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Vox Sentences: Reports of ISIS’s demise greatly exaggerated

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US troops are leaving Syria; some prisoners get to leave prison.

Trump is ending a war, everyone’s mad

Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
  • ISIS is done! It’s defeated. It’s over. They’re destroyed. So sayeth the president. And that means we’re leaving Syria. [Donald Trump / Twitter]
  • This, uh, came as news to many, including the State Department, which just yesterday sent out a spokesperson to tell reporters, “U.S. forces are present in the campaign to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We’ve made significant progress recently in the campaign ... but the job is not yet done.” [State Department / Robert Palladino]
  • The Pentagon estimates that there are still about 17,100 ISIS fighters in Syria, and about 30,000 total in Syria and Iraq. Hardly the Grand Armée, but not nothing! [Vox / Alex Ward]
  • But make no mistake: Even if Trump is wrong about ISIS’s presence on the ground, the tweet reflects real orders that Trump has given the military to withdraw 2,000 ground troops from Syria within 30 days. [NYT / Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Landler]
  • ”The decision must have stunned the President’s most senior advisers at both the Pentagon and the State Department,” the New Yorker’s Robin Wright writes. “It’s an about-face that leaves Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah as the major players in the geostrategic center of the Middle East.” [New Yorker / Robin Wright]
  • Here’s how Vox’s Alex Ward summarizes the situation: “In short, this is a clusterfuck.” [Vox / Alex Ward]
  • The overall reaction to the idea, from neoconservatives and liberal internationalists alike, has been overwhelmingly negative. Slate’s Fred Kaplan, for instance, a sharp critic of military adventurism, argues that the pullout could backfire, as “the presence of U.S. troops, advisers, pilots, and so forth exerts a somewhat stabilizing force — helping to repel ISIS, check Iran, contain Russia, support the Kurds, and shore up the regime in Iraq.” [Slate / Fred Kaplan]
  • But it does have some fans. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), an Air Force veteran and normally a fierce Trump critic, declared, “I repeatedly criticized both Administrations for not having a strategy and for taking war actions not authorized by Congress. I am pleased that this unauthorized and failed executive branch war in Syria will finally come to an end.” [Ted Lieu]

I shall be released (terms and conditions apply)

  • Last night, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the First Step Act, a major new law reforming sentencing for the federal prison system, which houses about 181,000 people at any given time (compared to 2.1 million in all prisons/jails in the US). The roll call was 87 to 12. [US Senate]
  • German Lopez explained the law’s main provisions. It makes sentencing reductions for crack cocaine passed in 2010 retroactive, eases mandatory minimum sentences and the federal “three strikes” rule going forward, and increases the number of “earned time credits” that prisoners can earn to get an early release. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • The Senate debate over the law was mostly an intra-GOP skirmish between hardliners, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), and the bill’s supporters, like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). [National Review / Mike Lee]
  • It’s important not to oversell this achievement. It’s not a “sweeping overhaul”; it’s a modest change to a small part of the carceral state, and mass incarceration is primarily a problem at the state and local level. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • It also has somewhat overshadowed another law Congress passed banning states from holding juveniles in adult prisons. [Marshall Project / Eli Hager]
  • Some sentencing reform groups, like JustLeadershipUSA, which advocates on behalf of formerly incarcerated people, even opposed the bill on the grounds that it did not do enough to fight structural racism and its “earned time credits” rely on racially biased algorithms. To be clear, though, this position is an outlier. [JustLeadershipUSA]
  • Criminal justice policy expert John Pfaff has a good takeaway: “Just a reminder that state legislatures — the places that hold 90% of the nation’s prisoners and far more of its jail detainees, probationers, etc. — have been passing bipartisan bills aimed at reducing punishment for almost a decade now. The Feds are not the country.” [John Pfaff]


  • What do you do when your neighbor complains about your festive holiday dragon display? You lean into the dragon theme, of course. [CityLab / Sarah Holder]
  • End-of-year lists are supposed to be about the best, but if you want to read food critics’ scorching reviews of worst restaurants — including a tasteless $98 Peking duck and “ceviche in name only” — Eater has the list for you. [Eater / Monica Burton]
  • Nevada has become the first state to have a majority-women legislature, another historic milestone for 2018. [Associated Press]
  • Washington, DC’s longstanding heroin problem has turned deadly in recent years with the rise of synthetic fentanyl. The city hasn’t been able to keep up. [Washington Post / Peter Jamison]


“The longest vacation I’ve ever taken was my honeymoon, and that was like six days. And that was devastating. It was a calculated risk.” [Fortnite superstar Tyler Blevins, a.k.a. Ninja, to NYT / Kevin Draper and Jonah Engel Bromwich]

Watch this: The culture war between doctors and midwives, explained

A deeper look at history explains why when it comes to midwife use, the US falls behind other affluent countries. [YouTube / Ranjani Chakraborty]

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