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Week In Politics: Israel, Russia And The Race For DNC Chair


And we're going to stick with the subject of U.S.-Russia relations and how they relate to domestic politics with our Friday political observers - in Washington, columnist David Brooks of The New York Times.

Good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to see you.

SIEGEL: And sitting in for E.J. Dionne in Charlottesville, Va., Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate magazine.

Jamelle, it's good to have you with us.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Donald Trump tweeted about Vladimir Putin not expelling Americans. Today, his tweet says, (reading) great move on delay by V. Putin - I always knew he was very smart.

David, Donald Trump isn't the only Putin fan in Washington, but he's sure at odds not just with President Obama but with many Republicans and Democrats in Congress. How do you see all this playing out?

BROOKS: It's a sad day when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are taking the moral high ground against us. I actually think this bromance is headed for a big old crash. Right now, we - we're struck by their similarities. There's apparent mutual admiration for each other. But they're too macho, aggressive, expansionist, egomaniacal schoolyard bullies (laughter).

And I think once the administration - the Trump administration - gets into office, the inevitable conflict between the U.S. and Russia which has been developing for years and years will continue. And the very things that make them like each other right now will make them extremely aggressive against each other in the future as it gets personal, as it gets macho. And it's going to be a little scary I think.

SIEGEL: Jamelle, your take on Putin and Trump.

BOUIE: No, I don't disagree with David. I mean it's worth saying that Trump would not be the first U.S. president to try to attempt to repair a relationship with Russia. George W. Bush attempted this during his presidency. Obama famously or infamously, depending on where you stand, tried to reset relations with Vladimir Putin in Russia. And so Trump seems to be carrying on in his footsteps.

But the difference, of course - and David alluded to this - is, well, these previous presidents, when that did not work out, were able to adopt sort of a reasoned approach to how they're going to face Putin's Russia. Donald Trump does not seem to have that ability to react to a setback with - calmly, I'll say. And so that does leave this sort of worrying risk.

How will Donald Trump react if Putin moves to do something that violates the terms of an agreement they had, if Putin does something that flies in the face of what Trump views as U.S. interests? How will he react to this? How will he respond? And will we see some kind of mutual escalation of tension due to the fact that, as David said, we have two men on both sides who are very macho and aggressive?

SIEGEL: Well, David, what about the tension between Donald Trump and, say, Senator McCain or other people on Capitol Hill who are going to investigate the hacking? Is that collusion going to happen before the one between Trump and Putin?

BROOKS: You know, all of this is - I think is going to be one of the tails of the Trump administration. I think Trump does - well, we'll see. I don't really know what the administration will be like. But in this - so far, he has - exists in the realm of discussion and online media. Senators exist a lot in that world but sometimes in the world of actual action.

And I think senators like McCain and Lindsey Graham and a lot of the Democrats are very hawkish on Russia and are going to want to take some actual action against Russia. And whether the Trump administration will actually actively thwart them I think is unlikely. I think a lot of policymaking is likely to shift to the Hill, as Trump occupies a media world.

SIEGEL: Jamelle, should Democrats push against Trump's pro-Putin positions and question the legitimacy of his presidency?

BOUIE: Should they - can - if a...

SIEGEL: Should they remind us all the time of the Russian hacking and say that somehow...

BOUIE: Ah, yes.

SIEGEL: ...That tainted his victory?

BOUIE: Well, I think Democrats and, you know, frankly Republicans who are concerned by it as well should continue to talk about the Russian hacking and continue to search for evidence and do investigations because regardless of sort of where - how it ends up in terms partisan politics, it is just a very troubling thing that happened to American politics.

I think that Democrats, on that same token, should continue to speak about how - you know, in my view at least - how troubling it is that Trump doesn't just seem to want to improve relationships with Vladimir Putin but seems to actively praise him as an example of a good leader - this despite the fact that in Putin's Russia, journalists are murdered. Political opponents are jailed and murdered - that Putin kind of reigns over an authoritarian state.

And having a U.S. president praise a leader like that I think should be considered very worrisome and should be something the Democrats and, again, Republicans who care about this should point out again and again and again because it is, I think, not acceptable in terms of mainstream political discourse.

SIEGEL: Well, it's not every week that we have a drama featuring a president and a president-elect making headlines over foreign policy differences. But this week, it actually happened twice over two different countries - Russia, as we've just been saying, but also Israel.

Following the U.S. abstention on the U.N. resolution critical of Israeli settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River, Secretary of State John Kerry made a speech about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.


JOHN KERRY: They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality. If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic. It cannot be both. And it won't ever really be at peace.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, Donald Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel disparages the idea of a two-state solution as a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Can you imagine Trump's administration just dropping Washington's support of that aim?

BROOKS: Yeah, absolutely. I think American policy toward Israel has gone into sudden polarization. The Trump policy, as you said, is almost to encourage the settlements and to possibly drop the possibility of a two-state solution, which everybody has accepted until now. The Obama administration has gone off to the other end, which is to focus primarily on the settlements.

Now, the settlements are an obstacle to peace, but they might be the sixth or seventh most important obstacle to peace, the primary one being the legitimate fear of an ISIS in the West Bank, the existence of Hamas, which is in Gaza, which doesn't recognize the state of Israel.

And this week's actions by the president and by John Kerry to put the settlements first is just an attempt to distort what's happened in the Middle East over the last 30 years in order to put the onus of the blame on Israel, which I think is equally extreme.

SIEGEL: Jamelle, it wasn't just Republicans who criticized Kerry and Obama for this. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the highest-ranking Senate Democrat, was critical, too. Is there really any political will in Washington to press for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians?

BOUIE: None that I perceive. And one thing that I think is worth noting here is how within the Democratic Party, politics in Israel have become more polarized. The left-wing, the Democratic Party - it does very much have a focus on the settlements and sees the treatment of Palestinians and the treatment of the Palestinian communities as a paramount issue here.

And you know, given that the two-state solution status quo in Washington seems to be falling apart, I do think that within the Democratic Party, you may see more and more politicians begin to move towards this more left position in part because where the energy is in the Democratic Party is with the left. And if that left decides to make this one of their litmus-test issues, then I think politicians will begin to move accordingly.

BROOKS: I agree with the analysis of the Democratic Party. I think to take this, quote, "left position" is to be at war with history. I mean Netanyahu did freeze the settlements, and the Palestinians still didn't come to the table.

The settlements that are out in the further-flung settlements - it's - there's a relatively small number of people - 20,000 Jews among 2.7 million Arabs. It's clear those settlements will have to go when the two-state solution happens. But they are not the big thing preventing a peace settlement. To fixate them is - seems to be just myopic and bizarre.

SIEGEL: You say when it happens as though it's inevitable.

BROOKS: Sooner or later, there's going to be peace - maybe not in our lifetime but someday (laughter).

SIEGEL: Now, there's a thought.


SIEGEL: David Brooks of The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie of Slate - thanks to both of you, and happy New Year.

BROOKS: Same to you.

BOUIE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ONRA SONG, "MS. HO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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