Holy crap! Pony said something stupid in today’s gaggle…
MR. SNOW: The Syrians have been adventurous and meddlesome in Iraq, and in Lebanon, and working against the causes of democracy in both of those countries.
And wound up pissing off Helen Thomas.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think Helen wants to follow on that one. So go ahead, Helen.
Q Who are we to keep meddling in Iraq itself? You talk about meddling and adventuresome? And who are we to give orders to Syria and every other country?
MR. SNOW: We’re not giving orders to anybody, Helen. They’ve got their choices to make. As far as the Iraqis, they made it clear —
Q Recommendations, constantly — they’re taking in a thousand refugees every day — every month from Iraq.
MR. SNOW: And many of the refugees in Iraq are there because acts of terror have been perpetrated against them. The Syrians certainly have not been helpful in securing a more peaceful Iraq. The Syrians are under suspicion —
Q — them shelter —
MR. SNOW: The Syrians are under suspicion of having some involvement in the assassinations of Rafiq Hariri and Pierre Gemayel. They have been fighting mightily against an open tribunal to figure out what happened. And again, our commitment is to democracy and we think that people in the region are going to be better off living in free democracies rather than under the sway of governments that deny their rights and use such things as murder and terror as ways of imposing their will.
Q That’s such a broad accusation. How many people do we have that we have accused and held in confinement in limbo for four years without any trial without any trial, without any charge?
MR. SNOW: Holden have provided for the civil rights — notice that you’ve completely jumped off of the topic now of the behavior of the Lebanese. What we are doing is that we have passed a law with regard to the Hamdan legislation that guarantees the civil rights of people who have been pulled off battlefields. We have a reasonable suspicion they’re trying to kill —
Q Four years without a charge or a trial —
MR. SNOW: — who we have reasonable suspicion to believe have been trying to kill Americans. And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a bad thing. And I think you do, too.
Q Tony —
Q That’s a lousy way to twist it.
MR. SNOW: No, it’s not. What has happened is you and I have now been in a series of questions where I’ll answer a question and then the subject changes. And so we’ve hopscotched from the human rights record of the Syrians to the democracy in Lebanon —
Q What about our human rights record?
MR. SNOW: Well, we will stand by it.
Pony is forced to appologize to David Gregory in order to stay on good terms with the press corps.
Okay, before I get to that, I want to address something else, because you and I had a conversation last week that got a whole lot of play in a lot of places where I used the term “partisan” in describing one of your questions. And I’ve thought a lot about that, and I was wrong. So I want to apologize and tell you I’m sorry for it. And the reason I do that is not only because it’s the right thing to do, because I want people in this room and also people who watch these to understand that the relations in this room are professional and collegial. And if I expect you to do right by us, you have every right to expect that I’ll do right by you.
So, in any event, I just want to say I’m sorry for that
Pony Blow Don’t Know!
Q Can you say whether he believes that it is the primary security role of the U.S. military to be responsible for reducing that sectarian violence?
MR. SNOW: Again, I think — I don’t want to get — I think the goal of reducing sectarian violence is absolutely vital. Whether I — it would be inappropriate for me to assign that, to say that that is the primary goal. It is clearly a shared goal by the government of the United States and also by the government of Prime Minister Maliki.
Q Tony, isn’t sectarian violence at least a problem —
MR. SNOW: Well, there are a number of problems. Sectarian violence clearly is a problem. As I mentioned, you also —
Q — the biggest one? I mean, I know there are a number of problems. But I believe your Commander-in-Chief said that’s the biggest problem that you face right now.
MR. SNOW: I think it is. But you also have, for instance, al Qaeda has clearly been active in Anbar Province. You still have al Qaeda activities that play an interesting role — they have been designed to foment sectarian violence, but at the same time, it’s another form of violence that’s designed to destabilize the government.
Q Let me follow up on David’s question, then, I think — and that is this is the number one problem, according to your commanders — sectarian violence. So does the President want — does the President feel that’s a main mission of the U.S. troops now, to —
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, I understand that, but to answer that then gets people on the train of, does this mean you’re going to plus up, you’re going to plus down, you’re going to move in, you’re going to move out —
Q I don’t mean plus in, plus down.
MR. SNOW: — and I’m not going to get into any of these —
Q Is it a job of U.S. troops to quell that sectarian violence? Or just turn all that over to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No. Again — and that’s why — those are two theories — that’s a theory that’s being floated and I’m simply not going to respond, for the reason that I’m not going to make a — I’m going to let the President announce what he considers the proper way forward.
