JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Safire. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist William Safire.
Mark, the Rumsfeld memo in which he said when in war against terrorism in Afghanistan, and Iraq is going to be a long, hard slog. How did you interpret what he is saying and why he said it?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the first thing is you don't put anything on paper in Washington unless you do expect it to be leaked or you have to consider that. It's a Xerox principle. Once the Xerox is created, everything became ultimately unlimited in its redistribution. So if he did do it with that in mind....
JIM LEHRER: In other words, you're suggesting that he expected us to read about it in somebody's newspaper?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he at least had that in mind. If that were the case, he certainly didn't rule it out as a possibility.
JIM LEHRER: It was addressed to four or five of his main closest at the Pentagon.
MARK SHIELDS: There is an upside to it if you take from it Rumsfeld's side. He reclaims the leadership of the discussion of the battle on terrorism; that he is the hard headed realist, you know, no sort of fuzzy thinking on his part -- a little bit of getting even with the Condoleezza Rice story that she ... with the reorganization, that she was in fact in charge now, and that he had been put aside -- was a way of saying, Jim, that the administration, the downside that the administration had been just selling good new, Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking." He confirmed what the public's worst suspicions were -- namely, that things weren't going well there. He admitted ... there this was a different Donald Rumsfeld from what we've seen. This was not the self-confident assertive guy. This was a guy who was candid with self-doubts.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people put on the rap on Rumsfeld and says it proves that the administration is talking publicly one way and privately another. How do you see it?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Not at a bit. First of all, it is a wonderful memo. It is a great example of a great secretary of defense, I think probably the best one since Robert Lovett, who's willing to come to grips --
JIM LEHRER: I'm not going to ask you about Robert Lovett because we don't have time to go into it.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Right. But he comes to grips with the whole bureaucracy of the Pentagon, then says, look, in this war on terror, we have got to shake things up. We have to come at things differently. We can't have this long, hard slog. Now, as Mark as shown us so eloquently, Democrats jump on that and reporters jump on that as saying, aha, you see, you're afflicted with despair, because you called the global war a long hard slog.
Then he comes into a press conference, and said now let's talk about that slog. And they asked him about the meaning of slog. And he comes equipped with the Oxford English Dictionary, and says that slog means a firm attack on it. And some of the reporters said wait a minute, that's not what slog means. It had another meaning of wading through the marshes, and naturally, my shtick is ...
JIM LEHRER: Looking at dictionaries.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Right. So both the reporters and Rumsfeld, in his defense, were using the meaning of slog as a verb, the slog, to slog. But the way he used it in his memo, great memo, was a long, hard, slog, a noun. And what that means is an arduous journey. Well, that's what we're in. We're in a long-term arduous journey.
JIM LEHRER: What about the point the critics have made is that that is not the way he has been talking. Mark just said that's not the way he has been talking up to now.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: That's the way it has been played up until now. If you look at all of his statements and the president's statements, they always very carefully lard in, you know, this is going to be a long, difficult war and it's not going to be over tomorrow.
MARK SHIELDS: I thought just the opposite. On the subject of words, would you give me a synonym for Thesaurus before the show is over?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: A synonym for Thesaurus?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the reality is we've had a counter offensive press offensive from the White House reminiscent of earlier eras that went over the heads of the press to tell them nothing but good news coming out of Iraq, that the press wasn't reporting the good news. We just had the secretary of defense say that there isn't good news. This is really tough. We even don't know whether -- how to measure our progress. The other thing that he did, and he took a shot at George Tenet and the CIA, said maybe terrorism is too big to give to the existing ...
JIM LEHRER: He said maybe create a new agency.
MARK SHIELDS: For dealing with that, which would suggest the current structure was not adequate. But then he blamed the religious clerics and religious schools for the recruitment of terrorists, and, you know, I guess we are going to probably talk about General Boykin at some point. You don't have to go very far. If you are trying to recruit terrorists or anti-American feeling; you just go to the words of Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and General Boykin and you have yourself several sermons and maybe even a reading list for your course.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: It is a good idea for the secretary of defense to take a look at his huge operation and say we can do this better. I can't allow a bureaucracy to keep going on the way it is going on. Frankly, that's what makes a lot of the people in the military upset with Rumsfeld because he shakes them up. He doesn't just go along with the regular routine.
