Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

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.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

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, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: The Latest News, With Trolls

Painting by John Bauer, 1915

Good Morning!!

My latest escape from Trump world has been reading a Swedish horror/crime novel, The Shapeshifters, by Stefan Spjut. It’s not really that scary; it involves people investigating crimes by trolls and other creatures from Swedish folklore. A prominent character in the story is the famous Swedish artist John Bauer, whose painting illustrated books of Swedish fairy tales. I’m using some of his paintings in this post.

Trolls are huge in all Scandinavian folklore, but my sister-in-law, who is Danish, informed me that Swedish trolls are big, ugly, and frightening while Danish trolls are small and cute. I don’t know about Norwegian, Finnish, and Icelandic trolls. It would be fun to find out about those.

Now on to the news. Breaking this morning from The Wall Street Journal: Two Foreign-Born Men Who Helped Giuliani on Ukraine Arrested on Campaign-Finance Charges.

Two foreign-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules and are expected to appear in court on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter.

Troll mother and child, by John Bauer

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. The men’s nationalities were unclear, though both were believed to have been born in former Soviet republics.

Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.

I wonder if Cover-Up General Barr with allow this to continue? A bit more:

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had a dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.

If you saw Rachel Maddow’s show last night you heard about another new Trump corruption story that broke at Bloomberg News: Trump Urged Top Aide to Help Giuliani Client Facing DOJ Charges.

President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.

From the story The Trolls and the Youngest Tomte

Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.

Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal. Neither episode has been previously reported, and all of the people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the conversations….
The Turkish attacks continue in Syria.

Zarrab was being prosecuted in federal court in New York at the time on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. He had hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, who has said he reached out repeatedly to U.S. officials to seek a diplomatic solution for his client outside the courts.

The president’s request to Tillerson — which included asking him to speak with Giuliani — bears the hallmarks of Trump’s governing style, defined by his willingness to sweep aside the customary procedures and constraints of government to pursue matters outside normal channels. Tillerson’s objection came to light as Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders face intense scrutiny following the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the House.

Read the rest at the link.

More corruption news from the Financial Times: Trump adviser says China provided information about Hunter Biden.

Michael Pillsbury, an informal White House adviser on China, said he received information about the business activities of Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing in the same week Donald Trump urged China to probe the son of Joe Biden.

“I got a quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese,” Mr Pillsbury told the Financial Times.

By John Bauer

Mr Trump came under heavy criticism last week after publicly urging China to investigate the Bidens in a move that mirrored his request to the Ukraine’s president in a July phone call that has sparked an impeachment inquiry.

Mr Pillsbury’s comments to the FT came after he revealed on Fox Business that he had raised the issue of the Bidens during a visit to China a week ago.

“I tried to bring up the topic in Beijing,” Mr Pillsbury told the television channel. “I’ve never seen them get so secretive in my entire life. They would discuss ICBM warheads sooner than talk about what Hunter Biden was doing in China with [former] vice-president Biden.” Mr Pillsbury, a China hawk who was widely seen as far from the mainstream before the Trump administration came to power, shares a similar stance on China to Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Mr Trump.

But Trump was just “joking” when he publicly asked China for help for his reelection campaign, according to Republicans.

The Turkish assault on the Kurds and others in northern Syria, enabled by Trump, continues. The latest:

The New York Times: Death Toll Climbs as Turkish Offensive in Syria Enters 2nd Day.

SANLIURFA, Turkey — Fighting lit up the sky early Thursday as Turkish troops pressed their air and ground offensive against United States-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. At least 16 Kurds were reported to have been killed, one monitoring group said.

Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in the Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain areas of northeastern Syria, along with six attackers of unknown identity, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain. American troops had withdrawn from both areas on Monday.

An additional 33 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were wounded, the monitoring group said.

The Turkish military’s move into Syria began on Wednesday, following President Trump’s decision on Sunday to pull American troops out of Turkey’s way, despite disagreement from his own military officers and State Department.

Even Fox News is publishing stories condemning Trump’s actions: Turkey’s Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, ‘I am ashamed for the first time in my career.’

