Press Briefing by Denis McDonough, Tony Blinken and Jay CarneyBy USGOV
Friday, October 21, 2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:01 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here this afternoon. We’re going to continue with the briefing here.
I have with me the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough on my left, and on my right, the Vice President’s National Security Advisor Tony Blinken. And they are here to take your questions about the announcement the President just made.
After that — why don’t we give your questions to them on that subject or other subjects they may be able to help you with and then I will remain to take your questions on other subjects.
Q Denis, nine years, complete withdrawal. In the White House’s assessment, is this a victory for the United States? And if I could follow up just on — if you could answer that, and then a quick follow-up.
MR. McDONOUGH: I think one of the more poignant moments in the SVTC downstairs — the secure videoconference — was when President Obama congratulated Prime Minister Maliki and the people of Iraq for getting to this momentous moment; and when, importantly, Prime Minister Maliki congratulated President Obama and our troops and our diplomats for all they’ve done.
So when the President laid out a vision for the future of Iraq in February 2009 down at Camp LeJeune — many of you were there — he said what we’re looking for is an Iraq that’s secure, stable and self-reliant, and that’s exactly what we got here. So there’s no question this is a success.
Q Specifically, long discussions over the issue of immunity. Had that issue been resolved? Would the President have preferred to have had trainers remain — U.S. trainers, U.S. troops remain there as trainers?
MR. McDONOUGH: What the President preferred was for the best relationship for the United States and Iraq going forward. That’s exactly what we have now as a result of the painstaking work of, importantly, our commanding general there, Lloyd Austin, our ambassador Jim Jeffrey. And what we’ve done over the course of these last three years is indicate — the President has indicated his not only commitment to fulfilling that security agreement, but also his willingness to hear out the Iraqis on what kind of relationship they want to have going forward.
So we talked about immunities, there’s no question about that. But the decision — and the President will insist on our troops having what they need no matter where they are. But the bottom line is, the decision that you heard the President talk about today is reflective of his view and the Prime Minister’s view of the kind of relationship that we want to have going forward. That relationship is a normal relationship that’s based on a diplomatic lead, a civilian presence in the lead, but also will have important security components, as our relationships diplomatically all around the world have, from Jordan to Egypt to Colombia to other countries that have similar kinds of security components. So we feel like we got exactly what we needed to protect our interests, and the Iraqis feel the same way.
Q So you guys are confident that the Iraqi security forces are very well equipped to take the lead without any further assistance or training from the U.S.?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, I think we feel very proud of the work that our guys have done — civilian and military — have done in training the Iraqis.
I think, importantly, they’ve worked together over the course of these last several years, not only trained together but also deployed — partnered together very robustly. And I think as we’ve done this — and Tony can attest to this as well — as we’ve done very intensively, frankly, over the course of the last seven or eight months a full review of where we stand with the Iraqis, one assessment after another about the Iraqi security forces came back saying these guys are ready, these guys are capable, these guys are proven. Importantly, they’re proven because they’ve been tested in a lot of the kinds of threats that they’re going to see going forward, so we feel very good about that.
Q Even though the troops are coming home, major attacks continue in Iraq. You do feel, as you said, that the Iraqi security forces are prepared for that. But what was the holdup? What prevented an agreement being reached on keeping trainers behind, when so many independent analysts, as well as U.S. officials, said training was essential to get those troops in order?
MR. McDONOUGH: You know, Matt, I think it’s important to point out that we have a capacity to maintain trainers. In fact, the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq will have a capacity to train Iraqis on the new kinds of weapons and weapons systems that the Iraqis are going to buy, including, importantly, like the F-16s that they just purchased just about a month ago.
So we will have a training capacity there. We’ll have the kind of normal training relationship that we have with countries all over the world. You’ll see, for example, Central Command looking for opportunities to have increased naval cooperation. You’ll see opportunities in naval exercises; opportunities to have increased air force training and exercise opportunities. So we’re going to have the kind of robust security cooperation with the Iraqis that we have with important allies all around the world. So the suggestion of your question that somehow there is not going to be training is just not accurate.
Q But legally, there still remains a stumbling block to any large numbers, significant numbers of trainers being there?
MR. McDONOUGH: The main purpose of the effort that we undertook, Matt, over the course of not only the last several months — and intensively, Tony and I — but also over the last several years, was the establishment of a normal relationship with a secure, stable and self-reliant Iraq that allows them in a region of considerable unrest at the moment to chart the kind of secure future that they want. That was the goal — not some kind of a arrangement around immunities.
And in getting this kind of goal, this kind of — fulfilling this goal of a secure relationship — a secure, stable, self-reliant Iraq — we got exactly what we needed.
Q And you said the Iraq mission was ending as a success. Is that the same as mission accomplished?
MR. McDONOUGH: I’ll let you check your thesaurus. I’m sorry about that.
