28 March 2003
White House Daily Briefing Transcript
(President's schedule, U.N. approval/oil-for-food program, atrocities
cited by President, Iraq/additional troops, French Foreign Minister's
no comment, press coverage/President's frustration, General Wallace
comments, Iraqi participation in government, WMD, oil supplies,
Turkey, war supplemental, paramilitaries in Iraq, economy/effects from
war, President's trip to PA, changing of names on AF1, post-conflict
reconstruction, business at Camp David, President's typical day)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 28, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
-- President's schedule
-- U.N. approval for oil-for-food program
-- Atrocities cited by President
-- Additional troops to Iraq
-- French Foreign Minister's no comment
-- Press coverage/President's frustration
-- General Wallace comments
-- Iraqi participation in government
-- Finding weapons of mass destruction
-- Oil supplies
-- Contact with Turkey
-- War supplemental
-- Paramilitaries in Iraq
-- Economy/effects from war
-- President's trip to PA
-- Changing of names on AF1
-- Post-conflict reconstruction
-- Business at Camp David
-- President's typical day
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 28, 2003
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a report on the
President's day. And then I have a statement about an event that just
The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI
briefing, convened a meeting of his National Security Council. He also
today spoke with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain about events in Iraq.
He currently is having lunch with the Vice President. And later today,
the President will meet with commanders of national veteran service
organizations and he will give remarks in the Rose Garden about the
war in Iraq, the progress that's being made, and the service and the
sacrifice of those who are in our Armed Forces.
Before I take your questions, the United Nations Security Council has
just, moments ago, voted unanimously to reauthorize the oil-for-food
program. The President would like to express his thanks to the United
Nations Security Council for this unanimous action. This will be a way
to help take care of the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, using
Iraqi resources. The President is pleased with this outcome.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
QUESTION: On the event you talked about, earlier today you said that
the President is going to talk about some of the atrocities that the
U.S. says were committed by Iraqi troops. Yesterday he talked in
graphic terms about some of the things that have been done. Is this
part of a campaign or part of a move you see to continue educate,
continue justify the war to the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, I think it's part of describing the horrible
reality that Saddam Hussein is putting his people through. And this is
one of the reasons the President talks about it. He's talked about it
repeatedly. He talked about it repeatedly last fall; he talked about
it during the winter; he talked about it now as the war, indeed, has
The actions that Saddam Hussein has been taking have been brutal
toward his own people. They have been, previously, before the United
States engaged in this action to disarm him from his weapons of mass
destruction. He continues in that path today.
Q: Why is it important to keep telling people this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it is important always to speak out on behalf
of those who seek liberty. And this is one reason why the President
believes so strongly that once the Iraqi people see that Saddam
Hussein and those around him will be removed from power, they will
welcome freedom, they will be a liberated people. There are indeed
those who are fighting alongside of Saddam Hussein, who have always
been loyal to him, who want to preserve their power, and, therefore,
are willing to go to extraordinary means in terms of the death squads
that are existent on the ground, to enforce the will of Saddam
Hussein. The President will describe it for as brutal as it is.
Q: Ari, did the President sign off on sending 100,000 more troops to
Iraq? And has he asked other members of the coalition to do the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Just to be clear, all along as part of the original
plan, there was a flow of forces into the region that had been signed
off on a long time ago. So all flows or forces there now are part of
that, and so there was no need for any new decisions to be made on
this; it was all part of the preexisting plan.
Q: Do you know what it brings it up to?
MR. FLEISCHER: The last numbers I saw, Helen, were just under 250,000.
DOD can give you updates.
Q: Ari, yesterday in London, the French Foreign Minister declined,
when asked directly, to say who he hoped to win in Iraq. Has this been
MR. FLEISCHER: I just cannot imagine that any nation that's an ally of
ours would not have a thought about that. It's important that Saddam
Hussein be disarmed. And we certainly would not imagine that any
nations, even those who did not support our actions in the United
Nations Security Council, could express anything other than that they
hoped that the coalition would be successful.
Q: Well, he declined to say.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's how I would diplomatically reply.
