RAY SUAREZ: And, of course, joining me is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and The Weekly Standard's David Brooks.
Well, gentlemen, we went this week from a vote early in the week to a vote late in the week to no vote, to a summit in the Azores Islands. Tell me, what is going on?
DAVID BROOKS: Somebody has a good travel agent. You know, when President Bush said that thing at the press conference, that we were going to have a vote regardless of the whip count, it sounded to me like a brave statement, let's let everybody put their cards on the table and then we'll see where they are. Over the week, it turned into a Ward Five Chicago City Council bargaining session with the U.S. trying to beg, borrow and steal and it was demeaning. You lost some of the sense that the U.S. was in control. And it was a bad week for the president, a loss of, really, momentum.
But at the end of the week, and I think they've decided in the last day or two, that listen, we've had 12 years of split on Iraq. Russia and China-- excuse me, Russia and France have always been against U.S. and UK policy. They were against it when Bill Clinton launched missiles into Iraq in 1998. They're against it now. It is not something you can paper over with some resolution. It's a fundamental split. History will have to decide who was right. So they had a bad week of begging and borrowing and pleading for votes. They looked for some diplomatic fudge to paper this thing over. They couldn't find it and I think they're coming out of it.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I can't argue with David's analysis there. I would add this, Ray, that the administration is already putting out that the only reason they went to the U.N. was to protect Tony Blair who needed a second U.N. resolution at home and David's right. I mean the president started off let's go, let's put the cards on the table. Then later in the week, we got the votes. I mean they were announcing we had the vote, to we have no vote.
And I think what we are doing are going to the Azores to figure out how to cut their losses for Spain and Great Britain and the United States. And I think there is some domestic political consumption, probably for all three involved, but certainly for Tony Blair, who I think risks - his political career it's not an overstatement, is on the line right now.
DAVID BROOKS: There is a silver lining, though, I think for the administration. There is a split within the administration. Was it a mistake to go to the U.N. in the first place? Some Republicans think the U.N. is just an atrocious institution and then there are others who really hate it, and that's the fight. I think the president was right because he got Resolution 1441, which is a valuable document.
But the thing he also did, and even this last week he showed, even though he is skeptical of the institution, he is willing to try to work for it. And I think what you've seen in the opinion polls is a lot of people who are independents and Republicans who are wary, have been more supportive of the president in the last couple of weeks and a lot more critical of the U.N. in the last couple of weeks because Bush at least tried.
RAY SUAREZ: But the administration seemed to be sending different signals almost every couple of hours about the state of play. Was that a sign of the conflict inside the Bush administration?
DAVID BROOKS: Inside, the administration is like a peach or something. There is the core, the pit, which is the ad nauseam repetition of the point that Saddam has to disarm; he is not going to disarm. That's the core of the policy. And then they've got all this fog coming out in all different directions but to me the thing you have got to focus on and, believe me, in a month, nobody is going to remember this week. They're going to remember the essential core which is Bush's relentlessness that Saddam has to disarm and that if he doesn't, then we'll do it. That's the real issue. And that's what we'll talking about in a month, not what happened in the U.N.
RAY SUAREZ: This week, Mark, a Bush friend, Ambassador Craig Stapleton, said this is his Omaha Beach. Hyperbole or pretty close to the mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it's certainly hyperbole in terms of the nation. I mean the nation's involvement in Omaha Beach and the stakes in it were much higher. There was obviously a whole sense of national shared sacrifice, national shared mission, which is not present here in spite of polls. I mean the president will be going to war, if he does, and as Ambassador Djerejian and Jessica Mathews suggested that he will be, with a divided nation.
And I think that's the overriding consideration for his presidency. I think it certainly has become his Moby Dick - I mean, you know, his great white whale. And he's convinced that, you know, that Saddam Hussein's being removed, that Sunday school attendance will be up and there will be fewer casualties. It's really - that's the key to everything in his world. And I don't think that that's an overstatement.
DAVID BROOKS: It's epic-making, it defines the situation. But, you know, you mention World War II. It makes me think, we should really take a step back and see where public opinion is. Right now it's about 65 percent supporting the president with U.N. approval.
If you go back to World War II, 1939, 98 percent of Americans in 1939, after France and Britain declared war on Germany, were opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II. If you ask them, do you support war if Germany takes over France and Britain, 79 percent of Americans still said no. This is a country remarkably hesitant to go to war. In 1991, it was 44-44 before Bush launched Desert Storm.
