In today’s gaggle, Helen Thomas follows up on her line of questioning from yesterday.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q I’d like to revisit a question yesterday. You said that we would not submit to a referendum from the Iraqis on our military presence.
MR. SNOW: You’re talking about a — I thought you were talking about a referendum within the United States.
Q No. No, in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Oh, well, the Iraqis can do whatever they want politically. I’m sorry, I completely misunderstood that question.
Q Well, I want to continue this question. Even if you said, no, you wouldn’t. The President also has said that he would ignore the polls and what Congress says. Does he really think that he can run a war alone?
MR. SNOW: No. And the President doesn’t ignore the polls, but he also doesn’t ignore his obligations as Commander-in-Chief. And most of all, he does not —
Q Well, what supersedes the other.
MR. SNOW: No. There will be times when a President sometimes has to show political courage in trying to defend national security because — and that has happened at a number of junctures in this nation’s history.
And we think when the American people not only receive a presentation of what’s going on in Iraq and how it fits into the larger war on terror, but also the simple question, if not this, what — I think it not only sets the basis for —
Q It’s not “if what,” it’s to get out. That’s the “what.”
MR. SNOW: No, no, I’m afraid not, because if you leave and create a vacuum you really do —
Q There are people there, they’ve lived there 5,000 years.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I’ll rehearse the — you understand the geopolitical argument.
Nouri al Maliki can say whatever he likes, apparently.
Q Can we go back to Maliki, maybe some of the conversations from earlier today? But I’m trying to get more of a big picture look this. He apparently made his comments in an interview with a large number of American reporters. And he did take exception to some of the characterizations coming out of the White House, whether it be from the President or others on his behalf. And he seemed upset about some of the things that are being said. And how do you — I’m not asking you to necessarily go point by point with each thing, but how do you respond to the apparent feeling on his part that some of the statements from here are not helpful to what he’s trying to do?
MR. SNOW: I think he understands that we were being helpful. There’s a disagreement on the handling of the Saddam execution, and that seems to have been a chief point of friction. On the other hand, he said a number of other things that have gotten less attention, but are of perhaps more moment.
Q — one specific thing, his displeasure with the borrowed time comment? And he’s clearly — you all in the last week or so have been trying to walk a fine line. You want to telegraph to both Maliki and to the American public that patience is not going to last forever. At the same time, Secretary Rice just made clear and others have made clear we can’t push too hard. So have you gone too far —
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so. Take a look — I think what’s interesting is the volume of action that’s taken place in the last couple of weeks, and interestingly, if you listen to congressional critics, we want these things to happen, we want political progress, for instance.
Q The bottom line is that this administration, this President has bet on Prime Minister Maliki. And if you read these things, you pay attention to what he is saying on the record, it doesn’t sound like he’s on board.
MR. SNOW: Well, David, if you look procedurally, what he’s discussing in terms of troops and in terms of the way forward, I think he is on board. I don’t think that there’s any distance when it comes to key issues — when it comes to political reconciliation, building capacity within the security forces, going after those who are threatening society, regardless.
Q The President made clear that he told Prime Minister Maliki, you’ll lose the American people if you don’t show up and fulfill your end of the bargain — is that a fair characterization?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q And this is what Prime Minister Maliki said: “The situation would be much better if the United States had immediately sent our security forces more adequate weapons and equipment. If they — the United States — had committed themselves more and with greater speed, we would have had a lot fewer deaths among Iraqi civilians and American soldiers.” Does that sound like a guy who is living up to his end of the bargain, accepting responsibility?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, if you take a look at what’s been going on on the ground — David, I’m not going to get into a fight with the Prime Minister.
Q He’s in a fight with you.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, he also has political considerations of his own that he has to deal with. He’s not in a fight with us, and that’s the important thing to realize. If you think about the operational level, it’s not a fight. And the President, in his dealings, has worked very well with the Prime Minister, and the commanders on the ground and the commanders to be on the ground also have good working relationships with him and people who work in his government.
So, I mean, I understand the perception here, but, frankly, we’re making too much out of it.
Q Okay, but just one more on this because I think this is important, which is, if your job, one — you and the President — is to persuade the American people that we’ve got a real partner over there, isn’t it troublesome — troubling to you and to the President that you and others have to spend time explaining for him, making excuses for him?
MR. SNOW: We’re not really making excuses. I mean, what’s frustrating is I’ve just told you about arrests with the Mahdi Army, the actions on Haifa Street; the important political breakthroughs that have taken place; the very clear statement that the law has to be enforced across all boundaries; the clear statement that, no, he is not working hand-in-glove with Muqtada al Sadr — those are all profound statements that have to do with policy. What you’re really discussing is reactions to statements that have been made at a great remove, and I’m sure that we’ll be able to deal with any concerns that he has.
Q These are statements that he’s making for political consumption, that’s your point?
MR. SNOW: No, I’m just saying that when you take a look — look, everybody said words alone are not going to win this argument, you’ve got to see deeds. Well, look at the deeds. The deeds have been impressive.
Q Just to follow again — one more time, the political considerations, so that the American people can understand sort of what’s going on. Is there a little bit of a wink and a nod that you understand Prime Minister Maliki has got a domestic political audience, he understands President Bush has a domestic political audience, but that after you’re done sort of with the wink and a nod, everybody is on the same page?
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure that there’s any winking and nodding. What I’d ask everybody to do is open their eyes and look at the stuff I’ve just drawn your attention to, because —
Q But that’s not —
MR. SNOW: No, that is important.
