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Transcript: Tony Snow on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published June 18, 2006 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a partial transcript of the June 18, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
Tony, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday" and the other side of the table.
SNOW: It's good to be here. Thanks, Chris.
WALLACE: We want to talk about your new job, but let's start with the serious news out of Iraq. What can you tell us about those two missing American soldiers and how closely is the president following the search?
SNOW: Everybody's following it carefully. We've just been in contact with Baghdad and there's no news. Two soldiers obviously missing. There are efforts under way to try to locate them, but in terms of advancing it or anything, we don't have anything.
WALLACE: Any sense at all whether they're still alive?
SNOW: None. Neither way. I mean, I don't want to try to create the impression that they're dead or alive. We're just simply trying to find them and we're hoping that they're alive.
WALLACE: What do you say to the people who may be holding these soldiers?
SNOW: Give them back.
WALLACE: And what about the U.S. and its efforts to free them?
SNOW: Well, I think, Chris, you've got to understand that we're involved in a war in Iraq. And in a situation like this, as you know, Baghdad is an unsafe place in some areas, and there are people who are going to do everything they can to try to make sure that the new government fails and to try to figure out some way to chip away American support for engagement there.
You saw a document that was captured from an Al Qaeda safe house — I mean, a Zarqawi safe house that indicated that they would try to use incidents like this as a way of trying to drive a wedge in terms of American public opinion and also Iraqi opinion.
It's worth keeping in mind that since the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, we've rounded up hundreds of members of Al Qaeda, that there have been — or insurgents who are fighting with Al Qaeda in Iraq, that there have been significant inroads in fighting terror, and we have two U.S. servicemen that we're going to do everything we can to find and to bring home safely.
But furthermore, the more important message is that the U.S. military and the Iraqis — right now Operation Forward Together involves about 60,000 forces, only 7,200 of which are Americans, so you've got roughly 50,000 Iraqi forces right now targeting areas of Baghdad, and we know there are going to be times when people are going to try to strike vulnerable spots.
But the one message not to send is that the United States somehow is going to react fearfully or defensively in this case, because we're not.
WALLACE: One other question from Iraq. I am hearing that the U.S. may have found new evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program. What can you tell me about that?
SNOW: Nothing. At this point, what — there have been on a number of occasions, as you know, Charles Duelfer, who used to be the head of the Iraq survey group, and others have said that Saddam was determined to try, to the best of his ability, to have a robust program of weapons of mass destruction, including reconstituting nuclear research at the earliest opportunity.
So it's no secret that Saddam had ambitions of weapons of mass destruction, but anything that may be uncovered — as you know also, a lot of times you'll get pieces of evidence, and you need time to assess what's going on. So I'm afraid I can't advance that at this moment.
WALLACE: Let's turn to the politics here at home over Iraq. There was a vote on Iraq policy in the House on Friday. It's going to be the big topic in the Senate this coming week. In his news conference in the Rose Garden, the president weighed in on this. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: There's an interesting debate in the Democratic Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission will make the world a more dangerous place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Where does the president think the Democrats are on Iraq, and does he view this as the number one issue facing voters in November?
SNOW: I think he understands that Iraq is top of mind for most Americans. So top concern, yes, probably, right now. In terms of Democrats, they're going to have to speak for themselves.
I mean, you had a couple of votes this week, Chris. One was one to withdraw by the end of the year. That was a proposal that Senator Kerry put forward. It ended up getting all of six votes in the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, there was a much longer resolution that laid down a series of sort of whereases that concluded that we need to finish the job in Iraq, and they got 42 Democratic votes.
I think the Democratic Party, as your next batch of guests will attest, has to conduct a debate about what strategy they want to have moving forward. The president's really not spending a lot of time thinking about how Democrats are responding. He's got the practical job right now of working with a new government in Iraq and to deal with some very serious issues.
How do you work on security together? How do you build national reconciliation? How do you get the economy up and running? How do you make sure that it is a democracy that can stand tall and stand on its own?
And I guarantee, because I'm in these meetings, the president really isn't spending a lot of time trying to triangulate off of Democrats. What he's trying to do is to figure out the best way forward in Iraq.
WALLACE: By November, we will have been in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II, and all signs are that apparently the American people are losing patience with the war.
I want you to take a look at a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that came out this week, was conducted after the good news about Zarqawi, after the good news about the new fully formed Iraqi government.
Take a look at the poll, though. Fifty-eight percent of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling Iraq. Will military action in Iraq make the U.S. safer? Fifty percent say no. As for Zarqawi's death, 59 percent say it will make no difference in the long run.
Tony, as a political matter, does this administration basically have the next five months, less than five months, until the November election to show the American public that things are demonstrably better in Iraq?
WALLACE: No. And the president — and I've heard him say this many times. You can't conduct the war based on public opinion polls. You have to do it as commander in chief on the basis of what is the right thing to do.
Let me give you an example. A lot of people seem to argue that, you know, we need to set a timetable, we need to get out. You've got to keep in mind the situation in Iraq is critical in a lot of ways. Iraq is not the theater in the war on terror. It is one of many places in the larger war on terror.
If we succeed in Iraq and we establish a democratic benchmark that has a ripple effect not only through the region, but throughout the world. And the people who are opposing the United States know it.
Now, if the United States says we're going to get out by some date certain, what does it do? Number one, it emboldens the people who have been fighting against democracy.
WALLACE: But let me interrupt just for a second, though, as you would if you were in this job. I'm not talking about withdrawal. I'm saying don't you have to show measurable progress by November or you run the real risk of losing control of one house and then things are going to be even worse for you?
