Shields and Brooks
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks — syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. David, are today’s job numbers likely to make Americans feel better about the economy?
DAVID BROOKS: Not immediately. I think there’s a lot of resistance to feeling good about the economy, I think in part because of Iraq. I think people are just anxious about Iraq and anxiety about Iraq is bleeding over into all sorts of domestic issues. Then you’ve got the trade debt; you’ve got a lot of imbalances; you’ve got housing prices that seem so high in so many places. So even though the economies have been doing quite well really, 3.4 percent growth, job numbers following really eight to ten months of good job numbers on the large, there’s still this undertone of anxiety because it feels to a lot of people unstable. I think there’s still anxiety especially about housing prices, I would say, which is hits close to home.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, any time the jobs number is better than expected, quote/unquote, it’s good news. But I think David’s absolutely right. I mean, the administration would like to emphasize economic good news, but that story’s just been overtaken by 21 Marines being killed, by Iraq, by London, by al-Qaida. You know, the economy — it doesn’t seem to be the grabber that it was and I think David’s point about the anxieties are still there.
JIM LEHRER: On Iraq specifically. You mentioned the Marines dying this has been a tough week, tough twelve, fourteen days, in fact, in Iraq. What do you think Americans should feel about that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Americans are feeling for the first time, Jim, I think that the Vietnam analogy is really setting in. Remember, Col. Harry Summers who became a great journalist was a combat veteran of Vietnam meeting his North Vietnamese combat counterpart after the war. And he said to him “we defeated you in every battle. We vanquished you on the battlefield.” And the North Vietnamese colonel said “that’s true and it’s also irrelevant.” And I think what we see in this war for the first time…
JIM LEHRER: Meaning they lost….
MARK SHIELDS: We won the battles but we lost the war. And I think for the first time what we’re understanding is there’s no narrative to this war; there’s no landing at Normandy then taking Paris and then the fall of Berlin. There are no battles. There’s no success. And the president has laid down a standard for victory that is the democratization and freedom of Iraq and maybe even the Middle East that is probably un-meetable, unattainable and that the George Bush’s presidency and his legacy will be judged not by leave no child behind or anything of the sort. Iraq is going to be the ultimate test.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t think it’s Vietnam.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t think so?
DAVID BROOKS: You’ve got 90 percent of the Iraqi people want a normal, decent society which they voted for, which they’re moving toward politically. But they face an enemy, and they face an enemy which is partly homegrown, the Sunni Baathists, but partly and more increasingly coming from the outside. We’ve got Egyptians flooding in, Saudis coming in, even a few French Muslim Jihadists coming in. And what we saw this week was apparently technology coming from the outside, from Hezbollah and possibly Iran, these massive bombs that blew up the 14 Marines in that one episode, and so what we’re seeing is in part something local but in part confronting an enemy that, you know, had to be confronted and still has to be confronted.
And I don’t know too many analysts who think this is a war the insurgents can win. Peter Galbraith, an opponent of the war rights in the New York Review of Books, you know, “An army with a small group of Jihadists, many from outside with no positive agenda, they can sow a lot of chaos and they can possibly spark some sort of semi-civil war. But the idea that they can win the way the North Vietnamese won, I just don’t know if too many people believe that.
JIM LEHRER: What about the people in this country, what they believe?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think what you’ve seen in public opinion is an incredible level of depression, you know, you have the pain that one feels when you get these casualties. At the same time, when you read the polls, you have more people who opposed going in. You also have an incredibly high number of people who think now that we’re there we should stay there and we should win because I think there’s a sense that as horrible as this is, as stagnant as this war seems to be– and I agree with Mark about that– we are fighting an enemy that needs to be fought. And I personally — the more I learn about the Jihadists, the more I’m sort of won over by the notion that a lot of these people would be fighting us anyway, the Zarqawis. And they’re fighting us there; they could be fighting us here, in London or Germany.
JIM LEHRER: Carrying on with your Vietnam analogy, Mark, are you suggesting that we’re getting to a point where the American public is going to be saying “Hey, let’s get out of there.” They’re certainly not there yet. The latest poll is 70 percent of the people said “”stay in there.”
MARK SHIELDS: 38 percent in the Associated Press Poll have confidence in the president’s leadership, and now an approaching majority who think that he has not been forthcoming and honest.
JIM LEHRER: That’s a different issue than getting out of there.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t know. I think it’s the condition for getting out. I mean, I think, Jim, what we saw this week in the deaths of the Marines is these were Marine reservists from basically the same town in Ohio. When reservists are killed, they come from a civilian community and if you read what their families say, their families are not like a military community.
JIM LEHRER: Not like the all-volunteer Army or volunteer Marine Corps, yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: When there’s a death at Camp Lejeune, you know, you don’t say anything critical of the policy because your next-door neighbor’s husband or son or father is there as well, or father, so there’s a sense of sort of gathering around and kind of holding the line. But when civilians– and these reservists were civilians– you hear their families questioning the wisdom and the value of our being there and, you know, when it drops to 38 percent support for the president, that’s lower than virtually every analyst that David and I talked to thought it would go because the president has consistently sustained 90 percent approval among Republicans. That means he’s losing Republican support on confidence in his leadership in the war.
JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point, David, that this — these Marines who were killed, it’s different. We do have an all volunteer force — that that’s the closest to draftees you’re going to find — these are people, as Mark said, who are civilians and their folks and their survivors have a different approach to this war, right?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think that’s somewhat true. From the interviews I’ve read and the people I’ve spoken to who have been there, I find incredible pride in the soldiers who are serving there. We know that two-thirds of them voted to reelect President Bush. We know that they feel a pride in the desire to save the Iraqi people, to help the Iraqi people. At the same time, let’s face it, there is morale problems there. I’m not saying they’re gung-ho; they’re in the middle of this horrible shapeless war. But, nonetheless, when you talk to people who come back, I find people who say, I’m very proud of what we did there; I think I did something positive. And I think feel they’re fighting the Jihadists. Now, you know, there are two real issues here. One is the emotion and, the, well, there are three issues. One: the emotion when people die as happened this week; two, the confidence that their government knows what they’re doing. And, you know, even I share that some days; three, the belief that it’s in our national interest to get out. That’s an entirely different issue.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, Mark. John Bolton, recess appointment. How do you feel about that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the recess appointment –
JIM LEHRER: U.N. Ambassador, I should have said.
MARK SHIELDS: U.N. Ambassador, that’s right. Recess appointment I think was made possible by the positive reaction to John Roberts’ nomination. If there had been a real question that this was going to be a cliffhanger, a 51-49 vote and they had to count every Democratic senator, I doubt if they would have gone ahead with the vote. I think it showed the confidence they have that Roberts is going to be confirmed. And John Bolton did not. — was not recognizable in that — in his acceptance remarks from either his advocates or his critics. I mean, he wasn’t — there was nothing bombastic about him, he sounded like a rather submissive passive little fellow who was going to go up there and carry out the president’s policies and, you know, be a megaphone rather than an independent thinker.
DAVID BROOKS: That’s in part because of the caricature of John Bolton as this rampaging lunatic who’s chasing women down Russian hallways, which was untrue. I mean, you know, it’s a job where you represent the president’s views. I’m sure he’ll be fine. One of the things that strikes me about the whole debate was that a lot of the Democrats who attacked Bolton, it was partly about Bolton and the way he behaved but it was the larger issue hanging back, was Iraq and the conduct of American foreign policy that it was too rude, it was too unilateral. It strikes me overall, that especially since Condi Rice has taken over as secretary of state, U.S. policy has been much less unilateral. And, therefore, the issue is somehow less hot than it would have been six months ago, let alone during the full campaign.
JIM LEHRER: I know I’ve asked you this before but I’m going to ask it again. Now that he’s in the job, what kind of U.N. Ambassador do you think John Bolton is going to be?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I happen to think he’ll be effective. I think the strengths and weaknesses he have will be effective in that job, which is a job that requires some bull-headedness to get reform and especially bull-headedness about Iran. I think Iran is just hanging out there. It’s a big issue that somehow we’re going to have to face some of the nuclear expansion and some of these tough issues are going to come to Iraq, come to the U.N. and he’s going to have to represent the policy in a pretty straightforward way.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: You know, the U.N., like all politics, is a matter of addition not subtraction. You have to get a majority representing the United States and everything else, Jim. But I don’t think there’s any question that anybody on either side of the aisle would argue that if there had been a secret ballot on John Bolton’s nomination to the United States Senate he would not have been confirmed. He was confirmed because George Bush and the Republican — leaned on Republicans and they did not want to repudiate their president. But given — left to their own consciences and their own judgment, he would have been rejected.
JIM LEHRER: But we didn’t have a vote so we don’t know that.
MARK SHIELDS: We didn’t have a vote. And it was going to be a public vote. They were going to be recorded in the White House remember –
JIM LEHRER: Quickly, you mentioned John Roberts. There’s all kinds of things coming out everyday about him, little things here and there and the one this week was that he as a pro bono lawyer, private attorney represented a gay rights issue. How do you read that in this whole debate?
MARK SHIELDS: This is one of the great, you know, comic moments in Washington because conservatives are all upset that he was key counsel on the breakthrough in precedent setting case for gay liberation. And liberals who had wanted to caricature him, pigeonhole him as some sort of a know-nothing with his knuckles rubbing the ground say “oh, my God, you mean to say he was involved in that” and so he had the conservatives saying ” well no, just because he represented somebody doesn’t mean he believes it, which was, of course, the argument they were arguing against, you know, 24 hours ago.
DAVID BROOKS: As a pro-gay marriage conservative I’m over the moon. I already wrote how much I love this guy. Now it’s becoming even more so. I think the answer here is that human beings are complicated and there are, like, a few people in this town who are 100 percent down line with everything and John Roberts is probably not. But the other thing you know about Roberts is we’ve gone through all this stuff about his career. We actually know very little about what he believes. One thing we do know about him, he’s not one of the people, one that’s sometimes seated next to at a dinner party who can’t wait to blast all his opinions at you. He’s not that sort of person. And that probably tells you something about how he’ll be a judge, too.
JIM LEHRER: We’ll find out more when hearings begin on Sept. 6.
DAVID BROOKS: Maybe a little.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both.