House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 19, 2001
QUESTION: This morning, the President talked about changing the mind-set about
war. Here you've been stressing, or at least mentioning the other options, like
financial, other things that can be done. Are you concerned that perhaps too
much of an emphasis has been given to the military or the assumption of a military
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I'm repeating the same thing I've been saying for three
days. I continue to use that, because, again, I think it's so important for
the American people who have for so many years understood war to be a traditional
war, as the President points out, that involves capital cities and movements
of fleets, and airplanes sitting on tarmacs, that this type of war is a totally
different type of war.
And I was with the President all day on Tuesday last week, as you know. Now,
as the President arrived back into Washington, D.C., he got in his helicopter
at Andrews Air Force base and came back to the White House. And it was late
in the afternoon, early in the evening. And the way the helicopter comes into
Washington, the President could see out of the left window of the helicopter
the smoke coming out of the Pentagon.
And the President, looking out the window, said out loud and to nobody in particular,
he said, "The mightiest building in the world is on fire. What you're just
witnessing is the war of the 21st century."
I mean, he understood right from the beginning that this is different. And the
manner in which our enemies, in this case, the terrorists, carry out the war
against us is different -- hijacking airplanes with plastic knives and flying
them into buildings in America. And our response will be different. Our response
will not only be the traditional senses the American people have become accustomed
to when it comes to war. But it will be all those other elements the President
has talked about, while the financial networks that involve diplomacy, sanctions,
trade, economy, politics, carrots, sticks. And there will be a host of items,
a host of measures that go into this, and it will be different from things that
people have seen before. It will also involve the patience of the American people,
because it won't be conducted in the same manner the American people have seen
on a limited basis, thank God.
QUESTION: Ari, two quickies. One, the Attorney General and FBI Director, they
have been speaking only about attacks against Arab Americans, but not against
the Indian Sikhs. Nobody has ever spoken yet, only except you have mentioned
-- and, number two, in which category will you put Pakistan, which has been
harboring terrorism -- India's Kashmir and their -- centers even for Osama bin
Laden and others.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think on your second point, that's why the President
indicated that this is a chance for Pakistan. The President has said that he
has spoken with President Musharraf, and this is a time to see that requests
have been made, and not it will be a time to see. And the President is pleased
what he has seen at this point.
On your first question, it's a vital question, and I think it's so important
every day for everybody in government to continue to remind the American people,
as General Ashcroft did this morning, that the American people should show no
intolerance toward anybody based on what has happened. The fabric of our society
is tremendously strong, but there are some weak edges. And everybody in our
country has a role to speak out and do what we can to stop those weak edges.
QUESTION: -- because Indian American community, especially Sikhs, are really
worried to come out because a number of Sikh persons have been also targeted
in Virginia, and they are worried and -- yesterday, and they are asking President
Bush especially to --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, when he visited the Islamic Center -- and I understand
you're making a valid point about the difference between religions -- the President
was very touched when somebody explained that his mother was afraid to come
out of the house because she did want to wear her traditional headwear, and
she was fearful that if she did, she would be subject to violence. And that
really touched the President. And it's a reason why the President spoke out
as he did, and I think it's just something that every day, every way, people
in positions of responsibility have got to address.
QUESTION: In terms of your talking about war, during wartime we sometimes make
changes both with legal immigration and illegal immigration. Are there any changes
planned in how we're going to be treating immigrants to this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is nothing that's been brought to my attention. I know,
in fact, that the President is still committed to honoring his promise to work
with President Fox on immigration changes to deal with Mexico and that's part
of the program and ways of making America welcome to immigrants.
It's so important at all times to remember the things that make America strong,
and immigration is one of them. We can be a nation with immigrants; we can also
be a nation of laws, and we have to be both.
QUESTION: You mentioned yesterday that the response from the Taliban had been
all over the lot. Is there any more clarity today, and if not, does that in
itself indicate that they're not going to cooperate?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would say there has been no more clarity today.
QUESTION: Also, in wartime, we've had history of drafts. Is that something that's
under consideration, or can we take it off the table?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no consideration of that at this time. And from
my conversations at the Pentagon, it's not something they anticipate.
QUESTION: One Irish question and one British question, please. There were some
references made by the IRA yesterday. Does the administration believe that one
side of that conflict is more guilty than the other? Does the administration
believe that the IRA is a terrorist group, or the new IRA, or the Real IRA?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, the Real IRA is listed on the official list of terrorist
groups. But I think the President said what he said for a reason. He is sending
a message and he's rallying a coalition, that those who engage in terrorism
and those who harbor terrorists need to be worried about the actions that our
government will take.
