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Analysts Debate the Haditha Investigation and the Appointment of Henry Paulson

June 2, 2006 at 4:35 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: But first, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The Haditha story and the others, Mark, where does it seem to be headed?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, it seems to be headed, Jim, towards serious charges being leveled, and the consequences and the fallout are just enormous.

I mean, first of all, just in the United States, if these charges are made and confirmed and they’re — the sense of the United States, we’ve always felt that our purposes are noble, our ideals are high. This just goes right to the self-image of the country.

It makes us, in a sense, at moral parity with those that we’re fighting. It undermines, obviously, the relations with Iraq itself and its government. You can see its government asserting itself.

There was no government at the time of Abu Ghraib to register its objections to that treatment and mistreatment. But now, just for its own identity, its own satisfaction of its own constituents, the prime minister has condemned the United States…

JIM LEHRER: And they’re going to have their own investigation.

MARK SHIELDS: They’re going to have their own investigation. And on top of that, obviously, you’ve got — if Abu Ghraib was an enlistment incentive for terrorists, this could be a poster for insurgents, that the charge that the United States — this is what they are, they (inaudible) democracy. Actions always speak louder than words. And, finally, for the Marine Corps…

JIM LEHRER: Tough for the Marine Corps, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: … which is the nation’s elite fighting force and which stands accused.

JIM LEHRER: David, how do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I guess I do see it a little differently. I mean, we’ll have the investigation, but I don’t think it says anything about moral parity between the U.S. and its enemies.

I mean, this was an atrocity. What our enemies do is a matter of policy when they do the same thing.

And the second thing — and we’re going to have an argument about it — is this is the context. What is the context in which these events happen? And to be honest, I think this says nothing about the American cause, and the American nature, and the nature of the American power.

When you look at when these events happen, it tends to be in a certain sort of war, and that is guerrilla war with high-technology weapons. If you go back in history and you look where there has been massive violence, massive combat stress, but relatively few atrocities, you get things like the Civil War and World War II, where you have big armies fighting each other relatively separated from civilians.

But when you get guerrilla war, with fast weapons, fast pace of battle, integrated with civilians, then you get these atrocities, and that’s true here. It’s true in Vietnam, but it’s true in Africa.

There have been cases where you’ve got armies fighting with high casualties with no atrocities. And then you get, in the same country, a guerrilla war, massive atrocities.

So it’s the nature of this kind of fighting. And these things happen when you get this integrated — you don’t know who your enemies are. These guys are under tremendous stress, and some of them do horrible things.

The treatment of civilians in war

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
We've had criticism of the American press for not telling the good stories and the positive stories. But for the lonely courageous reporting of Time magazine, we wouldn't know about this.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark's point that we Americans tend to see ourselves as the non-barbarians of the world? But you go -- you mentioned the Civil War, the battle of Antietam and many other wars, where there were young Americans looking eyeball to eyeball and blowing each other's heads off.

So, I mean, properly triggered, any human being is capable of committing a barbaric act. Is that also a message here?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if we have an innocent image of ourselves, this is something that grew up in the last 30 years. For most American history, we didn't have this image of ourselves.

If you go through World War II, when -- I mentioned last week the Dresden. These were hundreds of thousands civilians were killed, and it happened in part -- in part -- because there was a coarsening of the national mind, where people thought, "We're desperate to win. We're going to do whatever it takes to win."

And that also factored into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. And to me, one of the paradoxes is, when you get a draft, when you got lots of people whose sons and daughters are at risk, you actually get a more bloodthirsty country. And that's what we were by the end of World War II.

MARK SHIELDS: You also get a more democratic response when there is resistance to the war.

I could not disagree more strenuously with David. Jim, there is no code, Marine Corps code, American code, international code, that says the murder of civilians -- if we have a nine-year-old child testifying that he saw his grandmother and grandfather killed by Marines in a cold-blooded way, that is -- I can't tell you how devastating that is.

That is so violative of every norm, every value, every rule that Marines are inculcated with, and this...

JIM LEHRER: No matter what's happening on the ground?

DAVID BROOKS: And I never said anything remotely to contradict that.

MARK SHIELDS: No, but, I mean, it isn't a question of -- the context is there, always. The context has been there. The Marines have made the effort more than any other branch of the service to win the hearts and minds. I mean, General Conway, that whole effort to reach out to...

JIM LEHRER: General Maddes (ph) at the beginning.

MARK SHIELDS: General Maddes (ph) at the beginning...

JIM LEHRER: He said we can be your best friend or your worst enemy; the choice is yours, the Iraqis...

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And they've had great successes. I mean, they really have. And so this is really so horrendous.

And the cover-up, I mean, let's be very blunt about this. We've had criticism of the American press for not telling the good stories and the positive stories. But for the lonely courageous reporting of Time magazine, we wouldn't know about this.

JIM LEHRER: That's right.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, and here we are six-and-a-half months later, and we still don't know.

The Pentagon knew about incidents

David Brooks
The New York Times
[W]hen the democratic leaders are anti-Americans, which has happened today, that's a silver lining. That gives them some legitimacy to be a democratically-elected sovereign government.

JIM LEHRER: That's a fair point, David. You know, why the Pentagon had this report, knew this incident had happened, why didn't they tell the public about it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they're an institution. I mean, first, you start at the ground -- and I'm only supposing here -- but people who kill civilians are going to lie about it. I mean, they're not the most morally upstanding people who have done it.

So you've got a chain of lies and then institutions have a chain of cover-up. The question will be, after the time, do they fully expose? But just two points.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

DAVID BROOKS: This could be the most noble war -- I think it started out as a noble war. This could be the most effectively fought war, you could still get incidents like this. And it doesn't necessarily reflect on the other Marines or the cause in general.

This is the debate we're going to have, because some people think it's caused by the policy, caused by the president, caused by Rumsfeld. It may be, but to me you get these events no matter what, in this type of warfare.

JIM LEHRER: And this is going to go on. My first question, there are going to be congressional hearings. And this has been -- and what Eric Schmitt just told Margaret, it's going to be a long time even before we know what the results of these things are.

DAVID BROOKS: One silver lining, and this has to do with the Iraqi reaction. I think one of the things the Iraqis have had to do is rebel against us.

One of the few things I've written that's memorable or worth remembering in the past three years was a column where I said, in order for to us win, we have to lose.

And the argument was that, as long as the insurgents are the only anti-Americans, they're going to have support in that country. But when the democratic leaders are anti-Americans, which has happened today, that's a silver lining. That gives them some legitimacy to be a democratically-elected sovereign government.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a very high price to pay to...

DAVID BROOKS: Oh, no question.

MARK SHIELDS: ... establish that. And I would say this, I'd point out I think it's very significant the two figures in Congress who have been the most outspoken in condemning this, and searching out a cover-up, and insisting for full accountability and transparency are two Marines, John Kline, a career Marine, Republican from Minnesota, and Jack Murtha, who has seen the havoc and the tragedy on the battlefield.

JIM LEHRER: And Senator John Warner who...

MARK SHIELDS: John Warner, that's right.

JIM LEHRER: ... also is a former Marine, and former secretary of the Navy...

JIM LEHRER: ... and chairman of the Armed Services Committee says he's going to have hearings.

Iran, big developments this week. What do you make of them, the U.S. decision to say, "We will go with our friends and talk to Iran directly"?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think very positive developments. What had happened, basically, Iran was winning. They were controlling the events. They were controlling the initiative. The world focus was whether we would talk to them. It was on the U.S. And by agreeing to talk, with our friends and our pseudo-friends, and then by insisting...

JIM LEHRER: I'm not going to ask you who you're talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: But then insisting on sanctions before -- which is always a European position -- we've put the focus on the Iranians. We've put them in a difficult position.

And we've, I think, hastened the time we get to sanctions. I think it's possible that by July we could be at the U.N., really, talking about sanctions. So I think we've taken the initiative, which is good.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way?

MARK SHIELDS: Perspective really does -- I mean, if you look at it and say, "George W. Bush last week said there's no way in the world we'll ever negotiate with these people. Six years we've said it, 27 years the United States, for God's sake, we're not going to negotiate with them." "I'm going to negotiate with them."

