Week In Politics: Sanctions On Russia, And Invasion Of Gaza

Regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times, discuss potential U.S. actions against Russia and President Obama's reaction to Israel's ground invasion of Gaza.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now to our Friday political commentators - David Brooks of the New York Times. Hi there, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Greetings.

CORNISH: So as we heard President Obama - not directly calling out Vladimir Putin - but saying all evidence, so far, points to the Russian-backed separatists as being responsible for shooting down the Malaysia Airline jet.

You know, it was just Wednesday that President Obama had announced additional sanctions on Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine. What more, really, can the U.S. do, David?

BROOKS: Well, I thought Samantha Power made a crucial point to the UN today which was the word escalation. Putin has been inciting for several months now - maybe over a year. Inciting in two ways - first, rhetorically with all the crazy paranoid talk about fascists running Ukraine and all that stuff, really ginning up war fever throughout Russia - and then with the material help which we saw the evidence of, apparently, this week.

And so we have a completely destabilizing figure. Now my problem with the way we've exercised sanctions is we've sort of dribbled them out as has suited our timetable, our legal process, our diplomatic process - not in a way designed to maximize effect. And so I think a big slam of sanctions at the very beginning may have had some effect. But it's clear that this incitement is going to continue and probably escalate as a result of all this. And so something further - and hopefully the Europeans have been persuaded that this is a problem that they find they need to get on board. Our administration has been quite good I'd say.

CORNISH: E.J. do you see EU countries stepping up here?

DIONNE: Yeah, I think that tragedies sometimes concentrate the mind. And I think the reason the administration did not go all in with big sanctions right at the beginning is because the Europeans - the western Europeans - didn't want to do them. Western Europe depends on Russian energy. Our economy doesn't. And so we were not going to get the cooperation from them that we needed.

I think this horrible event really shows how miscalculation and thoughtless error linked with Putin's irresponsibility can cause enormous trouble. And maybe this is a vain hope, a naive hope on my part, but I have really been struck by the fact that we have been, as a country, remarkably less partisan in responding to this tragedy than we have to a lot of others. And maybe that will go out the window in the next two hours somewhere, but I think there's a general view that Vladimir Putin is genuinely dangerous that we have to take action against him. And I hope, maybe, Obama uses an opening here to have a different discussion of foreign-policy.

CORNISH: The president also expressed his support for Israel saying that the country had the right to defend itself saying, quote, "no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders." It seems like we're a long, long way away from the U.S. lead peace talks led by John Kerry a few months ago. Was that all for nothing?

BROOKS: My own view is they backfired and they raised standards the could not be met and have had a negative effect. I think that's the reason Hillary Clinton did not do that sort of thing. Nonetheless I don't think they have anything to do with what we're seeing in Gaza right now. Hamas is an organization of trouble. Sixty three percent of Gazans disapprove of Hamas. The Egyptians, most of the Arab countries oppose the way Hamas has rejected the cease-fire. Hamas has basically decided they want to see their own people killed as a propaganda coup. And I think here again the administration - Bill Clinton and others - have named things very accurately. And what we're seeing is sort of a desperate Hamas trying to gin up some sort of publicity coup through the death of their own people. I don't think it had anything to do with what John Kerry did or didn't do.

CORNISH: E.J.

DIONNE: I agree with David's colleague, Nick Kristof, who wrote that Kerry's initiative was admirable but failed. And I still don't see any way to stop this sort of violence in the long run other than by creating some - a state in the West Bank and Gaza over the long run. I think the other question here is you wonder what would've happened if the PLO's deal with Hamas had been allowed to play out. Could the PLO have displaced Hamas precisely for the reason David said - that they are unpopular. But that's gone, Israel is defending itself, and it's another piece of chaos.

CORNISH: Though that influence seemed to have waned a long time ago - the PLO.

DIONNE: Right, they have. But there is - but Hamas I think is in some trouble. And you have no real government in Gaza now, and that helps feed violence.

BROOKS: And it should be said, you know, that this is caused by the fact that Israel - or exacerbated by the fact - Israel withdrew from Gaza. They're in occupation there. There's no settlements there. And this is the fear of the West Bank that you'll get - basically what you have in Gaza, you'll get that on the West Bank. And that's why the Israelis, for all they want some sort of two-state solution, have been treading so carefully.

CORNISH: We have a short time left, but I just want to ask because there were so many diplomatic crises this week. How would you characterize what we're seeing from this administration?

BROOKS: You know, I think their reaction to these immediate crises have been excellent. They've really done a good job. If I would fault them, it would be in the climactic stuff. I do think that we've been less assertive abroad, and as a result, the wolves of disorder, including people like Vladimir Putin, have been a little more aggressive.

DIONNE: I think the president gave his big foreign policy speech in May at West Point where he talked about the limits of military power - direct military action. And I think that's a good thing.

I think he has to give part two of that speech which is to make clear that the U.S. is not walking away from the world. There are other ways we can have influence. And by the way, a president who really didn't like to commit American troops very much was named Ronald Reagan, and he got criticized by his own side for that. So I think Obama should use these crises as a way of making clear where he really wants to lead us.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of the New York Times - thanks so much, David.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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