Drum of War

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

Guess who doesn't want war with Iran? Trump supporters 

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books on international affairs

The Guardian: Supporters of Donald Trump who hoped that he would adopt a new, less interventionist foreign policy for the United States have ample reasons to feel disappointed. The administration’s increasingly belligerent policy toward Iran, which may lead to war, is just the most recent case in which the president has betrayed those supporters.

During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly condemned Washington’s regime-change wars and nation-building crusades. Much to the shock and fury of the other Republican candidates, he did not confine his criticism to policies that Barack Obama’s administration pursued; instead he excoriated George W Bush for the Iraq war and the seemingly endless military mission in Afghanistan.

An increasingly war-weary American public seemed receptive to Trump’s message. Even a sizable faction of Republican voters broke with the party’s more conventional presidential candidates, who continued to express rote endorsements of Bush’s actions and the underlying policy rationale. Those voters also reacted favorably to Trump’s demands for greater burden-sharing by Washington’s allies in Europe and east Asia.

It is hard to measure just how large a factor Trump’s break with the bipartisan orthodoxy on foreign policy was in his demolition of opponents in the Republican primaries and his upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the general election. But it certainly was a factor. Even voters who were wary about some of Trump’s other policy views – and questions about his character and demeanor– were uneasy about Clinton’s hawkish record.

As secretary of state, she had been a key architect of the Obama administration’s ill-advised military intervention to unseat Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi – a move that created chaos in that country. After she left office, Clinton lobbied heavily for a similar US intervention to help rebels overthrow the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps most troubling, she pushed for a highly confrontational policy toward Russia, even comparing President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Antagonizing a nuclear-armed power did not seem like a prudent strategy to worried voters who then gravitated toward Trump’s call for improved US relations with Moscow.

Once in office, though, it was not long before Trump’s actions contrasted sharply with his campaign rhetoric. Vice-President Mike Pence and the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, quickly assured the European allies of Washington’s undying devotion to its Nato commitments. Trump himself voiced similar sentiments. Although he also continued making brusque demands for greater burden-sharing, such comments undercut the latter message >>>

Dangerous Decline

Cartoon by The New Yorker

Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the summary of which was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, meeting on 29 April – 4 May in Paris.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said.

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz (Argentina), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Josef Settele (Germany) and Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio (Brazil and USA). “The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reefforming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius – with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics – impacts expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.

Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.

“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Prof. Brondízio. “Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions.” >>>

Bicycle Ban

Cartoon by Touka Neyestani

CHRI: Isfahan Prosecutor Bans “Sinful Act” of Women Riding Bicycles

Trump's Iran Deal

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

Saudi Newspaper, Owned by MBS' Brother, Urges U.S. 'Surgical Strikes' on Iran

Haaretz: A state-aligned Saudi newspaper is calling for "surgical" U.S. strikes in retaliation against alleged threats from Iran.

The Arab News published an editorial in English on Thursday, arguing that after incidents this week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step "should be surgical strikes."

It added that it's "clear that [U.S.] sanctions are not sending the right message" and that Iran "must be hit hard," without elaborating on what specific targets should be struck.

The newspaper's publisher is the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a company that had long been chaired by various sons of King Salman until 2014 and is regarded as reflecting official position. Turki bin Salman al Saud owns the group and is the brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia's deputy defense minister on Thursday accused Iran of ordering an attack on Saudi oil pumping stations which Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia claimed responsibility for.

The attack "proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda," tweeted Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of King Salman.

"The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts."

The Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen for four years, said they carried out Tuesday's drone strikes against the East-West pipeline, which caused a fire but Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports.

Other Saudi officials fired off similar tweets, ratcheting up pressure on the kingdom's regional archenemy amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran over sanctions and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf.

"The Houthis are an integral part of the Revolutionary Guard forces of Iran and follow their orders, as proven by them targeting installations in the kingdom," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir tweeted.

The ambassador to Yemen followed up, writing that the Houthis had "made Yemen a platform for Iranian terrorism against Yemenis and their interests, and a tool to attack Saudi Arabia."

The coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western nations, carried out airstrikes on Thursday in and around the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa. It intervened in 2015 to restore Yemen's internationally recognised government.

The drone attack happened two days after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were damaged by sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The other ships were a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE-flagged bunker barge.

The most dangerous man in the world

Cartoon by R.J. Matson

Is John Bolton the most dangerous man in the world?

