Press Briefing 11/30/09
Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 11/30/09
*NOTE: President Obama did not call President Hu today.
1:28 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Let's quickly -- I'll do a week ahead and then a couple of quick announcements before we start with questions.
Obviously, as you know, on Tuesday the President will address the nation at 8:00 p.m. eastern time from the military academy at West Point, on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On Wednesday the President will attend meetings here at the White House. On Thursday the President will hold a forum on jobs and economic growth here at the White House. The forum will be an opportunity for the President and his economic team to hear from CEOs, small business owners and financial experts about ideas for continuing to grow the economy and put Americans back to work.
Q Do you have a time on that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know when that starts yet, but we can figure that out.
On Thursday evening Mrs. Obama will join the President at the National Park Service at the National Park Foundation's Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony held on the Ellipse at 5:00 p.m. eastern.
And on Friday -- we'll have more details on this later -- the President will visit Allentown, Pennsylvania, as part of a commitment to visit communities across the country over the next several months, where he will speak with workers and share ideas for continued economic recovery.
Before we get going, a couple of quick things. In the gaggle I mentioned that the congressional readout and consultations would be at 4:45 p.m. tomorrow -- that's now been changed to 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Let me add that before the President spoke this morning with President Sarkozy of France, he spoke with Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen. The President and the Prime Minister consulted on the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and the President's participation on December 9th. The President expressed his appreciation for Denmark's leadership in this process. The President also updated the Prime Minister on his review of our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and thanked him for his country's significant contribution to the effort in Afghanistan. The United States and Denmark are close allies and partner together around the world to promote freedom, security and prosperity.
We talked a little bit this morning about additional calls that the President will make between this afternoon and the time of the speech. I anticipate that those will include President Karzai, President Zardari, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Tusk of Poland, President Hu* of China, and Prime Minister Singh of India. And obviously many administration officials, including the Vice President, General Jones, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others will also make consultation calls to our allies over the course of the next many hours before the speech.
Q This is in addition to Medvedev and Brown and all that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Those I just listed are at least in addition to; there could be more others.
Q And those are today?
MR. GIBBS: Most of them, quite frankly, are likely scheduled for tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Robert. We've heard a lot about the benchmarks and what the President is looking for in Afghanistan, but we haven't really talked a lot in detail about Pakistan. What is the President hoping to address with Pakistan tomorrow night, and what does he want to get in exchange?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Phil, I think you can anticipate that a good portion of the President's speech tomorrow will discuss our relationship with Pakistan and touch on, going back to the very beginning of this administration, in a renewed engagement diplomatically with the Pakistanis, as I said this morning, to jointly address violent extremism. And I think our relationship is stronger and our efforts are stronger in dealing with that as a result of that engagement and diplomacy. The President will build on that and talk about the importance of them in the region tomorrow night.
Q Is he going to talk about benchmarks with Pakistan tomorrow night?
MR. GIBBS: I'll let the President make a little news tomorrow, but I anticipate that the President will be pretty clear about how we're moving forward with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Q And how much has he talked with the officials in Pakistan ahead of tomorrow's speech?
MR. GIBBS: President Zardari is on the list and will be called either -- there was some schedule in flux whether it's later today or first thing tomorrow. We'll have some clarity on that in a little while.
Q But in coming up with what he's going to say, how much conversation took place?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- I don't remember the last time or don't have in front of me the last time the President spoke directly with President Zardari, but I know that many of the national security team -- Secretary of State Clinton visited not too long ago, and others have made trips to Pakistan and throughout the region to strengthen our diplomatic ties.
Q Can I just follow please?
MR. GIBBS: Let me go get a couple here quick. Yes, sir.
Q Thanks, Robert. How specific tomorrow will the President be about an exit strategy? And how specific will he be about cost?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President will reiterate tomorrow what I've said a number of times, which is that this is not an open-ended commitment; that we are there to partner with the Afghans, to train the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so that they can provide the security for their country and wage the battle against an unpopular insurgency in that country. That's, I'd say, first and foremost, our primary mission there.
Q You said last week -- I think Wednesday in the gaggle -- that we wouldn’t be there in eight or nine years. Will the President spell that out as a timetable tomorrow on when troops will leave?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I found a good job security policy is not to get too far ahead of where the President is. I think you can be assured that the President will talk about the fact that this is not an open-ended commitment.
