Shields and Brooks
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MARGARET WARNER: And with me are syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. None of us would be here but for Google, I think.
MARK SHIELDS: You’re right.
MARGARET WARNER: None of us would know what we know. Mark, this week the president named Henry Kissinger to head this new independent commission into the pre-9/11 intelligence failures. Do you think he was the right man for the job?
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, you could have told me that Winona Ryder, the actress with the Velcro fingers was named as the new store security chief or Dracula was in charge of the blood bank – I could not believe that Henry Kissinger, man who is the champion of secrecy, privacy, disdain for the public’s right to know, by an administration that is praised for moral clarity, a man who had total disdain for human rights and any consideration for foreign policy is put in charge of a congressionally mandated commission to look for the governmental lapses that led up to present to prior September 11. I think it shows how reluctant George W. Bush was for this commission. He was pressured into it, quite frankly, by the families of the victims. This was a way of, I think, frustrating the congressional intent.
MARGARET WARNER: David.
DAVID BROOKS: I think my take is superficially different but fundamentally the same. Politically it was a brilliant move because he is well connected with the great and the good and well received by Democrats and republicans, he’s friendly with John McCain. He has the star quality that helped the families sort of appreciate his role. But politically, I sort of agree that I don’t expect big things from it. He said during the interviews that he was going to follow the truth regardless of the consequences. Henry Kissinger is Mr. Consequences. Since he was seven, he has been thinking eight consequences down the road. So is he really going to ask the question that makes the Saudi-U.S. relationship uncomfortable; is really going to ask the questions that will make the CIA fundamentally uncomfortable? Is he really going to ask the questions that make either party fundamentally uncomfortable? This report, I figure it will be 18 months. It will come out one month before the Democratic and Republican political conventions for 2004. It is going to be a political document. And Kissinger is a political figure. I’m skeptical they’re going to ask the big, broad questions.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think Kissinger rose to the top of the list? The families had a list. And he wasn’t on it.
MARK SHIELDS: They did. Warren Rudman certainly and Gary Hart, two former senators if anything, had been the champions of the — the Paul Reveres of alarming America about the terrorist threat and what we had to do about it, one Republican and one Democrat. I think David put his finger on it. Margaret, the president didn’t want the commission. He was on record he did not want it. Henry Kissinger — I just can’t think of a worse choice. I mean I don’t argue with the man’s intelligence. But Margaret, let’s not forget this man’s record — I mean the architect of secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos.
It was a secret not to the Cambodians and Laotians who were being bombed; it was a secret to the Americans in whose name those bombs were being dropped and who were paying for the bombs. All the way through, when Richard Nixon came to office with Henry Kissinger as his principle advisor, 30,610 Americans had died in Vietnam. He had a secret plan to end the war. Six and a half years later, okay after peace with honor, 58,202 Americans dead and North Vietnamese tanks and troops in Saigon. So I mean all the way through — every effort and at every point he frustrated the public’s right to know, he frustrated the Congress from doing its constitutionally mandated duty. He did it with charm, he did it with intelligence. He prevented a Democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile from taking office, all in the dark and now in the shadows.
DAVID BROOKS: Now I sort of am walking away from Mark’s position. I have forgiven him, if one can for 1971 and 1973. I haven’t forgiven him for detente, but the issue to me is future and the present. I don’t doubt his intelligence, like Mark, and I think he will do a very good job at certain things. If you are talking about how the FBI and CIA interact on bureaucratic basis, he will do a great job.
MARGARET WARNER: He has been a major consumer of intelligence and knows how it works.
DAVID BROOKS: From the small questions, if you just want to reorganize this from a small basis, smooth things out, help the bureaucracy function better, he is a perfect choice. If you want to ask– to me was a moment for paradigm shifting. A commission is not a policy making body. It’s something to make us think fundamentally different about U.S. Relations. The U.S. Intelligence committee, relations with Saudi Arabia, there I think he will fall down. I don’t go as far as Mark. I think the commission will have several important uses. They will be tinkering here and there. They won’t be the big questions that, to me, September 11 really demands.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mark similar criticism was made at least by the New York Times editorial page of George Mitchell, a related criticism, whom the Democrats named as the vice chairman, saying he, too, let me find the words — essentially not a man who has rocked the boat. Not made a career out of it. This is a similar choice?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it is. Henry Kissinger, a man who dedicated his life to secrecy. His clients have to take a vow of secrecy. We don’t know even know who they are. That’s one of the criticisms the times had about him. Conflicts abound here. George Mitchell has a law firm, and has represented the tobacco companies. He has had some major economic interests. I’m not questioning that. But George Mitchell’s offenses rise to a level of double parking outside an orphanage on Christmas Eve compared to Henry Kissinger’s. I mean George Mitchell is a person of enormous political skill, great interest elect. I think the Democratic Party let history record did one smart thing in the fall of 2002, unfortunately it was after the election of November 5, they picked George Mitchell as the vice chairman. He is a person of great intellect, of enormous skill, of iron will. He will not be cowed by Kissinger, nor will he be disarmed by Kissinger’s charm as the Washington press corps has been for generations.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he is a paradigm shift?
