In another rollercoaster week in Washington, all eyes have returned to Syria after dozens were killed following a chemical weapons attack, carried out in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma. 

This event came off the heels of President Donald Trump’s comments that the U.S. should pull out of Syria entirely. But predictably for our unpredictable president, his tune has again changed; on late Friday evening, after a week of speculation, he ordered a strike on Syria.

But this was different than the U.S. military response to last year’s chemical weapons attack. Rather than just sending a signal, this year’s strike was about destroying actual Syrian capabilities; going after the research, storage, and production of centers of these weapons. Speaking with NPR, I noted it was a well-structured strike and, I think, a good decision.

And as I told TODAY, a critical component to the success of this strike was that it was an international effort, involving both the UK and France. This coalition made clear – and must continue to make clear – to the world that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.  

But here is what the strike did not do: totally destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles; knock out Assad’s ability to produce more nerve agents or rebuild the capability to do so; reduce the regime’s ability to transport the chemical weapons; degrade or destroy the means of delivery; or knock out the government’s command and control system.

All of those actions would have been permissible under international law. But the U.S. wisely decided to conduct a more measured attack. By opting for a relatively constrained assault, as I wrote in Bloomberg, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the president chose a course of action that allows further escalation if necessary, had a minimal risk to U.S. personnel, avoided direct confrontation with Russia or Iran, and minimized collateral damage to Syrian forces.

Prior to the strikes, I had a wide-ranging conversations on these issues with both Chris Jansing of MSNBC and Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR’s Radio Boston. You can listen to my chat with Meghna below:

While most American eyes are glued to their televisions and mobile devices, focused on Syria, there’s an alarming development happening on the other side of the globe that is getting woefully little attention. In Brazil, former president – and current presidential candidate – Luiz Inácio”Lula” da Silva’s fall from grace and into a Brazilian prison, signals troubled waters ahead for that country and region. 

This is troubling for the U.S. for a few reasons. First, it is yet another current in the receding tide of leftist leaders across the region. Nation after nation has turned to the right, with only the Venezuelan “Chavista” Nicolas Madurostill clinging to power.

Lula’s jailing throws Brazil’s October presidential election into chaos, with candidates widely scattered across the political spectrum. Lula may continue campaigning from jail; how that win would ultimately be adjudicated remains to be seen. His jailing may also splinter the center and the center-left, opening a path for Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing former Army officer whom some see as the “Brazilian Donald Trump.”

As I wrote in Bloomberg, this uncertainty – and the likely election of a weak leader in the hemisphere’s second-largest country – will lessen America’s ability to forge a coherent plan to address the numerous challenges facing the region. Brazil has historically acted as a stabilizing influence in the region, serving as an ally to the U.S. in handling the rampant trafficking of narcotics, keeping tabs on the bubbling tendencies towards civil war in Venezuela, and the generally boosting the region’s economic revitalization. Some will see Lula’s fall as a powerful example of the reach and rule of the law; others will see it as a manipulation of the legal system to choke off a popular candidate.

Anticipate more turbulence and uncertainty in Brazil, which looks as though it may be the “country of tomorrow” forever.

As always, thanks for reading.

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