Q Can you follow up on the cost questions, though? Will he talk about -- you've given us figures before as to what it costs per soldier. Will he talk about how it will be paid for? Does he have a position on a war tax that you think he'll discuss?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard extensive discussion of that here. I know the President will touch on cost; I don't expect to get overly detailed in the speech tomorrow.
Q When more troops are sent into a country inevitably it results in more casualties -- when in a military presence and fighting is increased. Is the President going to -- is that going to be part of the President's message tomorrow, to prepare the American people for the fact that while an exit strategy exists, the next year or two is going to be perhaps bloodier than even the last six months?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake -- and we've discussed this before -- I think the amount of sacrifice that we've seen from the men and women that we have there already is something that I know the President is assured by each and every day. I think, you know, he signs letters of condolence; he meets with the families of those that have been killed. Obviously the trip to Dover is something that I doubt you ever truly forget. I think the President will reiterate the importance of why we're there, but also, by all means very early on acknowledge the tremendous cost and sacrifice to our men and women in uniform. I don't think there's any doubt that we are all in awe of the commitment from our military and our civilian side in order to get this right.
Q And just in terms of defining our terms, where does making sure that we have a stable Afghan partner end and nation-building begin? What's the line? Is it just a question of our responsibility, U.S. responsibility, being training Afghan troops? Is that the "safe and secure" part -- "safe and stable partner" part? Because we've heard a lot about what the U.S. intends to do. I know you don't want to get ahead of the President's speech, but just in terms of -- define the terms a little for us.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I guess I would more ask you to -- I don't -- again, I'm unclear as to what continuum you're putting -- are you asking me to put them on a certain --
Q Well, the President has said, about the new strategy, that it's important that we have a secure -- or a stable ally in the Afghan --
MR. GIBBS: Well, and a partner that is -- and a partner that understands, as the President directly told President Karzai in a telephone call in the Oval Office, that it is time to turn -- it's time for a new chapter in our relationship as it relates to corruption and improved governance, in order to address the security situation not just through training and security force needs, but also, look, it's hard for civilians to go in and improve areas -- it's impossible -- that aren't secure. So I would say this is all part of what has to be a partnership.
And I think anybody would tell you, Jake, that -- and I've said this and I think, quite frankly, you've seen this from Democrats and Republicans in Congress -- without partners that are willing to do stuff in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, no number of American troops can solve all of those problems -- unless or until those steps are taken inside both of those countries will we see a change in the security situation.
Q A "stable partner" means a partner that is willing to have its own troops step up? It doesn’t mean a thriving democracy. It doesn't mean a great economy. It doesn't mean schools -- schools for girls or human rights. It means --
MR. GIBBS: First and foremost -- first and foremost, we have to have a partner that can identify, recruit, retain a security force and a police force that are able to take improved security -- an improved security environment and eventually hold that area; once that area is cleared, that area then has to be held. Ultimately, the strategy will be to transfer the security responsibility of an area to the Afghans. That is a big part of what you'll hear the President talk about tomorrow.
Q But that's what we want from the Afghan government?
MR. GIBBS: That's -- I would say that's a big part of it, yes.
Q Thank you, Robert. I just want to go back to the war tax. You said the President is not likely to get into much detail on how to pay for it tomorrow night. Why not? When we're $14 trillion in debt, why don't the American people deserve some explanation?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think you heard me say that they didn't deserve an explanation. Obviously, there's a --
Q Why won't he get into it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, he will certainly touch on the cost. This is neither the beginning of this debate, Ed, nor will this be the end of it. I think you'll hear the President acknowledge the resource requirements, and the responsibilities and the tradeoffs that are going to be discussed both here and, more importantly, on Capitol Hill, as they control the purse strings.
Q How will he handle those offsets? Will it be with a new tax, or will it be spending cuts?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think those discussions -- once the President has a policy and can put a price tag on it, I think you'll see those more in earnest.
Q I wanted to ask about another subject, the state dinner last week with India. The White House has asked the Secret Service to investigate the incident, what went wrong. As part of that review, will they just be reviewing what the Secret Service did or will they also take a look at White House staff, Social Secretary's office, and see whether they made mistakes, as well?
MR. GIBBS: I will check with folks here. My understanding is that the Secret Service will look at what the Secret Service did.
Q But do you think the White House staff should be looked at, as well? There were guests who came to this event who say that at previous dinners there was somebody from the Social Secretary's office there who was checking names. That's not really the responsibility of the Secret Service.
