JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Brooks and Oliphant, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and columnist Tom Oliphant. Mark Shields is off tonight.
David, what do you make of what Trainor and Gordon have just said?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, the book is gripping reading, infuriating reading. You want to throttle Donald Rumsfeld and -- and Tommy Franks in particular, but a lot of other people, including the president and the vice president.
What you see is, first of all, how much they stifled debate. There were a series of officers who knew better, knew what was going on. And, as -- as Gordon mentioned, one of them was -- they tried to fire. A lot now regret they didn't say something in meetings, because the atmosphere was so stifling of free debate.
And then the other thing you're -- you are furious about is that, as -- as the authors said, March 24 comes along. They are hitting resistance in Nasiriyah. They -- it's time to adjust. They never adjusted. It is not only people in the military who knew they had to adjust. I went back and looked at the punditry from columnists.
Everyone was saying: This is a guerrilla war. It's no longer against the Republican Guard. We need more troops. The colonels who sat at this table, sitting here, thousands of miles.
JIM LEHRER: I remember that. I remember that.
DAVID BROOKS: Colonel Lang, Colonel Gardiner. I think Anderson was here.
JIM LEHRER: That's right. That's right.
DAVID BROOKS: And they -- I went back and read those transcripts. They were saying it.
You didn't have to be some super-secret agent to know what was going on. It was in the papers. It was on TV. Everybody knew it, it seems, but Rumsfeld and Franks, because they had some preconception of the war they were going to fight, and they didn't adjust to reality.
JIM LEHRER: Tom.
TOM OLIPHANT: The -- in other words, this is confirming evidence, as opposed to new evidence.
JIM LEHRER: You mean the book--
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: What -- what Gordon and Trainor have said.
TOM OLIPHANT: And the reason it's so important, because there are going to be more books than this, as this -- these -- this and other -- these and other questions get examined more -- is that -- that the feelings that Andy Kohut was talking about, with regard to the war, people are going to be able to find morsels of information that are very likely to solidify these feelings, rather than to question them.
David is absolutely right. Before, during and after the invasion, you can find the dots, not connecting them. There is no question that David is right about the fault at the top levels of the administration, but, frankly, what I find most interesting is how you can apply this analysis to our own conduct in the press.
And there's no question in my mind that we got sucked along in this atmosphere and didn't really do the kind of questioning job we are supposed to do.
DAVID BROOKS: You see, I don't -- I don't think so. I -- you look at the columns that were being -- Michael Kelly was embedded with the 3rd I.D., David Ignatius of "The Washington Post." There were a whole bunch of columns in the U.S., in the British press, quite a lot, around the world in the Pakistani and Muslim press, all of them beginning to question.
It wasn't -- we remember it and I remember it as: Rah-rah. We are doing great. Aren't our boys great?
But there was a whole series of people who said, these resistance fighters are serious. And we got to take care of this. We are driving right by the enemy.
And one of the -- one of the scenes in the book which lingers is of people at CENTCOM, at Central Command, look -- following the war in real time on computer screens, and the U.S. troops were signified by blue icons. And, as long as those blue icons were moving, they thought, we're winning.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: But the blue icons were totally misleading.
TOM OLIPHANT: I think...
JIM LEHRER: But, Tom, what about the point -- sorry. Excuse me.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: About the point that General Trainor just made to Margaret, that the -- the military just saluted and did not -- Shinseki, for instance, General Shinseki, became a kind of a folk hero.
We pleaded with General -- everybody in the press pleaded with General Shinseki to come and do an interview. And neither none of -- neither he, nor any of the others in the military would ever speak out publicly.
TOM OLIPHANT: However...
JIM LEHRER: OK.
TOM OLIPHANT: And -- and there was a -- a tip-of-the-iceberg quality to some of this information, including the -- the punditry that David is citing.
The follow-up job that the press exists to do and that we did not do in this war involves -- you hear the number 400,000 troops, for example, which General Shinseki did not say in open session, by the way. It was in a closed session.
JIM LEHRER: He just said -- he just said several hundred -- several hundred thousand.
TOM OLIPHANT: Several hundred. But he actually used a number in closed session...
JIM LEHRER: In the closed--
TOM OLIPHANT: -- I'm told.
And it didn't come off the top of his head. It came as a result of almost formulas that are used in the military to calculate what you need after something like this.
JIM LEHRER: As they just went through--
TOM OLIPHANT: And there -- that is just one example of an opportunity that we in the press had to develop a story from a tidbit, which, after all, is what we -- what we do in this business.
JIM LEHRER: We are here to do. Good point.
TOM OLIPHANT: And didn't do.
JIM LEHRER: What about Andy's figures, the public opinion? Does that surprise you, what -- what the public thinks about this war right now, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Not particularly.
It's -- I mean, I -- I think the mosque bombing was a -- was a shock to everybody, because what it signified was that it's not an insurgency, but the civil war. And that's -- that's the horror scenario. So, it has -- it has been a gloomy period. I don't know anybody who doesn't feel that this has just been the -- the gloomiest period of the war, the first time I think a lot of people thought, hey, we could lose this thing.
We're still a majority, or plurality, think we are not going to lose it, but where you had to consider the possibility, no matter what you thought about the war going in.
JIM LEHRER: What about Andy's point, Tom, that this -- that Republicans feel one way and Democrats feel another? It's almost a partisan issue.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes. It's a very important point, because it is so different from Vietnam. JIM LEHRER: Vietnam.
