Plus, should we be spending money on foreign aid?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Iran's direct attack on Israel. Plus, a reader question about foreign aid spending.


A few readers wrote in to push back on a statement we made supporting a claim from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that workers are earning less now in inflation-adjusted income than they were in 1955 in our edition on the 32-hour workweek. Sanders may have been referring to "productivity-adjusted income," but that isn't what we said. We wrote that "average inflation-adjusted income has decreased [since 1955]" and linked to a few different sources to cobble together support for that claim. It wasn't accurate, or even close to accurate. We regret the error and that it took us this long to address it, and we will be breaking down where we went wrong in a special mailbag edition this week.

This is our 106th correction in Tangle's 245-week history and our first correction since April 11th. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Less than 10 left!

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Quick hits.

  1. Former President Donald Trump's trial for falsifying business records begins in Manhattan today. The trial involves alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, and one other woman. Trump, the first former president ever to stand trial in a criminal case, has denied the allegations since they first surfaced in 2018. (The trial)
  2. The Biden administration announced it will be canceling the student loan debt of another 277,000 borrowers through income-driven repayment plans. $153 billion of student debt has now been forgiven under Biden. (The announcement)
  3. In the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, President Biden's approval rating improved slightly and former President Donald Trump’s lead narrowed to a 46-45 margin. (The poll)
  4. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) vetoed a bill that would have banned transgender medical treatments, like surgery and hormone replacement therapy, for minors. (The veto)
  5. Today is tax day in the United States, and the IRS is expecting millions of Americans to file and pay their taxes at the last minute. (The deadline)

Today's topic.

Iran's attack on Israel. On Saturday, Iran launched 170 drones, 120 ballistic missiles, and 30 cruise missiles toward Israel. Iran had been promising the attack for two weeks since Israel’s bombing of an Iranian consulate building in Syria that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals. Despite years of Iran's proxies attacking Israel in a wide-reaching shadow war, Iran had never launched a direct attack on Israel until this weekend’s missile launches. The two former allies have been living with deep tensions since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

An Israeli military spokesman said that of the more than 300 drones and missiles Iran launched, Israel intercepted 99%. Several ballistic missiles reached Israeli territory causing minor damage to an airbase, while a 7-year-old girl in a Bedouin Arab town in southern Israel was seriously injured. At time of publication, Israeli officials were still investigating whether her injuries were directly related to the attack.

Israeli Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari called Israel's defense a "significant strategic success," with images of Israel’s Iron Dome along with Israeli and U.S. military intercepting the drones and rockets going viral on social media. U.S. officials had been warning Iran would strike for more than a week, and had already moved warships into position in preparation. President Biden, who returned to the White House from Delaware when signs of the attack were imminent, said U.S. forces helped shoot down some of the drones. Images of Israel’s Iron Dome along with Israeli and U.S. military intercepting the drones and rockets went viral on social media. British and Jordanian forces also shot down some of the incoming drones (Jordan said it was acting in self-defense).

In an apparent effort to prevent any further exchanges, Iran said their response to Israel's strike on the consulate was now over, and said there would be no further response unless Israel attacks again. According to two Israeli officials, Israel’s war cabinet members were urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a military response, but he opted against it after a phone call with President Biden because there was limited damage. However, Israel's defense minister Yoav Gallant said the confrontation with Iran was "not over yet." Leaders across the globe are urging Israel and Iran to avoid any further escalation.

Israel’s strike in Syria and Iran’s response mark another example of how the war in Gaza has expanded throughout the region. Israel is also fighting Hezbollah on its border with Lebanon in the north, Houthi rebels from Yemen have been attacking ships in the Red Sea, and Iran’s proxies have been targeting U.S. bases in Iraq. 

While we often include perspectives from abroad on issues like this one, today we are just going to focus on U.S. commentary from the right and left, then my take. You can read our most recent coverage of the war in Gaza here and here

What the right is saying.

  • The right suggests Biden’s foreign policy approach emboldened Iran.
  • Some say Israel should retaliate — and the U.S. should support them in doing so.
  • Others suggest that Israel has more to gain by leveraging the attack to strengthen its alliances.

National Review’s editors said the strike shows “the failure of Biden’s doctrine of ‘don’t.’”

“Though President Biden did the right thing by deploying American assets to assist Israel’s defensive response, the reality is that things never would have gotten to this point had it not been for his accommodating policies toward Iran and months of chastising Israel,” the editors wrote. “While President Trump pulled out of the [Iran nuclear] deal and reestablished U.S. deterrence against Iran by ordering the killing of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani, Biden and his team — many of the same people responsible for Obama’s failed policies — sought to resurrect the deal. Once again, in doing so, they tried to downplay Iran’s bad behavior and funneled tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Iran.”

