Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and other lawmakers who recently visited Iraq met with President Bush Wednesday and LaHood offered some advice to the president:
“We really got to get rid of Zarqawi. It would be like getting Saadam,” LaHood told Bush, the congressman recalled to me when we talked on Thursday afternoon.
Turns out U.S officials were in the process of confirming that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed when LaHood was with the president on Wednesday afternoon.
White House press secretary Tony Snow picks up the story at his Thursday briefing about LaHood’s timely comment about the Iraqi al Queda terrorist.
After LaHood offered the helpful suggestion” about Zarqawi, “There was a little snickering in the room at the time. Little did we know,” Snow said.
Snow adds, “People were going, whew, good one, Ray.”
After Bush announced Zarqawi was dead during a brief speech in the Rose Garden (see earlier posting below) he phoned the Peoria congressman and caught him as he was going on C-Span, where he talked about the presidential call.
Relates LaHood: Bush said, LaHood, you are going down in history as the guy that predicted this.?
LaHood traveled to Iraq over Memorial Day with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and two other lawmakers.
LaHood’s son, Sam, works for the State Department and is posted in Baghdad and part of his job is handling congressional visits to Iraq.
Tony Snow briefing transcript with references to LaHood follows…
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 8, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
10:23 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Let me run through the President’s schedule, then we will get to a readout on events in Iraq.
First on the schedule today. The President right now is meeting with governors in the Roosevelt Room, the topic of discussion the line-item veto. He will be having a meeting after that with the President of Chile, and he will be lunching with the President. There will also be a meeting with the President of Latvia. The President and Mrs. Bush will be heading to Camp David at about 3:00 p.m.
Let me give you a readout — oh, I’m sorry, a couple of other things before we proceed further. In addition, we are announcing — and I think you’ve probably already seen the announcement of a trip to Hungary. The President will — I’ll just read it out.
President Bush will visit Budapest, Hungary, for a bilateral program on June 22, 2006, following his participation in the U.S.-European Union summit in Vienna, Austria. In Budapest the President will celebrate Hungary’s historic sacrifices in the name of freedom by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, underscore the success of the U.S.-European partnership in securing freedom in the region, and highlight the lessons offered from Hungary’s successful transition from tyranny to free market democracy. And you can read the rest of the press announcement elsewhere.
Jobless claims are down to 302,000. That’s 35,000 down from the previous week. But to put it in context, we have also noted in recent weeks that that number was artificially inflated by a strike in Puerto Rico, so what you have is a set of good economic numbers.
Let me now begin by — for those of you who haven’t heard — giving you sort of a time line of what happened yesterday. Yesterday at 3:30 p.m. or so, right after Dirk Kempthorne was sworn in as the new Interior Secretary, the President met in the Roosevelt Room with a large group of Democrats and Republicans, members of five different congressional delegations who traveled recently to Iraq. And the President was getting not only their observations, but recommendations.
During the course of that meeting, Ray LaHood, Representative Ray LaHood offered the helpful suggestion that things would be better if somebody would get Zarqawi. There was a little snickering in the room at the time. Little did we know.
Now, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley excused himself from the meeting on a couple of occasions because he was getting a lot of phone traffic from Iraq. As it turns out, at 3:45 p.m. he had a conversation — that’s Eastern time — he had a conversation with Ambassador Khalilzad, who informed him that there had been a strike in Baquba and they thought they had Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. At 4:20 p.m., another phone call — the President was still in the meeting, by the way, with members of Congress. The National Security Advisor thought it would not be well-served to come in and make an announcement because at that time they were still — they weren’t completely certain that Zarqaqi, in fact, was one of the victims in the bombing raid.
At 4:20 p.m., the Defense Secretary also called — again, the President was still in the meeting with members of Congress. At 4:35 p.m., at the conclusion with the meeting with members of Congress, the President was in the Oval Office, along with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Rice, National Security Advisor Hadley, and the Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. At that time, the National Security Advisor informed the President of two things, first that Prime Minister Maliki had completed his cabinet, and secondly, that there had been a strike in Baquba and they thought that they had gotten al-Zarqawi, to which the President responded, “That would be a good thing.” According to those in the room, he received the news with pleasure — or he was pleased by it. I think “with pleasure” is probably not the right way to say it. He was pleased by the news.
At 9:10 p.m., Steve Hadley received a phone call from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who informed him that they had, in fact, done some forensic reviews and that the fingerprints, tattoos and scars on the body did, in fact, match those of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Ten minutes later, at the conclusion of that conversation, the National Security Advisor called the President and informed him.
This morning, upon reaching the Oval Office, the President did have a couple of conversations. At about 6:45 a.m. he and Prime Minister Tony Blair had a brief conversation, the President informing the Prime Minister of what had happened and the Prime Minister passing on congratulations.
