Let’s starttoday’s gaggle with Pony Blow’s standard dodge.
Q How was the suicide bomber able to get within range of the base where Vice President Cheney was?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I refer it to DOD. I think at this point people are still investigating what happened, so we don’t have a firm answer for you.
I Assume Cheney’s Death Would Be Just Another Comma
Q What does this attack say about the strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan?
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure it says anything.
MR. SNOW: Because you’ve got an isolated attack. As we’ve often said about acts of terror, an individual who wants to commit an act of violence or kill him or herself, very difficult to stop. But I’m not sure that you can draw larger conclusions about any organization based on an incident such as this. And in this case, we have a claim of responsibility, but I’m not sure, as I said in answer to Terry’s question, that we have a full picture of precisely what took place. I think it will take a while before we get that picture.
Q Tony, no matter who was responsible for this, to what extent does it underscore the very reason that the Vice President was sent there to begin with?
MR. SNOW: I’m not sure — again, it’s — I don’t think — Peter, I don’t know. It’s an interesting — again, the Vice President was there to consult with allies in the war on terror. Now, to the extent that there are elements within the war on terror that depend on isolated acts of violence that are designed to kill indiscriminately and attract worldwide media attention, I suppose it is reflective of that. But on the other hand, you also do have organized elements of Taliban and al Qaeda that one needs to deal with. So I don’t know exactly how you — I don’t even know a good metric for figuring out precisely how that fits into the equation.
Q Well, wasn’t one of the main reasons he was sent there because of the concern about the spring offensive, about the already ongoing upsurge in violence, and this is emblematic of it?
MR. SNOW: Well, perhaps, again, everybody is leaping to conclusions — and I can see how you would do it. I’m just being more cautious, because at this point we don’t have a whole lot of detail on the whys and wherefores of what took place today.
Chimpy Is Unconcerned
Q Has the President talked to the Vice President yet?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so. They had a busy morning. The Vice President is on the plane. Typically, what happens is the Vice President comes in, and he’ll do an exhaustive debrief with the President, and frankly, nobody else. And the way he works is he shares his counsel with the President, nobody else, so I’m sure he will do that at great length when he gets back.
Q What was the President’s reaction? And how did he find out about it?
MR. SNOW: He was told by staff this morning. And his reaction is, he first inquired about making sure the Vice President was okay, and he was reassured by that. And obviously he’ll continue to get intel about what happened. But at this juncture, especially in the first minutes and hours after an event like this, it takes a little while to figure out precisely what took place.
Maybe He Wants To Make Condi His VEEP
Q Tony, why take the risk of sending the Vice President to a war zone at all? What is the value of doing that? Why do you need to do that?
MR. SNOW: The President went to a war zone too, to meet with Prime Minister Maliki. The point is that we have sent the Secretary of State into a war zone. We’ve sent a number of people into a war zone. We continue to send officials — congressional delegations go there on a regular basis.
Q But why specifically was it thought that Cheney should be sent on this particular mission?
MR. SNOW: The President asked him. I don’t know if the President sat down with a face book full of people, and said, hmm, Cheney — the fact is that the Vice President is a key and valued advisor to the President, and furthermore, he is somebody who always gives his honest assessments of what’s going on, and gives them to the President and to no one else.
Q Was there any consideration of not staying overnight, since that wasn’t scheduled? Was there ever any thought perhaps of not being —
MR. SNOW: Well, it would have meant not having the session with the Prime Minister — I mean, with the President. Again, you had a weather problem yesterday that prohibited the trip, and he was determined to make the trip. As far as logistics on that, you’re going to have to refer to Air Force Two or to the Vice President’s office when they return.
All Out Of Spin
Q In this meeting with President Musharraf, the Vice President brought the Deputy Director of the CIA. Can you talk about that at all?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Because —
Q I mean, essentially are you painting the picture to the Pakistani President of what exactly is happening in those tribal regions?
MR. SNOW: As a matter of fact, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the narrative has been to try to say that the Vice President was coming to sort of do a slam-down or something on President Musharraf. That’s not true, and that was confirmed by a senior administration official earlier today.
I think the important thing is that here you have two committed allies in the war on terror. There have been more al Qaeda killed in Pakistan than anywhere else. That is a problem for the President — President Musharraf. He understands it. He has taken significant action. And, obviously, we need to continue improving the ability both of the Pakistanis and the Afghans to go after terrorist elements.
But this is — it’s very important to do this in the proper spirit, which is working together.
Q Picking up on the proper spirit, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said that actually the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is strained right now — his words — everything isn’t hunky-dory.
MR. SNOW: I’ll let you direct any questions to him. It’s a vital relationship, and this —
Q Is there a rift right now between the U.S. and Pakistan?
MR. SNOW: No. No. But it is — these are tough issues. These are very tough issues, and you have to work through them together. So, no, I would not apply that label to it. There’s certainly not —
Q Why do you think he would?
MR. SNOW: Why don’t you ask him?
Q I did. He told me that.
MR. SNOW: And when he said — and when you asked him why he said it, he said what?
Q He said that too many things are being asked of Pakistan by this administration that they — the thought is that there is not enough belief in how Pakistan is pursuing terrorism.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think — we certainly believe that the Pakistanis are fully committed, and they have made that point publicly, before and after the Vice President’s visit there. And the Vice President, again, I think it’s safe to say, had a productive set of conversations with President Musharraf.
