Turkish Tough Talk

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was overjoyed about Donald Trump's decision to remove US troops from Syria. Until now, the main thing preventing Erdogan from crushing Syrian Kurds just across the border was the protection of US forces who've been fighting alongside them.


So it's little surprise then that US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who just days earlier committed to slow-roll the president's withdrawal plan, was greeted less than warmly upon arriving in Turkey yesterday. Erdogan calledBolton's precondition that America's Kurdish allies in Syria be protected "unacceptable" and was so put off that he refused to meet with him altogether.

What's got the Turkish president so riled? Erdogan has long viewed Kurdish militias operating in northern Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a violent Kurdish nationalist group within Turkey which Ankara considers a terrorist organization. As it happens, the EU and US agree on that.

But there's a big split between Washington and Ankara over the Kurdish militia across the border in northern Syria, known as the People's Protection Unites (or YPG). Turkey considers them an offshoot of the PKK that ought to be destroyed before it can set up a truly autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Syria.

The US, meanwhile, views the YPG as a valuable ally in the fight against ISIS and does not consider it a terrorist organization, which infuriates Turkey.

With the US withdrawal, Erdogan saw an opportunity to send Turkish troops and tanks into northern Syria, crush the Kurds, and declare "Mission Accomplished" all before crucial local Turkish elections in March. Sinking in the polls and with Turkey's economy in tatters, he could certainly use the political boost. But with the Trump administration suddenly attaching conditions to any US withdrawal from Turkey, that golden opportunity is fading.

Yesterday Erdogan reiterated his intention to move forward with an incursion, but doing so would risk significant political, and possibly even military, blowback from the US, to say nothing of a potential clash between US and Turkish troops.

The bottom line: The domestic consequences of Trump's hasty decision to bring home US troops from Syria were apparent almost immediately when Defense Secretary Mattis resigned over the issue. But now we are starting to see the thornier regional and US foreign policy implications as well.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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