Then at about 7:00 a.m. began a phone call with Prime Minister Maliki. And I’m just going to grab my notes and give you a couple of readouts on that. It was about a 25-minute conversation. It lasted until about five or six minutes before the President actually commenced speaking in the Rose Garden. The President congratulated the Prime Minister on a new cabinet, and he said that he had shown strong leadership by making decisions and standing by them. They talked about the chief objectives of the new government in Iraq, which are reconstruction, reconciliation, and security; in particular developing professional, well-trained and disciplined police and military forces.
The President said that, “You’re going to have our help, you’ve got my confidence because you’ve shown you can lead.” He issued an invitation for the Prime Minister to join on Tuesday by teleconference his cabinet — that is the Iraqi cabinet — with key members of the U.S. Cabinet, who, as you know, will be at Camp David. As the President announced in the Rose Garden this morning, there will be a session in Camp David on Monday and Tuesday involving Cabinet officials — in some cases some outside experts, as well as joining us by teleconference will be Generals Abizaid and Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad. Two-day working session looking forward in Iraq.
And I think that gets us up to date. Questions. David.
Q Could I just pick up on that last point? How does the President approach this working session, and specifically, does he think it’s time to meet with the Iraqi leadership for a reassessment on our security posture?
MR. SNOW: This meeting has actually been sort of in the planning stages for a while, and it’s been timed to coincide with the full development of an Iraqi government and cabinet. Now there will be discussions of security, absolutely. And we’ve already seen the United States responding to some of the expressed needs of the Maliki government, for instance taking some forces out of Kuwait and putting them in al-Anbar province.
What we’re really going to be talking about is how to support this new government. As I’ve said before, the Maliki government gives the United States a partner in developing peace in Iraq. You now have a defense minister, you now have an interior minister, you now have a security apparatus in place. And that is going to enable not only the President, but also key officials in this administration to work directly with their counterparts.
But the meeting — it would be a mistake to categorize this, David, as a war cabinet meeting, because it’s not. The topics not only will include military matters, but it will include economic development, it will include energy — including getting electricity supplies up — it will include cultural matters. It will include a broad range of things.
But what the United States is going to be doing, rather than resetting — the question now is, how do we help the Iraqis? To use the formulation the President has used many times, how do we help them stand up? And that is going to be one of the key items for discussion. The other thing that’s going to go on is that there will be discussion about this new Iraqi government, because we do have people who have had the opportunity to work with them, and we’re going to be speaking with them, obviously, by teleconference.
Q What impact does the killing of Zarqawi have on violence in Iraq, does the President think?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think there are two things. Actually more than two things. It’s an interesting situation. You can anticipate, and I think we’ve seen already, that some of the first reaction is going to be for terrorist and insurgent forces to try to demonstrate that they haven’t been weakened by committing acts of violence. And we’ve seen some of that in Baghdad today.
The second thing, I think, is that you are going to see that terrorist leaders have received a message, which is, you can’t hide. Zarqawi, obviously, somebody who was much wanted, and it is worth, I think, praising the U.S. forces who were engaged in this operation. It was a tough and difficult operation, but they’ve succeeded in it.
This also gives us an opportunity to look at the war in a different way. Quite often it’s very easy to measure what’s gone on in Iraq in terms of explosions and IEDs. We have been crushing the opposition, but what happens is the opposition has been controlling the airwaves with scattered, fragmentary acts of violence. The President made the point this morning in the Oval Office, after he spoke with the Prime Minister: he said, “You know, previous wars you’d win a battle and you’d know you’d won a battle; in this war we can win on the ground every day, but as long as terrorists continue to have isolated acts of violence that capture attention, and in some cases capture fears, they win.”
In this case, this is the equivalent of winning a battle, because it allows people to focus on the kind of activities that are going on. In the briefing earlier today we learned that this was not one, but there were 17 follow-on operations. This was not sort of a one-off operation, get Zarqawi, dust off your hands and walk away. Instead there has been a concerted effort to go after terrorists. And maybe one of the most important things to understand is that Iraqis are now cooperating. They’re providing intelligence. And that sends a message to terrorists that safe havens are going away. If you saw, for instance — and it was striking — when the Prime Minister today announced the death of Zarqawi at a press conference, what you had was applause followed by rhythmic applause. We saw scenes of celebration in Iraq.
Does this mean that happy days are here again? Of course not. The President and everybody else have counseled that this is — the war is still on and there are serious security challenges ahead. But on the other hand, I think this was a moment where the Iraqi people realized, again, that they can be effective also in helping the battle against those who have been killing them.
