The Morning Dispatch: Monday, October 14, 2019

Middle East muddling, Beto’s blunders, and Shep’s farewell.

Good morning, and happy Monday. Here’s hoping you didn’t have too much money on the Cowboys yesterday. 

The Unraveling

It’s rare to see the consequences of a major foreign policy decision unfold so quickly and with such unambiguously catastrophic consequences. 

On October 6, the White House announced that Turkey would be moving into northern Syria. The U.S. military would neither assist in the operation nor try to stop it, and our personnel would be leaving the immediate area. In practical terms, the Trump administration was effectively greenlighting an attack by Turkey and its affiliated militia groups against the Kurds who had fought alongside U.S. forces to neutralize ISIS. 

Since then:

  • Kurds have been displaced by the tens of thousands.

  • The Kurds, not long ago U.S. allies, announced a new alliance with Bashar Assad’s government in Syria.

  • Hundreds of ISIS-affiliated detainees have been freed.

It’s no wonder that so many long-reticent Republicans have found their voices on this issue. GOP lawmakers have complained that the White House decision abandons an important ally, sends a damaging message to current and future allies, and creates an opening to reshape the region for American enemies, Syria, Iran and Russia. 

And then there’s ISIS. The president defended his announcement, tweeting: “I am trying to end the ENDLESS WARS.” But virtually every military expert has warned that the opposite outcome is more likely. On Meet the Press on Sunday, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, said: “If we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's absolutely a given that they will come back."

ISIS was already strengthening. In an alarming report released over the summer, the Department of Defense inspector general reported that a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria during the spring left remaining troops and their partners ill-equipped to deal with the ongoing “ISIS resurgence.” 

Mixed Messages

The Sunday shows were interesting for another reason. The Trump administration put out two top officials to make the president’s case. But at times it seemed as though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were on opposite sides of the issue. 

Esper appeared on both Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation. On Fox, Esper decried the death and destruction in Syria at the hands of the Turks, telling host Chris Wallace the situation is “terrible” and getting “worse by the hour.” Later in the interview, he admitted the incursion “will damage U.S. relations with Turkey” and that Erdogan doesn’t seem like much of an ally:

I think Turkey, the arc of their behavior over the past several years has been terrible. I mean, they are spinning out of the western orbit, if you will. We see them purchasing Russian arms, cuddling up to President Putin. We see them doing all these things that, frankly, concern us that—with regard to the direction they are heading.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, on the other hand, appeared to follow the president in tossing the Kurds aside when speaking with Jon Karl on ABC’s This Week:

I think the analogy that everybody’s saying is we’re abandoning the Kurds like the Kurds are these long standing allies. Our—our role in Syria was not to defend land for the Kurds in historical issues. Our focus was to defeat ISIS so you have a longstanding conflict between people that have been helping us with ISIS and Turkey which is a NATO ally.

Mnuchin raised the prospect of placing sanctions on Turkey, but as Karl pointed out, the Turks “don’t seem to be listening to those warnings.” 

It’s obvious there are varying degrees of comfort within the administration regarding Trump’s decision to essentially provide Turkey free rein in Syria. Mnuchin has consistently shown himself to be one of Trump’s most loyal surrogates. Esper, though, sits atop a US military that has sacrificed considerably to fight ISIS and like-minded jihadists. His public frustration is a restrained version of what we’ve heard from US military and intelligence professionals. As the consequences grow more dire and the arrangement harder to defend, look for other officials to speak out.

More Cause for GOP Angst?

Syria is not the only place that the U.S. is backsliding in its battle against radical Islamists. After abruptly ending negotiations with the Taliban early last month and declaring talks “dead,” the Trump administration is reportedly attempting to restart them. 

Trump wants out of Afghanistan. He has long wanted a “peace deal” to ease the way and has been willing to offer a series of concessions for an agreement. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad has led the talks since late last year and his first move was a capitulation. When the Taliban demanded to negotiate with Americans directly, rather than representatives of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the U.S. agreed, delegitimizing America’s Afghan allies.

The talks themselves seem to have been largely fruitless. There’s been no evidence the Taliban will lay down its arms and recognize the legitimacy of the fragile Afghan government—to say nothing of choosing, suddenly, to end its nearly two-decades-long insurgency. But the administration pursued the talks undeterred.

Khalilzad was on the verge of finalizing a deal when Trump rescinded a surprise invitation for Taliban leaders to meet with him at Camp David in early September, just before the 18th anniversary of 9/11. In exchange for a timetable on withdrawing all foreign troops, the Taliban supposedly would have agreed to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a terrorist launching pad. This promise would be complicated by the fact that the Taliban is itself a terrorist organization, and has been for years, regularly dispatching its suicide bombers into civilian areas. And the Taliban has been inextricably connected to al-Qaeda for more than two decades. 

In any case, those private promises of good behavior were undermined by the Taliban continuing to be the Taliban in public. In July, the jihadist group released a video justifying the 9/11 hijackings, and the group has continued to work with al-Qaeda in the months since then. On September 23, U.S. and Afghan forces raided a major Taliban compound in Helmand province. Their target was a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant, Asim Umar, who reported directly to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Umar worked with the Taliban for years. Afghan and American officials say they killed Umar and several other al-Qaeda operatives in the raid.

President Trump pointed to a Taliban terrorist attack when he called off the Camp David meetings. Asked about the negotiations more generally, Trump said: “As far as I’m concerned, they are dead.”

