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Shields and Brooks

June 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Shields and Brooks, of course, are syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard.

First, the weapons of mass destruction issue, David, the Senate Intelligence Committee is holding closed hearings on it. But the polls and continual reporting saying that nobody really seems to care very much about this — whether or not — I’m talking about pre-intelligence about weapons of mass destruction versus still not having found any, credibility, all that kind of stuff. What’s your reading?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the polls are right. People vote on primary issues. We had this huge debate: Should we go to war in Iraq? Or should we not? The president was on one side; his critics on another. People took a look at the death camps, the mass graves, the reaction of the Iraqi people when Saddam was deposed, and they decided overwhelmingly it was a good thing. The secondary issue was the quality of our intelligence going into that. But as far as how people vote, it’s the primary issue they’re going to vote on.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t, Jim. I think that… I agree with you and David on the polls. But I think that there is a real authentic problem here that is not going to go away for the administration and the administration understands that.

JIM LEHRER: Lay out the problem.

MARK SHIELDS: The problem is, Jim, I’ve talked to members of Congress who supported the war who now feel that they were misused. I mean, Gene Taylor of Mississippi, a Democrat, a conservative Democrat, spoke to Paul Wolfowitz personally before going to war, wanted to be absolutely assured. And he this week asked Paul Wolfowitz in open testimony — a person has to be believed most first of all. A person has to… you have to rely upon another person’s word, and I want to know if we can rely upon… if I can still rely upon what you told us.

And a nation has to be relied upon. This has consequences far beyond immediacy of public opinion in the United States as to whether this is an issue. This has consequences to other nations. It’s already a major issue in Great Britain, in the allies that were enlisted, the information that was given them, the intelligence that was shared with them.

Whether in fact it was shaped whether it was wrong, whether it was misused by the administration, the administration’s own position changed over a period of eight, nine, ten months from asserting that there was a possibility toward assurance there was, to the sense that two things that have already been told are absolutely false: One was that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger, which was in the president’s state of the union address. How did it get in the state of the union address?

Second, that Saddam Hussein had the aerial capacity for delivering weapons to the United States. We found out later he had an aerial capacity up to 300 miles. That’s only 5,700 miles short of the United States.

DAVID BROOKS: There are a couple of things that the president said which were not true — the Niger case. But it’s not as if they lied about it. The intelligence you get out in any situation is fuzzy. There was a lot of good intelligence, bad intelligence. If you looked before the war, the president was saying one thing about weapons of mass destruction. Ted Kennedy and the peace camp if you put them all together, were relying on intelligence to say there would be rioting in the Arab streets; there would be a massive refugee crisis; there would be street-to-street fighting in Iraq.

They said lots and lots of things which turned out to be 100 percent wrong. Now are they liars? No. They interpreted a fuzzy situation in different ways. The primary bit of evidence the Bush administration brought to the American people about the VX nerve gas, about all the anthrax, that was the… the core of that evidence was stuff the Clinton administration talked about, Hans Blix talked about, John Deutsch, the Clinton administration figure talked about, William Cohen, the defense secretary under Clinton talked about.

This was the stuff that was the basis of 14 U.N. resolutions. And it was non- controversial. The Iraqis admitted to having these 8,500 gallons of Anthrax in the mid ’90s. We don’t know what happened to it. We still don’t know what happened to it. That’s not lying. That’s the fuzz of intelligence, and we still are in the midst.

JIM LEHRER: Put the specifics of Iraq aside and pick up on Mark’s point, whatever this turns out to be, whether or not we find the weapons or don’t find them, whatever, are you concerned about the credibility issue in the rest… the next time, for instance, we want to go to take preemptive action against a particular country and say, well, we have intelligence that says this, this, this. So, in other words, does it have to be cleared up for that reason if no other reason?

DAVID BROOKS: I think it’s important. The Niger case with the uranium, how did that get into the state of the union address?

JIM LEHRER: Nobody knows that. Nobody has answered that.

DAVID BROOKS: Then clearly the administration gave the impression based on whatever intelligence they had or however fuzzy it was that some sort of military gas attack, biological attack was imminent. That’s why they were getting into these gas masks all the time. They sincerely believed that. They weren’t lying about it, I do not believe. But why was the intelligence so faulty?

JIM LEHRER: You’re taking the position… are you taking a position, Mark, that they intentionally lied or just something went wrong?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know. Something obviously went wrong, Jim. Whether in fact the intelligence itself was bad, whether those who were advocating in the administration a stronger policy — we know from Bob Woodward’s own book who was privy to this that the day of September 11 Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, said “let’s go after Iraq. Why shouldn’t we go after Iraq at this point?” Whether, in fact, intelligence was taken, certain things were emphasized. Manipulation is very simply this: manipulation is moving public opinion by giving information and withholding other information. Whether in fact that was done, I don’t know.

But the case for going to war was not that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, was not that he was a despot, not that he was brutal to his people. Jim we had supported Saddam Hussein with he was brutal to his own people, when he had been brutal to his own people in the war against Iran. The reason to go with weapons of mass destruction constituted an imminent threat to the United States and the safety of the American people.

DAVID BROOKS: The Iraqi… there was an Iraqi on this program a week ago who said that Saddam was a weapon of mass destruction. And that is the truth because he had these… we know he had them five years ago. And I would just counsel, we’re jumping way ahead of ourselves to think that somehow those weapons were not there, are still not there. You know, a lot of this whole debate is so premature it reminds me of the Iraqi museum story where we had all these outrageous stories 170,000 artifacts are gone. It turns out thirty or forty artifacts are gone. Those stories were premature.