QUESTION: Is one side in that conflict more guilty than the other? Is one more
of a terrorist group than the other?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't look at it in a linear fashion.
QUESTION: On Britain tomorrow -- in a military sense, what do you plan to ask
Prime Minister Blair to contribute, if you can?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, Connie, as you know, I'm not going to indicate what
military actions we'll request.
QUESTION: Ari, based on information you've gotten over the past week, what is
the President's level of concern about additional attacks on U.S. soil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ongoing. I can't point to anything that would make it fluctuate
up or down. But I can tell you that the President is concerned on an ongoing
basis about maintaining security around the United States, and that's why, for
example, the Department of Transportation has been working with the Air Marshal
Program to protect aviation. That's why there has been such beefed up security
at airports across the country.
It's a reminder that our open society has vulnerabilities. But, of course, being
an open society is what has allowed us to be as strong as we are so that we
would be able to prevail in this conflict.
QUESTION: If I can just follow up on that, there is some law enforcement concern
that because some of the hijackers, alleged hijackers, were booked on flights
on the 22nd of September, that there may be some kind of second wave out there.
Is there any concern in the White House that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, there is nothing I've heard about any specific dates,
information like that. But as I indicated, it's an ongoing concern where security
is being beefed up, stepped up. And the events of the 11th have sadly brought
home to all Americans that we have to be mindful of violence here within our
QUESTION: Do you think there was more -- that there were more attempts either
scheduled to be made the same day or on some other date, even if it's not the
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can't speculate, Bill. I know that --
QUESTION: You've not heard one way or the other?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard anything conclusive. I just know that this is
a time to be cautious. Concerns are ongoing.
QUESTION: Back on foreign policy just quickly. Many nations are calling for
restraint of U.S. actions, China in particular. How much of what the U.S. is
doing is bound by these bilateral and multilateral concerns, and how much of
what you are doing in unilateral?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is going to be a healthy dose of both. The President is determined
to lead on this question, make no doubts about it. And there will be many nations
around the world that stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. There
will be other nations that stand a little bit less than shoulder to shoulder
with the United States, and some less than that. But to the degree that any
nation has a contribution to make, the United States will work with those nations.
To the degree that nations have a robust series of actions they can take, we
will work with them as well.
QUESTION: Ari, are our hands tied at all by these calls for restraint? Is the
United States still able to act unilaterally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, frankly, it is just the opposite, Terry. When you take
a look at how NATO has invoked Article 5 and how the Rio Treaty is being looked
at now, I think it is just the opposite. The international community is rising
up, as close to one as an international community can get.
QUESTION: May I follow up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim?
QUESTION: May I follow up, Ari, please?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Jim had his --
QUESTION: Well, I've got another one germane to Terry's question.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me -- you had a follow-up just a minute ago, and Jim
has been patient. Jim has been patient, and then we have patient people there,
and then -- be patient and I will get back to you.
Yes, patient Mr. Angle?
QUESTION: The President's view has been somewhat skeptical of the need for new
economic stimulus, saying he wanted to wait and see how what was already in
the pipeline had taken effect. How has that view changed since last Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly the immediate aftermath for the economy sends worrisome
signals, and it is important to fully assess those signals, and when it comes
to the making of appropriate policy on an economic point of view, what to do
-- what type of stimulus package, if there should be additional tax cuts, if
there should be additional spending, if there should be regulatory changes.
The President is going to adopt a very consultative approach with the Congress,
and a deliberative approach, as well. He will take a look at the context of
the economy, and he will make a judgment.
QUESTION: But has he already reached the judgment that there obviously is some
need for stimulus? My understanding is that experts on Capitol Hill are already
talking about one percent lower growth than was anticipated in the third quarter
MR. FLEISCHER: He's leaning that way, Jim.
QUESTION: Is that all you can say on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think you have to let him have the meeting with the members
of Congress. I mean, the purpose of these meetings is to listen to the members
of Congress. And you know, the President wants to hear from them. They are in
touch with their constituents, they are in touch with the nation. He wants to
gather their input, and then he will probably have more to say. And certainly
you all will see the President soon yourselves when he is in that meeting.
QUESTION: What are his economic advisers saying about the status of the economy
now, and the need for stimulus? Are they telling him one way or the other what
they think is necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: They are coming up with a series of options for the President,
some of which I have tried to describe here.
