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Shields and Brooks on U.S. reaching out to refugees, Iran deal assurance

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including whether the U.S. has a responsibility to take in Syrians displaced by war, Senate Democrats’ blocking of a GOP resolution to reject the Iran deal, Vice President Joe Biden’s interview with Stephen Colbert and former Gov. Rick Perry drops out.

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    But first to the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    We just had a segment where we laid out in painful detail how difficult it is for a refugee to gain asylum in the United States. And there are several people who say, you know what? If it wasn't for the United States' foreign policy of perhaps disbanding the Iraqi army, creating a tremendous amount of regional instability that perhaps in — fueled ISIS, destabilized Syria further, and has caused this migrant crises — is the United States responsible or should they be more responsible in taking more asylum seekers?


    Yes, I would be one of those people.

    I think all the things you mentioned. And then a couple years ago, we had a big debate about Syria and whether we should be helping the moderates, the moderates, such as they are, in Syria and whether we should arm those moderates. And people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham said yes.

    Eventually, the current administration did arm them, but with very little, much too late. And so you have this war between Assad's forces and ISIS. And so I do think it was partially our — the vacuum created by the U.S. and the West, when there was still some sort of moderate solution possible, that helped create this crisis. And, therefore, we have a responsibility to take in more refugees.

    It's still, though, bizarre to me that most of the debate is on this side of the pipeline, the flow of people on the receiving end. There are hundreds of millions — not hundreds, but there are a lot of — millions of people in Syria. Are they all going to come? What about dealing with that Syria there and creating safe havens, creating places where people can go to be safe, when you can have islands of stability inside these two evil forces?


    I agree 100 percent with 50 percent of what David said.



    I think that it didn't begin with the United States' withdrawal from Iraq. It began with the United States' invasion of Iraq and the entire destabilization of the region.

    And there's no question that Iran was strengthened by the United States' invasion of Iraq, that sectarian violence was encouraged and that — destabilization. As far as our — the United States' commitment to Syria, it's certainly been halting. But that part of that halting has been lack of any domestic political support, as a consequence of what happened in Iraq.

    And it was just an unmitigated disaster. But the reality is that the moral leadership of the planet, or at least of the Western world right now, has become in Berlin and Stockholm. Germany and Sweden have stepped up. And people say, oh, well, that is in the self-interest of Germany.

    It is in the self-interest of Germany to take talented, energetic, able, committed people who have the resources, the initiative and the strength to get out. It's a tragedy. David makes the point that a nation the size of Syria, four million people have left the country.

    I mean, that's a stain on us and it's a stain on all of the civilized world that we have allowed that to continue.


    All right, let's take a look at the Iran deal.

    There were kind of machinations in both sides of Congress this week, one side saying, hey, there's this opportunity for you to pass this up or down, the other one saying, how about you block, that it not pass this forward?

    It was just one of those moments where you realize what are you really voting for and how often is this going to come up? Is this going to become like the Affordable Care Act, where Republicans will continue to try to figure out ways to stop any progress on it?



    It's, first of all, bizarre that you pass something with a minority, especially what is effectively a treaty with a minority. Treaties are supposed to be ratified by two-thirds, but now we have got like 42 or whatever it was. But that's the way the situation was set up.

    And once the Republicans agreed that they only — the Obama — the administration only needed a third of the votes in the Senate to pass the thing, then it was going to be a done deal. He was going to get a third.

    And so they got that and a little more. And so the Republicans are going to hang whatever happens in the Middle East on this treaty, and not only whether Iran gets a nuclear option or whether they begin to cheat or fudge with the inspectors, but the most immediate effect and whether it postpones an Iran nuclear program, yes, it probably does.

    But there's an immediate negative effect and that is you're enriching a power that funds Hezbollah. And so as, for example, Syria deteriorates and if Hezbollah gets stronger, then the Iranian regime will probably be funding it more and more and that will be a knock-off of this deal. And so the Republicans will be able to use that.

    I think there's a legitimate argument against something the administration did that, at least in the short term, destabilized the Middle East.


    Iran was two to three months away from nuclear capability.

    That's the best estimate of people that I pay attention to who are in a position of leadership. And the reality is now that they are now at least 10 years away. Their own capacity at Arak will in fact be decommissioned.

    But the politics here are entirely different. David's right, in the legislative office area, you can never get in trouble by voting against something that passes. You can say, well, I was going to make it better. Or voting for something that doesn't pass, the same thing, because there's no responsibility.

    This was a mirror vote of the Iraqi war vote. Ever since that vote, people who voted against it said we were right, and the people who voted for it and supported that war have been on the defensive. And Lindsey Graham was very blunt. He said, it's all the Democrats' now. It's theirs. And it's everything that happens, the whole deal.

    I happen to think it's a good step. It's a positive step. I agree with Prime Minister Cameron. I agree with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that this is the best step. These are nations that know war from their own people's experience on their own home fronts.

    So I do think the reality politically here is that what had been bipartisan overwhelming support for Israel has been politicized, and I think basically by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, and who, as a campaign event and stunt for himself, wrangled an invitation from the Republican Congress to come and speak to the Congress and use it as a campaign post basically to criticize the policy of the president of the United States.

