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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.  
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Go deeper

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.

How long it’s taken to confirm Supreme Court justices

Expand chart
Data: Axios research, U.S. Supreme Court, Supreme Court Historical Society; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

It takes a U.S. president an average of 70 days from the date a Supreme Court seat is vacated to nominate a replacement, according to data from the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Why it matters: With news outlets reporting liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's plans to retire, Democrats will be looking to confirm President Biden's nominee with enough time to refocus the national political debate ahead of the midterms.