He’ll Be Clearing Brush
Q One more. Could you tell us what happens now, from the time before the President gives his speech — because the other day you said that most of the decisions, I think you said, were close to being made, that they were just ironing out a few things. So what is the President going to be doing from now until he announces the strategy?
MR. SNOW: He’ll be — there will be continuous consultation not only with — through the National Security Council, but with Pentagon commanders; no doubt that there will be continued consultation with the government of Iraq.
Q So it’s very much just detail things at this point? He has follow-up questions, or he knows what he’s going to do, but —
MR. SNOW: The President — no, there’s —
Q Can you just give us a better sort of —
MR. SNOW: Unfortunately I can’t. This is one of those where I’m forced to try to give impressionistic answers. The President has not made final decisions about the way forward, and so people are examining a lot of different options. And they’re presenting them to him.
Screw The Commanders On The Ground
Q Tony, when some people have called for troops to be pulled out of Iraq, the President has said he relies on the commanders. And he has said, no, he’s not going to do that, based on the advice of the commanders. Now that the service chiefs have told him they don’t think it’s a good idea to put a large share of more U.S. troops into Iraq, does that rule that out as an option since the President relies —
MR. SNOW: Don’t presume you know everything the service chiefs have said just because you’ve read the newspaper.
Q Okay, well, then I will follow up. Are you denying The Washington Post report —
MR. SNOW: I am not — no, because we have made it clear that we’re really not going to comment on these, because to get in the business of affirming or denying will set off a chain of testing out every new theory. And we’re going to leave it to the President to make the decision. And so I know it’s frustrating, but I’m not going to be able to give satisfaction on the President’s view of various things that may have appeared in the paper.
Q If the service chiefs do advise that —
MR. SNOW: The President will make the decision he thinks is most appropriate. And he certainly respects the advice of the service chiefs. But keep in mind you have service chiefs. You have combatant commanders. You have the Secretary of Defense. You have a lot of people involved in the decision loop, and he has spent a lot of time — he’s mentioned many times that he certainly defers to in many cases and appreciates the advice of people who are on the ground like General Casey, General Abizaid and others in the theater. And he takes it very seriously. But I’m not going to try to lay out for you, especially on the basis of things that have been leaked in one way, shape or form.
Q The President has been saying for several years now that he defers to commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels. General Abizaid was on the Hill about a month ago saying — he was asked point blank, do you want more troops, he said, no.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q Would the President be willing to essentially overrule Abizaid and Casey if he felt that there were more troops needed?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President will make the decisions that he thinks are most appropriate for a proper way forward. He’s the Commander-in-Chief.
Q If he felt it was necessary to overrule military commanders to do so —
MR. SNOW: He is the Commander-in-Chief, and he will do what he deems necessary.
We Don’t Do Body Counts, Except When We Do
Q The President yesterday said that about 5,900 enemy forces have either been killed or captured in about the last two and a half months. Can you elaborate on that? I mean, he just made one broad statement about that. What other information do you have to back that up, in terms of —
MR. SNOW: Well, those are — that’s the information that’s been produced by our people in the field.
Q Why did he decide to give enemy body counts? That’s something that they’ve generally tried to stay away from.
MR. SNOW: Well, that’s a good question. I won’t try to — rather than trying to tell you why the President said what he said — because I can’t give you the exact — I can’t put him on the couch right now — what I can do is at least offer one possible reason why that’s an important data point for Americans, which is there’s a lot of concern about U.S. casualties and deaths, as there should be — 103 deaths in October alone. And there is quite often the impression — and I’ve talked about it up here, that our people aren’t doing anything, they’re just targets. And I think there’s a certain amount of unease in the American public because they hear about deaths but they don’t hear about what’s going on.
Q Tony, is this something that the White House would like the America public to judge? We killed this many bad guys, versus how many of us are killed? Is that something you want as a metric from now on?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. But I think — I think the most — I think it is important that Americans learn as much as possible about what’s going on in Iraq, and that’s not merely militarily, to get a sense of where the violence is located, how widespread it is, what’s going on in civil society, is there hope in certain provinces, what is the full picture in Iraq. And I’m afraid that that is something that people have not fully received. And so we will be talking about the fuller picture, good news and bad news.
Q Can I say that the White House and Pentagon have all said this is counterinsurgency, and certainly now sectarian violence. And when you look at a counterinsurgency, you don’t win a counterinsurgency by killing a whole lot of people. So I guess my question is, do you really want the American public to say —
MR. SNOW: As I said, that’s why —
Q — this is how many people we’ve killed? Because that’s —
MR. SNOW: Again, that’s —
Q — your commanders will tell you that’s not how you win it.
