Press Briefing by Tony Snow
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 5, 2006
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:28 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Welcome. I have been unable to get you all the details you wanted on the lunch with Secretary Baker. It started at 11:30 a.m., not at 12:00 p.m. The President went straight from a policy time into the lunch. I'm assuming that Steve Hadley is there, but I'll get you a full roster of participants. It's still ongoing.
Q Is the President contemplating a way out of Iraq?
MR. SNOW: The way out of Iraq is to have an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself, to be an ally in the war on terror and also an example to the region that democracy can succeed. So that is the way out.
Q Does he really think he can achieve such a thing?
MR. SNOW: He believes the Iraqi people can achieve it, and it is our goal to help them develop the capacity to do so.
Q To follow on that for a second, it sounds like the job -- he's not leaving until the job is finished. And the job is defined as an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself. Last week you said --
MR. SNOW: And be an ally in the war on terror.
Q And be an ally in the war on terror. Is the Baker report and the internal reviews that accompany the Baker report over the next couple of weeks an opportunity for the President to redefine what the job is?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. I think it's an opportunity to take advantage of the help of a number of people who are assessing the situation. But, no.
Q This would seem then --
MR. SNOW: I mean, the President has been -- let me just reiterate, Jim, because he's been asked this a number of times. Does it mean that you don't believe you can have an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself? That remains the goal, period.
Q So if everybody in Washington and people in the country who are somewhat awaiting this report in a breathless manner as if this is going to be the beginning of the age of course correction -- it sounds like what you're suggesting is no major course correction.
MR. SNOW: I think anybody who expects, as Bob Gates said today, a magic bullet out of the Hamilton-Baker commission is probably placing an unfair burden on them. They're taking a look at a highly complex situation that no doubt, whatever recommendations are made by the Hamilton-Baker commission, by Pete Pace, by the NSC, by the State Department, you're still going to need to continue to make adjustments based on the facts on the ground. But having said that -- so we have not been hyping up, nor have we been trying to discourage speculation about the Hamilton-Baker commission. The President --
Q But set them aside for a second. I just mean this is the season of reviews and at the end of which, the President is going to speak to the American people and say, I've seen all of this, this has all come in and here's the way forward in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Right --
Q And some people have been suggesting that that means a major course correction.
MR. SNOW: Look, I'm going to let the President make his own decisions. You're assuming that there's a decision sitting on the shelf that we're just waiting for a convenient time to unveil --
Q No, I'm not --
MR. SNOW: -- to characterize it as such would mean that there is a -- that we already know exactly what the President is going to decide. I don't know, Jim. I do know that what he's going to do is to take as thorough, careful and thoughtful a look as possible and try to work on the way forward. I know that that is not as detailed as you'd like, but on the other hand, the President really does have a lot -- he still has to receive his reviews from within the administration and he has yet to see the Baker-Hamilton report.
Q And just one more shot at this, Tony. So after the election, the midterms election --
MR. SNOW: Yes --
Q -- and after these two or three or four reviews that are coming in, there are a lot of Americans saying, I suspect we're going to embark on a different course in Iraq. That may be unfounded thinking by those people.
MR. SNOW: I just -- I don't know. I would discourage you from trying to leap to preemptory conclusions about what's going to happen. There's a review underway. It is obvious, as the President has said, that we're not doing well enough fast enough. And so you need to find better ways of pursuing the goals of that Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself. And this takes place at a number of junctures.
You've got to keep in mind, also, that the Iraqis are busy making moves. You had the Prime Minister today, for instance, talking about a regional security conference. At the same time he also announced plans to proceed with a national reconciliation conference within Iraq. Those are all positive measures. If you listen to what we heard yesterday from Mr. al Hakim, he went through a list of nine steps that he thinks the Iraqi government needs to take, which tracked pretty much with what we've been thinking. So you've got the Iraqis also moving very aggressively.
Today Bill Caldwell in Baghdad was talking about the possibility that Iraqis may be able to gain command and control over all 18 provinces as early as the middle of next year. There are a lot of things going on, and it's not simply the United States sort of acting unilaterally. You've got a collaborative effort to work with the Iraqis to give them the capacity to go ahead and handle security, to handle the economics, to work with their neighbors, to have political reconciliation, and to do the things that are necessary not only to deal with insurgency and violence in their midst, but also be able to build that sense of national unity and stability and identity. So all of those things are in train right now. I don't know that there is some sort of magic change in direction. I think what you have is the President soliciting the best views on how to move forward within the parameters of working with the Iraqis.
