What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

Exit John Bolton - Yesterday's news that President Donald Trump has fired national security advisor John Bolton offers yet more evidence that, however his critics will characterize his motives, Trump is eager to avoid fresh military conflicts and wants to try to make deals instead. The ultra-hawkish Bolton appears to have wanted a more aggressive approach to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and other places where US adversaries operate. Trump had evidently reached the limits of his trust in Bolton's judgment. But the remaining mystery is why, in the first place, a man elected on promises to end wars hired a man who wants nothing more than to start them? And, of course, who will want this job next?


Russian Spy Games – A CIA mole provided sensitive Kremlin intelligence, including photographs of documents seen by Vladimir Putin, for more than a decade, according to a bombshell CNN story. The source led the CIA to believe Putin had personally ordered Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. But in 2017, the CIA pulled him out of Russia – a decision that a source told CNN was partly motivated by the Trump administration's patchy handling of classified intelligence. The New York Times followed with other details, including concerns among some US intelligence officials that their most senior Russian asset may have been a double agent. There's plenty of fodder in this story for those on all sides of the Trump-Russia story – we're watching to see how Trump's critics, the president himself, and Vladimir Putin react now that the spy games have become public.

Turkey's Waning Hospitality – Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that unless the US sets up a safe-zone within Syria where he can send a million of the Syrian refugees currently living in his country, he will "open the gates" for them to head into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, by far the largest number of any country. But Ankara's hospitality is wearing thin. Since 2015, the EU has given Turkey $6.7 billion to deal with the influx of migrants, but Erdogan says this isn't enough now, as Turkey's deepening economic woes have fueled anti-Syrian sentiment among Turks. We're watching two things here: first, will Trump agree to Erdogan's ultimatum on setting up the safe zone? Second, if not, will the EU-Turkey deal hold up? Given the backlash against migrants across the EU, Brussels can ill-afford to see millions of fresh arrivals now.

What We're Ignoring:

Calls to abolish higher education – A Republican state senator from Tennessee received national attention after he called to abolish higher education during his weekly radio show. Kerry Roberts, who represents a district near Nashville, said the move would "cut off a liberal breeding ground." The lawmaker subsequently walked back his comments, suggesting they were hyperbole (judge for yourself – his education remarks start around 50 minutes in). We are ignoring this story, because we'd rather tune in to a serious debate about whether Americans would be better off spending time and money on vocational or technical education rather than on increasingly expensive four-year degrees.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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