Skip to main content /transcript


The Bush Presidency: A Look At President Bush's First 100 Days

Aired April 28, 2001 - 19:00   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full CAPITAL GANG. That's Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

George W. Bush was asked to evaluate the first 100 days of his presidency, to be marked tomorrow.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing I know to do is just to give it my all, put my whole heart and soul into the job. I really like what I'm doing and so I'm feeling pretty darn good.


SHIELDS: Is the president ready to compromise on the budget?


BUSH: I appear ready to get something done. It's time for the white house to help bring the parties together.


SHIELDS: But Democratic leaders expressed disappointment.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: We have seen absolutely no attempt -- none, zero, nada -- attempt in the last four months to collaborate with Democrats and get things done in a bipartisan way.



DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's exactly one of the reasons George Bush got elected president. It's that kind of, sort of, partisan vitriolic statement that doesn't move things forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: A CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll this week shows 62 percent approve of how President Bush is handling his job. But 63 percent believe that big business has too much influence over the president.

Kate O'Beirne, a notorious tough marker, what's your letter grade for the first Bush one hundred days?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I think in the first 100 days George Bush should feel pretty darn good. I grade him higher than the gentlemen "C" that some of his critics probably thought he was shooting for. I would give him a "B" plus, and that's an average.

High marks, I think, on policy. He benefits from contrasts with the previous administration. He is keeping promises. I think his low-key style is attractive. I would give him low marks on salesmanship.

The tool of big business, a charge the Democrats love leveling, now is potentially really damaging. It was avoidable. It arises, or the Democrats point to the arsenic decision. That is completely defensible. They are only postponing a lower standard. Tom Daschle and 17 Democrats in October voted to postpone a lower standard. So, it was an unnecessary flap that is a potential problem for the administration.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, will you give him a "B"? An "A"? A "C"?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well 100 days isn't what it used to be. And it doesn't seem like much has happened...

O'BEIRNE: I'm sure he worked about 70 of them.

SHIELDS: That's right. You're being generous.


CARLSON: There's a lot of down time in those 100 days. He should be thankful for China in that it gave us something to actually see him at work. And he brought them back. We don't know exactly who did it, but we know he was concerned about the Bibles and whether the crew was getting...

SHIELDS: Treadmills.

CARLSON: Yes, proper treadmills. But he handled it. They came home. He has made a few blunders that were quite remarkable. Most recently, you know, last week on Taiwan, but North Korea earlier. And the environmental ones may have been avoidable, but nonetheless, they occurred, and I think a lot of that accounts for why he is perceived as pro-business. And it is looming problem.

SHIELDS: "A" minus?

CARLSON: Oh, isn't this pass-fail? NOVAK: No, no -- letter grade.

CARLSON: I'd say between a "B" and a "C" -- "B" minus.

SHIELDS: Ooh, "B" minus, "C" plus.

Bob Novak.

BOB NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I would give him an A minus. And the only reason I give him the minus is the environment where I think he didn't sell the program and then he retreated on it. But everything else he's been much better than I thought he would be. I doesn't see any blunders. I think he has done a pretty good job in selling the tax program.

Don't forget he came in as a disputed president, as a minority president, so I think he has done a very good job. But I will tell you one thing, Margaret, the 100 days has been, is not what it used to be -- it never was. Maybe it was in Roosevelt's time. I barely remember covering that.

CARLSON: How about in your time, Bob?

SHIELDS: He's talking about Teddy, of course.


AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I wish I would have had professor Novak. My academic transcript would look a lot better if I had. Mark, I'm about a "B."

I think they have stayed on message. I think he has made a few mistakes, as Margaret said. But I think they minimized the number of mistakes. The other thing I can give him credit for is for all the trashing of the Clinton war room and perpetual campaign. I think the Bush political team led by General Rove has done a terrific job.

But I think there are rougher seas ahead. I don't think you can keep this tightly controlled message forever, and I agree with Kate, I think the perception that they're in the tank to the special interests and the wealthy is a problem for him. And the truth of the matter is that every time George Bush opens his mouth, there is a kind of a collective "hold our breath, cross our fingers and toes" from most Republicans.

NOVAK: Only from the liberal journalists are the ones that hold their breath.

SHIELDS: Could this liberal journalist have something to say?

NOVAK: Sure.

