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Donald Trump, with his characteristic flair for original phrasing, declared “mission accomplished” after the US-led air strikes on Syria last week. But, Gideon Rachman writes in his latest column, America’s mission in the Middle East is hard to define, let alone deliver.

The Trump administration claims that the strikes had a limited aim: stopping the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. But it is not obvious that they will succeed. After all, military actions launched on the same grounds by the US last year failed to achieve that aim.

Moreover, a weekend’s bombing will do nothing to change the trajectory of the war in Syria. On the contrary, it will merely confirm something that has been clear for a while: that American influence in the Middle East is on the wane.

Centre ground: Talk of setting up a new centrist party in the UK tends to be met with derision, writes Janan Ganesh. But critics of such enterprises miss an important point: the great age of populism, to which a mooted party of the centre ground would be an antidote, has barely begun. It won’t be until voters start feeling its effects that they may be tempted to consider more moderate alternatives.

Machine dreams: Robots are far more popular in Asia, where they are widely used, than they are in the west, observes John Thornhill. The US, in particular, is in the grip of technologically induced panic at the job-destroying potential of robotics and automation. But technology is not destiny, and policymakers have the ability to bend it to their — and our — desired ends.

Dialogue of the deaf: On Sunday night, President Emmanuel Macron submitted himself to a two-hour long televised interview with two veterans of French journalism. Although, writes Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, the encounter generated more heat than light, with the interviewers preferring to harangue the president than question him, Mr Macron succeeded in getting his message across on a range of issues, including last week’s air strikes on Syria and his pro-market reforms.

FT Big Picture: Listen here to the first episode in the FT’s new podcast series exploring the ideas and trends that are reshaping the world in fundamental ways.

Best of the rest

The causes of populism we prefer to forget — Pierre Vermeren in Le Figaro (in French)

Congress needs to rein in the president’s use of military force — Bruce Ackerman in the New York Times

Britain is wrongly deporting Commonwealth nationals — this must stop now — Kate Osamor in the Guardian

The globalization backlash paradox — Arvind Subramanian for Project Syndicate

There is still a way we can make the government give everyone a ‘people’s vote’ on the Brexit deal — Chuka Umunna in The Independent

What you’ve been saying

Response to Assad needs smart target list — letter from Neil Fisher

The object of any response has to be to influence the Syrian decision-makers, particularly Assad, not to ever use chemical weapons again. The way to do that is to craft the target list “smartly” . . . That may include targets that seem to have no linkage to the alleged chemical weapon attack other than it belongs, and is precious to, Assad, members of his leadership team and others . . . Preparing the “message battlespace” is exactly what Donald Trump is doing now. The US president should be encouraged, not criticised, since his messaging is very effective once you read between the lines and will reinforce the “smarter” kinetic message once delivered.

Comment from Jerome a Paris on Germany is frustrating Emmanuel Macron’s grand ambitions

France and Germany have never been natural allies. That’s the whole point. When they make the effort to find a compromise, it’s usually acceptable to most other Europeans because they start from so far apart, geopolitically, intellectually, politically, and psychologically. What’s amazing is that people now often take it for granted, but it requires a lot of effort each time.

Failing audit system can be enhanced — letter from John Stewart

Although I am an accountant and on the main board or supervisory board of several companies, I have difficulty in understanding a lot of the information in the current disclosure, let alone having the time to wade through hundreds of pages. The market wants financial statements it can rely on and the auditors are failing to satisfy this demand. Those who want a greater market share could stop navel-gazing and give the market what it wants.

Today’s opinion

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Asia has learnt to love robots — the west should, too
Automation is capable of creating jobs, not destroying them, a survey shows

The realities of Syria’s war remain unchanged by western strikes
The US and its allies are not going to make a concerted effort to displace Assad

Emmanuel Macron parries irreverent barbs in a televised grilling
The French president, at times condescending, holds his own in a clash of egos

Free Lunch: The eurozone’s uncertain economic slack
ECB governing council is divided on whether the output gap has already closed

Oil majors can give birth to green energy businesses
Growth of renewables requires structural change at companies such as Shell

FT Alphaville: No, Facebook should not become a nonprofit

Podcast: Martin Wolf — The crisis of democratic capitalism

Natural Born Learners, by Alex Beard
An intellectual journey to discover what a 21st-century education should look like

When partners go their own way, the band plays on
Fleetwood Mac, like many business names, is a brand bigger than its members

FT View

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Legal uncertainty over Commonwealth migrants must be resolved

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His departure from WPP, the company he built, demands more explanation

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