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In the worldview Donald Trump brought to the White House, all problems are easy. Fix the economy by getting tough with China. End illegal immigration by building a wall. “Totally obliterate” the Islamic State.

Even after the humiliating failure of an effort in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump declared: “I know that we’re all going to make a deal on health care. That’s such an easy one.”

Trump apparently thinks the same thing about one of the knottiest questions he has encountered — Syria. After a chemical weapons attack blamed on President Bashar Assad, Trump didn’t spend much time agonizing before using cruise missiles against a Syrian air base. It’s a response that creates new dangers without solving old problems.

He obviously never read up on Dwight Eisenhower, who said: “No easy problems ever come to the president of the United States. If they are easy to solve, someone else has solved them.”

Syria is one of those no one has solved, mainly because it is virtually impossible. The country has been a charnel house since 2011, when an armed uprising elicited savage responses from Assad — bombing hospitals, torturing opponents and starving civilians.

In 2012, Barack Obama threatened U.S. retaliation if Assad used chemical weapons. When he used them anyway, Obama changed his mind, recognizing that major military measures had scant prospect of success but an excellent chance of catastrophe.

The options in Syria did not become more viable merely because Trump finally took note of what’s happening. In fact, they have gotten worse. Russia now has ground and air forces in Syria, fighting on the side of the regime.

Hawks accused Obama of facilitating Assad’s brutality by standing aside. But it was not until Trump arrived that this nerve gas attack occurred. Maybe Assad felt emboldened after the administration indicated his regime is “a political reality that we have to accept,” as press secretary Sean Spicer said March 31. In that case, Trump is not compensating for Obama’s mistakes so much as his own.

It’s hard to have any confidence that this decision was made in a careful way, with a clear sense of purpose and a full understanding of the risks. The suddenness of Trump’s shift indicates he gave no more thought to his new position than he did to his previous, opposite one.

The important questions are: What will the strike accomplish, and where will it lead? One taste of the lash isn’t likely to shake Assad’s grip on power or deter him from killing his own people on a large scale — possibly even with chemical weapons.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster admitted Friday that the dictator “will maintain the certain capacity to commit mass murder with chemical weapons, we think, beyond this particular airfield.” The administration is trying to thread a very small needle. “This was not a small strike,” McMaster insisted, while noting that it was also “not of a scope or a scale that it (went) after all such related facilities.”

The exquisite calibration suggests Trump and his advisers want to reassure both the American people (“I’m tough!”) and the Russians (“Really, it’s nothing”). It indicates he has no intention of bringing down Assad. Maybe someone told him that without Assad, the chaos and bloodshed in Syria would not abate but expand and intensify.

Apparently, Trump is averse to full-scale intervention, which would carry the risk of direct combat with Russians in the air or on the ground. But as the signs on ski slopes say, hazards exist that are not marked. Once the U.S. inserts itself into the fight against Assad, the chance of a misstep increases. With a little bad luck, we could find ourselves at war not only with the Syrian government but with a nuclear superpower.

Why take the risk? Even if conflict with Russia could be avoided, making any real difference in the war would require a large number of U.S. ground troops for a long time. And the outcome would probably be a costly failure, kind of like Iraq and Afghanistan.

As every president learns, matters of war and peace look much simpler before you get to the White House. Obama came to understand that if we went to war in Syria, our adversaries might lose, but we would not win. Trump will learn that, too, but he may have to learn the hard way.

IMAGE: Children play near rubble of damaged buildings in al-Rai town, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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