SHIELDS: All right. I -- my grade, I would give him a "B" minus. I think the discipline has been impressive. I think the political leadership has been impressive. The fact that he's trying to get candidates to run in states. That he's trying to clear the field for republicans, that is what I this a president's responsibility includes. I think he picked a solid cabinet. He changed -- he dropped bad decisions in a hurry, salmonella, Linda Chaves, when there was trouble. I mean, he moves quickly, I think, to damage control very well.

But I think there's one thing that haunts him. That is, 4,500 richest families in the country will get $28 billion in the estate tax, and the Bush tax-cut plan. And 142 million poorest Americans will get the same amount. And I think that's where the perception comes in. But I want to know, Bob, is he more Reaganite than Reagan?

NOVAK: No, he's not as Reaganite as Reagan, but he's more Reaganite than his daddy was. Let me say one thing about the moaning and the whining by Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle about him not being bipartisan. What they want him to do is surrender. That's just ridiculous. They don't want to compromise. They want -- they want a capitulation, and he hasn't capitulated.

O'BEIRNE: Well, let me also flunk Dick Gephardt on honesty. His charge that the administration is not working with Democrats is demonstrably, flatly not true. The cornerstone of the president's administration he tells, is education. The bill coming out of the Senate is going to be largely a Ted Kennedy bill. To such an extent he's having trouble with Republicans.

John Breaux was at the White House this week. They're counting on John Breaux to split their final tax plan. And Joe Lieberman is co-sponsor of his faith-based initiative. Three for three, his top domestic initiatives are all bipartisan.

CARLSON: Mark, let me just add one thing to what you said. Because that tax cut is his domestic program for the most part, other than a kind of weakened education bill, he rises or falls on that. And this pro-business and whether he cares about -- whether he understand the problems of people like you, that question, where he's down I think that is only going to be exacerbated. Nobody cares about your problems.

HUNT: No, no, let me tell you something. Margaret, I disagree with you totally. I think George -- I think the problem with George W. Bush is he does feel Bob's pain. He don't feel other people's pain.

SHIELDS: That's the last word. The gang of five will be back with President Bush on defending Taiwan.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," President Bush was asked whether the U.S. has an obligation to defend Taiwan with the full force of the U.S. military.


BUSH: Yes we do. And the Chinese must understand that. Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself.


SHIELDS: Two hours later, interviewed on CNN by John King, the president repeated that pledge and then qualified it.


BUSH: Secondly, I certainly hope Taiwan adheres to the one-China policy and a declaration of independence is not the one-China policy, and we'll work with Taiwan to make sure that that doesn't happen.



SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is a very delicate relationship and leaving it very vague as to how we would respond has been how every on one of his predecessors, going back a quarter of a century, have handled this issue. His second statement seems to be more in line with that, and so I'm going to believe that's really his view, not the first statement.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, did President Bush commit a major goof here, or a minor goof?

NOVAK: It was a goof. It wasn't major, though. There's no question they are changing the policy on Taiwan. You had to be not paying attention to not know that. He said it during the campaign. His deputy secretary of state, his deputy secretary of defense have both written that they should remove the ambiguity from the defense of Taiwan. Whether that's a wise decision or not, I don't know. But that was the decision.

The problem was that more people worry about that, that that would create a desire in Taiwan to declare independence, which would be a disaster. So, you must follow that up with saying, "but we believe in a one-China policy. No independence for Taiwan." He didn't do that when he gave the snap answer on "Good Morning America." They said, "Mr. President, you've got to do that."

Two and a half hours later he did it. I think he's probably repaired the damage, although this is a very tough name for U.S. Chinese relations.

SHIELDS: Margaret, I mean, tough times, right in the middle of arms sales to Taiwan, right in the middle of the Chinese shooting down an American plane, holding American fliers for 11 days. I mean, was this a time to do it? Was that the proper context?

CARLSON: We are reminded that George W. Bush should never, ever talk about foreign policy without a script. That is the lesson in this. Because when he talked about, you know, North Korea and South Korea he got into trouble. During the campaign when he said, you know, we had all these troops Haiti and we should pull our troops out of Bosnia and let the Europeans do it when they already were, he should not be just winging it on foreign policy.

Now there was only 2 1/2 hours. Taiwan did not declare independence. We didn't have to defend them. But this is not the way you change policy if you're going to.

