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White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on the surge and personnel changes in the White House.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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HH: We begin from the White House with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. Tony, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.

TS: Great to be here. Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Now Tony, you used to do this. You know it’s harder than it looks. These L.A. Times reporters think they can just wander in here and be a talk show host. It’s like being the press secretary, I suppose. Do they ask good questions when in the press room?

TS: Oh, man. Well, the worst thing is when people come in, and there are a whole series of things that you never think about if you’ve never been a talk show host, such as how do I fill up three hours without either boring people to death or jumping around so that I sound like a crazy person. Then you have to think how do I go to a break, I’ve got a hard break when? What is a hard break? How do I do that? So there are many things that never occur to folks who haven’t done this. It is a complex business best left in the hands of trained professionals.

HH: I know, and not print reporters. Tony Snow, is there anyone left there at the White House? Now that Rove is gone and Pete Wehner is gone, I mean, is anyone working there anymore?

TS: We’re all working. C’mon, give me a break here.

HH: Now when Karl announced his resignation, he said that Josh Bolton had requested that anyone who wasn’t going to go the distance leave now. Are there any other resignations upcoming, Tony Snow?

TS: I think that probably…as Josh said the other day, he thinks there are probably a couple coming up in the next month or so. I think the rule was let your intentions be known before Labor Day. But I will let others make their announcements.

HH: And are they of the sort, without naming a name, that will shock Washington in the way that Rove’s did?

TS: Actually, I don’t know.

HH: You don’t know?

TS: I don’t know. The fact is, Karl kept his pretty buttoned up. Only a small number of people really knew. And so my guess is that there may be some in the mix that we don’t know about. There have been plenty to have been rumored over the years, can’t tell you.

HH: Your intention to go the distance, Tony Snow?

TS: No, I’m not going to be…I’ve already made it clear I’m not going to be able to go the distance, but that’s primarily for financial reasons. I’ve told people when my money runs out, then I’ve got to go.

HH: How long will that be?

TS: I’m not going to tell you.

HH: Well, come on, make some news.

TS: No.

HH: All right. Tony Snow, General Petraeus is coming back in September. What are the optics of that going to be? Is he only going to report to Congress? Or is the White House going to try and position him to give his report in a forum where all of America can listen without interruption?

TS: Well, I think all of America is going to be able to listen. The one thing he’s a little, he’s understandably wary of is that he does not want to be construed as a political figure. He is a general. He is somebody who is busy running a war, and it is his job, when he puts together a report, to be straight with the American people about what’s succeeding, what’s failing, and what we need to do next. This is a report that is supposed to culminate in a recommendation. And so to tell you the truth, I’m not sure exactly what all the optics are going to be at this juncture. Certainly, it’s going to be briefing the President, he is going to be talking to Congress, but I don’t think everything’s quite laid out at this juncture.

HH: Now Tony Snow, you heard at the top of the show, I’m going to be talking with Fred Kagan at the bottom of the hour, and then Jack Keane, the General, next hour. I’ve been talking to everyone who knows anything about the surge, because I want the information to be out there.

TS: Yeah.

HH: When you arrange for a bunch of talk show hosts to come back and get a briefing from the President, ask questions, that was blasted by a lot of the war critics. What’s your reaction to the criticism of the President meeting with media?

TS: You’ve got to be kidding. That’s my reaction. The fact is, what’s interesting is that there are a number of war critics. Let’s take Nancy Boyda. You’re going to have Jack Keane on.

HH: Yup.

TS: She walked out of a hearing because he was saying things she didn’t want to hear. I think what war critics need to do is to try to find out what the facts are. We kind of know what their early position is, but do you not think when it comes to a matter of national and global security, that maybe your opinion ought to reflect a sensible understanding of what is going on based on reporting on the ground from John Burns of the New York Times, and Mike Gordon in the New York Times, and from people at the L.A. Times, and places that you would not expect to be friendly to the Bush administration. There have been some extraordinary breakthroughs in Iraq in the recent months, maybe the most extraordinary of which is this. The Iraqi people have said this is our fight, please help us, let’s go. They’ve gone after al Qaeda in Anbar Province. They’ve gone after it in Diayala Province. They’ve gone after it in portions of Baghdad. They’ve gone after Shiia militias, they’ve gone after insurgents. In other words, they have actually begun to grasp something that probably was unthinkable to them. A foreign country came to their soil. We didn’t come to take them over, we didn’t come to kill them, we didn’t come to steal their oil. We came to set them free. That is something that is so out of the experience of the normal Iraqi that for a long time, it didn’t sink in. But it has begun to sink in. And furthermore, what has begun to sink in that the ultimate goal for American is for the Iraqis to be free, to be the captains of their destiny. So what you’re starting to see now are tribal sheiks, and what you see is a revolution from the ground up. This is not being led by politicians in Baghdad. This is being led by shopkeepers, it’s being led by mothers and fathers and kids who are tired of seeing al Qaeda slaughtering family members in an attempt to intimidate them into following al Qaeda. It is an amazing thing, because it demonstrates that the power of an idea now had percolated into the heart of Iraq in a very serious way. And Anbar Province, which had been written off less than a year ago, is now basically a place where al Qaeda’s persona non grata, where our Ambassador, Ryan Crocker, was running around in Ramadi the other day, with no body armor on. It indicates to me that something very special is taking place right now. So if you want to put together a critique of the war, what you need to do is to assemble some of the facts, rather than your predispositions coming in, because ultimately, success in Iraq or success as a superpower depends not on your wishes and not on your hopes and not on your ideology, but on what’s true.