Now, I guess, some people would say that's flip-flop. Others said, "Gee, it's enlightened pragmatism."

JIM LEHRER: What do you say it is?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm glad that he's doing it with a group of other nations. I mean, we saw what we went into Iraq with, 38 nations, four of which had armies. And, you know, the fact that he does have the Security Council members and Germany signed on, at least to the point of this is serious and we are talking. They got our attention. They got our attention by developing nuclear capability. That's how they got it.

Henry Paulson and Goldman Sachs

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
I don't know anybody -- I went through it this afternoon -- who's had his stature enhanced by service in the Bush cabinet. Colin Powell, certainly, Tommy Thompson were less figures[.]

JIM LEHRER: What's your opinion of the new secretary of the treasury, or, well, the secretary of the treasury-nominee, Mr. Henry Paulson?

MARK SHIELDS: It's like the marriage of the divorcee. It's the triumph of hope over experience. I mean, his two predecessors certainly have had their distinguished public careers diminished by their experience, Paul O'Neill and John Snow.

I don't know anybody -- I went through it this afternoon -- who's had his stature enhanced by service in the Bush cabinet. Colin Powell, certainly, Tommy Thompson were less figures, I mean, distinguished careers.

So he's got very little to play with between now -- the whole thing between now and November is hanging onto the Republican majorities. There's not going to be any tax reform. There's not going to be any Social Security reform. You know, he gets good reviews...

JIM LEHRER: As a person, you mean?

MARK SHIELDS: As a person, yes.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, I think why don't we just let Goldman Sachs take over the government? They've got Robert Rubin; they've got him; they've got Josh Bolten...

JIM LEHRER: That's right, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, was there.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID BROOKS: ... the whole upper echelon of Goldman Sachs.

MARK SHIELDS: You mean they haven't?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Listen, I think the significance of it: Is he going to be an independent voice? I don't think he would have taken it if he wasn't going to be an independent voice.

JIM LEHRER: So he went in there and said, "I will do it, but you've got to do this, this, and this"?

DAVID BROOKS: I can't imagine he wants to see what happened to Snow happen to him. I just can't imagine that.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: And then the second thing is...

JIM LEHRER: Just for the record here, so people know what we're talking about, they started undermining Snow almost about three days after he got in the job.

MARK SHIELDS: And, I mean, plus the president said last week, "I'd never heard he was going to resign." He'd already got Paulson to sign on at that point, four days earlier.

DAVID BROOKS: And the transition -- there was that moment where they thought they were getting rid of him. They couldn't find anybody else, and it was awful and awkward.

Can Paulson get deficits down?

David Brooks
The New York Times
[Paulson] stands for a sort of establishment point of view...that puts deficit reduction first, which has a little more active domestic policy...so this is sort of a centrist position which I think is emerging in the country.

JIM LEHRER: I just wanted to make sure people knew what we were talking about.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And then the second point is he stands for a sort of establishment point of view, which has actually gotten short shrift in both parties, and this is a point of view that puts deficit reduction first, which has a little more active domestic policy. He has warned about global warming, so this is sort of a centrist position which I think is emerging in the country.

And the only politician I can think of who really speaks for it is Chuck Hagel, in a pure sense, but that position will not have a very vocal advocate.

JIM LEHRER: He's not known as a ideologue politically?

DAVID BROOKS: Not particularly. He's known as a Concord Coalition, house in order, but worry about domestic policy...

JIM LEHRER: Get the deficits down, as you said, and all that?

DAVID BROOKS: Get the deficits down, be very safe and...

(CROSSTALK)

JIM LEHRER: The Democrats comfortable with him, too?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, obviously, Chuck Schumer was all over him like a cheap suit, the Democratic senator from New York. He liked him very much.

You know, it's good that John Snow is going, because he was obviously responsible for everything that's gone on in Iraq. You know, I mean, that's a good reason for him to go.

DAVID BROOKS: You can't get off it.

JIM LEHRER: You can't get -- yes, right, right, right. One thing, just for the record, the audience needs to know this -- if they don't, full disclosure -- both Mark and I are former Marines, so when we talk about it and we -- people just need to know that. OK, yes, see you all next week.