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Poltical Analysts Discuss Middle East, G-8 Summit and Plame Lawsuit

July 14, 2006 at 6:30 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, I’m going to read you a quote. “The level of pessimism is extreme.” A Wall Street broker said that on the wires this afternoon. He was talking about the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, North Korea. Is that a justified feeling on this Friday night?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think it is, Jim. I mean, a week ago, it looks like things with North Korea and Iran and Russia, which Ray just finished discussing, were about as bad as they could get. This week they got worse.

And candidate George Bush ran in 2000 pledging a humble foreign policy with no illusions about nation-building. And today, after five years of a foreign policy, which I think even his friends and admirers would acknowledge has been aggressive, assertive, oftentimes arrogant, it’s a humbled foreign policy.

We see the limitations of the United States. Militarily, we are tied down. We are Gulliver. And that is seen not simply by us.

We don’t have — I was talking this afternoon to the Armed Services Committee. We don’t have ammunition at Fort Hood for our troops to train with unless they’re being deployed, immediately have orders to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, our equipment is run out.

I mean, and the reality is North Korea and Iran see this. And to compound, to complicate, and exacerbate, and make even more tragic, we have the Israeli, what’s going on.

JIM LEHRER: You see things as grimly as he does?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: More or less, though I’d put it in less partisan terms. You know, I was a foreign correspondent from ’90 to ’94, and I covered the collapse of the Soviet Union, the birth of democracy. I covered the Oslo process in the Middle East, Mandela coming out of South Africa, European unification. It was good times.

JIM LEHRER: It was great times.

DAVID BROOKS: And since then, European unification has sort of fallen apart. The Oslo process has certainly fallen apart. And the Middle East, as we heard earlier in the program, Iran, and Syria, and Hezbollah are on the march.

And the reasonable people to deal with, even Fatah, and the PLO, and Egypt, and Jordan, they’re sidelined right now.

And then you go to Russia. And what was a democratic moment, as we just heard, turning the ’90s into a period of chaos, which discredited the West in Russia. And now we have a resurgence autocracy.

So in Russia, in Iraq, certainly, in the Middle East, we’ve had bad trends; there’s no question about it.

I would say to countervail that, that the spread of globalization has reduced the poverty rate in half, mostly in Asia, and that the forces that created the democratic surge in the ’90s have not disappeared. I don’t care what country you go to: People in every country want to have choice and democracy. They don’t want chaos.

But some of the surging is still there. And take for the example of Russia. You do have a rising middle class there. Those people do want to have some sort of a democracy. It’s just going to take a long time to have democracy with some sense of social order.

Iran is on the march

David Brooks
The New York Times
They pushed the U.S. out of Lebanon. The pushed the Israelis out of Gaza and out of Lebanon. They're probably pushing the U.S. out of Iraq. They are on the march.

JIM LEHRER: Well, she just said they want stability first, because they haven't had stability over the last many, many years. But where does the United States of America and the president of the United States fit into this now?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, he fits in, in a lot of different ways, in different parts of the world. I would say, one, to be a beacon of democracy, just to say what we're for over and over again. And I think what we're doing in Russia is the right thing, which is to go to that NGO meeting and stand with the folks who are still democrats, who are standing for civil society and creating the...

JIM LEHRER: The meeting that Michael McFaul...

DAVID BROOKS: That Mike McFaul was mentioning. And that's the right thing to do.

In the Middle East, let's face it: Our abilities are restrained, in part, as Mark suggested, because of Iraq, but in part because Iran is on the march. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are on the march. And if there's one thing we learned since 1979, we have very little influence over Iran, and Hezbollah, and Hamas, and getting to that core issue is the whole thing for the Middle East.

MARK SHIELDS: They are not unrelated. I mean, the United States' war against Iraq has been an undiluted gift to Iran.

We removed from the scene Saddam Hussein, their nemesis, the man who had waged war against them. We destroyed his army. There's a Shia government now friendly to Iran in power in Iraq. Now, I mean, these are not unrelated.

If they're on the march, I mean, they were given their marching orders. I mean, their position has been strengthened and enhanced by the United States' actions and policies.

We are in a position right now, Jim, as the Israelis are finding out, much to their pain, that when you have military power, there are limitations on what you can to in responding to asymmetrical terrorist attacks.

I mean, all of the military power in the world, we could win the war in Iraq militarily. We could do it the same way we won World War II, go in and level the cities, destroy Fallujah, drive them out, kill them. And that would be a political disaster, and the recriminations and the retaliation would be felt for generations and centuries.

So we have achieved everything we can do militarily, everything we can do with the military. The rest of it is political, and it's not working.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't disagree with that. I would just again take a longer view.

If you look at the jihadists, they had a victory in '79 by pushing the Soviets out of Afghanistan. They pushed the U.S. out of Lebanon. The pushed the Israelis out of Gaza and out of Lebanon. They're probably pushing the U.S. out of Iraq. They are on the march.

Iraq is part of that, but it's not the whole story. They are on the march, and they're sidelining the reasonable people in the Middle East, who may be the majority, but right now what's happening in the Middle East is the Israeli public opinion has gone to the center, for withdrawal, but Arab decision makers have gone to the extremes, to Hamas and Hezbollah.

And that's just not something -- we can't call them up and have a summit. We can't have shuttle diplomacy. We can't invite them to Camp David because they're so extreme, so we are constrained. I agree with Mark; it's gloomy, but it's a long historical trend of which Iraq is an important part.

The president's anti-terror efforts

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
It's a very big deal because what you had was a break in this administration, this incredibly disciplined, well-organized, well-oiled machine, between the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense.

JIM LEHRER: Other subject: the president's anti-terror efforts. There were two major developments this week. First of all, the administration decided to put the combatants under the Geneva Conventions. And according to the Senate at least, some senators, the administration has agreed on the electronic surveillance program to go to secret courts. Is this a big deal?

MARK SHIELDS: It's a deal, and how big a deal is obviously in the details.

I'll tell you, the Guantanamo is a big deal. It's a very big deal because what you had was a break in this administration, this incredibly disciplined, well-organized, well-oiled machine, between the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense.

JIM LEHRER: In these hearings this week, you mean? Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: The six military lawyers who run -- the JAGs, the judge advocate generals of all the services, got up and said, "We can do this under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That's how we can do this, and we can protect rights and enforce justice"...

The administration's stance

David Brooks
The New York Times
There's ambiguity right now on where the administration stands on both these issues. But I would say, just on private conversations, there are a lot of people, even in the White House, who are happy to be out from under this.

JIM LEHRER: And that is the way -- that's the military justice system, a U.S. soldier, a U.S. Marine, U.S. sailor has dealt with, with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And the Department of Justice said, no, no, we want to do it. All we want you to do is sanction what the president has already prescribed, in which the court has already attacked.

Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, is the man. I mean, there are some people who are the man on an issue. He's a colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Air Force, and he has put it bluntly to the administration.

I mean, he's holding them -- I mean, he's their torturer on this. No, he's essentially said we've got to live by the laws that we have written and abided by to protect our own troops for the past 60 years, and we're going to prove that, in order to win, we don't become the enemy. And that's a challenge...

DAVID BROOKS: I think Lindsey Graham is against torture. He's their prodder.

MARK SHIELDS: No, he's their torturer.

JIM LEHRER: Is the administration going to have to go along with this? That's the bottom line.

DAVID BROOKS: I think they will. There's ambiguity right now on where the administration stands on both these issues. But I would say, just on private conversations, there are a lot of people, even in the White House, who are happy to be out from under this.

Suddenly, there are a lot of anti-David Addingtons. David Addington was the vice president's chief of staff, who is largely credited or whatever with these policies...

JIM LEHRER: Who said you didn't have to do any of this stuff, yes.

DAVID BROOKS: Suddenly, a lot of people disagreed with him. And I think they're happy. And even in some of the president's public statements you've gotten the sense he's happy to put this behind him. So I think...

JIM LEHRER: But they really didn't have a system worked out, did they?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, my view is -- listen, after 9/11, they thought they were going to be killed. They were going to do whatever they can. I mean, a crisis mentality, and now they realize, first of all, the crisis mentality is gone. But, second, it's just become a huge international and political problem.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, yes.

What about the electronic surveillance thing, the agreement -- at least according to Senator Specter, the White House has said, "We will take these to a secret court, to the existing court that already is in place for other"...

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And Heather Wilson in the House has a sort of a different and more ambitious proposal. I think, again, they're succumbing slowly and with ambiguity, because I really don't think they know where they are on this position. But it's part of the general pattern of the past several weeks, since the decision of the Supreme Court, which is conceding on issue after issue.

MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats seem to be willing to let Lindsey Graham take the lead on Guantanamo. They're resistant on this.

This has been the White House. They negotiated with Specter, with Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but they don't want to negotiate with anybody else. And I think that's the objection of Heather Wilson.

JIM LEHRER: He made the announcement.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Heather Wilson and Jane Harman in the House...

JIM LEHRER: They don't like this.

MARK SHIELDS: They don't like it.

JIM LEHRER: They don't like the...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, members of Congress don't like not to be part of the loop, too. And that's probably...

Valerie Plame-Joseph Wilson lawsuit

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
It's politically enormous, because it goes to the unanswered question of whether the administration simply cherry-picked information in making the case to go to war or whether in fact they twisted facts.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think of the Valerie Plame-Joseph Wilson lawsuit, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I can remember, Jim, on May 27, 1997, when the conservative Federalist Society lawyers just cheered the fact that a young woman, a single citizen, Paula Corbin Jones, had the standing, the rule of law to sue a sitting president of the United States for the alleged hurt he had done to her. And I assume the Federalist Society...

JIM LEHRER: Not while he was president, though?

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. I assume the Federalist Society is going to endorse Valerie Plame's right, as well.

JIM LEHRER: David, are you holding your breath on that one?

DAVID BROOKS: Whatever happened to that suit? Did it lead to anything? I can't remember.

MARK SHIELDS: She had worked as a secret operative, a secret...

JIM LEHRER: But just for the record, I mean, that did lead to the impeachment...

JIM LEHRER: ... alleged that he lied in his testimony...

MARK SHIELDS: Deposition.

JIM LEHRER: ... and his deposition, and that all led to all of these...

MARK SHIELDS: And he admitted he had lied.

JIM LEHRER: Admitted he lied, right. It was alleged, and he admitted it, right.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. But it goes to...

JIM LEHRER: So you think this is the similar kind of thing?

MARK SHIELDS: It's politically enormous, because it goes to the unanswered question of whether the administration simply cherry-picked information in making the case to go to war or whether in fact they twisted facts. And that's what this goes to, I mean, on the question of Joe Wilson's piece and whether this was an act of retaliation...

JIM LEHRER: He wrote a piece in the New York Times, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: ... and an act of vengeance upon her. I mean, I think that's what this is...

JIM LEHRER: How do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I don't see of any importance at all. I mean, Fitzgerald looked into this. There was no underlying crime...

JIM LEHRER: Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor.

DAVID BROOKS: ... and then Scooter Libby will go to trial. But I've never met a human being who cast a vote on this issue. It's of intense interest to us in the media, because we know a lot of the players involved. If there had been sign of an underlying crime, then this would be a story.

MARK SHIELDS: But doesn't it question -- I mean, it's a question of whether they set out to hurt somebody by exposing her and ending her career. I mean, that's what it is. It isn't...

JIM LEHRER: I don't want to end you all's careers, but we have to end this discussion now. Thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: OK.