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Shields and Brooks on Obama trade bill defeat, deploying more troops to Iraq

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a defeat for President Obama from his own party on a trade deal vote, the White House announcement that the U.S. will send more military trainers to Iraq, Hillary Clinton gears up for a big rally.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    With the showdown on trade in the House of Representatives today and presidential candidates on the trail, there’s lots to talk about in our weekly analysis session with Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, gentlemen, we talked about it at the beginning of the show.

    Mark, the president has lobbied for this for months. It went down to defeat. What happened and where do you see this going?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think the president was fighting uphill, Judy.

    The leadership, Democrats in the House, told him not to come up, not unlike his trip to get the Olympics to the — Scandinavia — you will recall, to Chicago, and didn’t even make it to the second ballot. You had five out of six, 85 percent of Democrats were — already made up their mind on.

    It isn’t a question whether trade is good for economic growth — it is — but that the benefits have been unevenly distributed in this country, and the burden of change has been unevenly distributed. Organized labor worked very long and very hard against this. But it was the reality in people’s communities of empty factories, of lost jobs, of empty stores, that they — trade — free trade has been overpromised and underdelivered in this country. And I think that was the reality the president was fighting.

    He didn’t switch any votes today in the Democratic Caucus.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, where does this leave this?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it’s not dead. I think they’re going to come back to it. Whether he can swing that many votes is sort of a problem. It was sort of a big defeat. And he hasn’t exactly proven himself to be an able salesman, as Peter DeFazio was saying, making it about himself.

    And this has been a bit of his mode recently, serious peevishness, personal — making it personal, and then saying they’re not playing straight. That’s probably not the best way to persuade people over. And so he’s not been the best salesman. And the party has moved to the left, and it’s especially moved to the left on trade.

    On the substance, my problem is this. You can argue about — we can argue about NAFTA and all the other things. I think they have been amazingly positive goods, but this is not like those other trade agreements.

    First, the primary reason we’re going to — we need this, the Pacific one, is political and foreign policy. Asia is going to be the center of the world economy for the next X-number of years and we need to have a global architecture that’s stable and that doesn’t generate economic friction and that China doesn’t write. And this is our shot to do it.

    Second, this isn’t about reducing tariffs. Those are gone. This is about a bunch of other things having to do with the intellectual property rights, data flows, making sure other countries can’t use state-owned properties. This is about areas where we have an undisputed advantage in services and pharmaceuticals, getting those protected, so they can sell overseas.

    So, it seems to me the opponents are fighting the last war. They’re fighting the war about NAFTA, when this is a very different sort of trade agreement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, was it the selling job, Mark, or was it the substance?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It was the substance. It was the substance, Judy.

    And this has been the pattern. There are no enforcement provisions in the trade agreement for workers’ rights. You’re competing now with workers in Vietnam, who are making 56 cents an hour. That is a disadvantage to Americans.

    There is no enforcement for environmental standards and there’s certainly no enforcement, no even mechanism, as far as currency manipulation, which the Japanese and the Chinese have used to benefit in trade by driving down the price of their own goods, to the disadvantage of our country, as well as our workers.

    So, I don’t argue with David that the great future in Asia. But I don’t think this is the way to it. As far as the president’s charm offensive, it was too little, too late. He showed up at the congressional baseball game last night. And he showed up at the caucus today, where he spoke for 40 minutes and didn’t take any questions and basically said, I know unemployed steelworkers on the South Side of Chicago. I care.

    It wasn’t unlike George Bush’s reelection campaign in New Hampshire in 1992, when there were questions about his empathy and the message is, I care. That didn’t persuade anybody.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And as you both pointed out, well, as both of you pointed out, but, David, Congressman DeFazio said he and other Democrats were offended by what the president said.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes.

    You have got to have relationships. And this has just been a constant theme of the administration, especially in the second term, a lack of that personal relationship. And going up there and being sort of a stranger and — the not taking questions is inexplicable to me, to be honest.

    But it’s been a — you know, every president has strengths and weaknesses. The personal relationship obviously has not been President Obama’s strength.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, they are going to — they are going to try come back to it next week.

    I also want to ask you all, though, about something else that happened this week. That is the White House, the president, I guess surprising a lot of people, Mark, in saying that he wants to send more military trainers and advisers to Iraq, open up at least one more base. There are reports there may be several more military bases in Iraq.

    What’s going on here?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, it’s an admission, acknowledgment that what is going on is not working. And the president, although he is loathe to do so and very resistant, is really going back on what he had run on and had executed once in office in two terms.

    And that was to wind down American presence in Iraq. I mean, we have shown an enormous ability to destabilize the Middle East, and not much success in trying to stabilize that region. But there isn’t an appetite in this country for enlarged activity. But there seemed to be — in that wonderful discussion you had this week with General Zinni, and Andrew Bacevich, and Secretaries Flournoy and Panetta, there seemed to be a consensus that it wasn’t going to happen without greater U.S. involvement and engagement.

    And I just don’t see that being a reality, either politically or militarily at this point.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It’s a majority view among some of the analysts out there.

    But, David, is it the right thing to be doing right now?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think so.

