Dec 31, 2019

Axios PM

Happy New Year's Eve 🎉: Today's PM — edited by Justin Green — is 588 words, a 2.5 minute read.

Situational awareness: Huawei claimed $122 billion in 2019 revenue, setting a new record for the company. Go deeper.

1 big thing: Trump New Year's crisis

Photos: Getty Images

The storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has launched one of the biggest foreign policy crises of the Trump presidency.

  • Outside the embassy, "thousands of protesters and militia fighters [were] chanting 'Death to America,' throwing rocks, covering the walls with graffiti and demanding that the United States withdraw" from Iraq, the N.Y. Times reports. "[M]any were members of Kataib Hezbollah," which is backed by Iran.
  • 120 Marines were rushed to Baghdad today, the most since ISIS was at its peak.
  • Trump tweeted: "To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!"

Why it matters: President Trump may feel compelled to do something because the world’s cameras are trained on scenes of American weakness, Axios' Jonathan Swan emails.

  • Trump has privately talked about the weakness that he believes President Carter showed in response to the Iranian hostage crisis.
  • On the other hand, Trump has, until his recent retaliatory air strikes, been reluctant to fight a proxy war against Iran inside Iraq.
  • When Iran shot down a U.S. drone earlier this year, Trump was prepared to strike several Iranian targets, but at the last minute his more dovish instincts kicked in. It was only when Iranian proxies killed a U.S. contractor recently that Trump felt he had no choice but to strike back.

Between the lines: Unlike most of his national security team, Trump sees very little value in an American presence in Iraq — full stop.

  • Some of his more dovish outside advisers have warned him that an escalating conflict with Iranian proxies could quickly blow out into a dangerous new war.
  • The first theater could be Iraq, over which Iran wields extraordinary power. Iranian militias are well positioned to attack the roughly 5,000 U.S. military personnel still inside Iraq.
  • The Iraqi security forces have shown themselves to be incompetent and cannot be relied upon to protect American troops in Iraq.

The big picture: If Trump strikes back hard against Iran, he may get a new Middle East war he never wanted. If he does nothing, he may show the Carter-esque weakness he has long derided.

  • But there's another possibility that cannot be entirely dismissed. In an "Axios on HBO" interview two months ago in Baghdad, Iraqi President Barham Salih admitted to Swan this question was on his mind: what if Trump made a flip decision and totally withdrew American forces from Iraq?
  • Swan asked Salih if he was prepared to wake up one day and read a tweet from Trump saying he was pulling out of Iraq. Salih said he of course had to prepare for that scenario.

The bottom line: Trump has long wanted out of Iraq and believes the American presence in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster that was the worst mistake in U.S. history.

  • He said America should have taken Iraq’s oil — which would be illegal — and gotten the hell out.
Bonus: Pic du jour

Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Pro-democracy supporters hold banners and make gestures at a NYE countdown party in Hong Kong, China.

2. What you missed
  1. Trump will sign the "phase one" trade deal with China in a ceremony at the White House on Jan. 15. Go deeper.
  2. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski won't run for Senate next year. Go deeper.
  3. The Army has banned its soldiers from using TikTok on government-owned phones. Go deeper.
  4. Sen. Susan Collins called it "inappropriate" for her colleagues to "prejudge the evidence" in the impeachment trial. Go deeper.
  5. The rise of dual-career couples has contributed to lower mobility rates between cities and has made it harder to recruit workers to smaller job markets. Go deeper.
3. 1 fun thing

Server Danielle Franzoni — who was living in a homeless shelter a year ago — received a $2,020 tip on a $23 meal on Sunday, the AP reports.

  • The credit card receipt said “Happy New Year. 2020 Tip Challenge.”

Franzoni later went to a restaurant and left a $20.20 tip.

  • “That was my pay-it-forward,” she said, smiling. “I couldn’t do the other one.”