SNOW: Well, again, in this — you know what I think? I think leadership is going to win. In this particular point, the president has shown some leadership. The president is saying I'm sticking by my position. And furthermore, he's made a promise to the Iraqi people: We are going to leave when the job is done.
Now, we're vigorously doing everything we can to train up Iraqi forces. And we're working with the Iraqis on a lot of the essentials, and I've mentioned them — reconciliation, building up the infrastructure and so on.
The thing is the way the war is being covered — and we've seen it right now. We have two U.S. servicemen — and God bless them. We hope they're okay. We're focusing on them and we forget that since Zarqawi was killed, hundreds of bad guys have been rounded up.
There's been a lot of intelligence. The Iraqis have gone ahead and mobilized 50,000 of their own to go into five Baghdad neighborhoods. There's a lot going on there.
Now, the problem is that from a video standpoint, somebody can blow up a car in a marketplace in Baghdad and get headlines the world over.
WALLACE: Or a hostage tape of two American soldiers.
SNOW: Exactly right. And that suddenly becomes the perception of everything that's going on in the country. It's a little more difficult sometimes to show incremental progress.
There are times like the killing of Zarqawi where people say oh, OK, something is happening, or the president goes and demonstrates that there's a government with which you can work.
So the benchmarks are a little harder to come by. However, it's worth noting that there are some things you can measure — electricity generation, what's going on with the sort of supplies and basics. Those are some of the metrics you can use to measure progress.
But if people expect something to happen very quickly and overnight, this is going to be — as the president has said, Sept. 20, 2001, this is going to be a long conflict, and it's a war on terror that's taking place all over the world.
WALLACE: Let's turn to another troubled spot, North Korea.
WALLACE: There are signs that that country is preparing to test a long-range missile that could reach the West Coast of the United States. What do you know? How seriously does the president take this? And what steps will he take, will the U.S. take, if North Korea goes ahead with this test launch?
SNOW: Well, I'm not going to answer any of the what-if questions because, number one, there are many options and, number two, I'll let the president make the decisions.
However, here's the most important thing to know. The North Koreans themselves decided in 1999 that they'd place a moratorium on this kind of testing, and we expect them to maintain the moratorium.
On Sept. 19 of last year, they sat down and they made a series of commitments in the six-party talks where they said again that they were going to come to the table and bargain in good faith, and if they did so there was also the possibility of a parallel track that could include some conversations with the United States.
We expect them to come back to the table. We do not want to have a missile test out of North Korea. But right now, at least the news today — the Japanese government has announced that, at least to the best of its knowledge, that there's not going to be a launch today, and we hope there's not going to be a launch.
WALLACE: Let's talk — we have a couple of minutes left — about your new job. I have to say that when you became press secretary, I thought you had one big problem. You're too interesting. What you say is too provocative.
Have you found in the new job that you've had to bite your tongue and remind yourself hey, I'm speaking for the president now, not Tony Snow?
SNOW: No. When you work in the White House, you remember who you're working for. Everybody who works in the White House really deals with the reflected glory of the president, and those who make the mistake of thinking that somehow it's a platform for themselves — it's a serious mistake.
But I've got to tell you, Chris, that this is a fun White House to work in. I've worked in another one, as you know. I worked for the president's father. And the kind of camaraderie and the kind of unselfishness and the kind of, you know, all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude I think is probably unprecedented in a White House.
And it makes it an easy place to work, but it also — the focus is how do you help the president. So in that case, no, I haven't really had to bite my tongue.
WALLACE: You said that when you took the job that you wanted a seat at the table for policy discussions. In fact, are you able to weigh in before the decisions are made?
SNOW: Yes. And you find that in this White House, everybody at the table is — in fact, one of the misperceptions is somehow there's a cookie cutter. The president likes to hear people disagreeing. He likes to hear different points of view. He wants to make sure that he's able to weigh a lot of options before he makes a decision.
So it's a very stimulating atmosphere because it is not people sitting around just sort of mulling over something. Instead, you've got some pretty vigorous conversations behind the scenes.
WALLACE: And, finally, I can't let you go without asking you about this picture...
SNOW: Oh, I love it, I love it!
WALLACE: ... of you and presidential counselor Dan Bartlett in a chopper over Baghdad on the surprise trip there at the beginning of the week. A lot of people have been writing captions for this. What's yours?
SNOW: Mine is unprintable. But I've actually asked — The AP is going to give me a full-sized great big sort of copy of that so I can put it up in my office, because what I tell people is when you go to the White House, you have to keep two things in mind, the importance of service and also the necessity of humility.
I think they're both reflected there. But Bartlett and I were sitting on this Chinook helicopter, we had this big, heavy body armor, and the reason — put the picture up again if you can.
WALLACE: He's still the anchorman.
SNOW: But see, look at — you know why I'm looking at him like that? Because I can't turn my head. That body armor has ridden right up under my neck, and you couldn't move at all.
WALLACE: Does it get your attention when you're flying in a helicopter low over the skyline of Baghdad?
SNOW: Well, you know, you've got two options. You can look funny with a helmet on or you feel stupid without one on. I thought you know what, I'm taking the helmet.
WALLACE: Tony, best of luck. Thank you for getting up early again on a Sunday morning. Happy Father's Day.
SNOW: Happy Father's Day to you, Chris.
WALLACE: Thank you.
Chris will sit down with Green Party Presidential Nominee Dr Jill Stein, to discuss her controversial push for a presidential election recount in several states.