A member of U.S. Special Forces serving alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria told Fox News on Wednesday they were witnessing Turkish atrocities on the frontlines.

“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.

Forest Troll, John Bauer

“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.” [….]

At least seven civilians have been killed in strikes in northeastern Syria since the assault began on Wednesday, according to activists and a war monitor. Turkey later announced that its ground forces had invaded the region to fight the Kurds.

“This is insanity,” the concerned U.S. service member said. “I don’t know what they call atrocities, but they are happening.”

The New Yorker: Defying the World, Turkey Launches a War Against a U.S. Ally in Syria.

Two of America’s closest allies in the Middle East went to war on Wednesday—and Donald Trump didn’t seem to care. In what may have been the first declaration of hostilities on Twitter, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced that Turkey, a nato ally, had launched an invasion of Syria, to clear out a Kurdish-led militia that controls about a third of the country. The militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been allied with the United States for the past five years in the war against isis. Both sides have been equipped by the United States, albeit in vastly different ways.

Erdoğan dubbed the invasion “Operation Peace Spring.” It is anything but. Panic swept across northern Syria as Turkey’s warplanes pounded Kurdish towns and artillery fired across the border, in order to—in ironic military jargon—“soften up” the terrain for a ground offensive. The S.D.F. posted videos on social media of the aftermath, showing fires, destruction, and bodies on the ground.

John Bauer painting from The Boy Who Was Never Afraid

The region’s latest war is a deeply uneven match—and has the potential to be a slaughter of the Kurds. Turkey, which contributes the second largest force to nato, is considered the ninth most powerful military in the world. It has more than three hundred and fifty thousand active-duty soldiers—and twice that with reserves. The S.D.F. militia has about sixty-thousand men and women in uniform, including reserves; they have only rudimentary training.

Click the link to read the rest.

Trump has been busy making ludicrous excuses for his insane behavior. The Washington Post: Trump downplays U.S. alliance with Syrian Kurds, saying ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War.’

President Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.”

“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” he said in response to questions about Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, following a White House ceremony where he signed unrelated executive orders, came as the administration continued an effort to correct what it has called the misimpression that Trump enabled the offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurds that Turkey launched Wednesday.

In his impromptu news conference, Trump said he expected Erdogan to conduct the offensive “in as humane a way as possible.”

“We’ll have to define that as we go along,” he said. “He can do it in a soft manner, he can do it in a very tough manner. If he doesn’t do it fairly, he’s going to [pay] a very big economic price.”

Yeah sure, asshole. Unfortunately, the rest of the world won’t just blame Trump for this outrage. They’ll hold all Americans responsible.  Trump is making all of Putin’s dreams come true. More Syria stories:

The New York Times: Military Leaders Fear They’ve Seen This Before. It Ended in the Iraq War.

NBC News: Intel officials say ISIS could regroup after U.S. ‘betrayal’ of Kurds in Syria.

Wolves circle a troll, John Bauer

I’ll end with this piece at Just Security by Frank O. Bowman III, who wrote High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. White House Letter Distorts Both Law and History on Impeachment.

The White House letter of October 8 refusing all executive branch cooperation with the ongoing House impeachment inquiry is, simply put, a public relations exercise. The legal arguments it intersperses between insults to members of the House Democratic leadership and appeals to the President’s base voters are without foundation. The errors and mischaracterizations are so numerous that they cannot all be addressed in this space. Instead, I will consider only the fundamental misconceptions at the heart of the White House argument, as well as a single illustrative historical incident – the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.

The White House justifies its refusal to respond to the House’s investigative demands on three basic grounds: First, it claims that the House impeachment inquiry is “constitutionally invalid” because the full House has not passed a resolution specifically authorizing an impeachment inquiry of this president. Second, it maintains that the House inquiry now underway is illegitimate because it does not afford the president “due process” rights the letter suggests are required under the Constitution. Third, it asserts that the first two points are established by “every past precedent.” All these assertions are wrong.

Read Bowman’s critique at the link.