Q On the idea of a regional security conference, can you talk to us about what you've heard from the Prime Minister in Jordan about that issue and whether the United States should be the leader of a regional security conference, or even involved in it?
MR. SNOW: Well, that's really up to the Iraqis. There have been, as you know, Wendell, a number of regional conferences on matters of interest so far, and there will continue to be. You have the Iraqi Compact; you also have now the talk of a regional security conference. Also, Prime Minister Maliki has been involved in direct diplomacy with his neighbors and others in the region, the Saudis and the Jordanians included. So I think this is something where the Iraqis are doing what you would expect, which is to consult with their neighbors on their own matters of security.
As far as I know, there has been no invitation extended for the United States to participate. This is a new story that we have seen, and as details become available, I'll be happy to share them. But we've seen the same news report. But it has been the case that in previous regional conferences, the Iraqis and their neighbors, in fact, did the consultations. We were not a party to it. But, obviously, if the Iraqis want our help and want our participation, we'll be happy to do so.
Q And is the experience of the Iraqis engaging on their own with Syria an example here?
MR. SNOW: Yes. Look, they've also -- you've had the Prime Minister go to Tehran. The Prime Minister is the head of a sovereign state, and he does what he sees in his best interest, in terms of pursuing security and a number of interests, and you know that it's going to be incumbent upon him to have relationships with his neighbors, and he's doing it. That's perfectly natural.
Q Tony, with 140,000 troops over there, how could the U.S., by its own choice or otherwise, not be a part of a security conference?
MR. SNOW: It's a regional security conference. If you've got member states talking to one another, they're perfectly free to do that. Again, it doesn't mean that they're not going to be taking into account what the American role may be, but the United States also has significant equity in trying to work on economic interests. When they've had some economic conferences, we haven't necessarily been party to it. I don't think this is an either/or proposition. You've got to keep in mind that there may be separate security issues that would be necessary to discuss with neighbors in addition to what's going on.
For instance, we have talked a lot about the role that Iran and Syria may play in the region, which is they need to be constructive rather than trying to foment forces that are going to be opposing democracy in Lebanon, in the Palestinian areas, in Iraq. We've talked about that. That may be one of the topics that comes up. So you've got to keep in mind that they also have unique regional security interests, and it would be appropriate to discuss them in that forum.
Q Well, doesn't that 140,000 troop presence currently define Iraqi security? Aren't they Iraqi security?
MR. SNOW: Well, again -- what are you saying, the United States has to say, no, no, no, you can't have a conference without us?
Q No, I'm just saying, how could you rule out being part of it?
MR. SNOW: I didn't rule it out, I just said I don't know that we've been invited. I don't know. It's a new -- it's a brand new story; give it time to develop.
Goyal, is this -- let's do our Iraq questions first. Yes.
Q You said earlier that the -- back to Baker-Hamilton -- that the study group's report shouldn't be seen as some sort of attempt to rebuff the administration or posing for a heavyweight fight. But how do you know that if you haven't even seen it yet?
MR. SNOW: I don't. But on the other hand, how do you know that it's going to be a rebuff?
Q Well, it's an attempt to challenge the thinking and come up with a new way forward, something --
MR. SNOW: How do you know it's an attempt to challenge the thinking? I thought it was an attempt to take a look at the facts on the ground and review.
Q Some of the excerpts we've seen so far have called for phased troop withdrawal --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, let's see what they have to say. Also, there may be discussion of the facts on the ground. But what I'm saying is, give it a -- there have also been news reports about the talk of moving out of combat roles, which is precisely what's going on as we train and do embeds.
Let's just wait and see what happens. I think the idea -- this narrative of somehow somebody challenging the administration, that I don't think is the attitude of people who are involved here. They understand that you've got a sovereign government, it is not their job to undermine public confidence in this government. It is their job to be working with this government to try to assist us in taking a look at a very complex problem. This is not an insurgency; it is a commission that's designed to study a problem. And so that's why all I'm saying is, let's take a look at the report. But certainly, based on what I heard in terms of the conversations and the way in which -- the respect with which the parties have treated one another, it looks like there is a collaborative effort, which is exactly what we want.