But Trump wants out. So, the negotiations are alive again. That’s risky politically, given the grief he’s getting from Republicans in Congress over Syria. If Trump’s moves in Syria are seen as a gift to ISIS (among other U.S. enemies), will GOP lawmakers quietly abide a deal with the Taliban that even the Obama administration wouldn’t accept?

Beto Shoots Democrats in the Foot (And Then Confiscates the Gun)

Much is made of the split-screen nature of American politics, but rarely has the divide appeared as stark as it did on Thursday night. While President Trump held a campaign rally in Minneapolis promoting his administration’s crackdown on refugee admittance (and sensually bringing text messages between FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok to life), nine Democratic candidates for president took part in an equality town hall hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign focused on LGBTQ issues.

Much of the evening focused on what have become conventional positions on the left, but also the center and even parts of the right. Sen. Amy Klobuchar supported federal and state measures to ban conversion therapy, a position recently that has broad public support. Kamala Harris pledged that as president, she would commit to ending HIV/AIDS “within a generation.” Pete Buttigieg, the first major openly gay candidate for president, emphasized compassion and acceptance for LGBTQ individuals.

But the evening included several examples of the increasing Democratic radicalism on LGBTQ issues that could threaten the party’s ability to make in-roads with middle America. Elizabeth Warren, asked how she’d respond to one of the 31 percent of Americans who oppose gay marriage, had a zinger dismissing such voters that will undoubtedly play great in Los Angeles and New York, but perhaps less so in Toledo or Scranton (see Deplorables, Hillary).

And Beto O’Rourke decided to go all “Leeeeeeeroooy Jenkins” and told Don Lemon churches, mosques, and other religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. To be clear: This is a terrible idea. Tax-exempt religious institutions are a critical component of civil society and are crucial for maintaining effective separation of church and state. As the Freedom Forum Institute’s John Ferguson writes, “By avoiding initial inquiries into churches’ validity as houses of worship, government avoids violating the churches’ free-exercise right to define and regulate themselves.” 

On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Pete Buttigieg was quick to distance himself from O’Rourke’s stance: 

Going after the tax exemption of churches, Islamic centers or other religious facilities in this country, I think that's just going to deepen the divisions that we're already experiencing, at a moment when we're actually seeing more and more people, motivated often by compassion and by people they love, moving in the right direction on LGBTQ rights.

This isn’t the first time O’Rourke has jumped off the top rope with an extreme proposal and caused a stir. Asked whether he supported a mandatory buyback of assault weapons during a debate last month, he immediately shot back, “Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

There are two possible explanations for this series of own goals. Either Beto was created in a lab by GOP political operatives to convince Republicans that Democrats really do want to do all the things they’ve spent years saying they don’t. Or, he’s stuck below 2 percent in the polls and he’s looking for something—anything—that will create a moment viral enough to get him booked on cable news one last time.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s debate on CNN. As actual voting inches closer and closer, some Democrats are starting to sound the alarm bells over the party’s leftward lurch. As Steve Peoples writes for the Associated Press in this readout from working class Pennsylvania, “The highly educated urban Democrats may be the most vocal, particularly on Twitter. But it is the working class in places like Beaver County who may ultimately decide Trump’s fate.”

Keep an eye out for this tension on stage tomorrow night.

The Week Ahead (So Far)

  • Monday, October 14:

    • Columbus Day

    • Congressional recess ends

    • Fiona Hill impeachment deposition

    • Cardinals at Nationals NLCS Game 3

  • Tuesday, October 15:

    • Cardinals at Nationals NLCS Game 4

    • Astros at Yankees ALCS Game 3

    • CNN/New York Times Democratic debate at 8 p.m. ET

  • Wednesday, October 16:

    • Cardinals at Nationals NLCS Game 5 (if necessary)

    • Astros at Yankees ALCS Game 4

  • Thursday, October 17:

    • Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Syria Situation

    • Gordon Sondland impeachment deposition

    • Trump campaign rally in Dallas 

    • Astros at Yankees ALCS Game 5

  • Friday, October 18: 

    • Nationals at Cardinals NLCS Game 6 (if necessary)

What Else We’re Reading/Watching

  • Bloomberg has a great rundown of the partial trade deal Trump struck with China on Friday afternoon. In short, China agreed to certain intellectual property provisions and to buy more agricultural goods from the United States. Trump agreed to delay a pending tariff increase. Markets reacted positively.

  • In an effort to draw attention to Facebook’s lax political advertising standards, Elizabeth Warren is promoting a post on Facebook that includes a blatant lie. The Trump campaign has done the same, without admitting as much. Read Kayla Epstein on how, “without any clear sense of where lines are on social media, politicians of both parties will likely continue to cross them.”

  • Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian-minded conservative who rode the Tea Party wave to election in 2010, renounced his membership to the Republican Party in July. Time’s Lissandra Villa checks in on how he’s doing in the months since. Spoiler: “Of all the years I’ve been in office, I’m the happiest now,” he says.

  • Longtime Fox News anchor (and amateur llama-chase color commentator) Shepard Smith abruptly announced his decision to leave the network on Friday, in a move that stunned many of his co-workers. Smith had faced criticism from President Trump and those on Fox’s opinion side for his commitment to facts. His final sign-off is worth two minutes of your time.

Presented Without Comment

Something Fun

Saturday Night Live in recent years has become primarily a venue for anti-Trump celebrities to pop by and re-enact verbatim something that happened at the White House earlier in the week. But this gritty, Joker-inspired, Oscar the Grouch origin story—featuring David Harbour of “Stranger Things” fame—is really something special. Come for the anthropomorphic Bert and Ernie getting mugged over a rubber duck, stay for the most haunting rendition of the Sesame Street theme song you’ve ever heard.

