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Syrian Geometry

Syrian Geometry

As you are doubtless aware, over the weekend the US, France, and UK launched more than 100 cruise missiles at Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to allegations that the Assad regime had used these weapons just days earlier.


What did they achieve?

The US-led operation imposed a distinct cost on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program and sent a signal that the US is prepared to use force in certain circumstances to enforce the chemical weapons ban. Syria, after all, had signed it back in 2013.

But because of (very good) concerns about accidentally engaging Russians stationed alongside Syrian forces, the strikes stopped short of a broader barrage that would have shaken Assad’s grip on power or changed the strategic balance between his regime and the remaining rebel forces.

As a result, the longer-term deterrent effect on the Syrian regime (or others) is unclear. Assad may gamble on their use again if he figures the only thing he stands to lose again is his chemicals, rather than his grip on power. With Assad’s regime likely to set its sights on the remaining rebel strongholds in Idlib province before long, that calculus may soon matter.

More broadly, the strikes leave open the question of what, exactly, the Trump administration’s wider strategy is in Syria. The US lacks the troop presence or diplomatic sway to affect the broader course of the war or any peace that follows. The troops currently in Syria have been leading a fight against ISIS east of the Euphrates river, while Russia and Iran are still the bosses in the West.

Now, with ISIS largely routed, Trump has said he wants to pull out of Syria (see Willis’ fair assessment of that option here.) But both he and his national security advisor John Bolton also view Iran as public enemy number one in the Middle East. To bring the troops home without opening the way for ISIS or Iran is a tough circle to square. Cruise missiles are only so good at geometry.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

"The jury is out" European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde says when asked if things in Europe will get economically worse before they get better. "All I know is that it's going to be a journey, and probably a long journey." Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of a new GZERO World episode.

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