Tony Snow Dances Around the Rift with Senator Lugar
By Lee Russ
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at 06:53 PM
Tony Snow had a memorable press conference on Monday, but it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I guess it isn't easy being the information officer on the Titanic after the iceberg makes contact.In a lengthy exchange with reporters on the degree and significance of Republican Senator Dick Lugar's recent break with White House policy on Iraq, Snow repeatedly downplayed the degree of disagreement between Lugar and the President, and flat out misrepresented what Lugar had said.
Here's a relevant excerpt from Snow's press conference, with emphasis added:
Q But various Republicans have said the President can't wait until September, and they're saying you need to go faster. So, putting aside the timetable, is there a debate for, right now, going on inside the White House for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, as The New York Times said? A gradual --Tony Snow loves to play word games. Take a second to read, or reread, the piece on his pretzeled presentation on the differences between policy, strategy, & tactics.
MR. SNOW: No. No, there's no -- again, ultimately, the President wants to withdraw troops based on the facts on the ground, not on the matter of politics. And I would refer you to the last quote I just read to you, which was from last week.
Furthermore, I know -- there's a convenient shorthand, but I think the position that Senator Lugar and others had was a little more subtle than that. The one thing that they didn't want to talk about was simply withdraw for withdrawal sake. They understand that there is real political pressure here in the country, and they also understand that there's an importance for having demonstrated political success and effort within Iraq.
I think what we have here is, ironically, a pretty shared vision of where we want to go. Jennifer's first answer -- first response to my answer was, well, everybody agrees with that. I think there is general agreement about the end state here. So the question is, how do you get to the point where you can achieve those goals. And I actually think that if you've looked at the statements of Senator Lugar and others, you're going to find that they largely track with the quotes I just read to you from --
Q You said that this morning, as well. Senator Lugar said, "The prospects that the current surge strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited."
MR. SNOW: By September. He also talked about having it done by September. And the fact is we don't think that everything is going to be accomplished by September, and we've never said that. What Senator Lugar, I think, also is concerned about, as you read further into what he says, is that he does not want a situation where we withdraw hastily, we create a vacuum, and therefore we have a longer-term and much more dangerous security environment for the United States.
Q He also said, "Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interest." Do you agree with that? Does that really show --
MR. SNOW: I think it's tied up with our vital national security interest. But I'm not going to -- again, I'm not going to get into a fight with --
Q But how can you say, as you did this morning, you're saying again that Republicans like Lugar are not necessarily opposing the White House when they're saying "our force in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interest" -- how does that agree with what you're saying?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what you've done is -- we went through this last week, where you take one sentence, I'd cite another sentence -- I didn't bring the whole speech with me this time.
Q Well, he's got a speech -- it's 45 minutes. Is there a line in his speech that agrees with your policy?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think there -- the whole series of lines in there. Again, ask yourself what Dick Lugar wants to see. What he wants to see is an effective and integrated diplomatic effort within the region, which this administration has been trying to work through and has been working through. What he wants is more political progress on the ground with the Iraqis. What he wants is better training and capability on the part of the Iraqis. He wants al Qaeda to lose. He wants the Iraqi people to win. I think there are substantial areas of agreement here.
Q Sure, but he's saying that the course you're taking is not succeeding in those endeavors, so --
MR. SNOW: No, he's -- again, we have just started the course. The course has just begun.
Q He is saying time is running out. But he's not a Democrat, he's a Republican, a very senior one saying --
MR. SNOW: I understand that --
Q -- time is running out.
MR. SNOW: I understand that, Ed.
Q But is the White House in denial about that, then?
MR. SNOW: No, the White House is not in denial about the fact, but I think you're in denial about the fact that in the overall contours, there's just not that much disagreement. If you want disagreement, you compare what he's saying with what Harry Reid is saying. If you want a disagreement, you take a look at what Dick Lugar has been saying and what Democratic leaders have been saying, by and large.
What Dick Lugar is trying to do -- and I think this is a sensible thing -- is to try to lower the temperature and find a way where you can get some bipartisan conversations, because in many cases, people have dug in their heels, saying, the President is for it, we're going to be against it. And he understands that if you try to look at this through strictly a political lens, you run a very high risk of ignoring the fact that our national security really is under assault by the forces of terror, and it's important to succeed in Iraq because, as I pointed out this morning, what begins in Iraq, whether it is a Democratic renaissance or a victory in the war on terror, does not end there. And what we want to make sure is that the seed that gets planted is the seed of democracy and not the one of terror and tyranny.
So how does Snow's spin compare to what Lugar actually said on the Senate floor?
Well, Lugar isn't talking about what can be accomplished by September: "The prospects that the current 'surge' strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate." His later comments make clear that he is talking, at a minimum, about the time before the next election is in full swing, which even in America will be later than September.
There may, indeed be a shared vision of where we "want to go," but it is ridiculous to claim that Lugar is in agreement about how to get there:
In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.The fact that "Dick Lugar wants to see...an effective and integrated diplomatic effort within the region, which this administration has been trying to work through and has been working through" sure doesn't mean that Lugar thinks the current approach to Iraq will lead there:
...three factors – the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process -- are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.
Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world.Sounds like an explicit criticism of the effort that Snow claims the administration has been "working through."
I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities. But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options.
Snow's reiteration that "again, we have just started the course. The course has just begun," is irrelevant to what Lugar says, since Lugar is talking about the likelihood of the success of that course:
Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of U.S. national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.If that doesn't clearly state serious differences with White House Iraq policy, then I don't know what would. Lugar's overall message, whatever his reason for delivering it, is that what we're doing now will fail. That simple, that direct. Unlike the semantic merry-go-round that Snow presents as rational discourse.
... In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.
... three factors – the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process -- are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.
... The Iraqi parliament struggles even to achieve a quorum, because many prominent leaders decline to attend. We have seen overt feuds between members of the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Maliki and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who did not speak to each other for the entire month of April. The Shia-led government is going out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces. Without strident intervention by our embassy, food rations are not being delivered to Sunni towns.
... Even if the results of military operations improve in the coming months, there is little reason to assume that this will diminish Sunni ambitions to reclaim political preeminence or Shia plans to dominate Iraq after decades of Saddam’s harsh rule. Few Iraqi leaders are willing to make sacrifices or expose themselves to risks on behalf of the type of unified Iraq that the Bush Administration had envisioned. In contrast, there are many Iraqi leaders who are deeply invested in a sectarian or tribal agenda. More often than not, these agendas involve not just the protection of fellow Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, but the expansion of territorial dominance and economic privileges.