David Brooks: Decision To Go To Congress On Syria 'Unfortunate'

PBS Newshour regular David Brooks complains about President Obama's decision to go to the Congress and have them vote on military intervention in Syria and claims not being able to move the obstructionists there is going to ruin his credibility.
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Anyone notice what's completely lacking during this discussion on the PBS Newshour with David Brooks and Mark Shields? Any concern whatsoever for the repercussions for our actions if we go "lob a few missiles" at Syria, but tons of concern trolling for what it means for President Obama's "credibility" because he decided to go to Congress and make them share ownership of any military action we might take there.

When it comes to potentially making a civil war even worse and destabilizing a region even further, the last thing I care about is whether this do-nothing, obstructionist Congress maybe doing something right for once and voting against going into Syria is going to make President Obama look bad or not.

Brooks also expressed his concern that Congress voting against the President might limit our ability to start a war with Iran, which in his mind is apparently a bad thing -- because Lord knows what we need right now in the age of austerity where we claim we're too broke to take care of our own citizens, is to go to war with a few more countries. Somehow we can always find the money to drop more bombs on people's heads, but we can't afford to pay for our social safety nets, or infrastructure, or anything else that might improve the lives of most average Americans.

Don't worry your pretty heads over any of that though. David Brooks is on the case about whether anyone's going to manage to "embarrass" President Obama or not, because we all know that's what really matters to the rest of the country right now. What's "unfortunate" is that we've got the likes of David Brooks being allowed to drive the public dialog in America in the first place.

Transcript below the fold.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president, Mark, went to the Group of 20 meeting over the last few days, hoping they would support the call for military action. They didn't. How much of an embarrassment is it?

MARK SHIELDS: It's certainly not encouraging for the president. I mean, he did get a statement that, we will hold your coat and we will be -- we will be with you, but we won't participate. So

I, mean, it's still basically a very, very small coalition at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of an embarrassment, and what does it look like in Congress?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, internationally, it looks a little more unilateral, so it looks a little more Bush-like, to be honest.

Before, Russia seemed isolated. Now we're looking not isolated, but with a smaller coalition, as Mark said. In Congress, I think it's bad. I think the decision to go to Congress was a very unfortunate decision, because it made it much bigger than Syria itself.

Now it's a test case for Obama's credibility, credibility around the world, and credibility at home. There is a common assumption that he can rally public opinion, he can lean on Congress, and ultimately they will force Democrats to say -- they don't like the policy, but they will say you can't let Obama go down and have his credibility destroyed.

I'm really dubious that that's going to be the case. I think Republicans are going to be largely against. That's really clear. The Democrats in their hearts, they're against. The noise from their districts is going to be solidly against. Pelosi is very good at rallying votes. But I think this is a -- going to be an uphill fight for them, and if he loses, it will be really bad for the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You agree it was a mistake to go to Congress?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't think it was a mistake to go to Congress, Judy.

I think I have never seen any president on the eve of initiating military action that is war action, that is hitting another country with less popular support, less public support, less political support, and less international support than the president had a week ago, when we met.

The idea of doing it then, I don't -- I mean, it just amazes me -- and with all respect to David -- people on the left who say, oh, ignore the Congress. The Congress is lousy.

I mean, would they have the same attitude if a President Ted Cruz were there? I mean, it is the constitutional order for a president to do that. And when you're making a decision, there's none more grievous than that to go to war. To involve the Congress and the country in that decision, I think is absolutely imperative.

It's the only way there's going to be any sense of national support, let alone unity, for this action, which is controversial.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don't agree?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, no, I don't.

I mean, I certainly agree, if Syria was the main thing. I think, when you go to war, if Syria was the main thing we were worried about, and if we actually had a plan to actually change something materially for the good in Syria, then going to Congress would be fine, and that would be a good thing to do, to get popular support, so the president isn't isolated, so you get enough people on board in the beginning, so they're there at the end when things get complicated.

That would be fine. But this really isn't about Syria. The policy is not going to do anything materially to affect Syria. We may lob a few missiles in there. That's just face-saving. Let's face it. The real issue is the broader credibility of the president, the international credibility of the United States, especially vis-a-vis Iran.

This is really about Iran more than Syria. And by going to Congress and potentially getting slapped down, then our credibility vis-a-vis Iran is in shatters, and the president's credibility at home is in shatters.

