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Brooks and Dionne on ground troop debate, Hillary’s chances of running

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including conflict over President Obama’s strategy to rule out the possibility of using ground troops against the Islamic State, what Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa says about her likelihood of running for president and who has the momentum ahead of November elections.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This week, Congress gave its support to arming moderate Syrian rebels, but there seemed to be a divide between the military and the White House over the need for ground troops to take on the Islamic State group.

    We analyze that and more with Brooks and Dionne. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Mark Shields is away.

    Welcome to you both.

  • E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post:

    Good to be with you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, the Islamic State group, the president got the support, David, that he wanted from the House and the Senate to arm Syrian rebels.

    The polls, though, are showing the public is saying they don’t think this strategy is going to work, even though they agree with the specifics. And then, as we just said, the generals are saying, hey, we are going to need ground troops, despite what the president said.

    How does all this limit him?  How much does it complicate what the U.S. is trying to do?

  • DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:

    Well, the first thing is, I was impressed by how big the majorities were. It seems like, when you look at politics, that parties, especially the Republican Party, has shifted radically on domestic policy, the Tea Party direction, which tends to be less interventionist abroad.

    But the Republican Party especially was solidly behind the president for the most part. The Democratic Party was too. And so there were people on either end that were against it, but there’s still sort of a — at least in this foreign policy, on this issue, preventing a caliphate from existing in Iraq and Syria, pretty solid majorities.

    What’s happening now, we’re in — we’re entering the mission creep phase. It’s pretty clear that the idea of just using air warfare is not going to get ISIS out of the cities. And the generals are beginning to think that through, and you will probably need some special forces on the ground, not a big invasion or anything like that.

    It’s also clear we have a pretty unilateral effort. It’s much multilateral than George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq a decade ago or whatever. And so what we have is a big gap between what we have so far committed and what we will be required to get to accomplish the mission. And the coming debate is over how much we increase that commitment.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, E.J., the strategy is only a couple weeks’ old and already it’s — is it falling apart?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Well, it hasn’t been tested yet.

    I mean, I think that the vote was striking. If you like bipartisanship, you will love this vote, because not only was support bipartisan, but the opposition was bipartisan. When you have Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren on the same side, on the no side, you’re talking about…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For different reasons.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    For — well, different, but — that’s true.

    Ron Paul — Rand Paul, rather, was — is sort of uneasy about the intervention. And I think that you had an interesting moment with the generals, where they were arguing, we need more troops. And the president really went out of his way to assert kind of civilian control, and to say, you know, they can say what they want, but I am committed not to putting American ground troops in, combat troops in.

    And so I think the test here — I don’t think the limits on the president are I political. I don’t think the limits on the president are even from his own military. The limits are, will this strategy work?  And I think Americans basically don’t want to commit ground troops, and yet these polls suggest they worry that anything we touch in Iraq will not work the way we intended. And there’s some reason for them to feel that way.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    But there are sort of two strategies here from the president. The first is, we will degrade ISIS. The second is that we will not commit ground troops. Well, those two things may not be true. And so which one is he going to choose?  Is he really going to leave office with the Islamic State as powerful as it is now, holding as much ground as it is now?

    I suspect he’s going to begin to give ground. It’s not a big invasion if it’s special operations forces. I suspect he’s going to involve — Dwight Eisenhower used to say, planning is everything, but plans are nothing, which means you go in with a strategy, but you have got to adjust.

    And I suspect there is going to be a lot of adjustment in ways that we can’t foresee right now.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    But I think a lot depends on, how quickly do we expect to get this done?  And all of the testimony, including from the military, is that this is a very long-term operation.

    And the hope is that not only can you get the Iraqi military back into a position where they can fight again, but they’re going to try to build, to create these Sunni national guard units. Now, that will take time. And it’s a lot to hang on new national guard units.

    But I think there’s not a lot of pressure to get this done tomorrow morning, which is why I think he can hold his ground for a while on the ground — on the combat troops.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is it wise to rule out ground troops, though, before this even begins, though?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I don’t think so. I think you have a strategy and then you have the means to get there. Whether you have ground troops or not is the means.

    The strategy is to degrade ISIS, so you should leave all your means on the table. That doesn’t mean you want to do it, and that doesn’t mean the American people support it or I particularly would want to do it. But sending special operations forces to locate terrorists and things like that, that may be necessary. It seems to me, if you are committed, as the president said he was, to mission, then you should have maximum flexibility about how to get there.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    It’s a statement to our allies, and particularly in the Middle East, saying, we can’t do all this ourselves. We have no intention of doing what we did the last time, so you have got to step up, too. So I think there could be something strategic about it as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Change of subject to somebody who saw herself having some hiccups and problems a few years ago when she tried to run for president over her Iraq position.

    But, David, Hillary Clinton, she was in Iowa this weekend. She was telling a big crowd at the Harkin — Tom Harkin final steak fry that, yes, she’s thinking about running for president again.

    Do we learn something from this?  Do we learn that it’s — she’s farther down the road?  Do we learn anything about whether people want her to run?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, people do want her to run. She’s the odds-on favorite.

    What we haven’t learned is what the message is. And that’s the big thing I’m really curious about. What she’s been saying so far is a message of economic security. It’s basically a standard Democratic message. It’s not particularly new, but it may be effective.

