Friday, January 26, 2007

A Big Pundit does okay on the Iraq War

I'm pretty frustrated with the whole punditocracy right now because they failed the country so badly on the Iraq War. But I'll give Mark Shields credit for doing a decent job on the PBS Newshour Friday night (Congress Debates Iraq Resolution, Vice President Cheney Defends Policies 01/26/07). He did a decent job of providing liberal commentary against David Brooks cheerfully reciting the Republican Party line of the day as usual.

Here's commissar Brooks brushing off Congressional criticism of the Iraq War:


But I - but where I would differ, I would say, with Mark, they are having a debate. They are not having a debate about Iraq. They are having a debate about politics.

I went to this David Petraeus confirmation hearing on the Armed Services Committee on the Senate side. They didn't - here is the guy who has written the book on counterinsurgency, who is going over to run the counterinsurgency.

Did they ask a lot of questions about the counterinsurgency? No. They asked a lot of questions about their own resolutions. What do you think of me? What do you think of my resolution? What do you think their resolution?

DAVID BROOKS: So, it was narcissism on parade.

And [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid, at the top of the show, was asking - he said, this is going to be a tough vote for those Republicans up for reelection. It has - nothing with Iraq, the conditions to go on Iraq.

So, this is pure politics. And the idea that somebody is sitting out there in Baghdad waiting to plant an IED, and they think, oh, there is a resolution, that the Warner resolution is actually different from the Biden resolution, believe me, that's not...
It's probably just as well for him that Shields cut him off at this point, because it seems like he was about to say something bizarre.

Shields retorted:

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree.

I think that - is there politics? Sure, there's politics. Are there politics in the Republicans? Are they looking for a fig leaf? I mean, these guys are terrified. I mean, let's be very blunt about it.

But we are finally at least debating the issue. It has gone undebated for five years, Jim.

Look - be very blunt - the Democrats were cowed in 2002. They were terrified of being accused of being soft on terrorism, as they had been earlier cast on - soft on communism or soft on crime.

JIM LEHRER: And they voted for the war resolution.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the majority of House Democrats did not.


MARK SHIELDS: The majority of the House Democrats voted against it.

But the...

JIM LEHRER: The majority...

MARK SHIELDS: But the majority of Senate Democrats did vote for it.

JIM LEHRER: Did vote for it.


MARK SHIELDS: A slim majority.

DAVID BROOKS: But, as we heard from the reporters earlier, the Pentagon reporters, the military wants the surge, most of them. I mean, they are split, of course, like any group of human beings.

Petraeus wants the surge. Have we had a debate about the merits of the thing on the ground? That, I could understand. We haven't had that debate. (my emphasis)
Shields also had a good comment about American public opinion on the war, though he couldn't resist beginning it with a silly nationalistic touch, saying "American voters are the most pragmatic people on the face of the earth". It's hard to square that with Cheney's and Bush's re-election in 2004. But the rest of his comment was okay:

The American people have concluded that this war didn't work out. I mean, they really have.

JIM LEHRER: And that's over, you mean, in terms of the conclusion?

MARK SHIELDS: That decision has been reached. And that's what we are talking about.

MARK SHIELDS: We are talking about how we are going to get - wind it down, and get out. And that's where it is.

Nobody - there is not anywhere near a plurality of any significance in this country that thinks that General Petraeus, with all his genius and all his ingenuity and all his leadership, can make a difference.
Shields was also good on Jim Webb's State of the Union address this past week:

MARK SHIELDS: The administration's argument has become, you are going to let the troops down.

He says: This is not something we are doing for the troops. We sent the troops there. This is not about - about their war. It is a war that we chose and that we choose to continue. And he put the responsibility, just as Chuck Hagel did, right back on the Congress. I mean, they're - and I think that's a fundamental premise that Democrats have not advanced, and really goes...

JIM LEHRER: And Webb is.

MARK SHIELDS: And really just rebuts the White House argument.
It was interesting that Brooks tried to downplay Dark Lord Cheney's current level of influence. That may be good politics. But for Bush to adopt the McCain escalation policy is a pretty good indication that Cheney's still calling the shots on foreign policy.

Also on the Newshour, in an otherwise forgettable interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Jaffe slipped up and said the obvious that our "press corps" is not supposed to say. Ray Suarez asked if there was any sign that Robert Gates was giving his staff more leeway in talking to the press. In his response, Jaffe used the phrase "party line":


Yes. You know, I do think that there is a - more of a culture of openness. I traveled with Secretary Gates last week. And you did get the sense that his staff, in particular, which was Rumsfeld's staff that he had largely inherited, I think felt more comfortable around us.

People are less worried that, if they say something that doesn't conform to the sort of party line, that they will get thwacked on the wrist. (my emphasis)
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