Oct 14, 2019

White House has "hell week," chaos ensues in Syria.

White House has "hell week," chaos ensues in Syria.

Plus, another police shooting in Texas.

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

The chaos in Syria, a question about Trump’s Vice President, and another police shooting rocking Texas. It occurs to me that a visual understanding of where the conflict in Syria is happening is crucial, so I wanted to provide the map below. The northeastern part of Syria, roughly circled in red, is where many of the Turkish military operations are happening right now.

Big congrats.

To my cousin Will and his new wife Peyton, who were married in Taos, New Mexico this weekend. The union capped off an excellent wedding season with a beautiful golden hour ceremony in the shadows of New Mexico’s Lobo Peak and Flag Mountain. The groomsmen, all from West Texas but me, knew how to prepare for a wedding.

What D.C. is talking about.

Syria. Things are getting (more) complicated. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 1,000 U.S. soldiers from northern Syria on Saturday. The decision to remove U.S. troops came after the situation in northern Syria devolved into chaos over the weekend, and U.S. officials began fearing for the safety of troops in the area. Reminder: Turkish forces have escalated their incursion into the region and are trying to take over territory that is currently controlled by the Kurds. The Syrian Kurds are a semi-autonomous ethnic group that helped U.S. forces push out ISIS from northern Syria over the last few years. The presence of U.S. soldiers was keeping those Kurds safe from Turkey. Turkey views the Kurds, who have militia groups along the border in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, as a threat. Despite their alliance with the U.S., many of the Kurdish militias are designated terrorist organizations. Those militias and Turkey have been fighting for decades. Previously, Turkey wouldn’t risk attacking Kurds in Syria for fear of U.S. retaliation. That changed last week when Trump announced a deal with Turkey that he would be removing between 50 and 100 U.S. soldiers from northern Syria. The announcement left many people feeling like the U.S. had just betrayed the Kurds, clearing the path for Turkey to come in and wipe out the very people we just asked to fight our war against ISIS for us. Turkish forces didn’t hesitate, quickly leveling the region with airstrikes before sending in troops on the ground.

Now, an entire re-ordering of alliances appears to be taking place. With the U.S. forces in retreat, the Kurds in northern Syria — who for years have also been in conflict with the Russia and Iran-backed Syrian government — turned to the Assad regime for help. They signed a deal that will bring Syrian government forces to the northern part of the country for the first time in years in an effort to stave off the Turkish forces. As that new alliance prepares to come north, Turkish forces were taking over highways that U.S. soldiers wanted to use to get out of Syria. At the same time, conflicting accounts of what was happening in prisons across northern Syria began to spread like wildfire. Several prisons housing ISIS militants and ISIS families are reportedly unguarded, leaving hundreds of ISIS prisoners on the loose. One U.S. official told the New York Times the situation was a “sh*tstorm” and others have said high-profile extremists are escaping from the prisons in Syria that had been guarded by the Kurds and U.S. forces.

There are lots of complex alliances and small groups working in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. We’ll try to cover them this week. But what you need to know right now is that those alliances are shifting as the U.S. withdrawals, and a lot of chaos is taking place on the ground. You can read more from the NYT here.

What Republicans are saying.

President Trump isn’t making any new friends. The decision to abandon the Kurds was decried by most of the Republican establishment, and removing U.S. forces from Syria altogether is unlikely to draw anything but scorn. Trump’s one ally in the U.S. Senate appears to be Republican Rand Paul, who is consistently praising Trump’s decision. POTUS is his best messenger, but even he is sending out muddled signals. Just as he praises the plan to stop endless wars, he’s apparently recognizing the chaos in the region and now threatening to punish Turkey for doing exactly what it said it would when he struck a deal to move U.S. soldiers out of the region. He tweeted Sunday morning that he’s considering “imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey,” which have been proposed by Republicans in the Senate who were upset over his decision to leave the Kurds behind. The sanctions are Republicans’ way of trying to slow down the Turkish forces.