The Guardian: Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton wants the United States to go to war with Iran.

We know this because he has been saying it for nearly two decades.

And everything that the Trump administration has done over its Iran policy, particularly since Bolton became Trump’s top foreign policy adviser in April of 2018, must be viewed through this lens, including the alarming US military posturing in the Middle East of the past two weeks.

Just after one month on the job, Bolton gave Trump the final push he needed to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, which at the time was (and still is, for now) successfully boxing in Iran’s nuclear program and blocking all pathways for Iran to build a bomb. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the Iran deal is formally known – was the biggest obstacle to Bolton’s drive for a regime change war, because it eliminated a helpful pretext that served so useful to sell the war in Iraq 17 years ago.

Since walking away from the deal, the Trump administration has claimed that with a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, it can achieve a “better deal” that magically turns Iran into a Jeffersonian democracy bowing to every and any American wish. But this has always been a fantastically bad-faith argument meant to obscure the actual goal (regime change) and provide cover for the incremental steps – the crushing sanctions, bellicose rhetoric, and antagonizing military maneuvers – that have now put the United States closer to war with Iran than it has been since at least the latter half of the Bush administration, or perhaps ever.

And Bolton has no qualms about manipulating or outright ignoring intelligence to advance his agenda, which is exactly what’s happening right now.

In his White House statement 10 days ago announcing (an already pre-planned) carrier and bomber deployment to the Middle East, Bolton cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran to justify the bolstered US military presence. But multiple sources who have seen the same intelligence have since said that Bolton and the Trump administration blew it “out of proportion, characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was”. Even a British general operating in the region pushed back this week, saying he has seen no evidence of an increased Iranian threat.

What’s even more worrying is that Bolton knows what he’s doing. He’s “a seasoned bureaucratic infighter who has the skills to press forcefully for his views” – and he has a long history of using those skills to undermine American diplomacy and work toward killing arms control agreements.

As a senior official in the George W Bush administration, he played key role in the collapse of the Agreed Framework, the Clinton-era deal that froze North Korea’s plutonium nuclear program (the North Koreans tested their first bomb four years later).

He said he “felt like a kid on Christmas day” after he orchestrated the US withdrawal from the international criminal court in 2002. And now as a senior official in the Trump administration, he pushed for the US to withdrawal from a crucial nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

While it’s unclear how much of a role he played in scuttling Trump’s negotiations with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi last year, he publicly called for the so-called “Libya model” with the North Koreans (in other words, regime change by force). Just months before joining the administration, he tried to make the legal case for a preventive war against Pyongyang. And if you think he cares about the aftermath of war with North Korea, he doesn’t. Bolton was reportedly “unmoved” by a presentation during his time in the Bush administration of the catastrophic consequences of such a war. “I don’t do war. I do policy,” he said then.

So far, Bolton has been successful in moving the United States toward his desired outcome with Iran – if getting the Pentagon to draw up plans to send 120,000 US troops to the region to confront Iran is any indication. There are hopeful signs that we can avoid war, as US officials and our European allies, seemingly alarmed by what Bolton is up to, are sounding the alarm about the Trump administration skewing intelligence on Iran.

But Bolton is on a fast track, seemingly aware that Trump’s time in office may be limited. The question, ultimately, is whether the president can stick to his instincts of avoiding more military conflict, or acquiesce to a man hellbent on boxing him into a corner with no way out other than war with Iran.

Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress.

Trump's war whisperer

Cartoon by Steve Sack

John Bolton is Donald Trump's war whisperer

by Peter Bergen 

CNN: John Bolton, President Trump's national security adviser, seemingly hasn't met a war he doesn't love.

Bolton was a prominent proponent of the Iraq War and he has never evinced any doubt about the wisdom of that decision, telling the Washington Examiner four years ago, "I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct."

By contrast, last year President Trump said the Iraq War was "the single worst decision ever made."

Just before he was installed a little over a year ago as Trump's national security adviser, Bolton advocated for a pre-emptive war against North Korea in the Wall Street Journal.

The US government is now ramping up tensions with the volatile North Korean regime, announcing Thursday that it had "recently" taken into custody a North Korean ship that was defying sanctions on the nuclear-armed state -- the first time the US has taken such an action.

