TERENCE SMITH: With me are Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin. Mark Shields and David Brooks are on vacation. Welcome to you both. Tom, the debate over whether this country should intervene militarily in Iraq really heated up this week. Vice President Cheney made two speeches outlining the administration's case for it. Why Cheney and why now?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, Cheney's still the biggest gun, but I think the most important question is why now, since the end of August is not normally a time when an administration seeks to engage a vigorous national debate, and I think there are at least two things involved, Terry.
First of all, as the discussion continues in the country, I think it's fair to say that people outside the administration, Republican and Democrat, have had more of the field in the last few weeks than administration officials have. And to a certain extent, the discussion was becoming almost monopolized by people outside the administration, so (a) this is an attempt to get back in the game. But secondly, the White House began noticing about ten days ago, in its own polling, that public anxieties is on the increase--.
TERENCE SMITH: Over Iraq.
TOM OLIPHANT: And automatic public support for military action has receded significantly. There is a public poll out today CNN-Gallup…
TERENCE SMITH: CNN-Time.
TOM OLIPHANT: Time. Excuse me, indicating much the same thing. People in the White House argue, I think quite effectively, that a lot of this reflects a natural falloff in the post-9/11 honeymoon for President Bush, more partisan Democrats, Independents, reverting more to form. Still, anxiety was what the White House noticed, and it was at about that time that we began to hear that Cheney would be making a couple of speeches.
TERENCE SMITH: Michelle, what is your read on the administration's strategy here?
MICHELLE MALKIN: I don't think we should be scratching our heads over why we're hearing from Cheney and the big guns now. You know, it's the Democrats, and if I recall correctly, a month or two ago, Joe Biden was beating the drum practically on every channel except for Nickelodeon talking about the need for a debate. Well, we're having it. That's what we're doing now. And, you know, it may be inconvenient that it's the end of August that we're having it but it needs to be done. I think that they're definitely hammering away at the theme that we have no time to waste.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you see it as Tom does, in response to other voices being in the debate, a need to step up lest public support erode?
MICHELLE MALKIN: Well, it's true there is dissent among advisors over this issue, but it's mostly Bush's father's advisors versus this Bush administration. Clearly Cheney and Rumsfeld and the Perle wing, the hawk wing of this administration is all on the same page. There is no doubt about that.
TERENCE SMITH: What about that? Disagreement within?
TOM OLIPHANT: No question about it, and I think Michelle says it perfectly. However, I do believe that timing is very important because to a certain extent, I think the administration has been caught without a policy to argue for. There are many specifics in this process that are yet to be decided.
The case that has been made, being made right now is a rhetorical one, not a detailed evidentiary one. The president has a speech to make next month at the United Nations. That will be a detailed very serious speech. In addition, they're going to be further hearings on both sides of Capitol Hill and one of the things that Dick Cheney said is that the top echelon of the administration will be up there.
Now when that happens, people are going to ask some very specific things. You know, tell us in detail about Iraqis, the Iraqi program on weapons of mass destruction. Tell us in some detail about your own plans. And I think at that point the administration will find itself on much more comfortable grounds because it will be able to talk about this in more detail.
MICHELLE MALKIN: Well, I do agree with Tom that the speech, if it is going to happen, September 12, is a very important date and he will need to, I think just as a matter of political reality, have to come up with some kind of proof or some more details as you say. But I totally disagree with you that the Bush administration hasn't articulated a policy. Of course it is. It's preemption and the Democrats have had nothing in response to that.
TOM OLIPHANT: Except support. There is no organized opposition to the president's policies as they are dimly generally understood. There are concerns that I think cross party and ideological lines at this point, and that what is happening is more of a national discussion than a partisan debate. In about six weeks, we're going to notice the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile crisis. President Kennedy put all the evidence on the table, photographs, detail, the most serious moment after War World II. It is that level, that kind of standard that I think the Bush administration will be held to on Capitol Hill by members of both parties.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Now you know -- you mentioned the congressional hearings that are coming up. Is it politically necessary, in your opinion, for this administration to get the specific approval of Congress, or is it enough to "consult with Congress?"
MICHELLE MALKIN: I'm not really sure what form approval is going to take. Is it going to be a new resolution?
TERENCE SMITH: A resolution.
MICHELLE MALKIN: Yeah, I think even the Bush administration has recognized the need to do that. And conservatives have also, the "Wall Street Journal" weighed in with an editorial also recognizing that reality. Yes, we need a bipartisan Congress standing behind us and I think most people agree that when and if that request comes, it will be overwhelmingly approved.
TOM OLIPHANT: You know, it's interesting -- I agree with you completely. I think it's very interesting that even before the two Cheney speeches, there was a speech given by the House Majority Whip, Tom DeLay, that the administration also played a significant role in helping draft.
And one of the things that was hardly reported at all in that speech, Delay said flatly before the moment of, he called it liberation of Iraq comes, the president will go to Capitol Hill. Of course that's an assumption that there will be a request for a resolution. I think it's an almost universal assumption at this point. All that happened this week, I think, like any administration defending the office of the presidency that made the case about what they can do. This is more about what they should do.
TERENCE SMITH: Now the Europeans, the allies such as France, have been urging this administration to get a specific approval for the United Nations Security Council before there's any military intervention. Michelle, is that something that should be done, can be done?
MICHELLE MALKIN: You know, there are perils there. It could be argued that we possibly set a bad precedent by having to get that imprimatur before the '91 Gulf War. And in fact, there's-- it's kind of a paradox because probably the best way to persuade our European allies of the, you know credibility and, you know, the ultimate you know, need or merit to go ahead, would be to not seek their approval.
And in fact, you know, you look and you see there have been three roundtables Iraq and the United Nations over the past year and nothing has come of it. What good would one more chance do?
TOM OLIPHANT: It's interesting though that this is the point on which you begin to hear some of the dissent from inside the administration, and it's not just coming from outside; though I absolutely loved Secretary Armitage's reference to Margaret about former experts like Jim Baker. That was a little obvious -- too obvious for a diplomat, perhaps.
But Jim Baker was making somewhat the same point. And I just go back to the analogy with the Cuban Missile Crisis for a second. Our case was so strong and we made it in such a public way, President Kennedy thought that international support was essential and a tremendous help to what we were trying to do.
I think the point that's being argued now is not that it's some hoop that the administration should be forced to jump through but rather it's an exercise that will, in fact, broaden the base of support in the world.
MICHELLE MALKIN: Or is it just a charade that's going to buy Saddam Hussein even more time? I mean why bother?
TOM OLIPHANT: Perhaps, but if the case is strong and we make it publicly, the support will follow.
TERENCE SMITH: One other thing we ought to bring up just briefly at the end here, the Congressional Budget Office came out with a projection this week, three more years they say, minimum of deficit and deficit spending. How does this sit with Republicans, Michelle, who love reduced government spending and balanced budgets?
MICHELLE MALKIN: Well, that's not necessarily Republicans. It's limited government, conservatives and libertarians who have been distressed to see as high a level of domestic spending as we've had even before September 11 and, you know, President Bush--.
TERENCE SMITH: Higher now.
MICHELLE MALKIN: Yes, and even higher now and President Bush has been guilty a lot of the expansion that's led to, you know, the deficits that we will be seeing -- even outside and apart from the tax cut and, as I said military spending. I don't know how much resonance this is going to have for the November 2002 elections though. I think there's probably clearly a sentiment that this is wartime and we have-- we are going to have a higher tolerance.
TERENCE SMITH: Tom, final word, quickly?
TOM OLIPHANT: Very important point and I agree with her. It only has resonance when debt and deficit combine with a sluggish inadequate economy. That's when it gets troubling. Inside the beltway, the impact of the CBO's numbers is on the administration's credibility for the fights yet to come on Capitol Hill.
TERENCE SMITH: Thank you both very much.