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Shields and Brooks on accidental drone deaths, Clinton money questions

April 24, 2015 at 6:10 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the accidental drone deaths of two hostages in Pakistan, questions about the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest, plus which Republican 2016 contenders are gaining traction.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, the story we started out with tonight, David, that broke yesterday about two hostages killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, all sorts of second-guessing, third-guessing about this. Does the Obama administration need to rethink or get rid of this drone strike policy?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I don’t think they should rethink it because of this.

When you have a drone policy, when you go to war, friendly-fire and accidents and tragedies are just endemic in the nature of the fog of war. In World War II, there was something called the Allerona train bombing, where American bombers accidentally killed 400 American POWs and British and South African POWs that were in Nazi control.

It was an accident. These sorts of things happen in these sorts of circumstances. And so the fact that two people were tragic — two innocents were tragically killed is what we should have expected, I think, and what we did expect. War is never perfect.

So, you know, I don’t think it should be cause for us to reevaluate. I think the fundamental issue that is worth reevaluating all the time is the equation between how we’re setting back al-Qaida or are we inciting others to join ISIS? And that’s a legitimate issue. I don’t know the answer to it. But it seems like that’s the big issue here.

The fact that a tragedy — a completely foreseeable tragedy happened that’s endemic in the nature of this sort of business happened doesn’t seem to me a cause to rethink.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Time to reevaluate, rethink?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist: I don’t think we have ever evaluated a thought about drones, quite frankly, Judy.

This is a perfect weapon for a 12-year war without any coherent explanation and without any conclusion to it. It’s a war, as James — General James Mattis, the former CENTCOM commander, pointed out recently in a speech, the only war since the American Revolution we have fought without a draft and we have fought it with tax cuts.

So, this is a great weapon because it removes the war. The war has been fought only by 1 percent of Americans, suffered only by 1 percent of Americans. And this takes all the carnage and all the killing. Is it effective, is it surgical, is it precise?  By all those definitions, it’s a rather remarkable device.

But it spares us from ever seeing dead people, from ever seeing the wailing of the orphan, of the widow. And I think there’s — in a responsible democracy, there has to be debate and there has to be accountability, and there hasn’t been.

The president has accepted responsibility, as he should. But he says there’s going to be an investigation. We don’t know what it’s about. And I think there are serious questions about whether, in fact, in the — with hundreds of civilian deaths acknowledged over the use of drones, that whether in fact it has been an incredible recruitment device for ISIS and for al-Qaida.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

Well, I would say, what are their alternatives?  It seems to me there are four alternatives. One, we don’t do anything, and we allow al-Qaida to have safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That seems to me hardly a great option. The second is, we have bombing campaigns with conventional bombs. That seems to me much messier.

The third is, we send in special forces. And this isn’t Hollywood. You are not going to send in six people. You’re going to send in hundreds of people. And they’re scared, and they’re doing massive assaults. It seems to me you’re going to have more casualties. Or drones. It seems to me, of these horrible options, drones is the least bad option.

MARK SHIELDS: I just — I really do think that this comes back to we have not had a debate about what we are doing there and what we ought to be doing.

If there is a commitment, a true commitment on the part of the nation, it isn’t something that’s just done like a video game. It is something that does, should involve the American people, not only in the debate, but in some sense of commitment as to what we’re about.

There has been no debate on this war. It’s just been turning it over to the president. And I think liberals have to acknowledge that, under a liberal Democratic president, that the number of drone attacks has increased dramatically. And we have become reliant upon it and we have resorted to it. It’s become the default means of United States military engagement in a very, very difficult area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly is a — at least a debate in the short term. And the president saying today that we’re going to — that he’s going to reevaluate and look at whether any changes can be made.

But let me turn you to something else closer to home, but very much in the news this week, David, and that is the stories yesterday in your newspaper, The New York Times, and other news organizations about the Clinton Foundation, about money going to the foundation, about a uranium mining company, a Canadian company with donations, again, the head of the company giving money to the foundation, and then that company needing an OK from the U.S. government for the Russians to buy controlling interest.

What are we learning here about the Clinton Foundation and the charities they run?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s way more egregious than I expected.

I thought there were donations and people were giving money. But there were probably people giving money for the noblest of reasons to the foundation, some people not — apparently giving money not for the noblest of reasons. And this uranium story, where there’s a connection, where the secretary of state nominally sits on this government body which gives OKs to mergers with national security implications, and then a company deeply involved in that kind of merger giving lots of money in the opportune money to the Clinton Foundation, according to my newspaper, the foundation not reporting it really adequately, that’s reasonably stark.

Now, the defense is, she didn’t know, she wasn’t directly involved. Well, that’s completely plausible. But the fact is, you’re sitting on — as secretary of state, or you’re Bill Clinton running the foundation, and somebody’s giving you all this money and you know it has government implications, and that doesn’t ring all sorts of alarm bells?

Where’s the self-protection there?  Where is the self-censorship or the self-thing, no, this is not right?  And so I’m sort of stunned by it. I’m surprised by it. And, you know, the paradox of it right now is for Hillary Clinton’s president — or candidacy is, people think she’s a strong leader.

But the latest Quinnipiac poll suggests they don’t trust her, they don’t think she’s honest. They have these two thoughts in their minds at the same time. And it just seems, with the Clinton family, there’s going to be a lot of competence and a lot of great political talent and governmental talent, but you’re going to have a run of low-level scandals throughout the whole deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you see?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there’s two separate memories that Democrats have of the Clinton years, the golden Clinton years, the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the country for African-Americans, and Latinos, lowest unemployment rate in 40 years for — among women, the first — greatest surpluses and budget deficit — budget in the country’s history, first balanced budget in 50 years, I mean, just rather remarkable.