Q: Ari, there seems to be some level of frustration on the part of the
President with the press coverage and, indeed, our questions. One
senior official characterized some questions about battle plan and the
timing and the press coverage as "silly." So, A, does the President
think it's appropriate for the public, the news media, to question him
at all about the conduct and the progress of the war? And --
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, yes.
Q: What would he advise the public about what is an appropriate way to
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. One, the President is very much focused on
winning the war and working with the military planners on the mission.
That's where he is at. That's what his focus is on. I do think that
there is something that people are watching that took place previously
in the Afghanistan theater, for example. Just several weeks into the
Afghanistan theater, people said, why isn't it over. I think there's
been some sense of that already, just one week into the Iraqi theater,
that you've seen some bit of that in the press coverage about it.
I think from the President's point of view, any questions about how
long will it last are, of course, entirely legitimate questions. He's
answered them. He has said, it will last as long as it needs to last.
That's something that has been said repeatedly by many members of the
administration. Secretary Rumsfeld has said it, I've said it, the
President has said it. So the President understands people want to
know, but it's also an unknowable issue.
But I do think there is a difference between asking that question and
the suggestion that why isn't it over already. And that's where I
think there's some --
Q: Has anybody asked the question, why isn't it over already? Or would
that be your interpretation of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that we are seeing some areas, for
example, just like in Afghanistan -- one newspaper today on its front
page reported that the Marines and the Army are "bogged down." Now, I
don't know anybody who would support that notion from a military point
of view, that our troops are "bogged down." Yet, that is what one
newspaper reported this morning.
Q: You did very little to lower expectations in the run up to this.
Even if you didn't raise them yourself, you did nothing to lower what
we were hearing from the Pentagon and from other outside pundits about
how well, how quickly this war would go.
MR. FLEISCHER: I could not dispute that more strongly, and let me cite
it for you. If you take a look at what the President said on October
7th in Cincinnati in a major speech to the country, the President
said, "Military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced
with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. There is
no easy or risk-free course of action." That's what the President said
some six months ago, five months ago.
And certainly in many of the statements that I've made from this
podium, I said, even prior to any action beginning, I said on March
18th, "I think people have to prepare for the fact that it may not be
short." On March 21st, even before the air campaign began over
Baghdad, in my morning briefing I was asked about talks for
unconditional surrender, how were the talks for the unconditional
surrender. I said, I think it's important for the American people to
remember that this still can be a long, lengthy, and dangerous
engagement. This is, as the President said, the opening phase. It can
be a long, lengthy, dangerous engagement because this is war.
Q: But the President said on March 11th --
Q: Can I follow up, Ari? I didn't get to follow up.
MR. FLEISCHER: David, you've had about three or four.
Q: That's not true, Ari. Can I follow up on my question? Which is the
following: I wonder if given the sense that some of the coverage has,
in the words of one official, been "silly," and some of the questions
about expectations in the battle plan, if it would also be deemed
silly these comments from General Wallace, commander of the 5th Corps:
"The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed
against because of these paramilitary forces." He went on, "We knew
they were here, but we did not know how they would fight." Are those
comments silly to you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think General Brooks addressed that in his briefing
this morning when he was asked that same question, and General Brooks
talked about just what the President thinks, that we believe we're
still consistent with our plan and how we designed it. There will
always be things that occur on the battlefield, General Brooks said,
that are not precisely as you calculated them. The strength of the
plan is that the ability to adapt to the realities of the
circumstances while still focused on what it is we seek to do. And I
think that's what we would approach it as, as well.
Q: Ari, in light of what you just said about the President being
careful not to put a timetable on it, how does he feel about the Vice
President saying that it will take weeks, not months?
MR. FLEISCHER: And then what did the Vice President say in the next
sentence right after he said that?
Q: I don't have that with me.
MR. FLEISCHER: He said, I think it will go relatively quickly, but we
can't count on that. He said, weeks rather than -- he was asked,
weeks, months. He said, weeks rather than months. And then his next
sentence was, "There is always the possibility of complications that
you can't anticipate." And, obviously, one week into the battle, I
don't know that anybody can draw any conclusions about duration to
judge whether the Vice President is precise or not, it's accurate or
Q: Are you saying you've run into complications that you did not
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, Ron, there's always complications. There is
weather, there are other factors that take place. But that doesn't
change the fact that the plan anticipates flexibility and is built for
Q: But your rebuttal on Cheney on the sentence where he says there are
always circumstances that you cannot anticipate -- are you saying your
plan did not anticipate this?