Q The President has said that any decision on U.S. troops in Iraq will be based on the recommendation of commanders. He’s going to have commanders at Camp David and be talking to them —
MR. SNOW: The commanders actually will not be at Camp David. They’ll still be in Iraq, but they’ll be joining us by teleconference.
Q All right, participating in the meeting. So will that be part of the discussion?
MR. SNOW: No. This is not — again, the facts on the ground, we know we have killed a terror leader, but we also know that there are many other people committed to preventing democracy from taking root. The death of Zarqawi does not change overnight the situation, but I think in the long run it can have ramifications, because it does send messages to the terrorists, and it does send messages to the Iraqi people that they can play a role, as well.
But nobody expects a snap change. But there will absolutely be discussions of what lies ahead and how we can best support the Iraqi forces. But in terms of a war council where we say, on this date we’re going to withdraw, as the President has always said, the conditions on the ground will determine what happens in terms of the deployment of troops, and those conditions obviously, as reported and assessed by the generals involved.
Q Is this “the” most positive day in the war in Iraq, overshadowing even the capture of Saddam?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean, the President, at the very — right after September 11th, cautioned people that this was going to be a long war and that the American people would need to maintain their will and maintain their desire to win the war on terror. It is a day where a lot of people can say, okay, we killed a very bad man.
Just to give you a little bit of context on this, Zarqawi moves into Baquba, into an area called HibHib, and what happens — over the weekend, they found nine heads in a box. They beheaded people and left the heads in a box. They hijack a bus full of students and they slaughter the students. That’s what Zarqawi brought to Baquba. So for people in Iraq, I think this sends a powerful signal. Whether it’s the most important day or the most positive day, I don’t know, but it’s certainly a positive development.
Q Let me ask you this, because I suppose another way of looking at this is if somebody hadn’t flipped, if somebody hadn’t tipped off everybody, Zarqawi would not have been targeted. So a lot of this is dependent on another terrorist, perhaps, wanting to see Zarqawi dead so that they could move into the created vacuum.
MR. SNOW: That would be a really stupid terrorist, because the life expectancy of people who have been succeeding these guys, and the life expectancy of being Zarqawi’s number two has not been very good. So if somebody was trying to tip off Zarqawi in sort of a Machiavellian attempt to re-jigger things, I think they ought to think twice because what is happening — and we’ve seen this and we’ve heard reports of it, but I think this dramatizes it — the Iraqi people are saying, we’ve had it with these guys. We’ve had it. We’re not going to take it anymore. And that is an important step. And this is the kind of thing that can reinforce those who want to go ahead and stand up against terror in their midst.
Q One follow. Does the administration have a number two, a natural successor that you have your eye on as the inheritor of the vacuum?
MR. SNOW: General Caldwell was talking about that earlier today. Boy, I’ll tell you what — it was al-Masri, I believe.* If somebody can look that up, pull it up. But General Caldwell, in his briefing, was talking about it, and I’m not going to try to fake it for you. What we’ll do is I’ll have these guys look it up and I’ll go through it here in just a couple of minutes. But he did have what he thought was sort of a logical follow-on, somebody who would be the logical successor, somebody who has been involved in IED operations and so on. Whether that’s the logical successor, I don’t know. But that’s — his word is a lot better than mine.
Q To follow up on this, Tony, can you walk us through, if you can, the actual way this tip came down? Was it —
MR. SNOW: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. No operational details.
Q Can you tell us, though, was it in any way based on the fact that Zarqawi went public and showed his face on television recently?
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to tell you anything in terms of operational details. It would be irresponsible.
Q Tony, can we expect that political and civil rights of the Russian “un-citizens” will be raised in the meeting with the Latvian President?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I’ll give you a readout after the meeting.
Q You’ve talked about the PR effect of this — you talked that it sends a signal and a message —
MR. SNOW: Let me — I want to be careful. This is not PR. PR is selling soap. This is trying to build a basis for democracy. I really wouldn’t want to dismiss what has happened — this was not a PR move. This was an important security move going after the guy who amounted to the top field general for terror in Iraq. Go ahead.
Q Okay, so when we’ve asked what the facts on the ground are, how this will affect the circumstances in Iraq, and your response has been, it sends an important signal.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q How does it affect the actual daily violence in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: We’re going to find out. As I said, I think at least part of the fear is that in the next few days there may be an attempt on the part of terrorists to say, look, we’re still strong, and to commit flashy acts of violence. That would be something that one might anticipate. But I don’t know. And I think it takes a sort of prescience that none of us in this room have.
Q But the President said this will turn the tide, he hopes this turns the tide for the Iraqi government.
MR. SNOW: Yes, of course.
