Sunday shows solve Syria and government surveillance!

The punditry experts of "Meet the Press," "This Week" and "Face the Nation" unlock geopolitical puzzles in minutes

Published June 16, 2013 6:30PM (EDT)

Today on the Sunday Shows: War in Syria. The U.S. arming "the rebels." The Surveillance State. A world of terror, danger, chaos and impending doom. And so ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation" will seek to answer the metaquestion: Are you proud of us, Daddy?

First, and solely because it starts a half-hour earlier than the other shows, we'll check out "This Week," where Jonathan Karl is substituting for George Stephanopoulos. "Is the U.S. going to get involved in another war in the Middle East?" Always, Jonathan Karl, always. Let's see what Marco Rubio has to say.

Rubio, a war-friendly Republican, says that President Obama blew it by waiting so long to get involved in Syria. (Assuming this really is the broad change in strategy it's been billed as.) Now who are we giving arms to? Al-Qaida "elements." What would President Rubio have done? Karl asks. Well, Rubio never would have allowed it to get to this point, of course. If Rubio were president, Syria would be a sunny democratic Utopia already, because he would have managed it so perfectly, you just have no idea how perfectly President Rubio would have done things.

On another note, what about your immigration bill that you may walk away from, Rubio? "The vast majority of conservative Republicans are ready to support immigration reform," he claims, but only if we can prevent anyone from ever crossing the border again, essentially. "The only way we're going to pass an immigration law …"  is if it makes a serious attempt to secure the border.

A list of dingbats who have been trashing Rubio for making an attempt to pass legislation -- Glenn Beck, Erick Erickson, Ann Coulter -- is quoted. Why? No one knows. Rubio mentions that he is super-conservative, on every other issue. "Are you being played by the Democrats -- is Chuck Schumer playing you?" "I don't know what that means," Rubio says. (Neither do we. Huh? "Are you being played by Chuck Schumer?" Jonathan Karl is hilarious.)

Panel time, to talk about Syria. A White House representative declined an invitation to join. That means more time for a lil' George Will action. He is already namedropping Napoleon, but otherwise making a fair point. Why are we doing anything, and if we are, why only these half-measures that won't change the balance? Jeffrey Goldberg concurs. There is, after all, a consensus.

Jeremy Bash, "former chief of staff to the CIA director," is here to defend Obama's decision. "Now is the right time to arm the rebels," after Syria "barreled" across that red line of using chemical weapons. ABC News' Martha Raddatz would like a no-fly zone, if the point is to make a significant difference whatsoever. Bash is talking about how difficult it is being in the room where these decisions are made, so everybody calm down.

How does the use of chemical weapons change our national interest anyway? George Will asks. (No one ever answers this question.)

Glory be, it's a panel with Newt Gingrich. "This will turn out to be one of those cases where the United States sets itself up to be defeated," and Putin will be smiling. Rep. Luiz Gutierrez, a Democrat, is also very "uncomfortable" with what the president is doing. The best fighters are al-Qaida guys, after all, and we do sort of have an Authorization for Use of Military Force against them. It looks like the president does not have a whole lot of allies here, except for the ex-chief of staff dude.

George Will is going off about the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, Newt Gingrich about the Spanish Civil War. Let's check out "Meet the Press" and the other one with the bad HD resolution, "Face the Nation."

"ARE WE RAMPING UP FOR WAR IN SYRIA?" David Gregory asks super-seriously in his opening blast. "ALSO: THE SURVEILLANCE DEBATE," with one of those funny Matrix-like graphics representing "computers" in the background. "IS THIS THE DAWN OF A NEW AGE OF BIG BROTHER?" Looks like we're going to get a very grown-up debate on "Meet the Press" today.

Lindsey Graham, hawk of hawks, is of course the first guest. "It seems like 'not being Bush' is our foreign policy." Doesn't sound like a bad foreign policy when you put it that way. "AK-47s will not neutralize [Assad's] advantage over the rebels … we need to do more." What forced the president's hand on this, David Ignatius? The use of chemical weapons forced a decision that was already made "in embryo" within the administration. Andrea Mitchell believes that Iran is the factor that tipped this. The administration realizes "that they are now at war with Iran." Maybe want to throw a "proxy" in there?

Gregory shows a graphic that more than 90,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war so far. Why can't America make it all happy again? A "political negotiation can only happen" when the military calculus on the ground changes, Graham says, and he believes, as he always believes, that that means a no-fly zone. We can "crater the runways with cruise missiles." He trusts that the American people believe we need to "do something" in Syria. Sure about that, Lindsey Graham? The American people demand porn apps on their iPhones and beyond that care about very little.

Gregory is now asking Graham who will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. He likes Jeb Bush! What a world.

Over to Schieffer, who's one-on-one with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

Schieffer asks about President Obama's "$60 million to $100 million" (WAPO) trip to Africa. Is that much money "worth" spending when the American people are being attacked by the sequestration monster? It's very important for the American president to "travel and carry out our foreign policy," McDonough says. (Previously in the interview: talking point talking point talking point.)

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is up now. From all of the "review" he's done as part of his job, everything shows him that these classified surveillance programs are working, and all the "rhetoric" out there is so overblown it just makes him crazy. He describes the process by which shady-looking foreign calls into the United States are tracked.

"Do you think the American government has done anything wrong here at this point?" Schieffer asks. On the IRS and Benghazi scandals, which Schieffer isn't talking about whatsoever, Rogers' answer is yes. On surveillance, absolutely not. "That's what's so frustrating for those of us who know the program best." Now he's going on about how the IRS scandal is worth everyone's time, because Schieffer lets him, and "crosses the line into criminal activity." He says this is an area of government that doesn't have checks and balances, unlike the intelligence community. Ha!

Back to "Meet the Press," where Sens. Mark Udall and Saxby Chambliss are discussing NSA surveillance, too. Udall believes that the use of the 215 provision in the Patriot Act -- the part that compels businesses to turn over "metadata" at the request of the government -- is not as useful as billed and probably a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He plans on introducing an amendment to limit 215. David Gregory says, but but but, wait a second, what if there's another 9/11? Ever think about that? Chambliss agrees, and, like Rogers, wants to show the American people more examples of how these intercepts have been useful in the coming days.

We'll check out CBS' panel, because Peggy Noonan is on it. "I think it's all very concerning," she says, about the "surveillance state apparatus, if you will." The ability of the government to get "metadata, big data" -- data has so many "nicknames," now, it's just that big!

"Every time one of these stories breaks," David Corn breaks in, we hear all these members of Congress admit that they had never heard of the secret program in question. And that troubles him. The Washington Post's Bart Gellman would like to add something about oversight: the number of Hill staffers who know anything about these programs is "near zero."

Bob Schieffer can't believe what the kids are putting on Facebook nowadays. "It's just like me going out on the street and saying something." Corn believes that there's less a presumption of privacy because of what people are putting online voluntarily. Gellman tries to refocus the conversation: The things that are concerning with Facebook, for example, are the things that they're taking from you quietly. The metadata, not your dumb photos.

Noonan: "Surveillance has its own momentum," given how overwhelmed the FISA courts are, and it will keep growing until a limit is placed. You know what, that articulation wasn't half bad.

And now it's Father's Day time on "Meet the Press." David Ignatius, Michael Hayden and Andrea Mitchell's fathers are all still alive, in their 90s. Cheers to all!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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