An Excellent Question For Pony Blow FromToday’s Gaggle
Q Did the President read the bill before he vetoed it?
MR. SNOW: The President — we have had plenty of time to review the bill.
Compromise Is For The Other Guys
Q Can you talk about the spirit of these meetings today, then? Is the spirit to compromise? I know you’re saying you won’t compromise on this, that or the other —
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way —
Q — he’s listening, but is he willing to compromise in some way to get this through?
MR. SNOW: The President is going to be working with Congress to get something done. Again, you may — maybe I wasn’t listening, but I haven’t heard the question asked of congressional leaders. The fact is, both sides have to work together.
Pony’s Dodging Left An Opening For Helen
Q We want to know if there’s going to be any give, any give out of the President — from the rule of the people to move out of this war.
MR. SNOW: Yes, we want to move out of this war by succeeding.
Q Violence escalating every day.
Q Tony —
MR. SNOW: Wait a minute, let me stop. Helen, the people have been — if you take a look at what’s been going on recently, there have been a number of al Qaeda attacks that had have the — that have killed innocents —
Q Did every Iraqi attack —
MR. SNOW: No, but if you take a look at the MO of al Qaeda — bombing attacks — as a matter of fact, you’ve seen some reports, for instance, of Iraqis, even those who are opposed to the government, going after foreign fighters. There’s a real and recognizable problem there, and it has to be dealt with. So those who say we need to fight al Qaeda, part of what we’re trying to do is to build greater capability there.
Q We brought them into Iraq.
The Rest Of The Gaggle Consisted Of Pony Blow’s Pummeling With Chimpy’s Own Words
First, On Al Qaeda
Q Tony, on that point, this morning the President said that al Qaeda seems to be a bigger problem than sectarian violence. That seems to fly in the face of what we’ve heard in recent weeks and months on the ground in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, you’ve got a shifting series of circumstances, Bret. If you take a look, for instance, what al Qaeda — it’s interesting, because it’s impossible to segregate them entirely.
Q Tony, the President sort of framed the argument today saying, Americans don’t have to choose between being in between warring sectarian sides in a “civil war” — using that term — instead, it’s a fight against al Qaeda. Wasn’t the whole point of the surge to quell the capital and really to diminish the sectarian violence? And now he seems to be saying the enemy is more al Qaeda, rather than —
MR. SNOW: But, again, as I pointed out just a minute ago, Kelly, what you’ve done is you’ve indicated that there has been some change in status on the ground since the new Baghdad security plan began to be implemented. And I think that’s true. On the other hand, again, nobody wants to take victory laps.
Q Tony, is it politically persuasive to say the enemy is al Qaeda and not getting in between sectarian groups?
MR. SNOW: The characterizations here are not part of a sales pitch, they’re an attempt to try to reflect what’s going on on the ground. General Petraeus, when he does this, is laying out what he sees. Now, it’s entirely conceivable that a month from now you’ll have sectarian problems. We hope not. But again, I think you’re trying to use a political lens for statements that really are designed simply to say, look, we have shifting realities on the ground.
On Civil War
Q Can I just clarify, following Kelly’s question, when the President laid out that construct in the speech today, the civil war-al Qaeda construct, it seemed that he was saying there is a civil war.
MR. SNOW: No, if you go back to the National Intelligence Estimate, what you had was — again, look at what NIE said, which is that you have some clashes that are consistent with civil war, and inconsistent with the notion of a civil war. I am not going to get us back into that whole sort of debate about how you define a civil war. The fact is that we have a situation where we are working to develop for the Iraqis the ability to establish institutions and also conditions on the ground that are going to be conducive not only to creating a stable democracy, but giving people an active incentive to join in. But I’m just —
Q I don’t want to go back there, either, except the fact that the President seemed to say it clearly today.
MR. SNOW: Again, it’s — the position — it’s just much more complicated than that.
Q Tony, I want to go back to the notion of al Qaeda versus sectarian violence. One of the things you and the President have cited is progress in al Anbar recently. That was taking place before the new strategy even began.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q So you keep trying to tie that in with the new strategy, when, in fact, it’s really the long war strategy from before it even started.
MR. SNOW: All right, let me break this down for you. What’s happened in Anbar, it’s not — what happened in Anbar is, Sunnis were tired of having foreign fighters come in and kill their people, and they decided to turn against them; God bless them. What has happened —
Q Right, and it happened months ago.
