Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Politics As Usual: Fireworks In The Whitehouse Press Briefing Room

Really, you can't make this shit up. Any one who pays attention to the rhetoric of the W, Rove and Co. knows that one political parlor trick they use is to paint the Dems as one thing and then suggest they are not it. It's a classic pot calling the kettle black scenario.

After Rummy delivered his speech last week, Tony the Snow job had a difficult time defending Rummy's remarks. Moreover, he tries to suggest that there is nothing political about the nature of the president's recent set of PR junkets to defend his GWoT.

This exchange is long, so let's break it down bit by bit for fun. It's a doozy.At the outset, we see one reporter try to pin them down on the politics of recent speechifying by the W. The opening salvo - "Hello Pot, you're black:"
Q Tony, neither one of you have addressed the political motivation of these speeches. I mean, this issue has become a big part of the campaign, and we're heading into the final stretch right now. Is there -- you know, is there skepticism that the President is engaging in a PRESIDENT offensive here on this issue? Is there no political motivation in these speeches?
Now, granted, this particular reporter could have formulated his question a bit better, but you get the idea. Tony the Snow job goes right for the defensive - "Hello, kettle, your black, but we are not":
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way. If it's a political motivation to try to put forth a thoughtful document that lays out in a comprehensive way the way in which we intend to win the war on terror -- and I defy you to go through this document and look for political red meat; it's not there -- then, okay, we'll plead guilty to politics.

But if you take a look at what you've been writing and what the people in this room have been writing and reporting for the last two months, what's the primary topic? It's the war. If you look at what Democratic leaders did over Labor Day weekend, that would be a political act. What the President -- what this is, is a document that has been months in the preparation, and it is one that lays out for the American people a thoughtful way of thinking about the most important issue of our time. I think it belittles it by trying to dismiss it as politics.

And, again, I'd encourage you to read it, because this is not -- this is not something that was timed to coincide with a letter from Democratic leaders. It, in fact, is -- it's timed to coincide with the fact that the report is done. It was an interagency process that took a long time to do.

Now, I will tell you this --
Okay, but don't you think Tony, that what you are doing is to "belittle" what the Democrats are saying by calling it politics? Certainly, there is reason to believe that there are political motivations for the all this speechifying at great taxpayer expense, no?
Q But the timing is suspect, because today is the beginning of the last final stretch of the campaign.
Really, isn't Karl Rove's job specifically to think about such things?
MR. SNOW: Do you think it's suspect to discuss in the final stretches of the campaign the issues that are foremost in the mind of the American public? I don't think it's suspect at all. I don't recall somebody calling up Harry Reid and saying, this letter is suspect; Nancy Pelosi, this letter is suspect, why are you doing this now? Instead -- and I would encourage you to take a look at the speeches that are delivered this week, and take a look at the documents that will be presented. And I think what you're going to find is an attempt to be thoughtful, to be as comprehensive as possible, and, furthermore, there will be an open invitation for people on both sides of the aisle to roll up their sleeves, because the war on terror is real, it's important, and we've got to win it.

But it's also, as Fran just pointed out, a long war. One of the things that you can sort of read into the document today is also -- and you'll hear it in the President's speech later today -- what al Qaeda wants. And if you think of what might happen if the United States were to leave the Middle East without having completed the mission of supporting a successful democracy in Iraq, and also pursuing the goal of a two-state democracy with the Palestinians and the Israelis, what you have is the prospect of failed states with large oil supplies in a region where they can become launching pads for terrorist organizations that are going to try to do what al Qaeda says it wants to do, which is to create a (inaudible) that stretches from Asia to Andalusia. And this is something that's of significance and importance.

So certainly it's an issue of political importance. Both political parties are going to talk about it. It would be irresponsible not to talk about it. But, also, the President's view is, talk about it in a serious way. And that's why we're going to be supplying you with a lot of information; you can do with it what you will.
Okay, so it is of political import, but not political? Here's where it starts to get rocky for Tony:

Q Hey, Tony, how are you?

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q The President, in his last speech, made very clear that the American people have a choice -- right? -- in the way forward in the war on terror, which suggests, by definition, that he is trying to frame the political debate for the midterm election when it comes to national security. Is that fair?