MR. FLEISCHER: He said, I think it will go relatively quickly, but we
can't count on that. Obviously, he's allowing for flexibility and
allowances that always are a part of any plan.
Q: He's allowing for a circumstance that we don't anticipate.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the point here is, you've heard it repeatedly
from administration officials that we cannot predict how long it will
go. I think, on June 13th, 1944, would somebody have said to the
allies, you've one week after D-Day, when will it be over? These
things are not knowable in the course of war. But as the point that
the President made was, that we will prevail whatever the length of
time it is. That's the focus of our mission. And the President has
been guarded about what he has said about predicting the length of it.
And that's why I cited to you what he said in Cincinnati. The
President has always talked about it in those terms.
Q: Given what General Wallace and other commanders down the line that
we're hearing from embedded reporters are saying, that this is a
greater level of resistance, there's more fight in the Iraqis than
they were expecting, what would be the harm -- I mean, do you have a
policy of not acknowledging at this level, the political leadership
level, what the soldiers on the ground are seeing, that it may be
easily overcome, it may be part of the exigencies of war, but that we
are a little bit surprised at the level of Iraqi resistance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think General Brooks addressed it and I think
it's always been understood that there was going to be resistance.
This is war, there's going to be resistance, there's going to be
fighting. That's why the President said what he said in Cincinnati in
Q: It seems like you're unwilling, as a matter of policy, to
acknowledge that the President and the political leadership of this
government might have miscalculated -- not in any fatal or even
dangerous way, but might have miscalculated the response of the Iraqi
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you the President's approach. And the
President's approach remains exactly as the President described it to
you. The President has faith in the plan. He believes that the plan is
on track, it is on progress, it is working. Saddam Hussein will be
disarmed. And the President, as I made repeatedly clear on any number
of occasions, is not going to sit in the White House as the
play-by-play commentator on every battle and every day's mission. The
military is in charge of the daily, day-to-day operations. They are
very available and you have their briefings, and they will be talking
about these things.
Q: Can I ask then one overall assessment that you might have made at
this point? Given that level of fight that has been seen in the Iraqis
-- and as you just said these are Saddam loyalists -- is it possible
that it's more than that? Does the President have any judgment as to
whether these aren't just soldiers who are being terrorized to fight,
and not just simply gangsters who are loyal to Saddam, but these are
Iraqis who believe they are acting as patriots in defending their
country from an invasion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's a certain element, of course,
that is very deeply invested in Saddam Hussein staying in power. After
all, they're the ones who have carried out his brutality. They're the
ones who turned on their own people. They're the ones who have
terrorized and tortured Iraqis. They're the ones who previously
authorized the use of chemicals against the Iraqi people. They, of
course, don't want the Iraqi people to be free because they know what
the future holds for them as the ones who enforced the terror. Of
course, they don't want the Iraqi people to be free. And that's why
they'll turn on the people and support Saddam Hussein. Whatever
numbers they are, whatever numbers they may be, whatever numbers they
may be, they are insufficient for the American military.
Q: So there are no Iraqi nationalists -- not Saddam loyalists, not
terrorists, but no ordinary Iraqi nationalists who are fighting for
their nation. It's only, in the President's judgment, fanatics,
dead-enders, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, fighting solely for Saddam
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I don't know that it's my job to psychoanalyze
the Iraqi military. They may fight for whatever their reasons --
Q: He's the Commander-in-Chief. Does House have no assessment of
what's happening on the ground there?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does. He's continually shared it with you, and you
heard it yesterday.
