iraq has made terrorism worse. And that is the shorthand that was employed in a number of cases.
Q I’m sorry — spell out the difference for me?
MR. SNOW: Real simple, number one —
Q — read it.
MR. SNOW: Yes, here it is. No, I’d be happy to read the sentence, I’ll do it for everybody, because there are two parts to it — and only the first half was leaked.
“The Iraq conflict has become a cause c l bre for jihadists breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement,” correct? “Supporters.” That’s right. People say they — this is what we’re talking about, we’re talking about supporters of a global jihadist movement. What it doesn’t say is we now have tens of thousands more people armed and ready to hit the United States. It doesn’t say that. It says that they’re “creating an atmosphere where people are identifying themselves as jihadists.”
Q But it seems to me that what is being suggested here –and maybe we’re — the question is, how do we define “jihad,” and is it the same thing? Is their “jihad” our “war in Iraq”? And maybe we’re just having a problem with terms. But it seems to me that what is being suggested here is that what is going on in Iraq, that conflict is creating more jihadists, terrorists — I’m not sure what term you want to use here.
MR. SNOW: You know what’s being used? It’s — what it’s doing is, it’s trying — and let me go see if I can find the bin Laden quote here. What bin Laden tries to do is to use events as a way of stirring up hatred so that he can get people who will identify — who will support him. That does not mean — and I want to make — because I don’t know — you try to make the distinction. People who say, yes, I support bin Laden is a lot different than people who say, I’m strapping on the vest and going to kill Americans. That’s a difference.
And so you’ve got a jihadist movement where there has been propaganda —
Q But it does say that —
Q That’s exactly what this is suggesting —
Q Jihadists aren’t on the sidelines. They’re not just —
MR. SNOW: No, it’s — no, I —
Q They’re not spectators.
MR. SNOW: They’re also not people — they are not people — well, a lot of them are. But the other —
Q By definition, they’re not spectators.
MR. SNOW: No, there’s no definition in here.
Q The word, “jihadist.”
MR. SNOW: A jihadist is somebody who says —
Q That implies action.
MR. SNOW: Well, but what’s interesting is —
Q Finish that sentence, “jihadist is somebody who says,” what?
MR. SNOW: A jihadist is somebody who says that they believe — that they believe that these kind of actions, that terror, in fact, will provide a road to glory. So they believe it. They buy the ideology.
Q So you’re suggesting we’ve created more people who dislike us, but not more people who want to harm us.
MR. SNOW: Well, they may even want to harm us.
Q Tony, trying to understand your response to Jim’s question, you’re saying — to paraphrase, you at the risk of becoming the new PR —
MR. SNOW: That’s okay.
Q — that the report says that Iraq is creating more jihadists, but that this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s creating more terror.
MR. SNOW: No, what it says is there are contributing factors to the jihadi movement. It does not try to render a judgment about what’s — if there is a single factor creating more. As you go back and take a look at the four parts, you have a number of things that are fueling the growth in the jihadi movement. You know what? It’s perfectly possible that the war in Iraq is creating more people who say that they want to be jihadis.
Q Right, so —
MR. SNOW: Perfectly possible.
Q But that doesn’t mean that these people are terrorists, is that what you’re saying?
MR. SNOW: It does not mean that they have the operational capability, because we have been, in fact, on a very aggressive and continued campaign that has succeeded. And the President laid that out. A number of terror plots have been intercepted and interceded.
Q But you’re making a distinction that the report doesn’t make. I mean, the report says, using the word “jihadist,” it says, “We judge that most jihadist groups — both well known and newly formed — will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attack.” It says, “CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups.”
They’re saying jihadists, not terrorists. If Iraq is creating more jihadists, doesn’t that according to the logic of the report mean that it’s creating more terrorists?
MR. SNOW: Okay, it’s creating more people who want to commit acts of terror. And it gets back to the practical judgment, which is neither addressed nor answered in here, and I will try to get “greater granularity” for you, about whether or not the operational capability is the same.
Q I’m not arguing with your other point, which is simply that there’s more terrorists but they’re less effective. What I’m saying is that this report seems to be very clearly stating that Iraq is creating more jihadists, which it equates in this report with terrorists. And, furthermore, there’s another phrase that specifically mentions terrorists that says, “We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.” Those are more terrorists.
MR. SNOW: Yes, no — more terrorist leaders and operatives. Absolutely right. And once again, in part because you have a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives, in part because the old generation has suffered significant casualties — Zarqawi and others — but, yes, you’ve got a new generation. And the question we have to keep asking ourselves is, operationally, what can they do and how can they do it. And I don’t disagree.
Finally, Pony weakly tries to claim that Americans should take some comfort in an intelligence estimate that says we are in much greater danger becasue of the War in Iraq, then meekly surrenders the point.
