|Originally Aired: August 4, 2006
Political Analysts Discuss Mideast Conflict, an Iraqi Civil War, U.S. Senate
|Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, a possible civil war in Iraq, the Connecticut primary and the U.S. Senate.|
RAY SUAREZ: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks,
syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
And, gents, a big week that began with the return of
Condoleezza Rice from the Middle East. How's
the administration handling American interests in this very difficult conflict?
DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, they've
actually been working hand-in-hand with the French of all things, and there's
been a lot of cooperation with the French and better relations than we've had
for quite a while. And what they're describing is a process where, next Monday
or Tuesday, they'll achieve the first of the U.N. resolutions, which will be a
truce in place, meaning the Israelis will sit there in southern Lebanon.
And then, in two or three weeks, then they will get to the
stage of trying to insert the international force. And so the question becomes
-- the Israelis will sit there -- will Hezbollah take their gains, which they
really have gotten in the last couple weeks, and decide to become a big
political force in Lebanon,
in which case they'll calm things down in the south, and the international force
will go in?
Or will they take the gains and try to, you know, continue
the war against Israel?
In which case, the international force will never materialize, and Israel will
have some tough deciding to do, whether to stay there or the get out somehow.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think it's been
complicated by the fact that, under this administration, the United States has
lost its historic role as the honest broker. And there's no question that the
United States is seen as just an uncritical supporter of all Israeli
administrations and all Israeli activities. And for that reason, it has really
hampered what had been, I think, the very constructive role the United States
has played in the past.
I thought the previous discussion with Margaret was
fascinating, because this war is about perceptions to a great degree. And
there's no doubt, David's right, that Hezbollah has some real thinking and
reflecting to do, because this ragtag group of 15,000 has taken on the greatest
regional military power, the vaunted Israeli military machine, and, you know,
not defeated it, but is still on the playing field after three weeks, which has
not been the experience of other organized military forces in the area against
So I think Israel's decisions are not happy ones and their
alternatives are not particularly palatable at this point.
DAVID BROOKS: Let me just say, it's hard to be an honest
broker -- it's easy to be an honest broker against Jordan and the Palestinians,
because there's a negotiated bit of land that you can be a broker about, but
Hezbollah wants to destroy Israel. What are you going to broker? And so that's
made it hard to be in the middle.
But the second thing Mark said -- and I do agree with it --
if you read the Israeli press and talk to Israelis, they're not happy. The main
subject in the Israeli press is: How could this war have been fought better?
And so it's clear that they didn't achieve what they thought
they were going to achieve. And now the question is: Can they create a
narrative of victory which will give them a chance to get out?
MARK SHIELDS: An honest broker means being able to talk to
all parties. And any settlement of this, long-term settlement, is going to
involve a regional settlement. It has to, by definition, and that includes
giving Syria and Iran a seat at the table.
I mean, I'm sorry, that's the reality of it. I mean, this is
an administration that, for some reason, denies their existence. There is no
long-term solution without their involvement and their being on the line.
DAVID BROOKS: But there are channels open to Syria. There
are channels open the Iran. They're being fully utilized. The problem is the
So what the U.S. is trying to do, along with France and
Europe, is to strengthen the regimes that are moderate: the Lebanese
government, the Jordanian government, the Egyptian government, the Saudi
government. There's a long way from regime toppling, by the way, but they're
trying to strengthen those regimes.
Hamas, Hezbollah and also Syria
are trying to weaken those governments on behalf of the terrorist armies. And
so you've got a fundamental difference of interest here. And the problem is
that, in the past three weeks, the Iranian side has been winning. And that's
going to have long-term consequences for the world.
Setbacks in Iraq
RAY SUAREZ: Today on television screens around the world,
vast crowds, the yellow Hezbollah banner waving in street after street, in Baghdad.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, the Shias are on the march. And
not only the Shias, the Sunni radicals are on the march. You know, to me one of
the big things that's happened here is that we've had really an ascendant
Islamist force going on for decades.
We did nothing for a long time; they ascended. We've tried
to attack them, and we've suffered a setback in Iraq. Now we've basically suffered
a setback in Lebanon.
We've tried doing nothing. We've tried fighting them. What's
next? And that's just a long-term problem. So the news is bad because this
crescent of Shiaism, but not only Shiaism, but radicalism, they're on the
march, and they're still on the march.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier this week, when Condoleezza Rice came
back to the United States,
she said one thing that can't be tolerated is a political party with an army,
and referring to Hezbollah, but hasn't the United
States tolerated political parties with armies in Iraq since
the end of widespread combat operations?
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. There's no question. I mean,
you've got your militia, I've got mine, he's got his. And that's been an
acceptable status quo for the United States in Iraq. It's becoming less and
less acceptable with each passing day as the country plummets into civil war,
acknowledged, admitted civil war.
RAY SUAREZ: Before you say acknowledged and admitted,
General Abizaid did back up his comments by saying that he didn't think that
the rest of the slide was going to happen. He thought the Iraqi forces, as
constituted, would be able to stop that from happening. But did that admission
strike you as significant?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, Ray, this is the first time that
General Abizaid, to whom I have enormous respect and everybody I know does, as
well, has testified since March and since the capture of Zarqawi, and the tone
and the emphasis of pessimism in his remarks was so dramatic, so palpable.
I mean, that was a serious hearing yesterday. I mean, when
John McCain, and John Warner, and Hillary Clinton, I mean, you're really
confronted the reality. General Peter Pace, who's been criticized widely as
being too close to the civilian bosses at the Pentagon, was very blunt, as
well, using the term "civil war."
