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Felipe Dana / AP

The lead story of today's L.A. Times pulls together key threads on a vital debate that's getting too little attention ... "U.S. risks escalation in Mideast: As rout of Islamic State nears, Trump's lack of strategy may leave the door open for Iran and Russia," by Tracy Wilkinson, W.J. Hennigan and Mike Memoli:

  • What's happening now: "With American-backed ground forces poised to recapture Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria, Islamic State's de facto capitals, U.S. commanders are confident they soon will vanquish the militant group from its self-declared caliphate after three years of fighting."
  • What happened before: "Trump promised to announce in his first month in office a new strategy for defeating Islamic State. As president, he has promised for more than a month to hold a news conference to discuss the effort."
  • The problem: "He has yet to do either. But an intense debate is underway among the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House over the way forward."
  • The debate: "Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and national security advisor H.R. McMaster have signaled different priorities. The Pentagon argues that it only aims to defeat Islamic State and has no intention of being pulled into a conflict with Iran. Mattis ... has advocated 'de-confliction' zones that would essentially divvy up Syria and keep competing forces apart."
  • Why it matters ... Ilan Goldenberg, a former senior State Department official who now heads the Middle East program at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security: "What I worry about is the muddled mess scenario ... When you start shooting down planes and running into each other, it quickly goes up the escalation ladder."

Go deeper

Trump threatens to veto Defense spending bill over social media shield

Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday a threat to veto a must-pass end-of-year $740 billion bill defense-spending authorization bill unless Congress repeals a federal law that protects social media sites from legal liability.

Why it matters: Trump's attempt to get Congress to end the tech industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the latest escalation in his war on tech giants over what he and some other Republicans perceive as bias against conservatives.

The walls close in on Trump

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

With Bill Barr's "Et tu, Brute!" interview with AP, President Trump is watching the walls close in on his claims of fraud, hoaxes and conspiracies.

Why it matters: Trump and his legal team continue to claim election fraud. But the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia have certified their elections, a loyalist like Barr has weighed in, and lower-ranking officials have taken potshots.

Congress plots COVID pandemic-era office upgrades

oving crates outside Rep. Elise Stefanik's old office Tuesday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House plans to renovate members' suites even though staff are worried about an influx of contractors and D.C. is tightening restrictions on large gatherings, some staffers told Axios.

Why it matters: The Capitol has been closed to public tours since March. Work over the holiday season comes as U.S. coronavirus cases spike, Americans beg for more pandemic assistance and food lines grow.