Shields and Brooks on making a deal with Iran, religious freedom and the marketplace

HARI SREENIVASAN: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, David, let me start with you.

If the hard-liners or some hard-liners in Iran are opposed to this and if Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to this, did the U.S. successfully, or U.S. and the coalition, thread the needle and try to get the negotiations that they wanted to?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don't think so.

I must agree with the hard-liners over there. So, I'm skeptical of the deal. Parts of it are impressive. The inspection regime is pretty good. And so people will really know what they're talking about saying for 10 years we will at least have access to lots of different parts of the Iranian weapons system, maybe not some of the Republican Guard forts in the areas like that, but it's a pretty good regime.

My problem with it are twofold. First, the whole first goal of this thing was to get rid of the Iranian nuclear program. That's what the president said. We're a long way from that. Second, in 10 years, lots of bad things can happen. They can really move quickly.

Third, it's a big bet on the nature of the Iranian regime. Is it a regime that wants to join the community of nations?  If it's that, then it's a home run. Barack Obama will go down in history, and he will earn the Nobel Prize he got whenever he got it.

But I'm extremely skeptical of all that. This is a regime that genuinely talks about and acts on the basis of the idea that it's a radical regime, with a certain mission and history that doesn't only talk about it. It acts upon. It funds Hezbollah. It funds Hamas. It funds IEDs that kill American troops. It wants to have a certain influence on the region, which is an extremely hostile influence.

And so when people like David Petraeus say that Iran is not the solution, it's the problem, then I think you have to think we're cutting — we're going to end up enriching a regime that will end up doing us harm. So, I'm willing to give the deal a chance, but I'm a skeptic.


MARK SHIELDS: Not a big chance, but a chance, right?


MARK SHIELDS: I think the unprecedented, unrestricted inspections are very, very positive. I am very supportive of what I know about the deal so far.

I — the reaction right now and the resistance, which has been quite outspoken in this country, reminds me of a second-term president who negotiated with a brutal regime that had enslaved hundreds of millions of people and killed millions of people. And he had an agreement to cut our nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles by 50 percent unilaterally.

And he came back, Ronald Reagan, from dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev and said — George Will, the great conservative commentator, said this is the day America lost the Cold War. William Buckley's "National Review" called it Ronald Reagan's suicide pact. It was roundly roasted.

I happen to believe that you negotiate with your enemies, with your adversaries. And I think — I think, from everything I know at this point, it's positive. There's great resistance in this country. Make no mistake about it. Republican candidates for 2016, by emphasizing their opposition to President Obama on anything, but certainly on this, help themselves.

Mark Kirk, the Republican senator from Illinois, has already retired the classless demagoguery award for 2015 and maybe for 2016 as well, when he said, without having even looked at the terms, that this — that Neville Chamberlain got more out of — from Hitler out of Munich than we did.

I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful. I don't know what the option is, what the alternative is. I think, to bring them in, it's always better to deal with people than to isolate them. And I don't do it with my eyes in any way closed to Iran's evil acts.


So this is — the whole deal is that, is the Iranian regime Stalin or are they Gorbachev?


DAVID BROOKS: And if they're Gorbachev, which is to say, ideologically dead and not even believing in their own system, ready for change, then this sort of pulls them into the community of nations and, as I say, home run, home run.

But the way they act, I think they're closer to Stalin. I think they do believe in their revolutionary zeal. This was a country — you go back to the Iran-Iraq War. They have land mines fighting the Iraqis. How did they clear land mines?  They took kids, they gave them a string, and they had them walk across a field.

So they're in a different mental universe, blowing up land mines with their kids. Now, granted, that was at the high point of the revolution. But they're not so far away. Look at what they're doing. They're spending all this money on Hezbollah. They're sometimes in tactical alliances with al-Qaida.

They are a radical regime. And so I think what we're doing is we're, within a few short years, they will be pumping out oil, they will be a lot richer, their influence on the region will be greater, and the Saudis will have to counter. And I already think that the region is in the midst or in the very beginning of what some people have called a 30-years war, a religious war.

And allowing Iran to get richer and potentially nuclear in the middle of that 30-years war strikes me as risky.

MARK SHIELDS: Two quick points.

Half the population of Iran is under the age of 35. To me, that's encouraging and that's positive. I think the acclaim and the response, the positive response to this agreement there is encouraging in itself. And I don't know. I mean, the most unequivocal voices in opposition, people like John Bolton, have recommended an attack upon Iran, to attack on its nuclear capabilities.

And, you know, that is the shortest of short-term. That strengthens the hard-liners, that emboldens their nuclear program, and isolates — and to me roils the already troubled waters in the Middle East.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Kind of a related topic, Bob Menendez is stepping back from the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, senator from New Jersey. How does that impact what's happening now?  Good for the president?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he was the ranking member. Senator Menendez has been ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and had been an outspoken critic of rapprochement in this — any treaty with Iran.

