Weekly Political Analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. David, how do you read these polls?
DAVID BROOKS: That’s about what I find when I travel around the country. You go to even Republican areas you find people basically trust the president but they don’t really know what it is about. I was even with a military group a couple weeks ago. Trust the president. Don’t know what it’s about. In part because of the complexity of the missile technology, is this a nuclear weapon, is that a nuclear weapon? In part because I think the administration has failed to deliver one part of the formula which is what is Saddam all about? What has he been saying? What are his goals?
If you go back and read three decades of Saddam’s speeches, what you find is someone who inherited a Nazi ideology through Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Ba’ath Party who believes in genocide as a racial tool, who believes that it is his mission to have an apocalyptic confrontation with the U.S., and who believes, as he says over and over again, that he wants to be remembered 500 years from now as someone who brought the U.S. low, someone who created an Arab regime or an Arab civilization which dominated the U.S. civilization.
Now, that intention, that description of what Saddam Hussein has been entirely missing from the Bush administration’s case, which has dwelt on this missile, that missile and that missile over what Saddam is doing to show how his vision is being enacted. You have got to get at the vision – what Saddam wants, why he wants to destroy us, if you want o get people who don’t follow this professionally to be moved and to be alarmed and so far that hasn’t been done.
JIM LEHRER: That’s why you think the polls are going the way they’re going.
DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s why. Because people don’t have a sense of who Saddam is. They don’t know who Michel Aflaq is – the guy who really is the guru for Saddam. No major publications have done reports on what Saddam thinks in the past year, I’ve looked. And the administration has to break through that. So far they have not.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the polls, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think there’s enormous uncertainty in the country, uncertainty… if 2002, the president and his party prospered because it was all about terrorism. Now it’s a country that’s uncertain in the economy, it’s uncertain about Iraq, it’s uncertain about North Korea. We have been told, we’ve said on this broadcast the United States is absolutely relatively the most powerful nation right now in the history of human kind, and yet we see ourselves paralyzed by North Korea. We can’t move. We have to take any military option off the table. And so what is that absolute power? What are its limits? I think we came face to face with that. The president has not made the case, there is no question about it.
To go to war Jim on a 53-42 vote with limited support as Andy Kohut pointed to Ray, in addition to that, Americans by overwhelming margins believe that the president, in order to make his case, has to present a smoking gun to the allies before going to war and to the American people before going to war. And I don’t think there’s any case that, I don’t think there is any question that has not been done. In fact the case for war has been weakened in the country.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s go back to what Senators Dodd and Warner were talking about. Sen. Dodd’s point was a little more time, meaning a little more time for the inspectors cannot hurt anything. In fact he said it could be in our best interest — countered by Sen. Warner saying hey, wait a minute, Saddam Hussein has already had 12 years. Everybody has had 12 years. What do you mean a little more time? How do you think that is going, that particular argument is going down with the public or is it going at all?
MARK SHIELDS: I think in spite of David’s very persuasive presentation here tonight, Jim, we had a very loose arrangement with Saddam Hussein. Now we have him in a very tight vice. We are flying over him. We’ve an armada off the shore, troops, he is ringed, he is now impotent. So the threat that Saddam Hussein represents or may represent are in most people’s minds checked because he is reined.
DAVID BROOKS: He may be reined for a month but what we saw in the 1990s was as this thing goes on for months and months, the ring will develop holes in it. We saw the embargo developing holes in it; we saw the inspection regime developing holes it in and pretty soon Saddam is back out of the box where he was in the late 1990s. To me, the most important thing to me and the most amazing thing that happened this week was the education of Colin Powell. Here is a guy who spent the entire year since September 11 saying we have to work through the U.N., we have to have a resolution, we have to have a multilateral approach.
He gets the French, hold a meeting this week, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister holds a meeting and says to Colin Powell, you have to be there. We are going to talk about terrorism in general. Colin Powell gets there. He doesn’t talk about terrorism. He unveils this German-French anti-American assault, really. He sandbags Colin Powell. Colin Powell realizes he has been humiliated, realizes the Dick Cheney argument that the U.N. isn’t serious about conducting these resolutions was the argument that is going to carry the day and Colin Powell has changed his tune in the past week. He is now exactly where Donald Rumsfeld is. He is saying inspections won’t work. What has happened this week is that Colin Powell and the administration have become united around point that we can’t go back to the 1990s delay, delay, delay because that helps Saddam.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see Colin Powell, the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think Colin Powell was sandbagged, there wasn’t any question about that. He was angry. I mean, the great political philosopher ,Mark Russell put it, the French are not going to be with us either way. If we decided not to go in, they would say we should have. If we did go in, they would say we shouldn’t. I don’t think there’s any question about that but I think he was sandbagged, and I think beyond that, Jim, there are consequences to not having a coalition. I mean Donald Rumsfeld this week–
JIM LEHRER: Forget your anger with the French, you mean.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Attack the old Europe. The oldest of old Europe is Great Britain. They aren’t a newcomer on the block, the last time I checked but the last time, Jim, this country went to war in the Persian Gulf was with a 31-nation coalition put together by George Bush’s father. George Bush himself this week helped his cause not at all by saying this is a rerun of a bad movie. I’ve seen it before. He is making this a matter of personal pique. He has not made the case to the American people; he hasn’t prepared the American people and now he’s taken something as serious as sending Americans into war, into battle, some into death at a cost, Jim, still undetermined that leads to budget cuts that affect most of all the poor people in this country, and at the same time he has made it a matter of personal pique. I don’t think there’s any question that the president has a task on Tuesday night that quite reaches…
JIM LEHRER: The state of the union.