And so I just -- on substantive ground, I think Mark is right. On Machiavellian ground, I think it was a mistake.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I just look at this, and I think the president made the case himself, in which he said, a president can go and take military action.

And let's be honest about -- a Tomahawk missile weighs 2,900 pounds. This is enormous armaments you're delivering upon a country. And we're talking about shooting them in batches of 40. And I just think the president is right. He said, a president can act if the national security of the country is at threat. And he said, I couldn't make that case. I couldn't make the case that the immediate national survival of the United States was at threat, at peril unless I did act.

So it made sense to go to the Congress. It may not make political, but let's find out. There is in this country a great resistance -- and the president's countered it didn't begin with him and it didn't begin with Syria. There is less trust, less confidence, and less enthusiasm for military intervention.

It has not -- it can knock a despot out. It doesn't bring peace. It doesn't bring democracy. It doesn't establish a civil state. We have lost confidence in military intervention as a solution, especially in the Middle East.

I mean, Margaret just reported from Egypt. That's -- if that's the best that we have produced, after billions and billions of aid and support, and 30 years, I mean, that's a tragedy.

DAVID BROOKS: It's important to remember, the president is now locked into a major, major effort to champion a policy he doesn't really believe in, in a region he wants to get out of.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how did he get into that situation?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, a whole series of mistakes, the red line mistake, the going to Congress mistake, in my view.

And I'm -- again, I'm just speaking politically. I understand Mark's case on substantive ground if Syria was the real case. A whole series of mistakes he made where he wasn't thinking more than one step ahead, and so he's locked in. So, now we're having a big debate about Syria, which is derailing immigration and everything else he wants to do, when his whole policy was to get out of the Middle East.

So, how did he get himself locked in? So, my point of view, if I'm the president, get myself out of this box. Just do whatever you have to do in Syria. It won't do any good, probably, but at least it won't destroy the credibility of the office. Now he has raised the stakes and made the stake -- and make the downside just tremendous.

MARK SHIELDS: It's going to be a big struggle. Part of the problem...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean to get this through the Congress?

MARK SHIELDS: To get Congress, no question.

But part of the problem, we saw in Paul's piece with Lisa Lynch on the economy. The U.S. household median income has gone down every year since 2007. You heard them say there are fewer -- a smaller percentage of Americans in the work force today than any year since 1978.

And so Americans are understandably turning inward and saying, look, we have got problems here. We have got problems that haven't been solved. We don't need to go, whether it's to Syria or to Egypt or to Afghanistan or -- and the bad reports every day from Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mark, what about the president's argument, this would be a targeted, narrow strike, that it's all about the chemical weapons...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the president...

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... and reaching international...

MARK SHIELDS: Sure.

And I think the president has high moral ground there, but he's got he's got to make the case. He's not -- to the country, Judy. It's a skeptical country. The people who have made up their mind are against it. He's speaking to a Congress that is skittish.

We're talking right now -- there are 200 Democrats in the House of Representatives. I think the real fight, both of us agree, is in the House of Representatives. You have got the speaker of the House...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You think it will pass the Senate vote?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the chances of it passing the Senate -- if it doesn't pass the Senate, then the whole thing is over.

But, Judy, there are 200 Democrats in the House. All right? And they're counting right now -- they need at least 85 percent of them. Now, that's 170 Democrats out of 200. That's saying that 30 people who have careers, only 30, who voted against every military intervention are going to come over. Many of them will have to come over.

And then you have only got the Republicans delivering something like 48 out of 233, with the speaker and the majority leader for it. I mean, it's going to be a tough slog.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what happens if he doesn't get the vote? Can he go ahead? I mean, that was what -- he was asked that three times today at a news conference, and he said, I'm not going to answer that.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't think he can go ahead.

And then -- I don't know then what he does, because he will -- in Iran, in the Middle East, in the region, the Chinese will be watching. The Iranians will be watching. The whole world will be watching this. And they will see that he couldn't even rally a majority for this, and they will have noticed that. The Americans will be watching.

Within the Republican Party, by the way, there will be -- and it's already happened within the Republican Party -- the opponents, the noninterventionists, are on the offensive against the establishment, which wants to support this thing. And they're already probably going to crush the establishment. If they win on this, then that will further tilt things within the Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But where does it leave the president if he can't -- I realize I'm asking you to speculate, but if he doesn't win, where...

DAVID BROOKS: I think his credibility would be in tatters. I really think it would affect the second term in a very significant way.

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