Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.
Staying on the same subject. Mark, what do you make of the specific exchange of views you might say today between President Bush and Senator Byrd about this very issue that these folks were just talking about?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the president, Jim, more than anything else, has established in this past week that he understood history more than he had indicated up until, in my judgment, up until this week. In the sense that his own dad, in most recent history, went into a Congress divided — a country divided before he took the nation to war and understood that in order to go to war with this nation and the tragedy of Vietnam, the 7,000 tragedies, there is none more stark and more profound than a divided nation, you know, in that sense I think the president by moving this week and understanding he has to go to Congress.
JIM LEHRER: But specifically what he said today was that we reported in the News Summary, is that Congress should not wait for the United Nations. Go ahead and make it — do its resolution. Don’t let the United Nations decide what the United States is going to do. Robert Byrd says, hey we’ll take our time. That is what Congress signed on to do.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think, I think that right now the Democrats would like to have this issue resolved, over with, and just as Richard Norton Smith said in the last seven weeks, he — they don’t want it to be seen seven weeks of debating Iraq and the United States’ power and appearing even remotely to be sympathetic or supportive or defending what Saddam Hussein has done, does do.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read is it, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, the New Republic has an editorial this week on the Democrats in the war and the title of the editorial is “Bystanders.” And up to now that’s what they’ve been. This is the most important issue of foreign policy maybe in a generation, whether we should act preemptively — and with the exception of people like John Edwards and Joe Lieberman the entire Democratic Party has just been sitting on their hands.
JIM LEHRER: What about John Kerry – John Kerry –
DAVID BROOKS: John Kerry has made a few — he has made statements I would say overly complex and vague — to be able to be read for multiple flexibility later on — but he has at least addressed the issue. Most Democrats have acted as if they wished they could talk about Enron, which seems to me is misplaced priorities. I think, in general, it has not been a great week, a great period for the Democratic Party — not a party yet that seems to be able to act seriously on foreign policy issues.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what about then about President Bush and what he said and did at the United Nations? Is — it was suggested here last night on our program, it was suggested elsewhere, that this is suddenly a new ball game. The whole approach to Iraq, what we may do and how we may do it and when we may do it changed yesterday. Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely, the whole landscape changed. In that way the speech was a great act of statesmanship. Before the speech it was a fractious atmosphere. Everybody was pointing in a million directions. What Bush did with the speech he funneled all these different interests in one direction. He said if you want to defend the legitimacy of the U.N., you have got to take on Saddam. If you care about nuclear proliferation, you’ve got to take on Saddam. If you want to spread democracy around the world, take on Saddam; fight terrorism, take on Saddam.
So you’ve got all these different interests: Kofi Annan, the French, even the Chinese and the Russians to a small extent, all pointing in the same direction. They are not all going to end up there in the same place, but now, when this speech started, the U.S. looked a little isolated in the world. Today Germany — the most anti-action country in the world — looks isolated; that’s tremendous.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel?
MARK SHIELDS: I think that David overstates the case. I think the president did very well. I haven’t talked to a single Democrat who didn’t think the president did well; that his presentation was forceful, that he presented the case in a way that not only served the country, but served himself. The charge that the president had been up until yesterday, he’d been excessively belligerent; he had been saber rattling and he had been unilateral — he took that issue away yesterday by saying to the United Nations, this is your challenge. I don’t think –.
JIM LEHRER: Is that gone forever, do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t think it’s gone forever by any means, but I think he certainly has placed it there in the sense of this is your challenge. Are you going to go the way of the League of Nations — because he has flouted your resolutions. He has flouted your rules; the president didn’t use his favorite term yesterday, which is regime change. The president didn’t say we’ll go in there with the 82nd Airborne if they don’t do it. I mean, what he did was make a strong and, I thought, compelling case yesterday for the United Nations acting and the United Nations — if the United Nations refusing to do…
As far as the other countries, Jim, let’s be very blunt about this; let’s be absolutely blunt. This is bizarre time. What we are talking about is not countries falling in behind us, we are talking about as one person privy to negotiations between the Indians and the Chinese told me yesterday that the last Indian delegation that was in Beijing was told by the Chinese and their Chinese counterparts wait until the United States invades Iraq. We’ll see how willing they are then to stand up to Taiwan. We have the French and the Russians say it. They were left in the lurch the last time when the Iraqi oil fields were rebuilt. They want to be sure they got a piece of that. We have got the Egyptians upping their aid. I mean, this is really — this is like the Congress — the very things we criticize the Congress for, this is feeding time at the zoo is what it is.
JIM LEHRER: Pork barreling at the highest levels of the world?
DAVID BROOKS: It’s appalling that there’s self-interest going on in the world, of course. I mean, the Spanish are with us because of Basques, of course, there is parallel interest here. Great countries act like gangsters, small ones like prostitutes, somebody once said that. And it’s somewhat true…
JIM LEHRER: Some people would argue that is what is the United Nations is there for, is to put all these interests together in one barrel and have them come out the other end.
