Donald Trump still won't talk about conceding that he lost the election two weeks ago, but he just might leave behind a very special gift for Joe Biden: a shiny new conflict with Iran over that country's nuclear program. The New York Times reports that in a meeting Thursday, Trump asked his senior advisers whether he had options to attack Iran's main nuclear site. The advisers, fortunately, "dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike." Perhaps they pointed out that it's more traditional for departing presidents to leave their successors a letter of advice, rather than a war.

The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran's facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump's presidency.

Not sure that would really be much of a disincentive for Trump, because after all, it wouldn't be his problem any more. Biden thinks he's so smart, let him figure it out.


The Times explains Trump started yearning to push the button down — or at least unleash a cyber attack and then blame it on some 400-pound guy sitting on the edge of his bed in New Jersey — after being briefed on findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which reported Wednesday that Iran now has 12 times as much uranium as allowed under the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that Trump walked away from in 2018. Trump wanted to know what options he might be able to use against Iran's main nuclear site at Natanz, where Iran enriches and stores uranium.

Pompeo and Milley played the role of adults in the room, and after they explained "military escalation bad,"

officials left the meeting believing a missile attack inside Iran was off the table, according to administration officials with knowledge of the meeting.

Mr. Trump might still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq, officials said.

Are you not reassured?

The IAEA report estimated that Iran now has at least 5,385 pounds of low-enriched uranium, which would be enough to make two nuclear bombs, but only after enriching the uranium more, processing that would mean any actual bomb would be months away, and hence Joe Biden's problem. The Times points out that while that's "concerning," it's also

far below the amount of fuel Iran possessed before President Barack Obama reached a nuclear accord with Tehran in July 2015. Late that year, under the terms of the accord, Iran shipped about 97 percent of its fuel stockpile to Russia — about 25,000 pounds — leaving it with less than it would need to build a single weapon.

Iran initially stayed within the limits of the 2015 agreement even after Trump noped out of the accord in 2018 and started imposing sanctions again as part of his "erase everything Obama ever did" initiative. But last year, it started enriching uranium again, because if Trump was walking away from the deal, then why should Iran still be bound by it? Then Trump yelled, see, they're violating the agreement, you never could trust them to begin with. And even there, the Times points out,

the Iranians have hardly raced to produce new material: Their advances have been slow and steady, and they have denied seeking to build a weapon — though evidence stolen from the country several years ago by Israel made clear that was the plan before 2003.

To be sure, Iranian assurances that they have no nuclear weapons ambitions are probably about as credible as a Trump promise to pay his contractors. Which was the whole point of the 2015 agreement, which included close monitoring by the IAEA. Those inspections showed Iran was keeping to the agreement, at least until Trump baselessly accused Iran of cheating and pulled out.

Not surprisingly, all this has every country in the region on edge, again, with fears that Iran may decide it's a dandy time to take revenge for the US missile attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad back in January, which if you can believe it was still 2020. That anniversary is coming up January 3. The Times casually notes that "Iranian leaders regularly insist they have not yet avenged" those deaths. The US has considered closing its embassy in Baghdad over threats of attacks on staff there, although that decision appears to have been left hanging for Biden to handle.

And then there's this cheery bit of political math rattling around in Trump's war head:

The episode underscored how Mr. Trump still faces an array of global threats in his final weeks in office. A strike on Iran may not play well to his base, which is largely opposed to a deeper American conflict in the Middle East, but it could poison relations with Tehran so that it would be much harder for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, as he has promised to do.

Gee, risk upsetting his base, which is primed to make excuses for everything he does, or fuck things up for Joe Biden? How will Trump ever decide which of those he prefers?

[NYT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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