TOPICS > Politics

President Bush’s Iraq Speech Overshadows New Congress

January 12, 2007 at 4:33 PM EST
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Mark, Captain Carter, Colonel Armstrong were talking about complexities. And as I understood it, Captain Carter said it would take 150,000 to 200,000 troops, and it could take five to ten years to get this job done on the ground. Did I hear him correctly?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: You did hear, and he said in Baghdad.

JIM LEHRER: In Baghdad alone?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: You heard the same way?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I heard the same thing, but I’m not qualified to judge who is right.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes, but what does that mean for a plan that is now 48 hours old?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it means a couple of things. The first thing that it means is that there has always been a need for more boots on the ground. That has been evident for three years, and a lot of people have been saying that, and it’s finally now being done.

The question about whether it’s being done too much, for those of us who are not military experts, we rely on the various people who are. And a lot of people are saying it’s still not enough, this 20,000, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Others, however, are saying it is enough. And I think it’s roughly a doubling of what’s in Baghdad. And it will all come down, I believe, to David Petraeus, the man who’s running the show over there now, who wrote…

JIM LEHRER: The Army general, right?

DAVID BROOKS: … the Army general, who wrote the counterinsurgency manual, who’s been successful so far in what he has done, both as a commander in the initial invasion, then in the training operations, and who has one of the best reputations in the military. When he finally testifies, that will be an important moment in this debate, because people can judge his expertise versus the others.

Reaction from congress

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
You talk about a bounce after a speech. This was a cement trampoline. I mean, it hit with a thud. And 48 hours after the speech, the president's political position is weaker, and his policy position is weaker than it was before the speech.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, the reaction from the members of Congress and the public thus far, as we're 48 hours into this, does it have any effect, do you think, on what's happening on the ground, what General Petraeus may want to do or what he testifies about? Or is everybody kind of just waiting to see what happens?

MARK SHIELDS: I do share David's high regard for General Petraeus, whom I don't know, but from everybody regards him. But I think they're pinning an awful lot of hopes on him. He's sort of the Ulysses Grant of this military operation.

Grant came in and took over an Army that was poised to win and had been badly led, against a foe that was depleted and enervated. And that's not the historical parallel right now.

Jim, the president -- you talk about a bounce after a speech. This was a cement trampoline. I mean, it hit with a thud. And 48 hours after the speech, the president's political position is weaker, and his policy position is weaker than it was before the speech.

The intensity and the ferocity of the reaction on Capitol Hill in particular, I think, reflects the Congress catching up with the popular feeling on the war, and particularly on the part of Republicans.

And you take somebody like Chuck Hagel, who is a measured, serious Nebraskan, not a grand stander, not a flamboyant guy or whatever, and the emotional intensity he brought to that debate yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I think was alarming and almost liberating to many members of Congress and to Republicans, in particular.

JIM LEHRER: Did you see it alarming and liberating, as well?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was a huge event. I thought the Rice hearings were a big event, not because we were surprised that Chuck Hagel came out against, but, as Mark said, the intensity, the ferocity. It was a whirlwind directed at the secretary, showing contempt for the policy.

And so what that does -- I think it really sets up the potential of a sort of historic confrontation between the legislature and the White House. So far, as you look ahead to how this might evolve...

Rethinking the plan

David Brooks
The New York Times
But we can't easily leave Iraq or else there could be a cataclysm, as the Baker-Hamilton report suggests. I think, if there wasn't that prospect of the cataclysm, the Republican support would be gone.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, that's what I was going to ask.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think, so far, my guess is there are now 60 votes against the president. The Washington Times did a survey suggesting that seven Republican senators so far reject the president's policies, nine are doubtful, 11 are conditional, and 21 are supporting.

So you have seven so far Republicans, and then nine or 15 or something like that floating around. Now, of Petraeus comes in there and testifies and says, "This is what we need. Do you guys think you know this better than I do?" Then he could solidify that support.

On the other hand, public opinion continues to crater. The psychology has been affected by the intensity, and that could continue to drain things away.

And then the final thing that could happen is that Democrats and some Republicans could get their act together, put together a bipartisan coalition in support of some alternative, with generals on their side. If that happens, then I do think...

