On Monday, Iran began enriching uranium to the 20% threshold for the first time since before its 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran appears to be trying to maximize its leverage with the incoming Biden administration in the hope that the US will agree to re-enter, rather than attempt to re-negotiate, the JCPOA. The President-elect has indicated in interviews that upon taking office in two weeks he intends to open negotiations about restoring the deal that the Trump administration walked away from in 2018.
Iran’s announcement that it is resuming uranium enrichment to 20%, the threshold for highly enriched uranium (HEU), is the first step in implementing a recent law passed by the hawkish Iranian parliament over the objections of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government. The decision to stockpile uranium enriched to 20% presents a symbolic as well as practical challenge. A stockpile of HEU significantly reduces the timeline for a breakout capability. Once you have enriched uranium to 20%, you have done 90% of the work required to create weapons grade material.
This is a guest post from Ryan Beasley, Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews, with research interests in political psychology and foreign policy: Juliet Kaarbo, Professor at the University of Edinburgh, who works on personalities, parliaments and parties in foreign policy; and Consuelo Thiers (Twitter @Consuelothiers), a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, who is completing her doctorate on beliefs and emotions in enduring rivalries.
For those of us who study leaders’ personalities and how they affect their actions while in power, President Trump has really been a blessing, if well-disguised. For many of his opponents, turning a corner on the Trump Presidency is not just about changing his policies but also quieting his persona, removing the centre-stage megaphone of political office from the hands of a man feverishly keen to use it (even when actually feverish). The gregarious and agreeable Joe Biden – perhaps average, risk-averse, and vanilla to his detractors – will surely be different. We wanted to be sure.
Last night’s debate might go down as one of the greatest in recent memory, and I am prepared to die on that hill. It was ugly. But it was also raw, unfiltered, and honest. It was thin on policy substance which is why I think the majority of my Twitter feed thought it was a shitshow.
A few things stood out which I think are worth mentioning, even on an IR blog. The performances last night got me thinking a lot about game theory. I am not a game theorist, and if I were, I would not subject you to a model of this year’s electoral strategy by Teams Trump and Biden. (I doubt the game theorists could even pull it off.)
“The blob” has become a common term during the Democratic Primary. The DC foreign policy establishment, so the argument goes, has an overwhelming effect on all who engage with it, sucking them in and spitting them out as appendages to its militaristic, status quo policies. There is some truth to this idea, but it has come to encompass too much, and the term is losing its value. It may be worth deconstructing what we meant by “the blob” and having a real, direct, debate on Demcratic foreign policy.
The Rise of THE BLOB
One of the more popular phrases flung around in the Democratic Primary (at least on the foreign policy side) is “The Blob.” The phrase was coined by Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter turned top national security aide in the Obama Administration. The blob is the “foreign policy establishment.” This includes “Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties.” Basically, the blob represents the Washington foreign policy consensus pushing for a robust military presence around the world. Kind of a less refined version of Bacevich’s “Washington Rules.”