MR. SNOW: The commanders will tell you a couple of things. Number one, when you’re fighting insurgents, if they’re dead, they’re not going to fight you anymore. But the other important thing about counterinsurgency is that it has to be part of a broader program, which we’ve talked about many times, which involves not merely — we’ve talked about Baghdad neighborhoods, for instance, clean hold, but you’ve also got to sustain those neighborhoods. And that involves creating a police force that is reliable and trusted. It means creating economic opportunities so you don’t leave a vacuum behind. It involves creating political consensus in the country so that people have buy-in. So as the generals themselves have said —
Q But that’s not happening, which is why he went to the body counts?
MR. SNOW: No, there — no. A lot of these things are happening —
Q A lot of those aren’t —
MR. SNOW: Well, you don’t assume that because we’ve introduced a new piece of evidence that other evidence does not play into the conversation.
Q And if you look back on numbers that have been given here and in the Pentagon about how many enemy there are over the years, I mean, at one point it’s 5,000, at one it’s 20,000. So in the last three months, you’ve killed or captured 5,000 — it seems like all the enemies should be gone at this point.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, Martha, I know. But I’m just telling you that — I told you I’m not going to put the President on the couch. I’m offering you a possible explanation. But it is important that people get a fuller picture. And you’ve heard it from troops, I’ve heard it from troops, and it should not be limited simply to that. But one also should not assume that people out there are simply dying in vain or that our men and women are not accomplishing things when they’re taking on the people who are committing acts of violence that has killed thousands of Iraqis.
Q Can I follow up on that? Are you making differentiation between suicide bombers and insurgents or terrorists and insurgents or are they all lumped together in the same —
MR. SNOW: Anybody who is trying to take down this government or destabilize the democracy through acts of violence are enemies to the democracy in Iraq.
He Should Talk About Credibility
Q Okay. And second, it’s not only Senator Dodd who will be going, but also by the end of the year, Senator Kerry and Senator Specter, a member of your own party, is planning a trip to Syria. Is the President concerned that with the Baker-Hamilton report’s call for direct engagement with Syria that, in a way, these visits are costing him control of his own foreign policy?
MR. SNOW: No, the President is in charge of foreign policy. It may cost some people their credibility. It’s one of these things where, again —
Q Has it lost these senators their credibility?
MR. SNOW: It might. We’ll have to see. I mean, they — the point here is that the American government position is clear, and that the Syrians know what they have to do. And it is also important for the Syrians to understand — and you’ll have to ask the senators what it is that they hope to achieve — but it is also clear that the Syrians need to understand, if they don’t already, that this government’s position is clear about what their responsibilities and obligations are.
Q When you say it may cost some people their credibility, what do you mean by that?
MR. SNOW: Well, as I pointed out, Senator Nelson went and thought that he’d gotten concessions out of Bashar Assad two years ago and he came back empty-handed. Apparently what he thought President Assad had promised to him was not something that actually was offered.
Goyal Goes Off The Deep End
Q Tony, on Iraq. First of all, I’m really thankful to the President and the First Lady for the grand reception last night. My question is on Iraq, Syria, and also — Tony, we are dealing with three groups of people, Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, and all those are supported by different governments, like one group by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, one group by Syria and Iran, and another group, Kurds, are different. So where do we stand and why our troops, all our money is being spent there, we are dying there for them. But how much this Saudi Arabia is doing there, because rich country, and they have influence in the area — already we spend —
MR. SNOW: What exactly is the question?
Q — these people together, what are we doing, as far as Saudi Arabia —
MR. SNOW: Are you saying that we should insist that the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Turks assemble their own military forces and put them in Iraq? Is that what you’re saying?
Q Well, they should come out really to solve this problem, because this is their problem —
MR. SNOW: They can all play constructive roles.
And Now,Your Daily Les
Q Have you or the President had any comment or concern about The Weekly Standard’s six-page report headlined, “Warriors for Hire: Blackwater USA and the Rise of Private Military Contractors”?
MR. SNOW: I haven’t even read it, so you can — you can scratch me off the list.
Q You’re aware of this, of what’s going on, aren’t you?
MR. SNOW: Well, I know the Blackwater has been involved in some security operations.
Q Has the President expressed any concern about Blackwater?
MR. SNOW: Not to me.