Taking you back to Bob Gates' testimony again today, he was discussing the Cold War and applying lessons of the Cold War to what's going on right now. During the Cold War there were plenty of disagreements about tactics, but there was consensus on the most important factor, which was we had to win. We have to win. Bob Gates made that point. And the question now is what is the best way to do it. And to win means to have an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself.
And I think there are a lot of serious people looking at constructive ways to try to turn it at a different angle to come up with an area of approach that maybe somebody else hasn't considered. But you're absolutely right -- I do not wish to prejudge, but I would counsel you against prejudging, as well, as seeing this as a slap in the face of the administration because we view it as an attempt to help us, and we're going to receive it in that regard.
Q Are you concerned, though, about the expectations that have built up over the last few weeks --
MR. SNOW: Well, we haven't built them up. You guys have to answer for that.
Q Expectations are out there. What I'm saying is, are you concerned that anything short of an embracing of the recommendations will be viewed as obstinance by the White House --
MR. SNOW: If it is, I'm going to put that on your shoulders, because that will mean that there has been an attempt -- when you have a White House that invites people in, that provides complete and full access, that has, in fact, been welcoming of the approach, I think you understand that it is important to look at it respectfully. But you also surely understand that a President in a time of war is going to consult his military commanders and his military leaders, and he is going to consult his diplomats, and he's going to consult people who do this on a full-time basis 24-7, 365 days a year. And he is going to make use of all that.
I think it is a disservice to the Baker-Hamilton commission and to this administration and to public discourse to try to argue that attempts to take a fresh look at a program are really attempts to knock down an administration or to cast doubt on the mission. I think, in this sense, we look at this as more a collaborative effort, and we hope that you guys will, too.
Q Why do they have to look at it if something isn't wrong?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I mean, there is something wrong; we already said that. We're not doing well enough fast enough.
Q So when Bob Gates says that we're not winning the war in Iraq, you don't see a major difference with him on that?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you listen to what Bob Gates said -- he later was asked by Senator Inhofe, do you agree with General Pace that we're neither winning, nor losing? If you listen to what Bob said, what did he say? He said the goal is an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself and be an ally in the war on terror. He said, this is a time for bipartisanship, as we had during the Cold War. This is a time for shared national commitment. He said that the only way we lose if that if we lose the will to continue and to complete the mission. He also noted that if we did not complete the mission, I believe he said that there would be -- what did he say -- regional cataclysm, I think, was the phrase he used; that was the danger. So he talked about very clear dangers, but also very clear promise.
What you saw is somebody who clearly shares the President's view on this and the President's goals, but is also going to go in and take a fresh look. He did not presume to have complete knowledge of the operational issues, said that one of the first things he would do upon becoming Secretary of Defense, should he be confirmed by the Senate, is to go out to the region and talk to people and go to Iraq. So I look at that, and it seems to me that it's very consistent with the approach the President has been taking.
Q Can I follow on that, Tony, about having a wider cataclysm -- if that happens, obviously it would impact the United States, Europe, so forth -- Israel and so forth. But is it a given that U.S. troops have to be involved on the ground if the Middle East blows up?
MR. SNOW: Connie, I'm not going to answer if the Middle East blows up.
Q Can I just also come back to what Steve was asking about. Gates was asked an up or down question, is the United States winning --
MR. SNOW: Right, and then he was asked a follow-up question, as well.
Q Yes, I understand that. But he did say -- "Are we winning?" His answer was, "No." The last time the President was asked, it was, "Absolutely, yes."
MR. SNOW: What I would suggest is, number one, I know that you want to pit a fight between Bob Gates and the President. It doesn't exist. Read the full testimony and you'll see.
The second thing is that it is really important to realize that there's a lot of stuff going on. I've already referred to a couple of them. You've got the Prime Minister moving aggressively on a number of fronts, in terms of building Iraqi capabilities. He's dealing on a regional basis with his neighbors. He is talking about a reconciliation conference this month. There has been also a great deal of work on the Iraqi economy.