Q: Ari, before my question, your use of an analogy to June 1944 -- I'm
just trying to figure that one out. Are you saying that this military
operation is of the complexity or meeting a resistance similar to what
the U.S. forces met after D-Day?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm talking about expectations. I cited two
military analogies. I cited Afghanistan, where after some three weeks
into the Afghani theater there were a number of questions on how come
it's not over yet, will it be successful, where's the Northern
Alliance, they're incapable of doing anything. And of course,
literally, days after those criticisms were raised people saw
Mazar-e-Sharif fall, Kabul fall. So there are plenty of historical
analogies people can point to when people look at the progress and ask
Q: You don't mean to draw an analogy between the complexity of the
post-D-Day operations and the complexity of this operation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, not every analogy is a perfect analogy, and the
point I was making is one week into an operation we are hearing
questions about why isn't it over yet. The President addressed, how
long will it take. He said, it's not knowable; it will take as long as
Q: The key element of the integrated political and military strategy
was the hope that you'd be able to turn over some local government
functions in the first towns to fall to local Iraqis, and then,
ultimately, create an Iraqi interim authority. Now that it appears
that that will be a more difficult and delayed process, particularly
in the south, can you tell us how that is going to affect your ability
to make the case in Baghdad and elsewhere that, in fact, you're coming
in as a liberation force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, after one week I don't know that you can
draw any conclusions about the timing of it. But the purpose of it is
unchanged, and the purpose of it remains that the President believes
that Iraq should be governed by the Iraqis from both within and
without. Iraq certainly does have a large infrastructure, a civil
society who are capable of governing the country and handling
particularly some of the municipal work, the services that get
provided outside of the security arena. And the ability for this to
take root and to develop and grow will depend on the security
environment on the ground.
So as the fighting drops off in any one region, and security is
enhanced, I think you're going to see the very things that we talked
about develop. But, of course, it can't develop until the security
situation is addressed.
Q: Had there been a hope that this process would have started one week
MR. FLEISCHER: I had not heard any specific timing of it, David. I
think the hope is, because this is the best way to protect the Iraqi
people, that it will happen as soon as possible.
Q: Ari, you mentioned this one remark by the President last October.
Do you believe that the administration has adequately prepared the
public for the cost, duration, and difficulty of this conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question about that. I think the
American people, from the very beginning, when they heard the
President on September 12, 2002, talk about the possibility of the
United States using force to disarm Saddam Hussein, they started to
understand that if we're going to use force, it, of course, entails
sacrifice. The President said that on September 12th. On October 7th,
in Cincinnati, he made the statement that I referenced way back then
about the military conflict could be difficult and no easy, risk-free
course of action.
Ft. Hood, Texas -- many of you were there -- on January 3, earlier
this year, the President said, addressing troops, "I know that every
order I give can bring a cost. We know the challenges and the dangers
we face." And let me remind you also that 62 million Americans watched
live as the President, on January 28th, gave his State of the Union.
In his State of the Union, the President said the following: "Sending
Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can
make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and the
suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk,
no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly because
we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come."
Sixty-two million Americans watched that live.
And I think that's one of the reasons that the American people have
accepted the way they have the realities of this war, the risks of
this war, and still support it as strongly as they do.
Q: Two quick questions. One, if we can, back on General Wallace
quickly. The President was briefed by General Franks repeatedly in the
months leading up to this on those war games and on the planning and
other strategy, and was involved in the re-edits of the plan and the
shaping of the plan. Does the President agree or disagree with the
statement that says, the enemy we are encountering is not the enemy we
had war-gamed against"?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, General Brooks addressed that question. And I'm
sure this is going to be a topic that comes up at Secretary Rumsfeld's
briefing. I've told you everything the President thinks about it.
That's the President's approach. That's his view. And I think you will
get more information from DOD, as well.
Q: One of the questions that has been -- perhaps is premature -- has
been, where are the weapons of mass destruction. And so let's accept
the fact that that is a question to be answered weeks or months down
the road when you have a secure environment inside Iraq, and the focus
now is on the military operation, does the administration want to do
that, provide the inventory, look at the sites, go looking and finding
and cataloguing on its own as a military operation? Or when there is a
secure environment inside Iraq, would you prefer that the U.N. come
back in and be the agency that does that?
MR. FLEISCHER: At the end of the day, after the fighting is over, and
the military needs are first taken care of and secured to protect our
troops who are currently on the ground, where we have very real fears
about Iraq using chemical weapons against our troops -- as evidenced
by the fact that Iraqi military units have been found to have chemical
protection gear -- I think that remains a point to be discussed with
the international community. It is not something that has been ruled
out. There is going to be a role for the United Nations in the future
of Iraq, and that's important in the President's judgment. So we have
never ruled out anything involving their use of inspectors or anything
else down the road. I think it's just too soon to say.
