Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 21, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 21, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
President's daily schedule
Camp David this weekend
Congressional leaders meeting
Iran and North Korea
2:31 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me fill you in on the President's day.
I want to begin, the President this morning, in his remarks with congressional leaders, noted the sacrifice that the brave men and women of our military are making. Particularly, the President extends his sympathy and condolences to the families of those who lost their lives -- the Americans and the British -- in events in the Persian Gulf.
The President also honors the sacrifice of all the family members who are at home as their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are in the Persian Gulf fighting for the disarmament of the Iraqi regime.
The President this morning had his intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. He convened a meeting of the National Security Council. Then he had a meeting with the Secretary of Defense.
The President this morning also, as part of a consultation with members of Congress, met with the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leaders, Leader Daschle, Leader Pelosi and Leader DeLay, to inform them of the latest situation in the Gulf.
The President then taped his radio address, and he has departed for Camp David.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.
Q Can you say whether Iraq is the end goal here? Some of the President's advisors have said they thought it would be good to go on to other countries in the region, to democratize or liberate. What is it? Can you clarify for the American people --
MR. FLEISCHER: Who has suggested that?
Q Perle, for one. Richard Perle.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody who works for the President who has said that. There may be outside people who have some thoughts.
Q But Iraq is the sole goal?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made repeatedly clear to the American people, as he said in his address to the nation the other night, that the purpose of this is the disarmament of the Iraqi regime.
Q Ari, has the President watched any of this, the unfolding events in Baghdad, do you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the President, having authorized the mission, was aware of the mission, knew when it would begin, et cetera. And I don't think he needs to watch TV to know what was about to unfold.
Q I was wondering if he had any comment on the impact of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's approach is to gather the information about what is happening in its totality. He receives the information from his advisors, people who have a sight on all areas of what is underway. The President is aware, of course, the American people as they watch these events unfold; but he gets his information in a totality.
Q To follow up on that, the President has spoken many times of the special burden and the special responsibility he has as Commander-in-Chief of sending young Americans into harm's way. And has he ever spoken of -- he's also talked about liberating the Iraqi people from this brutal regime. But have you heard him talk about this other responsibility which may weigh on him heavily today, and that is for the death of innocents, for Iraqi moms and dads and children who may, despite our best efforts, be killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question about that. And I think the President worries about it from two points of view -- one, in terms of the present mission. This is why the President and the Department of Defense work so carefully, and we have such a modern military that is capable of engaging in precision strikes, so that the targets are indeed the military targets. As always in war, there is risk, there will be innocents who are lost. And the President deeply regrets that Saddam Hussein has put innocents in a place where their lives will be lost.
The other portion of what the President remembers when he thinks about the innocents are the 3,000 innocents who lost their lives on September 11th in the United States. And if it were not for the worries that the President had about an Iraqi regime, in defiance of the United Nations, possessing weapons of mass destruction, which he fears could again be used against the United States, you might not see this developing.
Q Just to clarify Terry's question. You said the President doesn't need to watch TV to know what's going on in Iraq, but you're telling me -- these are pretty astounding images -- he doesn't have a television on somewhere, he's not watching what's going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, again, understands the implications of the actions that he has launched to secure the disarmament of the Iraqi regime to liberate the people.
Q Right, right, right. The question, though, is he watching TV, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President may occasionally turn on the TV, but that's not how he gets his news or his information.
Q I'm not suggesting it is; but we just want to try to get an image of --
MR. FLEISCHER: From time to time, he might.
Q Can I ask on a different subject. There was a humanitarian crisis in Iraq even before the bombing began, in terms of food shortages. After what we saw today, this massive attack on Baghdad, that situation is clearly going to be much, much worse beginning tomorrow. What, specifically, is the administration planning to do when the sun comes up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, that's not necessarily true. The destruction of a palace of Saddam Hussein's, the destruction of a military facility may not have anything to do with the feeding of the Iraqi people. In all cases, the United States is leading the effort, and along with the military come massive waves of humanitarian relief in the form of food, in the form of medicine, in the form of everything that may be necessary to help protect and to feed the Iraqi people.