JIM LEHRER: Take it away from the president?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think what would happen -- they would say, "Here's what we believe." And then they would go to the White House and say, "Listen, we have a lot of Republicans on our team. You've got to re-think."

JIM LEHRER: And what about then Congress, with some Republican votes, passing some kind of resolution, not about de-funding, but saying, "We don't approve of the plan, and we think it's a mistake," or whatever. Is that a realistic possibility?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it's a realistic possibility. I think a vote of no confidence...

JIM LEHRER: Vote of no confidence, that's what I was trying to say..

MARK SHIELDS: ... in this particular initiative, I don't think there's any question...

JIM LEHRER: Would it mean anything?

MARK SHIELDS: It would, Jim. It would have enormous political significance, and especially the Republicans. I mean, the story here is the Republicans.

I mean, there's a sense, not only of anxiety or concern about their own political next, but they've been supportive. I mean, George Voinovich, the Republican from Ohio, said, you know, I bought into the president's dream. And I have supported his dream for the Middle East.

And it's almost a sense that it may have been a noble concept, but it's been totally unrealistic and impractical. And you hear members talking openly, including David Obey, Democrat from Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House, going on the record saying this is like 1974.

It's going to take a group of Republicans, like Barry Goldwater went down to Richard Nixon and saying, "Hey, this policy is over," I mean, not the president leaving office, but to say to him that the political support for the policy has eroded to the point in Congress where you can't act upon it.

DAVID BROOKS: The difference, though, is that we could get out of Vietnam, and consequents were not...

MARK SHIELDS: ... at the time of the resignation...

DAVID BROOKS: Right. But we can't easily leave Iraq or else there could be a cataclysm, as the Baker-Hamilton report suggests. I think, if there wasn't that prospect of the cataclysm, the Republican support would be gone.

So there has to be some reassurance there's an alternate policy that won't leave us for 30 years in some sort of maelstrom. And so that has to be addressed. And that's why I say Democrats, if they want to prevail, have to get serious and realistically lay out what they think an earlier, quicker withdrawal would lead to.

The final thing -- and I think this may hold up Republican support -- I mentioned Petraeus, or Raymond Odierno, the other top general that's over there, they get a whole series of those military people going to the Republicans and saying, "We can succeed. It may be tough, it may not be likely, but we can do it," I think that will firm up a lot of Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: It gives them some time at least, you're saying?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, give us a chance.

Impact on 2008

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
But I think what you're seeing is a move, a sense that, among Democrats in particular, but the populous at large -- 70 percent, Jim, of southerners, according to the Associated Press poll, are against sending more troops.

JIM LEHRER: Right now, what does all of this do to the 2008 presidential race at this point, Mark? It's Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq?

MARK SHIELDS: It is. I mean, what's interesting is to watch the declared or undeclared candidates already.

JIM LEHRER: They're everywhere.

MARK SHIELDS: They're everywhere. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee couldn't have a quorum if they left in one day. I mean, there's just...

JIM LEHRER: ... meaning the candidates?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, the candidates who are on there. But I think what you're seeing is a move, a sense that, among Democrats in particular, but the populous at large -- 70 percent, Jim, of southerners, according to the Associated Press poll, are against sending more troops.

JIM LEHRER: What kind of southerners? You mean southern voters?

MARK SHIELDS: Southern voters. Southern voters historically have been the most pro-nationalist and pro-military. The military is a respected and cherished institution in the South, as well as there has been overcompensation historically for the war between the states, the Civil War, and so there's always been sort of a success support for any national military action.

When you get seven out of 10 southerners opposing it, it really becomes politically very difficult. I think what you'll see on the Democratic side, and I think what the Democrats have to have some fear about, is there's going to be a race to who's going to be the most anti-Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Anti-Iraq candidate. Now, the Republicans, of course, John McCain is the leading candidate. He is the pro-war candidate, is he not, like it or not at this stage of the game?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he's the pro-troops candidate.

JIM LEHRER: Pro-troops, OK.

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, first, on the Democrats, let me say, it's a test of seriousness. It's not enough to say, "I'm against, against, against." I'm looking for the candidate who actually has a policy. And that will be a true test of who's qualified to be in the White House.

