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Coalition troops seized Baghdad's main airport Friday as U.S. Marines edged closer to the Iraqi capital. Mark Shields and David Brooks reflect on the war's progress and on the media's coverage of the conflict.
And finally tonight, some closing words from Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.
Mark, how do you feel about this war two weeks in?
Well, I guess, Jim, I feel relieved that so many of the bad things haven't happened. There have been no chemical or biological attacks. There have not been enormous civilian casualties. There have not been any attacks upon Israel, to include that. There hasn't been any entrance by the Turks engaging with the Kurds up north.
I mean in that sense, you know, I feel that the worst has been avoided. I'm still not, you know, I don't think it is a great idea or a wonderful thing, but I'm relieved and pleased. And I think in the earlier segment, it was right, that the capturing of the airport does give an enormous psychological lift to the U.S.-led coalition forces. But, you know, if it comes down to block-to-block, house-to-house….
It scares you.
It scares me and I think what you saw this week most of all that surprised me – not surprised me but alarmed me this week is that people like King Abdullah of Jordan and Mubarak of Egypt were moving away from their support, or at least tacit backing of the United States, making public statements and it was in response to the fact that what they want is a short decisive war with no civilian casualties because the populations of those countries as well as the populations of Europe are still very much against the United States action.
David, your thoughts.
I think we are coming off some of the bipolar highs and lows, too high early on. If you looked at the press Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought it read like we were withdrawing from Moscow with Napoleon. It was just way too negative. I think that was unsustainable. The success to me has been remarkably good. I think you've begun to see a couple things. One, you've begun to see Iraqis who are jubilant and happy in the cities where they do know they're liberated. If you've read the last few days of the New York Times, you've really seen some exultant crowds, including one who had to me, the slogan of the war, a happy Iraqi fellow who went up to the troops and screamed out, democracy, whiskey and sexy, showing that he understood –
He got it right.
It's a little weird to hear a Muslim talking about whiskey. And then the final thing — to hear the marines talk and to hear them talk about liberating the Iraqi people. When asked by the embedded reporters, why are you doing this? They never talk about the weapons of mass destruction. They talk about the people they're seeing right there. And I think that is having a tremendous cultural effect in the United States, and making us feel a little better about ourselves.
The weapons of mass destruction issue, Mark, a lot of people have said they better find some soon or the president and the backers of this war have got a problem. Do you agree with that? Is it soon they must find these?
One cynical former military person said to me, you know, you've been around enough city police departments, they always find the cigarette in the suspect's raincoat or the illicit substance. No, I mean, I think Jim, probably the most disturbing report I got all week is that the Pentagon now is working on a contingency plan for the invasion of Syria and that the argument is that the weapons of mass destruction, one of the rationalizations is that the weapons of mass destruction have been transported to… across the border.
Have you heard that, David?
I've heard talk of that but I really not get too alarmed about that. There has been talk for months that somehow these wild guys in the Pentagon are going to attack one country after another there. Is anger at Syria. There's no question about that. Syria is playing both sides of the fence here. On the one hand they've restrained Hezbollah from bombing northern Israel. On the other hand, they really have done some things to help the Iraqi regime. But I really do not think there is any… I have not heard from people in the administration any hunger to do another country.
I would say this about the weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam Hussein has them and uses them and thus by jeopardizing not only coalition troops but the civilian population, that the public opinion in Europe and everywhere else will swing against him overwhelmingly and give a certain validation.
But I think there's a whole bunch of questions that have to be answered long before the celebration begins. I mean do they get Saddam Hussein or is it Osama bin Laden? Does he get away sort of thing? Are there weapons of mass destruction? Are we welcomed — is the U.S. coalition welcomed as liberators rather than occupiers? Is there, in fact, you know, a long-term, you know, acceptance? I mean because this is the first war since World War II that the United States has entered with the demand for unconditional surrender. Not only in a change of government, but an occupation anticipated. So this is… the president set a very high bar for what is success or would be success by his own terms.
And the war of course isn't over yet. What do you… speaking of war itself and the plan, one of the major stories at the beginning of the week had to do with the flap between Secretary Rumsfeld and the retired and present day military officers criticizing the plan. What do you make of that?
I guess my first reaction was sort of visceral. I was appalled at the way the generals and officers in the Pentagon went leak happy to the New Yorker and to the Washington Post in particular. This goes back pre-9/11 to the transformation that Rumsfeld and people associated with him tried to do to the military, which hurt the army, helped some other parts. And he did it in a hand fisted way, which is his style, and he made a lot of people angry.
That was submerged with 9/11 and then came up in this war as you had people rushing after two or three days simply because the Fedayeen had the audacity to shoot back at us, suddenly declaring this was a quagmire and that this was a horrible war plan. To me events have not vindicated that to you by a long shot there.