We will see if any of that is, indeed, necessary to the degree that has been anticipated and planned for. But you should not necessarily leap to that conclusion based on what you saw on TV today.
Q Just one final question. President Chirac, of France, said today that he would not support a U.N. resolution that would give the U.S. and Britain the authority to administrate in Iraq. What's your reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as was said at the statement in the Azores, we will continue to work with the United Nations. The President does believe the United Nations has a role in the future of Iraq and the reconstruction of Iraq. The President would hope that nobody would stand in the way of the humanitarian reconstruction of Iraq.
Q Ari, Secretary Rumsfeld made mention of the surrender discussions that are going on. And he also made mention of third parties being involved. Is there anything you can tell us about that in terms -- you know, what level they're going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think Secretary Rumsfeld addressed it. I think you heard him say that much of this is the unit-to-unit type of communication. The President made his message clear in a way that was unequivocal. He gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country, to avoid military conflict. The President wishes Saddam Hussein had left the country so that this would not have come to pass. Saddam Hussein made his choice.
Q Speaking of Saddam Hussein, can we just go over the tape one more time, and just give us your best read on what -- what the tape tells us and what it does not tell us, and what you know and can tell us about Saddam Hussein's fate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The tape has been analyzed by the Central Intelligence Agency. And their analysis has led them to believe that the tape is, indeed, the voice of Saddam Hussein, but no conclusions have been reached about whether it was canned ahead of time or not. There is insufficient information for anybody to draw a conclusion about that.
Q The larger question, does that tell us anything about where he is, how much control he's got?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The fact that Iraq released a tape doesn't tell anybody anything about where Saddam Hussein is or is not.
Q Can I ask one additional question about Camp David this weekend. The President is going to be spending the weekend there. Can you describe what his plans are for the weekend? Will he be able to keep in touch?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will be a meeting of the National Security Council tomorrow morning. The principals -- the Vice President, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, Director Tenet and others, of course, Dr. Rice -- will be joining the President at Camp David for participation in the NSC meeting. Camp David, as you can imagine, has every modern communication. It's a Marine facility. It has everything that anybody needs.
Q Let me first follow on Campbell's question. The resolution that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought you were going to ask about watching TV.
Q I may. The resolution that the U.S. would propose in the U.N. would do what? Would turn over the administration of Iraq's oil monies to the U.N., or to the U.S. and the U.K.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the exact form of any resolution is still a matter of discussion. The exact role of the United Nations is a matter that people have to talk about.
Q You've been talking about it; you have a pretty good idea.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it all deals with the Oil for Food program, for example. The Oil for Food program is a program administered through the United Nations. We are in discussions now about the administration. We hope the United Nations will act on the Oil for Food program so that the revenues can continue to go and be used to feed the Iraqi people. That will result from Iraqi oil. That's important. That's a United Nations program.
Q But will the U.S. and the UK control it, or would the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a United Nations program, I just said. Oil for Food has long time been a United Nations program.
Q Ari, the President has been very -- had very limited visibility over the last couple of weeks. He's come and addressed the American people twice. We've seen him once or twice -- twice this past week, in very carefully regulated sessions where he has chosen not to take questions. Is he deliberately going out of his way to avoid putting his personal stamp on the leadership of this war, perhaps because his father was criticized for personalizing the war with Saddam too much?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I think from the President's point of view, particularly in the early stage, the very onset of a military operation, the President thinks that it is most appropriate to let the Defense Department officials, who have direct supervision and responsibility for all aspects of the military plan, to take the questions, to answer the military operational questions, because they are the most expert in it.
The President has spoken out today, he spoke out yesterday. If your question is, when will he take your questions, I assure you he looks forward to doing it. You may have your opportunity soon.
Q My question really is, is he trying to avoid becoming too identified with the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the American people will make their judgments about what role the President plays. And I think they understand very clearly that this is a President who has made the decision to disarm Saddam Hussein through the use of force, after having tried to do it through the United Nations. They watched that whole discussion play out for the last six months. He is the President, he's made his decisions and the American people are watching him.