Q Does this leave an open door for Iran to assert influence in Iraq? And what’s the U.S. plan to counter Iranian power there?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, the fact of the matter is that I think that as you stack up where the Iranians feel they stand right now in 2011 after years of the kind of international — united international pressure that they’ve seen over the last several years, the kind of, frankly, robust outcry against the kind of activity that we saw announced just last week as it relates to them not living up to their obligations under the convention to which they’re party to protect diplomats, of all things.
So I think what you’re seeing is, in the first instance, an Iran that is weaker and that is more isolated. So we don’t need to try to exercise our influence on those matters through Iraq; we frankly do that as a matter of course through the United Nations, bilaterally, with our friends throughout the region. And so we’re obviously concerned about Iran’s unwillingness to live up to its obligations, be that on human rights, be that on the nuclear program, or be that on something as simple as protecting diplomats wherever they’re serving, we have concerns about that. But we don’t have concerns about our ability to make sure that the Iraqis can exercise the kind of sovereignty that they want.
I think it’s important to highlight one critical fact as we look at Iraq’s future. If you see the kind of increased production of Iraq oil output, as we’ve seen over the last couple years, over the next two years, they’ll surpass Iranian output for oil production. So this is just one indicator of the kind of very positive future that we think the Iraqis have in front of them.
Q Can I ask a follow-up? How can you be assured of the security of the diplomats and the contractors who will stay in Iraq?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, it’s something that we’re spending a great deal of time on. And obviously we’ve insisted that for our diplomatic presence there — incidentally, we’ll maintain an embassy there. We have embassies all around the world; other countries have embassies all around the world. So we’ll — we have to assume a basic amount of protections for our people, and that’s what we’re communicating to the Iraqis. The President underscored to Prime Minister Maliki that we continue to insist that the Iraqis help us in the protection of our diplomats as well.
But we’re — as we look at that presence, we’re going to ensure the kind of standard protections of our diplomatic personnel to include marine security detail and stuff like that. We have embassies all around the world, but we’ll also make sure that working with contractors and otherwise, we can have the kind of protection that our guys are going to need.
MR. CARNEY: Jake.
Q Do you guys have any sort of estimate as to how many security contractors are going to be left behind, or will be in Iraq?
MR. McDONOUGH: We have some estimates. I think it’s around 4,000 to 5,000 security contractors in various forms of security, be that for site security — remember we have at least three diplomatic posts. We have a consulate down in Basra, we have a consulate up in Erbil and then we have the embassy in Baghdad. Then, obviously, we’re going to have our people driving around and everything else.
So you guys see, even around here, that we have — everybody has their security details. We’ll obviously continue to negotiate this with the Iraqis, but we’ll make sure that we have the kind of presence that we need, both as it relates to their fixed-site security but also in their ability to move around and do their jobs.
Q I’m sorry, Jay. Can I just ask one more question? I’m sorry. It was just five or six years ago — and I understand there’s been a lot of progress since then — but just five or six years ago that there was concern that civil war was going to break out in Iraq.
I’m wondering what concerns do you have about how secure the Sunnis or Kurds or any other minority group will be in this new sovereign state?
MR. BLINKEN: Jake, I think what we’ve seen is that politics has taken hold in Iraq. That’s been the big story over the last two to three years. And increasingly, Iraqis are figuring out how to resolve their differences through a political process. And it’s not always pretty, it’s not always linear, but they work through their problems through the political system. And that has taken a lot of the fuel out of the sectarian problem.
The other thing I think that’s worth pointing out is that, of course, there continues to be a real security challenge in Iraq, but you’ve got to put it in context. If you go back to 2007, early 2008, there were about 1,500 security incidents every week. Now we’re down to around 100 a week. So we’ve seen more than a ten-fold decrease, and this has been sustained over the last couple of years.
So the bottom line is, we think that because the Iraqi security forces are increasingly competent and capable of dealing with internal security, and because of the emergence of politics as the basic way of doing business, the sectarian fuse — never say never, but it’s unlikely or less likely, certainly, to be lit again.
Q Tony, I’ll ask — eight years, $1 trillion, 44 [sic] of our men and women dead, 32,000 wounded. Was this war worth it?
MR. BLINKEN: History is going to have to judge that. I don’t think any of us can judge that now. What we can say is that our troops have performed remarkably over that period, and our diplomats are doing the same. And the result of that is that today were at a place where, as Denis said, Iraq is emerging as a secure, stable and self-reliant country. And that was President Obama’s goal. But as to the rest, that’s really up to history.
Q And can I ask a question on Pakistan? The Secretary, of course, was just there along with others. Was there any reassurance from the Pakistanis that they would stop support to the Haqqani network? What was achieved?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, we’ll leave the Secretary to read out her trip. It was obviously a very important trip, high-level trip, that included many of her colleagues, our colleagues from the National Security Council, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, obviously others in the National Security Council. So we’re in the first instance very appreciative of the Secretary leading this effort. Secondly, obviously the breadth of the delegation that the Secretary led to Pakistan underscores not only the importance we attach to the relationship, but also the importance we attach to our ongoing concerns about the security situation, not just in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan.
