SHIELDS & GIGOT
November 21, 1997
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the winners and losers in the Iraq showdown and the future of the labor movement after Teamsters leader Ron Carey's disqualification.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight some political analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, the Iraqi crisis, the inspectors are back. How do you think President Clinton handled this thing the last three weeks?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
November 20, 1997
Amb. Richardson discusses the return of the U.N. arms inspectors to Iraq.
November 17, 1997
Teamster Pres. Ron Carey barred from running for reelection.
November 17, 1997
Arab perspectives on the Iraqi crisis.
Browse the Shields & Gigot index.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East.
Who came out ahead: President Clinton or Saddam Hussein?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think it went well, Jim. I think it--there's been an awful lot of revisionism going on, it strikes me, in Washington and in the country at large. George Bush forged a remarkable coalition in 1990/1991, and he was able to do it because Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. But he also was very skillful in doing it. He put together a coalition, including Arab states, and because he held it together, we had a far greater chance of peace in the Middle East. And there's no question that George Bush did the right thing by not going into Iraq in 1991, and going after Saddam Hussein. That was not our policy. The coalition would have fallen apart. And I just--I think that somehow this last couple of weeks some commando columnists have been talking about let's get tough, what's the matter, why don't we go in there, level 'em, decimate 'em, whatever else. It was never a possibility then. It was never a possibility now. I guess the coalition obviously is a lot more fragile now--and it was a lot more difficult to get concerted action, with the French and the Russians doing their own deal, but I thought--for a fellow who was a domestic president when he's elected--I thought he handled it well.
JIM LEHRER: Handled it well, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Handled it--he can say that he got Saddam Hussein--it looks like anyway--to allow the inspectors back in. But I don't think he can claim--which is what the White House is trying to claim--that Saddam Hussein is not stronger coming out of this and has not had some advantages coming out of this. Saddam had some weeks to hide the--whatever he wants to hide. He's got a coalition now which is more fragile than it was before. No question, Mark's right. He inherited from President Bush the fact that Saddam Hussein is there, and then that was the problem--a mistake--we can argue that President Bush made. But since then Saddam Hussein has a weaker coalition, and now he has a big, new ally, and that's Russia, with the Prime Minister Primakov asserting himself and now saying that they are going to go into the Security Council and argue on Saddam Hussein's behalf to lift the sanctions probably within a matter of months. So if the President can say plausibly he avoided war and that the country will breathe a sign of relief, the question is: Did he get a short-term solution here, but maybe say problems for--a bigger problem later when Saddam Hussein emerges, with the sanctions lifted, with new oil revenues, and a problem for later in his presidency or for President Gore or somebody else.
JIM LEHRER: So you think Saddam Hussein got something out of this. He didn't back off. He didn't back down.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he backed down on the narrow question of sanctions. But did he get other advantages out of this? He's going to get some oil money, for example. I think he's got a new international legitimacy with his cause of lifting sanctions being made on his behalf now by former members of the coalition. You have a situation where it used to be Saddam Hussein was isolated against the world. Now within the Security Council the United States is increasingly isolated, and Saddam Hussein has allies.
Trying to hold together the coalition in the Middle East...
MARK SHIELDS: I don't want to leave the impression--because it certainly was not my impression--that George Bush did not do the right thing. He did exactly the right thing. There was no way that we could go into Baghdad. There was no democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein. There was no way we were going to occupy Baghdad, we, the United States of America, and hold elections. And if our guys didn't win, that was it, and you want to take more than Ireland to the 1000th degree and look at what we would have been, and there's no question that none of the Arab would cross Iraq's border. The coalition would have come undone. The very hopes we've had for peace in the Middle East are a direct consequence of what George Bush put together in 1991. He put together a coalition; they recognized Israel, and I think we're paying dearly right now for the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. There's no question about it. We have been hurt, and the chances of peace have been hurt there. But I don't know if there's any secret deals made, but you can't--quite frankly, you're not going to hold a coalition together on a perpetual basis, Jim, without an act of aggression.
JIM LEHRER: What about Paul's point that Saddam Hussein came out of this stronger than he went in? I'm talking about this immediate crisis, the last three weeks.
MARK SHIELDS: The last three weeks. I mean, Saddam Hussein is stronger where--stronger at home?
JIM LEHRER: Strong at home--with his own people, do you mean?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't know if he is stronger at home. I don't think plebiscites are very important in Iraq. His--his leadership has never depended upon popularity or popular support. I think there's no question that there was resistance and strong resistance from some of our former coalition partners. They didn't want to see force used, so in that sense, yes, he's stronger.
