I interviewed Tony Snow on today’s program. The transcript is here. Here’s the excerpt where we discuss last night’s speech and in particular that section concerning Iran’s interference in Iraq and the role of Sadr. The president said “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces, we will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” I asked Snow to elaborate on this paragraph:
HH: What does that mean, Tony Snow, “we will seek out the networks?”
TS: Well, it means within Iraq, you can take a look at the people who are doing transport…let me be specific about it. There’s a new generation of IED that the Iranians have been importing. And among other things, they can pierce the armor of some of our tanks and our Bradley fighting vehicles. They are uniquely lethal as far as IED’s go. That’s been manufactured and exported through Iran. What we want to do is to find out number one, who’s…we want to stop it at the border if possible. But if not, we want to find out who’s moving those things. So you do have networks that end up doing transporting or smuggling, or whatever you want to call it. They’re making it and pushing it into Baghdad. And there are concerted efforts to try and interrupt what they call the rat lines, that is the lines of transit by which either bad guys or weapons make their way to theaters of battle, whether it be Baghdad or Anbar Province. Similarly, we’re working hard on the rat lines that leave from Syria into Anbar. So it’s pretty classic military strategy, which is you cut off the supply lines. Effectively, what we’re talking about is cutting off supply lines to people committing acts of violence within Baghdad, but also going after those who are supporting them.
HH: Now does that mean if we know that there is an IED manufacturing facility over the border in Iran or Syria, that that is now fair game for American weaponry?
TS: No, we’re not going that far. And frankly…
HH: Are you ruling that out?
TS: Like I said, we’re not going that far. I think what you’ve got to understand, Hugh, is that there are a whole lot of things in play, and you also understand that when it comes to military activities and doctrine, there’s only so much you say publicly.
HH: But that was…was that carefully crafted, old speech writer Tony Snow, to leave the ambiguity there that is obviously there?
TS: Look, at this point, what we’re talking about is if you bring things into Iraq, we’re going to intercept them and we’re going to go after the people doing it. And I think that’s the one thing that people ought to take away from it.
HH: So they should not take away from it, and the Iranians should not take away from it, any indication that our patience has grown thin?
TS: Well, our patience has grown thin, but there are many ways to expressing that.
HH: One of the hangovers of Vietnam is a rejection of the release of body counts of enemy killed or captured. Is that going to change? Will the damage inflicted on the enemy be public now, Tony Snow?
TS: You know, we do it from time to time. The fact is, the Pentagon’s a little wary of doing it, but for instance, the President tried to make it clear we had…November, I think there were 103 American deaths in Iraq in November, and I believe the number of killed and captured on the enemy side was something north of 5,000. So you want to be careful about getting into those counts, and I think our military also says look, we don’t want to get into the situation where somebody’s going to measure their success by how many people they pop. You want to make sure you’re having the right kind of tight and focused operations. I think the more important thing that people need to look for is number one, how many Iraqis are in the lead and how many are fighting, and number two, over a period of time, what’s going on in Baghdad? You know, they can have traffic jams, they can have electricity 24 hours a day? Those are the kinds of things, ultimately, that we hope people are going to be talking about.
HH: Is Muqtada al Sadr off limits?
HH: Does that mean he will be killed or captured?
TS: It doesn’t mean he’s a target. It means that…see, a lot of people are trying to do this, and you understand the political ramifications. Somebody gets on and says we’re going after al Sadr. What you do is you set off a political tempest within Iraq. Instead, it’s probably smarter to do what the prime minister did yesterday, which he said anybody who is operating outside the government, that’s the term of art for running a militia or whatever, including the Sadrists. I mean, he calls out Muqtada al Sadr in public. He says if you’re a part of this, then we’re going to go after you. And he said today to Sadr, we expect you to be supporting the increase in military capability and military involvement, and the insistence on peace in Baghdad. I mean, that’s a pretty artful way of putting him on notice, and I think I’ll leave it at that.