White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defends the surge in Iraq.
HH: Pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. Tony, always a pleasure, thanks for being here.
TS: Good to be here. Thanks, Hugh.
HH: I want to start with the President’s speech on al Qaeda earlier this week. He was criticized for bringing up al Qaeda so often in that speech, Tony. Did it make any difference, in your view, in the way that the public perceives what’s going on in Iraq?
TS: Yeah, I think it’s important, because there’s been this sort of peculiar political attempt on the part of some Democrats, and frankly some Republicans, to act as if al Qaeda in Iraq really is kind of a separate off-shoot from global al Qaeda, that it has no link to Osama bin Laden or the terror masters, and so what the President started doing was laying out a lot of the connections, for instance, the fact that nobody at the top of the command of al Qaeda in Iraq is actually from Iraq. They’re from Egypt and Tunisia and Syria and so on, Saudi Arabia. And furthermore, there are links that go way back to bin Laden, and in terms of some people having been personally dispatched to Iraq to try to help in the mayhem, that there have been financial ties, there are clearly ties of communication, that bin Laden himself had described Abu Musab al Zarqawi as the prince of Iraq. You put all this stuff together, and it is very clear that al Qaeda in Iraq right now is the most important franchise in all of al Qaeda, because everybody’s counting on that particular franchise to drive the Americans out, and to make possible the largest victory, a bigger victory since September 11th, and to vindicate bin Laden’s long-stated view that the Americans do not have the guts to stand through a tough fight, that in the end, that we will be vanquished, and that he then will be able not only to have wealth and real estate within Iraq, but also the ability to start destabilizing, using Iraq as the center. You start in Iraq, you go Syria and Iran, terror states on both sides, they get stronger, Afghanistan gets weakened, Pakistan gets weakened, India gets weakened, you engage China and Asia, pretty bad. If you head the other direction, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, all of a sudden, all those nations are wondering whether they’re going to get their security threatened. Throughout North Africa, there are attempts to build up greater strength with al Qaeda, you certainly know that there are cells throughout Europe. And as these waves of discontent, and also a sense of empowerment grow on the part of al Qaeda, guess what happens? When the waves get really big, they hit us. So it is absolutely vital to understand that if you walk away from Iraq, you don’t get a great big peaceful happy world where you know, just unfortunately, a hundred thousand or more Iraqis die in the subsequent bloodshed. No, what you end up getting is a global revolution where the Islamic, where really…I don’t even know want to…where the terrorists who answer to bin Laden will be able to declare victory and start increasing their reign of terror.
HH: Tony Snow, that brings up obviously whether or not the surge is succeeding. Last week, General Petraeus was on this program, intimated that it was. Others have been even more bold in talking about how well it has gone thus far. And immediately, Petraeus was attacked for A) appearing on this show, and B) not sounding gloom and doomy by anti-war extremists. Are they trying, both those in the blogosphere, the media, and Democratic Congress to undercut the Petraeus report even before it’s delivered?
TS: I think there are a lot of people who have already decided that the ultimate end of any report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker is we need to bail out. I think the most stirring story that we have seen in the last year is what has happened since the surge began. Two months before the surge began, a Marine officer wrote a report about Anbar Province saying it is lost, al Qaeda owns it. We say in February we’re moving in. All of a sudden, acts of violence start to fall. They fall a little bit at first, and then much more rapidly and dramatically. What you now have is an Anbar Province that effectively has kicked al Qaeda out. Why has it done that? Two reasons. Number one, they know that al Qaeda, which came claiming that it was going to be a force of justice, is in fact a force of oppression, slaughter, humiliation for the Arab people, and desecration of Islam. And they are sick of it. They’re going after them. Number two, they know they can count on us. And if they’ve got Americans and Iraqis fighting by their side, they say you know what? We’ve got pretty good chances. So that starts, it’s beginning to catch on. And what’s happening is that the Iraqi people, Hugh, the Iraqi people are saying we don’t have to take this. We can go ahead, and we can pursue freedom. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. And they’re doing it in Anbar. They’re doing it in Diyala. They’re doing it in Nineveh. They’re doing it in Babil. All of a sudden, you’re starting to see these things sprouting up all around the country. And everybody who says that the only progress that counts is that which takes place in the halls of, the political halls, may want to take a look around, because the thing Americans want to see most, do the Iraqis care, are they with us, do they support us, do they believe in us, we’re starting to see this in the most amazing and real way possible, which is that people who not long ago were being terrorized by al Qaeda, who were having family members dragged out, buried in mass graves, you’ve seen the Michael Yon postings on that, you see that sort of thing, those people rising up and saying we’re not going to take it anymore, that is a powerful testament not only to freedom, but also to the power of what happens when we follow through and we make good on our word.
HH: Now Tony Snow, I think the President’s speech, the Petraeus interview, these all make a lot of sense, as does your availability, and I thank you for it, but always I ask about how many of the enemy are going to their grave. And even General Petraeus saying it’s hundreds, it’s hundreds of these people. There’s this reluctance to get specific on body counts, a hangover from Vietnam. And I think that’s a strategic error in communication.
TS: Well no, and I’ll tell you the thinking behind it, which is you do not want to give the impression to your forces that the metric is how many people you kill, that you just do bounties. The killed and captured numbers are very impressive. But they want to be, they want to send a message, and it is really clear, that we are killing and capturing way more, way more than they’re hurting us. I mean, they’re getting thumped, and they’re getting thumped decisively.