Q Is the President satisfied with the progress thus far in the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is, Steve. The President believes that progress is being made. The President has tremendous confidence in the men and women of our military, and the leadership of the military, and in the plan that has been written to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime and to liberate the people of Iraq.
Q Ari, the Senate appears ready to pass a budget resolution tonight. Has the President delayed sending up the emergency request for funds for this war until after that resolution passes?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I indicated for the last several weeks on it. The President has reviewed various estimates about the possibility, the possible cost of action, involving military costs and other costs, and the President has said that at the appropriate time he would send it up. And I think that time is coming, but it's just not here yet.
Q And can I ask one more question about television, just a very direct question? Did the President not see the pictures on television this morning, the very dramatic pictures of the bombs and the explosions over Baghdad? He did not see those?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was with the President just as the operation was beginning, at about 1:00 p.m., and he was not watching TV at that time. I wasn't with him for the duration of it, so I couldn't answer in all instances about it. I probably shouldn't answer a question like this in this room, but the President does not watch a lot of TV.
Q No, but they were very, very dramatic pictures. It's hard to imagine the President of the United States who had ordered this attack did not see any evidence of it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, I don't know that the President needed to watch TV to understand what it means to authorize military force and to know that the mission has begun and the mission is underway.
Q So the answer is unclear, we don't know if he saw them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've just described to you where I was with him, but I wasn't with him for the entire duration of what you all saw on TV.
Q Ari, how does the administration expect allied forces to be greeted in Baghdad?
MR. FLEISCHER: That remains to be seen. The President believes, as a result of much of the information that he has heard, that the Iraqi people are yearning to be free and to be liberated. The Iraqi people have lived under a brutal dictatorship led by Saddam Hussein, and the history of mankind shows that people want to be free. And given the chance to throw off a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, people will rejoice.
Q And may I ask if the administration expects the allied forces to find evidence or remnants of chemical or biological weapons, or a reconstituted nuclear program?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. This was the reason that the President felt so strongly that we needed to take military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, since he would not do it himself.
As the military effort continues, I think you will see information develop for yourself, firsthand. This is one of the reasons that there are so many reporters present with the military. In many ways, you will have these answers yourselves. You are there, you are on the ground. And you will find the answers and they will speak volumes themselves.
Q So you expect the weapons will be found?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question. We have said that Saddam Hussein possesses biological and chemical weapons, and all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.
Q Two questions on Saddam. First, without disclosing any intelligence sources or methods or anything, since the first strike Wednesday night on that compound in Baghdad, has the United States seen any evidence that either Saddam Hussein or either of his two sons are issuing orders, in command of the government, in command of the military, actually in charge of the government?
MR. FLEISCHER: We don't know.
Q Is that a "no," you've seen no evidence? Or you don't know. Are you -- again, communications could be intercepted --
MR. FLEISCHER: We do not have any concrete facts to report. There are all kinds of rumors about what has happened to Saddam Hussein and his sons, but there are no concrete facts to report.
Q Earlier today, Secretary Rumsfeld said there were unit-to-unit, U.S. unit to Iraqi unit contacts about surrender and the like. But Secretary Powell said that there were channels open through third parties, it seemed to imply to higher level people in the Iraqi government. Can you expand on that for us?
And is there still an option on the table -- whether it be Saddam Hussein or Tariq Aziz or other senior officials in the government -- is there an option on the table for them to leave? Or, as one official here put it last night, is the only question for Saddam Hussein and presumably those around him now justice?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me put it to you this way. One, I'm not in a position, I'm not going to be able to shed light on every communication that may or may not be taking place. But, two, the President continues to hope that this can be settled in the most peaceful way possible. And the use of force is being pursued to help make this get settled in the most peaceful way possible. We shall see what the ultimate outcome is.
Q The "most peaceful way possible" suggests, then, that you would not -- would the United States government allow Saddam Hussein or somebody at a very high level near Saddam Hussein, at this point, to leave the country and to go into safe haven? Is that still an option for, say, the top 25 people in the Iraqi regime?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will just leave it the way I said it. The President continues to hope that this can be settled with the least amount of violence possible. And we shall see exactly what takes place on the ground in Iraq.
