The New York Times’ David Brooks opened today’s program, talking about the Iran “deal”:
HH: I begin today’s show in the aftermath of yesterday’s explosive show with Dick Cheney and Carly Fiorina with New York Times columnist, David Brooks. That’s not a bad person to be mistaken, though, for, is it, David Brooks?
DB: Yeah, I used to get David Brock, so I’m happy to get David Broder.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, are you a Game of Thrones guy?
DB: I confess I am not a Game of Thrones guy. Sorry about that.
HH: Okay, you know, you all fall into it. Cillizza is, and I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about that. I was just quoting The Social Animal earlier this week to someone, and then Duane tells me you have a new book coming out, The Road To Character.
DB: It’s coming out April 14th, yeah, coming out soon.
HH: Oh, your publisher hasn’t sent me the advance copy.
DB: I will whip them and fire them for this.
HH: Oh, because we’ve got to talk about that. The Social Animal is so wonderful. Well, David, I want to talk to you today about Iran. And I want to start first with your assessment of the so-called deal. I call it the Iran hologram, but okay, let’s call it a deal. What’s your 30,000 foot assessment of it?
DB: Well, first, I’d recommend everybody read a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, which I thought was a devastating takedown of the deal. You know, for me the basic issue is what kind of regime is the Iranian regime? Are they Gorbachev, or are they Stalin? That is to say do they still believe in the revolution and are they going to use the wealth they’re going to get out of this deal and the nuclear weapons they’re eventually getting out of this deal to do evil? Or have they given up on being radical Islamists, and are they ready to join the community of nations? And that’s the best the President is taking. I think it’s a really bad bet, because I think they still believe in the revolution, and that they’re just going to be wealthier and more destructive.
HH: And you actually need a secret speech before you can begin to believe that it’s Gorbachev and not Stalin, right?
DB: No, we have a tendency, and I confess I may have been guilty of this, too, of imagining that radicals in the Middle East, or radicals everywhere, are about to become more like us. And that may happen in Iraq, but I think the President is guilty of that. They imagine oh, these people can’t really believe all that stuff, but they do believe that.
HH: Yeah, you need Khrushchev or the equivalent of the Iranian Khrushchev standing up in front of the hardliners and saying that Khamenei and that Khamenist stuff, that was for the birds. Let me play for you, by the way, since you bring up Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, this is State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf earlier today responding to that very op-ed, cut number 20:
ML: Back when…
MH: And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives. I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly, there’s a place for that. But I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.
HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.
HH: This is another talking point. The President responding to NPR yesterday about Scott Walker on this program last week saying he would repudiate the deal on day one, this is what the President said.
BO: Well, I think that it’s important to recognize that Iran’s a complicated country, just like we’re a complicated country.
HH: Actually, he said that on Sunday, so I’ll go to that one. What do you make of that, David Brooks? We’re both complicated, everybody’s complicated, everybody’s exceptional?
DB: Yeah, you know, to me, the strongest defense they’re mounting is the one Sandy Berger, the former National Security Advisor is making, was that we couldn’t have gotten a better deal because we couldn’t have upheld the sanctions anyway. And that’s sort of like saying you know, we were going to lose anyway, and so we might as well lose not so bad. And that’s more or less the argument. That, I think, is the strongest argument. I don’t buy the premise that we necessarily had to lose, that we had to, that the sanctions had to fall apart. I do think it’s possible for an American leader to organize a global coalition against a country like Iran. But that, to me, is their strongest one. But this complicated argument is essentially saying well, we had to give them some face-saving gestures, because Iran’s complicated, or domestically, their regime, they wouldn’t see it domestically. But this is a regime that can sell anything domestically, because they’re totalitarian.
DB: So I’m not persuaded by it.
HH: We’re not complicated in the same way at all. It’s actually the moral equivalence problem that I’ve got here.
HH: …more than the lack of candor about Berger realism. It’s simply not true that we’re complicated like they’re complicated.
DB: Yeah, so you know, obviously they do have various power centers, but there’s been no moment when push has come to shove that they’ve demonstrated their willingness to join the community of nations. I mean, if they want to join the community of nations, stop funding Hezbollah, stop funding Hamas, stop sending IED’s everywhere. They’re behaving like an expansionist power. So until I see evidence to the contrary, it’s, I think it’s foolish to really bet the future of the Middle East on this thing.
HH: Cut number 11, this is President Obama in conversation Monday with the NPR reporter about Scott Walker.