You look at what Mr. al Hakim said yesterday -- and, again, just run through some of the things he was talking about in the speech. The first thing he talked about is the fact that there's a democracy in Iraq, and that this is something that is an incredible and important difference. But he also said that, number one, you need to conclude joint security agreements with neighboring countries in the region. That was his first priority. He said, number two, enforce our borders and stop infiltration into Iraq. That, obviously, has to do, at a bare minimum, with Syria and Iran. Number three, enforce the Iraqi security apparatus by equipping them with the needed capabilities and movements within the law. Number four, implement the anti-terrorism law. Number five, our arms should be limited to the hands of government forces. And later on he said the country should be clear of militias. He talked about, provide our national support to the current government to assist it in fighting terrorism. Number seven, diplomatic exchange with neighboring countries. Eight, trade exchange to rebuild and improve Iraqi services, and achieve national reconciliation.
You put all that together, and what you have is an Iraqi government that is also very actively engaged in trying to build the capability. So there are a lot of things going on here.
Q If the President were asked that same question today, would he say, absolutely, yes?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell you what the President would say, but you can look at the President's answer and you can look at Bob Gates. What I would also suggest, though, is you take a look at the Gates testimony, and you see if that's consistent with what we've been talking about, because what you're going to try to take is that one little question, rather than taking a fuller look at --
Q These are questions that Americans typically ask.
MR. SNOW: That's right, but the other question that Americans might want to ask is, is it a static situation, and do you see progress on the part of the Iraqis, and do you see a concerted effort on their part to be serious about winning and governing? That's an important thing to, and it's also important to note that the Iraqis --
Q Tony, does --
MR. SNOW: I'll finish here in a moment. It's not a filibuster, but I'm trying to wrap up the answer - that, in fact, you see also the increased willingness and success in actions, for instance, against al Qaeda in Anbar and also within Baghdad. There are a lot of things going on.
So when you ask a steady state question, you're trying to treat it as a portrait in an unchanging situation. In fact, it's a pretty dynamic situation. There are a lot of things going on, a lot of things that the Iraqis themselves say give them heart and confidence and determination. They know something.
Q Does the President today believe that we are winning in Iraq? It's a very straightforward question.
MR. SNOW: I know, but I did not ask him the question today. The most recently asked, he said, "yes."
Q Okay, so that might change from day to day. So it may have changed --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't --
Q -- he may no longer believe that we're winning the war in Iraq. You don't know.
MR. SNOW: I have no reason to think it changed, but also, again, go back and take a look at the broader answer that Bob Gates gave and ask yourself, is this consistent or inconsistent with what the President has been saying? I think you're going to find it's very consistent.
Q Why is it consistent if he said -- he said we're neither winning, nor losing. He didn't say we were winning.
MR. SNOW: Then he proceeded to talk about the very challenges the President has been discussing in terms of developing capability on the Iraqi side of an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself. So what you may have are two guys who are looking at different definitions. I don't know. I don't want to try to read their minds. But what I do think is important in taking a full look at what Bob Gates was doing is then to take a look at when he started drilling down. What did he talk about? Precisely the same things that the President has been discussing for weeks and weeks and weeks.
Q Even though it was precisely the same thing, he said, we are not winning, and --
MR. SNOW: No, he said -- I believe the answer was, either "yes, sir," or "no, sir."
Q And then he went into the fact that "but we're not losing." But this administration has said we are winning. Leading up to the midterm elections, President Bush was asked pointedly at his press conference, are we winning? He said, yes, we're winning, and he went on to explain why. He explained why we're not winning. You from this podium said --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't believe -- what Bob Gates -- I don't believe that Bob Gates said that we were --
Q He supported his statement. And you from that --
MR. SNOW: But how did he support it? Did he support the statement by saying anything that was inconsistent with what the President has said? And I don't think he did.
Q But his statement is inconsistent with what the administration says. The President has said, we are winning. You from that podium said, we're winning --
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q -- but we haven't won.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q He said -- he agreed that we are not winning. So how is that consistent --
MR. SNOW: And he also said we're not losing.
Q But how is that consistent? The President never said, we're not losing. How is that consistent?
MR. SNOW: Because -- okay, because they may have -- I don't know what the definitions are, April. That's why, I think, if you want guidance, you take a look at the broader. If you want to take a look at one question or two questions asked by senators and ignore the bulk of hours of public testimony, you are free to do so. But if you want to try to get a nuance to full understanding of where Bob Gates stands on these issues with regard to the President and his policies and the definition of what it is to win in Iraq and what it takes, then I think you're going to find that there is -- that he agrees and also that he is committed to the mission. That's what the bulk of today is about. That's what the bulk of --
Q Tony, one on security issues?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, Ann.
