Washington Post: Today’s WorldView

• At least one Republican congressman is not convinced Assad is necessarily behind the attack. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) “Frankly, I don’t think Assad would have done that — it does not serve his interests, it would serve to draw us into that civil war even further,” he said on CNN.

When interviewed by The Washington Post, Massie, a libertarian who often butts heads with his GOP colleagues, didn’t back down.

“Let me ask you this: Who benefits? Who benefits, if chemical weapons were used and America weighs in on the side of the rebels, or wades into a war against Assad?” Massie answered. “How does Assad benefit from that?”

Critics of the Assad regime have argued that these sorts of devastating attacks on civilians are tried-and-tested tactics to further demoralize rebels and emphasize the impunity with which the regime can operate. Chemical weapons experts have also broadly dismissed Russia’s claim that the gas was part of a rebel or jihadist stockpile that was hit in an airstrike. “The view that it’s an al-Qaeda or rebel stockpile of sarin that’s been blown up in an explosion, I think is completely unsustainable and completely untrue,” said former British Army officer Hamish de Bretton Gordon to the Guardian.

• White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was removed from his role on President Trump’s National Security Council, where he was given a permanent seat on the council’s principals committee. His appointment initally drew criticism from experts who viewed it as unduly elevating a political figure with no national security experience. The restructuring reflects the growing influence of national security adviser H.R. McMaster as he asserts himself over the flow of national security information in the White House, reported my colleagues.

Bannon, an ultra-nationalist ideologue, sought to frame his departure from the post as a sign of job well done amid a busy transition into power. But other sources seemed to suggest he was shouldered out by McMaster.

From The Post’s story: “McMaster has become a rising and blunt force within the White House and he has made clear to several top officials and to the president that he does not want the NSC to have any political elements. McMaster has also expressed that while he understood Bannon’s role, he believed it was not necessary for the president to have him there as the NSC was reorganized under McMaster’s leadership.”

• Trump will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday at his resort at Mar-a-Lago, Florida. We’ll have more on the meeting and what’s at stake for the U.S.-China relationship in tomorrow’s newsletter. For now, you can read Beijing bureau chief Simon Denyer’s primer here.

• Reporters from the Reuters news agency have discovered that the Islamic State used the famous museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul as a tax office. In 2015, the extremist group publicized videos of its militants ransacking and destroying the museum’s priceless collection of Mesopotamian antiquities, which the jihadists deem idolatrous and therefore worthy of destruction.

“Remains of an Assyrian winged bull statue, some carved stone coffins, mosaics and two black blocks with Islamic calligraphy are just about all that’s left. Smaller pieces from other items litter the floor,” reported Reuters. The building has been recently reclaimed by Iraqi government forces during their offensive to recapture the city.

The story goes on: “Apart from soldiers stationed to guard it, a stray cat nibbling at discarded army rations seems to be the building’s only inhabitant. Machine gun fire and mortar rounds rang out from a distance as journalists made their way through the museum.

In a basement room under the main exhibition halls, there was a pile of envelopes used to issue orders to pay Islamic tax, one of main sources of funding for the militants.

‘The Islamic State … seeks to levy your duties which were forced by God on the rich people’s money,’ read a message on the envelope stamped with the group’s black-and-white flag.”

The Dalai Lama delivers religious teachings to Buddhists&nbsp;in the city of&nbsp;Bomdila in India's&nbsp;Arunachal Pradesh state on April 5.&nbsp;(Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images)</p>

The Dalai Lama delivers religious teachings to Buddhists in the city of Bomdila in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state on April 5. (Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images)

Dalai drama

China likes to refer to the Dalai Lama as “a sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Beijing sees the famously gentle leader of Tibetan Buddhism as a political leader as well — and one who inspires unrest on the high plateau he fled almost 60 years ago.

Facing an intense and violent Chinese crackdown in Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama and hundreds of his followers escaped across the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, whose high mountains are also populated by Tibetan Buddhists. China refers to it in some official maps as “southern Tibet.”

This week, the Dalai Lama is back in Arunachal Pradesh to engage in what seem to be purely spiritual endeavors. But the trip has prompted outrage and derision from Beijing. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying went so far as to say that India’s allowing his trip to take place had already “severely damaged China’s interests and China-India relations.”

Fundamentally, China believes that India has provided the Dalai Lama with a sanctuary to carry out a separatist political agenda and foment dissent in Tibet. Each time India — or any other country, for that matter — allows the Dalai Lama to speak at an officially sanctioned event, Beijing issues sharp accusations of “interference” in its “internal affairs.” After the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia, they were forced to apologize and bar him further entry.

There’s also an extra layer of conflict between India and China specifically. Ever since the two countries fought a brief war in 1962, China has claimed as much as 35,000 square miles of Indian-administered land along Tibet’s eastern and western fringes. Dozens of rounds of talks have failed to settle the border disputes, and both sides station tens of thousands of troops there — often within sight of each other across lofty Himalayan passes. There’s also a Tibetan government-in-exile that runs out of the Indian city of Dharamsala.

India is not Mongolia, and it certainly won’t apologize. But it’s also unlikely that China will exact any retribution. For all its complaints, Tibet is mostly peaceful — and firmly under Beijing’s thumb.

