Pay no attention to that man in the photo.
Q Tony, we haven’t talked about Jack Abramoff in a long time, and there’s a new photo showing him with the President.
MR. SNOW: The President said he didn’t know Abramoff, wasn’t buds, and my guess is there are plenty of photos around town with Jack Abramoff and Democrats and Republicans.
Q What about the change in interpreting entrance records to the White House as being the property of the White House and not of the Secret Service?
MR. SNOW: That is a fairly abstruse issue, and I will see if I can get you guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel. I don’t want to tap dance around that. I’ll try and get you a straight answer.
Image via CREW.
Chimpy Has Fucked-Up Two Wars, Can He Handle A Third?
Q Did the President consult with the Hill before the military operation in Somalia?
MR. SNOW: Number one — let me put it this way: We know that there was a military — we can confirm that there was a military operation overnight on Sunday in Somalia. We refer you to the Department of Defense for all other details. I don’t believe there was a consultation on that. I’m aware of none.
Q Tony, is that all you’re going to have on Somalia, as far as pointing us back to the Pentagon and the ongoing operation?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q You don’t have any other details?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q How about how the President found out, et cetera?
MR. SNOW: You know what, stupid me, I forgot to do the process stuff. We’ll try to find out.
No Credibility? No Problem!
Q Back to Kelly’s question. The President, beginning in November of ’05, I believe, gave a series of speeches on the strategy for victory in Iraq. The American people didn’t seem to buy that, the situation in Iraq went downhill. Do you worry about the President’s credibility? And is there anything in this speech, or in this plan, that is really, truly new, or is it trying things that have already been tried before?
MR. SNOW: Martha, I will let you judge it, and I will let you ask questions once we’ve laid it all out. The President understands, and I think you understand, that a war is not a fixed thing that proceeds along a predetermined or straight path, and as situations change, you must adjust.
MR. SNOW: As far as public opinion, the President will not shape policy according to public opinion, but he does understand that it’s important to bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence and support for the mission.
Q But the public doesn’t want to go back to the war. They want to go away, they —
MR. SNOW: No, April, you —
Q — the midterm elections, did people — did they or did they not vote for leaders who basically said they wanted to —
MR. SNOW: April, let me ask you a simple question: Do opinions change?
Q Yes, they do.
MR. SNOW: Do they change on the basis of arguments?
Q They change on the basis of results.
MR. SNOW: Exactly, they change on the basis of results. That is absolutely right. So that’s what —
Q The results have been more deaths. We went in supposedly to stop the war on terror — I mean, to stop terrorism around the world, as a result which stemmed from the 9/11 issue. And everyone is saying now, look, you have more people dying than they did in 9/11, and you have more U.S. soldiers dying and the world is not as safe.
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure the world is less safe. The world is — I guarantee you the world is less safe if the United States withdraws and leaves a vacuum in Iraq. I guarantee it. And I guarantee everybody in this room is going to be less safe, and everybody in this country is going to be less safe. And that is the challenge the President faces, and it is worth explaining that to the American people.
Q Tony, this goes to your previous acknowledgment that the President is aware of public anxiety about the situation in Iraq. What would your guidance be to a public that has seen the President stand under a “Mission Accomplished” banner, proclaim an end to major combat operations, the Vice President talking about the “last throes” — how should the public go into viewing this speech tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: I think the public ought to just listen to what the President has to say. You know that the “Mission Accomplished” banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln. And the President, on that very speech, said just the opposite, didn’t he? He said it was the end of major combat operations, but he did not say it was the end of operations. Instead, he cautioned people at the time that there would be considerable continued violence in Iraq, and that there would be continued operations for a long period of time. That single episode has been more widely mischaracterized than just about any aspect of the war.
Q We can debate whether the sign should have been there, whether the White House should have not had it there, but the fact is he stood under it and made the speech.
MR. SNOW: You’re right, after people had been on a 17-month deployment, and had said “Mission Accomplished” when they’re finally able to get back to their loved ones, the President didn’t say, take down the sign, it will be bad. Instead what he did is he talked about the mission. And I would direct you back to the speech he gave then, Peter, because the President —
Q I’d like to ask you a question — we’ve danced around this a little bit — the question here about “mission accomplished.” Does the President worry at all about his own personal credibility as the messenger, as the person carrying this message? He has given a number of speeches, all of which were designed to tell the American people, I have a plan for victory. And I think that hasn’t worked out the way he had hoped, and you’re asking them to, again — almost hear him again to say much the same thing.
Maybe It’s A Surgalation
Q Well, what’s the difference between an escalation and a surge?
MR. SNOW: Well, why don’t we talk about characterizations once we have a plan?
Q Because I think it’s part of a conversation that’s going on right now.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, and, guess what — it’s a conversation, as I’ve said before, that is a bit in a vacuum and I’m not going to get into the business of preemptively characterizing something that we have not released in full detail.
Q But, somehow, “escalation” has become this Democratic word — the Democratic Party language.
MR. SNOW: Well, ask the guys who do their focus groups. They’re going to have an answer for it. Look, the President is talking about a way forward, and rather than getting involved in trying to assess a description of a plan that has yet to be released publicly and, therefore, about which I am not in a position to characterize publicly, it seems a little silly for me to start quibbling about adjectives without discussing what they purportedly describe, don’t you think?