Q The Turkish parliament has voted to permit troops into Northern Iraq. What is U.S. policy on that and what actions do we intend to take in order to see that that doesn't happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have been numerous conversations had with Turkish officials. The message has been expressed directly to Turkish officials, and that message still stands. But we see no evidence that they have taken that step. I saw some wire reports immediately before I came out here saying -- quoting anonymous Turkish officials as saying that the hiccups that had developed in the overflight rights have been resolved. I cannot confirm that.
Q We have important allies inside Northern Iraq who are very much afraid of the entrance of Turkish troops. Would we actually use military force to prevent Turkish troops from entering Northern Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking me to speculate about a hypothetical, and I'm not prepared to do that.
Q I want to talk again about the President's decision making. Was he -- obviously there was some delay between when the war began and when the military began the "shock and awe" campaign. Was that a presidential decision, or was this something he left up to military commanders?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President leaves these matters up to the military commanders. The President has signed off on the war plan. And the President leaves it to the members of the military, the leadership, to make the determinations about what the exact right time it is. They make those on a variety of military factors. And the President believes the best way to be successful in winning a war is to let the experts run the war.
He will, of course, continue to supervise it, to oversee it, and to be deeply involved, but he believes that the military planners need to make those decisions.
Q The initial idea, of course, "shock and awe", was to sort of hit the whole country and to shock and awe the military, as well as those loyal to Saddam. Instead, what we've done -- because of the opportunity earlier this week -- was to sort of start from a top-down to work on Saddam, and then on those who are most loyal to him. Is that the kind of decision the President was involved in? Would he have been engaged in discussions about whether or not there was a shift in strategy here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly -- and I think that's been made very plain to everybody here -- is that as a result of a meeting that took place on Wednesday, there was new information received and it was acted upon. And I think what you're seeing is in many ways something similar to what you saw in Afghanistan -- with the United States ability not only to be effective, to be accurate, but to be nimble. And this is the part of the transformation of the military; this is a part of the 21st century thinking about how to be effective in the conduct of military affairs.
Q Can you tell us now if we're at the point that we would have been without that target of opportunity on Wednesday? Is this --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that it's appropriate for me to get into that type of operational detail and any plans as they may have once existed somewhere.
Q Looking ahead to the supplemental, which I gather -- next week, can you talk a little bit about what you would expect the parameters that the President would like to place on consideration of the bill when it's on the Hill? How much flexibility does he need in terms of managing the money? How wide can that bill written by Congress to include other domestic issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the supplemental's primary purpose is to fund military operations. Obviously, the build-up of forces in the region and then the actual engagement in combat incurs additional costs above and beyond what had previously been budgeted. That's the purpose of the supplemental.
The President has also let it be known that there will be money in there for homeland security -- that will be in there. And we'll see the exact nature and extent of what is in there at the time that the President authorizes it.
Q Is the President trying to send a message either to the American people or to the Iraqi leadership by going to Camp David this weekend in the middle of a war?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no message being sent to anybody in Iraq about that; no.
Q How about to the American people or to the world in general? Is he trying to convey a message of relative normality in his life?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one thing is clear. For the American people, as much as they participate, watch what is happening, follow the debate and follow the military action, their life goes on. And that's vital. That's terribly important to the country.
And as I mentioned earlier, the President has every -- every -- bit of communication available and necessary, as well as has the personnel available and necessary with him at Camp David this weekend.
Q So to follow, just to put a -- by following his normal routine, by going to Camp David, he's trying to suggest to the American people that they should follow their normal --
MR. FLEISCHER: I suggest to you the President is following his normal routine.
Q Ari, in the congressional leaders meeting this morning, how would you characterize the relations between Senator Daschle and the President? Did the subject of his criticism of the President come up?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was a serious, serious briefing, a classified briefing about military operations. And this is an important obligation of the executive branch, working with the legislative branch, which has an important role to play in this matter. That's what the briefing focused on.