Q So in what way?
MR. SNOW: That’s a good question. Okay, in what way does it turn the tide? Several ways, really. First, you have a brand new government; you have a defense minister and you have an interior minister. Both of them are going to have to work together in fighting violence, in fighting terrorists within their midst. A police force is going to have to be able to keep the peace while also observing and respecting human rights. And that kind of a signal — if people believe they can trust the police to turn over the terrorists in their midst, that’s an important breakthrough.
In addition, the military is going to be mounting operations in a number of places. You saw the Prime Minister go down the other day to Basra. That really impressed the President. As a matter of fact, one of the congressional delegations, I believe it was the one with Roy Blunt and Steny Hoyer, had gone to meet with Prime Minister Maliki and they were told, sorry, he’s not here today, and it was because he went down to Basra. And he said, we’re going to fight terrorists and we’re going to make a stand here.
To the extent that it helps build the determination and confidence in the new Iraqi government and of Iraqi forces, who will be working with the United States and eventually taking full command of what goes on in Iraq — to the extent that it builds their confidence and their professionalism, it’s an important thing. But we don’t want — I don’t want people to get giddy about this, or euphoric. What you want to do is to make sure that, absolutely a positive sign, and absolutely one that could have very positive ramifications over time. But we need to understand it is still a war, and there are still going to be tough days.
Q Did the President know that the manhunt had intensified for Zarqawi? He mentioned that there was acting on a tip. Was he surprised by this news?
MR. SNOW: No. I’m going to take a quick look, see if I can find it yesterday in the notes, because he actually was talking after Ray LaHood had made the helpful suggestion that they go ahead and kill Zarqawi. The President had said — had made it clear that there were ongoing efforts to get Zarqawi, and he talked about the special forces. And one of the things he took pains to do this morning, also, is talk about the extraordinary accomplishment, in a time when people have questioned the valor of American forces.
I would point to several things here. Not only did you have this operation, but it’s also an example of what’s gone on in this war. You had targeted, 500-pound bombs that hit a single building. The idea is not to kill civilians, the idea is to kill the bad guys. No country has ever spent more in the way of resources or gone more out of its way to protect innocents. And the men and women who fight there, and do it under extraordinary stress and pressure, need to get full credit for what they do every day. This is one of those chances to understand exactly what goes on, and the President feels strongly about that. So that’s —
Q You also mentioned that, I think the quote was, we are crushing the opposition. How can that be true when there are bombs going off every day killing hundreds of people?
MR. SNOW: Because that’s exactly the point to make — there are a continued string of victories, if you want to call them that, of going after terror cells — why don’t we call it successes. I think victories would place me in the uncomfortable position of sounding giddy about what are really targeted operations against discreet terror cells. And those have succeeded. We see them all the time. But they’re not nearly as splashy as what happened today, when somebody blows up a bomb in a marketplace in Baghdad and kills innocents.
They know that they can manipulate those pictures to give the impression of success. But if you take a look, for instance, at some of the al Qaeda memos to Zarqawi, where you had direct pleas, will you stop beheading people, it’s bad PR; when you had some indications that Zarqawi was beginning to lose confidence — I mean, this is — what’s happened is, the practice of killing Iraqi civilians, surprise surprise, is not all that popular with Iraqi civilians. And so you begin to see the development of confidence among the Iraqi people, not only in the confidence of the American forces, but most importantly of being able to develop security forces where Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike can trust the people who are working for their national government. That’s the next big step.
Q Tony, so the news was learned by the President, I take it, at 9:20 p.m., but the White House doesn’t announce it for several hours. Could you say what the thinking was about how to announce it? You could have broken in —
MR. SNOW: We could have, but we thought we’d let you sleep. No, it was decided that the Prime Minister of Iraq ought to announce this important development on Iraqi soil. And so you saw the press conference with the Prime Minister and General Casey where they announced it.
Q You mentioned earlier in the briefing the President’s earlier statement, this is going to be a long war, a long struggle in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q And I’m curious, from the point of view of public opinion, polls suggest that the war is still pretty unpopular among Americans. And I’m wondering if you can just address the significance of these day’s events on kind of keeping the American public supportive of a continued presence and engagement in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: First, it’s a long war on terror. It’s a mistake to focus on Iraq as the sole and only focus. We’ve seen parts of the war on terror being played out over the weekend in Canada. We’ve been told of intelligence operations all around the world. So I want to make that important correction.
As far as public opinion, the President understands that war is a grueling thing, and that it does, in fact, wear on the patience of a people. It has long been remarked that in democracies the hardest thing — Tocqueville talked about it, for heaven’s sake — the ability to maintain support for something as taxing as a war over an extended period of time. The President understands it. But he also understands that this is a war we’re going to win, and it means that if he takes a public — if he takes a hit in the polls, it’s less important than carrying out his obligations as Commander-in-Chief.
