June 11, 1999
PHIL PONCE: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the Weekly Standard's senior editor, David Brooks, substituting for Paul Gigot, who is away tonight. Mark, we just heard our previous panelists talk about the international ramifications of what is happening in Kosovo. Let's bring it domestically. Will the President get political credit for the positive things that are happening in Kosovo now from the United States' perspective?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think he will, although I'm struck by the fact that the very people, the critics who were calling it Clinton's war up until it turned this past week now are reluctant or seem unwilling to call it Clinton's victory. And the administration supporters who referred to it as the NATO effort now want to claim it Clinton's victory. I think it's a success but it's not a complete victory. And I think that's how most people view it. There is no rejoicing. There is no great picture in Times Square of the returning GI kissing the nurse in celebration. And I think the President will not return to those epic heights that he held in public support at the time of his acquittal in the impeachment. I think if one western leader really does get a big boost out of it, it will be Tony Blair of Great Britain.
PHIL PONCE: David, how about that, do you agree with Mark that there is going to be limited political benefit for the President?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I'd say very limited. I think he'll get historical credit. He could have given NATO a new mission. He could have restored peace in Europe but political, very little, in part because of the last segment. There has been a cloud of negativity about this whole war started from when it started. It is over; there is still a cloud of criticism and negativity, and, in part, because of the interview with Bill Clinton. When Bill Clinton started out that interview with Jim, he was Rhodes scholar Bill; he talked in Latin; he talked slowly, gravitas, statesman-like. But as the interview went on, he became "hunting buddy Bill." There was a southern accent; he was talking about his own trustworthiness; he was talking about his own personal virtue. He was very defensive. And so he tries to turn everything into a question of his own credibility. And I think that is irreparably damaged. He is not going to be the war hero the way Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell were the war heroes. So I think historically he's done a good thing, but in terms of restoring his faith as a hero, as a trustworthy individual, I think that cannot be done.
PHIL PONCE: How about that, Mark? One of the things the President said to Jim was -- when Jim asked him about the possible impact of the Lewinsky matter on his moral authority, the President said in effect that his moral authority was not weakened. How about his political authority, though, has it been weakened?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I don't think there is any question. I mean, I think what is -- the principal fallout -- I think a little bit differently from David on this -- from impeachment was an irrational loathing on the part of Republicans. I mean, today there is a resentment that Bill Clinton once again has eluded what should be judgment with a capital J, that somehow he has prevailed, that this man who should be held accountable. I have to return to the fact that -- I agree with David's assessment of the President's interview with Jim. It was fascinating. It was a study of Bill Clinton at different registers, different scales and all the rest of it but actions still matter. Ideas matter but actions matter. And I think the President is absolutely right. We did the right thing there, I believe. I think that history will validate and vindicate him and I'll tell you why, Phil, in the short run, and that is when the Kosovar themselves return to Kosovo and a free press comes back to Kosovo and they are able to document both in testimony and in evidence the brutality, the absolute cruelty and pillaging of this man Milosevic, I think that if anything retroactively, there will be a boost in support for the United States having done what it did.
PHIL PONCE: David do you agree? Do you think that could make a difference when people see the extent of what happened in Kosovo?
DAVID BROOKS: I agree with Mark. I think this was a good thing to do, and substance eventually matters. The Republicans are, by the way, handling this just abysmally. It is crabby up there on Capitol Hill. Somebody described it as Bosnia without the peacekeepers. I mean, it's a Prozac-free zone. I mean, it's just an angry mood -- this guy got away with it again. They never expected that it would end this quickly and this well. So, the Republicans have been handling it terribly, especially up on the Hill. But there is also an important debate within the Republican Party about what - you know -- how to react to this sort of thing. It's sort of like the debate after World War II, how interventionist should America be, how involved in the world? There are the Taft forces who are back in full flower, 40 years of the Cold War gone. They are back. There are the interventionist forces who are small, John McCain and George W. Bush, but they are out there. And so there is this brutal debate within the Republican Party to be interventionists, to be isolationists. And the loudest activists are the isolationist side. But one of the interesting things that's happened is that there is only one Presidential candidate of the 600 who are out there in the Republican field who has benefited over the past eight weeks, and that was not Pat Buchanan, not Dan Quayle, not Gary Bauer, not the isolationists, but it was John McCain, the most hawkish and the most Clinton supporting in the whole field. So there is this weight in the Republican Party in the 1950's, Eisenhower trumped Taft. They became an interventionist party. We'll see what happens this time.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, some of the people that David might describe as isolationists were quoted in the paper saying that Republicans were saying things along the lines of if this is a victory, what would defeat look like. and somebody else calling -- another Republican calling it a humanitarian disaster. What do you make of those comments?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think if you look at with any remote objectivity, Phil, I think they look foolish. This is a man who set about ethnic cleansing, which is a euphemism for genocide -- and the idea that would have been allowed to stand unpunished while the international community looked on in increasing horror and increasing shame much like Bosnia and doing nothing, and that the Kosovars themselves would never have a chance to return to their homeland which they now do have -- in spite of what Mr. Eagleburger and Dr. Brzezinski were talking about and the problems that remain, I don't see -- these are sore winners. I mean, you've heard of sore losers. These are sore winners.
