Shields and Lowry
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some Friday night analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Richard Lowry of the National Review. David Brooks is off tonight.
Rich, what do you make of House Majority Leader Armey’s statement that he did not support a preemptive strike against Iraq? What’s going on?
RICHARD LOWRY: It’s a bit of a shocker. Almost as shocking as picking up The New York Times and seeing that Armey endorses tax increases. You know, it’s not what you expect to see. Now this is what his office says, is that he is not ruling out that there is a case for attacking Iraq, but what he is saying is one, it hasn’t been made yet, and two, when it’s made, it better be really, really strong. And I think Armey does represent a tendency in conservatism, which isn’t isolationist necessarily but has the attitude that if the rest of the world isn’t bothering us too much, leave them alone.
JIM LEHRER: So it isn’t just Armey you’re saying?
RICHARD LOWRY: Well, it’s a strain of conservatism that I think is the minority on this question. I also think there is some gamesmanship going on where Armey wants to protect the interest of his institution. He wants Congress to be consulted in a serious way; he probably wants there to be a resolution; and this is a way to get the White House’s attention.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Armey thing, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Dick Armey, whatever else he is, he is no renegade. I mean, when the Administration wanted to pass its most important domestic policy change since George Bush became President–
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record here.. he is a Republican from Texas and he’s announced that he’s not going to run for reelection.
MARK SHIELDS: The House Majority Leader.
JIM LEHRER: Right. He’s the House Majority Leader -
MARK SHIELDS: — and has been since 1995. And — but they turned to Dick Armey; Dick Armey shepherded the homeland security bill to passage. I mean, he was the guy who fashioned it. So, it is not like he is a mavericks out of the mainstream is the point I want to make. Jim, I think he does the administration a service. I think if Dick Armey stands up there and says the case hasn’t been made and he reflects, he is reflecting, I think that not simply Rich is right, the attitude of some of the conservative side, but I think many on capitol hill, it’s funny because six months ago it almost seemed to be a lock that this was an automatic.
And if anything, the rest of us what is most intriguing politically is that unlike 1991, the restlessness or at least the uncertainty about going into Iraq, or the questions are coming not from the Democratic side, which they did in 1991 under the first President Bush, where almost all the opposition came from the Democrats.
But this time it’s coming from leading Republicans whether it’s Dick Armey, whether it’s Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security advisor under the first President Bush; Chuck Hagel, war decorated veteran of Vietnam himself and member of the Foreign Relations Committee has raised reservations; Dick Lugar, a certainly respected figure on both sides of the aisle but a solid Republican from Indiana.
JIM LEHRER: Lugar and Hagel have been, long before Armey made his statement yesterday, Lugar and Hagel have been raising questions. In fact, Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been doing something, and Hagel even before. How do you read that?
RICHARD LOWRY: Well, I think Hagel just realized he could make a nice TV career by constantly going on any foreign policy question saying this is very, very complicated, which sort of passes for sophistication but it is a sound bite, not a policy. Dick Lugar I take much more seriously.
The fact is, the administration has been making a case in [drips] and drabs. It still needs to put it all together and still needs to go to Congress with it in some form or another. And I’m convinced when the administration does, it will get whatever it wants because as Mark points out, it hasn’t really made the case yet but already basically has Lieberman, Gephardt and more or less Joe Biden without even getting started yet.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark also though, it looked like it was a lock and now there’s some uncertainty about it?
RICHARD LOWRY: Yeah, there is more uncertainty than you would have thought. I still think if President Bush wants to invade Iraq, Congress will go along and it is more or less a lock.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing. One thing I think that has is now on people’s mind is in 1991 not only did we have a grand coalition with us, and basically Japan, Germany picking up a lot of the tab, which we don’t have – we’re kind of acting alone — then it was a military goal. It was driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I mean that’s really what the consensus was.
This now is a political goal. This is toppling a government and installing a new government and that’s something that is really an enormous undertaking and I think that’s one of the reasons that there’s this need for a full public debate, not simply on Capitol Hill but in the country.
JIM LEHRER: What about Saudi Arabia’s statement, or a Saudi official said that if the United States does attack Iraq, don’t count on using our bases, meaning the Saudi air bases, is that a major setback of any kind?
RICHARD LOWRY: Well, it doesn’t help. The less countries we have around Iraq cooperating with us, the less optionality that we have as the military planers put it. But this is a very interesting change that’s happening with our relationship with Saudi Arabia. That country is somewhere in the transition from friend to foe. If you just looked at our two countries in isolation, we are not natural allies by any means.
What kept the alliance relationship together during the Cold War is we had a common enemy. The Saudis hated atheistic communism more than we did. The Saudis thought it was a Jewish plot, which meant it was really, really bad. Now our main enemy is Islamic terrorism and radical Islam. And to expect the Saudis of all people to be an enthusiastic ally in that fight, I think, at the very least, is very counterintuitive and I think the relationship is slowly coming apart.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: I think again this is an effort that’s been mounted by a group mostly of conservatives. I mean the defense policy board here in Washington, which is a civilian adjunct to the Department of Defense chaired by Richard Perle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, and an ardent advocate of invading Iraq, always has been, chairs that. They brought in this fellow from the Rand Corporation who said that Saudi Arabia is worse than Rich has described it. If necessary, their oilfields ought to be taken over, set fire. We ought to occupy it. It was pretty strong stuff, so strong that Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense distanced himself from it, Colin Powell and the administration in general.
