Weekly Analysis with Shields and Safire
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
MARGARET WARNER: And now, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist William Safire. Welcome back, gentlemen. When all was said and done the president got his $87 billion. How significant a victory, Mark, is this for the president?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a significant victory. It would have been a stunning and cutting and bruising defeat for the president. I think that there was a recognition across both parties in spite of resistance, reluctance to dishing out that kind of money so openly, and so lavishly, that we’d broken it and it was up to us to fix it. We just couldn’t walk away.
MARGARET WARNER: Bill, this comes on the climate as we know of growing public disenchantment, though, with the occupation. Is this money — is the passage of this likely to help the president with that or exacerbate that?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I like the use of the word exacerbate.
MARGARET WARNER: From a wordsmith as you I take that as a compliment, a great compliment.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: First of all, I agree with Mark there. I think the $87 billion package could not be rejected and wasn’t.
The argument, the little argument — that was made such a big deal of — about one half of one fifth of that $87 million, and it wasn’t even to strike it out, it was just to change it to a grant to a loan. That’s a tempest in a teapot. I think the president is making a mistake to make a big deal out of that. But on the general feeling of people, about $87 billion, a lot of money but if you ask somebody what is the difference between $47 billion and $150 billion, it’s a lot of money.
The question is are you going to stick it out in Iraq, take the casualties which is a lot more important than the money, and are you willing to see a great change in the Middle East? And we’re a year away from the elections, something should happen between now and then.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, the president — despite Mr. Safire’s advice — did make a big deal about this loan, not wanting even $10 billion to be in the loan. He had both House members and senators up to the White House for separate sessions to lobby them. Worked in the House, Republicans mostly backed off. But not in the Senate, eight Republicans defected. Why not?
MARK SHIELDS: It did not work. It was an interesting group across party lines. I had to comment on Kwame’s piece, which was terrific as usual, on the legislative fight. Tom DeLay — I’d see him do a lot of things, I have never seen him be a rhetorical grave robber before — ‘pay any price, bear any burden,’ he never footnoted it, and this is the same Tom Delay who said in the debate there’s nothing more important on the eve of America going to war than cutting taxes. That is the most paramount issue, so –
WILLIAM SAFIRE: That was a Kennedy quote that he lifted…
MARK SHIELDS: It was John F. Kennedy –
MARGARET WARNER: — inaugural address…
MARK SHIELDS: — and maybe Tom was unaware of that –
MARGARET WARNER: Anyway, back to the loan, why did the Republicans –
MARK SHIELDS: Why did the Republicans — why did the Republicans — for each one there was an individual reason.
You had a number of northeastern liberals who started off and ended up particularly with Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, the two Republican moderate women from Maine. Jim Jeffords the Independent from Vermont. But then you had southerners, I mean, you heard Lindsey Graham, a freshman Republican speak quite, I thought passionately and eloquently on the subject and especially mentioning deaths — I was delighted to hear that mentioned in the midst of all this sort of geopolitics. And then you had a couple of Republicans who are in tough races: Ben Campbell in Colorado, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Sen. Murkowski, the appointed freshman Republican senator from Alaska who faces a primary challenge.
MARGARET WARNER: What does that tell you? If you really have to be sensitive to the voters –
MARK SHIELDS: The polls are overwhelmingly against it, Margaret. I mean, overwhelmingly. It’s not close. What started off in support has declined in support. You have a small minority of Americans in favor of $87 billion going to Iraq. MARGARET WARNER: Go ahead. So do you think that in a way all this debate about this money has kind of reminded the public that U.S. is deeply in debt, there are unmet needs here at home; there’s something that democrats can try to exploit?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: You can always try to exploit resentment at foreign aid. In other words, be selfish spend the money at home.
But I think the president and the Republicans can make a good case for this is essentially self-protection and you are voting to your defense. I think after the little flap about this grants versus loan is long forgotten, people will be looking at the U.N. vote as a big deal
MARGARET WARNER: The other interesting things were the Democratic senators who just an hour ago voted against the whole $87 billion, including the money for the troops.
