April 2, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks, senior editor of The Weekly Standard, discuss the level of domestic support for NATO's strikes in Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: Moving on now to how general American editorial, public and political opinion is going on the Kosovo situation. Last night we heard from editorial writers on four newspapers. Media correspondent Terence Smith broadens that perspective.
|Editorials mostly support NATO bombing.|
TERENCE SMITH: Across the country today, editorial opinion in the nation's newspapers seems to be generally supportive of the president and his Balkan policy.
Papers backing the NATO campaign include the Miami Herald, which, like many others today, expressed concern over the fate of the three U.S. Soldiers captured by Serbian forces. "It can be hoped that this won't turn the tide of US public opinion against the war. Whatever else it does, the United States must not let that happen."
Another voice in support of the administration is that of the Wichita Eagle. It writes: "In a war, which is what the Kosovo conflict increasingly looks to be, there will be casualties. To pretend otherwise is to revert to the naïve and short-sighted notion that a situation like Kosovo can be solved simply and cleanly. It can't."
A smaller but significant number of newspapers are highly skeptical, even critical of the President and his policies. The Wall Street Journal writes: "It now seems clear that the President went into this military commitment without having thought it through and is getting himself, his troops, his nation, and the NATO alliance into a deeper and deeper mess."
In Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania the Express Times observes: "Clinton and Congress should have held no illusion that missiles alone could end the civil war based on centuries old hatreds. Committing ground troops is even less likely to change the resolve of the Serbs and would be infinitely more costly."
And the Spokane Spokesman Review has this to say: "Kosovo has no more strategic value to the US today than South Vietnam did then. Incredibly, Clinton has no strategy to make the Serbs behave themselves, other than to bomb them."
Many papers seem mixed in their attitude-- supportive of NATO's goals, but dissatisfied with the execution. The Indianapolis Star News is an example. "It is clear that the Clinton administration and NATO leaders have been fairly inept at pursuing the means of achieving those goals, or in dealing with Milosevic and his Serbian thugs. A failure to address Serbian atrocities now could lead to greater tragedies in the future."
At this point, 10 days into the air campaign, the nation's editorial columns seem to be supporting the administration by a factor of two, or even three, to one. The sentiment expressed today by the Baltimore Sun is typical. "NATO should stay the course and shows every determination to do so. The de-population of Kosovo must end and must be Mr. Milosevic's last atrocity."
|Reading The Editorials.|
JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner takes it from there.
MARGARET WARNER: For analysis of editorial and public opinion and other political dimensions to the Kosovo conflict, we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks, senior editor of the Weekly Standard. NewsHour regular Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal is away tonight.
So how do you read the editorial opinion out there, Mark? And how important do you think it is at this stage?
MARK SHIELDS: Editorials are important, Margaret, I mean the most dramatic example being 1960 presidential race when the New York Times unexpectedly surprised everybody by endorsing Jack Kennedy, which led to Kennedy's -- contributed to Kennedy's carrying New York. And when it comes from an unexpected source, when support of a position comes, they can make an argument and forge an argument that is seen outside of a political forum, without a partisan tint or tinge to it. And I think that they are reflecting right now what is essentially the establishment position in the country. I'm not sure it's the popular position. It's the public position, although we'll get to that later.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the editorials?
DAVID BROOKS: I'm not sure they are as important, as a former editorial reporter myself. But they do reflect things, and they reflect a mood I think now. You didn't see many arguments in the editorials today and yesterday and the last few days, but you did see a mood of bloody-mindedness. We set off on this hike. It's raining, our leader didn't prepare us with rain coats, didn't check the weather forecast but let's just hunker down and keep going. So there is this sense that we just have to trudge on, which is in a sense good news for the administration.
|A Slim Majority For Strikes.|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look also at public opinion and Jim and his panel talked about that quite a bit. But yesterday CBS News has a poll out conducted yesterday published today, which shows that on the use of air strikes currently going on right now, 51 in favor, 34 percent oppose. How do you read those?
MARK SHIELDS: You know, I think given the fact, Margaret that the case was not made for U.S. intervention, especially on this magnitude until just before, we didn't have a long sustained public debate. The Congress didn't insist on being partners. The president did not make the case to the country over a sustained period of time. I think, given the disappointing reaction in the country to what the bombing has been, I think majority support is probably better than they would have expected.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, and generally trending the right direction. We've had a week of adversity, a week where the Clinton administration doesn't seem to be in control, and yet, there is still wide and growing support for many things. It's a sign that America has always had sort of a moralistic bend. And it's not just the pictures on TV, the atrocities. But, you know, we are almost 100 years away from Teddy Roosevelt's famous strenuous life speech in which he said America is not just a country that's realpolitik, that is narrow minded. It's an idealistic foreign policy that's endemic to America, and it's reflected in the instinctive reaction in the American public, you know, over the last couple of days.
MARK SHIELDS: I just say one thing. I don't disagree with David. I would just point out that what Bill Clinton has going for him, the president has going for him, is not his effective advocacy nearly as much as the evil actions of Milosevic. The American people don't see this as an ideological struggle; they don't see it as domino theories. They see this as a holocaust; they see this as torture and the elimination of a people, civilian population that was ready to participate in a peace agreement the United States backed.
MARGARET WARNER: There are the refugee pictures that do drive it home.
MARK SHIELDS: The refugee pictures. I mean, you're talking about the editorials, as a former editorial writer myself, I will argue for their impact and influence. But I will say that the most profound impact I saw today was the Los Angeles Times front page picture. It was just -- it evoked all the unhappy and tragic echoes and memories of 1939.
