SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Again, I repeat to you that we're watching an amazing event unfold, and that is the writing of a constitution which guarantees minority rights, women's rights, freedom to worship in a part of the world that had only--in a country that had only known dictatorship.
SIMON: President Bush speaking to reporters in Idaho on Wednesday. Dan Schorr is on vacation, so we're pleased to be joined by Jonah Goldberg. He's a nationally syndicated columnist and editor at large of National Review Online.
Jonah, thanks for being with us.
Mr. JONAH GOLDBERG (National Review Online): Good morning. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: And as we sit now and take a look from this distance at the Iraqi constitutional process, there is news that Sunni negotiators say they're submitting counterproposals on the constitution. They're going to meet later with the US ambassador. At the moment, there is no agreement. How critical is what looks to be so far the failure to bring Sunnis to the table successfully and get their agreement on a draft constitution that'll go to referendum?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, I think it is critical, and the Sunnis are in this--have this sort of luxurious position where if this whole process fails they come out winners and if the process succeeds, because they got what they wanted, they come out winners. They're in a no-lose situation.
And in fact, this whole thing would be a really fascinating civics lesson about how politics works and how constitution writing works if it weren't for all the murder and mayhem, which is sort of like saying that, you know, Mrs. Lincoln thought the play was wonderful. But that said, the Sunnis have this position where basically since they didn't come out and vote--they boycotted the first vote--but the United States essentially insisted that the Sunnis had to be part of the process anyway, they got a ticket to the dance without having to pay for it. And so the Shia and the Kurds are eager to have them sign on 'cause they know that essentially the Sunnis have a veto over this. So that if the constitution fails, they have to go through the whole thing again. The Sunnis will turn out in greater numbers, which will mean that the Shia and the Kurds will have less influence rather than more the second time around, and if they get what they want, they get what they want. So they're in great shape.
And the only positive, the only hope, which may be an oncoming train--the only light that may be an oncoming train in this is that what we're seeing is sort of centrifugal forces where al-Qaeda is being pulled out of the Sunni insurgency. Al-Qaeda wants nothing to do with any of these democratic processes, while the Sunnis are realizing that they have some investment in a democratic political process. And that's good news.
SIMON: Well, to look at the half-full glass, can what looks to be the failure of a negotiation process also be seen as the success of a democratic process?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Well, I think that's right. I think that's a good way of putting it, that merely getting people at the table has made people--once you sit at the negotiating table, you've bought into the concept of negotiating, which is essentially a democratic principle; it's the art of compromise. If the Sunnis really had absolutely no interest in the political process, they wouldn't even be there talking to reject anything. And you get the sense when you hear about the Sunni clerics now talking about bringing, insisting that all the Sunnis vote in the next time around, even to reject it, that is a sign that people are buying into the logic of democracy, which is a logic that al-Qaeda has explicitly rejected. And that's good news.
SIMON: Let me ask you about the president's movements this week 'cause he interrupted his vacation in Crawford, Texas, to travel to Idaho and Utah. Public opinion polls show support for what I'll refer to as I guess at least this stage of the war and the American presence in Iraq seems to be dipping; may be fomented by the failure of Americans so far to see a democratic constitution take hold, certainly the continuing loss of life and sense of an incompetent administration. What do you make about what impact he's had this week?
Mr. GOLDBERG: I think he's not done the best job. As a supporter of the war, I find it somewhat disheartening. Politics--big politics, little politics--it's all about the stories you tell. And President Bush has not seemed able to tell any new stories about Iraq. Now admittedly he's in a bit of a bind. It's very difficult to have a policy of stay the course and at the same time sound like you're saying something new, 'cause by definition staying the course means not something new. But anytime--now you can stay the course on a trip to China and still go through a lot of different terrain, and you go over mountains, you go through valleys and it doesn't sound like President Bush has been eager to tell the new stories. There's a lot of good stories coming out of Iraq. There are a lot of good stories coming out of our own military. One of the most fascinating stories this week which got buried in part because the White House didn't emphasize it enough was that re-enlistment rates among the American soldiers in Iraq are at unbelievable highs, much higher than anyone predicted. Everyone's been talking about how we're going to break the army, and yet--and everyone's been talking about how morale should be low, and yet these guys are just signing up again for a second or third tour, and I think that's a big story and Bush could emphasize that sort of thing a lot more.
SIMON: The Gaza pullout was completed, finalized this week. There were more wrenching scenes, although somewhat fewer, and also acclaim for the discipline, professionalism of the Israeli army. Any thought on where that leaves the peace process now?
Mr. GOLDBERG: I think there is no process. I think that Sharon and the Israelis did this unilaterally essentially because they didn't believe there was a process. I think the larger lesson, and it's interesting because it ties into what we've been talking about with Iraq--is, you know, just this week we saw defenders of the war, including the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making the case that if we pulled out of Iraq it would only encourage and embolden the terrorists, the al-Qaeda and that sort of thing. And what we're seeing in Gaza is precisely that. We're seeing Hamas taking credit for Israel pulling out. We're seeing the practitioners of suicide bombing cheering and saying...
SIMON: Now Israel says it's a strategic retreat.
Mr. GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah, but they said that about Lebanon too, and that increased suicide bombing as well. And I think that that logic applies in some ways to Iraq as well, is that pulling out of Iraq for whatever reason would still be taken by bin Laden and those types as a sign of victory--a huge sign of victory. And the sad and sort of tragic lesson about a lot of this is that I think suicide bombing and terrorism does work. The Sunnis have a lot of their clout because of the insurgency. Hamas is gaining in importance because Israel has pulled out, and it creates a very difficult logic for those advocating getting out of Iraq, which is an honorable position intellectually to reconcile with the facts on the ground.
SIMON: A Justice Department statistician, Lawrence Greenfield, this week is being removed from his position. He complained that his data wasn't presented honestly on racial profiling, wasn't presented honestly by his superiors. It was part of a study that found that police officers are no more likely to stop black or Hispanic drivers than they are to stop white drivers, but they are more likely to use force against black and Hispanic drivers. Mr. Greenfield felt all of that information should be in the press release; it wasn't. What do you make of his demotion?
Mr. GOLDBERG: I think this is sort of a fascinating story on two parts. First of all, as you suggested, it has nothing to do with actually censoring data; it has to do with editing of a press release. And in Washington, the story line that we have right now is that George Bush is against science, is against honesty, is against reporting the real facts on all of this various things, and that's what the punditocracy has sort of been playing up. But the story from the people that I've talked to is that this has much more to do with a war with the permanent bureaucracy in Washington. The permanent bureaucracy in Washington, not just at the Bureau of Justice Statistics but elsewhere, does not like the Bush administration very much. And for months now or years now, BJS in other administrations have been leaking to the mainstream media to embarrass Bush. This has been happening a lot, and so Bush finally clamped down on this guy.
SIMON: Jonah Goldberg, thank you very much for being with us. Jonah Goldberg, you can say thanks...
Mr. GOLDBERG: Oh, thanks you very much. Thanks.
SIMON: ...if you enjoyed it.
Mr. GOLDBERG: (Laughs)
SIMON: Jonah Goldberg, editor at large at National Review Online.