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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

55 mins ago - Health

Vaccine shipment companies targeted by cyberattacks, IBM says

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A global phishing campaign has been trying to gain information from organizations working to ship coronavirus vaccines since September, IBM's cybersecurity arm said on Thursday.

Why it matters: Successfully distributing a COVID vaccine will already be challenging for the U.S. and other wealthy countries, especially to rural areas with less resources — while poorer countries are expected to have delayed access.

Fauci to meet with Biden transition for first time

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The government's top infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci will stay on at the National Institutes of Health and plans to meet virtually with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team for the first time Thursday to discuss the coronavirus response, he told CBS News.

Why it matters: Fauci, widely viewed as one of the country's most trusted voices on the coronavirus, said it will be the first "substantive" conversation between he and Biden's team. He said he has not yet spoken with Biden directly, but has connected several times with incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Updated 4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Our make-believe economy is here to stay

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Reserve and global central banks are remaking the world's economy in an effort to save it, but have created something of a monster.

Why it matters: The Fed-driven economy relies on the creation of trillions of dollars — literally out of thin air — that are used to purchase bonds and push money into a pandemic-ravaged economy that has long been dependent on free cash and is only growing more addicted.