SHIELDS: Kate, just one question, when you do change policy of this magnitude don't you first consult with your allies, then do it in rather a serious setting?

O'BEIRNE: Please, Bob is right. George Bush had said similar things in the past. I do not believe it is a goof for the United States to say we are not going to let a totalitarian regime, we'll do what it takes to make sure they do not overrun a democratic ally of ours. I think it showed great instincts on George Bush's part.

I've never understood how -- I can understand how the Chinese must know that there could be a real cost, will be a real cost, if they were to try to overrun Taiwan. I never understood the argument that if we were firmer, as George Bush has been about our resolve to defend them, that that would somehow embolden them. Surely they will not risk losing half of their population if there were real confrontation with China on the chance that we would then come in and save them. So I never understood the embolden Taiwan part and I think it was overdue.

SHIELDS: You disagree with Bob, it wasn't a goof?



HUNT: Oh. I think it -- I disagree with Kate. I think it clearly was a goof. I don't think he was comfortable with the issue. But if they are going to change policy, let's have a debate about it. Let's see if Congress wants to commit America to send American men and women over to Asia if necessary. I think it would be a very difficult debate to have. I think there's -- that's a reason why this policy of ambiguity has served us well for 22 years. And I think that's the slip he made, and I think he tried to backtrack two hours later.

SHIELDS: Doesn't Al make a very good point there -- a national debate, because we're talking about American blood and treasure to be expended potentially on a country, an entity, a nation that we don't even acknowledge exists.

NOVAK: I tend to agree with that. But let me tell you something, Pat Buchanan has said, and he's right, that we're not a Republic any more that makes those kind of decisions. That obviously in Bosnia, the president just declares war without any action by the president. The president can go to war any time he wants. And the idea that this is some surprise Al, that's disingenuous. You knew what his policy was. If you didn't you weren't reading his...

HUNT: I don't think he knows his policy. NOVAK: Oh, come on...

O'BEIRNE: He had said it before. He said it again. And his spokesman said he said what he meant to say. Look, Clinton was weak on China, far weaker than George Bush has been, who I think is firming up. And there was nothing ambiguous when Bill Clinton sent 16 U.S. warships to Taiwan when the Chinese were firing missiles off Taiwan's coast. That was not ambiguous.

CARLSON: But he was quick to correct himself.

NOVAK: He forgot to put in the one-China policy. Was that a mistake? Yes, it was a mistake. And they won't admit, we had Karen Hughes on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT AND SHIELDS"...

SHIELDS: And a hell of a show it was.

NOVAK: It was a good show -- and she wouldn't admit there was a mistake. They don't admit mistakes. But that was a mistake which he corrected. It's not a huge mistake.

SHIELDS: Last word, Bob Novak. Next on CAPITAL GANG: The torment of Bob Kerrey.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, speaking at Virginia Military Institute, April 18, revealed how, in 1969, he had led a squad of Navy SEALS in the unintentional killing of Vietnamese women and children.


BOB KERREY (D), FORMER NEBRASKA SENATOR: It was not a military victory. It was a tragedy, and I had ordered it. How, I have anguished ever since, could I have made such a mistake. Though it could be justified militarily, I could never make my own peace with what happened that night, and I have been haunted by it for 32 years.


Kerrey, now president of the New School University in New York, explained himself in interviews this week.


KERREY: I still love my country. I am glad I served in the Navy, I love SEAL team and the people that I served with, but this is something that I did, and it is important for me to let people know it, and to talk about it openly.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, what is the importance of Bob Kerrey's revelation? HUNT: Let's hope, for him, that it's a catharsis, Mark. I want to acknowledge, to start with, that I have tremendous regard for Bob Kerrey, and I suspect that my analysis is affected by that. I think it is a reminder of the horrors of war. John McCain had a superb piece in my newspaper coming to Bob Kerrey's defense in which he said that our image of a hero, a Hollywood image, is not a very realistic one.

I think there are two other pertinent points here. Something terrible happened. There's no question of that. This was not My Lai. This was not a case of where there was a deranged American soldier who purposely set out to kill a bunch of innocent women and children in Vietnam. But a tragic mistake clearly, clearly was made, the details of which become -- become difficult.

And the other point is, that two weeks after that, Bob Kerrey engaged in an act of such heroism that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and nothing detracts from the fact that Bob Kerrey is a hero.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, your reaction.

