Week In Politics: National Security Team; Obama's Birth Certificate
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
I'm Melissa Block.
And this being Friday, we welcome back to the studio our regular commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times to review the week in politics. Welcome back to you both.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thank you.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, The New York Times): Good to see you.
BLOCK: I was ready to declare this a royal wedding free zone, but I gather you both have things you'd like to say. We'll try to save a little time for that.
But let's talk first about President Obama's reshuffling yesterday of his national security team. Assuming they are confirmed, Leon Panetta will move from the CIA to the Pentagon as Defense Secretary, General David Petraeus moves from being the top commander in Afghanistan to head the CIA.
E.J., you first. What do these two men bring to their new roles, do you think, that might shape policy in any different way?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, Panetta's move to Defense has widely been interpreted because of his budget background as a sign that the president is going to be looking for more Defense cuts. And I think that makes sense. Panetta was very good at making friends in the CIA and creating a lot of loyalty, which is not always easy for an outsider to do at the CIA.
And he's really going to have to bring the Pentagon along, I think, as the budget fights continue. General Petraeus has said over and over again that he doesn't want to run for president. It's been thought he'd run as a Republican. Working for Barack Obama is not exactly a way to run for the Republican nomination for president. So, one can believe him.
There's always some uneasiness in the CIA when someone from the military comes in. Yet, there have been successful heads of the CIA from there. Things can be interesting - watch the relationship with the Pakistani intelligence. There may be some friction there.
But I respect Petraeus for accepting this job because if he has any political aspirations, this sure isn't coincident with them unless we discover he's a Democrat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: David Brooks, what do you think? Any signal here about the future size of the military, the troop drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Mr. BROOKS: I don't think there's a signal. There are going to be budget cuts no matter who's the Defense secretary. One of the things that, for example, my colleagues Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmidt have been writing about is the merger between the intelligence services and the military. And this has happened -when you're fighting the CIA, the CIA - when you're fighting the Soviet Union, the CIA does one sort of analysis and the military prepares for a certain sort of war.
When you're fighting the Taliban, the CIA is much more involved in military affairs. So what's been happening on a whole series of levels is the intelligence community and the Defense Department have been merging. And this is a perfect example of how that merger has happened, disturbing people in the old guard in both buildings. And yet, it's probably just an inevitable effect.
The other thing is you will have Petraeus and Panetta at the table now when the president's making decisions about whether to go into a future Libya or something like that. And that will reconfirm, I think, his center or center-right inclinations on military action.
BLOCK: The national security changes have been largely expected. Let's talk about something that's much more of a surprise this week and that was President Obama's decision to release his long-form birth certificate confirming, yet again, that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii.
There's been a lot of debate, of course, about whether this was a capitulation to the birther fringe, really dignifying that which shouldn't be dignified. David Brooks, did the president make the right choice?
Mr. BROOKS: I agree he made the right choice in putting out the long-form itself. I wish he'd done that years or months ago. But I think that was absolutely right. Whether I would've myself gone out and given a press conference at the same time Donald Trump was giving a press conference and thereby creating a split screen; whether I would've complained about the aggravating debate going on in Washington, that I would not have done.
BLOCK: Why not?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, because I think what we all have to do - there's really a two-class system in politics. There's the circus class and the serious class, if I can be pompous about it, and why not. And I think people in the serious class should just avoid the circus class. And the birthers are in the circus class and just go on with the serious business that you were elected to do and don't engage all that directly 'cause there's no way to come out unsullied.
BLOCK: E.J., you've written that it's insane that supposedly serious media are devoting so much time to this issue, yet here we are, supposedly serious and devoting time to this issue. Is there really a choice?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, I just don't believe David Brooks writes a New York Times column.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: I mean, just 'cause his name is on the top of it, does that prove that he writes it? Can he give me proof right now that he writes this column?
Mr. BROOKS: Some days I'd like to deny it, by the way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIONNE: This has been absolutely ridiculous. I think Obama did the right thing both to put that out and to go out there to put an end to this because Trump had just let loose an enormous amount of new quotes reporting on this and commentary on this. And I just thought it was time to stop. And this has been very bad for our politics.
And, yes, it has racial overtones. It was about, is he - partly about, is he one of us. And I think that's linked to the other stuff we want to talk about. We have made running for president and being president so difficult for anybody. When Obama, who was clearly born in the United States, two years later still has to do something like this, there's something defective in the way we're doing politics.
BLOCK: But in terms of the media critique, are you saying the media should really just be ignoring this?
Mr. DIONNE: Yeah. Well, I think the standard for the media is, is something true or is it not true? And just because people are talking about it - I mean, I could declare that I am the greatest basketball player in human history and no respectable media would ever run that story. I think truth is what should matter to us.
BLOCK: Let's talk about the presidential campaign that's shaping up on the Republican side. One less Republican candidate for the presidency this week, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour bowing out, saying he doesn't have what he called the absolute fire in the belly. He would've had a lot of money behind him. David Brooks, surprised that he's not running?
Mr. BROOKS: No. I never thought he had much of a chance. My joke about him is that he was Michael Moore's version of a Republican nominee, in that he's a Southern white guy, a little hefty, worked as a lobbyist. And the other thing he faced, which I think he was honorable to face it seriously, was that given his background, given some of the things he said, there would be racial overtones to that campaign. And I think on top of everything else, that's not something he wanted to do.
And so, you know, it's sort of a loss. I never thought he had much of a chance. Those of us who hold out hope for Mitch Daniels had our hopes boosted a little because they are close friends and one of the rumors was that he got out in order - and it certainly clears more ground for the Indiana governor.
BLOCK: So, Haley Barbour bowing out. E.J., though, another possible Republican contender making his way back to Washington, Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor leaving his post as President Obama's ambassador to China and returning today. Coincidentally, I'm sure, that he's giving commencement speeches coming up in South Carolina and New Hampshire, both early key primary states.
Mr. DIONNE: Yeah. I wonder why he's not in Idaho instead. I mean, Huntsman, this is going to be fascinating because the general view is, well, Huntsman worked for Obama, how can someone who worked for Barack Obama win a Republican primary in 2012? But I think Haley Barbour's withdrawal and the very uncertain state of this Republican primary leaves a lot of Republicans looking around for people.
I don't know how Huntsman can pull it off or what exactly he says about Obama now that he is out of the administration. But if there was a year in which somebody coming from where he is might at least have some shot, it's this year, just 'cause Republicans aren't really happy with their field.
BLOCK: And in the very brief time we have left, last words on the royal wedding. E.J., you first.
Mr. DIONNE: I'm a staunch republican - that's with a small r. So I have no use for monarchies. But I was very moved when I was listening to NPR this morning and I heard her say till death do us part. To me this is a story about commitment, not royalty.
BLOCK: And David Brooks, very briefly.
Mr. BROOKS: Really nice gown.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROOKS: The monarchy is part of the identity of Great Britain. And as such it's an important part of their culture.
BLOCK: Thanks to you both, E.J. Dionne and David Brooks.
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