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Shields and Brooks

April 25, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And now the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

David, the North Korea nuclear confrontation. President Bush has said from the beginning this was one he wanted to resolve through diplomacy, through negotiations. So far not so good?

DAVID BROOKS: Not so good. Not really his fault. It’s sort of like you’ve got Caligula with nuclear weapons there and there is just no good solution. There are two alternatives.

The one is to negotiate without giving into the blackmail, which is how Bush phrased it significantly this week. And the other is to really try to pressure through regime change. If you negotiate without giving into blackmail, that’s not going to work because nuclear weapons is what this regime has to be powerful. I doubt they’re going to give it away. If you try to pressure the regime to sort of go away, as Donald Rumsfeld wants, you’re likely to have chaos. So you have got either the status quo which is bad or maybe an alternative, which is worse. And the administration really has no good out here.

JIM LEHRER: No good out?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know what it is, Jim. If it’s there, I haven’t seen it. I’d say this: that we are not talking about Saddam Hussein’s depleted resources militarily in Iraq here in North Korea. These numbers are just daunting: 940,000 troops under arms; 3400 battle tanks; 19,000 artillery pieces; 10,000 surface-to-air missiles; 540 airplanes; 450 combat airplanes. I mean….

JIM LEHRER: Plus these two nukes.

MARK SHIELDS: Plus these two nukes, and they’re loaded — I mean, and so the people who make the predictions and were pretty accurate about what would happen in Iraq, have calculated that a war on the peninsula of Korea, they’re talking about a million casualties. So I mean you’re really talking big, big numbers here, and I think the president, John McCain and others were somewhat critical of the president early on when he said don’t take the military option off the table. But I don’t think the military option is at all credible in dealing with this man.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: Nobody is really talking about the military option.

JIM LEHRER: But if there is no military option, that means talking is all have you left.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s why I say there is no good option. And then there’s talk of maybe, you know, some sort of economic pressure but the countries all around there are afraid you’re going to have millions of North Korean who are starving basically –

JIM LEHRER: Already starving.

DAVID BROOKS: — flooding across the border in China and South Korea. And that’s a bad option, too.

JIM LEHRER: So this, to say this is a serious matter, does not overstate it at all.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, I think those who are, as we continue to look for weapons of mass destruction, which we now are told have moved from country to country and actually the invasion of Iraq has led to more weapons of mass destruction being distributed around the world as a response.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about Iraq.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m talking about Iraq.

DAVID BROOKS: He had to get that in.

JIM LEHRER: I knew he was going to say that.

MARK SHIELDS: Somebody has to say it. I mean, you know. They’re there but he took them. The reality is, people are saying this is a lot more serious. And David’s right. You are dealing with a man who views probably nuclear weapons as a commodity to be sold, to be traded to the highest bidder. So you’re really talking about something, not the development some day of perhaps a nuclear capability but a man who has them in his pocket.

DAVID BROOKS: And we learned this week or have confirmed this week, he is selling heroin and other drugs. That’s one of the ways they fund the regime, through international drug trade. It’s just — it’s depraved. We almost don’t have a word to describe this kind of regime but it is a depraved regime.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Other matters: Former Speaker Gingrich got some attention this week, Mark, for a speech he made attacking the State Department, saying the State Department needs to be redone completely from the top because he blamed them for a lot of things — various diplomatic failures that led to the war in Iraq, et cetera. Should any of us care about what former Speaker Gingrich says?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure we should care, Jim. He is still a lightning rod, obviously but, I mean, he is on Don Rumsfeld’s Defense Intelligence Advisory Board. He’s very close to the secretary of defense. The question, speculation in Washington was, was he saying things that Rumsfeld himself believes in private but can’t say publicly? Was he doing his bidding?

JIM LEHRER: What do you believe?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he was speaking… there is an open tension, open warfare here, Jim, between the two departments — an administration that prides itself with speaking with one voice, it has gotten pretty ugly at times. The secretary of defense sent a “Rumy gram,” as he calls them, a memo to the secretary of state urging that John Bolton, the hardest of hard-liners in the State Department be put in charge of the talks with North Korea, which is a quick way of blowing up the talks with North Korea — instead of Kim Kelly, the assistant secretary of state.