What do you think? What stories are you following today?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread: WTF edition

Turkey is bombing the shit out of the Kurds.

 

Our President is a lawless monster who only cares about himself and his interests.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump’s EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was scheduled to testify to the House Intelligence Committee this morning, but Trump and Pompeo ordered him not to do it.

The New York Times: Witness in Trump-Ukraine Matter Ordered Not to Speak in Impeachment Inquiry.

The Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled interview in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment….

Robert Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland had been prepared and happy to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning scandal into how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate his political rivals. Although Ukraine is not in the union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and campaign contributor — to take a lead in relations between the Trump administration and the country. Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired between the two countries.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, about the statement, believing they needed pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Adam Schiff responded to the Trump administration’s illegal action.

Yesterday Newsweek talked to a member of the National Security Council who heard the call between Trump and Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan after which Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria: Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got ‘Rolled’ By Turkey And ‘Has No Spike.’

In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump’s own Defense Department “completely stunned,” said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime.

“President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something,” the National Security Council source told Newsweek. “The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that’s the bottom line.” [….]

According to the NSC official, who had first-hand knowledge of the phone call, Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.

Trump has also invited Erdogan to visit the White House next month.

Here’s a reminder what happened on a previous visit by Erdogan.

Yesterday, Trump threatened Turkey in a tweet that would cause any other person’s family to request a psychiatric evaluation:

Some outlets are reporting that Trump has been walking back the original order. We’ll see….

Meanwhile Turkey isn’t backing down. The Washington Post: Turkey rejects Trump’s threats amid conflicting U.S. signals over Syria offensive.

 Turkey’s vice president said Tuesday that his country would “not react to threats,” as it prepared to mount a military offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria, a day after President Trump warned that he would destroy Turkey’s economy if the offensive did not meet with his approval.

“When it comes to the security of Turkey, as always, our president emphasized Turkey will determine its own path,” the vice president, Fuat Oktay, said in a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish capital. He referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to create a “safe zone” in a lengthy swath of Syrian territory along Turkey’s border.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have suggested for days that the military operation could begin at any moment. Turkish troop convoys have headed to the border, and local media outlets have published details of what they say is the battle plan. Turkey’s Defense Ministry wrote Tuesday on Twitter that all its preparations for the operation were complete.

But there was no sign yet that Turkish troops were moving forward, as the United Nations and aid agencies warned of potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and as the Trump administration delivered confusing signals about how it views Turkey’s plans to attack a Syrian-Kurdish force that partnered with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State militant group.

A new poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post: Poll: Majority of Americans say they endorse opening of House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

A majority of Americans say they endorse the decision by House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Previous Post-Schar School or Post-ABC News polls taken at different points throughout this year found majorities of Americans opposing the start of an impeachment proceeding, with 37 percent to 41 percent saying they favored such a step. The recent revelations appear to have prompted many Americans to rethink their position.

The poll finds that, by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.

Read more at the WaPo.

Vanity Fair has a long piece on Bill Barr’s past history. Author Marie Brenner suggests that Barr’s relationship with his father could provide clues to Barr’s alignment with Trump: “I Had No Problem Being Poltically Different”: Young William Barr Among the Manhattan Liberals. A brief excerpt:

Who, then, is the real William Barr? I wanted to investigate that question through the prism of his growing up as a young conservative in the intellectually demanding and socially cosseted world of New York private schools—ironically, the same schools that educated Cohn. I wanted to understand how he might have been affected in the 1970s by the public scandal that consumed his father, Donald Barr, then the headmaster of the tony Dalton School and a respected voice in academics, on the right-wing opinion pages, and at the center of America’s calamitous culture wars.

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

William Barr’s origin story is, in fact, a parable of how family, education, protest, and principle served to shape the era—and shape a young man who would become America’s chief law enforcement officer. At the same time, it is also a narrative about how a charismatic, domineering, and doctrinaire figure named Donald might have helped define the contours of his son’s formative years….

