U.S. to Iran: Prepare for Maximum Pressure

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing guest editor Jonah Bader.
November 5, 2018

U.S. to Iran: Prepare for Maximum Pressure

Today, the U.S. reinstated all sanctions against Iran that had remained suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal. "The maximum pressure exerted by the United States is only going to mount from here," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned.

Yet the Trump administration's Iran strategy is under siege from all sides, suggests John R. Bradley in The Spectator. The administration has staunchly backed Saudi Arabia against Iran, but now even hawkish Republicans are "calling for sanctions against Saudi Arabia in the wake of the [Jamal] Khashoggi affair." At the same time, hawks are "criticizing Trump for not imposing tough enough sanctions on Iran," with exemptions granted to eight of Iran's trading partners.

Meanwhile, Bradley points out, "Trump's hand would be much weaker when dealing with Iran if the (pro-nuclear treaty) Democrats take back the House and/or the Senate."

Sanctions are not the only trick the administration has up its sleeve, according to Nahal Toosi of Politico. "[I]n lieu of a traditional war with Tehran, the Trump administration has launched an information war instead," she writes. 

"Over the past year, the Republican administration has repurposed and deployed various tools of communication — from social media hashtags to presidential speeches — to hammer Iran's Islamist leaders and fan the Iranian people's grievances against their government. A Persian-language Twitter account the Obama administration launched to spread cheery images of America and its leaders is now used to mock and criticize Iranian leaders," Toosi notes.

"The information campaign is arguably the most comprehensive the U.S. has ever run against Iran."

Striking Back Against Hacks

Americans worried about the outcome of tomorrow's midterm elections have another thing to worry about. "Hackers have ramped up their efforts to meddle with the country's election infrastructure in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's midterms," reports Jana Winter in The Boston Globe.
The Department of Homeland Security has received "more than 160 reports of suspected meddling in U.S. elections since August 1," according to documents viewed by the Globe. "The agency says publicly all the recent attempts have been prevented or mitigated, but internal documents show hackers have had 'limited success.'"
"The hackers have targeted voter registration databases, election officials, and networks across the country," drawing comparisons to Russia's 2016 meddling, though a DHS official cautioned that the agency hasn't "attributed the attacks to anyone yet."
  • The U.S. government is standing at the ready to respond to a major hack, writes Zachary Fryer-Biggs of the Center for Public IntegrityUnder the Trump administration's new National Cyber Strategy, "[t]he U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon have quietly agreed on the outlines of an offensive cyber attack that the United States would unleash if Russia electronically interferes with the 2018 midterm election on Nov. 6," Fryer-Biggs writes. "In preparation for its potential use, U.S. military hackers have been given the go-ahead to gain access to Russian cyber systems that they feel is needed to let the plan unfold quickly."

The Inconvenient Truth to Democrats' Immigration Position

President Trump has put immigration at the heart of his midterms message, while Democrats have tried to highlight issues like health care and the safety net. "[T]he difficult truth is that immigration and the fate of the safety net aren't two separate questions," Reihan Salam observes in The Washington Post.
Democrats want to admit large numbers of low-skill immigrants, but "once we welcome these newcomers into our society, many if not most will need refundable tax credits, food stamps, Medicaid and other government programs to stay out of poverty," Salam says. Democrats need to be "more humble about the country's ability to incorporate larger numbers of working-class newcomers without putting undue strain on the social contract."
"[I]n the fullness of time, expect immigration to drive a wedge between the party's tax-sensitive suburbanites and its socialist-leaning romantics."

Don't Look to Middle Powers to Save Multilateralism

The forces of nationalism scored a double victory last week after Brazil elected the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she would retire. That worried proponents of international cooperation, who had put their hopes in "middle powers to play a greater role in underwriting global stability" amid American retreat, writes Richard Gowan in World Politics Review
"Such powers are big enough to play a major part in managing global order, the optimists argue. But unlike China and the U.S., they are not so big that they can disregard international rules and arrangements altogether." Yet even before last week, Gowan notes, countries like Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia had given reason to be pessimistic. 
The U.S. is not helping the situation either, he says. "While the Obama administration coaxed these middle powers to take multilateralism seriously, Trump is actively encouraging them to cut deals away from international institutions."

Funding the Frontiers of Science

"During the past few decades, a disturbing trend has emerged in many scientific fields," writes Noah Smith for Bloomberg Opinion. "The number of researchers required to generate new discoveries has steadily risen," with diminishing returns in areas such as treating heart disease and building more powerful computer chips.
"Scientific fields are like veins of ore — where the richest and most accessible portions tend to get mined out first," so more resources need to be devoted to "discovering new veins," Smith says.
"Giving more money to cheap, highly novel projects — and to less established labs and researchers — can help reorient science toward finding new areas of knowledge. A model might be the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), renowned for its pursuit of cheap, fast breakthroughs with ad-hoc teams of researchers pulled from a variety of universities and labs."
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