TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks on Afghan Massacre, the Gingrich Factor, Goldman Sachs Op-Ed

March 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the week's top political news including the political implications of civilian killings in Afghanistan, Newt Gingrich's chances of survival in the GOP race and the very public resignation by a Goldman Sachs executive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, a U.S. government official identified the U.S. soldier accused of killing Afghan civilians as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

And on that, we turn the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

This is the first time we have the name. We knew 38-year-old staff sergeant. He is being blown tonight from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

David, this terrible incident, the killing of all these civilians by — and he is the suspect alleged to have done this — how does it change what the U.S. is trying to do in Afghanistan?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m not sure it will have a long-term effect.

This wasn't a column written about the Salvation Army that takes care of homeless and poor people or a column written about the Little Sisters of the Poor who take care of the indigent and dying. This was a column written about Goldman Sachs. And people are ready to believe about Goldman Sachs. Mark Shields

There have been tragedies before. There have been drone killings. There have been a lot of civilian killings over the years. And, as Ryan Crocker said, generally, we have been through them.

I think what is different now is the circumstances surrounding this and the Quran burnings, which is that we’re much closer to the exits. We’re certainly leaving by 2014. A lot of people now think we should leave by 2013. And so that idea that the exits are so close creates this momentum where people think, let’s get out of here.

And what you have is a lot of Afghan capital is leaving the country, waiting for what is going to happen next. You have got an Afghan — the educated class leaving the country and applying for asylum abroad, citizenship abroad. You get the Taliban knowing we don’t have much longer to wait. So they are much more suspicious about negotiations.

So what happens is, when you begin the withdrawal process, you get this spiral. And so managing the withdrawal — we’re all agreeing we’re going to withdrawal — becomes much, much more difficult for the U.S.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, is it all about just managing the withdrawal and getting out faster?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I think it’s more than that, Judy.

I think, first of all, there’s an iron rule of history here. And that is that armies of occupation throughout human history are unpopular. Just think of the French, who were indispensable to the American Revolution, had stuck around for six months. Americans would have been stoning them in the streets. That’s just — that’s human nature.

I think that is the first reality. Now this war is 10 years old. Secondly, nobody can define what the mission is now. Managing the exit, I mean, is this for the more expenditure of blood and treasure and Americans risking death, and worse?

And I guess that — I think that is where it is. And I think that is the reality. It’s got a political implication now. This week, we saw Newt Gingrich say it wasn’t — Afghans — was not doable, Afghanistan was not doable, Rick Santorum saying that we ought to double the resources — I’m not sure what resources mean — or begin to pull out or accelerate the pullout.

And it really appears to be more of a political problem than a strategic international problem.


DAVID BROOKS: I have to say, I disagree with that. I think we know what the mission is.

The military is very clear about this and the president has been very clear about this, is that we are trying to create an Afghan army that can defend the country, so it doesn’t descend back into civil war, so it doesn’t descend back into a pre-9/11 circumstance.

And the people in the military, who are not particularly political, think that is quite doable. And they are little disturbed by the talk of the early withdrawal, because they think they can do that and we can get out. The Afghan army has — is the one sole institution in that country which sort of functions. It’s not perfect by any means. A lot of the troops are illiterate, among other things.

But it does sort of function and there are a lot of them. And so there is some expectation that you will be able to create an army so you won’t have a long civil war, as you had after the Soviet pullout, after — in previous pullouts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you don’t see that as. . .

MARK SHIELDS: No, I stand second to nobody in my admiration of the military, but there is a pattern of American generals. they are always reluctant to go into a war and they are always to leave it. That is the pattern. And that is what we’re seeing now, because this is a failed mission.

Let’s be very blunt about it. We are not going to leave Afghanistan as a functioning, operating society. Karzai is a disaster. If you can remember — those who remember South Vietnam, this is the parallel, this is the bookend to that. We are propping up a corrupt regime that doesn’t have the respect and commitment of its own people and it has no commitment and respect of its people. That is the reality. He is the mayor of Kabul at best. And that. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: So when the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, tells Jeff, as he did a few minutes ago in that interview, that considering the circumstances, Hamid Karzai is doing what he has to do. . .

MARK SHIELDS: He is, what, playing to the gallery by insulting Leon Panetta and condemning the United States and chastising us and telling us what our strategy ought to be there? I just — I don’t see that he is a particularly either admirable or reliable ally.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that. I don’t have much — Ryan Crocker has to say he has a lot of room for Hamid Karzai.

I don’t think too many people — certainly, the U.S. military doesn’t. They see him as corrupt, or at least his brother as corrupt. They see a lot of corruption rife through Afghanistan. There’s no question about that.

But what we want is just stability so we won’t have the Taliban coming in kicking girls out of school. You won’t have just a long civil war, which will be a breeding round for Taliban, which will then bleed over into Pakistan. That’s what we want.

And so can we get some basic level of stability? Well, I think the generals, maybe they’re too yahoo about this, but I do think they think it’s possible. And we have handed over large parts of Afghanistan to Afghan control. They’re running it without really U.S. troops. We’re busy in the south and other regions. So there is some just basic stability. That is all we want.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, you mentioned the political — the implications in the election this year. Do you see any? Do you see this having an effect one way or another?

DAVID BROOKS: Newt Gingrich said what he said for a reason. People are exhausted by this.