HH: And that’s why people keep listening, Lt. Col. Vrooman then followed by Fred Kagan and Jack Keane today will give you those facts. Tony Snow, big story, front page of the Washington Post today, Iranian unit to be labeled terrorist. The President’s getting after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard under EO 13224. That allows you to seize and disrupt finances by this terrorist organization now labeled. But it’s an arm of the government. This is a huge deal. Are you surprised it was on the front page of the Post?

TS: Yeah, Hugh, because it’s not quite right. At this point, I don’t think anything, there has been any final determinations. You’ve also got to make this…but let’s be clear about two things. Number one, the Revolutionary Guards are an oppressive force within Iraq, and they’ve certainly been an instrument of spreading state terror. Number two, the Quds forces, which answer to the Revolutionary Guard, have certainly been actively engaged in Iraq. They’ve been sending EFP’s, they sent personnel, and they’re a part of the problem. And Ambassador Crocker was very straightforward. Number three, we have been using measures against the Iranians, and we will continue to. So in terms of designations and all that, I think some of the writers got a little bit ahead of themselves. I will let other people make formal declarations at the appropriate time.

HH: Are you saying at this point the executive order designating has not been signed?

TS: That’s my understanding. Again, Executive Orders get published. You know, Executive Orders go into the Congressional register, so everyone’s going to have an opportunity to see any Executive Order that gets written up on…

HH: But a finding, a finding could be made…

TS: But I think at this juncture, Hugh, based on what I know, they’ve gotten ahead of themselves.

HH: But a finding could be made that would not be publicized under 13224.

TS: That’s correct.

HH: All right, Tony Snow, why then, if we’re getting tough on these people, and I’m glad to hear it, are we meeting with them? Ambassador Crocker originally said if they continue to kill Americans, we’re not going to meet with them, and we’re on our second round of meetings with the Iranians. What’s going on?

TS: Well, keep in mind the Iraqis have asked to do this. The Iraqis are next door neighbors to the Iranians. They want to try to maintain some sort of channel there. But we’ve made it clear we’re happy to talk about security within Iraq. We are not going to be talking about any side issues, including diplomatic recognition of the Iranians. So if they want to try to use bad behavior in Iraq as somehow a lever to get things they want on the diplomatic front, no, forget about it, not going to happen. But these are meetings that have been arranged at the behest of the Iraqi government. These are not simply things where we said okay, yeah, let’s go ahead and meet. This has been part of something that we have said to the Iraqis, okay, if it’s important to you, we’ll work with them. But keep in mind, we are keeping this very narrowly confined to try to improve security within Iraq proper.

HH: Any doubt in your mind, Tony Snow, that Iran is behind the killing of Americans in Iraq?

TS: Well, I mean it’s pretty clear. When you send explosively formed, the EFP’s, the explosively formed penetrators, those are killing devices. Now, they’re coming from Iran.

HH: Last question, we have a minute. There is a report in the Washington Times yesterday that the Border Patrol is asking for volunteers to build the fence, Tony Snow. And does that mean that since the immigration bill passed, all the interest in getting the fence built is gone?

TS: No, as a matter of fact, if you take a look at what the President did last week, did you take a look at all the stuff we did last Friday?

HH: Nope. Only the war stuff.

TS: See, well, you should have taken a look at all the stuff we did on immigration, because we put together 25 action items, including completing the fence. So if you want…I’d be happy…I don’t have my materials with me at the moment, Hugh, but I think you’d be very happy with it, because it’s a very strong security package.

HH: By when?

TS: We’ve been talking about getting this stuff done.

HH: By when? When will the fence be done?

TS: Well again, we’re trying to get 380 miles done by the end of next year. But as we have said before, and I think I’ve gone through this with you, it’s less easy than you may think to get a fence built. Well, you’re a lawyer. You’re smart enough to know there are environmental suits going on, there are a lot of property owners in Texas who hate the idea and are resisting it. This is not something that is just, not everybody likes the idea that Uncle Sam is going to build roads, and is going to be putting fences up, especially if you’re a rancher in Texas. They’ve said, by the way, we’re going to cut of the water supply for your own livestock.

HH: Tony, 10 second left…

TS: So a lot of things are involved, and furthermore, you don’t put up a fence one mile at a time. You put it up in ten to twenty mile sections.

HH: When you leave the White House, are you going back to talk radio, Tony?

TS: Don’t know what I’ll do. But you know, I mean, a lot of my life story’s going to be devoted to trying to help people with cancer and other stuff.

HH: Oh, cool. Tony Snow, always a pleasure.

End of interview.

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