20 March 2003
Transcript: White House Daily Briefing, March 20, 2003
(President's schedule, makeup of coalition of the willing, status of
Saddam Hussein/videotape, relations with Russia, Turkey/over-flight
rights, President's role in mission, opening strike/effect on overall
plan, Iraq/burning of oil wells, benchmarks of success of mission,
financial cost of war, President's phone calls, security of the
American people, United Nations/role, length of war/President's
remarks, when the President decided to go to war, executive order on
assassination, domestic agenda, Strategic Petroleum Reserve/energy
supplies, civilian casualties, wartime presidency) (8260)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
-- President's schedule
-- Makeup of coalition of the willing
-- Status of Saddam Hussein/videotape
-- Relations with Russia
-- Turkey/over-flight rights
-- President's role in mission
-- Opening strike/effect on overall plan
-- Burning of oil wells
-- Benchmarks of success of mission
-- Financial cost of war
-- President's phone calls
-- Security of the American people
-- Role for the United Nations
-- Length of war/President's remarks
-- When the President decided to go to war
-- Executive order on assassination
-- Domestic agenda
-- Strategic Petroleum Reserve/energy supplies
-- Civilian casualties
-- Wartime presidency
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:32 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a report on the
President's day, and then take whatever questions may be on your mind.
The President began today when he received a 6:00 a.m. phone call from
his National Security Advisor providing him with an overnight update
on events in Iraq. The President arrived at the Oval Office at 6:55
a.m. Upon arrival he later had his intelligence briefing, followed by
an FBI briefing. He met with the Secretary of Defense. As we speak he
is having lunch with the Vice President.
He will convene a Cabinet meeting later today, at which the President
will welcome the pool. The President at the Cabinet meeting will
discuss the developments in Iraq, remind the Cabinet of the importance
of this mission, of disarming Saddam Hussein. And he will also, on the
domestic front, remind the Cabinet Secretaries of the importance of
pushing ahead with a busy and important domestic agenda, even in the
middle of international events.
Tonight the President will meet with the President of Cameroon in the
Oval Office, and he will have dinner with the President of Cameroon.
Before I take your questions, there's one item I would like to point
out to you. The President would like to thank the growing number of
nations that have joined in the coalition of the willing to disarm
Saddam Hussein. As of today, there are more than 35 countries
currently committed to the coalition, and that number is growing.
Contributions from nations include direct military participation;
logistical, intelligence and political support; specialized chemical
and biological response teams; over-flight rights; and humanitarian
and other aid.
Nations include -- and this is just a partial list -- Australia,
Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,
Romania, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom. Turkey, of course, today in
their parliament, voted to grant over-flight rights to the United
States and to the coalition.
It's no accident that many members of this coalition recently escaped
from tyranny and oppression and they understand what is at stake in
bringing freedom and liberation to the Iraqi people, as the mission of
disarmament continues. All told, the population of coalition of the
willing is approximately 1.18 billion people around the world. The
coalition countries have a combined GDP of approximately $21.7
trillion. Every major race, religion and ethnic group in the world is
represented. The coalition includes nations from every continent on
the globe. And for this, the President is grateful.
And I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
QUESTION: Has Saddam Hussein or any of his leadership been killed or
MR. FLEISCHER: Any questions dealing with anything operational will,
as was the routine in 1991, has been made clear on many occasions, be
addressed by the Pentagon, not by the White House.
Q: Is there any indication that Saddam Hussein will accept exile, and
is that offer still on the table?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to hope that Saddam Hussein will leave
Iraq. We continue to hope that Iraqi generals will not follow orders.
It is not too late for them to do that. It is very important, and the
President has said, that Iraqi generals, Iraqi troops lay down their
arms and not engage in combat. This is not their battle, this is not
their war. This is a war to disarm the Iraqi regime from its weapons
of mass destruction. It would be a welcome event if Saddam Hussein
were still to flee.
Q: Was the mission a success, in general terms?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, here in the very early days, the earliest hours of
the disarmament mission, I'm not going to provide a play-by-play
coverage of it. The President has every confidence, as the American
people do, in the men and women of our military to achieve their
objective, which is to disarm the Iraqi regime. He has every
confidence that will be done. But I'm just not, as a general matter of
principle, going to provide a daily and nightly tick-tock like that.