DAVID BROOKS: There is a strange cult of multilateralism out there that thinks if you go to the U.N., you get approval of the dictators from Syria and China, somehow you’ve granted your policy extra legitimacy. I don’t see why anybody believes that all religions are a little weird and that one has this weird belief. I don’t think the president has that weird belief, but the cult is out there — that people for some reason like multilateral action or U.N. action more than unilateral action. He solved that problem yesterday. He said we are American multilateralists. We go to the U.N. If the U.N. can act, fantastic; if the U.N. doesn’t work, we’ll go to allies outside the U.N.; if that doesn’t work, we’ll do it alone.
JIM LEHRER: But in this case then, doesn’t multilateralism work to the United States’ unilateral benefit?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely. This is what separates American multilateralism and I think even Democratic as John Edwards and Joe Lieberman said today from European – European multilaterals, they believe it in principle. We believe it multilateral action when it makes sense, and now it makes sense.
JIM LEHRER: You said you talked to some Democrats – I noticed Joe Lieberman, many of the Democrats today who had questioned the president up to now, also issued very strong supportive session statements today of doing it through the U.N. and all of that.
MARK SHIELDS: There is no question, Jim, that the principle criticism up until now had been of the process: The fact that the president was acting unilaterally, that the president hadn’t consulted. Democrats were essentially hiding behind Republican heavyweights: Jim Baker, Larry Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft, who had criticized the president. Once the president moved into the camp or the procedural camp of Baker, Eagleburger and Scowcroft by going to the United Nations and urging the United Nations to act, then it became the Democrats were somewhat exposed, I think.
I don’t think the Democrats — I haven’t heard a Democratic voice — other than John Kerry — raise questions about you know, the wisdom — I think we will hear them raised — about the wisdom of America going to battle. As far as multilateralism is concerned, let’s be very blunt about it, it’s not only the moral sanction and the moral acceptance and the belief in democracy and that’s what the United Nations was founded on — it’s no accident it’s in the United States, it’s also very practical. It’s a cost in blood and treasure.
Who else is going to there be in the battlefield? Who else is going to be there? The last time, Jim, it cost $80 billion in 1991 and the Japanese, the Germans picked up the tab. The Saudi Arabians picked up the tab. The Kuwaitis picked up the tab. Are we going to do that by ourselves, are we going to occupy Iraq all by ourselves?
DAVID BROOKS: Absolutely right. Occupying afterwards, we need European troops, the U.S. Army is not big, not big enough to do that job alone. And that’s why if you have been hanging around super hawks the way I do – when I go to lunch, it’s with super hawks. When I go to dinner, it’s with super hawks. I take a shower, it’s only super hawks there in the shower. And they’ve been saying for months, we need allies; we can’t do it alone; the U.S. isn’t big enough and rich enough to do it alone. We – the super hawks have always wanted allies. Now they don’t have great faith in the United Nation, but they have always appreciated the need of getting allies if we could get them.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, David, a week ago tonight we talked about the approaching anniversary of 9/11. You had some uneasy feelings about it. Now two days later how do you feel about it?
DAVID BROOKS: Believe it or not I was actually wrong about something. It’s kind of stunning.
MARK SHIELDS: I believe it.
DAVID BROOKS: I was expecting sort of we would get the Lady Di machine going and we’d sentimentalize it but it turns out there is an event so grave and so important that even American culture can’t trivialize it. And I thought that the way the day went people were in contact with what they felt on that first September 11. It came back to them. It was actually a grave, important, serious day, which had in effect politically I would say what is happening in Congress right now.
JIM LEHRER: You think so, in what way?
DAVID BROOKS: You know, I think the mood of September 11 prepared the way for the incredibly warm reception domestically for Bush’s speech.
JIM LEHRER: How did you see 9/11?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I dreaded it. I mean I thought the, there was overkill on the part of the networks. I was — I was ready to go to ESPN and live there or PBS and live there for the day. I thought, I thought in a wonderful way the focus was upon not those who were making the statements but upon those who were being honored. And I thought it worked — I think the first anniversary is terribly important of any tragedy, personal or national in the sense that throughout the first year we’re always going through every day for the first time — every event whether it’s Christmas or birthday or just memories for the first time. I think that was an awfully important milestone for country.
And to watch — in a strange way to watch the most poignant figure of all during the New York events I thought was Hamid Karzai — the President of Afghanistan – a man who’s pledged his support to President Bush who is now in mortal peril himself, who’s been the object of assassins and knowing full well because we haven’t honored our commitment there, we haven’t honored our commitment to rebuild Afghanistan, knowing full well that it probably is going to cost his country and I just thought that was poignant for the moment we are.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.