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Political Wrap

November 23, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Now our Friday night analysis with Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Well, we were warned early on in the war that this was going to take a long time. Don’t wait for a quick result. Then the Taliban unraveled, but the administration keeps on giving us these warnings about a long, hard slog. David, what’s going on?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s still possible they could snatch a quagmire from the jaws of victory, and that’s in Kandahar, where there is the hard core of the Taliban. There might not be Northern Alliance type soldiers to actually fight them there in the south. It could be a more contentious phase we’re entering. We enter that phase at a time when the debate in the U.S. turns to post-Afghanistan, to Iraq, to the Philippines, to other places. We could be entering the toughest phase of the war at just the moment when we’re thinking, well, what else is involved in this war on terror?

RAY SUAREZ: You drop that name Iraq in there. Is the administration try to go get the American people ready for looking to other places after Afghanistan is settled?

DAVID BROOKS: Well at the very beginning of this war, George Bush said there will be many theaters of operation. It was clear Afghanistan was just stage one. Condoleezza Rice this week said it’s no secret that Saddam Hussein is a major problem for the world and we’re going to deal with that situation eventually. They are planning in the Pentagon how to deal with it. They don’t know. It’s a tough situation. There’s no question that the administration feels that the war on terror will not be complete as long as Saddam Hussein is in power with his potential nuclear weapons with his germ — biological weapons with his terrorist training bases. That’s the problem they’re looking at long term.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark, what do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Ray, I’m confounded, quite frankly. Somebody once said that the way Americans learn geography is by war. I think it’s true. I mean we’re learning now, I mean I never knew that the Taliban was composed of domestic and foreign — and that the foreign are the real zealots and they’re the ones that want to go to the mattresses and fight to the last gun. If that’s the case I think it could go for a while but certainly the military operation has gone well. But the Taliban was an ancillary. I mean we’re talking about al-Qaida. We’re talking about Osama bin Laden, which were the objectives I think in going into Afghanistan as I understood them.

And those, you know, those still remain. Those still remain as unresolved. I have to say that in spite of the war and the seriousness of our effort there, there is a total schizophrenia. Here at home, there is…the grave words that the president utters are unmatched by any sense that there’s a war going on. We are not made to feel uncomfortable for driving our six-mile-a-gallon behemoths on the road, gas guzzlers, as long as we have a flag on it. The only sacrifice that’s asked is ouchless, painless. You get a lapel pin. That’s okay. Just by a matter of historical precedent, Ray, we have never gone into a war cutting taxes. The Civil War began with the installation and imposition of the income tax. During World War I the income tax went up to 77 percent. During World War II it went from 4 million Americans paying it to 48 million. So there’s a real disconnect with people at risk, dying, very few Americans are touched, hurt, pained, wounded by this both economically and personally.

RAY SUAREZ: Take it from there.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that to this extent. We are talking and the president has been talking about a major war lasting years and years and years, and yet what are we talking about in the Defense Department budget? An increase of $20 billion. Most experts will tell you to get to where we were when we had Desert Storm you have to increase defense spending by 40 to 60 billion dollars a year. There is a disconnect between the policy we’re talking about and Bush’s defining the war extremely broadly and what we are actually doing. They’re saying it will come in phases but it’s a very slow set of phases so far.

RAY SUAREZ: During the past week we heard the First Lady give the weekly presidential radio address about the subject of women in Afghanistan. Dick Cheney is going to speak to the same subject. Karen Hughes, Colin Powell, what’s going on here?

DAVID BROOKS: I’d say almost you get into the clash of civilizations or at least the clash of ages. The treatment and the role of women in society is an emblem of modernity and modern nations allow women to do just about everything or should and some countries like the Taliban allowed them to do absolutely nothing. One of the things we are doing is facing a pre-modern view of history at least as far as the treatment of the role of women. I noticed yesterday in Kabul 100 women marched trying to get some role in the post Taliban government. It’s not clear they’ll get that. But we should be on that side because that’s a symbol of a whole series of political evolutions toward democracy, toward equal treatment of all people and women included.

RAY SUAREZ: So you don’t see that largely being for internal consumption?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s obviously a political winner. Who’s against women not being able to go to school. Three percent of girls in Afghanistan are in school. Nobody is against that. It’s a political winner, but it’s a symbol of a larger cultural shift that we want to impose or help the Afghan people go through.

MARK SHIELDS: Most women in Afghanistan are old enough to have experienced a time when this was not the case. I mean when women were teachers and doctors and professionals and the administration. Mrs. Bush has guaranteed that women will be part of the new government. But, you know, and while admirable and commendable there is a problem. What about Kuwait where women don’t vote or Saudi Arabia where women can’t drive cars. Will this be part of our agenda or is it simply a matter of domestic consumption politically if it’s limited to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, that’s a tough one because holding this coalition together we’re seeing some of our allies are not so happy about some of the people we have to do business with this week, next week it may be a new set of characters. I mean the Northern Alliance, David, the Pakistanis aren’t too happy about them winning.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, this is the crux of the war. How do you fight the war without allies in the region while you’re essentially trying to undermine their governments which we should and probably should be doing with all the governments in the Middle East, the non-democratic governments. Our friends in Egypt have a press that is anti-American, anti-Semitic. How do we rely on them as our allies and yet try to fundamentally change them? That’s the trick here. And the discussion is how much internal dissent there in the Arab world where we just set it up and people within the Arab world will do it themselves, Egyptian intellectuals, human rights activists, and that is the problem the administration will be facing, how to rely on these regimes and at the same time undermine it, which we’re really going to have to do if we have a democratic region.

RAY SUAREZ: The consequence is the softness in the economy. The debate continues and the president is requesting a stimulus bill, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: This is a perfect example to me. One of the smartest conservatives I know, a man who graces this very program on Friday nights, said of the House passed stimulus package that every once in a while a political party confirms the worst negative stereotypes about itself by doing something like the repeal of the alternative minimum tax and then not simply content to let GE and everybody else off the hook from paying less than their janitors do but insisting that they also be reimbursed for the taxes they have paid since Ronald Reagan put that law on the books. George W. Bush sitting at 90% popularity according to Glen Kessler in the “Washington Post” today and other sources I’ve talked to is committed to this. It wants to fight for it and it wants to defend which to me is not only bad public policy. I think it’s politically disastrous. You do not at a time of sacrifice say to the best off, the most privileged, the most prosperous in our society you will not pay in treasure, you will not pay in blood, you will not have the slightest inconvenience.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you think that is going to be in the final version of the bill?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the alternative minimum tax may be not. There may not be a final version of this bill. At the rate we’re going we’re going to have a stimulus package for the recession of 2007 because there is a good chance nothing will pass — Phil Gramm said it’s a 60-40 chance that nothing will pass this year. The economy may be recovering. And it’s part because neither party wants to give away — there’s a centrist package which has trivial distinctions. It would bring down the minimum tax rate from 27 to 26 for some people. Well, whoop-dee-do, I’m going to shop because it’s 27 to 26. The fact is neither side is moving. I said last week I hope it fails because they have delayed it, and they have weeded out any worthwhile part of the bill, so it’s trash on both sides as far as I’m concerned.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, doesn’t the president feel he really needs the bill as a demonstration of political will and need to move on, very quickly?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he does, Ray. I don’t think there’s any question about it but it’s awfully tough to make that case when you have General Motors sitting there with $6 billion in cash saying we’re going to give them $868 million more at a time when unemployment is running out and where state treasuries are being depleted.

RAY SUAREZ: Fellows, thanks a lot. Have a good weekend.