White House Press Secretary Tony Snow: “The War trumps party.”
HH: Thank you for joining me on this, the day after the President’s State of the Union address, a very, very good address, including a line I think will resonate for a long time, “So let us find our resolve and turn events towards victory.” Joined now by the White House Press Secretary, Assistant to the President, Tony Snow. Tony, always a pleasure, good to speak with you.
TS: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: I want to get to the war, Tony, but before I do, I also liked the line, “No animosity and no amnesty, because I am a supporter of the President’s plan.” But I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t mention the fence by name. Is it going to get built, Tony Snow?
HH: And how far along are the plans?
TS: Well, there’s a construction plan, I think for instance, this year between now and the end of year, we’re talking, I don’t know, 70, 80 miles, and then what you end up doing is ramping up construction over, I think they’ve got four or five years out. I mean, I’ve been in the meetings, and they do have the construction plans, and it takes a little while to ramp up the capability. It’s not like building a fence around your backyard. It’s a little more complex, they have to be sturdier, they have to be built in special places in special ways, and almost never do you have one layer of fence. Usually, you’re talking about two, and in many cases, preferably, three. So…
HH: Great news. That’s all I wanted to know, and I’ll follow up on that.
HH: What about illegals and the vote? That’s the only other…I know you’re not in favor of social security benefits for the years they spent in the United States. I understand that. But what about when they can vote, when they regularize?
TS: Well, my guess is you vote when you become a citizen.
HH: And the path to citizenship in the President’s world is?
TS: The path to citizenship is…it takes several forms. Number one, if you’ve been here illegally, you do have to acknowledge that there’s a law, and there has to be some sort of punishment, you know, penalties, back taxes. In addition, there end up being a series of requirements on you as somebody who wishes to become an American citizen, and you’ve got to apply, and you go to the back of the line. You have to maintain regular employment, you can’t be breaking the law, you have to have a tamper-proof ID so we know where you are, and we know that you’re not taking a job from an American. During the time that you’re here, you not only have to sort of have good behavior, you have to master English, and develop the sort of proper capacity for citizenship. The fact is, Hugh, that people in this path to citizenship will have to spend more money and spend more time waiting for the right to become American citizens than anybody else, and I think that’s probably a pretty good standard. You don’t want…look, you don’t want to be encouraging more people to run across the border. Furthermore, for future generations, sorry, you know, you don’t have your tamper-proof ID, you’re not a bona fide member of the temporary worker program, you get sent back. So we understand the concern that people think ah, you’re just going to be encouraging people to be coming across illegally. No, we’re going to make it really hard for people to come across illegally. We will make it easier for certain people, properly vetted and properly identified, to come across on a temporary basis. But the path to citizenship would again require people to spend more money and demonstrate better behavior over a longer period of time than any group in American history, and we think that’s fair.
HH: Is the President open to the argument that people who originally got here by virtue of illegal action ought never to be voting members of the politick, even if they are permitted to stay?
TS: You know, I’m not ever sure we’ve gotten to that point. I have not been in on a debate like that. That is something that’s perfectly…look, I think it’s perfectly fine to go ahead and have a discussion about that.
HH: All right, let’s get to the war. Should the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, organize a filibuster of any resolution, not just Biden-Hagel, but any by John Warner?
TS: You know how it is with separate and co-equal branches of government. The last thing I’m going to do is tell the Senate what they need to do. What is going to be interesting, though, is what’s going to happen if, as has been the case in the past, the demonstration of American determination changes the behavior of people on the ground, and several months from now, we’re talking about a different scenario in Iraq. Are they going to pass another resolution saying oops, we messed up? I mean, these are people who are always asking will the President admit mistakes. Let’s put down a marker right now, because in recent weeks, we have had yet another sign of what happens when the United States acts out of determination and principle, and even confidence. When the President laid out his way forward a couple of weeks ago, interesting things began to happy. Muqtada al-Sadr told his militias take off your black outfits and put your guns away. He told his political party stop boycotting the parliament, go back to work. Meanwhile, the Shia Prime Minister, Noori al-Maliki, went and took…approved of an operation that ended up capturing the number two person in the Mahdi Army, that is Muqtada al-Sadr’s, his militia. That guy has now been incarcerated. There have been actions in Shia neighborhoods, in Baghdad, going in, capturing and killing militia members. As a matter of fact, some of them, some people in those neighborhoods were complaining over the weekend about these novel legal actions against the illegals. Similarly, tough action against Shias on Haifa Street in Baghdad. There are aggressive new operations ongoing in Anbar and Diala Provinces. I’m not telling you everything’s sunny, but isn’t it interesting that since the President made those announcements, not only have you had that action, but all of a sudden, there’s a flurry of political activity in Iraq, so that the things people have been talking about most, you know, a hydrocarbon law that would involve spreading out the oil and natural resources, or the funds, the profits, for all Iraqis, that suddenly has a new head of steam. Now having a new head of steam also, de-Baathification reform, people who had peaceful jobs that used to hold Baath Party cards when Saddam was in power, teachers, civil servants, they’re going to be allowed to rejoin the mainstream of society. All of that stuff has suddenly gotten new momentum. Why?
