Shields and Brooks on Secretary Rumsfeld’s Congressional Testimony
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JIM LEHRER: And speaking of Washington some final words now from Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks. Continuing on that theme, David, is Rumsfeld going to go? Is he going to survive this?
DAVID BROOKS: I think he’ll survive this. You know, the guy has made a million desists over the past year, some of which have been very bad decisions that were actually things he did. This thing, he’s tangentially involved in it happened far away. He was not directly involved in whatever happened at the prison so I think he will survive this.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I did not know, Jim. I think his chances of survival would be better if the war that he was chief advocate of and architect partially for, if it were going well, and it is not.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Bayh question that if they want to put this behind them, whether he is as culpable as you say, you say he is not, that it is not a result of a decision he made, if they want get this off the table to show that the United States is serious in cleaning this up, out of here, Rumsfeld?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I don’t think that helps. I sort of agree with Mark. Listen, even for those of us who supported this thing, it has been a terrible year and this has been the most depressing week of a terrible year. It has been a whole series of things. The fundamental problem here has nothing to do with the prison. The prison caps a whole series of things. The main danger here is the crisis of confidence if the American people lose faith in their leadership. Maybe him leaving would help that but it would have to be part of a whole new series to show the president wants to keep the course, but he is willing to do fundamental rethinking because the cause is just but the means have not been the best.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Do you agree with that? We have got a crisis of confi… that’s the potential problem?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the confidence is gone, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: It’s gone?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s gone. I mean, I don’t think there is any question about that. I don’t think Don Rumsfeld leaving is going to change that and alter it in any way. I think that Americans have lost confidence in this war.
JIM LEHRER: In the war?
MARK SHIELDS: In the war, in the conduct of it, in the purpose of it, and I think this just drives it home. This, Jim, cannot be understated the importance, the psychological and emotional impact of this on the American psyche.
JIM LEHRER: Today, David – first of all, do you agree that the American psyche is in trouble right now?
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t go as far as Mark. I don’t think we’re there yet. But, you know, it’s not only this. It a whole series of mistakes have been made -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID BROOKS: A whole series of hearings, a whole series of commission. So it’s a question of confidence. I think even those who support the thing, can these guys actually do the job?
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing, Jim. Old enough to be, to have lived through Vietnam in this town, in this country, and I was in the marine corps in peacetime. I never was tested in combat. Every man I know who wasn’t, you wonder how you would have responded — whether you would have done with honor and appropriately.
But I’ll never know, but I have spent time in the company of heroes in these past few months. I’ve been to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, I’ve been to Bethesda Naval Hospital in suburban Maryland and spent time in the company of the 340 Americans who had been severely wounded since the president declared mission accomplished. They’ve lost arms, they’ve lost legs. They’ve lost their sight. Not one of them I ever talked to — men and women – ever lost any belief in the mission, in the unit they served in and the tasks that they have been assigned. They have been dishonored. They have been sullied. Their service and their sacrifice has been stained. That’s how profound this is. This isn’t going to go away. If Don Rumsfeld… that’s why don Rumsfeld seems secondary to me — Don Rumsfeld can leave tomorrow – it’s not going to change. This is an American….
DAVID BROOKS: You’re going a little too far for me now. Listen, in World War II –
MARK SHIELDS: This is an American…. Milai didn’t change when administrations changed; it was an American tragedy. It changed America’s view toward that war and itself and this will… this isn’t going to change for generations in the Middle East.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s a fundamental problem we have in this country, or in this age really. World War II there were atrocities, Civil War there were atrocities, Revolutionary War. Can we fight a war in media age – that’s a fundamental problem. There were atrocities in every war. The atrocities don’t necessarily disgrace the war or de-legitimize the war. But in this case, we have a specific problem.
JIM LEHRER: Do we have a specific problem, David? We Americans have a specific problem because we tell the world how wonderful we are all the time and that we are not barbarians like everyone else, that we don’t acknowledge the dark side of argument psyche as everybody else does?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think that’s part of it. I mean, if you go to Egypt — how they handle Islamic fundamentalism – if you go to Syria, if you go to Algeria, they had very effective way of handling it. They wiped out whole cities; they killed lots of people. That’s something we are never going to do. We assign ourselves higher standards and we portray ourselves and think of ourselves as higher. We are not a people that’s well versed in the dark side of human nature. We have trouble with the evil in ourselves. We are convinced as Immer said in our own innocency, and so it backfires sometimes as we look at… we’re human beings.
MARK SHIELDS: This wasn’t an atrocity performed in combat. This isn’t somebody having seen his buddy killed next to him. This was an act, a calculated act on the part of Americans. And I could not… I could not hardly endorse the words of Sen. Lindsay Graham, Republican of North Carolina, today who said it bothers him that it is only privates and sergeants, and if that’s where it ends because anybody who thinks this was organized by a bunch of young enlisted people untrained, unschooled to humiliate, to degrade in terms of sexual abuse the other side, the Iraqis, and then Jim the idea that this wasn’t done to get further information. Senator Levin touched upon it.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner conceded….
MARK SHIELDS: Senator Warner, but it was about weapons of mass destruction. They can’t find weapons of mass destruction. You got to find information. For God’s sakes, get intelligence soften them up, do whatever you have to do.
JIM LEHRER: Does that make sense to you?
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t know where it started or how broad it is. I know there are people in that prison who did not participate, who refused to do this sort of thing, but, again, I go back to the long stretch of things. Whose brilliant idea was it to take Saddam’s gulag and use it as a prison? I mean, it boggles the mind.