QUESTION: I still have a follow up.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get back. I promised you I would. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ari. I just wanted, I think, to ask something related to
Terry's question, which is the weight that the President is giving his coalition
building efforts. Does he feel that he wants to devote time and effort to that
now, and then he'll worry about possible military action? Or is he willing to
forge ahead, take military action first and let others follow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not prepared to predict the timing of anything military.
The President will continue to build his coalition and talk to allies, and events
will follow from that.
QUESTION: He doesn't feel that he's got some work to do first?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's doing all the work at the same time.
QUESTION: Air, two questions real quick. What -- if the White House can expound
on this relationship between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden? And also, what
specifically can the White House speak to on the labor front? All of these people's
jobs are getting lost and all of these companies, as a result -- all these questions
-- as a result of these terrorist attacks last week.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the first point, the President has made it clear that
the Taliban should not harbor terrorists. It doesn't get more complicated than
QUESTION: What kind of relationship is there between Osama bin Laden and the
MR. FLEISCHER: It's very close.
On the second point, of course, that's exactly why the President is taking a
look at some of the ideas for how to stimulate the economy. He's very worried
about the impact on the economy in general, various sectors specifically, on
the working men and women of this country at all economic strata who are at
risk of losing their jobs, from airline layoffs to minimum wage workers, to
people who worked in the World Trade Center in entry-level jobs and who are
alive, but have no job to go to.
So the President's worries extend widely. And that's why he's meeting with members
of Congress today and talking to his economic team about what steps can be taken
to help this country.
Bill Plante has been very patient.
QUESTION: If I can follow up Terry's question about whether we have bilateral
or unilateral action. Your answer really suggested that the United States is
going to do as it sees fit, and other nations can come along to the extent that
they're willing to. But it doesn't sound as though you're really talking about
consultation with anyone.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the nations that the President is talking
to would strongly disagree with what you've just said. And that's the whole
reason that the President has called more than 20 world leaders, that he's been
meeting with a series of Presidents and foreign ministers. He had dinner with
the President of France last night -- that's exactly the purpose of consultation
and leadership. The two go hand in hand.
QUESTION: Is it consultation, or is it telling them what we intend to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's both. That's called leadership, and that's called consultation.
And that's all, added up, called diplomacy.
QUESTION: You made the point just a moment ago that it's also a reality that
-- well, let me put it this way -- the President intends to move forward knowing
that there are going to be a number of countries that may not be standing shoulder
to shoulder with the United States, and the United States will move ahead anyway.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the world has stood up rather powerfully and
in a way that I've never seen before, in terms of the numbers of nations that
have stood up and said that we're with the United States. So I think it's really
just the opposite. Are you saying that the United States should do nothing unless
there's world unanimity? I'm not aware of any such doctrine.
QUESTION: Why should the American people believe that this government has such
solid evidence linking Osama bin Laden to these terrorist acts when it wasn't
even able to determine that there were four planes that were going to get hijacked
and kill thousands of people? Why should we believe you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think you're free to come to any conclusions that you
choose. But if you take a look at the track-record, for example, Osama bin Laden
is already in indictment for the things that he has done before. There is no
question in the previous bombing of the World Trade Center that the al Qaeda
organization, Osama bin Laden were behind it. The bombing of our embassies in
Tanzania and Kenya were all attributed to Osama bin Laden and his organization.
There are indications that the bombing of the Cole were attributed to Osama
And as the United States government continues to gather evidence in this case,
it will be shared with governments. If any of the governments share your concerns,
I'm sure they'll make it clear to us. We're hearing scant little of that.
QUESTION: Ari, our Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is just reporting
that 100 military aircraft are being deployed to bases closer to Afghanistan.
Can you confirm that? And what would you tell the American public about the
general movement of military assets the last two or three days that we've seen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, that's the first I've heard of that. And as you know,
I have a longstanding policy of any information that you obtain in the course
of my briefing I wait to confirm before I get into.
QUESTION: Ari, Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan decided earlier today to dispatch
the self-defense forces to provide logistical support for the U.S. military
and the other coalition members. It was a historic decision for Japan, given
the constitutional constraint on its military action overseas. Would you welcome
the decision? And is the President willing to meet with Prime Minister of Japan
anytime soon to discuss his decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the President is always willing to meet with the Prime
Minister of Japan. And conversations that are at all levels of government have
been and will continue to take place. And I think what you just indicated is
another sign of the cooperation around the world as nations stand in solidarity
with the United States.