Brooks and Oliphant
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JIM LEHRER: Now to the analysis of Brooks and Oliphant: David Brooks of the Weekly Standard and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Mark Shields is away tonight.
First, David, what are your thoughts of Jimmy Carter winning the Nobel Peace Prize?
DAVID BROOKS: I think what struck me was how political it was. There is humanitarian side which we all applaud but the committee was incredibly political in their statement and the press conference statement that it was a kick in the leg to the U.S. policy, not a very peaceful thing to say for a guy handing out a peace prize. But what surprised me more was that Carter embraced the political nature of it, that it was a critique of the Bush Administration and I think also a critique of what has happened in the Middle East in the past year or two. I thought Carter would want to rise above politics into the realm of his humanitarian work, but he is a politician, still a politician. And he embraced the critique of the United States U.S. Policy
JIM LEHRER: Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: What I loved about covering Carter’s Administration is how exasperating he can be as a person. He can be mean. He can be of enormously great purpose. He gets in the way. I mean this business about Iraq today was repeated 11 years ago before the start of the Gulf War and drove the first President Bush almost to distraction. He made President Clinton see red during the crisis with North Korea. But on the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, who are alive today in the world because of what he’s done.
JIM LEHRER: What did you think about the way the thing was handled on Iraq, the Nobel Committee making the statement about the leg and all that sort of stuff and then you heard what David said, how did you feel about how Jimmy Carter handled that?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not well. I don’t think it was in good taste and I don’t think it’s even helpful to the cause that he advocates, which is going through the U.N. first on this issue. I always think that a Nobel award is a very special moment and that it, even in politics, in world diplomacy, it deserves behavior that respects its special place in the world and that when you put it into an argument about a current issue, I think it dirties it a little bit and I think it is very unfortunate and there will be repercussions in the days ahead.
DAVID BROOKS: But it’s always been political. I mean, Rigoberto Menchu didn’t get it without politics involved. I mean, it is unimaginable that Ronald Reagan would ever get the Nobel Peace Prize, though he hastened the end of the Cold War, liberated people under the Soviet Union, just because that’s the nature of the committee and you just have to accept that.
JIM LEHRER: Explain what you mean.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the Norwegian Peace Prize Committee, if you look at the record of the prizes has been Norwegian foreign policy or the Norwegian review of books, whatever that view is, which is a left-wing view of the world. That’s fine but that’s the way the committee is.
TOM OLIPHANT: As a Norwegian American, let me try to say that this rewards mediation above all and humanitarian good works. I don’t think it’s as ideological as that. And I think the focus is, if you put it on mediation, it can be less political than it really seems.
JIM LEHRER: What about the idea that was talked about earlier that Jimmy Carter, whatever anybody thinks about his presidency, he has had a terrific post-presidency, would you give him that, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Half of it. There is humanitarian stuff and election monitoring stuff that you can’t deny on river fever and then in places like Jamaica. There are other things where I think he has been — his political judgment is as flawed as it was when he was in office. I think he valued Yasser Arafat too highly. Yasser Arafat ended up killing the Oslo Process. I think to this day, he misjudges Arafat as he misjudged the Soviet Union. I think he misjudges Iraq as he misjudged Desert Storm. So that’s political judgment; that doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, just happens to be–
TOM OLIPHANT: When he was President, in fact, a prominent Carter Administration official lost his position, Andy Young, at the U.N., you couldn’t even speak to this guy. We didn’t recognize the Palestinian movement as having any legitimacy at all. In the interests of negotiating and being a mediator beyond the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, Jimmy Carter, in a sense, helped put the Palestinians on the map. That means dealing with– his theory always was, you make peace among enemies, not between friends. And his contribution certainly is very controversial, but in the end, the world will come to where he is because only through mediation do you solve things.
DAVID BROOKS: Not always. With Camp David, that was the right thing to do. That was the right risk to take. But mediation does not help you with Yasser Arafat because Yasser Arafat is never going to make peace. Saddam Hussein, mediation doesn’t do any good with Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein is of a nature that he defies the middle.
TOM OLIPHANT: I think what got Carter his prominence and got him this award though ultimately was his understanding that to be an effective leader in the world, the United States needs some time to speak tough, not just to a Yasser Arafat but to both sides involved in a confrontation. And that kind of approach is what sets him off and it’s why he achieved so much in the human rights and diplomacy area when he was President and why he has made such a huge contribution since then.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Saddam Hussein, President Bush, did he get pretty much what he wanted and needed from Congress this week?
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes and no.
JIM LEHRER: That’s clear.
DAVID BROOKS: I’m clear on that.
TOM OLIPHANT: He got what he wanted in the end, which was not necessarily what he wanted in the beginning. Three weeks ago he had a choice. He could win this thing respectably, sentiment in the country for confronting Iraq is quite strong and durable, I might add. But the question is whether you’re going to win respectably or really win it big. To really win it big, you had to consider reaching out to the people who were sitting on the fence, genuinely ambivalent on this issue. And that is what President Bush has done. And it resulted in the alteration of some words, not just in the resolution but in his policy.
JIM LEHRER: Like what? What was the biggest move he made?
