Newsweek

Mattis And McMaster, Not Trump, Calling Shots In Iran

The protests in Iran may have blown up the president’s dream of shredding that country’s nuclear deal.
An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. Students protested in a third day of demonstrations sparked by anger over Iran's economic problems, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators.
PER_Iran_01_899778684 Source: STR/AFP/Getty

Few saw it coming.

On December 28, protests erupted in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, as thousands took to the streets to complain about the country’s lousy economy. The demonstrations were unorganized and spontaneous, but they quickly spread nationwide—and morphed into something bigger, more profound. Something that targeted Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The unrest, which was still roiling as Newsweek went to press, marked the third time in three decades that Iranians have demonstrated en masse against the theocratic regime in Tehran.

The protests are the first fast-moving foreign crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency. When they began, the New York real estate mogul was at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, golfing and relishing his lone legislative victory—the tax bill he signed on December 22. The administration—and the intelligence community—didn’t anticipate, isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Trump’s first instinct was to support the unrest, and he acted on it almost immediately. “Big protests in Iran,” he tweeted on December 31. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

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