Q Well, the President apparently told Gordon Smith and others yesterday that the 20,000 troop increase/surge/escalation is part of the deal. So that’s why I’m asking specifically about — we are going to see some kind of increase.
MR. SNOW: Rather than looking for a one-word handle, look at the policy. And, actually, this is your challenge — you guys do words for a living; figure out — rather than trying to ask Democratic or even Republican lawmakers what the proper descriptive term is, you figure it out. I mean, you’re going to have an opportunity —
Q I’m trying to, but that’s what —
MR. SNOW: Yes, but what you’re doing is you’re listening to what other people are saying and saying, is that the right one? Well, I can’t help you on that.
Q Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing —
MR. SNOW: Can’t help you on that one.
Q — I’m listening to other people describe it, and I’m asking the administration, what’s the proper word?
MR. SNOW: I understand. But what we will say is, look at it, then we’ll talk.
Q Do you have a problem with the word “escalation”?
MR. SNOW: As I said, look at it, we’ll talk.
Q After yesterday’s session, and yesterday’s were just Republican senators who came, correct?
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q Thad Cochran came out and said, well, I told the President I’d be able to support him, but I was alone, I didn’t hear anybody else saying that. Is that an accurate reflection of what happened?
MR. SNOW: You know, as I said, we permit people to come to the sticks and say what they wish. Our ground rules are, we don’t talk about it, so I don’t talk about it.
Q Is this real consultation, Tony? Senators went in yesterday and came out saying that the President had, effectively, told them what he was going to do, that he was clear about his intentions. Some of these senators had not been in before to talk to the President about his plans for Iraq. So how can you characterize this as consultation?
MR. SNOW: Thank you. As you said, what you’re trying to do is to get me to characterize the conversations they’ve had, and I can’t do it, Sheryl.
Q No, I’m asking you to say — do you believe this is genuine consultation?
MR. SNOW: As I said, Sheryl, it’s one of these things that the President has made it clear that he’s going to have exchanges of views, but I’m not taking you in the room with them.
Q [C]an we talk about this issue of consultation? Is the President really soliciting views, and do these lawmakers — are they having an input into his thinking?
MR. SNOW: Yes, of course. And as I’ve said before, Sheryl, look, the President still has to make choices and he still has to make decisions, and he still has to lay out a proposal with a way forward. On the other hand, he has made it very clear to one and all that he’s interested in hearing from people, he’s interested in ideas, and that will continue.
Q But the speech is 30 hours away. That’s not that much more time for —
MR. SNOW: I’m not saying that the President is going to go back in and shred it and start over. Again, what I’m saying is the President still continues to have an open mind because this is a way forward. This is not, wave a wand and it’s all going to happen. This is a way of talking about the important business of building capacity on the part of the Iraqis to take care of their own security, and to build a strong, independent democracy that really does, as I said, stand as the definitive refutation of terror; and also the example to other countries in the region that hope freedom and democracy are possible and are things that they all ought to pursue.
Ignore The Generals On The Ground
Q Tony, I apologize if this has been asked at some point before, but the President has clearly consulted with a wide variety of people on troop levels in Iraq. What happened to the statements that he had made for years that the people who decided troop levels in Iraq were the generals on the ground?
MR. SNOW: Well, he’s talked to them, too. And as you probably know, generals are not of one mind. Generals are independent individuals, as well, and there are a number of opinions within the ranks of the military about this.
Q That “he’s talked to them, too” is not good enough, because really what he had said previously was that those were the people who make the decisions, and those were the people that he was listening to. And now, very clearly, he’s talking to people outside of the military, people on Capitol Hill, generals not in Iraq — he’s talking to a wide variety of people on the issue. What happened to this rule, a real hard and fast rule that he —
MR. SNOW: No, no, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule. What he was trying to do was, again, talk about his confidence in generals, and he still has it and he still consults with —
Q Well, he —
MR. SNOW: Let me continue. There also, though, is — every day I get questions, what about the polls, what about Congress? Well, guess what. When you’re trying to build consensus — now when what the President is trying to do here is lay the foundation for consensus, moving forward in Iraq, it is important to consult people and to take into account a wide variety of ideas so that you have taken advantage of every possible insight you can. It is obvious that the two Baghdad security plans didn’t work. And, therefore, you have to ask yourself why, and, how do we move forward.
Q Was it a mistake in earlier years, then, to rely so strongly on the advice of generals in Iraq on troop levels?
MR. SNOW: The President asks for the advice of generals and others in the military on troop levels to enact policy recommendations that he himself has set. And he will continue to do so.
And Now, Your Daily Les
Q The AP reports that the U.S. Army sent letters to 75 officers who were killed in action encouraging them to reconsider — to consider returning to active duty. And while General Richard Cody has apologized for this computer error, there’s no report of anyone being disciplined for this. And my question: What does the Commander-in-Chief of the Army have to say about this horrendous error, and about what else such computer errors could do?
MR. SNOW: I’d refer that to the Pentagon, Les.