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Week In Politics: Obama's ISIS Speech, Rand Paul


And for more now on this and other political developments, we turn to our Friday regulars, E.J Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hey there, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi, David.


CORNISH: Alright. So looking forward, the White House wants the president's request for money and resources for arming and training the moderate Syrian rebels to be attached to a must-pass stop-gap spending bill to basically ensure it gets approval. There's a lot of tap dancing on the Hill about how this will be done. Should they be connected? Is there an up or down vote? Can someone give me some insight on why. Why is this so hard to figure out?

DIONNE: Well, I think there are two issues here. One is everybody agrees that in order to give the aid to the Syrian rebels, Congress has to do something. And some people might want to have a direct vote on that by way of voting on the president's policy. My own view is that, Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, came up with the best idea, which is that you vote this money now, assuming you support the policy. And I think he'll get that through Congress.

And then you have a large debate on the overall strategy and policy after the election. And the notion of kicking it after the election is inspired at least for me by the extraordinary and very powerful debate we had on the war that - where the first President Bush threw Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait. It was not politicized by an electoral campaign. People were clear. People could - even eloquent. It was one of Congress' best moments. So I think that will be the best way to go. I don't know if that's the way they're going to do it.

CORNISH: David, only the Congressional Caucus has called for a stand alone vote on the issue of broader authorization. We know the White House says that they don't need Congress to do it, but, you know, there's kind of radio silence up there on the thought of going on the record.

BROOKS: Yeah, sure. I'm surprised Steny doesn't want to just get rid of the whole election. That would be good for Democrats.

DIONNE: He didn't have that option. He might make it.


BROOKS: It works in Egypt. You know, it's an issue. Oddly, I expected there'd be splits in both parties on this, but it seems the splits are a little bigger on the Democratic side. The Republicans are more or less united. They're going to gripe and complain - and the whole - about how effective he is, whether Obama's going far enough. They'll find things to criticize. But they're more or less united. This is something essentially we have no choice but to do.

And I find that to be true generally - that it's less about what to do. And as we just heard in Scott's piece, it's about the effectiveness. How can we be effective? How much is too much? How much is too little? And so that really is where the debate is flowing.

What does Obama do when the Iraqi forces don't do very well on the ground? What we do when the Free Syrian Army - the moderate rebels - don't do particularly well in Syria. It's that effectiveness issue that really has people hung up.

CORNISH: Jumping off what you said, we had Senator Rand Paul on the show in an interview with my colleague here, Robert Siegel. And in it, the senator made this argument about the dangers of the U.S. going too far in its involvement, generally.


RAND PAUL: I think we do have to be more realistic in our approach worldwide. And we have to look at the question of stability and whether we get more or less. Both Republican and Democrat interventions have all led to more chaos and more threats to America. There's a greater threat of radical Islam attacking the U.S. than there was before.

CORNISH: David, are we hearing the Libertarian senator or are we hearing the potential presidential primary candidate?

BROOKS: Well, he's moved quite a bit actually. I mean, he was the guy - famously, with his dad - who did not support any intervention anywhere, barely supported the military. So this is him running for president, getting - sounding a little more like a conventional Republican.

He's completely wrong, by the way, on that point that military intervention always backfires. We've just had 150 bombing campaigns that have saved the lives of a lot of people in Syria. Al-Qaida has been reduced both under Obama and Bush to a rump of its former self. To me there's no reason to think that the Islamic State can't be reduced if we do this effectively as al-Qaida has been.

DIONNE: I think Rand Paul is trying to take non-interventionism and turn it into realism. If you hear him now, he always talks about realism. And there's a fair point he likes to make, which is that Ronald Reagan talked very tough but actually Ronald Reagan didn't send very many troops anywhere. He pulled the troops out of Lebanon after they were blown - after very sadly 240 Marines - 41 marines, were killed. And he intervened in Grenada. But he didn't send troops to Central America.

I think his problem is that it seems pretty clear that he's reacting politically. He's not, as David suggested, as non-interventionist as he used to be. He is supporting some kind of action against the Islamic State. And I think that's 'cause he's looked at the polls and he knows that Republicans are not as non-interventionist as they were even three months ago.

CORNISH: And as a kicker, while we're talking about potential presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton set to appear in Iowa at the Harkin's Steak Fry. For those who are not in the know, Tom Harkin, longest-serving Democratic U.S. Senator has this big fundraiser. Our Washington desk chief called this the start of what she said silly season, basically. I know I'm part of the problem. But does anyone pay attention to this stuff anymore?

BROOKS: We call it democracy. It's, you know, it is the big event of the year and, you know, she's obviously running. So why shouldn't she go? It'd be sort of an insult to Iowa not to go. It'd make headlines. This is the easier route.

CORNISH: Although the Clintons in Iowa, E.J., right, this is not like a loving relationship for either Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton.

DIONNE: First, we should honor that this is the end of this Tom Harkin Steak Fry. David said we call it democracy. We also call it cholesterol.


DIONNE: This has been a real event in Iowa for a long time. Hillary, precisely because she lost Iowa the last time, I think is going to pay a lot of attention to it, assuming, as I think she will - assuming she runs. And the polls out there have been very favorable to her up to this point among Democrats. So she starts out I think stronger than the last time. And we don't even know for sure who's going to be running against her.

BROOKS: It's always a great place to test her foreign-policy, especially in the midst of this war campaign. Iowa Democrats are not particularly interventionists. She has been very interventionist - much more in the present. So that issue will get a very full testing if she hangs around out there.

DIONNE: That is exactly right.


CORNISH: It's the first of many, many Iowa events I'm sure we'll talk about. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CORNISH: David Brooks for The New York Times. Thanks so much.

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

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