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Shields and Brooks on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 21, 2011

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, welcome.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a lot of international news just in the last few days.

Let's start, David, with Iraq, the announcement today by President Obama. All the troops will be home by the end of the year. Reaction?

DAVID BROOKS: Excessive. Imprudent.

It had been widely reported that our military leaders on the ground wanted to keep about 14,000, to 18,000. That had been reported. It's been reported for months that the Iraqi military has some basic gaps, their ability to transport, to do airpower, intelligence, to do training, which the U.S. was helping.

Iraq is still a fragile country. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution points out that in half the case where there was a civil war, they slide back into civil war. So I think for all those reasons it would have been prudent to keep 14,000, not in combat roles, but in that sort of stabilizing role.

And then the thing that mystifies me, I guess, right now is Denis McDonough, who was on the program earlier, who is a fantastic civil servant, public servant, and a very smart guy, gave a picture of Iran and Iran's influence in Iraq that suggested Iran was weak, and not really...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And isolated.

DAVID BROOKS: And isolated. And yet other people I have spoken to in the government paint a completely opposite picture. So I'm confused about Iran's capacity in general and particularly in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, McDonough also said that the generals are on board. I mean...

MARK SHIELDS: He did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... he suggested that the president is doing what the generals agree with.

MARK SHIELDS: He did say that. And until we hear a general say something to the opposite -- it just strikes me, Judy, that we stand in stark contrast between the two countries involved in the headlines this week, Iraq and Libya, I mean, Iraq, where the United States invaded and occupied for nine years, and where there is increasing or undiminished animosity toward the United States and our presence there on the part of the Iraqis, Libya, where there were no American troops on the ground, and where, as of today, there's considerable appreciation.

I mean nothing personal by this, but I have heard a number of people say we have got to be worried about Iran now. And I think it ill becomes those who were the architects and advocates and apologists for the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq now to raise the flag about Iran being an object of concern.

If that was their paramount consideration, then Saddam Hussein was your guy. He was the guy who kept...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he stood up.

MARK SHIELDS: Because he stood up to Iran.

I mean, there was a clear understanding that Iran's influence was going to grow and grow. It has. There's no question about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you...

DAVID BROOKS: Well, a couple things.

First, warning about Iran is not a neocon fantasy. The Obama administration worries about Iran, the French government, the German government. Iran is a rogue nation the entire world, with the exception of maybe one or two nations, has rallied against.

And so I think that it's not a neocon fantasy that Iran is a very aggressive state. As for what's happened across the Middle East over the last several years, one of the things that's happened -- and to me this is the big thing that's happened -- look at the change. Look in the change in leadership across that region. Gadhafi's gone. Saddam is gone. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is gone. The sclerotic regime in Egypt is gone. Assad is toppling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tunisia.

DAVID BROOKS: Tunisia.

And so we have seen this tremendous change. To me that's a big story. Whether it turns out well or ill, we will see, but that is a tremendous change.

MARK SHIELDS: It's a tremendous change, but let's get one thing -- there's a marvelous term in logic, post hoc, not propter hoc. In other words, because something happened after something, it's not because of something.

Saddam Hussein falling was because the United States moved in and occupied and invaded a country that had never posed a threat to the United States, didn't have weapons of mass destruction. The United States didn't play an active role in the Arab spring. And quite miraculous and remarkably was it occurred without us and without our active involvement.

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