How Now Colin Powell?
Q Tony, does it concern the White House, though, that Secretary Powell went further than Secretary Gates, in saying not only is the U.S. not winning but, in fact, Secretary Powell said the U.S. is losing?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look at what Secretary Powell did, he gave a pretty thorough analysis of the situation. And what he said is, “it’s grave and deteriorating,” and “we’re not winning, we are losing. We haven’t lost,” he continued. Then he went through and started talking about what he thought might be some of the considerations you would use with regard to military power. But the most important thing he said is that the Iraqis are the key to the solution, which we agree.
And if you take a look at a lot of the things he said, it’s pretty consistent with what the President has been saying.
Q Just a final thing, he said that he also would like to see a drawn down started by mid-2007. That would seem to run counter to —
MR. SNOW: Well, no, again, if you take a look — I don’t think he was — because I’ve got the transcript here, as you can tell — it doesn’t look like it was that definitive. What he is saying is that there are a whole series of things you need to look at. He talked about resource issues, he talked about issues of mission, and so on.
Q Turning back to Colin Powell, you seem to be saying that Colin Powell is kind of on the same page as the administration.
MR. SNOW: Well, it’s clear that he’s had some disagreements about what he considers phases two and three, and there are going to be some points — but it’s interesting that you walk through a lot of the comments he’s made yesterday, and it’s also obvious that he’s taking a pretty sober and practical look at the situation in Iraq, especially when people are considering publicly discussing a number of military options.
Q Because when you read it or watch it, it becomes pretty clear that he isn’t on the same page as the administration.
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, there are points of disagreement, but there are also a number of points there where, again, you start looking at the data points that he is reading out and — for instance, again, the talk about troops. He says, look, I don’t know — he seemed to say that he didn’t like the so-called surge idea, but then he said, if I were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, here are the questions I would ask. And that’s a pretty sensible list of questions.
Q And has the President, himself, had any reaction to the use of the words, “civil war,” or that we are “losing in Iraq”?
MR. SNOW: Well, I have not heard him respond directly to either, other than to questions that have been asked.
MR. SNOW: No, not even indirectly.
Q Can I just come back to Powell one more time? Just to be clear, one of the points of disagreement, we are losing, you disagree with that?
MR. SNOW: Again, the President has said before that we are winning. Look, what Colin Powell is saying, we’re not winning, so therefore we must be losing, and then he says, all is not lost. So I’m just — I’m not going to get — what I am saying is that we will win and we have to win, and that’s the most important — that’s the most —
Q You’re not disagreeing with him?
MR. SNOW: I’m just — I’m not playing the game anymore. It’s one of these things where you end up — it all ends up trying to — you’re trying to summarize a complex situation with a single word or gerund, or even a participle. And the fact is that what you really need to do is to take a look at the situation and understand that it is vital to win, that there is — by winning, that means to have an independent Iraq that really does stand on its own as a democratic and free state that supports us in the war on terror.
Q Can I ask the gerund another way? The President said in October, “Absolutely, we’re winning.” Is that still his belief today?
MR. SNOW: Again, the President — that’s why I’m just — I think at this point it ceases to be fruitful to jump into this. We think that what is happening is we are going to win and that we need to find better ways of dealing with the sectarian problem.
How Come The Decider Won’t Decide?
Q I guess the question is, we’re probably at least a week-and-a-half, if not two weeks, at the earliest, before the President can give the “new way forward” speech.
MR. SNOW: I’ve already told you it’s next year.
Q Right, so it’s the 18th, so we’re talking about —
MR. SNOW: The new year starts two weeks from today.
Q Okay. So what’s the holdup? We’re four years into this. You’ve had the new change since February, the new chapter. You’ve got all the — what’s going on? I would imagine there must be some internal dispute about policy.
MR. SNOW: You would be wrong.
Q Well, then, what’s the holdup?
MR. SNOW: The holdup is that when you’re taking a fresh look — I’ve tried to make the point that this is very complex; and that you try to do it right. So it’s not a holdup.
