JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Brooks and Oliphant: David Brooks of the Weekly Standard and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Mark Shields is off tonight.
David, do you see today's U.N. Security Council vote as a first unified step toward war, or toward no war?
DAVID BROOKS: It could be either. If Saddam complies with the resolutions, if he cooperates with the inspectors, then Colin Powell's emphasis on demilitarizing Saddam rather than regime change will have proved successful. President Bush will have de-armed Saddam, something Bill Clinton and the international community has never done. And it will be a great triumph. I think it's unlikely though.
And I think what we're left with is a political solution, that there will be no trigger. Hans Blix will not issue a report that commands us to go to war. The U.N. and the Security Council will never do that. We will be left where we are now, which is with this political situation. There will be some provocation. And the question will be, is that threshold enough to go to war? And George Bush may say yes, it's threshold enough. They wouldn't let us inspect this site. They delayed us out of this site. They didn't report the anthrax. The French will say no. So we'll be back in a political war.
And I do think in this legal document, it is important to emphasize this is not going to be a legal decision; it's going to be a political decision that George Bush is going to have to take against probably the wishes of some of the people in the Security Council we have been negotiating with today.
JIM LEHRER: So good-bye to unity after today?
DAVID BROOKS: No, I think there will be greater unity but there will still come a crunch moment.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I certainly think we've seen the value of unity. Many of us to the left of center who supported the president's agreement with the congressional leadership a month ago did so in the belief that it would help the United States make its case at the United Nations. I didn't know whether we were right or wrong when we did it, but I think it turns out we were probably right. I think therefore you see this unity as an affirmative benefit and not as a hindrance. And you probably work to sustain it.
And I think President Bush, even on the campaign trail in the last few weeks I noticed, was using quite different language than he was a month ago or two months ago -- not some peacenik, but you hear disarmament more than you hear regime change. So 15-0 is pretty good, just like the Senate vote and the House vote was. And I think it will be of value that the administration will want to sustain in the weeks ahead.
JIM LEHRER: It wasn't that long ago that Vice President Cheney, for instance, was saying that inspections are lousy and don't mean anything. Today they got codified by a 15-0 vote. Something dramatic has happened.
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely. The other picture that has yet to impact politically on all of us is the arrival of the international community in Iraq. I mean, we don't know what will happen or how it will unfold, but that will be a pretty dramatic event. And I think, again, the president will want to, I think, maintain as long as possible, the world's unity behind those people who were going in there.
DAVID BROOKS: The president has skillfully add negotiated the shoals of his own administration which is really Hatfield and McCoy territory with Colin Powell on one side emphasizing disarmament, Donald Rumsfeld standing -- or Dick Cheney standing in for those who emphasize regime change. The way it's structured now, we have Cheney to Rumsfeld. We try disarmament and if that doesn't work, then we go over to Rumsfeld and then we get back to regime change.
JIM LEHRER: Is this the Powell scenario we are following now? Did he win? Should it be put in that terms or is that silly?
DAVID BROOKS: I don't think it should be put in those terms. Powell's approach gets a chance. I think if you ask Donald Rumsfeld, is this going to work, is Saddam going to disarm, he'll say look at Saddam; he's not going to do it. Ultimately we will be back to me. I don't think he sees this or they resisted it fiercely.
TOM OLIPHANT: The only addition I'd make because I think in addition to Secretary Powell, I think it is the plan favored by Dick Lugar who is going to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
JIM LEHRER: He made it clear he wanted this…
TOM OLIPHANT: Right, again, in the president's interests, I think he will see as he goes forward, that it will be worth keeping that support.
DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that, that if we get to Rumsfeld regime change, it will have much broader support because the president took this route than otherwise.
JIM LEHRER: Went this route. Now, of course, this today, no matter how he got there, would you not agree, David, it has to be considered a victory for President Bush?
DAVID BROOKS: He has had his best week in two years.
JIM LEHRER: Something interesting also happened for him on the domestic front on Tuesday, obviously, the mid-term elections… What's happened? What's happened to President George W. Bush?
DAVID BROOKS: He's -- actually, he has become an intimidating figure. I remember when Republicans were intimidated by Bill Clinton; that this guy has some touch with the American people. We don't know what, we can't touch it.
Now George W. Bush has some of that same intimidating figure. He seems more confident. He has always been confident in meetings but he has grown and become a more confident person in public and a more confident person on the stumps. I think if you look at the stump speeches he gave in the past couple of weeks during the election, the striking thing to me, it was so him. There were on average seven paragraphs on tax cuts, and things like that; then there were 20 paragraphs on the war on terrorism. And that's what he is obsessed with. And I'm not sure what the pollsters told him to say but that's what he is obsessed with. And that's what he expressed.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it?
TOM OLIPHANT: Could be a risk. The funny -- the thing I was most struck with yesterday, Jim--.
JIM LEHRER: The news conference.
TOM OLIPHANT: His demeanor afterwards, was not the business about not gloating but rather, he sounded like --
JIM LEHRER: He didn't gloat over the victory of the mid-term election. In fact, he made a point of saying the candidates are the ones who went out there and did this.