But when I say the President has every confidence, it's for good
Q: Ari, you've emphasized the support that the coalition is getting,
but there's been substantial criticism, as well, particularly from
President Putin of Russia. What's your response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President is very gratified by the
growing list of nations that support the coalition's efforts. The
differences that the President has had, and the United States has,
with a few other nations are well-known. There is nothing new to that.
The President understands and respects the opinions of leaders like
President Putin. Nevertheless, that will not deter the United States
and the coalition of the willing from disarming the Iraqi regime.
Q: Is it going to damage U.S.-Russian relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in the many conversations that President Bush
has had President Putin, the two of them have stressed that, while on
this issue they disagree about whether the use of force is appropriate
to disarm Saddam Hussein, relations between the United States and
Russia are too important for anybody to let them be damaged. The
President doesn't believe they will be, no.
Q: Ari, you noted that Turkey had granted over-flight rights. What did
we offer Turkey in exchange for over-flight rights? And Turkish troops
are now moving into Northern Iraq. Are they working with U.S. in
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of Turkey, this was a vote put to their
parliament. Their parliament voted for it. Turkey, of course, is a
NATO country and a NATO ally. Previously, there had been discussion of
a package of aid for Turkey that was contingent on Turkey's acceptance
of a total cooperation package. That did not develop, and that package
is not on the table, and that package will not be on the table. So we
appreciate Turkey's acting as they have. I have nothing for you on the
second part of your question.
Q: Can I just ask on a different subject, with the war having begun,
you said that this is essentially in the hands of the military
planners, that most of the day-to-day stuff you'll refer to the
Department of Defense. But to what extent is the President involved in
decision-making on operational issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has given the military the broad
parameters, and of course, the definition of the mission. And the
mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. The President then
delegates to the Department of Defense the operational details of how
best to accomplish that mission. The President monitors it very
closely. The President speaks, as you know, repeatedly throughout the
day, in the private meetings that I mentioned, with Secretary
Rumsfeld. He receives updates from the National Security Advisor
throughout the day, as well, to ascertain whatever facts are the
latest. He asks questions to verify what progress is being made, and
that's the President's role.
Q: But they no longer -- the military no longer would require a final
go-ahead from the President now that things have begun?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is a war plan that has been developed over a
considerable period of time that the President was involved with the
stages of the development of it, the approval of it throughout those
stages, and now that plan is being implemented.
Q: What's the current assessment of the White House about that
videotape shown in Baghdad shortly after the strike of Saddam Hussein
or someone looking very much like him speaking to the Iraqi people?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have reached no conclusions about that videotape as
to whether that is or is not Saddam Hussein, or what time that may or
may not have been prerecorded. We have reached no conclusions.
Q: So there's a doubt as to whether or not that's even Saddam?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, there are two issues in play: Is it
Saddam Hussein, or not? We've reached no conclusions. Was it pretaped,
precanned? We've reached no conclusions.
Q: And then on Turkey, did you just tell Campbell that Turkish forces
may be entering Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell said to me that Turkish forces were entering
Iraq. I said to her I have nothing on that.
Q: Is part of the agreement with Turkey that they will be under the
unified commander structure of the coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed from any of our previous
conversations on it.
Q: Could you walk us through the execute order last night, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me back up one step. I've been getting many
questions from the press, as is appropriate at a time like this for
what the press calls tick-tock, or what people understand as tell us
everything that happened and every step along the way, how decisions
were made, which, of course, is an issue of very important historical
value. As you can imagine, the military planners -- Secretary
Rumsfeld, Dr. Rice, the Vice President -- the people who are in the
room with the President for these meetings are focused on other things
right now. They are focused on winning a war. That's their first
mission and that's where their time is being spent.
I have confidence that at the appropriate time, we will have
sufficient information to pass along, more of a tick-tocky nature that
is appropriate and is important, and it's the White House
determination to try to provide it. But at this point, I'm very
constrained in how much details I can get into as a result of what the
principals are spending their time on.
Q: Ari, does the President have any second thoughts about whether by
launching a limited opportunistic strike last night against the Iraqi
leadership, he gave up any of the element of surprise of the main
attack or complicated its execution in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe your words were, limited opportunistic
strike. The President's words were, the opening phase of disarmament.
And that's how the President views this. This was the opening phase,
the early stages of disarmament, as part of a broad mission whose goal
is the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. And in that mission, the
President has every confidence that it will be achieved. So the answer
Q: Both the President and Secretary Rumsfeld over the last few days
have warned the Iraqis against sabotaging, destroying oil wells.