Q Not at all, Tony. I’m asking what I think is a fair question I hear out of a lot of American’s mouths, which is, wait a minute, the pieces of this puzzle really haven’t changed for many weeks, if not months, if not years; we have this major course correction coming, but that was announced several weeks ago. So I think it’s a fair question that a lot of the American people are asking, which is, what’s the wait?
MR. SNOW: There is no wait. I think American people understand that a Commander-in-Chief takes seriously his obligations to get things right.
You are not dealing in a static situation. This is not like solving a crossword puzzle. It, in fact, is a highly complex situation where you are talking about the dispositions of tens of thousands of troops already in the country, and you are dealing with international coalitions and a whole series of other considerations. So there is no holdup other than the practicality of getting it right. And the President is — when he feels comfortable that his questions and concerns have been addressed — and he is tasking people with answering some tough questions — then he will announce the way forward.
Q But is there a new — is there a new moving part? Is there anything new to factor in, that wasn’t here — I hear what you’re saying. You’re listing things, but nothing that you just listed wasn’t part of the stew pot many months ago.
MR. SNOW: Sure there was. This government has, in fact, been in office for a little more than six months. The Prime Minister in the last few weeks has been much more assertive, not only in terms of his desire for having Iraqis assume greater control over military operations, but also in terms of a lot of the other pieces that are essential, such as the ones that Colin Powell is laying out.
Helen Thomas Sees An Opening…
Q Has the President factored in any of how many people will die?
MR. SNOW: Helen, you ask that question every day, and I don’t know how I can —
Q It’s a very valid question.
MR. SNOW: And it’s a question he thinks about every day.
Q And does he care about it? Does it matter how many die?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it does. Absolutely.
Q Well, you have a benchmark now — this fall has been so lethal.
MR. SNOW: And the people who have been killing will kill even more if we walk away. I would turn you to The New York Times op-ed page today, where a Marine Major talks about —
Q Written by a Marine.
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, does that make it suspect that he’s on the ground trying to save lives?
Q No, that doesn’t. But, I mean, he has to take the military attitude.
MR. SNOW: Well, you might want to read it, because the military — the military attitude is, warriors don’t like to be engaged in war if you can have peace, and generals don’t like to send people into battle unless they have to. The people who are instigating the violence in Iraq are ones who are determined to kill.
Q You don’t think our occupation is a factor?
MR. SNOW: I think the biggest factor right now — if you take a look at what’s going on, who are they killing? They’re killing Iraqis, aren’t they? They are primarily killing Iraqis. And what they’re trying to do is to destroy hope and peace and democracy.
Q How do you know all that? I mean, why do you think people would want to do that? In the first place, they don’t like an occupation.
MR. SNOW: Could it be they’re suffused with hatred? Could it be that people, in fact, who are in unoccupied lands, who have been slaughtering, also do so because they hate people? The question is —
Q Do we hate them? Are we killing any of them?
MR. SNOW: Yes, we are.
…And Another Gaggler Picks Up On Helen’s Questions
Q Isn’t part of the process the President is going through now to at least have some sort of working number on how many Iraqi citizens have died?
MR. SNOW: Right now what he’s trying to do is to come up with a working plan to make sure that fewer die in the future so that you can have a position — I think —
Q But isn’t it essential to know how many are dying to have a proper view of the situation?
MR. SNOW: I think — the Iranians, themselves, have taken responsibility —
Q Iraqis. Did I say “Iranians”?
MR. SNOW: Okay, I’m sorry, the Iraqis, in fact — I was explaining this to Helen — are compiling the death totals based on morgue and hospital accounts. And those have been, sort of, the closest to official numbers. And we are taking their word on that. They may be off by some, but you get a general sense. I don’t think —
Q So what is the latest working number?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. But maybe what you —
Q Can you find that out for us?
MR. SNOW: Yes, but what — the purpose is —
MR. SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective?
Q It’s perspective.
MR. SNOW: And how will you put that in perspective.
