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Weekly Political Analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks

January 31, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the analysis of shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

So, gentlemen, on this Friday night, where do we stand in terms of your feelings at least about how close we are to an inevitability as far as a war is concerned?

DAVID BROOKS: I’d say several steps closer. It has been an amazing week. You had the Hans Blix report on Monday. On Tuesday, the president gave the state of the union, which shot American public approval, case up to 67 percent. On Tuesday, the president gave the state of the union, which shot American public approval, believing he made a compelling case up to 67 percent Then the letter from the eight European heads of government, an incredibly pro-American letter saying, basically, they supported the president on this. We’ve had other nations like Albania, which is 70 percent Muslim, Slovakia and maybe Ireland, join in. We have 20 nations saying the U.S. can use the ground troops. These are all building blocks, not only toward an attempt at regime change in Iraq, but toward a big multilateral regime change in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the likelihood of war is greater this week than it was last week. When Ike Skeleton, a very respected senior Democrat in the Armed Services Committee from Missouri, said there is going to be a war after listening to Sec. Rumsfeld and Sec. Powell. But, Jim, there’s a disconnect between the actions David described and the conversations you have with people every day. There’s minimal passion and conviction about this war. There are more questions. Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Byrd have asked for further debate. There is minimal support for it on the Hill.

But this is a war we are going into where… David talked about regime change. Is it regime change or is it disarmament? How will we know we’ve won? I mean, for the United States to go in an act of preemptive war, rationally thought out and all the rest of it and deliberated, we have no idea what the cost is going to be. We have no debate really about what the cost will be afterwards, how we’ll know that the objectives have been achieved. There are no sacrifices being asked. I mean, it’s really a war that has an awful lot of loose ends. David said 67 percent. It did go up 20 percent. I’d like to see that, you know, maybe 48 hours after the speech as well as 24 hours. But I think we’re headed toward a crucial moment when Sec. Powell goes to the United Nations.

JIM LEHRER: How important is that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it is quite important; it’s not determinative. People who have seen the presentation — it is compelling…

JIM LEHRER: The presentation is written and being seen by people?

DAVID BROOKS: He is working on it, according to his deputy, 24 hours a day. People have seen the evidence within the administration, and say it is compelling, but not definitive. Donald Rumsfeld, as Mark mentioned, gave a presentation to 100 members of the house, I believe this week. Carolyn Maloney, the Democrat from New York, said there was concrete evidence, was her phrase, there is connecting al-Qaida to Iraq, and that would be very significant. There’s a whole bunch of other evidence about the Iraqis moving weapons systems, the Iraqis getting into the U.N. system and having spies in there — the Iraqis trying to procure weapons systems. Apparently, there is a lot of accumulation of evidence. To me, the most original thing that would come out is something Richard Armitage said yesterday on Capitol Hill, was al-Qaida in Baghdad. And that would be significant.

JIM LEHRER: You clearly think the Colin Powell thing is extremely important.

MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think Hans Blix, both sides quoting Hans Blix selectively. Hans Blix also said they’ve discovered no evidence of any… some of the charges the president made and any truth or validity to what they’ve found.

JIM LEHRER: Including al-Qaida.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s not his job to look for al-Qaida.

MARK SHIELDS: But he also talked about scientists… agents being used as scientists and all the rest. Jim, I just contrast this with 1991, which I think we all remember. That war did not cost the United States a nickel. I mean, it cost us in bone and blood and obviously in lives, but it did not cost us a nickel. It was 31 nations. I mean, the entire cost was underwritten by Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, other nations. Now, we talk about this is a coalition of the willing, David cites. It’s a coalition of the willing to make a deal. I mean, just coming out in drips and drabs now, what Turkey is getting, what the Russian deal is going to be in oil afterwards– I mean, their stake in Iraq. Turkey is getting loan guarantees, the foreign aid to both Israel and Egypt are going up, and the other side feels this is one we are going to pay for. That ought to be debated.

JIM LEHRER: What about that?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think it is a coalition of the bribed. The government of Italy, the government of Spain, the government of Poland, the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, they are supporting it not because they’re being bribed but because it is the right thing to do. The biggest thing that happened was the letter by the eight European leaders that indicates not only how the coalition is going to shape up in this war– and I’m convinced France will come on board at the very end– but how the world is going to look like. And Mark is right. None of us are enthusiastic about going in, but the people, like us who support it, think it is important and we think it will lead to a lot of things like the new Europe.

JIM LEHRER: Let me play an interesting devil’s advocate for a moment to both of you about the inevitability thing. Senator Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was on this program the other night and he made an interesting point, at least I found it interesting, that in order to resolve it peacefully, you have to get everybody together. In other words, you have to figure out a way to get the French, the Germans, and everybody else, that’s the only way Saddam Hussein will ever go peacefully, the only way he will ever capitulate or get out of town, or whatever. Is that even… does that even remotely sound possible to you?