Q You seem to be describing Gates as having literally no daylight between him and the President on the overall --
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, there was a difference on that answer.
Q But when the President sat down with Gates November 5th or whatever day it was, at the ranch when he was -- when they talked, presumably they talked about Iraq. At that point, did Gates say, you're not winning in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: I have no idea. I mean, that's a conversation that the President and Bob Gates had. It was confidential. It's not been read out, and I don't know.
Q What would the President do if he becomes Secretary, if Gates walks in and tells him something the President disagrees with?
MR. SNOW: Well, he's an advisor to the President. This is not a debating society, and the President is not somebody who -- the President takes seriously the counsel of people who work for him, and he's bringing in Bob Gates because he believes he is capable of doing the one thing that Bob talked about doing, which is winning. And he knows he's committed to that. And he respects him and he's willing to listen to the suggestions he may have. You've heard the President say many times, deferring to combatant commanders -- he looks for people whose expertise and whose talents place them in a position where they can be responsible and he can trust them, and he can also trust their words. And that's exactly what he does with Bob Gates.
And there are any number of times, Ann, as you know, when an advisor may come in and tell a President something that a President may or may not wish to hear, but this is a President who is not afraid of having somebody tell him what they consider to be the truth. As a matter of fact, he welcomes it. It's one of the fun things about working in this White House, is that there is plenty of opportunity for people to express their views.
Q Tony, do you think it's demoralizing for the man who, if confirmed, will be the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon to say to troops out in the field who hear this that America is not winning the war?
MR. SNOW: No, because, again, I'd ask you to do something that would be fair to the troops, which is to look at the full testimony.
Q He was asked point-blank twice by two U.S. senators -- he was asked by Senator Levin --
MR. SNOW: I understand that --
Q He was asked the question, is America winning the war? He answer was, "No, sir." He was asked by another Senator, he was asked by John McCain, do you agree with that statement that you made earlier? His answer was, yes. It's point-blank. It's yes or no. He said, no --
MR. SNOW: And then he was also -- he was also --
Q My question is, do you think it's demoralizing to the troops out in the field to hear that from the man --
MR. SNOW: What I think is demoralizing is a constant effort to try to portray this as a losing mission. You know what you ought to do? You ought to talk to some of the troops when they come back. Give them a call. I think you'll find that they are committed to the mission, and furthermore, you will find that Bob Gates, in his testimony today, did nothing to give the indication that he lacks confidence in either the mission or the people conducting it.
Q But troops haven't heard their Secretary of Defense, or the man who will become Secretary of Defense, ever say, we are losing the war.
MR. SNOW: He also said we're not winning the war. And then he proceeded to talk about what it takes. Ask yourself again -- you want to know if it's demoralizing? Ask them. I think what they -- you know what's interesting, because what comes back a lot of times is they say, we're tired of getting press reports that have a constant failure narrative and never talk about what we're achieving in the field. We're committed to it and we know that we have to win. There's a sense of determination, mission and morale on the part of U.S. troops, that if you spent any time with them -- and I presume you have -- you will know that it's very impressive, and it's inspiring for those of us who have had the opportunity to be with them. And that's not going to go away.
What they also have in Bob Gates is somebody who is going to give them everything they need. You also had conversations today about what you do to provide necessary support for the troops, and he was absolutely unstinting in his determination to do whatever it takes to get them what they need to get the mission done, and part of that mission, of course, is training up Iraqis so Americans can come home. Move out of combat missions, get into the training business and eventually have an Iraq that can defend, sustain and govern itself.
Q On military expenses -- just put out an estimate that 100,000 government contractors are in Iraq. I just wonder, what is the administration doing in terms of federal procurement oversight in this area, as well as its growing reliance on the private sector to do the contracting, such as interrogating prisoners and building military bases?
MR. SNOW: I'd refer you to the Department of Defense, Paula; I don't know.
Q And may I ask a follow-up? A moment ago you invited reporters to talk to troops. Did that include troops that are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder?
MR. SNOW: It includes anybody. Go to Walter Reed. You'll find some people -- you'll find not only people who have been traumatized by combat, but also people who have been gravely injured and are also committed.
You will understand, Paula, that there have been people that -- it is obviously very tough business for the people who have been over there. Don't cherry-pick, though; try to find out from everybody, because it is important. And certainly the President is not somebody who fails to appreciate the real sacrifice and also the courage of the people who are over there.