So as it relates to the particular conclusions of the visit, we’ll leave that to the Secretary and her delegation to read out. But I think the President, obviously, is very appreciative of the fact that the Secretary led the delegation, and that the delegation itself, its makeup and its seriousness, underscore to the Pakistanis the strength of our conviction about these matters.
Q Can I ask, Denis, the mechanics for people watching and trying to see — when the President says, "Your family will be home for the holidays," how is this going to happen? How does it break down? How quickly are people going to get home? How do you do it in a responsible way so you don’t rush out? How does it break down?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, Ed, I’m going to leave that to the Pentagon to brief it. I will just say — make one comment about this. I happened to be in Iraq over the weekend and was able to see some of the things that General Austin and his team are effectuating on the ground. Absolutely unbelievably powerful demonstration of our — not only our strength and capacity, military strength and capacity, but also its commitment to making sure that we do this the right way. So you’re seeing every piece of equipment very closely accounted for. It’s being accounted for; it’s being then assigned to where it’s going to end up. It’s a degree of carefulness and scrutiny to this effort that I think, as with the rest of this effort, and as Tony suggested, makes all of us very proud and frankly very appreciative of what they’re doing.
Q May I ask a quick follow on Libya, which is this video that’s emerged that appears that Qaddafi was alive, he was injured, and he’s dragged around, he’s beaten up — nobody is going to stand up for Qaddafi, bad guy, but Saddam Hussein was as well. And after he was killed, there was some concern on — there was a lot of anger on the Arab street about how it all played out. And now the U.N. is talking about investigating exactly what happened. Are there concerns here about what happened on the ground in Libya? And are you going to back the U.N. investigation to figure all of that out?
MR. McDONOUGH: Bottom line is — this has obviously been a very dynamic 24 hours. We’re still getting additional information ourselves about what exactly transpired. We obviously are in very close contact with our NATO colleagues, and I know that they’re looking at this today. So I’m not going to get out in front of them.
Q But do you have concerns?
MR. McDONOUGH: We have — obviously always have concerns about exactly what’s happening in each of these situations. And frankly, that’s — our concern for the situation in Libya is exactly why the President took the kind of bold and decisive action that he took now several months back. But the fact that I have concerns doesn’t lead me to want to get out in front of the facts either.
Q Two questions. Denis, considering that you had Turkish troops having to chase a Kurdish militant group into Iraq, there has been a rise of violence inside Iraq, what about it gives the United States confidence that you’re leaving a more secure Iraq?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, the first thing I do is just associate myself by whole cloth with Tony’s comments earlier. That’s one. Two is that you’re right that at various times you’ve seen spectacular attacks across Iraq. Frankly, that’s one of the techniques of some of the insurgents’ groups. And what we’re seeing is that they try to do that once every several weeks or even months to try to get attention. But the fact is that, Chuck, you can’t say that the number of attacks has gone up in Iraq, frankly. It’s gone dramatically down. In fact, as Tony suggested, more than a ten-fold, even fifteen-fold decrease over the course of the last couple years. So we think that’s one indication of progress. Another, of course, is the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, as I indicated a minute ago.
One, every study assessment that we’ve sought in the course of the last several months comes back with the same conclusion: These guys are very capable against the threats that are most present, more pertinent to them.
Three is the point that Tony made and the Vice President has been critical in helping bring about, which is that politics has broken out in Iraq and that people are resolving these differences in the kind of political democratic way that I think just a few years ago we all could have only hoped for, and obviously that gives us a reason for great hope.
Q Let’s knit this together. Qaddafi — the strategy in Libya versus what we’re seeing — the decisions that were made in Iraq versus the decisions that were made in Yemen, for instance. Knit this together on the Obama doctrine.
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, I’m not — I’ll let the — as Tony said, the historians can be busy on this one, too, on laying down a doctrine. But what the President does know is that we — he is very committed to making sure that we remain secure. And the threats to our security are different in every country. And, in fact, we have to be nimble enough to address those concerns with the agility that allows us to confront them but not get bogged down in any particular type of threat, because what we’re seeing is a more dynamic threat environment.
So, again, I’ll let the historians or the theoreticians lay down what the doctrine is. But I do know this — having worked now with the President for about five years, he does not take anything as seriously as he does, knowing what the threats are, identifying them, and then bringing overwhelming power to bear to neutralize those threats. That’s going to be different in different countries. And I think as you’ve watched over the last couple years, he’s not been bound up by a particular ideology, but rather bound up specifically by his interest in making sure that we neutralize the threats.
MR. CARNEY: Let me do Carol and Margaret.
