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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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