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Shields and Brooks on the politics of vaccination, using religion to justify evil acts

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    This week saw increasing brutality from Islamic State militants, and President Obama came under fire for comments on religion.

    To analyze it all, Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, we have this week seen this wave of revulsion to the latest Islamic State terrible murder, the terrible pictures, which, even if you didn't see it, just — just the idea of it, the way they killed this Jordanian pilot.

    Now the word today of the American hostage, aid worker — they're claiming that she was killed in an airstrike. We don't know. And you probably saw the interview I did with the mother of a missing journalist.

    I guess my question, David, is, is the Obama administration's strategy for dealing with the terrorists in the Middle East, with Islamic State, is it working?



    First of all, one part I think is working, these are acts of terror. These are taunts designed the make us feel afraid, designed to make us feel helpless. They're provocations. They're not acts of war. It's more like just an insult to our sense of humanity.

    And I think it's important not to overreact to these individual events. They are — we give them power if we overreact. Having said that, we do need to do what we can, which is limited, to make the Middle East a civilized place for people to live. And Islamic State is a roadblock to that.

    And so to me, the things we have to do are things they're doing to some degree, but not to a sufficient degree. The first is to degrade the Islamic State, which we're doing the bombing campaigns, at least in Iraq, but not really, with the exception of one town, in Syria. And that means they will forever have a refuge to go to wreak havoc in Iraq and they will be able to make Syria into a hellhole, which it is.

    The second thing is, we can't — it just can't be a battle over our status vs. their status. They kill one of us. We, or as the Jordanians do, kill two of them. That's just a descent into barbarism.

    And so what have to stand — to remind ourselves, we do stand for democracy. A lot of people have lost faith in that mission. But if we don't have that mission of making the Middle East — doing what we can to make the Middle East a pluralistic, democratic place, then we have lost the moral high ground. It's not about morality anymore. It's just the barbarism that they want to be in charge of and us responding.


    Well, is that kind of an effort under way, Mark, to make it known to the world that the U.S. is trying to make the Middle East a more pluralistic kind of place?


    I'm not sure, Judy.

    I think when you have the immolation of this Jordanian pilot this week, all attention is riveted there. And David is right. You can't overreact to a single incident. But this is such an — absolutely can't take your eyes away from it.

    And I do hope, quite frankly, that it's a turning point, that you can't import will into a region. And the — if, in fact, there is going to be the ultimate and eventual degrading and defeat of the forces of barbarism, then it has to come from within. We can lead, we can organize, but right now, we're doing 90 percent of all the flights.


    We, meaning the U.S.


    The United States.

    And so the coalition, it has to — it cannot be the United States against another country in that area. It can't be the United States invading and occupying. It has to come — we can — we hope that this galvanizes the neighborhood in a sense of rage.

    But their religion has been perverted, has been appropriated, and that they want to reclaim it, as well as to stop this and eventually to self-determination. I mean, I don't know if it will be a pluralistic, democratic — I hope it will. And that's certainly our objective.

    But if we're going to be at a point of self-determination in those areas, rather than at the end of a sword or a gun.


    A couple of things.

    Sometimes, the military has worked. We have saved some towns. We have certainly helped prevent genocide with the bombing campaigns. But it's been a bit insufficient so far.

    The problem, unless you have a moral anchor and having a sense of this is what we believe in, we have heard pluralism, and it's not going to be democracy for a little while, but at least pluralism politics, is the — and what we're now in danger of doing is, we're so offended by Islamic State, we become de facto allies with Bashar al-Assad and the al-Assad regime, because we have essentially stopped attacking them because we figure they're better than the Islamic State.

    And that's not a place we want to be. The Assad regime is one of the centers of instability in that region. It's a barbaric, genocidal regime. We can't be the de facto allies with them because we think it will help defeat Islamic State and we think it will help us with Iran.

    And we're like switching back between the two. And that is a long-term reputational disaster.


    But how do you thread that needle? Then that means you're attacking both at the same time.


    The original reaction — the original reaction was to, when there were moderates, to arm them. And we're still doing a little of that. We have got about 5,000 that we're doing.

    But that's all we can do. We can't shape the region. We can just be ourselves.



