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Analysts Discuss the Middle East Crisis and the Stem Cell Veto

July 21, 2006 at 6:35 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Brooks and
Oliphant, New York Times columnist David Brooks and columnist Tom Oliphant. Mark
Shields is off tonight.

Tom, did you know all about the oil futures market?

TOM OLIPHANT, Columnist, Boston Globe: Some of it. It is amazing how
many people will tell you that as much as a third of the price in the market is
the result of speculative activity. I mean, it makes you wonder where the
government is.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Well, the government is totally out — this
market is completely free, is it not, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, it certainly
is, though oil in fungible. You know, it is affected by politics, and that’s
why we talk about politics and not just economics. They are kind of ruthless
about the war in Israel,
by the way.

JIM LEHRER: I know, to listen to them discuss the war, they
discuss it in very, very clear economic oil-price terms. Yes, yes, not that we
were not going to talk about it.

And speaking of that, David, what kind of marks would you
give the Bush administration, and particularly Secretary Rice, for how they’re
handling this situation in the Middle East?

DAVID BROOKS: I think they and she are actually doing quite
well. I think they have two priorities. The first is to make sure Hezbollah is
the loser in all of this, and that has to be if the Lebanese government is
going to survive. And so they’re waiting. They’re letting Israel hammer. And
we’ll see whether that military effectiveness works, which is the key.

But then their second strategy, which really hasn’t been
talked about that much, though if you talk to them on the phone privately this
is all they’re doing these days, which is to make sure the Lebanese government
comes out the long-term winner. So you don’t just have a Hezbollah loser, you
have a winner, and that winner is the democratically elected government.

And they’re doing a bunch of things to try to make that the
case. The first thing they’re doing — and they’re on the phone all the time
these days — is to get the moderate Arab governments, the Saudis, the
Jordanians, and the Egyptians, together with the Europeans and us to create a
Security Council resolution that can send in international force, and then that
international force will retake control of the south of Lebanon.

The second thing they’re doing is setting up the financial
packages that will allow the Lebanese government to have something to offer the
people of south Lebanon when the military thing is all over.

And then they’re trying to work out some — what they call
outside issues. And I think Martin Indyk earlier talked about Shebaa Farms and
other things, which would give the Lebanese government a chance to say…

JIM LEHRER: Explain what that is.

DAVID BROOKS: Shebaa Farms is a very small bit of disputed
territory between Lebanon
and Israel.
And the Israelis — and, indeed, the U.N. — says it’s a totally bogus issue,
but that’s not the point right now. The point is to give the Lebanese some
chance to say, “We delivered for you,” so to give that government
some legitimacy. And so they are working both sides, the military side and the
coalition side.

Mideast war and polling data

Tom Oliphant
Columnist
And I think it's very interesting late today to begin to see Democrats taking independent actions in this crisis, compared to what was going on in Congress earlier this week when you get these routine resolutions that pass overwhelmingly.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree the administration has done a goodjob?

TOM OLIPHANT: Not entirely. In fact, tonight when we don'tknow whether or not Israelwill be going over the blue line in force, the question is whether the militaryoperations get in the way of the larger political purposes and whether they endup being self-defeating.

What I find a little interesting about this crisis at thispoint is that the polling data is starting to come in, and President Bush doesnot appear to be holding a very strong hand. You would expect normally to havea very sharp spike in approval for what he is doing, but it's not showing up.

Gallupis showing almost a 10 percentage-point difference, in favor of disapproval, interms of how he's handling this. Lebanon makes Americans unusuallyworried because of its history, which is not favorable.

And I think it's very interesting late today to begin to seeDemocrats taking independent actions in this crisis, compared to what was goingon in Congress earlier this week when you get these routine resolutions thatpass overwhelmingly. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate ForeignRelations Committee, possible presidential candidate, Harry Reid, theDemocratic leader in the Senate, and interestingly enough, even Bill Clintonhimself beginning to make noises about things like special envoys. How does ithelp this process...

JIM LEHRER: Yes, Biden sent a letter late today asking for aspecial envoy.

TOM OLIPHANT: I don't mean to be cynical about this, but Ihave a sneaking suspicion that some of those Democrats are aware of the pollingdata, and that may be why this was a late-breaking development.

JIM LEHRER: What about this issue -- do you want to pick upon any of that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess I'd just say quickly that theBiden letter I don't understand, because there is a strategy. They're work onit. Joe can call them up, and they'll explain it to them, I'm sure.

The second thing on the polls is kind of interesting. Ithink that's partly Bush. You know, he's down, so anything he's associated withis going to be down, partly the images. But partly -- and I think this is apost-Iraq...

JIM LEHRER: Images meaning...

DAVID BROOKS: Like we saw on the top of the program.

JIM LEHRER: Absolutely.

DAVID BROOKS: But partly a post-Iraq effect, that fightingterrorists is futile. They seek into the ground, and you can never fight them,which is a difference behind the way people used to see Israel.

People used to see the Israeli army as somethingsuper-effective. They could take care of terrorists, and they could winwhatever they set out to do. I think that image in the U.S. and, actually moreimportantly in the Arab world, has been hurt by Iraq.

Now the fact is, Israel has had a pretty effectivewar they've just won against Hamas, so they might be able to succeed, butpeople expect people to fail now.

Lebanon caught in the middle

David Brooks
The New York Times
I would just say, if there's a cease-fire now, then Hezbollah wins. And then they'll be so emboldened. And we're in a weird position, in that we have a policy, but we don't have any military control.

JIM LEHRER: On the issue of Lebanonspecifically, David said a while ago that that is part of the administration'sunseen policy at this point, mostly unseen, and uncommented upon, that theyreally are trying to stabilize Lebanon.But the Lebanese government is saying just the opposite. "You're killingour people. You're letting"...

TOM OLIPHANT: That was part of my earlier point. Another wayto focus on it, I think, is to look at two dates that are coming up very, veryquickly. One of them is next Wednesday in Rome, where this group of friends ofLebanon or Lebanon core group, Secretary Rice will be there, the Lebanese willbe there, a very important gathering.

And then, a week from Monday, the mandate for the UNIFILforce...

JIM LEHRER: That's the U.N. force that's already there, smallforce, yes.

TOM OLIPHANT: That's right, just observing the carnage,basically. But the question of what kind of a new mandate all in this periodhas to be done.

And I think the question that's being asked a little bitmore frequently in the last 24 hours is: How are you supposed to achieve thesepolitical tasks, involving goodwill at some point, if there has been a sharpescalation in the fighting starting tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: But the Israelis and the Lebanese governmenthave the same long-term interests. They both want to get Hezbollah out of thesouth. They're not going to get them out, obviously not going to totally disarmthem, but to get some sort of assertion of government authority in the south. Theyboth want that.

But then, as Tom was saying, the trade-off between the forceit takes to weaken Hezbollah and how much you alienate people, that's thecrucial calculus.

JIM LEHRER: But you agree with Tom that the real issue nowis, if Israel goes in there on the ground with an invasion in the next 24 hoursor whenever, that could change all of the equations?

DAVID BROOKS: A lot of this depends on the effectiveness. I'vebeen studying Ha'aretz. There's a very good defense correspondent there. Ha'aretzis the Israeli paper.

JIM LEHRER: Israeli newspaper, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And there's a defense correspondent therenamed Harel, and he seems to know what he's talking about. And I would say hisreports have been sober, suggesting that the Israelis talk about degrading 50percent, but it's not clear how much they're doing.

JIM LEHRER: Degrading 50 percent of Hezbollah'scapabilities.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. But that's the crucial precondition.

TOM OLIPHANT: And I just think, though, that one of thereasons there is an increasing -- it's not skepticism or -- there's no questionabout Israel's justification here. That's not at issue. The question is: Whatis wise and what is prudent?

And I think, for a lot of Americans, there's a question ofdeja vu here. I mean, when you're hearing that we're going to have an invasionthat is directed at evil, and that the success in confronting that evil cantransform the region, the tendency of Americans is to say, "Wait a minute.I've heard that line before, haven't I?" And that's where Iraq plays in.

So I just think it's remarkable this early in a crisis thatAmericans are not flocking to support President Bush, and they are not flockingto support Israel. Opinion in this country is sharply divided, not on whetherIsrael is justified, but on whether the military operation should continue orwhether there should be cease-fire and an attempt at negotiation.

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, that's significant. I would just say,if there's a cease-fire now, then Hezbollah wins. And then they'll be soemboldened. And we're in a weird position, in that we have a policy, but wedon't have any military control.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes, we have the power of persuasion,you're saying, but that's it?

DAVID BROOKS: To some extent, but it's up to Israel to fightthis war. And their long-term interests and ours do not necessarily gotogether.

To fear Iran, stem cell veto

Tom Oliphant
Columnist
It has evoked sharp reaction and almost a resurgence in another camp within the conservative world that claims to have learned ... that this kind of ambitiousness in the world can turn out to be reckless, even though the motives are right.

JIM LEHRER: David, some of your good friends in theneo-conservative movement suggested today that this was a good opportunity tolaunch a couple of military strikes against Iran. What do you think of thatidea?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I disagree with the idea. I think itwould be rash. I've become very incremental these days. I think I have along-term interest, the same as my neo-conservative friends, and Bill Kristolis the most prominent...

JIM LEHRER: Yes, he's the one who wrote the editorial in theWeekly Standard that started this.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And so I want to do things one thing ata time. On the other hand, I think one of the things that Bill recognizes isthat Iranis an aggressive, imperial, long-term threat to the country.

And how would this week look if Iranalready had a nuclear bomb, a regime that's stated as its goal the desire towipe Israeloff the face of the map? The world passions are inflamed. Iran has this bomb. We would beterrified that Iran woulduse that bomb against Israeland that would drag the whole world into the conflagration.

JIM LEHRER: Tom?

TOM OLIPHANT: From my perspective, what has been mostinteresting about this little flare-up is not that there is still a hard coreof opinion from this camp, whatever you call it, but that it has evoked sharpreaction and almost a resurgence in another camp within the conservative worldthat claims to have learned the limits of America's power and learned that thiskind of ambitiousness in the world can turn out to be reckless, even though themotives are right.

And so, you know, while a lot of Democrats I think arecontent to maybe hold the coats of these people who are at each other'sthroats...

JIM LEHRER: Let them go.

TOM OLIPHANT: ... yes, let them go -- it's interesting thatthe other point of view in the conservative world, not merely Pat Buchanan --it goes a lot further than that; Francis Fukuyama would be another example --who believe, as conservatives often have taught us over the years, that weshould be aware and respectful of the limits of government power.

DAVID BROOKS: These are the ancient two branches of foreignpolicy conservativism, the one -- and George Will is another on that side --goes back to Edmund Burke who says societies are extremely complicated. Wedon't really know much about them. If you try to do something dramatic, you'reprobably going to lead to all sorts of intended consequences, and that's Burke.

And then the other side, you could say it's Churchill. You'vegot evil in the world; you've got to stand up to that evil; and you've got todefeat that evil. And these are two strains, and they're just playing out.

JIM LEHRER: And we're about to play out of time here, butbefore we go, quickly, Tom, you first, why did the president choose stem-cellresearch to exercise his first veto as a president?

TOM OLIPHANT: He had no choice, because this ran right upagainst his position. But I think what we saw last night -- this week, rather,was the end of President Bush's involvement in this issue. It's now part ofthis year's politics. It will be part of '08. If John McCain had been presidentthis week, we'd have had a signing ceremony in the East Room.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think is going on?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. There's no question where themajority is. It's against the president. But he did it on a matter ofprinciple. He believes you don't create life to destroy it, but it is theminority position in the country.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.