MR. GIBBS: No, but, Ed, understand that the individuals that are listed weren't on any list. I think the Secret Service, through the director, has admitted that somebody who wasn't on a list and wasn't WAVE'd in was allowed into an event that clearly he said shouldn't be, and that no call or reach-out ever came to anybody in terms of staff from the Secret Service about whether or not there was confusion on a name on a list.
Q At previous dinners, there was somebody from the White House staff there checking names. So if they had been there and these people were not on the list, they might have caught them.
MR. GIBBS: But, again, Ed, I assume in absence of somebody being there -- because they're working telephones in the White House -- somebody would have checked. Again, I think the focus of the investigation at this point is on the fact that none -- that name wasn't on a list, that name wasn't WAVE'd in, but that couple got into the White House and I think that's what the Secret Service is rightly focused on in their security investigation.
Q Follow up. Normally in the past, before this administration came, there was always a checks and balances type of system at that gate with the Social Office, as well as the Secret Service --
MR. GIBBS: I think that's what Ed just asked.
Q That's what I'm saying. And you're saying --
MR. GIBBS: This is a follow-up or -- go ahead, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.
Q Again, there's always been a series of checks and balances. And if there was a concern from the Secret Service, they would always relay it back to -- it was a back and forth between the Social Office and the Secret Service.
MR. GIBBS: What I'm saying -- what I said to Ed was --
Q But let me finish, please --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, but let me -- I think the question was asked, so let me reiterate my answer. Again, April, none of that relay happened, right? None of that relay happened between the Secret Service and the Social Office, whether or not the Social Office was standing at the gate or whether or not somebody was sitting in their office at the White House.
Q If you would allow me to finish, you can understand what I'm saying. The relay did not happen because that person was omitted at the gate from the Social Office. The way we understand, that person --
MR. GIBBS: Omitted?
Q That person was fired earlier in the year. So --
MR. GIBBS: But again, April, you can ask it seven ways. The answer continues to be, the relay didn't happen because somebody was or wasn't there. The relay didn't happen because nobody picked up the phone to relay the information. I mean, I appreciate the observation that somebody could or could not have been at a certain gate. But again, you could pick up the phone, just like I can pick up my phone in the office and relay you, April. You don't have to be standing in my office for me to convey information to you. I think the --
Q So are you saying that the Social Office does not have any responsibility in this at all?
MR. GIBBS: April, there's an investigation that's ongoing into the actions of what happened, and I'm going to wait for that to be completed.
Q The reason why we are questioning the Social Office and the Secret Service is because in the past, both have worked in conjunction and successfully were able to protect the President of the United States without anyone coming in. And now because the Social Office did not have that other layer of checks and balances there, this happened. And people are questioning why this White House is not putting the onus some on the Social Office, as well.
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to let the investigation put the onus on where the onus should be. But what I'm simply doing is explaining to you a series of facts that include the notion that if somebody was confused about whether or not somebody was on a list at a guard tower on the exterior perimeter of the White House, and there was a question, generally somebody could pick up the phone and ask. I'm saying that -- I'm saying that the Secret Service, in the statement that they released a few days ago, acknowledged that that didn't happen and that that was a mistake.
Q The whole process has been changed at that gate from now on. Will the Social Office be working in conjunction with the Secret Service now?
MR. GIBBS: I think first and foremost we're going to go through this investigation, and I would refer you to the Secret Service about operations that might change at that gate.
Q And the last question. People were saying that the President was never in danger, and many people have said that is not true. They got in --
MR. GIBBS: Who's "many people"?
Q People here, Secret Service. These people met with the President. They shook the President's hand. Who's to say they did not have some kind of -- granted, they didn't -- but hypothetically, what if a person had walked in and could have done something to the President? The President -- do you --
MR. GIBBS: This hasn't happened before. (Laughter.) I appreciate the opportunity to indulge in a grand hypothetical.
Q Has the President remarked on this at all?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President shares the concern that the director has for how this happened and how we can remedy it from happening again.
Q Is he concerned about his safety with this?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Have you heard him say anything, is he angry or is he as incredulous as the average American is that people could just walk right into the White House like this?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President -- look, the reason there's an investigation is the President and the White House has asked for that to happen. So I think suffice to say the President is rightly concerned about what happened last week.
Q Have you actually heard him say anything about it?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard it, but it's been relayed to me.
Q Can you confirm whether or not charges will be filed against this couple?
MR. GIBBS: That is not a power bestowed on me as the press secretary. I know they've -- according to media reports, they've been interviewed by the Secret Service. I think that's a decision that would be made by the Secret Service and the United States Attorney in that area.
Q Robert, just to follow on April's question --
MR. GIBBS: Well, April's question was following Ed's --
Q Right, and so I'm -- a triple follow-up.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q The Social Office knows that list inside and out. Presumably, if someone from the Social Office had been at the gate they would have overheard the couple --
MR. GIBBS: Let me refer you to --
Q No, no, no --
MR. GIBBS: -- the follow-up answer that I gave to April and the follow-up answer --
Q No, listen to me --
MR. GIBBS: I understand, but, Sheryl --
Q They would have overheard the couple announce themselves and would have -- and it wouldn't have required a phone call. It wouldn't have -- they would have flagged it right away. Would it not make sense --
MR. GIBBS: If the couple wouldn't have come it wouldn't have required a phone call.
Q That's true, too --
MR. GIBBS: I understand. And generally, when people have questions -- Sheryl, when you have a question, April, when you have a question, I don't have to be there in person to answer your question, despite the fact that you may announce your question. Generally, you can pick up the telephone and reach me right there in my office, a procedure that somebody could do sitting at an exterior perimeter gate in the White House, just as they could sitting in the briefing room or in one of those offices.
Q Well, all I'm saying is obviously the Secret Service didn’t have questions, they didn’t relay a call, but a second layer of checking --
MR. GIBBS: Leaving aside the fact that that didn’t happen, how do --
MR. GIBBS: I think that --
Q But if they found anything, they may not have gotten in.
Q Are you concerned -- or is the White House going to do what's necessary to make sure the Secret Service is not scapegoated here, and that there could be responsibility for this at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Of course. That's why there's an investigation, Chip.
Q But you seem to be steering the blame toward the Secret Service.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no, no. Understand I'm simply reiterating for the three questions that I got on the same subject what the U.S. Secret Service put out on this last week. Chip, I have walked with and been next to the Secret Service for the two-and-a-half years virtually every single day that the President has had the valuable and brave protection of the United States Secret Service. Nobody -- nobody is more thankful for that than the President, as well as the country. The President has faith in the Secret Service, always has, and that's not about to change.
Q Can I change the subject for a second?
MR. GIBBS: We'll go to Chuck, and maybe somebody will --
Q Let me start with Afghanistan. This is what in the March 27th speech -- some of this -- some of the things he said in the March 27th speech sound like what you're previewing now. He said, "On benchmarks for Afghanistan, we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. We will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance." He said, "Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course, instead we will set clear methods to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable." How much -- how much is that March 27th speech going to end up being very applicable to what we hear tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, we were asked in the lead up to a security forces decision in March about whether there would be benchmarks. That answer then was yes, and the answer now is yes. Obviously, as it relates to --
Q The benchmarks are changing, essentially, or did we not finish setting the benchmarks?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, we finished setting the benchmarks. But, again, we're -- again, not to get ahead of what the President announces, but I think there will be some new wrinkles to what we're doing.
Q There have been benchmarks this whole time?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, as reported to Congress, absolutely.
In terms of the corruption and the governance, obviously when you mention --
Q This is a free election, I understand that.
MR. GIBBS: Right, and obviously --
Q It's the same government, though.
MR. GIBBS: Well, somewhat up in the air, as of the middle of August, right.
Q But I guess the thing is that how -- what is going to be different about what he says than from what he said on March 27th? It's just, like you just said, "new wrinkles" to some of this stuff?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm going to let the President outline what the mission is going forward and discuss in depth the benchmarks that will go along with it.
Q And can you get into the -- I mean, is the President going to try to simultaneously assure folks that we're going to withdraw troops in a timely fashion and let allies know we're there for the long haul? I mean, is -- how do you -- I mean, is that a balance he's going to try to strike?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think nobody should underestimate the commitment of a President that has thus far doubled the number of American men and women on the ground in Afghanistan. I don't think anybody could look at themselves in a mirror with a straight face and say that this President hasn't in any way been anything but resolved to doing what has to happen in Afghanistan to make this country safe.
Q Really quickly, does the President think there should be charges filed against these folks to set an example?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I --
Q Does he want them to have some sort of --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President on that. Again, the White House would leave that up to relevant law enforcement to determine whether law --
Q But is he concerned about being used --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I mentioned --
Q -- as a reality TV show?
MR. GIBBS: I think the concern goes greatly beyond "The Real Housewives of D.C." But, yes.
I love that we've spanned the gamut from -- we've gone from Afghanistan and now I just said "The Real Housewives of D.C."
Q You said it.
MR. GIBBS: I know. It's a commentary on my life.
Q On the benchmarks issue, you talked about benchmarks for success, we're talking about, you know, training of Afghan security forces, stability, corruption in the government. But are there also benchmarks for failure, I mean, and consequences for not reaching those benchmarks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know the --
Q In other words, will U.S. forces be withdrawn if these benchmarks can't be met?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm going to let the President outline the benchmarks. I think what the President believes is we are set -- we will be setting forward a mission that he believes can be attained. I think part of that is we have to look at -- again, Jonathan, the President will look at what that mission is, and make sure that what we are doing is setting out a mission and a series of resources that are attainable.
As I mentioned to Chuck a minute ago, there are now twice as many forces there than were there just a year ago. I think what the President has to do clearly with the American people is let them know that we now have what's needed there to accomplish what that mission is, rather than somehow assuming that we could do that with half of what is there now.
Q One quick housekeeping question. The reporters who are going up to West Point tomorrow with the press -- with the President -- well, not with the President; with the press charter -- will have a whole lot of time up there. Are there --
MR. GIBBS: Beautiful area.
Q Are there going to be briefings up there or anything available to us?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- I think we will do a briefing by phone that will allow you, if you're on the press charter or not, to take part in. And I'll double-check -- Tommy mentioned that to me earlier.
Q We're not going to miss out up there?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, we'll make sure that -- I think it's all been scheduled around, so we'll just -- yes, sir.
Q Robert, I'm wondering why foreign leaders are being briefed on this before relevant members of Congress, and what the difference is in the briefings that the foreign leaders are receiving from members of Congress.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously, when the President sits down with Congress tomorrow afternoon, he will go through a series of detailed decisions that he has made and has been relayed to the chain of command.
In terms of briefing our international partners, understanding that ISAF is an international entity made up obviously with a big, valuable contribution from the United States, but when the President talks with the French, the Germans, the Danes and others, it is because they are valuable partners in this mission. I don't believe that -- I don't believe that any -- I know that nobody is going to get a briefing that's ahead of what the President tells members of Congress and the American people.
Q How direct of a message is he going to have tomorrow night for enemies in the region, for Osama bin Laden, for other al Qaeda leaders?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Peter, we are there and the President moved an additional 30-or-so thousand forces there in March with the stated mission to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy al Qaeda. That mission remains the same. And the President will reiterate that tomorrow night and discuss actions that we can take in that region to address violent extremism. I think obviously that will be a healthy portion of the speech.
Q Robert, was Mr. Orszag there yesterday when the President relayed his decision?
MR. GIBBS: The members that I read out in the Situation Room -- I'm sorry, in the Oval Office and then the Situation Room -- there was nobody additional to that.
Q Would the plan be to submit an amended budget for fiscal '10 to pay for the war or --
MR. GIBBS: I don't --
Q -- would it be put off until fiscal '11?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I -- let me get better guidance on that decision, and we'll get a better sense of that once the President makes a decision.
Q Has that not come up, how you're going to handle it?
MR. GIBBS: There have been discussions.
Q On --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything conclusive.
Q Do you have a range of the war cost?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I think the rough math that we've used before is applicable for --
Q One million [dollars] per troop per --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. I mean, for 10,000 troops it's $10 billion. That's the rough estimate of what I think people have been using both here and at the Pentagon.
Q I get the sense, though -- I may be wrong -- that the administration just hasn't really figured out how it's going to pay for this yet.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I'm not going to get detailed into some of the discussions that have been had here. Roger, the cost of -- the costs of our involvement in Afghanistan, both in terms of our men and women in uniform, the health of the force, and what this will mean budgetarily I can assure you have been part of this discussion from the very beginning.
Q Is the White House open or opposed to a war tax -- being talked about on Capitol Hill -- just yes or no.
MR. GIBBS: I haven't talked to anybody --
Q About a war tax?
MR. GIBBS: -- I have not heard discussions about that so I don't know what the --
Q There have been no discussions that you're aware of here at the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I have not been involved in any of those and I have not heard of any.
Q No position one way or the other?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it would be hard for me to gain a position if I haven't heard the talk about it.
Q You told us this morning that the President's conversations with various international leaders is not to inform them specifically of what he intends to do. Is part of the reason that the President will hear from them commitments that they are likely to make that he can include in the speech tomorrow night to explain to the American people not only what the United States is going to do, but what international partners are going to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there's no doubt -- again, reiterating what I said earlier -- this is an international effort. This is not one country's problem, because terrorism does not affect just one country, or quite frankly, one region of the world. It affects London. It affects Madrid. It affects a whole host of areas.
I'm going to -- I'd refer you to NATO in terms of whether or not there are specific contributions, or individual countries about specific troop contributions that they may make as part of this. As you know, there's a ministerial conference that Secretary of State Clinton will attend, I believe, on the fourth of December, and a force generation conference in NATO that will take place on the 7th of December. Suffice to say, the President believes that this has to be an increased international effort to deal with this problem.
Q And related to that, it may be that these conversations yield details the President can communicate to the American public tomorrow night. I mean, these conversations he is having with this variety of --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I have seen already reports today of British announcements. As I said earlier, the Australians committed a greater number of forces back in the spring when the President dedicated more American forces, so some of this has come as a part of the security build up toward the elections, some of this may come as new force contributions.
Q You said the primary mission the President will talk about going forward will be training Afghan forces. It will also, obviously, be a combat mission --
MR. GIBBS: Well, there's no doubt that there will be some amount of counterterrorism, and they'll be fighting back against the insurgency.
Q That will go side by side --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q -- but --
MR. GIBBS: Those efforts will continue.
Q Right, but you -- the primary mission -- the new primary mission will be, of these new forces, will be --
MR. GIBBS: I think there has to be a renewed emphasis on the training of Afghan national security forces. Again, we aren't going to be there forever. And we can't -- and we don't have the resources -- manpower or budgetarily -- to be the primary -- to be primarily responsible for the security of Afghanistan. Afghans have to be primarily responsible for that security through increased training, so that once an area is cleared or held it can be transferred eventually to Afghans to do.
Q On climate change, why is it a good idea for the President to arrive near the beginning of the climate talk negotiations as opposed to end, when the ultimate deal is going to be struck? And secondarily, does the White House have any evaluation or comment on this controversy of the hacked e-mails that suggest that some of the underlying science through some of the propositions put forward by climatologists may be in error or may have been altered in some way?
MR. GIBBS: On the second part, I think Carol Browner addressed that last week, on the order of several thousand scientists have come to the conclusion that climate change is happening. I don't think that's anything that is, quite frankly, among -- most people -- in dispute anymore.
In terms of when the President goes, obviously we believe that progress has been made with developing nations -- the U.S. has made some progress with the Chinese and the Indians over the past couple of weeks. The President will travel to Oslo on the 10th, and believed it was important to use this visit to help get us to the point of a deal -- something that can take the type of action that scientists say need to be taken to stop and reverse climate change. I think the President believes that a visit happening at the beginning is just as important as it would be at any point to getting that deal going quicker.
Q Can I follow up on -- can I follow that one up?
Q Is it possible, Robert, that the White House could have done something more to assist the Secret Service to prevent that situation from arriving?
MR. GIBBS: Again, there's an ongoing investigation.
Q Is it possible that the White House should have done more?
MR. GIBBS: I assume that's what the investigation will detail.
Q Just a two-part -- only two.
MR. GIBBS: -- a two-part. (Laughter.) My son does that.
Q Are you aware of a list, the published list of 31,000 scientists who oppose this idea of global warming?
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that there --
Q And 6,000 of them are PhDs.
MR. GIBBS: I don't doubt that there's such a list, Lester. I think there's no real scientific basis for the dispute of this.
Q Okay. And the White House list of those attending the first state dinner listed: "The Honorable Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary." And my question, can you name any previous press secretaries who were given the title usually reserved for judges and elected political leaders? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Speaking on background -- (laughter) -- as somebody intimately familiar with the thinking of "The Honorable Robert Gibbs" --
Q I didn't say you were dishonorable. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I thought it was --
Q Did you come up with this? Was this your idea?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly -- I write all those. Look, it was a flattering promotion that I'm sure the press secretary was quite honored to have. (Laughter.)