“Since October 7, whenever Biden has been asked about the possibility of Iran getting involved in the fighting, he has simply said ‘Don’t,’ without offering any explanation of what would happen if it did. What Iran has seen from the U.S., sadly, has been weakness,” the editors said. “Any action by the Biden administration to prevent Israel from doing what must be done after months of warning Iran ‘Don’t’ would only further embolden Iran, leading to more frequent and ambitious attacks, and inviting the very regional conflict Biden is desperate to avoid.”

In The New York Post, Mark Dubowitz and Behnam Ben Taleblu argued the attack “opens the door for Israel to hit back hard.”

“For Iran’s normally cautious supreme leader, this was a risky step. By crossing a red line of a direct attack against Israel from Iranian soil, he opened the door for Jerusalem to hit back hard. Potential targets include leadership and military assets inside Iran, oil refineries, which are the lifeblood of his regime, and his rapidly expanding nuclear weapons program,” Dubowitz and Taleblu wrote. “Now the Biden administration must do more by providing Israel with ballistic-missile-defense support as the two forces have practiced for decades. Washington also should provide all the military supplies the IDF needs to respond to this aggression and unwavering political support to see Israel through this critical time.”

“Israel is a formidable military power with extensive military assets. It has a multilayered air-defense system that can shoot down drones and cruise and ballistic missiles. But the IDF cannot only play defense. It will be under pressure to respond directly to Iranian aggression with its powerful air, naval and cyber capabilities. If not, this could normalize Iranian direct attacks against Israel,” Dubowitz and Taleblu said. “The Islamic Republic has been at war with Israel for decades. But Iran’s supreme leader now has crossed an Israeli red line that he may come to regret.”

In The New York Times, Bret Stephens wrote “for Israel, revenge should be a dish served cold.”

“It’s no secret that Israel and Iran have fought a shadow war for decades. The weekend attack is notable for two reasons: its directness and its ineffectuality,” Stephens said. “That should drive home a clear lesson to Iran’s leaders: They are no technological match for the Jewish state, especially when the United States is lending a hand. If Israel decides to respond to the attack with direct strikes on Iran — perhaps against oil installations, nuclear sites or military infrastructure — it isn’t likely to miss its targets.”

“As a matter of self-defense, Israel has every moral and legal right to respond in kind — and then some… But if right is one consideration, prudence is another,” Stephens wrote. “Iran’s attack, and the Biden administration’s laudable participation in Israel’s defense, is an opportunity for Benjamin Netanyahu to mend frayed ties in Washington and other Western capitals by showing restraint. Among other things, it can help move the House of Representatives finally to vote for the Ukraine-Israel military assistance package that the Senate approved in February. It also buys Israel time to destroy what remains of Hamas’s military forces in Gaza.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left hopes Israel’s successful defense against the attack will mark the end of the immediate hostilities.
  • Some argue Biden needs to play an active role in preventing an Israeli counterattack.
  • Others say Netanyahu can use this moment to pursue peace in the region.

In The Washington Post, David Ignatius said “a stunning victory with the shield creates an opening for Israel.”

“‘A good defense is the best offense’ is a truism in sports. Israel demonstrated that this precept might apply to modern warfare, as well. In neutering an Iranian barrage… Israel showed that in combat, the shield can be as powerful as the sword,” Ignatius wrote. “Israel has felt weak and embattled since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack, and increasingly isolated internationally as it tried to crush Hamas in its lairs underneath a desperate Palestinian civilian population. But the symbolic imagery reversed Saturday night.”

“While criticizing Netanyahu’s ‘mistakes’ on Gaza and pressing for de-escalation and humanitarian assistance, Biden has also made good on his pledge of ‘ironclad’ support for Israel’s defense in crisis,” Ignatius added. “Some Israelis will doubtless want to go harder on the offensive now that Iran’s rocket attack has been routed. But perhaps the show of force will create an opportunity for defusing a conflict that had, until this weekend, seemed damaging and demoralizing for Israel. After Saturday night’s fireworks, that momentum may have shifted.”

In The Daily Beast, David Rothkopf wrote the “U.S. must pull out all the stops to avoid a regional war.”

“Iran launched an attack on Israel Saturday that was apparently designed by Iran to be both dramatic and ineffective. It was dramatic, because in the long decades of enmity between the two countries, Iran had never directly launched an attack from Iran against targets in Israel. But it was also deliberately ineffective, employing tactics and utilizing weapons that were almost certain to be stopped by the sophisticated air defenses of Israel and its allies like the United States,” Rothkopf said. “In short, while Saturday’s onslaught may have been more messaging than attack, how it is received by the Israelis will determine how damaging it really becomes.

“That is why in the days ahead the focus of the Biden administration and the international community will be on persuading Israel not to enter an escalatory spiral,” Rothkopf wrote. “Netanyahu has long been an extreme Iran hawk, and Iran’s backing of Hamas isn’t the only reason its gotten more extreme… Expect the Biden team to work hard, along with its allies, to seek to stop further regional destabilization and potential escalation.”

In The Atlantic, Graeme Wood asked “what will Netanyahu do now?”

“After its drones and missiles were swatted down like flies, Iran is now suggesting that the two countries call it a tie. This tie is an astonishing Israeli win… it is an operational triumph, because it demonstrated that swarming attacks from a sophisticated adversary are not effective against Israel over long ranges,” Wood said. “The attack is also a gift to the hapless Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, whose incompetence was universally acknowledged just a day ago. Now, after botching the response to the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, Netanyahu’s government gathers credit for having repelled the most significant Iranian attack in Israel’s history.”

“But just because Netanyahu could decide to do nothing precipitous doesn’t mean that he will,” Wood wrote. “If Netanyahu behaves uncharacteristically, he could reach out to Israel’s Arab allies, and to its international critics, and try to reboot Gaza negotiations and bring home the Israeli hostages who are still alive… This reminder that Israel’s enemies are not limited to Hamas, and that Israel owes debts to its Arab friends who wish to see Gazans return to their homes (and who not-so-secretly also wish Israel could somehow eliminate Hamas without fuss once and for all), could catalyze a new Israeli reaction to the conflict.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I’m glad everyone is okay and I’m impressed by Israel’s defensive systems.
  • Cumulatively, my worst fears are continuing to unfold.
  • All anyone should be focused on is stopping this cycle of violence and preventing an all-out regional war. 

First and foremost, I'm glad virtually everyone is okay. One seven-year-old in critical condition is terrible, but any more Israeli injuries or deaths would compound the tragedy of the war we've been witnessing. Not only that, but they'd increase the likelihood of a self-sustaining round of increasingly violent attacks.

Second, I'm incredibly impressed by the Iron Dome system and the coordinated effort by Israel and its allies (most notably the U.S.) to neutralize the barrage. Of all the kinds of military technology I can think of, defensive systems like the Iron Dome are undoubtedly the most impressive. They harm no one; they solely protect. If systems like it proliferated across the globe they'd make attacks like the one Iran just levied a pointless endeavor. One can dream.

Now, of course, we wait with bated breath to see what Israel does. Iran has given them a simple off-ramp, articulating clearly they have no intention of conducting another attack so long as Israel lets things rest where they are. While Iran saying it doesn’t make it true, an end to these exchanges is in its own best interest, so in this case I don't doubt the sincerity of the message. I pray that the Israeli war cabinet "takes the win."

Remember: The attack was in direct response to Israel's strike in Syria, a major escalation itself. The facility Israel struck has a disputed diplomatic status, but consulates like it are typically off-limits under international law. Iran is also known for attacking similar places. So while it's true that such a strike is just an extension of the way Iran fights these little proxy battles, it's also true that Israel's initial strike could be a violation of international law. As I've argued before, we should hold Israel to an incredibly high standard, and I have no problem saying their strike in Syria crossed a line.

In that light, this was a fairly proportionate (and expected) response to Israel's strike in Syria, which upended relative peace in Damascus. And Israel should let things lie. The Middle East is already teetering on the edge, and the best way to stabilize it is for Israel to take this opportunity to hit pause.

As I've been expressing for months, one of my greatest concerns about the war in Gaza is how much potential it has to spread across the region. Israeli reporter Barak Ravid summed up the current state of affairs this way:

Things are not getting better, they are getting worse. But that isn’t all on Israel, either. Iran plays a major role in much of the violence, terrorism, and instability across the Middle East. The last thing I want to do is portray Iran as a victim here. They are not. If anything they are the main aggressor. They almost certainly helped organize the October 7 attacks and have been destabilizing this region for decades. It is more than disheartening to watch some Westerners cheer on Iran, a regime that brutalizes, oppresses, and starves its own people in the name of a global jihad. It is not only one of the most wealthy, powerful and organized enemies of Israel, but of the U.S. too. That it has "come out of the shadows" with a direct attack on Israel like this marks a major turning point, and one that should make the entire world nervous.

As I've said before, Israel's continued incursion into Gaza hasn't just created a humanitarian crisis for Gazans; it is making Israel and Jews across the globe less safe by causing so much disruption, isolation, and tension that Israel's enemies are acting out in force. Iran is not just going to sit on its hands when Israel bombs a consulate building in Syria and kills its top generals. No country would, nor can they be expected to. These kinds of acts are endangering Israelis, who knew a response was coming and spent Saturday night rushing into bomb shelters.

Lastly, we should remember that Israel didn't scuttle Iran's aerial response by itself. It also got help from its Arab partners like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. We’re not in 1967 anymore. The world has changed. And right now, Israel is not just in a position of military strength but also has a rare and valuable diplomatic opportunity. Everyone should be insisting that Israel use its position to look for an off-ramp from the road to a broader war, as the alternative would truly be the worst-case scenario.

