Newsletter: Is there possibly, maybe, a Trump strategy on Syria?

Turkey in northern Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border on Oct. 15.
(Burak Kara / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

There were about 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria working with allied forces, mostly Kurds, before the end of last week. President Trump’s decision to withdraw them and clear the way for a Turkish military incursion — something the White House announced after the president had a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6 — precipitated what’s now being called a humanitarian crisis in northern Syria. It also prompted pundits to wonder where this all fits with the president’s impulsive foreign policy.

On that last point, L.A. Times news columnist Doyle McManus is among those who are saying this does not represent a shift in White House policy, but a fulfillment of what Trump has promised all along: He’ll get U.S. forces out of faraway lands if the material gain is not obvious, and he’ll upend long-standing alliances to do it. (In a letter to the editor, an expert on national security and U.S.-Russia relations warns this represents a return to the 1930s isolationism that preceded World War II.)


On the “Trump is just winging it” side is op-ed columnist Jonah Goldberg, who sees ample evidence of the president’s foreign policy incoherence. Trump greenlighted Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, then threatened to “destroy” that country’s economy in retaliation. Goldberg concludes: “These events aren’t the result of a serious policy of American withdrawal from ‘endless wars,’ they’re the inevitable and familiar byproduct of a president simply winging it.”

Either way, Trump comes off as “operatically incompetent,” as the L.A. Times Editorial Board put it.

The other Trump crisis is getting much worse, and quickly. The president’s acting chief of staff admitted there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine before absurdly “clarifying” his statement afterward. Trump’s ambassador to the European Union testified that the president’s personal lawyer made it clear that a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president was conditioned upon an investigation into purported corruption that would surely benefit Trump’s reelection campaign. We can’t listen to Trump’s chief of staff and just “get over” this, says the editorial board. L.A. Times

Trump wants you to hate this congressman. Rep. Adam B. Schiff is local (I almost forgot the obligatory “D-Burbank”), not that liberal, and a lover of “The Big Lebowski” (I can abide that). But the president and his allies want you to think he’s a dishonest and rabid partisan, a caricature that’s obscene to anyone who has tracked his career representing Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena in Congress since 2001. New York Times

A part of Los Angeles has burned three times in 11 years. Why are we still building there? It isn’t shocking when portions of the vast wildland-urban interface known as the northern San Fernando Valley experience wildfires; it also is not uncommon to see housing construction there, but it should be. The Saddleridge fire ought to be a wake-up call: This time, when the flames are finally out, don’t allow redevelopment. L.A. Times

Adapting to climate change with the lights off: The global warming future is happening right now in California. Millions of people went without power recently after the bankrupt investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric shut down large parts of its grid in Northern California to prevent damaged electrical lines from sparking a wildfire during a high-wind event. This gets at a disheartening reality: Without serious investment in infrastructure upgrades, adapting to climate change will pose grave risks to many people in California. The Atlantic


Trump’s defenders are suddenly, deeply concerned about nepotism. Really. Of course Hunter Biden has made a lucrative career out of being the son of Joe Biden, but to watch the Republicans’ paroxysms of outrage over the relatives of politicians doing work for which they lack any qualification is richly ironic, writes Robin Abcarian: “The burden of Middle East peace, immigration reform, not to mention the opioid crisis, has fallen on the slight shoulders of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had absolutely zero government or policy experience before being named a senior White House advisor.” L.A. Times

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