Toeing The Company Line

  • Jonah’s first G-File under The Dispatch banner went out on Friday evening, and it was every bit the “curly fry that mysteriously ends up in the bag of normal fries” you’ve come to expect. Be sure to subscribe and get it delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

  • Jonah also had Mo Elleithee, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics on The Remnant podcast this week. Though one is a conservative and one is (gasp!) a liberal, they managed to have a productive conversation on the 2020 Democratic primary, Trump’s re-election chances, and white working class voters.

Let Us Know

Which of the following will Beto O’Rourke roll out as his next major policy proposal/cry for attention?

  • The Electoral College will be replaced by a national popular vote, but only Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and New York Magazine editors have suffrage.

  • Chick-Fil-A restaurants must be closed on both Saturdays and Sundays.

  • No one whose first name begins with a J, C, N, or B is allowed to sit on the Supreme Court, retroactive to 1991.

  • Campaign consultant expenses will become fully tax-deductible, offset by a 30 percent tax on charitable giving.

  • Everyone must kneel for the pledge of allegiance, and also the pledge of allegiance is now that John Oliver “Drumpf” segment.

Send your suggestions for Beto’s next big thing, or other comments, to HayesGoldberg2019@gmail.com. Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Thomas Joscelyn.

The Morning Dispatch: Friday, October 11, 2019

Turkish Incursions, Republican Criticisms, Giuliani Associates, & Chinese Censorship

Grim news out of northern Syria, where Turkish forces are continuing their advance into Kurdish-controlled land. The Turks, who are attempting to seize control of a wide band of the Kurds’ territory in which to resettle refugees from the Syrian civil war, have battered Kurdish towns with airstrikes and heavy artillery. Meanwhile Turkey’s border towns have been hit with rockets from Syria. Civilian casualties are piling up on both sides, and the U.N. estimates that 70,000 civilians in northern Syria have been newly displaced.

After his surprise announcement that the U.S. would cease its military support of the Kurds earlier this week, President Trump seemingly left the door open for another strategic shift Thursday:

It would make sense for Trump to try to walk this back, as it’s hard to overstate just how far out on a limb he is with GOP lawmakers here. By The Dispatch’s count, 24 GOP senators and 38 House members have distanced themselves from the White House’s new Syria policy, with only a handful actively praising it. The president is counting on a lot of loyalty from his party as Democrats prepare for impeachment—he can’t be thrilled to see those numbers increasing.

But do these defections truly spell political danger for Trump, as some pundits have suggested? A three-day deep dive into lawmakers’ reactions reveals that while members are growing testier, there’s little indication yet that congressional Republicans objections on Syria are bleeding into their stances on the impeachment-related issues that could threaten his grip on the White House.

GOP Temperature Check

If a GOP lawmaker did see the Syria disaster as a “come to Jesus” moment, what would that look like? We don’t have to speculate: Illinois Republican John Shimkus called Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds “despicable” and said, “I pull my name off the ‘I support Donald Trump list.’”

A few more dressed down the Syria policy in surprisingly scornful language.

But a huge majority of the Republicans who distanced themselves from Trump’s Syria policy took pains not to suggest they were criticizing the president. Of those who did express concerns, the boldest said that Trump had merely made a “mistake.” Others simply urged the U.S. to take a different tack, but without mentioning that the current tack was the one Trump had chosen. And then there was Representative Mark Green, from Tennessee, a decorated combat veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, whose official bio reports that he interrogated Saddam Hussein. Discussing Trump’s Syria decision on NPR’s “Here and Now,” Green offered what might be the best distillation of the uneasy tension between Capitol Hill Republicans and Trump. "Yeah, I disagree with what he’s doing now, I wish it wasn’t happening, but I still fully support it."

That same sentiment describes the approach of many GOP lawmakers on the president’s use of Ukraine (and China) to target Joe Biden. But publicly there’s little GOP movement on any of the president’s Ukraine-related controversies. Is private frustration there feeding public disagreement on Syria? Perhaps. But so far not a single Republican has moved from disagreement over Trump’s treatment of the Kurds to denunciation of bad behavior in Ukraine.

And speaking of Ukraine…

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

Two associates of Rudy Giuliani were arrested Thursday on federal campaign finance charges. Prosecutors allege that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman attempted to funnel foreign money to a former GOP congressman, hoping to enlist him to convince the Trump administration to fire then-ambassador to Ukraine Maria Yovanovitch. All this, in turn, was apparently part of a hamfisted scheme to get in good with Ukraine’s state natural gas company.

The arrest took place at Washington’s Dulles airport as the pair were attempting to board a one-way flight to Vienna. It comes just days after the Associated Press detailed Parnas and Fruman’s attempts to game both the Ukrainian government and our own. If you missed that, here’s the gist:

  • Parnas and Fruman, along with an oil baron named Harry Sargeant, hatched a plan to ingratiate themselves with senior executives at Ukraine’s state natural gas company, Naftogaz, by talking up their close political connections to Trump. 

  • As part of their pitch, the schemers let on that they had insider knowledge of the Trump administration’s strategy for the region. They told one executive, for instance, that Trump planned to replace the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine—Marie Yovanovitch, who was indeed recalled two months later—“with someone more open to aiding their business interests.” 