    I do think that we have failed to lay out what our mission is, you know, which has been the constant that we're entering into what could be a long, protracted twilight struggle, when there's no measure how we know where we have achieved victory, how we know what our objective is.

    And I think that's what has to be done by the leadership of this country, and has yet to be done, quite bluntly.


    I want to ask quickly both of you about what the president said at this prayer breakfast yesterday, got a lot of attention. He was attempting to talk about — saying that terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, in the name of all religions, including Christianity, David.

    And he talked about the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, slavery. Republicans jumped on this and said false equivalency, you should be focusing on what extreme Muslims are doing today, and not talking about Christianity.


    I think, if the president had come as an atheist to attack religion and to attack Christianity, the Republicans would have a point. That's not what a president should be doing.

    But that's not how he came. He has used that prayer breakfast year after year to talk about his own faith, his own faith journey, his own struggles. He's used it — he has come as a Christian. And the things he said were things — I have never met a Christian who disagreed with what he issued, that the religion has been perverted, that we have to walk humbly before the face of the lord, that God's purposes are mysterious to us.

    This is not like some tangential, weird belief. This is at the core of every Christian's faith and every Jew's faith. And so what he said was utterly normal and admirable and a recognition of historical fact and an urge towards some humility. And so I thought the protests were manufactured and falsely manufactured.


    The Bible says, slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling. That was used by slaveholders and by the defenders of slavery in this country. They quoted the Bible, and that terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity.

    The Crusades are hardly one of the proudest chapters of Christianity. But I think what the president said is accurate. I do think that he's been somewhat reluctant to acknowledge and admit and confront that this is an Islamic terrorist, that it is a perversion and to address that.

    But I thought the response — I mean, these are the same people who are constantly criticizing the Islamic State people for not joining in the coalition, and saying you have got to condemn them. I just thought that it was over the top and undeserved.


    Well, while we're talking about American politics, a couple of Republicans, David, got themselves in hot water this week talking about vaccines and vaccinations.

    Governor Chris Christie, Rand Paul both said in different ways, parents don't need to vaccinate. Then they both walked it back a little bit. But damage? Are they damaged short-term, long-term, any damage from this whole episode?


    It's not been a great week for Republicans shooting their mouths off.

    You know, first, let me celebrate a couple of people who said what the science says. Marco Rubio and some of the — a lot of other leading Republicans said, the science is clear, you should get vaccinated, vaccinations should be universal, there should be vaccination. And they were completely accurate.

    To me, what's disturbing about Christie and Paul is, I can't imagine they believe that parents should be able to — should be opting out of vaccines. I can't believe Rand Paul really believes — though he said I heard cases where kids were vaccinated and then there was mental damage. I can't believe he believes that.

    What he is doing is, he's kowtowing toward people who are suspicious of institutions and therefore suspicious of belief. And there has to be a leadership test for candidates. Are you willing to tell people whose vote you want the truth when the science is very clear?

    And Marco Rubio passed that test this week. Christie and Paul are like getting C-minuses. And so that — you have to stand up for truth, even if a constituency thinks otherwise.


    I want to be in David's class if that's a C-minus.



    I think they both flunked.

    Judy, there's a rhetoric in this country. It's been on the ascent for almost a generation or more. And that is individual freedom, government interference, stay out of our lives, leave us alone, anything from Washington, you have to oppose, a federal mandate.

    And, you know, that has become the rhetoric. And that was their response. The reality is quite simple. Americans do feel that the government is a pain in the neck and too much red tape and keep them out of their lives. But a trace of botulism found in one can of tuna fish outside of Pocatello, Idaho, and the universal American reaction is, where the hell is the federal government? I want a report in my office in 24 hours, or heads will roll.

    We want a small, effective, efficient federal government on our side 24 hours a day, cheap. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in this world. In 2012, there were 213. That's because of vaccination. That's because of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and the federal government and the public — public effort in health.

    And that to me is — this is the reality. It's beyond ideology. They were slaves to ideology. And Christie hasn't — just doesn't have his footing. With Paul, it's sort of an excess of where he comes from and where he treads and what he believes. But I think Christie comes off even worse than Paul or anybody else.


    And the measles debate goes on. There are states now imposing new rules, school systems. I mean, it's roiled up a discussion we thought was gone.


    … your child's health and survival.


    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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