Trump to Announce New Iran Strategy

This afternoon President Trump is scheduled to give a speech outlining a new strategy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last night the White House sent reporters a preview of the new policy; the embargo on the release was lifted early this morning.

The “Core Elements of the President’s New Iran Strategy,” per the release:

* The United States’ new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.

* We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region.

* We will work to deny the Iranian regime — and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.

* We will counter threats to the United States and our allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons.

* We will rally the international community to condemn the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights and its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges.

* Most importantly, we will deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.

The White House has telegraphed that the president will not certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal signed with the Obama administration, but also will not immediately withdraw from the deal and reimpose sanctions. The fact sheet hints that the administration will instead move toward confronting Iran on issues beyond the nuclear program; the possibility of designating the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization seems to be in play. Last week I talked to Omri Ceren of The Israel Project about what to expect next; you can hear our conversation on iTunes or Google Play, or watch on YouTube.

The president is scheduled to speak at 12:45pm EDT.

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Friends: Going All Out in Order to Demean and Denigrate

This week the gang is joined by RedState’s own Andrea Ruth and Kira Davis. We’ll cover the latest in the presidential tweets, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and more. You can watch below, live at 9pm Eastern or on-demand any time after that:

Check out BATF on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music for the audio-only version of the show. Want something extra? Support us on Patreon for show notes and bonus audio from after the show.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Friends is your chance to catch up on the news of the week with Joe Cunningham and John Tabin of RedState, Bill McMorris of the Washington Free Beacon, Neal Dewing of the Fifth Estate Podcast, and Jeff Blehar of the Decision Desk.

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Report: Saudi Crown Prince Secretly Visits Israel

Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Mohammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

For the last couple days there have been rumors of a visit to Israel by a prince from Saudi Arabia — which officially has no diplomatic relations with Israel and is a party to the Arab League boycott on the Jewish State. Now, a Jerusalem-based reporter says she’s confirmed that the visitor was none other than Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the next in line to be King.

This is a major milestone in the quiet diplomatic outreach between Israel and Sunni Arab states that has been a poorly-kept secret for years. Israel and the Arabs have a common enemy in Iran, and while Obama administration alumni may argue that their nuclear deal hasn’t made Tehran more dangerous, people who actually have to live in the region don’t have the luxury of playing pretend.

The Arabs’ interest in military cooperation with Israel opens up new possibilities for a final-status agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; some on the Israeli right (notably Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman) believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians can only be viable with buy-in from Israel’s Arab neighbors. The Arab League has endorsed the so-called Arab Peace Initiative first proposed by the Saudis in 2002; as it is, that plan is a non-starter (Israel is not going to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees or cede the Golan Heights to whatever’s left of Syria), but it could possibly be modified and used as starting point for negotiations.

The Trump administration should coordinate closely with our allies regarding Iran, but on the Palestinian conflict, the best approach is to step back and let regional actors take the lead. Driven by a vain fantasy of going down in history as a Mideast peacemaker, John Kerry pushed for negotiations at a historically inopportune time, and the predictable failure of that effort led to an outbreak of violence. If the new administration avoids that mistake, it’s not impossible that a peace deal may emerge with little effort from Washington.

Of course, the real challenge facing the region — a cash-flush Iran with regional ambitions and a short path to nuclear weapons — will remain a problem either way.

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Trump Throws Vulnerable Senate Democrat a Lifeline – Or Does He?

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND (Nick Wass/AP Images for United Way Worldwide)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND (Nick Wass/AP Images for United Way Worldwide)

At The Washington Post, Amber Phillips marvels:

This is not a story you’d expect to read in 2017, but it happened: President Trump went to North Dakota on Wednesday and praised its Democratic senator, who is up for reelection next year, as a “good woman.”

“Come on up, senator,” Trump told a crowd at an oil refinery in Mandan, as he had a called up some of the state’s elected officials, all of them Republican, save Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “These are great people. They work hard. They’re for you 100 percent.”

He went on: “And we just want their support, because we need support. You see that with what’s happening in Congress. Nobody can get anything through Congress. We need support, so thank you, senator. Senator Heitkamp. Everyone’s saying: What’s she doing up here? But I’ll tell you what: Good woman, and I think we’ll have your support — I hope we’ll have your support. And thank you very much, senator. Thank you for coming up.”

The president of the United States may not be popular with Americans at large, but he certainly has some sway in this state. And Trump just gave Heitkamp a potentially massive boost as she tries to remain the state’s lone statewide elected Democrat.

Well, maybe. It’s true: Heitkamp is a Democrat facing a tough campaign for reelection in an overwhelmingly Republican state, and under normal circumstances a kind word from a Republican president would be an unalloyed gift.

But the Republican president is Donald Trump, and circumstances are therefore not normal. In 2016 Trump won almost 63% of the vote in North Dakota — but Republican Senator John Hoeven, who appeared on the same ballot, won over 78% of the vote. That means a non-trivial chunk of Republican voters in North Dakota weren’t comfortable with Trump.

To win reelection, Heitkamp needs some voters who normally vote Republican to cross over and support her. Are potential crossover voters more likely to have voted for both Trump and Hoeven, or more likely to have voted just for Hoeven? And can Heitkamp court the former group without alienating the latter group? The answers aren’t entirely obvious. The election is more than a year away, and Trump being Trump, there’s plenty of time for both his public posture toward Heitkamp and his popularity in North Dakota to change.

Republicans have every reason to be annoyed with the president for his kindness to a Democrat in a swing state. But while Heitkamp can take comfort in the possibility of spinning Trump’s “good woman” soundbite into electoral gold, she may find next year that her uphill path to reelection remains just as treacherous.

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Trump “Playing With Fire” on Trade With South Korea

US-President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, next to Trump's wife Melania, prior to a concert at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Friday, July 7, 2017. (Christian Charisius/Pool Photo via AP)
US-President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, next to Trump’s wife Melania, prior to a concert at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Friday, July 7, 2017. (Christian Charisius/Pool Photo via AP)

The Washington Post reports that, against the advice of many of his advisers, President Trump has instructed his aides to prepare to withdraw from the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (aka KORUS FTA). The formal withdrawal could come as soon as this week. If Trump goes through with this it will mean higher prices on consumer goods and fewer jobs for Americans.

Before KORUS, South Korea had higher tariffs on imports from the US than the US had on imports from South Korea; ending the deal would mean returning those tariffs to status quo ante levels.

Perhaps Trump is floating withdrawal to scare Seoul into renegotiating the deal to save it, but he doesn’t seem to realize what a weak hand he holds, or what an awful time this is to be picking a fight with Moon Jae-in, the recently-elected South Korean president. From the Post:

Trump is “playing with fire,” said Gary Schmitt, co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “There is a new president in South Korea whose instincts probably are to be probably not as pro-America as his predecessor and now you are putting him in situation where he has to react. In fact, what you need now is as much cooperation as possible.”

One reason top White House advisers are trying to stop Trump from withdrawing from the South Korea free trade agreement is because they do not want to isolate the government in Seoul at a time when North Korea has become increasingly adversarial with its missile program, testing nuclear weapons and firing missiles over Japan in a way that has alarmed the international community.

On everything from imposing sanctions to deploying military assets, the state of play with North Korea calls for a tougher approach than Moon is likely to be inclined toward, and a fight over trade will make the politics more difficult for Moon’s center-left government. Even if the geopolitical problems are surmountable (frightening behavior by Pyongyang does seem to have nudged Moon away from the posture of accommodation he’s called for in the past), the economics of upending KORUS are horrible. We can only hope that President Trump’s smarter advisers will convince him to reconsider.

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