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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "nuclear"

Tulsi Gabbard to Hillary: It’s time to step down from your throne

Westlake Legal Group c-3 Tulsi Gabbard to Hillary: It’s time to step down from your throne tulsi gabbard throne The Blog Syria nuclear Hillary Clinton Foreign Policy democrats 2020

A leftover from yesterday. She’s milking this Hillary feud for all it’s worth, for perfectly sound reasons: Hillary’s unpopular, she’s the face of Democratic electoral failure, and she’s the embodiment of the hawkish Wall-Street-friendly neoliberalism that Gabbard’s cohort on the party’s left wing detests. The obvious thing to do for a candidate who’s struggled to get traction in the primary is to accept the gift Clinton gave her when she called her a “Russian asset” in an interview recently by training her fire on Hillary going forward. Who knows? Maybe anti-Clinton sentiment among progressives will earn Tulsi a second look.

Doesn’t seem to be happening yet, though, if you believe the latest polling.

In fact, given how impressive Gabbard is on paper and onstage, it’s sort of shocking how badly she’s doing in the primary this year.

Mediaite dings Gabbard for claiming in that clip that overthrowing Qaddafi made the problem of global nuclear proliferation worse. Didn’t Qaddafi gives up his nuclear program years *before* we backed the uprising against him? Yes, but Gabbard’s point, I think, is that other rogue regimes — North Korea, foremost — have learned a perverse lesson from Qaddafi’s downfall. Namely, he gained nothing from the United States by cooperating with us on nukes, not even a firm promise that we wouldn’t turn on him later. On the contrary, if Qaddafi had kept his nuclear program and eventually developed weapons we wouldn’t have dared to intervene in Libya on the rebels’ side for fear of how the madman might have reacted. Fast forward almost a decade and Kim Jong Un has successfully leveraged his own nuclear arsenal for fawning diplomatic treatment from the president of the United States. That’s what Gabbard is pointing to here. The Obama/Hillary decision to reward Qaddafi’s denuclearization with death convinced other strongmen not to denuclearize.

But I digress. Is this new strategy of slamming Hillary paying off for her? Well, in the three polls taken since October 18, when Clinton’s “Russian asset” comments emerged, Gabbard’s polled at three, zero, and two points, good for an average of 1.6. That’s … right around where she’s been polling all along, possibly a tiny bit of improvement but clearly nothing to signify real legs for her from this incident. Maybe if Clinton had attacked her earlier in the race, before Democratic voters had settled on a top three or four among the field, it might have mattered.

Or maybe not. As I say, a candidate with as much going for her as Gabbard should already have been pulling better than one or two points in most polls before this Hillary incident. She has congressional experience, military experience, converses fluently in policy issues, especially foreign policy, she’s preternaturally poised and self-assured onstage, she’s telegenic, and she’s younger than anyone else in the field except Buttigieg. She seems plenty left-ish enough for most progressives too. You would think she’d at least be keeping pace with Mayor Pete, but she’s gone nowhere. Why? We could blame her Assad apologetics or her youthful support for conversion therapy for gays as red flags, but I suspect it’s the right’s interest in her — and her willingness to welcome that interest, with multiple appearances on Fox News — that’s scared off most liberals. It’s strange that she would court those votes, replete with cameos on Tucker Carlson’s show, knowing how it risks alienating her core constituency of progressives. Her party’s base loathes Carlson and was destined to find her suspicious because she doesn’t. That’s why conspiracy theories like “Tulsi’s a Russian asset” follow her around: Absent an obvious motive to make nice with righties, critics grasp for ulterior motives.

Her support among righty populists and even alt-righters is also hard to understand in turn. If it’s a foreign policy thing, is her foreign policy really that different from, say, Bernie Sanders’s? All of this explains why you see “What’s up with Tulsi Gabbard?” takes in the media way more than you do, say, “What’s up with Amy Klobuchar?” takes. Gabbard’s strategy, such as it is, is difficult to discern and so is the reason for her unique appeal to segments of the other party. She may be the only candidate running for president this year on either side of the aisle who has more fans on the other side of it than on her own.

Say this for Tulsi’s lefty supporters, though: They’re loyal.

See why Clinton’s worried about Gabbard going third-party? For an outsized segment of her supporters, it’s Tulsi or bust with respect to them turning out to vote Democratic next year.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Becket Adams regarding a very belated correction by big media to what Hillary actually said about Gabbard in that now famous interview. She did call her a “Russian asset,” but when she said that “they” are grooming her to run as an independent candidate, she (allegedly) meant that Trump and the GOP were grooming her, not the Russians. That is, Clinton might not be accusing Gabbard of being in cahoots with Moscow to influence the race next fall, just of being a useful idiot who’s following her own Kremlin-friendly foreign policy preferences.

The post Tulsi Gabbard to Hillary: It’s time to step down from your throne appeared first on Hot Air.

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Report: Trump considering allowing a $15 billion bailout of Iran

Westlake Legal Group t-7 Report: Trump considering allowing a $15 billion bailout of Iran Trump The Blog Sanctions pallets of cash nuclear loan Iran France Bolton

Another day, another suspiciously damaging leak involving Iran policy in the post-Bolton era.