NOVAK: Well, I want to make a disclaimer too that I too am an admirer of Bob Kerrey. I think you once wrote in a column that he was my favorite Democrat, and that's about true. I would say this: there's a lot of people who are very harsh on Bob Kerrey, who have never heard a shot fired in combat, who know nothing about war. And war is a confused -- talk about the din of battle, a lot of strange things happen and particularly in the Vietnam War where there was an inter mixture of the enemy and the civilian population.

SHIELDS: Deliberately.

NOVAK: Deliberately, so there's a lot of atrocities that occur in war and a lot of things happened and the memories are foggy. All I know is that -- that Bob Kerrey, I think, is an honest man. Whether he remembers everything that happens perfectly, I think he doesn't know whether -- what I do think, is that if we start rest resurrecting all the events of Vietnam and all of the little incidents that occurred there and go into investigations of them, I think -- I don't think it would be would be catharsis. I think it would be a tragedy.

SHIELDS: Kate, John McCain has said I cannot attest, I cannot testify that every bomb I dropped landed on a Vietnamese military installation, that civilians were hurt unintentionally.

O'BEIRNE: That's, of course, always the case with air assaults, but I disagree with Bob. I think if there's credible evidence that women and children, might have been intentionally, which is the testimony of only one of the seven SEALs present, we have an obligation to investigate it out of justice for them, out of justice for members of that SEALs team and on behalf of the honor of the United States Navy.

To just step back a moment, I think there are two interesting things we have learned. One is a media story, how "Newsweek" had much the story two years ago and they now explain, owing to a higher level of scrutiny because he was a potential presidential candidate, Bob Kerrey, they decided not to go with it.

They didn't make the same call about a story with conflicting facts with Admiral Boorda, the head of the Chief of Naval Operations when they disputed medals he might have won, be wearing improperly. The man committed suicide. So, I'm not so sure why an admiral doesn't get the same courtesy as a presidential candidates.

And secondly, I don't subscribe to the notion that if you did not wear a uniform and fight in Vietnam you can't have an opinion. I mean, Once facts and evidence is there, of course, we all can have opinions. It's how we judge heroes long distance during war time. We ought to be able to assign blame, too.

And frankly, the indiscriminate or casual or thoughtless killing of women and children was not a routine occurrence in Vietnam. The United States military behaved honorably there, which is one reason why incidents like this should be gotten to the bottom of.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Whatever turns out here, it would not be thoughtless and indiscriminate. Even when you hear the facts from the one of the six who disputes Bob Kerrey's, it doesn't sound like it was thoughtless and indiscriminate, it was to save their own lives.

I don't think what Bob wants to happen is going to happen because this is like a wound that can be reopened so easily. The Vietnam War just doesn't go away. What we did, the people who came back, who fought there, and the politicians who fought in it are more fascinating to us because they were there and we don't hear about it that much from anybody but people like John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Kerrey.

And to watch Bob Kerrey go through this was to see a man really grappling with his conscience and trying figure out. But I think calling the war a quagmire, it is a quagmire of conscience now.

SHIELDS: I think you're right. I just say this, that I agree with Al and Bob Novak, that I am a great admirer of Bob Kerrey's, I really am. What we're seeing is a man painfully wrestling publicly with his conscience. He's conflicted. He defends, and rightfully, so the courage and the bravery of his colleagues. He defends his service, his own service.

He's conflicted about the war and what America did achieve and didn't achieve there. At the same time, -- and he does it in truly patriotic terms. At the same time, I just wonder how conflicted the country is about this war that we didn't in any way ever come to grips with, I mean, that we let it be fought consistently by the sons of waitresses and cops and teachers, rather than by, in fact, the privileged sons of so many Ivy League schools?

I mean, that's something we've never wrestled with and if that comes to, I think it will serve a purpose and I pray that Bob Kerrey prevails.

Coming up, our CAPITAL GANG classic looks at first 100 days of the senior George Bush.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. On April 29, 1989, THE CAPITAL GANG graded the first 100 days of the first George Bush presidency.


SHIELDS: I give him a solid B on that first 100 days, Pat. This is a man who has the affection of his peers, keeps his own work area neat, and we really expect leadership in the next semester.

