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Shields and Brooks Weigh Chances for Success in Iraq

January 10, 2007 at 11:55 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Want to get some final comments here now from Mark Shields and David Brooks.

David, the generals, General Trainor, General Odom, used words like “disappointed,” “pessimistic,” and those were the best words that General Trainor, who had been optimistic for the most part before now. What’s happening, do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think they represent the majority opinion among military experts that I’ve come into contact with, not the universal but the majority position. General Odom said something which I think is worth elaborating on.

He talked about the president not defining the enemy correctly, he talked about the complexity of the many different wars that are happening in Iraq. You’ve got to think about the Iraqi psychology. What’s happening in a society where you’ve got 64, 100 beheaded bodies showing up every morning.

You’re caught in a maelstrom, the whole society is caught in a maelstrom. It’s affecting the people in the street. It’s affecting the institutions of society like the military, like the government. And given the complex nature of that sort of conflict, the idea that the Iraqi government is going to be able to take the lead in creating a nonsectarian future seems to me not particularly realistic.

The idea the military, the Iraqi military is going to take the lead in creating a nonsectarian future, or Shia soldiers cracking down on Shia militias strikes me as not particularly realistic.

And I think the president, in his plan, the solution, or at least the addressing of this problem is there but not in his speech. And that is the U.S. forces are taking the lead. The U.S. is forcing the Iraqi government to do things it doesn’t want to do, which it is doing right now. But the president didn’t face up to any of that.

An American operation

JIM LEHRER: In the speech he didn't.

DAVID BROOKS: In the speech and in the plan and in the private briefings all of us got today and I don't think they are facing up to the fact that this is an American operation. This is not an Iraqi operation. It's going to be more difficult than the president told the American people if it's too succeed at all.

JIM LEHRER: But Mark, if it's an American operation, the generals, both of them, General Odom and General Trainor said, hey, 17,000 or 20,000 isn't going to make that much difference.

MARK SHIELDS: No, that's right. That we're dealing here in tactics, Jim.

There were two things. I agree with General Odom's observation, but the thing I'd add to it is, Jim Webb -- Senator Jim Webb -- said there will never peace, true peace as long as there are U.S. combat troops in the streets of Baghdad.

But he and General Trainor made the same point and I thought it was an interesting one. They said we are trying to put demands on the Iraqi government, said Senator Webb and General Trainor added, we assumed up until now is that the Iraqis are unreliable but they're now in control and responsible for the security of Baghdad just as David talked about the way the president laid it out.

You wonder if in a sense this isn't the fall guy, that we gave them everything, we made the effortâ?¦

A chance for success

JIM LEHRER: You mean Maliki and the Iraqi ...

MARK SHIELDS: For the United States, that this isn't the exit strategy. I think that's what cynics will see in it. That we made every effort, we gave them troops, we gave them treasure, it was theirs to lose and they lost it. Because, I mean, are you assigning to them a responsibility which they can't fulfill?

I mean, in other words, they really don't have - and at least not demonstrate up until now, that capacity, the civilian and military on the Iraqi part.

JIM LEHRER: But what about what Senator Thune said, he said we have to give it a chance to work. In other words, he was also skeptical, everybody is skeptical and even the president is skeptical about this but you have to give it a chance to work. Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: I do because of the consequences. I mean - again, like a lot of people or maybe a little less so, I think it's very hard to believe it's going to work. Or at least I wouldn't give 50-50 odds. Nonetheless, when you look at the consequences of leaving, then I do think it's the only plan on the table and one of the things that happened tonight, by the way, was Senator Durbin gave a Democratic plan.

And that Democratic plan essentially was to get out and force the Iraqis to handle it themselves. Well, if what Jim Webb said is correct, the Iraqis aren't capable of handling it themselves. Then you really are looking at the horrific nightmarish scenario.

So unless the Democrats have something better, something that's realistic, then it is the only thing on the table and I wouldn't bet on it, but unless there's something else on offer, I do think Thune is right.

And the president made a strong case for that, that failure is chaos beyond anything imaginable.

'Wedded to the Maliki government'

MARK SHIELDS: That we'd better fight them in Baghdad or we fight them on Main Street. That was the ...

JIM LEHRER: But I mean - I'm talking about his speech.

MARK SHIELDS: That was the pitch in the speech. You think it's bad now - the very things that we warned about by - as Donald Rumsfeld called them, Old European allies that are going in there, would provoke upheavals of unprecedented developments that it would lead to - threaten the integrity of Iraq as a people, that it would de - destabilization in the region, that it would set sectarian violence on group against group. All of them have been proved true.

I mean, it's been humbling in the sense that those who oppose the United States invasion, occupation of Iraq have been proved true by what - events.

JIM LEHRER: And you're saying there is only a 50-50 chance, David, that it could get better.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. In part because I don't think the administration or anybody has faced up to the reality of Iraq, which is that it is dividing itself. We have to get outside the Green Zone and establish relationships with real centers of authority. I don't think the administration has yet gotten there.

I think they are still too wedded to the Maliki government.

JIM LEHRER: Did you see anything, hear anything really brand new from what the president said?

DAVID BROOKS: No. I think this is one of those - sometimes when they give a speech they like to surprise us but this is a policy which they developed so slowly that it's all leaked out before now.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. OK. Well, David and Mark, thank you both very much.