Q We keep track of how many American personnel are killed and wounded —
MR. SNOW: The reason I ask the question is, you understand that you have focal points of violence within Iraq, and you also have focal points where there is a considerable amount of progress, and that the most important thing is to go after the forces who are killing those people.
And the President’s chore is far larger than dealing with that human tragedy — which he deplores — and it is to come up with ways of going after the people who are responsible for that, so that people who have every right to be able to live in freedom may, in fact, have that opportunity.
Q But as a metric, isn’t it important — isn’t it very valid?
MR. SNOW: It’s one of many metrics, but also, the more important thing is, where is the violence coming from?
Q With respect to the Iraqis —
MR. SNOW: Here’s — no, no, the Iraqis have said they want to tally it up, and so you can refer to them. We’ll try to do it. But here’s the thing: the President has often made the point that what happens if you’re a terrorist is if you go in and you kill a lot of people — you have somebody who is willing to go in and commit suicide and kill 300, they’re able to claim victory because they’ve killed X number, because they have bought your metric, and they have used a single act of violence against innocent citizens as a way of saying to either the Iraqi people or the American people, time to get out.
The most important thing to say is, no, we need to fight to stop people, precisely because the ultimate object should not be merely to tally up the deaths, which at one point somebody can do, but to fight —
Q The President repeatedly cites that 3,000 people died on 9/11, part of —
MR. SNOW: I understand that. And as a matter of fact — you know what, Kelly, you’re right. Every one of those numbers — you’re absolutely right. The number, in fact, ought to redouble everybody’s determination to put an end to the viciousness of the people who are responsible for this. So you’re absolutely right, it’s a very strong and powerful argument for finishing the job properly.
Here Pony Tries His Traitors at the New York Times Wingnuttery on the Wrong Crowd
Q Flynt Leverrett, a former NSC official, Mideast expert, also worked in the CIA, has charged that the administration has blocked publication of an op-ed he wrote in The New York Times simply because it’s critical of the administration’s Iran policy.
MR. SNOW: I doubt that. Flynt has been plenty critical and plenty public in the past. I don’t know —
Q And he says that it’s now being blocked because he’s become increasingly critical at a time when it’s politically important for the White House to have public support for its foreign policy.
MR. SNOW: I sincerely doubt that, but I’ll try to find out. I don’t know anything about it, except, come on, it’s not like Flynt has not been out publicly on a number of occasions questioning the administration.
Q But he says the CIA has cleared this particular piece and the White House has blocked it. So my question is —
MR. SNOW: The White House is not blocking his writings.
Q There is no effort to use national security claims to falsely silence critics?
MR. SNOW: We don’t falsely silence critics on national security claims. Now, if there’s a legitimate national security claim, I’m sure that that will be made. Let me — rather than chasing around, I don’t know anything about this, so I’ll find out. And you can call me —
Q Can I ask you, then, more broadly, because as you know the administration has been under criticism lately for being incredibly aggressive about chasing down leaks, hard on reporters who have been breaking stories that are classified material, and there’s a sense that this administration is more secretive than other administrations. Do you think —
MR. SNOW: That’s simply not true. I mean, wait a minute, quick show of hands — how many reporters in this room have had hard push-back for writing stories?
Q You don’t think that there have been aggressive attempts to silence reporters at The New York Times and other places that have reported on the NSA?
MR. SNOW: No. No, but there has been — it has been pointed out — and interestingly enough, also by the public editor at The New York Times — that in at least one of those cases, they shouldn’t have printed the story. And it is legitimate to ask the question, do you compromise national — you’re shaking your head, no, but it’s true.
Here’s Your Daily Les
Q Yesterday on the Internet, the following news was reported nationwide from the White House, and I quote: “Loaded into press van 2, the pool assumed the proper sobriety of an anticipated church visit, only to be told five minutes later that ‘church is cancelled,’ no reason was offered.” And my question: Did this last-minute cancellation of Episcopal church worship have anything to do with this morning’s top of page one reporting of the biggest split of more than 200 years of Episcopal church history?
MR. SNOW: I wish I could just say a flat, no. I have no idea, Les, so — but thank you.