HH: I know. I think it’s part of turning events towards victory, and I think it’s unmistakable for anyone who will look with a clear vision at what’s happening.
HH: But Tony Snow, did you understand General Petraeus yesterday to say as I think he said, the Biden resolution, or the Warner resolution would provide encouragement to the enemy?
TS: I mean, I believe his answer to that characterization was, and I quote, “That’s correct, sir.”
HH: Exactly. And so given that, and I know you don’t want to give advice to the Senators, I’d like your advice to the Republicans, and the people in favor of war, should the Republican base who contribute their money and their time support Senators who don’t support the war by voting for either the Warner or the Biden resolution, Tony Snow?
TS: Well, the most important thing is what’s going to happen…you see, the forces are going there. I mean, they’re going there. Five brigades are going into Baghdad, and 4,000 Marines are going into Anbar, period. The orders have been cut, they’re going to go. The real question is what’s going to happen when it comes time to reauthorize the military in a few months? Keep an eye on that.
HH: But Tony, the real question is, does the White House want the people that support the President and the war, and especially the troops, to tell the United States Senate not to undercut them and encourage the enemy? Do they want activity by the base?
TS: Well, look, it’s very important that the base make itself known, and also the people understand…look, I’m dancing around this, because I’m just not going to get the President in the middle of a fight with members of his own party. Instead, what’s important to do is to make the point to all Senators of all parties, you need…if you say you support the troops, do things that support the troops. And also understand this, demonstrations of American determination make a difference. I’ve just told you about what’s happened in the last two weeks. In case people forgot, after the three and a half week march into Baghdad, what happened? Libya, Mohammar Qadaffi said guess what? I’m going to change my strategy, so I’m going to stop being a terrorist, and I’m going to cooperate. What happened in Lebanon? The Lebanese people said we’re going to do the Cedar Revolution, because we want democracy, too. What happened in the Middle East? You had a number of Middle Eastern states that had not been democratic suddenly creating or expanding the franchise. This would include the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the UAE, and others. In other words, a demonstration of American seriousness made an instantaneous and positive difference in the region.
HH: And no one’s going to disagree with that. But I want to go back to the key issue here, because I’m breaking with some longtime friends over this, and it’s very difficult, and I’m getting lots of phone calls from people, because I think the war trumps party. Do you agree with that, Tony Snow?
TS: I think the war, yeah, it does trump party. It’s one of these things where people have to do…if members of Congress agree on two propositions, number one that we cannot fail in Iraq…well, three propositions, number two that we support the troops, and number three, we want Iraqis in the lead. That’s exactly what the President has proposed, and that’s exactly what’s taking place. And if people have a better idea than what the President has proposed, they need to present it to the American people right now.
HH: Now yesterday, Undersecretary Burns made a very tough speech in Bahrain, I believe, and two carrier groups that were not there a few months ago are now in the Gulf. Is Iran getting sent a message, Tony Snow?
TS: We have been sending Iran a message, and we’ll continue sending Iran a message, which is…it’s twofold. To the government, you need to stop trying to develop nuclear weapons, and you need to stop supporting and fomenting terror. That includes undermining democratic governments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. It means stop funding organizations like Hezbollah. The same message goes to Syria. At the same time, we’re saying to the people of Iran, we know you like the United States. We know that in your hearts, you love Americans, and that you want, for reasons of national pride, you want civil nuclear power. We’ll give it to you. We’ll give you that, we’ll give you trade, we’ll give you economic resources. But your government has to stop misbehaving. So all of those messages continue to be sent to Iran. What you end up doing, Hugh, is that you try to assemble the right mix of diplomatic and economic pressure so that the government of Iran itself is going to have to make hard decisions about whether it wants to continue along the present path. And that kind of strategy has worked with the North Koreans. It ought to work in Iran.
HH: 45 seconds, Tony Snow. Will the United States stand by the elected government of Lebanon against Hezbollah’s attempt to overthrow it?
TS: We have continued to, and yes, we will.
HH: Tony Snow, always a pleasure, a great speech last night, hats off to those who helped make it happen.
End of interview.