Apr 9, 2018

Trump's scenarios for Syria

Syrian kids are treated after Saturday night's alleged chemical attack. Photo: White Helmets / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Today is the first day on the job for John Bolton, President Trump's third national security adviser, and the hawkish former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. will be instantly thrown into one of the administration's most consequential decisions.

What's at stake: CFR President Richard Haass tells me that after the chemical attack in Syria and Trump's quick, tough rhetoric on Twitter: "Doing nothing now would be a moral and strategic fiasco."

Haass said he sees three options for the White House:

  1. Do something punitive and limited, like the missile strike a year ago, sending a message but not really changing anything.
  2. Do something punitive and big (like taking out part or much of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's air force) that would send a serious message and hurt the regime, but risks a Russian response — and might appear to get the U.S. involved in a difficult and risky, open-ended anti-regime effort.
  3. Drop his aim of getting out of Syria, and commit to a modest, open-ended presence focused on preventing ISIS from reestablishing itself, and giving the U.S. a seat at the table.

Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer says Trump has "a pretty clear move" if the U.S. feels confident the chemical attack came at the hands of Assad:

  • Order attacks on Syria that are more expansive than the “empty airstrip” strikes last April.
  • The smart move, especially since the U.S. will have allies at the U.N. Security Council, will be to make it a coalition. It wouldn’t be hard to get France to lead along with the U.S.
  • The U.S. could unilaterally attack any Syrian bases that launched chemical attacks. Add the United Kingdom, and that looks like a smart move for Trump. The challenge: All of Trump’s instincts are unilateral. 

Bremmer says the drama in the story is Russia:

  • Putin’s not going to sit idly by as the U.S. expands attacks against Assad — though as long as Russians on the ground aren’t directly threatened (the Kremlin’s stated “red line”), he's not likely to take direct action to retaliate. 
  • As for Trump going after Putin on Twitter, after the oligarch sanctions last week, Bremmer says: "[W]e can all definitively agree the bromance is over."

Be smart, from Axios' Jonathan Swan: Trump has been impatient to get out of Syria for months, and thinks it’s best to let others take care of the mess (reminiscent of his early discussions on Afghanistan).

  • But he reacts to the photos of chemical attacks — and of dead children, in particular — as he did last year when he authorized strikes on Syria over Bannonites’ objections.  

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: New global case numbers surpass China's

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. As Denmark and Estonia reported their first cases Thursday, Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia — which has 23 confirmed infections — told a news conference, "The risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 49 mins ago - Health

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know so far

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee Molson Coors on Wednesday, including the 51-year-old gunman, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at an evening press conference with local police.

Details: All of the victims worked at the brewery complex, as did the shooter who died of "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police confirmed in a statement late Wednesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

WHO official leads criticism of Trump's coronavirus response

President Trump with members of the new coronavirus task force, including Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, special advisor to the director general of the World Health Organization, told MSNBC Wednesday he found "most" of what President Trump said at his briefing on the novel coronavirus "incoherent."

The big picture: As the number of confirmed cases reaches 60 in the U.S., the top health professional — who was a health policy adviser in the Obama administration — is among several leading figures, in particular, Democrats, to criticize the president for his response to the outbreak.

Go deeperArrow4 hours ago - Health