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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks

April 5, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard.

David, what is your reaction to the Webster report, the Webster Commission and its findings as just explained by Judge Webster.

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I’d say if you take all reports on all the FBI Scandals in the past five years, the McVeigh papers, the crime labs, this report is certainly in the top five. There have just been a lot of scandals in the FBI. And one of my favorites bits, which was highlighted in The Washington Post today, said that when FBI agents are in their offices w and they have classified documents on their desks. somebody without authorization comes to look at them, they should turn the paper over. So we are talking about a culture as Judge Webster just said, which did not have high priority placed on domestic – internal security. But there has been a lot of music. Mueller, the FBI head has moved some in some way. There is a bill on Capitol Hill by Grassley and Pat Leahy to move a little further. There’s been some movement in the right direction.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, we were somewhat conditioned to judge Webster’s commission report by the books that have been written about Robert Hanssen. To find out a relative close male relative of his went to the FBI and said, hey, there’s something wrong here, that the Russians eight years ago, eight years before he was captured, Russian intelligence officer had been approached by him in 1993. So I think our capacity for being shocked at what went wrong in the FBI, which, as you and I were discussing earlier, is a revered organization; and was one that the Americans were conditioned to grow up with a sense of awe and just respect.

JIM LEHRER: Toughest question of all was the last one Terry asked Judge Webster. Is there– could there be, even with the new revelations and the new procedures, could there be a spy there now? And as Judge Webster said, who knows. I mean, you know, it’s a scary thing. The President’s decision on the Middle East, Mark: It was said here last night and everywhere else in the final analysis yesterday, the President had no choice. He had to do something. Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think he had to, Jim. At the point it reached– the great thing about being President is that you get to be President. The toughest thing about being President is when a problem gets to your desk, the reason it gets to your desk is because it hasn’t been able to be solved any place down below you where an assistant secretary can take all the bows and the deputy chief can say I did a great job, boss.

This one came to the President and the President was the only one who could act. He finally, in the final analysis was faced with a choice of not acting, carried with it a bigger downside, not moving, than the risk of moving and failing, which is very real, which is considerable. I think the President– the President has had a sense of mission, which he didn’t have prior to September 11, to his presidency, since September 11. And that sense of mission, the war against terrorism, was really threatened in great degree by the fact that friendly Arab nations whose reliance, involvement, help he needed in that war, found themselves being destabilized or at least reported to be destabilized in their own populations were destabilizing and they were risking non-relations with Israel, or breaking relations with Israel because of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, David, that the sense of mission that Mark was talking about, as President Bush saw it, did not include the Middle East until yesterday or until the hours before yesterday and now it is? It is a huge thing?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess he felt he had no partner. He felt Yasser Arafat was not a partner for peace. He destroyed the Oslo process; he had failed to live up to the Tenet proposal to renounce violence. He’d failed to declare a cease-fire to meet Dick Cheney in his visit. He thought there’s no partner. I’m not going to get involved if there is no partner but a whole bunch of things have happened in the past week that pushed him off that spot — hasn’t changed his mind about Arafat but forced him into the current policy. That includes the Passover massacre where just on a humanitarian level, he said he has to try to do something.

Second, Hosni Mubarak threatening to cut relations with Israel. They’re only symbolic relations now but they’re important as symbolism.

Third, the fragility of the Jordanian regime – the Hashemite regime over the Palestinian population in Jordan: If the situation blows out of control, does the regime topple? So there’s that worry. Then there is the political worry, you know, your political advisers tell you you’re President of the United States, you can’t sit here and do nothing while this thing is blowing up. You have to do something. The polls suggest people don’t really approve quite as much of your Middle East policy as everything else. All these things added up, including, I should mention, Tony Blair’s visit, he wants to give something to the Europeans to prepare them for Iraq. So all these things added up to move him off his existing and continuing belief that Arafat is not a partner for peace.

JIM LEHRER: So you agree, he finally had no choice.

DAVID BROOKS: He had to move off. He didn’t move off as far as people said he was. He basically has said Israel was right to try to clean out the terrorists. I’m giving them a few more days to do it. Arafat, I’m looking beyond you. He didn’t say Arafat was the essential partner. He moved off but not totally.

JIM LEHRER: How it goes down in Israel and the Arab world with the Palestinians specifically aside, just as we speak — we ran the whole thing here last night from beginning to end. What do you think of it just as an expression of what the President felt and what he wanted done?

MARK SHIELDS: Of course I don’t know what he felt because he came to this position quite late Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s say whatever he came to– in other words, he stood up for 17 minutes in the Rose Garden and said these following words. What did you think about the words and the way he expressed himself?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought he showed enormous balance. I thought that showing the sympathy for the Palestinian people, in spite of the fact, as David pointed out, that he was very tough on Arafat. I thought he was quite direct with Israel. I think he spoke to Israel as a friend would speak to Israel.

