Monday, October 16, 2006

Footnote--today's White House briefing

In today's briefing by Tony Snow, the following exchange took place:

Q Tony, when you were talking before about the Iraqi military being trained more, they have -- it does seem that more police, more Iraqi military have been trained in recent months, over the last couple of years. But the White House had repeatedly said that as they stood up, we'd stand down. Does that principle still hold? Does the White House still believe, as they stand up, we're standing down?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Because it doesn't appear like we're standing down.

MR. SNOW: Well, we're not standing down because everybody is needed in the fight right now. Also, when it comes to police, both sides -- I mean, the Maliki government -- and Prime Minister Maliki, in his USA Today interview, acknowledged they've had some real problems, and they've -- the matter of professionalizing the army -- I mean, the police still remains undone. The army training has been more effective, but at this time, with these levels of violence, you still have to work together to help go after the people whose vested interests are in destroying Iraq. When those levels of violence wane, and when we believe that the Iraqis are secure and able to stand, then we will be prepared to move, but we're not going to do it under the present circumstances.

Q So they are standing up, but we're not standing down. So is that principle no longer operable?

MR. SNOW: Well, let's see, they stand up, and also, in standing up, you quell the violence and you also deal with some of the root causes of the difficulties.

Q That's the proposition that the White House put out there, that as they stood up, violence would come down, and we'd stand down.

MR. SNOW: As part of our constant adjustment, let me just add that apparently, the terrorists have also decided not to stand down. They've got to stand down.

Q Right, so that's my question. So is "stand up, stand down" no longer the principle, or --

MR. SNOW: Well, it depends on how you -- how you want to cast it. It seems to me that we're playing -- this is kind of a fun verbal game, but --

Q No, but that's what the President said, stand up/stand down.

MR. SNOW: But, yes --

Q We're standing up --

MR. SNOW: Well, you know, then you get into, what does he mean by, "stand up," and "stand up" means you have the ability to assert effective control within Iraq so that you have peaceful, secure neighborhoods. We're not there yet.

Given the way that Snow was floundering all over this briefing, one should not necessarily take anything he said too seriously, but whether or not this is what he and his bosses intended, this certainly sounds as if we will only withdraw troops when the insurgency has been very significantly reduced, not simply because more Iraqi troops and police are in place. And since by every measure the insurgency is continuing to grow, this is not a very encouraging prospect.

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