But Trump's general approach on North Korea has been to engage in negotiations with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

In recent weeks Bolton pushed for a coup in Venezuela involving opposition leader Juan Guaido that was believed to have the backing of key officers of the nation's military. The US-backed uprising seems to have fizzled.

Trump has since expressed frustration to White House officials about Bolton's overly aggressive Venezuela policy.

On Thursday, President Trump said that he actually moderates the bellicose Bolton: "I'm the one who tempers him, which is OK. I have John Bolton and I have people who are a little more dovish than him."

Bolton's enthusiasm for the muscular use of the military seems out of place in the administration of a President who has repeatedly questioned and sought to end America's wars in the Middle East.

Yet while Trump and Bolton may be out of step with each other on policy toward Venezuela and North Korea, one country they both seem to be on the same page about is Iran.

Bolton, 70, has espoused deeply conservative views since he was a teenager. The son of a Baltimore firefighter, Bolton worked on the Barry Goldwater Republican presidential campaign in 1964, and he later interned for President Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew. Bolton went to Yale and then to Yale Law School. He has worked in Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan's first term.

Bolton has long rejected any constraints on American power. The happiest moment Bolton had when he was working for the US State Department was when he "unsigned" the agreement that made the United States a party to the International Criminal Court, which he saw as a risk for US political and military leaders who might be charged with war crimes. After Bolton pulled the United States out of the agreement in 2002, he said he felt like a kid on Christmas Day.

When Bolton became Trump's national security adviser, he ensured that anyone on the International Criminal Court who was investigating American soldiers or intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan was denied visas to the United States.

Bolton's dislike of the Iranian regime is longstanding. In 2015, Bolton wrote in the New York Times that the United States should bomb Iran because "Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program," which is exactly what Iran did that same year when it negotiated an agreement with the Obama administration to halt its nuclear weapons program.

The New York Times reported Monday that Bolton has ordered up military options that were presented to top Trump national security officials last week. They include the potential deployment of as many as 120,000 American troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American targets in the region or resumes work on its nuclear weapons program >>>

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.


Echoes of Iraq War

Cartoon by Ed Gamble

White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War

The New York Times: At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. It does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.

The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

It is highly uncertain whether Mr. Trump, who has sought to disentangle the United States from Afghanistan and Syria, ultimately would send so many American forces back to the Middle East.

It is also unclear whether the president has been briefed on the number of troops or other details in the plans. On Monday, asked about if he was seeking regime change in Iran, Mr. Trump said: “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake.”

There are sharp divisions in the administration over how to respond to Iran at a time when tensions are rising about Iran’s nuclear policy and its intentions in the Middle East.

Some senior American officials said the plans, even at a very preliminary stage, show how dangerous the threat from Iran has become. Others, who are urging a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions, said it amounts to a scare tactic to warn Iran against new aggressions.

European allies who met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said that they worry that tensions between Washington and Tehran could boil over, possibly inadvertently.

More than a half-dozen American national security officials who have been briefed on details of the updated plans agreed to discuss them with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. Spokesmen for Mr. Shanahan and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to comment.

The size of the force involved has shocked some who have been briefed on them. The 120,000 troops would approach the size of the American force that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Deploying such a robust air, land and naval force would give Tehran more targets to strike, and potentially more reason to do so, risking entangling the United States in a drawn out conflict. It also would reverse years of retrenching by the American military in the Middle East that began with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011.

But two of the American national security officials said Mr. Trump’s announced drawdown in December of American forces in Syria, and the diminished naval presence in the region, appear to have emboldened some leaders in Tehran and convinced the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that the United States has no appetite for a fight with Iran.

Several oil tankers were reportedly attacked or sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, raising fears that shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf could become flash points. “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens,” Mr. Trump said on Monday, asked about the episode.

Emirati officials are investigating the apparent sabotage, and American officials suspect that Iran was involved. Several officials cautioned, however, that there is not yet any definitive evidence linking Iran or its proxies to the reported attacks. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman called it a “regretful incident,” according to a state news agency.

In Brussels, Mr. Pompeo met with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, cosignatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. He did not speak to the media, but the European officials said they had urged restraint upon Washington, fearing accidental escalation that could lead to conflict with Iran.

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side,” said Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary.

The Iranian government has not threatened violence recently, but last week, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would walk away from parts of the 2015 nuclear deal it reached with world powers. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement a year ago, but European nations have urged Iran to stick with the deal and ignore Mr. Trump’s provocations.