    And I think that there's been a wedge now between what had been overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel, and I think quite frankly the responsibility lies with Mr. Netanyahu.


    I agree with that last point.

    But on the Iran deal, if we conceded that Iran was going to get a nuclear weapon, that there was no way we could stop them, then maybe this was a good treaty to sign. I don't think it was important necessarily to concede that. I don't think it was inevitable. I think we sort of conceded a defeat basically too early, when the sanctions could have avoided that defeat.

    But the larger issue here with both the Syrian and the Iranian thing is sometimes when you lean in and do something, you get blamed for it, the Iraq war. Sometimes, when you lean out and don't do anything, you get blamed for it, Syria.

    And so you got to have a foreign policy that is very tied to the circumstance at hand. Is this a smart move in this particular space? My problem, in retrospect, with the Bush administration, they were like leaning in all the time. My problem with the Obama administration is they're leaning out all the time.

    And so neither are that context-specific. And I think that's just a lesson we have learned from the last two administrations.


    All right, shifting gears now to Vice President Biden.

    On Monday, he seemed to make, on Labor Day, almost a campaign rally-like speech. And then he had an appearance on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" last night. Let's play a clip.

    JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: I don't think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president, and, two, they can look at the folks out there and say, I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this.

    And I would be lying if I said that I knew I was there.


    The cynical side of folks says, you know what? This is a politician. He's got a great opportunity here. And there's the other side that he's in the midst of incalculable grief.


    In this campaign in 2016, Joe Biden's greatest weakness — that is, he talks, he says what he thinks off the cuff, he is unfiltered — is his greatest strength.

    I urge, which I have never done before on this broadcast, everybody to watch that exchange, that interview with Stephen Colbert. Stephen Colbert in my judgment proved himself to be a national resource last night. I was, like, eavesdropping on a very intimate personal conversation between two people on subjects of great and intense importance to them emotionally.

    I just thought it was phenomenal, in the sense that he was just as open, as emotionally accessible, however you want to put it. I mean, it was a great strength of his, what has been sort of Joe tells you and Joe tells too much. Joe spoke last night from the heart. And in this campaign, with positioning and focus groups and readjusting and all the rest of it, I got to tell you, it was refreshing.


    It was a really beautiful thing and beautiful moment. And it reveals what a beautiful man he was.

    But to me, surprisingly, it reveals that maybe he does have an opening this year. The newspaper earlier in the week had a story that Hillary Clinton has a plan to become more spontaneous.

    And so…


    Organized spontaneity.



    But Joe Biden is sincere down to the bones. He's always sincere, sometimes to a fault. But that sincerity comes through. And that may actually play this year. It's a little counterpolitical, in a weird way, to be that sincere. But that's who he is. And so that may actually work.

    Also, he's become more disciplined. He used to — when you would go out and would cover a Joe Biden rally, he would give a great speech, and then he would follow with a second speech, and a third speech and a forth speech, and they would get decliningly good, or bad, or whatever, decline.

    So, he's more disciplined by the vice presidency. He's had to be. And so I'm beginning to think there's an opening. And it's just a testament to two men who had severe losses in their lives in conversation.


    So, finally, the debates, the platforms are set for next week. Carly Fiorina moves up to the — kind of the marquee event, and not the warm-up show.

    But somebody's dropping out. We talked about Rick Perry today. I want to just pull a quote out of his concession speech — or his departure speech. "Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant. It betrays the example of Christ."

    And I think he's referring specifically to Donald Trump here. And he goes on: "It's time to elevate our debate from divisive name-calling, from sound bites without solutions."



    There's no question he's talking about Donald Trump there. We have had harsh words back and forth between the two men. But Rick Perry spent the last two years preparing for this race. But it comes down to, sadly, you don't — very rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. And oops one of the three departments he was going to abolish dogged him. And that's the reason.

    But on the way out, he certainly gave Mr. Trump a salute.


    He ran a much better campaign this time, a good speech on African-Americans, a good speech on Hispanics, much better campaign, worse outcome. It's too bad.

    On the debates, I think Jeb Bush, this is a debate where he's got to — he's leaking air. And so I think the pressure's on him more than anybody else in this debate.


    I agree. I would say this.

    Everybody knew Donald Trump in the fourth grade, I mean, the bully. And if you correct him or criticize him in any way, you're stupid or you're dumb, or you're ugly. That is what he accused Carly Fiorina of being this week.

    And I think he may have stepped one step beyond. If Carly Fiorina is disqualified because of her looks, what does that mean Donald Trump would say about Golda Meir or Angela Merkel or Mother Teresa? It just tells you something about the depth of the man.

    And I think that it's really going to be determined. Rubio and Kasich have hidden from him. Cruz has tried to be his best buddy, his closest friend. Scott Walker tried to emulate him and fell flat on his face. Jeb Bush has decided he is going to take on the bully. And I think Chris Christie will throw a haymaker on the way out.

    It's going to be — it's not going to be ballroom dancing. It's going to be a slugfest.


    All right, Mark Shields, David Brooks, thanks so much.

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