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Brooks and Marcus on police power in Ferguson, political change in Iraq

August 15, 2014 at 6:18 PM EDT
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s top news, including the response to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, by politicians and President Obama, as well as the political shift in Iraq and the prospect for additional American intervention.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: This week saw dramatic developments at home and abroad, with tensions rising in Missouri, in Iraq, and among politicians.

To wrap it all up, the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away.

So, let’s first talk about Ferguson, the thing that everybody in the country is talking about.

Dan Balz in “The Washington Post” this morning led with a story that was kind of interesting, that there’s almost this — a conversation that is happening between libertarians and liberals, agreeing on this particular issue. Rand Paul took out a column in “TIME” magazine yesterday about it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, first on this last point about Ferguson, Megan McArdle had an interesting piece in Bloomberg View pointing out the demographics of Ferguson have shifted radically. It was a couple decades ago three-quarters white. Then it became nearly three-quarters black.

And sometimes the hiring practices, it’s, you hire your friend, you hire your brother in the cops. And so they just didn’t keep up with this amazing population inversion that happened there.

As for the larger political thing, it’s almost unanimous. You look across left, right and center, people think it’s overreacting what happened in the nights subsequently. And that’s, a libertarian suspicion of really forceful and violent government. Liberals tend to I guess be suspicious of police power, especially against minority communities.

But for conservatives and especially traditional conservatives, there’s a community thing going on here. The traditional conservatives, led by a thinker named James Q. Wilson, many years ago, was to believe in community policing, getting cops out of cop cars and actually interacting with the locals.

And so that’s the traditional conservative position, that you don’t want to erect walls. You certainly don’t want to militarize things. You want to have an organic relationship between the community and the police force, and that clearly was ruptured here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is it…

RUTH MARCUS: Well — I’m sorry.

But it’s really been fascinating, and I thought really one of the most interesting pieces this week was Rand Paul’s piece on TIME.com, where if you had not looked at the byline, you might have thought it was written by the Reverend Al Sharpton, because he was so anti-police.

And you think back. We have been talking a lot about Missouri Governor Jay Nixon this week. But you think back to Richard Nixon and the tough-on-crime strain of the Republican Party, which stood in such good stead for so long. In fact, it was copied by Democrats like Bill Clinton who tried to show themselves to be tough on crime.

And so I think that to the extent there is this blurring of kind of liberal-libertarian lines, it’s a piece of a very interesting strain within the party. And I think you are a little bit underselling it, David, because there is this tough-on-crime aspect to your party.

And so for this, this Rand Paul — it’s…

DAVID BROOKS: My party.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: I’m sorry. I’ll take that back.

RUTH MARCUS: You know, when we’re done, we can hug it out.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: We will get to that in a minute. All right.

RUTH MARCUS: But in any event, Rand Paul’s views on things like marijuana legalization, on same-sex marriage, on other issues that might attract, bring — not to David’s party, but to the Republican Party, to attract some younger voters, I think is a very interesting thing that my colleague Dan Balz did point out in The Washington Post this morning.

DAVID BROOKS: I would just say, Mr. Republican, I have my mace and my shield and my armored vehicle afterwards.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: You look at Rudy Giuliani, and part of what they initiated there was, A, community policing, B, the broken windows stuff, which meant you do the small stuff, and that way, you prevent the big things later on.

And I do think that has been Republican police policy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, was that an effective policy? Did broken windows actually…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think, certainly, if you remember — go back to early Giuliani, they were getting rid of the squeegee guys. Remember, there were guys who would come out and want to squeegee your window and then demand money.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: It was turnstile hoppers. And it was taking care of the small stuff as a way of preventing the big crimes. And I think that was completely vindicated. But it’s a model, in any case, for any sort of police force like the one we have just seen in Ferguson, which is the big, heavy, militaristic approach, as we have seen, is completely contradictory to sort of calm civil order and law and order.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. So, we know that certain authorities might have overstepped their bounds and been heavy-handed, but what about the state government, what about the federal government? What was their role? How would you grade them?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, the state government, in the form of Governor Nixon, very poorly.

He has been talked about a little bit as a potential national political figure. I think not. I think, if you want to nominate a national political figure as of this week, it would be Captain Johnson from the state police, who really came in and did exactly what you want a politician/public figure to do, which is to be a voice of calm and reason.

Governor Nixon was just late to the game. His state looked like it was a battlefield in Iraq or some terrible war zone someplace. He should have been in there getting the — getting these terrible SWAT team-type forces off the street, bring some calm earlier.

He sounded whiny, I thought, at the press conference today. I thought the president played a good role, a positive role in terms of not attacking the police, but expressing the horror that everybody feels about an unarmed young man being shot for no apparent reason that we have heard of yet, without going too far in prejudging the thing.

And — but I do think there is one interesting thing is wrapped up in something that David said about the federal government role. There’s a really important role here that we’re going to see going forward in terms of the Justice Department investigating this as a potential civil rights violation.

But the thing that is so fascinating is that, even though we have Justice Department investigating issues of police brutality, we also have the Justice Department and the federal government supplying these military-type, military-grade, actual military weapons as part of — it started in the war on drugs, but now it has turned into part of the war on terror.

