RAY SUAREZ: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard. Mark, the president is in Poland over-nighting in Krakow. He'll stop by old Europe and new Europe on this trip. Fence mending?
MARK SHIELDS: Fence mending. I think the president understands that we have a lot of fences to mend. I just saw an Ipsos-Reed Poll, an international poll, a very respected organization, done this week, that showed by a margin of three to two, the English and the Canadians think that President Bush is a negative influence in world affairs and the European countries on the main continent of Spain and Germany and France, margins of five to one. So he is the United States, and there is, I think, mending of fences to be done.
RAY SUAREZ: The trip to the G-8 summit in France is going to be shortened by a day. He is only going to be in France for one day. Could we put too much emphasis on this, the G-8?
DAVID BROOKS: Actually I think we can. I've covered these summits, and especially in this one. The press is reduced to teeny bopper role. Does he shake Gerhardt Schroeder's hand really warmly or sort of warmly. Does he give Jacques Chirac a kiss on the lips, or does he give him two buses, one buses -- and it's all about the superficiality of these things; these summits rarely amount to much.
But there is something fundamental going on, which is two processes going on at the same time. On the one hand, potentially the culmination of a 50-year European unification that began with Jean Monet after World War II and is now maybe culminating with a European constitution being proposed. That was a Cold War era document built around the German-French axis.
And at the same time that Europe no longer exists. And we've got new Europe and old Europe, as we call it now, with President Bush going hither and yon, which is a much more decentralized Europe, so when you look at how the French and the Germans and the people in Brussels look at Europe, it is still that centralized Jean Monet vision. When you look at Bush's trip, it is a much more decentralized post-Cold War, post-Iraq War Europe, which has no center. And we really see these two competing visions on display this week.
RAY SUAREZ: Next stop after Europe, Mark, the Middle East.
MARK SHIELDS: The Middle East, and the president is stepping up to the plate at long last, something he has resisted; resisted in part because I think he was the anti-Bill Clinton going in and Clinton of course expended great time, effort and energy and ended up failing to achieve peace and agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
I think partly because of Tony Blair and the agreement that Tony Blair exacted, at least as a price or condition of his support, all out support in Iraq, and recognition on the president's part, as was said in the segment with Margaret with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, the president prides himself on being a man of his word.
And I think when he goes to this meeting, that is saying that George W. Bush, irrespective of the domestic political considerations of evangelical Christians, the Zionist constituency and the American Jewish community, that he is committed to achieving this and I think it's very significant.
DAVID BROOKS: He has caught the bug. Presidents all get it, this Middle East thing. There are problems all around the world, in the Congo, millions of people being killed but somehow world attention focused on the Middle East and George Bush's attention focused on the Middle East. I've been told the most contentious issue in the White House over the past year was the argument that preceded the speech that George Bush gave saying Yasser Arafat is no longer going to be dealt with by this administration.
That was a crucial event in the Middle East and it has had tremendous ramifications. We now see Yasser Arafat really being marginalized or an attempt made to marginalize him both within the Palestinian territories, also on the part of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
So that has opened up the way for some real progress. The other thing Bush brings to the table is that unlike every other peace plan, Tenet, Mitchell, Camp David II, the Rogers Plan, a generation worth of peace plans, the thing Bush brings to it is a post-9/11 mentality, which says, it's not all about drawing the right line on the map or some technocratic solution; it's about dealing with fundamental issues, fundamental mentalities on both sides.
Getting Israel to recognize what they are doing in the West Bank is an occupation, which Ariel Sharon did recognize this week, and secondly understanding you have to reform the Palestinian Authority before you can have real peace in such a small area. That, too, is beginning to happen. So it is somewhat a hopeful moment, and Bush is personally invested in it.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, David referred to "catching the bug," but like other presidents, does he take a risk by now inserting himself into this?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's fair to say that after his second huge historic tax cut, George Bush owns the economy, both pluses and minuses, mostly minuses at this point, and I think after this trip, he will own the Middle East process. It now becomes his. Let's be very frank. What the president did say as part of his argument of going into Iraq was that the road to peace in Jerusalem lay through Baghdad.
That was contested but that was a central premise of the Iraqi policy. That once Saddam Hussein was deposed and removed, that the opportunity for peace would be that much stronger and better in between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, getting a lot of attention outside the United States is the latest issue of Vanity Fair in which Paul Wolfowitz, according to the Vanity Fair reporter, says that weapons of mass destruction was an issue that everybody could agree on, but really it was to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia that the Iraqi government was overthrown.
DAVID BROOKS: I've studied this article. There are two different interpretations. One, which is in the Vanity Fair press release which has Wolfowitz saying weapons of mass destruction were not a main issue and we wanted to move these Saudi troops. But then there is the actual article in which Paul Wolfowitz says none of this.
He doesn't say weapons of mass destruction were not a compelling reason to go to war. He suggested it was one of many. We chose this for bureaucratic reasons to highlight because it was something we could all agree on. He doesn't say we went to war to get the troops out of Saudi Arabia. He describes that in the quotation in the actual article as a bonus. So, to me, there is this brouhaha growing around this article. But if you actually look at the quotations, it is not there.
