Happy Thursday evening and welcome back to Axios World. We've got 1,592 worldly words (6 minutes) for your reading pleasure.
Trump and Erdogan at the White House. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Turkish offensive in northern Syria that began yesterday after President Trump withdrew U.S. special forces from the border has claimed its first casualties and sent an estimated 60,000 civilians fleeing for safety.
The big picture: Turkey’s air and ground campaign is targeting Kurdish fighters who are central to the U.S. campaign to defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS, but viewed by NATO ally Turkey as elements of a terror group, the PKK.
Driving the news: There is virtually no international support for Turkey’s incursion, with even President Trump now declaring it "a bad idea."
Trump warned today that he would “hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules," though both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have declined to say what those rules are.
Zoom out: Soner Cagaptay, an expert on U.S.-Turkey relations and author of the new book "Erdogan’s Empire," tells me Erdogan’s offensive will further strain a long-standing alliance that looks increasingly likely to rupture.
Flashback: The divide between the NATO allies, Cagaptay says, has grown across "16 years of war in 2 of Turkey’s neighbors — Iraq and Syria."
“Both picked as their proxy a sworn enemy of their ally."
The other side: While Turkey is polarized on most issues, Cagaptay says, a large majority supports Erdogan's objective of moving Kurdish fighters away from the border.
What to watch: As anger with Turkey grows in Washington over Syria and other issues, Erdogan continues to rely on his personal relationship with Trump.
The bottom line: "On a day-to-day basis, I wonder if one of these crises that are coming up will actually rupture the relationship."
A historic sight today in Tehran's Azadi stadium. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images
1. Iranian women were allowed to attend a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Tehran today for the first time since 1981, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh writes.
2. It was also a landmark day for Iraq's national soccer team, which beat Hong Kong 2-0 in its first competitive match on home soil in 8 years.
3. Speaking of Hong Kong ... the NBA has been struggling to save its lucrative relationship with China without making a mockery of its pro-free speech stance. Beijing was infuriated by a pro-Hong Kong tweet from the Houston Rockets' general manager.
"[F]reedom of speech has potentially had what could be a catastrophic impact on the NBA's bottom line. The league generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from China every year."— Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix on Axios' Pro Rata podcast
The bottom line, per Axios' Erica Pandey: "An NBA GM has done a better job of alerting the U.S. to the China threat than any politician."
Riot police, protesters and smoke in Quito. Photo: Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty
Violent protests continued in Ecuador today, 2 days after President Lenín Moreno fled the capital and moved government operations to a port city.
Driving the news: Moreno is standing by the policy that sparked the unrest — the termination of a popular but costly fuel subsidy.
What to watch: Only 2 Ecuadorian presidents have completed full 4-year terms over the past 27 years. Two others have been toppled by riots.
Karoui. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui/picture alliance via Getty
A Tunisian presidential contender who had campaigned from jail was released Wednesday ahead of Sunday's run-off.
Why it matters: Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring of 2011. But its progress looks fragile and the population is growing disillusioned. Some fear that if Karoui loses, he'll challenge the results on the basis of his arrest.
Go deeper: Preliminary results of Tunisia's parliamentary elections were announced Wednesday night. Ennahda, an Islamist party, finished first.
An author takes in his subject. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
1. John Bolton is writing a book about his time as Trump's national security adviser, Axios' Jonathan Swan scoops.
2. "Two Soviet-born donors to a pro-Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges stemming from their alleged efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one Ukrainian politician," WSJ reports.
3. "Michael Pillsbury, an informal White House adviser on China, said he received information about the business activities of Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing in the same week Donald Trump urged China to probe the son of Joe Biden," the FT's Demetri Sevastopulo reports.
4. "Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event on Thursday that it's 'absolutely not' appropriate for the president to solicit foreign election interference," Axios' Zach Basu writes.
Go deeper: I put together a cheat sheet on all the key players and dates in the Trump-Ukraine saga. I hope you find it useful.
From R-L: Power, Rice, Obama and Tom Donilon in 2013. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
The recent memoirs of three key members of Barack Obama's foreign policy team — Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Ben Rhodes — chronicle "both the decline of American power and the decline of American exceptionalism: the belief that the United States is immune to the tribalism and authoritarianism that plague other parts of the world," Peter Beinart writes in Foreign Affairs.
The big picture: The memoirs are tinged with disappointment, Beinart notes, as the "young liberals" learn that defending human rights overseas has heavy costs, and "state collapse can be as brutal as state repression."
Zoom out: "That Beijing figures so little in all three books is the clearest indication that they chronicle a different time. In retrospect, the entire post–Cold War era that framed the careers of Rice, Power, and Rhodes... may turn out to have been merely a parenthesis between superpower competitions."
D.C. readers: My colleague Margaret Talev will be interviewing Rice at an Axios event tomorrow morning. RSVP.
Playing in Bangkok's "airplane graveyard." Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty
"The woman was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that can happen. ... I won't say it ever happened to me, but it did. When you get used to driving on our system and then you're all of a sudden on the other system — it happens. ... It was a terrible accident."— Trump on the crash in the U.K. in which the wife of a U.S. diplomat, Anne Sacoolas, killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn. Sacoolas has claimed diplomatic immunity.
Have a wonderful weekend!