HH: But Tony Snow, again, that doesn’t convey a scale. I think the scale’s huge. That’s what I’m gathering.
TS: No, I understand. Look, Hugh, I understand that, and I’ve been through these conversations as you can imagine.
TS: But the generals also want to make sure that one of the things they worry about is that if somebody thinks that the true metric is only how many bodies you stack up, somebody’s going to go in and shoot up a bunch of people and say oh, there we go. There may be better and more accurate ways of portraying this. I cannot fault our generals for being very careful about it. But think of some other metrics that might be useful.
HH: Well, I will, but I do think that the most useful case to make to the American public is that X number of terrorists are dead. Not bodies stacked up, but we know that this many al Qaeda affiliates are dead.
TS: On the other hand, report the other day, no acts of violence in Baquba, zero. Now if you had a vigorous, zesty terrorist presence, you’d be back to where they were when there were dozens a day. If you take a look at what’s gone on in Fallujah, where the daily incident reports have gone from literally 30-40 or even hundreds a day down to just about nothing, that’s an indication that you’ve degraded the enemy as well. There may be other ways of looking at it.
HH: I’ll let it go, but I will just say…
TS: All right, good. Well, duly noted.
HH: If there were, if Americans knew that they were killing terrorists who might otherwise come here, they would be a whole bunch more supportive of the war in the short term as well as the long term. Now Tony Snow, Pakistan launched attacks on Waziristan. This is after an attack on the Red Mosque by Musharraf’s people. Are you confident of the Musharraf regime’s stability? Or is there reason for us to start worrying about that regime going south?
TS: No, I’m not going to sit around and speculate about stability. Come on, Hugh. But I think what you can see is that the Musharraf government realizes that there is a concerted threat not merely at the Red Mosque, but there have been acts of violence throughout Pakistan. And what’s he doing? He’s doing a surge. There are a hundred thousand or so troops now on the border, and they’re going and they’re fighting hard. They’re not only taking casualties, but dishing out casualties.
HH: So you’re comfortable, you think the Bush administration believes that Pakistan is doing what it has to do?
TS: Well, look, I’m not going to try to give you a global view of…could they do more? Do they need to hit a different target? They’re doing what they need to do in terms of taking the fight to the enemy. And what we’ve said is you need some help, we’re there to help you.
HH: All right. Are you familiar with the New Republic controversy over Scott Thomas Beauchamp’s Baghdad Diarist piece?
TS: Yes I am.
HH: Do you think the New Republic acted responsibly in publishing it?
TS: You know what? I’m not going to get into it. I will leave it, because to tell you the truth, although I’ve been reading lots of blog entries with interest, A) it is not something on which I feel that I’m fully competent, and B) as spokesman for the President, I think I’ll just leave it to the blogosphere to deal with this one.
HH: Senator Schumer called for an independent counsel to investigate the Attorney General. Your reaction?
TS: Pure theatrics.
HH: He said this was an unprecedented thing that he’s seen, which I thought was pretty funny, given what’s gone on in Washington over the last 25 years.
TS: Yeah, no, come on. And you know, Arlen Specter immediately came out and said this was pure politics. This is pure politics. And you know, it’s interesting, Democrats have decided that basic…maybe Senator Schumer and some of his colleagues have an anger management problem, because I don’t see any attempt to take on such things as the Defense Appropriations bill to finance the troops, I don’t see any attempts about the Senate to take care of all the appropriations bills that they promised to pass a month ago and haven’t done. What I have seen are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of requests for information, dragging up hundreds of administration figures, 87,000 hours preparing for testimony, 400,000 pages of documents. These guys are much better at trying to mount an inquisition than doing their day jobs.
HH: It’s not a good inquisition, either. It’s not very entertaining. Tony Snow, Senator Obama in the YouTube debate declared that in the first year without precondition, he would meet with the leader of Iran, the leader of North Korea, Fidel Castro, I may have missed someone in his rogue’s gallery of meeting planner notes. What was your reaction to that?
TS: My reaction is boy, that’s a whole lot different than our policy.
HH: And what does it tell you about Senator Obama’s…
TS: Well again, look, Hugh, I’m working for George W. Bush, and I’m not going to sit around and hand out report cards to Democratic or Republican presidential hopefuls. I think what’s going to happen is that their competitors and their critics and their viewers and others are going to have plenty of opportunities to…
HH: Okay, stepping back from the specifics, you’ve been on both sides of this, from behind the lectern there as well as leading intense one-on-one conversations on behalf of Fox News. Did the YouTube debate strike you as a format that helps American politics at all?
TS: Well, let me put it this way. I’ve been around a lot of times, and I’ve seen people try to integrate the web with TV. They still haven’t figured out how to do it.
HH: And did it diminish the stature of the presidency to do this sort of theatrics to the candidates?
TS: Look, the presidential campaign is full of theatrics. You know, I mean, whether it’s having a coffee klatch in Keene, New Hampshire, or schlepping door to door in Des Moines, I mean, look, there’s a lot of theatrics, but also one of the most important things you do is you make yourself available and responsive to everybody.
HH: Last question, Tony. Have you got your I-phone yet?
TS: No, I don’t.
HH: Planning to get one?
TS: Not until I get out of this job, and I have more disposable income.
HH: (laughing) Tony Snow, always a pleasure. Good to talk with you, talk to you again soon.
TS: Thanks, Hugh.
End of interview.