"No, the president does not have a pre-9/11 mind-set"

Tony Snow on the "acceptable" level of violence in Iraq.

Published May 3, 2007 7:16PM (EDT)

The president defined "success" in Iraq Wednesday as "a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives." At today's White House press briefing, reporters asked Tony Snow to go a little further and describe an "acceptable" level of violence in Iraq. That's where the fun began:

Snow: You know, I think what you've managed to do is to try to -- we're now playing the adjective game. The fact is when you talk about an acceptable level, it is something that allows the government to exist independently. The problem is, everybody says, "Oh, so you accept violence. You like -- violence is OK." No, it's not OK. And so in abstract terms, zero violence is acceptable.

On the other hand, we know and the president has said many times that it is going to be a tactic of people who want to bring this government down to commit acts of violence. And violence, unfortunately, at least for a while, is going to be a fact of Iraqi life. What we're really talking about is trying to create conditions of security so that you can have a functional democracy in Iraq where people can go about their daily lives, where they have confidence in the rule of law and the people who are responsible for protecting them, that you have a legislative system that is protecting rights and at the same time getting on with the business -- economic reconstruction and so on. So that's really what we're talking about. What you're trying to do is to address the kinds of violence that are designed to destroy Iraq; for instance, al-Qaida recent attacks that are designed not only to create a lot of bloodshed and to weaken the government but also to reignite sectarian violence ... And so those are the issues, those that jeopardize the very existence of the government. Those are the things that we want to address.

Reporter: Minimize violence to a nuisance?

Snow: What you want to do is to be able to have the government in a position where it can stand by itself. And I think trying to get into definitional matters at this point is ...

Reporter: In October of 2004 John Kerry said, "We have to get to the place where we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." The president said he couldn't disagree more. Cheney called this naive and dangerous, and part of the pre-9/11 mind-set. So does the president now have a pre-9/11 mind-set?

Snow: No, the president does not have a pre-9/11 mind-set. And the fact is -- I'll have to go back and take a look, but my recollection is that there was an attempt to, kind of, minimize some of the security challenges. But I don't want to put words in Senator Kerry's mouth without looking back at the 2004 debate. It is important to realize that you're going to have to use military force, and especially in conjunction with the Iraqis, to address violence that comes from a whole series of factors, whether they be old members of the Baath Party, whether they be Iraqi rejectionists or whether they be foreign fighters coming in and trying to destroy the government.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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