JIM LEHRER: Shields and Brooks are, in fact, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
David, how would you describe the importance of these elections?
DAVID BROOKS: Tremendously, especially if things go bad. Let's look even intellectually at the importance of the campaign. Anthony Shadid mentioned some of the TV commercials for the parties are on Pan Arab television. So that means people all around the world are beginning to see political campaigns and advertising, seeing it in one country.
Let's look at the effect of the campaign on world opinion. What we've seen in the past week is a polarization of the two sides or a clarification of the two sides. On the one hand you have the insurgents who are threatening to cut off the heads of the children of anybody who votes. You have Zarqawi saying the enemy here is democracy. That makes the case very strongly.
On the other hand you have got tens of thousands of candidates and hundreds of thousands of millions of voters who are braving all to actually go vote. This is as clear a contrast between good and evil as one sees in human nature.
The insurgents are truly evil. And the people are trying to vote, it might not be what we like, but it is such a virtuous - it's like the civil rights movement and fighting the Nazis all wrapped up into one.
JIM LEHRER: Wow! Do you agree, it's that big a deal?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't see it as that big a deal, Jim. I mean, I think David casts it in sort of a gigantic historical metaphor. I do think that the election itself is probably less important, the process of it, than the product. We've reached a point now in Iraq where it's reality that is going to determine, it's reality on the ground.
If what comes out of it and out of this process is a structure and a system that the Iraqi people see as legitimate, that where order is established and a sense of justice and power sharing is the eventual product, then I would say it is a success. The fact that voting on Sunday is dramatic, it's not unimportant but I don't see it to the magnitude of David.
JIM LEHRER: But then you disagree with what the president said in a news conference earlier. He suggested that success is the fact that the elections are even being held.
MARK SHIELDS: The president has actually asked us to do the following. He said don't judge Iraq policy by the shifting rationales for going in. Don't judge it by the cost in human lives, the 14,000 casualties or the cost in dollars by the volume of violence of the resistance. Measure the success on the fact that we are voting. It's a democracy. I think that's where he wants --
JIM LEHRER: You don't agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: To ignore everything else -- we are not a people that are consumed with process. This is not an unimportant event. I don't mean to suggest that. But it is the product that emerges and the product that comes out of these efforts --
DAVID BROOKS: I didn't mean to say it was 1648 or some world historical shift but it is a morally clear shift between the side of oppression and the side of democracy.
I think that's what has become clear out of this campaign. I think people around the world and the U.S. have certainly seen the bifurcation between the two sides. As to whether the voting --
JIM LEHRER: But that is just on the fact of voting itself -- not on what the result is -
DAVID BROOKS: Right. Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: -- just the fact that we are having elections, that the elections are being held, is in fact the answer to --to the evil people is what you're saying.
DAVID BROOKS: Exactly. The fact that the people around the Arab world especially can see a discussion, can see those people have choice, why don't we have choice, that's tremendously important, I think. As for the voting itself, I sort of agree with Mark and I think most people would concede this; that elections don't make democracy.
It's a whole process of things, it's the creative institutions that respond to people; it's rule of law, the thing we always neglect. It's thing after thing after thing. But this is an important moment, and if they get, you know, very low turnout, if there are thousands of people killed, then it will be a cataclysmic event. Then it really will be. In some sense the downside is much starker than the upside.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned the Arab world. What about the American world; what kind of impact is potentially out there for Americans on Sunday?
DAVID BROOKS: We will probably spend the next weeks or two debating what the message of the election is because hopefully it will be at least ambiguous. And I think if things go really badly, we will see a march to the exits, from Democrats certainly and even from a lot of Republicans, if it just seems hopeless.
If it seems that the insurgents are winning the war regardless of the elections because remember, there are two sides here. There is the election, the people voting, then there is the war. And the war can trump the election.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think on that?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think that the -- there is an emerging consensus on both sides of this debate. Don Rumsfeld --
JIM LEHRER: You mean on American public opinion --
MARK SHIELDS: First of all, what the president is talking to is he is trying to hold - there's a concern about Republicans on Capitol Hill -- support for this policy has dropped and it's dropped dramatically to the point where a solid majority of the country does not believe it was worth it in blood and treasure to have done what we have done.
The president is trying to buck it up and say this is important; we're making great progress and this is for Republicans on Capitol Hill who are quite frankly nervous. But I think what David's second point is that Ted Kennedy made a speech; he was excoriated for it by Republicans -- he had 18 e-mails from Mr. Republicans -- what he was basically saying --
JIM LEHRER: This was yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: Yesterday, yeah. Urging a staged withdrawal and the underlying premise of the statement is something I think Don Rumsfeld would privately would agree to even though he would never publicly do so, and that is that the presence of the United States military in Iraq is increasingly seen not as preventing violence, but as provoking it.
And our own generals acknowledge that we are seen too often as occupiers rather than liberators. I think the die is cast for the United States departure. I think the president is trying to make the best case for it.
DAVID BROOKS: I guess, there are a few things about the Kennedy speech. First I thought it was for him moderately responsible. He doesn't want us to get out right away; he's talking about training and over a period of time; that's fine. Now let me talk about the part where I think he is flipping out.
