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Political Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks

January 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Now, the Friday night analysis of shields and brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, how do you see the significance this week of the administration declaring the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq over and none were found?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, a less prudent national leadership might not have waited for the evidence and rushed in and invaded a sovereign country — another sovereign country but of course that wasn’t the case with the United States leadership.

There are three basic cases for going to war. The first was that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, and it was making enormous progress; (b), that it already possessed biological and chemical weapons; and (c), it had such a close working relationship with al-Qaida and al-Qaida groups that it could easily transfer these lethal weapons for attack on the United States.

Those are the charges leveled, organized by the administration, by the president, by the vice president. There has been no substantiating evidence of any of the three since. And I think, you know, it’s — the other case was obviously to bring democracy to Iraq and make it a beacon for the Middle East. And that’s probably in intensive care right now and third was to get rid of Saddam Hussein which was done. And so I just — I think, you know, again the broadcast of 1,358 Americans dead and, I mean, that was the reason for going to war. And that reason has been decimated.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree it has been decimated? And I would add this question to it, David, that without the argument that Mark just outlined of the three elements, the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe that the majority of the Congress, of the United States and the American public would have supported military action against Iraq?

DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think so. Without the sense that there was a threat, some sort of long-range threat that Saddam posed, I don’t think the Congress would have voted to it. I just would underline and I’m sort of going back to ancient history, But the Duelfer report, which was the report on WMD, did say very clearly that Saddam wanted these weapons.

He pulled back so he could get sanctions lifted; he bribed officials in the U.N., France, and China so he could get them listed. He reestablished arms relations, was importing arms freely and was hoping sanctions would be lifted, which the report said was palpably close and then he was going to build the weapons.

But you know, Saddam was a long-range threat. But as for the war itself, we are now in the middle of an election campaign. I mean, this is where we will tell whether it was worth it or not over the next six months or a year. We have seen – you know, we’ve seen three elections in the Middle East. We have seen this election. You know, there are Iraqis voting in 14 countries; some of the countries nobody has ever voted before, but the Iraqis are voting. If it works, it will have been worth it.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point, if I may, just to come back to it, that 1364 young Americans have died on the premise that there were that there were weapons — the major premise was there were weapons of mass destruction there. Does that not bother you?

DAVID BROOKS: Obviously. There were many premises for the war. Many people had different premises. Some of them it was the weapons of mass destruction. I was at a gathering of significant conservatives, Bill Buckley was one; he’s written a column, come out publicly. We were around a dinner table the other night and –

JIM LEHRER: This was recently?

DAVID BROOKS: This was two days ago.

JIM LEHRER: Okay.

DAVID BROOKS: And I was asked did you support the war? Everybody around the table did support the war at the time. Would you have supported it knowing what we know now? It was 50-50. So that has an effect on people.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

DAVID BROOKS: Frankly, it did not change my vote.

JIM LEHRER: How did you vote?

DAVID BROOKS: I voted yes both times because I think what we are seeing now in Iraq is the clearest moral confrontation, you know, since the Civil Rights Act, since apartheid. We’ve seen people against democracy, people fighting for democracy. If it works, those deaths — and it’s easy for me to say, I understand — those deaths will have been worth it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t, Jim. And I think –

JIM LEHRER: Remove the weapons of mass destruction and just go to David’s point.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t agree with David’s point because I think you have to go, if you are going to take a nation to war, you have to do it in an absolutely intellectually and honest and rigorously candid way. And there has to be understanding on the part of the people for them to make that kind of a commitment and point of sending young Americans to their death.

And the point I dissent from David, the initial point, and that is the pre-war U.N. strategy was working. I mean, for 12 years he had not been able to move in any way. I mean for 12 years, and the administration’s response — asked this week would the president have changed in any way – no, no, no, nothing has changed. The only thing of interest and sort of concern is the intelligence.

You know, we really got to find out why this intelligence was wrong. The big event at the White House I remember was the president awarding the Medal of Freedom to the director of that intelligence. So I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of disappointment or letdown that the intelligence was wrong; that led to us make that decision to go to war.

DAVID BROOKS: The court finding of the Duelfer report was that it was not working; that Saddam was getting out of the box, that he was – that was what the Duelfer report said; you can’t pick out one element of the Duelfer report and excerpt all the rest. That was the problem.

And as for the uncertainty, this is the whole nature of our lives since 9/11. When you have terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, you can’t always wait till the weapons are raining down on you. You have to act early. And I mean this has been the debate over the last three years.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Sure. And we went through it one more time because of the news of the week where they did declare finally that they’ve given up the hunt. Do you think that’s smart, by the way, to drop the whole thing, forget it?

DAVID BROOKS: For a year everyone has been saying, Duelfer even before going to Iraq taking over for David Kay, he’s been saying, I doubt there is anything there. I think it’s pretty clear.

JIM LEHRER: Michael Chertoff, the president’s choice to be the new Secretary of Homeland Security, what kind of choice is that in your opinion?

DAVID BROOKS: I think outstanding. I think there are a number of people around two who have popped up in job after job after job because they’re super confident – competent. Phil Zelikow, the guy who wrote the 9/11 Commission report, the staff guy is one of those guys in foreign affairs, Michael Chertoff is another. He was the inspiration for characters in the book “One L” by Scott Turow. He was a Supreme Court –

JIM LEHRER: I didn’t know that.