Take the survey: What do you think should be the response to Iran’s strike on Israel? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: What are your thoughts regarding the U.S. government allotting billions of dollars in foreign assistance to other countries every year, when the U.S. National Debt is more than $34T and growing daily? I get that the U.S. uses foreign aid as a tool to further its interests abroad, to provide military support, and to promote democratic and humanitarian outcomes for the benefits of people worldwide. Shouldn't we be using a lot of that money here at home for infrastructure, education, health, energy, crime, homeless vets, etc, especially considering our increasing debt?

— Keith in PA 

Tangle: I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t start off by trying to put our foreign aid payments in perspective. The federal government obligated $70.4 billion in foreign aid in 2022, which is a lot of money but was only about 1% of total federal spending. For a long time, Israel received the most military funding from the U.S. of any country (until Russia attacked Ukraine), but in 2023 it got just $3.6 billion in military aid. As I like to remind readers any time we talk about the national debt or federal spending deficits, if you want to decrease spending then you have to focus on where we’re spending the most. That means healthcare, the military, and Social Security (which I’ll talk more about in a future reader question).

On that note, $659 billion of last year’s federal budget was spent on interest payments. That’s almost 10x the amount spent on foreign aid, and it’s more than was spent on Medicaid. Bringing deficit spending down will decrease the government’s loan obligations, which then lowers the growing amount of our federal budget that is allocated to paying off interest. That alone provides good reason to want to rein in our spending.

But I don’t think foreign aid is the best place to do so. First of all, you’re right: Foreign aid is “a tool to further its interests abroad, to provide military support, and to promote democratic and humanitarian outcomes for the benefits of people worldwide.” It’s also an investment in our national security. Put differently, a lot of U.S. foreign aid is money that’s spent addressing domestic issues. 

I know that’s counter-intuitive, but consider this: One of the most pressing issues in the country right now is the security of our southern border. We don’t have the infrastructure to handle migrant surges, we don’t have the personnel to prevent drug smuggling and human trafficking, and we don’t have the judges to speedily process asylum claims. I’m a person who is very interested in resolving those issues; but one of the most cost-effective tools we have in mitigating all of them is foreign aid. 

If we can help the governments of Nicaragua or Honduras or Venezuela or Haiti with their domestic issues, then that means fewer people will need to flee their homes. Nobody wants to become a refugee, and if we can put a relatively small portion of our federal budget towards preventing that, then it’s a win-win. It’s money that doesn’t have to go to increased border security or more asylum judges. And it’s money well spent.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

President Biden announced $6.4 billion in grants to Samsung to expand chip production in the Austin, Texas, area. The Biden administration has focused on a major investment in semiconductor chips used in everything from phones to cars in an effort to reduce reliance on manufacturing in Taiwan and China. Samsung already has a facility in Taylor, Texas, and will use the money to upgrade that facility and build another. The initiative is funded by the bipartisan CHIPS Act of 2022. Despite semiconductors being invented in America, only about 10% of them are manufactured here. The New York Times has the story (Paywall)


  • 580,000. The approximate number of active-duty personnel in the Iranian armed forces, according to a 2023 assessment by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • 1,200. The approximate range (in miles) of Iran’s ballistic missiles, enough to reach any target in the Middle East.
  • $100 million. The estimated funding that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad receive from the Iranian government each year, according to a 2020 U.S. State Department report.
  • 25 million. The approximate number of voters in last month's Iranian parliamentary elections, the lowest turnout in an Iranian election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 
  • 22%. The percentage of Iranians who say their preferred system of government is an Islamic republic (their current system), according to a 2022 poll from the Gamaan Institute.
  • 2%. The percentage of Americans who said they consider Iran to be the United States' greatest enemy in 2023, according to Gallup.
  • 9%. The percentage of Americans who said they consider Iran to be the United States' greatest enemy in 2024.

The extras.

Yesterday’s survey: 884 readers answered our survey on the latest economic news with 56% discouraged by both the jobs report and inflation. “People are working harder and longer to afford the same life for themselves and their families. We have uncontrolled deficit spending. The cost to borrow money is high. It’s not good,” one respondent said.

What do you think should be the response to Iran’s strike on Israel? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Using the River Mersey and the Bay of Liverpool, Liverpool City Region has entered phase 3 planning to build the largest tidal power plant on Earth. Harnessing the power of the tides in Liverpool Bay is an idea that dates back to 1924, and the government utility company Mersey Tidal Power believes that they can use the tides to power one million homes while also protecting the city from floodwaters, all without disturbing the local ecosystem. “I think that we have a unique opportunity to harness the power of our greatest natural assets — our river and our people — to deliver a cleaner, greener, more prosperous future for our children,” said Liverpool mayor Steve Rotherham. Good News Networks has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.