  • Later that month, Rudy Giuliani met with Parnas and another personal associate, Healy Baumgardner, the CEO of a Houston-based lobbying group called 45 Energy Group, to discuss a potential energy deal and the status of Ambassador Yovanovitch—although Giuliani maintains this potential deal involved Uzbekistan, not Ukraine. 

  • Giuliani, who, it is always worth pointing out, is Trump’s personal attorney and has no official government role, also acknowledged pushing Trump to replace Yovanovitch, and has previously described Parnas and Fruman as personal clients. 

President Trump distanced himself from the whole sordid affair Thursday, telling reporters he didn’t know the men and that if they wanted more information, “you’d have to ask Rudy.” (Photographs of Trump and Giuliani with the two men quickly zipped around social media.) He also said he hoped Giuliani wouldn’t be indicted as well. 

This new web of alleged corruption is all tangential to the main accusation that’s had Democrats pressing toward impeachment: that Trump extorted the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden, seemingly even holding back military aid appropriated to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia until he got what he wanted. (Trump’s defense received a boost yesterday when Ukrainian president Zelensky said he didn’t think he was being blackmailed.)

As these Giuliani-related stories continue to drop—and the smart money seems to be they will keep dropping—it will be interesting to see whether Democrats fold them into their impeachment narrative, or continue to stay laser-focused on the single abuse of power. 

But the two Ukraine scandals converge in one key respect. In order to justify the Biden ask to the public, Trump has been forced to lean hard on a pretty flimsy argument: That he was interested in getting dirt on Biden not for his own political gain, but simply because he couldn’t stand to see anybody get away with political corruption. 

This claim strained credulity before. Now we get the opportunity to see it tested in real time. Will Trump spend the days to come aggressively trying to get the Ukrainian government to get to the bottom of alleged Giuliani-related grift? We wouldn’t bet the milk money on it. 

Ted Cruz Weighs In on the NBA Saga

Long heralded by progressives for its social stances and commitment to player empowerment, the NBA has quickly shed its status as the “woke” sports league after its shameless attempts to appease authoritarian thugs in China. 

After Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the NBA went into overdrive mitigating the fallout with the Chinese Communist Party to protect what has ballooned into a $4 billion market for the league. Chief communications officer Mike Bass issued an embarrassing statement, requiring Commissioner Adam Silver to clean it up a few days later. A Rockets employee shut down a CNN reporter who asked superstar James Harden if, after this week, he had new reservations about speaking his mind freely. (The NBA later apologized). Capital One Arena employees confiscated signs during Wednesday’s Wizards game for being too “political” while the Star-Spangled Banner played in the background. Typically outspoken Warriors coach Steve Kerr, when asked about Chinese human rights abuses, offered an utterly asinine example of moral equivalency, avoiding criticism of the country that systematically imprisons ethnic minorities in order to castigate his own.

But the NBA isn’t alone in pandering to these wannabe apparatchiks in Asia. Apple removed an app from its App Store that helped protesters in Hong Kong monitor police activity after the CCP-run newspaper People’s Daily called the app’s approval an “unwise and reckless decision.” Nike pulled all Rockets memorabilia from at least five stores in China. Activision Blizzard, a video game company, suspended a professional gamer and revoked his earnings after he shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” on a livestream.

The episodes raise serious questions about the role American corporations have in promoting democratic values and human rights as they expand into global markets. In August, the Business Roundtable—a trade association representing CEOs of the largest companies in the country—updated for the first time since 1997 what it believes to be the purpose of a corporation. In addition to simply creating shareholder value, BRT members committed to “dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers” and “supporting the communities in which we work.” Apple CEO Tim Cook was a signatory.

Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been beating this drum on China for years, tells The Dispatch

American companies should not be willing instruments of the Chinese Communist Party. When they act that way, they set an unfortunate and dangerous precedent of kowtowing to a communist regime with an appalling human rights record and brutally oppressive policies trampling on free speech and free expression. The N.B.A., Nike, and Apple should know that when they do business in China there are at a minimum enormous reputational risks entailed and when they bend to the will of China at the expense of free speech and free expression, they import the regime’s repressive policies to the United States and the rest of the world.

Cruz—joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, Ron Wyden, and Ben Sasse—signed a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver earlier this week criticizing the league’s handling of Morey’s tweet. “It’s not unreasonable,” the group wrote, “to expect American companies to put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profit The very rights that have fostered their success and our nation’s wealth.”

To most American politicians, standing up to China’s authoritarian practices is like facing an 89 mile per hour fastball from Clayton Kershaw in the NLDS. For Donald Trump, it’s a little trickier to hit. The president said Wednesday the league has to “work out their own situation,” and on a June call with Chinese President Xi Jinping he allegedly pledged to “remain quiet on Hong Kong protests as trade talks progressed” (and not the kind involving James Harden). He also tweeted congratulations on the 70th anniversary of communist Chinese rule.

Why Has China Been So Pissed?

Protesters in Hong Kong have been taking to the streets for months; at first over a Chinese extradition bill that would have limited Hong Kong’s judicial sovereignty, and subsequently in response to the violent crackdown against the initial demonstrators. What many Westerners see as an admirable fight for democratic norms, the Communist Party of China—and in turn the Chinese people whose information diet is limited to what the CCP wants them to know—views as a dangerous group of rioters, propped up by foreign adversaries, pushing a separatist movement.

So when Morey tweeted his support for these pro-democracy dissidents, what the Chinese saw was a direct affront from the top executive of their favorite team—the one that drafted the Shanghai-born Yao Ming first overall in 2002.

