The Korea Analogy

White House Press Briefing on Iraq/Korea (excerpt) (

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 30, 2007

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

12:08 P.M. EDT

. . . . Q Tony, on Iraq, for the gaggle you were asked about U.S. troops and just how long the presence would be there, the vision. And you compared it to the Korean model. Can you explain that?

MR. SNOW: Yes. It was actually a question that Helen raised and Helen used to create an analogy, but the President has used it before.

MS. THOMAS: Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: That is Helen Thomas, front row veteran. (Laughter.)

Q Spell it right. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Here is -- what the President means by that is that at some point you want to get to a situation in which the Iraqis have the capability to go ahead and handle the fundamental matters of security. You have the United States there in what has been described as an over-the-horizon support role so that if you need the ability to react quickly to major challenges or crises, you can be there, but the Iraqis are conducting the lion's share of the business -- as we have in South Korea, where for many years there have been American forces stationed there as a way of maintaining stability and assurance on the part of the South Korean people against a North Korean neighbor that is a menace.

In this particular case, what you want to be able to do -- and I'm now not trying to draw comparisons with any of the neighbors of Iraq, but instead, simply taking a look at the situation within Iraq proper. You get yourself into a position where you do have security in places like Baghdad and at the provincial level, and then you provide security as long as seems reasonable to the Iraqi people who are, after all, your hosts and the ones making the invitations.

Q For 50 years?

Q Now, the Korean model, you've got thousands of U.S. troops there for some 50 years. I mean, how is that comparison and vision in that --

MR. SNOW: Wendell just asked the same question. I don't think -- again, that's not strictly comparable because what you have is a North Korea that continues to be a threat, I mean as we've seen with the development of nuclear weapons. We're hoping that the Iraqis, in fact, are going to have the kind of security and stability they need so that what you're really dealing with is the internal security of Iraq, rather than trying to provide reassurance against an external foe.

Q So you're not suggesting that U.S. troops would be there for over 50 years in a --

MR. SNOW: No, no, I'm not. I don't know. It is an unanswerable question, but I'm not making that suggestion.

Q You're not suggesting that there's a parallel between the Korean model today and the Iraqi model today in terms of U.S. force posture?

MR. SNOW: No, what I'm saying is you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support role. But, no, of course, we're in active combat.

Q Tony, while there's no way of telling whether we'll be there 50 years, or not, but isn't there planning going on for a significant number of troops to be there for a long time? I mean, do you still consider this a long war?

MR. SNOW: Well, the war on terror is a long war. As far as what happens in Iraq, you constantly have to default to the reasonable position that you defer to commanders on the ground. There were reports not so long ago that half the forces would be out next year. The fact is you have to take a look at what is going on in terms of the growing capability of Iraqi forces and, frankly, the growing reassurance on the part of the Iraqi people to step up and to go after those who are responsible for sectarian violence, and those who are responsible for foreign-fed violence, especially al Qaeda, so that they play a role in rooting out and vanquishing those who are presenting a real threat to their safety and security.

But having said that, you don't have a crystal ball; what you do hope is that you get to that point where the United States moves away from primary combat roles as swiftly as possible.

Q But what about planning, Tony? I mean, you may not have a crystal ball, but you can -- the way that the country is going today. And when you talk about this Korean model, would that kick in whether things are going poorly after the surge, or going well after the surge? I mean, do you have to maintain a stability of some sort?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, Martha, as we have said, take a look at the facts on the ground. As you know -- you know and I know that Pentagon planners have a whole series of plans that try to encompass every eventuality. I'm not going to get into any of the details of those sorts of things, but obviously planners spend a lot of time trying to figure out where things are going to lead and how you properly follow.

Q Tony, I'm sorry, but when you look at a mission, when you say, I don't know whether we'll be in Iraq or not -- I mean, how do they know what their mission is if you --

MR. SNOW: What their mission is, is to go --

Q -- can't even articulate --

MR. SNOW: What do you mean? We know what the mission is, which is --

Q Is it a long war mission? Is it a short mission? Is it results right now? What is it?

MR. SNOW: The mission is to build capability so that you have the ability to have a stable, functioning Iraqi democracy where the Iraqis are assuming the primary responsibility for security and every other aspect of their government and their development. I mean, that's been the key from the start. . . .

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