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Shields and Brooks on the president’s speech

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President Obama speaking live at the White House.

    Mark Shields and David Brooks have been listening with Gwen and me to the speech.

    David, did the president make out the case that he set out to make?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I thought it was pretty clear, pretty clear and pretty straightforward.

    I think the president should always be saluted when they go against their natural inclinations. His inclination is not to use military force. It’s certainly not to insert American power and American bombs into another Arab country. And that’s what we’re going to be doing. But I thought they laid out a four-point strategy that was reasonably clear.

    And it’s pretty ambitious. I guess the question I would ask is, he said our — our goal is clear, to destroy ISIS. What happens if airstrikes don’t do it? What happens if the Iraqi army can’t do it? What happens if the Free Syrian Army can’t take really some ground in Syria?

    If that stuff doesn’t happen, and our goal is clear, to destroy ISIS, what’s the next step? But I think, so far, you have to salute him for a pretty clear, pretty straightforward strategy.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mark, did you hear all the ifs that David heard? And it sounds like the president has a big bite that he’s made here, a big set of promises.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Big set of promises, Gwen.

    I think the president made the case against ISIL better than he made the case for his own action. And I do think that kind of glossed over the whole question of congressional action, of endorsement, really substituting an appropriation for that endorsement. And I think, as we have discussed previously, it’s very important that we have a debate in congressional — Congress can — you can delegate authority, but you can’t delegate responsibility.

    And the Congress has a responsibility. The president is making a case for war here. And there’s no solemn, serious, grave decision that any country makes. And we do need a debate and a vote on it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But, David, he sounds very confident that he has that authority. He’s — the White House has been saying it, and we heard him say it again.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, there was clear authority established in 2003 that you could go after al-Qaida in its offshoots. And the president has the authority, when national security is threatened in the war on terror, to go after al-Qaida and offshoots and similar organizations.

    ISIL is clearly an offshoot of al-Qaida. I think he interprets that to mean he has that power. It should be said, however, he does welcome congressional action. And it’s true. It was an appropriation, not a war resolution, but he would — he doesn’t think he needs it, but he’s been very forthcoming in saying, I would like to have this debate. I would like this.

    I think he would get a lot of Republican support.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let’s go beyond Congress to the American people. We have all been reading the polls all week about how American public opinion seems to be shifting on this.

    Do you think that’s enough?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Do I think the shift in American public opinion is? It is — it’s a very recent and very — I don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent. There’s no question that…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, the beheadings here.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The beheadings did it.

    And these were the beheadings of people who are individuals, whom we came to know, had families. And that just absolutely capitalized, energized American opposition to this, and raised support, and understandably so, for retaliation against the people who did this. There’s no question that that is the mood and the value right now.

    If it’s a long twilight struggle, what happens when the first American pilot is shot down? What will be the reaction? Will it be one of reaction against, or will it be, let’s go in and clean these people out? And that would be the ultimate irony of this president, who prided himself on ending — ran on and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or American involvement.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it does sound like he’s limiting himself to what the polls say the American people are prepared to do. And that is to support airstrikes, not boots on the ground.

    And he said — you heard him say it — no boots on the ground.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But is that a pipe dream, to think that he can hold back and not go farther?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    He’s certainly very limited. I have never — it’s — you go to war and maybe you go with a very reluctant leader because you don’t want to get carried away, like we did last time.

    But when you go with a reluctant leader, then maybe when the going gets tough, he only wants to do half of the measures that are necessary. So, going with someone who is reluctant to go to war is in some ways a very good thing and some ways a danger. We will see how that plays out.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We will.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I just — I just — oh.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We actually have to go, but we’re going to be back in just a few moments.

    We’re taking a short break, so some PBS stations can return to their regularly scheduled programming.

    For the others, we will be right back with more analysis from Shields and Brooks.

    And everyone can watch that on our live-stream at NewsHour.PBS.org.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Welcome back to the “PBS NewsHour.”

    We have just heard from President Obama on his plan to degrade the capabilities of the Islamic State group.

    Still with us are analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks.

    And, Mark, you were just saying that it’s not clear that the president — that, yes, he’s laid out a plan, but there are risks to that plan.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    There are risks to it, and there are still unanswered questions.

    Who is in the grand coalition and what have they signed on for? Have they signed on for the duration? How will we know when we have won? This isn’t taking Berlin. This isn’t the surrender on the battleship Missouri at the end of World War II. We don’t know that.

    But — and the coalition — the model, I think, that he’s trying to emulate — and it’s a good one — was that of President George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf War, 31 nations…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The first Gulf War.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And first — in the first Gulf War, went to the Congress, controlled by the Democrats, won support after long and really full and honest debate in both bodies, and then went and had the United Nations’ support.