First, three days before millions of people are going to risk their lives and go to the polls; he decides three days before the election, he is going to give a speech that this is the new Vietnam. Well, that's just wrong. This is not a new Vietnam. The insurgents are not popular. There are so many wrong parallels.
To give the speech before the elections struck me as demagogic and ridiculous. As to a couple of the other things he got wrong; well, first of all, he said the insurgency was popular, which is just not true.
The second, the idea that we provoke the violence, well Zarqawi doesn't say we provoke the violence he says democracy provokes the violence. The Sunnis are fighting in part to get us out but in part because they want their old share of the power back. And that's not about us. That's about them versus the Shia. So I thought he was wrong on that and wrong to give the speech at the time he did.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the timing, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: The timing, I think, it wasn't a new speech for Ted Kennedy. I mean what Ted Kennedy has said he has said.
JIM LEHRER: Pretty much the same thing.
MARK SHIELDS: Quagmire, Vietnam; the staged withdrawal. But this is increasingly becoming a position, a staged withdrawal. He did say by the end of 2006. Jim, I don't think there is any argument among the leading military people who have been there that the United States military presence there does unite the disparate groups and the resistance, the groups they have vast differences among themselves, but what unites them is the fact that we are there.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
DAVID BROOKS: Let me say one quick thing about the people who are there because there was a military Times poll of our soldiers fighting there they have their own readers. 66 percent support what we are doing there. The longer you have been in Iraq the more you think it's worth it. I just think as we talk about political opinion, it's worth that we have got finally a measure of military opinion. And those are the guys doing the fighting and risking their lives.
JIM LEHRER: New subject almost: Condoleezza Rice, new secretary of state this week, what are her prospects?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's just a stark and dramatic difference to the man she left, the man she succeeds, Colin Powell; I mean, Colin Powell is a rare cabinet officer, independent constituency, presidential possibility, international reputation, served under four presidents; just a remarkable figure, someone who could have run for president.
This is Condoleezza Rice, but always questions about his access and the confidence the president had in him, the trust he had in him. No questions with Condoleezza Rice about the confidence and trust and access that she has with the president. But her whole identity publicly has been with George W. Bush and essentially as a staff person and adviser. And I think, you know, her task is already laid out.
Her first task is she is going to repair, in the second term, the relations with European allies that were ruptured in the first Bush administration by our policy; I mean, to try to redeem the United States position there. I mean she has a full plate, don't get me wrong, but I think it's a question of will she bring that same sense of independence?
Colin Powell, ironically, leaves office as somebody who probably saved the Republican Congress in 2002 by insisting they go to the U.N. over the objections and opposition of many in the administration and many on Capitol Hill.
JIM LEHRER: Before going to Iraq.
MARK SHIELDS: Before going to Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: First of all, first question on Condoleezza Rice. When you see her as secretary of state and you look ahead, do you have a vision?
DAVID BROOKS: She is going to have the term Colin Powell wished he had. When you talk to people in the administration and you talk about the first term, they see that was a war term, we were attacked 9/11, Afghanistan Iraq. It was a time when pieces were broken apart. And they really have a different mentality it is striking how differently they talk about this next four years from the last four.
This is the time they say we have got to start putting some pieces back together, and so when you talk to them about the administration or about the next four years, they are much less likely to talk about the Middle East, much more likely to talk globally about Brazil, about strain in China, which is trying to kick us out of the Pacific; much more likely to talk about India.
And you notice that change immediately. The second thing they talk about is building institutions to help spread democracy and freedom, which is the stuff Colin Powell was really into. They talk about education; they talk about these millennium challenge accounts to create new institutions, foreign aid, transforming foreign diplomacy; it's a much softer administration.
This is the one Colin Powell would have liked to have had and I think Condoleezza Rice is looking forward to having a much calmer administration. Whether she gets her wish -- Iran may have something to do with that -- is another matter.
JIM LEHRER: Did, from your perspective David, did Colin Powell deserve the label "dissident" that he had within the Bush cabinet on national security affairs, particularly in relationship to Rumsfeld and his crowd?
DAVID BROOKS: I still think a lot of people who disliked Bush and liked Powell somehow to reconcile that. They said Powell must be getting beaten in every policy debate. There were differences between the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House, but he was behind the war and he was behind a lot of the policies.
MARK SHIELDS: He was behind the war, what bothers Colin Powell and those who admire him and are closest to him is the fact that he made the case for the war on totally faulty intelligence.
Colin Powell gave a marvelously wistful interview with Juan Williams of NPR just on his way out and he said a president is well served when he has cabinet officers who are secure enough in themselves and secure enough in their relationship with the president that they can speak dissent.
The president is ill-served when he has cabinet officers who don't have that kind of confidence in themselves or the confidence in their relationship with the president or afraid that they will be seen as squabbling or a leak will be that they dissented. I think that's a marvelously important message for anybody to deliver to any president, especially in this administration.
JIM LEHRER: Does Colin Powell go out of office weaker than he did going in?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: I guess I do agree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.