Q: Ari, you've not challenged the perception expressed by many here
today that the President is frustrated at some of the commentary and
questions about the war's progress. How has he expressed that
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, that's why I said to you that the
President's focus is on the events and the mission and the planning.
That's where his focus is. And I don't share every private
conversation that I have with the President. But, again, I think when
you pick up the front page of one of today's major papers and you see
it says that the Marines and the Army are bogged down, you can only
scratch your head.
Q: Ari, on the question of the President's direction of the war, does
it require his specific authorization to send additional troops beyond
those who are already in the theater? And, if so, has he --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, on the existing flow of troops, that was
pre-written, that was pre-done, and so it's flowing according to the
previous decisions that the President had made and delegated. Anything
in the future, I'd probably had to talk to one of the lawyers to find
out what the necessities are. I really don't know. I think that DOD
certainly has sufficient flexibility under the way it works to do
call-ups as they see necessary. But that has not happened.
Q: Well, there were a lot of deployment orders for 100,000 troops or
more. But we're now led to believe that there are actually movement
orders, that they're actually taking people who were on standby to go,
and that they're actually being sent. Has the President made some sort
of judgment that additional troops are necessary, particularly before
any attack on Baghdad itself?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, these judgments are made by DOD. This is all part
of the pre-written plan.
Q: So the President has no involvement in that, in any particular way?
MR. FLEISCHER: These are judgments made by DOD as part of the plan,
just as I indicated.
Q: Has he questioned in any way or been advised in any way that it is
necessary to send additional troops to the theater in a more rapid
manner than was planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I just am not going to under any circumstances
start getting into what the President does and does not talk about in
his classified briefings. The President --
Q: -- what he believes.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that DOD has a plan, that there
is sufficient flexibility built into the plan, and the President
doesn't micromanage the plan.
Q: Now that the war seems that it may take longer than originally
planned, has the United States -- is it well positioned regarding oil
deliveries and oil supplies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you said it may take longer than originally
planned. How long was the original plan supposed to last?
Q: Good question. Would you let us know?
MR. FLEISCHER: See, that's my point. (Laughter.) This is the premise
of the questions, and it's not something that, as the President said,
was knowable. The plan will go on for what the plan's duration will
Q: Okay, as the war goes on, is the United States well-positioned as
far as oil deliveries and oil supplies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is the United States domestically prepared on oil
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the markets have very much answered that
question. One of the things that you have seen since the operation
began has been a stability in oil markets; in fact, the price has
declined as a result of fears that did not materialize on the price of
In addition, a major environmental disaster has been averted as a
result of the taking of the southern oil fields, which Saddam Hussein
has previously tried to light on fire. One way to look at this, in the
southern oil fields, depending on how you want to count them, there
are either 500 or 1,000 approximately oil fields; a handful, a small
number, some 9 or so, were set on fire. That contrasts to Kuwait,
where there were some 700 oil wells put on fire by the departing
Iraqis. So there's been that stability. That's good news to the
consumer in America.
Q: Is Venezuela delivering the oil it was expected to be delivering?
MR. FLEISCHER: Venezuela supplies actually have been on a steady
uptick for the past several weeks. So that's part of what is the
international mix of markets.
Q: Ari, do you have any recent updates on the White House contacts
with having troops in Turkey? And secondly, can you update us on any
calls the President might have made to families of any troops that
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second question, just as I indicated before,
whatever communication the President has he asked to be treated
On Turkey, there is nothing new to report. The position of the United
States remains clear, has been expressed to Turkish authorities, and
there is nothing to report as far as Turkish movements, et cetera.
Q: Ari, on the war supplemental, there seems to be some growing
numbers of senators, including some in the President's own party, who
are saying they're not willing to give the flexibility a blank check
to both the Pentagon and homeland security and they want itemized
spending requests. What's the President doing to reverse that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not sure how widespread that is. The
President is very well aware that from the moment the proposal was
made there were individuals who had some strong objections to the
flexibility provisions. I'm not certain that that's the majority,
however. So we'll continue to discuss it with the Hill. I think one of
the things you're seeing is already the Congress is moving very
quickly on the request. Congress has said they'd like to get it done
and sent to the President by April 11th, and already markups are
scheduled in the House Appropriations Committee for next week. And
then action on the full floor could come as soon as next week in the
And so they're moving quickly. We'll see what the ultimate outcome is.