Q Can you explain to Americans and to some of the critics of this decision how the administration plans to ensure that none of the progress that’s been made in Iraq is rolled back, particularly when it comes to the Iraqi security forces?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, I think as the President indicated in his remarks, what we’ve seen here is tremendous progress over the last several years by the Iraqis. You see tremendous capability, not only in their ability to carry out security operations, but also in their ability to carry out democratic and political operations, which is to say that they’re much more able now — and much more interested, frankly — in a political resolution to their ongoing disputes.
The other thing is that we also have to recognize that, as the President laid out in his speech in 2009 down at Camp LeJeune, we set a very clear set of objectives: Iraq that’s secure, stable and self-reliant. That’s exactly what we have today. Our ability to maintain a robust diplomatic and civilian presence there, our ability to maintain ongoing training efforts with the Iraqis — all of that will contribute to our ability to work with our Iraqi colleagues to ensure that they can maintain the great gains they’ve made.
But I also think the lesson of the Arab Spring is also quite important, which is that representative governments that listen to their people and that conduct elections are ultimately going to be much more secure. And I think in that regard the Iraqis have a leg up on a very dynamic situation.
MR. BLINKEN: I just had one quick –
MR. BLINKEN: I think it’s important to look back, too, over the last almost three years. The President said he would do a number of things and he’s done every single one of them at every juncture; Iraq security is not going backward, it’s going forward. When we started out we had 150,000 American troops in Iraq. We said we’d be out of the cities in the summer of 2009 — we were. Things didn’t get worse, they got better.
Then in the summer of 2010, we said we would end the combat mission and move to advise-and-assist and get down to 50,000 troops. We did what we said we’d do and we’ve moved forward.
And finally, the President has been committed, and repeatedly, to fulfilling the security agreement and bringing all of our troops home at the end of this year, and we’re on track to do that. And as we’ve discussed, security incidents have gone down, not up. The capacity of the security — Iraqi security forces have gone up, not down, and politics has become the way of doing business in Iraq.
So for all of those reasons I think we can — we already have a track record that suggests that the security of Iraq will continue to move forward.
Q Do you have any — do you anticipate any uptick in violence around the time of the transition?
MR. McDONOUGH: What we have seen is efforts of extremists to use this period of dynamism and change on the ground to try to take advantage of that situation and to threaten our guys and to threaten Iraqis.
I think what you’re seeing, frankly, is especially over the last couple months, because of the great work of General Austin and our troops, less and less success in their doing that.
And frankly, I think you’re seeing more and more frustration on behalf of Iraqis because oftentimes what these extremist groups are doing when they’re trying to threaten our troops is that they’re killing more Iraqis, and so that all contributes to the kind of developments that make us feel as positively as we do about the situation we find ourselves in.
But, again, just going back to Chuck’s question, we’re going to remain vigilant on this set of threats as we have on threats from Southeast Asia all the way through North Africa. The bottom line here is, as Tony suggested, not only is that we have done what we had said — not only have we done what we said we would do in Iraq, the President has done exactly what he said he would do from Iraq to the Horn of Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, throughout South Asia, and all the way into Southeast Asia. So we will stay on the offense on these set of threats, but also in so doing take advantage of the great opportunities out there at the moment. So we feel very good about it, as I think you heard the President suggest.
MR. CARNEY: We’ll just take a few more for these guys, and if you could just give others a chance. Margaret, then Stephen, and then we’ll go to Connie over here.
Q Thanks. I had a couple of tactical ones — try to be brief. Is the U.S. considering selling or leasing drones to Turkey to use against the PKK? And can the U.S. help Iraq to defend its airspace in the absence of an Iraqi air force, maybe through building up air power in Kuwait? Sounds like you don’t think Iran is as big a threat as some people do, but in any event –
MR. McDONOUGH: On Iran, I think we obviously — the President is very clear about what we expect from the Iranians, so I’m not sure how you’re characterizing my view of the Iranian threat, but I just want to be very clear. We have a lot of big expectations that the Iranians live up to their obligations under the — in the international community, be that human rights, be that nuclear responsibility, or be that even something as simple as protecting diplomats.
Secondly, as it relates to Turkey, we obviously, as you heard, or as you saw, the President express significant concern about the attack in Southeastern Turkey earlier this week. We’re obviously staying in close touch with our Turkish allies, but I don’t have anything specific to announce for you right now.
As it relates to Iraqi air sovereignty, we’re obviously going to continue to work with the Iraqis as it relates to the full range of security and training opportunities or needs that they assess that they have. But we can do that fully within the context of a fully normalized relationship of the type that the President laid out a couple minutes ago.
Q The poignant videoconference this morning, the poignant moment that you spoke about — it doesn’t sound like the conclusion of the videoconference was a surprise. Presumably the President had been preparing for today’s videoconference, but can you talk about why it was sort of a poignant morning for him, and maybe what he talked to you guys about in his reflections on today?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, maybe Tony’s got something more poetic than I do. But I would just say that I just thought that was a poignant exchange because of what appeared to me to be genuine appreciation on behalf of the Iraqi Prime Minister for all of the sacrifice. In fact, he called out all the sacrifice that our troops and their families have — and our diplomats and their families have put on the line for Iraq’s future.
That’s not new to me, as it relates to the President of the United States. He obviously has lived this, and expresses it quite vividly on a numerous — on numerous occasions that I’ve seen. But I just thought it was an important moment where the two leaders expressed their view, that having set out together on this effort about three years ago, now they feel like they’ve gotten to a very important point where they can take this next step pursuant to this agreement, but also then continue forward with the kind of robust partnership that I think they’ve recognized our troops and our diplomats have built over the last several years.
Q Denis, does the President support the Turkish incursion into Northern Iraq?
MR. McDONOUGH: You know, I’m not going to get into the specifics on this. But I will say that we’ve obviously worked very closely with our Turkish friends about their ongoing concerns from such attacks. We’ve obviously designated certain of the Kurdish forces as designated foreign terrorist organizations. So I’m not going to get into it any more than that. We’ll see what the coming days and weeks unfold.
But we’ll remain in close contact with our Turkish ally.
MR. CARNEY: Connie, then Andrei.
Q Thank you, Jay. You’ve made reference at one point to Iraqi oil. Iraq and Libya are very wealthy countries. Will the U.S. ask for reimburse — financial reimbursement from Iraq and Libya?
And also, what do you see as future U.S. relations with Syria now, and Hamas?
MR. McDONOUGH: Can you repeat the last question? I’m sorry?
Q Syria and Hamas, what do you see happening there?
MR. McDONOUGH: As it relates to whether we’re going to ask for reimbursement, I don’t anticipate that. I’m not aware of any plans on that.
As it relates to Syria and Hamas, obviously we’ve been very clear as to what we expect of the Syrians. And so we’ll see whether after now several months of allowing themselves to fall into deeper and deeper isolation, whether they made the right choice. But I think the President has been quite clear on this, as has the Secretary of State.
Q What about Hamas?
MR. McDONOUGH: I’m sorry?
Q What about Hamas in regards to this prisoner swap?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, again, I think Jay has talked a lot about the prisoner swap over the last couple days, so I associate myself with his remarks.
MR. CARNEY: Andrei.
Q My question is a logical follow-up to this. Are you offering new aid, new assistance to Iraq or to Libya in light of yesterday’s announcement? If yes, how much? If no, then why not?
MR. McDONOUGH: We have a very robust security assistance program with the Iraqis. It’s textured and it includes the kinds of things like foreign military sales that we saw with the F-16 purchase last month, but also other pieces of it. So that’s a matter of public record. It’s passed every year by Congress. And so we anticipate that being a very important part of this robust and textured important security relationship going forward.
As it relates to the Libyans, we’re obviously continuing to work with the TNC about what we expect of kind of representative government there. We’re working with our partners and our allies to indicate the kind of support we’ll provide in the future. But there’s no specific changes in our assistance since yesterday. We’ll continue to work this one very aggressively.
MR. CARNEY: Carrie.
Q Did the President brief any members — leaders of Congress prior to this decision? If not, why didn’t he? And will he do that now? Or is he doing that — what are his plans?
MR. BLINKEN: We did brief members of Congress. In fact, a number of us were on the phone with Senate and House leadership and other members to brief them on the President’s conversation with the Prime Minister, and to brief them on what the President intended to say.
And of course, all along over these many weeks and many months, we’ve been in regular contact with members in both houses on Iraq, on what we were doing, on what we were planning. And the main point is that the President all along has been absolutely consistent in saying what he would do and then doing what he said he would do, and that’s where we are today.
Q Was the Speaker’s office on that call?
MR. BLINKEN: I believe so. Speaker’s office was on the call.
Q So the Speaker was involved in that?
MR. BLINKEN: Yes, I think all the leadership was on the phone call.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q You mentioned protection for the embassies. Do you have an estimate of how many troops will be kept there to protect embassies?
MR. McDONOUGH: There will be no troops there to provide security to embassies, other than the standard Marine security detail, which we have at embassies in every country in the world. So other than the Marine contingent that provides security, there will be no troops kept in Iraq for security of the embassies.
For security of our embassy and the two consulates, there will — we’ll contract with security contractors to provide the kind of, as I said again, fixed-site security, as well as movement security when our guys get out and do their job in the country.
Q Yes, about the euro. What kind of leverage do you have or what kind of help could you give to get to an agreement before Monday?
MR. McDONOUGH: You know, the President is working this, and I know Gene and Secretary Geithner are, so I’m going to just let them work it, and we’ll hold our comments on it.
MR. CARNEY: Last two. Alexis and then –
Q Quick question. Although the President is emphasizing the troops coming home at the end of the year, how many should expect to then be redeployed, maybe into Afghanistan?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, I think you heard the President’s remarks underscore that we obviously are continuing our effort in Afghanistan. But as he suggested, this number of U.S. troops deployed overseas has now been robustly reduced.
So as it relates to the specific deployment schedules, I’ll leave that to the Pentagon to brief you through the specifics on that. But the fact of the matter is, given that we’re looking now at dramatically fewer U.S. troops deployed as a result of these policy choices, I think you can extrapolate from that that we’ll see a less robust rotational effort. But, again, I’m going to leave the Pentagon to comment on the specifics on that.
MR. CARNEY: Last one for these guys, and I’ll stay.
Q Thank you, Jay. I would like to ask both gentlemen — the withdrawal of troops, even by those who support it, nonetheless is questioned about for giving the exact numbers of when the troops will leave and finally be gone. It’s almost like telegraphing a message to possible enemies of the regime. What do you say to that criticism?
MR. McDONOUGH: Well, I’ll try it first. The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now for — or been enforced now for several years.
So it’s difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date. By the same token, I think that individual decisions that our troops and our commanders are making are informed by their assessments as it relates to individual movements and security related therewith. And we feel very good, and, frankly, very appreciative of their efforts in that regard.
Q Hey, guys. Boehner’s office is saying that they know of no effort to even contact his office.
MR. BLINKEN: There was a call that had many members of Congress on from both Houses, including leadership. They were certainly invited. We thought they were on –
Q Both parties?
MR. BLINKEN: Both parties, absolutely.
MR. McDONOUGH: We’ll get you a list — I tried to call his office.
MR. BLINKEN: Only thing to add to your question is this. Other dates were well known in advance. It was well known that we were going to be out of Iraq cities in the summer of 2009, and, again, security improved; it didn’t get worse. It was well known that we were going to change our mission in the summer of 2010, and the combat mission — move to an advise-and-assist mission — and get down to 50,000 troops. Again, security continued to improve; it didn’t get worse.
And there’s something very important about the United States keeping its commitments. That sends a very strong and powerful message throughout the region — in Iraq as well as countries outside Iraq. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, gentlemen.
MR. McDONOUGH: Thanks, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Appreciate it.
You guys want more? I’m here to take questions on other subjects.
Q Thank you. Two follow-ups just on the previous. One is that if Secretary were in Pakistan and Afghanistan, if she was carrying any special message from the President. Because, as you know from the think tanks, and even President and Secretary said, that — and including the defense secretary — Pakistan is the most dangerous place today, as far as the Haqqani network and terrorists are concerned, unless you (inaudible) Pakistan.
MR. CARNEY: What’s the question?
Q So was there any message the President — she was carrying for the President?
MR. CARNEY: The Secretary of State was leading a high-level delegation that included the CIA Director, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others, obviously at the direction of the President of the United States.
So I will echo Denis in saying that I’ll leave it to those participants to read out their meetings, but, of course, this was a mission embarked upon at the direction of the Commander-in-Chief.
Q And second, if I may — as far as Qaddafi’s departure or death is concerned now, does the President believe now that other — this is a message for other dictators, including in Saudi Arabia or China or even Iran? Because many Iranians are now demonstrating outside the White House for freedom and justice.
MR. CARNEY: I think — setting aside the issue of the countries that you named, I think that the lesson that we’ve seen generally, in the Arab Spring and throughout history, is that tyrants who do not respond to their people and who, in fact, murder their own people will not last, and should not last.
Q Jay, can you talk about the jobs bill? Just because the President obviously started the week three days on the road, two key states, selling the bill. The week ends with — not a surprise — but the Senate last night again votes the bill down. Where are we, and how does the President get this bill through?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, I appreciate that, Ed. As you know, the Senate did vote last night on a provision from within the American Jobs Act that would have put, if passed, up to 400,000 teachers in the classrooms educating our children, as well as putting to work additional police officers and firefighters and other first responders.
Once again, we saw an overwhelming percentage of Democrats vote in favor of that. And once again, we saw precisely zero Republicans vote in favor of that. If we lived in a world where a majority were to rule in the Senate, I think we could have counted on the Vice President to come and break the tie last night and ensure passage of this measure.
The fact of the matter is that Senate Republicans chose, in unison, to vote against a measure that would have put teachers back to work, would have put construction workers on the job — or rather, teachers back to work and first responders back to work, rather than asking millionaires and multimillionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more. That’s the choice they made, and that is unfortunate.
So the President will continue to make the case that we need to take action to address the biggest challenge in front of us right now as regards our economy, which is an economy that’s not growing fast enough and an economy that’s not creating enough jobs.
