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Shields and Brooks on Keystone politics, Nevada land dispute

April 18, 2014 at 6:31 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the Keystone pipeline decision delay, a conflict in Nevada over private use of public land, Putin’s motives in the ongoing Ukraine crisis and the ramifications of awarding the Pulitzer Prize to reporting based on the Edward Snowden leaks.

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.

So, the State Department, the Obama administration announcing, I guess surprising everybody today, Mark, with this announcement that they’re delaying the decision on what to do about extending the Keystone oil pipeline. The reaction is all over the place. The Canadians are upset. We said, House Speaker John Boehner said it’s shameful. The environmental groups are happy.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and I think the last point is the key.

The people who care most passionately and intensely about the pipeline are those who are opposed to it, not unlike gun control, except an entirely different cast of people and voters. But the environmental groups are. And they are cheered. And they are an important constituency for the Democrats heading into what looks to be a stormy 2014 election.

And I don’t think the White House or the State Department, for that matter, wants to alienate that group at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you think it’s purely political, largely political?

MARK SHIELDS: I’m sure there are — I’m sure there are thoughtful, serious considerations here that I’m totally unaware of, but just looking at first blush, that would be my take.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you read this, the Keystone…

DAVID BROOKS: Pretty much the same.


DAVID BROOKS: It’s been about six years since they have been entertaining this. And everybody in the White House that I have spoken over that time, you can tell what they believe, which is I think is that they want to approve this thing eventually, but they don’t want to do it at a politically inopportune time.

And politically inopportune times keep coming. The only thing I would say is, if you look at it nationally, about 65 percent of Americans support the thing and about 22 percent oppose it. It’s those 22 percent who happen to be in the Democratic base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s — we could talk about this for a long time, but I do want to ask you about the story that we just heard Hari reporting a few minutes ago, Mark, and that is Nevada standoff between a cattle rancher and the federal government.

He has refused to pay his grazing fees over the last several decades. They’re saying he owes something like $1 million. There have been people armed, standing there saying that these — that these federal agents shouldn’t be there. Does this say something about what’s going on out West?

MARK SHIELDS: It does. This is where the Sagebrush revolution, rebellion started, Judy, a generation ago, more than a generation ago now.

But, I mean, you know, to — looking at the equities of the situation, this man, Mr. Bundy, is a freeloader. Other ranchers pay grazing fees, which are not onerous, so that their cattle can graze there. The responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management is to make sure that that land is available for the next generations for multi uses, not simply grazing, but for others as well and for the preservation.

So I don’t understand it. I mean, I give the folks at FOX News great credit. They have — this has been an orchestrated and produced operation there, but they have tapped into something that there are some peoples — people who are just totally outraged at anything the federal government does. They happen to own — the federal government, the United States owns 87 percent of Nevada, and has since — essentially for quite a while.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David, is this something — I mean, does this man have a legitimate grievance against the federal government?

DAVID BROOKS: Not the way he’s doing it.

I mean, he’s self-discrediting, the way he’s doing it. You know, you go out West and you hear grievous against the BLM constantly. There’s — and I think there’s probably a lot of frustration with working with the BLM. But it comes in waves. And I would not say we’re at a high wave.

Certainly, in the Clinton years, you heard of real frustration. And that’s the Sagebrush — part of the Sagebrush revolution was at its peak, but now I think you hear low-level gripings. So I wouldn’t say this represents a mass movement of any sort. It does seem to me more like — more like pseudo-militia activity than a genuine rebellion among people who are otherwise politically un-ideological.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, no sense that this is going to spread to other parts of the West?

DAVID BROOKS: I certainly have not heard that in my visits out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about what’s — what was the lead of our program tonight, Mark, and that’s — and that’s Ukraine, this surprise deal reached yesterday in Geneva between the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union, trying to defuse what’s been going on there.

Today, the reporting is all about these protesters in the eastern part of the country saying, we’re not going anywhere.

Where is this headed?

MARK SHIELDS: I honestly don’t know, Judy. I will say that it appears that Mr. Putin’s plan and the Russians’ plan is to partition Ukraine. And this certainly — they call it federalization, but it is a partition of — an eventual partition of sorts.

Whether it’s to destabilize or delegitimize the elections of May 25, we don’t know. But Putin made a statement. He said, the Russian Federation Council — Russia’s Federation Council has provided the president with the right to deploy armed forces in Ukraine.

Anybody who talks about himself in the third person makes me nervous. He’s referring to himself.


MARK SHIELDS: He says, I really hope that I am not forced to use this right.

I think that, you know, the situation has grown more serious and worse in the past week. And the lack of sense of celebration on the part of the president or Secretary Kerry in announcing the agreement, their expectations seem to be minimal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, worse, despite this deal yesterday?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I agree with Mark on that one.

Obama’s reaction was really remarkable. They have this pseudo-breakthrough, and the president really — was really quite realistic about it, that it’s really — probably not going to amount to much.

And I do think that’s right. What happens in Geneva may be about the timing of how fast Putin acts. What happens in Donetsk and the other places where some of the more militia groups are taking over buildings and stuff, that’s a sideshow.

The main show is in Vladimir Putin’s brain. It’s sort of striking how it’s just one person who really matters here. And the brain, as it’s revealed it to us, even in speeches this week, is pretty aggressive, pretty assertive, growing increasingly more assertive.

And it seems to me, in our response, we really need a psychiatrist more than a foreign policy apparatus. We need to understand what is going to upset him, what is going to disrupt him. And I’m afraid the way that we have done the sanctions has not been well-tailored to sort of a psychological campaign against Vladimir Putin.

We have sort of ratcheted them up slowly, partially hindered by the Europeans. But that’s the sort of thing, beginning slowly as we have, that is going to arouse his contempt, not his respect and certainly not his fear. It might have been smarter if we could have done it with the Europeans to have all the sanctions we did unleash right away just to send a little sharp shock at him.

The next debate is going to be what to do with the Ukrainian army, whether we want to help, how we want to help them, non-lethal, lethal aid. But somehow getting inside his head, which is the main arena here, seems to me the crucial task.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, you — go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, just — just one point.

I guess where I disagree with David is on the sanctions. You have to bring the Russians along — the — I’m sorry — the Europeans along to — in spite of the fact that we might have to get stronger ones. We are dealing here — and I give the president credit that he has not done the macho swagger — swagger or the sort to make this a matter of his manhood or he’s got to earn his varsity letter.

I think that has been strong, and to his credit. We are dealing with the third largest defense budget in the world in the Russians. Only the United States and China have larger defense budgets. I mean, they have got 270,000 troops, 50,000 of which are at the border of Ukraine. Ukraine has an army of 77,000, Judy.

It’s not a first-class, first-rank. I mean, we’re dealing with — to the point, if it comes to military confrontation, of realities here. And I think what may be a cautionary note for the Russians is that they have seen us in Iraq, for example, where invasion is a lot easier than occupation.

And I think, you know, perhaps that will hold things back. But I agree with David that the sanctions have to be accelerated and intensified. And that’s going to require the cooperation and some suffering on the part of the Europeans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s interesting you point that out about Russian defenses, because there’s been a lot of focus on how relatively weak the Russian economy is compared to other countries.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re pointing out — David, his point is that it’s the military establishment in Russia we should be worried about.


And we’re not going to send any troops. American troops are not going to Ukraine. But really we’re trying to deal with a dictator’s head or an autocrat’s head. How do you get him to think twice?

And I think the way you do it is sort of not through kind gestures, where he says, well, they’re being — they’re not being too provocative, I can relax, they’re not scaring me. I don’t think that’s the way he thinks. I do think he thinks in much more brutal terms.

Now, the debate going on within the White House — or at least was a couple of weeks ago — is do — if we send — if we’re aggressive in sending aid to the Ukrainian army, does that send a shock to Putin, or does it give him a pretext to invade?

And I think the administration decided — maybe correctly — that it’s more likely to give him a pretext to be more aggressive. Nonetheless, I do think he’s not a guy who’s going to respond to our own self-restraint. He’s going to respond to a unified sort of assertiveness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All kinds of things I want to ask the two of you about in a few minutes left.

I want to ask you about — Mark, about the Pulitzer Prize this week. Among others, it went to The Guardian newspaper, to The Washington Post for the reporting they did on the national security leaks from Edward Snowden.

I guess my question is, what was your reaction? Did you see honoring the newspaper the same as honoring the man who delivered the leaks…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … who’s been seen as both a traitor and hero?


I mean, the Pulitzer award goes to the dominant, most important news story and coverage and reporting. And I think it’s hard to argue that this wasn’t the most important news story. And the reporting that was done on it was quite professional. The fact that along with it comes Edward Snowden is — is in no way, in my judgment, recognition of him as a heroic figure.

He was central to it. He was indispensable to it. But we saw the part he played yesterday in Mr. Putin’s press conference in Russia, where…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s why I…

MARK SHIELDS: And he certainly — he certainly didn’t rise to heroic status, I wouldn’t say, in that capacity.


DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, I find him repellent. If somebody talked about internal conversations at the NewsHour, or at The New York Times and then broadcast them, I would find that person repellent, and doubly so when it’s national security secrets, after he’s sworn an oath to do so. So I’m no fan of him.

As for the press coverage and whether it deserves recognition, I guess I have sort of complicated views. I’m a little made nervous by the fact that they really did benefit by what I think of as a repellent, unpatriotic act.

On the other hand — and let’s be honest about what we do in the media — a lot of our leaks and a lot of our best stories come from people who are betraying a confidence, come from somebody who’s violating an oath, violating some secrecy, violating an understanding of what goes on.

And so we live in a business that — where we try to expose the truth, but, sometimes, as Janet Malcolm said years ago, we do it by relying on betrayal. We do it by some violated confidence. We do it sometimes by being not totally honest with the people we’re dealing with, by not being dishonest, but not — but by sort of seducing information out of people.

And so this is a morally complicated business we’re in, like most businesses. And I don’t have a total problem with what The Washington Post did, but I don’t have total comfort with it either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were saying yes.


No, I understand. I think David’s — David’s point is well made and well taken. And I don’t know how you make — he is central to the story.



And what he’s done, he has not made himself accountable for it. He did break the law, break the oath that he took, and has not accepted the consequences and refuses to do so. But I think it’s impossible to deny that it started — and the president acknowledged this — a much-needed, long-overdue conversation.

I think we’re finally going to see as a consequence of these stories some element and some urgency in judicial review and congressional review of what’s been going on. And we found out that the NSA apparently was collecting a lot of information, simply because it could collect a lot of information.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s true that sometimes good people produce bad outcomes, and sometimes bad outcomes — bad people produce good outcomes. We’re sort of in that world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that leaves me only to say that, in your case, two good people do two good outcomes every Friday.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you both. Thank you.