Press Briefing by Tony Snow
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 9, 2006
1:18 P.M. CDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. Let me get you apprised first of the President's day. Also a couple of key issues I know you want to talk about. I'll cover those first, and then we'll do questions.
The President this morning received his briefings from his national security team. He did have a bike ride. He has had a private lunch. I don't know who it's with, because it's none of my business. And he has also been talking on the phones today with the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of State.
Two issues that I know everybody is interested in, and let me address those right up front, and as I said, then we'll take some questions about it. First on the issue of the United Nations. As you know, conversations are still ongoing within the United Nations Security Council. Secretary Rice and National Security Advisor Hadley have been working very actively on the phones. We know at this point -- and by the way, there have been a lot of contacts with the chiefly concerned parties, which are the Lebanese and the Israelis, but also including the -- others, including the French, the Secretary General of the United Nations and others.
A lot of different views, there's a range of views, and a lot of concerns, and we are working to accommodate those concerns. Our primary goal is to have an end of violence, but an end that will also ensure that there are not conditions for future violence, because we've seen this recur many times in Lebanon. That would mean creating a credible force that would allow the government of Lebanon to seize effective control and authority over southern Lebanon, and also would not lead to a situation where Hezbollah once again could arise as an independent militia, a state within a state, and to work while independent of the government, and also to destabilize Lebanon.
We are working hard now to bridge differences between the United States position and some of the positions of our allies. As I've said, we do not -- we want an end to violence and we do not want escalations. We are also working to -- on a draft that will meet the concerns of our partners, and the way forward is clear: the principles that were laid out in the G8, that were laid out in the statement by the G8, that were laid out in Rome, remain the conditions that we think are still appropriate for trying to meet the long-term concerns of the Israelis, the Lebanese and everybody in the neighborhood.
We know at this point that we still have some work to do. Furthermore, we also know that the Lebanese army, while an absolutely essential part of any solution, is not itself independently capable of dealing with the problem, at least not yet. And one of the goals is to make sure that, in time, the Lebanese government and its authorities have the ability to do it. We are also concerned and remain concerned about the humanitarian situation in Lebanon, and want to make sure that people who have been displaced and are in need are able to receive the kind of support and care that they need. So that is a quick statement on the United Nations.
As for the primary election in Connecticut last night, I know there's a lot of concern and interest about that. Democratic voters in Connecticut have made their choice, and they have chosen Ned Lamont over Senator Lieberman. Just a couple of observations. Key leaders in the national Democratic Party have made it clear -- let me back up. This is a defining moment in some ways for the Democratic Party. I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the President; I would flip it. I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you. And it is probably worth trying to trace through some of the implications of that position, because it is clearly going to be one of the central issues as we get ready for the election campaign this year, that is, the mid-term elections.
First, let's think about Iraq. One of the positions is that we need to leave Iraq -- we need to do it on a timetable, and we need to do it soon. It's worth walking through the consequences of that position. First, simply to walk away on a timetable without examining the conditions on the ground and without making sure that you have the ability for the Iraqis to stand up and also assert sovereignty over their territory and have a freestanding democracy would create a power vacuum and encourage terrorists not only in Iraq, but throughout the region and throughout the world that one of the problems that often besets democracies, which is impatience in hard times, in fact serves as a motivation for terror groups. Osama bin Laden some years ago said that one of the keys is that if you simply stay at terror long enough, the West is too weak, he said the Americans were too weak, and would stand down.
The second consequence would be, it would create a failed state in the heart of the Middle East with the second largest oil reserves in the world. Now if you think about what happened in Afghanistan, Afghanistan, a nation with far fewer resources, when it was able to serve as a terrorist training and staging ground, was able to do considerable violence to the United States and pose a threat to the rest of the world.
Number three, another consequence would be that it would inflict incredible damage on America's credibility. We have made it clear, and this President has made it clear, that we're in it to make sure that the people of Iraq do in fact have the opportunity to live free and in a democracy, and to walk away from that vow would send not only a sign of weakness, but also of American unreliability, and it would enable forces of oppression and totalitarianism to rise again within Iraq and elsewhere.
A white flag, in short, means a white flag in the war on terror.
Prime Minister Maliki, when he spoke before Congress, made it clear that Iraq remains a central pivot in the war on terror, because it is where many terrorist groups are going to test the will of the American people and also of the international community. This President does not intend and will not walk away from the promises he has made.
The other thing you might want to take -- now expand the view a little bit, because I think one of the arguments that is now being knocked around is whether in fact we're seriously engaged in a war on terror. Let's take a look at the global situation: you have Iran remaining not only stubborn in the face of the international community saying that Iran needs to suspend nuclear activities, but also encouraging the destruction of Israel and continuing to serve as a financier and organizer of terrorist organizations around the world.
We know that North Korea also poses certain threats. We know that terrorist organizations around the world have already expressed their desire to disrupt democracy and also to disrupt civilization in many places, including Indonesia; India; Pakistan; Amman, Jordan. We remember the bombings also in Madrid and London. It's a serious battle.
Hezbollah remains also an independent actor which is operating with the support of Iran and Syria, firing not only Katyushas, but Zilzal rockets into Israel, with the desire not only of fomenting larger hostilities, but also hoping to destabilize the prospects for democracy in the region. The reason I say this is that the stakes are high, it's an important debate to have, and it is clear that at least some of the leadership in the Democratic Party believes that the proper way to address this is to point a finger at the United States and to counsel walking away. The view of the President is that this is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity, and let me outline that part.
Democracies operate on different principles than totalitarian states. In a democracy, you have to respond to the will of the people. In a democracy within the United States, whether it be Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont competing for votes in Connecticut, or on the local level, dealing with the needs for people to have safe streets, good schools and services they can depend upon, those are the things. You respond to the stated desires of the people. In totalitarian states, the despot alone has the opportunity to declare what he or she wants to do, and frankly, quite often they are much more warlike.
The President believes, and history will bare him out, that free and democratic states are far more peaceful, and create the basis and opportunity, especially in an unstable part of the world, for economic, social, political ties that in the long run are going to be a lot closer than they are today.
So those are some of the issues that are raised. As for -- the President has no comment on the winner or loser of the race, that is for the Democratic Party and Democratic voters in the state of Connecticut. But it also clear, because of the attention being paid to it, that there is a significant political argument underway, and it's one that I think it is important for the American people to have. I say, "I think," that the administration thinks it's important for the American people to have.
And with that, I will take questions.
Q Tony, you said the United States wants an end to violence and we do not want escalations.
MR. SNOW: That's correct.
Q Is that a message to Israel, which today voted to widen its campaign in Lebanon?
MR. SNOW: It's a message to all parties. If you're going to have diplomacy in this situation, you have to make sure that you're addressing the root causes of the problem, a power vacuum in southern Lebanon. You have to remember that Hezbollah started this with the firing of rockets. That, of course, followed on crossing over the Blue Line and kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
So the escalation is something that we do not want to see. But, also, you have to have a resolution that addresses the root cause of Hezbollah, has a practical solution to making sure that the Lebanese government will be able to have military and political control over the south so that the Israeli government then -- and the Israeli government has expressed willingness to move out of Lebanon if those conditions are reached. So the question is whether the United States and its allies can bridge those gaps to return to the principles that have been agreed upon by the European community and others, both at the G8 and also in Rome.
Q Tony, a few days ago Steve Hadley stood before us and said he expected a vote on the U.N. resolution Monday afternoon, possibly Tuesday morning. What is the administration's estimate now on when we're going to see a vote, if at all?
MR. SNOW: We're not making estimates. At this point what you've had are some fairly -- you had some dramatic testimony and comments -- by the way, you can expect people to be ventilating these differing points of views in coming days. So there was an emotional day yesterday at the United Nations. The United States continues to work with the concerned parties, principally the Lebanese and the Israelis, but also our negotiating partners. But I think at this point, Sheryl, it's beyond any of us to come up with a firm prediction about when you get a resolution.
Our view is you have to have a resolution that offers a solution. And that has been one of the keys all along, is to make sure that you not merely have the words -- because we have 1559, 1559 talks about all the conditions you need: no more militias, no more use of foreign forces; it's on paper. But what you also have to do now is to have on the ground the kind of support for the Lebanese government that can make those promises real. And that is the thing that this administration continues to pursue.
Q So, Tony, just to be clear, that's the impact, is that the administration is insisting on this international force to be present before the Israeli troops pullout. That's the impasse?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- I think rather than talking about an impasse -- as the President said the other day, diplomacy is not neat and prim and predictable. And you're going to have people -- there is sometimes, you'll be surprised to hear, a disparity between comments made in public for domestic audiences around the world, and comments made in private, as well.
I think what the administration -- we're not declaring an impasse here. What we do see is not only the opportunity to work with our allies, but the necessity of bridging differences and working toward a cessation of violence that creates conditions for a sustained peace.
Q Well, what's the difference? Where does the difference lie?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to get -- and I noticed that Ambassador Bolton was not going to do this either, and he's doing the direct negotiations. I think at this point it's not fruitful to try to get into fine points that are being discussed behind closed doors.
Our desire is, rather than trying to litigate this publicly, let's go ahead and, in conversations with our allies, try to resolve it so then there can be some public discussion of how to move forward.
Q Are you saying, Tony, there are substantive differences between the comments that the French are making in private and those they're making in public?
MR. SNOW: I made a general comment about the kinds of comments people made. And as I just told Suzanne, I'm not going to get into characterizing individual positions that have been taken in the conversations.
Our clear desire is to work with our allies so that we have not only a unified front, but a resolution that is going to create real hope for sustained peace and an effective, lasting democracy in Lebanon for people who, themselves, have been whipsawed by foreign governments for way too long and deserve the opportunity to live in democracy and peace.
Q Tony, you say you're not at an impasse, you want to work with our allies in this matter. Do you think it may become necessary, in order to get an end to the violence, for France and the U.S. to present separate resolutions to the U.N. to deal with this?
MR. SNOW: I don't even want to get into that. We are still working with allies to come up with a resolution that everybody can agree upon. I can't tell you what the end state is going to be. I can tell you that the American position remains the one to which G8 governments, and also the governments that gathered in Rome, were committed to from the very beginning.
You've got to remember how it started with Hezbollah. You also have to remember that if you have Hezbollah still maintaining the ability to operate independently and to use military might -- in defiance of 1559 -- getting rockets and getting rockets of various varieties, one assumes from Iran -- that that, in fact, that situation simply cannot remain. And that is what set off this chain of events. And we are hoping that everybody not only continues to recognize the fundamental problem, but also knows that the way forward is pretty simple, which is, address that problem, Israel has expressed the desire to get out if that threat is gone. We know that the Lebanese government wants the ability to operate independently. And we are continuing to work toward all those goals at the same time.
Q Two things. Do you worry that the diplomatic process is dragging on too long, while the violence continues?
MR. SNOW: The diplomatic process never drags on too short, in most of our experiences. You know, it is what it is. Again, just as we have said, we don't want to be trying to shape an Iraq strategy on the basis of a timetable. What you have to do is you have to work hard and exhaust every possible avenue so that you can try to get to that end state, to try to get to the kind of resolution that you think is going to provide the proper conditions so that the Lebanese people -- who, you know, they've got paper resolutions that say all the right things, but they need a reality on the ground that is going to permit them to go forward under the conditions that were laid out in 1559 and to this day have yet to be fulfilled.
Q On Lieberman, are you telling us you now want to make the November election a referendum on the Democrats' position on the Iraq war?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm saying that there are some Democrats who have said that the key issue is leaving, and that there are some elements within the Democratic Party who are pushing hard to say, look, if you don't agree with us, you no longer belong in the party. You know, you take a look at the blogs today, they're pretty hot.
And the real question for the American people to ask themselves is, do you take the war on terror seriously, with all the developments going on around the world? And, if so, how do you fight it to win? There seem to be two approaches. And in the Connecticut race one of the approaches is ignore the difficulties and walk away.
Now, when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn't stay the course, and that led to September 11th. And it's important to realize that terrorists are not simply inspired by American engagement in the world, but they have their own agenda and it is an agenda that if we turn around and look the other way, they're not going to ignore -- they will continue to build strength and they will continue to build adherence. And it is a vitally important debate to have.
And it's really up to Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party to figure out how they want to stand in the war on terror: do they want to have the sort of timetable approach, leave by a date-certain; do they not want to have something constructive to say about gathering threats from Iran and elsewhere. Or do they want to acknowledge that fact that in a dangerous world it takes commitment, it take persistence.
Throughout American history, generation after generation has been faced with difficulties. And each generation has risen to the challenge, and we're confident that this generation will do the same.
Q Tony, just to follow up on that. Does this shake up the political landscape conventional thinking of how November midterms are going to go and strategy looking forward to '08?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I mean, if you take a look at the midterms, again, every candidate is going to tell you that his or her campaign is a local campaign, and quite often local issues are going to condition them.
There has been some attempt on the part, again -- a lot of Democratic leadership getting involved in this Connecticut race, trying to nationalize around one issue. That is obviously a key issue; but, on the other hand, everybody has known all along that that's a key issue. The President's view has always been that good policy is good politics. We are sticking with the positions we have taken. We think that they're the right positions to take.
One of the interesting things that happened in this Connecticut race, by the way, was there appeared to be some buyer's remorse as election day approached. Maybe the polls were rigged; maybe the polls were bad. But at least the lead that Mr. Lamont had went from 13 points to six to four on election day. That indicates that even in a fairly liberal state like Connecticut, where this is the one issue, where you had a well-financed candidate who had more money than the incumbent, that you still had a 50-50 split more or less within the Democratic Party on this issue.
It's going to be up to the Democrats to see exactly how they want to play it. I will tell you the President's position, which is the war on terror is vital, not only because the stakes are high, but, also, the rewards are high. When you have created a democracy, when a democracy is able to stand up in Iraq, and when a democracy is able to stand up in Lebanon, when a democracy is able to function for Palestinians, you send a powerful message that these things are possible anywhere in the world. And you create ties that are motivated no longer by ideology or sectarian hatred, but, instead, by self-interest, which means ties of trade, ties of politics, and real opportunities for closer relations throughout the world. And it makes it a more peaceful world.
Q Tony, is the President preparing to go out on the campaign trail and take the battle over Iraq and the war on terror to the Democrats?
MR. SNOW: You know, what the President is going to do on the campaign trail is talk about the issues, and the issues that are important. We're going to be in Wisconsin tomorrow, we're going to be talking about the economy. There's a good economic message to discuss.
So the fact is, when people go to the polls and people also start thinking about issues, they do think about the war on terror, but, in addition, you've got bread-and-butter issues here at home, too. So there are a whole series of issues; all of them come into play. And I'm sure the President will talk about all of them.
Q Tony, President Chirac interrupted his vacation to go meet with some of his cabinet members, and Tony Blair delayed his to make some phone calls. Has the President given any consideration to doing something like that, and get more involved to move this along?
MR. SNOW: The President is involved. As I said, he's been talking actively with Secretary Rice and also National Security Advisor Hadley. I know that they've been in close contact today with Israeli, Lebanese, French, U.N. and other officials. So I daresay the President is very actively engaged in this. He may go for a bike ride in the morning, but he's spending a lot of time -- morning, noon and night -- working these issues.
Q But the President is not calling any foreign leaders or anything --
MR. SNOW: No foreign leader calls so far today.
Q Tony, today in Ohio, Ken Mehlman delivered a speech in which he talked about the Lieberman loss as an example of the defeatism and isolationism of the Democratic Party. It seems like, based on what we're hearing from you, this is part of a coordinated Republican effort to broaden this Lieberman race out to a more national message.
MR. SNOW: Again, I think what you've had is you've had a lot of national figures within the Democratic Party making this point. And that's why I tried to couch it in terms of responding to the arguments that were made in that race. Again, it's up to Democrats -- is this the national message they wish to run on? If so, it's going to be something that I think the American people are going to want to hear all sides of.
Q But is it a national message for you to paint Democrats as the cut-and-run party, the defeatist, isolationist party?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe I used any of those terms.
Q But Mehlman used "defeatism" and "isolationism."
MR. SNOW: Ken is running the Republican National Committee; I'm speaking for the President.
Q Tony, can I ask you -- you said the Lieberman loss was a defining moment for the Democratic Party. What does it say about the Republican Party, the results in the Michigan primary, where a moderate Republican who has been in somewhat agreement with the President on immigration issues was defeated by the conservative wing of the Republican Party? And is that a defining moment?
MR. SNOW: You know, it will be interesting to see how that plays out. That is a race that, I must tell you in all fairness, that I did not look at with as much care or thoroughness. So I'll try to get you a more thorough answer. But it appears that you had a self-described moderate being defeated by a self-described conservative. Beyond that, I wish I could give you more context, but I can't, and I'd be making it up.