But the President thinks that flexibility is important for DOD to be
able to fight this war and to do what they need to do.
Q: What about the move to specify money for the National Guard as part
of homeland defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, we'll work with Congress on the various, different
proposals that they have. And one thing is for sure; the President
hopes that this will not be a Christmas tree in March or April. The
President thinks it's important to pass the war supplemental, and not
add to it for items that are unrelated to the war on terror or the war
Q: Ari, to follow up on John's question a little earlier. Was the
President, before the fighting broke out in Iraq, was the President
aware of the potential threat from paramilitaries in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there was a widespread discussion of the
variety of threats that could come from Iraqi resistance.
Q: Specifically, was that something that, can you tell us --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, Ken, just as an overall general rule, I just
don't go into the specifics of the President's briefings.
Q: An unrelated follow-up, please. What is the White House position on
the potential for another paramilitary group potentially taking up
arms on the side of Britain and the United States, potentially in the
south, a group beyond the Kurds? Is that something that the White
House would support, or is that something that the White House is
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, I think it's important to recognize what
you have here really are the equivalent of death squads for the state
of Iraq that are taking action against the people of Iraq because they
fear a free and liberated people of Iraq. That's really what you're
witnessing on the ground. That's -- they dress as civilians, they
pretend to surrender.
As far as the people of Iraq joining with the United States or Great
Britain, I think that you can expect that if people feel liberated and
they feel free, they will, of course, express their support. I think
as fear declines in some of these Iraqi cities, you will see more of
that. I can't predict every form in which that support will be
manifest. Some of it will -- maybe just overt, people celebrating or
rejoicing, people welcoming the humanitarian relief. Of course, the
Sir Galahad has now arrived in port and the humanitarian relief is
already accelerating. So I can't manifest every -- predict every way
it will manifest, but we'll just see how all that goes on the ground.
Q: That's not something that the administration has actually
advocated? We know that we had several expatriates here, for instance,
that were part of the State Department's working groups. Some of these
folks focused on military, for instance, and certainly --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there was a training program that
you're very well aware of in East Europe that involved working with
Iraqis who want to go back to their homeland to help out in a number
of ways. Of course, they are from different regions, different corners
of the state -- of the country. They are fluent in Arabic and so,
therefore, they are helpful to us in our endeavors.
Q: Ari, getting back to level of expectation about timing and length
and duration of this war, on Tuesday the Pentagon, in a declassified
paper distributed on the Hill in support of the supplemental, asked
for $13.1 billion, "to finance a short, extremely intense period of
combat operations, using the full range of U.S. and coalition forces.
This phase will eliminate any significant organized resistance to U.S.
coalition forces and will end the current regime." End of statement,
end of document.
Does the President agree with that assessment of things? Does he wish
the Pentagon had not put the language in such stark and declarative --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the focus of the effort, is to eliminate the
Iraqi regime, to disarm it. We hope that will be as short as possible,
and we can't make any predictions about exactly how long it will go.
But we've repeatedly said, we hope it will be short, but we are
prepared to fight for whatever period is necessary, whatever period of
time is right.
Q: Second question. Several companies have reported earnings forecasts
today that are lower than they had previously estimated, and they are
citing the uncertainty about the length of the war and, in fact,
statements from the battlefield suggesting, as we've already discussed
here today, that this is going to take longer than most people
expected a couple of weeks ago. Is the President concerned about the
effect a longer war would have on the economy and, if so, what --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's that magic formulation again, "longer than most
people expected several weeks ago." I don't know who those people are
and what their predictions were a couple weeks ago.
Q: Vice President Cheney for starters. I mean, the weeks, not months
MR. FLEISCHER: And you can say after one week that that's wrong? I
don't know that you can say that. My point --
Q: All I am doing is reflecting what corporate leaders are saying.
Okay? This is their perception.
MR. FLEISCHER: But it is the formulation of the question. I wanted to
draw attention to that.