TOM OLIPHANT: In words, you go from regime change and preemption in the rhetoric beginning about a month ago. You start to hear that almost not at all, and you begin to hear disarmament and Iraq’s history of repeated flouting of international law and U.N. resolutions. You have an attitude that is essentially Congress and the U.N. Is irrelevant. Suddenly you’re in both forums looking for help. So that in order to reach out and get the Republicans like Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel or Democrats like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Dick Gephardt, above all, he was willing to alter so that that is what produced these majorities. It would have been a much more narrow vote had the original Bush position been presented.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way, David?
DAVID BROOKS: A little. I think there were some modest gestures but there were a lot of things Bush always intended to do: to seek allies talk about disarmament, to go to the U.N.. But the regime change was still the core. There is now a very interesting debate in the administration with sort or five positions about what Iraq is going to look like after Desert Storm or after whatever -
JIM LEHRER: Desert Storm Two maybe.
DAVID BROOKS: Two, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Or whatever.
DAVID BROOKS: 41 and 43.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Right.
DAVID BROOKS: Some people want to get in quickly and get out quickly. Some want to stay, some want a Macarthur regency. Some want to appoint a government in exile. All these –
JIM LEHRER: These kinds of discussions are going on.
DAVID BROOKS: Are all going on, and that’s regime change. So whether it was in the debate or not, frankly I thought the debate was trivial. I think Congress rendered itself trivial because I think the debate didn’t rise to the level of shallowness.
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean? Explain what you mean.
DAVID BROOKS: If you looked at the debate, it was an insult to the makers of pabulum everywhere. I didn’t see maybe a handful of Senators, which is the debate I’ve been watching closely, who showed any evidence of having looked at the history of the Ba’ath Party and what Saddam Hussein believes, who showed any evidence of having looked at how Saddam behaved during the Iran-Iraq war or during Desert Storm, any history of looking at how — what Iraq might look like in the future. Little evidence that Senators actually cracked a book. I just thought it was shallowness, it was regurgitating the normal talking points, no effort to persuade. It was not the way a Moynihan would have handled it, not the way a lot of the more thoughtful Senators would have handled it. I thought Congress really had a terrible debate.
JIM LEHRER: A terrible debate, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: No. In fact, I don’t usually invest the time that it takes to cover one of these things when you’re not writing daily newspaper stories anymore, just when you’re a columnist. But I thought — whatever it was — 50 or 60 hours was worth it for two reasons: First of all, I thought it was interesting who the most articulate and reasoned defenders of the– what became the administration’s position in this debate were. I would say John McCain above all. And it was interesting-
JIM LEHRER: Interesting McCain became the–
TOM OLIPHANT: David mentioned–
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, by the way?
DAVID BROOKS: And a lot of the Democrats. I thought if you had to pick a body, it was the pro-Bush Democrats who gave the best speeches.
TOM OLIPHANT: And the reason is I think a speech is especially helpful when it traces a journey from where you were to where you are. And people who had been ambivalent, who are like the country ambivalent, can trace that, can explore the fundamentals of their own misgivings and then explain how they resolve them. It becomes, I think, interesting politics if not interesting theater. But McCain was interesting because the people you normally associate with Bush Administration support in Congress: Speaker Hastert, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, were either silent or pro forma. McCain was the one who, I think, met some of your challenges, David, in terms of history and current–.
DAVID BROOKS: He was there first.
TOM OLIPHANT: And vehemence — and vehemence.
DAVID BROOKS: He ran under this policy of state rollback thinking there might be bad regimes out there that might attack us; we might want to get rid of them. That was in 2000. We now have some of the– we now have the Bush presidency with some of the McCain policies.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the role that the Democrats played in this and why there were so many — we listed a bunch of the liberal Democrats who were expected to lead the fight against this, and somehow they all– not all of them, but most of them ended up not doing so. What happened?
DAVID BROOKS: I’d say a couple things. One, they asked Bush to make the case. And if you look at the polls, he made the case to the American people. The second thing is it reminds me a bit of the behavior of the left in Israel, after Arafat walked away from the Oslo Process. The left of Israel didn’t know how to deal with an Arafat who wasn’t willing to negotiate. And they sort of fractured and they were just dispirited; they didn’t like Sharon, by any means; they didn’t like the right, but they had no aggressive self confidence.
And I would say when you look at some of the liberals, not all the liberals, but some liberals, they had no aggressive self-confidence that they had a solution to Saddam. Then there was the confusion that could you never tell with a lot of liberals. Was this an argument about means or ends? Was it an argument, we can go after Saddam as long as we get the U.N., or was the argument, we shouldn’t go after Saddam because we’re stirring up a hornet’s nest, and they never really got that argument straight, so that undermined their position as well.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: No, on this one I don’t, because I think their role was pivotal in making this an overwhelming majority so that, I mean obviously the United States doesn’t speak with one voice. It wouldn’t be the United States if it did. But the rough consensus that emerged, I think, was made possible from those on the left who saw this somewhat differently than Bush did, as 11 years of violations of international law that can’t be tolerated in the of post Cold War world.
JIM LEHRER: We can’t tolerate it another second. We have to go. Thank you both very much.