NOVAK: I'd give him a very, very low C because he hasn't stood for much of anything, he hasn't done much of anything, there's been no vision. But I grade on the curve, and compared with the dopey presidents we have had before Reagan, I give him a B-plus on the curve.

HUNT: There hasn't been any boldness, there hasn't been any vision, but we had no reason to expect there was going to be. I think he's been refreshingly open, I give him a B. I think it's going to be a tough grade to maintain, though. His best move was appointing Dick Cheney less than 24 hours after the Senate rejected John Tower.

SHIELDS: George Bush's best move, without question, Pat, was his ability to move adroitly and totally away from the intellectually sterile and generally tawdry campaign that was run in his name last fall.

NOVAK: I would say that the president's worst move was turning the other cheek after the humiliating setback on John Tower, partisan politics in the Senate.

SHIELDS: I think the choice of Bill Bennett to be drug czar is imaginative, it's bold, it's high risk, and I think it's one of the few in the administration that is.

NOVAK: The fact that Bill Bennett and George Bush have attacked the gun lobby, eating their own friends, surprised me.

PAT BUCHANAN, HOST, "CAPITAL GANG": I think the biggest surprise is the taming of the conservatives. They haven't said a thing for 100 days.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, how do those grades stand up from that all male group 12 years later?

O'BEIRNE: Margaret, you know the scale: Were they extremely brilliant or average brilliant.

CARLSON: I'd say brilliance was nowhere to be found there. If I could grade the graders, I would say since Bush was a one-term president there was a little grade inflation going on in that round table.

NOVAK: I gave a "C." I gave a "C" minus.

CARLSON: No, on the curve you gave him a "B."

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I think those grades look pretty interesting. Now, it's interesting that Al had exactly the same thing to say about his son 12 years later, did it with a "B," but he didn't think he could hold it. I do believe that Pat Buchanan's remark that the conservatives had given a free pass to the older Bush could be said about the younger Bush.


HUNT: An open administration, no vision, best move being Dick Cheney, taming of conservatives. Deja vu.

SHIELDS: Deja vu?

O'BEIRNE: Well, speaking of seeds, you were prescient to spot an early problems with conservatives, but his son has more capital with conservatives than his father ever enjoyed.

SHIELDS: Last word, Kate O'Beirne. We'll be back in our second half hour with the "Newsmaker of the Week": Presidential historian Michael Beschloss examining the 100 days in history. In our look "Beyond the Beltway," analyzing the Peru shootdown with former assistant secretary of state Bernard Aronson and our "Outrages of the Week," all after a check of the hour's top news.


SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson. Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is award-winning presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Michael Beschloss: age 45; residence, Washington, D.C.; alumnus of Williams College and Harvard University; author of five books, most recently, "Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes": literary executor for Meg Greenfield's posthumous memoir, "Washington."

Earlier this week, Al Hunt interviewed Michael Beschloss.


HUNT: Michael Beschloss, is the 100-day benchmark that the press uses to evaluate a new president, is that a legacy of the FDR hundred days?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is. You know, that's the first time in this country, although, of course, it refers back to Napoleon's 100 days in Paris in 1815. But Roosevelt got so much done, you know, those 15 big laws shored up the banking system, abandoned the gold standard, that people said, here's a president who in 100 days really changed America, and we've been caught up with that ever since.

HUNT: Well, since Roosevelt, has it provided an accurate barometer for modern-day presidents?

BESCHLOSS: No, it really hasn't, and we're so in the habit of evaluating presidents at this point that we sometimes forget that. If you compare the way that presidents look 50 years after they leave to the way we saw them at that hundred-day mark, there usually isn't very much similarity, but there are a few things that we do see. You see clues on a man that we saw previously only as a candidate, and in this case, a governor of Texas.

HUNT: Can you give us one or two examples where the first 100 days have been the least indicative of a president's subsequent performance?

BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, Al, if we had been doing this show in April of 1961 on John Kennedy, we probably would have said this is an amateur who in certain ways isn't even fit to be president because a few days ago, he would have committed the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, which almost destroyed that presidency, and also drove Kennedy to look for almost anything that could give him credibility.

And what he did was he pulled out of mothballs a plan to land a man on the moon by 1970, he was so worried about what people would say at that 100-day mark.

HUNT: Is it true, however, that for most presidents, at least, that their major accomplishments do occur during the first year of their of their presidency?