Secretary Rumsfeld suggested this morning that that, in fact, was
happening. To what degree do you have concerns that that would
complicate your ability to finance reconstruction efforts there, and
more generally, what efforts are you making to reach out to other
countries at this point to pay for reconstruction there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make several points on the question of the
situation involving energy and this action that we have seen. We have
received reports from our forces that a small number of oil wells in
Southern Iraq are on fire. We have no additional details or no
information on the extent of the damage. And the exact nature of the
extent of the damage is a terribly important thing when it comes to
actually determining if this is a serious event or a not as serious
The United States and its international partners anticipated that
Saddam Hussein's regime might attempt acts of sabotage against oil
wells. By doing so, Saddam Hussein is trying to destroy the wealth of
his own people, and once again showing the world that he lies, because
if you recall in a recent interview that Saddam Hussein did with CBS
News, he was asked if he would take this step, and he said he would
not, that the Iraqi regime does not burn its own oil wells. Clearly we
have some evidence already this morning, a small number of cases, to
the contrary, which is a reminder of what this war is about, the very
fact that Saddam Hussein will lie. And the issue is, his lies about
his possession of weapons of mass destruction.
World energy supplies are more than adequate to compensate for any
disruption these acts may cause. Saudi Arabia and other major energy
suppliers have increased production and their exports are proceeding
normally in this regard.
Q: And on the issue of reconstruction costs --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's impossible to make any estimations
based on this action. As I mentioned, it's a small number of wells.
And the extent of the damage is not ascertainable at this time.
Q: Ari, what are the President's benchmarks for success in this
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's benchmark for success is the
disarmament of the Iraqi regime. That is what has brought the world to
war, in this case. What has precipitated the use of force was Saddam
Hussein's refusal to go along with the United Nations resolutions that
required him to disarm. And in this action, the United States is
enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations.
Q: How will you know when disarmament has occurred?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a series of military events that you are now
witnessing. And you will be kept informed throughout the progress of
Q: What about Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be kept informed of the progress of all events,
including the leadership structure of Iraq.
Q: No, I'm sorry, what I meant was, what has to happen to him, what
has -- to his status -- for this campaign to be a success?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the focus is on disarmament. And disarmament is
achieved as a result of numerous military actions that are being
taken. And command and control is one of those actions that gets taken
in the course of combat. And I'm not going to go beyond that and make
any predictions of outcomes for any individuals.
Q: Ari, I had two questions. First on Saddam Hussein, in response to
Helen's question, you said the administration would still welcome it
if he left Iraq. Is that a reflection that it is at least the early
belief that he survived last night attacks? And if Saddam Hussein or
anyone in the senior leadership requested safe passage, is it too late
for that now that hostilities have begun? Or would the United States
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you should not read my answer to be one way or
another on anything involving bomb damage assessment. As you know,
bomb damage assessment is ongoing. And you should not take that answer
to be one way or another. You should take that answer to be a
repetition of the statement that's been made often here about Saddam
Hussein should leave the country.
Q: And on the question of safe passage, if he or anyone in the senior
leadership suddenly requested it now, would the United States say,
yes, or would the United States say, too late?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if Iraqi leaders turn themselves in, that would
be a very welcome event.
Q: Turn themselves in -- that's not safe passage.
MR. FLEISCHER: Turn themselves in or leave the country. Requesting
safe passage means you're turning yourself in, in essence, because you
are contacting somebody for the permission to pass through. Any step
that would remove Saddam Hussein from power will be welcome.
Q: Ari, I have a follow-up to Mike's question, and then I have a
separate one. Are you saying that regime change -- I assume you're
saying remains the policy goal in this campaign.
MR. FLEISCHER: One thing you can rest assure of is after a military
action is taken to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime, we have no
intention of leaving Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.
Q: And the President said two weeks ago that once hostilities began,
he would inform the American people or Congress on the range of
possible costs, financial costs.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: When can we expect that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No date has been set. It is a matter that is under
review, and once a determination is made it will be provided.