And John Kerry and John Edwards, two of the presidential candidates, though they voted for the war voted against that. How do you interpret that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that — I’m sorry he couldn’t give a sterling and stunning defense on his position.
But, to the outside observer and perhaps a cynical eye what it looks like is two people who regretted now having voted with President Bush for the war because it has gone so badly and badly had it gone and this continues to go in spite of president’s new good news offensive — four more deaths today.
And so I think what you have is each of them trying to sort of distance themselves from the president and the unpopular — the popular part of the war ended with the president’s appearance on the Abraham Lincoln, footage of which we will never see in the campaign of 2004.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think, Bill, when it gets to conference the president will in the end win? I know you think it’s a tempest in the teapot about the loan but I mean, what do you think is going to happen there?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I think the Senate will prevail.
MARGARET WARNER: You think the Senate will prevail.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: It will be partly a loan and fine. No harm done.
MARGARET WARNER: So let’s –
MARK SHIELDS: I would be surprised if it does prevail. I think you have the leadership — Republican leadership has shown a willingness to be tough in conference. There will be no conferees appointed who disagree in any way — I don’t think — with the administration and the leadership’s position.
MARGARET WARNER: Though they announced the conferees and I noticed at least one of the — even the Republicans, Sam Brownback — is one who voted for the loan. We’re getting deep in the weeds here, but let’s go on to the U.N. vote yesterday, Bill.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: That was a triumph; that was a diplomatic triumph for the United States and a fascinating one. Where did it come from? Two days ago everybody was saying well the French are sure to abstain. They have said they would and the Germans will go along and may get nine votes and get it through in which case it looks terrible.
Something happened and what happened was the Russians. And where did the Russians suddenly become our supporters? Go back two weeks to Camp David, and that meeting between Bush and Putin and what came out of that meeting was a terrible statement by Bush saying that freedom and democracy and the rule of law was the vision of Putin. I said — Putin, you know, the KGB cadre running that place is running down human rights and all.
Well, evidently, a deal was struck that I’ll put a good face on our relationship, but we expect real help in the U.N. And, sure enough when push came to shove, the Russians went to the French and Germans and said we’ll broker the deal.
When you look at the deal, you see what the French wanted. The French wanted a provisional government taking power and coal away from the Americans, and the Americans said no. So what was worked out was some nice language saying that the sovereignty will be embodied in this governing council — I noticed that an ‘and’ was changed to an ‘or’ — which lawyers think is very important — but what happened was unanimity on the Security Council.
When the Russians turned, the Chinese turned and the French and Germans realized we can’t be out here by ourselves and that left Syria, which didn’t want to vote for that but they just had a black eye and they didn’t want to be all alone in the U.N., the Security Council, and so they went. And so what we got: a fifteen to nothing vote for continued American political control in Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: There was a flip side also.
MARK SHIELDS: There was a flip side. There was a fifteen to nothing vote and that was the victory. This was not about a legislative triumph in the U.N. or any other foreign market.
What it was about was getting international support for the American occupation, ratification of the American — which I think the fifteen to nothing vote does provide and legitimacy for the Americans being there. You can make that case.
Troops, no, and the announcement was made. Pakistan: not on your life are we going to get any Muslim troops in there. Are there going to be French troops, are there going to be any German troops, are there going to be any Russian troops — is there going to be French money, German money, Russian money — no, no, no.
MARGARET WARNER: And they’ve made a point of coming out — the French, Germans and Russians –and saying that.
MARK SHIELDS: Very, very clearly on that. Bill was singing the praises a couple times on the show about the Turkish troops; 15,000 of them are coming.
Now this week we had the Iraqi Governing Council unanimously vote against their coming. We had the Kurdish leader saying, not on your life there is going to be dire consequences.
What it was, was a great victory in the U.N.; it opens the door to nothing in terms of further support. Those American troops, one half of whom according to the survey, their morale is bad; one half of whom have no intention of reenlisting. Are they going to be rested, replaced — no, because there aren’t going to be any international troops coming in.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Mark, the Governing Council did not vote against the Turks; they wanted to but they stopped.
MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there until next week. Thank you, both.