Then there’s the transactional part of the Clinton administration, sort of the darker part, the major donations and renting out the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, the briefings in the Map Room at the White House for businesspeople who contributed and meet their regulators, and, worst of all, the Marc Rich pardon, where his wife, Denise, who has since, let it be noted, renounced her American citizenship and gone to a tax haven, gave $201,000 to the Democratic Party, $450,000 to the Clinton Library, and $100,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

And, in return, apparently, she got a pardon for her husband, the fugitive financier, who is really one the sleaziest people on the planet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, this is bad at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

MARK SHIELDS: This is the end of the administration.

But this is what it evokes, this kind of — the sense of the money and is their transactional politics. And I just think it comes now at a time when you have got to be totally transparent and get it out there, now amending their filings.

But I think this is — there is sort of dispirited feeling among Democrats. There’s enormous respect for her as a leader and her talents, but there’s a question of, my goodness, are we going to have more of this?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it mean for her campaign?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, for the Democratic Party, it should mean, let’s look around. Is this all we have got?  Whether she’s strong or not, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Second, it re-raises the e-mail issue. Now it just — before, she could have some plausible case that the e-mails were destroyed because they were nobody’s business. But now, each time you get another scandal, you think, oh, that’s why she destroyed the e-mails, because she didn’t want — to hide.

And so it just brings that up again. And then they raised a lot of money. And Bill Clinton gave a lot of speeches. And she gave a lot of speeches. It’s very unlikely this is the last of the cases, this one uranium. And there’s the book coming out in a few weeks possibly detailing more of the cases. And so it will just be a steady theme, a subtheme of her campaign.

MARK SHIELDS: Let me just make one quick point.

And that is, Bill Clinton did get $500,000 for a speech — that’s a lot of money — in Russia. David goes for half of that. No, but…

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Seventy percent.

MARK SHIELDS: Seventy percent.

But Ronald Reagan, when he left office in 1989, went to Japan, he gave two speeches of 20 minutes each for $2 million, $2 million, which is $4 million in today’s dollars, and $2 million contribution to the Reagan Library.

The difference?  Nancy Reagan wasn’t secretary of state. Nancy Reagan wasn’t getting to run for president of the United States. I mean, George W. Bush has made a lot of money on speeches. But that’s what makes it unseemly. And that’s what makes Democrats nervous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But one of the arguments the Clinton people are making, though, is it’s disclosed, that they have disclosed everything, and if they haven’t, they are going to get everything out there.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. They have got to get everything…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that take any of the bad taste…

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Transparency — I think, at some point probably, the president is going to — former President Clinton is going to do almost a grilling, explaining what the Clinton Foundation did.

But I think this is — it’s a time for transparency, but it’s also a time for accountability here. And I think it’s going to be a — to their advantage, this is April of 2015. If it were Labor Day of 2016 and she were the nominee, this would really be a serious blow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the transparency thing?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it helps.

But the thing they don’t know is why people gave them the money. A lot of people were giving them millions of dollars. And some people did it probably because they believe in the foundation work, and they did it for beautiful reasons. A lot of people give money to these things and to presidential candidates because they want to be near the flame of power. They just want to be in the room.

They can go home and say, oh, I chatted with Bill Clinton. But some people give it because they are imagining a quid pro quo. I doubt there’s an actual quid pro quo. Mitt Romney said today it looked like bribery. I think that’s — there’s no evidence of that.

MARK SHIELDS: No.

DAVID BROOKS: But you want to plant the seed. And you have got an issue before the government. And you think, well, this is how government works in a lot of other countries. It probably works a little like this in the U.S., too, and therefore I’m going to plant the seed of goodwill, I will get in the room.

And there’s no quid pro quo, but it’s not great. And so there are all these people giving them money for all different motives, some of them good and some of them pretty bad.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, just one quick thing — $93 million Sheldon Adelson and wife gave to Republican candidates in 2012.

And the Koch brothers are talking about raising $900 million. They are not altruists. I mean, they have an agenda. Make no mistake about it. That’s what we’re talking about with the dimension of money now in our politics, which is very much in the saddle.

And to Lindsey Graham and Hillary Clinton’s credit, they are the only two people I know running who say we need a constitutional amendment to change it.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It would just say, quickly, there is a difference between an ideological agenda, which seems to me legitimate, and a business deal that you want to get ratified.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, OK. No, I’m not questioning — I would rather — I would take the second, quite frankly.

DAVID BROOKS: Interesting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You would take which?

MARK SHIELDS: I would take a business — I would take a business deal, rather than somebody who is making foreign policy for the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Less than a minute.

I wanted to ask you about the Republican field. You have each got less than 30 seconds to tell me if you see anything settling out among the many Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: The only thing I have seen this week is that Marco Rubio is shooting upward. He’s now — in the last two polls, he’s in number one place. And I think that’s because we were kind…

MARK SHIELDS: Thirteen.

DAVID BROOKS: He’s at 13 and 15.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s basically unformed. It’s still sort of unformed. But we were kind to him, and he’s shooting right up there.

MARK SHIELDS: It was.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cause and effect.

MARK SHIELDS: It was the Brooks boost, is what it was.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: The Republican field right now is — there’s no leader. It’s a leaderless group.

But they’re all secretly praying that the Supreme Court will declare same-sex marriage legal nationwide, so they can get away from the issue. They — this is a killer issue for them. And they would love to be rescued by the John Roberts Supreme Court.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on that note, we thank both of you on this Friday night in April.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

 

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