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Shields and Brooks

June 6, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Now the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. David, the president’s overseas trip; the European stop first: Did he mend any fences or was that even the point?

DAVID BROOKS: He said hi to them. They didn’t slug each other. But he mended fences by going to the Middle East actually. That’s the place where he could really show some results.

JIM LEHRER: You agree nothing really significant happened on the European part?

MARK SHIELDS: The Poland thing was symbolic. They were with us. We stopped there and acknowledged that. I think that’s sort of a Bush family signature, that loyalty means an awful lot. And it was less of a victory lap than it was I think a fence-mending mission because there are a lot of fences to mend over there. The Pew Poll came out and showed the United States falling dramatically and dangerously among Europeans and especially Islamic people in the Middle East.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree David that he was right not to make it a priority, of trying to kiss and make up with the French and the Germans or anybody else?

DAVID BROOKS: You can’t do it in two days. These summits — I used to cover them — there is nothing of significance that comes out of them. They stand there in their blue suits and white shirts, but nothing ever gets accomplished. He was right to get out of there.

JIM LEHRER: The Middle East. How do you think he got started, Mark, in terms of getting the road map started?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the president feels he did well. For the first time in his presidency, Jim, on the way back he invited reporters up to the front of the plane, Air Force One, to spend 45 minutes with him, which he has never done before. He was obviously feeling up and buoyant. The Bush administration’s policy toward the Middle East has been marked, I think, by bold and dramatic and almost historic pronouncements. Then followed by….

JIM LEHRER: You mean about Palestinian…

MARK SHIELDS: Palestinian state, no more settlements.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: And we’re going to, you guys are going to get together and then retreat. This time the president did, as David has called, what’s irresistible for presidents. He plunged into it. And the question is going into an election, whether, in fact, I mean his political council is going to be saying, look you’ve done enough already.

Let others carry the burden because (a): the Republicans think they have an historic chance to make inroads among Jewish voters where it has been historically bulwark of Democrats because of his previous support of the Sharon government over there; and, (b), if you do too much, you’ll irritate and energize the activist elements of the Jewish community on behalf of the Democrats. So I think there is domestic political pressure not to go too hard.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: Not entirely. I do not think among the Jewish community or evangelical community there is much love for the settlements. In both of those communities they do not want to see Israel pushed around, but is if Sharon is willing to say, as he did very historically this week, that it is bad for Israel to have the occupied territories, the Jewish community and evangelical community are not going to get to his right.

That’s one of the things Bush has going for him. I think they’ve also learned the lessons of the failure of Oslo. One, to marginalize Arafat, two to get the Arabs involved, which we didn’t do sufficiently because it’s only Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some of the Arab nations that can really lean on Hamas and those people who need to be crushed and leaned on.

And finally, don’t get too geeky about the process. Those people, who are involved in negotiations, it’s all they’ve done with their lives. They can negotiate for six months on the shape of the doilies at the conference table. And Bush, because of his personality, is just going to say hey, I don’t care about that stuff, let’s keep moving. I’m actually as optimistic as I’ve been in five years about the Middle East because I really think there’s real movement this week and a chance for more.

JIM LEHRER: Do you share that optimism, politics of it aside?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t, Jim. I think there is a contrast in styles. Bill Clinton, whatever everybody says about him, mastered the history, the data…

JIM LEHRER: And the details.

MARK SHIELDS: He knew if he drew the line one block in Jerusalem, what the difference was in east Jerusalem, politically, sociologically, culturally and historically. And one of George Bush’s own appointees said, he does not have the knowledge or the patience to learn the issue enough to have an end destination in mind. I mean, he really is – I guess if you like, it’s big-picture broad strokes but it’s detachment and the question David…

JIM LEHRER: Do you think that’s enough?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought Clinton did a good job, but he was moving around the parking spaces between the two zones. But Clinton cannot get dragged down into this process. They’re addicted to it.

JIM LEHRER: You mean Bush.

DAVID BROOKS: Bush can’t. They’re addicted — they’ve been doing it for their lives there. There’s like four different dimensions going. They love the process. They don’t think about the end game. To me one of the really interesting things that has happened is the important role that Condoleezza Rice is playing, which is not the State Department, but within the White House itself …

JIM LEHRER: She has been given this account, has she not?

DAVID BROOKS: And Jim Hoagland of the “Washington Post” had a wonderful observation. If you look around the – at the governments around the world – very often it is not the State Department as the foreign ministry who are rising in power; it’s the people right around the prime minister or the president; and in part that’s because of communication technology. It is easy for leaders to talk, but in part it’s because of the politicians in a political sense, you can’t have professional technocrats running these negotiations because they get too detached from reality. You want to have politicians and people right around them doing it.

JIM LEHRER: On the domestic political thing, more generally, Mark, is it your feeling that the American people generally want their president to resolve things in the Middle East? Is that why every president of the United States recently, at least, every secretary of state eventually whether they want to or not, gets involved?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there is a groundswell of support for it.

JIM LEHRER: They have to choose to do it.

MARK SHIELDS: I’ve never seen it come up on a list of what are the most important issues that the president ought to be doing more in the Middle East. I mean, I think they like to see the president of the United States as a peacemaker and nobody, Jim, and one of the most interesting stories of all that came out of this was when Abdullah of Saudi Arabia went to visit the president at the Crawford Texas Ranch. He showed the president pictures that had been on television over there of Palestinian children who had been killed.