JIM LEHRER: Let's pick up on the General Boykin thing. Refresh people's memories. He is a three-star general but he's also an intelligence official in the Pentagon. He holds a position normally given to a civilian. He made a speech in which he said, now make sure I say this correctly now ... in which he said the Muslims are fighting the United States because we're a Christian nation. He said some other things, too, but that's basically the thing that brought the fire down on him. Did he deserve to be criticized? Did he deserve what people said that he should be moved aside and he shouldn't be in that job? What do you think Bill?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: First, we have to remember this is a brave, heroic general who has served his country well. He was recorded speaking within a church.
JIM LEHRER: In uniform.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: In uniform, as he has every right to be.
JIM LEHRER: Sure, sure.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: If you just take the snippets that have been released, they're unfortunate. They certainly do, as the president said, that's not U.S. policy about Muslims. But I'm a believer in due process. Rumsfeld took a hit for not immediately jumping on him and saying, "I'm going to fire him." I think, quite frankly, when someone asks for an inspector general's report, which the general did, and the Senate is also, it's the job of the secretary of defense to shut up and let the inspector general do his job, and not prejudge the case before you have all the facts.
We don't have all the facts. We don't know the context of what he said. It may be that he made a stupid blunder, in which case, it will be taken care of. He will be moved aside to some other job.
JIM LEHRER: It's too early to do it, though, in your opinion?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: If you're secretary of defense, would you fire him?
MARK SHIELDS: I would. I agree with Bill this is a man much decorated and wounded in combat, with a distinguished record. He is now the deputy undersecretary of intelligence at the Defense Department. That's an oxymoron. I mean this is a man, Jim, who, first of all, you stipulate that everything that we say here is heard over there. That's the first rule.
And if you're looking to recruit people to prove that the United States is full of people who hate Islam, despite of the president's strongest statements, the president, you will recall misspoke shortly after Sept. 11, wanted to lead a crusade, corrected himself and said that Muslims and Islam is a great religion of peace. To use this kind of language and to make that kind of character and say my God is bigger than his God ...
JIM LEHRER: That's another thing he said.
MARK SHIELDS: We're running against Satan, the whole thing. The only reason George Bush is in the White House is because God put him there. Now I always thought, you know, Antonin Scalia was the almighty in this particular decision.
JIM LEHRER: Couldn't resist.
MARK SHIELDS: Seriously, Jim, this is what you don't need when you are trying to reach out across the ocean.
JIM LEHRER: What about Bill's due process point?
MARK SHIELDS: Bill's due process -- I'm not trying to fire the guy --I'm getting him out of this job. He should not be in this job right now making those statements.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: Before you disgrace somebody, before you really dress them down and essentially fire him from what he has been trained to do, you listen to him, you listen to his defense. And you also listen to the inspector general's investigation. And we don't know in context exactly what he said.
MARK SHIELDS: We do know that in uniform he has been consistently making these statements over two years. This wasn't a one-time off-of-the-cuff observation.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: It may be that he'll have to pay for that.
MARK SHIELDS: He is free to believe it, he is just not free to believe it as the deputy undersecretary of intelligence speaking for this administration in a very public role.
JIM LEHRER: New subject. Medicare reform. Prescription drugs, a thing that seems to have had another problem. How do you read it now, Bill? Are we ever going to have prescription drugs under Medicare? We said on this program many times that it's just around the corner -- it hasn't happened yet.
WILLIAM SAFIRE: They're relatively close. I think the Democrats came to the conclusion that they don't want George Bush to be able to claim a prescription drug benefit and go into the next election saying to seniors across America, I got you that big benefit.
JIM LEHRER: So you think it's just politics?
WILLIAM SAFIRE: I think it's primarily politics, and also some principle involved. Here you have an anomaly, where the Republicans are saying why shouldn't the wealthy people pay a little more on premiums? On premiums for Medicare and this reform? And the Democrats are saying no means testing, don't go into this at all. Don't touch this. That's a kind of a flip-flop of philosophy.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, three....
JIM LEHRER: You have exactly 12 seconds.
MARK SHIELDS: I do, okay. This is a test of the Republicans. Republicans have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House. The president understands that -- the president running for reelection. It passed the House by one vote, very conservative version. It passed the Senate by 70 votes, a super majority.
Instead of going and taking the Senate model to build a consensus around and conference, they've instead chosen to go with this cutback, reducing privatization, greater role for private insurance. And I think making the decision they want to try to pass it by one vote in either the House and the Senate. And I think that's a risk because I think George W. Bush needs it the same way that Bill Clinton in 1996 needed welfare reform.
JIM LEHRER: We have to go. It's nice to see how each of you read this very, very differently. Thank you both very much.