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Week In Politics: Middle East Peace Talks And Ukraine Offensive


Joining us now, political columnists David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hello to both of you.


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

SIEGEL: And first, briefly since you both talked about Ukraine here just last Friday, does some kind of soft landing seem possible to you there and does President Obama's leadership strike you as effective in leading the Western response to Russia? David, you first.

BROOKS: No and moderately. You know, I think we've got sort of a systemic problem here. There are all sorts of parts of the world where the post-Cold War order is falling down. That order was based on the free movement of people, respecting national borders, general move to democracy, free movement of trade and on all sorts of fronts all around the world, suddenly that's fraying.

It's certainly fraying in Ukraine where the borders are no longer being respected. It's fraying in the Middle East. Japan, we just had a trade deal, get a cropper, and so each individual case maybe we shouldn't dedicate all of our national resources to protecting it, but collectively, it's very bad news for the world and the Obama administration I think is responding as well as it can.

But something more forceful is needed because there's so much fraying on so many fronts.


DIONNE: I don't think anyone else actually occupying the White House as opposed to being outside and yelling for toughness would behave a whole lot differently from President Obama because we're stuck in a very difficult situation because we do want to stand up to Putin, but we don't want to go to war. If those are the two imperatives, then you are left with calling for tougher sanctions and the president did it again today if the Russians move more quickly. And you are also going to be stuck with Europeans who, for their own economic reasons are going to be very reluctant to impose tough sanctions. So it's a very hard situation.

In terms of the fraying of the Cold War order, I'm not as persuaded as David is that it's such a disaster out there. I think that there are some transitions going on. If you look in Japan, this whole trade treaty has been vexed by internal politics in a lot of countries because globalization itself is coming under question. And I think that the difficulties he's had on the TPP out there reflect something larger than just this one treaty.

SIEGEL: Another very frustrating point in foreign policy for the administration this week, the Palestinian Authority leadership announced another attempt at reconciling with the Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu suspended peace talks, which really weren't making very much progress in any case. Is John Kerry on a fool's errand here and is it worth President Obama's time to try to bring about a resolution?

BROOKS: I've always thought he was on a fool's errand. You know, you can only have peace when there's some organic move within the parties themselves. You can't want it more than they do. And Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have never really wanted - Hamas certainly doesn't even recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state so, you know, that's a nonstarter.

Netanyahu does not seem willing to challenge the settlements these days and so both sides have maximized demand, put off any hope of having anything achieved in the next decade and so it's still a crisis. Israel's in trouble, but you can't want it more than they do and there was really no sign that they wanted it particularly.

SIEGEL: So E.J., should Kerry say here's our phone number if you want to - tell them to call us, here's where we are?

DIONNE: I think he's going to move toward that. Yes, I think it was worth the time. And I think what Kerry was trying to do was to change the internal politics on both sides in the direction of an agreement. And he had some success for awhile, but it turns out that the internal politics inside Israel, and particularly inside Netanyahu's coalition, has made it very difficult for Israel to move and you clearly had the same kind of internal politics on - a similar kind of internal politics on the Palestinian side.

And when the deal didn't come through, the PLO felt that the logical next move was to go with Hamas. So I think he's going to try again to change the politics, but I think mostly he'll leave a phone number.

BROOKS: Yeah, but, you know, the Israelis and the Palestinians together are like 10 or 15 million people and they love our attention, of course. They love all the presidential visits. But you've got Syria blowing up, you've Libya, you've got Iraq, you've got Ukraine in real trouble, as I say this fraying, why do you want to spend your time if you're secretary of state focusing on this problem, which has been so intractable for so long.

DIONNE: And the hope was that if you could ever solve this problem, it might improve things on other fronts. It just turned out to be too hard.

SIEGEL: OK. One big domestic issue: a Supreme Court ruling this week on Affirmative Action in college admissions. I'll boil it down to say that in the ongoing debate over Affirmative Action, score one more for the opponents of Affirmative Action. David, an important ruling?

BROOKS: Yeah, I'd frame it a little different. I think the court has acknowledged that race is obviously an important factor, but they are loathe to - and I'm glad they are - to overrule democratic processes, actually elections from referenda and I think this is a general good principle whether the subject is race, whether the subject is abortion. Sometimes the court has to overrule the democratic majority, but I think, in general, we should be supportive of some democratic process because you tend to get to a better outcome.

Now, this outcome does put more responsibility on the universities to go out and recruit and to find people who wouldn't ordinarily be applying to universities and get them to apply, because there are lots of those people out there in lots of different communities.

DIONNE: The first thing that needs to be said about this case is it's one of the most personal set of comments and responses that I've ever seen. Justice Sotomayor's dissent was scathing. My colleagues are of the view that we should leave race out of the picture entirely and let the voters sort it out. It is a sentiment out of touch with reality, she said. And she then had a poetic, really, soliloquy on race. Race matters, in part, because of the long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce the most crippling of thoughts, I do not belong here.

And Chief Justice Roberts wrote a concurring opinion really simply to respond to Sotomayor and say people can agree, disagree in good faith on this issue.

SIEGEL: I guess the question I have, E.J., is do we now have a policy where the Supreme Court has said colleges shouldn't consider race in admitting undergraduates, and then after they have educated those same kids for four years, the law schools may consider race in admission. What kind of a policy is this?

DIONNE: We don't have much of a policy here, but I think where the push is going to be is toward class-based Affirmative Action. That's where the court's going to leave us.

BROOKS: I agree.


SIEGEL: On that note of comity, David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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