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Week in Review

Though we pointed to the economic crisis in India as the big story this week, President Obama stole the headlines yesterday when he announced his intention to seek congressional approval for a strike against Syria. Here’s our reaction to his Rose Garden speech:

The President’s smartest step now would be to surprise on the upside; much of the world has written him off as a ditherer and a weakling. A campaign that is unexpectedly focused and effective would overturn those expectations and offers the President his best chance of coming out of this situation with his prestige enhanced at home and abroad. A demonstration of American air power and political will would, at this juncture, serve a useful political purpose and help the President regain the high ground in the diplomacy ahead. It’s unlikely (though nothing is impossible) that stepping up the intensity and effectiveness of the US campaign would intensify retaliatory attacks; if anything, a healthy reminder of America’s power might encourage some much needed reflection on the other side.

This does not mean committing the US to an indefinite air campaign and it certainly does not mean using ground troops. By overplaying their hands, the President’s enemies and opponents abroad (we hope he understands by now that he has a significant number of these and that some of them helm major powers), have given him an opportunity for a dramatic win and a change in momentum. These chances don’t come so often that they can be carelessly discarded.

This is a suggestion for the President’s short term strategy as he attempts to extricate himself from what has turned into an ugly mess. But it is not the answer to his (and ours, and the world’s) Syria problem. The reality is that Syria is sinking into bloody anarchy, and that vital United States interests are directly threatened by the chaos there. While there are many ugly elements among the Syrian resistance, one fact needs to be held firmly in mind: the Syrian resistance isn’t the cause of the crisis in Syria. Misgovernment and brutality by President Assad are the root of the evil. There is no guarantee that things will begin to improve when and if Assad transitions to his post-presidential career, but as long as he clings to power under current conditions, the situation can only continue to get worse. The Syrian resistance didn’t turn Assad’s government into the ugly, failed dictatorship it has become, but Assad’s long and brutal fight for power has empowered the worst elements in the Syrian resistance, continues to radicalize opinion in Syria and elsewhere throughout the region, and ensures that with every day of continued war, the task of reconstruction will be harder.

China figured heavily in news from Asia this week. Unsurprisingly, Beijing denied reports that it’s facing a debt crisis. But China’s Communist Party hinted at some potential deep, “all-round” reforms. China promised a new aircraft carrier, the next step in the region’s naval arms race. And in Asia’s Game of Thrones, China rejected an offer from Japan to negotiate over disputed territory in the East China Sea. And in North Korea, the ex-lover of Kim Jong-Un was one of a dozen people executed, the latest example of the sheer brutality of the Hermit Kingdom’s leadership.

There was plenty of news from every corner of Europe: bad news continued to pile up for Germany’s energiewende. In Spain, bureaucracy is stifling scientific research, while France is taking a half-step towards reforming its pension system. Ukraine told Russia to get used to the “reality” of an impending EU-Ukraine trade deal, though Putin was a bit distracted by a row over the jailing of a Russian potash executive in Belarus. Britain is bracing itself for green policy “fireworks,” and the country’s struggles with its high-speed rail project could be instructive for California’s Jerry Brown. The Netherlands inched towards developing its shale reserves, a move that could have broader significance if it sets off a European shale boom. Meanwhile, news filtered out that another Greek bailout is being discussed.

In the world of health care, we found out that under Obamacare, the young will pay now and get nothing later. The dialysis lobby convinced more than one hundred congressmen to reverse their decision to cut more than half a billion dollars in federal funding for “excessive” dialysis drug payments. Accountable care organizations, a favorite of pundits, could be the new blue unicorn, though we noted that consumers, not providers, are the key to health care reform.

Our nation’s teachers are getting younger as the charter movement grows up. Rhode Island, a state which has seen better days, is betting on its young entrepreneurs. And the arrival of a new standardized test to be taken by graduating college students is a boon to employers wanting better tools to evaluate potential hires. In MOOC news, the over-hyped and under-delivered online program offered by San Jose State University looks to have rebounded over the summer. Mexico’s teachers’ unions protested recent educational reforms this week, threatening President Enrique Peña Nieto’s entire reform agenda.

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  • ljgude

    I find I emphatically agree that Obama has a real opportunity to regain some lost ground by acting firmly and decisively. He snookered himself by talking about red lines, but Assad, has gone a bridge too far and Obama has chance to give him a bloody nose. (To stack cliche on top of mixed metaphor.) That said, I am not at all sure that Obama will see it as an opportunity.

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