Q: I would like to talk for a moment, if we could, about the
President's role in the general planning for this. We have had the
general idea that the President had already given the go-ahead to the
military, authorized them to move at their discretion when the
circumstances were best, is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: But in this case, he had to be involved in making the decision and
giving the execute order for this particular operation for what
happened last night. What did the President have to be involved in
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you're going to see in the course of
combat numerous operations of various natures take place. There will
be many discussions here at the White House. I do my best to give you
a description of the meetings that the President has without getting
into the details of those meetings. And it's during the course of
those meetings that the President is informed about progress in the
military action. And the President is informed; the President lends
his judgment. And there are different matters that require different
levels of approval, and if all -- it's a matter of the ongoing conduct
of the operation.
Q: In other words, in this particular case, the timing and the nature
of the operation required presidential approval that would not have
been required just for the beginning of the war, as it had been
planned for some time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there will be numerous items in the conduct of
the war that involve operations at differing levels. Some of those
levels may involve discussions or approval from the President; others
Q: Can you give us some sense of to what extent the information that
was received last night that prompted this particular mission jumped
the schedule that had been anticipated and planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm really not going to get into any type of
operational decision-making or timing issues, things of that nature.
That's not something that I can do.
Q: First of all, do you have any readout on phone calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been making a large number of phone
calls over the last several days now, to leaders all around the world.
He has reached out to leaders in every corner of the world, from a
number of Arab leaders, who are important, to leaders in other nations
and other continents. It's a very large volume of calls between
yesterday and today. I did not bring with me the specific list of all
those calls. It's a large number today.
Q: Can you post it, as is your policy, to let us know?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me see what I can do on providing more
specifics later. And the calls are still ongoing, too.
Q: And the point of the calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: The point of the calls is to touch base with world
leaders about the military operation, to talk to them about the
purpose of the mission -- the purpose of the mission being, as we've
discussed, the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Q: Now, we know, in hindsight, as we all saw on TV last night, we know
how the President opened this war. Why did he open it this way? There
are many ways you could do it. Why this way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, that's a question that gets right to military
recommendations. Why did the President follow the recommendations of
the military? He followed the recommendations of his national security
team because he believes those recommendations are the best way to win
the war and to disarm Saddam Hussein. He relies on their judgment and
expertise. He lends his thoughts to it, and the action was taken.
Q: But what was his expectation? I mean, this is a done deal, we all
know what it is, it's not a secret. What was his expectation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's expectation of all actions military
will be to pursue the disarmament of the Iraqi regime. That's what
this is about. The reason war has been brought upon us is because
Saddam Hussein refused to disarm. This did not have to unfold this
way. The President gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to disarm the
way other nations have disarmed when they wanted to disarm. And that
meant complying with the United Nations resolutions. Saddam Hussein
failed to avail himself of that opportunity, and then, therefore, he
brought this upon himself. And pursuance of this will now be done
through military operations, and the President's only objective in
making determinations about which military plans are best is what will
lead to the disarmament of the regime.
Q: But did the President hope that a strike at the leadership of the
Iraqi military and government would, in fact, disassemble the military
and make the operation either end soon -- end quicker, or go easier if
he could not have the leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, there are millions of Iraqis who are
yearning to be free. There are many who are in the military and other
places of importance in the Iraqi regime who, if they had freedom,
would make different decisions. It's the leadership level at the top
that has imposed this tyranny on Iraq and has brought the world to the
point of the use of force. Clearly, the world will be better off
without these leaders in place. This is all part of the conduct of
Q: Just to close the loop on Jean's question, that was his expectation
for last night's mission; was it fulfilled?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, all bomb damage assessment is being
reviewed by the Pentagon and appropriate authorities.
Q: Wait, wait, one more question, please. Can you tell us why Rand
Beers has resigned his position as the National Security Council's
Chief of --
MR. FLEISCHER: He informed the National Security Council that he would
leave for personal reasons.
Q: Which were -- was his departure connected in any way with his
feeling that the beginning of a war against Iraq would undermine the
MR. FLEISCHER: I see no evidence that would support that. He has
informed the National Security it was for personal reasons.
Q: Ari, do you read anything into the Iraqi response thus far to the
attack? I mean, they fired a couple of scuds and apparently set fire
to a couple of oil wells.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question best addressed to military
analysts. I see any large number of them on TV. (Laughter.) I think
that's not a question that I can answer for you.
Q: But you see, when we quote those analysts, you usually criticize us
for not going to the people who know. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: On this case, I refer you to the Pentagon. (Laughter.)