Remember the Republican uproar about “pallets of cash” being shipped to Iran under the Obama nuclear deal? Trump himself frequently brings that up when criticizing the deal. He’s totally right that Iran got big bucks in return for agreeing to Obama’s terms, although the money in question was actually Iran’s to begin with. Most of it consisted of Iranian assets abroad that had been frozen while U.S. sanctions were in place; once the sanctions were lifted, the cash was finally transferred. But Trump’s point stands: What the hell was O doing greenlighting a massive economic windfall for the mullahs as part of a nuclear bargain that did nothing more in the end than temporarily suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program?

So here we are a few years later and Trump is reportedly considering doing the same thing. Once again money owed to Iran (for oil) is frozen due to an America’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign. And once again, in the interest of diplomacy, the president is weighing whether to let money be released to the mullahs. Not even as part of a deal in this case — as a goodwill gesture to simply get the two sides to the table so that they can discuss a deal. Said one critic last night on Twitter, “It’s like we’re running an experiment to see if grassroots Republicans would’ve supported the Obama presidency if only he were an old vulgar Manhattan elite.”

The $15 billion in this case would consist of a line of credit brokered by France. It’s not the same as O’s deal in all particulars, in other words — sanctions aren’t being lifted but rather an exception to them is being made. Iranian assets aren’t being unfrozen but cash is being made available. In both cases, though, Iran is being thrown an economic lifeline with America’s blessing in return for abiding by the terms of Obama’s nuclear deal.

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales. Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future…

The French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions. That would be a major departure from the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign to exact financial punishments on the regime in Tehran. Ironically, during his time in office, President Barack Obama followed a not-dissimilar approach to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, throttling Iran’s economy with sanctions before pledging relief for talks. The negotiations resulted in the Iran nuke deal that President Trump called “rotten”—and pulled the U.S. out of during his first term…

Several sources told The Daily Beast that foreign officials are expecting Trump to either agree to cooperate on the French deal or to offer to ease some sanctions on Tehran.

Bolton objected “vociferously” to the idea, the Daily Beast was told. (By whom, I wonder!) And who can blame him? As Josh Barro put it, “I don’t understand the point of withdrawing from the Iran deal and sanctioning Iran but then giving Iran financial aid to offset the effects of the sanctions in order to induce them to stay in the deal.” Does Trump want to cancel Obama’s deal and try to bring Iran to its knees with economic warfare or does he want to keep the deal in place and pull back on sanctions? His stick-and-carrot approach seems to be to beat the enemy with a stick and feed the enemy carrots at the same time.

Trump’s erratic Iran policy is swerving towards a reprise of Obama’s policy, notes Philip Klein, minus any overarching regional strategy:

At least in Obama’s case, it could be argued that the administration was consistent. They believed a policy of appeasing Iran would strengthen moderates, and reorient the Middle East, and they were hostile toward traditional U.S. allies in the region — the Arab states and Israel.

In Trump’s case, however, his Iran policy is all over the place. He decided to pull out of the Iran deal, but then short arm the “maximum pressure” campaign, and now wants to offer concessions in exchange for a meeting that would be a diplomatic coup for Iran without doing anything to advance U.S. interests. It’s unclear why Trump wanted to pull out of the deal in the first place if this is how he followed through.

If Trump thinks Obama’s nuclear deal is so terrible, Klein argues, the last thing he should want to do is keep its terms viable diplomatically. That’ll make it easy for a Democratic successor to recommit to it. Yet that’s exactly what he’s doing by dangling sanctions relief, whether in the form of France’s credit line or outright suspension of sanctions by the U.S., in exchange for Iran agreeing to reimplement O’s deal and sit down for talks with him and Mike Pompeo. He was asked yesterday by reporters whether he might ease sanctions on Iran, in fact, and didn’t rule it out. Meanwhile, Iran’s president has been adamant that he won’t talk to Trump unless and until sanctions are softened as a precondition. Iran’s driving a hard bargain and POTUS seems inclined to take it. The most you can say for Macron’s idea about a line of credit is that it would let Trump save face — a little — by putting some money in Iran’s hands ahead of talks without requiring the U.S. to make a major concession, like formally suspending sanctions. But again, the effect is the same. Pressure on Iran will be reduced. The Obama nuclear deal will be revived. Perhaps temporarily. Perhaps not.

I think this is what we’re in for on foreign policy generally over the next year. When Trump took office he was eager to show he was a tough guy. He bombed Assad; he threatened Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury;” he tore up Obama’s nuclear deal; he declared trade war on China. In each case he hoped the enemy would respond with capitulation. In each case it didn’t, so he’s in dealmaker mode now. He’s had two summits with his new friend Kim and is all but begging Iran to give him another. As economic forecasts turn darker ahead of the election, he’ll be frantic to make a deal with China that ends the tariff pain. If he can’t get a “win” playing hardball, he’s prepared to switch to softball — even if that means luring Iran back towards the term of the Obama accords that he supposedly despises.

But maybe it doesn’t matter. Aaron Kliegman is right that the recent standoff between Trump and Iran is really just the natural end of Obama’s agreement with the mullahs except on a sped-up timetable. The deal by its own terms was set to lapse in the next decade, freeing Iran to return to aggressive uranium enrichment and forcing western powers into a new conundrum about what to do about it. Well, that’s what’s happening now. Obama endorsed this crisis. He just didn’t expect his successor would be dealing with it.

The post Report: Trump considering allowing a $15 billion bailout of Iran appeared first on Hot Air.