So, to that degree, it probably helps the president's position at the edges, at the margins, I would say.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And the Republicans are all against. The Democrats are sort of hesitant. They're skeptical. They're like waiting to see.

And I suspect, at the end of the day, the Democrats will side with the president. And, frankly, I suspect, at the end of the day, as much as the Republicans generally think it's a bad deal, it takes a lot of moxie to actually then — it's not just us and the Iranians, obviously. It's an international deal with five other countries.


DAVID BROOKS: It takes a lot to — there are costs. Even if you're like me and you're extremely skeptical of a deal, you have to acknowledge that if the Senate basically undercuts our own president, there are costs to that. There are huge costs to that in our ability to negotiate anything in the future.

And so even as much as a lot of people are skeptical of a deal, whether the Congress will actually destroy it, I'm a little dubious that that will ever happen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, the other big story this week, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what happened in Indiana, Arkansas.

David, let's start with you. What does this say about where society is now?


So, I'm pro-gay marriage. I have been pro-gay marriage out of the womb. And so I wouldn't have supported that act. But I do think two things, first the minor thing, and then the major thing. The minor thing is substantive. There is genuinely a tension between religious freedom and tolerance and full equality for gays and lesbians.

There are some people who have different points of view than me, and somehow we have to give them some respect and some space. That doesn't mean they're allowed to discriminate. So, that's just a substantive tension there, I think, between those two things.

To me, the larger issue is simply pragmatic. The gay rights agenda and the cause has had an amazing couple years, or decade, sweeping through the country. And it's doing great in urban America, in suburban America. But there are large parts of America, a lot of rural, more religious, where it's still facing a lot of opposition.

And so the question becomes, how do you make those areas more amenable to change?  And I know so many Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, but they're wrestling, they're really wrestling with this. And to me, making it very polarized and very culture war-seeming is the wrong way to move people. It's much better to go gently and allow the natural momentum to build up. And so some of the reaction to the Indiana law, I thought was over the top.

MARK SHIELDS: The velocity on this issue is absolutely phenomenal.

I would just point out that, by the standards of many in the gay rights movement today, the position of the president two years ago would have been bigoted, when he said marriage is between a man and a woman, before he evolved on the issue.

This has moved so quickly. The only thing to compare it to, Hari, in American political experience, to me, is the attitude toward interracial marriage. At the time of the age of Aquarius in this country, when the flower children — 75 percent of Americans opposed interracial marriage. Now 90 percent of Americans endorse interracial marriage, and 9 percent oppose it. The same pattern is true, as David identified, in same-sex marriage.

And for the Republicans, it's a real quandary. It's a real quandary, because it is an issue to Republicans. Republicans oppose it. Seventy percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage. Three out of five independents, the swing group, are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Republicans under the age of 30, 60 percent of them support gay marriage. But, in a primary, it could be influential, especially in Iowa and South Carolina, which Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have carried respectively in Iowa, with the support of cultural and religious conservatives.

But lost in this debate — and I think David touched on it very well — and that is the whole question of religious liberty, which is basic to our country. I mean, it truly is, whether it's Quakers not being, the Mennonites not being forced to serve in the military, or head scarves, or head gear to religions, whether it's Muslims or Jewish people. We have had a respect for that. And it encourages tolerance. It encourages — and I just think the gay rights movement is in such ascendancy and such dominance at this point — dominance may be the wrong word — that I do think it's time to look for converts, rather than heretics.

And make no mistake about it. I think the Indiana statute went too far when it gave the same rights to a corporate, a for-profit — a profit corporation the right of conscience that it bestows on an individual.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this something that the market will essentially correct for over time?  There was — we will put up a graphic here, the Support Memories Pizza joint that decided that they didn't want — that they would abide by the law if it was, they put out kind of a GoFundMe campaign. They were looking for $200,000, and at least $800,000 in pretty much one day from 27,000, 30,000 people.

So, over time, is this a matter of the population shifting, their customers shifting and saying, I'm going to take my money somewhere else?  Is that more effective than a federal or a local state law?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, there's obviously the Christian community who could support both sides.


DAVID BROOKS: But that would be my solution, basically.

A lot of this issue gets down to, say, a gay couple goes to a bakery or goes to a wedding photographer and they say, would you work our marriage ceremony?  And the baker or the photographer says, I'm not really comfortable about that. And does the government — should the government be forcing that baker or that photographer to work?  Should they coerce them into working it?

If it was like a basic issue of voting rights, obviously yes.


DAVID BROOKS: To me, I would boycott that photographer. I would boycott that baker. But I wouldn't feel comfortable with the government forcing them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, just about 10, 15 seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: I hadn't been aware of that pizza — the pizza story.

I don't think there's any question. There has been, in my judgment, a wave that is irreversible. But I do think it's the time not to take a victory dance in the end zone. I think it's the time to reach out and reach across the divide at this point and acknowledge the goodwill of people who are on the other side. That's missing in our politics completely.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But not here at this table.


HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much.