And it was a ten-minute video. He went through this book with him and he said, Mr. President, I’m with you whatever you do. But if you’re going to get involved, you have to stay involved. I’ll support you whatever you do. And the president, apparently, from those who were there, it was almost an epiphany for the president, the idea of the suffering. He didn’t make an anti-Israeli creed or anything of the sort and the president’s interest was encouraged and nurtured.

DAVID BROOKS: It is interesting because in the Congo millions have died in the past few years.

JIM LEHRER: Three million people since 1998.

DAVID BROOKS: Which is as many Palestinians as there are in the West Bank or almost as many, and yet somehow that is off the radar screen — yet we all focus on the Middle East. I will say one thing that is different about Bush this time, which is he sees it as part of the war on terror, to which he has committed his presidency. So I do think that the ability to stay there is there.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Back here now in this country this week, the Justice Department inspector general report criticizing the way illegal aliens were handled after 9/11. The attorney general, John Ashcroft went before Congress to defend his conduct of his department. How do you read the final scene?

DAVID BROOKS: I think there is a lot to criticize in the way the Justice Department did it. There is not as much as the Democrats are making it and not as much as the media is making it. One of the patterns of this town is that you can say anything about John Ashcroft, you don’t have to be fair to him. For some reason he is one of those people — Martha Stewart, John Ashcroft — they’re picked out, you can demonize them.

If you actually read the report as the magazine did, there is criticism from 84 of the people out of the 700 they detained, this was post 9/11; they were in a tremendous crush. They took some people they thought were suspicious; they held them; they held them without trial. But in that crush, when thousands of things are happening, the FBI is so understaffed, it is unfortunate in some ways that in one facility in Brooklyn they were brutal, which is wrong, but I think it is more understandable and being blown wildly out of proportion in the press and by the Democrats.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m not as sure as David is that it’s being blown out of proportion. I think what struck me was not simply the report — the inspector general’s report — but the attorney general’s own resistance to any sort of a special counsel to investigate the findings of the report.

JIM LEHRER: How do you think he handled himself yesterday?

MARK SHIELDS: What John Ashcroft does is what John Ashcroft pleases. And I think what is interesting is among those who have reservations about John Ashcroft on the Hill are a number of conservative Republicans.

I mean Jim Sensenbrenner, the conservative Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from Wisconsin, said my support for the Patriot Act is neither unconditional nor eternal or perpetual. And I think there is some sense of an enlarged, energetic, overbearing federal government trampling on civil liberties that historically has been articulated by the left and liberals but I think is being shared by conservatives.

JIM LEHRER: Why do you think Ashcroft is fair game?

DAVID BROOKS: He’s Pentecostal.

JIM LEHRER: You think that? You believe that?

DAVID BROOKS: People see him as a shrewish figure; I think that Pentecostalism plays into the role. He is stiff, he is personally stiff. He is not a good glad-hander, but I do think there are prejudices against Pentecostals.

JIM LEHRER: David, you mentioned Martha Stewart, a three parter question. It has been a bad week for three people, Martha Stewart, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, four people, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd of the New York Times. Does it prove once again that nobody is immune from a fall?

MARK SHIELDS: Nobody is immune from a fall, Jim. And the Germans have a word for it called schadenfreude, I think. It means taking delight in the falls of others. With the possible exception of Sammy Sosa, there seems to be a perverse delight being enjoyed by people in the fall of Howell Raines at the New York Times and Martha Stewart in particular, who was the person who could tell you how to put together the perfect canapé and had been a stockbroker and enormously successful executive and then says, gee, I’m a poor little girl, don’t pick on me. In Howell Raines’s case, he had set a record as editorial chief of the New York Times that any institution….

JIM LEHRER: This is when he was editor of the editorial page?

MARK SHIELDS: Prior to taking over — but any institution that did wrong, whether it was the Catholic Church, whether it was Enron or Tyco or any of the earlier ones…

JIM LEHRER: Or President Clinton.

MARK SHIELDS: President Clinton — the person at the top had to take responsibility and had to be held accountable. And he made a lot of enemies along the way, especially within the New York Times. And I can tell you, that was repeated over and over again by non-Howell Raines fans saying, look, he has got to live by the rules he laid down. He can’t deny accountability with the Jayson Blair thing.

JIM LEHRER: David, do we enjoy watching these folks fall too much?

DAVID BROOKS: Some people deserve it. Some people it goes over the line. Some people deserve it but then it goes over the line. Martha Stewart — I don’t have grief for Martha Stewart, I don’t know if a canapé is a thing that goes over your bed or an hors d’oeuvre. I know it’s one of those.

MARK SHIELDS: It can be either.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you very much. But the hatred of her is so over the top, it becomes sickening. In the 50s with the McCarthy period, Hollywood would make these movies where the mob would get going, and they would be about to lynch somebody, and then Gregory Peck would come in and save the person. We need a few Gregory Pecks. Maybe Martha deserves it, but just to tell the mob to ease up. It is getting too brutal.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the New York Times thing?

DAVID BROOKS: Howell Raines made a mistake. He had a bunch of reporters who think they’re God’s gift to journalism. Some of them are God’s gift to journalism; they’re really good, and he treated them like starters, who he could dominate and they felt their creativity was not allowed to flourish. And that’s what undermined his credibility so when the crisis hit….

JIM LEHRER: He was gone. Thank you both very much.