BESCHLOSS: In Congress, that's usually the case. LBJ, as you know, was very conscious of the fact, especially because he had been majority leader of the Senate, that if he was going to get anything done, it had to be during that first year in 1965, just after his big landslide, and that's when most of the Great Society was passed.

But in other cases, you know, take Kennedy. The best thing we remember him for is probably the Cuban missile crisis and civil rights, those were long after 100 days.

HUNT: Michael, on another note, you are the literary executor of a new book, "Washington," by one of the legends of this town, the late "Washington Post" editorial page editor and columnist Meg Greenfield. What do you think is the central message in Meg's memoirs?

BESCHLOSS: I think the big thing, Al, is that this is someone, and you knew her well, who loved Washington in many ways, but by the time she died in '99, she was puzzled that so many people hated this city. And I think one of the main things she says is, people to a great extent, dislike Washington because the culture has increasingly made people in Washington seem sort of counterfeit. There's a big section on fakery in "Washington." I'm glad to report that no one on THE CAPITAL GANG is mentioned.

HUNT: There also is a suggestion in the book that there's a lot less civility than there was 30 or 40 years ago, more cynicism. Why do you think that is, and is it a permanent condition?

BESCHLOSS: Well, she was torn because she was a big part of the press that gave a lot more scrutiny to politicians by the late '90s than it did in the early 1960s. But she was worried that one result of that would be that, this huge scrutiny, would be that people in Washington become distanced from each other.

For instance, people she knew whom she loved began talking, she says, at the grocery store if they were orating at the United Nations. So she was very much in favor of giving as much scrutiny to political figures as possible, but she really felt we paid a very big cost.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, was Michael Beschloss telling us that the 100 days measurement is essentially meaningless?

HUNT: Well, it's certainly an overly hyped mark. The first couple months of a new president gives us clues as to what to how he's going comport himself, but as Michael Beschloss said, if you look at the most important achievements, what we remember about recent presidents, Truman and the Marshall Plan, JFK and the Cuban missile crisis, Nixon and China and Watergate, I don't think the first hundred days were much of a harbinger at all.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I think Michael Beschloss saying that the first hundred days was not a harbinger of Kennedy, I think he's exactly wrong, and I would cite as my source Michael Beschloss' brilliant book, "The Crisis Years," which was about the Kennedy foreign policy, because his mistake on the Bay of Pigs led to the disastrous Vienna summit with Khruschchev, which led to trying to show his manhood, the intervention in Vietnam.

And I think "The Crisis Years" showed Kennedy to have a failed presidency. I think presidents very often are -- reflect for the rest of their term on those first 100 days.


O'BEIRNE: It's not a reliable milestone, but things have certainly happened to presidents during their first 100 days that are remembered for a long time. Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan's -- the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. An already popular president -- his popularity shot up, and it changed him, he later said.

SHIELDS: Kate -- Margaret.

CARLSON: It truly is hype, because the 100th day is tomorrow, and we've been doing 100 days stories for two weeks now. But let me say one word about Meg Greenfield: if it weren't for Meg Greenfield who was a great journalist, Kate and I wouldn't be sitting on this panel. All the CAPITAL GANG classics will remind you of how recent...


SHIELDS: Thank you very much, Margaret Carlson. Thank you, Meg Greenfield, for all you did.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the U.S. drug wars in the Andes.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Our "Look Beyond the Beltway" goes to the U.S. war on drugs in Latin America. In fighting that war, a Peruvian air force plane, guided by U.S. CIA contract employees, shot down a small plane carrying a family of American missionaries, mistaking that aircraft for drug dealers.

This U.S./Peruvian program has been suspended, leaving a Peruvian diplomat to call this a boom for drug dealers.


CARLOS ALZAMORA, PERUVIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: They will have the time of their lives. This is why I suppose that this will be a short time, and that the operation will be resumed, because they have been proved so effective that 70 percent of the coca cultivation area has been reduced.



REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: We really have to step back and take a look at this process. There's no doubt that the drug on wars -- the war on drugs is critical, but we can't risk people's rights or people's lives through that process.


SHIELDS: Now joining us is Bernard Aronson, who was assistant secretary of State for inter-American affairs under the first President Bush. He now heads a firm that invests in Latin America. Bernie, thank you for coming in.


SHIELDS: Does the tragedy in Peru raise serious doubts about the wisdom of the American war on drugs?

