TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks

April 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Again to Mark Shields and David Brooks. David, how would you assess the job that 9/11 Commission is doing?

DAVID BROOKS: I can only estimate by two things: One, the staff reports clarified things better than anything else I’ve read. Serious fault found with both administrations, Bush and Clinton. Then the questions yesterday of Condoleezza Rice, which I thought John Lehman was mentioned — asked very serious questions. Bob Kerrey asked a bunch of serious questions. I really think they’re getting to some serious, and as they suggest in press interviews, serious and dramatic recommendations.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the commission?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s understandable why the White House didn’t want them. They fought this commission tooth and nail. It has been helpful, and I think maybe even cathartic and you I think it will be valuable. I understand politically it is an absolute loser for the Bush administration. George Bush was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2001. He became president in the eyes of the American people after Sept. 11. If you are on President Bush’s reelection, you want him to be president Sept. 11 forward. You don’t want what led up to that terrible moment.

JIM LEHRER: Condoleezza Rice’s testimony. How do you feel she did for herself and the president?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought she did fine. I look at you’re coming into an administration. You have a million things coming at you. And now in retrospect we can pick out the evidence. Somebody somewhere in the government said planes can be used as weapons.

I think a super human person with a super efficient bureaucracy could have prevented 9/11. I think though given all that’s happened, it is easy to pick out the one piece of evidence among millions, flown across somebody’s desk saying that’s what you should pay attention to. Given the normal failings of an administration, it is hard to be angry, to fault them. It’s possible to fault the structure as so many people have said in the CIA and FBI. I think it is possible to fault them for not giving terrorism high priority. That’s undeniable. So, you know, you can fault them I don’t think it was incredible dereliction, however.

JIM LEHRER: Difference between dereliction of duty and not getting it right.

MARK SHIELDS: George W. Bush, everyone who knows him, says, and he says himself, prizes loyalty and he prizes organization. I thought she showed both in considerable amount there her testimony. She was very organized. Her presentation was quite organized, and she was quite loyal to the president. She was a good character witness for the president. But I thought what came through in a strange way was a curious passivity about that job.

She was no Henry Kissinger when it came to doing and acting and making things happen. In Bob Woodward’s book, he talked about the epiphany of Colin Powell when Colin Powell decided he had to go to President Bush and press him to go to the U.N. Condi Rice approved that and almost applied it but she wouldn’t have done it herself. That’s what came through. There wasn’t that willingness to act or to act boldly. She spoke about the president doing that.

Maybe that’s why the president likes her, but I mean there were times when it seems that facts came to her and but they weren’t so specific that she felt she had to act on them. That’s what I expect the national security adviser, to put the pieces of the puzzle together saying we have to do this.

JIM LEHRER: How did you feel about that?

DAVID BROOKS: Look at the atmosphere. None of us were paying attention with the high priority you we are giving it now. When you’re first in the administration, things are coming at you, Chinese spy plane North Korea — things coming at you. She did not heroically act preemptively and pick out the crucial things she should have in retrospect. Neither did we. We’re sitting here in the media and it is our job to put things on the agenda. What is half the media doing in the 1990s? Closing foreign bureaus – it’s not like we were not that heroic in seeing what was done.

JIM LEHRER: I thought about that the other day. There was very little discussion on this program or anybody else’s program about those kinds of issues before 9/11. Mark, going into this yesterday, the terrible people of the press had set it up as a two-week confrontation between Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice. How would you score it now on substance? How would you score the two?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think Clarke made more moves. I mean Clark… I mean if you are saying who handled Clarke? Clarke’s hammers were better. Comes on Sunday night — “60 Minutes,” peaks national interest, he comes on and he seems to be… and maybe because of the commission and the questioners, he was never playing defense. By definition, the national security adviser had to play defense. He showed a mastery of knowledge and information and talked about things he wanted to talk about.

JIM LEHRER: He was setting agenda.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Condoleezza Rice was talking about things she didn’t want to talk about. David made a point on this broadcast I just want to underline. Like nobody in this administration even looked at history. John Kennedy had a disaster in his first three months in office – the Bay of Pigs. He came out and said success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. It was my responsibility. I blew it. I take total responsibility for it.

JIM LEHRER: Next question.

MARK SHIELDS: Americans went to 81 percent approval ratings in the polls.

DAVID BROOKS: I said it a million times. I’ve had running arguments with people in the administration, do it, do it. Let me give you answer they give me back. They say sometimes we do do it. There they give me this example. June 23, Paul Wolfowitz came back from Iraq and gave a very nuanced we did this in Iraq, this we didn’t do right. We really messed this up. This we didn’t understand. They thought it was an attempt to give a balanced view of what failed and what didn’t fail in Iraq, upbeat but with a few admissions.

The headlines the next day in “Washington Post” and many papers was, “we were wrong” Wolfowitz. We made big errors. People leapt all over it. It was treated as a complete surrender. It didn’t stop the issue. The approvals didn’t go up. It was more “let’s really pound on them. The administration feels, and I don’t totally agree with it but this is not a weak argument but that the country has become so polarized, if you show weakness, it is another week of people jumping over you so you can’t even begin the conversation. I don’t totally accept it but it is an argument with some validity.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, your Bay of Pigs example aside, in recent years, can you name anybody who really scored by saying hey, I was wrong, in public life?

MARK SHIELDS: I mean just trying to think — putting me under the gun here. John Lindsay won reelection in New York.

JIM LEHRER: That’s way back there. I’m following David’s point. You don’t get many points anymore for saying hey, I made a mistake.

MARK SHIELDS: You have 18 consultants saying if you do that, you’ll show weakness. George Bush is running on, hey, look, I’m a Republican. We’re tough. We take no prisoners. We kick tail. We run against those limp-wristed Democrats. You know how they are. Anything that… self-doubt, my goodness there, goes the braggadocio, the swagger. I never saw John Wayne have any doubts.

DAVID BROOKS: Comparing me to John Wayne?


DAVID BROOKS: I wish you were. Now I’m doubly insulted.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it is the nature of George Bush and his folks?

DAVID BROOKS: They decide we’re tough. I think you can pick tough guys on the democratic and Republicans side. It’s the manliness of Washington. But to be fair, the country is just polarized and people say I have to live in this environment. I don’t like this environment. I just have to live. I can’t show an opening to the other side because they will not understand.

MARK SHIELDS: John McCain. John McCain admitted he made mistakes.

DAVID BROOKS: After he lost.

MARK SHIELDS: Even when he was running, talk about votes he was wrong on.

JIM LEHRER: Took him 12 minutes to come up with.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s not a bad one.

MARK SHIELDS: Hell of an American hero.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.