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Shields and Brooks on Crimea consequences, CIA accusations

March 14, 2014 at 6:28 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the significance of political turmoil in Crimea, allegations from the Senate about misconduct by the CIA, a move by the White House to revisit deportation policies and the midterm election outlook for Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Well, Margaret sounded fairly ominous.

David, what are we headed for in Ukraine?


I think that ominousness is fully merited. The Russians are massing troops on the border. They have whipped up nationalist fervor. They’re talking about all the Russians who are being harassed and killed within Ukraine.

If Putin decides to escalate, what else is there? And so I do think — I wouldn’t want to bet on it, but I do think there’s some possibility of something really cataclysmic happening in the next couple of weeks or whatever.

It’s important to remember that, for Putin, if you’re an autocrat in the world today, what’s your central conflict? Your central conflict is between you and Maidan, you and the square. And it’s important for you, for your own very survival, to show that you can beat the square, and that the square is not the future. By that, I mean a popular uprising.

And so there are two ways Putin can do that. The first is just to take over part of Ukraine. The second is just to trash the country and to sow chaos throughout Ukraine, so the country begins to sort of fall apart, and that is something I know administration officials are also thinking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see something cataclysmic coming?

MARK SHIELDS: I hope not, Judy, although David’s portrait is pretty persuasive.

I think one of the mistakes that we have made in the analysis of this is that we assume it’s sort of a Cold War hangover, that the Russians had I.Q.s of 300 and stood 12 feet tall.

I don’t — I think this is very ad hoc. I don’t think that Putin…

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Putin’s part.

MARK SHIELDS: On Putin’s part.

I don’t think Putin expected his puppet to fall as quickly and completely as he did in a popular uprising in Ukraine. And I think he’s been playing it very much by ear. I do think that sanctions are absolutely imperative, and sanctions that stick, and sanctions that stick most of all upon Putin and his outliers.

Those are the klepto-capitalists, or, what — crony capitalists or whatever you want to call them. I would — the private schools, boarding schools of England and some in the United States are being sustained by the full tuitions paid by these Russian oligarchs. And I think perhaps the time has come for that to end.

I mean, their flirtation with “Downton Abbey,” or their fixation with it, and their own gilded living in the West has to come to an end. And I think Mrs. Merkel is the central player in that, as well as obviously the United States, but — and she has shown, I think, some both measure and resolve.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but is that likely to change Putin’s course?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, one area I do disagree with Mark on, I do think, my understanding is he has thought through at least some things, and he’s thought through the economic pain.

I think the last time I checked, the Russian market was down 17 percent, the equities market. And I’m sure he’s thought through the sanctions and thought through the visa possibilities. And I think he has said, we lived through Stalingrad. We can live through this.

And so I do think that he’s sort of steeled his country for the economic pain. And it should be said, domestically, he is doing very well. He is making hay out of all of this. But, nonetheless, I do agree with Mark about what’s coming.

I think the Obama administration has done a good to outstanding job of responding to this with Angela Merkel, with some of the others, leading from the front, a steady ratcheting up of the costs, ratcheting up of the costs, both to economically, but also to some of the oligarchs. I think they’re being a little too timid on who they’re applying sanctions to. There are some legal restrictions they have to deal with, but they are applying sanctions.

They’re — the visa, the seizing of the assets, they’re ramping that up steadily and slowly, but at the same time they’re beginning to gather an international coalition to really support Ukraine through the IMF and elsewhere. I think they’re being very aggressive and very clear. I think they’re just responding in a way which is earning bipartisan support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But if they — but if the — but if what — if they go ahead, if Russia goes ahead and takes Crimea, where’s the administration then? Where’s the West?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that’s when the sanctions really have to bite.

And I do think the E.U. has been just a molasses on this. They have been very slow in engaging and helping Ukraine and supporting them. I think — I think, beyond that, Judy, what we have in this country is a political reality that, while there’s been loud Republican criticism from John McCain and Lindsey Graham, at the most important conservative gathering of the year, the CPAC convention, National Political Action — Conservative Political Action Committee, the winner going away for president in 2016 was the man who is against chest-thumping, Rand Paul of Kentucky.

And finishing way back in the back of the pack was the man who was the most hawkish of all, Marco Rubio. Now, you could blame that on his immigration stance, but it does appear that there is a political division here at home in the criticism of the president from his political opposition.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say just generally the country doesn’t want to be active abroad. And that’s not just a Republican thing. That’s a national thing.


DAVID BROOKS: For the first time in measured history from the Pew Research Center, more Americans think we’re doing too much to solve the world’s problems. And they want to turn around.

It’s not that they’re against global economics. They just don’t believe in the efficacy of American diplomatic power. They don’t believe in the efficacy of American diplomatic power. They just don’t want us involved. And even in the polling of Ukraine specifically, a majority says, no, don’t get involved.

So, we’re in a very limit-conscious political culture, strategic culture here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, meantime, here in the U.S., there is this surprising split between one of the senators who was most supportive of the intelligence community. Senator Dianne Feinstein came out this week with a blistering criticism of the CIA, said it was spying on the computers used by the Intelligence Committee.

What does this say about the support, the — frankly, the entire intelligence community has had from the political leadership?

MARK SHIELDS: From 9/11 forward, the intelligence community had a blank check in this country.

And it was cashed over and over again. It appears, the NSA, now the CIA disclosures or allegations, that there was the — the presumption was that anything that was necessary to be done to preserve national security, to avoid another 9/11, OK, we would kind of look the other way and maybe suspend civil liberties.

And I think that has run its course. I think there’s a growing concern about privacy in this country. And when Dianne Feinstein, who has been a staunch supporter, defender of the NSA, the CIA, takes to the floor in a rather dramatic speech, it comes down to not whose ox is being gored, but whose wire is being tapped — it was her committee, it turns out, and she’s outraged.

Plus, the NSA is barred by its charter from domestic intelligence gathering of that sort. So this is a real rupture between supporters of the secrecy in intelligence agencies and one of its strongest Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should say the CIA is denying what Senator Feinstein has alleged.


I was very struck. First of all, when Feinstein got on the floor, I was up in the Senate this week, and people were amazed. You knew you do not see this.


DAVID BROOKS: They were sort of gobsmacked over — that you had this sort of public confrontation and this anger, especially from her, so it’s a dramatic moment, a dramatic escalation.

That said, the substance — once you begin reading the substance, it does get very murky. And I was very struck by something the aforementioned Marco Rubio said, which said, it’s very complicated here. What Dianne is saying, Dianne Feinstein is saying, is a little oversimplification of what — how he sees the evidence. And he said, it could be that none of us have clean hands here on either side.

And that does seem — feel true to me. Nonetheless, we have sort of a shooting war, not literally, but a rhetorical shooting war between the agency and the committee. And that’s just weird. And that is just — it reminds me of the rhetorical war the State Department had with the agency after Benghazi. There’s just a lot of things fracturing here, a lot of things — people who should be working together are now in cold war footing.

It doesn’t bode well for the future of cooperation, but it especially raises the possibility that we’re one big scandal away from sort of Church Committee hearings, a big realignment of the whole national security structure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One other — two other things I want to ask you about, but one is, Mark, the president, just in the last 24 hours, announced that he wants a review of deportation policy in this country.

We know the administration is having a hard time getting their comprehensive immigration reform through. The president has been adamant about saying there’s nothing he can do, he has to deport Americans who are here illegally, have to be deported. A lot have been deported. But now he’s saying, we’re going to take another look. What’s happened?

MARK SHIELDS: First of all, any chances of legislation on immigration are officially over. I think that can be signaled by this move on the president’s part.

Secondly, the president was taking criticism from his own supporters in the Latino community. They deported more undocumented immigrants than any administration in the nation’s history. And add to that, Judy, the reality of the 2014 political campaign, I mean, that the Democrats are going to need every vote they have.

And the president got no payoff, no credit on the Republican side from critics of immigration by the fact that he had been the deporter in chief. So I think the decision has been made.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I don’t have an informed view on the merits of reviewing or reforming our deportation policies, but it’s just so nakedly political.

It seems he needs the turnout. The Democrats, they just lost this big election in Florida. They’re in a bad political spot. They need Hispanic turnout. He’s getting — just the week he’s getting ramped-up criticism from the Hispanic Caucus, he turns around and orders a review, which doesn’t necessarily to lead to anything, by the way.

It’s so nakedly political. You hate to see policy done in this way. Whether it’s good or bad, I just don’t know. But it just seems such a spasmatic response to an election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Speaking of that congressional loss, a special election in Florida, Mark, message for the Democrats? They, by all accounts, expected to win. They lost. Health care was a big issue. In a minute, what does this mean for 2014 for the Democrats?

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, House elections are fascinating, because the only way you can get to the House is get elected. You can’t get appointed.

And this was an example where the Democrats had the candidate they wanted in Alex Sink. She had run statewide. She was an experienced candidate. They had money. She was pro-choice. She was pro-same-sex marriage. She was running against a candidate who was anti-abortion rights, anti-same-sex marriage, a Washington lobbyist, a Washington lobbyist, and in a district that President Obama carried twice, and the Democrats lost.

I mean, it is…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Health care reform.

MARK SHIELDS: Health care reform was what — the club that the Republicans hit her over the head with.

I don’t think there’s any question that this is a blow to the Democrats. And their hopes and prospects of winning back the House in 2014 are a lot more bleak than they were before last Tuesday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifteen seconds.

DAVID BROOKS: I would even say even keeping the Senate looks a little grimmer now. Health care reform, it’s a symbol for big government. The Republican ground game seems to be vastly improved more than it was two years ago.

And just it’s — Obama’s unpopular. It has the feel of something that’s real, a real time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re both so popular with us. We have to say goodbye.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.