Q Did the subject of his criticism come up at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wasn't there for every bit of it. I'd be very, very surprised.
Q Getting back to the supplemental, Ari. What is the President's message to those senators who would like to link any kind of tax cuts or even the size of tax cuts to the question of the cost of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes that no matter what happens in the pursuit of a war, it is vital that jobs are available for the soldiers and the Marines and all the servicemen and women when they come home from the war. And that means it's important for Congress to pass an economic growth package that gets the economy growing again, faster than it was already growing.
And so the President hopes that the package that he sent up to the Congress will be the package that the Congress agrees to. Clearly, the House of Representatives did pass the President's -- largely passed the President's proposals into the budget resolution they just passed. It's pending in the Senate. There are a series of debates underway and votes underway in the Senate as we speak. And so far, so good.
Q The homeland security money that will be in the supplemental, my understanding is the White House is concerned that risk assessment, in terms of the cities and locations that should get that money is not being considered enough by appropriators. What's the White House view on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does think for homeland security funding to be the most effective, it needs to be the most flexible. It should not be earmarked to specific cities, not on the basis of the threat to that city or to that state, but rather on the basis of some other, more parochial factor or legislative factor. So the President believes that the purpose of taxpayers sending money to Washington for the purpose of protecting the homeland is to protect the homeland where the threat is the greatest.
Q Ari, yes or no, has Saddam Hussein lost his last opportunity to leave Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly he didn't take up the opportunity that the President provided him. And I said that that would be his final mistake, and indeed he has made a mistake that looks final. So I can't answer every instance. But the President gave him the opportunity to leave, he did not take it.
Q No further discussions on that point? You've said several times today, pointedly, that the President hopes this can be concluded in -- with as little loss of life as possible, as little damage to Iraq's infrastructure, which certainly leaves open the possibility that even at this late date, he could escape the country and go into exile and the hostilities --
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not know, we do not know enough about the status of Saddam Hussein to know if that's an option. We don't know.
Q Would it be an option --
MR. FLEISCHER: We don't know. April.
Q Ari, two things. What do you say to these Americans who say they are patriotic, who want disarmament, but don't want war for the examples that we're seeing now -- death and destruction in Iraq? It's being laid out for you in your front yard right now and around the country. What do you say to these people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's message to those people is, they're just as patriotic as anybody who has a different view of how best to achieve disarmament. There is no question about that. What there is a question is, how to effectively disarm Saddam Hussein. And on that point, the President and much of the country respectfully disagree.
Q And on another subject, back onto the television watching. You say President Bush doesn't watch much television. Is he not watching the "shock and awe" today because he's getting military video, U.S. video of the events there?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, he is not doing anything differently today than he would typically do. The President does not typically watch a lot of TV, to get his news from TV. I know I shouldn't say it in this room, but that's not what he does.
The President receives briefings that give him the information he needs to do his job in totality. The President approaches this in a very serious fashion about receiving the best, most up-to-date briefings from the best, most expert officials. And that's how he approaches his job.
Q But isn't it understandable that as the American public is watching the bombardment, turning to nighttime sky into light and seeing the gravity of the situation, that he might need to understand what America is seeing and see it with them so he can speak effectively to the American public?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President of the United States did not need to watch TV to understand what the American people think about the decision to use force to disarm the Iraqi regime. He understands what the American people understand, that there are risks involved, that lives may be lost -- but the cause is right, the cause is just, the goal is disarmament to protect our people. And he has a deep understanding of all that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ari, the President has spoken with the Indian Prime Minister three to four times in a month continuously. What they have been talking about? Is this Iraq only? And what President has been asking India to do in this war, or what the Prime Minister is asking the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, typically, in the conversations with the President the two discuss, most recently, the situation in Iraq. They also talk frequently about the need to peacefully resolve any of the disputes along the line of control. That's typically the two subjects they'll talk about.
Q -- line of control there was a -- the President has spoken and the Prime Minister mentioned to the President that there was a legislation in New Hampshire -- legislators passed a resolution on Kashmir. And India is saying that in the parliament that this is internal affairs and local --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is something that was passed into legislature in New Hampshire? I can't speak to that.