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Report: Trump considered easing sanctions on Iran two days ago to encourage talks — over Bolton’s strong objection

Westlake Legal Group b-6 Report: Trump considered easing sanctions on Iran two days ago to encourage talks — over Bolton’s strong objection Trump The Blog Sanctions rouhani nuclear maximum pressure khamenei Iran deal Bolton

Golly, whoever leaked this to Bloomberg must have been pretty high up the food chain to know what the president was thinking on a matter as sensitive as Iran diplomacy.

And they must have a pretty sizable axe to grind with him if they’re willing to make him sound this weak, particularly in comparison to Bolton.

Any theories? Do any current or former disgruntled national security aides with a reputation for score-settling in the press present themselves as logical suspects?

The post-Bolton era will be a golden age of natsec leaking, my friends.

President Donald Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month, prompting then-National Security Advisor John Bolton to argue forcefully against such a step, according to three people familiar with the matter.

After an Oval Office meeting on Monday when the idea came up, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced his support for the move as a way to restart negotiations with Iran, some of the people said. Later in the day, Trump decided to oust Bolton, whose departure was announced Tuesday.

The White House has started preparations for Trump to meet with Rouhani this month in New York on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly the week of Sept. 23, according to the people. It’s far from clear if the Iranians would agree to talks while tough American sanctions remain in place…

Easing any sanctions without major concessions from Iran would undercut the pressure campaign that not only Bolton, but also Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Trump have said is the only effective way to make Iran change its behavior.

Macron has discussed brokering a meeting between Trump and a top Iranian diplomat. He might end up as the conduit at the UN.

Needless to say, backing off sanctions on Iran would mean abandoning the “maximum pressure” approach Trump has taken towards the country since exiting Obama’s nuclear deal. The two sides are playing a game of chicken right now: Trump has ramped up sanctions in hopes of bringing the Iranian economy to its knees (with some success, by the way), believing that they’ll cave and agree to nuclear terms more favorable to American in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran is ramping up its enrichment program again in hopes of making Trump panic about a new crisis in the Middle East, believing that he’ll cave and start lifting sanctions as a precondition to getting them back to the bargaining table. Iran’s president has explicitly said, in fact, that they won’t talk to the United States in a meaningful way unless Trump blinks first. Who’s the chicken?

If you believe this Bloomberg story, it sounds like Trump’s the chicken. Or will be soon.

A basic problem for him in trying to stare down Iran is that he keeps signaling how reluctant he is to let this cold war turn hot. Skepticism of war is his most laudable quality as president but he’s made such a show of it that it’s ended up undercutting the effectiveness of his “madman” image. Ideally Iran would be eager to talk with Trump without preconditions because they’ve concluded that he’s so wacky and bellicose that he just might order a bombing run on Tehran after all. And he is wacky in many things. But in matters of war he’s arguably more sober than his advisors, to the point of boasting that he canceled an attack on Iran because he cares about Iranian lives just that much. Iran is sizing him up; they knows there’s a presidential election coming; they know how eager Trump is to keep his campaign promise of avoiding new military entanglements; they know from his experience with North Korea (and more recently the Taliban) how enchanted he is by big peacemaker photo ops, even if they don’t produce anything meaningful for the United States. And so they’ve concluded that it’s safe to drive a hard bargain with the “madman” after all. His carrot-and-stick approach is really all carrot.

I mean, he sent Rand Paul to feel them out on talks, for fark’s sake. How much plainer can he be that he’s desperate for diplomacy?

They probably figure they can get him to recommit to the basic framework of the Obama nuclear deal so long as they add a few token bells and whistles and be sure to credit him lavishly with an unprecedented master stroke of diplomacy. But they’re going to test him first by refusing to agree to talks unless and until he blinks on sanctions. And now we find out that he’s thinking about blinking.

This Times piece from a few weeks ago about Iran coming around to the idea of talks with Trump caught my eye because it’s not what you’d expect in the current political climate. Trump’s polling has slipped lately. The trade war is deepening. He’s no better than a 50/50 shot at reelection. You might think that Iran would try to wait him out for 14 more months and see if they end up with a Democrat in 2021 who’s willing to reinstate the Obama nuclear deal. But no:

The new strategy, those who spoke about it said, was also predicated on dangling a foreign-policy victory to Mr. Trump that he could use to bolster his re-election prospects

If Mr. Trump wanted a “more comprehensive” deal than the existing accord, then Iran would consider his demand — and even discuss parts of its ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region — but in return Iran, too, would seek a more comprehensive guarantee from the United States for long-lasting economic relief, the people at the meeting said.

“This golden window of opportunity will likely not repeat in the next decade,” Sadegh Alhusseini, a senior foreign-policy and economic adviser to Mr. Jahangiri, said in a Twitter message. “This is the start of the game for Iran. Approaching U.S. elections give Iran a rare card to play with Trump.”

Iran might actually prefer a dovish Republican in office to a Democrat. Most of the hawkish impulse towards the country within the U.S. comes from the right, after all. With a Democrat in charge, those right-wing hawks are free to agitate for war, or at least “maximum pressure” in the form of sanctions. With Trump in office, they can’t. It’d be “disloyal” to the president to do so. It’s Trump’s party now, not John Bolton’s. So for Iran, friendly relations with Trump is basically a risk-free gamble. If they hand him a diplomatic win and he’s reelected, he’ll owe them in his second term and will be eager to build on the fledgling detente. If they hand him a diplomatic win and he loses, his Democratic successor will be reluctant to toss Iran’s olive branch to Trump aside and resume a hostile posture. It’s Democrats even more so than Republicans who want better relations with Iran, after all.

So what do they lose by talking to him and just maybe nailing down a grand bargain in which America formally recognizes the regime and renounces future efforts at regime change? For cripes sake, he was willing to legitimize the Taliban with a U.S. visit without even demanding they commit to a ceasefire. He’ll have Rouhani over for a state dinner before 2020 is out. No doubt they think they can roll him, especially with Bolton now out of the picture. But just to be sure, they’re going to test him to see if he’s willing to blink on sanctions first. He probably will.

The post Report: Trump considered easing sanctions on Iran two days ago to encourage talks — over Bolton’s strong objection appeared first on Hot Air.

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Analysts: North Korea has ramped up production of nuclear material, missiles during diplomacy with Trump

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The “denuclearization” effort seems to be having rather the opposite effect.

Analysts who pore over satellite images of the isolated country paint a different picture: North Korea’s scientists have ramped up production of long-range missiles and the fissile material used in nuclear weapons…

Analysts at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency say North Korea’s scientists may have produced 12 nuclear weapons since the first Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore last year. In total, Pyongyang could currently possess between 20 and 60 nuclear bombs, according to estimates by various security analysts.

The evidence is circumstantial, as satellite surveillance always is, but watch below as the WSJ makes its case. North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility does appear to be humming along with activity. Which isn’t surprising, is it? The NorKs have suspended missile testing while the U.S. has scaled back military exercises with South Korea, but America continues to wield its big club, sanctions. Go figure that the NorKs are keeping their big club in hand too.

Plus, cranking out new nuclear bombs is North Korea’s way of buying more chips for its eventual negotiations with the U.S. A year ago they might have been expected to surrender, say, 30 bombs in exchange for major U.S. concessions. What can they get a year later in return for 40 bombs instead?

Having the NorKs arm up while Kim gladhands Trump at the DMZ is embarrassing for the White House, but in Trump’s defense, what’s the alternative? If he’s not willing to see the Korean peninsula laid waste, persisting with halting top-level diplomacy while the regime quietly increases its nuclear advantage over its neighbors is the only option. I doubt anyone in the administration believes at this point that the U.S. can intimidate North Korea into denuclearizing; Trump’s two summits with Kim are the best evidence yet that we’ve committed to a containment strategy with the North, with the White House possibly focused now on limiting Kim’s intercontinental reach than on limiting his nuclear supply. The NorKs have already tested missiles capable of reaching the U.S. but it’s unclear what sort of nuclear warhead they might carry and even whether the missiles could survive reentry into the atmosphere from orbit. If Trump could convince Kim to destroy his long-range missiles while retaining his weapons in return for sanctions relief, which would leave Japan and South Korea but not the United States under threat, would he go for that? America First!

If he did, would anything be left of America’s Far East alliances?

North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea just yesterday to show Trump that they’re impatient with negotiations. Three days ago they threatened to end the moratorium on missile tests, upping the ante; if Kim resumed long-range tests, lord only knows how Trump would respond. You can understand, though, why Iran would be reluctant to sit down with Trump as it watches this all play out. What has the North gained from diplomacy besides a shot of prestige for Kim in having the president of the United States’s undivided attention? Sanctions on North Korea have remained in effect throughout, and Iran doesn’t have the same thirst for legitimacy via a summit photo op as North Korea does since it enjoys relations already with most other countries in the world. What Trump could do to try to entice Iran to the table is lift some sanctions on North Korea preemptively as a reward for their willingness to talk, signaling to Iran that the path to relief from their own sanctions depends on them chatting with him first. But then he’ll be attacked by hawks here for weakness, and he’ll need a concession from Kim in return in order to save face. It’s unthinkable that he’d phase out some sanctions purely as a goodwill gesture, without reciprocation. I think that’s what he’ll end up doing — limited sanctions relief in return for some NorK concession packaged with arrangements for a third summit. Then it’ll be up to Iran to reach out.

Exit question: Based on everything that’s happened, if Iran wants a heart-to-heart with Trump, they should probably start building their own nuclear weapons, right? That’s the incentive scheme here.

The post Analysts: North Korea has ramped up production of nuclear material, missiles during diplomacy with Trump appeared first on Hot Air.

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Report: Trump taps Rand Paul as envoy to Iran to negotiate detente

Westlake Legal Group r-1 Report: Trump taps Rand Paul as envoy to Iran to negotiate detente Trump The Blog sellout republican Rand Paul nuclear Lindsey Graham Iran hawk envoy deal cheney Bolton

I love it so much, purely for petty political reasons. Imagine the sting of the tears rolling down Lindsey Graham’s cheeks when he heard this news. Imagine the torrents of profanity emanating from John Bolton. Day in and day out, hawks doggedly kiss the president’s ass in hopes of keeping him open-minded about their interventionist ideas. He’s an isolationist by instinct — but he’s also consumed with projecting “strength,” a great asset to hawks in convincing him to abandon Obama’s nuclear deal. There’s no country on earth whom Washington interventionists are more eager to have a showdown with than Iran; at a minimum, they expect their endless sycophancy towards Trump to pay off in presidential resolve to keep up a maximum pressure campaign towards the mullahs.

So now here he is deputizing the most prominent isolationist in Congress, the son and heir to Ron farking Paul, to reach out to Iran’s foreign minister. Not Lindsey Graham. Not Tom Cotton. Not Liz Cheney. Not his own NSA, for cripes sake. Rand Paul. Everyone who tries to toady to Trump for their own reasons eventually gets stabbed in the gut, it seems. (Except Rand?) Which makes it that much more amazing that so many Republicans continue to be eager to toady to him.

Anyway, too bad POTUS doesn’t have a bureau of professional diplomats for something like this. Silver lining, though: At least he didn’t tap Tucker Carlson for the job.

Over a round of golf this past weekend, Sen. Rand Paul asked President Donald Trump’s blessing for a sensitive diplomatic mission.

Paul proposed sitting down with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to extend a fresh olive branch on the president’s behalf, according to four U.S. officials. The aim: to reduce tensions between the two countries. Trump signed off on the idea.

With Zarif in New York City this week for U.N. meetings and private sitdowns with journalists and think-tank experts, the prospect of the dovish Kentucky senator serving as the administration’s chief diplomatic emissary has rankled many administration officials, who are expressing concern that Paul’s intervention threatens to scuttle the president’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran

The move smacks of desperation, said Mark Dubowitz, head of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has pushed for a hard line on Iran.

It does seem a little desperate. Trump’s strategy towards Iran, such as it is, is straightforward: Tear up the nuke deal, slap crushing sanctions on them, and then … cross your fingers and wait. Hopefully the economic toll is so great that they come crawling to the bargaining table, ready and willing to fully denuclearize. If we’re really, really, really lucky, the economy will turn so bad that Iranians will turn restive and an insurrection will start to gather momentum.

And if none of that happens and they decide to wait the United States out, with high tensions liable to cause an incident that leads to war? The White House will get back to you.

That’s why we’re getting Rand Paul, international diplomat. The only way out of this as far as Trump is concerned is talks, and he’s willing to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks towards that end. He won’t go to war unless Iran forces him by launching the first attack, and he won’t — yet — relax sanctions as a goodwill gesture to entice them to talk with him. But he will name one of the most conspicuously dovish politicians in the United States to reach out, in case they’re still unclear that Trump is willing to make concessions in the name of resolving this standoff. This marks the second time in less than three weeks, in fact, that Trump has excluded his hawkish NSA, John Bolton, from diplomacy with an enemy of the United States in favor of a more dovish presence: Remember that it was Tucker Carlson, not Bolton, who was with Trump for the grip-and-grin with Kim Jong Un at the DMZ. Now Bolton and Mike Pompeo are being shoved aside in favor of Rand Paul because Trump needs a new way to signal to Iran that he’s prepared to make nice in the name of peace.

Most leaders would insist that their own White House staff carry out negotiations with an enemy regime, not just as a matter of basic loyalty but to communicate that the administration stands united and that the enemy had better be prepared to make real concessions to persuade reluctant U.S. officials to reach a compromise. Sending Paul instead feels like a concession in and of itself, right out of the box, before anything serious had been discussed. “The one thing that these guys don’t understand is the more desperate they look for a deal the more the Iranian regime will play hard to get,” said Dubowitz of Paul being deputized. If it wasn’t clear enough to Iran before that Trump is truly desperate for a way out of this standoff, knowing that he runs the risk of Iran lashing out and plunging him into a war he doesn’t want if it doesn’t get solved, sending an American who’s more to their liking in lieu of his own guys is it.

By the way, note this tweet from Iran’s foreign minister a few weeks ago:

The “B team” is Zarif’s term for top anti-Iran hawks in the U.S. and beyond: Bolton, Netanyahu, and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the Times of Israel. In other words, Zarif is already pursuing a strategy of trying to divide Trump from his own advisors and international allies by suggesting to him that he’s being manipulated into war by a nefarious cabal that doesn’t have his best interests — a message which the conspiratorial Trump might be receptive to, especially on this subject. “I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn’t mind,” said Zarif in an interview a few days ago, again trying to turn Trump against his advisors. And now here’s POTUS sending Rand Paul to talk to him instead of Pompeo. Weird but true: America picks Great Britain’s diplomats nowadays, it seems, and Iran picks America’s.

Liz Cheney and several dozen other hawks sent POTUS a letter today begging him to maintain his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, realizing now how much that’s in doubt. It’s gonna be so amazing when Rand Paul negotiates an Obama-level sellout to Iran for Trump and all the Republican hawks in Congress who are terrified of losing Trump’s favor have to stand there and applaud the deal through their tears.

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Advisor to Rouhani warns Trump: We’ve ended U.S. presidencies before — so listen to Tucker Carlson

Westlake Legal Group tc Advisor to Rouhani warns Trump: We’ve ended U.S. presidencies before — so listen to Tucker Carlson Tucker Carlson Trump The Blog rouhani Obama nuclear keane Iran hesameddin ashena Bolton

Just a normal day in geopolitics in 2019, with an apparatchik in a fundamentalist Muslim regime publicly trolling the president of the United States by warning him to listen to Fox News’s peacenik 8 p.m. host instead of to his cabinet.

Coming tomorrow: The North Koreans call for urgent trilateral high-level denuclearization talks between Kim Jong Un, Trump, and Judge Jeanine.

God, Hannity must have seen this and been so jealous. And John Bolton must have seen it and felt vindicated in believing that Tucker is a useful idiot.

The president they allegedly “unseated” was Carter by refusing to release American hostages until Reagan had already been safely elected. Trump has been trolling them today too in response to the news this morning that Iran might begin enriching uranium beyond the low levels needed to merely power a reactor.

