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Senate Debates Iraq Withdrawal; Report Shows Al-Qaida Regrouping

July 20, 2007 at 6:40 PM EST
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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.

Iraq, Iraq, always Iraq. Mark, first, the Senate vote on withdrawal this week, what do you think it means?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, it means that the momentum continues, Jim. I mean, just to put it in some historical…

JIM LEHRER: Continues?

MARK SHIELDS: Continues.

JIM LEHRER: For withdrawal?

MARK SHIELDS: For withdrawal. I mean, just a year ago, the Senate voted on withdrawing. Republicans controlled the Senate at the time. It lost 87-13 to withdraw American troops in a year. I mean, now with Harry Reid — I mean, Harry Reid for procedural reason had to vote with the minority in this case to keep the issue open — with him and Tim Johnson, when he is available to return, the senator from South Dakota, you’re talking about 54 votes. That’s a remarkable, remarkable movement in a year, from 13 to 54, just among Democrats themselves. And one of the senators is gone. One of the 13, Jim Jeffords is no longer in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: But still not 60, which was required to stop the debate and to — I mean, in other words, to have the vote?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Right. As Mark says, there’s been this year-long momentum, but it has stopped or at least stalled for the time being. And I personally think the Senate will do nothing to change Iraq policy at least for another three or four months.

And that’s for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of Republicans who detest where the White House is are furious at Harry Reid. And a colleague of mine wrote a good piece today saying that partisan feeling, rancor in the Senate was already phenomenally high, but now it’s extra-phenomenally high. And over this issue, a lot of Republicans would like to peel off from the president, but they feel that Harry Reid is making it impossible. He’s taking this as an issue, forcing them to vote with the president for political reasons. So that’s stalled it on partisan grounds.

And then the second issue, which I think has been looming up, especially in private conversations, is what comes next? And how are we supposed to think about that? And that, I think, you see anguish everywhere about that. If we leave, will hundreds of thousands of people die? Maybe we have to go through that process because there’s no alternative. But the…

JIM LEHRER: Have a civil war and get it over with?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, I mean, there are two ways to think about it. First, the moral, which is, what is our moral obligation to the Iraqi people? And suppose we stay and lose 125 of our people every month, but their sacrifice leads to the saving of 10,000 Iraqi lives. What’s the calculus, our people versus their people?

And then there’s the security issue. Maybe there’s nothing good we could do anyway, so they’re going to have their civil war, so let’s let them have it. Or maybe there is a way gradually to prevent that, the worst, and that’s the moral dilemma that everybody sees.

JIM LEHRER: You see the same moral dilemma?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, but let me agree with David and disagree with him. I agree with him on the second part, that it is — we certainly went into the war without forethought, without consideration, without intelligence, and recklessly. So leaving there the same way would be, I think, immoral.

High emotions on Iraq

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
I'll just tell you that, in private conversations months ago, Republican senators, senior Republican senators were anxious to move away from the White House, to move towards some sort of withdrawal. Now they're not talking that way.

JIM LEHRER: It's a moral issue?

MARK SHIELDS: It's a moral issue; it's a security issue; it's a diplomatic issue; it's everything; it's a human issue. But on the first part, the frayed emotions and feelings in the Senate, I get a kick out of this. I mean, we are not debating here capital gains tax cuts. We're debating war and peace and lives.

And if somebody's feelings are hurt -- you know, I mean everyone has made a big thing out of John Warner making a big speech and Dick Lugar making a big speech, respected members, and George Voinovich. You know, Jack Kennedy said, "The easy part is making the speeches. The tough part is making the decisions and making the votes."

And, you know, there's a great test in Washington. You know, "I'm outraged, I'm upset." What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it? And what are they going to do about it? What are these people going to do about it?

I mean, I'm sorry that Harry Reid didn't somehow hold Arlen Specter's hand, and Arlen Specter is upset. He talked to the New York Times about being hurt and taken umbrage. That's fine. But this is a big, big issue. And we have to be grown-ups at this point.

JIM LEHRER: So you don't agree with David that Harry Reid made this a partisan issue?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it's -- yes, is it a partisan issue? It was a Democratic victory and a Republican defeat, in large part because of this issue last week. Jim, David talks about three or four months from now. What we're talking about -- I don't think there is that much time for Republicans, and they know it.