ARONSON: No, I don't think it raises questions about the war on drugs, but this particular kind of operation obviously has to be looked at and I think we need to be satisfied that if the United States is going to be involved in furnishing information to the Peruvians of the Colombians, that they will follow procedures that will ensure that this kind of thing won't happen.

And secondly, I think they need to take a hard look at whether civilian contractors ought to be involved, as opposed to U.S. government personnel, who frankly have more authority and I think will be taken more seriously when they do have doubts.

SHIELDS: Bernie, a question, though, raised by critics of the American program on drugs, and that is when we, 5 percent of the world's population, United States, continue to consume 50 percent of the world's cocaine, isn't this really a demand problem rather than a supply problem, and going into Colombia is sort of a diversion?

ARONSON: You know, Mark, I think the problem in debating this is that we think we can choose between combating demand or supply, and I think we have to do both. There's no question that if you don't reduce demand in this country, the drugs will come in, and I don't think any serious person who cares about this issue doubts that.

And we don't do enough. You know, there are five million hard- core users, about three million don't have access to any treatment programs. And if we were serious as a society, we would do much more to reduce demand, there's no question about it.

But -- and it's a large but, supply also creates demand. If there are drugs all over the society, if they're easy to get, if they're cheap, more people would use them. So it's a myth to think that you can do one or the other.

And secondly, the war on drugs in Latin America is a war in defense of democracy, and that's what this country is about. It's what we believe in, and it's in our interests. The trans-national gangs that deliver drugs bring violence, they bring chaos, they corrupt governments, they kidnap human beings, they traffic in lots of other things, including arms to guerrillas. And if you simply give them carte blanch because you don't believe in interdiction, then you're going to see enormous instability and deterioration in democratic societies, and it's something we believe shouldn't happen, and it's not in our interests as a country.

So I think it's a false choice to say it's attacking the supply or doing something about demand. You have to do both if you are serious, and we don't do either of them very seriously, frankly.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Bernie, I agree with you 100 percent. They shouldn't use the contract employees. I think that is just despicable. I think they should use CIA spotters.

But this is a good program, and like any military program there's going to be mistakes and accidents. But they have had a very good record in -- as the ambassador from Peru said, in limiting the coca production by shooting down these planes. This is a terrible mistake, and we should stop this from happening, but I hope that the Bush administration doesn't panic and eliminate it entirely. I got a question for Bernie. Bernie, you used to be a liberal Democrat, you worked for Fritz Mondale -- you may still be a liberal Democrat for all I know, but can you tell me why it is that liberals have been against fighting these filthy drug dealers and trying to save democracy in Latin America? Is that a liberal concept?

ARONSON: I think that the concerns that have been raised are about the use of the military in Latin America, and that's a legitimate concern. It's not an institution you want to strengthen in Latin America, given its historic role. Unfortunately, a lot of these countries -- there's no substitute for the military.

But I think it's just a mistake and a misunderstanding of the drug problem, and it's fueled by the idea that there's an easy answer, and there isn't. And that only demand reduction will solve the problem.

And I think that if you understand the nature of the drug trafficking trade in Latin America, you recognize that the largest enemy of democratic institutions today in the region is the corruption and the violence that drug traffickers bring. It's true in Mexico, it's true in Colombia, it's true in Peru, it's true in Bolivia, and it will continue to spread.

I think part of the problem is, frankly, we are not a very patient people. You know, if you look at the mafias in the United States, they controlled the Fulton Fish Market in New York for 50 years. They controlled segments of the garment industry. They controlled segments of the construction industry. They controlled the U.S. Longshore Union, and we all knew that.

And it took us 50 years to get the will and to gain the coordination among state and local police officials, and to develop sophisticated tools like the RICO statutes to begin to take down our own mafias. And then we expect the Colombians to do it in a few years, and if they don't succeed, then we lose patience and say this isn't worth doing.

And I don't think, you know, if you're serious, then you have to have a long view of these things. You have to take down these criminal gangs because they're enemies of democracy and they will bring drugs in this country. But if you don't do that simultaneously with a serious effort to reduce demand and to provide treatment, it's not going to be enough. So you have to do both at the same time.

SHIELDS: OK, and we're down to just 90 seconds, Bernie. I do want to turn to Margaret Carlson, because I think Margaret would point out if I didn't preempt her, and that is to say that an awful lot of the call for the end, as Bob described, is not a left-right, it's the Libertarian right who are calling for the abolition of the drug laws and the repeal.

