Gaze in delight asPony Blowdoes the Pakistani Two-Step.
Q You said this morning that you hadn’t had a chance to talk to with the Vice President or his people about what he said to General Musharraf. Have you been briefed on that?
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, what I said, too, is that the precise nature of his comments and the tenor of comments to the President would be the sort of things that would be confidential.
Q Do you think that General Musharraf is keeping his commitments to go after the Taliban —
MR. SNOW: I’d frame it in a different way, he is doing —
Q Well —
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m not sure how exactly one would — the question, “keeping commitments,” it is not something where he lays out goals and timetables, but he is committed, in fact, to trying to defeat al Qaeda.
Q Tony, results matter, as The Times indicated quoting a senior administration official anonymously today. And the bottom line is this administration is only letting Musharraf know that he could lose a very sizeable foreign aid package because he’s not producing. True?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President not so long ago — it was a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact — was talking about a number of recent events in which the Pakistanis, in fact, were very helpful in going after the Taliban. And he pointed out that even though there is not a Taliban spring offensive yet, there have been aggressive actions going after terrorists within Pakistan — in one case, some were chased across the Afghan border, there they met with resistance; when they came back into Pakistan they were also met by actions by the Pakistanis.
I’ll let others answer questions about what they think the political atmosphere here is in the United States.
Q If Musharraf — and this is kind of well out on the table — I mean, there’s political difficulties dealing with this part of the border region, this lawlessness — the President describes it as the “Wild West.” There’s been a deal that Musharraf made with some of the tribal leaders there. Why doesn’t the United States military, in concert with its allies, if it thinks that al Qaeda is reconstituting, take direct military action?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I would leave that — I would let military officials answer a question like that.
Q But why — I’m sorry, just one more. Why dance around so much on this issue when you’re certainly not doing anything to knock down the idea that this administration, this White House, is sending a tough message to the Musharraf government today, correct?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I just — I’ll let others characterize. We have not been saying it’s a tough message. What we’re saying is, we’re having — the Vice President is meeting with President Musharraf because we do understand the importance of making even greater progress against al Qaeda, against the Taliban. It is important not only for the safety and security of people within Pakistan, but obviously within Afghanistan, as well. And it’s an important element in the larger war on terror.
Q Does the President feel that President Musharraf has been aggressive enough in living up to the commitments that he made?
MR. SNOW: Again, I think — Jim, you act as if — a question like that seems to presume that everything is predictable; you do a certain amount of things, and you’ll get a predictable result. You’re dealing with an unpredictable enemy. President Musharraf certainly has been responding to a changing threat and to changing conditions, and we are going to support him on that. Do we —
Q But the question —
MR. SNOW: No, the question — I’m sorry, then I’ll let you go back at me. I think the appropriate question is, is he doing what he can, is he committed to winning? The answer is, yes.
Q The question is, is the President satisfied?
MR. SNOW: The President — as long as you have terrorists at large in the world, the President is not going to be satisfied. And I daresay President Musharraf is not satisfied.
Q The question is, Dick Cheney —
MR. SNOW: What you’re trying to do — I’m not going to answer a question —
Q I have a very simple question; there’s no trick question to this. The Vice President was in Pakistan, he was meeting with President Musharraf. There are media reports that he was saying, expressing the administration’s dissatisfaction with the way that President Musharraf has conducted incursions or overseen the border regions. Is that the message that the Vice President was delivering?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to try to convey precisely what the Vice President said. The President made it clear a couple of weeks ago, President Musharraf is committed to winning this, and we are committed to working with him in this war on terror. We’re not going to be — we’re often asked to give out report cards on other heads of state. I’m not going to play.
Q But you give out report cards on Mr. Maliki all the time.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, quite often you guys will ask us, are you satisfied with X, Y, and Z, and we talk about how we’re working with them.
Q Can you talk about the aid — part of the Vice President’s message, I know it was just referred to in David’s question, about the potential for aid being cut off by the U.S. to Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: No, because what you’re speculating about is congressional action. I’m not going to talk about that.
Q Do you believe that Congress is thinking about —
MR. SNOW: No, I’m not going to speculate about that, nor am I going to talk about the tone, tenor, or precise content of what the Vice President had to say to President Musharraf.