Q Tony, I would like to ask a domestic question, if I may.
MR. SNOW: Well, let me make sure --
Q It's short. Did the President ask al Hakim to relay a message to the Iranians?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe so. It was not in the readout; I was not in the meeting.
Q Tony Blair, since he's here for Iraq, do you have any schedule yet, at this point?
MR. SNOW: No. I hope we'll get it to you tomorrow.
Q Tony, two quick questions. After 9/11 there was some racial profiles and racial discrimination and all, and the President and FBI and also the Homeland Security Department did a great job. But now it's coming back, as far as Sikhs with turbans from India, like the Prime Minister of India. And they are being barred from the airlines, and also from restaurants. There is a case happening in Richmond, Virginia, after --
MR. SNOW: Goyal, when you have a question like this, please notify me in advance, because I can't answer it. As you probably understand, I spend most of my time getting ready for the conversations about Bob Gates and the war. So I want to be helpful on something like that, but I much as I studied, that one was not on the homework list today.
Q Another question.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q As far as Afghanistan is concerned, some officials at the NATO and also some experts are saying now that the reason al Qaedas are coming back from Pakistan into Afghanistan is because they have now open hand from the authorities, because nobody is there to go after them, because maybe U.S. is too much involved now in Iraq. Do you think we have forgotten Afghanistan?
MR. SNOW: Absolutely not. And I refer you not only to that, but the troops who are there. You have increased NATO presence, but also, I think you probably noticed that last week the President talked about increasing U.S. commitments in Afghanistan. And the job in Afghanistan involves far more than simply dealing with the border, although that's an important issue. You also have matters of basic infrastructure, of building the economy, of dealing with opium eradication, and of fighting the Taliban and others. So it's a highly complex job. There are a lot of people on it, and certainly the issue of the borders is something that was discussed at great length with Presidents Karzai and Musharraf, and continues to be an area of emphasis between the two.
Q Tony, one two-part question. I'd like to ask a question about an issue which was at the top of page one of The Washington Post yesterday. Since the President is known to be deeply concerned about religion, and he worships regularly at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, does that parish agree with his support of marriage as one man, one woman, or do they support the Episcopal sodomist marriage movement, which was on page one of The Washington Post?
MR. SNOW: Now you're trying to get the President into ecclesiastical disputes.
Q I just want to know how --
MR. SNOW: Is that -- you stated a position. Is that what they call it?
Q Don't you think it's sodomy?
MR. SNOW: I'm just asking you, is that what they call it, Les?
Q Well, yes, I think it's described as Sodom and Gomorrah.
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- much to the disappointment of your listeners, I am not going to play on that one. Let's hear part two. (Laughter.)
Q You can assure us, can't you, that if a majority of Episcopal bishops voted in favor of adultery, as they have for sodomy, the President would oppose that, as well, wouldn't he?
MR. SNOW: Oh, my. April, bail me out right now. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not going to bail you out --
Q You're in trouble if April has to bail you out.
MR. SNOW: How am I going to dodge -- that falls into the unworthy category.
Q Tony, as the President has noticed and has made comments about the sectarian violence worsening, could you talk to us about conversations within the White House to, say, civil war versus sectarian violence?
MR. SNOW: There is not a lot of conversation about the label; there's a lot of conversation about the mission, the desire to figure out the best way forward in combating sectarian violence. And you have seen encouraging signs -- again, you've seen it from Mr. al Hakim yesterday. We have seen it in the discussions with the Prime Minister. We've seen it in the determination of Kurds, of Shia and Sunni to work together to build a moderate center within Iraq that can go after insurgents, criminal gangs and militias. And all of those are important areas of emphasis.
At the same time, also beyond that, you take a look at what it takes to build a nation: a sense of identity, a sense of pride, a sense of, this is a place where you have a future. Therefore, we've talked a lot about the hydrocarbon legislation. That's going to be voted on, we understand, this month. It's a good thing, and it's a big breakthrough. Again, Mr. al Hakim yesterday said oil is a shared resource of all Iraqis. May not be important in this room, but it's hugely important there.
So if you talk about the conditions in which -- that we face in Iraq, the question is not, what is the label of the day, but instead, what is the way forward so Iraq will be able to stand on its own.
Q But it's not the label of the day -- the sectarian violence has been going on for quite some time.