Israel has been hurt. Israel’s image in the world, Israel’s sense of a just nation has been hurt. I mean there is no question. I don’t think Israel had gauged or friends of Israel had gauged the damage inflicted upon Israel by its earlier attacks – with the jet and gunboat attacks. The President was doing a service to them and speaking candidly. I add to that the one thing he did say, which was the one line that he, his speechwriter said he insisted on putting in the speech which was “I expect leadership and I expect results.” That was, you know, that was sort of an interesting statement because it had to be a personal statement because whatever the President had done up until that speech, he had not been accused of intervention or intrusion or meddling in the Middle East. He had been hands off.

DAVID BROOKS: If I could just–.


DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was a statesman-like speech. I go to the Middle East every couple of years. And there are three sorts of people you meet there: One, the fanatics who can’t see the other side, the diplomats who are lost in the Tenet, Zinni, Mitchell fantasy world of pure diplomacy and then the people who are dealing with the real world. When I looked at that Bush speech, I thought this is a man dealing with the real world contributions see the realities on both sides — can see that Arafat really has to renounce violence if anything is going to happen. But can also see the Israelis are hurt is themselves not by going after the terrorists which they have a right to do but by needlessly humiliating the normal Palestinians who are not terrorists. Bush made that point. So I thought it was balanced; it was realistic. It painted the situation the way it really is. It was a little too optimistic maybe but a real person’s speech.

JIM LEHRER: What about the point you made, British Prime Minister Blair is meeting with the President as we speak in Crawford, Texas. And it has been widely reported and everybody knows this, there is no European nation, the EU, nobody seems to be supporting the United States and Israel on this. It is only Tony Blair who even talks in a favorable way, even his own people don’t, you know, the newspapers and everything. What is going on there? What is the problem?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the fundamental problem is that America and Europe are growing farther and farther apart, not only on Israel but on Iraq, the whole war on terror and the idea that we talk about a united West is an idea that may go by the boards in this current crisis. If we look around to our natural allies on the war on terror – there’s Russia, there’s India, there’s a big world out there and it is not necessarily going to be the U.S. and Europe. In my view, the Europeans, their view on Israel is so viscerally hostile that it has distorted their view of the whole Middle East problem. It’s so different from the Administration’s view, so different from the American view, if you go down to the public opinion, that I do really think that there is a potential breach there. And Bush has to try to manage that breach because Iraq is still to him, the main ball game. Whether that continues to be the case is an interesting question but I think it is a widening breach.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, widening breach?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t agree. I think any time we decide to put our fate, fortune and future in any war on terrorism or anything else in the hands of the Russians with a very thin reed of democratic principles, democratic history, democratic tradition or democratic commitment, I think we make a serious mistake. To ignore the criticism of the Europeans, Bush in part is based on envy, part is the fact that the United States has not consulted, the United States has been unilateral when it serves our purposes under this administration or previous administrations.

But, Jim, what is overlooked here whether the Israelis or the United States and Afghanistan, is the military element in this is the easy part. And I don’t mean to minimize the courage and the bravery of the people who do it. But that’s the easy part. If we had invaded Iraq in 1991, the best estimates from people like Brent Scowcroft and others, 15 to 20 years of occupation. Now that’s what we’re talking about. We are talking about something very serious. We are not talking about a quick hit or Special Forces in and out. If we are talking– look at Afghanistan this week. We just learned assassination plot against the Prime Minister and half the cabinet and the king.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. But Iraq is part of it. But what David is talking about, there is more to it than just Iraq. There are all kinds of things. Do you see the breach widening between the United States and Europe?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s tensions there, but I do not– I do not think that by many means they’re irreparable, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a new coalition in its place with Russia –

JIM LEHRER: Take that, David.

DAVID BROOKS: We still have deep cultural ties with Europe. I don’t mean to say that Europe and America are going to have the relations that America and Iraq have or America and most parts of the world. But on these particular issues having to do with the Middle East, it’s just a deep, fundamental divide.

There’s one other interesting point about the debate in the U.S., Which has been a non- existent debate. There are people who privately, especially in the Democratic Party, who disagree with our policy on Iraq or the Bush policy, disagree with the Bush defense budget, disagree with the Bush posture in the Middle East. They haven’t said anything. In the past several weeks, the Democratic Party has had no position or debate on this. This is going to hurt them if in the next two elections foreign policy remains the premier issue.

JIM LEHRER: Well, we’re going to have the debate right here so they don’t have to do it. Thank you both very much.