Jun 17, 2019

Trump to send 1,000 troops to Middle East as Iran tensions escalate

Photo: Getty Images

The U.S. is deploying an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to "hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups" that threaten U.S. "personnel and interests," acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced Monday.

The backdrop: The U.S.-Iran standoff is reaching uncharted waters. As the Trump administration scrambles to rally an international response to Iran’s alleged covert attacks last week, Tehran is taking a long-feared step in broad daylight — announcing it will breach the 2015 nuclear deal’s limits on enriched uranium in 10 day's time.

  • Shanahan said the U.S. isn't seeking "conflict" with Iran, but would "make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats."
  • Meanwhile, the Pentagon tonight released additional photos it says indicate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind attacks on two oil tankers last week.
  • While the U.K., Saudi Arabia and Israel have backed the administration's assessment, domestic critics and some U.S. allies — including Germany and Japan — have demanded more evidence

The big picture: President Trump now faces dual challenges — deterring attacks on oil shipments through the critical Strait of Hormuz and keeping Iran from marching toward a nuclear weapon — amid a crisis that many of America’s allies privately hold him at least partially responsible for.

Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council argues for Axios Expert Voices that Iran is “signaling the death” of the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • “Even if initial infringements are modest, the combination of rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, a near-total U.S. embargo on Iranian energy exports and Europe’s failure to operationalize a reliable means of trading with Iran is increasingly unstable,” she writes.
  • “If the Iranians make good on their threat… Tehran will have enough fuel to make a single bomb in less than a year for the first time since the 2015 agreement went into effect,” David Sanger writes in the NY Times.

The White House, meanwhile, is accusing Iran of “nuclear blackmail” and vowing to never allow the regime get a bomb.

  • The Trump administration argues that the impending crisis only highlights the vulnerabilities of the original deal. Trump’s critics argue that he left the deal without a Plan B, and has simply been squeezing Iran since and waiting for something to burst.
  • The Trump administration has said its ultimate goal is a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran. Trump has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want a war.
  • But officials suggested that even absent a deal the maximum pressure campaign would render Iran less dangerous by restricting its cashflow. Recent events are challenging that theory.

What to watch: Iran is now betting that the Trump administration "is too risk-averse to resort to military action and potentially touch off a regional conflagration," Slavin writes. That too will be put to the test.

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Trump announces 30-day extension of coronavirus guidelines

President Trump announced on Sunday that his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30 in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected more than 130,000 Americans and killed nearly 2,500.

Why it matters: Top advisers to the president have been seeking to steer him away from Easter as an arbitrary deadline for the U.S. to open parts of its economy, amid warnings from health officials that loosening restrictions could cause the number of coronavirus cases to skyrocket.

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  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
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Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.