April 16, 1999
NewsHour analysts Paul Gigot and Mark Shields examine congressional views on the US-NATO military strategy in Yugoslavia.
MARGARET WARNER: Now for our end-of-the-week political analysis we turn to "NewsHour" regulars Shields and Gigot; that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. So, how good a case do you think Sandy Berger just made, Mark, for his argument that this has been a -- I think he said -- very effective campaign?
|Making the case before Congress.|
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: You know, don't know, Margaret. I thought there wasn't a lot of intensity or passion, it didn't strike me -- or Sandy Berger is more conversational than he is self-confident. But I think he is trying to -- this week was all about persuading Congress -- and trying to -- it isn't public opinion they have to deal with at this point -- the administration, nearly as much as it is the Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: How well do you think he dealt, Paul, with the various questions that have been raised? I mean, a lot of the questions Elizabeth raised are questions many members of the Congress have been raising.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal Columnist: I don't think he did a very good job at all, Margaret. I think he is still talking about a gradual escalation with no particular strategy to win the war. I don't think he refuted John McCain's points very well at all. I know that their briefings on the Hill this week, they are not having a great deal of success in persuading Congress that they have a strategy. And I think he put an optimistic gloss on what even the briefings describe as a much less satisfactory result of the bombing.
MARGARET WARNER: And as Elizabeth - go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing on the Congress. I mean, the Congress -- we're seeing now an institutional response. I don't care who the Congress is. It happens to be a Republican Congress.
PAUL GIGOT: I've got a lot to say on Congress.
MARK SHIELDS: Congress by its own inclination and great historical tradition qualify at times like this as Monday morning quarterbacks and backseat drivers. They really don't want it - they want it to be Johnson's war. They wanted it then. They wanted it to be Nixon's war. They didn't want to vote. They don't want to vote now. They want it to be Clinton's war. So I think that Congress, until it steps up, makes that debate. Paul's paper this week urged editorially a declaration of war. I mean, that's certainly a strong stand, but I mean the Congress has shown no inclination to become either a partner or co-captain. They like the sniping.
|The president's war.|
MARGARET WARNER: Some members of Congress, when they were returning this week said were going to come in here and try to shape policy. I mean, John McCain was talking about a resolution essentially authorizing ground troops. What happened to all of that?
PAUL GIGOT: He ran into a stone wall basically. He ran into the leadership of the House and the leadership of the Senate that is -- doesn't want to play that game. Mark is right. The word on a lot -- behind the scenes of a lot of Republicans is it's Clinton's war. We want that to be something that the public understands. Apart from being bad policy because it makes it easier for Milosevic to resist, I think it's, also is bad politics in the end. If this thing is -- what if the President wins? They'll look -- it will be completely his victory. What if he cuts a deal that's a bad deal with Milosevic?
They won't have a lot to stand on to criticize, except for John McCain, because they weren't willing to ante up, steel his will. What you've got in Congress is you've got 400 people acting like little Clintons. The President isn't going to take responsibility for this. He's going to look at his polls. So are we. He's not going to come before us and ask what we need for ground troops, neither are we. After you, Mr. President. In a sense, the President is getting a Congress that is a mirror image of his own lack of willingness to spend political capital to move the country.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the President's on the line. I mean, I could argue about the tactics of making his case. But I don't think there is any question that politically he is vulnerable. And --
MARGARET WARNER: In the sense he has the responsibility.
MARK SHIELDS: He's there. It is Clinton's war. Trent Lott can play games with it. I think what has held back the Republicans as much as the political edge is they are really confounded by public opinion. I mean public opinion has outpaced both the Congress and the administration in this. The American people are not a silly people. The American people know that the principal products of war are destruction, are suffering and are death. They understand that. And somehow they've been treated I think by the leadership, particularly the congressional leadership, but the administration as well, as sort of children who, you know, at the first sight are going to turn tail and run. I don't think that's the case in this instance.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, there are some members of Congress, are there not, that really do care about foreign policy and about the country and about what's happening here. I mean are you saying they are all -
PAUL GIGOT: No -
|The ground troops debate.|
MARGARET WARNER: What about John McCain and Chuck Hagel and the people who signed this letter and who at least wanted a definition or expression, I should say, of congressional endorsement of the aims and what we should use, the United States should use to achieve those?
PAUL GIGOT: There are some of those. And even some of the people who are opposed to this are principled in their opposition. Don't get me wrong. There isn't too much from my point of view, too much political calculation going on particularly in the leadership but there are some who think this is a problem. I talked to Chuck Hagel, who I think has been out front with John McCain, a Vietnam veteran himself saying you know, we've got to win. And Hagel says when he is talking to his colleagues, to many of them, he can't get to the second and third and fourth level of argument here. Namely, he can't talk about NATO's interest; he can't talk about the example it sets for the world because they can't get past Bill Clinton. But he's the commander-in-chief a lot of Republicans say. And he's going to blow it. And we don't want to give him the cover because they think Bill Clinton is looking for a Gulf of Tonkin resolution of his own to get basically political cover so he doesn't have to have responsibility.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think, Mark, that the President, and we heard Sandy Berger again - they're insisting that no planning even for ground troops is necessary.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't know because I think again the public is out front. I understand at the outset that there was a fear that NATO would split if ground troops were mentioned early. I think it would have been a political -- problem in this country if you came up to Capitol Hill before this began and said ground troops are an option. I think there would have been a far bigger hue and cry than there was and might have been defeated.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Cohen made that point yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's a good point. I think it's a reasonable point.
