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Shields and Brooks

March 21, 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 The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks. How does it look to you this Friday night? We’re at war. Where are we.

DAVID BROOKS: I’ve been surprised by how it is all going. We have the secretary of defense negotiating surrender terms before we even engage the enemy. We have a military that is trying to scare the enemy troops but not kill them. To me, the striking thing about this whole week is how political it has been.

The question is not will we win but how will we win. Will we win in a way that doesn’t alienate the Iraqi people, will we win in a way that doesn’t alienate the Iraqi military, that doesn’t further alienate Europeans and people in the middle East? It is an incredibly political thing. It has changed the nature of war. Formerly you had psychological weapons used for military purposes. Now have you military purposes used for psychological ends.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

DAVID BROOKS: To me it is a scary thing and uncertain thing. We are all fascinated by the technology. And we’ve had, you know, all this discussion of which troops and which planes are being used. But to me, the great undiscovered and undiscussed issue is the political criteria for this war. What is the definition of success? What is the criteria when you have the superpower fighting a war that we know we can win? To me, it seems the political ground is shifting and no one is talking about it. But somehow we are walking into a new type of war and we are not really analyzing.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s talk about it, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think part of what we’ve seen this week….

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with David?

MARK SHIELDS: I think what David said was fascinating. I am not sure I agree completely. But I do think the psychological to try and disable the opposition and to neutralize opposition has been not only more concentrated but more widely circulated. In other words, we are now aware of this. In other words….

JIM LEHRER: We are in on it.

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. This is the kind of thing that someone writes a book about three years afterwards, war owes and that was interesting. That led support to David’s point that this is a political battle. You can see it right now in the administration.

JIM LEHRER: We have to win… David said we have to win but we have to win it in a certain way, a new way.

DAVID BROOKS: A politically palatable way for all sorts of different constituencies.

MARK SHIELDS: In a way that maybe to some degree addresses the problems building up to the war which has led to the isolation, the alienation

JIM LEHRER: We have no choice but to go this way.

MARK SHIELDS: I guess we had a choice but unless we continue the way we are going, I think part of what we see is the administration’s sensitivity and sensibility to the Pew survey that showed hostility toward the United States and particularly toward this president and his policies at an all-time high among traditional allies. I mean one asks why the U.N. Security Council we had a grand total of four of the fifteen to count on vote on our side. It turns out that like any political leader, you can only go so far without your people.

In Spain, 75 percent of the Spaniards, the Spanish people have no use for the United States, they have an unfavorable impression of us — in Italy the same thing. — far more so than in France — even Germany, which is our closest Cold War partner for the past 50 years. So I think part of that what David is responding is responding to what is a real problem. So the administration said no, we have this enormous coalition: I’m not my father, maybe not as good as my father who had France Germany and Japan and Russia lined up but we have a good group. We are not cowboys; we’re not unilateralists.

JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to the issue that fascinates me that David raised, that to a point, do you agree with what Mark is saying that this was kind of thrust on us to go this way, in other words, because the pendulum of negativity was swinging against the United States, so now we have to prove by exercising power but that we are good people also.

DAVID BROOKS: We have to win a war in a likable way. That sort of scares me because maybe you can do that. Maybe our power is so awesome that we can do that but maybe it is an illusion that you can’t really do it. If the Iraqi regime does not crumble in the next few days and we have to fight a dogged bloody-minded war, that will be unpopular with the Iraqi people, it will be certainly unpopular with all the allies, which we have alienated over the past couple of months.

JIM LEHRER: Back to the coalition thing. Sorry to interrupt you, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s okay. I don’t know how long you can sustain likeability if there are many more days like today. The bombs we saw — I mean if you are an eight-year-old child living through that, that would be a pretty traumatic experience — and to see the people coming in as the liberators who dropped the bombs.

JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: Though Dexter Filkins did say they are happy. I need to emphasize the complicated nature of the happiness – Kanan Makiya — a great Iraqi intellectual — is doing an online diary for the New Republic and he talks about the psychological wounds that the people in Iraq have suffered. So when Americans come in, they’re on one hand ecstatic to be out of Saddam’s shadow but they’re physically and personally damaged by the past twenty or thirty years and it is a complicated process.

JIM LEHRER: John Burns who’s in Baghdad for the New York Times said the similar things last night — told Terry Smith that ordinary folks on the street in Baghdad were say, you know, we’re waiting. This is going to be terrific. And it was hard for him, he said to ascertain exactly what that meant.

DAVID BROOKS: There is a blogger named Riot in Baghdad – who I read his diary.

JIM LEHRER: People who do things on the Internet.

