RAY SUAREZ: Now, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. David joins us this week from Philadelphia.
Mark, the punch and counterpunch over the Iraq war continued this week. Does the vice president's speech of earlier this week tell you that nothing's changed as far as the administration's concern, or that the ground is shifting on the Iraq war debate?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there is no question that the vice president was the most forceful advocate, probably the most important advocate for going to war. And he remains the stoutest defender of that, of the policy. And you can see that to some degree he is playing the role that Spiro Agnew played for Richard Nixon in attacking the critics of the policy.
But I don't think there is any question, Ray, that the debate -- that the terms it of the debate have changed. I think, what most fascinated me is Jack Murtha's statement in the House of Representatives, was the first instinct of this administration when they are faced with dissent or criticism or disagreement, is to attack the critic, whether it's Paul O'Neill, the former secretary of the Treasury, or Richard Clark, the terror expert or Jack Murtha.
And they did it in such a way that I mean -- taking probably one of the most respected, influential members of the House, on both sides of the aisle, I mean, Scott McCullough compared to Michael Moore and then this woman, who is obviously not playing with a full deck from Cincinnati, Jean Schmidt to accuse him of being a coward -- actually made Murtha the face of the Democratic Party.
And this is a party without a spine, without a face, without mighty ideas. And they did such an enormous service by taking the face of Jack Murtha, an American hero, and enormously respected guy and doing that. And I don't think the question now is not whether we are going to leave; it's how soon and under what conditions, and not if, but when.
RAY SUAREZ: Is that right, David? Have the terms of discussion changed with the Condoleezza Rice interview, with the vice president's speech, to not if, but when, as Mark suggests?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, that has always been the issue. I mean, we've never wanted to stay there forever. I actually think the Murtha thing was a bit misleading, not because Murtha that is not a fine man but because there are only two fellow Democrats who agree with his position.
To me the most important thing that happened this week on the Democratic side were speeches by Joe Biden, who is really one of the most senior and thoughtful Democrats on foreign policy, and Barack Obama, the most promising young politician in America, and both of them distanced themselves from Murtha; both of them basically took the Bush doctrine, which was to train the troops, try to build national political institutions, and they had a few different suggestions. Biden wanted a contact group of international groups to help coordinate Iraq's future.
But basically it was within the parameters that I think are the bipartisan consensus parameters. I think as you think about where we are going forward, as the Barack speech, as the Biden speech, as Hillary Clinton's comments indicated, there is a basic broad agreement on what to do how to train the forces, how to unify the Iraqi political class, how to try to heal the civil war. And so we've got a consensus going forward. We've got bitter debate about the past.
And the White House had to make an argument are we going to talk about the past. Or are we going to ignore all that stuff about prewar intelligence and just talk about the future? I think their first instinct was to talk about the future. But the president's poll numbers and especially when it came to honesty, were slipping so badly, they felt they had to go on the offensive and Dick Cheney's speech was the most forceful evidence of that.
RAY SUAREZ: So out of 435 household members, David, you are suggesting only two agree with Jack Murtha based on what, on their resolution in the house?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don't want to get that specific but I think it is certainly not the core Democratic position, if you talk to most Democrats I think most Democrats will say, no, we can't leave now, we can't leave within six months, we have to leave based on facts on the ground. And that's basically what Biden said, what Barack Obama said.
Now they had different suggestions, things they think the administration is not doing which they should be doing. But I think very few, especially leading Democrats think we should leave within six months.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with David. First of all, Jack Murtha said six months, as soon as practicable, probably six months, if you read his resolution that is exactly what it does say he's introduced. There's the phony resolution that the Republicans brought up, and then apologized, members of the Republican House apologized for bringing it up afterwards, that it was such a cheap political ploy.
David's right there were three votes cast for it on both sides. But, Ray, I mean, six months brings us to what, May of 2006. We have the Pentagon saying a third of the troops will be out in 2006. We have the secretary of defense saying 20,000 troops come out after the election.
You know, we have by a five to one vote in the Senate, we have the senators going on record saying we want -- Iraqi autonomy established in 2006 and a reporting on it.
And this week we had a bipartisan group, four House members, Tom Osborne, the former Nebraska football coach and member of the House, running for governor; Ellen Tauscher, Democrat of California; Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado and Joe Schwarz, who had been John McCain's chairman in Michigan, all coming out and saying, urging the House to adopt that same language in the Senate bill.
I mean, there's no question this debate has changed. I mean, I haven't heard anybody talk about the beacon of democracy affecting the entire Middle East. Now it's a question of can we get out of there and not leave chaos in our wake.
RAY SUAREZ: David, the next set of elections in Iraq are scheduled for Dec. 15. If those are carried off in a relatively peaceful manner might there be a rising Republican chorus to say look, we've done more or less what we said we went in there to do; maybe it's time to start looking for the exit door?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean there is already that because the war has become so unpopular. On that issue I don't disagree. But I think when it comes to the president and I think when it comes to leading Democrats, I think they are going to say we are not going to leave until the Iraqi security forces are basically ready.
