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.

Earlier this year, two powerful cyclones struck the northern coast of Mozambique and were followed by months of torrential rain. Mozambique faced an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. "The coast road from Pemba airport to the city center and its harbor was totally destroyed," said Franco Picciani, operations manager at Eni Rovuma Basin. The damage brought the city's economy to a standstill.

Eni answered the call, providing its equipment and expertise. "We rebuilt the coast road in less than two months," Picciani said. "We work in the area. We have a logistics base here. It's home to us. When the area needed help, we didn't stop to think about it for a minute. It goes without saying that we should look after the community we work in."

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Latin America's longest-serving head of state is now out. Bolivia's fiery leftwing President Evo Morales resigned on Sunday, after weeks of increasingly violent protests over his apparent bid to rig last month's presidential elections.

Although he agreed under international pressure to hold a fresh ballot, he and his vice president were ousted by the military after a number of local police units sided with demonstrators.

His supporters say this is an illegal coup that undermines democracy. His opponents say Morales' attempt to rig the election was the real assault on democracy and that the army has merely stepped in to restore order so that elections can be held.

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The system of passports as we know it today dates from roughly a hundred years ago, when leading world powers were trying to figure out a way to regulate international travel in the messy aftermath of World War One. Ever since, these documents have been seen both as boarding passes to freedom and as levers for government control. But which of the world's passports open up the widest vistas of international travel? The Henley Passport Index has an answer. For 199 passports, it tallies up the number of countries that are accessible without obtaining a prior visa. Here's a heat map of which countries' passports are the most powerful right now.

What should we expect now that impeachment hearings go public?

Well, it's a huge week for Democrats, starting Wednesday. They'll take testimony from State Department officials saying that they believe there was a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine aid in return for an investigation of Joe Biden. They need to both shape public opinion and try to crack the GOP wall of support for Trump.

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Spain's far right surge — The far right Vox party made the biggest gains in Spain's general election Sunday, more than doubling their seat count to 52 (out of 350), to become the third largest party in parliament. For decades, the stigma of Francisco Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975) seemed to insulate Spain from the far-right populism that's swept Europe in recent years. But now Vox's ultra-nationalists will find it easier to shift the national dialogue on key issues like immigration and quashing the Catalan independence movement. The current Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had hoped that the election – the country's fourth in as many years – would break a political deadlock and strengthen his hand to form a new government. Though Sanchez's Socialists came out on top, they fell short of an absolute majority, losing three parliamentary seats since the last election in April.

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