DAVID BROOKS: There are really two mentalities at work here: There are practitioners and paradigm shifters. The practitioners are people who know how the town works, know how to get things done and Mitchell like Kissinger is one of them. The paradigm shifters think fundamentally about how to confront the situation, George F. Kennan in the Cold War. To me this was an opportunity for somebody outside, maybe academic with practical knowledge, not one of the great and the good.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we go, one thing we didn’t discuss after the elections was where it left the Democratic presidential field for 2004. Now we have a chance. Your thoughts.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think the 2002 elections have fundamentally shifted the mood of the Democratic Party. Basically from Clinton up through Daschle-Gephardt the Democrats were told if you run on full bore liberalism, you example to lose. So don’t offer people the red meat of liberalism, a little salad. They ran on the salad. Dick Morris triangulated salad. They lost with salad. Let’s go back to red meat. I’ll have a 32 ounce liberal steak and he’ll have one. We’ll have one for the table. We’ll run on what we believe in.
MARGARET WARNER: Who has the advantage?
DAVID BROOKS: So that helps Al Gore. He has the angry, I’m going to have a steak and I don’t care about the consequence. If you are running like John Edwards has been and he was my pick as the likely nominee before the election, you just don’t have the fervor, you don’t have the passion which matches the Democratic Party’s passion right now. I mentioned last week I thought Gore has gone off the deep end, well he has gone off the deep end the way a lot of people in the party have gone off the deep end and I think it leads to 43 percent in the fall but the fervor is what gore has. Right now I would bet on him.
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know how far al gore has gone off the deep end. David cited as his of se payer national health insurance at a time when more and more Americans don’t have health insurance and more people are without health insurance and the numbers go up to double digits every year.
MARGARET WARNER: But the field.
MARK SHIELDS: The field I think will be smaller as a consequence. George W. Bush now looks stronger, looks more formidable. The reason that we’re doing this two years in advance is that it takes two years to run for president. To run 12 — a dozen campaigns simultaneously across the country, to staff them, to recruit the people, to raise the money, to familiarize yourself with the issues, requires that time. That’s why in two years before the 1992 election, when candidates looked at it, George Bush the first was at 91 approval in the polls. One by one, Democrats said I won’t make the race. Dick Gephardt didn’t who had run well in 1988. I think someone like John Edwards up for reelection in 2004 — he said he has one chance to bite the apple. So he has to look at it and say do I want to give up my political career? That’s a tough question right now. I would remind any of them that a day is a week in politics and a week is an eternity in politics. What looks unbeatable today could be terribly vulnerable in the fall of 2004.
DAVID BROOKS: This war situation changes the whole thing. Suppose there is another major attack. Suppose in 2004 Saddam Hussein is still sitting there in Baghdad making weapons. George W. doesn’t look so invulnerable anymore. The whole issue is security. You cannot win the presidency if your party is 39 points down on who do you trust to team keep the country safe.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, there is one candidate who is running on that issue, and that’s John Kerry.
DAVID BROOKS: He runs a very intelligent campaign, giving substantive speeches on energy policy not only on security, to me personally, John Kerry fails what I call the Joshua test.
MARGARET WARNER: What test?
DAVID BROOKS: My 11-year-old boy, I used to take him to Sunday talk shows sit in the green room and engage the 11-year-old boy. Some of them were just fantastic at it; John Kerry is awkward at it. If you can’t engage an 11-year-old boy, there is something missing in engaging the American electorate.
MARK SHIELDS: I think John Kerry, there is a changed job description. Whoever would have thought in the fall of 2000 that commander in chief was going to be an element? Here’s Al Gore, the only American presidential nominee ever to win the uniform of this country in Vietnam. It didn’t matter in 200 the running against Bush who had missed half his National Guard meetings as a veteran in the battle of Amarillo but in the 2002 right now, it looks like being commander in chief is going to be important. All of a sudden John Kerry’s credentials and authentic credentials as a war hero, decorated veteran of Vietnam have a cache and relevance he wouldn’t have had earlier. This is John Kerry’s time. He has to run. It’s the same with Dick Gephardt. Mo Udall one said the only known cure for the presidential virus is embalming fluid. I think that’s understood, Dick Gephardt, this is his last chance to run for the White House, and he will
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both.