Q Why do we take issue with the way — the narrative that has come forth in the last couple of days? You practically repeated it, that basically we went in to tell them how we felt and what we wanted — we wanted them to shape up.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think I’ve repeated it. I think what I’ve tried to say is, you’ve got a war on terror, and it is very important to consult as extensively as possible with important allies. Now, we are getting to a period where every year you’ve got a spring offensive in that part of the world — it’s about time for that — and this is a very good time to start looking ahead and working with all parties to try to use it as another opportunity to strike back at the Taliban and al Qaeda, and to continue efforts to disable them, and to allow the democratic government of Afghanistan to become stronger economically, diplomatically, and in terms of its security. So that remains a real area of emphasis for all parties involved.
Q Tony, can I just follow up? I just want to give you the verbatim, since you asked. He says, “It’s going through a rough time.” And I say, “What’s going through a rough time?” He said, “The relationship between this country and my country, because I hear so many voices that you’re not doing enough.”
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m not — again, I don’t know if he’s referring to media accounts; I don’t know exactly what — no, I don’t know what he’s referring to, Jim.
Q He’s not. He’s referring to what he’s hearing from —
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m telling you that our view is that Pakistan is an essential ally who we’re continuing to work with. And we’re working to support them because both parties understand how vital it is not only to fight the Taliban, but al Qaeda.
Q That doesn’t answer his question.
MR. SNOW: Well, I know, but he’s asking me to respond to something for which I do not know the full context. I’m giving you what I can.
He Ruined Our Military
Q When you say the military is still nimble now — how does that square with what General Pace said in his report to Congress, this new report, where he basically says there is an increased risk to the United States now, essentially because the military is stretched thin?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, that’s — he also says we still have the capability of fighting yet another war if that is necessary. What he’s really referring to is the importance of building up greater end strength, which is one of the reasons why we’ve done that. But what he has not said is that we lack the capability to succeed in Iraq or Afghanistan. I think he would strenuously disagree with that. It is simply an assessment of, if you had what you think you’d really like and what you consider absolutely necessary in the long run, do you want more? And the answer is, yes. And we believe that’s necessary, and that is why that is part of the recommendation that the President has put together for this.
Q The Washington Post reported Friday that according to Army officials, virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated right now as unready to deploy. So when you say have improved end strength —
MR. SNOW: Well, it’s — this gets you into part of the jargon. What happens is that if you also ask the commanders, when the time comes for deployment will you have readiness, and the answer is, yes. A lot of that has to do with whether the equipment is here or in theater — the equipment is in theater for the most part — no reason to sort of take stuff out and then put it back in. We’re also in the process of seeking funding to continue to improve and replenish equipment. So the really important question is, do you send any forces into battle that are not fully ready, and the answer is, no.
Pony Blow, Unprepared Despite Getting A Heads-Up
Q Thanks, Tony. On international broadcasting — does President Bush approve of the major language cuts? Cutbacks proposed on Voice of America Radio, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia, at a time the U.S. is working hard to spread its message across the world, their total international broadcasting bill is under $1 billion for the year.
MR. SNOW: Connie, this does fall into those “please give me a head’s up before you ask” —
Q I did.
MR. SNOW: Okay, I’m sorry, I did not see that one. That came today?
Q No, three days ago.
MR. SNOW: Oh, okay. Well, I was in North Carolina at the time, I apologize.
Q Could you perhaps look into it?
Your Daily Les, Part I: Is Chimpy Devout Enough To Defend The Faith
Q Tony, thank you. Two questions. The President is well-known to be a devout Christian, so I presume he will not evade the question — how does he feel about the Titanic director’s claim of discovering the allegedly permanent burial site of the Gospel-reported resurrected Christ, together with alleged Jesus, wife and son?
MR. SNOW: I hope that you will not consider this un-Christian of me, Les, but I am sure that he probably has not spent a moment thinking about that.
Daily Les, Part II: Les Defends Helen (To Her Great Discomfort)
Q Okay. Second: Last night, CNN featured the President of the White House Correspondents Association saying of Helen Thomas, “We love her and will take care of her.” But CNN also reported that in order to accommodate one more network on row one, Helen, our senior-to-all colleague, is to be relegated to row two when we move back into the White House press room. And my question: Assuming that CNN is accurate, how can you allow this dean of our corps, senior veteran and undeniably colorful character — (laughter) — to be back-seated, as has been done to her at presidential press conferences? And what does this say about Bush-Snow treatment of senior citizens who wonder how you and the President would allow networks such ageist favoritism over a veteran?
MS. THOMAS: I swear I didn’t put him up to —
MR. SNOW: Okay, well let me — this is about a —
MS. THOMAS: I never could think of his question in a million years.
MR. SNOW: This is about a thousand-part question, so let me parse it, Les. Number one, of course, we love Helen. Number two, the White House does not make decisions about where people sit, so you can address that to the Correspondents Association. And number three, regardless of the seating arrangement, you’ll still be looking at the back of her head. (Laughter.)
Q That’s an evasion, Tony. Why do you allow this? Why do you and the President allow this discrimination against a senior citizen who is our senior reporter?
MS. THOMAS: I don’t need to be defended, thank you very much.
MR. SNOW: I’m afraid you need to confront Steve Scully in the hallway.