Red Lines (Again) and Beyond

US President Donald Trump has promised to respond to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on the town of Douma. His immediate challenge is to do so in a way that demonstrates US resolve to, well, respond, but which doesn’t risk opening up a more direct conflict with Russia or Iran, both of which now have troops and advisers embedded throughout the country.


But beyond the narrow question of if and how to respond to the chemical attack hangs the broader question of whether the US intends to stay in Syria and if so, under what pretext. Trump has signaled he wants out, though the Pentagon has evidently persuaded him to stay a while longer. Broadly speaking there are three possible objectives for staying:

To fight ISIS, in eastern Syria, where American forces have worked with Kurdish and Arab militias to all but eliminate the self-styled caliphate’s territorial reach. Leaving could allow ISIS to regroup, but as my pal Willis notes, what’s the harm in letting Iran and Russia deal with that problem if they want ownership over the postwar outcome?

To stop Russia and Iran from establishing Syria as a postwar client state. This is not a feasible objective given the relatively limited US presence. Russia, Iran, and Turkey — which are more involved — are already leading their own peace process without the US. Absent a significant increase in US troops, which the American public — including but not limited to Trump’s base — would never support, this isn’t a realistic goal.

To prevent humanitarian catastrophe and war crimes. Trump’s retaliation against Syria for chemical attacks certainly imposes some limited costs on the Assad regime, but are they enough to deter their future use? It was (exactly) a year ago that Trump hit Syria with 59 cruise missiles in response to a chemical attack. And yet the use of chemical weapons has continued, right through the Douma attack.

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.