If Iran were to go from 3.67 percent enrichment to 20 percent, the risk of an Iranian “breakout” to weapons-grade uranium would rise dramatically, probably forcing the U.S. and/or Israel to act. They’re threatening him now to try to get him to lift some of the sanctions that are choking off their economy as a prelude to talks, but he’s refused thus far. If he won’t budge, what do they do next to pressure him? Attacking American assets would ignite a war. Ratcheting up enrichment might be their only “peaceful” way of getting his attention and showing they mean business.

By the way, if they’re looking to influence Trump by encouraging him to listen to certain advisors, Tucker’s probably not the person they should be touting. The man they should be looking to is Gen. Jack Keane. Per Politico, a segment he did on Fox on the day Trump was mulling whether to attack Iran for downing a U.S. drone hugely influenced Trump’s thinking:

“Our viewers may have forgotten, but during the tanker war in the late ‘80s when Reagan did take some action, we actually made a mistake,” Keane said, referring to President Ronald Reagan. “We had a USS warship shoot down an Iranian airliner in Iranian airspace. Two-hundred ninety people killed. Sixty-six of them were children. And we took that for a Tomahawk F-14. That was clearly a mistake by the ship’s crew in doing that. And we acknowledged that we made a horrific mistake.”

Keane’s reference to the United States’ accidental downing of an Iranian commercial airliner in 1988 made a profound impact on the president, who was “spooked” when he learned of the incident, according to two sources briefed on his reaction. The president made repeated comments about the tragedy on the evening of the 20th, leading aides to believe that Keane’s brief history lesson exacerbated Trump’s pre-existing doubts about carrying out the strike.

The good news: Trump ended up making a good call, one which a huge majority of voters support. The bad news: Whether we end up starting a major Middle East war with Iran may depend on whoever Fox News happens to have on during a given day and whether Trump happens to be watching at a particular moment.

Nothing to worry about.

Exit question: Has Tucker explained his view on the air yet of what the U.S. should do about Iran’s nuclear program? He’s been clear on the “no war” part. Would he drop sanctions as well and revert to the terms of the Obama nuclear deal? If he supports Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign in hopes of squeezing Iran until they agree to denuclearize, what should we do if they make good on their threat to start escalating enrichment instead?

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Trump threatens Iran with obliteration over further attacks after Rouhani calls White House “afflicted by mental retardation”

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Listen, I don’t know how they do it in Iran, buddy, but in America we don’t use ugly, archaic terms like “mental retardation.”

The proper term for our White House is “developmentally disabled.”

In the post-Trump world, high-stakes international diplomacy is basically indistinguishable from a Twitter flame war.

“The useless sanctioning of Islamic Revolution Supreme Leader (Khamenei) and the commander of Iranian diplomacy means closing the doors of diplomacy by the U.S.′ desperate administration,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi tweeted. “Trump’s government is annihilating all the established international mechanisms for keeping peace and security in the world.”…

“You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks,” an exasperated Rouhani said, calling the sanctions “outrageous and idiotic.”

“The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do,” he added.

No one’s going to call POTUS a retard on the playground and get away with it:

He thought his show of magnanimity in declining to hit back after Iran downed our drone might produce a diplomatic breakthrough. He spared dozens of Iranian lives and took care to emphasize that those lives were on his mind when he gave the order to stand down. That was an olive branch. When Iran didn’t accept it, he tightened the screws with a few new sanctions. Now here’s Iran warning that those sanctions have closed the doors on diplomacy.

In other words, this has turned into a game of chicken to see which side wants talks more badly. Trump’s gambling that the economic pain from sanctions will cause Iran to capitulate and beg him for negotiations. Iran’s betting that Trump will agree to relax sanctions as a precondition — a new olive branch — to talks. The regime doesn’t want to lose face by transparently succumbing to America’s pressure campaign; they need Trump to give them a way to agree to talks that doesn’t look like a surrender. That means America needs to move first in suspending sanctions.

Is he willing to do that? If not, if he insists on an Iranian surrender under pressure, then the threat of an Iranian provocation that results in war will grow. Either they’ll attack Americans in the region or they’ll try to resume their nuclear program and Trump will feel compelled to act militarily. Which is a bad outcome for him: Because he’s not a hawk, because he got elected in 2016 on a platform of reducing America’s entanglements in the Middle East, he’s at least as wary of war as Iran is. He’s risking his presidency potentially by refusing to back off from sanctions if that’s Iran price for a summit. Bolton and Pompeo will urge him to stand firm and keep the pressure on, but Trump will want to be conciliatory. What does he do?

Here’s Bolton earlier today at a press conference in his surreal new role as America’s olive-branch-extender, urging Iran to walk through the open door of diplomacy that Trump has provided for them. Every media account of last week’s White House deliberations that I’ve read had Bolton in favor of attacking Iran over the downed U.S. drone. Now this. Speaking of which, according to Morning Consult, the public strongly approves of Trump’s decision to hold off on bombing Iran. Fully 65 percent agreed that calling off the strikes was the right thing to do, a level of bipartisan support rarely seen during Trump’s presidency.