The Senate Republicans failed to act in a way that would have addressed, in part, this problem last night. But the President and Democrats will continue to insist that the Senate, and hopefully eventually the House, vote on every measure within the American Jobs Act. And it is my understanding that today we are able to say that when the Senate returns, the week that it returns, they will vote on a provision that addresses the infrastructure provision — the provision that addresses infrastructure investments and would put construction workers back to work rebuilding our highways and schools and bridges, and ensuring that we have the kind of economic foundation for — to be competitive in the 21st century.
Hopefully, maybe, after they take another recess, Senate Republicans will hear from their constituents, come back with a different attitude about what this economy needs right now, which is measures that are fully paid for, by asking millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more; an idea that is supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public — Democrats, independents and Republicans — and will provide the votes necessary to pass that provision and the ones that we hope will be voted on after that.
Q Can I — to follow up on that, why doesn’t the President insist that the Senate vote on the things that are clearly much easier to pass — the payroll tax deduction, perhaps the unemployment assistance? If it’s so urgent, why do you go through these exercises that end up in these 50 votes — 50/50 votes that don’t get the 60 –
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me make clear. We want and insist that Congress vote on every provision. And I believe the Senate Majority Leader has addressed that as well. So we expect that votes will be taken on those provisions.
The extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut would take effect once the current payroll tax cut expires. So whether it’s voted on this week or two weeks from now will not affect when it is implemented — which is very soon, and will have a very positive impact if it is passed in 2012.
Every one of these provisions, if passed, would have a positive impact on economic growth and job creation, as judged by outside independent economists. So we think every provision is valuable, every provision should be passed and every provision should be voted on. But be assured that every provision will be voted on and Senate Republicans will have the opportunity, hopefully, if you will, to save face and vote on some of them and help this economy grow and create jobs.
Q I was wondering if you could comment on a report — a Brian Ross report about the $529 million loan to a company called Fisker to make electric cars, but there is no facility in the United States that could make them, so they’re being manufactured in Finland.
MR. CARNEY: I’d be delighted to answer that, because, as was known in the case, the car that is being manufactured in Finland was always going to be manufactured in Finland. The loan that is being provided is not — the funds that is provided to Fisker are not being used — as I believe the CEO said to ABC — not being used for its facilities in Finland. There are already jobs on the ground in the United States, both directly at the plant in Wilmington and at the headquarters on the West Coast. And the model that will be built in the United States will be built in the United States, and that the loan program that was provided will assist in that endeavor.
Not only that, the model that is being built in Finland relies on suppliers and others here in the United States for its manufacture. So I think what was discovered in that piece is that this plant is doing exactly what it said it would do, this company is doing exactly what it said it would do, and that we anticipate and hope that it will continue to grow and that the jobs will be — continue to be created here in the United States and that we will continue, both through this and also through the major Detroit automobile manufacturers, to be a leader in the automobile industry in the world — a role that Republicans in Congress were willing to give up for the United States of America. They opposed the President’s decision to insist on the restructuring of GM and Chrysler, for example, and to assist them on staying alive and saving more than a million jobs in the United States. We think that was the right decision to make, and we think that helping other car manufacturers locate here, build here, create jobs here is a good idea.
Q Why does the White House think that the Senate is moving pretty quickly on a number of nominations, including some that have been held up for a while? What’s your read on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly welcome — thank you for the question. We certainly welcome the — (laughter) — is that a trick question? No, we certainly welcome the fact that the Senate has confirmed a number of nominations, both administration positions as well as judicial nominations of late. And we’re clearly working very closely. Rob Nabors, our head of Congressional Liaison Office here, is working very closely with leadership in the Senate to get these confirmations through. And we certainly appreciate the votes.
Q Another tough one for you. Polling suggests that voters care more about the economy than they do about foreign policy, but the narrative that I think we’re seeing the President and the advisors who just left starting to paint are about the string of foreign policy successes. And I guess I was just wondering, do you see this becoming something that he should campaign on — his killing of Osama bin Laden, Qaddafi’s death, the removal of now all troops from Iraq? And why is that message important? Why do you think it will resonate in a year when people are very focused on the economy?
MR. CARNEY: Americans are very focused on the economy because, as I just discussed, it’s the number-one priority for them and for this President. We need to grow the economy, we need to take measures that will have the economy creating more jobs, and he is absolutely focused on that.
The President will be judged on his record as President, and that includes Commander-in-Chief. The only thing I think that’s worth pointing out — and this applies to foreign policy, national security policy, as well as domestic policy — is that this President has made a series of very hard decisions, whether it was bailing out American automobile companies to save a million plus jobs and ensure that we continue to be a leader in the automobile industry globally or ensuring that we pass the Recovery Act so that the Great Recession would not become the second Great Depression in American history.
Whether it was keeping his commitment to wind down the war in Iraq and end it responsibly — something that he campaigned on when he was running for office — I think it’s important, if I could just digress for one minute, to remember that during the 2008 campaign, the Iraq war in many ways was the dominant issue. This was an issue that many, many Americans rightfully care deeply about.