BO: Any president who gets elected will be knowledgeable enough about foreign policy, and knowledgeable enough about the traditions and precedents of presidential power that they won’t start calling to question the capacity of the executive branch of the United States to enter into agreements with other countries. If that starts being questioned, that’s going to be a problem for our friends, and that’s going to embolden our enemies. And it would be a foolish approach to take. And you know, perhaps Mr. Walker after he’s taken some time to bone up on foreign policy will feel the same way.
HH: David Brooks, I asked, I played that for Carly Fiorina yesterday, and she said that is what the President always does. He accuses his opponents and critics of being either ignorant or venal or ill-intentioned. I also should add he’s always condescending. What did you make of that response?
DB: Yeah, it was condescending. You know, these were sanctions that were passed by Congress. And to lift them without going to Congress, or thinking that they can’t be reversed, it’s just not political reality. I mean, he’s being vastly overly-simplistic. And I personally don’t think Congress, even Chuck Schumer and some of the Democrats in Congress, are going to want to see their branch sidelined. And so the idea that this will just be an executive decision, or he can pass it without Congressional buy-in seems dubious to me. And so whether this gets reversed or not depends on whether we pass it in a way treaties are supposed to be ratified. And if he goes to Congress and it’s ratified, then I suspect a future president will not reverse it. But if it’s an executive order, then I suspect he will.
HH: There are many different kinds of executive orders. I’ve been teaching Con Law for 20 years. And FDR gave all the destroyers in exchange for bases to Churchill. So certainly, they can be very aggressive. But they do not disarm in the face of an enemy, and they do not allow an enemy to proliferate in that region. This is Dick Cheney on my program yesterday, David Brooks, talking about the President in a hard-hitting way, cut number 21:
HH: Is he naïve, Mr. Vice President? Or does have a far-reaching vision that only he entertains of a realigned Middle East that somehow it all works out in the end?
DC: I don’t know, Hugh. I vacillate between the various theories I’ve heard. But you know, if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world, reduce our past influence of events, turn our back on our allies and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing. I think his actions are constituted in my mind those of the worst president we’ve ever had.
HH: Now David Brooks, two questions. What do you make of the Vice President’s comments? And what do you make about a subject and the debate that has grown to the point where those comments are widely shared and applauded in many places?
DB: Yeah, I confess I wouldn’t have made those comments. I think I disagree with him. You know, what the President is trying to do is plausible. I don’t agree with it, but I think it’s plausible. It’s plausible that someday Iran will join the community of nations. I think he’s wrong to think that it’s close, but it’s not, I think it’s an argument that a serious person could make. And so I guess I wouldn’t characterize it the way Vice President Cheney did. I just think it’s naïve and maybe hubristic to think that we can turn Iran the way people have tried to turn various totalitarian regimes in the future. That doesn’t mean I think he’s acting in a way that’s going to hurt the country, or that you know, effectively that he will hurt the country. But I wouldn’t characterize it the way the Vice President did.
HH: But I believe the reason the Vice President did it, and I ran out of time, and I’ll propose this to you, is that it’s the culmination of six and a half years of growing aggressiveness vis-à-vis the office and the coordinate branches. And this goes both to the rewrite of Obamacare by executive order. It goes to the DARPA program. It goes to everything having to do with illegal immigration. The President has actually pushed his opposition into using the most extraordinarily hard-hitting rhetoric, which I think is actually unprecedented in modern times. Obviously, the Civil War is much different. But in modern times, does it have an equivalent?
DB: Yeah, I guess I would just engage it on the merits. You know, I think the President came in saying we were going to negotiate with our enemies, and we were going to turn Iran, and I think the President had some notion that he could meet people, and he would persuade them by the sheer force of his intellect to behave differently than they do. And I think that was hubristic to believe that, and it was wrong. I guess I’m not really sure we persuaded people. I think the case against this treaty is so powerful, I love the way Schultz and Kissinger put it just in a very remorseless, factual, serious, non-political way, really. And I thought, I always think that’s the most devastating way to make an argument.
HH: Well, you just used the word hubristic, so I’ll leave you with 30 seconds. Is there a parallel to this President’s hubris when it comes to matters foreign?
DB: You know, it’s hard to think. You know and I think, I’ve known him for a while, and he’s an extremely, extremely self-confident person. But you know, it also goes back to a philosophic belief that these things can be solved by negotiations, and that you can use soft power, and people like me think in some sad cases, only hard power is needed. So some of it is hubris, some of it is just the philosophical orientation of the guy.
HH: David Brooks, author of the forthcoming The Road To Character, I’ll talk to you again when the book is out. Thank you.
End of interview.