"Shields and Brooks on Trump’s Iran decision, Biden segregationist comments" PBS NewsHour 6/21/2019
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including President Trump’s response to the conflict with Iran and controversy around former Vice President Joe Biden’s comments about working with segregationists.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): This week in politics, Joe Biden's comments on working with segregationists, and tensions with Iran escalate to new heights.
It's time for the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Hello to both of you. A very, very full week.
So, Mark, let's talk about what we are leading with tonight, and that is, again, the tense situation, standoff, whatever you want to call it, between the United States and Iran, with the latest news being President Trump had authorized a military strike, but then — or almost authorized, and then, at the last minute, pulled it back.
What do we make of this?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Well, the President is keeping his word he made during the campaign to be unpredictable. And I think unpredictable is what this qualifies as, Judy.
It's a little unsettling, obviously, because there is no scholar warrior like Jim Mattis in the room. It isn't — you don't get the sense that this has been well-thought-out and the idea that the country is prepared.
There is no sense of what our objective is, and how we will know we have succeeded, and how the country gets on board, and whether, in fact, we do have, as we — for example, George H.W. Bush had 39 nations in the coalition in 1991 when he was responding to the invasion of Kuwait. And this is — we are virtually alone.
I mean, it's unsettling. I'm relieved that the President did. I'm rather that he found out so late in the game, that nobody thought to tell him that we're talking about human casualties. But that's where we are.
Judy Woodruff: What does this say to you, David, about this sort of last-minute reverse course?
David Brooks, New York Times: Yes.
Well, first, I'm glad he reversed course. It does seems disproportionate to me. And disproportion is one of the primary elements of just war theory going back to Saint Augustine. So, Donald Trump and Saint Augustine have one thing in common.
I guess I agree with Mark. I don't know what the strategy here — and, most importantly, I don't know — I don't know Donald Trump's theory of the Iranian regime. They have been expanding their terror activities and seemingly stepping up to the pace.
But are there — is there a battle within the Iranian regime we should be conscious of to try not to tilt things over to the hard-core radicals? Or do we just need to lay down some deterrence? Is there a way we could sweet-talk them into being nicer? Like, there's all these things.
And it's all about the regime. Are they the aggressor? Are we the aggressor here? These are the basic questions that underlie how you react.
You need to — in order to know how to react, you got to know how they will react, and you have to have some theory of what they're thinking. And a normal President would give an Oval Office address and tell us, but we don't really have that.
So I'm sort of struck. I don't know what the proper deterrence is, because I don't know what will deter or what their goals are.
Judy Woodruff: Mark, is there clarity in the administration's approach to Iran, to what is going on?
Mark Shields: No. No, there isn't, Judy.
And the old aphorism in Washington [DC] is, if you want people in on a rocky landing, you better have them be sure that they're on board for the takeoff.
I mean, that is — coming back to George H.W. Bush, who was probably the model in this regard, he got his position ratified by the United Nations Security Council and approved by a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, so that there was this a sense of what our objective was, what the — why the force was being applied, and that there had been an international effort to enlist support, a successful one.
All of that is missing here, Judy. And so, as a consequence, there's just, I think, as David said, both curiosity, anxiety, and just tension.
David Brooks: And tactics are sort of driving strategy.
So we have accidentally walked into the position where we have drawn a red line, where Pompeo was said that you cannot kill Americans. And if you do that, suddenly, things change radically. So that's a red line.
And so if they do end up killing Americans, accidentally or on purpose, then what happens? And if you don't have the overall strategy — they have got so many tools at their disposal. They could do cyber-warfare. They could attack Iranian forces that are spread around the Middle East.
They can, as earlier Presidents have done, gone after the Iranian navy. There are lots of different things they could do. Some of them would kill people. Some of them wouldn't kill people. But if you don't have the overall strategy, you don't know what in order to do those things.
So every day becomes its own decision points. And you're not really in control. It's — you're just stumbling around in the dark, doing one thing. Then they do something, and then they do something. And that, it seems to me, a perfect recipe for escalation.
Judy Woodruff: What about the question that I was asking, I think, Senator Risch and Senator Reed, Mark?
And that is, does this have longer-lasting effects, in that, does it give the sense that this is an administration that is indecisive, weak, and then have — in other words, are there lasting effects? Or is this just something you move on and move on to the next crisis?
Mark Shields: The next crisis.
Well, I mean, I don't think the — I don't want to accuse the President of being weak, just as a citizen, quite frankly, not as — taking off my analyst hat, because he did show restraint, but about policy that he has not been able to articulate or explain, and therefore to enlist support for it.
So, we're all by ourselves here, Judy. That's the difficult part. There are no allies. And that is — I think that's a consequence of everything we have been through for the first three years of this administration.
David Brooks: Yes.
And, at the core, I think he is America first. And that goes back to — whether he knows it or not, to a sort of an isolationist tendency, that we shouldn't get involved in foreign adventures. And that's pretty much where the American people are right now, and even where the Republican Party is.
And so I think there's that core. But if you looked at his rhetoric, you would think he was most aggressive person on Earth, because his rhetoric is, we will rain down fire and death upon you.
And so there's a gigantic gap between the way he talks and mostly what he's been doing.
Mark Shields: And it does — it's the maximum application. It's sort of contradictory, maximum application of force to the Iranian regime, yet I'm not going to get involved or we're not going to get involved in any foreign entanglements, which could collide.
I mean, the maximum force at some point could lead to a foreign entanglement. That's — I think that's the dilemma.