There are signs, however, that China is changing its strategy. The New York Times reported early Friday morning that the government was moving to tamp down protests of the NBA they’d previously been whipping up for days: “Editors at state news outlets have told reporters to avoid emphasizing the N.B.A. issue for fear that it might become overheated, according to interviews with three journalists on Thursday.”

What Else We’re Reading/Watching

  • Former commander of U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel and counter-terrorism fellow at the Middle East Institute Elizabeth Dent highlight the danger of abandoning our Kurdish partners in a piece in The Atlantic.

  • Toni Fitzgerald tells the story of Julia Sand, a 19th-century Manhattan woman who changed the course of Chester A. Arthur’s presidency by sending him a series of 23 letters “imploring him to be a better man.” Kim Jong-un, we see what you’re up to.

  • John McCormack has an excellent profile of senator, Uber driver, and Runza vendor Ben Sasse over at National Review. The Nebraskan was 67 minutes late to the interview, but he brought beer.

Presented With No Comment

Toeing The Company Line

A note from our fearless editor-in-chief, Jonah Goldberg:

 “Seeking and blundering are good,” the German man of letters, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “For it is only by seeking and blundering we learn.” Goethe, if web sources are to be believed, was full of wise and pithy insights that seem relevant to our endeavor here at The Dispatch. For instance, Goethe observed, “To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.”

We are trying to do exactly that with The Dispatch, to provide something we think the world should want, even if acting on it proves quite difficult. Goethe warned that the “things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” And here we disagree with the sage of Frankfurt, the wiseman of Weimar. We believe in sweating the small stuff, because we don’t think it’s really small. Whether it’s grammar and spelling or facts and figures, we want to get things right every single time. We understand that’s an impossible ideal.  Still, when we fall short, we think it’s vital to be honest and transparent with our members about it.

Which brings us back to Herr Goethe. While he apparently did say, “There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity,” he did not in fact say “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” a quote we misattributed to him in our introductory post. That was Basil King, the largely forgotten Canadian writer. On the Internet, the quote is widely (mis)attributed to Goethe—almost surely because of the film “Almost Famous.” We regret the error and we promise that as we get our sea-legs we will be more diligent in rooting out this sort of thing. After all, as Abraham Lincoln famously said in his first, and only, televised debate with Stephen Douglas, not everything on the Internet is to be believed.

Let Us Know

Which of the below is not a company owned by Giuliani clients Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman? We promise, two of them are real.

  • Fraud Guarantee

  • Crime Doers, Inc.

  • Mafia Rave

Answer: Crime Doers, Inc. 

***

Reporting by Declan Garvey and Andrew Egger.

The Morning Dispatch: October 9, 2019

Syria On The Brink

Good morning, and welcome to the maiden voyage of the Morning Dispatch. If you haven’t had a chance to read yesterday’s explanation of who we are and what we hope to accomplish, you can check it out here. The team of Jonah Goldberg, Toby Stock, and Steve Hayes will be adding many more newsletters and podcasts in the coming weeks. Lots to cover today, so we’ll get right to it.

“This is Going to All Be Directly Laid at the President’s Doorstep”

Just two days after the Trump administration shocked the world by announcing that the United States would pull back from its position supporting the Kurdish military in northeastern Syria, the situation is deteriorating with astonishing speed.

Two events that unfolded after hours last night: First, the neighboring nation of Turkey, which hopes to capture a wide swath of Syrian territory to resettle refugees from the Syrian civil war, announced that it was on the verge of launching an attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkish official Fahrettin Altun announced that the country’s military “will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly” in an op-ed for the Washington Post, in which he argued that the Turkish military should be seen as America’s true ally in the fight against ISIS. 

Meanwhile, Post columnist David Ignatius reported that America has learned such attack is indeed imminent, with U.S. officials informing the Kurds that a Turkish attack on the northern cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al Ayn will likely take place within 24 hours. As Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces moved north in anticipation of the assault, a senior U.S. official sounded the alarm to Foreign Policy that few SDF troops were left in reserve to carry out critical tasks like guarding prisons holding ISIS fighters and defending against further ISIS insurgency.

Within hours, that warning apparently proved prescient: Late Tuesday night, the SDF claimed that several ISIS-affiliated suicide attacks had been carried out in Raqqa, the city the Islamic State proclaimed the nucleus of its so-called caliphate between 2014 until Kurdish forces recaptured the city in October 2017. 

How Did We Get Here?

The events in Syria are not only moving at light speed, they are exactly the outcome that critics of President Trump’s Syria lurch feared. 

Eric Edelman, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey under President George W. Bush, told The Dispatch that the small outfit of American military officials who remained in Kurdish territory until this week had provided the SDF with invaluable logistical and intelligence capabilities. But they also served a larger function: “The presence of those American forces were a big disincentive to Erdogan to actually move into northeastern Syria unilaterally.” 

For Edelman, Trump’s move provokes a sense of deja vu from the last time Trump suddenly decided it was time to pull up stakes in Syria: “I think what we’ve seen in the last 48 hours is in some sense a bit of a replay of another phone conversation between President Erdogan and President Trump that took place almost a year ago in December.” 

But, while Trump’s rash pronouncement 10 months ago prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign, the president didn’t end up following through on his pledge to remove all American troops from the region, and 100 to 150 military officials remained in northern Syria to support the SDF. But now those troops are gone, and the Kurds—who helped us take down ISIS—are in danger of being overrun.