Q That’s not what he’s saying. Prime Minister Maliki had all these reporters in yesterday —
MR. SNOW: No, what you guys are focusing on is a description — his reaction to rhetoric and what he perceives as the tone of statements in the United States. What you haven’t paid attention to, at least in these questions, is what he’s doing, which seems to be a critical matter.
Q One more on this. He seems to be suggesting that if he’s properly armed and properly trained the Iraqi army, gets proper arming and training, that American troops could be out in four to six months.
MR. SNOW: Well, we’ll see what happens on the ground, but the whole point is that we agree that it’s important to arm up and train the Iraqis. This demonstrates, also, for those who say, well, we’re not so sure that they want to step up, this seems to be the statement of somebody who does want to assert control and wants control over security. And I’ve been making this point a number of times. When we’ve seen the Prime Minister, he’s not acting as if he wants to sit back and have Americans do all the work. He understands that as a sovereign head of state, he needs to be assuming primary control over key operations, whether they be security or dealing with infrastructure. And these are the kinds of things you would expect a head of state to say under such circumstances.
Q So, for the record, there is no rift between President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki?
MR. SNOW: Correct. Correct.
Then again, even Maliki can go too far.
Q But then how do you react to Prime Minister Maliki saying that some of the comments from the President himself and the White House have given a “morale boost to the terrorists”?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m just not going to comment on that.
Q One last thing on Maliki. He also said there’s a crisis in the American administration in the wake of the elections, and saying at the same time that you have conservative columnist Robert Novak saying that there is “sense of impending political doom that clutches Republican hearts right now.”
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think what happens is that a lot of people are looking for a panic or a failure narrative out of this White House. And it’s just not the case.
Q They’re his comments. We’re not creating a war of words. The Prime Minister said this.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, but I also — what I’m telling you is that you have comments to reporters and you also have actions on the ground, and those are actions that we support in this — that demonstrate real seriousness on the part of the Maliki government.
Q Maliki also said that if there’s success in Iraq, this will be a success that the United States will share. But if there’s failure, this will be a failure for President Bush and for the United States. Do you agree with that?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what we’ve said is if there’s failure, it’s going to be failure for the whole world, and there will be real repercussions. That’s why we’re determined to succeed.
BREAKING: Iraqis Detain 400 Phantom Sadrites
Q Okay, what evidence do you have — does the U.S. government have any evidence that these 400 militia men are actually in custody?
MR. SNOW: Yes, keep in mind that you do not — I’m not going to tell you exactly what evidence —
Q They’re not really in jail.
MR. SNOW: Our people are confident that that’s the case. Keep in mind that most of the operations are joint operations.
Q Okay, and are you confident that they’re going to be held in custody and that, in fact, they’re not going to be let out soon —
MR. SNOW: Well, that’s —
Q — and that this is actually —
MR. SNOW: I would refer you to your colleagues at The New York Times who reported today that they’ve been held continuously in custody and not been released.
Q — The New York Times, but he also said that there are American officials that were concerned that they would be let out again.
MR. SNOW: Yes, they were concerned, but they had also noted that they had not been at this point. We expect them to be held in detention as long as appropriate.
The Public Is Not The Decider
Q Doesn’t the public and congressional reaction to the troop increase plan —
MR. SNOW: Well, what’s also interesting is the public reaction says we want to succeed in Iraq, and also, we’d like to see what alternatives the other side has. And so that’s fine. Look, if you’ve got a better idea, you have an obligation, you can perform a service to mankind by letting us know what it is.
Q Doesn’t that reaction show that the President has to do a better job of selling this troop increase plan?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what it shows is — what, are you trying to hand out grades on the preliminary discussion? This is the beginning of a discussion. And it’s interesting, because I don’t think there are a lot of people who know what all the parts are. For instance, when people suddenly — let me put it this way. As Americans begin to get a sense of what’s going on in Iraq, I have mentioned already, there was a lot of concern about the Mahdi Army.
Q Two questions on public perceptions. Are you saying that four years into this war, the American people don’t have an accurate picture of what’s going on in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I think, Wendell, four years into a war, the picture constantly changes. The picture that we saw in April of 2003 was different than the one we saw a year ago.
Q A new Fox poll released today, a substantial majority feels this plan is the President’s last chance for saving Iraq. Does he see it that way?
MR. SNOW: No, I mean, what the President — look, you know why? Because that — I think the formulation has either a sense of brinkmanship or desperation that don’t reflect the way in which a Commander-in-Chief approaches operations. What you do is you take a sober look at what’s going on on the ground and figure out how to deal with it.
Let’s see what happens. Look, we fully acknowledge that facts on the ground are going to be absolutely critical in influencing public perceptions. People want to see — they want to see what’s happening, and we don’t blame them.
And finally, in a very special edition of Your Daily Les, Les Kinsolving outsmarts Pony Blow.
Q Yes, Tony, thank you. Two questions. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congressman Maurice Hinchy of New York have just introduced companion bills called the “Media Ownership Reform Act,” which are an attempt to revive the “fairness doctrine” for TV and radio with no such government control proposed for newspapers, magazines or wire services. My question, does the President believe that we should revive the so-called “fairness doctrine” which was repealed during the Reagan administration?
MR. SNOW: You know, Les, we’ll take that up if it becomes a real issue.
Q Okay. President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Bill Ruder, said, “We had a massive strategy to use the ‘fairness doctrine’ to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters and hoped the challenge would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue. And my question, do you remember that statement reported by The Washington Times on September 5, 1993?
MR. SNOW: No. Although I do have some memories of the Kennedy administration, that particular utterance does not rise to thought.
Q That was from an article headlined, “Return of the Fairness Demon,” and the byline was, Tony Snow.
MR. SNOW: All right, thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: I guess my research — played “gotcha”. That’s great. (Laughter.)