Q: Ari, do you have anything new on the timetable for bringing
supplemental up to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new since Ed asked the question just a few
Q: Yesterday, Secretary Ridge suggested that there will be money for
homeland security. Can you give us an idea what kind of figures the
White House is working with at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will, indeed, be money for homeland security in
the supplemental appropriation bill that will be sent up to the
Congress. The amount of that money will be discussed when the
supplemental is sent to the Hill.
Q: Ari, a couple of things. Secretary Rumsfeld this morning, and you,
have said that the coalition continues to grow. But, frankly, many of
these countries aren't in the position to offer an awful lot of
military hardware or military resources. We know that they're offering
some logistical support here and there -- chemical and bio weapons
hazard treatment and training, things like that. But are there any
nations besides the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia that
are providing direct military assets, personnel equipment, things like
And, the second question, can this war be considered a success,
ultimately, if Saddam Hussein is not either captured or killed?
Because one of the rationales going into it has been the possibility
and likelihood that he, one day, would team up with terrorists and
share with them weapons of mass destruction. The Middle East is a very
volatile region. If he's able to escape somewhere, a man of his
resources with the kind of contacts the U.S. government insists he
has, wouldn't he then still be able to make that kind of exchange that
the White House has been so afraid of all along?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, two points. Interestingly, while, again, there
are, indeed, a large number -- and this gets to the political issue
about is there international support for the actions the United States
has taken, which is a terribly important issue. Does the United States
have allies in the endeavor as a measure of political support, stated
expressed opinion from governments around the world? The answer is
overwhelmingly, yes, representing more than one billion people on all
continents around the world.
In terms of the combat alone equation -- and I remind you, you can't
have combat if you don't have over-flight rights, if you don't have
basing rights, et cetera. So it's really a broad issue.
Q: But in '91 --
MR. FLEISCHER: But narrowing it down to exactly the issue of comment,
which is only one slice of how to measure the world's involvement, in
terms of actual combat operations, boots on the ground, it's
interesting because to lay out the comparison, in 1991, the United
States provided in the mid-70s the percentage of the armed forces in
the region, itself. In this endeavor, the percentage is a little bit
higher, but not much. It's comparable, it's mid-80s. And so what you
can see is, when the decision is made to engage in combat like this,
like in 1991, or here in 2003, the fact of the matter is the United
States of America does provide the overwhelming bulk of the support
for the operation. That's what a reflection about the capabilities,
the size of our military.
The President is very, very pleased to have the operations of other
nations in the world, both in military sense, in terms of the
over-flight rights. There are nations that have provided chemical and
biological training units. They are small in number, but they are
important in terms of the measurement of those countries' commitment
to this cause. And so the numbers really are not that far off from
what it's been before. But the numbers of the coalition, I think, are
large and are growing. That's important, to recognize the coalition of
the willing is growing. And I'm not sure I can say that about the
opposition in this case.
On the second point you asked about if Saddam were to leave the
country, would he be able to -- the issue is the weapons that Iraq
possesses and whether Iraq would pass those weapons off to terrorists.
I think it's safe to say that anybody who would leave the nation would
not be able to leave with those weapons.
Q: So you're ruling out the possibility --
MR. FLEISCHER: The risk is that a regime led by people like Saddam
Hussein would continue to work to build weapons, which then, because
they are in power, they have the covert ability to pass those weapons
on to others. That's the purpose of the mission.
Q: I guess, my question is, though, if he were to somehow get away,
wouldn't there be the possibility, wouldn't there be the fear
certainly within the CIA and the FBI that he still had access --
MR. FLEISCHER: That he would carry a nuclear weapon with him?
Q: No, no, that he --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's --
Q: No, I mean, let's be realistic. The man has a network within his
own country. It will take a while to dismantle that. And wouldn't it
be possible and, in fact, more than possible that he could maintain
contact with people who had these weapons and that they could somehow
be transferred to terrorist groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one of the purposes of the disarmament of
Saddam Hussein's regime is to dismantle the networks that supported
him in the building or in the transfer of those weapons.
Q: Ari, if the United States is at war, and if you assert that the
United States has the right to target the Iraqi leader and his inner
circle as part of command and control, does that make the President
and the White House a legitimate target for Iraqis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Somebody -- a reporter asked me that question a few
weeks ago and my answer this is my answer now; you can tell anybody
who wants to know the answer to that to get their own international
lawyer, I won't do it for them.