The high-level review of the Pentagon’s plans was presented during a meeting about broader Iran policy. It was held days after what the Trump administration described, without evidence, as new intelligence indicating that Iran was mobilizing proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack American forces.

As a precaution, the Pentagon has moved an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers, a Patriot missile interceptor battery and more naval firepower to the gulf region.

At last week’s meeting, Mr. Shanahan gave an overview of the Pentagon’s planning, then turned to General Dunford to detail various force options, officials said. The uppermost option called for deploying 120,000 troops, which would take weeks or months to complete.

Among those attending Thursday’s meeting were Mr. Shanahan; Mr. Bolton; General Dunford; Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director; and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

“The president has been clear, the United States does not seek war with Iran, and he is open to talks with Iranian leadership,” Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, said Monday in an email. “However, Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence, and we are ready to defend U.S. personnel and interests in the region.” >>>

Urgent threat

Cartoon by Jack Ziegler

Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth's natural life

The Guardian: Human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, the world’s leading scientists have warned, as they announced the results of the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken.

From coral reefs flickering out beneath the oceans to rainforests desiccating into savannahs, nature is being destroyed at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10m years, according to the UN global assessment report.

The biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%, natural ecosystems have lost about half their area and a million species are at risk of extinction – all largely as a result of human actions, said the study, compiled over three years by more than 450 scientists and diplomats.

Two in five amphibian species are at risk of extinction, as are one-third of reef-forming corals, and close to one-third of other marine species. The picture for insects – which are crucial to plant pollination – is less clear, but conservative estimates suggest at least one in 10 are threatened with extinction and, in some regions, populations have crashed. In economic terms, the losses are jaw-dropping. Pollinator loss has put up to $577bn (£440bn) of crop output at risk, while land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of global land.

The knock-on impacts on humankind, including freshwater shortages and climate instability, are already “ominous” and will worsen without drastic remedial action, the authors said.

“The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” said Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ibpes). “We have lost time. We must act now.” >>>


Cartoon by Randall Enos

The US is being 'deliberately provocative' to Iran: Expert 

CNBC: U.S. President Donald Trump's new sanctions on Iran and deployment of a carrier strike group to the Middle East are "deliberately provocative," Jarrett Blanc from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Thursday.

Not only do these sanctions target Iran's export revenue, it also affects a "very large employment sector of the Iranian economy," said Blanc, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank. This will be "understood as an effort to destabilize the middle class," he added.

Trump on Wednesday slapped fresh sanctions on Iranian industrial metals — the country's second-largest source of export revenue after petroleum — and threatened further action unless Tehran "fundamentally" changes its behavior.

That came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Tehran's intention to violate two provisions of the 2015 nuclear agreement — also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

On Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the Trump administration would deploy a carrier group and bombers to the Middle East in response to "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran.

Speaking to CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia," Blanc said the Trump administration — or at least some elements of it — wants to provoke Iran into violating the 2015 nuclear accord and spark a crisis. That would "box in a future Democratic president" and "make it harder to return to the deal and to diplomacy," he added.

On Wednesday, Rouhani also gave other members of the JCPOA — Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — an ultimatum. He threatened that Iran will restart part of its halted nuclear program if they did not resume oil trade within 60 days.

Europe responded on Thursday sayingsaid it "rejects any ultimatums" from Iran, but remains "fully committed to the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA."

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group's analyst Henry Rome said in a note on Wednesday that while Rouhani's decision to "openly chip away at its nuclear commitments" does not immediately bring it closer to a nuclear weapon, it "marks the beginning of a new and concerning dynamic between the U.S. and Iran that is ripe for miscalculation."

The escalation came on the anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and ratchets up already tense Washington-Tehran relations.

Trump's administration has taken unprecedented steps in what the president calls a "maximum pressure campaign" on Iran. One example is when Washington designated the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as a terrorist organization in April.

According to Blanc, the current administration "seems enamored with the idea that economic pressure can lead to regime change." Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "made careers calling for regime change," he added.

"Economic pressure can be very, very effective when you're trying to get a change in policy that is not core to a country's national security interests, not core to a regime's sense of its own survival," Blanc said.

He added, however, that a reshuffle in the Iranian regime is more likely than a complete change.

