October 15, 2019


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THIS IS A BIG NEWS DAY

Turkey/Syria

Essential reading: David Sanger’s masterful New York Times overview of what has been lost, what is at risk, and what can be done about the calamity.

His most important point: American enemies ISIS, Syria, Iran, and Russia are winning right now.

Two opinion pieces are also important

David Ignatius on what we have heard for days: how angry and upset U.S. military and intelligence officials are.

And Walter Russell Mead, writing in the Wall Street Journal (whose editorial board’s lead piece is as strong in its condemnation of President Trump as those of the New York Times and Washington Post), says this:

“The only man in Washington under more pressure than Mr. Pompeo is Mr. Trump. This president is a unique historical figure whose unconventional approach to politics has reshaped American political life. But at the moment Mr. Trump has lost control of the international agenda and faces some of the greatest risks of his presidency. His survival in office and his place in history both depend on putting American foreign policy on a more solid footing, and the clock is against him. The coming episodes of ‘The Trump Show’ look to be the most compelling, and the most consequential, yet.”

This Washington Post reporting reveals a bit of classic Donald Trump – shocking but not surprising:

“Trump was told on Monday afternoon by advisers that it would be costly not to do anything, that the absence of the United States from the region could strengthen Iran, and that the deteriorating situation could hurt him politically, according to people familiar with the discussion.

“It ‘has been a days-long effort to get him in a better place,’ one official said of Trump, adding that Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been key in that effort.”

Vice president Pence is headed soon to Turkey to try to fix what’s been broken, with great human and geopolitical costs, and with Congress, including Mitch McConnell, nearly unanimous in its upset and determination to do something.

The president is scheduled to lunch with Pence, with his only public event at this writing at 3:10PM, when he does the sports photo op with the Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues.

My take: It is challenging to keep up with facts on the ground. The near-silence from other NATO countries is bizarre and a reflection of one of the factors that bother the president and many of his grassroots supporters – why is this America’s problem to solve?  When Trump talked to Erdoğan, his attitude seemed to be that the rest of the world should deal with Syria. Now, with Pence soon off to the region, the president has belatedly realized that this IS now America’s problem to solve, regardless of any campaign pledges.

****

The Debate

The 12-person Democratic presidential debate runs from 8pm to 11pm ET on CNN.

I’ve read all the debate previews (Warren with the frontrunner’s target on her back, Biden/Ukraine, Sanders’ heart attack, others trying to break through, blah blah blah), and I can save you the time and say you can safely skip them.

My take: Watch the debate, of course. However, logic dictates that between impeachment and Syria, this is more likely to be a night where the candidates spend more time auditioning to be the Trump Slayer than putting the contrasts between them on other measures in sharper relief.  That will make for a less interesting and less clarifying event.  But it is still very important.

****

Impeachment

House Democrats are scheduled to have an early evening meeting to update the caucus on the investigation.

The New York Times explodes this little, uhm, hand grenade regarding Monday’s closed-door testimony of former White House Russia policy adviser Fiona Hill:

“The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

“The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff…

“It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. ‘Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,’ Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.”

(Republican sources continue to say that Giuliani is the weak link that Almost All the President’s People are worried about. The Wall Street Journal has new details on the federal probe into Rudy.)

My take: Note well the mention of the acting White House chief of staff in this narrative. Note well the likelihood that the Democrats and the media (never before big fans of John Bolton) will now elevate the wisdom and judgment of the recently-departed national security adviser to the highest of heights. Note well the Democrats keeping the momentum going.

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Co-equal branch

Congress returns to deal with impeachment, Syria, a spending deal, a new North America trade pact, prescription drug prices, and gun control. (Wall Street Journal)

My take: Expect to spend the next 48 hours+, along with everything else, processing the output of Capitol Hill reporters, with quotes and video galore of members from both sides of the aisle and both chambers, opining on all of these pressing topics.  There will be seriousness, surprises, humor, red lines, bright lines, and a lot of sound and fury, at least some of which will signify a lot.

****

LeBron James

The King weighs in on Hong Kong, creates a social media ruckus, semi-backs off, and the story isn’t over.

My take: Free speech in the United States is apparently almost as complicated as it is in China.

****

Top sports story: Aaron Rodgers works magic, lifts Packers without two top receivers

Packers 23, Lions 22

ESPN

Top business story: CBO says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing plan saves Medicare $345 billion over decade

CNBC

Top entertainment story: ‘Fortnite’ Goes Dark: A Masterful Marketing Stroke by Epic Games

Variety

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