Week In Politics Reviewed

Iran's secret nuclear facility and President Obama's reaction to it, and the continuing political fallout over Gen. Stanley McChrystal's report on Afghanistan dominated the week in politics. Political commentators David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, offer their insight.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

For some analysis now on Iran and the rest of the week in politics, let's turn to our Friday regulars, David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Welcome back, both of you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to be here with you.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Good to be here with you.

BRAND: Okay, lots of threats here with the Iran story and let's start with the Obama administration, how it handled this latest development with Iran, and let's start with you, David.

Mr. BROOKS: I thought, quite well. Gordon Brown said we were all shocked to learn that Iran was doing this. I think, in fact, none of us were actually shocked. They were lying about it. But what the Obama administration has done, first, they really drew a line in the sand by making such a big stink about it, by gathering the world leaders together and by publicly doing it so dramatically. I think what they're suggesting is not only are we going to make a stink about this but we're already prepared and are well along our way in preparing the sanctions that are bound to follow. And the key thing there is not only what happened today with the world leaders but the hint that the Russians gave that they would begin to go along with the sanctions. And if you get the Russians beginning to sign up that really begins to isolate the Chinese. You've really moved a significant way towards sanctions, towards something real that Iran can fear.

BRAND: And Russia made that announcement earlier this week that it would support some sanctions. And really, E.J., the Obama administration won a friend in Russia when it decided last week to suspend President Bush's Missile Shield Program and do you think that played a role in this, in the decision by Russia to go ahead with sanctions it had previously opposed?

Mr. DIONNE: The Obama administration would probably argue that it did, and I suspect that it had some role. I think it is really important today that, first, he stood there not only with Gordon Brown of Britain, our traditional ally, but also with President Sarkozy of France so that you have - you already broadened the alliance within, among our traditional allies.

Russia's involvement is extremely important. And I also think the decision to move the missile shield away from Eastern Europe and closer to Israel looks more sensible today, if anything, than it did in the first place, and I think so he's getting a double benefit from that decision.

BRAND: And what does this do for President Obama and his profile regarding foreign policy, David?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I think, you know, he came to the U.N. this week and he said how we're a different administration, we're trying hard. So far there hasn't been a lot of actually substantive follow-on on that. He's made these gestures. We've promised to close Guantanamo, but he hasn't really gotten very far on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He really hasn't gotten very far in trying to organize a coalition in Afghanistan. But this is the first really concrete step forward that we've seen where you actually are seeing international cooperation.

BRAND: Let's turn to Afghanistan now, another big story this week. General Stanley McChrystal commander in Afghanistan and Mike Mullen Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, they met today in Europe to talk about a possible troop increase in Afghanistan. And David, you wrote today that you think there should be more troops sent. But it's not clear that the president agrees with you or General McChrystal. And I'm just wondering from a political perspective, do Democrats lose on this matter no matter what the president decides?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, you know, the president has gone pretty far. If you look at his speeches, he's really committed to Afghanistan. He's said it's a war of -not a war of choice, a war of necessity, fundamental to the defense of the people. And I don't think he disagrees with McChrystal. I think he's taking his time to make up his mind, an extremely difficult choice. It's not only more troops. It's really a change of strategy and he's taking time. There's a lot of opposition in the Democratic Party but from my conversations today, I feel reasonably confident that something involving the McChrystal strategy will be endorsed by Obama and will be approved by Democrats in the Congress.

BRAND: Now you wrote today that you think that - I'm going to quote you in your column today…

Mr. BROOKS: Good idea.

BRAND: That you think that the realistic choice is all out or all in: surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building.

Mr. BROOKS: Right. I think that's the consensus especially among people who do counterinsurgency. You either do it the right way, which is by really trying to build stability from the ground up protecting the population, which is very troop intensive, or you get out. The idea that you can do it with cruise missiles, with Special Forces, with high technology, that was an idea Donald Rumsfeld thought he could do and it just has never worked. What's historically worked is a very troop heavy, very intensive way of fighting insurgency. That's the hard part but that's the only way that works.

BRAND: But, E.J., that's not what Vice President Biden wants. He wants something…

Mr. DIONNE: Right, exactly. And the administration internally is still, I think, quite divided on this. This is going to be - this is likely to be the most agonizing and maybe the most consequential decision Obama makes. He has lots of words on the record saying how important it is to prevail in Afghanistan - David quoted some of those in his column today. But there is - I think he is asking himself: Can this really work? How long will this commitment be, let alone how much will this cost in a difficult fiscal time and how many people will die there?

And the Democratic Party is not at all enthusiastic about this, so he's got his general telling him to build up. He's got his past position that suggests that's the way he'd go and I think he has a lot of doubts. David may be right in the end, he's going to end up with a build up. But I think he has enormous qualms about what he'll be getting into for a long time if he makes this decision.

BRAND: Yeah, it's not popular and according to recent polls, the public is not in favor of sending more troops.

Mr. DIONNE: The most sympathetic poll I've seen - a lot of polls just show Americans want to pull out. There are other polls that say no, they're willing to stay. But most of them say well, maybe two years, we'll give it two years. And this looks like a much longer commitment than two years. And so, I think there will be public dissatisfaction but I think he's going to get in trouble with the public whichever way he goes. If he backs off, people will say he's backing away from his own position and if he goes in, he's going to get a lot of grief from his party.

BRAND: Right. And what about the midterm elections? Will he lose Democratic seats?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, he'll lose, A, if he surrenders his credibility by backing off these incredibly firm commitments. He'll lose also if the Taliban takes over. The Taliban already has a shadow government in Afghanistan. If they take over, it'll just be a moral atrocity.

BRAND: All right. Thank you both very much.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

BRAND: That's David Brooks of the New York Times and E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: