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.