Well, it took forever but ABC’s Martha Raddatz has finely had enough of Pony’s favorite dodge.
Q Tony, you seem to make a differentiation between what Musharraf is doing in going after al Qaeda and the Taliban. Do you think he has done more in going after the al Qaeda than he has in going after Taliban? Which is more difficult —
MR. SNOW: I can’t — Martha, that’s a much better for you to pose to military authorities or intelligence authorities.
Q No, it isn’t, Tony.
MR. SNOW: No, it is.
Q You keep saying this to me. I know you love to kind of blow me off by saying that, but you said it. I didn’t say it; you said he’s going after al Qaeda. Going after Taliban is a much more difficult problem for Musharraf, given the political situation there.
MR. SNOW: No, I think, again, if you take a look at what I just referred to — and I’m not blowing you off, and this is not an attempt to dismiss the question. What you asked was a compare and contrast question about the difficulty of taking on al Qaeda and the Taliban. Number one, they are not entirely separable.
Q Politically it’s more difficult. Politically it’s much more difficult for him to go after the Taliban than al Qaeda, because of the domestic politics.
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to get into Pakistani domestic politics. It is essential to go after both.
You can almost hear the gears in Pony’s head grinding in this exchange.
Q How about this, Tony — the deal that President Musharraf signed with the tribal leaders last year, did that lead to a strengthening of al Qaeda? Did it do the opposite that we wanted it to?
MR. SNOW: Hard to say. This is something that still falls into that — one understands the logic; it does not appear at this point that — again, I don’t want to — let me — I am going to tiptoe —
Q It is not clear at this point that —
MR. SNOW: That I’m going to finish that sentence.
Bin Laden is no longer a wanted man.
Q Just to follow that, yesterday, the highest U.S. military official (inaudible), he was speaking at the Rotary Club, Army General Peter Schoomaker. And he said that, do we want to catch Osama bin Laden? And if we do, what will we do with him?
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, what was —
Q He said that Army may not be interested in catching Osama bin Laden, a (inaudible) al Qaeda leader, because he said if we catch Osama bin Laden tomorrow, what will we do with him?
MR. SNOW: Well, that’s a new one.
Q He was (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: No, I just — I’ll let Pete — you’ll have to ask Pete Schoomaker about the remark.
Britsh Pullout = Success!
US Pullout = Failure!
Q Tony, do you agree with the Vice President’s assessment last week that the British pullout in Iraq shows success on the ground?
MR. SNOW: Here’s what he was talking about: What he said was that in certain parts of the south in Iraq, you have now the ability to transfer primarily security operations to Iraqi forces. The combat footprint of the Brits is the same as it was, they still have the same combat capabilities. But they have been able to move out a number of people who have been involved in stationary guarding activities, and allow the Iraqis to stand up and take responsibility for some of those.
That has always been the aim on both sides, is to figure out ways to build greater capability on the part of the Iraqi fighting forces, and to hand it over to them. It is also important to note, as the Prime Minister and others have said, that this does not mean that the Brits are, in fact, slackening in their commitment to contributing to security. As a matter of fact, they talked, among other things, about the ability to remain flexible even in some of those places where the Iraqis are now engaged in guard activities.
Q Do you also agree with the Vice President’s assessment that the Democratic calls for a pullout in Iraq — U.S. pullout — validates the al Qaeda strategy?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Do you see a contradiction at all in the fact that when the Brits pull out, it’s a success on the ground, that’s why they’re pulling out; when the Democrats call for U.S. troop pullout, it’s, well, the job is not finished, they want to help al Qaeda.
MR. SNOW: No. Maybe I didn’t explain it clearly enough. The Brits were pulling out a small number of forces precisely because they were able to transition authority to the Iraqis and they had succeeded. This was not withdrawing on a time line; this was not saying, we’re going to leave no matter what. The goal of the Brits is to win. And the goal in some of these resolutions is to leave. There is a difference.
Q But did you consider having the Brits redeploy to Baghdad then to help out, since they’re part of the coalition?
MR. SNOW: No, but on the other hand, what you have seen is the Brits also being helpful in Afghanistan, and other partners who have been in Iraq — for instance, the Danes. They had some of the presence that also is going to be moved out in some of those guard positions. They’re actually moving more forces into Afghanistan than they’re withdrawing from Iraq.
Q Can I just follow one point about the Vice President’s comments, because the President said again today he’s not questioning the patriotism of those who disagree. But isn’t it disingenuous to go out there and say that when you’ve got a Vice President saying that the Democrats are basically validating al Qaeda strategy?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And at the same time you guys say you want an honest debate about this out there — that’s an honest part of the debate?
MR. SNOW: No, actually, it’s a little surprising that — number one, the President has made it clear that he doesn’t impugn patriotism. What he impugned was an idea, a bad idea.
Q But you argue this point as if there’s no other consequence. In other words, you guys — you — the Vice President makes it seem as if there’s only one alternative. And Democrats say, wait a minute, this is a failed strategy and they keep asserting what the alternative is, but they’ve made faulty claims before. So what I’m getting at is, this administration has consistently equated critics with supporting terrorists, even after they said they weren’t going to do that anymore.
MR. SNOW: No, no —
Q And that’s what the President — that’s what the Vice President is saying.
MR. SNOW: No, what you’ve just done is you’ve twisted it, and this, I think, is what some of the President’s critics have also done. We’re trying to be very careful here. Just because we disagree with you does not mean we don’t think you’re patriotic. Just because we think that an idea may have bad consequences and adverse consequences for American security, it does not mean that the people who are trying to come up with those ideas do not have the noblest of motives.
A Nice Try On Libby
Q Tony, I’ll ask you about something else you haven’t been commenting on, the Libby trial. Libby’s fate is now in the hands of the jurors. Throughout the investigation, the press and the trial, the President and the Vice President have said they will not talk about it. But the trial has not exactly put this administration in a flattering light, and I think many Americans are wondering if we’re going to hear from the President and the Vice President when it’s over.
MR. SNOW: So on a day where there has been one juror removed from having seen too much or having read news coverage about the Libby trial, you would like me to comment on it?
Q No, I’m asking you if we can expect to hear — when a verdict is in, will we hear from the President and the Vice President, especially about issues of declassifying documents for the purpose of defending the administration?
MR. SNOW: Well, you have just jumped to a conclusion, but I believe that when you’re talking about a previous declassification, it did, in fact, make available information, which is what normally you ask us to do, and it’s what we’ve been doing with the last NIE, for instance, declassifying the key judgments, and we did it with the one before.
Q I want to go back to the trial. The trial and the leak issue has been an albatross around this administration’s neck for so long. Why not say whether this administration is happy that the judge is allowing the trial to continue, the deliberations to continue —
MR. SNOW: Because it’s inappropriate to comment on an ongoing —
Q No, it’s not.
MR. SNOW: Yes, it absolutely is.
Q If it would have been a mistrial — if there was a mistrial and they started everything over again, Cheney and Libby could have testified if they chose to. Their names are still on the list. So why not —
MR. SNOW: What you are asking me to do is to render, just what do you think about a judge’s decision?
Q Are you glad that the light is coming at the end of the tunnel, it looks like —
MR. SNOW: You know, I’m just not going to talk. I know it’s deeply frustrating, but it’s utterly inappropriate.
Q No, it’s not. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Yes, it is.
Finally, in Your Daily Les, Kinsolving has returned to his winger ways of your.
Q “Clinton Fights to Keep Impeachment Taboo: Campaigns Know to Expect Swift Reprisals for any Hint of the Scandal.” And my question — first question — does the President believe that if any Republican candidate were to agree to such censorship of important American history, that the bulk of American voters would not be outraged?
MR. SNOW: The President has already said he’s not going to play pundit-in-chief on this race, that applies to this question. Let’s try number two.
Q All right. Certainly. The (APPLAUSE.) quotes Governor Mitt Romney in Merrimack, New Hampshire as saying that he, “relishes the furious infighting that has consumed Senators Clinton and Obama,” and “It’s great, isn’t it? I love to see it when it happens on the other side.” How can we interpret a refusal by you to comment as anything other than the President’s sharing Governor Romney’s expressed delight?
MR. SNOW: Nice try. I’ll refer you to the prior question.