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Shields and Brooks on Israel’s incursion, challenging Russia

July 18, 2014 at 6:34 PM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss potential consequences of the attack on a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine and the ground invasion by Israel into Gaza.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks right now. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentleman, no shortage of terrible news this week.

And, Mark, let’s start where we left off with Margaret, the Middle East. What does Israel’s ground invasion into Gaza, what does that do, do you think, to hopes for any kind of peaceful resolution here?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the risk of a slippery slope, of it just enlarging, the military operation and military engagement, because it not simply increases the possibility, as Margaret mentioned, of civilian casualties, which have already — I think, as we went on, are approaching 300 dead civilians, three-quarters — 300 Palestinians, three-quarters of whom are civilians and one-quarter of whom are children.

And that’s a problem, but, at the same time, retaliation upon Israeli troops, whether it’s shooting and firing them, trapping them or capturing them. So I think there is a problem of the potential escalation here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does this mean, David, the idea of any sort of resolution is just so far off in the distance, you can’t even imagine it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, yes.

We’re in sort of a parallel universe where it’s sort of a military operation we have not seen before. So Hamas has had no success in inflicting any damage on the Israelis, in part because of the Iron Dome missile defense system and in part just because their rockets are not that great.

But they — when the cease-fire proposal went out there, they greeted that with a barrage of missiles nonetheless, not because they hoped to inflict any damage on the Israelis, but they hoped the Israelis would inflict damage on them and kill Palestinian civilians, which is one of the reasons they have decided to tell their civilians not to flee the areas that are afflicted.

So, it’s a rare moment in military history where a party rejects a cease-fire in order to get more of their own people killed. But that’s part of the strategy, which is a global strategy, a propaganda strategy of eliciting this European response.

I think the U.S. has done a good job, John Kerry’s done a good job of rejecting this strategy of using human shields. Bill Clinton has said things. But this is the strategy they’re trying to enact, and it’s just this perverse military strategy of getting your own people killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it’s not a strategy they’re being open and…

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no.

And David — I’m not disputing David’s reporting or analysis on it, but, you know, every war has its picture. And when you get four kids between the age of 9 and 11 kicking a soccer ball on a beach outside the hotel where Western journalists stay, and several of the Western journalists had been playing with them shortly, killed by an Israeli air attack, then those aren’t human shields.

That’s collateral damage, to be euphemistic. That’s a human tragedy. And there’s no way you could identify them as potential terrorists or problems. And so I think that the concern expressed at a humanitarian level, as well as a diplomatic level in Margaret’s conversation, that Israel could risk, as they did in 2008-2009, when they were 1,400 Palestinians killed and 13 Israelis died — nobody wants anybody to die on either side.

But that really did cost support.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Well, the Israeli problem obviously is they can’t sit there while missiles are raining down on the country.

MARK SHIELDS: Who said they weren’t?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they are raining down on them.

MARK SHIELDS: No. But — yes.

DAVID BROOKS: They’re not hitting Tel Aviv. They’re not hitting Haifa and places like that because of the iron Dome.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. OK.

DAVID BROOKS: But the Hamas situation is a little different this time than the previous situations, in part because the Palestinian population at least until this moment was much more negative. The Pew Research in Gaza suggested a 63 percent disapproval, much less popular among the Palestinian population, the Hamas government.

And Hamas has been greeted with much more skepticism around the Arab world than before. And so they’re in a much, much weaker position, much less effective governing agency than they were in some of the past wars. And that’s both part of the chaos and also part of the instigation, why they want to whip this up.

MARK SHIELDS: I agree that Hamas has been a failure at governing and leading.

But there’s no more quicker way to overlook the shortcomings of any government than to have your civilian population under military attack. I mean, that is a unifying factor, even behind bad leadership, as Hamas has demonstrated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, before we turn to Ukraine, David or Mark, any clarity about what the U.S. could be doing here to help the situation?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, my view, we’re doing the right thing, which is Obama and Samantha Power focusing on Putin.

It’s Putin’s strategy is incitement and sort of messianic fantasy nationalism which both rhetorically has whipped up this messianic nationalist fervor, and then physically armed these people, that’s the ultimate cause, the only thing we can address.

I don’t know if we can get the Europeans to do more sanctions against Putin, but I think the administration is focusing correctly on Putin and his strategy of fantastic incitement.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there is any question that Putin is the heavy in this whole tragedy. And his failed attempts to try to shift blame to the Ukrainians for the airspace, that the tragedy, catastrophe occurred over Ukrainian territory, you could see what he was doing was to incite further ethnic turmoil and to just destabilize the Ukrainian government.

That was his attempt. I don’t think he intended this international disaster.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I just don’t think that’s — I don’t think that was on it. And, I mean, it’s come home to roost with him. I think David’s point is a good one about what the administration is doing. As far as further sanctions, Judy, you have got the French, who have sold ships. You have got the Germans, who get oil. You have got the English, or the British, who welcome the dollars of those Russian capitalists, if we’re going to be euphemistic about it.

And so are they willing to inconvenience themselves, and especially when one-third of all the…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Europeans.

MARK SHIELDS: … the European oil or natural gas comes from Russia, and one half of it goes through Ukraine?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, when the president said — he said this incident in Ukraine will, he said, be a wakeup call for Europe and the world that the conflict in Ukraine is not going to be contained, what does that mean?  I mean, what consequences are we talking about?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t think you have to be a super historian to look at times in the past when people have whipped up fervor and then lost control. They have lost control of it.

I agree with Mark that it’s hard to imagine Putin wanted this to happen. But he did set up this momentum of messianism. And it’s sort of spinning out of control. And if the Europeans see that, then they really have to say, even Putin can’t control this. So what do we do?

And so that does raise — I would think it would raise alarms in Paris, Berlin, London, and everywhere else.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, I agree.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of the U.S. having a role, is the U.S. a bystander?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think — I thought the president today was quite measured in what he had to say. He didn’t — ahead of the evidence or ahead of the facts.

And I think it was probably to some degree a result of what happened after Benghazi, that he just — and he let Samantha Power at the U.N. make the strong and principled statement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Her statement was tougher than his.

MARK SHIELDS: It was. It was. But it was quite principled. And it put the challenge directly to Russia, that they are challenging them not to in any way inhibit, impede the official international investigation of what happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whereas the president was more measured.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And I think they have got to be hoping, as we just heard, that maybe Putin will be like, whoa, this is a problem. And maybe he himself will scale back.

He has in the past, to be fair to him, has scaled back some — when the Ukrainian war got super hot a couple months ago, he pulled back a little. So he’s capable of some regulation, and maybe we will see some of that. It’s certainly worth opening the door to that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Mark and David, stay here, because we’re going to ask you another question in just a few moments.

We will be right back to you.