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Shields and Brooks

April 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the observations of Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

Mark, more images, this has been a week of images on this war, has it not?

MARK SHIELDS: It sure has, Jim. And the confusing images, I guess from Iraq and the sense of jubilation there, subdued jubilation here. I mean. It is just sort of a…I mean obviously relief that weapons weren’t used, that there were…that the blood that people feared would be spilled wasn’t spilled in the dimension that they feared, but it’s been one of almost conflicting images of great joy and at the same time a reminder that the victory is defined by what happens afterwards and what replaces that regime and that despot of Saddam Hussein.

JIM LEHRER: David, what did you think when you saw the statue of Saddam Hussein go down in that square in Baghdad?

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t have…

JIM LEHRER: Were you conflicted?

DAVID BROOKS: I didn’t feel conflicted. I had quite a jubilation. I bought some French champagne, and I thought it would be a long time before I bought a French product again. But, listen, for me, April 9 was the most emotional, publicly emotional day since Sept. 11 to see Americans involved in the liberation of a people, to see a tyranny destroyed; that doesn’t happen every day, to see really what was a slow motion holocaust of two million people ended.

You know, whatever else happened destroying a tyranny is not nothing. To me it was a great day. I don’t let me kids watch TV on the weekdays, sorry about the show, but I made sure they watched that because I wanted them to remember.

And the other thing is something else happened. Illusions began to fall; in the Arab world and also at home — illusions that the al-Jazeera incitement style of media. People are going to think, what happened here? They didn’t prepare us for this. What is al-Jazeera all about — illusions about America’s role in the world. The illusion that says every time America goes abroad it’s colonialization again. I think we are beginning, and already beginning to see debate and that’s all a result of April 9.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point that there was elation? We saw it and it was memorable and none of us will forget seeing the elation of the Iraqis, but there was no other place in the world where there was that kind of elation over seeing the same thing, not even here in the United States in any kind of public way. I’m sure there was quiet elation as you say. How do you explain that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the world was opposed, in general. To me, one of the things we have to do, and there is debate in the Republican Party, should we freeze the French and Germans out? There will be a debate in Baghdad. They stormed the French and German consulates and viciously destroyed the places out of a sense of anger. I have contempt for a lot of the European opinion about this.

But there are a lot of honest people in Europe and around the world who just didn’t understand what we were there for. They really did think we were there for the oil, they really did think we were an imperial power. And to me one of the reasons why we and especially Republicans have to resist the temptation to freeze them out is that we’ve got to get them involved so they can see how America behaves up front, so they can be embedded with the way the reporters were embedded with the marines and the army and to see the idealism that genuinely does drive a lot of these people.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with David?

MARK SHIELDS: I didn’t have the same emotional experience David had. I think the Republicans, the administration…

JIM LEHRER: Go back. When you saw the statue go down, you didn’t….

MARK SHIELDS: I was pleased for…

JIM LEHRER: You weren’t right on, isn’t this great?

MARK SHIELDS: The people of Iraq, a sense of relief he was gone. I think the reason probably it has been so guarded in this country is that we still know the number of steps that must follow. I mean, and that the jury of the world and the jury of the region is very much out on the United States. David thinks we have clean hands and Halliburton has a contract to put out oil fires for two years, a no bid contract. That’s kind of an interesting thing — a $400 million profit at least calculated into it. So there is suspicion.

And the real the clincher, the catch-22 the administration and Republican Party are in, they think those who paid for the war, damn it, they paid for it, they ought to benefit from it. There is no point in sharing these benefits with somebody else. American companies ought to do the work and these people who weren’t on our side weren’t there when we needed them, they ought to be excluded and that is a real dominant, I would say a majority point of view on the part of many of the president’s supporters in the Congress and outside.

JIM LEHRER: But you agree with David, that’s not a good idea?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it is a terrible idea. I think it’s an awful idea. I think Tony Blair put it right to the president this week. He said, we can’t even have an interim government, you know, in Iraq. Jim, the question is going to be the process by which they’re chosen and the product that emerges.

JIM LEHRER: They meaning the people who run the country.

MARK SHIELDS: In the interim basis and he said — Blair made the point we need U.N. sanction processes before you even get to the selection of the leaders to have credibility both in the country and beyond.

JIM LEHRER: David, why is it that — what is your explanation for why they’re so resistant to this — is it because, my gosh, they weren’t there when we needed them in the U.N. Security Council, is so buzz off?

DAVID BROOKS: I spoke to friends all week in the White House, and the thing that is striking — right now they’re into problem solving. They have one problem after the other. There is this debate over should it be the U.N. that run things, the State Department, the Defense Department, NATO, run what — there is nothing there to run.

Ba’ath Party ran the country. The Ba’ath Party apparatus is destroyed. What they’re thinking about is fundamental grassroots, how do we organize the food in this block, how do we organize the sewage system here. To me, all these big debates over who should run what, that’s not what they’re focused on necessarily.

