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Weekly Political Analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks

February 21, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the Weekly Standard’s David Brooks.

Mark, where does the move toward or against or away from a war stand at the end of this week in your opinion?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I thought a lot of the wind went out of the war balloon this week. And I think it happened on several spots.

First of all, the president has support from the American people, which is contingent in virtually every survey, upon its being part of an international effort with international sanctions — ideally the U.N., but a large coalition.

And the key to that coalition is Tony Blair. Tony Blair has been criticized in his own party as an opportunist, as a shaper, as a guy who takes too clever positions. Nobody can accuse Tony Blair of doing this for political self-interest.

He has taken a position which could very well, according to Brits I’ve talked to, cost him his political leadership and his prime ministership.

JIM LEHRER: We did a segment on it the other night. What is it — 80 some percent of the British people are not in favor of going to war.

MARK SHIELDS: Seven hundred and fifty thousand people in London last Saturday. I mean we talked about the snowstorm here. I mean, so, he’s got that sort of a problem — but in a Churchillian way, he is putting his own career on the line. I don’t think anybody questions his own credibility. But, Tony Blair — the U.N. resolution is key to keeping Tony Blair.

JIM LEHRER: He needs it to show his people.

MARK SHIELDS: Bush needs Tony Blair for the legitimacy.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree the balloon is softening?

DAVID BROOKS: No. I think it’s purified and we’ve gotten down to the core issue.

This debate months ago used to be about is Saddam deterrable? What are the risks of going in or not going in? To me — because of the peace rallies us, because of the French — the fight between the U.S. and the French, and the French fight with the central and eastern Europeans, the debate has gotten down to the core issue – which is not about Saddam, it’s about America.

Does America use its incredible power to promote democracy around the world? A lot of people like me think that’s what America was built for, to play that aggressive role in promoting democracy. A lot of people think America is too reckless when it does that. A lot of people think America can’t be trusted because it is controlled by oil interests or Jewish interests or whatever.

So that is the fundamental debate. And that is the debate where we split with the French, where the central Europeans who support that American role because they themselves were liberated by the United States in the past 20 years, are on our side.

Our traditional allies are not on our side. That’s the fundamental debate, which is going to divide the foreign community, it is going to divide the domestic debate and it is such an incredibly passionate debate.

To me what happened this week, especially after the marches, you began to see people on the peace side having contempt for people not on that side — people against the marchers having contempt for the marchers — really a maximization of debate because it is down to really a 1930s style values dispute.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that — it is getting down to that?

MARK SHIELDS: No. Let me dissent from what David said and acknowledging the insights he brings to it.

The only way for the United States to deliver democracy around the world is not by the end of a gun or a bayonet. I think we’ve demonstrated that time and time again whether you’re looking at Western Europe, which was saved by the United States after War World II, saved, first of all by the United States, obviously in War World II, whether it’s the great democracies of Germany and Japan, whether it’s the emergence of democracy in eastern Europe, all of that has been accomplished by the leadership, the moral example, I would say, as well as the diplomacy and the pocketbook and America’s willingness to stand.

DAVID BROOKS: This is the fundamental dispute because I think it was the bayonet of the gun that brought democracy to France, that brought democracy to Germany.

It was the threat of missiles brought democracy to Russia, to Poland, to Ukraine, to Nicaragua, to Japan, across Asia; 33 new democracies created in the past 20 years, all of them because of the security environment that the United States created which allowed local heroes like Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Cori Aquino, to create their own form of democracy. That is really a fundamental debate whether you trust U.S. power to do that.

MARK SHIELDS: It is never a question of the United States using any military power on behalf of Lech Walesa. He was a hero; he was a hero – I give John Paul II — I give him and I give the Polish people enormous credit.

But it wasn’t the United States’ armaments that gave him the moral direction and the moral imperative he brought to that. It wasn’t the support of the Contras that saved Latin America – or Central America. And I just really — a major, major disagreement.

JIM LEHRER: And, which as you say you’ve just proved the point. You just proved David’s point — the two of you have together — that this is getting down to it.

Now, how is all this going to play out in the Security Council with the new resolution next week? Word is that the United States and Britain are going to offer, one, on Monday that it is going to essentially call for force if something drastic is not done, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What is going to happen?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the U.S. is going to go back with a resolution but I think they’re perfectly willing to let France veto it and then go ahead.

I think the importance of the U.N. in the administration’s mind is not what it was a week or two ago. Colin Powell, you could see it in the second presentation he gave. He said if the U.N. is going to mean something, and he believes it should, then the resolutions have to mean something — and you have to pay attention to the words. And if French are not going to pay attention to the words, then the attitude is going to be….

JIM LEHRER: Doesn’t he have to first get a majority vote before the veto…

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but I think they would say, a year from now what is going to matter: Is the Iraq operation done well and is there some form of democracy or stability there? Nobody is going to remember who voted for what resolution.

JIM LEHRER: But Mark, you’re making the point that Tony Blair needs a majority vote of some kind out of the U.N., you think.

