Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - March 28, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 28, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
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
Contact with Turkey
Paramilitaries in Iraq
Economy/effects from war
President's trip to PA
Changing of names on AF1
Business at Camp David
President's typical day
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 occurred.
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.
Q 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 begun.
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 -- contribute more?
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 noted here?
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 evaluate progress?
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 not.
Q Are you saying you've run into complications that you did not anticipate?
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 flexibility.
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 October.
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 army.
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 Hussein.
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 questions.
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 necessary.
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 in?
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 frustration?
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 be.
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 supplies?
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 crude oil.
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 have fallen?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second question, just as I indicated before, whatever communication the President has he asked to be treated privately.
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 House.
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 in Iraq.
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 opposed to?
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 statement.
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 address.
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 that.
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 budget, too.
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 address it.
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 plane, though.
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 yesterday.
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 United Nations?
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 reconstruction.
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 crime?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you would have to address that to DOD, not here.
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 touch?
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 abroad.
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 State Department.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EST