And that is what George Bush has been saying for six months. He's been saying as they stand up, we'll stand down. That is the position I think most military brass have embraced for six months or maybe a year. So as the elections take place in December, you'll get another step forward. And by the way, we saw a joint Sunni-Shia declaration this week with another bit of good news, sign of unification over there.
So, you know, there will be a slow progress toward where we can start withdrawing troops, but I really don't think many Democrats or many Republicans are going to want to withdraw troops if it leads to the civil war. And that is the issue that we are faced with right now.
RAY SUAREZ: Just one point and that is that Jack Murtha made, and I talked to him before the speech and he's made it since, and that is that Iraqi ministry had its own poll, and 82 percent of Iraqis want us out of there. There is a move now to include that as part of the Dec. 15 referendum.
I mean, the reality is, Ray, that they don't want us there. There is a majority of Americans who don't want to be there. And the question is avoiding -- we had the Shia and Sunnis and Kurds in Cairo this week all saying they wanted the Americans out of there.
So if it comes down to Dick Cheney and George Bush wanting us to stay there, I don't think that's probably going to be enough.
DAVID BROOKS: But that is not the choice. This was the problem with the Murtha speech, frankly, and I have always had a great deal of respect, but if are you going to recommend a policy, you have to have at least a paragraph in your speech on the consequences of your policy and Murtha didn't have that paragraph in the speech.
And so when people are actually looking at the policy options, are they looking at what is going to happen if we withdraw prematurely? And I think most serious Democrats and most serious Republicans think it with be a mistake to base our withdrawal decisions based on polls here or even polls in Iraq.
No one wants to be there, but if the reality is going to be worse, I think most Democrats and most Republicans are going to say okay, we have got to stick it out.
I mean, the good news really is, though, and this is good news in obviously a terrible situation, the Iraqi troops have begun to be performing well. We have had this operation in western Iraq where the Iraqi troops have fought much better than they had before, where they are beginning to hold ground.
You know, as I said before it's still a 50/50 proposition, you can't get optimistic. But we are beginning to see some of the political and military gains from the training and from the political progress.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the president is now going to hit the road, Mark, after the Thanksgiving break to start talking about immigration in the border states. Is this something that could successfully regain the initiative for the administration, change the topic a little bit?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there is no question they want to change the topic. There is one point that David left in that last point, I just have to take it. Serious people on both sides, I mean, the people are serious on both sides of this question. It isn't a question of one side is serious and the other is light.
And Jack Murtha assumed the consequences of this policy, he goes unlike those who wear lapel pins of Old Glory and drive with "support our troops" decals; he goes every week to Walter Reed and to Bethesda to comfort and console and goes to funerals of those who have fallen and knows their families. So he knows the consequences of policy. He knows the consequences of the policy that we are following.
George Bush is trying to change the subject. He is addressing a very -- it is a very serious issue, it is no question. I think he may be on the right side of history. But I think he's on the wrong side politically. His own party is split very deeply on the immigration issue.
And there is no question about it. I mean there is a strong anti-immigrant tide running in the Republican Party, fueled in part, Ray, by the fact that there is minimal enforcement along the border, our southern border with Mexico, fueled in part by the delusion of the NAFTA treaty 12 years ago that this was going to create magically a middle class and prosperity in Mexico and stop the need for Mexicans to come north to work, to make money, to support their own families.
So I think it's a tough issue for them. I admire him for taking it on. But I think it a tough issue for him to take on; it is not an easy one politically.
RAY SUAREZ: David.
DAVID BROOKS: First I'm glad Mark corrected me on that serious people -- I shouldn't have said that - as I was saying it, a little voice in my head was going, you don't really believe that, so thank you, Mark, for correcting that. I didn't meant to say serious people were all on one side.
As for immigration, I think what the president is trying to do is first he's trying to rally the base, get the conservatives back on his side by addressing border security. But there is a political strategy here which is not a bad one. And the strategy is you take this issue which fiercely divides really both parties but mostly the Republicans.
You emphasize border security this year. You try to get a border security bill which just emphasizes building a fence on the southern border through the House, which is much more conservative. Then the next year you take it over to the Senate and there you can get something which John McCain has talked about and Ted Kennedy has talked about, getting something to regularize these illegal workers that are here. And then you pass that over to the Senate. And once you've got the balanced picture then you can get back to the House and maybe the conservatives in the House will vote for a more balanced amendment.
But I think politically you do have to start with border security before you get over to the other side of the issue which is regularizing the workers.
RAY SUAREZ: But very briefly, David --
DAVID BROOKS: It is not bad idea.
RAY SUAREZ: -- Mark suggests this may also open up a family fight in the Republican Party. Does it carry that risk?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, absolutely. There is the sort of the more free market side of people who think there should be freedom of movement, people who think we need the workers. There is the more, if you want to call it, socially conservative side who are just anti-immigrant.
But I do think it's possible to see, and some people say you are beginning to see some people on the socially conservative side recognizing the reality that we need these eleven or thirteen million illegal workers. These are the people who pick the vegetables you eat every day.
And on the other side there are some of the free market side are acknowledging that the out of control border, as Mark indicated, is just unacceptable. So you if take these two approaches you can see a marriage. It will be a very problematic marriage to pull off. And that's really the political trickiness of this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: David, Mark, good to talk to you both.