I was reading today about the police department in Keene, New Hampshire, that had some sort of armored vehicle to protect against the threat of terrorism at the pumpkin festival.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: And I was at the — I happened to be at the Keene pumpkin festival this year. It was lovely, but didn’t feel a great threat of terrorism.

I think, if one good thing comes out of this week, it’s going to be to dial back this militarization of police forces that would do much better off worrying about broken windows.

DAVID BROOKS: I hope there is somebody in my paper investigating why the militarization happened. Were there contracts involved, somebody was getting — making a lot of money selling this equipment to police forces?

HARI SREENIVASAN: We spoke to that guy yesterday on the program.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

And was it just people wanting to be all hyped with new toys?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, boys with toys are a dangerous thing, I’m sorry to say.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: My party, my gender. It’s getting ugly.

RUTH MARCUS: It is ugly, but then there’s the hugs.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do you think that — do you think that President Obama is in a difficult position because he carries the burden of being the first African-American president on, he’s criticized if he overreacts, he’s criticized if he doesn’t react enough?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m with Ruth on the way he has handled this.

I think he has a good record in general — with a couple exceptions of — not grandstanding, of saying what he needs to say, but not making it a theater about himself. And I do think — and I can think of — there have been several times where he had a little restraint about that. And I think he showed the proper restraint this time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

Let’s shift gears to Iraq. There are several layers of this conversation, first, the political situation, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed to have defused some things by deciding to leave.

RUTH MARCUS: Finally.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally.

And then there was also the humanitarian crisis that caught so much of our attention, the Yazidis on the mountain. Was the administration’s position enough when it came to the path that we have taken and perhaps will take in that matter?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it expends on what the meaning of enough is.

This was what passed for a good week in Iraq, especially for the administration, but that’s not saying very much. So the president and the military did the right thing with this humanitarian intervention. It seems to have been a less dire situation than was thought, didn’t require even more intensive intervention.

And so that’s a good thing and that’s the kind of thing that the United States should do when it can. Getting rid of Maliki was necessary, belated. We never should have supported him. The administration should never have supported him going in there in the first place.

The next guy, we just have to hope will be a little bit more open and inclusive, because, otherwise, the country will not be able to stay together. That being said, so this is a good week in Iraq. A good week in Iraq is not a good week, because there is still the fundamental problem that the president, the administration and the country faces, which is that we have seen the spread of this Islamic State, with fighters that are not just wanting to establish a caliphate.

They are threatening, at least according to the attorney general, to send dangerous terrorists to Europe and to the United States, exactly the kind of thing that we were trying to prevent after 9/11. What the administration’s plan is for that, that’s a lot harder to figure out than some pinpoint airstrikes to drop humanitarian supplies on a mountain.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I thought they were going to send in Hillary Clinton and the Rough Riders up to take the hill. She’s eager.

I do think what happened this week is that a greater U.S. role in Iraq became more likely. And, first, what we did militarily, the drops and the bombings had an effect, a positive effect. They worked. Second, we have a government — and this was always Obama’s precondition for U.S. support and involvement — we now have a government that at least in theory will be — has the potential to be a unitary government.

And that was his precondition for doing more stuff to turn back the caliphate, which we just simply have to do. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be sending 500,000 troops. But I do think the president is going to be dragged where he doesn’t want to be, which is just to be more and more involved in Iraq, because the idea of having a transnational caliphate there is a cancer. It will just spread. And I think there’s sort of global agreement on that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And both of you have made references to Hillary Clinton and the interview that she gave to “The Atlantic” last week.

And you saw kind of a divergence in foreign policy ideas between her and the president, while she went out of her way to make sure that she wasn’t disrespect to the president, but that was the reason for them to have to hug it out.

RUTH MARCUS: First of all, I thought it was a terrific interview by our friend and colleague Jeffrey Goldberg.

I do think — and how shocking is this — that some of the differences between and the degree to which she was supposedly dissing the president has been slightly exaggerated. Now, the political reporter in me wants to say, duh. Hillary Clinton is a big girl. She is an experienced politician. She should have known that that was going to happen and be careful accordingly.

I was very — it’s — two things are clear. She’s got a lot of respect for the president’s foreign policy. She talked about how not doing stupid stuff is not a foreign policy, but she also was very clear to say, if you read the entirety of the interview, that she knows that that’s not the entirety of his foreign policy.

It’s also simultaneously clear — and this goes back to the Iraq conversation that we were just having — that she is a more leaner-in, has a more muscular view of what America’s role in the world needs to be.

And I think the question that is going to need to be asked going forward isn’t just what we should have done with the status of forces agreement in Iraq or what we should have done with arming the Syrian rebels, but what we’re going to do now and what the next president imagines we are going to do now with this ISIS state.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

I thought it was a substantive agreement — a substantive disagreement. And so I don’t think it was just she has some — tremendous respect. I do think the Clinton policy is, she is a more Truman, John F. Kennedy style of Democrat. And the Clinton people around Washington have certainly in private been very critical of the Obama foreign policy over the last two or three years, very critical.

And so she is not only more of a leaner-in. She has a much more aggressive faith in American — use of American force. President Obama has much less faith, sometimes does it, but really has to be dragged kicking and screaming.

So, the calibration seemed to me substantively different. And it came out honestly in that interview. And we saw it in 2008. We saw it when they were in the Senate. They’re just different and they think differently about it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, David Brooks, Ruth Marcus, thanks so much.