TOPICS > Politics

Shields and Brooks

July 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

At the end of a very violent week, I wonder what you think the repercussions are of the bombings in London both for Bush – for President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair and for the United States. Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I guess, first of all, Terry, it comes down to how the British people react. I mean, they displayed remarkable equanimity yesterday, it seemed, but, you know, will they just unite and rally behind Prime Minister Blair, in just sort of, you know, an overwhelming unified fashion, very much as this country did after Sept. 11, behind President Bush, or will that eventually lead to a questioning of whether, in fact, the policy of Prime Minister Blair of association with the United States, the invasion, occupation of Iraq, brought this battlefield, these attacks home, and I think that’s — we won’t know that for quite a while.

For the president, politically it’s obviously playing to what has been his strong suit. He became the political dominant force in the country by the perception of him as commander-in-chief in the war against terrorism. That was diminished by the war in Iraqi eventually, but I think the war against terrorism has been his strong suit. But I’m just not sure whether it will lead to a reexamination. There are a lot of questions. I mean, has Iraq become the breeding ground, the training ground? Will there be a reevaluation of – I was just thinking of our policy as far as security against terrorists? 95 percent —

TERENCE SMITH: Here at home, you mean?

MARK SHIELDS: Here at home. 95 percent of our assets because of Sept. 11 and skyjacking have gone to air safety and 16 times as many people travel by mass transit as traveled by air. And it’s quite obvious these terrorists, these barbaric individuals have taken at hitting soft targets lately, not sort of the fortified bunkers like Capitol Hill have become. So, you know, I think there’s a whole host of questions, I don’t have the answers to deal with the questions.

TERENCE SMITH: David, do you think those are the questions that are being raised?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess so. My first impression is that this is not a political event — that 9/11 was like Pearl Harbor, it did shift things, but we’re not in 1941 anymore; we’re in 1943, and this is another battle. And so politically, I don’t think it’ll change too many people’s minds; I think we’re all aware that al-Qaida is out there, is going to be attacking us again and again and again. We’ve seen a whole series of them and that the people who are on one side of different debates will stay there.

This is just part of a long war and what strikes me and apropos of what Mark was saying about building a defensive wall is what the 9/11 Commission said about a year ago, which was this was not a war on terrorism, a war on ideology and as long as that ideology is out there, there’s no way we can defend every subway. And so that’s why the attack has to go to the Middle East and try to get some good ideas to replace the bad Jihadist ideas.

TERENCE SMITH: And the G-8 itself, did it produce anything that wasn’t already pre-cooked and expected?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, in a strange way and being political, I guess, I’d have to say for Tony Blair it had to be a moment of just acute pain and personally and politically at home and for his countrymen.

But also, I mean, this was to be his declaration of substantive independence from the charge leveled against him in the campaign, which you heard him, that he would become the lapdog of the United States presidents, particularly George Bush, but before that Bill Clinton.

And, you know, Africa, he was putting on the agenda, Africa and AIDS and global warming. And while he got some rhetorical concessions from the president on that, on global warn warming, at least an acknowledgement that it does exist and that humans play some part in it, you know, the subject to change the agenda did not happen obviously because of what happened in London.

TERENCE SMITH: David, this week, and even tonight, Friday night as we speak, Washington is full of rumors of the possibility of another resignation from the Supreme Court, possibly even two.


TERENCE SMITH: Now, if this happens, what does that do to the dynamic of the confirmation process, if, in other words, a resignation by the Chief Justice, (William) Rehnquist, or by Justice (John Paul) Stevens, or anyone else?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, if you judge by the rumors, you think that all nine are going to go and buy a beach house in maybe Martha’s Vineyard and go live together. No, there are rumors of Rehnquist, or Stevens, and all these people. I think it’s more likely to get two, maybe three, but I do think it changes things if you get two, if there are two vacancies.

On the one hand, it gives the president a chance to say okay, I’m going to have one moderate guy, man or woman, and one more conservative. And that way the people on his right people who are a little afraid of (Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales, they’ll be able to say, well, we’re not totally happy with Gonzales, but we are happy with X, the other person.