And if you ask them, should we stay in Afghanistan, no, we should spend our money here. That’s what people will tell you. On the other hand, I’m not sure it will be a huge campaign issue, because the fiercest opposition to being there is in the Democratic Party. And they’re not going to go against the president.




DAVID BROOKS: And Ron Paul, exactly.

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s beyond partisanship now, I think, the American fatigue with Afghanistan and the lack of enthusiasm for the United States continuing to fight and die there.

Stability is a — that is not exactly unconditional surrender. We want to leave stability in our wake. That just doesn’t — I don’t think it’s a rallying cry. I don’t think it’s a defining mission that Americans are going to support at this point.


The campaign, David, where does it stand? Mitt Romney, we thought he had a shot in Mississippi and Alabama. Rick Santorum won. Newt Gingrich is still in the race. Where is it? Where are we?

DAVID BROOKS: From one quagmire to another.

The good news is we are nearly halfway done the campaign, not quite. It will go on. And it’s just — I don’t think Romney is not going to get the nomination. I think he will get the nomination, because if you look at the delegate math, A., he is way ahead, B., he is likely to stay way ahead.

Will he get enough delegates to clearly give him the nomination? That, I’m not sure of, but I think he will be close. And I say that because what has happened in campaign after campaign or in state after state is purely the battle of demographics, upscale voters, middle-class voters going for Romney, especially urban voters, downscale and rural voters going for Santorum.

Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute points out that in every place where there is a Major League baseball park, Romney carries that place. In every place where there is a AA minor league team, Santorum carries that place.

It’s been purely demographic. And if you count the demographics going forward to all these other states, the Californias and even Illinois, there are just more Romney people. So you would expect him to finally get the nomination, after an incredibly brutal and terrible slog.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is it inevitable?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think inevitable.


MARK SHIELDS: A week is a lifetime in politics, and five months an eternity.

I still would bet on Mitt Romney. We are moving — now, David is right — we are moving into territory now, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Illinois, that are better Romney states than they are Santorum states.

What Santorum has achieved is rather remarkable, outspent, outgunned, without any establishment endorsement, written off, just ignored in all those early debates. And contrary to all of the prevailing conventional wisdom about American politics in 2012, he got 49 percent of white working women who work outside of the home voting for him. It’s just — it’s an achievement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite all the controversy.

MARK SHIELDS: And he has got the passion. Romney has got the deep pockets. Romney has got the organization. He has got the enthusiasm. That’s really. . .

DAVID BROOKS: I must say, I think Romney has a much, much, much better chance in the fall.

It’s hard not to be impressed by what Santorum is doing. He’s being outspent 15-1 in some places.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what reward does he get then? He just keeps fighting and. . .

MARK SHIELDS: Well, if he could get Gingrich out of the race, he could finally get Romney one-on-one. But Gingrich — what are the chances of getting Gingrich out?

A man who says — and on the record — that “I define my job as saving Western civilization” is not somebody who probably is going to be talked out a race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I hate to remind you of this, but on this program last week, you said, if Newt Gingrich doesn’t win Alabama and Mississippi, he’s going to have to get out.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he is going to have to get out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s now a week later, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: That just shows you how limited logic is.


MARK SHIELDS: No. But, I mean, it just — he really — now he is saying, “I want to go to Tampa and be a player.”

There is a hell of a reason to make phone calls and go door-to-door.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. He thinks he can deny Romney the delegates. And it’s possible he can.


DAVID BROOKS: One of the interesting parlor games, I guess, if Gingrich doesn’t get out is, what would happen if he did get out?

Some of the polls show the Gingrich voters are kind of split between Romney and Santorum. It’s not necessarily they will all go to Santorum. I think most of the polling suggests the majority would go to Santorum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, for now, you see this thing going on?

MARK SHIELDS: It would have been the difference in Ohio and Michigan.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right. It could — literally, we’re not halfway through.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The last thing I want to ask you about is this column, op-ed piece in The New York Times by this former — now former trader at Goldman Sachs, just blistering, about the culture of Goldman Sachs, saying it’s all about the money.

We knew it was about the money, but he’s saying putting the company ahead of the customer.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is this a surprise? What does it tell us?

MARK SHIELDS: This wasn’t a column written about the Salvation Army that takes care of homeless and poor people or a column written about the Little Sisters of the Poor who take care of the indigent and dying.

This was a column written about Goldman Sachs. And people are ready to believe about Goldman Sachs. Understand this in American polling. When you ask favorable of institutions, big corporations rate higher, big pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, the Congress of the United States rates higher in favorability than does Wall Street and financial institutions.

And this is a group conspicuous for its arrogance and for total self-absolution of its own responsibility in any way for the financial crisis in this country and the suffering that followed in its wake. And to be very blunt about it, this is a company that created a financial instrument and sold it to its customers solely because a hedge fund customer, larger customer, wanted to bet against it. And they made millions on that.

So are people ready to believe it? Yes, they are ready to believe it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, stating the obvious, in 20 seconds. . .

DAVID BROOKS: Well, yeah.

I mean, I thought the guy who wrote it was a bit narcissistic, talking about what a great guy he was. It was three-quarters about him. Nonetheless, the decline in manners and ethos, where people at firms like that talk about their own clients as if they’re to be their cows to be milked, I do think that is true. And that is what needs to be addressed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we thank you both, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.