Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks — syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.
Mark, how is peace going in Iraq as it seems to you?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think as a general rule of thumb, if the post-war looting lasts longer than the war, it can’t be considered an unqualified success. And I would have to say that the looting, first of all, tarnished to a considerable degree the luster for both the Americans and the Iraqis; that not only took some of the joy out of the military triumph, but it also had a practical impact and has had a practical impact.
And that is in the rush to protect the oilfields from being set on fire, the oil company offices and all the computers and all the equipment and much of the vehicles were stolen and looted; thus postponing further.
Add to that, the sort of human tragedy of hospitals unable to provide treatment and relief to people who are suffering, and I think that there’s been a sense of disappointment. And the irony to me was Don Rumsfeld confounded his critics militarily, who said he had too small a force to do it. And yet this is the revenge of General Shinseki, who is the army chief of staff who crossed ways with Rumsfeld, 18 months before Shinseki’s term was up, announced a successor thus making him a lame duck in everybody’s eyes, but he said in congressional testimony it would take 200,000 troops to bring occupation and pacification to a post-war Iraq.
And the problem has been that we’ve had too few troops and it has translated into indifference because we haven’t had the numbers to bring the order and peace and law, it’s disappeared; it’s been a strong perception of American indifference — the tragedies we’ve seen.
JIM LEHRER: You see it that way?
DAVID BROOKS: Not quite. If we had 200,000 troops, the war would be going on another two or three months. We sacrificed speed; there were trade-offs involved, but we saved lives and made the war quicker because we had so few troops and we were so quick — we were able to go in quickly. To me what is happening in Iraq is on the one hand the Hobbsian state of nature as Mark describes with all the looting and the chaos and the hospitals and everything being stolen.
On the other hand, an amazing, even in one week, birth of some sort of nations, civil society that shows that Hobbs was wrong about states of nature — that real people really do get together and come together. There are the town councils that are meeting; there’s a neighborhood anti-looting brigade, and the thing that amazes me the most is the emergence of political parties. There are now dozens of them. People have some sort of group consciousness. My favorite one so far is the Liberal Democratic Party of Iraq. I was wondering where all the liberal democrats went. They’re all in Baghdad. They have been meeting….
JIM LEHRER: Mark was wondering about that.
DAVID BROOKS: I’m for liberal democrats as long as they’re in Baghdad. That’s my view. The amazing thing is that they have been meeting in secret cells, 2,000 people, underground, under Saddam’s rein. They emerged. They have a building and a platform and they’re going to the talks and the talks are happening. So on the one hand you have this looting and the chaos and the anarchy, on the other hand, you begin to see the roots.
JIM LEHRER: You are not seeing anything positive, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I’m not questioning. I think, Jim, what people are seeing is that an impatience and a frustration with the fact that water isn’t turned on, that there isn’t….
JIM LEHRER: Supposed to be on in another couple of days.
MARK SHIELDS: Another couple of days. That’s a great consolation to us sitting 10,000 miles away. I’d say also, Jim, what is probably the most bothersome of all is that we’ve hit now 36 different sites that were prime sights; we had them on the bird. We knew exactly where all the weapons were.
JIM LEHRER: The weapons of mass destruction.
MARK SHIELDS: And none has been uncovered. I think that the time has probably drawn past where we have to get U.N. inspectors in there to confer the legitimacy upon the inspections because I think skepticism will grow and suspicion will grow if we go much longer and oh, my gosh, do turn it up.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it is a problem?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it would obviously be nice for the administration if they found it. They’ve found plenty of sites that look like they create — the labs and things like that but they found none of the material. Rumsfeld’s new phrase is that they’re going to have to interview the actual scientists, wait for somebody to lead it to them.
And I don’t see why they’re allowing some inspectors in outside the U.N.and allowing some retired inspectors in to help supervise the force. There has been a lot of looting that has destroyed a lot of evidence. I don’t think it would hurt to have maybe not Hans Blix but some of the U.N. inspectors in.
JIM LEHRER: I interviewed Secretary of State Powell last night, and he said without any hesitation, he said I know that stuff was in there when I was talking at the United Nations Security Council. And he still seems convinced of that.
DAVID BROOKS: They seem utterly convinced. Even the people who are experts seem utterly convinced there are things there. The question will be the quantities.
JIM LEHRER: Alright the Syria thing. What is going on there, David? What is that all about?
DAVID BROOKS: You have got Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad, the new, current leader who was a ruthless, brutal man but also a very intelligent and clever man. And his philosophy always was I’m going to do horrible things but I’m always going to keep a cordial relationship with the United States. You have his son, Bashar who is as ruthless and as evil in some ways but a lot dumber.
And what he has done is he has alienated the U.S. in unnecessary ways. He called on the Iraqis to declare holy war on the U.S. invaders, he allowed the Syrians to export these night goggles into Iraq to help the war, allowed the export of terrorists into Iraq to fight against the Americans. So what he has done is he has truly alienated the United States in a way that has — Syria has never alienated under his more wily father.
He has done it at the moment when I think a lot of the U.S. Officials realize this is a moment in the Middle East; we’ve got to take advantage of the victory in Baghdad and take advantage of the prevailing winds and really do something positive about the Middle East, about Syria, about Iran, about Lebanon, a country that’s been occupied for a dozen years. And so….
JIM LEHRER: As well as the Palestinian issue.
DAVID BROOKS: Exactly. The pressure is ratcheted up to take advantage of the moment.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I thought what was next on the agenda, everybody’s agenda, the president made a major speech about a year ago, not about Syria. It was about Palestinian and Israeli peace. And, you know, the overheated rhetoric, I think, caught up with the United States.
Your interview with Colin Powell last night, I think Condi Rice, I think the vice president has realized they have gone too far. There is no question about it. All of a sudden they made not only the United States nervous, they’ve made Europeans nervous, they’ve made Arabs nervous.
JIM LEHRER: You mean in reacting — the things that David said.
MARK SHIELDS: To this sort of overheated rhetoric of where are we going next. We have a must invade list somewhere buried and that this was going to be tried out. I think they’ve backed off from it. You saw Spain come out and say this is our good friend, Syria. And I think it’s….
JIM LEHRER: It’s over then?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s understandable that they want to put pressure on, that Hezbollah has had Syrian support and Syrian backing. And I think the Israelis would understandably like to see that curtailed and eliminated. And I think that was part of their pitch to the United States on it. But I don’t think there is any question, Jim, that the key, the next point has to be some movement and real movement on peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
DAVID BROOKS: I think Colin Powell said that last night. The other thing I would say is we talked about Syria whether we were going to turn left and invade Syria or Iran last week and the week before. I sort of laughed it off. And the following week I heard all these people theorizing the administration, that the war mongers had another war in mind, six or more empires in mind.
The only thing I’d say is that there are a lot of people who dislike the administration who will believe anything about the administration, and tell each other stories about the administration. It reminds me a little bit about the Republicans who believed anything about Bill Clinton, and would you get all these cockamamie scandal ideas.
Now there are a lot of cockamamie stories about what the Bush administration has in mind. It is really important to be skeptical about them because there was never any thought of going to Syria or Iran.
JIM LEHRER: A domestic thing before we go, speaking of heated rhetoric. What is going on Bill Frist? There have been all kinds of stories saying the Senate majority leader is not making it, has all kinds of problems. How should we read this?
DAVID BROOKS: The Republicans feuding. I had forgotten Republicans could feud. It’s like seeing the Teletubbies fight.
JIM LEHRER: Went out of your mind.
DAVID BROOKS: They had not had an internal party disagreement since I had hair. It has been a long time. What happened was the Republican … the White House had this big tax cut idea, $750 billion. The House strongly supported it. A few key moderates in the Senate said we don’t support that number. We want to go down to $350 billion.
Frist accommodated them. And he accommodated them in a clumsy way without telling the House. And so that made them angry on procedural grounds. The White House and a lot of Senate Republicans thought he could have leaned on those two and gotten it up. So they are really angry at each other.
JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe of Maine.
DAVID BROOKS: And they’re angry about the size but also the way Frist handled it.
JIM LEHRER: Is this a real thing –
MARK SHIELDS: David asked what happened to liberal Democrats, what happened to the conservatives is they’re having a civil war in the leper colony. There’s no question — going back and forth — recriminations. I mean, Denny Hastert, Speaker of the House, an easy going Midwesterner has accused Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee of being irrelevant. The things they’re saying about Bill Frist are not printable in a family show and Frist….
JIM LEHRER: Who is they? Who is saying this, people in the House?
MARK SHIELDS: People in the House. They had the rug pulled out from under them. Let’s be very frank about it. Bill Frist is new on the job. He wants to be president. He didn’t want to be Senate majority leader. It was the White House’s idea that he be Senate majority leader. Remember Strom Thurmond’s birthday party and Trent Lott.
JIM LEHRER: I remember that.
MARK SHIELDS: Bill Frist was the man to the rescue, he was the guy on the white charger. So he isn’t the most savvy insider, but I think he probably cut a deal that was the only deal that could have been cut. I mean the reality, I think David has made the point on this show, that even though $750 billion tax cut at a time of war and deficits and all the rest of it is problematical, questionable, dubious at very best. And I think that, you know, we’ve got people who really do believe, like George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe, we will go $350 billion and that’s a bunch.
JIM LEHRER: Is Frist going to survive it?
DAVID BROOKS: Oh yeah. I agree with Mark; he cut the best deal he could. I don’t think there wasn’t a bigger tax cut. The votes weren’t there. But I think a lot of people will try to make frenzy and say okay it’s a rookie mistake.
JIM LEHRER: He’ll move on and he will earn from this. In a way he kind of won, did he not, in a way?
DAVID BROOKS: I wouldn’t want to be Bill Frist tonight.
MARK SHIELDS: You got sniping at him, you got Rick Santorum, the number three guy taking a shot at him.
JIM LEHRER: I didn’t say that. I take all of that back.
MARK SHIELDS: You don’t want victories like that one.
JIM LEHRER: I’ll leave it all that stuff to you two and say good night. Thank you very much.