Now, I think it’s important for the American people to understand the nature of what’s going on in Iraq, which is — this gives us a chance to illustrate it — nobody carried a big story over the weekend about the fact that Zarqawi’s people had deposited eight or nine heads in a box — I say eight or nine because the press accounts vary. That’s grotesque. It had enormous effect there, didn’t get reported here. And people forget the nature of the opposition there. Not much reporting here about the fact that a bunch of university students get on a bus and they get turned around and gunned down. That’s not reported here.
We hope that we are going to be able not only to present the facts — to be able to present the facts on Iraq — the good, the bad, because there are going to be times when you have bad news — but to give a sense of what’s taking place. For instance, again today, I don’t — I have not watched closely enough. I don’t know if people have played the original Maliki announcement where he does it, and members of the press are applauding in the room. It’s important for us to understand that a war on terror is a war that involves the hearts and minds and determinations of all people involved — those on our side, and also the bad guys, as well. What happened today was a blow to the morale of the other side.
Q And you think that buys you more time to —
MR. SNOW: I don’t — you don’t talk about buying time. I mean, the only thing you can do is to continue to try your best — you don’t have to try your best, but to continue to make sure you’re going to win. And we’re now in that period of transition. And it really does mark a new day. And it’s an interesting one, when you have a Prime Minister who has shown the kind of leadership and the verve that Prime Minister Maliki has, and the President now can say to the Secretary of Defense, you deal with the Minister of Defense. And there is the ability now to start doing coordinated work with the Iraqis in a way that simply has not been possible before.
Q Tony, there has been talk in intelligence circles in recent months that Zarqawi had overtaken the significance of Osama bin Laden in the terrorist hierarchy. Does the President believe that the death of Zarqawi today is perhaps even more significant than the death or capture of Osama bin Laden would be?
MR. SNOW: I wouldn’t compare. I really wouldn’t. Secretary Rumsfeld was pretty direct. “No man in recent years,” he said, “has the blood of more innocents on his hands than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” I think rather than trying to compare people who take delight and believe that they serve a holy mission by slaughtering innocents, I think it’s important that we took one down.
Q What about the significance of Zarqawi in Iraq as far as the security situation goes there?
MR. SNOW: Again, we’re going to have to see. You know the theories, Brett. He’s the general. Does this mean that suddenly that some of the other arms in the terror network begin to wilt away? We don’t know. We’ve also heard reports in recent years that al Qaeda has, in fact, splintered, that bin Laden no longer had the kind of command that he did, and therefore, you had autonomous units developing. We don’t know what’s going to happen. What we do know is we have to stick with the job because there are still others remaining, and we’ve got to take care of them, as well.
Q Do you think that this is going to be significant talk on Monday and Tuesday about the effect Zarqawi and the security —
MR. SNOW: Well, absolutely — you mean, when we’re talking at Camp David. I think we’re going to try to assess it. I mean, certainly the topic is going to come up, but I think it also comes up not merely as Zarqawi, but Zarqawi and the terror network and what’s going on with insurgency, and old Saddam loyalists. I mean, all those things fit into the picture, and it’s one of the reasons why we want to hear from General Casey and General Abizaid. Cynthia McKinney made the point yesterday in the meeting with the President that the one thing they had gotten from generals there were thorough and honest assessments of what’s going on.** And that’s part of what we expect to get to.
Q I’m sorry, I heard with my left ear this morning on the way over here, somebody, I believe it was a general briefing from Baghdad, using the phrase, “treasure trove” of intelligence that was gathered. What else was gotten on the scene or in these other 17 strikes that you can tell us about?
MR. SNOW: Nothing. I will go — let’s see, here we go. I will read to you. It’s General Caldwell. He did, in fact, he said, “Conducted 17 simultaneous raids within Baghdad proper and just on the outskirts, utilizing both Iraqi security forces and coalition forces.” He said, “There was a tremendous amount of intelligence collected and presently it is being exploited and utilized for further use. It was a treasure trove, no question.” But he did not issue details, nor will I.
Q Tony, can I come back to the Camp David meeting? I’m still a bit confused.
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely.
