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Shields and Brooks

April 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Now our weekly analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark, the president yesterday, when Secretary of State Powell came back and they sat down to talk about their trip, told reporters he considered Israeli Prime Minister Sharon a man of peace and that, in fact, he felt Sharon had met the timetable for withdrawal. What did you make of that? It caused something of a stir. What did you make of it?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought President Bush stumbled badly, Margaret. And what George Bush talked about in terms of people who admire him, it’s not for his encyclopedic knowledge of the area, his mastery of detail or history or sociology like his predecessor Bill Clinton who was sort of masterful and, a little show-offy in his knowledge.

It was always because George W. Bush says what he means and means what he says. There’s a candor straight from the shoulder. You don’t get double talk from this guy. We got a lot of double talk yesterday that was muddled. George W. Bush did not want to appear ineffectual. He was ineffectual. He said immediate withdrawal. I mean now. That was two weeks ago.

We sat on this set two weeks ago and praised his speech or he got kudos for it, for his directness. Now we find out that there was some secret timetable that still is not explicit and that Sharon is a man of peace on the very day that the U.N. is inspecting the rubble and the damage and the human suffering in Jenin, and criticizing the Israelis for not allowing rescue operations in there. So I think it was tough for the president and I think it hurt him politically.

MARGARET WARNER: David, did you see it as a sign of a muddled message?

DAVID BROOKS: Last week I saw it as a sign of a muddled message. This week I saw it as a return to clarity, a return to the clarity of September 11 that either you’re for terrorism or against it. I thought that he saw that what Ariel Sharon was doing in Jenin and the other places was defeating terrorist militias.

MARGARET WARNER: So you think he meant to send that signal?

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. I think what happened was that at some point two weeks ago, they got a little panicked that the government of Jordan would fall, that they’d lose control of the process, and they sent Powell off to see if he could make some progress with his method. And it didn’t really work.

Nobody listened to Powell. People rebuffed him at every stop. And so there was a return to the September 20 language, which was the language against terror, the language which is the core to Bush’s whole approach to this, which is that terrorism has no place. As a political tool you have to get rid of the terror or reduce it before you can have some sort of negotiated process.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark, at the same time at very same meetings, Powell said he thinks the withdrawal should be accelerated because it was getting in the way of getting on to the settlement. So how do you square what the president is saying with what Powell was saying?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think for the first time, Margaret, in this administration that has been noted by friends and foes for its iron discipline of speaking with one voice, I mean, you’re seeing the Administration speaking with several voices.

Not only the president more or less contradicting what Secretary Powell or Secretary Powell dissenting from what the president has said but in addition to that you had last week as Secretary Powell went on the president’s mission former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a world-class hawk by anybody’s standards meets with Republican Senators on Capitol Hill and basically trashes the Powell mission and says it’s doomed to failure with Joe Lieberman the Democrat there as well as the co-sponsor and never does one single Senator stand up and say wait a minute you’re talking about our Secretary of State and our president an important message.

At a rally for Israel here in Washington a huge rally on Monday there’s the deputy Secretary of State, Paul Wolfowitz…. Defense, excuse me — who is the most persistent and consistent voice in the Administration for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein, the official presidential spokesman saying I stand with Sharon.

Now I think if there had been a similar rally for the victims of the Palestinian suffering, I don’t think you’d have a similar Administration message. I’m not talking about moral parity. I’m talking about an administration speaking with inconsistent, contradictory messages.

MARGARET WARNER: Would you agree with that, David, that there is a split there?

DAVID BROOKS: I think they have different world views. I mentioned that Bush has a paradigm of the war against terror, that we have to defeat terrorism. Colin Powell’s paradigm is a little different; it’s that we’re in a cycle of violence and that any act of violence makes the cycle worse.

And you have to use negotiations to reduce the violence. Sometimes when they talk — they use the same words Bush and Powell — but if you put the statements side by side, you realize the words have different meanings. A process for Bush means after terror. A peace process for Powell means to reduce terror. So there really is some difference there.

I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the differences though. Remember we are dealing with the Middle East peace process. This is a four-dimensional chess game where everybody’s time frame gets narrowed to the next week and that basic approaches get thrown out the window and people of opposite approaches find they can work together quite well.

This coming week the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia coming to Crawford, Texas — they might find that after the verbal fire works of this past week between Arabs and Americans and Europeans, they might all find it useful for their all different reasons to have some sort of peace conference or announce a peace conference in Crawford next week. And so, despite the differences, they may come together on something.

MARGARET WARNER: David, what was your interpretation of the Paul Wolfowitz appearance at this pro-Israel rally? Both the “New York Times” and conservative Bill Kristol said it was intended by Bush as an answer to his conservative critics that he’s been too tough on Israel. Was there that dynamic going on, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, conservatives are certainly very supportive of Israel. Paul Wolfowitz was booed at… at the pro-Israel rally this week. I think that has to go to the mentality of American Jews at the moment.

