Q Can I ask, when the President came to the Rose Garden this morning, about 10:45 a.m., at that hour did the White House already know about this attack on the Marines in Fallujah? http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/12/20051202-2.html
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we did. The President was informed about the loss of the Marines last night, and those that were injured, and then he was briefed again this morning. We are saddened by the loss of life, whether it's one soldier who loses his or her life, or 10 or 11. We are saddened to hear that news. Our heart and prayers go out to the families. Their loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice for an important cause, and we are forever grateful for their service and sacrifice.
Q On a day when you're trying to trumpet what you describe as good economic news, the President comes out and minutes later it becomes public that these Marines were killed and injured. Does that undercut your good news?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to separate out the two issues. First of all, again, we are saddened to learn about the loss of life of these brave Marines, and we are concerned about those who have been wounded in the attack. Our thoughts and prayers will remain with their families. And we will be forever grateful for their sacrifice.
In terms of the news today on the economy, that's another issue. And it's not what we're trumpeting, it's what the facts show. The facts show that our economy is in good shape. This is the latest indication that our economy is showing sustained and strong economic expansion. And that's important -- that's an important priority for the American people.
Q Do you think the President is getting the credit that you think he deserves regarding the economy when Iraq --
MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of -- let me just mention, in terms of the announcement of the loss of life, I mean, that's determined by the military. And one thing that they do is make sure that the families are notified ahead of time, as well. And so that's something that they -- before those names are released. And so we leave the timing up to the military so that they can address those concerns and issues before making announcements public.
Q Scott, it was just this week, obviously, that the President made this major -- what you billed as a major speech introducing his plan for victory in Iraq. Do you think the deadly attacks, as we saw today, that take the lives of 10 Marines, wound 11 or more others, does that make it a more difficult sell to the American public to persuade them that this strategy is working?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we're trying to do is lay the foundations of peace for our children and grandchildren. Others focus on the polls. We're focused on the safety and security of the American people. And that's what we will continue to do. That's what this is about. This is about the war on terrorism. The stakes are very high in Iraq. And we're going to continue to talk to the American people about what those stakes are, and the nature of the enemy that we're up against.
We're up against an enemy that has no regard for innocent human life; terrorists that seek to spread their hateful ideology across the broader Middle East. And that's why it's so important that we remain engaged in the Middle East and that we take the fight to the enemy, and that we work to spread freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East. The Iraqi people are determined to build a future that is based on freedom and democracy. They are getting ready to go to the polls here again in two weeks. And we recognize that the terrorists and the regime loyalists are going to try to do what they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. Every step of the way they have failed, and they will continue to fail, because everyone has a right to live in freedom. And the Iraqi people want to live in freedom.
And that's why we're there helping them. And what it will do is help inspire the rest of the Middle East and help lay the foundations of peace for generations to come. And that's why it's so important that we succeed. And that's what the President is talking about in his remarks. And that's why he's talking about, we've got a plan for victory. Most Americans want to see our troops succeed. They also want to see them come home. And the way they come home is to complete the mission and achieve victory, and deal a major blow to the terrorists right in the heart of the Middle East.
Q Yes, but by the President's own account, the terrorists aren't the biggest part of the problem in Iraq, so --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let Kathleen finish up. Kathleen had a follow up.
Q But, again, Scott. You know, when you have such a --
MR. McCLELLAN: And that's wrong. I'll come back to that.
Q When you have such a deadly attack, and say this is a ramp-up on the part of the insurgents there, leading up to the December 15th elections, if you have more and more deaths like this of U.S. service members, will this not make it harder to convince the American public that your plan is working?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's important to keep the American people informed about the war we're engaged in, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and throughout the world. The President said after September 11th, this is going to be a long war. We are in a struggle against a radical ideology that is based on hatred and oppression and fear. And this is what we're up against. The President talked about this right after September 11th. And he learned the lessons of September 11th, which taught us that we need to take the fight to the enemy, and that we need to work to change the status quo in the broader Middle East.
And as we keep the American people informed, it's important to not only keep them informed about the clear plan we have for succeeding and prevailing in Iraq and defeating the terrorists, but it's also important to keep them informed about the challenges and the difficulties that remain. There's important progress that's being made. It's important not to ignore the progress that's being made on the ground.
And it's important to always remember the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. And we will be forever grateful, and we will always honor their sacrifice in our -- and we will always provide comfort and support to their families. That's what this President has done. I've seen him visit time and time again with the families of the fallen, and hug them and console them, and remind them about the importance of what their loved one sacrificed for, whether it was in Afghanistan or Iraq. But the President said the other day that there are going to be tough days ahead. And, certainly, when you have a loss like you did with these Marines yesterday, that's a tough day. But what they're sacrificing for is peace for our children and grandchildren for years to come.
Q Do you want to come back to this question, because, look --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'll come back to you.
Q -- when you guys frame this, as you just did, it's always about the war on terror. But by the President's own account in his speech on Wednesday, the jihadists are the smallest of the three elements which are fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: What did he say about the jihadists?
Q You know what he said about the jihadists.
MR. McCLELLAN: He said, the smallest, but most lethal.
Q Well, yes, but you frame it as a war on terror, and it's about much more than that, as he, himself, said.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is about the war on terrorism. It's about much more than Iraq.
Q It's about the rejection of the power that was held by the Sunni minority, it's about rejection of foreign presence in the country. It's about a lot of things in addition to the jihadists.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's about the broader war on terrorism, is what it's about, Bill. And maybe you have a different understanding about it, but the President understands clearly the stakes that are involved in this broader war on terrorism. That's why he takes a comprehensive view of how we succeed in this war on terrorism. And that's why he's taken the fight to the enemy. That's why he's supporting efforts to expand freedom and democracy in the heart of a dangerous region of the world. And we will continue to act. We will continue to support those who want to live in freedom. And Iraq will inspire the rest of the Middle East and help us lay the foundations of peace that I've been talking about.
And in terms of the terrorists, what he said the other day in his speech -- I must correct you -- was that they may be the smallest group, but they're the most lethal. These are people that have no regard for innocent human lives, and the people that they've targeted the most have been Iraqi civilians, innocent men, women and children.
Q But you seem to frame it in that unique picture, when instead there are many other elements involved.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look at the letter that Zawahiri sent to Zarqawi. They said this is the central front in the war on terrorism. The terrorists recognize that; so do we. That's why it's so important we succeed there.
So when do we get invaded to remove the rogue government that spies on its own people, gases its own people during anti War protests, stages "terrorist" attacks, holds crooked elections, attacks other nations without cause, and uses torture on innocent people looking for WMD that don't exist?