TOPICS > Politics

Shields, Brooks Analyze Obama’s Upcoming Afghanistan Announcement

November 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
Loading the player...
Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks go over the week's headlines, including President Obama's upcoming Afghanistan announcement and his promise to curb carbon U.S. carbon emissions.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us from Philadelphia.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us again.

Mark, four days away from the president’s announcement of strategy in Afghanistan.

What do you expect from him, and what does he need to do?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, he is speaking to a nation that is not simply skeptical; it’s pessimistic and it’s divided over Afghanistan.

And we have had nothing but bad news, really, from Afghanistan, whether it is the corruption in Kabul, whether it is stuffed ballot boxes in the election, whether it — most of all, the increasing number of American casualties from that — that theater of combat.

And, so, I think what the president, first of all, has to do is basically four things. First, he has to lay out to the American people who do not understand it, and it’s starting with me, what it means if we lose Afghanistan — quote, unquote — “lose,” I mean if we withdraw.

And then, second, he has to lay out specifically what his strategy is, that new strategy, and how — quite — quite honestly, make that clear, and what that strategy sets out to achieve.

And then the troops, the number of troops come in there, on top of that. And I think he has to tell us how success is going to be measured, progress is going to be measured, what success is, what form it will take. And, finally, I would say, he has to say how we’re going to pay for it. And I think is what’s — the issue that has been brought up by David Obey, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and other members of Congress.

We have put $1 trillion on the credit card since the war began on 9/11 on both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been unpatriotic in a literal since, and it’s fiscally immoral to do so. And I think that’s going to be a major issue in the coming debate over Afghanistan.

Outlining a strategy for troops

David Brooks
New York Times
What McChrystal and Petraeus are sponsoring is something called the COIN strategy, which is not only securing areas, but holding and building. It's really nation-building. It's village by village, going in and really establishing it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, that is a lot for the president to get done. Can he do all that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, we will see.

I guess I would start with number two on the Shields list, which is the strategy for how he's going to do it. I mean, what we're going to -- a lot of attention is going to be paid to how many troops he sends in. There is an expectation it will be somewhere around 30,000 or somewhere in that ballpark.

But that's really not the key thing to look for. That will be the headline thing, but it is kind of misleading. The key thing is, what strategy is going to he use those troops for?

What McChrystal and Petraeus are sponsoring is something called the COIN strategy, which is not only securing areas, but holding and building. It's really nation-building. It's village by village, going in and really establishing it.

Now, the COIN strategy actually does work. The problem with it, it tends to take 10 years, it takes a lot of money, and it takes a lot of manpower. And so it is a really deep commitment. And it could be -- and my suspicion is -- that Barack Obama does not want that huge commitment, so he's find another strategy.

The question is, if you insert those 30,000-odd men and women, what strategy is there aside from this COIN strategy that he is going to use? And I think -- I will -- I will be mostly paying attention to that. What exactly are these people going to be doing, and how does it relate to the ends?

And, just finally, to end on something that Mark said -- and I think it is quite legitimate -- I don't -- I don't know why we are there. I mean, I have talked to many people, and they give me very different answers. A lot of people say we are there to provide -- so there is no sanctuary for terrorists. Some people say we are really there to secure Pakistan.

And there are other things. So, there is a whole series of different arguments that are made. And he's got to really emphasize one or the other and really show why it is crucial.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But can these all be pulled together, Mark, in one speech on one night?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I -- I -- Judy, it's a major task. I mean, this is how the rise and ascent of Barack Obama has occurred.
It's always been a major speech, whether it was on health care most recently, whether it was on Reverend Wright, whether it was in 2004. It is an -- it's an enormous task. But that's -- that's how his administration has really come to be defined.

I would just add to what David said. I don't -- I'm not in the habit of quoting Henry Kissinger, but he said a conventional army loses if it does not win in a guerrilla war. A guerrilla wins if he does not lose.

And Bruce Riedel, who has been on our show several times, makes the point that, within a generation, the United States is in the strange position on having been on both sides of the war in Afghanistan. We supported the -- the rebels, the insurgent mujahedeen, in -- against the Russians between 1979 and 1989 and along with China and Iran and Saudi Arabia and a lot of other people. But -- and it's a lot easier to support the insurgents.
And now we're on the other side of being -- we will have -- if the president does send in 30,000 American troops which is the number most often heard, and this additional number of NATO troops, we will now have as many troops on our side as the Russians ever had in Afghanistan. And so it is a -- it's a tricky and a very, very difficult task for the president.

Obama must send a stern message

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think the problem is immense. I really do. And one Democrat said to me, "I just wish the White House had taken as much time on health care as they have taken on Afghanistan in putting together their plan."

DAVID BROOKS: If I could just add one more trick that he's got to accomplish, which is about signaling, he's got to signal to Taliban, to the people in Afghanistan, the people in Kabul and the people in villages around that we are really serious about this, that we are going to secure them, because they will not help us in rooting out the Taliban in their village unless they are sure that we have their back, and that we are truly committed to winning and to -- to this effort.

At the same time, he has to signal to the American people, who -- and to many Democrats, who are very skeptical, that we have off-ramps, that we have a way to get out of here. He has to also signal to Karzai that, if he doesn't shape up and meet these benchmarks, we will leave him in the lunch.

So, he has got to at once signal extreme constancy that will be there forever until the end, and also extreme contingency, that we are ready to get out.

DAVID BROOKS: So, that is why this process has taken a long time...

MARK SHIELDS: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: ... because all the things we have just listed are extremely difficult.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The expectations are huge. I mean, is that -- is that the doing of the White House, because the process has taken so long? Or is it just the problem is so big?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the problem is immense. I really do.

And one Democrat said to me, "I just wish the White House had taken as much time on health care as they have taken on Afghanistan in putting together their plan."

But I think that those who have accused of dithering or whatever, those are the critics. I don't think he's going to satisfy them on Tuesday night. But he must answer those Americans who are, frankly, openly skeptical and doubtful about our policy there and whether there is justification for more American lives, more American treasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A tall order, David.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but I mean, the reasons -- I mean, I think there have been costs for the delay. I mean, I understand why he has done it, because it is so complicated, but there's been costs around the world, where people do perceive weakness, and there's been cost within the administration.

This has been a brutal fight, with lots of leaks and counter-leaks and a lot of bad faith. And, so, I think there has been a loss of solidarity within the administration, which has been a cost. Nonetheless, it is worth it, because it's -- it is something that has just taken a long time.

I will say, we are very skeptical. The one thing that I think the reason we are just not getting out is, one, it would be a moral atrocity if the Taliban were allowed to come back. And, two, the region is still extremely fragile, and it has 50 or 75 or 100 nukes sitting over there in Pakistan.

And, so, that is -- that is one of the reasons why I think, in all the different factions within the administration, there is nobody who is really saying, let's just get out. There are some of those people on Capitol Hill, but nobody within the administration. So, we will be there, at least for a couple more years, and in large number.

Momentum lost for climate change

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The push for climate change has lost momentum. And it's lost momentum as unemployment has risen in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you both about another international matter, but -- but very different one, and that is the climate change conference coming up in Copenhagen.

Mark, the White House announced the president will go early in the conference. Mark, they announced the targets, a little less than what the advocates of tougher action had wanted.

Handling -- the administration handling of this, how...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the administration's handling of it, I don't know -- the 17 percent, I know it doesn't please many in Western Europe, where the target in the E.U. has been 20 percent cut in emissions. And the United States and China, between them, have 40 percent of the emissions in the world. So, they are the two big players.

But I do think that climate -- the push for climate change has lost momentum. And it's lost momentum as unemployment has risen in this country. And, you know, the president's going there, but his health care sits in the wake. Ten senators who were supposed to be in Copenhagen have canceled their plans, because they have to be here for the health care bill.

I mean, this is proof that most leaders, 90 percent of their problems are domestic. And, in this case, I think this is proving it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you see this climate change challenge?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, the -- the targets are nice, and the desire to visit Copenhagen are nice. There is a display of symbolic revolve.
But there is no -- there is no actual policy there. The cap and trade bill is -- is extremely -- in extreme peril in the Senate. And so that -- we may not have a vehicle to realize these targets.

And, then, internationally, China has proposed their targets, which are minimal, and which also involve us paying them hundreds of billions of dollars to help them meet those targets. And that is just fantasy land. We are not going to be paying China, our debtors, money to help them raise these fantasy -- these targets.

So, he has got the right intention. And he wants to show that he is serious and the United States wants to do something. But we are lacking a vehicle, the cap and trade bill, which we will get to at -- at earliest next year, and, even then, it will be difficult.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, David, the story that a lot of people are talking about, shaking their heads about, this Virginia couple who crashed the White House, got into the state dinner, the White House saying tonight they did meet the president.

Is this -- is this what reality TV is all about now?

DAVID BROOKS: It's taking over everything. Yes, why not?

Yes, it's sort of understandable. When you go to the White House on a normal day, they treat you badly. They make you show them their driver's license. They really treat you badly, because they want to make it absolutely secure.

When you go for a state dinner, they want to make it a festive occasion, a special occasion. They think you're a big shot, and so they don't treat you as badly.

And, as a result, the security is a little less. And these people snuck in. And it is a sign that, if you have got enough chutzpah, you can do anything.

But I suspect getting into a state dinner in the future for the non-invitees has suddenly become much harder.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, were you frisked the last time you were at the White House?

MARK SHIELDS: I was not.

MARK SHIELDS: But David is right. The scrutiny is tough.

And I'm a great admirer of the Secret Service. They have -- they have a terribly difficult job. But this -- this was a major snafu. I mean, these people were quite brazen and all the rest of it.

I do say one thing, though, Judy. This is one slip-up that cannot be blamed on the Bush/Cheney administration. And I think that is fair to say. And I'm -- as a Democrat, I'm happy to declare it.

Giving thanks

David Brooks
New York Times
If you want to feel depressed about the country, think about the government. But, if you want to real really optimistic about the country, look at people under 30. The crime rate is down. The violence rate is down. Teenage pregnancy is down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, last question on this for both of you on this Thanksgiving weekend.

And that is, Mark, what do we -- what do you have to be thankful for?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I have so much to be thankful for, but I guess, specifically, the laughter of a child is the melody, the music of life.

And I have two wonderful grandchildren, Jack, age 5, and Francis Anne, age 3, and they laugh a lot, and they make me very thankful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I can't imagine saying anything that is going to make your family happier.

David Brooks, what do you have to be happy about, thankful -- thankful for?

DAVID BROOKS: I'm not happy that I'm now going to be in trouble with my three kids, because I was thinking, you know, they just throw things at me.

DAVID BROOKS: I was actually going to make it more general and about the younger generation in general.

If you want to feel depressed about the country, think about the government. But, if you want to real really optimistic about the country, look at people under 30. The crime rate is down. The violence rate is down. Teenage pregnancy is down.

This group under 30 is an extremely wholesome and promising generation. They are all going to have the biggest midlife crisis in human history in about 10 years. But, until then, they really are a sign that America -- you can get caught up in feelings of American decline, but if you look at how people under 30 are behaving, those go away pretty fast.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very well-spoken, both of you.
David Brooks, Mark Shields, happy Thanksgiving.
MARK SHIELDS: Happy Thanksgiving, Judy.