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Shields and Brooks on Rumsfeld

December 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And at the end of a busy week of news, we go first tonight to the analysis of Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Mark, the Rumsfeld armor flap, how do you feel Rumsfeld did in handling the questions from the troops?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, you remember John Kerry’s answer on the $87 bill appropriation: First I voted for it then I voted against it?

JIM LEHRER: I do remember that.

MARK SHIELDS: Okay. I think John Kerry does, too. As you know, you go to war not with the army you might wish to have but with the army you have — might want to have at a future date. This war, Donald Rumsfeld knows and the president knows and everybody else knows, was not in response to firing at Fort Sumter or the invasion across the 38th Parallel in Korea or Pearl Harbor.

This was a war of the timing and location of which was totally a choice of the administration. They’d been planning it, according to Bob Woodward, from September 2001. The idea that today barely over half of American military vehicles in Iraq are armored when one half of all the people you saw listed first at the head of the show, almost 1300 dead Americans, close to 10,000 wounded, one half of them have been wounded by improvised explosive devices, all right, but set off first by a radio signal, a phone signal, and the only thing that stops them are two: One is armor and two is a radio scanner.

Every VIP who goes over there, as Gene Taylor, Congressman from Mississippi points out, when he goes over, anybody goes over, whether it’s a VIP or a cabinet officer or a CEO, or whatever, they are surrounded by armor. Every vehicle has its own radio scanner so that they can disable those improvised explosive devices. Our soldiers and marines don’t have that. And it’s just… it’s a terribly serious indictment at this point in this war that Americans are scavenging as this fellow put it, to find the armor.

JIM LEHRER: A terribly serious indictment, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, to some extent, we trained, the army moves with a doctrine. The doctrine was “fast, mobile, high tech, get where you need to go” preparing for a certain sort of war. The insurgents found a flaw in what we had. They… once you’re stuck there, you’re not moving quickly to fight a lightning strike, you’re stuck in urban warfare. We were not prepared obviously for this kind of warfare and so we didn’t have the armor, we didn’t have the heavy armor. They’re producing it as fast as they can. There’s no question it’s a mistake.

As for Rumsfeld’s… you know, the press conference, a couple things. First of off, I thought it was great. I thought it was great they addressed him way that way, they had a confrontation. You know, I’m sure he wish he’d given a different answer. You give the answer you have, not the answer you wish you had. But, you know, he’s a confident guy and sometimes he errs on the side of confidence.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to those who say “why didn’t he just say to the soldier, hey, soldier, soldier you’ve got a real problem. You’ve got a real complaint and I’m going to get to the bottom of this right now. This is awful, this is terrible, next question.” Why can’t he do that?

DAVID BROOKS: This is, I think, true of many people in authority and probably doubly true of him. But people in authority want to show how much authority they’re in and they don’t like showing the vulnerability. I actually think the president handled it pretty well. He had time to think about it.

JIM LEHRER: He said that, what I just said the next day.

DAVID BROOKS: Exactly. But, you know, it takes a strong person to admit that vulnerability. And this is not Donald Rumsfeld’s particular strength.

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah, Jim, just one point. We’re not producing it as fast as we can. The companies are not working at full capacity. The Congress has authorized basically a blank check for all the armor necessary to armor all our vehicles there. We’ve got 29,000 vehicles. Barely half of them are armored up today.

So when they go out, it’s a roulette they’re playing. And the idea that we’re not is just indefensible. I’ll tell you very bluntly. If they were the sons of senators and the sons of cabinet officers and the sons of CEO’s, the sons of syndicated columnists who were there instead of kids from Tennessee and small towns in Oklahoma, you better believe they’d be armored up.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a fair shot?

DAVID BROOKS: No, listen. In times of war… snafus are invented in times of warfare. I’m not going to defend and say they were prepared or they’re armored up as well as they can be, but the idea where we’ve never had a war where the equipment hasn’t been unbelievably ill prepared in some way or another, that’s just part of warfare. And surprises happen. This is something the U.S. military was unprepared for.

What Donald Rumsfeld is doing, by the way, and most of his life, is not running this war. It’s not like the secretary of defense sits there and runs a war. What the secretary of defense spends most of his time this thing called the quadrennial review, which is planning for next war. What do we need? And I think one of the things Rumsfeld is doing and probably the reason he stayed is not because he’s managing this war well, because he’s in the middle of the quadrennial review preparing for the next war, preparing the military for the next war that will be like this one.

JIM LEHRER: The other big news of the week was the passage of the intelligence bill by both the House and Senate and by very huge margins. David, why did this happen? Why did this bill finally pass?

DAVID BROOKS: Because the president really tried. He really, really tried. He had a conversation. You know, he did something that I think they had problems doing in four years. One of the things they’ve done is they send legislation up to Capitol Hill and it’s wandering off alone. There’s not a lot of give and take, not a lot of conversation. That happened initially with this intelligence bill, with some communication, but not intense involved communication.

And I think one of the things the administration did in the last week, they were frightened and they really got involved with Duncan Hunter, the House military expert, and Sensenbrenner, who was concerned about immigration issues and with Hastert and Frist. They really worked a way problem in a way that’s not been common.

JIM LEHRER: The president should accept credit for this?

MARK SHIELDS: The president did step up to the plate, I think he was under enormous pressure to do so. I think there are a couple of things that ought to be commented upon: First of all, Jim, it was a 98-2 vote in the Senate and I think credit, there was real bipartisanship. It’s something you very rarely see.

JIM LEHRER: Susan Collins a Republican, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

MARK SHIELDS: John McCain. And the families…

JIM LEHRER: I wondered about that; I wondered how important they were.

MARK SHIELDS: And the families of 9/11 were absolutely indispensable. They were the pressure. The president didn’t want the commission, period, in the first place. The commission was held, the recommendations carried; they were resistant to the recommendations and they were a constant presence, a constant presence and a constant prod.

Finally, I think in the House, which we you saw for the first time, there were 67 Republicans on final passage. The president’s used to, you know, kind of ramming it through and there hasn’t been a personal touch, there hasn’t been a personal appeal in the past, they just kind of send it up and expect the Republicans to do…

JIM LEHRER: To say “aye” and go.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s it. And I think what you see in the new reality, which no one in the political world is — George W. Bush will never have his name on a ballot. Everybody who’s voting out there has their name on a ballot in two or at most four years.

JIM LEHRER: You said the other week that Mr. Bush better get used to this, too, right?

DAVID BROOKS: The problems are within the Republican caucus. Social Security is what they’re thinking about this week and it’s just those problems… there are four or five different camps, they some have got to manage this.

If I can just underline one thing, you know, there was the last week problem… the scare that came in the House. But then there was the longer term issue. And you just can’t underline enough the commission and the importance of the commission. So many people around town felt good about how that came out. And it had just a tremendous force that carried through.

And I think it’s systematic of something larger which is that we’re all stuck in this polarized world but a lot of people who are stuck in it are unhappy about it. And this commission was a break from that. And so I don’t know if it can happen on any other issue, but it was a good story this time.

JIM LEHRER: There’s never been a time, has there, when a commission like this, an outside of people not directly in government, come up with some recommendations and, boom, blows everybody away and here we are talking about exactly what they wanted they got?

MARK SHIELDS: They did, Jim, and they did a great job and Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton especially but the other members as well. You recall when John Aschroft and some folks went after Jamie Gorelick, one of the commissioners, you know, and kind of took a shot at her -

JIM LEHRER: She was at the Justice Department -

MARK SHIELDS: — and they leaked stuff on her and the other commissioners… I mean, the Republican commissioners rallied to her support and said “uh-uh, you’re not going to divide us.” And that was, boy, you talk about something impressive and something almost unprecedented –

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. All right. The president’s cabinet, he’s almost got it all together now. How do you… David, how do you read the decision to keep John Snow as secretary of the treasury? I mean, that poor man was twisting in the wind here for several weeks.

DAVID BROOKS: In my view it was overplayed. Somebody said to the Washington Post “he can stay as long as he doesn’t stay very long.” I’ve been told that the person… whoever said that didn’t know what they were talking about, they were not in a powerful position in the White House. There are a lot of people around town you talk to and they tell you more than they know.

JIM LEHRER: Nobody’s ever done that to me. Have you, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Don’t be autobiographical.

MARK SHIELDS: Don’t be personal.

DAVID BROOKS: Here’s something I think I know, which is that Snow was never in deep trouble. As this thing was going on in the wind, Andy Card, chief of staff, called him twice and said “don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.” And I think he’s been a loyal soldier and I think they admired the way he handled this two-week period where he really didn’t make a peep.

JIM LEHRER: Did anybody who knows tell you anything?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Let’s be very blunt about this, there are a lot of people in the White House and close to the White House who are talking about this and for ten days John Snow was hung out to dry.

JIM LEHRER: Really, why?

MARK SHIELDS: You talk about twisting in the wind. It’s a hell of a vote of confidence you get. I mean, he picks up the paper and it says “it isn’t a question of whether he’s losing the…” this is the New York Times, let’s not talk about the Washington Post, let’s talk New York Times, it’s who he’s going to replace – and just as soon as we have that replacement, and then the vice president is talking – they’re talking to Jerry Parski from California, — a big Bush supporter.

JIM LEHRER: George Will was pushing Alan Greenspan.

MARK SHIELDS: They’re talking to all of these people. All of a sudden, Jim, they confront something. Fist of all, they can’t beat somebody with nobody and they don’t have somebody that’s going to replace him. The second thing is they have got a White House economic conference next week.

JIM LEHRER: Toronto on the 15th –

MARK SHIELDS: How are you going to have one without a secretary of the treasury? So they say “you know who’s doing a hell of a job? John Snow.”

DAVID BROOKS: I think they just wanted to see 500 CEO’s begin lobbying and campaigning for the job -

JIM LEHRER: We won’t give it to you now but stay tuned –

MARK SHIELDS: John Snow must really feel good about it.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Generally… the word — we talked about it here last week, Mark, the idea that most of the cabinet selections thus far, new people are not really new people – in other words people from within the administration. Do you agree with that? What does that mean, do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: They are. What’s interesting to me is the people who are leaving, are people with either their own political constituency or following or their own political, their own public support. I mean, Colin Powell. You know, he’s been an enormously popular figure. Tommy Thompson, one of the really dominant governors of the country as a Republican — they were independent. John Aschroft: Governor and senator from Missouri; they had an independence to them.

Whatever you say about these new folks, there’s not much independence from the White House. And, you know, if there was a certain prickliness at times with Powell or Ashcroft or Thompson, you know, not going along with the White House program, I think these folks will be a lot more cooperative and accommodating.

JIM LEHRER: But you believe that maybe people come into a job not so independent and once they get in there become cabinet officers and get independent, right?

DAVID BROOKS: That inevitably happens, especially at places like the State Department. We have to be clear, when you’re talking about cabinet government, it’s not like the cabinet gets together and makes decisions. That just does not happen.

What the cabinet officer does, if he’s… he or she is secretary of something, either a lot of speeches. Robert Reich, who was labor secretary under Clinton wrote a book about being labor secretary. It was perfectly clear from that book he didn’t run the Labor Department; he was sitting up there with five political appointees and they were making speeches.

Or the cabinet secretary actually does the administration. Somebody in the State Department says, you know, “what we do is not foreign policy, it’s foreign affairs. It’s the day-to-day relationships we have with government. It’s dull, not policy making, it’s dull, keeping in contact, doing routine work of the department.”

So what the cabinet secretary… they’re not part of the symposium making policy, they’re doing the administrative work or else they’re off making speeches. But we shouldn’t pretend that these cabinet appointments say a lot about policy.

JIM LEHRER: I think he just said it doesn’t matter who’s in the cabinet of the United States.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it matters; I think it matters quite a bit, Jim, when you’re trying to do two things: Social security and a tax overhaul. You better have some pretty strong and persuasive folks running treasury.

JIM LEHRER: Well, we’re going to talk about that next week because, as you said, there’s the big summit, economic summit and all that. We’ll talk about it next Friday afterward. Okay. Thank you both very much.