Syria's Final Battle

Syria's Final Battle

This may be the final major battle of Syria’s seven-year civil war. In defiance of warnings from the US and Turkish governments, Syrian government forces, with Russian military support, look poised to begin an assault on Idlib province, the last rebel-controlled area in the country. There are tens of thousands of rebel and jihadist fighters in Idlib. Three million civilians, half of them refugees from other regions, are trapped in harm’s way.


The presidents of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are meeting today in Iran to discuss whether large-scale bloodshed can be avoided and how best to manage the fallout. As part of an agreement reached with Russia and Iran, Turkey has placed a small number of its soldiers in 12 observation posts between rebels and government forces to try to block the assault. Assad, Russia, and Iran now want those troops removed.

Syria’s long, bloody conflict has reshaped Middle East alliances and upended European politics. Its final chapter is being monitored closely in capitals around the world. Here are the most directly interested parties:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to finish the fight so that he can begin to consolidate control of (what’s left of) his country. He’d like to avoid fighting if he can, but Al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups have vowed to fight to the end.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad’s benefactor, wants to solidify his country’s position as the preeminent outside power in Syria. Like Assad, Russia would prefer to avoid a civilian bloodbath that would further alienate Europe and make it more difficult to raise funds for reconstruction. Yet, there’s no sign yet that threatening moves can force a surrender of rebel and jihadist forces.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepts that longtime foe Assad will win the war, but he hopes to avoid another surge of desperate people across his country’s borders. Turkey already hosts more than three million Syrian refugees and is grappling with an economic crisis.

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani is offering his country as a mediator, but Iran’s longer-term concern centers on expanding military ties with Assad and avoiding any effort by Russia to minimize its influence with his government. “The terrorists must be purged,” said Iran’s foreign minister on Monday.

Germany’s Angela Merkel knows that Assad must control major cities if Syria is to be stabilized, but mindful of the ways in which refugees have transformed European politics, wants to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and begin to plan for Syria’s reconstruction.

The Trump administration has warned it will respond if Syria’s military uses banned weapons. “Don’t let this happen,” tweeted Trump. “All eyes on the actions of Assad, Russia, and Iran in Idlib. #NoChemicalWeapons,” tweeted US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. “Sergey Lavrov is defending Syrian and Russian assault on #Idlib. The Russians and Assad agreed not to permit this,” tweeted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The UN and relief organizations, fearful this fight will kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and create a humanitarian emergency, want Syrian and Russian forces to allow an evacuation corridor to move civilians to safer areas.

The bottom line: This seven-year civil war has already killed or displaced half the people living in Syria when fighting began, but there is good cause for concern that the final battle may prove the bloodiest of them all. The fallout will be felt for years to come.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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