By: E&P Staff
Often, a Tony Snow press briefing at the White House is dominated by one specific topic or cat fight with one particular reporter, leading to one sustained quotable exchange. Today, the general issue of Iraq remained front and center but the questions ? and answers — were more diverse, yet revealing, except when the press secretary joked about his ?principled stonewalling.?
With CNN and others reporting that the president is seriously mulling sending more troops to Iraq, that issue did draw strong questions.
At one point, Snow suggested that the public was not so much opposed to the direction of the war but the “sense that you have a government that itself has been at war with itself, rather than working together on important tasks.” Contrary to most observers, he said current poll results showed wide backing for the president’s positions, with “a pretty promising opportunity for support there.”
Ask to explain the delay, until at least January, of the president?s new plan for Iraq, Snow said, ?there’s urgency, but not panic. And I don’t want to tell you it’s not going to happen before State of the Union.? When one reporter suggested that Bush might want a troop buildup, but is afraid to announce it before Christmas, Snow called this notion, ?Cynical, but false.?
But asked repeatedly about the hint of a troop buildup, when polls show the public wants a drawdown, Snow refused to comment or rule it out and cited polls that he asserted showed possible public support for that move.
In what might send a chill through war opponents, he seemed to suggest that the president will ignore widespread opposition to a buildup, believing that this would turn around after certain ?victory.? Snow said, ?Ultimately, victory is what will fully restore public faith. As you also know, in any time of war, there are going to be times when a war is popular and times when it’s deeply unpopular. And every war we’ve won has also been, at some point, deeply unpopular.”
An extended discussion of polling numbers follows. Snow at one point fairly states that most Americans don?t want troops out within six months, but he fails to mention that the same surveys show that most do want them out in a year or two and have flatly rejected sending more.
Q As the President is sort of making his calculations, is he factoring in sort of what the American people have a stomach for?
MR. SNOW: You know, it’s interesting, if you take a look at poll data — and there’s a lot of discussion about that — what’s interesting is that a majority of the American public not only thinks that we’re capable of winning, but we should. I think that there is understandable apprehension about the situation in Iraq. And what people want to hear is, how do you assess the situation and how do you wish to address it? And those are questions the President is going to answer.
Q Does the President believe there is — within the American public, that they would accept sending more troops to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Again, what you’re trying to do under the guise of an opinion question is to ask me a policy option. Let me put it this way: The President believes that in putting together a way forward he will be able to address a lot of the concerns that the American public has, the most important of which is, what is your plan for winning? The other thing is that there is an opportunity here, also, for Democrats and Republicans to work together; whatever the discontent may be with the President, the level of confidence in Congress is even lower. And what you have is a sense of crisis of confidence in government. And this is an opportunity for not only the legislative branch and executive branch to work together, but also —
Q But haven’t these —
MR. SNOW: No, but this is an important question, too, because I’m trying to get at what may be some of the causes for public discontent of late, which is there is a sense that you have a government that itself has been at war with itself, rather than working together on important tasks. This is an opportunity to step forward and work together. And as I’ve said, when it comes to the business of, do you want to win, the answer is yes; and, do you think we can win, the answer is yes. So now what you have — so you’ve got sort of a ground — it seems to me that you’ve got a pretty promising opportunity for support there, and now you need to go ahead and explain how you’re going to achieve those objectives.
MR. SNOW: Yes, the CBS News poll. What happens is, there is a fairly — I apologize, because I’m going through — just 32 percent thinks the U.S. should pull out significant numbers of troops in the next six months, 64 percent believes the U.S. should keep troops there longer. You put that together with 58 percent say that it’s extremely or very important that the U.S. succeed in Iraq, and 60 percent believe that the U.S. can still win the war — that’s actually the Gallup Poll, but in any event, the point here is, when you’re dealing with a situation like this, if you want to build public confidence you explain what’s going on and explain how you intend to go forward. And that’s what the President is going to do.