Episode: Shields and Brooks on how Paris changed the political debate

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Shields and Brooks on how Paris changed the political debate

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, this entire week, we have spent looking at what happened in Paris.

My question is, David, has this — what has this done here in the United States? Are we now in some kind of new normal, as we were after 9/11?

DAVID BROOKS: I think what ISIS has done psychologically is, it’s like a drug, you have to take more of it to get the effect.

And so their malevolence, their viciousness, their violence, they have ratcheted up a level. And they started doing that from the first moment we became conscious of them, with the beheadings, with setting people on fire, and then this killing.

And while they haven’t achieved the super al-Qaida 9/11, they have created a more menacing atmosphere, I think, in this country, certainly in Europe and around the world, in Nigeria, Boko Haram. And so I think there is a sense of living with violence.

And so I think about Israel, with, whatever you think of Middle East policy, the citizens there live with violence. And you adjust in some ways, you develop rituals in some ways, but it preys on the consciousness in a lot of complicated ways. And I think we’re now more or less in that world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you feel it has changed things?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it compares with 9/11; 9/11 was a profound traumatic experience in this nation.

And just in the reaction, I think that there’s — you can see what 14 years of conflict has done, and 14 years of being at war has done, as well as what ISIS has done. Fourteen years ago, when the United States suffered the greatest infliction of loss of life on its own soil in our history, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, visited a mosque. He said, Islam are our friends. These are — the people who do this are traitors to their faith, and we must remind and remember that.

He looked like Abraham Lincoln, compared to the reaction of politicians in this city, and particularly in Lisa Desjardins’ piece tonight, which was small, petty, vengeful, un-American, unserious and irresponsible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about that.

And let’s first look at what — the president came right — pretty much right out of the box, David, and said, our strategy against ISIS is working. Yes, this is a bad thing, but I’m really not going to change anything in a big way.

Is he right with that? Is he on track, as he says he is?

DAVID BROOKS: First, let me echo what — something Mark said about the reaction…



DAVID BROOKS: … the George W. Bush reaction vs. the current reaction from the Donald Trumps and the Ben Carsons.

It’s — what is the vibe now among some people is immoral, degrading, but it’s also just bad foreign policy. Ben Carson is now running for office. He’s a senior figure in the American political scene. If you’re a soldier or marine in an Arab country, Islam is the solution. And you need to show respect. And when that rhetoric flies out across the world, it makes it much harder for our diplomats abroad, for our service people abroad. It has practical impact.

Now, as for President Obama, I think his policy is just a rank failure. And, frankly, he has had several — this has been a slow-rolling genocide for a long time. And in several stops along the way, there have been people in this administration and the other parties who have counseled some sort of action that I think he could have taken which have — maybe ameliorate some of the death we’re seeing.

And he has withdrawn and withdrawn and not taken those actions, even where red lines have closed — have been crossed. He had a training program which didn’t work. He has had token little efforts recently.

And so for him to talk self-righteously about other people and their response to the Syrian refugee — he bears some responsibility for the Syrian refugee crisis. And so he took some decisions to be inactive, which may have been right, wrong, but they were realpolitik decisions, decisions to save American interests, but at the cost of what has clearly been a genocide in Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see what the president’s — whether president’s strategy is working?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, let me just talk — first of all, address the only consistent voice on the Republican side has been Lindsey Graham.

Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, has consistently said, we should send 10,000 troops to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Among the candidates.

MARK SHIELDS: Among the candidates.


MARK SHIELDS: This has not been — this has not — the president — everything the president is doing, that he’s recommended to do, he’s already doing, maybe not in numbers.

I mean, he’s got special ops, he’s got the flights, he’s got the — doing drones. I mean, this is a country, Judy, that is war-weary after 14 years. Make no mistake. We can’t even, in Congress — we can’t even — Congress won’t address an authorization for use of military force. I mean, they won’t even confront this. They won’t take that limited responsibility.

They want to bear no burden. They want to pay no price. They want to sit 10,000 yards offshore and lob grenades, and that’s fine. I agree with David. The president’s premise has been, the United States will not go to war. All right, that has been it. And he was elected to end wars. He doesn’t want to start another one.

And I think that his policies have been, in fact, less than successful by any measurement. But the reality — the reality is, whatever the other side is suggesting, with exception of Lindsey Graham — I mean, when Marco Rubio is asked, it’s premature to discuss the number of troops. He is saying we should send troops, but it’s premature to discuss the number.

And drones are sort of the perfect weapon for a country that doesn’t want to go to war. It only — there’s no fingerprint. There’s no direct involvement. There’s human beings killed on the other end. You never see them. You don’t have to worry about them. You don’t have to meet their widows. It’s sort of an antiseptic warfare. And that’s really what’s been embraced.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does Mark have a point?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, the cowardice on Capitol Hill is sending people off potentially to a very dangerous country not willing to take the vote.

And we need to have this debate. And Congress should be the home of the debate. They don’t want to have it for political reasons.

MARK SHIELDS: Kudos to Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there are a couple of members who are now saying…

MARK SHIELDS: And Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who have led the fight that they should confront it.


DAVID BROOKS: And I think the good news is that there’s beginning to be some sort of bipartisan, cohesive thinking on this.

And so this week, Hillary Clinton, and earlier Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush gave talks. And they had different policy emphases. But they had the basic frame. And the frame is, you can’t — the tempting thing is to just say, let’s bomb ISIS, let’s bomb ISIS.