MR. SNOW: As a matter of fact, as Mr. al Hakim noted, the sectarian violence has been going on for 82 years.
Q Well, my question now is, what is the definition of the White House of the words "civil war?"
MR. SNOW: That's an interesting question, and there's no clear answer to it, because the one thing -- I spent a lot of time thinking about this last week, and I'm not sure you get any two people to agree. For instance, if a civil war is a situation in which you have two clearly identified organizations with clearly identified leadership, both actively soliciting support from the populace and fighting over territory, authority and legitimacy -- it probably doesn't apply. If you have as your definition of a civil war something that involves the entire land mass -- north, south, east and west -- doesn't apply. But some people think the sectarian violence you've seen -- centered largely around Baghdad, and you also have some terrorist activity in Anbar, a considerable amount -- they think that is civil war. So it depends on which metrics you use for doing it. And frankly, I gave up on trying because there are any number of people who have different measurements.
Last week, John Keegan, who is probably -- may be the foremost military historian in practice today, had a long piece where he argues that it is not a civil war, and he laid out his metrics. Then you had other scholars who are laying out theirs. You see what I mean, April? The thing is there is no simple dictionary definition that gives you the ability to go through this. And Jim and I went through it with the Webster's last week.
Q Well, I'm just wondering, though, about the significance of -- you had Colin Powell and Kofi Annan join the list of those saying it is a civil war.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q So what is the significance? It's one of these questions --
MR. SNOW: Well, I think one of the dangers is that civil war had been used in a political context. It's interesting -- what intervened other than an election to get people to change the label? And that's --
Q The violence got worse, I suppose.
MR. SNOW: Well, the violence was awfully -- October was the worst month.
Q That's what I mean, it got -- so it wasn't that it was an election, it was that the violence was driving it.
MR. SNOW: No, it was -- no, I'm not so sure. And so you wonder, is the label politically driven? And I think at this point, rather than getting into a dispute about that, as I've said before, this is a time -- and we've heard Democrats and Republicans both talking about this -- we've got an opportunity for people to say, okay, let's just figure out what the situation is. Where is the violence? Who is responsible? How do you deal with it? What are the most effective ways? How do we win? And how do we build that sense of national unity around this, which I think offers us an important moment?
Q But if we had a question where -- if there was a point where everyone could agree it was a civil war, and that's the way it was being referred to --
MR. SNOW: Well, if you can get everybody to agree --
Q Let me just ask this question, Tony.
MR. SNOW: All right.
Q What would change in terms of how the United States' effort in Iraq was conducted, what would change in the White House if it were a civil war as opposed to --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure -- I think the term has more political resonance in the sense that it has been used to describe a situation that would be hopeless, in which our people would be targets. And so that is what I think the linguistic use of the term has been in political circles.
Q So once you're talking about civil war, we're talking about a situation without hope?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. That's the way I think it's been spun politically. That is not -- but again, I don't think at this point, trying to get into the fight over labels -- because, again, I spend a lot of time on it, Jim, and I'm not going to argue with John Keegan and I'm not going to argue with other scholars. The most important thing to do is to figure out what exactly the situation is, the facts on the ground, and how to move to victory.
Q Since there's still confusion or ambiguity on the definition, why not pull the metrics together as to define?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that -- look, Congress regularly gets a 1090 report that is nothing but metrics, gets it every quarter. So it's not as if we're not laying out the metrics. The question is whether you want to spend all your time trying to figure out whether that fits a dictionary definition of civil war, insurgency. What you have is violence, and the challenge is to tamp it down, so that the Iraqis can live in peace.
Q Are you telling us that the label is unimportant? Is that what you're saying, it doesn't matter what you call it?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that's what I said. I said it's very difficult to figure out that there is any clear definition, and if you have one, please pass it on.
Q Tony, may I just quick follow, please? Yesterday, al Hakim spoke at the United States Institute of Peace, where he said that there is no civil war in Iraq, but also he said he doesn't see that Iraq will be back in the days of Saddam Hussein. This is what he told the President in the White House?
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know what he told the President because I wasn't in on the meeting. But you had the readout. But you're absolutely right, he said he did not perceive it as a civil war, and he also talked about the bad old days of Saddam. He, as you know, along with the Sunni assistant Prime Minister and a number of others, lost family under Saddam. And some of them have also lost members during the present war, and it has not changed their commitment.
END 1:03 P.M. EST
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