President Joe Biden promised last week that he would respond to an Iranian-backed militant group’s drone strike on U.S. troops in Jordan on Jan. 28. And late Friday afternoon, just hours after the remains of the three young American soldiers killed by the drone strike returned to the U.S., Biden announced that he had authorized retaliatory strikes, hitting multiple military command centers and other targets in Iraq and Syria.

The strikes could be seen as a warning sign that the war in the Middle East − and U.S. engagement in it − is now set to rapidly escalate.

But that might not be the case.

The strikes appear to have been carefully measured and proportional in response, explains Gregory Treverton, a national security scholar at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The U.S. also, importantly, did not strike Iranian soil.

“Overall, it is a calibrated measure that plainly is not going to entirely degrade the military capacity of any of these groups. But it should still have a pretty significant effect and weaken their military capabilities, at least to some extent,” Treverton writes.

This week we also liked articles about a speech President Joe Biden delivered in a Black South Carolina church, finding beauty in an excruciatingly slow song, and the origins of the alphabet.

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Amy Lieberman

Politics + Society Editor

President Joe Biden attends the arrival of the remains of three U.S. service members killed in a drone attack in Jordan. Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

US launches retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria − a national security expert explains the message they send

Gregory F. Treverton, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The US attacks on military sites in Iraq and Syria are unlikely to further escalate conflict in the Middle East, he writes.

A crowd gathers around the organ at St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany, to witness an October 2013 note change. Peter Förster/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

In an ancient church in Germany, a 639-year organ performance of a John Cage composition is about to have its next note change

Rob Haskins, University of New Hampshire

The new note will be sustained for a relatively ‘brief’ two years.

President Joe Biden at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina on Jan. 8, 2024. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Biden is campaigning against the Lost Cause and the ‘poison’ of white supremacy in South Carolina

Joseph Patrick Kelly, College of Charleston

During a campaign speech in South Carolina, President Biden made it clear that he is not only running against Donald Trump but also against white supremacy.

The Conversation Quiz 🧠

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    Fritz Holznagel, The Conversation

    Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:

    While appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 31, what did Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg say to the families of online child abuse victims?

    1. A. "I hear the hurt in your voices, and I want you to know that it's valid"
    2. B. "We're here for you"
    3. C. "I’m sorry for everything you have all been through"
    4. D. "It’s complicated"

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