The big stories that are happening this week is not the big debates about Washington or about who should run things. The big stories are the city council meeting in Umm Qasr, the city council meeting in Basra, that these people are emerging to form that city council. And the question is who are these people? Are they legitimate representatives? Are they all Sunni and the Shiites get shut out again? To me, those are the tricky questions and that’s all grass roots. It’s not the big debates we are having here.

JIM LEHRER: The more we do report on this program about it and have discussions about it, the more complex it appears. I mean, how in the world are we going to sort through all….

DAVID BROOKS: I covered the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of Russia. That was different obviously, but it was totalitarian and this is totalitarian. There is no easy road from here to there. There is just none because people don’t have political habits. They don’t have a sense of property. They have been living their lives without any sense of that this is property — of rule of law that there is a legitimate rule of law and I should obey the law the walk lights. That’s all gone.

MARK SHIELDS: City council meetings, Jim, admirable and important, but when the hospitals in the city of Baghdad are closed because of looters, I mean, who is in charge? We’re in charge. That’s ours. We broke it. We pay for it. This is the antique shop…

DAVID BROOKS: We didn’t break Iraq. Saddam Hussein broke Iraq.

MARK SHIELDS: We broke the regime. We broke the regime. And before the regime, while the regime was there, and you made the same point about the Soviet Union, David — there isn’t looting because of fear. There isn’t looting because it’s authoritarian and repressive. There isn’t sectarian strife for the same reason. All of a sudden, you take that out– and the sectarian strife that there is, I’m getting even with that SOB Sunni or Shiia or Kurd or whoever the hell else, or Turk or whoever. That is there and I think the test is going to be immediately there is no humanitarian aid until there’s order; I mean order is indispensable and we don’t want to be police.

JIM LEHRER: Pat Lang, retired Army Colonel Pat Lang said in the earlier segment with Margaret that he was surprised at the emotional defensiveness of Rumsfeld over this issue of looting and civil disorder. What did you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: You could read it in Rumsfeld’s eyes. I just had the greatest victory maybe in military history. How about a little patting on the back — and the next day — there was maybe one day of patting on the back — the next day, what about the looting and welcome to the press corps. You know.

But I would say what we are going to climb here is a wall of quagmires; the military quagmire, we got all upset for a few days about that; the looting quagmire, there’s going to be political corruption quagmire. There’s going to be a series of problems because I can tell you, again, from the Soviet experience it’s just terrible all the way along. I mean, the Soviet Union, mortality rates — I mean the average lifespan of the Russian man has dropped like ten years. These are serious problems you’re facing.

JIM LEHRER: So Rumsfeld better get used to such attack he had today. Oh, my gosh.

MARK SHIELDS: Rumsfeld, you know, I mean this is a guy — talk about self congratulatory. He said we just removed a dictator of the dimension of Stalin and Hitler. I mean, this was a despot, this was a tyrant but this was not Hitler; this was not Stalin. He was kind of crowing and a little chest thumping. To say you’ve just done this and this is over and wait a minute, in your wake you see this kind of chaos, he is going to get the question and if he is going to take the credit for the sunshine, he has going to have to answer the questions about the rain.

JIM LEHRER: A pure politics question, the political pundits have been saying since the fall of Baghdad, and they’ve had three days to say this now, that any Democratic presidential candidate who voted wrong or who was on the wrong side, in other words, any peace candidate is toast as a result of this. Do you agree? You’re a pundit. Both of you guys are qualified.

DAVID BROOKS: I’m three days behind. I’m not sure. I really am not sure because it could go terribly in which case Sean Penn will be president.

JIM LEHRER: Let me write that down.

DAVID BROOKS: The problem the Democratic Party has is that 80 percent roughly approve the war, 17 percent disapprove of the war, and the core of the Democratic party is that 17 percent. You can’t win elections with 17 percent. And the problem is not so much how things are going to look in 2004, who knows. The problem is there’s a fundamental divide in the Democratic Party between the activists and the majority. 62 percent of registered Democrats support the war but when Edwards, Gephardt, Lieberman go out and speak, they’re heckled by the core who oppose. And that’s a divide over America’s role in the world that is a fundamental divide in the party that somebody has got to solve.

JIM LEHRER: Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think that first of all this is not 1991. 1991 the argument that was used against, by Democrats opposing that war was that the body bags, the thousands of body bags that would come back. That didn’t materialize in the war in 1991. And therefore could you say they were wrong. Democrats did win the presidency in 1992 over the president who had presided over that victory…

JIM LEHRER: To remind people, that was Bill Clinton defeated George Bush.

MARK SHIELDS: George Bush. That’s right. This time, the criticism of the Democrats, the opposition was based upon what I considered to be two factors. The first was the diplomatic botching by the administration, which they faulted the fact, the isolation ended up acting unilaterally. And second it was the sense of what the implications would be, what the fallout would be both regionally and globally and internationally and what the consequences of our act would be? If it would unleash terrorism and things of this sort. In both cases, I think those are open to criticism and we don’t know the answer yet.

JIM LEHRER: They’re not toast, not yet – too early. You two pundits say the other pundits are wrong.

DAVID BROOKS: We will be talking for the next two years about how untoast they are.

JIM LEHRER: And we’re just going to leave it there.