This is a population, a community, that has been aroused… has never since maybe 1973, 1967, it’s a community that sees anti-Semitism on the rise around the world, that sees Europe becoming reflexively anti-Israeli in their view. It’s a community that sees the media biased against them — very defensive, very riled up community. Wolfowitz came in at that rally and gave both-sides language, neutral language.

They were in no mood for it. I’m sure it helped Paul Wolfowitz incredibly because suddenly he’s the dove and I’m sure it was good for Bush that he took one for the team. But I do think the key to that was the Jewish community’s mood right now, which really is quite remarkable.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Mark, that President Bush… do you sense that he feels the pressure from the right of his party on this?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I do. I think the obvious.

MARGARET WARNER: Or do you think he’s in sync with them?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he is in sync – I mean, Margaret — and I think he feels the pressure both. I think if you look at… if you look at the support for Israel in this country, it is led, just as David described, by the American Jewish community.

They’ve been strong and forceful and in support of Israel. They’ve been quite passionate. There’s no doubt about it. Their allies– and these are people, American-Jews who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and liberal, but they have been joined at this time by conservatives and Republicans. It’s interesting — Gallup did a poll that showed that the support for Israel falls off dramatically among Democrats and liberals.

There’s still support for Israel over the Palestinian Arabs but by conservatives it’s 8-to-1 for the Israelis instead of the Palestinians, and Democrats it’s down to 2-to- 1. So you’ve got a break here where the natural allies… you’ve got the American Jewish community joined at the hip, joined to the hip… at the hip with the conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.

MARGARET WARNER: Why is that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: It is, as Mark describes it. I’ve had American Jews telling me they’re now watching Fox News they’ve become so conservative. (Laughter) There’s a multi-layer of reasons.

One, in the evangelical dispensationalist tradition, Christianity didn’t replace Judaism, that at the end of days there will be a reconciliation between the religions and that the settlements of the land of Israel by Jews brings — is another step in the process of the second coming.

So there is some theological support for that. And that idea only grew up in the 19th century — this dispensationalist view. But I wouldn’t want to overstress that because while that is the base if you listen to Christian Radio, talk to evangelical Christians, they sound very much like the American Jewish community. They talk about Israel’s democracy, we’re a democracy. They’re under attack by terrorists. We’re under attack by terrorists. We share their values.

Evangelicals are also very familiar with Israel. Millions or tens of thousands of evangelicals go to Israel every year. Even during the war when the Jewish groups were not going, the evangelicals have continued to go. So they’re very informed about Israel.

The final thing I’d say is it strikes me that it’s eerie how Cold War debates or Cold War lines of debate are replicated here. The super hawks in the Cold War are the super hawks in Israel. The people who are sending peace missions to Moscow are now spending peace missions to Ramallah. The people who are stuck in the middle in Europe are stuck in the middle now. It’s weird. I haven’t quite figured that out.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go — before we close — to another issue this week that mixes I guess religion and politics, Mark, and that is, the Pope’s decision to convene an emergency meeting in Rome next week to deal with this growing scandal about priests and sexual abuse.

Some American Cardinals have actually been meeting with reporters on and off the record, giving reporters a chance to do maybe a little more reporting than they’ve been able to in the past about the inner workings of the Church and the hierarchy.

And I know you’ve been one of those who has talked to some members of the hierarchy. What’s your reading about the intention of the hierarchy here in terms of really dealing with this? How far do you think next week’s meeting will go?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know how far next week’s meeting will go, Margaret. I think the fact that certain Cardinals are asking laypeople what they think, their opinions, which is not characteristic of prime ministers, it’s not characteristics of public television, it’s not characteristic of leadership in many institutions when they say tell me, what do you think, outside critic? I’ve written rather condemnatory, highly critical of the Church hierarchy in this.

I think that trust has been shattered. I think that the Church and the hierarchy has demonstrated far greater concern for the priests involved, the predator-priests, than they have for the victims, for the reputation of the Church than they have for the hurt and damaged done to these young people.

And I think Rome is important. I’m not sure the question is how important is it to Rome in the sense do they understand that if, in fact, coming out of that conclave of American Cardinals, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston is still the face of the American Catholic Church, I mean, Boston, the most conspicuous archdiocese where I grew up but the most conspicuous offender and with offenses that cry to heaven for forgiveness and vengeance against children, if that’s the case, then I think that nothing will have been accomplished.

MARGARET WARNER: David, your take on this and why if you look at the Church as a political institution for just a minute, why do you think it’s finally responded this way?

DAVID BROOKS: Well I think in part because the lay leaders, just watching it’s been fascinating how lay Catholics have led the protests, forced the media to cover this and forced the leadership to respond. The other thing that’s so striking is this scandal is about sin, temptation, remedy.

I mean, this should be the Catholic Church’s core business. They should know how to handle this sort of thing. And they have looked adrift like an accounting firm, you know, suddenly accused of trashing documents. One hopes that with this rather dramatic meeting at Rome they will somehow get some initiative, get some control over this process the leadership has been reactive to.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. David and Mark, thank you both.