In the 1967 Horace Mann yearbook, Barr had already been tagged with his future persona: “a staunch conservative on political issues,” a master of “facial contortions,” and a brilliant mimic of his Catholic school priests. Often, he rode the subway home with another classmate, Barry Scheck, who would become an attorney and eventually cofound the Innocence Project, using DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “We would argue all the way down from school and all the way back,” Scheck said.

Barr and his three brothers revered their father, spending countless hours at the dinner table discussing philosophy, politics, and the issues of the day. Before attending Horace Mann, all four siblings had gone to Corpus Christi, a nearby parochial school where he was in class with many Irish, Hispanic, and black students. William Barr was the privileged son of an intellectual. In first grade, he made a speech in class supporting Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. At age eight, Barr told his parents that he wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. His father not only encouraged him but located a former Scottish pipes major in the British army and for years personally escorted his son up to 168th Street for Tuesday-night classes. At one point, the young Barr even declared to his Horace Mann adviser that when he grew up, he wanted to become head of the CIA.

Horace Mann was another environment entirely: completely secular, with a large Jewish contingent. A few who knew the Barr boys came to call them “the bully Barrs”; the siblings, these former classmates claimed, could be intimidating. The fact that his father was born Jewish was not a factor in Bill Barr’s upbringing. While he knew he had Jewish relatives, he never discussed the specifics with his father. “He had become more Catholic than the Catholics,” he said to those who asked.

The school was an enclave of conservative privilege that had educated New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, historian Robert A. Caro, and Si Newhouse Jr., the late owner of Condé Nast (the parent company of Vanity Fair). The head of the history department, Alfred Briggs, lectured on the evils of communism and Red China, and lavished praise on Horace Mann’s most notorious graduate, Roy Cohn. “We need more Roy Cohns in the world,” Briggs frequently said. “Roy was my best student of all time.”

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I plan to do it as soon as this post goes up.

One more by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: Opinion: Do Barr, Pompeo and Giuliani share a death wish?

Atty. Gen. William Barr, who is deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, doesn’t care about his place in history. “I’m at the end of my career,” he told Jan Crawford of CBS in March. “Everyone dies.”

Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s fixer, who is even more deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, is likewise indifferent. “I don’t care about my legacy,” he told the New Yorker last month. “I’ll be dead.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 55, who is especially embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, also has his eye on an End Times cleansing. “It is a never-ending struggle,” he told a Kansas church group, describing his work for the president. “Until the Rapture.”

Poets have envisioned death in thousands of ways. Clouds, worms, reunions, virgins and more. But Barr, Giuliani and Pompeo — each in the midst of a distinct moral crisis — may have a new one. Death as sweet, sweet liberation from congressional oversight.

Let me propose an epitaph, suitable for any of these men when the time comes: “He’s gone where subpoenas can lacerate his heart no more.”

But if these men are counting on death to end their sea of troubles, the House doesn’t intend to give them that chance. With every letter or subpoena, Congress is demanding that these men stop daydreaming about oblivion or ecstatic union with Jesus and do what’s right in the here and now.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Messed up Monday Reads: World Salad as Trump upsets the World Order for personal gain

 Good Morning Sky Dancers

Well, it’s Monday and it wouldn’t be a Messed up Monday morning without the “Human Tornado” doing something completely idiotic and self-serving.  I have no idea what’s being said between our NATO allies and our allies in the Middle East but I was not prepared to see what I saw this morning. I assume that they’re trying to figure out if it would do any good to call our idiot Preznit. Last night, a press release came out of some kind of agreement between Erdogan of Turkey and KKKremlin Caligulia. This morning Turkish Troops are on the move into Northern Syria and we’re suddenly outta there.

This is from Michael Weiss at The Daily Beast and the headline says it all: “SHORT-SIGHTED. Trump’s Crazy Syria Move Will Wipe Out America’s Allies and Set Up a Big ISIS Comeback. With Trump’s permission, Turkey will now ethnically cleanse the Syrian Kurds, who fought ISIS on behalf of the U.S., leaving no one to hold off the terror group.”

Turkey is about to invade the part of Syria the U.S. invaded to defeat the so-called Islamic State. Except Turkey is invading it to defeat the Kurdish proxy force the U.S. relied on to defeat ISIS, because Turkey considers that proxy a terrorist group. And U.S. President Donald J. Trump, apparently, is fine with that.

This according to a White House announcement released late Sunday evening that reads as if it were written by someone who wants absolutely nothing to do with a part of a world as fucked up as the Middle East and doesn’t care if the whole place burns to the ground.

The move came after Trump, in yet another decisive phone call that probably will be locked away, spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump’s decision was to have the United States accede to a NATO ally’s invasion of a de facto U.S. protectorate—an invasion which has been long in the making and is expressly designed to gobble up a crucial U.S. ally.

This sounds crazy and it is. But before you turn on your cable news show to find all manner of pundits filtering this Alice-in-Wonderland development through the narrow prism of a domestic news cycle, let me assure you of the following. It has nothing to do with Trump’s manifold domestic crises or the fact that his Twitter feed now resembles that of a homeless man barking at oncoming traffic. What is happening now derives from the inherent contradictions built right into America’s war on terror that are coming to the fore and threatening to precipitate the very thing that the fight against ISIS was meant to reduce.

Since 2014, the Pentagon has disproportionately relied upon one faction of armed Kurdish guerrillas who, in a sticky little turn of fate, have been fighting the Turkish state for over 40 years. Ankara has been none too pleased that America’s preferred battering ram against jihadism has a long history of blowing up Turkish army bases and police stations, albeit on secular marxisant grounds rather than apocalyptic religious ones.

Image result for Trudeau side eyes Trump In other words, Trump just stabbed another set of allies in the back and made several Dictators very happy in the process.  And of course, the fattest and happiest one is Putin.  From CNBC: “Trump handing northern Syria to Turkey is a ‘gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS,’ former US envoy says” by Natasha Turak.

The Trump administration is facing a torrent of criticism Monday after it unexpectedly announced a full U.S. troop withdrawal from northern Syria to effectively allow a long-planned military operation by Turkey against Kurdish ground forces, who had battled to uproot ISIS.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” a White House statement late Sunday said, noting that President Donald Trump had spoken to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Security experts on the region and former U.S. officials are calling the decision harmful and a gift to America’s adversaries, while some members of the Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria are calling it betrayal.

“The WH statement tonight on Syria after Trump spoke with Erdogan demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground,” Brett McGurk, the former U.S. special envoy to the global anti-IS coalition, said Monday on Twitter.

“Trump tonight after one call with a foreign leader provided a gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS.”

So, here’s some Republican blowback but will they do anything?

Image result for Trudeau side eyes Trump

And yes, that last guy used to work for the Orange Snot Blob (h/t to BB).

“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief,” said McGurk, who resigned along with Mattis over Trump’s initial (but later aborted) plan for a full Syria withdrawal. “He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call.”

McGurk also suggested the people around Trump have no idea what’s going on. He noted that the White House’s statement says the United States will not hold Islamic State fighters and how the decision will save U.S. taxpayer money, but the United States isn’t actually holding those fighters.

U.S. officials have long said these fighters are being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military force, with U.S. assistance. Despite this, Trump has said before that the United States is “holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now.”

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. This is the first time the two leaders are meeting at the White House. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images)  So, ABC reports the immediate response this morning: “Turkey begins mobilizing against Syria; US begins removing forces from area”. 

The Turkish move is likely to put the Kurdish forces that helped the U.S. defeat ISIS in peril. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces — the PKK and YPG — terrorist organizations.

The news came late Sunday after President Donald Trump spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone earlier in the day.

The White House also confirmed that Turkey will take possession of all captured ISIS fighters from the past two years.

Image result for world leaders dismiss trump In other news:

Federal judge rules Trump must turn over his tax returns to Manhattan DA, but Trump has appealed  —  The request for eight years of records relates to the DA’s investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 election.  Bylines by WAPO’s David A. Fahrenthold and Ann E. Marimow

From Nancy Cook  at  Politico writes that : Impeachment tentacles spread throughout Trump’s team  —  The tentacles of the Democratic impeachment investigation are extending far beyond the arms of President Donald Trump.  —  The vice president’s office, acting chief of staff’s office, State Department, Energy Department ..

