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Analysts Consider Political Implications of Hu Visit

April 21, 2006 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.

Mark, the visit by the Chinese president. Your assessment, sir.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Jim, it’s always fascinated me. I think it’s fair to say that George Bush has, not simply a foreign policy, he has a governing philosophy of foreign policy, which he expressed very clearly and emphatically in his inaugural address about the promotion of democracy and the securing of human rights. And it was part of the rationale for our going to war in Iraq.

When it comes to China, it’s a little bit different. We talk about engaging commerce, profit. And it’s always — you can see the tensions almost in the Republican coalition, between the pro-business side of the party and those who really do believe devoutly about religious freedom, and human rights, and so forth. And that’s the tension. So, as a consequence…

JIM LEHRER: And the president has very clearly, you think, sided with the business side?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I thought the line-up at lunch at the White House, Caterpillar, Goldman Sachs, Motorola, Home Depot, you know, they weren’t — they didn’t have Billy Graham or a series of Catholic cardinals who were talking about human rights. So it’s a sore; it’s an inconvenience, because China is so damn important, too.

JIM LEHRER: So fit the visit into this then.

MARK SHIELDS: The visit into this is that we get really no resolution of — we want China’s involvement in Iran, nuclear proliferation, and other concerns of the administration, no commitment. We wanted China to let its currency float, no commitment. China to do something about its trade imbalance, no commitment.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

Rich, how do you see it? First of all, do you agree with Mark’s analysis of the Republican views on this and then his view of what happened on the trip?

RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: More or less. I support the Bush policy. I think it’s prudent and realistic. What he’s basically doing is replicating the policy of the two prior administrations, which goes to show you I think there’s no really good alternatives.

And the bet you make is you continue to encourage the market opening in China; you hope that creates a middle class. And what we’ve seen historically in other countries, you get a middle class, eventually you get political liberalization catching up to the economic liberalization.

JIM LEHRER: And it will happen on its own, and we don’t have to pressure them? It will happen internally. That’s the plan, anyway.

RICH LOWRY: Well, you nudge them on the way, but most of it happens internally. Now, there’s a downside to the bet, which is, until you get there and if — you know, you may not get there — but until you get there, you have a dictatorial government in power, perhaps with expansionist designs in the region, that is accruing more and more national power every day with that economic growth.

And it’s kind of a race. You know, can they maintain power, sitting on top of this growing economy? And the thing is, when you have economic growth, your society becomes more complex, you know, all the time. And you have all of these legal, and regulatory, and all sorts of other decisions that have to be made. And I think it just steadily becomes harder for nine unelected guys to make all of those decisions.

JIM LEHRER: So you think that this will — you’re very optimistic that we may have to wait awhile, but eventually China is going to do all of these things that we’d like for them to do politically?

RICH LOWRY: I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. But I think it’s the only prudent policy. And it may work; it may not.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that this is the only — whether you like it or not — this is the only policy?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t?

MARK SHIELDS: I think we’re just caught in incredible contradictions here. I mean, take China and take Cuba, all right? There is essentially three communist countries left on the face of the Earth, right? We’ve got China, Cuba and North Korea.

North Korea is sui generis, OK? Cuba, which has a gross national product somewhat about the size of Kankakee, Illinois, we have to keep our…

JIM LEHRER: That’s going to draw some mail, but go right ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: We have to keep our guard up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because, my god, almighty, we don’t know what they could be up to.

I look at the United States’ own State Department human rights report. Cuba is not Iowa — don’t get me wrong — but it’s not to be confused with China, where torture is regularly employed; 10,000 prisoners killed last year; organ transplants for sale around the word. I mean, it’s really — it’s a repressive place.

But because of the electoral politics of the state of Florida in presidential elections, we have to say, “No deal with Cuba at all.” But China, “My goodness gracious, if there’s a chance with 1.3 billion Chinese of selling one Q-tip to everyone — there’s 2.6 billion ears — we’re going to be in there and sell them.”