Q The President wanted this? Do you think he wanted this?
MR. GIBBS: Lester, I daresay that the President is quite busy doing a number of things; I seriously doubt he was proofreading the press release guest list. But I will double-check on that.
Q Thank you very much.
Q Thanks, Robert. Last night, in briefing his senior advisors on his decision, essentially it's closing the book on the internal deliberations that have lasted months over this and there's been some sharp disagreements on approach. And I'm wondering, is the President at all concerned about the morale of this group of advisors that came around and talked about this for months? There will be some "winners" and "losers" in --
MR. GIBBS: I've got to say, Scott, I think that -- and I know you all have an opportunity to hear from and talk to people that participated in what I think to a person would say were discussions that have made this policy better. I don't -- look, I know there's a Washington game of trying to pick winners and losers. I think when people step back and look at what the President's ultimate decision will be, I think that everybody sitting in that room had a valuable contribution in making this a better policy for the men and women in our armed services, and quite frankly, for each and every American. I don't think anybody participated in this process thinking, if I argue something in the Situation Room and it's not adopted that somehow I've lost. I think each and every person -- I daresay -- well, I won't say that. But I think each and every person helped contribute to making this a better policy for the United States.
Q And a quick follow. You have the commanding general in Afghanistan and the top American diplomat in Afghanistan who sort of publicly disagreed over approach. Is there a concern specific to them, can they get together and carry out whatever decision --
MR. GIBBS: Without getting into what was talked about last night in the Situation Room, I think suffice to say that leaving that discussion last night both of those individuals in Afghanistan and the President felt very good about our way forward.
Q Robert, changing the topic quickly to health care, does the President still believe that he'll be signing health legislation by the end of the year?
MR. GIBBS: He hopes he is.
Q But does he -- you say he "hopes" so. In the past he's said he expects to sign it by the end of the year. Does he --
MR. GIBBS: He hopes to expect to sign it.
Q Does he still expect that he will be signing --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know why we would move the deadline now.
Q Robert, can I come back to the cost again? I just want to be clear about what the President is going to say tomorrow night and maybe to ask what he's not going to say. He's not going to say it's going to cost X amount and here's exactly how we're going to pay for it?
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back and see where we are on the latest draft of the speech in terms of the degree of specificity. I think the President will talk about and allude to the cost. I don't know if it gets down to the granularity of the exact dollar amount for each and everything. I think some of that will -- Mark, quite frankly, some of that is going to depend on decisions that ultimately are made -- logistical decisions that are ultimately made.
Q Understanding that, but he's clearly not going to give us a plan for how he's going to pay for it tomorrow night, correct?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that the intention of the speech is to lay out a lengthy discourse on that.
Q But wasn’t the President pretty scathing about the Bush administration's failure to do that with Iraq?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the -- I think what Mara just mentioned was that this was something that was not contemplated as being part of the regular process of all this. Look, we've talked about this before. One of the reasons that we're involved in a lengthy debate on health care is we've had a lengthy debate about how we're going to pay for an initiative of the President. I anticipate that these are discussions that will be joined as it relates to other priorities as well, including the war in Afghanistan.
Q Can I ask, Robert, just two Afghanistan questions? One, what's your answer to the people who say by stressing over and over again that this won't be open-ended, you're basically telling our enemies just wait us out, and our -- or as well, allies, hedge your bets, because we're going to be leaving?
MR. GIBBS: That to me doesn't make any logical sense. I mean, if you -- if you're to believe that a certain insurgency has the momentum and they're increasingly occupying and attacking and gathering more space, are you saying that all we have to do is say we're going to leave at a certain date and they'll stop their -- they'll stop their pursuit or their momentum? If that's the case, then, maybe the President should just say that. I mean, it doesn't actually make any -- I mean, it's a great talking point. It doesn’t actually make any logical -- it doesn’t make any logical sense.
Q Well, what about the argument to our erstwhile allies like people in Pakistan, or even warlords in Afghanistan, that they'll hedge their bets, because they're not sure if we are going to stay or go.
MR. GIBBS: Mara, when the President put his hand on the Bible on a cold day in January, there were half as many forces as there are now. There isn't anybody with a straight face that can question the resolve of this Commander-In-Chief to put the appropriate resources on what he believes was an urgent threat to our national security. Again, I don't know anybody that could make that logical argument.