Q In the meeting this morning, did the President talk about keeping his domestic agenda on track?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting with the congressional leaders, to the degree that I heard about it, was focused entirely on the military mission.
Q Has the U.S. government engaged in any disinformation this week in order to get the leaders of Iraq to move from one place to another? And what do you, personally, think about this information?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, given the fact that you have as many reporters as you have on the ground and are able to watch events live, with
your own eyes, I think you know that any attempts to do anything that would be said to be lies would not possibly work and should not be done.
Q Thank you. A few questions. First of all, please, to the President, he can get everything he needs from radio, he doesn't need TV. Seriously --
Q The Wall Street Journal. (Applause.)
Q What are you doing here at the White House to make certain that Iran or North Korea or any other countries are not taking advantage of the situation while we're so heavily engaged in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, our nation is a large one and is able to honor its commitments globally, even with the action that is taking place in Iraq. The message to North Korea, as you well know, has been a diplomatic message, a message that is being pursued in a multilateral fashion. And that will continue to be the case.
Foreign affairs are being conducted in all corners of the world at the same time events are unfolding in Iraq. The United States carries out its messages daily, not only to North Korea and to Iran, but to other nations, on a host of issues, with whom we have important trade obligations. The President continues to have meetings with his staff on domestic matters. The Trade Representative continues to be engaged around the world in promoting trade around the world. The business of the United States of America across the globe goes on.
Q One more on Turkey, sir. Given Turkey's inconsistent behavior, does the President still think it's entitled to the same billions of dollars worth of aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's nothing new to report on that front. I've shared with you before about the total aid package that had previously been offered to the Turks, and that total package is not on the table.
Q Ari, the President may not watch the war on TV, may not need to watch it on TV, but a lot of people around the world will. And is this the image that he wanted them to see, of the "shock and awe" campaign, of the war? And did he weigh the possible effect on public opinion that those images might have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, have you seen an effect on public opinion? I'm not sure -- are you saying it's -- what effect have you seen?
Q I'm offering that as a possibility. But they are pictures that a lot of people will use to judge how the war is going, how it's being carried out.
Q Let me make sure everybody understands what I have said about the President's TV watching habits. I explained that the President does watch, but he does not depend on TV for his source of all news that he receives. He will watch things, from time to time, as I made clear. I was asked specifically, where was the President at 1:00 p.m. today, was he watching TV from 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. or so. And I explained that I was with the President at the beginning, he was not watching it at that time, and I can't speak for what he did when I was not in the room with him.
In terms of the public, the President believes that the public understands what is at stake here when military force is used. The public has seen the use of military force before. And the American people are always regretful if it has come that force must be used to achieve an objective. And in this case, as regretful as the American people are that our military has to be engaged in combat -- risking the lives of Americans, let alone anybody else -- the American people understand what is at stake is protecting the American people from Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The American people also saw September 11th on TV, and the American people and their President never want to see a scene like that again on our shores. One of the best ways, in the President's judgment, to make certain that that scene is no longer -- is never seen again is to make certain that enemies who would gather across oceans are not able to gather, in the form of receiving weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime that they could then bring to attack us once again.
Q Ari, with Secretary Rumsfeld and others today saying that the Iraqi regime is losing control, how and when would the U.S. anticipate filling the power vacuum?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think events on the ground will dictate the pace of all future events involving the reconstruction of Iraq. The principles that are going to guide reconstruction of Iraq, at whatever time it becomes operative, will be the protection of the territorial integrity of Iraq, and that Iraq shall be governed from both within and without by the Iraqi people. That's the principles that the administration is pursuing.
We've been in touch of a great number of Iraqis, both within and without, and we will continue to pursue those endeavors.
Q What's going to be done in the short term, assuming this prediction is fulfilled that control is lost, to prevent anarchy there?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I think it's important, as exactly what the Secretary said, we're watching the scene unfold in Iraq. This continues to be the early stages of a military operation of whose length no one can predict. So before people can make actual predictions about the next government, this military campaign will continue to be pursued. Once the military campaign has pursued point of success, of course we will maintain the presence to protect the security of the Iraqi people. We want to make certain that if there are any old scores to settle, if there are any internecine conflicts, we can help to protect the security of the Iraqi people.
In addition, we will continue to have a presence for, as Campbell talked about earlier, the humanitarian aspects, the distribution of food and other programs. I can share with you that already, as part of our effort to help jump start the United Nations Oil for Food program, we have provided already $40 million to the World Food Program, for logistic preparations, and will soon provide an additional $20 million.
We're prepared to provide approximately half a million metric tons of food if there is an extended break in the Oil for Food program deliveries. We are undertaking an enormous humanitarian program of our own, including contributions to U.N. agencies and our own food donation. We hope the United Nations and other nations will quickly be able to join us. Secretary Veneman at the Department of Agriculture announced yesterday the release of some 600,000 metric tons of wheat for the Iraqi people.
Q Do you view as troubling at all President Chirac's statements today, though, that the U.S. and the UK should not be in charge of oversight of the post-war --
MR. FLEISCHER: We will continue -- the goal is worthy, you can be certain that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people are met. And we will continue to do everything necessary to meet those humanitarian needs. We will work through the United Nations. We have our own abilities in the region to protect and provide for the humanitarian needs, and we will pursue those both.
Q Has the list grown of nations that are backing --
MR. FLEISCHER: The last update I have is 46. So that would be an indication of growth by two.
Q And one last question, if you'd be so kind. Does the President feel the close resolution, the one that was approved by the Senate and the House, finally put an end to any political bickering on the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not up to the President, that's up to anybody who would politically bicker.
Q Ari, the administration made clear in Afghanistan that this was not -- that that war was not about one man, Osama bin Laden. But isn't it the case that this war is, in fact, about one man, Saddam Hussein? And is it possible for the U.S.-UK to declare victory if they can't account for a dead or exiled Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an interesting question. And there are, indeed, differences. As you can see, the President kept referring to the war in Afghanistan as a different kind of war because of the nature of the al Qaeda organization, or loosely knit group of terrorists who don't operate out of any set, fixed positions. They had bases that they would operate in Afghanistan, they then would disperse around the world -- as we saw on September 11th -- blend into our society and to other societies to carry out their acts of terror, making it a different kind of war.
In many ways, this is a more traditional type of military conflict that people can witness. The key to this military conflict is to make certain that Saddam Hussein, his sons and the leaders around them are not in a position to do to the world again what they have done now, which is arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological and chemical weapons, which then could be used against the people of the United States. That's the objective of the military campaign, is to disarm the regime and make sure that nobody can take power in the regime who -- and have to make this a repeat event for a future American President.
So I hope that answers your question.
Q One quick one -- does that mean, then, we need some definitive proof of his demise before we can declare a victory here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's most important is that Iraq be governed by people who are able to govern Iraq in a manner that it becomes -- that all nations on earth should be become nations that are dedicated to peace, not to the development of weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of using them against their neighbors, as Iraq has done in the past.
Q Ari, you speak of Iraqis embracing us as liberators. But a recent poll by Zogby International of all the Arab world -- countries around there show a very negative perception of the United States -- 95 percent in Saudi Arabia have a negative view of the United States. Why would Iraqis be different? Why would they have such a more positive view? And with this "shock and awe" campaign, which could result in civilian deaths, why are they suddenly going to become enamored of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you just said something about all these civilian deaths. As Secretary Rumsfeld explained earlier, this is targeted at the military targets. If there are civilian casualties, of course, and there are no guarantees in war, as we said, but every step is being taken to protect the civilians and the citizens of Iraq.
You know, I don't know that I need to answer that question. I think events on the ground will prove themselves out. You'll have the answers yourselves. You are on the ground there; you will witness it yourself. From everything the President has heard, his belief is that the Iraqi people will welcome the throwing off of the repression that they have suffered under. It is mankind's nature to want to be free. And the Iraqis deserve that, just as much as anybody else on this earth deserves that. And events on the ground will prove themselves out; we shall see exactly what unfolds.