But Trump’s newfound support for a sanctions bill could just as well be tied the reality of what’s about to happen: Republicans are going to pass a veto-proof bill in Congress to punish Turkey. In many ways, the bipartisan bill is a total rebuke of Trump’s decision, so he could be “warming up to it” to save face politically, knowing he couldn’t even veto the bill if he wanted. All this is happening as polls show increasing support for impeachment, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is getting tied up in a corruption scandal and many Republicans felt shocked by the move to get U.S. forces out of Syria. It’s a delicate time for the party.

What Democrats are saying.

It’s everything that’s wrong with Trump: impulsive, shortsighted, ill-informed. Democrats are hammering Trump and his “enablers” for putting up with him for so long, and now making it clear his foreign policy is turning into a disaster. Not only are we leaving our allies to die, which will inevitably burn our trust with other nations globally, but we are also undoing all the work that’s been done to contain and combat ISIS. Perhaps the most frightening part of the scene in northern Syria is the sheer number of extremists who were imprisoned there, and the prospect of a disorganized and ill-equipped Turkish military to contain and control those prisons. Already, reports on the ground indicate that hundreds of ISIS fighters have escaped from prison amidst the chaos of Turkey’s invasion. At one camp, where families of ISIS fighters were being housed, hundreds of women reportedly burned their tents, destroyed fences and simply left. “Two American officials said the United States had failed to transfer five dozen “high value” Islamic State detainees out of the country,” The New York Times reported.

Trump has found favor with some on the left, who support the idea of getting U.S. troops out of the Middle East. Those liberals, who are a bit more fringe (for now), have taken the stance that the U.S. military breeds extremism by having an overwhelming and unwanted presence in places like Syria. By removing the forces now, chaos may ensue, but in 15 or 20 years there will be a new generation of Syrians who didn’t grow up hating the U.S. military.

My take.

I’ve said this before in Tangle and I’ll say it again: in general, I’m skeptical of U.S. military intervention overseas. That’s not to say the U.S. military doesn’t do a great deal of good in some places — it does. But growing up in the post-9/11 era, watching us invade Iraq on trumped-up charges of WMDs, and now seeing the carnage in areas like Syria and Iraq that we’ve been responsible for… it makes you skeptical. All that is to say, I’m sympathetic to Trump’s instinct here that we need to stop the endless wars and bring U.S. troops home from several places overseas. I’m also sympathetic to some folks on the far-left, who I think make fair points about the negative effect U.S. military presence has on our national security in some countries. There’s no doubt that globally, and in the Middle East especially, there are millions of people who view our military negatively after being the victims of invasions, drone strikes, etc. over the last twenty years.

And yet, few situations were as low-cost and under control as what was happening in northern Syria. U.S. troops weren’t dying there. ISIS was actually being beaten back and run over. Things in Syria are far from perfect (the list of atrocities happening there and in the region could fill an entire newsletter), but there was some legitimate stability on the northern Syria/southern Turkey border, all at a fairly low cost to our soldiers.

All of that is gone now, and it’s tough to understand why. We still don’t really know why Trump made this deal and moved out of the way, aside from his purported belief he was helping stop endless war. Now he looks like he’s backtracking as he halfheartedly throws support behind sanctions and claims that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assured him things would be above board during this military operation (newsflash: things are already getting ugly). This all comes after a mess Barack Obama certainly helped make by sitting on his hands in moments when bolder alliances could have been made. It’s a frustrating and depressing thing to watch a situation like this devolve in real-time, and that frustration and depression is only compounded by the fact that the sentiment for less American intervention is something most Americans support. Unfortunately, this troop removal is just going to make us, and our allies across the Middle East and Europe, less safe. Along the way, hundreds if not thousands of innocents could lose their lives.