There may be "a little bit of the realignment between the semi-democratic, semi-elected government, the kind of military industrial complex represented by the IRGC and the clerical establishment." But the result of that is "very unlikely" to be in the interest of the U.S. or its allies, he said.

John Bolton

Cartoon by Dave Granlund

Chances of war with Iran are rising. And Donald Trump is to blame

By Michael H Fuchs

The Guardian: Donald Trump is doing everything possible to provoke a conflict with Iran while making it look like Iran’s fault.

A year ago, Trump withdrew the United States from the deal that has successfully stopped Iran from getting nuclear weapons – despite the IAEA and even the Trump administration confirming Iran was abiding by the agreement. The day Trump took the United States out of the deal, he lit the fuse of a potential crisis.

Ever since, Trump has been blowing on the fuse, trying to speed things up. The United States imposed sanctions on Iranian banks and shipping companies, attempting to squeeze the Iranian economy. Recently, the Trump administration announced it would no longer grant waivers for the sanctions to some America’s closest partners, including South Korea and Japan.

And yet, those who helped build the Iran deal have tried to save it. Europe, China, and Russia worked with Iran to maintain the deal, and for a year Iran continued to comply despite America’s withdrawal and pressure. For a period, it seemed as though other countries would keep the deal alive and wait out the Trump administration.

Time, however, may now be up. In recent days, the United States has significantly ratcheted up what had already been red-hot rhetoric on Iran. In sending a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region, John Bolton, the national security adviser, said: “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack.”

The deployment was supposedly in response to what Bolton described as “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, made an urgent trip to Iraq to address the possibility of Iranian attacks. However, one US official described the administration’s response as “overreacting”.

It has long been crystal clear that Iran is a malign actor. Iran’s support for terrorism, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Hezbollah, and its repression of the Iranian people has caused the United States to pressure Iran for decades. There is no need for Trump to hype Iran’s bad behavior – it’s clear as day.

But Trump is actually helping Iran make the case for re-starting its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Following Trump’s reckless acts, Iran is accusing the United States of being the transgressor, claiming that Iran’s “self-restraint has remained unanswered … the Islamic Republic has been left with no choice other than reducing its commitments.

“The window which is currently open for diplomacy will not be open for long, and the US and other JCPOA parties will be held fully responsible for the failure of the JCPOA and any possible consequences it may have.”

Iran now wants countries to choose between Iran and the United States, stating that if the other signatories to the deal do not help deflect US sanctions, Iran will increase its nuclear capabilities beyond the limits imposed by the deal.

Whether or not countries side with the United States or Iran, it is clear the Trump administration is isolating itself. Europeans are frustrated by the administration’s approach, and are creating a system to circumvent US sanctions. Japan, South Korea, China, and India – all of whom reduced their oil imports from Iran at the request of the United States in order to make the nuclear deal possible – are fed up with the United States pulling the rug out from underneath them.

Most concerning is the potential for a war. Bolton and Pompeo sometimes act like they are itching for a fight, and US actions over the last year have significantly raised the chances for a miscalculation that spirals into conflict. While it might not seem like Trump wants war, he is so inept and ideological on Iran it’s not difficult to see him stumbling into a conflict. And despite Americans’ dissatisfaction with US reliance on the military to solve problems, the fact that 71% of Americans view Iran as an enemy could grease the skids of conflict.

The encouragement on Iran that Trump receives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel isn’t helping. One can easily see a resurgence of Israeli threats of military strikes against Iran – only this time, as former Obama defense department official Colin Kahl puts it: “The US administration is much more likely to encourage Israeli strikes rather than seek to constrain them.”

Trump’s actions have now empowered hardliners in Iran, making a diplomatic outcome less likely. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani stuck his neck out to negotiate the nuclear deal, and the US withdrawal has damaged supporters of the deal in Iran. New sanctions have allowed the Iranian regime to more credibly blame the United States for the current economic woes. All of this makes Iran more prone to aggression, not capitulation.

It is easy to see through the Trump administration’s lies. Trump claims to want to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but withdrew from the very deal that had stopped Iran from obtaining one. Trump officials claim to be supporting the aspirations of the Iranian people, but the sanctions hurt the Iranian people first and foremost, and Trump is still banning average Iranians from visiting the United States.

The Trump administration is goading Iran into a conflict, and no one should expect Iran to back down. Today America is less safe because of Trump’s actions on Iran, and the chances for war are rising.

Michael H Fuchs is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs.