The New York Times’ Michael Shear joined me today to talk about the attack in Tennessee:
HH: A horrible day in Tennessee, verdicts in Colorado. Michael Shear of the New York Times joins me. Michael, the President’s statement today, as one would expect, sorrow for the families, prayers for those who are grieving. It comes on a day packed with news, packed with a lot of campaign developments. What does domestic terrorism of this sort do to the political environment?
MS: Well, I mean, at least in the short term, in the very short term, I think stories like this always freeze out other news, right? So it’s hard to imagine politicians going about their normal business of bashing each other for one little thing or another when you have four Marines dead, and I guess some local law enforcement, too. I mean, it really puts things into perspective. Now I think you and I know from grim experience over the years that it’s not like politics stays frozen for long. And you know, the country eventually moves on and we get back to the other business. But at least for an afternoon or a day or two, or however long it will last, you know, things do kind of put into perspective.
HH: What do you think we know for sure about the killer at this hour?
MS: You know, I don’t, it’s interesting. It seems like this is one of those cases where you know, as the President just said, we obviously know the name, but I don’t know that we know a whole lot more. And you know, this is one of those cases, I remember very well the Nidal Hasan shooting down in Texas at, I think it was an Army base, but a base…
HH: Fort Hood, yeah.
MS: …and I think that was one of those cases where you know, it’s sort of, you don’t know which way this is going to go, you know? Is this a domestic terrorism, is this a personal, you know, is this a kind of personal rage kind of hate? In that case, you know, I think we, in the case down in Texas, we eventually determined that yes, in fact, this was motivated by ideology. But I think we have to be careful. You know, you just don’t know, yet, what this is.
HH: Now I have been out on a limb all day, because I think Mohammod Youssef Abdulazeez shooting up two recruiting stations as Ramadan comes to a close suggests that this is what the government was worried about, an evidence of what the government was so worried about on July 4th. If it turns out to be that, I think it’s going to have profound implications for our politics in a couple of ways. And let me try a couple of them out on you. It hurts the argument about security being only at the border. It raises the argument about national security being much more of an issue of domestic terrorism everywhere, from Charleston to Chattanooga to the border. What do you think about that?
MS: I think that’s right. I think you know, I think in some ways, the country has been quite lucky that there hasn’t been more of the kind of internal terrorism motivated and inspired by the ideologies that are further away, that are across the border. One of my colleagues here at the Times did a big story about Boston recently in the Times, and about the kind of tentacles of the ideological outreach by ISIS and other groups that are reaching into communities in a place like Boston. And I think if it turns out that what we’re, you know, kind of under now is this constant threat of terrorism that as you say, can’t be stopped at the border, because they’re not coming across the border. They’re already here. That has profound implications for the kind of conversations that we have in politics about how to stop it.
HH: Second argument I’m going to make, and this has to be very carefully delineated, because I am very aware of the difference between the Sunni extremism that undergirds Islamic State, and the Shiia fanaticism that undergirds the Iraniain Khomeinist faantics. The President just made a deal with the latter. This is the former, if it is in fact an ISIS-inspired lone wolf or known wolf or whatever it is. Nevertheless, it raises the question of fanaticism in a negotiating partner. I don’t know that anyone would dare propose negotiating with the Islamic State, but the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a state sponsor of terror for, you know, since 1979. Does an attack like this call into question the variability to deal with a regime like that?
MS: Well, I mean, I think you’re right to draw the distinction. I would add one other distinction between, you know, in addition to the difference between Shiia and Sunni, but there’s also the difference between an established nation state and a group of sort of free-ranging terrorists that don’t have any sort of historical government that they’ve formed. I mean, let’s face it, and I’m not arguing good or bad here, but there is a difference in negotiating with, you know, whether it’s the Soviet Union in the past or Iran now, you know, you can be very upset about the things that that nation state does. But at least it’s a nation state that has historical land that it rules. And so that may be another difference. But I take your point. I mean, and something like this can’t be helpful for the President’s sales job that he’s got to do about this deal.
HH: That’s what I’m getting at. The Soviet Union was an atheist regime that always had at its bottom line, you know, they wanted the dachas and the women and the vodka. They didn’t blow themselves up. And this guy is dead, whether he killed himself or was killed in a hail of gunfire. The Islamist fanatics that run Iran have often sponsored state terror, including suicide bombings. And I just, I think a lot of Americans coming in these 60 days are going to say to themselves, God, who are we dealing with over there? And Michael Shear, this…
MS: Yeah, I think…
HH: Go ahead.
MS: I think you’re right. No, I think you’re right. I think that will raise questions, and I think it’s the kind of thing that is not helpful to the President as he tries to make the case. I would just caution that you know, you know this better than I do, but you know, let’s not minimize the kind of fear that you know, the Soviet Union, I mean, I remember…
MS: You know, near nuclear calamity and the whole world was going to be destroyed, right, and there were people that said how can you negotiate with people who have their trigger on the nuclear bomb?
HH: Hey, Michael, I had to listen to Solzhenitsyn for two and a half hours in the rain at my commencement. I definitely got that part down. Let me ask you about the head count on the Iran deal. We’ll come back to the latest from Chattanooga after the break. I don’t know, I think we get to 60 pretty easy on a no vote in the Senate. And I know it passes the House. But sustaining a veto, or overriding a veto is very hard for me to see. What do you think?
MS: I think this is, I think you’re right. I would generally agree, and I think that you could, in fact, see two different votes. You could in fact see people who vote no on the deal, who reject the deal, but then who when push comes to shove, also vote not to override the President’s veto.
HH: Oh, interesting.
MS: You know, they make the argument that look, you know, that we can’t undercut a president of the United States, we have to give the president the ability to conduct foreign policy. And so you could even see, I think, more votes than that in the House or the Senate to reject the deal, but then at the end of the day, the President still manages to push it through.
HH: Michael Shear, if Shelley Adelson or another deep-pocketed friend of Israel stepped forward and said I’m going to stake a Democratic primary opponent $10 million dollars for anyone who votes against this deal, would it move votes?
MS: Maybe. I mean, it could. I definitely think that if you’re a Democratic politician who is, you know, part of whose appeal over the years has been a kind of friend of Israel kind of appeal, you think of somebody like a Chuck Schumer or somebody else in the House that might have that kind of appeal, and that’s been part of the basis of their political life, that’s a huge threat, or that’s a huge potential threat.
MS: And I think that’s the kind of thing that Obama’s going to have to address.
HH: Full court press coming. Michael Shear from the New York Times, always a pleasure, thank you for joining me on a dark day.
End of interview.