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.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan announced a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to address economic and racial inequalities in our local communities that have been intensified by the global pandemic.

Learn more.

Have you heard? The Republican president of the United States proposed a plan for "partial basic income" and his plan passed the House of Representatives. In 1969.

President's Nixon's plan, which he called "the most significant piece of social legislation in our nation's history," died in the Senate and never became law. It hasn't really made a comeback in the US. But the idea of "guaranteed basic income" is already back in the news in Europe, because income inequality — exacerbated by COVID-19 — will become increasingly hard for the world's political leaders to ignore.

More Show less

Poland's election set: After a grueling political fight between the far-right Law and Justice Party, which heads the government, and opposition parties on how and when to hold a presidential election during a global pandemic, Poland says the ballot will now go ahead on June 28. For the incumbent government, led by President Andrzej Duda, the election is a chance to further solidify its agenda of social conservatism and an alarming reworking of the country's democratic institutions. While April polls strongly favored Duda, the pandemic-induced economic crisis has dented his ratings in recent weeks, giving centrist candidates a slightly better chance to take the nation's top job. Indeed, in last year's election, the Law and Justice party won only a very shaky parliamentary majority and needs Duda to stay at the helm, not least in order to pass controversial judicial reforms that the EU has long-deemed as undemocratic.

More Show less

The coronavirus crisis has clobbered all European economies, but most have avoided a severe spike in unemployment. That's in part because of government programs that directly subsidize workers' wages while also incentivizing employers to keep workers on the payroll by reducing their hours. This approach has shielded much of Europe from the kind of unemployment calamity that's plaguing the United States, where the jobless rate has increased sixfold since January and is now more than double that of the Euro area. Here's a look at how European job markets have fared in the time of coronavirus.

As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the country, there have been more than 125 instances of journalists being shot with rubber bullets by police, arrested, or in some cases assaulted by protesters while covering the unrest.

Foreign news crews from Germany and Australia have been caught up in the crackdown. Australia's Prime Minister has even called for an investigation. Some of these journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire during surges of unrest, but video and photographic evidence reveals cases where police have deliberately targeted reporters doing their jobs.

More Show less