JIM LEHRER: I want to go back to human psyche questions for a moment, the impact on the American public. I realized late this afternoon that all three of the commercial networks ran the Senate, not the House, ran the Senate live. That’s in addition to the cable networks. That means millions and millions of Americans at least had an opportunity to see this, which is very unusual for the commercial networks to do that in the daytime. That’s old school. In the new school, they turn it over to the cable network but not this time. What does that say and what could be the possible impact of that?
DAVID BROOKS: We are not a shame culture but I think all across the U.S. people feel shamed and humiliated. It is not a common emotion, I think, for Americans. We are not Japan. But I think we all feel that shame whether you’re for it or against it. You know it’s like a nursery school where you go off and they say, you better act well; you’re representing your school. Those people were representing us. And they, a picture of American women with a naked Islamic guy, she’s got a leash around that guy’s neck. It is as if she has been reading Arabic for 50 years and she’s figured out the most brutal way to caricature or insult the Arab people. She just chose it and we are all humiliated by it.
JIM LEHRER: Humiliated by it, and to follow up on your point, you believe, looking at that, Mark, that there is no way in the world that young soldier would have done that on her own.
MARK SHIELDS: No.
JIM LEHRER: No way.
MARK SHIELDS: None, Jim. I mean, the thing was… it was orchestrated. It was done… it was choreographed for maximum humiliation. There were attacks upon that jail made because of allegations of female prisoners having been sexually abused. And because that is such a violation of Iraq standards… and the idea that part of the reason, I mean, the only justification for the war now, not weapons of mass destruction, not al-Qaida, is we got rid of Saddam Hussein and who tortured his own people, who abused his own people. We go to the very building and… David, I mean… but I mean… where is the moral parity of the world between the United States and the torture. I’m not talking about killing people. I mean we went in as liberators — we are now occupiers and don’t think that’s going to change – it’s not.
DAVID BROOKS: It was an aberration. I doubt it was only privates and corporals. It probably went higher. I don’t know how high. Nobody knows how high. But this was an aberration. I do not believe most of our soldiers there or servicemen or women would behave this way. I don’t believe it is in any way representative of what we are doing over there. To say that it somehow is an indicative problem of the entire occupation to me is ridiculous.
JIM LEHRER: Let me try a hypothetical on you. Private Brooks, MP Brooks, let’s say I’m lieutenant… let’s say I’m Lieutenant Lehrer and you’re PFC Brooks, MP. I’m your commanding officer and I say, look, we have to find weapons of mass destruction and those five people in your custody know where they are. And I’ve got an interrogator who is going to come and talk to them in a minute; can you help make it a little bit easier for them to get the answers they want for the good of your country? You don’t think you might consider, consider doing something awful?
DAVID BROOKS: Well corporal or lieutenant or whatever you assigned yourself. I think you were actually a higher rank. What I think I saw there in those pictures was not a conscious decision. What I saw was people who didn’t look at the prisoners as human beings. There is a whole culture, a whole climate.
JIM LEHRER: You said — back to another point we talked about earlier — that Rumsfeld isn’t going to solve this problem. What is going to solve this problem?
MARK SHIELDS: Rumsfeld’s going is not going to solve the problem.
JIM LEHRER: His going. What is going to solve the problem?
MARK SHIELDS: Time, resolve and let it just be clear. I never suggested this was representative of Americans there. I don’t know anybody who has. I’m saying that this has stained sullied and dishonored the service of those brave Americans especially the ones at Walter Reed and ones whose lives have been lost. And, Jim, I don’t know. I mean, it’s probably going to take something. It is going to take in the way of reparations… it’s not going to happen, Jim. I’m sorry.
JIM LEHRER: It’s never going to happen?
MARK SHIELDS: There is not… what it is going to turn over on the 30th of June. We’ve built 1700 schools, we’ve vaccinated hundreds of thousands of children, rebuilt hospitals and Jim, it means next to nothing after this.
JIM LEHRER: David.
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t agree with that. There are atrocities in warfare. If there is an election, there is a long road to normalcy for the Iraqi people, if they’re not dying by the tens of thousands, if there are no more mass graves, then I think this is a horrible aberration in what has been a messed up, incompetently run but fundamentally noble idea.
JIM LEHRER: What about the point that Secretary Rumsfeld and others made today that whether or not they blew it from a PR standpoint and public standpoint going to Congress, the system is on track, and we are showing the rest of the world that we do open things up eventually, and we do go after, to coin the president’s term again, evil doers, our own evil doers. There is something to be said for that?
DAVID BROOKS: I think that is a fundamentally strong argument, the process we are having, the argument we’re having here, the discussion – listen, I think the criminal justice system worked extremely well in the military. It went on with all dispatch. The problem was the political problem. They didn’t realize what these photos would do. They would be like weapons of mass morale destruction. They didn’t lift the photos out of the investigations and preemptively go public.
JIM LEHRER: It stunning to think there’s even… you don’t have to read between lines, Rumsfeld said there is more to come and even worse. There are apparently videotapes and that’s much different even than looking at a still photograph.
MARK SHIELDS: This is not political, it really isn’t — back and forth on that. It is not three points for John Kerry, five points for George Bush. This is national. It’s not going to change, you know, if George Bush loses and Don Rumsfeld leaves or whatever. It is not going to change. This is a permanently upon Americans. Jim, if you were organizing, recruiting for al-Qaida tonight, you would consider this was a boom. This was serendipitous.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t disagree with that.
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t disagree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, on that one note of agreement we’ll leave it. Thank you both very much.