MR. SNOW: Okay, but since the beginning — but my response was still germane about Baghdad, which is — and you know the figures — that the benchmarks for sectarian violence, the killings, where you had people going in and killing people wholesale, seemingly merely on a sectarian basis, you had individual murders and that sort of thing going on in areas of Baghdad, those numbers, fortunately, are down.
Q But answer that question about al Anbar. I mean, the President, again, cited progress in Ramadi and al Anbar, because that seems where the most progress is, and that was before the new strategy.
MR. SNOW: Well, the strategy — but on the other hand —
Q So what are we supposed to take from that?
MR. SNOW: What you’re supposed to take is there’s good news. Thank you for reporting it.
Q But it has nothing to do with the Baghdad security plan, but we keep tying it to it.
MR. SNOW: Well, Anbar is not — no, no, it does — actually, it does —
Q — the progress, the real progress — I saw last August.
MR. SNOW: I know, Martha. But also what you have seen is — and you might want to call your buds, because a lot of people in Anbar do make this point — when it was announced that there would be another 4,000 U.S. forces in Anbar, it did, in fact, have the effect of strengthening both the confidence and the resolve of the people there.
On His Veto Message And The Claim Of Unconstitutionality
Q The veto message the President sent up to the Hill argues that what the Democrats are doing is unconstitutional. How can that be unconstitutional when they seem to be exercising their power of the purse?
MR. SNOW: No, they’re also — but when you start getting into operational details that impinge upon the President’s prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief, that does raise legitimate constitutional issues.
Q When you talk about — you said, operational details before, with respect to the President’s assertion that what the Congress has done is unconstitutional. Are you saying that Congress does not have it within its purview to appropriate money and say what purpose that money can be used for, that they cannot say, this money will be used for support troops, as opposed to combat troops, for instance?
MR. SNOW: Sheryl, if there are attempts — the President has — the President needs the ability to operate effectively as Commander-in-Chief, and when people start trying to micromanage that legislatively, that raises constitutional issues.
Q So it’s your position that it’s unconstitutional then for the Congress to try to say what kind of troops —
MR. SNOW: I’ll give you a general characterization —
Q — the money can be spent on?
MR. SNOW: I actually think that this is a very interesting abstract question that’s completely irrelevant because I don’t think it’s going to be a part of the conversation.
Q It is part of it because the Democrats want to limit the mission. They want to change — they want to use this bill to change the mission and to move us away from combat troops and into support missions and other missions —
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m not sure that that is — we’ll find out. We’ll find as we go.
On Success In Iraq
Q The President earlier today defined success in Iraq. He said, “Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our country that, as you know, have a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.” What is the President talking about when he says there’s parts in our own country where a certain level of violence that people will accept?
MR. SNOW: It means that you have places with high crime rates. And it is something that is quite often a fact of American life that we don’t like and it is something that is a matter of constant and ongoing concern. But you could construe that as violence, and it is.
Q If the President is using that as an example of saying that the Iraqis, if they find a certain level of violence that is acceptable, that’s defined now as success?
MR. SNOW: Yes, in other words, what he’s saying is that if you can have a society that can function more or less normally, where you will have effective police forces that are able to dispense justice fairly, regardless of who you are; you have a growing economy; you have a rule of law; you have political institutions that reflect and protect the rights of all; you have a political system that is able to adjust over time and to — amid compromise and full debate; you have diplomatic roots set down so you are a strong and functional player within the region. All of those are parts of being a successful state.
Q But the President — he argued that this is about freedom, this is about democracy. But when the President defines success as a level of violence, where people feel comfortable about living their daily lives — that bar is very, very low. That’s much lower than a democracy or freedom agenda.
MR. SNOW: No, it’s not. No, it’s not. I mean, look, Washington for many years was the murder capital of the United States of America. I believe we are still able to do our jobs. Now, really what he’s talking about — he’s talking about that. He is not talking about —
Q How do you define an acceptable level of violence? I mean, how can that possibly be defined?
MR. SNOW: That’s a very good question. I don’t have an answer.
Q — talking about what’s acceptable in this country. It seems to be a wave of gang violence, as you said, in urban, as well as rural communities. Initiations are creating murders, gang violence itself — and when you have community leaders to include, black leaders, say genocide of black — black-on-black crime in urban America. What is acceptable about those — and they are crippling communities.
