Escalation: Trump vs. Iran

The US and Iran are headed down a dangerous path.

On April 22, President Donald Trump tightened the screws on Iran's economy by announcing that China, Japan, India, South Korea, Turkey, and others would no longer be granted exemptions from US sanctions to continue buying Iranian oil, the country's most important export.

On May 5, US National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the deployment of a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to "indications and warnings" that Iran threatened US forces.

Iran then announced this week that it would mark Wednesday's one-year anniversary of Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal by ending compliance with two provisions of that agreement.

In particular, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned that if the five other countries who signed that agreement—France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia—don't act within 60 days to help Iran weather the economic storm created by US sanctions, Iran will ignore the deal's limits on uranium enrichment, setting it on the path, once again, to acquire a nuclear weapon.

A few things to keep in mind as you follow the progression of this story:


  • Trump has avoided aggressive military action, because he knows it has undermined the popularity of past presidents. He's made plenty of threats—against North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, for example—but he's avoided ambitious commitments that come with high risk and long-term costs.
  • The president's national security advisor does not share his reluctance to use military force. John Bolton has been calling for regime change in Iran for more than a decade, and he authored a New York Times op-ed in 2015 under the headline "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."
  • Trump may be suspicious of Bolton. A piece in Wednesday's Washington Post reported that anonymous "administration officials and White House advisers" claim that Trump has complained aloud that Bolton is pushing him toward military action in Venezuela. If nothing else, this story suggests that some in the White House are worried about Bolton's influence–on Venezuela, if not Iran. On Thursday, Trump said this to describe his relationship with Bolton: "John has strong views on things… I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing. Isn't it?
  • Iran's economy is in real trouble. Its leaders may feel they have little to lose by pushing the Europeans to provide an economic lifeline by threatening the nuclear deal. Trump's decision to reimpose sanctions has pushed the country into a deepening recession. GDP is projected to fall 6 percent this year, according to the IMF, making it one of the toughest periods since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Its currency has lost nearly 60 percent of its value since sanctions were reimposed. Price inflation topped 30 percent last year and will rise even more quickly this year.
  • Europeans will do little to help Iran. The UK, France, and Germany have made clear they believe Iran has kept its end of the nuclear deal and that Trump was wrong to withdraw from it. In January, they created a payments system to help maintain trade in non-sanctioned food, pharmaceutical products and consumer goods with Iran. But Europe is struggling to convince companies more worried about losing access to US consumers than Iranian markets to keep operating there. And they warn they can't continue to abide by terms of the nuclear deal if Iran renounces important parts of it.

The bottom line: Tensions are rising quickly, and for now there is little ground on which the US, Iranian, and European governments can compromise.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

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In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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