White House press secretary talks politics, Iraq, career

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told the GW community Thursday to have confidence in President George W. Bush’s Iraq plan, adding that the consequences of immediate withdrawal could prove catastrophic for America.

Snow also defended the president’s recent announcement to send more than 20,000 troops to Iraq, a decision that has met stern opposition from both parties of Congress. He is one of several top administrators trying to garner support for the president’s new domestic and foreign policy plans following the State of the Union address Tuesday.

The informal discussion was hosted by Media and Public Affairs professor Frank Sesno, who aggressively sparred with Snow for more than an hour in the Jack Morton Auditorium. Sesno, who is a special correspondent for CNN, has known the secretary since Snow’s years as a television journalist for Fox News.

Sesno began by asking whether President Bush will be able to win the Iraq War, given the increased chaos in the Middle East and bipartisan criticism of the war in Congress.

“I defy you to find any war that has moved in a smooth line where you didn’t encounter difficulties and where the Commander in Chief didn’t become unpopular,” Snow said. “It is difficult to be president in a time of war and therefore it is essential to demonstrate leadership.”

Snow said that the problem with past Iraq plans was that American forces were rarely stationed in any region long enough to enact permanent change. The president’s new plan calls for a permanent patrol of nine different regions in Baghdad.

“Operation Together Forward didn’t work,” Snow said, referring to the strategy in Iraq following the 2006 bombing of a mosque near Baghdad. “Now, you don’t resign if it doesn’t work; what you do is assess the facts and try to figure it out.”

Snow warned that pulling troops out of the area will give terrorists more power and also unlimited access to American oil supplies.

“Americans need to understand that wars are unpopular and they’re tough and they’re hard on the democracy,” Snow said. “But also, a perception of weakness and an invitation of terror can be even more grueling in the long run.”

In an interview after the event, Sesno said that Snow’s skirted responses to questions about failures in Iraq reflect the Bush administration’s reluctance to realize their own miscalculations.

“They have clearly made the decision that they are going to acknowledge very little in the way of mistakes and certainly very few specifics,” Sesno said.

He added that Snow provided “an effective case” for why American forces should not immediately withdraw from Iraq.

President Bush’s ability to disregard fluctuating public opinion and stay focused on winning the war is what has made him a great president, Snow said. Success, he added, will come only when Iraq is able to function as a safe, democratic society.

“(Winning) does not mean an end to violence, because frankly, violence may persist for some time,” Snow said.

When Sesno asked whether Bush drew a false connection between the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein, Snow responded that any supposed connection was a creation of the national media and opponents of the president.

“A lot of times we’re arguing against things that have become folkloric … and they have become effective political weapons, but they’re not always true,” Snow said.

Near the end of the discussion, Snow talked about his career in journalism and his daily encounters with the White House press corps. Reflecting on his first press conference as press secretary, Snow became briefly emotional when he was reminded of his fight with colon cancer in 2005.

“You’re granted only so many blessings,” Snow said. “In an interesting way, (cancer) focuses your appreciation of life’s blessings in a way that nothing else would.”

Hayden Hill, a graduate student in the School of Media and Public Affairs, said that Snow stood up well to Sesno’s persistent questions.

“I think he is brilliant in the way that he uses words and communicates messages,” Hill said. “I don’t think there was ever a moment when I saw him being beat by a question.”

Freshman Simon Hernandez said that it was most interesting to learn about Snow’s personal life and background as a journalist. He added, “When it came down to the policy stuff, it was mostly the party line and nothing new.”

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