DAVID BROOKS: It sounds possible, but not likely to me. Sen. Lugar has more experience than I do.

JIM LEHRER: He wasn’t predicting it, just saying it was a possibility.

DAVID BROOKS: I base the judgment on looking at Saddam Hussein’s life mission, which is to keep the weapons and use them to make himself a grand historical figure that will be remembered 1,000 years from now. This guy has given up over $100 billion in revenue to get the weapons. He wants them. His belief…

JIM LEHRER: $100 billion in expenditure and oil revenue.

DAVID BROOKS: Because of the embargo. And he is driven by this Ba’ath ideology, I mentioned it before, to be known, as he says, 500 years from now as the man who humiliated the United States and was the leader of a new Arab empire.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see any room for peace?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I see room. I think Saddam Hussein could do things right now. I mean, he could give up things that we know or believe and have every on to believe he does have. We have the receipts for them; we sold him a lot of the stuff. We know he has them. What did he do with them? That’s one thing. I think that’s a possibility. And I think if that were the case and this was resolved peacefully and peaceably, I think it would accrue enormously and politically to the president’s benefit.

But, you know, this coalition that’s talked about. The Czechs have a 250-man unit. It’s in Kuwait. The Czech defense minister went down to visit and said, how about it fellows, are you set to go in? Twenty-seven put their hands in and said, “we don’t want to go.” Seven got on the defense minister’s plane and went home. I mean, this is… it’s one thing to say the Czechs and Vaclav Havel, who is a great man, you know, signed this, but this is not the same level of commitment we’re talking about when you are talking about 150… this is an American enterprise. Les be very frank about this. This is not a coalition the same as 1991 was a coalition. This is an American enterprise.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree it’s an American enterprise?

DAVID BROOKS: In the way that one was handled, a little less deftly than his father. His father said, “this will not stand.” It was a unilateral decision; he said, we are going to war against Iraq and gathered a coalition. It was easier to do because Saddam Hussein had invaded another nation.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: But now, we are living in a different environment in which he has these biological and chemical weapons and may have getting some nuclear weapons. And now because of Sept. 11, we have a different view and maybe in America we have a stronger view than people in some other countries, that you can’t wait and let somebody unleash anthrax on you first. You have to prevent it.

JIM LEHRER: On the state of the union generally, the other major subject, of course, was the economy. How does what the president said about that look three days later?

DAVID BROOKS: The interesting thing to me about the economy, we were talking with Tony Blair about “will it be four weeks, will it be six weeks?” The stock market keeps going down because of war fears. At some point, I think a lot of people are going to say, “I may support the war; I don’t support it, but it if it is inevitable, let’s get it over with.” That I think may be a political pressure on the administration. And just, you know, “come on, let’s do it; this uncertainty is killing us.”

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, George Bush inherited a $5.6 trillion budget surplus over the next ten years. That was projected, all the numbers. Now, we don’t have to argue about whether how much was the tax cut, how much was Sept. 11, how much was the stock market tumble– it’s gone. It’s gone.

Now, what we have right now, the reality, is that this year the United States of America… the president doesn’t have a policy of guns and butter. It’s a policy of caviar and missiles. There is absolutely no sense that this is a budget that in any way is going is determined by a sense of emergency or urgency or national purpose. At the same time, we are spending $300 billion in interest on the national debt this year. The national debt that was going to be gone, we weren’t going to be worried about it. That is more than the income tax paid by all individuals in 31 states. It would be the second single biggest item in the national budget if it stood as a separate department. I mean, second only to defense. It is more than we spend on veterans or education or health or anything else. And to say in the face of that we are going to have a $795 tax cut, you know, it really… it’s not selling. It’s not selling on Capitol Hill and it’s not selling to the Democrats, and it’s not selling to the republicans.

JIM LEHRER: You agree it is not selling?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s in trouble. There is no question it’s in trouble. If the president believes in it, he will have to commit to it. I say, this is one of the major events of our lives, it’s worth going into deficit, because if we win, the stakes are tremendous for the world. If we lose, the stakes are cataclysmic. So the deficit would be worth it if we do this right, which is not to defend the tax cut at this moment.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point that maybe so, maybe worth it, but why not… is it possible to do all the other things at the same time, which apparently is what the president is suggesting?

DAVID BROOKS: I’ve defended the tax cut, and I think there are grounds for improving corporate governance, but I’ve fallen out of love with it.

JIM LEHRER: Right here before our very eyes.

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t want to get weepy, but in times of war, I have trouble justifying… I think it is a good idea at some other point, and I confess I’ve had some doubts in the middle of the night.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my gosh. But there is no doubt that we now have to go. Thank you both very much.