MARK SHIELDS: …reaches beyond anything in his presidency.
JIM LEHRER: How do you explain this? When this did go to the U.N., whether it should or should not have gone, it did go and was a 15-0 vote of the U.N. Security, now everybody says, they voted to have the inspections, the inspectors say we are not finished yet. We want more time. If it goes to another vote, they won’t even get a majority.. What has happened?
DAVID BROOKS: What has happened is Resolution 1441 said Saddam must disarm. When the French and Germans got together this past week, they said forget about disarmament. What matters is we’ve frozen Saddam. So already they’re ripping up 1441. Then you have the violations by Saddam. The resolution says Saddam has to comply. Saddam submitted the report, which everybody acknowledges was a tissue of lies, Saddam has apparently according to Paul Wolfowitz, threatened to kill the scientists, which is an incredible breach because in the resolution he has to volunteer the scientists.
And the whole expert opinion when the inspection regime started was that we are never going to find these hidden systems which can be fitted into the mobile biological units in a country the size of Texas. Saddam has to…
JIM LEHRER: I know the technical stuff, but just spiritually, you’ve gone from 15-0 to I don’t know, maybe the other way. Two from fifteen would be actually thirteen to two. How do you read that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I disagree with David. I disagree with David because the case going in and made by Donald Rumsfeld again was everybody in the world knows that these people have big weapons. They got them and he won’t let us in, they let us in. They let the inspectors in. Now it is not that there is a smoking gun that we are going to find, Jim. Now it has become, all of a sudden, we’ve spun on this the past week, starting with Condi Rice and continuing. It’s become, no, no, it isn’t a question of us finding a smoking gun. It’s a question of him producing no gun, no bullets and something of the sort. I don’t think that’s enough for the rest of the world and I don’t think it’s enough to send Americans into battle.
DAVID BROOKS: We knew when the inspectors left last time he had 30,000 biochemical and bacteriological missiles, we knew he had thousands of gallons of anthrax, we knew he had these biological weapons. That was in the U.N. final report. What happened to it all? The resolution says he has got to tell us. Let me get back to one thing about the timing here and this is strictly not political. This is just a reality we are now in.
There are now tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in the region. There will soon be over 100,000 U.S. soldiers. They can’t sit there indefinitely. This is just the reality of the fact. And if we start withdrawing soldiers with Saddam still in there, that would be the Suez crisis for the U.S. It would be a tremendous defeat for the U.S. and it would be…a decision would have to be made in the next couple of weeks and make Saddam king of the world.
JIM LEHRER: So we either have to use the troops or have an alternative that is a disarming alternative to using itself troops.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s the reality we are in. There is a time pressure upon us.
MARK SHIELDS: This is a logic that escapes me, Jim. Somehow a loss of face or whatever…the brass of the United States military has said we could remain anywhere from three to five months at the ready. Now, you know, given the size of the United States Army, that is an enormous commitment, the United States military force today which is 2.5 million fewer than at the time of Vietnam. It’s a small unit. So that does represents a major percentage of them, but I don’t think it is a question of, gee, we’re getting restless, we have been here; we have to go in. The question is, you want to have this guy removed.
We’ve also gone from what had been, and David had spoken eloquently on this subject, from a democratizing of Iraq. Whatever happened to that? That’s gone. That’s just disappeared. I mean there is no mission, there is no plan. There is no money for it. There is no sense of this is what we are going to do and there is going to be a better Iraq like there was Germany and Japan. I’m saying that’s a persuasive case but certainly was a far more valuable case.
DAVID BROOKS: They should use it more. I’m told they are going to use it Tuesday night. It is amazing to me. You’ve got the hope of the world. In 1942, The Nation Magazine said this is an hour of exaltation. They were not fond of FDR, but they thought whatever the hell this war creates, at least we have the opportunity to create a better world. That idealistic sense is strong in the left and on the right. Why the president has not appealed to that is beyond me.
You’ve got 100,000 people marching in the streets and they are, in effect, marching to preserve a fascist regime. I know that’s not what they want. They want to prevent war, which is a legitimate thing to do. But they are never asked why are you preserving a fascist regime, why don’t you want the tide of democracy, which is to spread through Latin America and Central America, to spread to the Arab part of the world – that’s the idealistic case the Bush administration has made a little but they haven’t made strongly enough.
MARK SHIELDS: The tide of democracy which spread through Latin America did not spread with an M-1 rifle. I mean, it spread because of the value of democracy. Do those people want, prefer democracy in Iraq? Yes, do they think it’s worth spilling the blood of thousands of people? I’ll tell you, the antiwar demonstration, there’s one of the great disconnects of our time. I would like to meet whoever the program chairman was at each place and basically take him to the woodshed.
The crowds and I was down there on the mall – the crowds were wonderful people. They were nurses and teachers and clergy people and blue-collar workers and middle American families who were very much against the war. This is the biggest antiwar movement I’ve ever seen before a war. Don’t forget, it took us three years in Vietnam before the anti-war movement even crystallized in this country. It isn’t a question that they’re in favor of Saddam Hussein. They’re the spear that George Bush has not made the case.
DAVID BROOKS: I just want somebody to say to those people and I wanted to go down there and say here’s a regime that has professional rape teams in their military where they rape women and send the videotapes to the fathers. Here’s a regime that imprisons mothers and babies in the next cell and forces them to watch their babies starve to death. You know, what is the defense? Maybe we don’t want to take out this regime, but is that the moral high ground? What is your defense for preserving that regime?
JIM LEHRER: We have to go. Thank you both very much.