DAVID BROOKS: But you refer to something which is another division here, potential division between the establishment and the mass. The mass of Americans do see these pictures but the establishment, the foreign policy establishment has spent the last 20 years sitting on these god awful boring wither NATO panel discussions and they have something heavily invested in NATO -- the idea of a multilateral force with American dominance. And that is a key to establishment viewpoint and support and increasing hawkishness on this issue.
|Political Support for Ground Troops?|
|MARGARET WARNER: And that's what we heard on the panel of the three former national security advisers. So the big question comes when and if it's necessary to use ground troops. And let's look at what the public is saying about that. In favor of sending in ground troops still loses 41 [percent] to 52 [percent]. Yet when you ask people do you think ultimately ground troops will be required, 65 percent say yes. |
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think they recognize there's a policy in process. Clinton started here but we're moving and we see it on Capitol Hill especially, where there's increasing support for ground troops, for arming the rebels in Kosovo. This is a policy that is shifting gradually whether we like it or not. And that's the power of the momentum of events and momentum of television.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the president has done a better job since it began. And he's helped to make the case. I think the case is also made -- I think NATO is crucial to the president's position. If Bill Clinton were -- or any President were advocating America's unilateral entry into any Balkan or European conflict, without the backing and support of the other European nations, he would be hooted out off of Capitol Hill. And that gives, I think, Milosevic and NATO are central to the support. I think also, Margaret, what you've seen -- that was taken, as I understand it, the day that we got the news of the three Americans being captured.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, from yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: I think that's a stiffening of American resolve as well. That's given a face to it. And I think -
MARGARET WARNER: And you mean rather than making people feel oh, my God, we'd better get out of there, it, in fact, makes them more determined?
MARK SHIELDS: I really do. I think that does contribute to the determination. And I also think that the president has been very, very much helped by the Republican voices that have spoken. There hasn't been a Trent Lott; there hasn't been a Dick Armey, but it has been John McCain, probably the uniquely qualified American figure, a former prisoner of war five and a half years, combat hero, who has been supportive and strongly so. John Warner, we heard as well on this program.
MARGARET WARNER: We had him on here.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And former combat veteran, both services, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Dick Lugar, former Naval officer. I mean, these are the people who can make the case rather than those whom Robert Timberg once described as those chicken hawks who at the age of 26 their testosterone gland kicked in because of their own exposure to military service.
MARGARET WARNER: Speaking about Bob Timberg, the journalist and author.
MARK SHIELDS: Journalist and author of Nightingale's Song.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Now, we've seen the Republican Party shift before the vote to a party that was split between Don Nickles, who was more isolationist against it, and John McCain. And the McCain side is clearly gaining momentum. That's the remnants of the Washington establishment. McCain himself has suspended his presidential campaign feeling this is an inappropriate time to campaign. Part of that suspension -- he is appearing on every television show in the program. But never mind -- but he has emerged as the de facto Secretary of State for the Republican Party. He spoke forcefully. He obviously has the credibility with his life story and it's a very hawkish message that's getting out.
|The President's Effectiveness.|
|MARGARET WARNER: Do you think -- Mark mentioned that the president has been out there almost every day in some form or another trying to make the case and also trying to repeat his determination and say we are going to stay the course -- do you think he has been effective? |
DAVID BROOKS: I'd say moderately effective. I don't think this plays to his strength. He gave a Dan Rather interview earlier in the week where he compared himself to Nelson Mandela and Franklin Roosevelt. I think in circumstances like this that level of narcissism really detracts. And there was a good "Washington Post" editorial on that subject. But the fact that he is out there and his administration is out there, I mean, he has gone ahead of public opinion polls for a rare time in his presidency; those were done to his credit. And, you know, compared to Desert Storm, there is more bipartisan support. The Democratic Party is going to be behind him and the Republicans are largely behind him.
MARGARET WARNER: Even only a third of them in the Senate voted for it last week.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. But it's changed.
MARK SHIELDS: I think -- I want to pick up what David talked about. Bill Clinton, we always -- often criticize him for running everything through focus groups and testing the temperature of the body politic to every possible opportunity. This is a case where he is not on the popular side; it's not an easy course, not a popular course. Having said that, this is not an issue on which he brings to it a great reservoir of credibility or legitimacy as a leader. He would far prefer to be leading on issues of education, health and HMO reform, and Social Security saving. And this not an issue where the Democrats want to go into the 2000 race. I mean, if John McCain is the nominee against any Democrat and foreign policy and national defense and America's role in the world are the issue, that doesn't - that doesn't argue well for the Democrats.
DAVID BROOKS: I don't know. The one horror moment in the past week was a series of stories on Thursday when the CIA leaks, Pentagon leaks saying we knew Milosevic would do this; it was the White House's fault. It was that level of finger pointing and recrimination within the foreign policy apparatus which really did give you a glimmer of lose it - of 1979 with the Iran hostages. And I think that moment of horror which struck, I think, many people in Washington particularly, caused people to pull back and say this really is serious, more serious than we thought a week ago.
MARGARET WARNER: And now you have Republicans saying this is not the time to criticize the president.
MARK SHIELDS: You do.
MARGARET WARNER: Many of them.
MARK SHIELDS: Many are. What is surprising is how few voices are heard. I mean I tried, I'm sure David did as well, trying to chase down people this week.
MARGARET WARNER: We should point out that Congress is out of town.
MARK SHIELDS: Congress is out of session and most of them are out of the country. I mean the leadership of both parties, and even those who are in the country, for the first time, are unwilling to appear before cameras, which is really an alien experience.
MARGARET WARNER: Really startling. Well thank you both very much. Have a good weekend.
DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.