MARK SHIELDS: It was 44-44 until the debate in the Congress. After the debate in the Congress, it did shift. And one of the reasons it shifted was because there was a finite objective in 1991. The objective was driving the Iraqi, invading forces out of Kuwait and restoring the status quo. Now we don't know. There is no status quo to be restored and it still remains somewhat imprecise as to what exactly the configuration is that will determine victory either for the president or for the nation.
DAVID BROOKS: From my point of view 65-30 for a war is an incredibly high percentage. We are all sort of used to it now, but it's historically very unusual.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's take a quick look at today when the president came out, did a quick briefing, took no questions, reiterated his strategy for settling things between the Israelis and the Palestinians, two-state solution, was glad to see that there was a prime minister in the Palestinian Authority. What was that all about?
MARK SHIELDS: That was essentially all about the president addressing what has been a festering and continuous problem for him in this administration, which has been the uncritical embrace and support of Ariel Sharon's policies in Israel, without what was perceived of any sort evenhandedness.
And for the president to restate that, as he had become the first president in our history to actually articulate and express support for an independent Palestinian state and make that part of our policy, that he, today, returned to a position that he had almost abandoned, having stated a year ago. And I think it was for Tony Blair. Tony Blair immediately came out again. He had been calling for an even handedness there. You can't just say that Saddam is everything in the Middle East; you have to say that the Palestinian-Israeli problem is important, it's crucial and deserves our attention and our involvement.
DAVID BROOKS: I would say Bush's sympathy with Sharon is based on his belief that with Yasser Arafat running the Palestinian Authority, there is no peace partner, and the strongest fights within the administration have been over this, not over Iraq, actually. And now we might have a partner because Arafat named the prime minister who will be confirmed, named later on. And that -- if that man has real power, then Bush's policy of trying to move Arafat off to the side will yield some results. And then Bush and Sharon will not be friends anymore because Bush has been, as Mark says, he has gone further than any other president to say get rid of the settlements, independent Palestinian state, basically '67 borders and that is not Sharon's policy.
MARK SHIELDS: But there has been, there has been no price for the new settlements, no price at all. I mean, that may continued unabated and uncommented upon by us, so it would be a U-turn.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, even as all this is going on, domestic politics have not stopped in their tracks. A bipartisan letter went to the Bush administration from four senators, two Republicans, two Democrats, saying we are only going to go for half the proposed latest tax cut. Baucus, Breaux, Voinovich, Snowe, others to be named eventually.
DAVID BROOKS: There could be. There's talk of Lincoln Chafee, John McCain. Listen, I think the dividend tax cut, which this would end, is finished. Personally, I think the Bush tax cut is finished. I just think When you look at the Republicans with the war, there are some who will stay with the president. But you only have to lose a few and you've lost it. I think there is a great sense of concern that we are just, we can't afford this because we don't know what the next few months will hold.
MARK SHIELDS: It is on life support at this point and any Bush plan for the tax cut that involves depending upon John McCain as the key vote, I think, is sand at the edge of the water that won't last until the next high tide. It is just not going to happen.
And I think that even this, $350 billion of water that is not going to last until the next high tide, I mean, it's just not going to happen, and I think even this - the $350 billion is not a small matter by any measure. And it would lead to an increase in the national debt by the end of this decade of another... I mean we're just talking about cutting it from $4.2 to $3.9 trillion. So I think given the uncertainty, the cascading budget deficits, the economy, war, sense of shared sacrifice, international uncertainty, I think life support is probably the best description.
RAY SUAREZ: But for now, the White House is sticking to its guns. Are they going to let the Senate do the spadework on this, or are they going to have to pull this off the table?
DAVID BROOKS: I think the think they rely on, you mentioned that Omaha Beach quote. If this goes well for the president, he comes back in triumph, the Senate and the House are bowing before him as he walks down the aisle. Anything he mentions passes. He hands out stray pieces of paper and people are signing them. And that to me is he only thing that rescues this for the president.
MARK SHIELDS: Fifty thousand American troops in Iraq, even after a war no matter how successful, are going to be a problem. One of the real problems of going alone, Ray is that that means there is nobody around to help afterwards in the cost, and the rehabilitation, reconstruction and pacification of a troubled, troubled people and troubled nation.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark, David, thanks a lot.