CARLSON: Liberals have been very tough on drugs, and that's one of the reasons we have mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers.

I have a very simple question, since we've very little time, which is that: we were told that the "you fly, you die" policy in Peru can only be executed if everybody speaks Spanish, and many of the CIA people, many of the government contractors simply don't speak the language, and then maybe even this tragedy would have been averted.

ARONSON: Well, if they didn't speak the language, that is ridiculous. But also, I think there's a real problem of authority when you have non-government officials.

The way this program was designed, the U.S. didn't want to have responsibility for what happens, just because of an incident like this, but if we are going to be supplying the information, then we also have to be much tougher to make sure the procedures are tight and they can't allow this kind of a loophole.

In this instance, the procedures that were in place weren't followed. If they had been, I don't think this plane would have been shot down, because for the previous five or six years, 30 planes have been shot down, and there were no civilians involved. So it was a classic mistake.

HUNT: Bernie, I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying, but I think the difficulty -- and I'm certainly not for the drug lords down there, and I'm for democracy -- the difficulty, Mark, is we spent 20 to $30 billion over the last 15 years. Drugs are more plentiful than ever in this country today, and there are more drug lords down there in Latin America than ever before, there are more left-wing guerrillas and there are more right-wing paramilitary. I mean, that's not a very good result.

ARONSON: Well, first of all, Al, you know, it isn't the case we haven't made progress. There are about half as many drug users in this country today as they were in 1979.

The problem is what we do is we charge up the hill, and for one period of time, we were talking about interdiction and we throw money at that, and then we kind of lose interest. And then, we get serious about demand for a little while, but we don't really fund it. We go back and forth as if this is going to be Desert Storm. You know, we are going to go in there with superior firepower, and that's the end of the problem.

This is going to require a long, patient, determined effort to reduce demand in the United States and to take down these cartels. I don't think it's impossible, but you need more patience than we've displayed.

SHIELDS: OK, Bernie, thank you so much for being with us, Bernie Aronson. THE GANG will be back with "The Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: Now for "The Outrage of the Week." Many of my conservative colleagues are rightly alert to the bigotry of anti- Catholicism in our own culture. But what happens when the thugs in Beijing on Good Friday imprison Bishop Shi Enxiang, the 79-year-old leader of the underground Catholic church in China, a man who has spent 30 years in Communist prisons? For the most part, overwhelming silence. Don't want to jeopardize trade with the butchers of Beijing. Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The Senate-House conference committee drafting a budget met for the first time Wednesday, televised by C-SPAN. But they haven't met again. Why? Democratic senators left for a retreat Thursday. And the House never votes after Thursday, so everybody goes home. And Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, who plays an important role in these negotiations, went home to Alaska. They'll all be back Wednesday to start another two-day work week by Congress. Ask Americans who work for a living whether that's an outrage.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, we have pastoral, bucolic Vermont to thank for providing the latest example of political correctness run amok. Last week, a state court judge upheld the refusal of the Department of Motor Vehicles to allow the word "Irish" on a vanity license plate. Vermont law says a word can be rejected if it is considered, quote, "offensive or confusing." This Irishman is offended and confused, and Vermont calls itself the Green Mountain State? Get it, Mark? Green? Green?

SHIELDS: I get it, Margaret. That does it.

Down with Burlington. Go ahead, Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The latest policy imposing language lunacy comes again courtesy of Oakland, California, where ebonics was being taught a few years ago. The city council is set to impose language quotas for city jobs, which would demand that new government hires speak Spanish or a Chinese dialect.

For over two centuries, this nation of immigrants assimilated newcomers by encouraging them to learn English. Now Oakland tells its residents, don't bother learning the language of opportunity.


HUNT: Mark, big tobacco doled out over $8 million in the last election, most of it to Republicans. Its top priority: to kill the Justice Department suit against tobacco that a federal judge has ruled has merit to go forward. Attorney General John Ashcroft, however, is sitting on the suit, so he doesn't get blamed for siding with the merchants of death, but also assuring there isn't adequate funding for the legal action.

When Mr. Ashcroft testifies before the Senate Thursday, he needs to answer: which side are you on?

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. "CNN TONIGHT" is next.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top