Q Also, just a follow-up on Scott's question about the process. This was an extraordinary process, a lot of meetings, a lot of questioning of assumptions. It went -- bored down in a way that maybe is unprecedented actually, in a way.
MR. GIBBS: And I think -- I would tell you this, and I'll let you finish your question. I think the President and every participant would tell you they're glad of that, that what happened was we bored down on this in a way that I daresay had not yet been done. Without revealing confidences, there was discussions in these meetings about the fact that we were talking about a resource -- an effort that had been under-resourced for quite some time.
Q But could you elaborate on -- was there a turning point in this process? Was there a moment when the President kind of chose Path A instead of Path B? Or could you talk a little bit more about this extraordinary --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think there was a single inflection point or "Eureka!" or epiphany. I think over the course of these discussions there -- the President and a group of advisors, his group of advisors, settled on a decision that I think you'll hear tomorrow people are very comfortable with.
Q Robert, speaking of epiphanies, the President hasn't had a full press conference for more than four months now. And your --
MR. GIBBS: Lucky him. (Laughter.)
Q And his appearances with joint leaders have been cut down to one question on each side. Does he feel that that kind of exchange with the press is no longer useful to him?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we've got some upcoming interviews with ABC, which I think would probably provide the President with the unique opportunity --
Q Yes, my question was press conferences.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I understand. I just picked that as -- I picked that network just out of thin air. I think the President has -- in fact, I think the last time we got a question about the President answering questions, if I'm not mistaken, it was -- wasn't it couched in the notion that he was overexposed? Hard for me to imagine that the President would submit himself to so many questions that the punditocracy would say he's overexposed, but the new thing happens to be that he's not answering enough questions.
Q The question is the format, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: The President enjoys taking your questions and questions from reporters throughout this process, and I assume he'll continue to do so.
Q Robert, you said this morning that the President had given orders in the Oval Office over the weekend. Can you say what -- are they being carried out now? What's happening? Are people being ordered --
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that they are being acted upon by those whose job it is to implement them, yes.
Q Meaning that --
Q Since General McChrystal will be in town, will he be here tomorrow or up on Capitol Hill later this week?
MR. GIBBS: I believe that General McChrystal will be in Afghanistan tomorrow, and I believe in the coming days -- I don't know exactly when -- he and Ambassador Eikenberry will travel to the Hill to testify.
Q Earlier you said that the primary mission in Afghanistan is to train and set up the Afghan security and police forces to fight the unpopular insurgency there.
MR. GIBBS: Right -- our partnering with them, yes.
Q Now, you didn't mention al Qaeda in that statement. I assume there's a connection. Can you lay out what the connection is? And does the President still believe that -- let me ask you this, put it this way -- how does the President these days assess the threat posed to the United States by whatever remains of al Qaeda?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think you have to dig deep into news clips to see -- and you certainly don't into the President's daily intelligence briefing -- that the threat from al Qaeda exists in very real ways, not just emanating from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan but throughout the world.
The reason that al Qaeda was in Afghanistan was because al Qaeda had the safe haven protection of a government run by the Taliban. I think what the President will discuss tomorrow is ensuring that we prevent the Taliban from being capable of controlling the government of Afghanistan, as well as incapable of providing safe haven from which al Qaeda can plot and undertake terrorist activities like we've seen happen previously in the United States.
Q But to do that, do you have to have complete success with the counterinsurgency so that there is no -- there are no remnants left of the Taliban?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll let the President go through some of that tomorrow.
Q Congressman Obey and Murtha today put in the bill calling for the war surtax starting in 2011. I understand you said you haven't heard any discussion on it, but when the President meets with members and senators tomorrow, will he give them any guidance on that?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check and get some guidance.
Q The administration is going to try again to engage Iran, continue the process that started a few months ago, or should we be at a turning point after the announcement of Iran yesterday?
MR. GIBBS: That's a question for the Iranians. The Iranians should quite clearly understand their responsibilities and obligations under international treaty that they signed, okay? The Iranians have been rebuked for their actions with a single -- by a single international voice through a strong vote in the IAEA board of governors. If they make a decision to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, then the international community would welcome that. If they decide not to fulfill those responsibilities and obligations, then all I can say to the Iranians is, time is running out.
Q Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
2:12 P.M. EST
May 21, 2013
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