Q The President has said security needs of the new government is going to be one of the prime topics of discussion. You said it again.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q And no discussion of troop levels? Surely, there’s going to be some discussion of it, not necessarily a decision —
MR. SNOW: You guys are all — why are you so hellbent on saying, we’re going to get out tomorrow, or you know, make a good news headline? But the facts on the ground, we’ve got six additional dead guys out of the terror network, but there is still a significant problem here. So I don’t think — of course, there is going to be a discussion of the way ahead, and there will be discussions, if this happens, what happens here. But I think you need to frame this more in terms of how the United States and the Iraqis cooperate. And I think we’re still at the point of assessment. We now have a defense minister — in six, eight, ten hours — so none of these things are going to be — you can’t analyze them in sufficient detail at this point to say, at some date we’ll be able to do this.
I mean, we know that the ultimate objective is for the Iraqis to take full responsibility and for the Americans to come home. But there is certainly no timetable and that’s not going to be part of the discussion.
Q Tony, you spoke about this turning the tide in Iraq. Does this also turn the tide here at home, where the public has been deeply skeptical about the war and the President’s handling of it?
MR. SNOW: We’ll have to see how the public assesses this. Again, as I mentioned before, war can be a grueling thing, but I think if people begin, once again — there has been insufficient focus on how incredible the people who are fighting over there are, and the kinds of hazards they endure, and the kinds of precautions they take, and the kinds of successes they achieve, because, again, an exploding bomb in a marketplace is just — it’s an easier picture and an easier story.
If the American people begin to see that a new government in Iraq — one that had been opposed through three election cycles and the development and the inauguration of a new government — not only is standing up, but is showing leadership, and you’ve got a Prime Minister who is clearly not a figurehead, who is somebody who does have a bias for action, I think it gives people a chance to say, okay, let’s take a look at what’s happening here. And again, the American people are fairminded. We’ll have to see what happens in weeks ahead.
Q Tony, can you talk about the $25 million bounty and who gets it?
MR. SNOW: Don’t have any information on that. Obviously, $25 million bounty, but again, the point here also is, we’re still at the point — all of these questions bear on operational details. If we say, this guy gets $25 million, that may tell a lot of things about intelligence-gathering. But having said that, I’ve got nothing on it.
Q My understanding is the U.S. military isn’t eligible for that —
MR. SNOW: No.
Q — but I’m wondering whether the people who provided the intelligence might be.
MR. SNOW: You know what, hurl it to the Pentagon. Just don’t know.
Q Tony, could I go to domestic?
Q Can we stay on this, please?
MR. SNOW: Lester, we’ll come back to you. I think we’ve got a lot —
Q You seem to be saying that the way this is seen is that we’re letting the drama of the explosions color the way we’re seeing everything. But we’re certainly hearing plenty of stories from reporters there who are saying they would like to go out on the street and tell these other stories, but they can’t because, as we’ve seen in the CBS case and others, it isn’t safe yet to do that.
MR. SNOW: And Baghdad is — you’ve got four provinces where violence is a significant problem. Baghdad proper is one of them. Al-Anbar is one. You know — and so, absolutely, it’s tough to get out and around in those places. On the other hand, if you’ve had people who have been in Kurdish areas, who are vacationing there, for heaven sakes, literally vacationing. So it’s — again, I don’t want to be a Pollyanna about this, but there have been significant successes in various portions of the country. There have also been cases where we’ve succeeded in cleaning out a place, and then over time, bad guys come back. We understand that.
But it is worth noting that it is not all unrelieved gloom and doom, and it is possible for someone to paint a picture of a place being in total chaos simply by detonating a single bomb.
Q Tony, do you think, does the White House think that a success story such as this one has transfer — in other words, does it help the President negotiate other things on the Hill, for example, a push on immigration, or get a little more muscle for something else?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I mean, this is such an extraordinary and separate issue that, as you know, Richard — there are a lot of people on the Hill who support the President on the war and don’t support him on immigration. I don’t think they’re suddenly going to say, whoop, changed my mind. Those are still legislative issues that involve people’s passions and political beliefs.
I think the most important thing is that we now — again, I’m going to stress this over and over — you’ve got a government in Iraq that means business and that is serious. The new head of the defense forces is a lieutenant general who has been in command of ground forces for the better part of a year and has already dealt with U.S. generals on the ground and the U.S. military. Therefore, you’ve got the basis of a relationship. And you have a retired colonel now who is head of the interior ministry, who also has some experience with the Americans.
So it’s important to realize that the big change here may not — immigration, taxes, all those are issues on which the President is passionate and he’ll make his views known. But on the war, I don’t think there’s necessarily a direct transfer, nor should there be. I mean, these are separate issues.