TOM OLIPHANT: Not only that, but they made an interesting decision to have him not appear in public at all the day after the election. And when he did, he was magnanimous and relaxed.
However, what struck my ear, because it was different, it was really new, was, I started seeing these sentences in the news conference where he says, the DEA is going to report to the CLO and the authorization bill would come up -- he is sounding like the head of the American government now. I don't know that he's gone native, but it was a rather -- and I thought behind it conceptually I saw a president still not sure what to do with this. When you're talking about homeland security department and terrorism insurance, you're using holding positions for what's really important to you. And he really didn't say what's really important to him and how he wants to use this.
DAVID BROOKS: I recall interviewing him during the presidential campaign. I once interviewed him on how to build a baseball stadium. He did that with the Texas Rangers. He gave me a long description of how you structure a baseball field to create triples.
It was incredibly intelligent and it was more self-confident than on most issues. If you talked to him about education, that was something he knew about that and spoke self-confidently but there was lack of confidence on other issues. He is now self-confident about this foreign affairs -- these issues and he speaks self-confidently in the way he spoke about baseball three years ago. That's his learning curve.
JIM LEHRER: How did you feel about his performance yesterday specifically at the news conference?
DAVID BROOKS: I thought the decision to be humble and not to gloat was a serious and, I must say anti-Clinton, and a sign of good judgment but also good character.
JIM LEHRER: Now speaking of gloating, the ones who are not gloating, of course, are the Democrats. They've got a problem here for -- not a problem -- but they've got a situation in replacing Dick Gephardt stepping aside as leader - their leader in the House. What is going on here? Martin Frost dropped out today, Nancy Pelosi is definitely in, of course. She is the minority whip, so it would have been -- she is in succession but now Harold Ford is going to run. What's going to happen here? What is going on?
TOM OLIPHANT: I must tell you, in the last few days, I haven't met a single person in the United States who cares at all about who wins this fight.
JIM LEHRER: I'm the only one?
TOM OLIPHANT: No, we all are because we have to post-election. And I'm not aware of anybody outside Washington who sees any stake for them in this. It is symbolic only. However, a couple of interesting things: Martin Frost, he counted and decided it wasn't there. But the mistake he made while he was a candidate was he talked about center versus left. Nancy Pelosi has talked more about representing partisan Democrats. She says she has the votes, 105. I'm always suspicious of those claims, but she says it.
The guy who interests me is Harold Ford because I think he, at 32, shows that the face and the intellect of the Democratic Party in the future, which still exists, near parity in Congress, is about change and new ideas, and not about attacking President Bush or voting no on proposals in Congress. When you're an opposition party, the obligation is to offer alternatives.
And Ford represents the kind of thinking among Democrats that gets to you start talking about the total tax burden on working families instead of just the income tax burden. It brings back health insurance. It changes the topics. It gets out of Washington. I think the odds against his success are very huge. But he has intrigued a lot of Democrats in the last 24 hours.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?
DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that. He is sort of burdened with the thought that he is a future rising star and in a group of politicians that's sort of…
JIM LEHRER: We know about that.
DAVID BROOKS: There is a little bitterness that goes along with that. He staked out a marker and he's said there has to be a change. Nancy Pelosi is a very effective advocate for her point of view. Anybody who's with her says she is very effective; she is not exactly a fresh face. Her father was an institution in Maryland politics, her brother was mayor of Baltimore. She has been a Democratic operative all her life, she's a San Francisco Democrat, not exactly the sort of person you want to put forward if you are trying to win votes in Arapahoe, California, Arapahoe County, California, one of the swings suburban counties. So she is very effective -- whether she is widening the base of the party, probably not.
TOM OLIPHANT: That's why I think the most important development of the week was Gephardt's, Dick Gephardt's announcement not just that he was leaving his position, but he is going to think for a while about ideas, as we were just talking about -- 20 years ago at this very moment he came up with Bill Bradley, with the biggest tax reform idea of the last 40 years, by doing this.
One of the things you discover after you've had a shock like this is there's still a country, it has problems. Maybe there are some new ideas that are needed to get into the area. I think total tax burden is the best one that I've heard of in the last six months, where you think about the payroll tax as much as you think about the income tax burden on working families. And suddenly you're communicating to people.
DAVID BROOKS: When you talk to Republicans, as they watch what is happening in the Democratic Party, there's sort of glee. There's a feeling are these people going left, are they going to trying to roll back the Bush tax cut, are they going to oppose Bush on Iraq or are they going to pull out Michael Dukakis and put him on a tank again?
There is some feeling that the Democratic Party is about to go so far left they'll become a minority party. But then when you talk to sophisticated Democrats, they're not that stupid. They may oppose the Bush tax cut but they're going to trade it for another tax cut. They're not going to wage some sort of left-right fight at this point.
JIM LEHRER: I had about seven other things I wanted to talk to the two of you about, but we're not going to have time to do it -- some other time. Thank you both very much.