From David Leonhardt at the  New York Times: “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You ” —  Almost a decade ago, Warren Buffett made a claim that would become famous.  He said that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, thanks to the many loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy.  —  His claim sparked a debate about the fairness of the tax system.

Well, this is like all those memes about upsetting apple carts only this is central to world peace.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?


Lazy Caturday Reads: So Much Winning!

Maine Coon Cat

Good Morning!!

Trump threw a tantrum and forced a partial government shutdown that will force some government employees to work with out pay and others to be furloughed without pay. Merry Xmas from the fake “president.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s shutdown stunt is an act of needless stupidity.

As it became apparent Friday that no agreement could be reached on a stopgap spending measure, President Trump warned that a shutdown would “last for a very long time.” Affected is about a third of the government workforce — about 800,000 employees — in key departments, including Homeland Security, State and Justice. Because of the weekend and upcoming Christmas holidays, the impacts of a shutdown may not immediately be felt, but there should be no mistake that curtailment of these government agencies will impose costs across Washington and the country.

That seemed to be of little matter to Mr. Trump, who last week boasted he would be “proud” to shut down the government, glad to “take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” He changed his tune on Friday in trying to shift the blame to Democrats for not going along with his demand for money to build a border wall he once promised would be financed by Mexico. Nothing better illustrates the needless stupidity of the shutdown than Mr. Trump’s claim to be taking a stand for border security when one of the agencies being caught up is Customs and Border Protection.

Himalayan Cat

Any doubt that it is politics — not principle — driving Mr. Trump was erased when he flip-flopped this week on the stopgap spending bill. He signaled he would sign on to a measure, passed by both House and Senate, without wall funding, but then buckled to criticism from the conservative media.

The likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are determining Trump’s domestic policies. His foreign policy are being run out of Moscow and Istanbul and he is being celebrated by the Kremlin, Iran, and the Taliban for his decisions to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.

Julia David at The Daily Beast: Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again.’

The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.

Norwegian Forest Cat

Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be “more important than keeping James Mattis at his post,” concluding: “That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.

Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”

The Washington Post: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians.’

 One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.

The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.

Ragdoll Cat

Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.

“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”

NBC News: Taliban greets Pentagon’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan with cries of victory.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — News that the White House had ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan provoked widespread criticism that the move would kneecap efforts to broker a peace deal to end America’s longest war.

But there was one group on Friday celebrating the reports — the Taliban.

Senior members told NBC News the news was a clear indication they were on the verge of victory.

Siberian Cats

“The 17-year-long struggle and sacrifices of thousands of our people finally yielded fruit,” said a senior Taliban commander from Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “We proved it to the entire world that we defeated the self-proclaimed world’s lone super power.”

“We are close to our destination,” added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the group’s leadership had prohibited members from talking to the media about current events. He added that all field commanders had also been told to intensify training efforts to capture four strategic provinces in the run up to the next round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban, which are expected in January.

Are you tired of winning yet?

The Syria pullout has “Thwarted ‘Major’ Operation Targeting ISIS,” according to Bob Corker. From The Daily Beast:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed on Friday that the U.S. military was planning a “major clearing operation” targeting ISIS before President Donald Trump decided abruptly this weekto withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

“One thing that hasn’t been reported is, we were six weeks away from a major clearing operation that has been planned for a long time. I got briefed on this a year ago—with ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Friday on Capitol Hill, referring to the area where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding.

Chartreaux Cat

Trump’s decision, which at least partly led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has rattled congressional Republicans, who have questioned the wisdom of withdrawing from Syria before ISIS is fully eradicated. In defending his decision, Trump claimed that the extremist caliphate has been defeated, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a top Trump ally, called that claim “fake news,” and said America’s adversaries will benefit from Trump’s order.

I’ll wrap this up with three opinion pieces:

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: It’s official. We lost the Cold War.

Perhaps the timing of George H.W. Bush’s death last month was merciful. This way he didn’t have to see America lose the Cold War.

Bush presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. But the triumph he and others earned with American blood and treasure over 71 years, defeating the Soviet Union and keeping its successor in check, has been squandered by President Trump in just two.

Trump’s unraveling of the post-war order accelerated this week when he announced a willy-nilly pullout from Syria, leaving in the lurch scores of allies who participated in the campaign against the Islamic State, throwing our Kurdish partners to the wolves, isolating Israel, and giving Russia and Iran free rein in the Middle East. Then word emerged that Trump is ordering another hasty withdrawal, from Afghanistan. Trump’s defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, resigned in protest of the president’s estrangement of allies and emboldening of Russia and China.

Egyptian Mau Cat

The TV series “The Man in the High Castle” imagines a world in which Nazis won World War II. But we don’t need an alternative-history show to imagine a Soviet victory in the Cold War. We have Trump.

David Rothkop at The Daily Beast: Mattis’ Message to the World: Trump Is Out of Control. The gist:

Mattis, who took his duty very seriously, came to the conclusion that the value of such checks was now gone. Repeatedly—in Helsinki with Putin, in Singapore with Kim, in his defense of Saudi Arabia’s murderous crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, in his rejection of facts obvious to all—Trump has shown he cannot be controlled from within the administration.

Now, we can expect even worse. The checks on his relations with Putin within the administration are gone. The experienced hands are few and far between and the policy process is non-existent, the most dysfunctional in U.S. history—which suits both Trump and Bolton. Bolton and Pompeo, Iran hawks and apologists for the Saudis, the Israelis, and other Gulf states, will have more freedom. Relations with the military, already bad, will sour. Stephen Miller will gain stronger control over our border and immigration policies which suggests more human rights abuses are ahead. Our allies will have few champions and even less trust in the administration.

All this will happen because today Trump’s most highly regarded aide sent a message to the world and in particular to those responsible for presidential oversight on Capitol Hill. The president is not only outside the mainstream in his thinking, he is out of control. The man who controls the world’s most powerful military and the resources of the world’s richest government, is beyond assistance, beyond redemption, beyond influence other than by our enemies and his greed and narcissism.

Susan Glasser at the New Yorker: The Year in Trump Freakouts.

Bengal Cat

President Trump is ending the year as he began it: outraging Washington with a Twitter diktat, one that was cheered in Moscow and jeered on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday morning, the city awoke to an unexpected Presidential announcement that Trump was unilaterally pulling American forces out of Syria, despite having agreed this fall that U.S. troops would remain on the ground there indefinitely. Trump portrayed the decision as both a final victory over the Islamic State, which had overtaken much of the country from the Russia-supported regime of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise to exit the Middle East. A full-scale bipartisan freakout ensued, culminating late Thursday with the long-awaited, long-feared news that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would join the procession of Trump officials calling it quits. Was it a direct result of the abrupt about-face on Syria? “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the President, “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.” What we do know is that all the chaos at year’s end is a powerful reminder that the manner in which the President operates is so outside of any normal parameters for governing, so disdainful of process, and so heedless of consequences that his decisions don’t resolve crises so much as create them.

It is, of course, possible to have a reasonable policy debate over whether U.S. forces belong in Syria, given the military’s small footprint (about two thousand troops), the haziness of American objectives, and the fact that there is no political appetite for an expanded intervention in the country’s long-running civil war. But it is not possible with Trump. The retired Admiral James Stavridis, the former commander of nato forces, called the President’s decision “geopolitically the worst move I have seen from this Administration.” Others disagreed, seeing in Trump’s move a disaster in process that otherwise resembled President Barack Obama’s desire to withdraw from the endless conflicts of the Middle East. “Trump is very capable of doing intelligent things in very stupid ways,” Ian Bremmer, the head of the geopolitical-analysis firm the Eurasia Group, said in an interview with CBS on Thursday morning.

It is hard to get past the stupid, though.

It certainly is “hard to get past the stupid” with Trump. I haven’t even scratched the surface of today’s news. What stories are you following? Please share.