But there was just a dismaying and unseemly start of leaking. The ironic thing about the way it ended up politically is a lot of he hawks in the administration were actually on the side of the army for what is called boots on the ground for a greater and larger force. But to me, the advantages of speed, and I'm glad I don't have to have military opinions, but to me just as a citizen, the advantages of speed and getting in there quickly maybe outweigh the weaknesses you suffer.
That of course was Rumsfeld's point. How do you think Rumsfeld handled this, this week?
Well, what happened was that he and chairman of the joint chiefs came out and said to these guys, the leakers in the military and some of the retired generals on some of the TV channels, you are undermining our troops. Now when the chairman of the joint chiefs comes out and says that, that is the ace card; that shows real anger. You began to see some of the retired generals in the TV studios backtracking furiously.
I could not disagree more strenuously, Jim. The first person who said we encountered more resistance than expected was the official briefer, Gen. Wallace. He was the person —
The commander of —
Who said it was worse.
He said it on the record.
On the record, more resistance, okay — the same conservative publications, from this I exempt David, but the same conservative publications who welcomed and crowed about every leak from the Pentagon or anyplace else about Bill Clinton when he was president, now, I mean is, are horrified that generals are going to talk to the press. I mean my God, Bill Clinton you would have thought was submerging our entire national interest. Now you've got a legitimate debate. Has Donald Rumsfeld alienated? You better believe he is alienated. Was Gen. Myers over the top? He was ludicrous over the top. You had on this show last night a woman named Airman Shannon Murphy who was interviewed by Tom Bearden; she is in the theater of operations, she is on the lines and so is her husband. He asked her, her reaction about the TV coverage of anti-war demonstrations. This is what Airman Shannon Murphy said on the Lehrer NewsHour: It's what we are defending. We can do that in our country and that's what we're pretty much here to defend. I wish Don Rumsfeld would meet Shannon Murphy.
I'm in favor of a big debate about this. I don't mind and I said it last night – I thought the administration was wrong to pretend to be omniscient. I said it last week – that they should have said we are adapting. The situation has changed. The question is whether you go out and leak en masse in the nasty way they did in the middle of a war and one thing Shannon Murphy also said last night is that she was upset… she said I defend their right to protest but she said she is upset. To me, traveling around the country this week from Florida to Massachusetts, so the East Coast, a few different groups, one thing I would say, I would notice this week, among people who oppose the war, there is a dismayed or at least an uncomfortableness with the peace marchers that I hadn't seen months ago. They may agree substantively but they disagree tonally with the peace march. We're in the middle of a traumatic experience here. There is a little post-Sept. 11 feeling here — we should pull together; we should not be divisive, we should not be spreading bile, and I think there is a growing sense that the peace marchers are out of tone with the American people.
What about the generals? What about Gen. Wallace?
I think Gen. Wallace was being a "Braveheart" to coin his name. I think he said exactly the right thing, which he should say, and I wish the administration had been more up front about saying of course we changed.
He committed a gaffe, Jim, which is defined by Michael Kinsley as speaking the truth in official Washington when you shouldn't. I mean, that's what Gen. Wallace did do, and they got upset. They got —
Couldn't attack him so they attacked the other one.
That's exactly right. Let's get one thing straight about Shannon Murphy. Asked if she felt betrayed — she said, no, I don't feel betrayed, I don't; I don't feel betrayed. You don't park your conscience once a decision is made. If you think the wrong decision has been made to go the war, you are not undermining your troops by saying I think this is the wrong policy. I mean, you just don't fall behind. I mean I thought we resolved that at Nuremberg for goodness sake. Whatever the leader says, that's the decision made. I mean, for goodness sakes, I mean, protest is at the core of what our citizenry is about. I'm not talking about, you know, doing ugly things or sabotaging installations. I'm talking about a citizen's right to petition his or her government for a policy they think is —
We are talking past each other here. We obviously support the idea to disagree. The question — let's start with the military leakers. What they were doing — they were fighting a budget battle in the middle of the war through anonymous leaking. This was not about the war. They were talking about a quagmire. They were wrong about where the war was. It is clear they were wrong because they were saying we were bogged down because we had a horrible war plan. And if you read Cy Hersch's piece in the New Yorker, you thought we had lost this war. And that was not because of an honest opinion. That was because they were lobbying for budgetary authority in the next budget round.
It is an honest difference; it's an honest difference; we are invading militarily; if you're invading another country, another installation, you want to have more troops than they do. Donald Rumsfeld, they're settling the score with Donald Rumsfeld, he got rid of Gen. Shinseki 18 months to go in his term.
I have to get rid of this wonderful discussion. Thank you both very much.
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