For his part, the Dalai Lama remained his jolly old self amid the diplomatic saber-rattling. “Whenever I come to the northeast of India, it feels like a reunion with people here,” he said Saturday. “When I visit, I am reminded of the freedom that I had experienced for the first time.” — Max Bearak

 

People in&nbsp;a railway station in Seoul watch&nbsp;file footage of a North Korean missile launch on April 5. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)</p>

People in a railway station in Seoul watch file footage of a North Korean missile launch on April 5. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

The big question

North Korean missile launches have become almost routine in recent weeks, but the response by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the latest missile test on Tuesday was anything but. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea,” he said in a three-sentence-long statement. “We have no further comment.” The rest of the world was left wondering what exactly Tillerson and the U.S. were trying to signal on one of the globe’s most pressing security concerns. So we asked Post diplomatic correspondent Carol Morello: What did Tillerson actually mean by his terse statement?

“The truth is that we don’t fully know.

Tillerson is not known for loquaciousness in public. He rarely speaks with members of the diplomatic press corps, who are a wonky bunch. The statements issued in his name are usually filled with carefully phrased diplomatic language.

“But Tillerson’s Tuesday night statement on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch came unusually quick and was startlingly short and enigmatic — so much so that several reporters, suspecting a hack, called the State Department to confirm its legitimacy.

“Throughout the following day, pundits were puzzling over what he meant when he said simply, ‘We have no further comment.’ Coming on the heels of the White House’s declaration that all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea, it seemed like the top diplomat was indulging in some succinct, tough talk.

“Many analysts were also baffled. Some treated Tillerson’s comment as almost a dereliction of duty, believing a secretary of state should try to calm the waters and outline the U.S. position more fully. Some considered it a sign that Tillerson has not yet surmounted a steep learning curve after two months on the job.

“But others saw an artfulness in its brevity, a way of showing without saying that the United States is done making statements of outrage that accomplish nothing. After all, North Korea sooner or later always ignores those words and launches another missile a few weeks or months down the road.

“The latter was the explanation State Department offered when asked about the statement on Wednesday. Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the sentiment he intended to convey was, ‘The time for talk is over.’

“Brevity, it seems, is catching. And what might happen instead of talk remains to be seen.”

Talk of Syria and chemical weapons leads inevitably back to 2013, when former president Barack Obama declined to strike the Assad regime after a major chemical weapons attack. It’s now often seen as a mistake, but the Daily Beast makes the case that Obama’s call remains the right one. If President Trump does decide to use force, Politico says, it’ll be part of his trend of only digging the U.S. deeper into Middle Eastern wars — and he’ll be doing it with less input from Steve Bannon, whose demotion from the National Security Council is actually a big deal. Elsewhere, dismissive comments by Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi remind us that the killings of Rohingya Muslims are still going tragically ignored by the world.

Obama was right to abandon ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons
Donald Trump is blaming his predecessor for the atrocities in Syria, but the president was right when he backed Obama’s position at the time.
Like Middle East wars? You’re gonna love President Trump
With zero public debate, the new president has thrown America back into the Mideast quagmire.
Five reasons why Bannon leaving the National Security Council matters
Good news, for a change.
As the Rohingya face persecution, a solution is as far away as ever
Unless world powers decide to take a unilateral action, the voice of the international community will largely remain rhetoric.
Fox News, the conservative cable news network, is embroiled in scandal. After the New York Times uncovered several of Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlements, numerous companies have pulled their advertising from the star pundit’s show. President Trump came to O’Reilly’s defense, but the backlash to the reports remains strong, even inspiring a Twitter hashtag, #DropOReilly, where women shared their own experiences with workplace sexual harassment.

Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News, even as harassment settlements add up
About $13 million has been paid out over the years to address complaints from women about Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior. He denies the claims have merit.
Donald Trump defends Bill O’Reilly amid sexual harassment claims
Trump says Fox News host is ‘a good person’ while pressure mounts as advertisers quit top-rated show The O’Reilly Factor.
Women use #DropOReilly to show how common workplace sexual harassment really is
Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have spent millions hushing sexual harassment complaints. The problem is much bigger.

In 2014, during protests at Russian embassies around the world, demonstrators held up signs like this to protest what they called Russia’s intolerance of LGBT people and their rights. Now the Russian government has made such signs — ones that depict “the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation — an illegal form of “extremism.” It’s yet another example of Russia’s crackdown on freedom of expression, which has targeted both organized media and other forms of private speech. (Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

These high school journalists investigated a new principal’s credentials. Days later, she resigned
In a story published Friday, a high school newspaper staff questioned the legitimacy of the recently hired principal’s degrees and of her work as an education consultant.
McConnell: ‘Nuclear option’ helps Senate. McCain: ‘Whoever says that is a stupid idiot.’
McCain and others worry that senators won’t be able to resist blowing up the rules on legislation, too.
The IRS took millions from innocent people because of how they managed their bank accounts, inspector general finds
While enforcing a transparency rule, the IRS confiscated legally obtained money more than 90 percent of the time.

Over the next three weeks 100 lucky Londoners will get to try out this autonomous shuttle bus during their morning commutes.

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