MARK SHIELDS: He does. He needs it at home.

JIM LEHRER: Or at least he needs some kind of international support.

MARK SHIELDS: He needs an international sanction. He needs the imprimatur that he is not standing alone. He has been accused of being George Bush’s lap dog by some in his own political party. And, you know, for him to maintain his own political, what was Bill Clinton’s word, viability, you know, he has to… he really needs it, Jim.

DAVID BROOKS: I wonder if that is changing. Chirac said the central Europeans are poorly raised — a very French thing to say. I wonder if that attitude has stiffened a bit of the British spine, that we don’t like the French; now we remember why.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s move to domestic politics here; a lot of new Democratic entries in the 2004 presidential race this week. Dick Gephardt. Your reading of him.

DAVID BROOKS: I was impressed as he presented himself. He said I’m a Washington insider; I’m an experienced guy. A lot of these candidates go down to the Dean and Deluca in Georgetown and buy some hay seed to put in their hair so they could pretend they’re just off the farm.

And he said, no, that’s not me. I really admired that. He reminds me a bit of an old-fashioned Labor candidate. He is hawkish on defense. He said today that wouldn’t rule out pre-emption against North Korea, if he felt it came to that — muscular liberalism on domestic policy. That’s pretty solid. I don’t know if the party is still there, but it is a solid package.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Gephardt?

MARK SHIELDS: Dick Gephardt has an enormous advantage in this race which I think is frequently overlooked.

The first is, Jim, Ronald Reagan ran three times for president; he ran in ’68 and he ran in ’76. He lost both times. In 1980 he won the nomination and won the White House. There is no substitute for having run before, none. You understand what most politicians don’t – whether they’re governors or senators — that you’re flying at a different attitude running for president. The exposure and scrutiny is so much more intense. Others have said it’s like the monkey climbing the pole, there’s more of his backside exposed. And Gephardt has been through that.

More than just the scrutiny that attaches, it’s that rare ability to maintain simultaneously candidacies in several different states where in the same day you are being asked about ethanol in Iowa, you’re being asked about textile imports costing jobs in South Carolina, and you are being asked in New Hampshire, whether you think a state sales tax is abhorrent. And Gephardt has been through that.

So that’s… and the other thing is, Jim, he is a guy who has been a political leader in the legislature and in the Congress and as an executive. He ran for president. Very few people inspire that kind of trust in their colleagues. Once they run for president, they’re discarded as congressional leaders. He wasn’t. And he has great, great affection and loyalty on the part of the staff — something not to be underestimated.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, also joined the race this week.

MARK SHIELDS: The race is shaped in large part by Iraq and by the events of Iraq. John Kerry has emerged as a Democratic front runner in large part because he seemed to have the credentials as a war hero, has the scars of war, served and therefore it gives him the credentials to speak critical of George Bush. Dennis Kucinich is following Howard Dean, the Democratic governor of Vermont, in the sense that Kucinich has been the most probably outspoken critic of the war.

JIM LEHRER: He spoke at the rally in fact, here in Washington -

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he did.

JIM LEHRER: — last weekend. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t see the point. She lost to Pierre Fitzgerald – not exactly Mr. Charisma — and decides she has the political magic to become president? I don’t see why she is doing it. To me, not a serious candidate.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Kucinich candidacy?

DAVID BROOKS: Like Mark does, it’s Iraq; the strange thing about him is he had a 95 percent pro-life voting record until last week where he had a conversion and now he’s decided he is pro-choice. If you’re going to sell out, you might as well sell out when you have a plausible chance of winning. But he is about Iraq. He cares about Iraq.

And to me in some ways, when these candidates go to Iowa, they’re going to hit a wind tunnel because this is a Democratic electorate that is fired up, that is passionate about Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: How about Moseley-Braun?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, there is a precedent of Illinois politicians losing a Senate race and getting elected to the White House. Abraham Lincoln did it.

DAVID BROOKS: I knew Abraham Lincoln.

MARK SHIELDS: Believe me – Jim Lehrer — Abraham Lincoln. I think it is a tough sell. But no one has ever questioned her intellect. She is a smart, able woman. I think her six year term in the Senate is enough to give a lot of scrutiny to critics.

JIM LEHRER: We don’t need to talk about him tonight, but we’ll talk about him next week but Bob Graham, senator from Florida, is also about to jump in.

Why does everybody… why do so many people want the Democratic nomination for president?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the San Diego chicken jumped in, Siegfried and Roy in the Vegas primaries; there is no front-runner – why not…take a shot. There’s going to be a lot of TV cameras.

JIM LEHRER: Why so many candidates?

MARK SHIELDS: What’s happened to George W. Bush who said I’m going to come and bring a new era of civility and feeling in Washington – Democrats, partisan Democrats, core Democrats, feel as much animosity toward George W. Bush today as Republicans did toward Bill Clinton. They think he is vulnerable.

DAVID BROOKS: Similarly self-destructive effects I predict.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll see. Thank you both very much.