MR. SNOW: I think both parties -- if you take a look again at the letter --

Q But I'm asking about the President. I'm not asking about Democrat -- you don't speak for Democrats. I'm asking about the President.
Yes, that is right. Tony: "You don't speak for the democrats," but that won't stop him from trying to, now will it?
MR. SNOW: Well, but I'm trying to answer, because there are two parts of this equation, David. There seems to be a presumption that if Democrats make political points the President shouldn't respond because that would be political. The President -- these are important issues, and you can call it politics, you can call it whatever you want, but the most important thing to do is to provide a basis for people to take a look at the facts and reach thoughtful conclusions.

We do have a choice to make as a country: Are we going to acknowledge that this is a long war, analogous to the Cold War in the sense that we have a dispersed ideological following -- this is not one where, like in World War II, or other wars, you have a grounded political enemy --
Oh, I see. Now Tony is trying to frame the debate the way he would like it to be framed. That doesn't sound like the kind of "healthy debate" they suggest they are open to, but I digress.

Here is where we see Tony admit that this is all about politics:
Q I'm not asking for the major points. I understand that. I'm asking --

MR. SNOW: Well, it's important to talk about the major points --

Q Right. But you don't disagree that he's trying to frame the debate for what is an important political choice?

MR. SNOW: Absolutely. Of course, of course.
Here's the thrust of the argument and the painful political reality to which Tony is in public denial over. I wonder what if he talks the same way in private with his compatriots.
Q Okay. There's so much emphasis by the President on his resolve and on the consequences of failure, which seems to dovetail to the political strategy of casting the vote as not a referendum on his leadership or his conduct in the war on terror, leading the war on terror, but on a choice between two parties and their visions. And I'm curious whether, in this document, there's any reflection on the fact that this White House, this administration failed to anticipate a violent terrorist-based insurgency in Iraq, and also failed to adapt once it learned of its presence? And shouldn't that be put before the voters this fall?
Let the fireworks start:
MR. SNOW: I think you've admirably expressed the Democratic point of view, but I don't think --

Q Actually, Tony, I don't think that's fair, if you look at the facts. If you look at the facts.

MR. SNOW: Well, I do, because -- no, because, for instance --

Q No, no, no. No, I don't think you should be able to just wipe that, kind of dismiss the question --

MR. SNOW: Well, let me --

Q It's not a Democratic argument, Tony.

MR. SNOW: Let me answer the question, David.

Q But hold on, let's not let you get away with saying that's a Democratic argument.

MR. SNOW: Okay, let me -- let's not let you get away with being rude. Let me just answer the question, and you can come back at me.

Q Excuse me. Don't point your finger at me. I'm not being rude.

MR. SNOW: Yes, you are.

Q Don't try to dismiss me as making a Democratic argument, Tony, when I'm speaking fact.

MR. SNOW: Well, okay -- well, no --

Q You can do that to the Democrats; don't do it to me.

MR. SNOW: No, I'm doing it to you because the second part was factually tendentious, okay? Now, when you were talking about the fact that it failed to adapt, that's just flat wrong. And you will be -- there has been -- there have been repeated attempts to try to adapt to military realities, to diplomatic realities, to development of new weapons and tools on the part of al Qaeda, including the very creative use of the Internet. So the idea that somehow we're staying the course is just wrong. It is absolutely wrong.

So that's why -- I apologize for interrupting, but I think it's important to challenge that presumption. Now, did we fully anticipate --

Q If you want to challenge that presumption -- no, no, wait a second. If you want to challenge that presumption, why don't you describe in some detail how you accurately anticipated the insurgency, and what was done to deal with it at the time.
"Factually tendentious?" Oh, my, who is trying to spin his way out of answering the question? The reporter has every right to challenge Tony here.
MR. SNOW: I was just about to go back to that part.

Q Okay.

MR. SNOW: See, there were two assumptions. I was taking --

Q No, you described me as rude in making a Democratic argument and said --

MR. SNOW: Well, that's because I kept trying to answer the question, and you kept jumping in. We need to come to an accommodation, because I'm perfectly happy to take on both sides.
No sir, you are not. You only present your side and the negative aspects of the other. That's politics, my friend. But I interrupted; please continue:
It is accurate to say that nobody fully anticipated what was going to happen. However, you also -- if you go back to the days right after the end of major combat, there was concern about the so-called dead-enders. You may recall the Defense Secretary -- you may recall that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at the time was asking pointed questions about, what does this mean? Are we creating enemies? You may recall that that was one of the very early stories.

