Newsletter: The week we all feared under Trump

President Trump addresses the nation from the White House on Jan. 8 after Iran fired missiles at bases used by U.S. forces in Iraq.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. Mayor Eric Garcetti has officially endorsed Joe Biden for president, continuing the streak of L.A. leaders picking the establishment candidate in contentious primaries (how’d that turn out last time?). Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

This was that week we all feared when Donald Trump became president: The commander in chief’s blundering nearly plunged the United States into another Mideast war, all because of a crisis that any other competent president almost certainly would have avoided. Now, with Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani dead after a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad and Tehran having saved face by lobbing missiles in retaliation at Iraqi bases used by American forces, we’re more or less where we were before the week began seemingly a lifetime ago.

Which is a really bad place to be. As the L.A. Times Editorial Board noted, in 2018 Trump needlessly pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran, recklessly souring a relationship between the two countries that was already plagued by violence and distrust. Add to that Trump’s impulsiveness, and you have a recipe for war.

How inevitable is war with Iran? Not very, says Aaron David Miller. The recent exchange of violence appears to set the two sides on course to a conflict, but remember that this president has been reluctant to retaliate for past Iranian aggression. “The best Americans can hope for in the current crisis is a return to the grinding competition that has marked the relationship between Iran and the U.S. during the Trump years,” Miller writes. L.A. Times


Destroying cultural heritage sites is a war crime, an obvious statement that bears repeating only because the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military rage-tweeted a threat against Iranian cultural sites. “A nation that willfully destroys another country’s heritage would be no better than the criminals who have destroyed irreplaceable sites in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in recent years,” writes Sara C. Bronin. L.A. Times

More on Iran: Suleimani is owed no eulogies, but his legacy is more complicated than it’s made out to be, says Paul Richter. Iran used the democracy in Iraq built by the U.S. to strike a devastating blow against us, writes Ben Connable. It’s obvious Trump didn’t take the enormously consequential step of killing Suleimani by carefully considering his options on Iran, says the editorial board. Jon Healey believes this is one of those moments when having a credible president would help.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Impeachment? It’s still happening, and there was a major bombshell that was drowned out by the drone strikes and missile bombardments in the Middle East: John Bolton, Trump’s tight-lipped former national security advisor, announced he would testify in the Senate if given a subpoena. The “if” in the statement isn’t a “when” because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given no indication he’s interested in finding any facts related to Trump’s impeachment, but Bolton may have made him an offer he can’t refuse. L.A. Times

Australia and California are similar when it comes to their fire-friendly climates, we’re told, so reading about the devastation across the Pacific ought to unnerve everyone, particularly those of us who’d like to keep living in California. A few troubling facts about Australia right now: This season, its fires have burned more acreage than what went up in California in 2018 and in the Amazon in 2019 combined. It’s been said that Australia’s fires are a warning to California on climate change; if that’s true, then we’ll lose to global warming here in the future as Australia is right now. The Atlantic

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other free newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at