    So it was — it was a real — there was a sense of consensus and a sense of common will. And the president — I will be interested. Secretary Kerry has his hands full in assembling that coalition.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    One of the things that I like about the coalition is who is not in it. There was some talk we should try to get the Assad regime to go after ISIL, which is the natural enemy.

    The president does not believe the Assad regime has legitimacy anyway, so it’s going to be no help to have them in the — in this coalition against ISIL. The second doubt — question was whether Iran should be involved. And I think they’re talking to Iran or through third parties, but not coordinating with Iran.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But let me ask you this, David. Doesn’t — don’t we run a risk, does the U.S. run a risk of helping Assad, who we wanted to drive out of office, by attacking ISIL?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And just a year ago, the president was announcing his decision not to go after…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, this is a…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    So, there’s this thing called the Free Syrian Army, the moderates.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Right.

    And he was saying not long ago, in response to something Hillary Clinton had said to my colleague Tom Friedman, that the idea that the FSA was going to be a moderate force was a fantasy.

    Well, now…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This is the opposition.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    This is the moderate opposition.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Now we’re banking on them.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    So, you know, you — and — but this is being president and this is why it’s rotten being president now.

    You have got the world you got. And he doesn’t like the world. He doesn’t like the way the Middle East is. He really feels he has no choice. And that’s so clear in the way he speaks, that I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be here. I gave a West Point speech on how military power isn’t really very effective. I got no choice.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Yes. And you think that came through in the speech tonight, this reluctance, that he’s doing this reluctantly?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I don’t think there’s any question of his reluctance.

    The president spelled out what it’s not. It’s not troops. It’s not combat. It’s not Americans going in. It’s not Americans fighting a war in Iraq. It’s not what we went through and what I opposed.

    But I do come back to this idea of just exactly what the mission is and how we will know when the mission is…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    But we could say that al-Qaida is now — there are like 30 or 40 guys somewhere in a hill in Pakistan. So, that was a success. We successfully decayed al-Qaida down to a harmless — not a harmless nub, but a nub.

    And if we can do that with ISIL, then that’s the…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But how different the challenge than it was last year?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    When the president gave the speech last year, he was talking about a different enemy in the same place.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That’s exactly right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And now he has to make a case for a sustained — he used the word comprehensive, sustained. That’s code for, we’re going to be there a while.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That’s exactly right. And he said — he talked at some emphasis about the illegitimacy of Assad.

    Therefore, any result that left Assad in power, seemingly, would be unacceptable to this…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, see, I don’t think his — I think his goals are pretty limited.

    We’re not going to fix the Middle East. It’s — that’s going to be a generations-long process. But this is a particularly noxious force in the Middle East.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No question about that.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    And degrading them, it seems to me a legitimate goal.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I don’t think anybody’s arguing about what a pernicious, evil organization this is. And his indictment of it was quite, I thought, compelling.

    But I just — I’m just not sure of the precise mission, what it involves, how long it is going to involve, what he’s asking of us. I mean, he really didn’t ask anything of us as people. It’s going to cost more, but it’s not going to cost us.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. But we will see.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    If it’s just military.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    The airstrikes have been so successful. We have had 150 airstrikes, as he mentioned. They have been very successful at protecting Mosul dam.

    And if the airstrikes continue to be that successful, then it’s possible, but they probably won’t be.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I was struck by his reference to strategy. He’s been so criticized lately for not having a strategy when it comes to fighting ISIL, or ISIS, in Syria.

    And at one point, he said, this is our strategy, and in each of these four points of our strategy, he wanted to make sure, Mark and David, that that’s what he was laying out.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Does that actually — does that actually quiet the critics?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, is that a strategy? How we now heard a strategy?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I think it’s a strategy. It’s got four points.

    Anything with four points is a strategy. Three points is just tactics, but four points is a strategy.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Fourteen points, actually, a true strategy.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Does that quiet — does that quiet the critics who said the president doesn’t have a strategy? They may have overreached.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No. The critics — the critics will find him on halitosis or dandruff.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    But, I mean, he is talking — he is trying to say, I am strong, I do have a strategy.

    He is addressing what are perceived shortcomings. This is a president who 21 months ago had a 52-40 favorable rating on his handling of foreign policy, and in today’s Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, it was 32-62 favorable or unfavorable, minus 30. That’s a 42-point swing.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right.

    I’m very curious to see how much public opinion rallies on this. Usually, public opinion does really when a president asks for something like this. But we will see how resistant the country is. Now, they may be more than unusually resistant to any sort of foreign intervention because of the weariness.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, and it’s true this foreign event — intervention is going to outlive his presidency.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It is. And…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And the White House has been very clear about that, that this is going to go on.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    And Democratic candidates who are in races where they would prefer to be debating equal pay and minimum wage and refinancing student loans and who has health care and not denying women birth control, all of a sudden, they’re in the middle of a presidential decision that may be popular, but, at the same time, is politically quite risky.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, we thank you.

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