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Analysts Discuss President’s Push for Military Tribunals and Iraqi Violence

Political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss President Bush's push for tribunals, the continuing violence in Iraq and the fall election.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Mark, so the president says he doesn't get his legislation the way he wants it, the program will end. Senator McCain issued a statement saying nonsense, it won't end anything. How do you see this argument?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    I see it, first of all, politically, Jim, as something the Republicans didn't want at this point. I mean, they were hoping to draw the line between the two parties.

    And with uncharacteristic discipline, the Democrats have gone mute. They've let this argument and this debate occur between the White House, and the president, and several of his supporters on Capitol Hill, John McCain, John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and an array of American military heroes, I mean, led by John Vessey.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Susan Collins, also…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Plus, Susan Collins of Maine…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes, the Republican from Maine, yes…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … who voted with them on the committee to give the majority. And I just — you know, I see it right now that the president was losing support today. And then Olympia Snowe came out, the other senator from Maine. Chuck Hagel has indicated that he will back the McCain proposal. I think it's a good bet that Lincoln Chafee, who was re-nominated, will, that Mike DeWine in Ohio probably. I mean, there's others.

    So if the Democrats are united, I think the president is going to have to do some serious compromising if he wants to get anything done.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Yes. First of all, why is it this happening?

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Good question.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    John McCain does not want to be bucking his president when he wants to run for president himself and face Republican primary voters. George Bush doesn't want this, because they all want to be unified against the Democrats. So why is this happening?

    It's happening, first, because, despite best efforts over months, they haven't been able to come together, in part because the White House has not done a good job over the years of having congressional relations, but in part because both McCain and Bush feel this in their core, McCain, that you don't torture, Bush, that I have to prepare the way for presidents 50 years from now to do what they need to do.

    But who's going to win this? I think Mark is right: It's going to be McCain.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, McCain is — what about the other — what about John Warner? McCain, people are used to McCain being a maverick, but here's John Warner. How do you explain that?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think they think, a, it's a matter of national honor, national pride. This goes to the core of a lot of people. And a lot of people may think what I think, is that maybe you do get some information out of torture, but there's an ideological conflict, and it's important to have a little moral clarity in the world, in a little moral standing in the world to fight the broader war.

    And one reason I think Bush knows he's going to be caving in — that's putting it a little too boldly, but compromising — is that when he — the key word he used in that passage we just heard was the word "clarity." He didn't lay any substantive grounds for where he will not cross. He said I just want it to be clear.

    And so if McCain and the White House, the Senate and the White House can come together on something that's clear, he can say that's fine without violating anything he said today.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree he's got room, he's got to room to…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I just thought the whole tone today was sort of, you know, in-your-face…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    "Vigorous," I think was the term people were using.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Vigorous I think is the most positive spin you could put on it. I mean, there was a belligerence, a bellicosity about it. Jim, I think there's another drama playing out here, and that is the American military, the leadership of it, has the anger at what they see as the total mishandling of this war from the civilian leadership of this administration.

    And not only that, but the troops have — they have not been well-served by their leaders, whether it's in the armoring of the troops themselves, the armoring of our Humvees, and I think this was plainly where the line was drawn. I mean, I think when Colin Powell…