I mean, this is a long way away, Ray, from saying,
"Well, you're not emphasizing the good stories. You're not supporting the
troops, or it's political opposition at home." This is the reality. The
reality of Iraq is the reality of Iraq, what is happening there. There have
been 6,000 people killed in sectarian strife from May to July. I mean, if that
isn't a civil war, I don't know what it qualifies as.
RAY SUAREZ: Are we inching toward having some sort of idea
about time, about how to get out, that kind of thing?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think there's still the debate. I
think there's clearly -- as Mark suggested, there's clearly a diminishing
number of people who have any glimmer of optimism about Iraq. That number may
have diminished to zero or maybe five people in the country; there are very few
people who see any positive upside any time in the near future.
The question then becomes: Do we get out? And my colleague,
Tom Friedman, who's, as we know, a major foreign policy writer in this country,
wrote a column today saying maybe it's time to get out after one last stab of
I noticed many others and Tom Ricks, the Washington Post
writer who wrote this book, "Fiasco," describing a lot of what's
happened, says we should not get out. He says it would be shameful because we'd
be abandoning people. And that's also a serious point of view, and he says
we're going to have to be there in much diminished numbers to keep a lid on the
And so that's essentially the debate we're going to be
happening. On the one hand, why should more Americans die for what is -- why
should we baby-sit a civil war? On the other hand, if we get out, then it
becomes much worse, drags on the region, and the consequences will be
Winning back voters
RAY SUAREZ: It's a debate, Mark, that Connecticut Democrats
are certainly having this week.
MARK SHIELDS: It is, Ray. I think the debate is over in the
country. It's close to being over. And we saw for the first time this week the Gallup poll that said 55
percent of Americans want to get out in the next 12 months or sooner.
I mean, the people and the voters are ahead of the
politicians on this one. It's comparable to 1998, when the voters, when
Congress was busy impeaching Bill Clinton, and the voters said, "No,
you're not going to do that." The voters have decided this war is
basically over. It's unwinnable, but there are people still dying and it
Joe Lieberman, and none of us who covers politics is objective.
We try to be fair. I admit up forward I like Joe Lieberman. I admire him
enormously, with the civility he's brought to politics at a very uncivil time,
for his great personal warmth. He's going to lose, and he'll probably lose big
There are other reasons other than Iraq, but it will be interpreted as Iraq. It will
be interpreted as a vote against the president, for a vote against Joe
Lieberman's position on Iraq.
I don't think it's totally accurate.
I think it's no accident that the four principle candidates
for the Democratic nomination in 2004 all took the same position Joe Lieberman
did, as supporters of that war resolution, John Edwards, John Kerry, Dick
Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman himself. I just don't think that's the case. I
think it contributes to it.
I don't think that he understood. I think he had lost touch
with his -- out of touch with his voters, and I don't think he realized that
the voters, after three years of this war and six years of George Bush, were
RAY SUAREZ: Does that put Democrats who voted for the war,
David, on notice?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, a bit. First of all, I wouldn't say that
Democratic primary voters in Connecticut in August are representative of the
country. And it's clear Lieberman's going to lose, but I wouldn't read too much
Nonetheless, a lot of people will read a lot if he does lose
this primary, and especially if he loses it big. And the MoveOn crowd, the
people who have been behind Lamont will nationally -- I think they'll be much
more aggressive against Hillary Clinton. They'll be much more aggressive to get
an anti-war Democrat to run against her and to be a serious candidate.
So you will see a shift in that direction, there's no
question about it. And you may even begin to see a shift from some people who
like Lieberman away from the Democratic Party. It's happened before. It's
happened to me. And so I think what's happening here is the fervor on the
Democratic Party is driving it but also driving people away.
A failed scheme
RAY SUAREZ: Let's close with the Senate handling of the
package handed them by the House of Representatives, where they were able to
vote in an increase in the minimum wage and a big cut in the estate tax. It
DAVID BROOKS: Right, this was opportunism on stilts, taking
two issues which should have been independent and marrying them together. The
moderates wanted the minimum wage increase, which I have to say is a terrible
way to help the poor because most people who make the minimum wage are
middle-class teenagers. If you want to help the poor, raise the earned income
tax credit or something like that.
But essentially they tried to take something that was in
their hearts and take something the moderates wanted and marry them together,
thinking you could get a majority. And, fortunately, actually, it fell. It fell
RAY SUAREZ: I'll have to check you on whether it's a
majority of middle-class teenagers, but...
MARK SHIELDS: It isn't a majority of middle-class teenagers.
I'm sorry. It is not. In fact, we're talking about as close to 40 percent being
the principal earner in a household, the minimum wage.
That aside, Ray, the same Congress that somehow
ideologically for 10 years has opposed any increase in the minimum wage because
it would be harmful to them saw nothing wrong with taking nine raises
themselves that raise their own salaries by $36,000. They didn't see that
skewering the marketplace or fouling things up at all.
And tying a raise for the people making the least in this
country, working below the poverty level, tying it to a tax break, a tax
holiday in perpetuity for the 8,200 richest families in the country
inheritance, it's beyond shameful.
Voters will see through this. They know the reality here,
that Republicans don't believe in raising the minimum wage, don't care about
it, and that they were forced into it. And I look for a straight up-or-down
vote when it does come back, because I think Republican moderates who are
fighting for their lives in the Northeast, in particular in the Midwest, know
that they have to go back with something and they can't pretend on this any
RAY SUAREZ: So this issue isn't neutralized? Really briefly.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don't think it is. They want this
RAY SUAREZ: Fellows, have a good weekend.
DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.