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. Supreme Court clerk for William Brennan, served under Rudy Giuliani and then served in the Bush administration, the Carter admission, Whitewater, the Bush administration, he keeps popping up because he has a golden reputation and I think it is well earned.

JIM LEHRER: Well earned?

MARK SHIELDS: One of the characters — Michael Chertoff is not bragging about the fact that he was the inspiration of one of the truly abrasive obnoxious people on the face of the Earth. But Jim his competence is established. When you get people like David Cole, a frequent appearer on our show -

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

MARK SHIELDS: — card carrying liberal as he would be happy to say, say this man is not an ideologue; that he is intellectually rigorous and honest, Rick Ben-Veniste -

JIM LEHRER: Said it on this program.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Without endorsing him but said this is a man of integrity. What was missing was he didn’t have the panache, he didn’t have the dash; he didn’t have the Bernie Kerik swagger that the president was obviously smitten by but he is confirmable. And he has been confirmed for a lifetime job. The person who deserves the credit, if it does work out, and it is an enormous challenge, is the person who talked him into giving up a lifetime –

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, he was on the court and that’s a big deal.

MARK SHIELDS: Arthur Goldberg gave up the Supreme Court to become U.N. Ambassador to Lyndon Johnson.

JIM LEHRER: — Lyndon Johnson-

DAVID BROOKS: In fact, it’s sort of underlining because people are so cynical about politics -

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: Good point.

DAVID BROOKS: — but people do this as a service to the country and I’m sure that’s what is going on. He was involved in 9/11. That’s why people do this. There are a lot of good people like that, beyond –

JIM LEHRER: Very good point. This is – if there is a thankless job or a job that — I mean, yeah, they’ll thank you if everything turns out great but he’s got 180,000 people; he’s got all this stuff.

MARK SHIELDS: Twenty-two agencies.

JIM LEHRER: Twenty-two agencies; I mean, this is not a walk in the park.

MARK SHIELDS: The one drawback and the opposition you will see is from Sen. Clinton and I think probably and understandably –

JIM LEHRER: Explain that.

MARK SHIELDS: He was — when he was counsel for the Whitewater Committee, the Senate Whitewater Committee, he was a zealous prosecutor, a zealous prosecutor. And those hearings, he badgered and I think it is fair to say browbeat White House staff, including Maggie Williams and others, the then first lady’s chief of staff. And that committee came up with not a single finding of illegality, not a single finding of even impropriety. So, you know, there were some hard feelings but at the same time Chuck Schumer, Mrs. Clinton’s colleague from New York, Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey and

DAVID BROOKS: Jon Corzine -

MARK SHIELDS: — Jon Corzine, the other senator from New Jersey have already endorsed him.

JIM LEHRER: Is it possible to speculate, David, on how different a Chertoff Homeland Security Department will be than a Tom Ridge Homeland Security Department?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think he’ll project a little more authority. I think he is someone who is ultimately very, very serious, very, very smart. I think he will project authority. As to how he will manage that agency is just going to be a terribly difficult task. And the one knock that was made against him is that he doesn’t have demonstrable administrative authority. I hope he appoints a deputy who has that. But if have you skills, you can learn how to do a job, I think. And he has monumental skills.

JIM LEHRER: A media story this week, David; the CBS problem with the Bush National Guard story they did on 60 Minutes Wednesday, do you believe that CBS did what they did for political reasons, that that was anti-Bush political reasons?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s hard to measure out the two things. One, there is the journalist trying to get a story. And you get excited by that. But they did shop this around to the Kerry campaign. They did have contacts with the Kerry campaign. They did go out searching for stuff.

Whether they were motivated politically, I don’t know what is in their soul. I do know there are poll results that 90 percent of working journalists voted for Kerry. Does that mean they’re biased? No. If they’re professionals are not, because they know how to do their job. But I do think it is a danger when there are so few conservatives in a lot of media organizations that things get carried away and there is nobody around to break it.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: From my experience, Jim, in hanging around national newsrooms for a long time I’d say there’s only three biases and this really upsets my friend from the right. The three biases that journalists differ from the general public, they’re more pro-choice on abortion rights than the general public is. They’re more pro-in favor of gay rights and they’re more in favor of gun control. Those are the only three I’ve ever seen. I mean, there is not a political agenda. And I think that may be just be a product of where they come from. But you know, I have to admit I’m a Dan Rather fan; I’m a CBS fan. And I feel terrible that this is the way his career ends, and I think there is a certain resentment that he was allowed a dignified exit on the part of some. But, no –

JIM LEHRER: Do you think they would have been as vigorous on this story if it had been about Kerry instead of Bush? That’s the bottom line.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s a good question. I mean — but the idea of being in contact — a lot has been made of, you talk to people in the other campaign — I mean you get some of your best information, Jim, from one campaign, from the other. If you are interviewing John Kerry, I mean the Bush people are probably going to have as good questions as anybody. And I don’t, you know, I don’t know. But I mean I think there was a sense of competitiveness and the fact that Dick Thornburgh and Lou Boccardi – former AP and governor of Pennsylvania — failed to find any bias makes a statement.

JIM LEHRER: Around the table you sat with the conservatives a couple of days ago, if that question had been asked of them, what would they have said do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t watch CBS. I don’t know particularly know. They would have said yes. There is a great sense among conservatives that you look at certain news institutions, you feel like you are fighting uphill. That’s just the sensation people have about certain organizations.

JIM LEHRER: Under this organization’s rules, I now have to say thank you both very much and see you next week.