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Political Analysts Discuss Mideast Conflict, an Iraqi Civil War, U.S. Senate

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, a possible civil war in Iraq, the Connecticut primary and the U.S. Senate.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

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

    And, gents, a big week that began with the return of Condoleezza Rice from the Middle East. How's the administration handling American interests in this very difficult conflict?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Well, they've actually been working hand-in-hand with the French of all things, and there's been a lot of cooperation with the French and better relations than we've had for quite a while. And what they're describing is a process where, next Monday or Tuesday, they'll achieve the first of the U.N. resolutions, which will be a truce in place, meaning the Israelis will sit there in southern Lebanon.

    And then, in two or three weeks, then they will get to the stage of trying to insert the international force. And so the question becomes — the Israelis will sit there — will Hezbollah take their gains, which they really have gotten in the last couple weeks, and decide to become a big political force in Lebanon, in which case they'll calm things down in the south, and the international force will go in?

    Or will they take the gains and try to, you know, continue the war against Israel? In which case, the international force will never materialize, and Israel will have some tough deciding to do, whether to stay there or the get out somehow.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Mark?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    Well, I think it's been complicated by the fact that, under this administration, the United States has lost its historic role as the honest broker. And there's no question that the United States is seen as just an uncritical supporter of all Israeli administrations and all Israeli activities. And for that reason, it has really hampered what had been, I think, the very constructive role the United States has played in the past.

    I thought the previous discussion with Margaret was fascinating, because this war is about perceptions to a great degree. And there's no doubt, David's right, that Hezbollah has some real thinking and reflecting to do, because this ragtag group of 15,000 has taken on the greatest regional military power, the vaunted Israeli military machine, and, you know, not defeated it, but is still on the playing field after three weeks, which has not been the experience of other organized military forces in the area against Israel.

    So I think Israel's decisions are not happy ones and their alternatives are not particularly palatable at this point.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Let me just say, it's hard to be an honest broker — it's easy to be an honest broker against Jordan and the Palestinians, because there's a negotiated bit of land that you can be a broker about, but Hezbollah wants to destroy Israel. What are you going to broker? And so that's made it hard to be in the middle.

    But the second thing Mark said — and I do agree with it — if you read the Israeli press and talk to Israelis, they're not happy. The main subject in the Israeli press is: How could this war have been fought better?

    And so it's clear that they didn't achieve what they thought they were going to achieve. And now the question is: Can they create a narrative of victory which will give them a chance to get out?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    An honest broker means being able to talk to all parties. And any settlement of this, long-term settlement, is going to involve a regional settlement. It has to, by definition, and that includes giving Syria and Iran a seat at the table.

    I mean, I'm sorry, that's the reality of it. I mean, this is an administration that, for some reason, denies their existence. There is no long-term solution without their involvement and their being on the line.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    But there are channels open to Syria. There are channels open the Iran. They're being fully utilized. The problem is the interests diverge.

    So what the U.S. is trying to do, along with France and Europe, is to strengthen the regimes that are moderate: the Lebanese government, the Jordanian government, the Egyptian government, the Saudi government. There's a long way from regime toppling, by the way, but they're trying to strengthen those regimes.

    Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and also Syria are trying to weaken those governments on behalf of the terrorist armies. And so you've got a fundamental difference of interest here. And the problem is that, in the past three weeks, the Iranian side has been winning. And that's going to have long-term consequences for the world.