Q: This is their perception based --
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. But since we don't deal with perceptions,
I thought it was important --
Q: You don't? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I do my best, Bill, to bring it back to reality.
As for the economy, clearly the possibility of war created uncertainty
in the economy. That's well-known; we've always said that. It would
not be surprising if it shows up in corporate figures as part of the
reports that continue to come in. It's also notable that there was
confirmation, I believe just yesterday or the day before yesterday,
that the doubling of growth for the 4th quarter in 2002 held up. The
previous growth estimate had been doubled. The final estimate came out
for the 4th quarter of last year and reconfirmed the doubling of
growth for that period, albeit still at a lower level than we would
like, 1.4 percent. So you continue to see mixed signs in the economy,
but the uncertainty of the war has created part of that.
Q: Ari, we've seen some wire reports in the past hour or two that
Iraqis have been seen unloading chemical -- or drums that would appear
to be chemicals, Iraqis wearing chemical suits. Do you have anything
on that? Has the President been advised of some new intelligence that
there is something to worry about on the battlefield?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, again, I think that's something that if somebody
brings that up, that would be something Secretary Rumsfeld would
Q: If I can just ask you briefly, can you look ahead to Monday, since
that's now on the record? What particular aspect of homeland security
does the President want to talk about?
MR. FLEISCHER: On Monday, the President is going to travel to the Port
of Philadelphia to talk about homeland security, and to talk about the
funding proposal he has sent up to the Hill to provide the necessary
funds to secure the homeland. It will be an event focused on just
Q: It's tied into the specifics that are in the supplemental?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's part of that, correct. Supplemental as well as
other funding requests the President has made as part of the '04
Q: Ari, the House has changed the menus to freedom fries on Air Force
One as freedom toast. There are now some Republicans on Capitol Hill,
about 60, who want to step that up a level and cancel a Marine
contract worth almost $1 billion dollars with the Marines. And I'm
wondering, as the head of the Republican party, what does the
President think about these Republicans who want to do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not something I really have heard the President
dwell on. I have heard people, particularly some of those who wear
these type of shirts wonder whether you call it a freedom cuff shirt
or not. I don't know how people are addressing that. (Laughter.)
Q: But what about stepping it up -- I understand you like to make
jokes, but what about people stepping it up to --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just not -- the President has a little, a few
other things on his mind that he is focused on.
Q: So does he think it's silly, since he won't say it's silly about
the questions of timing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't talked to the President about it. I can't
Q: Who made the decision on Air Force One, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just like I said on the airplane, we're always proud of
the men and women of our Air Force.
Q: Someone in the Air Force?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're always proud.
Q: Not the Commander-in-Chief, but the Air Force?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said he's got other things that he's focused on --
he has other things he's focused on. Thank you for thinking that he is
involved in the menu selection for the press corps in the back of the
Q: Can you give us some details of today's event, who's been invited,
and how were they chosen?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the veterans event? It's the leaders of many of the
nations largest veterans organizations. It's going to be a rather wide
group. As always, these events are put together by the Office of
Public Liaison. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs will be here, as
well. I would imagine, in this case, there were some conversations
with the Department of Veterans Affairs, too. But it's an event
through the Office of the Public Liaison.
Q: Ari, the President was quite definitive yesterday when he joined
Tony Blair in saying that the British POWs had been executed by the
Iraqis. I know that Peter Pace at the Pentagon has said American POWs
have been executed by the Iraqis. And I wonder whether there's new
evidence that the Iraqis are killing American POWs and what level of
concern the President has about the Iraqi activities in this area?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I talked to the President about this yesterday.
And the President would not be surprised at the depravity that this
regime would go to, the lengths that they would go to. I don't have
anything more specific for you on that. Again, that's a DOD issue, but
that's the President's approach to it.
Q: Has any evidence been brought to his attention in this area?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've expressed how the President expressed it
Q: Will the President -- Prime Minister Blair said yesterday said, we
would go and seek approval for a post-conflict administration in Iraq.
Is the President planning to be part of that "we"? Is the U.S. going
to try to get approval for the post-Iraq administration from the
MR. FLEISCHER: From the United Nations? Let me refer you to the
statement that the President issued after his meeting in the Azores,
and this is the statement of the President's policy. We endorse an
appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq, and this is part of
a new United Nations Security Council resolution. So we will, of
course, be working with the United Kingdom and other nations on that.