Trump is gambling that he can stave off a Turkish invasion of Syria with economic threats alone. Edelman isn’t so sure. The president placed tariffs on Turkish steel and other products last year that led to a “fairly rapid acceleration of an already ongoing depreciation of the Turkish lira,” a result that may have given him an unfounded “sense of omnipotence.” If Tuesday night’s news out of Syria is any indication, Erdogan is prepared to risk it.

The potential consequences are dire. Edelman told us that Turkish resettlement of Syrian refugees could create a “humanitarian disaster,” as people who fled from every corner of Syria are bundled forcibly into a narrow slice of Kurdish territory. “It’s going to feed the already existing intra-communal and ethnic tensions that already afflict this region far too greatly as it is,” he said. 

And if Turkey does invade and ISIS does begin to reconstitute itself, metastasizing beyond Syria and leading to attacks in Europe or the United States? “This is going to all be directly laid at the president’s doorstep.”

GOP Senator: ‘Abandon Our Allies’ Makes A Crummy Bumper Sticker

The whole boondoggle has created an uproar on Capitol Hill. Senators across the political spectrum—from Mitt Romney to Tim Kaine, from Lindsey Graham to Mazie Hirono—have condemned the “abandonment” of our Kurdish allies. And Republicans reluctant to criticize Trump publicly have found their voices.

We asked one Republican senator why the GOP response to the Trump administration’s recent moves in Syria has been so overwhelming.

"We just spent eight years fighting a cut-and-run foreign policy but this Syria decision is exactly what Obama did in Iraq. With the exception of one twerp, there's not a single Republican senator who ran on isolationism. You can campaign on not being the world's policeman all you want, but 'abandon our allies' makes a crummy bumper sticker and an even worse foreign policy because the fight against radical Islam isn't over, and some ISIS-type group will come back."

We can confirm the senator we talked to isn’t also an ophthalmologist.

No More Mr. Nice Guys

The Trump White House’s handling of the Mueller investigation is memorable both for President Trump’s frequent erratic tweets (“13 angry Democrats!” “witch hunt!”) and his allies’ wild conspiracy-mongering. It’s easy to forget that, in subtler ways, the Trump administration actually cooperated with the Mueller probe early on, such as by making staffers available for extensive questioning.

When it comes to the House’s nascent impeachment effort, however, that playbook has been burned and the ashes tossed. Instead, Trump and his allies are writing the whole thing off as an illegitimate enterprise that the White House need not dignify with the slightest accommodation. 

Three data points, in rapid succession:

  • On Tuesday morning, the State Department blocked Gordon Sondland, a Trump ally turned ambassador to the European Union who is caught up in the Ukraine scandal, from testifying before Congress minutes before that testimony was supposed to begin.

  • Hours later, Rudy Giuliani told the Washington Post that he and other Trumpworld figures would let Congress hold them in contempt before they’d testify in the impeachment inquiry.

  • Finally, White House counsel Pat Cipollone confirmed it in a scathing, bombastic letter to House leadership, in which he blasted House Democrats for designing their investigation “in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.” 

“Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen,” Cipollone wrote. “Your highly partisan and unconstitutional effort threatens grave and lasting damage to our democratic institutions, to our system of free elections, and to the American people.” 

It’s too early to say whether the laugh-it-off strategy will work, but many House Republicans are skeptical. “Members recognize this is different than Russia/Mueller probe. President’s actions here are deeply concerning and members are taking it very seriously.”

Among the unconvinced: Gregg Nunziata, former general counsel to Sen. Marco Rubio, who tells The Dispatch that the White House letter “reads like a press release from a political campaign”: 

It tries to indict the whole process of an impeachment inquiry because the motivations are political. They are. But the Founders deliberately chose to put this process in the hands of the political branches—not the courts—for a reason. It's supposed to be political.

The letter also demands all sorts of procedural rights that are, of course, expected in judicial proceedings. This is not a judicial proceeding. Any lawyer who has practiced in this area is well aware that familiar protections for defendants in judicial proceedings do not apply in the context of congressional investigations. Even attorney-client privilege is not a thing Congress accepts.

And a Word From David French

“On behalf of lawyers everywhere, I'd like to apologize for the dumpster fire (legal war crime, really) of a letter from counsel to POTUS to Democratic leadership. It's a Hannity segment on letterhead. It would be comedic if it wasn't so consequential.”

My Kingdom For a Decent Lawyer!

So here’s a Trump hire we sure didn’t see coming: former Rep. Trey Gowdy is coming aboard the president’s outside legal team as he gears up for an impeachment fight. 

The president’s lawyers usually come in two flavors: the bookish types who stay more or less behind the scenes and the brash yakkers who pull double duty as PR guys on cable news. We’re told Gowdy figures to be latter. 

The news comes as a surprise: During Gowdy’s last turn in the public eye, he was an occasional Trump critic and, initially, one of the House’s most outspoken Republican defenders of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. He said when he called it quits in Congress last year he would return to the justice system, stating that “Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress.” Gowdy is well-respected among his former colleagues in the House, in part because he hasn’t been a Trump toady. His decision to join Team Trump could help convince wobbly Republicans to stick with the President.

Does Elizabeth Warren Have a Truth Problem?

In an early morning tweet, Sen. Elizabeth Warren doubled down on her claim that she was fired from a teaching job at 22 after her employers learned she was pregnant. 

The spot comes as Warren is facing increased scrutiny over the claim. That scrutiny began after it was discovered that Warren, the ostensible 2020 Democratic frontrunner, had apparently told a different story about her career change during an interview in 2007. In that interview, first noted on Twitter by Jacobin Magazine writer Meagan Day and then spread more widely in a post by our friend Jeryl Bier, Warren gives Harvard law professor Leo Gottlieb a very different explanation: “I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, ‘I don't think this is going to work out for me.’”