Q You said earlier that you don't know whether Saddam Hussein is in control. Is that to say you don't know, and the administration does not know, whether he's alive? Is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've been asked the question any number of ways, people trying to find out what the status of Saddam Hussein is. The fact of the matter is we don't know. We do not know how Saddam Hussein is feeling today.
Q But is it safe to assume that, given that the bombs are still falling, that you're operating on the assumption that he is still alive and that you will operate on that assumption until it's proven otherwise?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a military campaign that is underway. The purpose of the campaign is to disarm the regime, to target the military facilities of a wide variety of natures. And anything beyond that, you need to talk to the Pentagon about. I have no more answers on that.
Q Ari, some former Presidents have come to the West Wing, like, in the middle of the night when they've been conducting wars. You said yesterday that President Bush does not feel like he should be micromanaging this war. Can you expand on that a little bit and tell us why he feels that way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President believes that the best way to carry out a military operation is to very carefully, thoroughly review the plans in advance; to ask the hard questions of the planners as the plan is being developed; to have a team in whom he has confidence; to have a military on the ground that is superbly trained, well equipped, and well paid. The President is satisfied that those criteria have been met. He would not have authorized action had he not been satisfied that those criteria were met. And that is the President's approach to it.
Throughout the process, the President will continue to monitor it. He will continue to watch. He will continue to be very adaptable as events require. I think you saw that on Wednesday.
Q Ari, thank you. Part of my question has been answered already, but I am going to ask you anyway.
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought you might. (Laughter.)
Q If Saddam Hussein is injured bad, or wounded, and if at least one of his sons was killed in Wednesday's night air strike, who is in charge in Iraq, and who are we dealing with, if anybody?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of who are we dealing with. There's a military operation underway to deal with their weapons of mass destruction and their top leaders and their military targets. That's with whom we're dealing. And the President gave Saddam Hussein his opportunity to leave the country, and he did not avail himself of it. It couldn't have been any clearer. If he did not, the President said, leave within 48 hours, he could have -- military conflict would result. Military conflict has resulted.
Q A couple of years ago, the President traveled to key states to influence, you know, wavering senators in the vote on the tax bill. By staying so close to the home front right now, isn't he, in effect, disarming himself in the current fight over the tax bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, number one, you have to give credit where the Congress has acted. The House of Representatives, in a narrow margin, passed the President's budget last night. I can point out that the margin by which they passed his budget was triple the margin by which they passed trade promotion authority, which is now law of the land. A narrow margin, but narrow margins become laws of lands.
In the Senate, they're continuing to discuss the budget. It is being voted on as we speak. Many of the amendments that sought to defeat the President's budget have not been accepted. Some have, at least for the moment, whittled down the size of the tax cut that the President proposed. We'll see if that's the final word or not in the Senate. It may or may not be. But then it goes to the conference. The Ways and Means Committee has already started taking action on the tax plan, which can only follow after the overall budget is passed. So whether the President is in Washington or travelling the country this year, progress is being made and the President is heartened by the progress.
Q But, Ari, among the senators that are in opposition to the size of the tax cut this year and want to at least cut it in half, there are those among them that supported the President's tax cut in 2001. Is the administration at all concerned about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course we're going to continue to be engaged in the legislative process, but if you watch the legislative process, you'll see it's working -- working rather nicely. The House just passed the President's budget. The Senate is still in the middle of it. So different members of Congress, of course, are going to have different opinions at different times.
And the President will continue to work with them, because the bottom line remains, passage of a budget and an economic growth plan that creates jobs for the American people. That's the final end that the President is seeking.
Q Ari, back to the supplemental. You said that the President -- the time for the President to act is coming, but we're not there yet. What piece of the puzzle is he waiting for that he doesn't have yet? For instance, is he waiting to see if the war is going to be over quickly or drag on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one thing we've made clear all along is the President was reserving the final judgments about what the appropriate numbers or range of numbers would be to present to the Congress until we could express it to the Congress with the greatest precision. And a certain amount of passage of time helps to arrive at that precision.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:12 P.M. EST