Jan 2, 2020

Trump administration: "The game has changed" on Iran

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that there are indications Iran or its proxies may be planning additional attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East following the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve, according to AP.

"We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces and protect American lives. The game has changed, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region. ... Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it."
— Esper to reporters

Why it matters: Esper's comments come two days after he dispatched hundreds of U.S. troops to the region as standby reinforcements, and reflect how the storming of the embassy may have set off one of one of the biggest foreign policy crises of the Trump presidency.

What they're saying: Hossein Salami, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said Thursday that Iran is not afraid of war with the U.S.

  • "The Iranian nation has not started war in the past incidents but it annihilates any aggressor and the U.S. is aware of this," Salami said, according to Fars News Agency.
  • Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said militia groups will run into a "buzzsaw" if they attempt to overrun the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad again, according to AP.

The big picture: Trump faces a stark choice on countering Iran, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports. If he strikes back hard, he may get a new Middle East war he never wanted. If he does nothing, he may show the type of "weakness" exhibited by Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis that he has long derided.

Go deeper: Behind the scenes of Trump's thinking on Iran

Go deeper

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 5,885,490— Total deaths: 363,031 — Total recoveries — 2,468,011Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 1,735,971 — Total deaths: 102,516 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March —How the U.S. might distribute a vaccine.
  4. 2020: North Carolina asks RNC if convention will honor Trump's wish for no masks or social distancing.
  5. Business: Fed chair Powell says coronavirus is "great increaser" of income inequality.
  6. 1 sports thing: NCAA outlines plan to get athletes back to campus.
Updated 58 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Over 500 schools in South Korea have either closed or postponed reopening, according to the Korea Times, which cites data from the Ministry of Education.

Why it matters: South Korea has been a model for how to handle the novel coronavirus, and the closures reportedly followed concerns from parents and teachers over child safety. The country's confirmed death toll has plateaued at 269 over the past few days, with few increases, per Johns Hopkins data.

Trump to end Hong Kong’s special trade status

President Trump. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump announced on Friday that the U.S. would be fundamentally changing longstanding policies toward Hong Kong as a result of Chinese encroachment on the city's autonomy.

Why it matters: Trump said he would be effectively ending the special trade status that has allowed Hong Kong to flourish as a gateway to the Chinese market. That leaves an uncertain future for businesses that operate in Hong Kong, not to mention the city's 7 million residents, and could be met with reprisals from Beijing.