Jim, I’ve never thought of Saudi Arabia as an ally. I think it was a mutually advantageous relationship. That’s all it was. They have oil. They have to sell it. We have oil– we need oil. We have to buy it. And, you know, cultural differences absolutely right – profound – I mean, just deep differences in values. But all of a sudden those are being underlined and emphasized, you know, to a fare thee well. If that same critical attitude operates, then all of a sudden our relationship with China is going to be– I mean their brutality and brutalization of their own people and own neighbors certainly matches that of Saudi Arabia.
RICHARD LOWRY: Well, the difference though, Mark, is China’s ideology is not as, at the moment, as expansionistic and aggressive as Saudi Arabia is. Saudi has taken that oil money and used it to create a radical Islamic network around the world from Chicago to the Philippines. And that’s what has to stop. That’s why Iraq is so important. I think you’ll see the administration developing this thinking. It’s not just weapons of mass destruction. It’s when you go in and topple Saddam and install a friendly government there, then you drastically increase your leverage over the region and enables you to pressure the Saudis because you are no longer dependent on their bases, not that they’re of much use to us now anyway; you’re no longer so dependent on their oil, then you can ask them in a very serious way to stop that funding.
MARK SHIELDS: No longer dependent on their oil because we have Iraq’s oil?
RICHARD LOWRY: The world is aswim in oil; it’s not the 1970s anymore.
JIM LEHRER: New subject. Dick Cheney makes a speech in San Francisco. Afterwards he’s asked questions about Halliburton. Everybody is on his case because they say he’s been in hiding — now he’s out. How do you read what is going on with Vice President Cheney?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, we’ve had a verifiable sighting of the Vice President.
JIM LEHRER: I set him up.
MARK SHIELDS: The first time in thee months he has talked to reporters, Jim. Dick Cheney is probably the most influential Vice President certainly in my lifetime — I mean somebody who is key to George Bush’s establish and credential of gravitas and seriousness during the 2000 campaign.
More than that, he’s been a very important advisor and player in this administration, but he has been reduced to really to non-speaking parts at Republican fund-raisers. He went to Iowa last week, Jim, and they wouldn’t let press cover his arrival or departure and you had to be 50 feet away from him at all times.
JIM LEHRER: You think it’s all because of Halliburton?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s all because of Halliburton. I think he ought to just come out and do a full frontal, do a Gerry Ferarro on her tax thing, tell everything about it and put it to rest once and for all. The only problem is if he does it, the people are going to ask, will the President now do it on Harken?
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it?
RICHARD LOWRY: I think the idea that he has been in hiding has been oversold a little bit. He did 12 campaign events in July; he’s going to do a dozen or so this month. And it’s true he doesn’t talk to the press during those events but that’s, Mark, because local campaigns don’t want him to because if he does an informal press conference, that would be the story rather than the local campaign.
Now, that said, I agree with you he should come out on Halliburton. I think he should sit down with you or someone like you just for an hour and answer the questions because if you look at the serious reporting on the accounting controversy, there is not much there. And I think there is a very sympathetic case that Cheney can make and no one can make it better than he can.
JIM LEHRER: What about his point? The reason he gave in San Francisco for not doing this was that if anything he says will be interpreted as being trying to put heat on the SEC, an independent agency. Do you buy that?
RICHARD LOWRY: Well, that’s what his people say, that they’re in a catch-22. He is criticized for not talking about it. If he talks about it, critics will say oh, jeez you’re pre-judging the SEC inquiry. I think he should just err on the side of talking about it.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Is there somebody be at the SEC who does not know he is Vice President? Oh, if we come out, they’ll think I’m trying to implicate it — Oh, that guy, Dick Cheney, the Vice President?
JIM LEHRER: Before we go, John Dingell, Michigan Democrat, at least won his primary thing. Is that a big deal?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a big deal, Jim, in the sense most of all if he had lost it would have been an even bigger deal. 59 to 41 percent he won in a primary where –
JIM LEHRER: Why is it important?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s important in this sense, that two Democrats thrown into the same district by Republican redistricting and John Dingell and Lynn Rivers, two incumbent Democrats, and John Dingell, didn’t simply win– he won thumpingly and with Emily’s List spending a million dollars, the group that supports pro-choice Democratic women on abortion, the Sierra Club spent at least a quarter of a million dollars, gun groups going against–
JIM LEHRER: We ought to explain it. Lynne Rivers is what you would call a social Democrat and John Dingell is considered what you call an economic Democrat.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, a new deal Democrat. The thing about it is this, if Lynn Rivers had won, it would have been on winning on issues of the environment, on choice, on gun safety, all of which–
JIM LEHRER: Dingell is a member of the NRA.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, they’re not trivial issues but it would have been the exactly the wrong formula and blueprints for Democrats going into November of 2002. John Dingell won where the Democrats — if they’re going to win back the House have to win on economic issues and health care and on getting tough with corporate malfeasance.
RICHARD LOWRY: A shrewd point. I think that’s basically correct. The main lesson I took away from that is that some of these liberal interest groups have much better air game than they do a ground game. They have lots of money, they get fairly sympathetic press coverage but they don’t have the troops on the ground.
And the other big lesson from this is that gun control is a loser. And this primary showed that. The last couple of elections have shown that. I think Democrats have deemphasized it. They’ll deemphasize it more.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.