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Iran: You have 10 days until we pass the limit of uranium we’re allowed to stockpile under the nuclear agreement

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This threat is aimed at Europe more so than at the U.S., although their problem will become our problem if they can’t reach some economic accommodation with Iran quickly. If not, what does Trump propose to do? Both he and Khamenei have ruled out talks, and I suspect Khamenei’s less willing to budge on that than Trump is. (Even John Bolton is willing to entertain diplomacy with Iran now, for cripes sake.) Meanwhile, Trump has reportedly all but ruled out war, recognizing that it would betray his pledge in 2016 to put America first by reducing foreign entanglements.

So if Iran starts to increase enrichment again, what’s the plan to make them stop? More sanctions? Hand the baton to the IAF and wish them luck? Look the other way and hope that a diplomatic breakthrough will arrive before Iran has a stash of weapons-grade uranium?

Remember, although Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from Obama’s nuclear deal and ramped up sanctions, the deal remains in effect momentarily between Iran and the European signatories. America’s sanctions were aimed at bringing “maximum pressure” on Iran, and they’re succeeding; the economic pain has driven Iran to demand that Europe provide some relief ASAP or else it’ll quit the deal too. That helps explain the spate of mysterious tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman lately, as well as the news last week that Iran has increased production of low-enriched uranium. They’re saber-rattling, warning the Europeans that they might go rogue — including on nuclear development — if the money doesn’t start flowing soon. Today’s news is the latest rattle:

Iran is ramping up enrichment of low-grade uranium and will pass the limit it is allowed to stockpile under the nuclear deal in 10 days, a spokesman for the Iranian atomic agency announced Monday…

After exceeding the limit, Iran will accelerate uranium enrichment to 3.7%, Kamalvandi said — above the 3.67% mandated by the nuclear deal. Enrichment at this percentage is enough to continue powering parts of the country’s energy needs, but not enough to ever build a nuclear bomb…

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the nuclear deal, called on the international community to immediately impose sanctions on Iran if it violates the 2015 agreement.

Netanyahu wants “snapback sanctions” applied under the terms of the deal if Iran violates it, but of course Iran will claim that America violated the deal first by withdrawing, before Iran began to increase enrichment. Europe will be sympathetic to that argument since it fears Iran going rogue and wants to keep the deal intact to discourage that. In fact, the European signatories have already created a financial mechanism called Instex that aims to enable trade with Iran while evading U.S. sanctions — although, per the Atlantic, the U.S. has threatened to sanction Instex too. (Iran’s counterpart to Instex is also under threat of sanction, of course.) That’s a threshold gut-check question for Trump and Congress: Are they inclined to look the other way at Instex if it begins trading with Iran? If they’re serious about “maximum pressure,” they should sanction it and try to choke Iran off completely from trade with the west — although in that case, a desperate Iran might seek a nuclear “breakout,” enriching uranium to high levels and maybe trying to build a bomb.

If instead the U.S. allows Instex to trade with Iran without sanction, then the “maximum pressure” campaign has a giant loophole. Iran’s economy will be bolstered, not crushed. But that’ll also likely convince Tehran to dial back enrichment and maybe calm down in the Gulf, averting a giant foreign-policy headache before the election. Which way does Trump want to go on this?

Note that Iran’s not just threatening to produce more low-enriched uranium beyond the 300 kg they’re allowed under the terms of the nuclear deal. They’re threatening to refine the uranium they’ve already stockpiled to higher levels, a prerequisite to building a bomb:

He also raised the specter of increasing its enrichment levels, saying Iran needs 5% enriched uranium for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and 20% enriched fuel for its Tehran research reactor…

The danger, nuclear nonproliferation experts warn, is that at 20% enrichment, only a fraction of atoms need to be removed to enrich up to weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Assume Instex is sanctioned, Europe decides that it would rather trade with the U.S. than Iran, and Iran ends up without an economic lifeline. In Bolton’s dream scenario, the Iranian people revolt over their sudden economic hardship, the mullahs are deposed, the new liberal interim Iranian government agrees to give up nukes forever, and Trump hosts the interim president for a grip-and-grin and KFC at the White House. In the nightmare scenario, the economic hardship begins to tilt more Iranians towards the hardliners within the regime, the hardliners insist on more provocations in the Gulf and higher levels of enrichment, and Iran sets out to amass enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb. The good news is that, even in the nightmare scenario, this can’t happen overnight: Last year the Times spoke to experts and estimated that it would take Iran at least a year, perhaps considerably longer, to first stockpile enough low-enriched uranium and then to refine it to bomb-grade levels. The bad news is that U.S. intelligence about Middle Eastern countries’ nuclear capabilities has traditionally been, well, problematic.

But maybe that’s the plan. Isolate Iran economically, let ’em attempt a nuclear breakout, and trust that the economic pain will lead them to beg for mercy and negotiations before they have the HEU they need in hand. (Or before Israel acts.) How lucky do you feel?

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Pompeo: We’re ready to talk to Iran — without preconditions

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Lots of agita about this yesterday on social media. Didn’t America’s right wing have a collective aneurysm in 2007 when Obama said at a Democratic primary debate that he’d talk to Iran without preconditions? We sure did!

Our Republican Secretary of State has embraced the Obama position. Important footnote, though: The Obama position also happens to be the Trump position. Don’t the people freaking out about Pompeo remember that POTUS said the same thing last year?