PHIL PONCE: David, what do you make of the President's remark that, in effect, the Republicans should lighten up; they are just angry because they don't have the white House?
DAVID BROOKS: There is a real substantive difference. Tom Delay, the people who against the war really believe we have no interest. But having said that, they should lighten up. I mean they really should understand, you know, when the Republicans used to attack the liberal Democrats it was because they blamed America first, because they didn't have faith in American capabilities, because they just didn't, you know, they didn't celebrate when America won something. Look at Tom Delay today. He doesn't seem to have much faith in American capabilities, he seems to blame America for the humanitarian things that have gone on. He doesn't want America involved in the world. And there is a problem of replicating what the liberals were like in the 1970's and 60's on the right today and in part it's simply because the Republicans are the congressional party. The congressional parties are parochial parties and they resent executive power.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, will the President get any kind of push out of this in a way that might help with other items on his domestic agenda?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I think he'll get a little boost I think. I could be wrong but I think that what's going to contribute to it is that sense of resignation about his invincibility politically that oh, my goodness, this guy, how does he do it.
PHIL PONCE: The sort of frustration David eluded to - do you sense that too?
MARK SHIELDS: On the part of the Republicans.
PHIL PONCE: On the part of the Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, you know, the old line if Bill Clinton drove a convertible with the top down through the car wash, Al Gore would get wet -- now it's Tom Delay are getting wet. I mean, there is that sense, and I don't think there's -- and still the clock is ticking. I mean we are only months away from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Power is the perception of power in Washington and the perception is that the power is going elsewhere. But Bill Clinton remains an enormously formidable political force even in this -- approaching the eighth year of his presidency.
PHIL PONCE: David, how about the legacy question? Jim asked the p if this was the best moment of his presidency and the President sort of deflected it. But might it be the best moment of his presidency?
DAVID BROOKS: The "Washington Times" called it in an editorial and they are not a friend of Bill. I think I agree with that. The legacy is mostly on the Democratic Party. You know, the Democrats and liberals used to talk about the military industrial complex. Now the spokesman for the military industrial complex is the New York Review of Books. What's happened is that the Democratic Party has become reconciled to the Pentagon. And as usual, throughout his presidency, his legacy is more influential on the Democratic Party than on the country at large.
PHIL PONCE: Legacy question, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not sure that the legacy hasn't already been written. I mean, I think that this is important. I think it's probably more politically important domestically than it may be internationally, although the question of the precedent raised by the previous panel I think is awfully important on what we do with it. But I guess I guess the political legacy to a considerable degree is not his own party as it is in his opponents to whom you want to say cheer up folks, eventually things will get worse. I mean, there really is sort of a disappointment that the economy is so good, that the deficits are down and unemployment is down and all the rest of it and now America has won. Ronald Reagan really remains the model for all Republicans. And they ought to borrow a little bit of his optimism and his sense of cheerfulness about America and about the future.
DAVID BROOKS: That's why they are so desperate for George W. Bush.
PHIL PONCE: David, the question of vindication; the President did get tons of criticism in the past 78 or 79 days. So much of the chattering class was lined up against him. Vindication for him?
DAVID BROOKS: I think absolutely on that scale, yes. If there are real losers here, it is (a) the Tom Delays and the isolationists, but (b), the punditocracy. We did heartily. There has just been a carping from start to finish and it was mostly wrong. Two weeks ago there was an Air Force lieutenant general who said this is going to be over in two months, it is working. Everybody said that guy was out in left field. Well, he was right.
PHIL PONCE: David, Mark, thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.
DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|