JIM LEHRER: Hey, Rich? Hey, Rich?

RICH LOWRY: I think the Cuba policy is an anachronism, and I don’t support the embargo. I think, if it would have been lifted a long time ago, Cuba would be, you know, an American resort town, more or less, probably.

But this goes to and maybe reinforces in some way what Mark was saying. If you look at the meeting in Washington, the good news: It went really. But that was the one in Seattle, Washington, that, you know, the American corporations were running.

Hu, apparently, is blown away by Bill Gates. Boeing put on a huge show for him that he loved. And then he got here and things didn’t go so well.

I found very stirring, actually, that protest by the Falun Gong woman. And if you, you know, torture and jail people for doing breathing exercises, the least you can expect in return is to have your nice, little ceremony ruined occasionally.

But President Bush apparently is livid over it, not just that it happened, but that had it went on for so long. He didn’t understand why the Secret Service took so long to get to her.

And then, as Mark pointed out, you know, the outcome of this meeting was basically nothing, but I’m not sure — you know, I think that should be expected.

And we still probably have a Cold War model of these sort of summits, where you have two leaders sit down, sign pieces of paper, the whole world breathes sighs of relief, you know, that the world’s not going to be blown up this year, at least. And I don’t think that’s the way the world usually works; that’s not the way a complicated relationship like this works.

JIM LEHRER: But how do you explain — a complicated relationship, understandably — but the real problems we have with China, forget the human rights and civil rights problems, but those involving trade, and intellectual property rights, and all of that, not even any budging at all there.

RICH LOWRY: Yes, well, first of all, those human rights problems should not be swept under the rug.

JIM LEHRER: Right, OK.

RICH LOWRY: Nobody is saying that.

(CROSSTALK)

RICH LOWRY: You’ve got some assurances. And are they meaningful? You know, probably not that meaningful, but they might represent some incremental sort of progress.

And the important thing that’s been going on in Asia — first of all, Asia is where history is really happening, not Europe any more. Europe is going to be, you know, peaceful and relatively prosperous no matter what. This is where history is happening.

You have dynamic rising powers. You have potential for terrible conflicts. And what the administration has been doing in saying, “OK, we’re hoping things are going to work out with China, but if they don’t, we have the strongest relationship we’ve ever had with Japan, the strongest relationship, a historic departure with India that we’ve ever had.” And you are hoping to contain China, if nothing else works.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, before we move on, with Rich’s analysis of how important Asia is and that’s where the world is at this moment?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think Asia is enormously important, no mistake there. But even in spite of the Boeing, I mean, that amounts, I think, to $4 billion. It’s a $16-billion-a-month trade deficit, $200 billion a year.

I mean, we’re, you know — and Rich is right, in the sense that China’s explosion economically, Jim, means that China now has, I think, what, about 40 million cars? Thirty million cars, I guess. And…

JIM LEHRER: We’ve had Paul Solman on a couple of times this week, and he did a major series on this.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: Every time you say cars, or TVs, or cell phones, or whatever, it’s millions and billions, I mean, it’s…

MARK SHIELDS: But I think they have like one-sixth as many as we have, and we’re kind of ticked off that they’re using oil…

(CROSSTALK)

JIM LEHRER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK SHIELDS: And, I mean, we have two-fifths of all of the cars in the world. I mean, you know, that’s a complication.

JIM LEHRER: OK, new subject, Rich: the changes at the White House this week, the going of Scott McClellan, the adjustment to the duties of Karl Rove. Anything major here?

RICH LOWRY: Yes. Yes and no. Not major in this sense. You know, shake-up is a little bit of a misnomer, because you’re not seeing anyone brought in from the outside.

JIM LEHRER: You noticed I didn’t say that. I didn’t…

RICH LOWRY: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

It’s a shuffle. And they’re not working against the grain of President Bush; there are just certain people he’s comfortable with, and that’s it, and they’re working within that constraint.

