‘Last Throes’ Debate in White House Briefing Room, Part II

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By: E&P Staff

At a briefing for reporters at the White House early this afternoon during a European Union summit meeting, President George W. Bush was asked, in light of recent events in Iraq, if he agreed with Vice President Dick Cheney’s assessment that the insurgency was in its ?last throes.? Bush skirted the question, observing that it was ?dangerous? there but the U.S. was making good progress and will ?complete this mission.?

Two hours later, his press secretary, Scott McClellan, was asked about this again at his daily briefing. Just last week, ABC’s Terry Moran had badgered him on this same question, in a widely-publicized exchange. Reporters today reminded McClellan that a leading GOP Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, had just declared that the president seemed divorced from reality in his optimistic reports on Iraq.

Excerpts from the transcript follow:

Q In the news conference just now, the President was asked about the Vice President’s assertion that the insurgency is in its ‘final throes.’ He was asked if he agreed, and he didn’t say anything about it. We went around on this last week, with you, and you didn’t endorse that. Is it now the administration’s view the Vice President went too far in saying that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s talk — I mean, I think you should look at the context of what the Vice President was saying. In fact, he was referring to how some Zarqawi lieutenants have been captured in Iraq. There’s been great progress made in going after the al Qaeda network in Iraq. And so we’re continuing to make progress against what is a determined enemy.

Q So is that the last throes? I mean, do you agree with what the Vice President said?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me tell you where things are. The terrorists and the regime elements are desperate. They are going to be defeated. They have no vision to offer. They have no alternative to offer, other than destruction and chaos and killing of innocent civilians. And they have shown that they are not able to stop the progress on the political front. The Iraqi people time and again have defied their desire to stop them from advancing on democracy.

Q I’m just asking if those two words — so you’re standing behind what the Vice President said?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on, and I’m talking — and look at what the context of what the Vice President said, because you didn’t point out everything that he said….

Q Going back to Senator Chuck Hagel’s remarks, which Les referenced, we also have Senators Lindsey Graham, Lincoln Chafee, McCain, as well as others in the Democratic Party, more and more expressing concern about Iraq. Representative Walter Jones getting together with Democrats to call for some kind of a withdrawal.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the commanders on the ground also brief Congress periodically on developments on the ground. So are you saying that that’s not what’s happening on the ground, the assessments that they’re providing?

Q What I was saying was that the senators seem to be seeing a very different view on the ground, perhaps from their briefings from the commanders, than the interpretation that the administration is putting on those briefings.

MR. McCLELLAN: And what is the interpretation that the administration is putting on?

Q The interpretation the administration is putting on is that things are going fairly well, that training is proceeding at pace with Iraqis, which is not what the other senators are saying, and that the view is far more optimistic in the short-term than the views of these senators.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct you, and let me tell you what the interpretation of the administration is, because it’s based on the assessment of the commanders on the ground in Iraq. And the President talked about this in his radio address. He pointed out how some people may disagree about the decision to go into Iraq, but we can all recognize that Iraq is now a central front in the war on terrorism. And he talked about how a free Iraq will be a powerful force for changing a dangerous region in the world?.

And we are facing a determined enemy. The stakes are high in Iraq?.

Q So is the enemy both determined and in its last throes–at the same time?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question earlier.

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