What I'm talking about, losing the White House, if they don't change, if the Republicans and George Bush's policy do not change, the Republicans are facing -- and they will tell you this in private -- they're not simply losing the House, losing it in terms that are numbers that are unprecedented in their experience and losing a filibuster-proof Senate, I mean, to the point of going down under 40.

JIM LEHRER: You're talking about in 2008?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I'll just tell you that, in private conversations months ago, Republican senators, senior Republican senators were anxious to move away from the White House, to move towards some sort of withdrawal. Now they're not talking that way. They're talking, "We've got to stick with the president." And why? Two words: Harry Reid.

It's because they detest the way he's drawn the line. He's drawn the line that said, "You're either for a certain withdrawal right away, or starting with 120 days or whatever, or you're with the president." And they hate those two choices. And they'd rather not be in those choices, but Reid is the majority leader. He sets the parameters of the choices, and that's the dilemma they're in.

Alexander compares Bush to Truman

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
He compared George Bush's political predicament to Harry Truman's, and he said what Harry Truman did in such a situation, he wanted to rebuild Europe, he knew if it was the Truman Plan, it would die politically, so he called it the Marshall Plan.

JIM LEHRER: Now, we had a conversation series among senators on this issue, and the last one, of course, was Lamar Alexander last night. And he said there were 60 votes or plus for something in between a firm withdrawal and a toothless resolution. He didn't put it quite in those stark terms. Do you agree with that, that if it had been drawn properly, they would have had an overwhelming majority and more that 60 votes?

MARK SHIELDS: From private conversations, yes, but in public forum? Lamar Alexander said -- he was quite eloquent on the subject of David McCullough's book on Harry Truman. And he said what Harry Truman -- and he compared George Bush's political predicament to Harry Truman's, and he said what Harry Truman did in such a situation, he wanted to rebuild Europe, he knew if it was the Truman Plan, it would die politically, so he called it the Marshall Plan, after General George Marshall, an enormously towering American figure, and enlisted Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican dean on foreign relations, most respected Republican in the Senate on foreign relations, to be the real champion of it.

So, you know, it made a lot of sense. And I sat here and listened to him and said, "Boy, that makes sense." And what do they do today? Hillary Clinton says, "I want to see what the contingency plans are for troop withdrawal in Iraq," sends a letter two months ago, and they come back today and accuse her essentially of betraying the troops. That is not the Harry Truman-Arthur Vandenberg-George Marshall plan.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, Lamar Alexander, he wants to be where the Iraq Study Group is. And he's right: There are 60 or 70 there. And you could have that tomorrow, which would totally transform the politics, the domestic politics of this war.

So what did we have instead of that? Well, I hung around the Senate the night they stayed all night to talk. It was a joke. The only way they could go through this process was by having no sense of the absurd. I watched as the Democrats walked down the steps of the Senate, surrounded by throngs of cameras. How they did it without giggling, I don't know, because it was just this stupid publicity stunt, a repetition of the same, old points everybody has been making, when privately they're all having serious conversations, but they wanted this publicity stunt, because it's partisan.

Generals say they need more time

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
They think they're making military progress. They don't think they're making political progress. But they do think -- and you have begun to hear a shift in emphasis in the way they talk about how progress might somehow be possible.

JIM LEHRER: What do you make of what the generals have been saying in the last couple of days, "Hey, wait a minute, we may not have a really good take on the surge until November, hey, wait a minute"? In fact, a general said today, one outside of Baghdad, it may take a year before things are stable. What's going on here?

DAVID BROOKS: Right, well, I think that is, from what one hears, that is their genuine view. They think they're making military progress. They don't think they're making political progress. But they do think -- and you have begun to hear a shift in emphasis in the way they talk about how progress might somehow be possible.

And it has less to do with the Maliki government. It has much to do with giving local tribes and groups some sort of tough control over local areas. It's sort of the Anbar model. And they're talking about -- it's much more local thuggery, but at least it's order.

And so that's the model that you hear them talking about. And they do think that it is possible, over that time frame, to move toward that sort of model, which is not the democratic model anybody imagined. But they think it's possible. Whether it's true or not, who knows?

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it's politically acceptable here. I mean, I think that...

JIM LEHRER: Even if they're right, forget it, it isn't going to work here?

MARK SHIELDS: You heard the ambassador with Judy. He said the American will, I mean, the will of the Americans is flagging. I mean, that is the general perception, I mean, that there is not the patience -- or, rather, he didn't say the will. He said the patience is running out.

And I don't think there's any question, and I think that's why General Petraeus -- and right now, it's almost impossible to imagine how General Petraeus is going to come through with some sort of a rosy scenario by the middle of September. I don't think anybody...

JIM LEHRER: That's only 60 days.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

DAVID BROOKS: But the political patience is not like rainfall. It's not a natural phenomenon. It's something we can change. And let me say, I'm more uncertain about what to do than I've ever been in this war. I really have no clue. So I almost have no judgment on what we should do, stay or go. I really am so confused.

Nonetheless, if we do decide that it's plausible to think that in a year we could avoid genocidal civil war, it seems to me changing the political timetable here is worth trying to do, if we can come to that original conclusion.

MARK SHIELDS: I do think that that is a debate that both parties have a responsibility to have: What happens next? I thought Carl Levin, of the four, addressed it the most candidly and bluntly. He said, "Nobody knows. I don't know."

We've had a lot of arrogance in this city. A lot of people had a lot assurance going in of the undiluted benefits that were going to come from our invasion and occupation. Now, many of the same people have a picture of cataclysmic proportions and dimensions on our leaving. He said, "I don't know. There may be a civil war."

You know, there is an American problem everywhere in the world. There's not an American solution. And we do have a responsibility, and I think we have to debate what that responsibility is.

Biden's proposal for division

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
It's a solution. It seems to make sense, as we look at it, as a sectarian strife bordering on civil war, and if the American troops are preventing a civil war, this would seem to be one way of avoiding that or at least minimizing that possibility.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think -- Joe Biden, also part of the series, repeated his call for this division of three major semiautonomous regions. Is that sounding better as time goes by?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I thought it sounded better two years ago. I've been on the Biden bandwagon on this for years and years. To be fair, it is true that few Iraqis agree with him. They are de facto agreeing with him. Most people think the country will split up if we leave.

JIM LEHRER: On its own?

DAVID BROOKS: On its own, but you can't get them to admit that.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, it's a solution. It seems to make sense, as we look at it, as a sectarian strife bordering on civil war, and if the American troops are preventing a civil war, this would seem to be one way of avoiding that or at least minimizing that possibility.

JIM LEHRER: Changing the subject slightly before we go, Barry Bonds may break the all-time homerun record over the weekend. Should he be cheered, or is that an embarrassment because of his alleged use of steroids?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the alleged use of steroids occurred in the years of 1999 to 2004. This is somebody who's averaged 32 homeruns a year throughout his career. If he hadn't gone near them, he'd have 650 homeruns. That's a great career. Instead, it's all tainted. The closer we get to the record, the more people in baseball want to talk about Henry Aaron, a man who never had any chemical involvement and was just the picture of integrity.

JIM LEHRER: Deserve to be tainted?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, as Mark said, he's a phenomenal talent. That said, my kids who think about baseball 23-and-a-half hours every day don't like him.

JIM LEHRER: Don't like him because of the steroids?

DAVID BROOKS: And if the kids don't like him -- because of the steroids. And my youngest is 8, and he's been feeling about this since he was 4. So that is a real harm he's done to baseball, he and all the sluggers of that era, it should be said.

MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly right. I mean...

JIM LEHRER: It wasn't just Barry Bonds.

MARK SHIELDS: No, Jim, there was a time when baseball players looked like the person standing next to you in the elevator. Then they started to look like the Incredible Hulk. And the lack of skepticism, of curiosity on the part of ownership and the leadership of baseball is worse than appalling.

JIM LEHRER: So Barry Bonds is a real baseball problem as much as it's a Barry Bonds problem?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is.

JIM LEHRER: OK, thank you all very much.