By: E&P Staff
At his White House briefing today, Press Secretary Tony Snow faced a grilling over the Democrats’ opposition to the president’s troop escalation. He labeled Sen. Hillary Clinton’s backing for a “cap” on troops in Iraq at the current 130,000 as “extreme.”
But he also suggested that war opponents in congress need to consider what message they are sending in favoring a resolution or legislation that opposes the president’s “surge”– saying it was “worth asking” the question of whether they might sending a message to al-Qaeda. The implication was that their opposition could be seen as giving al-Qaeda a green light to expand their actions.
Early in the briefing, Snow hit congressional moves to halt the buildup, saying this “raises the question, in terms of the Iraqis, will they take us at our word when we say we support them? And will it, in fact, make it easier for suitors, whether they be Iranians or al-Qaeda members to say, well, look, you can count on us, we’re going to be around? That is not a flip concern. It is something that you have to take into account.”
He raised the al-Qaeda issue again a little later. “It’s probably worth asking,” Snow said, “what message does Congress intend to give, and who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the President? Is it the voting American public? Or in an age of instant communication, is it also al Qaeda? Is it Iraq? Is it players in Iraq? Is it U.S. troops? Is it people in the Gulf who want to understand whether the United States is, in fact, a partner upon whom they can depend for security even in trying times?
“All those are questions that deserve to be raised. I don’t think there are illegitimate questions. And all I’m saying is that those are things that members ought to take into consideration.”
A reporter quickly shot back: “But by even raising it and saying al-Qaeda is — I mean, aren’t you saying that members of Congress are somehow aiding the enemy?” Snow denied it.
But yesterday he was asked point blank, “Just to be clear, do you believe that a non-binding resolution that opposes a troop increase — does that provide comfort to the enemy?”
His answer then: “I don’t know.”
Ironically, as Snow was suggesting that critics of war were playing into the hands of the nsurgents in Iraq, that country’s leader, al-Maliki, was telling foreign journalists that the White House, in criticizing his role in the war, was giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Another highlight of the Snow briefing was the following exchange between Snow and Helen Thomas, kicked off when she asked whether the U.S. should sponsor a referendum in Iraq to find out if the people there actually want us to stick around. Several polls have suggested that most do not. The exchange follows.
Q Would the administration agree to a referendum in Iraq to see what the people really want?
MR. SNOW: No.
MR. SNOW: The federal Constitution does not permit for such referenda.
Q Why? We are a conqueror. We should be asking the people, do they really want us there.
MR. SNOW: Helen.
Q Yes, sir.
MR. SNOW: Do you believe — well, no, you will scold me for asking a question, so I will not. I will phrase my question in the form of an answer.
Q You know, best defense is offense, is that your whole approach?
MR. SNOW: No, my —
Q I’m asking you a very —
MR. SNOW: No, my approach is to — well, you’re asking a simple question that actually has some fairly complex precedents in the terms of the advisability or possibility of a national —
Q You keep saying that they want us there —
MR. SNOW: Helen, Helen, Helen.
Q Put it to a test.
MR. SNOW: Helen, no war is popular. No war is popular.
Q That’s not the answer.
MR. SNOW: If you had done — no, it is — no, that is an absolutely accurate answer.
Q Nobody wants —
MR. SNOW: If you had asked in 1864 — I’ll go back to the Civil War — the referendum would have failed and Abraham Lincoln would have failed.
Q How do you know that?
MR. SNOW: Go back and read, just a little history will tell you.
Q Who won the war?
MR. SNOW: You had Republican senators trooping up to the White House telling the President that he needed the cut a separate deal, that he needed to dispatch emissaries to speak with Jefferson Davis and his heirs and assigns.
Q — the Civil War?
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m just telling you — I’m trying to make the larger point, and it is getting sort of ludicrous, about the fact that wars are, of course, unpopular, but the important thing to understand is —
Q A referendum is ludicrous?
MR. SNOW: No, no, I’m saying that when we get too deep into historic analogies — but if you’ll permit me to finish an answer, I will let you ask a follow-up question. The point here is that the President understands that a war is unpopular. He also understands that it’s necessary. And you can frame questions in a lot of ways — if you did a referendum to say, will Americans — do you want to succeed in Iraq; do you want democracy in Iraq; would you like terror on your shores; do you believe that al Qaeda wishes to kill Americans, and if it does, do you want to fight them there or here?
Q Do you want an American military occupation in Iraq. That’s the question.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, you may ask it. Thank you.