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Political Analysis of Brooks and Oliphant

Jim Lehrer speaks with David Brooks of The Weekly Standard and Tom Oliphant of The Boston Globe about the week's political developments.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, some words from Brooks and Oliphant: David Brooks of the Weekly Standard and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Mark Shields is off tonight. First, David, what do you think of the way the bush administration back here in Washington has handled the words from Gen. Wallace that were all over the front pages of the newspapers this morning?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think they could admit that they're not omniscient and they did not plan perfectly. To me it was not a military failure; it was a political failure. They regarded the regime as a normal tyranny which they could decapitate, but Saddam's regime was a totalitarian regime, which means it's in the brains of everybody in Iraq, the victims and the oppressors; that regime killed 290,000 people.

    It takes a big apparatus to create and process that many corpses, and there are a lot of people implicated in that regime. They didn't understand how deep that went; they didn't understand the mentality of the people who are victims who are living lives of terror and they didn't understand the sort of fascistic cult which the Fedayeen is like the Gestapo. They misunderestimate… I'm Bushing now. They underestimated the threat and they can admit it. People watch the History Channel. They know that war plans change and yet they haven't done that yet.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How do you feel?

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    I thought Pres. Bush handled the issue magnificently because he said not a syllable about it. He has remained with a couple of very minor exceptions, in the proper role for a president in this kind of war, in this kind of culture, which is detached from the minute by minute, so that you don't get sucked into this silly business of being a cable television commentator every hour. The problem has arisen because the game plan was for other parts of the administration to speak, really before the war, and to a certain extent, Gen. Wallace's comments have caught people like Vice Pres. Cheney, many in the Pentagon, who advertised something, who perhaps hoped that the regime would collapse almost immediately and that this would all go quickly. But there is no denying that all of this is having no impact whatsoever on political support for the enterprise within the United States — none whatsoever.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Rumsfeld said that he attributed… his first answer to all of this today was that it has to do with the mood swings of the American media. What is he trying to get at there — that this is a media problem not a battlefield problem?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think he has a point though not a complete point. There are these odd mood swings. We think that wars, we have constant mood swings. We are a bipolar nation when it comes to wars. Remember Desert Storm. If you look at the media the fifth week into the bombing campaign of Desert Storm, it was gloomy. We're bombing, nothing was happening. We remember it as a cakewalk but we don't remember it that way at the time. There is a fundamental problem of getting the war games wrong as we heard earlier tonight and that is something that is substantive.

    To me, the interesting thing politically is the Bush political team is actually more disciplined than the military team. Wallace at least spoke on the record. There have been stories in the Washington Post, open the Washington Post, Tom Ricks, one of the reporters will have hundreds of unnamed Pentagon official, you know, leaking because their version was not enacted and now they're backstabbing. Then you turn the page and there's the CIA and the defense intelligence people saying we warned them about the Fedayeen but they didn't listen to us. That's another set of leaks. So these military guys are supposed to be yes, sir. They're leaking out of their minds.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    They are, aren't they

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    They are.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Covering their whatevers.

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    For the of a telephone call, however, you can get the same kind of bipolar behavior in the Pentagon, in the White House, on Capitol Hill among the administration supporters, and I might add that Vice Pres. Cheney made his error of judgment on the record in some ways the mirror image of what Gen. Wallace did.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    When he said would be a matter of weeks not months.

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    Defections, popular uprisings, shock and awe, all the other things that went into this. However, in many respects this, this is a problem that is really a cloud covering the deeper question that bothers all Americans regardless of their point of view and that is, is this going to be a fight for Baghdad, a siege or is there still going to be some kind of collapse? You look for an early clue and you're terribly troubled by what is and is not going on in the reports from Basra. But I don't think we are arguing about whether the war is justified or not so much as we are worried about what the next step is going to be and the problem with all of this….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    No matter what anybody's point of view is about the war, my god what is happening and what is going to happen next.

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    Precisely. Exactly. And to an extent, this problem has been exacerbated by much too elevated expectation as head of time.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    That's true. And the American people got a look at the Fedayeen and got a look at what sort of regime this is and I think as worries rise about what may happen in Baghdad because of what is happening in Basra and Nasiriyah, there will also be a sense the thought of a nuclear Fedayeen is a really scary thought, the thought that the Fedayeen could bargain with Hans Blix and give away their weapons, that was just never going to happen and that is the nature of this regime. Anxieties about the war are heightened but so are probably the sense this is something we have to do, which is why among all the flurry of bipolar moods as tom pointed out, the public support for the war has not budged.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree with that?

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    Not only that, you could be a part of the public that thinks this is going to last a few weeks or you could be part of the public that thinks it is going to last up to a year. It does not affect your level of support for the war. That is stable. However, every time you introduce a discordant element, and the one I picked today would be a warning issued to Syria. When you're coming almost… I mean I understand there's a military basis for this, as there are things that have actually been going on for a long time, but from the public's standpoint, from a political standpoint, this is the kind of jarring event from outside the box that can really disturb people.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    War creep, in other words.

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    Absolutely.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Before we go, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I once asked John Tower, the late John Tower, who was then a senator from Texas, conservative Republican — who were the three smartest members of the Senate. And he said: Pat Moynihan, Pat Moynihan and Pat Moynihan.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    He's the only senator that would have put himself on the list. That is true. Everybody talked about how erudite he was but one of the things I liked about him he was a more important social thinker than he was senator. He was not an unimportant senator; he was the finance chairman I think for a little while. But if you look at his real contributions to America, it is insights and ideas on auto safety, on ethnicity, which led him to predict eventually the decline in the Soviet Union, on the degradations of what could happen at the U.N., on anti-communism, on the black family, on defining deviancy down, that concept — one series of insights after another. And that's where he really made his contribution. And to me, he is also a sign of great philosophy of life which is you should always have two vocations in life. You should be a politician or a writer, or something tangentially related to the other, and he was both and that was his contribution.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Tom?

  • TOM OLIPHANT:

    Until I started visiting his office as a young reporter covering Nixon's first term, I had never heard of single malt scotch. Senator Moynihan lived right at the fulcrum where ideas become issues and then policy. The list is as long as your arm. Elderly income, Social Security system, earned income tax. You go on and on and on. The things he put on the national agenda have ended up affecting the lives of tens of millions of Americans. You can make criticisms about effectiveness and all the rest of it. But this is one of the most consequential minds in America in the last half century.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    We'll leave it there. Thank you both very much.