Q Can I just go back to your argument? Just so I’m clear. There is another way to say it, that the Americans should take comfort because while there may be more seeds of terrorist ideology across the globe, they’re not in full bloom, full operational bloom —
MR. SNOW: That’s probably — but the other thing is, I don’t want — that’s a good way of putting it. Now, you know, the PR crown now passes to you. But let me —
Q But why should that be a comforting thought, it’s —
MR. SNOW: But let me — I was about to answer that part. You don’t sit back and take comfort. What you do is you say, we’ve got an enemy, we’ve got to beat them.
Helen points out that the Iraqis want to kick us out of their country.
Q Change of subject, but not venue. The Washington Post is carrying a series of polls saying that the Iraqi people most affected by our so-called war want us out, want us out of Iraq. What is the President’s reaction?
MR. SNOW: Not really surprised. I mean, nobody wants to have an occupying army. It’s understanding that when you have an army on your soil, that you want them out. But on the other hand, the Iraqi government has made it clear, and you’ve heard statements by Prime Minister Maliki, and now President Talabani, as recently as last week, saying, don’t leave until the job is done.
We understand the sentiments of the Iraqi people and we’d love to be out of there as soon as possible, but you have to have the end state —
Q Well, do they count?
MR. SNOW: Of course, they count — and one of the reasons why their elected officials want us to stay is that they don’t want them subjected to tyranny. They want the ability to win the battle of terror on Iraqi soil. So the President does understand it. It’s also interesting, Helen —
Q — on Iraqi soil. We want it on Iraqi soil.
MR. SNOW: Let me just finish the — I’m sorry, what?
Q I said, the question of winning, we declared Iraq a central front and so forth — we want it there, instead — and they want out.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, we didn’t declare Iraq the central front, bin Laden did.
Q Yes, we did.
MR. SNOW: Bin Laden declared it the central front in the war on terror. But we’re quibbling here. They want us out. Yes, of course. The Europeans wanted us out after World War II. We ended —
Q Why do we stay there?
MR. SNOW: The reason we’re staying is that we have made a commitment to providing a government — a democracy —
Q A commitment to whom?
MR. SNOW: To the people of Iraq and to their government, a government than can sustain itself, defend itself, and govern itself. And we are continuing —
Q We invaded that country.
MR. SNOW: Please, please, we’re getting into the heckle zone here. The point is that the government has asked us and you have now had a Shia prime minister and a Kurdish President saying, stay, finish the job.
Ethics, smethics. The Republikkkans must hold onto both houses of congress or Chimpy’s going to jail.
Q Before you leave, we wanted to ask your thinking in agreeing to do fundraising.
MR. SNOW: My thinking is that I wanted to be able to help the President. And at the same time, as I was telling Nedra the other day, these are not going to be speeches where I go out and start railing against Democrats. What I’m going to do is talk about the President’s record and what he’s done.
Q Will your appearances be open to the press?
MR. SNOW: I think there may be a couple closed, but most of them are open, yes.
Q Do you see any conflict in doing a closed event when your primary role is to be a spokesperson of the President? To be open?
MR. SNOW: That’s a good question. Well, I’m trying to be open with you right now. The fact is that this is how it was set up, and if you want a readout, I’ll be happy to tell you what I said.
Q Did you take some pause to think about the ethical considerations?
MR. SNOW: Oh, yes, and had a number of conversations with Harriet Miers and others. Absolutely, this was not like, oh, yes, no-brainer. You had to think it through and had to think it through in the way that would be appropriate to do it. And it’s —
Q To your knowledge, have Press Secretaries in the past done fundraising?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so. I have not found any case in which — there may be some cases, but I’m not aware of them.
Q Then why are doing one now? Why are you the one breaking this precedent?
MR. SNOW: I was asked.
Q Being “asked” is not sufficient — you could have said, no.
MR. SNOW: I could have said no.
Q You’ve been a journalist most of your life. You tell us that all the time —
MR. SNOW: And I’m — you know what, and I’m the President’s Press Secretary, and one of the things I want to try to do is to help the President, but do it in a way that’s consistent with my role as Press Secretary. And if we find that there is an unalterable conflict, then the Press Secretary role dominates. But keep your eyes out on —
Q Did people like Harriet Miers tell you what you could say and couldn’t say, or you set the ground rules?
MR. SNOW: No, I’ve got to be able to be trusted to set the ground rules. And if I overstep, you can whack me. You don’t have to blame Harriet or anybody else.
Q How will we know what you said?
Q But they’re closed.
MR. SNOW: Well, most of these things are going to be open, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities.
Q Does the White House have any rules about White House staffers throwing political fundraisers in their homes? Has that been vetted by — as the President went to one last night?
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, White House staffers throwing fundraisers?
Q White House — employees of the White House, holding political fundraisers in their home.
MR. SNOW: I’ll find out. My guess is something like that would be vetted. But, Ann, I don’t know. I’ll find out.
Q The President went to one last night.
MR. SNOW: Yes, so I’ll find out.