JIM LEHRER: Who is in charge now –

MARK SHIELDS: Kelly is in charge, and it is hard to believe, Jim, that Colin Powell would say, you ought to get rid of this guy, Wolfowitz, and rearrange. That seems unlikely.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think is going on?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think Gingrich was speaking for anybody in the administration. He is a think tanker. He’s a guy who –

JIM LEHRER: Think tanker — he is a commentator on Fox Television.

DAVID BROOKS: Even higher, even higher. So I look at the speech as a set of ideas there. And there were two parts of it. One, he blamed everything that went bad in the past six months on the State Department, which, to me, was strident and over the top. But then he pointed to some serious things, long-term problems with the State Department, which is the State Department especially in the Middle East has always favored stability over democracy and has had a strong Arabist prejudice in some parts of the State Department. And those are long-term problems, they’re not original points that Gingrich made. But if the Bush administration is really going to champion democracy, those are things that need to be looked at. So I looked at the speech as another think tanker giving a speech.

JIM LEHRER: What do you say to the Democrats who say wait a minute, Gingrich said just about the same thing that Tom Daschle said that failed diplomacy led to military action in Iraq and everybody was all over him like a blanket, you know, from the right. But that’s not the case when Gingrich says it.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think people are allowed to have their views. And I think I’ve said that with Daschle. A free and open debate is fine.

MARK SHIELDS: A big difference, Jim. Tom Daschle a is a Democrat but, b, Tom Daschle said it before the war began. Newt Gingrich said it while the war was still going on. Not only that, but I mean you could make the case what Tom Daschle said that failed diplomacy, failure to get a majority in the U.N. was a failure. It was.

But, I mean, for him to say that George Bush’s high mark in the whole diplomatic high point for the United States was the speech at the United Nations, which I think it was. I think he persuaded the American people at that point that he may have laid the predicate for the Republicans winning back the Senate; that was Colin Powell’s idea, over the objections of Dick Cheney and over the objections of Don Rumsfeld. That was classic Gingrich trying to have it both ways.

JIM LEHRER: Forget — move Gingrich out of it for a moment, David. What about Mark’s larger point that there is more going on here than just Gingrich making a speech; that this division, this problem between Rumsfeld and Powell is real and is beginning to affect things?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is a majority party. And majority parties have big debates and the debates within the party are more interesting than debates outside the party right now. And this is a debate that has been going on since détente. On one hand you have one Republican school you might call the realist school or Kissinger school — it has always believed in negotiations, believed in stability. And that’s with whatever the regime happens to be there. That’s Kissinger, and then really Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft in that school.

The other school, the hard Wilsonians or the Reaganites don’t believe so much in negotiations. They talk about democracy and human rights and regime changes. They say the rogue regimes are insoluble; we just — we need to champion a strong moral position. That’s a debate that’s been going on for the past 30 years, it’s happening in North Korea; it happened in Iraq, it happened in the Soviet Union. It is two schools of thought.

MARK SHIELDS: One is a very serious difference. I mean, Anthony Zinni, Tommy Franks’ predecessor –

JIM LEHRER: Marine general.

MARK SHIELDS: — marine general, four-star marine general.

JIM LEHRER: Now retired.

MARK SHIELDS: Now retired — said of this battle between them, he said, look, there is more combat experience in the eighth floor of the State Department than there is in all of the Pentagon… I mean, these guys sit over the –

JIM LEHRER: Mainly civilians.

MARK SHIELDS: — civilians — they talk awfully tough. I mean they really do. And, you know, they’re talking about things….

DAVID BROOKS: Zinni should read the Constitution because this is not a military dictatorship. We have civilian control of the military.

MARK SHIELDS: — He’s talking about Powell and Armitage, David –

DAVID BROOKS: The opinions of the civilians matter in this country.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of warfare in the Republican Party, what is your battlefield report on Pres. Bush versus George Voinovich of Ohio over tax cuts?

DAVID BROOKS: This is a wonderful thing because Voinovich is like Neiman Marcus’s worst nightmare. He is as frugal as the day is long. I mean, the guy — he just recently bought a dishwasher for the first time. He wouldn’t take out a car loan until it hit 0 percent because he didn’t believe in the loans. He is someone who believes in saving money. When he looked at the Bush tax cut, he said it is not frugal. It is not him and I’m not for it, and he is not going to be for it. Bush went to Ohio maybe to pressure him, maybe just to raise some –

JIM LEHRER: He kind of took him on rather directly at least not by name but in rhetoric. He was saying, hey, anybody who doesn’t agree with me is off the….

