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Shields and Brooks Mull U.S. Response to Iran

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the Obama administration's response to political turmoil in Iran and new plans to overhaul the financial regulation system.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    David, what do you think of the way President Obama has handled the Iran developments?

    DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: It's evolving. It started out as most administrations do when a big thing like this happens, when you get this chaotic nonlinear event. They all pull back quickly. Reagan did it. Clinton did it.

    And it's for a couple of reasons. One is, they don't know what's going on. You always have to remember, our intelligence is terrible everywhere, and so they just do not know what's going on.

    And so their attitude is, well, I don't know what's going on, so I don't want to cause more harm than good, so let's do as little as possible.

    And then they had — also, their policy momentum was committed to this idea of negotiating with the regime to get the nuclear weapons program killed. So they had these two reasons to do very little.

    And so, as a result, their first day's comments were very tepid and, I thought, out of proportion to the magnificent events that are going on, or at least the giant events.

    But slowly they've been evolving in a direction, and they've been pulled along by the politicians, people like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, who have their political antenna saying, "This is big. This is potentially gigantic. We can't be on the wrong side of history."

    And so they're evolving, to my mind a little too slowly, but they're getting to the point where they have to say, "This is about more than the election. This is about more than nuclear weapons. It's about the regime itself. And can we get any way to get rid of this regime?"

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And can the United States — but can the president of the United States say that without making things worse?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, I wish he would come out and say, "I admire, I'm inspired by what's going on." And I wish today he would come out and gather with people from all around the world, including the Arab world, in saying, "The entire world is opposed to a crackdown in Tehran tomorrow, if that's what's going to happen. All of us are against it. Don't you dare."

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Go ahead and say it now? Say it today?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I would say it before — why wait for the crackdown?

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yes. OK. All right.

    MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: I think that the president has been measured. I think he's been sure-footed.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Correctly measured?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Correctly measured and sure-footed, I really do. And I do not — I think this is a moment when there is a certain tendency to do a little chest-beating and a little, "You know, aren't we terrific?"

    David, I think, is absolutely right. We don't know not simply what's going on there, but what will happen if we do A or we do B? And I think, in that sense, expressing identification, support for those who want an open, free, fair election — I mean, I think the United States stands for that. I don't think there's any question about that.

    I do think that we run the risk, with over-assertiveness, that any regime that's as dictatorial and totalitarian as this one has been in Iran, its greatest organizing weapon and instrument is outside threat.

    And the United States has not clean hands when it comes to Iran, whether it's Mossadeq in 1954 — and we threw out of office and overthrew a democratically elected because he was too close to the Soviets, we thought — to whether it's backing the shah all the way through his excesses and his repressiveness, and not seeing the revolution coming, I think that more or less corroborates that we ought to have a little humility in approaching exactly what we ought to do there.

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