Tony Snow triple-talks on mission of Baker's "Iraq Study Group"

Friday, October 20, 2006 at 05:07 PM

The White House made a big splash about the formation of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group headed by James Baker, which is charged with advising the President about future Iraq policies.  Asked today whether that meant the prez is considering a change in "strategy," Tony Snow's response resembled a linguistic pretzel as he tried to reconcile the traditional mantra that the President had no intention of changing "strategy," with the Baker group's mission:

Q Let me ask you a question to make sure that I have my arms around -- we've been talking tactics and strategy and objectives. Let's get it on the table, and for purposes of future discussion, even, have an understanding of what we're talking about. Strategy, as I understand it, is how war is conducted, it's a plan of action.

MR. SNOW: That's going to fall more -- let me explain --

Q And tactics are how you implement that, right?

MR. SNOW: Let me try to explain the terms I'm using the way I've used, because it's given us all plenty to talk about the last two weeks. So I will assert press secretary's privilege to define the terms of the debate, and then we can talk about it.

Let's first set the goal, what do you want to achieve. You want to achieve as a goal an Iraq that can sustain, defend and govern itself. What is the strategy? The strategy is to use not merely military force, but other means at your disposal to create that secure Iraq. That includes a security component -- military, police, and so on. It includes a political component -- a government that is able to govern, and at the same time, also draws in parties from all over the country who are invested in it.

A third part is an economic component, because that is also going to be absolutely necessary to say to some who have gone into the insurgency, because they think they have no prospects, no, you've got prospects here. So the strategy is to use all three of those means to bring about the end, of an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself.

On the tactical side, you're going to have all three meshing together in different ways, because they do intersect. For instance, when you're dealing with oil fields, you do have security concerns. You have political concerns, as well. We've encouraged the Iraqis to treat that as a natural resource to be shared by all. So that is how -- so you've got goals, strategy, tactics.

Q Okay, and that's the Snow definition --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Webster's has "tactics" as: the way you implement strategy.

MR. SNOW: Well, Webster's and I agree on this one, Jim. (Laughter.)

Q Okay. And I'm sure that comes as great comfort to Webster's.

MR. SNOW: Old Daniel has been gone a while, but I'm sure his heirs and assigns are happy.

Q Here's the question -- under these definitions, is --

Q It's Noah.

MR. SNOW: Oh, that's right, Noah, thank you.

Q Noah Webster.

MR. SNOW: Noah, thank you. I'm glad I'm here. You guys keep me honest. I'm sorry, Jim.

Q I should have gone with Funk and Wagnall's. (Laughter.)

Under this term, is the President, right now, entertaining a change in strategy?


Q Flat out, you reject it, there will be no change in strategy?

MR. SNOW: Again, strategy is, you want an economic component, a political component and a security component. You're talking about what I refer to as tactics --

Q I'm talking about policy --

MR. SNOW: The policy is pretty straightforward: You use those three components to try to achieve the end. What you're talking about is tactics, which are the means by which you get those strategies enacted, correct? The tactics are, for instance, how do you deal with a certain neighborhood in Baghdad, what's the proper way to secure that? That's a tactical issue. How do you try to reach out to build political accommodation between Sunni and Shia? That's a tactical issue. How do you try to secure the oil fields in such a way as to increase revenues from the oil fields to build a sense of prosperity? That's a tactical issue. Those are not strategic concerns. The strategy is the big-picture pieces that I outlined.

Q Yes, and what you're telling me is in the strategy, in this big picture, he's entertaining no change.

MR. SNOW: No, what I'm telling you is, tactically, you adjust all the time. He is entertaining no change in believing that you can't do it militarily alone, you can't do it politically alone, can't do it economically alone. And on that, I guarantee --

Q He can't do what?

MR. SNOW: An Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself -- goal. Goal, strategy, tactics. Now, let me just -- and on that point, I think you'll find Democrats and Republicans generally will at least agree that you cannot do it strictly through military operations, you need a political component, you need an economic component. And, indeed, all three are mentioned in this letter to the President today.

So at the strategic level, people really do agree. Now the question is, how you implement those strategies? And on that, there's wide disagreement.

Q Tony, what is James Baker doing? What are they looking at, if not trying to change the strategy? It almost seems like you're changing the definition of strategy to fit tactics in the middle --

MR. SNOW: No, what I'm trying to do is to come up with some way in which you and I can talk the same language so that we don't all go cross-eyed in total bewilderment and confusion. And so perhaps -- look, you guys, why don't you email me the labels you want me to use for these various groupings that I've given to you.

Q I just want to know, James Baker is using -- will look at strategy, and you're saying you're going to listen to James Baker and Lee Hamilton and this bipartisan report --

MR. SNOW: Well, I think what they're talking --

Q -- then what's strategy in your definition?

MR. SNOW: I think they will agree with what I described as "strategy," which is --

Q But you just said you're not even considering a change in -- no, Tony, sorry.

MR. SNOW: No, that's because I'm not going to -- we are not going to change our belief that you require -- this is the strategy -- this is the strategic picture that requires an economic, political and security component. And I guarantee you people on that commission agree. So what we're talking about they describe as strategy, I'll describe as tactics. Sorry, we're talking different languages; I'm trying to harmonize for the purpose of answering your question.

Q Okay. So James Baker is doing what the President says he relies on his generals to do, which is tactics.

MR. SNOW: Well, I think he's really -- the generals also engage not merely in -- yes, to some extent, yes; but the generals also have a much more detailed ground-level view of how to achieve these things. Maybe we need to come up with a fourth label.

But Secretary Baker and Lee Hamilton and others are going to take a close look at ideas that they think are going to be more effective to achieve that strategic goal of an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself, and to do so in a way that involves security, economic and political components.

I think all of that is agreed upon. So now the question is, what is your mid-level goal? They're going to take a look at the various goals and try to proceed. I know, we're getting into a linguistic swivet here.

Q I know, I know. But it's like we're changing the goals -- it's almost like you're trying to hide behind the term "tactics" to change strategy.

MR. SNOW: No. No. Because I think the strategy is real clear. You try to use all three of those modalities to achieve an end.

So Baker's group is sort of charged with the same thing the Generals are charged with, but not exactly, and it's in no way going to affect our goal or strategy in any case.

Life can be so convoluted when you try to have a strategy and eat it, too.  And eating the existing "strategy" is pretty much what the Baker group is all about.  Either that or it's just so much more window dressing to give the appearance of awareness and flexibility until the election is over.

Would that be policy, strategy, or tactics?

I wish I'd been there to ask Snow whether our failure to safeguard all those known Iraqi weapons and ammunition sites when we first invaded was part of our strategy or our tactics.

Anyone still confused about why our experience in Iraq has been such a muddled mess?