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Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Appearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, four star U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said it would not be "too strong of a statement" to say Bashar al-Assad has "won" the Syrian civil war with the help of Russian and Iranian forces, reports Reuters.

Why it matters: Assad's government has slaughtered thousands of civilians in an attempt to keep his hold on power. He now has the upper hand on the battlefield. When asked if it was still an element of the U.S. mission to remove Assad from power, Votel said, "I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS.”

  • On Russia: Votel warned that Russia is playing the role of both "arsonist and firefighter" in the Middle East. "Moscow continues to advocate for alternate diplomatic initiatives to Western-led political negotiations in Syria and Afghan-led peace processes in Afghanistan, attempting to thwart the [United Nations'] role and limit the advance of American influence."
  • On Iran: The Iran nuclear deal "addresses one of the principal threats that we deal with from Iran, so if it goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program...Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the agreement.
  • On Saudi Arabia and Yemen: Votel countered senators who want to end support for Saudi Arabia amid reports of civilian deaths in Yemen. He argued that by staying engaged, the U.S. can influence Riyadh toward limiting civilian casualties.

Go deeper

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

50 mins ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.