    But if I’m looking at Hillary Clinton, I do think there’s going to be opposition on the left in the university towns, in the more progressive side. There’s clearly a desire for something on the left. And there’s the problem of age and the fact that she seems to be from the 1990s.

    And so, to me, the impulse is to be conservative and coast to the nomination, but the imperative is to be new and say, I’m not the — we’re not just going back to the Clinton years. I have got a new theme. I have got a new agenda. I have got a new argument.

    And so far — it’s not fair to expect her to have done it so far, but I do think the desire to take risks is how — one of the ways to look at the Clinton campaign. Is it really a risk-taking, new thing?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you see that?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Well, first, the fact that she’s back in Iowa is a pretty sure indication that she’s running, because, after running third in those caucuses, she had never wanted to go back there. She noted that it’s been — she hasn’t been there since 2008.

    And I think she is trying to find for this — for 2016 very similar ground to what Bill Clinton found in 1992. But it doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same ground. Clinton, the — Bill Clinton was very good at, on the one hand, being the new Democrat, having new ideas, but he still in many ways was an old-fashioned Democrat who talked about inequality, taxing the rich more, and he managed to put that together.

    Doing that in 2016 probably requires Hillary Clinton to be a little tougher on the left side. She has got to be tougher on inequality, which she was, and she spoke very strongly about that. She’s talking a lot about women, and particularly working-class women, and what they’re going through.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    And I think that is — she is trying to create the same thing, but all these years later, it has got to be a slightly different thing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But is it — is she saying enough at this point, David?  Is this sort of teasing with a comment every few weeks or so, is that where she ought to be at this point in September 2014?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    Wait until the midterm, and then you can get serious. I think it would be premature, immature, overmature.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Immature, she won’t get accused of.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. Right. Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we were following her. We had a camera crew, and so we followed her in Iowa this weekend.

    But, E.J., we were there also to cover the Senate race, a very close race between Congressman Braley, the Democrat, Joni Ernst, the Republican state senator. A lot — a few things have happened on the Senate landscape this week. There’s that. There’s — that race has gotten a little bit tighter just in the last few days.

    In Kansas, the race that we thought Congressman — or Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican incumbent, had it in a walk. The ballot is changed. The Democrat’s out — he’s running against the incumbent. A judge ruled something today. But how do you see the Senate landscape?  What does it feel like right now?

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Well, this may prove I’m a self-hating pundit, but I love the fact the pundits can’t figure this out.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    You have all of these very complicated mathematical models that say 51-49 the Republicans will take over. That’s a very sophisticated way of saying, who knows?

    And I think that what you have got in this election overall are Republicans hoping and believing that President — President Obama’s unpopularity is enough to carry them through. And the president is down. But the Republicans aren’t really offering very much, and a lot of these Democrats are saying, wait a minute, what would you cut?  What kinds of — do you have anything for working people who are — who have really been hammered by this economy?

    And so I think you have got an electorate that hasn’t figured out what this campaign is about, because I don’t think the politicians have figured what it’s about. I think Kansas is a state that I think is going to be perhaps the most interesting state in the country, because you not only have an independent running against a Republican, and so you have a chance of a Republican losing for the first time in the New Deal, but — since the New Deal — but you also have this amazing governor’s race, where Governor Sam Brownback, who has done all this tax-cutting — the budget is a mess, and people are worried about cuts in education.

    The Democrats could win that. Joe Scarborough made — former congressman, made a great point, that, in 1978, Prop 13 made the tax-cutting — made tax-cutting the central Republican issue. This might be the first election where a Republican governor loses an election because he cut taxes too much. It’s an amazing thing going on in Kansas.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you see things still unsettled in mid-September?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, we know where they are now. We don’t know where they will be in six weeks.

    But I do think this pundit has it — does have it figured out.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    That we see a national tide. There’s clearly a national tide.

    You look at the New York Times/CBS poll that came out this week, huge to the Republicans. They’re just doing very, very well in the generic ballot. Obama is down, huge national tide. And so if it becomes a national election, which the Republicans are trying to make it, they’re going to do really well.

    Militating against that, you see in individual states some shifts in the Democratic direction. North Carolina, in particular, you’re seeing a shift there on the Democratic part, the situation in Kansas, a few other places. To me, the bottom line right now is — and the Democrats are trying to make it local races, a bunch of local races.

    I think the history is that when you have one party trying to do national, one party trying to do local, usually, the one that is trying to do national tends to do a little bit better. And so I do still think the Republicans are likely to take it over, but, you know, that could all shift, obviously.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    I think this is premature punditry at this point.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I’m only saying where it is today.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There’s nothing wrong with that.

    But you think things are still…

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    I think things are still unsettled.

    And, in fact, one of the striking things in the punditry is that people were saying this is heading the Republicans’ way. And you have seen pulling back. Iowa is a case where the race has probably moved a little Democratic. There are a bunch of states where that has happened.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right, Georgia, too.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And the only point I would make is that there are just so many states the Republicans can pick up. There are so — the Democrats are defending on so many fronts, that the Republicans don’t have to win them all.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    They start with three, and so they need three more.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, the two of you are terrific. And we’re glad you’re here.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, thank you.

  • E.J. DIONNE:

    Take care.

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