Axios did a great round-up of three things Trump did over the weekend to try to keep Republicans in his corner. It’s also a good snapshot of some news you missed over the weekend. Via Axios:

  1. A tactical truce with China that pauses the trade war, calms the markets, forestalls planned tariff hikes, and clears the way for Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
  2. A tweet that he is likely to support sanctions against Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria, which has led to the slaughter of America's Kurdish allies and the escape of ISIS prisoners.
  3. A deployment of an additional 1,800 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to discourage Iranian aggression.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about answering reader questions from all over the country. Write in with a question by simply responding to this email!

Q: What are the odds of Trump retiring Pence & inviting Nikky Haley in as his running mate? All the disillusioned females who aren’t staunch feminists will leave the Dems and vote for the worse of the lesser evils even or because of a female Vice President. The Indian population will rally around her like a magnet. Am I dreaming of a perfect union (in an imperfect union)?

- Terry, Austin, TX.

Tangle: There have been a lot of rumors about Trump looking for a new Vice President in 2020, but I sincerely doubt it’d happen. There are a few reasons for this: 1) Trump values loyalty above all else, and nobody has been more loyal than Pence. In three years as his sidekick, Pence has resisted the urge to ever utter a skeptical word about Trump, even at times when the president has run contrary to Pence’s most strongly held (or outwardly portrayed) beliefs. 2) Trump may well need suburban women to win in 2020, but he doesn’t have a prayer without Evangelical Christians. Pence is his ticket to the religious right, and shedding him for Haley would be a very risky move. 3) Haley didn’t last in the administration as the U.N. ambassador, so it’s tough to imagine she’d be a legitimate contender for Vice President, even if POTUS was looking.

All that being said, I think you’re right that if Trump were starting from scratch, someone like Haley would be a fantastic choice. I’m not aware of any data to support the idea that she’d pull over moderate suburban Democrats, but based on my political instinct alone I think she’d be a formidable Vice President. Haley is an unabashed conservative, but she’s also separated herself from some of the ugliness of Trump’s candidacy and presidency. She’s well-versed on foreign policy, very capable and one of the few hires Trump made as president that wasn’t decried across the board. And yes, as an Indian-American, I think there’s a good chance she’d speak about her experience as a woman of color and rally support in certain voting blocs Trump has trouble connecting with. But still: the idea of Trump abandoning Pence, unless Pence publicly disavowed or criticized the president, seems unthinkable to me right now.

A story that matters.

Early Saturday morning, a Forth Worth police officer fatally shot a black woman inside her home after being called to the house because the doors were open. The woman was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. Body camera footage of the incident shows the officers poking around the outside of the house with flashlights before one officer sees someone in the window. With his gun drawn, he yells “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” The officer then fires a single shot without identifying himself as a cop. James Smith, the 62-year-old neighbor who called the police, says he used a non-emergency number and was just worried about his neighbor because the doors were open, which he found unusual. Police released photographs of a gun inside the house, though they haven’t said whether or not the woman, Atatiana Jefferson, was holding it or not. All this comes just weeks after Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer, was charged in the murder of Botham Jean, an unarmed black man she shot and killed inside his own home. Read more here.


  • 20 days. That’s how long its been since Nancy Pelosi formally announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
  • $50 billion. That’s the price tag on goods from farmers Trump says China will buy as part of a new deal to alleviate the ongoing trade war.
  • 23. That’s how many years Fox News host Shep Smith worked at the network before stepping down on Friday in a surprise on-air announcement. Smith’s fame has grown as a rare Trump-critic at the right-wing network where he’s drawn the ire of Trump and his supporters.
  • How about this graph:

Have a nice day.

Plastic bag use in England’s largest supermarkets has fallen by 90 percent since the country instituted an extra charge on single-use bags. In 2014, 7.5 billion plastic bags were sold per year. Now, that number is down to 1.1 billion. It’s still a massive plastic output but proves that “taxing” plastic bag use is an effective way to push people into more environmentally friendly habits. Platic is currently polluting the ocean and landfills at a rate environmentalists say is not sustainable. You can read more about the success of the program here.

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