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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks

March 1, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: To syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.

Mark, so, did Senator Daschle and the Democrats do something wrong, or have the Republicans gone hysterical as Senator Daschle accused them of?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I just think it’s long past the time we ought to have a debate in this country. The dimensions and the direction of post-September 11 have changed profoundly. We’re talking about places now that were never on the radar before — places like Yemen and the Republic of Georgia and the former Soviet Union, as well as some talking blithely about going into Iraq, an enterprise at minimum would require 250,000 troops according to people on the military planning.

So I think it’s time for a debate. It’s a question of, you know, what are we going to do? The country, I think is ready for it in terms of what is the cost. How that cost is going to be distributed both in blood and in treasure and just– I think it’s — Senator Lott really either through inadvertence or conspicuous misinformation chose to equate dissent from Tom Daschle’s part with treason – I mean saying that Tom Daschle is dividing America at a time when the country is difficult sided. I mean that was just — that was a silly statement.

And Bob Byrd and Joe Biden — they disagree. Joe Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said we need more commitment, more involvement in Afghanistan and Bob Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, both Democrats are saying no we need an exit strategy out of Afghanistan. And that’s a debate. I mean what does Afghanistan mean? What does it involve? What do we have to do?

JIM LEHRER: David, how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: I basically agree with that. President Bush escalated the war on terror. He said we’re going after regime changes in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. He said we’re going to worry about weapons of mass destruction. That is an important change; we should debate about it.

And this is not a device — this doesn’t weaken the country; this strengthens the country. There’s a historian in California named Victor Davis Hansen, who wrote a book about why democracies make such lethal armies.

And it’s not because we are so well disciplined but it’s because we have internal debates and that leaders actually have to defend their policies. And that’s what Daschle was doing. Bush — if anything — has been deficient in defending his policies since that State of the Union. You can’t just give one speech about Iraq. You have got to give a bunch of them. He hasn’t done that.

If there is a weakness in the Democratic position, it is this. Tom Daschle has to figure out where he stands on Iraq, or where the polls indicate he should stand because he sort of said well we have to have clarity, but he has not given a firm speech about what he believes about the axis of evil. Lieberman has given a speech in favor of Bush. But no Democratic politician has emerged and said okay, I’m starting the debate. Somebody will do that, and it will be up to Daschle to react.

JIM LEHRER: But what about on the other side? Why are the Republicans not willing to engage in this debate, or do you think they are, they just haven’t been approached properly?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought the Lott and Tom DeLay comments were just a cheap shot. But–.

JIM LEHRER: Tom Delay – we didn’t have that in there – Tom Delay said that it was disgusting.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Always wanting to make Trent Lott look good — make him look worse. They can win this debate. I completely agree with the Republican position. I don’t think you can fight the war on terrorism as Tom Daschle indicates that you can by focusing on two individuals. I mean Iraq is a really bad regime. They really threaten us with weapons of mass destruction. It seems to me a debate the Republicans should be eager to have and not try to stifle.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s pick up on that one, Mark. On the substance issue that Daschle said, that this is going to be a failure if we don’t get Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Is he right? Do you agree with him?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean I don’t agree with him quite frankly, but he is laying down the same premise Jim that was laid down by the President of the United States: Wanted dead or alive. Dick Cheney has repeated this time and again. The Vice President of the United States — Donald Rumsfeld is on the record as saying he goes home at night and his wife asks him when are you going to get Osama bin Laden.

He said I don’t want to hear about it anymore. That was the target; that was the mark established by the administration. Do I think that is important? No. I truly don’t.

But I think a debate about whether the United States is going to commit a quarter of a million troops and once we occupy, if in fact that is successful, whatever blood and treasure is involved–.


MARK SHIELDS: In Iraq — 100,000 troops to occupy Iraq, Jim. I don’t know. Are Americans going to be the western Christian pro-Israeli occupying force in Iraq? You think the Brits in Northern Ireland had a tough time, let me tell you, that’s an assignment that I think ought to be debated and ought to be determined by free debate in the country.

JIM LEHRER: Engaging in debate, David, on this issue of Iraq.

DAVID BROOKS: There are 25 new democracies in the last 20 years. What the U.S. has done is created a world order which is allowed local heroes like Cori Aquino, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa to create their own democracies.

I would say that’s something that’s something that’s possible in Iraq. That’s something that’s happened 25 times in the last 30 years. It is plausible to think we can happen in Iraq and think of the upside; think what happens if there is a democracy in Iraq; think what happens if we export our ideas that all human beings have inalienable rights to Iraq, to the middle of the Arab world.

It seems to me that revolutionizes the world, so the risks are tremendous but the upside is also tremendous and I think that sort of effort which Bush envisions brings out the best in the country.

JIM LEHRER: And your point is that if you have the debate, that it will refine, in other words, end up being kind of halfway between what you all may be talking about?

DAVID BROOKS: No It will be what I say and Mark will be wrong.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. But it is conceivable that it could come out in the middle, right?

DAVID BROOKS: — conceivable. It is like the Cold War, the debates are in some ways the same. Should we try to roll back Saddam Hussein or should we contain him? Should we have unilateralism, should we have coalition building? That was a 40-year debate. Bush is talking about a long war so let’s have a debate.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, we’re not arguing about ends. We’re arguing about means. There is no question about it. I mean every one of the examples of the triumph of freedom, of the preservation establishment of human dignity and every one of those countries David mentioned in the United States played a role. In none of them did we send in the 82nd Airborne. I mean that’s a big, big difference.

