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The Analysis of Mark Shields and William Saffire

Jim Lehrer speaks with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist William Safire about the failure of the Federal Marriage Amendment in the Senate, the fallout from British and American inquiries in prewar intelligence errors and other issues in the 2004 presidential campaign.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist William Safire. David Brooks is on vacation. Mark, first these two reports on pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee and then later this week the one in Britain. What effect, if any, are they having on the presidential race?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, I'm not sure what the British report will have, Jim, because it basically said nobody was responsible. They didn't finger anybody. The Senate was a little bit different because the senators all have to defend their own vote, and so their own reputations and their own records are at stake, the most serious vote that any of them will probably cast, that is the decision to send Americans into battle.

    So you see them… it's having an effect already in the sense of senators changing their own positions, saying if they'd had this at the beginning. And I was quite struck this week by the Economist Magazine, that had strongly supported the war. And its become increasingly disenchanted — it had on its cover a picture of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair called "sincere deceivers" and reported in there…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    They're accusing them of being the deceivers… not the deceivees…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No. That's the deceivers because they took their country to war on information that most people in America, the United States, now believe was false and 70 percent blame the CIA for the misinformation, but 60 percent blame the White House. So, it's not good.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You agree this is not good for President Bush?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    No. I read it quite differently, which is why we're here together. The lead in the story, the substance of the Senate report is that nobody cooked the books, that the White House did not pressure and the Pentagon did not pressure the CIA to change their evaluations to fit preconceived policy — just the opposite.

    The Democrats in Congress who voted for the war voted on the same information that the White House had and Tony Blair had. And they made perhaps some misjudgments and had some facts that weren't quite facts, but this was their best judgment.

    And what you have to then take into consideration is, having made their best judgment, for the last ten years, the Senate Oversight Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, after doing nothing to improve things or to actually be a good, tough oversight committee, comes up with a report, 511 pages, saying it's been terrible over there. And, of course, we knew nothing about it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Over there meaning the CIA?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    The CIA and the whole intelligence community. So that's kind of a condemnation of the congressional oversight, as well. In terms of political fallout, I don't think people are going to think, 'gee, they lied to us at the White House.' I think people are going to say, 'hey, this is the information they got, and they acted on it.'

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sen. Roberts, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, was on here the day this report came out, and he, with Sen. Rockefeller, who is the vice chairman of the Democrats, and Sen. Roberts said, Mark, that he expected President Bush to show real anger about this because he was… the information that he got was wrong. Have you detected any of that?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I haven't, Jim. What I found interesting this week is the president, who kept emphasizing that Saddam was a bad guy and he should have been removed, was… that's really become the mantra. And the problem is that the president, people don't doubt his sincerity; they question his credibility.

    But where I disagree with Bill is the United States is less respected, more feared, more isolated with diminished credibility in the world than it was two years ago tonight as a direct consequence of going to war. It's the most fateful decision that a president asks a country to do, and this president did. He made the case. He made it with what has turned out to be flawed, faulty and false information.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Have you been surprised, Bill, that President Bush hasn't got upset or hasn't expressed annoyance with the Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence community, for giving him bad information?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    He played it cool, but what really turns me on, both about the Senate Intelligence Committee Report and the Butler Report in Britain is the yellow cake myth. Sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel.

    But, you remember the most important single blast that came at the president for misleading us into war was about the purchase or the attempted purchase of uranium from Niger, this yellow cake story that was in the president's state of the union address: 16 words, you know. Well, what happened?

    Now we look at this, and you remember Joe Wilson was on the air and on Meet the Press and all over the New York Times and every place castigating the government for misleading people on this so-called seeking uranium. Well, now we know that both the Senate Intelligence Committee, which goes into pages and pages of detail, and the Butler Report say, yep, the president, what he said, those 16 words were true, that the British had indeed learned that…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    We're going to have a segment on that with Wilson and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, but do you think that's of overriding importance on this?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Jim, the president apologized for the 16 words. Now he's going to apologize for the apology, I guess, and so did George Tenet and the CIA apologized for its being in the state of the union.

    What you can't ignore here is the warning the president had from some of the smartest, most experienced and most battle-savvy generals, and that was that we would be the first western, Christian, pro-Israeli invading an occupying army of a Muslim holy land. I don't know what part of that Don Rumsfeld and George Bush didn't understand. But they just went right through the stop sign.