Now it looks like Saddam may be alive. Maybe there’s still a lot of mystery to be unraveled here. But to me the reason to go to war was overlapping. It had to do with these weapons but it had to do with the intention of Saddam and the way he behaved to his own people. That is the fundamental issue.

JIM LEHRER: New subject. The president is out to raise $200 million for his re-election campaign. Is that business as usual or is that business as unusual?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, for a fellow who came to Washington and promised to change the tone, change the way, no more of this big fundraising, president fundraiser-in-chief and so forth, Jim, he’s raising $200 million and he doesn’t have an opponent. He gets public financing once he’s the nominee of his party. So he has to spend this money — raise it and spend it between now and August 30, 2004 when the convention begins –okay — because after that, he gets public funds during his campaign.

JIM LEHRER: So who does he run against?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I’ll tell you two things happen: One is, when you got that much money in a campaign, mischief happens. You do negative campaigning. The most recent example I saw of that where a candidate wasn’t opposed was Gray Davis in California running for election in 2002. He meddled. He had a lot of money so he meddled in the California Republican gubernatorial primary, attacked Dick Reardon, the mayor of Los Angeles, who was seen as the strongest opponent, and basically ended up selecting Bill Simon, a novice candidate who turned out to be a very weak candidate against him. Richard Nixon’s campaign — I don’t know what you’re possibly doing with $200 million except showing we can do it.

JIM LEHRER: David?

DAVID BROOKS: First of all he never promised not to fundraise. Republicans like fund raising. It’s like golf. They just are good at it. They like to do it. Second he’s not running unopposed. Dennis Kucinich is out there. I’m just kidding.

Basically to me the situation is this, and it’s all post McCain-Feingold that is in new wrinkle here to me. The fund-raising, there’s always been a lot of fund raising. But up until McCain-Feingold you had rough parity as the presidential level between the parties, not quite the Republicans had an advantage, but you had rough parity, but now in the post McCain-Feingold world the Republicans have this huge advantage and are going to go into the next year….

JIM LEHRER: Explain why.

DAVID BROOKS: Because soft money is banned. Democrats were reasonably good at raising soft money. Whereas Republicans are really good at raising money –

JIM LEHRER: Soft money is stuff that comes from organizations. I can go to directly candidates, for causes and parties and stuff.

DAVID BROOKS: The Democrats rely on a relatively small number of extremely rich people to give them a huge bulk of their money which you cannot do under the soft money ban. The Republicans have your run-of-the-mill millionaire, thousands of them that they rely upon. So they can still raise a lot of money in $2,000 chunks. The Democrats can’t get those $10 million chunks.

We’re going to have a new situation where the Republicans have a huge advantage next year. To me that’s not going to make a huge difference on the presidential campaign because there’s so much free publicity but it will make a difference, I believe, and I’d be curious to hear Mark’s opinion, at the local level and on the election day to get out the vote where Republicans will have a big edge.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there’s any question, Jim, that the cost and the price of getting rid of soft money was to give the Republicans a short-term advantage in raising money because the Republicans have more contributors who are capable of giving $1,000.

JIM LEHRER: More millionaires.

MARK SHIELDS: More millionaires, whatever, near millionaires. They’ve always been David’s concern. Close the gap between the millionaires and billionaires.

DAVID BROOKS: Soon to be millionaires.

MARK SHIELDS: Concern about these people.

JIM LEHRER: Okay, okay.

MARK SHIELDS: But I think in this case we’re not talking about just your run of the mill wealthy people given. When you hold a dinner in Washington D.C., like they held this past week, you’re hitting all the interests. You’re hitting the people who have an interest in before Congress, before the agencies, before the White House.

JIM LEHRER: That was a huge deal there.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s what that is. And any president can raise that. At the congressional level I think is where the Republicans will have a short-term advantage in hard money.

JIM LEHRER: Quick question before we go on, the Democrats. There was a meeting this week of a new liberal democratic organization. There was a meeting a couple weeks ago of the DLC, a kind of moderate or conservative Democrat… is it usual news again? The Democrats are trying to figure out who they are and what they believe?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think the argument is do we go after the swing voters who are the moderates in the suburbs or try to rile up and get the base going, and that is the debate they’re essentially having.

JIM LEHRER: Go after Bush. Go after Bush.

DAVID BROOKS: Go after Bush. Be really rough in the attack. I don’t believe they’re strategizing. I think they’re going with their gut. Their gut is they’re outraged at Bush. And to me and I’ve had conversation with many, many Republicans who have the feeling– and this is just curiosity– what are the Democrats doing? They’re going off the deep end. They’re being too outrageous, too sour, too negative. And they have the feeling that Democrats– and I agree with them– the Democrats are just jumping off a cliff here.

JIM LEHRER: Is that what’s happening?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think that’s happening. I think after every election defeat a political party splits into two factions– the shirts and the skins. The shirts say this reason we lost is that we didn’t stick strong enough to our core beliefs. Conservative Republicans said that after a defeat.

JIM LEHRER: They said that after Clinton won.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. The skins say the reason we lost is we didn’t reach out to those folks in the middle. We’ve become too ideological. That’s what the Democrats are going through right now. That’s what the Republicans went through. The losing party always thinks the strongest candidate in the other party is a moderate. I always thought Howard Baker. David always thought Scoop Jackson. The party has just never nominated either one.

JIM LEHRER: And you’re a skin and you’re a shirt. Good luck to you both.