3. Middle East: No Iran breakthrough in sight
The Trump administration on Wednesday sanctioned Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif.
Between the lines: That decision "makes clear that the means of pressure and sanctions have increasingly become the end goal of Trump's Iran policy," Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council argues for Axios Expert Voices:
- "When President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last May, he insisted he could negotiate a much better agreement."
- "More than a year later, however, the U.S. is no closer to such talks, dangers across the Middle East have escalated and the man who would have led Iran's negotiations has been sidelined — at least from the Trump administration's point of view."
The big picture: With no offramp in sight, the prospect of an unintended military escalation remains worrying high, as the International Crisis Group makes clear in a new report.
Flashback: We nearly ended up in such a scenario in June, when Trump claimed to have called off strikes on Iran at the last minute after being told 150 Iranians would be killed.
Adm. William McRaven (ret.), a former U.S. Special Forces commander, says Trump's version of events is "hard to believe." He set the scene on a conference call with reporters, based on "countless" such scenarios he'd been a part of:
- "Sitting in the room there'd be the national security adviser, the secretary of state, the president — all the principals."
- "[Military briefers] would have gone over in great detail ... 'if we're going to strike this particular site here's how many missiles we're going to use, here's where they're going to come from, here's what the estimated casualties will be.'"
The bottom line, per McRaven: "I think the bigger question is, why did we get that far? Again, this was an unmanned drone. Normally you're looking at a proportional strike."
- "Striking a compound where we know that there are 100+ people is not normally how we plan counterstrikes, if you will."