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Trump's decision on Syria has already turned into a foreign policy disaster

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Mourners attend a funeral for a Kurdish political leader, civilians and Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Derik on Oct. 13, 2019.
Mourners attend a funeral for a Kurdish political leader, civilians and Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Derik on Oct. 13, 2019.Delil Souleiman / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — It’s only a week old, but President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria to make way for Turkey’s military operation in the area is already a foreign policy disaster.

Hundreds of those connected to ISIS have reportedly escaped

“The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that close to 800 members of a camp holding the families of ISIS fighters had escaped after Turkish shelling,” per NBC News, which has been unable to independently verify the claim.

Turkey is using militias — with links to former members of al Qaeda and ISIS — to assault the Kurds in the area.

“[On Saturday], those forces themselves released a video some people might find disturbing, apparently executing a Kurdish man by the side of the road,” NBC’s Richard Engel reported on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Those same militias have advanced close to the withdrawing U.S. troops.

Engel added: “So the situation is not how it has been portrayed over the last several days as a conventional Turkish assault, but one that involves militias, one that now is bringing those militias right on the doorstep of U.S. forces.”

The American forces who have worked alongside with the Kurds feel the United States betrayed its allies.

“They trusted us and we broke that trust,” one Army officer who has worked alongside the Kurds told the New York Times. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.”

And now Syria’s Assad has come to the Kurds’ defense.

“New images this morning of US allies, the Kurds of Syria, celebrating the arrival of their old adversary – the Syrian army of President Bashar al Assad.” Engel reported on “TODAY” this morning. “They had no other choice.”

Trump has tweeted that sanctions for Turkey are coming, and that ISIS fighters who have escaped can be easily “recaptured” by Turkey and European countries.

But former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis said it’s a given that ISIS is back.

“I think Secretary of State Pompeo, the intelligence services, the foreign countries that are working with us have it about right, that ISIS is not defeated,” Mattis said on “Meet the Press.”

“[I]f we don't keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It's, it’s absolutely a given that they will come back.”

The latest in the impeachment inquiry

Fiona Hill set to testify: NBC’s Geoff Bennett and Alex Moe report that Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top adviser on Russia, is set to talk to congressional investigators behind closed doors beginning at 10:00 am ET.

As NBC noted last week, Hill “plans to tell Congress that Rudy Giuliani and E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine.”

Speaking of Sondland, the Washington Post said he’s expected to say he worked “at the direction of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to secure what he would call in another text message the ‘deliverable’ sought by Trump: a public statement from Ukraine that it would investigate corruption, including mentioning Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, by name.”

“In exchange for the statement, the president would grant Ukraine’s new president a coveted White House audience.”

“‘It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt one,’ the person familiar with Sondland’s testimony said.”


2020 Vision: Biden, Warren top early-state polls

On Sunday, CBS/YouGov released horserace numbers on the early nominating states.

Iowa: Joe Biden 22 percent, Elizabeth Warren 22 percent, Sanders 21 percent, Pete Buttigieg 14 percent, Kamala Harris 5 percent, Tom Steyer 3 percent.

New Hampshire: Warren 32 percent, Biden 24 percent, Sanders 17 percent, Buttigieg 7 percent, Andrew Yang 5 percent, Harris 4 percent, Steyer 4 percent.

South Carolina: Biden 43 percent, Warren 18 percent, Sanders 16 percent, Harris 7 percent, Buttigieg 4 percent, Cory Booker 3 percent.

On the campaign trail today

It’s a quiet day with most the top Democrats prepping for Tuesday’s debate in Ohio… Outside of that, Michael Bennet stumps in Iowa.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Pete Buttigieg previewed what could be a debate tactic come Tuesday night – other candidates are more “polarizing” than him. NBC’s Priscilla Thompson reports from Buttigieg’s in Iowa: “Buttigieg had a pointed message [yesterday] for some of his opponents who have a “more polarizing,” message and on how Democrats can win back Obama-Trump voters. “We got to make sure we speak to people who don't like the direction the country is headed in and maybe don't exactly completely share our values but if they can get on board with you and think you make good decisions that will be the difference between them, expressing their concern about Trump by voting Democrat this time, and then expressing it by simply staying home,” Buttigieg said.

While gaggling after the UFCW forum in Iowa, Joe Biden said that as president, he would make sure his family was not involved in any foreign businesses or foreign policy decisions (wink, wink Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner), he said, “No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in meetings as if they're a cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or foreign country.”

Talking policy with Benjy

Beto O’Rourke took the presidential debate once again into uncomfortable territory for many Democrats at Thursday’s LGBTQ issues forum by calling for an end to tax-exempt status for churches and religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observes.

From a policy perspective, this was a position that effectively did not exist in mainstream politics until O’Rourke brought it up. His subsequent comments were somewhat more vague, suggesting he only meant “organizations that discriminate when they provide public services,” an area where the law is more complicated.

But O’Rourke’s seeming embrace of the position that government should penalize churches, mosques, and synagogues for opposing gay marriage is a new headache for Democrats who now have to respond to the resulting backlash.

President Trump called O’Rourke a “whacko” at the conservative Values Voters Summit, but the candidate also faced harsh criticism from President Obama’s former faith outreach director Michael Wear and some commentators on the left, like Slate’s Jordan Weismann.

Data Download: And the number of the day is … 47 percent.

That’s the share of the vote that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards got in Saturday’s jungle primary in Louisiana — shy of the majority he needed to win reelection outright.

He’ll now face a Nov. 16 runoff against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, who finished second with 27 percent of the vote.

The results from Saturday’s jungle primary:

Edwards (D) 47 percent

Rispone (R) 27 percent

Abraham (R) 24 percent

Dantzler (D) 1 percent

Landry (R) 1 percent

Landrieu (I) 1 percent

That all sets up a very competitive runoff next month.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Don’t you … forget … about me

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when took a look at a Dem 2020 race that’s been overshadowed by impeachment and Syria.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

U.S. troops are withdrawing from northern Syria.

Joe Biden has a new ethics plan out that would include a constitutional amendment to publicly finance elections.

And Hunter Biden says he’ll step down from a Chinese-backed private equity firm — and that he’ll avoid any future work that could be seen as a conflict of interest if his father wins the presidency.

Elizabeth Warren is escalating her fight with Facebook.

TRUMP AGENDA: Sondland is set to sing

It looks like Gordon Sondland is about to blow a big hole in Trump’s defense about his dealings with Ukraine.

Jonathan Allen writes that Democrats are confident in Adam Schiff’s ability to take on Trump.

The fight over impeachment is deepening the rift between career diplomats and Trump’s appointed ambassadors.

2020: Warren’s noticeable lack of endorsements

Elizabeth Warren is surging — but endorsements for her aren’t.

POLITICO notes that Joe Biden is using Rudy Giuliani as a foil.

The AP asks if Ohio is actually in play.

Can Warren win over black voters in South Carolina?

Sanders is out with a new plan that would force the country’s largest corporations to share profits with workers.

The New York Times writes that Bernie Sanders has a lot to prove in tomorrow’s debate.

Dan McCready writes about his near-win in North Carolina in a New York Times op-ed.