TOM OLIPHANT: You know, you -- you had that sense, at least on the right during Vietnam, of win in four minutes or get out.
In -- in this case, you -- you don't. But one thing that I think is important to keep in mind is that the number, percentage of Americans who are partisan, self-described, is dropping. And to say...
JIM LEHRER: Just in a general way?
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: OK.
TOM OLIPHANT: And to say that--
JIM LEHRER: Not--
TOM OLIPHANT: --self-identified Republicans vs. self-identified Democrats, at most, that is only about two-thirds of the story. I think what is most significant in -- in Andy's work is showing this steady, consistent drift of independent and moderate thinking toward the opposing point of view.
DAVID BROOKS: I disagree a little. I think most people who call themselves independent are really partisan. They are just lying.
And -- and I think partisanship -- one of the things political science shows is that partisan shapes the reality you choose to see.
People choose the reality that -- that flatters their partisanship. For example, in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent. If you asked Democrats, at the end of that, did unemployment go up or down under Reagan, 60 percent said it went up. Republicans said down.
You choose the reality you want to see. And, then, the Clinton years, when you had the reverse, this time, it was the Republicans' turn to be more pessimistic and wrong. People choose the reality that flatters themselves.
JIM LEHRER: What is the reason for the defection of people like William F. Buckley and other prominent conservatives, who have said, hey, this war was a mistake; let's get out of there; words to that effect?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I -- I would say, philosophically -- and this something that is happening in the Republican Party -- there are conservatives, and then there are American conservatives, I would -- if -- if I could put it that way.
The conservatives, traditionally, have always believed, all conservatives, that you can't change countries dramatically. You don't want to try something dramatic, because there are so many things you don't know. There will be unintended consequences. There are very conservative reasons for not wanting to do this. And I think Bill Buckley had that in him.
And a lot of us who supported the -- had these conservative warnings in the back of our heads, and maybe didn't listen to them as much as -- as we should have.
TOM OLIPHANT: What is fascinating me, as I -- as I try to understand where I went wrong in supporting all of this before it happened, Buckley doesn't work for me, because I think he's an iconic figure, who is so obviously independent and his own person. He's not much of a harbinger now.
But some neoconservatives, for example, Francis Fukuyama, who more of us should have listened to in recent months, indicates that opinion is not monolithic within the neoconservative orbit.
But I'm also interested to see a backlash developing on the right among people who used to be called realists in foreign policy thinking, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, people like that, who are beginning to be somewhat appalled at what they see, in terms of the U.S. role in the world, our reach vastly exceeding our grasp, in terms of changing other societies and countries.
JIM LEHRER: Let me introduce another guy, who -- speaking of Brzezinski, who said yesterday -- he is going to be on this program Monday night, talking about this whole subject.
But he -- he -- he said that, well, whatever anybody thinks about the Bush administration, the real failure here, too, is among the Democrats, who have come up with no coherent alternative to Iraq -- to the Iraq policy of the Bush administration. Guilty as charged?
DAVID BROOKS: I think, for the liberals, it is guilty as charged.
I think, for a lot of the -- the centrists and -- who supported the war -- I feel like adding that I still support the war. I still think it is going to work out.
But I think they were furious at Rumsfeld and Bush. But, over the past two years, in particular, I think they've come to see that there has been -- in the last two years, there has been some adaptation, and that the counterinsurgency tactics we are now using, the Zalmay Khalilzad tactics we are using on the political sphere, that stuff is actually working.
Whether it is too late is an open question. But I think, over the past two years, there has been a consensus about what we should do. And, so, I don't blame the moderate Democrats for not coming out against the war right now, because, right now, what we are doing is working. The question is whether it is too late.
TOM OLIPHANT: There is something that has gone on. And I -- I wish Dr. Brzezinski would take a little more cognizance of it in his analysis.
There is a real set-a-date -- about a year from now -- movement. It started from different directions, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Jack Murtha in Pennsylvania.
JIM LEHRER: He was the first one who really came out.
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
TOM OLIPHANT: But it has picked up some speed. There is some evidence that the Bush administration is following a -- a version of this. And while no one can legislate a new policy--
JIM LEHRER: In other words -- excuse me -- what you -- you are saying that -- that set a date, meaning Iraq, get your act together within a year; we're getting out of here one way or another.
TOM OLIPHANT: Right. Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Something like that.
TOM OLIPHANT: And there is some indication that messages like that are being transmitted privately to the Iraqis by our government.
So, there -- there is an increasing coalescence around an idea. And I think it has power. And I think it is basically American policy.
JIM LEHRER: Before we go -- quickly -- what do you think of the Feingold -- speaking -- you mentioned Feingold -- what do you think of the Feingold resolution to censure President Bush on the NSA surveillance thing?
DAVID BROOKS: I think the conventional thing, that Republicans -- any time Democrats are in the news, Republicans feel good about it. When Republicans are in the news, they feel bad about it.
DAVID BROOKS: So, it was -- it was good for the Republicans. And I think most Democrats acknowledge that.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, but a little polling data to end.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, my goodness.
TOM OLIPHANT: For censure or against it, American Research Group last week: for, 48, against, 43 -- impeachment: against, 50, for, 43. There is...
JIM LEHRER: You mean this is a national poll?
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right, 1,100 cases last week.
JIM LEHRER: OK.
TOM OLIPHANT: This -- there are emotions out there in the country. Feingold did not make this up.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you both very much.