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Evan Vucci / AP

The White House released a statement Monday night that Syria's military would "pay a heavy price" if it launched a chemical weapons attack. Then BuzzFeed News and NYT reported that defense officials were caught off guard by the announcement. The WH narrative on chemical weapons and what to do about them continues to unfold, and some of the statements seem to contradict one another.

Why it matters: The apparent lack of coordination in setting the scene for another potential U.S. military strike in such a turbulent region could have dire consequences, especially since Trump showed in April his willingness to attack when it comes to chemical weapons use in Syria.

The White House
  • A "White House official" clarified via a Tuesday morning pool report that "all relevant agencies--including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI--were involved in the process from the beginning. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false."
  • To back up the White House, Reuters reported earlier that U.S. and allied intelligence officers "had for some time identified several sites where they suspected Assad's government may have been hiding newly made chemical weapons from inspectors," according to a "U.S. official familiar with the intelligence."
  • The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that the "US has seen chemical weapons activity at Syrian air base used in past chemical attack."
  • Defense Secretary Mattis was pushing a different message hours before the White House announcement: "We just refuse to get drawn into the Syrian Civil War…We try to end that through diplomatic means," per WashPost.
The motivation:
  • As the NYT writes, the White House motivation to release the statement may be that "Mr. Trump or his advisers decided a public warning to Mr. Assad might deter another chemical strike."
  • Or as The Guardian writes, "It may also have been aimed at the regime's backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime's responsibility for chemical weapons use."
  • U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley echoed that statement, saying, per AP: "The goal was not to just send Assad a message. She says she hopes the president's warning will force Russia and Iran to think twice about supporting Assad."

But the unusual nature of the announcement sets it apart: The executive director of the Arms Control Association Daryl G. Kimball told NYT he hasn't seen such a public warning like this "in at least the last 20 years" and that more often these issues are handled privately.

Reality check, according to what's happening in the region:

  • The WH threat isn't the only indication Mattis' message of diplomacy doesn't line up with military movements.
  • In recent weeks the U.S. has downed a Syrian jet and two pro-regime drones in alleged self-defense.
  • Tensions are heating up in the region as competing forces (Russia, Iran, the U.S.) converge on a smaller and smaller set of territory, and Russia has warned the U.S. it will target U.S. aircraft west of the Euphrates after the recent downed jets.

Go deeper

U.S. border cities again see low violent crime rates

Expand chart
Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Reported violent crime in the United States rose in 2020 for the first time in four years, but violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. 

Why it matters: Year after year, data showing low violent crime rates in majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos.

Biden says presidency "will be determined" by outcome of spending plans

President Biden walks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after addressing the House Democratic caucus on Thursday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden told the House Democratic caucus Thursday "my presidency will be determined" by the votes he wants in the next week on his $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion and $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

Driving the news: Biden made the comment, according to a source in the room, as he tried to rally support for the $1.75 trillion package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted immediately, calling for a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill later in the day.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

China declines to speed emissions cuts in new UN pledge

A view of the skyscrapers in the haze in Shanghai, China, in December 2020. Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Chinese leaders are sticking with a prior target to bring the country's carbon emissions to a peak before 2030, according to documents filed with the United Nations Thursday under the Paris climate agreement.

Why it matters: The new documents come just days ahead of the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow. China is by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, and its emissions path is key to whether the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris agreement can remain within reach.

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