Ordinarily it would be a celebrated moment in Washington, D.C., and across the nation if a president declared victory in a foreign fight and said the troops would come home. But President Donald Trump's brief announcement to that effect regarding Syria on Wednesday prompted so many caveats and asterisks that the full set of facts behind it remained hazy.
"We have defeated ISIS in Syria," he crowed on Twitter, "my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency." Except, as Newsday's Laura Figueroa reports, the Pentagon's inspector general said only last month that between 20,000 and 30,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria. They operate in the desert region and mount guerrilla attacks.
Still, with Syrian forces and neighboring nations coalescing against it, the jihadist group has disintegrated. As it lost territory, its militants executed nearly 700 prisoners in two months in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added: "The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary."
Hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called it "an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump administration" and said he and colleagues were blindsided. Dovish Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he's “happy to see a president who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war."
No timeline for withdrawal was available. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said: "The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over," whatever that means.
One relevant note: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a withdrawal of his own from Syria nearly a year ago, but never followed through on it.
Some officials and experts fret that Iran, Russia, Turkey, Syrian President Basher Assad and the remnant of ISIS might be the real winners — with Kurds and Israelis, who share an interest is keeping Iran at bay, the losers.
Vote up or shut down
The partial-shutdown talk Trump launched last week to buttress his border-wall stance seemed to further dissipate Wednesday with a short-term funding proposal that would be good through Feb. 8, Newsday's Tom Brune reports. It does not include Trump's requested $5 billion for the wall.
With Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer approving of the measure, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he'd introduce it, so it will be up to the Republican-controlled House and Trump to decide its fate.
Trump's latest spew against law enforcement officials is aimed toward Albany.
This week his charitable foundation agreed to be dissolved under court-ordered supervision. Trump has attempted to discredit allegations that he misused its assets to settle business disputes and boost his run for the White House. The state attorney general seeks $2.8 million in restitution and a 10-year ban on Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump running charities.
So, as Newsday's Figueroa reports here, the president's Twitter attack spray was aimed to hit Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General Barbara Underwood and incoming AG Letitia James.
The president's Twitter storm added up to the usual: They're all dishonest, they're all against me — spiced up with some name-calling.
Rudy bobbles another one
Deflecting from the established fact that Trump was pushing for a Moscow tower project while he ran for president, his lawyer and TV surrogate Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Sunday: "It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it."
Giuliani got it wrong. Then he got it wrong that he got it wrong, telling the New York Daily News, "I don't think I said nobody signed it." Then Giuliani changed that to say yes, of course, Trump signed it, but that it didn't matter because it was nonbinding.
So it was important enough to mention that "no one signed it," but it didn't matter that it really was signed. Got it.
The October 2015 letter, dug up by CNN, was signed by Trump and by Andrey Rozov, owner of I.C. Expert Investment Co., the Russian firm that would have been responsible for developing the property.
What else is happening:
- U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Wednesday struck down most of a Trump policy dismissing asylum-seekers claiming to suffer domestic or gang violence.
- Questions linger as to why former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to FBI agents in the first place, the cause of his legal troubles.
- The Treasury Department rolled out new sanctions against Russians for alleged wrongdoing abroad.
- The Senate's approval of a criminal-justice reform bill, which Trump is expected to ultimately sign, marks a turnaround from the1990s when high crime prompted get-tough policies nationwide.