I think the big, important thing that’s happening is they had a bizarre model for chief of staff, you know, for six years now. Andy Card went in, basically outranked, you know, by five or six people — Karl Rove, you know, Vice President Cheney, Karen Hughes — and just basically had an administrative job.

And now, with Josh Bolten, we’re perhaps seeing a return to a more traditional chief of staff role, where he actually tries to run the government. And this is a government that needs some running; I think we can all agree about that.

Scott McClellan, I don’t think he ever looked very comfortable in front of the camera. I think it’s a good thing he’s going. But it’s no way — you know, he’s not responsible for the Iraq war or the really strong headwinds they’ve been encountering.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not a shuffle; it’s a waffle. It’s not a — no, it’s a…

(LAUGHTER)

What it is, Jim, is, I think — first of all, it’s a profound statement and recognition of humility on the part of this administration. This is an administration that came, pledged to realign American politics, to create a Republican majority permanently, along the lines of Franklin Roosevelt did in the New Deal.

And what we saw this week was: Hey, we’re not talking about realignment. We’re talking about holding on to our subcommittee chairmanships in the House of Representatives, because in the last two years of the Bush presidency, if the Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, that means congressional oversight hearings on Halliburton, on all of the contracts in Iraq, on weapons of mass destruction, on the oil, the energy deals, everything else.

So that’s what it’s come to.

JIM LEHRER: So how does that fit into these changes?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s Karl Rove. That’s Karl Rove. Karl Rove’s portfolio is no longer…

JIM LEHRER: So that shouldn’t be seen as some kind of demotion or something?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s a lowering…

JIM LEHRER: Right, technically.

MARK SHIELDS: We’re not talking about history; we’re talking about the next eight months.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

MARK SHIELDS: Six months, really. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is, Scott McClellan, who I think showed a lot more loyalty to his bosses than they did to him. The first rule in dealing with the press — we all learned early on — never lie. Say, “I can’t say,” “I won’t say,” “No comment,” but you never lie.

He was sent out to lie about the involvement in the Valerie Plame name game by Scooter Libby and by Karl Rove. And he did. He gave misinformation. From that point forward…

JIM LEHRER: But he didn’t know it was misinformation.

MARK SHIELDS: He did not know it.

JIM LEHRER: Or there’s no evidence that he did.

MARK SHIELDS: And he showed loyalty to his bosses and stayed with them, and nobody ever came to bail him out. I mean, I never heard a word from Libby; I never heard a word from Rove; I never heard a word from the president, I mean, that this a good man.

Sure, he gave him a little pat on the back on the way out, but, I mean, this is a guy whose credibility was really corroded, eroded. You could trace the relations fraying and deteriorating from that point forward.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?

RICH LOWRY: He was given incomplete information. And, occasionally, if you go back and look at the record, occasionally he would say it correctly so it was technically correct and just misleading, but if he’s walking such a thin line, if he got a little sloppier, than he was saying things that were untrue.

And I don’t blame him. I think it was, you know, Rove and Libby who should have given him better information. But, Mark…

JIM LEHRER: What about the Rove point he made?

RICH LOWRY: You know, he’s not going to be any less important in the White House. And, in fact, they’re giving him their single most important job, as Mark points out, which is trying desperately to hold on now.

And it is, also — I agree with Mark — it’s a recognition that they have a problem. The last five or six months or so, you’d ask them, “So how’s it going? Why isn’t it going better?”

“We’re in a downdraft, you know. We’ve had some bad breaks, you know. We’re just not getting any luck here.” Now, finally, I think it’s beginning to sink in what outsiders have been worried about a long time: They could be facing a debacle.

And if you talk to Republican strategists in Washington, almost to a man, you know, the mood ranges from despair to abject panic. You know, on the new FOX News poll, Bush is at 33. You know, four points away from being in the 20s. So something has to be done.

JIM LEHRER: All right. And something has to be done here right now, and I’m going to do it. Thank you both very much.

Good to see you again, Rich.

RICH LOWRY: Thank you.