Q Tony, do you anticipate the President will do anything to help Senator Lieberman get elected now as an independent?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, again, Joe Lieberman has been a Democrat all his life; he's had a long Democratic career. He says that if elected as an independent he would caucus as a Democrat. Again, the President is going to stay out of that one.
Q So the President would prefer to have the Republican nominee in Connecticut --
MR. SNOW: Again, as you know, there is an interesting situation in Connecticut. I think at this point we'll just see what happens.
All right, anything else on these two issues?
Q Does that mean you'd rather have the issue than to have Lieberman, a moderate Democrat, back in the Senate?
MR. SNOW: No. All right, and I believe with that piquant question, we have closed off the televised portion of this. For those at home, thanks for joining us. (Laughter.)
All right, anything else?
Q Can you preview tomorrow's speech or tomorrow's statement in Wisconsin?
MR. SNOW: I will give you a little more guidance later in the day on that. I apologize. But we'll give you a sense of the events and all that stuff.
Q Did you get a chance to follow up on the mine safety nomination by any chance?
MR. SNOW: At this point, we don't have any. We don't have any likely -- we're not in a position to announce another nominee.
Q But are you planning to make another nomination and not a recess appointment?
MR. SNOW: You know, from what I gather, yes, but I'll find out.
Q Tony, is the President satisfied with the level of coordination between U.S. military commanders in Iraq and their Iraqi counterparts?
MR. SNOW: Iraq is a big country -- perhaps you have something more specific in mind?
Q I do, I do. The criticism from Prime Minister Maliki about the raid near Sadr City. He called it unjustified, said he wasn't consulted. What's the White House's sense of what's going on there?
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, you know, the battle of Baghdad remains an important battle, and General Casey is working with Prime Minister Maliki. I think for, honestly, an answer on that you've got to talk to our Baghdad guys, because I'd be tap dancing, and you certainly wouldn't want me to do that.
Q I'm wondering if you're willing to go a little farther off-camera than you were on-camera on this difference we're having with the French? You know, a couple of weeks ago you had the world pushing the President for an immediate cease-fire, and Mr. Bush saying, no, the terms aren't right. And now you have the President pushing for an immediate -- or a quick end to the violence. And you have other leaders saying, no, the terms aren't right.
MR. SNOW: No, I think you've got it wrong on both counts. First, the term "immediate cease-fire" did not appear in the G8 declaration, it did not appear on the Rome declaration, and it did not appear on the EU declaration.
Q It's a loaded term, I'll grant you.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's also a term that wasn't used, so that's important to acknowledge. In this particular case, we want an end to violence, but we want an end to violence under the right conditions. And I think now the question is, what are the proper ways to get that, and to get a lasting end to violence.
So those are the practical considerations that now are being debated and hammered out. We understand that there will be a sense of urgency. We had two foreign ministers, and Amr Moussa, in speaking yesterday at the Security Council. And they made their point strongly. We understand the humanitarian concerns of Arab nations -- for that matter, for Lebanon and for Israel. I mean, we understand those.
But on the other hand, we also want to make sure that you don't create a sense that will create even more and deeper human tragedy in the long run. And that is the challenge that lies before us.
Q But how is it that we had this shift over a period of two days and you were --
MR. SNOW: Our position hasn't changed. The answer is, what happens in diplomacy? The answer is, sometimes people adjust their views, or at least adjust their approaches. We're continuing to work with the French and the Israelis and the Lebanese and the Secretary General of the U.N. and others on the basis of the principles that have been unchanged, really, since the President made his first comments the day of the kidnappings, which was the 12th of July.
Q Israel's stand in expanding its military operation, doesn't that kind of complicate what you're trying to do on the diplomatic front? I mean, it said it could take up to 30 days.
MR. SNOW: Well, having Hezbollah fire 300 rockets a day complicates things. I mean, the fact is the Israelis are responding to what they see as their military and domestic security needs. Obviously, you've got to find ways -- it seems that the best way to security is to find a situation where Hezbollah stops using Lebanese citizens and civilian areas as staging grounds, and citizens as human shields and decides -- as I said before, makes the choice to adopt a political, rather than a military, path, and decides that it will answer less to Iran than to the people of Lebanon.
That is the most important factor to deal with here.
All right, thank you.
END 1:48 P.M. CDT
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