It does not serve our purposes to take a rosy-eyed view about what's going on. It's irresponsible. What you have to do in a situation like this is to realize that in any conflict there are going to be things that you don't anticipate. It's just -- it's humanly impossible. And, furthermore, there weren't a lot of people on Capitol Hill or elsewhere. And in a time of war, you're not -- you do have to acknowledge in the sense of going ahead and tackling problems that you didn't anticipate, and trying to respond to new realities.

Part of what's going on in this report today -- and you missed Fran's presentation -- is that this is a discussion about evolving strategies and dealing with an evolving enemy. This is not a static picture; never is, never will be. And so I think that you find that there are a lot of different moving parts here.

You have diplomatic efforts that involve the government of Iraq and governments throughout the region and governments throughout the world. You have cultural angles where you're trying to make the argument about -- you know, there was a debate here just a couple of minutes ago about the term "Islamic fascism," or so on. This is not a slur against Islam; it's a slur against people who try to use Islam as a shield for killing people and suppressing human liberties.

You have efforts to go after it financially; you have efforts to try to deny safe haven. In other words, it's a huge task with a lot of different moving parts. And it would be unreasonable to expect that something is going to be perfect throughout it, but it would be reasonable to expect -- and this is what we've been trying to do -- is to respond as the situation changes, and to find ways to deal effectively with old problems and new ones.
Are you satisfied with this load of rhetoric? I know one reporter who wasn't:
Q Just one final point.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Is it fair, in the context of this report that you're putting out and the argument about the consequences of failure in Iraq, for voters to judge this party which supported the war, and this President, on how he has managed, and this government has managed, the war in Iraq?
Yes, good question. You be the judge and Tony suggests that's okay:
MR. SNOW: We're perfectly happy to let people take a look not only at how the government has managed the war in Iraq, but the other thing is to keep in mind that both parties supported the war; 73 members of the Senate voted for the resolution -- or was it 72? Knoller, you usually know this stuff. Is it 72 or 73? It was a large number. You had large majorities in the House of Representatives. You've had significant support at various junctures for different parts of it.

I think it's important -- I think it's important, constructive and necessary for us to debate not only the past conduct of the war, but the future conduct of the war. So, no, I think it's absolutely legitimate to have people draw conclusions based on this. As I said earlier, you've got to ask which way of approaching the war on terror is going to be more effective at guaranteeing American safety and security, and also, in the long run, is going to create the kind of planet, the kind of world in which people are going to be able to live in greater harmony in the long run. So, yes, those are legitimate questions.
Is it fair to talk about past support for the war when we now know that people were having WMD blown up their skirts based on false intelligence? I don't think so. So, let's have another stab at trying to expose the political games the W, Rove and Co are playing with the Nine Eleven Monkey:
Q Tony, this report and these speeches not only coincide with the kickoff of the election season, but also with the run-up to the 5th anniversary of September 11th. That is a day that many Americans feel should be reserved for solemn remembrance of those who died. Are you not concerned that, in effect, the President is open to charges that he is politicizing that day?

MR. SNOW: I don't think so -- no, I don't think so, because you'll have to listen to what the President has to say on September 11th, won't we? But I think --

Q But in the run-up he's coming just up to the edge of it, and will take a momentary pause.

MR. SNOW: Well, do you think it's -- why would it be exploiting on the President's half, and not exploiting when people are criticizing him about the very same issues? No, there's a debate. I don't think it's exploitative. The one thing that September 11th taught us is that not only is evil present in the world, but terrorists mean business. And both parties want the same thing, I believe -- certainly they say they do -- which is to have an end to terror, and also to have American troops back after you've got a successful conclusion in Iraq. The question is, which way is going to lead you to those goals? What's the most effective way to approach those? That is going to be a critical issue in this election.

Far from besmirching the memories of September 11th, I think it's a way of saying we're serious. We're serious about making sure that, to the best of our ability, this never happens again. As Fran said, we're safe -- we are safer, but not safe. But that we ought to devote every ounce of our energy and will toward preventing repeat acts of terror on our shores, but also for going after the terrorist network that openly espouses it, has organized it, has tried to conduct it and has hit other countries around the globe. That, to me, seems to be not only an effective way of remembering those who died, but also to say that you will not have died in vain.
In reality, it comes down to this:
Q And, finally, what's the big new thing in this report? What is new about this report?
More fireworks:
MR. SNOW: Read it. I will challenge you --

Q You've read it --

MR. SNOW: Well, no, it --

Q -- you tell me what you think is new.

