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Shields and Brooks on Iran general’s killing, 2020 Democrats’ fundraising

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the U.S. military’s killing of elite Iranian general Qassam Soleimani and its potential repercussions and how fundraising and polling numbers are stacking up for 2020 Democrats a month before the Iowa caucuses.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Between the escalating conflict with Iran and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, 2020 has already been a busy year for American politics.

    Here to help us make sense of it all, Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you, and happy new year.

  • Mark Shields:

    Happy new year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Although, as we have been reporting, the new year has gotten off to a sobering start.

    Mark, what do you make of the Trump administration decision to target and kill this senior Iranian general?

  • Mark Shields:

    I don't know.

    Every act like this has risk and reward, and I don't know anybody who can predict what will happen, Judy. I mean, it violates all of the rules that we have about going into armed conflict with disproportionate force and with fully understood objectives and with an exit strategy and with backing of our allies and so forth.

    None of those was met. And the president doesn't have the benefit of the doubt. He treats truth like a second home. He only lives there occasionally, and, therefore, he doesn't have the natural credibility that American presidents — and it has been hurt.

    The Afghan papers, most recently The Washington Post, revealed 18 years of deception and deceit and self-delusion about the United States in Afghanistan, the lying that we have had and the evasion.

    So, you know, I don't see it — I see it more impulsive than strategic, just like the entire Trump administration. It doesn't appear to be thought out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you respond to that?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, first, like the other 7.5 billion inhabitants of this Earth, I don't know either. But I do see it sort of on three levels, first, in the near term, the immediate term, which is, I think it's a reasonably good thing that somebody who was responsible for the deaths of 600 Americans and hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East meet some justice.

    I do think that's a good thing. The fact that there were rallies around the Middle East celebrating his death is a sign of the destruction he has wrought.

    Then there is the middle term, and that's somewhere between anxiety-inducing and terrifying, because we just — I don't think either Iraq or Iran or the U.S. want to have a war, but they have got to show they do something, and then we do something. And it could escalate into something.

    I think it's extremely unlikely. But they play this game. I have been covering the Middle East for 30 years. And they play this game. And, sometimes, it goes fine and somebody just finally quiet — walks away, but, sometimes, it doesn't.

    And so, in the middle term, I think we're overall right to be worried about that.

    And then, in the long term, I think talent doesn't grow on trees, and this guy was their best guy. And so getting rid of your enemy's best guy probably in the long term yields some benefit.

    And, second, his strategic — his basic signature move was to create militias around the Middle East, extragovernmental militias, in a sometimes hostile country. And to the extent that we can weaken that there should be militias all around the Middle East, then we have stabilized the Middle East long-term.

    The middle term is what you have to worry about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mark, do you get the idea the administration is prepared for what may come from this, as a result of this?

  • Mark Shields:

    No. No.

    And I guess where take some — depart from David is, we have been down this road before. We had a major Republican leader address the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention and assure us that the foreign leader has weapons of mass destruction, there's no doubt he's amassing them to use against us, against our allies, I'm confident that he's on the verge of having nuclear weapons.

    That was Dick Cheney. That was 18 years ago. And that was hundreds of thousand of deaths ago. As a consequence of this act, the Iraqi Parliament may very well do what it hasn't done. And that is act in concert and ask us to leave.

    If they ask us to leave, now, what does that mean for our troops in Syria? What does that mean for any of our influence in the area?

    Now, I just — I do not see any coherent, thoughtful policy emanating from this. It's almost like the administration has been scrambling to come up with a rationalization. They did it, and now, well, we're going to brief you on Tuesday. We're going to brief you 120 hours after the event as to what happened.

    We're going to do it from a resort in Florida, I mean, suggesting the gravity of the moment — all of that. I mean, for a man who's sensitive to theatrics and optics, like Donald Trump is, none of this makes any sense.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I guess the only — the first thing I would say was, what Mark raised, all those are real possibilities.

    And, frankly, it's above my pay grade to know all the different details of this. But a lot of people I admire, like Mike Mullen, who we just had on the show, or General Stan McChrystal, who was head of special ops, before running the Afghan war, they say, on balance, they see the risks and it's worth the risks.

    And so these are really professional operators, and so you have to have some respect for that.

    As for the Trump administration, I sort of agree. I often ask the administration officials from past administration, what did you learn inside that you didn't learn outside? And how is it going to affect your career as a pundit afterwards?

    And they always say, you never know the actual information that is going on inside. In most administrations, there's all these backroom signals they're all sending even to their adversaries.

    And so you have some confidence, well, these people know what they're doing.

    I don't have that confidence right now. And so I do agree with Mark that I don't think there is a policy process in anything realm of the Trump administration. And so, therefore, the thought they have sketched out scenarios B, C, D, and Q, that's probably not happened. And so that's where the anxiety comes from.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you discouraged?

