What we’re Watching: Trump's Warring Impulses on Iran

War With Iran Or...Not? — On Thursday, Iran shot down a US drone over the Persian Gulf. Tehran says the craft was in its airspace, while Trump says it was over international waters and that Iran made a "big mistake" (though he also said he thought it was not "intentional"). This is the latest provocation in a tense situation between the US and Iran, and Trump seems to have competing impulses here. On the one hand, he needs to appear tough on Iran and has hinted that there will be a response. But on the other, as he stressed to the press on Thursday, he campaigned in 2016 on getting the US out of "endless" foreign military entanglements. We are watching to see not only how he squares that circle in response to the drone hit, but how he balances these impulses more broadly as he seeks re-election. In fact, reports emerged this morning that Trump had abruptly called off a pre-dawn plan to hit Iranian missile and radar sites. It's unclear if this was due to a change of heart or a logistical complication. But that giant thudding sound you hear? It's National Security Adviser John Bolton, who's been spoiling for an Iran strike for years, banging his head and mustache against the wall. So close!

Putin's Puffed-up Poll Numbers — Earlier this month, Kremlin-backed polling agency VTsIOM asked Russians which politicians they trusted. Putin scored just over 30%. The Kremlin wasn't happy about it and just five days later, VTsIOM altered the question to ask whether respondents trusted Putin or not — his new score was 72.3%. Neat trick! But Putin's broader approval ratings, as measured by independent pollster Levada, have fallen sharply since his re-election for a fourth term, and especially after the government introduced a pension reform plan that sparked protests across the country. Putin tried to reassure his people yesterday during his annual live call-in show, but we're watching to see if the trend continues and what Putin, now nearing 20 years in power, can do about it.

What We're Ignoring

Nigeria's Cash-Quaffing Wildlife — Somebody owes the gorillas of Nigeria's Kano state a serious apology. Some of the gate fees recently went missing from the Kano Zoo and local media reported that the money — 6.8 million naira or about $22,000 — had been eaten by a hungry gorilla. Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano state governor, pointed out that the zoo has no gorilla and has reported the matter to local anticorruption authorities. The news comes just weeks after a woman in Benue state claimed that $100,000 trusted to her care had been eaten by a snake. We are ignoring these incidents because given the level of local corruption, cash is still much more likely to disappear into the pockets of real officials than into the mouths of phantom animals.

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Are we seeing the creation of a parallel universe for US and Chinese tech industries?

I think the answer is yes. In the past, US has dominated the world in technologies from P.C. operating systems, semiconductors, to servers, and even Internet. But ever since the rise of mobile technologies, China has really leveraged the large market with a huge amount of data and now is beginning to innovate and build great mobile apps on which there's a large amount of data being collected.

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It's been two months since President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a bloody Turkish offensive in that region. (See our earlier coverage here.) What's happened since? A guide for the puzzled:

No "end date" for US troops in Syria – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that the United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria. Back in October, President Trump pledged to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed there. Since then, some American troops have left Syria altogether, while others were redeployed to defend nearby oil fields from ISIS, as well as from Syrian government troops and Russia. Now, there are roughly 600 American troops dispersed around Syria, and the remainder have been deployed in Iraq to stave off a potential ISIS resurgence. It's not clear if any troops have returned to the US. When asked about the chaotic comings and goings of US troops in Syria in recent months, the commander of US Central Command said frankly: there's no "end date" for American troops stationed there.

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Turkey's government has captured many thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its operations in northern Syria. Many of these prisoners have already been deported to some of the more than 100 countries they come from, and Ankara says it intends to send more. There are also more than 10,000 women and children – family members of ISIS fighters – still living in camps inside Syria.

These facts create a dilemma for the governments of countries where the ISIS detainees are still citizens: Should these terrorist fighters and their families be allowed to return, in many cases to face trial back home? Or should countries refuse to allow them back?

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