RAY SUAREZ: But is it as harmless when combined with the fact that not much has been found on the ground in Iraq yet?
DAVID BROOKS: The weapons of mass destruction is a serious issue. They found, as President Bush has said, these two weapons labs, they're beginning to get testimony from the Iraqi scientists. Nonetheless, it is a serious problem in Europe, a serious problem for the credibility of the administration. To me, it does not de-legitimize the war. The war will be legitimized, (a) by the ending of the death camps, by the liberation of the Iraqi people and by what we can potentially build to create some sort of decent set of governments in the Middle East. But it will damage U.S. credibility the next time the administration goes abroad.
MARK SHIELDS: The case for the war was made by president of the United States and secretary of state, Colin Powell, and it rested upon weapons of mass destruction. It did not rest upon democracy in Iraq. And I think what Paul Wolfowitz said in the piece in Vanity Fair, saying that this was essentially a bureaucratic decision because that was the one point where all could agree, ignores the fact that this was the central argument made.
When the president of the United States and the secretary of state said we are in danger, that the United States is in danger, that carried the day politically and diplomatically here at home. And I'll say this Ray, at a time of crisis, in a time of war, the American people defer to the president. They give the president a wide benefit of the doubt.
But when that is trifled with in the sense of there is a misleading in any way, and we saw it in the Gulf of Tonkin, we saw it as long ago as 1898 in the sinking of the Battleship Maine. When William Randolph Hearst sent Frederick Remington down there and said you send me the pictures, I'll provide the war, when there weren't any pictures of military disaster there at the time. The reality is this: We saw it in Vietnam, that when you get mistrust, mistrust breeds skepticism and cynicism and cynicism breeds alienation.
DAVID BROOKS: That's a totally unfair comparison, though. We know Saddam Hussein had these weapons at some point and the labs found were built in 2002 and 2003. We know now that he cleansed it. It wasn't that people lied about it. That he cleansed his weapons. If he did destroy all the weapons or hide them or something, why didn't he provide some evidence to the U.N. that he'd done this, and he could have prevented the entire war. It is not like the U.S. set out to mislead. There may have been intelligence failures. Clearly they gave the wrong impression because there really was the impression it was imminent. Nonetheless the idea that there should be some charges of falsehood or deliberate attempt to mislead simply isn't backed up.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm talking specifically here about Wolfowitz saying it was a bureaucratic reason, this was a central reason. Over and again, the weapon inspectors asked for our intelligence and we would not share it with them. And this certainly raises doubts and inspires doubts as to what was going on. Why would we not share it with them? Did we not have the specific information that Secretary Rumsfeld for one was contemptuous of our allies and other people who said wait a minute, we want to see it. We're skeptical. He said anyone who is skeptical is unaware and unconscious.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's move on before we go for this week to the tax cut signed into law by the president. In part of the negotiations to achieve that tax cut, a break that would have benefited families making between $10,000 and $26,000 was dropped in order to get it to come in under the $350 billion threshold.
DAVID BROOKS: It was inexcusable. Basically every family with kids is getting this $1,000 deduction or credit actual check except for people in that $10,000 to $27,000 range. The technical argument may be they don't pay taxes; they're on this earned income tax credit. But if everybody else is getting the check, those people should get the check.
It was a tremendous mistake for Republicans not only on the matter of humanity but also on the manner of politics. A lot of those people are high school educated people who vote Republican. But what they should do and if they did this, the Capitol dome would fall in -- would say we messed up. As a matter of basic fairness, we are going back the next time we get the chance and we're going to give those people the same deduction that everybody else gets; it won't happen.
MARK SHIELDS: For an administration that has the mantra, leave no child behind, 12 million children have been left behind. But even more important than that, it says so much about our values. Ray, the top 0.7 percent of American households get 63 percent of the capital gains. I mean that's unthinkable. That tells you about this -- and to protect that cut in capital gains tax, they take the 12 million children off. And it is just... not only what it says about our values, the president sent our young marines and soldiers into harm's way and said these are our best citizens -- our best citizens. And you know that the lance corporals and the sergeants and the PFCs who have children do not qualify, do not qualify for the child tax credit under the law that was just signed in a major ceremony by president at the White House? That's unforgivable.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, did that $350 billion threshold become more important than it really should have been in this conversation?
DAVID BROOKS: Oh absolutely. Well, what happens, you know how these end up at the end of the day. There were a whole bunch of things were taken out to get to that. Some were business tax rates and some was this. In the middle of the night, the gnomes take over.
And this provision which would have given these people the check was in some version of the Senate bill, some version of the House bill and now everybody is saying "We didn't take it out" but somehow in the middle of the night at the very end of the process to get to that number, $350 billion, it got taken out and it's beyond me how anybody (a), could do it and (b) didn't see the political ramifications.
RAY SUAREZ: Fellows, good to talk to you both.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you very much.