Want to know how White House press secretary Scott McClellan deals with tough questions about Iraq? By suggesting that the questioner—in this case, the curmudgeonly Helen Thomas—is soft on terror.
Here's the excerpt (italics added) from yesterday's White House press briefing.
<<[Helen Thomas]: What does the President mean by "total victory" -- that we will never leave Iraq until we have "total victory"? What does that mean?
MR. McCLELLAN: Free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, because a free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a major blow to the ambitions --
Q If they ask us to leave, then we'll leave?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm trying to respond. A free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the broader Middle East will be a major blow to the ambitions of al Qaeda and their terrorist associates. They want to establish or impose their rule over the broader Middle East -- we saw that in the Zawahiri letter that was released earlier this week by the intelligence community.
Q They also know we invaded Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, the President recognizes that we are engaged in a global war on terrorism. And when you're engaged in a war, it's not always pleasant, and it's certainly a last resort. But when you engage in a war, you take the fight to the enemy, you go on the offense. And that's exactly what we are doing. We are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here. September 11th taught us --
Q It has nothing to do with -- Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have a very different view of the war on terrorism, and I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism. The President recognizes this requires a comprehensive strategy, and that this is a broad war, that it is not a law enforcement matter.
Q On what basis do you say Helen is opposed to the broader war on terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, she certainly expressed her concerns about Afghanistan and Iraq and going into those two countries. I think I can go back and pull up her comments over the course of the past couple of years.
Q And speak for her, which is odd.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said she may be, because certainly if you look at her comments over the course of the past couple of years, she's expressed her concerns --
Q I'm opposed to preemptive war, unprovoked preemptive war.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- she's expressed her concerns.>>
A bizarre exchange. Clearly, Thomas' questions over the past couple of years have gone beyond the normal softball love-bombs lobbed by the White House press corps, and sometimes they're a little cranky. But to slide in a line like "I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism"—that's pretty low.