May 15, 2019

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Situational awareness: President Trump has issued an executive order paving the way for a ban on Huawei. Details.

D.C. readers: You're invited to an Axios News Shapers breakfast tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. 

  • Join me for a series of conversations on the news of the day and how it relates to Infrastructure Week. We'll hear from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), as well as Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayer Martin Walsh. RSVP here.
1 big thing: Why war with Iran is suddenly on the table

An F/A-18E Super Hornet gets ready to launch from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Photo: U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Fears are growing that bluster between the U.S. and Iran might explode into war, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.

  • The U.S. has evacuated non-essential personnel from its embassy in Iraq, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps warned “we are on the cusp of full-scale confrontation.”

The big picture: The Trump administration has been glaring threateningly at Iran since President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal a year ago, pursuing harsh sanctions and declaring that the pressure will only increase until Iran’s regime changes course, or collapses.

  • The situation has escalated rapidly over the past 10 days, with National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spreading the alarm about potential attacks from Iran and warning that the U.S. will respond to any provocations with immense force.
  • Trump is generally more wary of military action in the Middle East than his advisors, particularly Bolton. But he did warn that Iran will "suffer greatly" if “they do anything” provocative.


  • May 5: Bolton issues a statement referring to impending Iranian attacks and announces a U.S. aircraft carrier is en route to the region.
  • May 7: Pompeo makes an unscheduled trip to Iraq and issues warnings about Iran.
  • May 9: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presents plans for 120,000 U.S. troops to be deployed to the Middle East in the event of an Iranian attack, per NYT.
  • May 10: The U.S. sends additional military hardware, including a battleship, to the Middle East.
  • May 12: Two Saudi oil tankers are attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. An anonymous U.S. official later says an initial investigation points to Iran.
  • May 13: Pompeo diverts to Brussels to brief European leaders on the Iranian threat.
  • May 14: Armed drones strike two Saudi pumping stations. Houthi rebels operating in Yemen claim responsibility.
  • May 15: The U.S. orders a partial evacuation of its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

U.S. allies have generally appeared skeptical of the American warnings.

  • The British deputy commander of the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria denied yesterday that there was an “increased threat” from Iran —  a remark that drew a rebuke from U.S. Central Command.
  • The EU’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, urged “maximum restraint,” rather than Pompeo’s preferred “maximum pressure.”
  • Even Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to steer clear of any confrontation, Axios contributor Barak Ravid reports.

The bottom line: The message from the Pentagon has been that the U.S. doesn’t want a war, but is ready to fight if necessary. Administration officials say privately that rhetoric doesn’t work with Iran, so a credible threat of force is needed. That hasn't tempered fears of a march to war.

Bonus: Pic du jour

Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's via AP

Claude Monet's painting titled "Meules," one of his iconic paintings of haystacks, fetched a record $110.7 million at an auction in New York.

2. What you missed
  1. The Trump administration has made $8.52 billion in direct payments to farmers through a 2018 aid program designed to counter losses stemming from the trade war with China. List: Top commodities and states.
  2. The 2 suspects involved in the May 7 school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch were formally charged with more than a dozen counts of murder and attempted murder as well as theft and arson, reports the AP.
  3. Pakistani authorities have arrested more than two dozen Chinese nationals involved in allegedly selling Pakistani women into forced marriages in China. Go deeper.
  4. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently announced plans for a coast-to-coast bike and walking route from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. There's an interactive map for this entirely car-free way to get across the country here.
3. 1 future thing

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Luxury in the time of climate change: "An aerial view from a drone shows the Arkup houseboat, a green-energy luxury floating home that can allow owners to adapt as the sea level continues to rise." (Getty Images)

  • "The Arkup ... a fully solar powered and sustainable luxury livable yacht ... has four hydraulic pilings that stabilize the vessel on the sea floor and can also be used to lift the living quarters above rising ocean waters."
  • "The first built Arkup home was unveiled at the Miami Yacht Show in February. According to the Miami Herald, the model comes with a $5.5 million price tag, and currently has one buyer and a list of potential buyers." (Curbed)
Mike Allen