Q: I ask you in general terms -- obviously, we're seeing tremendous
security around here -- is the President confident in his own safety
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
Q: Okay -- can I ask one more thing, Ari. Just in general terms,
that's a fear, obviously, that Americans, in general, have in terms of
their own security. We've seen the terror level go up to orange. Is
there any thought that now that war has actually begun that that might
change sometime in the near future?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is always a daily determination about whether it
goes up or it goes down. There's nothing that's been brought to my
attention that would indicate it's going to do either of the above.
As far as the security and the comfort of the American in their homes
and in their places of business, the President understands that for
many people in this nation this can be a tense time. The President
understands that. And he's very sensitive and caring about that. The
President is confident that the steps that have been put in place by
the Department of Homeland Security, the improvements made to homeland
security since September 11th are effective. But there are no
guarantees. But the President does believe that one of the most
important, effective ways to protect Americans in the homeland is to
stop attacks abroad before they can gather on our own shores. And the
biggest threat that we worried about in the case of Saddam Hussein was
that if the world allowed him to, if the world sat on the sidelines,
Saddam Hussein would, indeed, one day bring those weapons to our shore
to attack our people. This action is taken to protect our people so
that day never arrives.
Q: Ari, now, within 24 hours of the war, more and more people -- more
and more countries are joining the United States against Saddam
Hussein, including many from the Arab countries. Now, what is the
reaction from the more Muslim countries in the area now -- so what
role the United Nations will play in this war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, it's not my role to speak for the other nations
in the region, Muslim or otherwise. They are sovereign; they speak for
themselves. In terms of the role of the United Nations, I think that's
an issue that's broken into two parts. Regrettably, the United States
was not able to enforce its resolutions requiring Saddam Hussein to
disarm. And as a result of the importance of the United Nations and
the importance of the resolutions they passed calling for disarmament,
force has been used to make certain that those resolutions are
meaningful. The President is disappointed that the United Nations
Security Council failed to act to keep the peace.
Looking ahead toward the future, there is indeed a very important role
for the United Nations in the humanitarian efforts and the
reconstruction efforts that lie ahead. That is, indeed, important. The
United Nations has fulfilled that role in all corners around the world
with ability in the past, and the President will look to them to do
that again in the future.
Q: Ari, you talked about the coalition growing. Have any nations
joined since the war began last night, or are we sort of locked in at
the number that we had prior to the hostilities commencing?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's fair to say the list is growing.
Q: Can you name any?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have a list. Let me see what I can do about
disseminating the entire list of it. I'd like to be able to do that.
Q: A follow-up. You said that it's no accident that a lot of these
countries were recently under tyranny and oppression, they escaped
tyranny and oppression. Do you think countries like France have
forgotten what it's like to live under tyranny and oppression.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think countries in Eastern Europe that are so
supportive of this effort remember what it was like to live under
tyranny and oppression. And that's one of the reasons they have been
so stalwart in standing shoulder-to-shoulder on behalf of the cause of
freedom. They knew what it was like to live under the thumb of others.
They see in the Iraqi people a history that they, themselves, suffered
through recently. And from that, that is a reason that their support
is so strong for this endeavor.
The President remembers fondly going to the streets -- going to
Romania, for example, and on the streets of Romania were hundreds of
thousands of Romanians cheering the United States of America and
cheering the message of President Bush when he went there. The
President will never forget that.
Q: Ari, I don't have the exact quote in front of me, but the President
last night took the opportunity to warn the public that this conflict
may take a little bit longer than has been predicted. I wanted to know
what moved him to ask that, since the administration has made no
predictions? And how long does he think the public's perception of
this conflict will last?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President did think it was important
to say to the country that we do not know what the duration of this
will be, we do not know how hard it will be, but he wants to prepare
the country for the possibility. We hope it will not be the case. But
the President wants to prepare the country for the possibility that
this may be longer and harder than some have suggested. That's why the
President said it.
Q: Well, who has suggested it would be quick and easy that he was
referring to assuage the feelings of the public?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are any number of analysts, again, who
have their own opinions and are free to express them.
Q: Ari, over the last few days, there were several steps leading up to
this moment. Obviously, the President was in the Azores. He gave
Saddam the 48-hour deadline Monday night. He notified Congress on
Tuesday. At what point in this process did the President become
convinced that all options, short of war, had actually been exhausted?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the process began for the President when
the will of the United Nations was not followed by Saddam Hussein. And
that played itself out over a considerable period of time. The fact of
the matter is that if Saddam Hussein had wanted to disarm, he would
have disarmed on the first day the inspectors got to Iraq, by showing
them and providing them the weapons that he had. Instead, he engaged
in a game of hide-and-seek, hiding the weapons that he had, calling
the weapons that he has, such as the Al Samoud II missiles -- if you
remember in that same interview that he carried out with CBS, he
denied in that interview that he had weapons that violated the United
Nations resolutions prohibiting weapons of -- ballistic missiles in
excess of 150 kilometers.