MR. SNOW: The fact is that the world has changed considerably since February of 2003. And what you have here is a comprehensive but not nuts and bolts look -- again, we're not going to give away sources and methods, it's not operational, but it is strategic. And it tells you all the various different ways in which we are trying to fight the war on terror, and the philosophy behind it -- not only the short-term strategies but the long-term goals, and how we think it is best to pursue and achieve those things.

Q I'm looking at the priorities -- I think there were four priorities or so listed -- and it doesn't seem like there's anything so groundbreaking there that couldn't have been written in February of 2003. So --
Hmmm, nothing groundbreaking. Therefore, it certainly looks like this is more of a political tool than anything else, now doesn't it?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, actually -- no, no, because not only do you have WMD, you also have -- look, at this time, in 2003, at this time in 2003, we had not, in fact, completed restructuring our government in response to the challenges raised by September 11th. We have done considerable work, and it's described in here, in trying to reform our intelligence apparatus, our military apparatus, to try to reform the way in which the government goes about the business of trying to intercept and to foil terror plots.

A considerable amount of things have changed. I mean, I suppose you could say it hasn't changed, the principle is we want to stop terrorism. That's true. But I think you will find that the look here is far more comprehensive because they have more experience now. And also what's happened is that the enemy has evolved. And I daresay that we will continue, and we do continue each and every day to try to revisit what's going on and, as David pointed out, what succeeds, what fails, and how to move forward effectively.
Are you sure you want to draw the WMD case one more time Tony? I think he caught himself before he reiterated it.
Okay, a couple more and then I've got to go to the Oval. I apologize.

Q Tony, isn't it a little contradictory to say the President wants Republicans and Democrats to return to that spirit post-September 11th, in the days immediately afterwards and then have the administration officials continue to try to paint the Democrats as the "cut and run" party?
Good question, to which he gives a non-answer:
MR. SNOW: You haven't heard it from this podium. I think what you're reflecting is some of the back and forth with members on the Hill who do that. You know, it's an election season and they're going go do that. But, look, we'd be perfectly happy -- there's one thing that we will not accept, which is the notion of a phased -- it's not -- what term did they use in the letter? I'll have to pull the letter out --

Q A phased redeployment?

MR. SNOW: A phased deployment -- no, you do a redeployment when the job is done, when it's appropriate to do it. You don't do it according to a timetable, you do it according to realities on the ground. Again, those are -- but the President, I think, and we're going to have opportunities to talk about this in coming days, how do you best foil them. How do you conduct surveillance? How do you deal with some of the thorny issues of dealing with terrorists? And we will be discussing those. And there will be opportunities for both parties to work together.
I'm still waiting for him to unite his own party, let alone unite the republican and democratic parties. That will be a neat trick if W can pull it off, but I am doubtful as he and the remainder of the W, Rove and Co have caused the divisions:
...Q Tony, just to follow on Elaine's point here, very briefly. I mean, you have Secretary Rumsfeld's comments last week. You have this whole debate about are people appeasing the latest in a long line of totalitarians, and the Vice President has been out there, rather active in suggesting about this sort of "cut and run" implications to opposing the administration's efforts. So you're calling for this moment on September 11th of national unity, this squandered chance, and yet look at the run-up and the context, it hasn't just been laid maybe not at this podium, but certainly from the White House.

MR. SNOW: Well, look, there has been a lot of -- there has been a lot of conversation along those lines both ways, and there has been a lot of attempts to make political hay with. I think what you try to do -- the President, as leader, is going to try to reach and see what we -- there is important business to be done, and he's going to hope for Democratic support.
What about support from his own party? But don't let me interrupt:
As far as the Rumsfeld speech, I've got it here. And what's interesting about the Rumsfeld speech, again, it's a thoughtful speech that talks about the hard nature of realities on the ground. What he talks about is some of the questions you have to ask, and I'm not going to go through it because I don't have time right now, but you and I can chat if you want to call, or anybody else wants to call today.

But the fact is, the Rumsfeld speech, I think, is one of those that has been singled out for criticism, quite often not fully in context. And I saw Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's speech as something that is not an attempt to be sort of calling out or picking fights, but to raise some thoughtful questions about what goes on, on the ground.
Really, is that a good defense of Rummy? I told you it was impossible to make this shit up. Let me know what you think.

No comments: