Tony Snow Previews ‘State of Union’ Speech — And Says Iraq May Not Be Most Important Issue Facing U.S.

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By: E&P Staff

At his White House briefing today, with the president’s State of the Union speech pending, Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked point blank if Iraq was “the most important issue facing the U.S.” All major polls show that the public certainly thinks it is, and by a wide margin.”

But Snow, answered, “it’s hard to say.”

Asked if the coming State of the Union address, which he has now read, was any good, Snow said, “yes, of course, it’s good.” What’s the best part? “You know, it’s difficult to say,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s like looking in a drawer full of diamonds.”

He said there were “new” things in it and that it would be 40-something minutes long and had gone through many drafts, with the number in “double digits.”

But Snow would not commit to Iraq as the most vital issue. He called it a “vital concern” but added, “Americans also have a lot of other domestic concerns. And as a President one tries, or the President is trying to go ahead and to take a good, thoughtful, tough look at problems that aren’t going to go away, no matter who is President, and say, as President, it is the obligation of the Chief Executive to take a look at all the business before the American people and address it.”

Snow deflected several questions on Hillary Clinton, beyond repeating an earlier statement that he feels a woman “could” be elected president by U.S. voters.

One exchange on Iraq follows.

Q Over the weekend we just had the third worst day in the war in terms of U.S. casualties, and then today I think there were 70 people killed in Baghdad. Is the President going to talk about the extent, the increase in violence and what can be done about it?

MR. SNOW: Well, he has talked about it. And the President also noted the other day that what’s really going on is that you can expect as there is push-back that there is going to be some increase in violence. But on the other hand, what’s been going on, on the ground — and you’ve seen the Prime Minister being more assertive when it comes to dealing with militias; you’ve seen the Prime Minister being more assertive when it comes to political reconciliation — the benchmarks and the kinds of things that people have identified as absolutely necessary to the long-term progress of democracy in Iraq the Maliki government has been addressing.

We do not yet have the Iraqi brigades into Baghdad, but they are on the move. We do not have the U.S. battalions deployed, but they will be ready to support when the Iraqis get there. So I think what you’re seeing is a clear signal that the Maliki government is very serious about addressing, on a non-sectarian basis, the problem of those who are trying to operate outside the law.

You also understand, Terry, that they know that the media will focus on body counts and will focus on large acts of violence because that for the terrorists is a victory. But what is a defeat are some of the things going on behind the scenes right now in terms of the political reconciliation efforts, in terms of you saw Muqtada al Sadr saying to the members of his party and the council representatives, get back to doing business. It’s one of the reasons why they had a quorum yesterday in the meeting of council representatives.

So we’re at the beginning stages now of this new way forward. And, certainly, what we have seen on the part of the Iraqi government are affirmative actions in terms of security and in terms of political reconciliation that I think satisfy conditions that members of both parties wanted to see.

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