So throughout that period, the President saw that Saddam Hussein was
not complying, that Saddam Hussein was continuing to possess the arms
that he had. That led over time to the period that it has brought us
to now. I think that the chances grew slimmer and slimmer in the
President's mind that this could be resolved peacefully the more
Saddam Hussein defied the United Nations. The final decisions were
made -- plans were made developed, of course, as you know. I think the
final decisions, of course, to use force were made only recently.
Q: Was there a point where the President said, that's it, we have
MR. FLEISCHER: There was really no one sharp demarcation. It was the
process of watching Saddam Hussein defy the United Nations.
Q: Ari, since this issue is going to come up probably repeatedly until
Saddam's fate is known, why do you see questions about that as
operational when getting rid of him one way or the other is the
President's ultimate goal?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. And again, I want to express my sympathy to the
White House press corps. I understand your desire to get the
operational, even at the most important aspects, answered --
Q: I'm just asking why you see that as operational.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm going to give you the answer to that. The fact
of the matter is, whether a target is, as Secretary Rumsfeld said this
morning, leadership, command and control, or whether it is a military
target on a battlefield, it is a question of the bomb damage
assessment that must be done in order to determine the outcome of a
military operation, no matter what the target of a military operation.
That is the purview of the Pentagon. That was the precedent that was
established in 1991 in terms of operational details being discussed by
the Pentagon. That's the course that the President thinks is the most
appropriate way to share information with the American people now.
Those are important questions. Those are questions that deserve
answers. That's why the Pentagon is set up to provide them.
Q: Again, for the record, a question that's come up before, what's the
status of the executive order banning the U.S.-backed assassination of
MR. FLEISCHER: I have been informed of no changes in that. But, of
course, we are in the middle now of military conflict. And as General
Myers said this morning, in military conflict, command and control are
Q: Ari, you said one of the messages to the Cabinet today is to keep
your eye on the ball as far as the domestic agenda goes. You guys lost
a close vote on ANWR yesterday; a big tax cut fight looms; the
economic is still struggling along. Realistically, how will the
President be able to carve out enough time for these kinds of issues,
given the huge demands as Commander-in-Chief -- having gone to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, two points: One is it is wise and it is
appropriate, and the President believes and hopes that it should be
continued that the Congress continue its efforts on the domestic
agenda. Congress should not pause. Congress needs to continue its
progress for the American people to create jobs and economic
opportunities, to promote energy independence, to improve education,
all while military conflict is underway. The President believes that
continues to be terribly important.
Interestingly, throughout this process -- and I've reported this to
you throughout this week -- the President has daily briefings on
domestic affairs, what is pending in the Congress. That continues to
be an important area. He spends considerable time in the Oval Office.
And a fair portion of that time is devoted to domestic matters, as
Q: Ari, has the President had any private meetings or any meetings
with any religious or spiritual advisors in the last 24 or 48 hours
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know, and it's not my practice to ask the
President about his personal faith or how he would practice it.
Q: Ari, given the reports of these fires in the oil fields in Iraq,
why hasn't the administration tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,
which is intended for emergencies like this? If not now, at what
point? What price does oil have to go to, or how low does the price
have to get before they would tap those reserves?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Again, I do want to just remind you about what
the facts are as we are able to ascertain them in what's a changing
situation. But the facts are that it is a small number of oil wells,
and it's unclear about what the extent of the damage is. So, just to
frame it right.
I do want to draw your attention to two statements that have been made
about the energy supply situation. These came out earlier this
morning. This is from the International Energy Association, which
exists for the purpose of monitoring energy supplies around the world,
and maintains a reserve of some 1.2 billion barrels of oil, including
some 599 million barrels of oil -- million barrels of oil here in the
"With the initiation of military operations in Iraq, we are monitoring
developments as they relate to the supply of oil to oil markets. We
are in close communication with our member countries of major oil
producers and with OPEC. Producers are confident that they can keep
the market adequately supplied, and we have been assured they will
make every effort to do so." That was the statement made by Mr. Claude
Mandil, the International Energy Administration's Executive Director,
issued this morning. Another statement I want to draw your attention
to is from the Minister of Energy and Industry of the state of Qatar,
and the President of the OPEC Conference. This morning, he said, as a
result of the consultations they have been in, "As a result of those
consultations, I am herewith reiterating OPEC's resolve to make up for
any supply shortfall resulting from developing events."
And Saudi Arabia and a number of other nations have stepped up their
production and have taken steps to promote stability in the markets.
We will continue to monitor events in the markets. The President is
pleased to see the actions that have been taken by these producers.
This also is an important time to remind the American people and the
Congress about the need to provide more domestic supplies, as well as
conservation of energy. That way, America will be more
Q: But do you have a level, a price level or some kind of level which
would trigger the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in point of fact, the energy market has been
rather stable today. In fact -- I'll leave it to the market analysts,
you can talk to them to get the exact path that energy prices took
once action became known last night. But the trigger for the
administration is the event of a severe supply disruption. We have
seen no evidence of a sever supply disruption.
Q: As part of the long meeting he had yesterday with his Security
Council, did he -- did the President at any point give specific
directions in this particular operation to avoid civilian casualties?
MR. FLEISCHER: Throughout the process the President has stressed --
going way back, as the military planning began -- that all actions
taken by the military need to be done in a way to minimize civilian
casualties. And that is also something the United States military
takes very seriously and carries out on their own, as well.
Q: I understand that. But in this particular meeting where,
presumably, he was reviewing actual operational details, was that part
of the thinking? Was that part of the decision-making process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anne, I don't go into details about specific meetings.
That's the President's message; it will apply every day, not just on
Q: Does it go into his thinking as he's trying to -- as he was going
through this process yesterday? Was that part of --
MR. FLEISCHER: It is an important, ongoing direction that the military
Q: Ari, you said the President was not going to be a play-by-play
commentator now that the war has started. Why is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is focused on the mission, and the
mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He is going to set his
sights on that mission; provide the military the resources that they
need to carry out that mission. He will not micromanage it; he will
empower the military to accomplish it. And that means he is not going
to every day, every way, comment on every different development around
We have set up a structure, through the Pentagon, both in the Gulf and
here in Washington, so that these questions can be answered. They need
to be answered, they should be answered. You have the appropriate
people at your disposal to do it.
Q: Ari, Maryland's long-time Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who is the
President's fellow Republican, says of the most recent U.N. action,
"If the U.N. was good for anything, it would have been something like
this. Since the U.N. was no good for this, maybe they are good for
nothing." If we applied one year's United States U.N. dues of $800
million to the cost of this war instead of U.N. dues, doesn't the
White House think it would be a better use of all that money, as well
as an object lesson to the U.N.? And I have a follow-up.
Q: Lester, I already answered a question about the United Nations and
shared with you the President's beliefs about this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Finley.
Q: Wait a minute, wait a minute.
MR. FLEISCHER: Finley. Lester, we're going to keep moving.
Q: I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a follow-up. You have a different question.
Q: No, it's on the same subject, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: You promise, Lester?
Q: I promise.
MR. FLEISCHER: It would be a first.
Q: The President himself said the United Nations Security Council has
not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours. And my
question: Why does the President believe we should pay nearly $1
billion a year to what he recognized as irresponsible, rather than to
the cost of our -- rising to our responsibilities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, that wasn't a follow-up, it was a repeat.
Q: I'd like to follow up on the question before last. Could you
amplify a little bit on how the President is mobilizing the powers of
his office for war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mobilizing the powers of his office?
Q: For a wartime presidency.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you were to put that question to the
President, what he would tell you is, unfortunately, since September
the 11th, 2001, this has been a wartime presidency. The fact of the
matter is that the war on terrorism, the war on terrorism began
September 11th, with the attack on our country. And then the President
has, unfortunately, been in the position of authorizing the use of
force to protect our country in the actions against the Taliban and
the al Qaeda.
This is a continuation in many ways of that effort, because at its
core, the President's concern is protecting the American people from
the Iraqi regime's possession of biological or chemical weapons, which
they could pass on to terrorists, who if they could, would use them
against us in our country.
So that is the President's approach to this. In pursuit of that, of
course, we are a very fortunate nation to have the millions of people
we have in the American military who are so able and so gifted in
carrying out this mission. That's how the President would approach it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EST
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