Q You just accused my good colleague over there of being hellbent to get troops out tomorrow, but I think there’s some polling evidence that suggests Americans are getting antsy to see some troop movements back —
MR. SNOW: I understand that —
Q What I’m asking is, how does the President view that? I mean, you say that — is he like that —
MR. SNOW: No, the President understands what the polls are, but he also understands what his obligations are as Commander-in-Chief. And if the polling data is contrary to the national security interests, guess what — national security interests win, period. That’s how he views it. And so you can look at the poll data — and we do, we’ve taken very cold and honest looks at the poll data — but the one thing as Commander-in-Chief, he is not going to fail in Iraq. He is not going to permit failure, and therefore, even if at times that may seem to fly in the face of public opinion, he knows his job as Commander-in-Chief of the United States is to carry out his constitutional obligations. And one of the things that is a strong point of this President is that he’ll do it, regardless of what the polls say.
Q Tony, who are the outside experts coming to Camp David?
MR. SNOW: We’re still working on it.
Q And is the President seeking advice for Iraqis in forming the new government, or is it going to be a broad discussion of administration policy in Iraq —
MR. SNOW: It’s going to be a broad discussion of policy in Iraq. For instance, some of the conversations are going to be, how is Iraqi culture changing, I mean, how are the Iraqi people changing, how has the war affected them; how do you make sure that you interact effectively with the Iraqi people, given what’s happened over the last three years. Those are — it’s not all troop movements, it’s trying to figure out the most effective way to work with this new Iraqi government. And as we’ve said, there’s going to be a teleconference — it will be a pretty extraordinary thing — with the President and Prime Minister and their respective cabinets.
Q Are they people in Iraq, or are these experts, like, from universities and —
MR. SNOW: Again, we’re coming up with a list. I’ll tell you what, I’ll leaf to my page here, because I can tell you who we have confirmed. And we are still sort of finalizing some of the guest list on it. But the Camp David attendees will include, obviously, members of the Cabinet who are directly engaged in the war, as well as some who might be considered indirectly — the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy, for instance; the Vice President; the Secretary of State; Secretary of Defense; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; the National Intelligence Director; the National Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor; the Director of Central Intelligence; White House Chief of Staff; other relevant White House staffers. That’s sort of the general outline right now.
Q How will the President report to us, or the American people —
MR. SNOW: Through me.
Q Through you? I mean, he’s not going to give a speech or something?
MR. SNOW: There will — wait until the schedule comes out. There will be opportunities to find out what’s going on.
Q Just a housekeeping matter, first of all, I think what Terry was getting at — do you plan to brief there, or here, or will you be setting up a briefing room there?
MR. SNOW: Wait until we release the schedule and we’ll be able to give you full details.
Q The President recently expressed some regret about the tone, the bravado, if you will, that he’s used in the past. Did that have anything to do with the tone that he took this morning in the Rose Garden announcement on this?
MR. SNOW: No. No. Look, war has its effects on Presidents, too. And the President has taken a very serious look at what has gone on in Iraq and, again, has been trying to assess as vigorously as possible how you win it, and how you create a freestanding Iraq. Those are the things that he’s concerned about. So, no, there was no attempt to sort of cross-hatch this with previous comments.
Is this on this topic, Lester?
Q No —
MR. SNOW: You’ll have to wait.
Q One more on the tick-tock.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q When Congressman LaHood said that at the meeting, what was the President’s response to him?
MR. SNOW: Well, we were all sort of like, “well, yeah!” I mean, I think — the response was kind of jovial within the room. People were going, whew, good one, Ray. Little did we know that maybe even at that moment it had already taken place, because — I mean, it’s at the bottom of the second pages of my notes, so it very well could have been after the fact, but none of us knew it at the time.
Q Has he called the White House today, LaHood?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. I’ll let you know if there are congratulations, thanks or other things.
Q Maybe he should suggest ending world hunger, also. (Laughter.)
Following on Peter’s question, we saw the President’s very somber tone out here in the Rose Garden. At any time during this — for want of a better word — was there any jubilation on his part, was he smiling?
MR. SNOW: I was not there in the Oval when he was briefed. I’ve told you who was there. I am told that he was pleased. I kept trying to get, did he smile, did he laugh? And, apparently, no. It was like more a sense of relief, but also let’s figure out if this is right, what are the facts, what’s going on there.
The President, in situations likes this, tends to be very practical. He’s not going to run around the room giving high-fives. Instead it’s, what do we know, who’s there, tell me about the operation. And the follow-on conversation was more of that tone than jubilation. But as was related to me, again, he said, “Well, that would be a good thing.” And that’s the one and only quote I’ve been able to glean from the session.
Q This is another of the domestic effects. Do you —
MR. SNOW: Let’s hold —
Q No, no, domestic effects of this.
MR. SNOW: Oh, okay. Proceed.
Q Do you expect this to affect the calls for immediate pullout one way or the other?
MR. SNOW: That’s up to the people who are calling for immediate pullout. I mean, the people who are making calls about the war have to ask themselves a question, what is the best way to win? And I will let them answer for themselves.