Records from the school board in question procured by the Washington Free Beacon seem to corroborate this latter telling of the tale as well:

Minutes of an April 21, 1971, Riverdale Board of Education meeting obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show that the board voted unanimously on a motion to extend Warren a "2nd year" contract for a two-days-per-week teaching job. That job is similar to the one she held the previous year, her first year of teaching. Minutes from a board meeting held two months later, on June 16, 1971, indicate that Warren’s resignation was "accepted with regret."

Warren persisted (nevertheless) in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday, saying “it doesn’t matter much what the term is, but let’s be clear: I was six months pregnant, it was my first job, I was 22 years old, and the job that was mine, that I’d been hired for for the next year, was taken away when they knew I was pregnant.”

This is not to say gender discrimination in the workplace—particularly in the 1970s—didn’t exist. It surely did. Nor is it to say Elizabeth Warren herself has never experienced such discrimination! But the question at hand is whether or not Warren was fired from Riverdale Elementary School in 1971. And the evidence available fails to prove that she was.

Combined with her overblown claims of Native American ancestry, as well as this video claiming an unnamed “they” told her a woman couldn’t win a Senate seat in 2012 (there were 16 female senators in the 112th Congress immediately preceding her election), this episode seems to illustrate Elizabeth Warren’s knack for exaggerating the societal barriers she’s had to overcome to reach her current perch. Given the centrality of “fighting” to her political rise (the word is included twice in just the title of her book), her tendency to construct opponents even where none exist makes sense. But that doesn’t make it right. That being said, if her opponent is this guy—she won’t have to work too hard to win the “cares about trustworthiness” vote.

What Else We’re Reading

  • Over at The Week, dependably curmudgeonly friend of the show Matthew Walther has a great piece on why Hillary Clinton challenging Donald Trump to a rematch, as she (probably!) jokingly suggested she might Tuesday, is exactly the spectacle America doesn’t know it wants yet, but totally, totally does. 

  • You can always count on the folks at The Atlantic for brisk, engaging reads on how technology is actually a terrible curse that’s ruining all our lives. (Probably they’re just cranky because they’re still trying to make print happen.) This piece from Bianca Bosker, on how accelerating progress in tech is creating a noise pollution epidemic, certainly qualifies. EHHNNNNNNNN.

Something Fun

Cameras caught unlikely duo watching the Green Bay Packers defeat the Dallas Cowboys 34-24 in Dallas on Sunday afternoon, with President George W. Bush and Ellen DeGeneres sat together in a box at AT&T Stadium.

Because so much of social media has become a garbage pit, a Twitter mob immediately descended upon the comedian and talk show host for even associating with someone of the opposite political persuasion. But unlike this 55-gallon steel drum or the NBA, Ellen didn’t cave to the pressure, opting instead on Tuesday to share a more uplifting message of unity. Give it a watch. 

Toeing The Company Line

The Remnant has officially come ashore under The Dispatch banner, and Steve joined Jonah yesterday to discuss the launch of the venture, how we got our name, and what we hope this thing becomes. They also talked impeachment and recent develops in Syria. Give it a listen here.

If you are so inclined, you can check out writeups of The Dispatch in Axios, Politico, NiemanLab, and Mediaite

Let Us Know

Which daytime talk show host/U.S. president pair would make for the best buddy cop movie?

  • Judge Judy and Richard Nixon

  • Steve Harvey and Millard Fillmore

  • Jerry Springer and Bill Clinton

  • Oprah and Woodrow Wilson

  • Dr. Phil and Calvin Coolidge

Got a tip? Comment? Compliment? Suggestion? As always, send it to HayesGoldberg2019@gmail.com. We’ll see you Friday.

What Are We Doing?

From Jonah Goldberg, Toby Stock, and Steve Hayes.

Welcome to The Dispatch. A brief word about what we’re doing – and why.

We’re launching a digital media company with three primary products: a website, newsletters and podcasts. We aim to make
The Dispatch a place that thoughtful readers can come for conservative, fact-based news and commentary that doesn’t come either through the filter of the mainstream media or the increasingly boosterish media on the right. Importantly, we want to build a genuine community, with regular engagement between those of us who work here and the readers and listeners who will pay our salaries.

Today, we’re sharing a bit more about what we’re trying to build. Tomorrow, we’ll publish the first issue of The Morning Dispatch, a reported newsletter that we’ll eventually send out daily. And over the next few months, we’ll be adding newsletters and podcasts from some of the country’s top reporters and analysts.

All of our work will be free, for now. Early next year, we’ll ask you to join our community as a paying member. At that time, small number of articles and newsletters – and all of our podcasts – will remain free to the general public. But the rest – most of the website and the vast majority of our regular newsletters – will be available to paying members only. If you’d like to learn more about membership, please sign up and we’ll provide details. If you’d like to support our work now, please consider joining as a Founding Lifetime Member.

And if you’d like to understand why we’re launching The Dispatch, please keep reading.

The internet puts an unimaginable amount of information at our fingertips, and yet it makes knowledge and wisdom harder to grasp. Social media connects people in meaningful ways but also manages to make it more difficult for us to understand each other. It is less a World Wide Web linking us all together than an accelerant, quickening trends long in the works. Our confidence in the institutions that once anchored us was declining even before the internet became a fixture in our lives, but its arrival has only made us feel even less fixed to a common landscape. 