  • Mark Shields:

    Judy, on the eve of going to war in Iraq, Jim Webb had been secretary of the Navy and later be secretary — senator from Virginia, asked a very straightforward question, which the administration, Bush administration, refused to confront. Are we as a nation prepared to be an occupying country and force in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years?

    And he was — oh, what do you mean? What do you mean?

    I mean, war begins with unintended consequences. Admiral Mullen referred to that. I mean, on the eve of World War I, the German general staff was absolutely convinced 42 days to conquer France and France's army.

    I mean, and here we have 75 years after Victory in Europe Day, and we have troops in Europe, and we have American troops in Japan, and 67 years after the armistice in Korea, we're on the front lines in Korea.

    I mean, so…

  • David Brooks:

    I don't think anyone wants to do boots on the ground.

    I certainly would find that appalling. But the Middle East fights their wars differently. They — it's like a little shot here and then a little shot there. And it's choreographed. You go up here. You go there. And so they have been doing this. And they're professionals at it, which is — and we're not. So that should be faced.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, a lot of conversation around it and reaction, David, by the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

    We are today exactly one month away from the first votes being cast, the Iowa — the Iowa caucuses. Do you see this Iran event having a real effect in some way on the presidential contest? Does it favor one candidate?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, you would think would favor Biden, because he's been there in foreign policy, and a lot of the others have barely spoken about foreign policy.

    I think it favors them all to some degree. I think it hurts Donald Trump. I think the idea that we may get sucked into a war in the Middle East is something that nobody wants. And I think a lot of people, certainly in my texting early this morning, said, are we going to war, are we going to war?

    There's, A, a sense of great danger and, B, no faith that the U.S. can conduct this. And that's a fallout from the Iraq War.

    And the second — but on the general election, I do think the Democrats have to come up with some sort of defense policy. It's not enough to say, we're going to have no war, because every president in all of our lifetimes has had to get conduct military operations.

    And so you have to give some sense of when you would use military force and when you wouldn't. It's not enough just to say, no endless wars, which is what they're all falling back to right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see the candidates?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … campaign?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think the beneficiary, initial beneficiary, is Joe Biden.

    I think the question is, is the United States four years into this a more respected, a more trusted and safer nation than it was four years ago? And I think Biden can make the case that it is not. The case makes itself that it is not under Donald Trump.

    And I think he offers stability and maturity and knowledge. I mean, for one thing, we're dealing with someone who his arrogance is only matched by his lack of information. And that — so I think, in that sense…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're speaking about the president.

  • Mark Shields:

    The president. I'm speaking of the president, the commander in chief.

    So, I do think that it benefits Biden more than anybody else. Bernie Sanders has obviously trumpeted the fact that he was opposed to it initially in 2002. And that's the card he will play. I don't see how the others benefit, quite frankly, at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's war and peace, and I hate to bring up something crass, but money is something that makes the wheels turn in American politics.

    And, David, this week was the end of the — the end of December, the end of the last cycle of counting how much money. And we have got — we can show our audience and you just quickly.

    Here is what it looked like, President Trump hauling in $46 million, but right behind him, Bernie Sanders $34.5 million, Pete Buttigieg more than 24.5, Joe Biden 22.

    We learned today Elizabeth Warren coming in behind. She didn't raise as much as she had the previous quarter. And then you see Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and others.

    What is this telling us about the race, if anything?

  • David Brooks:

    I think they're all doing very well, exceptionally well. There's a lot of money there, even Sanders.

    She went down, but she shouldn't go down hugely. And so there's just a lot of money there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean Warren.

  • David Brooks:

    Warren, I'm sorry, yes. Sorry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    Sanders is the most impressive of the group.

    The one thing I'd highlight, sort of perversely, is the amount of money Yang and Klobuchar raised, which is very high. For the big candidates, they're getting a lot of free media. They're — they're sort of established.

    But this kind of money means that Yang and Klobuchar can be in the game.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

  • David Brooks:

    And, to me, money diminishes in value the more of it you have. You need enough to be in the game, but, after that, it sort of doesn't matter as much.

    And so the fact that those two are staying in the game, to me, is a significant part of the race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A minute. What do you see?

  • Mark Shields:

    In a minute.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    What I do think is that the two beneficiaries were two who had the bad news this past quarter. Bernie Sanders had a heart attack and raised $36 million.

    I mean, it's a great tribute to his support and the intensity of it. And Donald Trump was impeached, and he got small contributions.

    There is enough. What you have to have is enough to get through Iowa and New Hampshire, and to do it comfortably and competitively. And every one of the people on that list does have that money. And if they finish second in New Hampshire or in the top three in Iowa, they will go on. If they don't, they can say good night and return to their day job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I think they're all listening to you right now. And they know — they know what their future is.

    All right, fourth-quarter fund-raising, and so much more.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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