This is why I wanted to begin today with the President's thanks to the
United Nation's Security Council for the oil-for-food program.
Despite the difficulties that we have had with the United Nations
Security Council and the events that led up to the war and their
inability to enforce their own resolutions, that hasn't changed in the
President's mind. But there still, in the President's judgment, is a
role for the United Nations to play involving humanitarian relief and
Q: What effect have you all seen from the President's calls and the
calls by other top people in the administration for Iraqi commanders
to think twice about doing anything that might be viewed as a war
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you would have to address that to DOD, not
Q: Help me with this. I don't understand why you refer that to DOD
when the President himself has raised --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because you're asking me for what the follow-up is. And
the follow-up would be something that Department of Defense is more
expert in than the White House.
Q: Has the President been told that someone has obeyed this --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's a DOD issue. This really gets down to
operations. What's the effect of some of the information that we're
providing to the Iraqi military -- that's DOD.
Q: How would the President hope to see that reaction manifested?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President would hope that people would take
that message seriously. Obviously, failure to do so means that war
crimes might be committed. And the more we can do to protect our
troops to reduce the number of Iraqis who would engage in war crimes,
the more protection we have for Americans and coalition forces.
Q: The President is heading to Camp David for a second weekend in a
row. Can you give us an idea of what sort of briefings we can expect
to see, if he's got any meetings planned, how he'll be keeping in
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, when the President travels, he's
accompanied by his National Security Advisor, his Chief of Staff, both
of whom are members of the National Security Council. They'll be with
him again this weekend. Camp David, of course, being a Navy facility,
has superb communications. And the President will be in regular touch
with the security team.
Tomorrow morning the President will have, via secure teleconference, a
defense update, as well as an intelligence briefing. And so whatever
he does here, he can do up there, as well.
Q: Are there plans for the principals to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Teleconference.
Q: Related to this question a little, last week you had talked a
little bit about how the President expected the routine that he would
follow in keeping up with the pace of the war to in some way mirror
what he experienced with Afghanistan. Can you, just as a process, tell
us how his day keeps up? You talked about the Rumsfeld call at the end
of the day.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. I think the structure is very similar. The pace,
I can't say that the pace is the same because it was such a different
type of war. I don't believe I said the pace. Obviously, Afghanistan
was a very different type of battle. The military conflict in Iraq is
much more along the lines of a traditional conflict.
But the way the President structures the information that he receives
is very disciplined. And the President begins the day, as you know, he
arrives in the Oval Office, typically a little bit before 7:00 a.m.,
right around 7:00 a.m., and he will immediately start poring through
the intelligence overnight information that he receives. This is
written information that he'll pore through. He'll spend time at his
desk writing notes or taking care of business. Often he'll have
early-morning phone calls to foreign leaders, depending on the time
zones -- the early morning is the best time to make those calls
The President will then have his intelligence briefing with Director
Tenet about 8:00 a.m. He will meet then with the FBI. Following the
briefing with Director Tenet. A portion of that will overlap so that
they can have the best synergy of information. And then, typically,
right before 9:00 a.m., the President convenes a meeting with the
National Security Council. He'll also spend time with the Secretary of
Defense. Throughout the day, the President will receive updates as
necessary. Typically, those will be delivered by the Chief of Staff
Andy Card, or by National Security Advisor Dr. Rice.
At the end of the day, the President will talk to Secretary Rumsfeld.
He'll also talk to Secretary Powell frequently. Secretary Powell is
part of the National Security Council meetings, of course.
And that's the typical structure for how the President gets his
information. Depending on events, the President will, of course,
receive phone calls in the residence into the evening or night, and
then often begin his day early in the morning with a phone call, if
that's necessary, as well.
Q: Thank you. Ari, Russia's President Putin said he was going to get
back to the President regarding the alleged sale of satellite jamming
and night vision equipment to Iraq. Has that happened, and does the
President still believe such sales are taking place?
MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to be disturbed about the information that
was developed. The contact was made between the two Presidents, and
now this is being discussed through the diplomatic channels of the
Q: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EST
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