DAVID BROOKS: And I don’t know anybody who thinks Voinovich is going to move an inch on this. So the Bush administration maybe thinks they’re at the beginning of a long road about tax cuts. But believe me, Voinovich ain’t moving.

JIM LEHRER: Are they going to be successful in trying to make an example out of him and affect things otherwise?

MARK SHIELDS: No. George Voinovich is an eastern European Catholic Republican from Cleveland. He is an enormously formidable vote getter in Ohio. He was mayor of Cleveland, he was a popular governor of the state. He relies on nobody’s coattails, George W. Bush’s, Ronald Reagan’s, nobody. He took on Ronald Reagan over deficits when he was mayor of Cleveland. He said you’re running too big deficits.

The problem for the White House is George Voinovich is the kind of Republican who came to office running against tax-and-spend Democrats and that was before the Republican Party became the tax cut and spend Republicans, which is what they are now. So George Voinovich does believe deficits matter and nobody in this administration will even say the word.

JIM LEHRER: So Voinovich is going to win no matter what.

DAVID BROOKS: If I had to bet, I would bet the tax cut will be closer to Voinovich than Bush.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, the Sen. Santorum statement. He was involved in an argument before the Supreme Court, he was asked by the Associated Press reporter about the argument this week over the sodomy law challenge that was before the Supreme Court and he said, if the Supreme Court– I’m paraphrasing but I want to get this correctly here — if the Supreme Court says have you the right to consensual gay sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, polygamy, incest, adultery, to anything, that is — I shortened it a little bit — Democrats and others are calling this, you know, for him to step aside as the number three Republican leader of the Senate. How do you read this? What should he do? How bad a situation is this for him and the Republican Party if at all?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think he’ll step aside. I really don’t — I –

JIM LEHRER: Should he?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he will only step aside if there is pressure. I mean, those who call upon him to apologize called upon Trent Lott to apologize. He apologized and then he was criticized for apologizing.

So I think what have you here Jim are two things at work: You have, first of all, the strain of the Republican Party between libertarian Republicans, who essentially believe anything, whatever the individual decides, wants to do that doesn’t hurt other people is fine, and you have sort of the moral codifying Republicans. The first group believes that the stop sign is an unwarranted governmental intrusion in our lives. The second group believes that the Victoria Secret catalog ought to be criminalized.

So what you have in the case of Rick Santorum is a politician who says I believe this. I believe this in my personal convictions and I make it part of my public policy. That’s been the case, you know, different people at different times. Abolitionists have believed it. The problem you risk when you are a conviction politician is if your convictions are not a majority in the country, and his aren’t, because majority of Americans are far more tolerant toward gays than is Rick Santorum’s stated position.

DAVID BROOKS: I think Victoria Secret’s catalogs should be handed out at stop signs.

JIM LEHRER: Moving right along –

DAVID BROOKS: What he said was the orthodox Catholic Church position, which he understands certain gays have an orientation; he doesn’t think they should act on it — not a position I agree with –

JIM LEHRER: In other words, they can be homosexual but they can’t have homosexual sex.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and that’s the Orthodox Catholic Church position.

MARK SHIELDS: Love the sinner, hate the sin –

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and that’s not a disgraceful position to have. You don’t get thrown out — he asked a tough question through all the nonsense and the tough question was, from what basis do we make bigamy illegal and incest illegal. If we make privacy our god, what is our rationale for making these things illegal? That’s a question a lot of us feel uncomfortable with because if a man and woman who are adults and are brother and sister want to have sex together, most of us feel that’s creepy and somehow it should be illegal. But explain it. Why do we think that? And when you have to explain it, then you get lost in a thicket of natural law, of philosophy. And a lot of us have lost that language to explain this issue. And in his crude way, Santorum was raising a difficult issue for a lot of people. And I think instead of trying to shout him down and cast him as Trent Lott, let’s talk about the issue.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. And we’ll do that some other time though. Thank you both very much.