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Week In Politics: Terror Attacks In France And Mali

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

International terrorism is also having an impact on domestic politics. And to discuss that, our Friday regulars are here - David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome to both of you.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: So there seems to be two threats to the domestic impact of the terror attacks in Paris and potentially now in Mali as well. One threat is refugee policy. The other threat is counterterrorism strategy. So let's start with refugee policy.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to suspend refugees from Syria and Iraq coming to the U.S. About 2,000 refugees have come to the U.S. since the Syrian civil war started. Not a huge number, yet the House voted to pause this program. And, E.J., you describe this as the politics of fear.

DIONNE: It is the politics of fear. First of all, when you look at how would a Syrian - an ISIS terrorist want to get into the United States, one of the last things they are likely to want to do is come in as a refugee because if you look at that, the number we've let in compared to the number who had been proposed for admission, it's very small. It takes 18 months to two years for a refugee to get in. Targeting refugees like this does not help us in the fight against ISIS and only hurts our image. There are problems with visas that you might want to look at. There are legitimate questions to ask, but don't target refugees.

And this was part of a pattern where you had, earlier in the week, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz saying, well, maybe we should only admit Christian refugees. Oh, what is that about targeting Muslims? You had Ben Carson with his strange metaphor about dogs. I think that the Republicans see an opportunity here. And when you look at the polling, a study this week by the Public Religion Research Institute - three quarters of Republicans think that Islam is antithetical to American values and the American way of life. They're clearly playing to that sentiment inside their party during the primaries.

SHAPIRO: Well, David, do you agree with E.J. that this is just opportunistic political posture or do you think this is a legitimate policy disagreement?

BROOKS: Well, there's legitimacy. It's possible that (unintelligible) refugees will - some - in miniscule way, uptick the risk that somebody will get it in that will do something terrible. But A, I think we have a moral responsibility because of our terrible policies in Syria. B, I think it's incumbent upon Republicans and all of us not to do anything that nurtures bigotry. After 9/11, I thought George W. Bush did an excellent job of separating Islam from al-Qaida. I think that has to be done, and it has to be done and that...

SHAPIRO: President Obama talked about that.

BROOKS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: He gave a shout out to George W. Bush this week.

BROOKS: Right, and that was the - that sort of seems to have gone away in part of the Republican Party and the Ben Carson types. For Democrats, I think there's a sense of responsibility here. You know, President Obama waxed self-righteous about the Republican bill and the Republican behavior, but he's made a series of cold and, to me, amoral decisions over the past five years to allow this genocide. And maybe they were the right decisions, but they were not moral decisions. They were Machiavelli and Realpolitik decisions not to get involved.

SHAPIRO: Are you talking about the...

DIONNE: Could I just score one thing David said, which is about President Bush. Every Republican should reread the speech President Bush gave within days of the 9/11 attacks at the Islamic Center here because he was telling us this is a bad idea. Anti-Muslim bigotry is not good for the United States or in our tradition. It was one of the finest moments of his presidency.

SHAPIRO: Well, David, you talk about President Obama making what you call an amoral decision to allow this genocide. You're referring to the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS. And this week, Hillary Clinton gave a speech outlining her plans to, as she said, defeat and destroy ISIS. They were seen as a break with this administration. And, David, you wrote that she came across as thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward.

BROOKS: Yeah. I thought it was a very impressive speech because it, A, showed sophistication and awareness of where - how the Sunni-Shias thing fits into this, the Saudi-Iranian rivalries and especially within Syria.

The simple thing to say is let's go after ISIS. Let's bomb those guys. But Assad is the recruiting general for ISIS. Every time he drops a barrel bomb onto a market, onto a school, more Sunnis flock to ISIS. The key to a successful policy to get the Sunnis to uprise against their fellow Sunnis in ISIS the way the Sunni Awakening did against al-Qaida in Iraq a few years ago. And to do that, you have to take out Assad. You have to be extremely distressful to Putin. You have to have a complex, multilayered policy. And I thought she had the thinking behind a complex, multilayered policy, which she laid out, showing her strengths. I didn't think she was aggressive enough in what she actually proposed, but it was a very mature, very sophisticated speech that, you know, deserves commendation.

SHAPIRO: E.J., you listened to the speech. Here you have a former secretary of State for President Obama making what was perceived as a break with President Obama. What was your takeaway?

DIONNE: What - you know, I think that she accomplishes a couple of things here. First, she was very shrewd in the way she cast herself. And she tried as much as she could to talk about ways in which this was continuity with the president's policy. But I think she's trying to occupy a kind of sweet spot between President Obama and where the Republicans are, saying, I'll be a little bit more aggressive than President Obama. I have my differences, but I'm not going to go all the way over there where some of these hyper-interventionist Republicans are. I think that's who she is, so I don't think it's a contrivance.

And I think Marco Rubio's speech this - or piece in POLITICO this week might set her up for that because the main thrust of what he said is he would send in as many troops as our military requested. He was notably silent about exactly how many troops that actually is. And I think Hillary Clinton made clear, no, we're not going to solve this by sending lots and lots of American troops in. So I think she's trying to find some space here. And I think this was a first - a more successful first step than the debate, where she had a lot of problems on this question.

SHAPIRO: So, E.J., you're referring to a piece that Marco Rubio had in POLITICO today where he said, in part, when I am president, I will tell my commanders that the mission is the total destruction of ISIL, and we'll send in the forces necessary to succeed. David, do you feel like Republicans have offered a viable alternative to the Obama strategy, if you can call it a strategy?

BROOKS: Yeah. I think if you look at the Rubio and the Clinton approaches, they're quite similar. They have the same distress - this sort of union - the same awareness that you need to take down Assad, and they - some of the same policies. Unlike the current president, both Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, for example, would have sanctuaries, no-fly zones where people could go to get away from Assad's regime and potentially where you could train an opposition army. That - so they have that base.

He would go a little further. What you're seeing the Republicans lean toward is something like the policy in Afghanistan right after 9/11 - a light U.S. footprint with Special Forces helping local armies. We have the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan on the ground. Nobody's suggesting a big invasion. But that's - this is moving toward a more aggressive American response in the region. And that will happen.

DIONNE: Generally, the other fascinating thing this week was listening to Hillary Clinton and also Bernie Sanders, who spoke...

SHAPIRO: Right, with his speech on Democratic socialism.

DIONNE: Defending Democratic socialism. But on foreign policy, both of them were very critical of the Gulf States, very critical of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the other countries for not doing enough and for encouraging extremism. And I think they are going to run into this, I suspect from the other side of politics, too.

SHAPIRO: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, also David Brooks in The New York Times. Thanks - good to have you both back here.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.