PUSHING IRAN’S BUTTONS

PUSHING IRAN’S BUTTONS

Trump has turned up the temperature, and Iran is feeling the heat. Before the US president renounced the nuclear deal earlier this year, Iran’s economy was expected to grow by 4.3 percent in 2018. But with Trump reimposing sanctions, and issuing threats to ensure others do the same, Iran is expected to reach just 1.8 percent this year before contracting by 4.3 percent next year, according to BMI Research.


Iran’s leaders are furious. In response to a speech in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared Iran’s leadership to the mafia and pledged that the US would “support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” President Hassan Rouhani warned that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” Trump then tweeted a warning that Iranian threats would force that country to “suffer the consequences the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before.”

Where might this lead? Rouhani has now issued an oblique threat to free passage through the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 30 percent of the world’s seaborne-traded crude oil passes. “Do not play with the lion’s tail,” he warned. “It will bring regret.”

At a moment when Trump is also beginning to air frustration with the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with North Korea, what do we take from all this?

  • It’s still easier to get tough on a country that has no nuclear weapons (Iran) than one that does (North Korea).

  • Trump will always be tougher on problems he blames on Obama (Iran) than those he’s taken on himself (North Korea).

  • Iran faces hardship-driven social unrest. North Korea doesn’t. That makes Iran vulnerable in a way North Korea is not (yet).

  • Most importantly, agree or disagree with his approach, Trump has a well-coordinated and logical Iran strategy. Sanctions add economic pressure, particularly as European companies decide they must honor them. US officials like Pompeo add rhetorical pressure. The US, Russia, and Israel work to squeeze Iran in Syria. The North Korea strategy, by contrast, still depends almost entirely on goodwill between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Iran’s economic and political stability are likely to deteriorate through the end of this year. Expect its words and actions to become still more confrontational. Iran has absorbed plenty of pain over the years, a result of both war with Iraq and Western sanctions, but will a younger generation of Iranians prove as patient?

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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