You can play the “What if Obama did it?” game to gauge righty hypocrisy with virtually every outre thing Trump does, but I do think it’s possible to have opposed talks with Iran in 2008 and to support them in 2019 for reasons other than rank partisanship. Time does matter in a situation like this. I can remember feeling incensed at reports circa 2008 that the U.S. wanted to talk to the Taliban to see if the two sides could feel their way towards some diplomatic resolution in Afghanistan. We were less than a decade removed from 9/11 and already we were looking to accommodate the jihadi enemy? Unthinkable. Outrageous.

Eleven weary years of stalemate later, the choice has narrowed to talks with the Taliban or unilateral withdrawal and outright forfeiture of the country to the bad guys. What do we have to lose by hearing them out?

Same goes for North Korea, although in that case the options have narrowed not to “talks or defeat” but to “talks or nuclear war.” A decade ago, it was possible to believe that sanctions might grind down the regime before it managed to build a nuclear ICBM. In 2019 it’s no longer possible. As gross as it was to see the president of the United States reward Kim Jong Un for his brinksmanship with a face-to-face summit, I grudgingly supported Trump on it just because the alternative is unthinkable. He tried something bold diplomatically to avert cataclysm. It’s hard to fault him for it.

Although it’s easy to fault him for all the vomit-generating warm words he’s wasted on Kim since then.

Talking to Iran without preconditions is reluctantly defensible along the same lines. We’ve been waiting a long time for the Great Pumpkin of regime change to arrive there. We expected that the Iraq war would frighten them into a more modest regional role. We hoped that jettisoning the nuclear deal would force them to the table for fear of new sanctions by the United States. It may be worth following that last strategy for awhile longer but eventually, and maybe sooner than we think, Iran will reach the point that North Korea has in developing a nuclear weapon with intercontinental reach. What then?

I’ll repeat what I said last year too after Trump’s comments, that “talks without preconditions” is more digestible when you’ve worked to improve your bargaining strength. One of the things that alarmed righties about Obama calling for talks as a candidate was that it played into the fear that he’d be a pushover as a commander-in-chief. He hadn’t even taken the job yet and was already seemingly inviting Iran to the Oval Office. In Trump’s case, though, he’s torn up the nuclear deal, bombed Iran’s client in Syria twice, hugged Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as tightly as he can, and most recently ordered a naval build-up in the Gulf to deter possible attacks by Iran on U.S. interests there. He’s not pitching “talks without preconditions” so much as he’s pitching “talks without preconditions or else.” If U.S. muscle-flexing ends up frightening Iran into conciliation, talks may be worth holding.

In lieu of an exit question, a trip down memory lane.

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Rod Rosenstein Goes Nuclear on James Comey and It’s Beautiful

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I don’t think he’ll be getting plaudits from CNN anymore after this.

He had been rehabbed for a while after revelations about him wanting to record the President came out. His handling of Robert Mueller, or better yet his complete lack of oversight of the situation, also pleased resistance members everywhere.

Well, kiss that good will goodbye because Rosenstein lit up James Comey tonight in remarks before the Greater Baltimore Committee. This report is via Fox News.

Rod Rosenstein unloaded on former FBI Director James Comey in remarks to the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) on Monday evening, slamming Comey’s turn as a “partisan pundit,” reiterating that he deserved to be fired, and faulting him for trampling “bright lines that should never be crossed.”

Here’s the some of the criticism.

“Now, the former director is a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul,” Rosenstein said. “That is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally, we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony.”

Holy crap, that’s brutal. It’s also completely true.

Comey’s biggest flaw, aside from being a corrupt partisan, is that he sees himself as some kind of virtuous savior. Instead of following protocol, Comey spent his time staring into the abyss and making moral judgements on legal matters that should only be based on evidentiary standards.

Rod Rosenstein sees through Comey’s facade and pulls no punches. The shots at him about being a media pundit are also well deserved. Comey is not a serious person. He’s out to make a buck and keep his spot on the D.C. cocktail circuit.

The Hillary email investigation was also brought up in Rosenstein’s speech.

“The clearest mistake was the director’s decision to hold a press conference about an open case, reveal his recommendation and discuss details about the investigation, without the consent of the prosecutors and the attorney general,” Rosenstein said. “Then, he chose to send a letter to the Congress on the eve of the election stating that one of the candidates was under criminal investigation, expecting it to be released immediately to the public.”

Rosenstein added: “Those actions were not within the range of reasonable decisions. They were inconsistent with our goal of communicating to all FBI employees that they should respect the attorney general’s role, refrain from disclosing information about criminal investigations, avoid disparaging uncharged persons, and above all, not take unnecessary steps that could influence an election.”

This is basically the same thing that Robert Mueller did with his report. Instead of doing his job and simply making a recommendation on obstruction, he included thousands of footnotes in his report. The purpose of that was smear people who he didn’t have the guts to charge while not even doing the one thing he was appointed to do, which was to decide on the obstruction question.

Comey’s press conference may have actually been beneficial to Republicans at the time but that doesn’t change the fact that it was completely inappropriate. His appropriation of Loretta Lynch’s role (with her blessing via the scheme she cooked up) showed that Comey had no care for legal norms or standards. He essentially appointed himself as a fourth branch of government and to this day thinks he was righteous for doing so.

People like that are dangerous to have in governmental positions. Someone with no boundaries can justify doing anything and swear they are virtuous while doing it. Comey’s current mindset, complete with introspective tweets staring at trees, borders on delusion.

Firing Comey was long overdue and it’s nice to see Rosenstein not back down from his recommendation to do so. He should probably lay low a few days because the backlash from the media and liberals is going to be swift.

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