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British Begin Troop Drawdown in Iraq; U.S. Army Mends Walter Reed

NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss Tony Blair's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, the state of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and other political events of the week.

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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, on Iraq, how important is the Tony Blair decision to withdraw troops?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Well, it's symbolically, I think, important, Jim. I mean, the reality behind the move is that, as Tony Cordesman from Strategic and International Studies said, Basra was lost a year ago, and Brits have had to withdraw to the airport.

    It's now just a Shia stronghold. There is no tension. There's no civil war there, because there's no Sunnis. And it's a little bit like saying that there wasn't any racial tension in Fargo or Moorehead, North Dakota, during the civil rights struggle. There weren't any racial minorities.

    And that's really what the reality is. The vice president, to his everlasting credit, always sees the glass as 5 percent full. And it's a lot easier in Great Britain now to sell the idea of troops in Afghanistan than it is in Iraq.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    David, the idea that withdrawing — a lot of the attention on this has been drawn to the fact, hey, wait a minute, the Brits are withdrawing troops, and we're sending more in. How do you see this?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Well, I would point to the same distinction Mark made, that Basra is not Baghdad. Basra is a Shia community, mostly Shia. It doesn't have the sectarian violence.

    And, to me, what Basra is, it's a window on — suppose there wasn't the sectarian violence in Baghdad or in Iraq. Well, where would we be? We would have our expectations not met. We would not have sort of democracy that we hoped for when going in.

    Nonetheless, we would not have the sort of civil war we see in Baghdad, and we would be withdrawing, too. But Baghdad has this sectarian violence; Basra doesn't.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You buy the idea that, all of that aside, this is not — this is psychologically not good for the American cause during a time of surge?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I guess so, yes. I mean, I think the Brits once had 40,000 troops. Then they went down to 7,100. And this is a drawback to 5,400, so it's not as if Tony Blair is running away.

    I mean, Tony Blair has been steadfast in believing in the mission and keeping troops there, despite incredible political pressure. So, you know, I don't think he's totally answering to the pressure. I think it's a response to the reality.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    But the reality is also domestic political reality.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In Britain.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    In Britain, regional elections this spring. And the Labour Party is trailing, and Tony Blair has to turn it over or will turn it over to Gordon Brown, his antiwar successor.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sometime this summer.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    So the political reality is at least influencing it.

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