Then-Senator Obama took a very clear position on that. He made very clear what he would do. And as is the case in every big decision he makes, he says what he was — he said what he would do, and he did it. And he is doing it now with Iraq. And again, just a series of tough decisions — both domestic policy and foreign policy.
Q When the President goes to Nevada next week, is he going to be talking about the jobs bill, or does he has something about housing he wants to –
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President will continue to talk about the economy and about the need to create jobs here. We aren’t going to let up on this discussion because it is, going back to what I just said, our number-one priority and the President’s number-one priority. So you can assume that next week on the trip he is taking that he’ll continue to talk broadly about the economy and the need to pass measures and the American Jobs Act.
But I don’t have any specific announcements about what he’s going to do at the different stops to make today.
Q The reason I ask is there’s campaign talk this week about the Republican debate and sort of the lack of any effort to address the housing situation. Since he’s going to be right there, sort of ground zero for foreclosures –
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that we have — this President has taken a number — made a number of decisions and taken a number of measures to try to assist homemakers — I mean homeowners in — (laughter) — some of them are homemakers as well — in dealing with the housing crisis that we confronted when we came here, and that has continued to be a real drag and burden on the economy. We most recently took an executive measure, the President did, to assist the unemployed in mortgage forbearance to allow hardworking Americans who find themselves unemployed to continue to stay in their homes. And we will continue to look for ways to deal with that very difficult housing situation going forward.
Carrie and then –
Q Does the President have any plans to talk with former President Bush about the decision today?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any. As you know, the President saw former President Bush, George W. Bush on 9/11. To the point I think that was made earlier, I think in answer to a question from Human Events, the announcement the President made today is in fulfillment of an agreement that was signed by President Bush to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. But I’m not aware of any conversation that’s planned.
Q Jay, last week, gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny died at the age of 86. After being fired from his government job in the 1950s for being gay, he became a leader in the gay rights movement even before the Stonewall riots in 1969 and for many years afterward. So what reaction does the White House have to his passing?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take that. I’m not aware. I mean, I know that he passed away, but I don’t have a comment on it.
Q Can you tell me why the White House didn’t put out a statement last week upon his death?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know so I’ll have to take the question.
Q And just one last question. There’s going to be public viewing of Kameny on November 3rd at the Smithsonian and civic leaders are expected to speak. Will the President be open to attending the ceremony?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not his scheduler, but –
Q Jay, you were talking about going — the President going to infrastructure next. On the bus trip he talked –
MR. CARNEY: I think the Senate is going to go infrastructure next.
Q Yes, but that’s the next stop. So on the bus trip the President talked about the order in which he expected the Senate to move, and he talked about infrastructure and then the next after that would be help for the long-term unemployed, and after that the tax credit for vets, and after that the millionaire tax hike. So is that –
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, no. The surtax on millionaires is being — is part of every measure.
Q Right. He said on the bus trip that he wanted a vote on that. So I’m just trying to clarify that’s what he means — he wants separate votes on each of those in that order? That’s what he described –
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the Senate Majority Leader decides the order in which business occurs on the Senate floor. So I will leave it to Senator Reid to make announcements about that.
I think it’s true that they had the vote last night on teachers and first responders. We’re anticipating a vote the week that they get back on infrastructure. There remain to be votes on the additional provisions within it, including a tax break to hire veterans, a payroll tax cut for individuals, payroll tax cut for small businesses, and other provisions, unemployment insurance. But I don’t have an order to give to that. And I would say that, as was the case on the vote last night, that the pay-for on all of these is, as the Senate desired, the surtax — the so-called surtax on millionaires — and just apportioned according to the size of the delineated measure within the American Jobs Act.
Thanks very –
Q Do you have a week ahead?
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I do. One of these days. Maybe my last day as press secretary, or last Friday I will remember to read it before I’m asked.
Q Is this your last day?
MR. CARNEY: Get those rumors going.
On Monday, the President will travel — (laughter) –
Q Theo Epstein left so there’s an opening.
MR. CARNEY: I’d take that job.
Q I don’t know.
MR. CARNEY: It may not be good — it may not be good for Boston, but –
On Monday, the President will travel to Las Vegas, as we’ve been discussing, to make remarks on the American Jobs Act. He will also participate in a campaign event while in Las Vegas. In the evening, the President will participate in campaign events in Los Angeles and spend the night there.
On Tuesday morning, the President will tape an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” before departing for San Francisco. In San Francisco, the President will participate in a campaign event. In the afternoon the President will travel to Denver and participate in campaign events. He will spend Tuesday night in Denver.
And on Wednesday morning the President will deliver remarks on the American Jobs Act in Denver. That afternoon, the President will return to Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, the President will hold a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.
And on Friday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
Thank you all very much. Have a great weekend.
Q Thank you.
1:51 P.M. EDT
Tags: Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse