National Intelligence Estimate Released, Sectarian Violence Continues
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JIM LEHRER: Mark, picking up on the political side of the Iraq situation, this has been a bad week, or at least an up-and-down week for Prime Minister Maliki, at least what’s been said. How do you read the final — what is the U.S. position now on Maliki, as you understand it?
MARK SHIELDS: “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.” I mean, that seemed to be the president’s shorthand this week. It was up to them to make a choice. He almost seemed to be inviting on Tuesday the Republicans — or the insurgents, the dissidents in Iraq to replace Mr. Maliki. And then, “He’s a great guy, a neat guy, a good guy”…
JIM LEHRER: What do you think happened?
MARK SHIELDS: I think that the president was probably speaking candidly and directly without talking points when he said it at the outset, and I think there was a backlash within the establishment and within the party.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think is going on?
RICH LOWRY: I think what happened there is Bush — he was speaking off-the-cuff, and he was responding to the comments by Senator Levin, saying, “I think we may need to replace Maliki.” And Bush was just saying, “If he’s going to be replaced, the Iraqis have to do it.”
And the administration, they have a keen appreciation of the limits of al-Maliki. You know, he was in exile for years. He’s not used to democratic politics. He’s not a charismatic or particularly strong leader. But the question is, who do you replace him with? And that’s the question no one has an answer to necessarily. But I do think these Iraqi politicians, they are feeling pressure from below, and that’s a very key thing. And if they eventuallyΓÇª
JIM LEHRER: Below from fellow Iraqis, not from the United States?
RICH LOWRY: Yes, from Iraqi society. And, you know, I don’t want to have rose-tinted glasses, because you don’t know how this is going to play out, but it does often happen, when society is ridden by civil war and violence, that there’s a point where the population just becomes fed up with it, and some sort of political leader or force rises up to express that sentiment. And I wouldn’t rule that out happening here.
Learning lessons from Vietnam
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: To return to one of the president's favorite analogies of the week, Vietnam, I mean, we went through a succession. Every administration from Johnson on in Vietnam said, "Well" -- Kennedy, actually, it began with Kennedy -- "Well, what we really need is a better administration in Saigon."
And we were part and party to coups. We encouraged coups. We withdrew support elsewhere, and it didn't change the outcome at all. We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II on Germany and Japan. We had half-a-million troops in a country just over half the size of Iraq. We could not affect the outcome and, sadly, I think that's the reality of Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: In general, what did you think of the president's use -- he not only mentioned Vietnam, he mentioned other wars, as well, in his statement today, in comparing them with what's happening in Iraq. What did you think of that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I return to my basic premise. I mean, in 1968, the Democratic Party was the party that led the opposition, the anti-war opposition in the country. The country was turning against the war. The Democrats were then blamed -- very effectively, politically -- by Richard Nixon and others on the Republican side for having lost that war.
And it's no accident that the Democrats have only held the White House 12 years since 1968. I mean, that's a theme that has worked effectively in the past.
I mean, the president on Japan, Jim, yes, we've had troops in Japan for half a century. In that half a century, not a single American troop has been assassinated by any militant dissident in Japan. And, secondly, not a single contract was awarded in the entire reconstruction in Japan to any American company. That's where the analogy really starts to limit.
RICH LOWRY: Well, the speech played as a Vietnam speech, but it was really an Asia speech. And my understanding is the president has been eager to make this Asia analogy for a long time, because if you look -- his argument is, as you look at the broad sweep of history and Asia in the 20th century, you know, 50 or 60 years ago you had two democracies, and now you have lots of them. And he wanted to talk about how regions change, obviously analogizing to the Middle East.
Now, no historical analogy is perfect, and obviously you can't give an Asia speech without mentioning Vietnam, and as soon as you mention Vietnam, everyone blows up. But I think if you look at the speech, the claims about Vietnam were fairly modest. He was saying, look, I'm not going to re-litigate this long argument, national argument we've had about Vietnam. But there was a consequence, a terrible and horrific consequence to defeat, and there will be one if we just give up and lose in Iraq, as well.
MARK SHIELDS: Let me just say in response: I think the terrible consequences and the human tragedy is just sad, tragic. But I will say this, Jim: I think it was a consequence of the United States staying there too long, rather than too short. The president makes and suggests that 10 years was not long enough, that we should have stayed...
Continuing Sectarian Violence
JIM LEHRER: In Vietnam.
MARK SHIELDS: ... in Vietnam, that somehow we should have stayed longer. I think historians, even conservative scholars, agree that, because of the United States incursions, invasions into Cambodia and Laos and surrounding countries that it actually encouraged, nurtured, and developed Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
RICH LOWRY: No one agrees about anything about Vietnam. But I think the destabilizing factor in Cambodia was the North Vietnamese were using it as a base. And at the end, we would not support the government of Cambodia through the air to try to beat back the Khmer Rouge.
And I think revisionist historians have gained ground who argue, in 1972, South Vietnam had reached a basically sustainable position if we continue air support and aid and materiel. They beat back the Easter offensive in 1972. And I just think it's -- where I really disagree with Mark is, Mark, you're kind of arguing that there's nothing we can do in Iraq. It's futile.
Well, we've seen with the surge we have -- and the NIE says it over and over again -- we've made significant progress against al-Qaida. And whatever happens in Iraq, whether it's, you know, a division of the country into three parts, whether it's the withdrawal, or whether there's ultimately a stable central government, you do want to rout al-Qaida. And we have begun to do that because and only because of the surge.
MARK SHIELDS: The surge was intended as a means, not an end. Has it provided and improved security? No question about it, and that's a very positive. But it was to create a society where people were supposed to be some reconciliation.
What we see now is a greater re-segregation on the religious lines, geographically, residentially. The city of Baghdad, which had been a place where people were integrated between Sunni and Shia, is no longer. And the tragedy is that the respite bought by the security and the surge has not led to the political changes that the United States and everybody else seems to agree were necessary.
JIM LEHRER: We are no longer. Thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.
RICH LOWRY: Thank you.