Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dance, Weasel Boy, Dance

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow must have been exhausted when he left the briefing room after 35 minutes with the national press yesterday. That poor schlub spent over a half-hour doing the kind of dancing you normally only see in old Western movies, when the drunken bully fires bullets at the mild-mannered cowpoke's feet and yells "I said dance, mister!"

And it was all over such a simple question. During the confirmation hearings for Robert Gates, who has been nominated by George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, a simple question was asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI): "Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?"

"No, sir," said Gates.

Which, of course, means that there's a bit of a philosophical disconnect between Gates and his future boss, because Bush has spent the better part of three years bellowing an emphatic "yes" whenever asked if we're winning in Iraq:

And now, Tony Snow's dance recital:
Q: Can I just also come back to what Steve was asking about. Gates was asked an up or down question, is the United States winning --

Snow: Right, and then he was asked a follow-up question, as well.

Q: Yes, I understand that. But he did say -- "Are we winning?" His answer was, "No." The last time the President was asked, it was, "Absolutely, yes."

Snow: What I would suggest is, number one, I know that you want to pit a fight between Bob Gates and the President. It doesn't exist. Read the full testimony and you'll see.

Q: If the President were asked that same question today, would he say, absolutely, yes?

Snow: I'm not going to tell you what the President would say, but you can look at the President's answer and you can look at Bob Gates. What I would also suggest, though, is you take a look at the Gates testimony, and you see if that's consistent with what we've been talking about, because what you're going to try to take is that one little question, rather than taking a fuller look at --
This little dialog really typifies the Bush administration's approach of treating the press like they're total morons. It's as if reporters asked both Bush and Gates if today is Wednesday and Bush said "no" and Gates said "yes." Snow would say that pointing out this difference is reporters trying to " pit a fight between Bob Gates and the President."

Here's more:
Q: Does the President today believe that we are winning in Iraq? It's a very straightforward question.

Snow: I know, but I did not ask him the question today. The most recently asked, he said, "yes."

Q: Okay, so that might change from day to day. So it may have changed --

Snow: No, I don't --

Q: -- he may no longer believe that we're winning the war in Iraq. You don't know.

Snow: I have no reason to think it changed, but also, again, go back and take a look at the broader answer that Bob Gates gave and ask yourself, is this consistent or inconsistent with what the President has been saying? I think you're going to find it's very consistent.
Cue reporters banging heads on chairs in frustration…
Q: Even though it was precisely the same thing, he said, we are not winning, and --

Snow: No, he said -- I believe the answer was, either "yes, sir," or "no, sir."

Q: And then he went into the fact that "but we're not losing." But this administration has said we are winning. Leading up to the midterm elections, President Bush was asked pointedly at his press conference, are we winning? He said, yes, we're winning, and he went on to explain why. He explained why we're not winning. You from this podium said --

Snow: No, I don't believe -- what Bob Gates -- I don't believe that Bob Gates said that we were --

Q: He supported his statement. And you from that --

Snow: But how did he support it? Did he support the statement by saying anything that was inconsistent with what the President has said? And I don't think he did.

Q: But his statement is inconsistent with what the administration says. The President has said, we are winning. You from that podium said, we're winning --

Snow: Right.

Q: -- but we haven't won.

Snow: Right.

Q: He said -- he agreed that we are not winning. So how is that consistent --

Snow: And he also said we're not losing.

Q: But how is that consistent? The President never said, we're not losing. How is that consistent?

Snow: Because -- okay, because they may have -- I don't know what the definitions are, April. That's why, I think, if you want guidance, you take a look at the broader. If you want to take a look at one question or two questions asked by senators and ignore the bulk of hours of public testimony, you are free to do so. But if you want to try to get a nuance to full understanding of where Bob Gates stands on these issues with regard to the President and his policies and the definition of what it is to win in Iraq and what it takes, then I think you're going to find that there is -- that he agrees and also that he is committed to the mission.
This was a good follow-up from a reporter when Snow said the Press should ask returning troops if we're winning in Iraq:
Q: A moment ago you invited reporters to talk to troops. Did that include troops that are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder?
And here's Snow refusing to acknowledge that the total focus on the Iraq war has caused such a resource shortage in Afghanistan that the Taliban is slowly returning to power:
Q: As far as Afghanistan is concerned, some officials at the NATO and also some experts are saying now that the reason al Qaedas are coming back from Pakistan into Afghanistan is because they have now open hand from the authorities, because nobody is there to go after them, because maybe U.S. is too much involved now in Iraq. Do you think we have forgotten Afghanistan?

Snow: Absolutely not. And I refer you not only to that, but the troops who are there. You have increased NATO presence, but also, I think you probably noticed that last week the President talked about increasing U.S. commitments in Afghanistan. And the job in Afghanistan involves far more than simply dealing with the border, although that's an important issue. You also have matters of basic infrastructure, of building the economy, of dealing with opium eradication, and of fighting the Taliban and others. So it's a highly complex job. There are a lot of people on it, and certainly the issue of the borders is something that was discussed at great length with Presidents Karzai and Musharraf, and continues to be an area of emphasis between the two.
This guy's a regular Fred Astaire, isn’t he? Let's see how he deals with the Iraq Study Group report today.