    And we are paying for it today. I mean, the hatred for the United States in the Muslim world has increased exponentially, and the deterioration. So I mean politically there's no way that this is… I don't think it's a big winner for the Democrats, but it's a big loser for George W. Bush.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What about this other point, Bill, that both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have said it really doesn't matter whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, going back to this issue of weapons of mass destruction, it really doesn't matter because Saddam Hussein was an evil man and we should have gotten rid of him anyhow?

    Is that the reason they're not upset, and do you agree with that, with that justification?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    No, they had several justifications. And the word "justification" is loaded. I would say reasons for going to war. Will you go with me on that?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I'll wait till your Sunday column on that – "justification" —

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    I think the reasons we had to go to war, not only to stop this monster, who was killing tens of thousands of people every year in Iraq, many more than were killed since the war, but who was also connected with al-Qaida as the Senate report shows and as the 9/11 Commission will report – will detail.

    And if we can change that 50-year downward drift that's been happening in the Middle East, and if we can establish some kind of beginnings of democracy in one of the most important countries there, that can change the tide of terrorism. And, for that reason, we went to war, and I think history will judge we did the right thing.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That isn't the reason we went to war. We went to war because we were told that he had chemical, biological and was making nuclear weapons and represented a real threat to the United States. Jim, the war leaves nothing unchanged. It leaves people… people are changed, relationships are changed between people, among countries.

    And one major change in this is that the president's cherished doctrine of preemption. No President will be able to go to the American people in the future and say, we have to go to war on a preemptive strike and face anything but a skeptical Congress and a skeptical American public because of what has happened in this experience with Iraq. And we are told that he had this armaments, this army, the plans to do all these things.

    I still disagree strenuously with Bill that there was collusion and cooperation and all of this effort that Saddam had any involvement in 9/11. That has certainly not been proved. And the al-Qaida thing is tenuous at best, so, you know, we could argue about this, but it has changed American domestic politics.

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    Well, you see where John Kerry just today and recently has been talking about there may be a time for preemptive war. He's backing away from dovishness, from your dovishness, Mark. I think he's asserting, you know, he uses the word "values" every single sentence. And one of the values —

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He use values in every sentence? What's that got to do, I mean, that's for preemptive war?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    That doesn't mean you have values. And in foreign affairs one of the values is an aggressive stand against terror. And that's why I think the — a central campaign that we have is going to be on which candidate will best protect the United States in the next four years.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, the central value, before any policy, is that a leader be trusted with and level with the American people, and that did not happen in this case, and the American people do not feel they were leveled with. That's the reason that their support for this war is eroding and eroding on a regular and predictable…

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    — the report you just asked us about — argued just the opposite, that they were acting on the basis of the best information they had.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The best information was flawed information. You have an absolute —

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    So what information do you act on?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    — you have the reliance of the citizen to trust your leadership, they're in a position, a position that most citizens don't have available to them, find out things. And this president came and told the country all sorts of things about Iraq which have proved to be untrue.

    And whether it was a potential sale in Niger and 16 words that were taken out ought to be put back in is hardly vindication and excuse or justification for that war.

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    But nobody is looking at those newly found words and newly found facts.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    You are.

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    You bet I am. I'm doing my best. I think what we'll see is a decision on the basis of who can best protect the country.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Quick question before we go, if I may: This vote this week in the Senate on the same-sex marriage thing, was that an important event?

  • WILLIAM SAFIRE:

    I frankly think that was a stunt that the Republicans pulled, and maybe it will help in some states, but I think of the cartoon that Mike Peters had in the Detroit paper, you know how Edwards and Kerry have been hugging each other and squeezing each other's arms and patting each other's cheek?

    And pictures of that all over the place – and the caption on this was, I think the issue is should we have same-sex running mates.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How do you feel, the politics of this vote? We remind people the Senate didn't even get past cloture so there was no vote… or they didn't get to a majority – but it is going to hurt the Democrats is what the Republicans —

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    You know, I think it was intended to hurt the Democrats. Jim, this is a big issue election. This is an election about war and peace, it's an election about jobs, it's about people losing their insurance, not being able to afford health insurance, about employers not funding employees' pensions.

    It's all of these things. It's not… this is an issue that was intended to divide the Democrats, ended up dividing the Republicans.

    More Republicans divided – the point where it divided the vice president's own home. Mrs. Cheney endorsed the position the vice president had taken four years ago. Leave it to the states – and the vice president switched, flip-flopped I guess you'd say, and endorsed a constitutional amendment —

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Use that term. We have to go. Thank you both.

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