If Iraq is worth that, then, my God, we are entitled to a full and free debate in this country saying this is what the cost is going to be. This has been an ouchless, painless thing, Jim. It’s the first and only war since the Mexican War that we’ve gone into without no increase in taxes and no draft.

JIM LEHRER: You also mentioned Yemen for instance, which there was an announcement not from the United States but actually some guy in Yemen said there were 100 U.S. troops coming in and the thing with Georgia — maybe not troops but we are going to eventually maybe send some troops. The Philippines we already have a few hundred. Does that concern you as well?

MARK SHIELDS: It concerns me, Jim, because it is a commitment and it’s a commitment that we haven’t debated and decided. We have 2.5 million fewer men and women in the United States military than we had during the Korean War. I don’t know if that is fully grasped–.

JIM LEHRER: Say that again.

MARK SHIELDS: 2.5 million fewer American men and women in the American military than there were during the Korean War where we were fighting on one battlefield. I mean that’s the kind — you’re talking about getting stretched thin and who is going to bear the burden, who is going to pay this price — and I think that’s the debate that has to be held.

JIM LEHRER: How do you get around the problem though that clearly that, for instance, Senator Lott less so than the president, but others not just Senator Lott but others in the Republican– who do equate this kind of debate or even asking these kinds of questions, that it does hurts us.

In fact, in an interview last night on the NewsHour, Senator Lott said to expand on the clip we showed — he said that it unsettles our allies — that we are asking our allies to come in and help us and they can say well wait a minute, you haven’t even got Daschle on board. You don’t have your leadership on board.

DAVID BROOKS: I can’t believe that argument passes the laugh test. Our allies are democracies. They understand – they have internal debates. Do you think the people in Germany and France mind that Tom Daschle is saying some of the things they say? I’m sure they’re ecstatic about it.

Listen, one of the things about the whole issue that has clarified for me is an argument that Paul Kennedy made – he had a story in the Financial Times saying never before in human history has the disparity between the greatest power and the second and third and fourth greatest power been as large as it is today. The United States spends more on defense than the next nine nations.

We are richer — with 30 percent of the world GDP is American. This seems to be a central fact that coordinates this whole debate. Do we see this as a tremendous opportunity that we can take advantage of our amazing power, or do we have to worry about hubris, we’ve got to worry about overbearing the world?

And this is a fundamental values debate, which we are now seeing the micro version of, which will expand.

JIM LEHRER: Back to the Daschle thing for a moment. Daschle really does seem to get under the Republicans’ skin, doesn’t he? Is that part of this too, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it is. The Republicans have decided, as political parties do, that they have to put a face on the Democrats. The Democratic Party is a party without a face. They continue to run against Bill Clinton. Ari Fleischer had to apologize – the White House Press Secretary — for that yesterday. They can’t run against Al Gore.

JIM LEHRER: We ought to – we have got to explain that. He made a suggestion that maybe it was the Clinton Administration’s overreaching for peace that has caused the violence now. Then he retracted it and he got his hand slapped by the president apparently for saying that.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. But that was kind of a convenient punching bag. You have got to put a face on the Democrats. Al Gore has disappeared. He is with Judge Crater somewhere, and hasn’t been heard from.

So they said well look, the Democrats did this to us with Newt Gingrich. Well Newt Gingrich was combative explosive, mercurial, volatile, obnoxious. Tom Daschle is none of the above. But there is no question he does get under their skin.

I was on the Hill yesterday and I found most fascinating I had Republicans saying to me there is not consultation on the part of the administration and the White House. It’s not just the grumbling of Tom Daschle or Bob Byrd or Joe Biden. There is a sense that unilateralism, call it what you want, is the policy as far as the Congress is concerned perhaps as well as the allies.

JIM LEHRER: We talked about this before, David, there’s the Daschle element in all of this. But you could even reverse it. I would reverse the question to you, just watching Daschle a minute ago in the tape. Clearly they’re getting under his skin. They’re calling hysterical — he was a little, you know, a little annoyed, which he has made a career out of not showing annoyance.

DAVID BROOKS: For him, that was a blowup. That was a tantrum.

JIM LEHRER: All right. But Daschle really is in their sights, is he not?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, he certainly is. And for that reason, if you have a parking accident with somebody and you are screaming at them and they’re saying yes, yes, you just get madder and madder.

But Daschle is in a very tough position; as Mark said. Democrats are all over Lott on this and he somehow has got to be the leader. So it is a very difficult job that he faces. I’m sure the pressure is on him, too.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. A quick question about this Washington Post story today that the president confirmed about shadow governments on September 11 and secret plates. What do you think about that?

DAVID BROOKS: I find it a little creepy. It is a hardship on Mark and I because we have to go to West Virginia in case of nuclear war, the punditry flow will not be impeded. I actually did find it a little creepy; the story is that members of every single cabinet department are going in 90-day shifts to some mysterious underground bunker government.

It seems to me if you have got a democracy, a decentralized system, the one thing you are really good at is being flexible, flexible in a time of crisis, that the government flows from the bottom up. And you don’t need some sort of bureaucrat in a bunker running the country in a time of crisis. I will say the one important thing it shows is how Bush is obsessed with this war or focused on this war.

JIM LEHRER: Quickly.

MARK SHIELDS: Quick, Jim, it is a little eerie and a little jarring to read about it, no question about it, especially after watching the vice president on Jay Leno kidding about his own secure location and his own hibernation. It is a reminder of how seriously the Administration has obviously taken this.