    I think the drawdown of the troops was too fast. One of the biggest mistakes of the Obama presidency was to draw down the troops so fast in Iraq. There had been some stability achieved. The Sunni tribesmen were control of the Sunni areas. We drew down too fast. That created a vacuum. ISIS came in.

    To me, the troops, it’s hard to know what 450 advisers are going to do, the effect they will have. I think the key thing is, we had somehow wandered ourselves into a position where we were effectively allied with Iran-backed Shiite militias going into Sunni areas.

    That’s just not a recipe for success, most of the experts say. And so one of the nice things the administration is doing is, they’re shifting — after a big internal debate, they’re shifting and helping some of the Sunni tribes. And it’s got to be the Sunnis taking over the Sunni areas. It just doesn’t work to have Iranian-backed Shia taking over the Sunni areas. That is a recipe for resentment and hostility.

    And, frankly, lot of those Iranian militias were coming in. They were liberating a town, executing the local leaders, and looting the places.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Just one — David makes a good point.

    But the status of forces agreement, the drawdown of the U.S. troops, was, in fact, signed, developed and executed under President Bush. But I would just make one other point, Judy. And that is, in the several years since World War II, there has been one successful American military venture.

    And that was the first — the Persian Gulf War under George H.W. Bush, and it had the elements that are missing and have been missing in every one since. It had a limited objective, driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. It had overwhelming force. It had popular consent. It had congressional backing of the opposition party. It had U.N. support.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you’re saying that’s not there now?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And a known exit strategy. And I don’t see any of those elements being present in anything since.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, just to quickly move to the presidential campaign, because I want to get to Hillary Clinton’s big announcement rally tomorrow, David.

    National security has been a big topic among the Republicans, but we’re hearing that Secretary Clinton tomorrow is going to be talking in a more personal way. What does she need to do as she moves into this more public phase of her campaign?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    She needs a ringing defense of the free trade agreement. But she’s not going to do that, I guarantee you.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Which is, by the way, what she has been criticized for.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. She’s been sort of dodging that one.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    She’s supported it in the past, but she’s dodging it right now.

    She has to introduce herself as a person. And so all the reports are, she’s going to talk about her mom, had a very sad childhood. And she will — you know, if you look at the things that people don’t like about her, which are things, I think, she does have to address, the big one is the honesty and trustworthiness, where people do not think that.

    And the second one is, does she relate to people like me? And she’s led a pretty amazing life the last few decades, but it’s not exactly too relatable. And so she needs to take off some of the armor, frankly and show the human being under there.

    And that human being, you hear about, but the public hasn’t seen a lot of it. And so I think showing that human being is task number one.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, you’re saying it could work.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think, you know, she is a human being. And she has normal relationships.

    You even forget when — they’re going to talk apparently about her mom going off to — having a margarita here at the one of the Mexican restaurants in town. Even — we don’t think of her in those terms, but she can go — and it was not a fancy Mexico restaurant. It was the Cactus Cantina, which is very fine. I don’t want to insult the Cactus Cantina.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Hey. Hey.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    It’s one of my favorites.

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    But even thinking of her at a restaurant like that would just, like, go a long way, because, as secretary of state, as senator, as a global celebrity, she has sort of risen into a very strictly defined role, which she — hopefully is not her whole person.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What do you think she needs?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I would say, Judy, I agree with the point about her honesty. I don’t know how you do that. I mean, Richard Nixon tried.

    And I’m not comparing the two, but you can’t say, I’m honest, I’m not a crook. You don’t do that.

    But I think what she has to do is make the campaign about the future. That’s what presidential campaigns are about, and tell us why she wants to run for president.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you’re saying she hasn’t done that?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I don’t think she has yet. And I think — but that’s what it has to be.

    It’s a tricky position to run to succeed an incumbent executive in your own party, whether a mayor, a governor or a president, because you have to be — you can’t be disloyal to that president, governor, or mayor who has his or her own loyal constituents. You don’t want to alienate them.

    But you have got to somehow separate yourself. And I think Americans expect optimism in their leadership. The most popular and effective leaders, whether it was Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or Jack Kennedy, brought to it a sense of optimism and possibility. They see her already as a strong leader, which is important, but I would be interested to see where she stands on the trade act as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, does that matter?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Of course it does.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That she — whether she — because she’s just…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, her husband, that was based — a good part of his foreign policy was NAFTA in 1993. And he staked his presidency on it, worked hard and effectively to get it through, and is totally identified with it, and so is she.

    Now, in 2008, she was a little critical, both she and President Obama were as candidates in 2008, of NAFTA and what it had meant. But, no, I think she’s certainly — as secretary of state, she was present at the birthing of this. I think people expect her to be on the president’s side.

    But, obviously, the political reality in her own party, there’s not a lot of support for that right now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you get the sense, David, that her campaign has felt that they could just — they hold that off, that they don’t need to talk about trade and some other issues just yet, that they don’t need to fold it — roll it all out yet.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. Well, that’s fair. They don’t need to present all the policies all at once.

    But there’s been accusations, including by me, that she’s shifting too far to the left and too far of a base mobilization strategy. And the trade will be the big test of that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, gentlemen, next week, we get to talk about Jeb Bush. He announces on Monday.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Thank you.

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