On the Republican side, there are a lot of people who think John McCain has really blown his chances, that he is now wedded into this surge idea that people will forget his earlier dissent from the Bush administration and, you know, say, Iraq, he was for it. That was a big mistake, I'm out of here.

I think that probably won't hurt him in the Republican primary, because Republicans are where he is, basically, but the question will be, once he faces a Democrat. And there, I think, if he's facing Hillary Clinton, they served together in the Armed Services Committee. Their votes have been almost identical.

JIM LEHRER: It's only been recently...

DAVID BROOKS: Right, only recently. So I don't think she in particular will be in a strong position to say, "Hey, you are wacky on this," because she was there with him.

JIM LEHRER: But on the Republican nomination race, Giuliani, he is kind of pro-surge at this point, is he not?

DAVID BROOKS: And the Republican bet will be, "Hey, we may have screwed up the last enemy, but we're tough guys for the next enemy." And in 2008, the world is going to look pretty violent, and people might want a tough, hard person like Giuliani or McCain.

JIM LEHRER: What about Romney? How does he fit into that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he is the orthodox party candidate, and he just doesn't have the foreign policy experience, and therefore he is less associated with the policy. And if there is such a tremendous taint, he benefits.

Chuck Hagel for President?

David Brooks
The New York Times
And I have an enormous amount of respect for him [Hagel]. Nonetheless, I do think the party will not forgive him his disloyalty. He may have been right, but he wasn't a good party man.

JIM LEHRER: Then there's, of course, Chuck Hagel. Here he is, an anti-surge and very critical Republican, I mean, critical of the policy on Iraq. How does a Republican run a campaign for president on that kind of campaign?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the same way in 1968 that Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy ran campaigns. I mean, there's no way that anybody is going to run on the Republican side in 2008 saying, "You know, I want to keep going." I think that the president's...

JIM LEHRER: Stay the course?

MARK SHIELDS: "Oh, boy, he's done a great job, and I want to keep the same folks in place and the same policies in place."

I'd just add one thing. Sam Brownback is a wild card here, too. Sam Brownback is a conservative. If he gets any kind of traction, you know, politically support -- I mean, he went to Baghdad and said he was against the increase -- and I don't think the -- there are Democratic plans.

I mean, I think -- Jack Murtha has a plan to redeploy, to take it across the horizon. He's had that for more than a year. Joe Biden has a plan, a federalization...

JIM LEHRER: Divide the country up and...

MARK SHIELDS: Carl Levin has a plan for staged withdrawal. I mean, historically, it's not the -- I think there is a Democratic responsibility. I think it's a serious matter that you have to address and you can't just score political points. But there are Democratic plans.

JIM LEHRER: Where would you put Hagel into this?

DAVID BROOKS: Hagel is an incredibly brave man. I recall seeing him in, for him, the dark days, when the entire Republican Party hated him for what he was saying now. And I have an enormous amount of respect for him. Nonetheless, I do think the party will not forgive him his disloyalty. He may have been right, but he wasn't a good party man.

JIM LEHRER: What about those, when you think about running as an independent candidate?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I have trouble seeing an independent candidacy involving Chuck Hagel. People may respect him, but people want a loyal party person. That's the way politics seems to work these days.

First on the Democrats, they do have plans. They have not been developed -- the surge didn't just emerge out of nowhere. There were generals, there were all these guys from Tal Afar -- we probably just saw one of them -- supporting it. There were think-tankers. They had press conferences. They had thick booklets. They had meetings.

This thing was organized, and it was substantive. The Democrats have ideas, and I think a lot of them are good ideas. I think the Joe Biden-Les Gelb idea is a tremendously good idea. It has not been developed and embraced by a wedge of senators and politicians the way it needs to be.

JIM LEHRER: OK, two seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: OK. The problem is, it took two months to come up with this plan...

JIM LEHRER: The president's plan?

MARK SHIELDS: ... which is going nowhere, ignoring the Iraq Study Group, and all those deliberations you talk about. And what really politicians express is they're upset that the president has just totally ignored the political results. Republicans know they lost in November because of Iraq, because of the president's policy.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you both.