MR. SNOW: And this is where — you’re getting into an apples and orange thing, but it’s a very good question. Look, no level of violence in the abstract is acceptable. You want people to be able to live in a condition of peace. On the other hand, what the President is talking about is that there will be levels of violence in a society that do not, in fact, cripple the society’s ability to function on a daily basis. That’s merely what he’s referring to.
Q Well, I hate to paint a drastic picture, but there is a drastic picture in this country. We talk about what’s happening in Iraq — curfews and things of that nature. We have people scared to leave because of sectarian violence and civil war in their country. You have people in this country scared to leave their homes, scared to go out at night because of violence, because of gang problems — so, unacceptable may be something that —
MR. SNOW: Again, what we’re trying to — look, that’s not acceptable; you understand that. What we’re trying to do is to come up with a metric of saying, there’s going to be a level of violence in a society. But I think you would agree, April, that if that were the kind of violence that were existing, say, in Baghdad, it would not be a cause to have extended American presence there. That’s something that the Iraqis ought to be able to take care of.
Again, On Success
Q Tony, back to success again for just a moment. Previously, success has been defined as Iraq defending itself, sustaining itself, and so on.
MR. SNOW: Governing itself.
Q Governing itself. And today we saw success defined as kind of a lower level of violence. Is there a difference?
MR. SNOW: No, this is not inconsistent. This is part of what we discussed before. No, it’s not at all inconsistent.
Q Not a new definition —
MR. SNOW: No.
On The Dangers Of Free Speech
Q In his speech today, he was asked a question about the media and media coverage. And in his reply he referred to free speech. And then he said, “without glossing over the inherent dangers.” What “inherent dangers” in free speech was he referring to?
MR. SNOW: That I don’t know, because, frankly, I was not at the speech. And I’ll get back to you.
Q Would you, please? It was interesting.
MR. SNOW: Yes, I’m sure it was.
On The Need For Haste
Q Congressional Research Service has said until July there is not really a problem with funding. Is that incorrect?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, if you talk to the Pentagon, there’s already been — it depends on how you define a problem. You’ve already got the situation where you have to start moving money between accounts. That is not optimal. And I think probably the best thing to do for our military is to go ahead and keep all parts of it fully funded. And that means going ahead and finishing up this emergency supplemental as quickly as possible.
Q “Not optimal,” does that mean we’re in a problem already, or is it just not optimal?
MR. SNOW: I’m saying that — I’m not going to get into characterizing it, but I think you would agree that if you have a situation where you have to start moving between accounts, that’s less good than one where all the accounts are fully funded.
Q Tony, a senior DOD official said that we have time until June. Is that true? Where there’s some leeway for about a month?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to try to characterize exactly what’s going on, other than we’re moving money between accounts and that’s not the way you want to run an operation.
Once More, On Success
Q The President said earlier today, he said, “Either we’ll succeed or won’t succeed” regarding the Iraq mission. And six months ago, he was asked, are we winning? He said, absolutely. And then it turned to, we’re not winning, we’re not losing. Now we’re here at, we’ll either succeed or won’t succeed. It doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence for the Iraqi — what should the soldiers make of that statement?
MR. SNOW: I think the soldiers should make that they’ve got somebody who supports them. And they understand that the mission is not to leave, but to succeed and then leave.
Q But he says, we’ll succeed or we won’t succeed. He doesn’t sound very confident in our ability to succeed.
MR. SNOW: What he’s really talking about is the nature of political debate.
And Finally, Your Daily Les
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Does the President agree or disagree with what page one of The Washington Times this morning reports is D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry’s proposal to charge all U.S. citizens tolls if they come to our nation’s capital? Or does he believe Mr. Barry should either pay his income taxes or go to prison, as prosecuting attorneys have asked?
MR. SNOW: Les, I’m going to send you Article I of the Constitution. You can sort of look through some of the executive powers and we’ll get back to you. But that’s —
Q Okay, page one of The Washington Post quotes President Reagan as describing Connecticut’s former Senator Lowell Weicker as “a pompous no-good fathead.” Does President Bush believe that President Reagan was wrong in this statement, or right, or will your refusal to comment leave everyone wondering?
MR. SNOW: C. (Laughter.)
Q What? C. You’ll leave everyone wondering. (Laughter.) You’re a funny man.