Q Exactly when did you decide to go ahead with the Camp David summit — after you learned of —
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. This, literally, has been — I was in planning — this has been going on for a matter of weeks. You don’t just throw together a summit like this. It has —
Q It had been already —
MR. SNOW: It’s not like, when Zarqawi dead, no. The idea is to coordinate with a fully formed Iraqi government, because —
Q It had more to do with the appointments of a defense minister —
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Q Can you give us a sense, also, of the thinking behind doing this summit at Camp David, outside Washington? I mean, is there a reason that the President wanted to gather all his advisors around him someplace outside the White House?
MR. SNOW: When the President makes those decisions, I don’t say, sir, why did you do it? You just work on the planning. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I don’t even want to presume to speak for him on that.
Q Tony, on terrorism and domestic security, are the rates — are the security levels — alerts going to go up? Do you have any particular suggestions? And this phrase that’s sometimes batted around, be vigilant and not vigilante. How do you draw that line?
MR. SNOW: What do you mean? That part I don’t get, what do you mean, vigilant but not vigilantes?
Q How do we prepare ourselves from the possibility of increased security here, Canada, England —
MR. SNOW: The way we’ve done always. Well, look, one of the things that’s happened is, intelligence programs that have been conducted by this government since September 11th have worked. And we saw evidence of that in Canada over the weekend.
So nobody here stands down any day. And there are people who are devoting all of — devoting their careers and their lives right now to fighting terrorism, not only here, but elsewhere. I don’t — for questions about whether it affects terror alert levels and that sort of thing, I would refer you to Homeland Security. We don’t set those — I don’t set those, and I don’t have any sense of what might happen.
Q Tony, is there a difference between the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killing of Zarqawi? If so, what is it?
MR. SNOW: Well, they’re two different people captured under two different circumstances — you know — again, I’ll let historians assess the relative significance. This is an important development in an ongoing war. That’s all I can tell you. I just — I am poorly placed to give you historical significance.
Q Yes, Tony, two questions. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Grand Jury investigation of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for her striking of a U.S. Capitol police officer went into its third month, “with experts saying it should have been wrapped up in a matter of days.” My question, as this nation’s chief law enforcer, does the President disagree with the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chuck Canterbury, who said, right from the start, this U.S. Attorney handled this case differently because she’s a sitting Congresswoman?
MR. SNOW: As I described to you, Lester, the President is not going to assert command influence over ongoing investigations in Iraq. He certainly is not going to sit around and second-guess a Grand Jury in Georgia.
Q All right. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has written an article in Rolling Stone which revisits the Ohio vote in 2004. Does the President believe Kennedy has raised any new evidence of voter fraud?
MR. SNOW: No, what I think he will do is let you, Lester, be his emissary from Rolling Stone. (Laughter.)
Q You’re a funny man.
Q Why isn’t the President going to Kiev?
MR. SNOW: The President will be going to Kiev. We’ve just postponed the trip. There will be a trip, but we’re going to go to Budapest. This wasn’t a good time, and we’re going to find a better time.
Q I have one more. On Iran, have you gotten the formal response from Iran that you’re expecting, or —
MR. SNOW: You’re assuming, Steve, that there’s a bilateral relationship with Iran, and there’s not. The —
Q Through the media, I guess.
MR. SNOW: You know, at this point, when it comes to Iran, I think we’ll just allow diplomacy to work its course without trying to engage in any speculation about the back and forth. Let me also just give you — well, never mind. Go ahead.
Q Since the King of Jordan has an interest in al-Zarqawi, I was wondering if the President also talked to the King or if he plans to?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know if he’s planned to. As you know, he had a conversation with him last week. But he’s got a pretty busy schedule today. He’s spoken with two heads of state, and he’s got two other heads of state in the White House today. I’m sure he and the King will be talking soon, but I don’t — I don’t have a schedule on that.
Q A follow up on her question. The Jordanians are claiming some responsibility, credit for the killing of Zarqawi. Did the King, in his unannounced visit last week, deliver any kind of information —
MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not getting into any operational details at any level.
Q Tony, estate tax. Is the administration willing to support a compromise rather than —
MR. SNOW: Our position is simple. We want it repealed.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: All right, thank you.
END 11:08 A.M. EDT
*In the Defense Department Briefing today in Baghdad, General Caldwell stated, Probably Abu al-Masri, if you had to pick somebody, would be the person that is going to try to occupy the position that Zarqawi had.?
**CORRECTION: Congresswoman *Shelia Jackson Lee* made the point yesterday in the meeting with the President that the one thing they had gotten from generals there were thorough and honest assessments of what’s going on.