Would the U.S. public have supported military action against Iraq?
JIM LEHRER: Let's come back to the domestic issue in the United States, Paul. Was--was it worth--we didn't have to--if everything turns out the way it looks like it's turning out--was it worth going to war over, the United States going to war with Iraq over what Saddam Hussein did?
PAUL GIGOT: Kicking out the inspectors, do you mean?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
PAUL GIGOT: I believe it would have, had the President done it. I think he would have had an enormous amount of support within this country from people of both parties. I think that this is--
JIM LEHRER: The House even passed a resolution that said go do it. You're going home; you go do it; you--
PAUL GIGOT: There were no ideal options here. Using force is never something you want to do. It's never something you do lightly, but this is a man who was willing to create an ecological catastrophe on his way out of Kuwait. This is a man who uses gas and then poison--things on his own people. This is a man who's shown that he's willing to assassinate anyone, and this is not somebody I would want plotting revenge against a country that humiliated him in power with new allies, with new commercial business partners in Russia and in France, so it seems to me that the country knows this and would have backed the President.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading of that, Mark, as to what kind of support the President would have had, had this thing escalated and we had had to actually go in there and do some bombing and other things?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, all wars are popular for the first 30 days, and, you know, if it's over in 30 days and the casualties are minimal, that's one thing, but I can't--returning to a--I'm not trying to do a testimonial for the Bush Presidential Library--but I mean George Bush did win support from the Congress of the other party. There was no question because the Republican leadership now on Capitol Hill want to prove they're even tougher, so that wasn't a problem. He did win support from the United Nations, and there was a sustained public debate in this country. It was very closely defined. I happened to oppose the United States' entry militarily into Iraq on this broadcast at the time. And I really do think that that debate was awfully important in forming popular support for it. Without that, I don't think the United States would have been ready and certainly not, Jim, in any level commensurate with that in 1991, when we had 1/2 million American troops there.
Labor faces the consequences of Ron Carey's defeat.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Let's go to another subject quickly, and that's the Teamsters story; Ron Carey declared ineligible to run for re-election as president on grounds he knew about some illegal funding. Serious matter for labor?
MARK SHIELDS: Serious matter for labor. Labor was on the way back. I mean, there was no question about it. There seemed to be a new energy, a new dynamism. Young people were coming in as organizers. The UPS strike--
JIM LEHRER: This was a Teamsters deal.
MARK SHIELDS: --put a new face on labor. And you always want to have your people--any movement--you want to have to be people that the public likes. The public likes UPS drivers. They show up at your door. They have packages. They're very helpful; they're very competent, and, you know, it seemed to be good. Then comes--they show their muscle on Capitol Hill. They get probably over-deserved muscle credit for the--but still they look good. This is a real kick in the teeth, Jim. Labor is now on the defensive, make no mistake about it, and Republicans are going to take advantage of it.
PAUL GIGOT: It's on the cusp of their greatest political victory since the Wagner Act, maybe, the fast track defeat, which they managed over a Democratic president. Now, this new labor--remember, there was a takeover within the labor movement, an insurgency by John Sweeney, Richard Trumka, Gerald McEntee, and Ron Carey.
JIM LEHRER: And Carey was a part of that. He was part of the reform movement of the Teamsters Union as well.
PAUL GIGOT: He took the Teamsters, which has been in partisan terms an independent union. They sometimes endorsed Republicans, sometimes endorsed Democrats. Took them and brought them right into the orbit of the new political activism of the Sweeney/AFL-CIO, which tended to support Democrats, did in '96 almost exclusively, and made them a real adjunct of the Democratic Party. Now, if Carey--with Carey out, the Teamsters may move back into a more independent mold, but the real problem--and I think this is an ultimate political risk--is that the investigation now of what happened in the Teamsters election may reach into the AFL-CIO. And there have been senior officers of the AFL-CIO who have been named in the court documents and in the overseers' documents as somebody who--there's testimony there that they may have participated in it. Now, they deny it, but that is a real political risk if, in fact, they are somehow brought into it.
JIM LEHRER: Big risk here?
MARK SHIELDS: Big risk. Paul's definition of independence is a little different from mine. They are a Republican union. They've been the leading Republican union, and the principal Republican union--
PAUL GIGOT: I think they endorsed President Clinton in '92, though.
MARK SHIELDS: But I mean--
JIM LEHRER: They were for Reagan.
MARK SHIELDS: Reagan. They've been for Bush. They've been for Nixon. And most of them have gone away. Most of their leadership had gone away at one point or another.
JIM LEHRER: And that's exactly what we're going to do. Thank you both very much. See you next week.