This was originally published in the October 29 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
Blame the fog of war, the Pentagon’s secrecy or the President whose tall tales often can’t be trusted, but Washington is still puzzling over the fuzzy details of the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — and what comes next.
What are the remaining US troops in Syria actually doing now?
Officially, they are guarding oil fields. But Washington whispers suggest that the mission was devised to convince President Donald Trump to keep some troops within easy reach of ISIS targets. On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper stressed the need to avoid Middle Eastern entanglements – but also spoke of a “repositioning” of troops, rather than withdrawal.
Who are the Americans protecting the oil fields from?
The Pentagon says US forces will keep ISIS from enriching itself with oil revenues, and secure the fields for the Syrian Kurds instead. But Esper also raised the prospect of an alarming escalation when CNN’s Barbara Starr asked if securing Syria’s oil also meant keeping Syrian and Russian hands off the black gold. “The short answer is yes, it presently does,” he said.
Did Baghdadi really “whimper” before he died?
Trump mocked the last moments of America’s most wanted terrorist in graphic detail. But how did he know? It’s not clear that video feeds of the raid included such detail or audio. Gen. Mark Milley, who ought to know, said he didn’t “know the source of that” and wondered publicly if Trump had heard it from returning soldiers.
Why can’t Trump just pocket his win?
Few days go by without Trump indulging his Barack Obama obsession. Soon after the raid, he made the dubious claim that Baghdadi was a bigger target than Osama bin Laden, who died in a raid ordered by his predecessor. Trump later said that Obama should have got Baghdadi, too.
The current President can’t help himself – his political method is based on satisfying grudges and widening divisions. But his lack of magnanimity might be one reason he doesn’t get his due credit after victories like the Baghdadi raid.
“Isn’t it time for there to be a leader in this protest movement?”
Lebanon’s mass demonstrations show no signs of going away, to the consternation of the country’s sectarian leaders. “Isn’t it time for there to be a leader in this protest movement?” asked Hezbollah party head Hassan Nasrallah in a televised speech last week. But as CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi, Ben Wedeman and Ghazi Balkiz write from Beirut, activists see the movement’s shapelessness as “proof of its authenticity, as well as of the depths of people’s frustration” across social and religious divides.
‘Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison’
Addressing police chiefs in Chicago, Trump took aim at his host city after being snubbed by local police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who skipped the do. First the President praised Chicago’s police officers, then continued by criticizing the city as “embarrassing” to America. “All over the world they’re talking about Chicago,” he said. “Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison.”
‘I call it a dog’
Trump on Sunday announced that a furry member of the special forces team that helped entrap the ISIS leader had been wounded. “Our canine, I call it a dog, a beautiful dog – a talented dog – was injured and brought back,” he said.
On Monday, the military announced the dog had recovered and was back on duty. But Gen. Milley refused to divulge any more details about the four-legged operative, citing operation security. “The dog is still in theater,” he said.
All the same, Trump couldn’t resist tweeting out a declassified picture.
Anonymous sources are often the only way to find out what’s really going on in politics – which is one reason Washington is salivating over the release of the book by an anonymous author who purports to be a White House insider. But in the UK, political journalists are under fire for reporting anonymous briefings by government sources.
Critics say unnamed sources are misleading the British public, as Brexit drama turns into an election fever. They’ve sparked a debate that has raged for weeks, inspiring fiery columns and TV segments, with UK reporters retorting that the argument has edged into hysteria – and that it would be condescending to readers not to share information from senior sources.
Readers on both sides of the Atlantic learned the peril of blind quotes when claims by unnamed sources on weapons of mass destruction turned out to be exaggerated or untrue. But these days in Washington, anonymous leaks have also proven accurate, with later reporting confirming details of White House chaos and an unchained President on topics like Ukraine, Syria and the Russia investigation.
Yes, anonymity can be abused. But on the other hand, putting a name on a lie doesn’t make it any more true, as Trump’s own record of whoppers can tell you. – by CNN’s Hadas Gold
Massive fires are scorching tens of thousands of acres in southern California, and no amount of money or fame will protect the celebrity homeowners in their path – Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris and basketball star LeBron James are among the Californians in the evacuation zone. The Golden State is suffering from drought and rising temperatures – the annual burned area from wildfires has grown 500% since the early 1970s.
Number of the day: 2022
We’re not even close to the 2020 election yet. But one San Francisco man has already registered to run for California governor in 2022. Adriel Hampton doesn’t expect to win. But the activist is launching a campaign to call out Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians to run false ads – a practice that Democratic presidential candidates warn could reward Trump’s reign of deliberate error.