DAVID BROOKS: Little diaries — the planes took off I saw in al-Jazeera, from London, so I have six hours until the B-52′s hit my town. So I have time to go out and get some milk, he said. He is talking about what he is seeing and I’m reading it on the other side of the war. Then he says on the one hand I want to get rid of Saddam, on the other hand, I’m now suicidal. I don’t want to die. So what am I supposed to think about today and he was at a loss.

JIM LEHRER: Think about what the Internet has done. The coalition — how do you read it? Why are they so defensive about it? The administration keeps talking about this coalition and you look at them and there are very small countries and all of that.

MARK SHIELDS: I think they’re sensitive to the fact, Jim, that the U.N. vote was going to go against us and that was a reflection and the criticism that your father did a lot better job. In 1991, your father got Germany, Japan and the Gulf states to pick up the entire cost. There were Syrian troops fighting on our side, Egyptian troops fighting on our side. There were French troops fighting on our side. Anthony Zinni, the four star general said never fought with better troops than the French marines. They’re just great fighters. So now we are going it alone. We have 2,000 Australians, 200 Poles and the Brits. And so I think that’s part of it.

There is a reaction to that — and the charge that this is the reflection… is the end product of a lone ranger foreign policy. So they come up and say we are not lone rangers, we have 100 countries, or countries that won’t name themselves, which I always find kind of fascinating. We used to sell ads in the high school yearbook. Someone would say compliments of a friend because you didn’t want to get asked again. You didn’t want them to know he bought an ad. As long as you take the cash, that was okay. We’ve assembled this. So I think that’s it. But I think the Pew numbers are hurtful politically because it does reinforce the argument and the criticism that it has not been a broad based foreign policy, it has not built a strong coalition.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m a little mystified about their defensiveness about it. To me, every time they raise the issue they remind us of the problem Mark is discussing. To me, that is not the core issue. The core issue, is the war just? They should emphasize the fact that the people do not have to live under Saddam Hussein and that they’re destroying a regime that throws babies out of helicopters to make their parents to confess. That’s what they should be emphasizing, the essential justness of the cause, not the debate that led up to it. And one other point about European reaction.

A lot of people think and a lot of people are on my side think that if we go in there, we liberate the people, show them the weapons of mass destruction, then the Europeans will say, or the Europeans who are against us will say you were right. Let’s do it your way from now on. Well, that ain’t going to happen. And to me, it could be that if we’re right and everything goes according to our plan, resentments about the U.S. Hegemon will go grow and the transatlantic relationship will get even more testy. So that’s an issue that’s going to be down the road.

JIM LEHRER: And issue here with us now that came up in a dramatic way this week was Sen. Daschle being… he criticized the president, then he was criticized for criticizing the at the present time president and now everybody has joined in on one side or the other. Read that for us please, sir.

MARK SHIELDS: Tom Daschle if he had it to say over again probably would have said failed so miserably. What he said before we went — he said I’m saddened that because the president’s diplomacy has failed so miserably, a diplomacy that we stand with war as the only option that we are going to war. He said this on Monday before we went to war. But it was immediately landed upon by any number of folks, even though John Kerry, the presidential candidate, called it inept and ham handed, I mean terrible squandered, all the popularity and support and goodwill the United States had September 11 George Bush had through his bad foreign policy; they went after Tom Daschle. And usually mild mannered people like Denny Hastert, Speaker of the House, giving aid and comfort, coming awfully close of giving aid and comfort to the enemies. And I think what we saw was an attempt to demonize Daschle as much as anything because he is the leader of the democratic party, and he has been a bother. And I think, you know, I think we are seeing the ugly side of dissent. I mean, dissent is key. The people remember whether it is Bill Fulbright or Mike Mansfield or people who stood up and said this is the wrong headed policy that a president usually of their own party was following.

JIM LEHRER: David, how do you read it?

DAVID BROOKS: Tom Daschle is a patriot and loves America as much as the rest of us. The reason I reacted angrily among many other people is that what John Kerry said the same day is that Saddam brought this upon himself, Joe Lieberman, most of the democratic candidates said this war is Saddam’s fault. Daschle seemed to say this war is George Bush’s fault. To me it looked like something I saw in the Republican ranks during the Clinton years. Hatred of your opposing president grows so fierce that it blocks out everything else and you don’t see anything else but the wrong things that your president has done. So what Tom Delay said about Bill Clinton before the Kosovo attacks where all he saw was Bill Clinton reminded me of what Tom Daschle said about George Bush.

MARK SHIELDS: He said that during the Kosovo attacks when Americans were under fire. That’s a big difference.

JIM LEHRER: We have to go. Thank you both.