MARGARET WARNER: What about now?
MARK SHIELDS: Now I do not understand now unless there is a reluctance to admit that they were initially wrong, that they are not sure that the public would support them, back them up. One thing Sandy Berger did say, which I have to say I agree with him completely, and that is he talked about we're three weeks into this. I heard the network news this morning saying this is dragging on in the third week. Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, in December -- we weren't even to January 1st, New Year's Day of 1942. I mean you talk about wanting something over in a hurry and the church of what's happening now -- I mean we're in for a -- this is a war. This is not something that gets conveniently over in time for a long weekend. And I think that, quite frankly, has been in a certain attitude among some politicians, has been unfortunate.
|Where do the presidential candidates stand?|
PAUL GIGOT: But that's partly because of the strategy. I mean, the Powell Doctrine was maximum amount of force, minimum amount of time. This seems to be a minimum amount of force and the time, well, we'll see how long it goes. And, remember, the expectation of a short war, that this work was - on this program - fanned on this program by Madeleine Albright, who told Jim Lehrer -
MARGARET WARNER: The night the bombing started.
PAUL GIGOT: -- we think this will be over in a very short time and we don't think it's going to have that big an impact on the Kosovars. Not meeting the initial goals is what has fanned so much of the skepticism about whether they are going to reach the later ones.
MARGARET WARNER: And if this is going to go on a long time, of course, the candidates in the Republican presidential nomination battle, we saw a couple more this week, Elizabeth Dole and Dan Quayle try to use the Kosovo issue. Is this becoming an issue that these candidates cannot ignore and have to figure out a way to grapple with?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And not only the Republicans -- the Democrats, too. Bill Bradley be has been mute on the issue and Al Gore has been sort of a defender and an apologist of the administration, not surprisingly. But I think on the Republican side -- in every presidential campaign something happens that is unexpected, unanticipated. And I recall the 1984 campaign one year before the Korean airliner was shot down with 283 Americans, including a congressman, aboard wandered into Soviet air space. And they asked each of the presidential campaigners -
MARGARET WARNER: Korean.
MARK SHIELDS: Korean. I'm sorry, but in Soviet air space when it was shot down. - And asked each of the presidential candidates, what would you have done if you had been commander-in-chief -- Senator Gary Hart at the time said, said if I had been President, I would have ordered the jet fighters to look in -- if it were a Czechoslovakian aircraft flying over the United States - I'd ask him to look in the windows and if he saw them in military uniforms, I would have shot it down. And it was an absolutely factious silly answer, but it did give you an insight, it gave you a sense - on this one - which had an insight - the only two people with a consistent world view on the Republican side are Pat Buchanan and John McCain. You can argue with it. They know what they believe, there is no hesitation, there's no hedging, there's no kind of back and forth and calibrating and putting the finger in the air to see which way it's blowing. And I think, quite frankly, after this administration, when is is and what's sex and were we alone -- I think the sense of somebody speaking unambiguously, boldly, and unequivocally is welcome by people even if they don't agree with John McCain's prescription or certainly Pat Buchanan's.
GIGOT: I agree with that particularly on the part of McCain. Pat Buchanan,
you know, he might allow the army to defend us if they invade Florida,
make an exception for Miami. I don't know. But the rest of the Republicans
have discovered they can't have it both ways. George Bush issued a statement
that was tepid at first, and he's had to move over to the McCain side.
Elizabeth Dole is cautious at first. Now she has moved over to the McCain
MARGARET WARNER: And, in fact, she's -- there is video on today, she is in the refugee camps and she's talking about, yes, I'd send in ground troops if NATO -
PAUL GIGOT: And give her credit at least for coming across and saying I'm willing to ante up on that on the means to greet the end. That seems to me to be the acid test if you are going to be the internationalist in this case.
MARK SHIELDS: That does makes sense for Elizabeth Dole to me. She was president of the Red Cross. I mean, she does has some familiarity, presumably officially and professionally, with refugees. And I think that it makes an awful lot of sense for her. It is a legitimate mission for her as a candidate, but as a public figure as well.
MARGARET WARNER: And Dan Quayle this week, though, he announced for President simply said, well, we don't need a President with on-the-job training in foreign policy, but he -
MARK SHIELDS: Hitting George W. Bush unfairly.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. Yes.
PAUL GIGOT: But I'm not so sure that he has laid out a clear position. At least as I listen to it, it seemed to me that he wanted to have it both ways. He said, "I want to have experience but I wouldn't have gotten us into this mess and no ground troops but let diplomacy work." And some of the other Republicans sound an awful lot like liberal Democrats used to sound. What about the Russians? What would they think? And let diplomacy work first. It's not a very pretty picture.
MARK SHIELDS: Vietnam analogy. Hate do it. George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Barry Goldwater, John McCain, everybody else is in the middle. I mean, in other words, "McCain, go get 'em, go get 'em." Take them out. So as a result, everybody sounds pale, pastel and namby-pamby.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to take this out. Thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.