But as long as Assad is in power, he creates a situation where you can’t get rid of ISIS, because the moderate, the normal Sunnis will not rebel against ISIS as long as they’re the victims of this horrific campaign from Assad.

And so what we need is an uprising among the normal Sunnis, the way we had in Iraq starting in 2007. And Clinton emphasized this in her speech. So, you have to limit ISIS. You also have to limit Assad with sanctuaries and no-fly zones and opposition to him. And it’s a very complicated dance to be against both sides of a civil war, but, nonetheless, that is the only policy that has any prospect of success. And both parties are really orienting around that position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying, among all — what all the candidates are saying, what Hillary Clinton is saying makes more sense, holds together?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think her speech was exceptional. It was complicated, but coherent.

She wants to do some of the things, like the sanctuaries and the no-fly zones, against Assad. Rubio would go a little further and more troops and more things against ISIS. But the basic frame is the same for both those candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought that Senator, Secretary Clinton made a strong — a strong statement. I thought it was coherent.

I think the argument in the debate about a no-fly zone is a real one. And I think there is a real case to be made against it. And the question of risk and reward is a very serious one, I mean, no doubt about it. The sanctuary zone, especially that embraced by Dr. Carson, which is going to be administered by local…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is along the border between Turkey and Syria.

MARK SHIELDS: … who are going to administer this and impose it.

A beautiful safe zone, Donald Trump has endorsed, which is his consistent support of three-syllable adjectives, fantastic, successful, a beautiful safe zone. I mean, these are just — these are not serious — I don’t see an emerging consensus that David sees.

We have right now — Judy, the worst time to make policy is a week after an event like this, because there is an emotional reaction in the country. There is not a consideration, a reflection upon what we’re willing to do.

Has anybody suggested that we might have to pay another dime in taxes? We have spent $4 trillion in the last 14 years in war without paying for it, without paying for it. And now we have a big debate about the national debt. And we ask where the national debt comes from, how it grows, how it swells, when you have wars for 14 years, you deplete an army, you destroy an army.

The United States Army is hollowed out after 14 years, and it is tired. And you have these people urging, let’s go into combat. And as soon as we do and things go wrong, they are — as Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, said, they’re nowhere to be found.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let — go ahead.


I would just say nobody is in favor of the sort of action we had in Iraq in 2003. But I do think what Paris has done is, it was possible before Paris. And maybe it’s still possible, but I think it’s less — harder to make this case — to say, ISIS is so crazy, Syria is just so messed up. Let’s just let ISIS collapse under its own craziness. Let their own internal weaknesses take them down. Let Assad’s internal weaknesses take it down. It’s just some crazy Syrian thing.

What Paris has done is show that it’s not just a Syrian thing, that ISIS has now — time is not on our side. ISIS is now going off and doing this sort of activity. God knows what happens if they get their hands on biological or chemical weapons. For these people, there are no limits. And so time is not necessarily on our side anymore.

And, therefore, you have to — I don’t know what the action is. But you have to think more about the action.

MARK SHIELDS: OK, just on ISIS, I stand in total agreement with David on ISIS.

I mean, you look at 43 blown up in Beirut, a nation of four million people that’s taken a million Syrian refugees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which we had almost forgotten about. That’s right.

MARK SHIELDS: And 200 wounded.

You have 224 blown up on the Russian plane, and you have now 130 in Paris. No, it is — it is — there is no question — unlike al-Qaida, where it was micromanaged by Osama bin Laden, this is — these are autonomous groups that are doing it and indigenous — obviously, as seen by Paris, indigenous recruits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one — the other thing I do want to ask you about in just a little bit of time left, and that is we are watching this debate, David, play out over refugees and what to do.

And there, you do have Republicans saying don’t let them in, and even Democrats joining in and saying hold off on any more Syria or Iraqi refugees.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it’s appalling. The idea we’re doing national or religious profiling or even thinking about that is wrong.

We have got — the refugees are the least likely way they’re going to get in here.


DAVID BROOKS: The perpetrators in this case were from Belgium and France. Are we going to stop the Flemish from coming in?

It’s just — it’s not a carefully thought-through reaction. The process we have to get people into this country through the refugee, it takes a long time. It’s probably the hardest way to get in. And so this is just a native reaction that has been an unpleasant one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We had Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly on the program last night, Mark, who said: We’re all getting phone calls about this. The public is concerned.

MARK SHIELDS: No, I — and I think it’s a failure of leadership on Capitol Hill, not simply to vote, and the way people did vote, but it’s a failure of leadership.

Paul Ryan is the new speaker of the House. He’s the one responsible voice. And what does he do? He has pledged a regular order. We’re going to have hearings. We’re going to do these things.

It happens last weekend, and on Wednesday, they have got a vote on the floor. This is the time to consider. Judy, this is a nation of immigrants that hates foreigners? I mean, this is a country that says, we’re going to have a religious test?

How would you like to be the organizing propaganda minister of ISIS? And you say, let me tell you what the United States says. If you’re a Christian, you can come in. There are no Christian terrorists.

Have they met the Ku Klux Klan? I mean, we — it’s not restricted to one faith. This is a terrible, terrible group of people. They are hateful. They are just villains. But, I mean, this is not limited to one faith or one nation. And it brings out the most xenophobic and the most unserious and irresponsible American attitudes, I think, in this debate on refugees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hold that thought. We’re going to come back and talk about it some more next week.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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