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of journalism.  Not only do we have too much noise and not enough signal, but the signals we should be heeding are often discounted as noise and the noise is marketed as prophecy. A great deal of excellent journalism is still available to those who want it, but one has to seek it out like a tourist trying to find a chapel amidst the neon signs of some dystopian red-light district. 

The demand for “clicks” required by the dominant revenue structure of journalism today drives a need to pimp “hot takes” that, as the name suggests, shed more heat than light. The balkanization of the media landscape and the commodification of cheap opinion encourages outlets to emphasize quantity over quality. It’s easier—and considerably cheaper—to provide quick outrage to an audience eager for affirmation than it is to produce good reporting and thoughtful, fact-based commentary that might challenge consumers—and citizens.

If the media business is on shaky ground so, too, are our political parties. Partisanship may have been stronger in the 1850s, 1930s or 1960s, but the parties themselves have never been weaker. They are less functioning organizations motivated by a patriotic vision of what is best for the country—or even themselves—and more like competing brands willing to change their products based on whatever will sell this quarter. Though it may seem like an oxymoron, the country’s extreme partisanship is actually a function of this party weakness. Healthy parties mediate passions and reject passing fads in favor of long term success. As party power has diminished, media organizations have moved in to fill the void. Many news outlets do the work once properly carried out by the parties: opposition research, ideological messaging and even political organizing. As a result, much of what passes for political journalism is really party work by proxy. 

This is true across the ideological spectrum, but it is most worrisome on the right. The conservative movement was not intended to be a handmaiden to a single political party. What is good for the Republican Party may be good for the conservative cause, and vice versa. But that is not axiomatically so. For instance, it would be an unalloyed victory for conservatives—and America—if the Democratic Party fully rejected socialism, abortion-until-birth and its growing obsession with wholesale gun confiscation. But that would not be good news for a Republican Party and conservative media complex increasingly invested in a strategy of polarization and demonization of Blue America. This points to the original purpose of the conservative movement, not just to defend those ideas, institutions and principles that make America an indispensable nation, but to persuade those who disagree with us. And persuasion is impossible in a hyperactive climate of paranoia, exaggeration and willful blindness to the splinters in our own eyes. 

We are not launching The Dispatch as an indictment—of a politician, party or institution. We are not launching The Dispatch to change the world, to reimagine news and information, to fix the internet, or to ignite a movement. We have more humble objectives. We are launching The Dispatch to do right as we see it, by providing engaged citizens fact-based reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture —informed by conservative principles. And, importantly, to offer a community and forum for thoughtful discussion and civil disagreement.  We will be timely and topical, but we won’t be slaves to the relentless pace of the news cycle. We will slow things down, deliberately—because we think the times require more deliberation. Whenever possible, we want to pause and think before we react, to research and report before sharing our views. The daily race to be wrong first on Twitter can be entertaining and instructive, but we have no interest in entering the competition. In short, we aim to zig in an era of zagging. 

We don’t apologize for our conservatism. Some of the best journalism is done when the author is honest with readers about where he or she is coming from, and some of the very worst journalism hides behind a pretense of objectivity and the stolen authority that pretense provides. When we provide analysis, we will endeavor to describe the opposing points of view with honesty and charity. When we report, we will do so without concern for whether the facts prove inconvenient to any party or politician. We’ll test our own assumptions and, we hope, challenge our readers to do the same. We expect people to disagree, but we hope they will see that we come to our positions honestly, without some unstated agenda.

This will inevitably run afoul of partisan agendas. That’s not only okay, it’s by design. We believe telling the truth is always its own defense. 

We do not believe such a mission requires the sort of eat-your-spinach humorlessness or finger-wagging that often accompanies such endeavors. This will not work if we fail to provide what all readers should demand: lively and engaging writing that values the reader’s time. 

So, we are starting fresh. We are rejecting the advertising that makes clickbait seem so necessary. While we want as many readers as possible, we do not care a whit about traffic for its own sake. That’s why much of our content will be delivered via newsletters uncluttered with distracting ads (we are working diligently with our partners at Substack to do this in excitingly innovative ways). We won’t sell or rent our lists to low-class marketers, disreputable spam merchants or political groups seeking to make a buck on outrage.

We won’t subject our readers to auto-play videos, pop-up or pop-under ads or any of the clickbait boxes that even respectable news outlets use to monetize actual fake news. If you see an urgent message from some group that needs your credit card number to avert catastrophe, please contact customer service because that will mean we’ve been hacked. In every regard, we’d rather err on the side of providing a quality reader experience, both in terms of substance and presentation. 

This means we are putting our faith and our prospects in the hands of those who want to be part of this. Membership, for us, isn’t just a fancy word for subscriber. We want friends and participants, not just customers. That’s why including our members in the conversation will be central to our structure, not some gimmicky add-on.  

Right now, we are a small and merry band, boarding a pirate skiff with limited provisions amidst choppy waters crammed with well-equipped battleships, barreling through the smoking wrecks of larger vessels that came before us. But we believe we are not alone. We think there are many out there, of all ideological persuasions, hungry for what we are offering. As Basil King* said, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” We believe that the mightiest force out there will be the readers eager to come along for the ride. If we’re wrong, we’ll fail. But failure in a good cause is better than triumph in a bad one. Besides, if we didn’t think we were right about what many people desire, we wouldn’t be trying this in the first place. 

We not only hope you’ll come along for the ride, we hope you’ll help with the rowing.

*Correction: We incorrectly attributed the Basil King quote to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

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