Cold War Rivals Risk Direct Conflict in Syria
The war in Syria is threatening to embroil the major powers in direct conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have declared victory in his Syrian campaign two months ago, but as Bloomberg reports today, a strike by U.S.-led coalition forces in the east of Syria last week killed as many as 200 troops working for Russian military contractors.
The raid was likely the first such deadly conflict between the former Cold War rivals since the Vietnam War, according to Russian experts. Both sides so far have tried to keep the details secret to avoid escalating an already volatile situation.
Just days later, Israel downed an Iranian drone and struck targets in Syria, raising the ante in its efforts to drive forces backed by Tehran away from its border. Following those strikes, Putin urged “avoiding any steps that could lead to a new round of confrontation.”
With the common enemy in the form of Islamic State largely defeated, the endgame in Syria for Russia and the U.S. could be even more fraught than the seven-year civil war so far.
Deficit about-face | Republicans, who seven years ago brought the U.S. to the brink of a debt default to force spending reductions, are now embracing proposals that would balloon the federal deficit — and Wall Street is taking notice. “Congress is willing to spend like crazy, and that was part of why we sold off last week,” said Ian Winer, director of equities at Wedbush Securities Inc. The shift could have election-year implications for President Donald Trump’s party.
South Africa in limbo | President Jacob Zuma is nothing if not a political street fighter. His decision to defy calls by his ruling party to resign has paralyzed government business and may force a vote of no confidence in parliament to get him out. The impasse already led to an unprecedented postponement of the state-of-the-nation address and may imperil the top economic event of the year: next week’s budget presentation.
Charm offensive | Impressed with South Korea’s treatment of his sister during a visit to mark the opening of the Olympics, Kim Jong Un called for more efforts between the countries to create a “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. It’s the clearest sign yet the winter games are prompting a thaw between the two Koreas.
Reinvesting in himself | The biggest political spender at Trump hotels, restaurants and Trump Tower continues to be ... Trump. Almost 70 percent of the more than $1 million that Republican groups paid to Trump properties last year came from the president’s campaign and joint fundraising committees. Unlike other recent presidents, Trump still has a financial interest in his businesses through a trust, an arrangement that has prompted legal challenges.
On defense with women | The White House is insisting that Trump supports domestic violence victims after the president was criticized for sympathetic public statements about Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned last week following allegations he abused two ex-wives. Trump, whose backing among women already was declining in recent polls, has said nothing about abuse survivors since the allegations emerged.
And finally ... The juicy tidbits from Steve Bannon’s sojourn in Trump World just keep coming. The ousted White House strategist considered endorsing Janet Yellen for a second term as Federal Reserve chair but instead kept quiet as Trump passed her over in favor of fellow Republican Jerome Powell. “Yellen’s my girl,” Bannon is quoted by Bloomberg’s Josh Green as saying in a new preface to his book on Bannon that’s set for release today.
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