So that allows them to play domestically. I think it also puts the Democrats on a defensive position. I don’t think they can attack two people aggressively. That looks stubborn, and so they pick one and the other would sail through. On the other hand, if there are three, Stevens, Rehnquist and now (Sandra Day) O’Connor go, I think then the country gets nervous, are we seeing too big a shift too soon and that, I think, would make the Bush administration apt to be more careful.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about the three. But I will say this, that God obviously is a Republican, I mean, because the only presidents who get two shots at this are Republican presidents. Richard Nixon had a double header in 1971 and then Ronald Reagan in 1986 did the batting order switch when he appointed Rehnquist as Chief Justice and nominated (Antonin) Scalia. I think that Democrats I talked to think that Alberto Gonzales is eminently, eminently confirmable, that there won’t be —

TERENCE SMITH: But there is, as David said, real opposition –

MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. No —

TERENCE SMITH: — from the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I think the argument is that the president gets behind on this; this is my man and so forth. I mean, don’t forget, there was conservative right-wing opposition to Sandra Day O’Connor from the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

TERENCE SMITH: David, as we speak also on this Friday night, reporter for the New York Times, Judy Miller, is in jail for declining to reveal her sources in the Valerie Plame case. And yet this – and we don’t know who those sources are, at least they haven’t been publicly confirmed.

But this week the lawyer for the deputy White House Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, confirmed that Mr. Rove had, indeed, spoken with Matt Cooper, Time Magazine, in this case, so he was a source if not the source. What are the political possibilities for this if indeed he implicated in some way for Karl Rove and for the White House?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think Karl Rove, we’ll see what he says. His lawyers are firmly denying that he revealed that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative. And that’s the law here. The law is you can’t just – you have to say – you have to reveal a covert operative knowingly —


DAVID BROOKS: — and so that’s a tough hurdle to get over. If Rove said — and Rove’s lawyer said, we didn’t do it – if it turns out Rove mentioned Valerie Plame to Cooper or Miller, whoever, and I work with Judy Miller, but I don’t know anything about this, then it’s politically very damaging for him. If he willingly knew she was a covert operative, well, then he has to resign because then he broke the law and then after like a year of denials, that’s a big story but we’re still a long way away from that.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. That’s true. Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s a serious political problem for the following reason: I think what we got this week, with the confrontation over Judy Miller, is confirmation that people who had worked with him and against him had said, that is Patrick Fitzgerald is one tough guy.

TERENCE SMITH: He is special counsel –

MARK SHIELDS: He is the special counsel, and he is not interested in Matt Cooper and Judy Miller. He believes there was a crime committed here; that’s apparently the conclusion he’s come to. Whether in fact it was this one, which is very specific, I mean, it is a profoundly serious act recognized by liberals and conservatives to out an anonymous asset, a national security asset, and make them public. It makes them vulnerable and makes all their sources vulnerable; it compromises great operations anywhere and it carries with it a ten-year jail sentence and a substantial fine.

But David’s right. There are nuances to it. You have to knowingly do it and all the rest of it. The problem is this for the White House as I see it: That there’s going to be an indictment, perjury or this charge probably; that’s my reporting tells me. But what they face is that they’re going to reveal the underside of the Bush White House. The president came here pledging to change the tone in Washington. This is how it goes.

David charges Mark Shields bounced 153 checks. I don’t respond to that because I can’t rebut it. So what I say is, well, David Brooks has 26 unpaid parking tickets, and in addition to that, his Visa bill is overdrawn, and that’s what they’re doing; it’s a politics that leads to the politics of personal destruction. That is, if I can’t rebut the charge, what I do is attack the person, and that’s obviously what was done here. There was an organized effort to discredit Joe Wilson for revealing the exaggeration or the falsifying of information that led the United States to go to war.

TERENCE SMITH: We get the final word –

DAVID BROOKS: I’ve got an alternate story line, which was if somebody asked the people in the White House, why is this guy Wilson who writes for the Nation Magazine working for the Bush administration, and somebody says, oh, I hear his wife works at CIA; she led us to him. And that’s not a crime; that’s totally innocent. I think that’s an alternate explanation of why they mentioned this woman, Valerie Plame.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, gentlemen, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: We’ll see which one –

DAVID BROOKS: We’ll see.