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Red Lines (Again) and Beyond

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.

A decade ago, Bank of America established the Global Ambassadors Program with Vital Voices, and the results are phenomenal. We've provided 8,000 hours of training and mentoring, engaging 400 women from 85 countries and helping women around the world build their businesses.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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