Guaido seeks relations with US military in attempt to take power in Venezuela

Opposition leader asks aide to meet US South Command, while Trump administration has not counted out military action

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday said he has instructed his political envoy in Washington to immediately open relations with the US military, in an attempt to put more pressure on President Nicolás Maduro to resign.

Guiado said he had asked Carlos Vecchio, who the US recognizes as ambassador, to open “direct communications” toward possible military “coordination”.

The remarks, at the end of a rally, were Guaido’s strongest public plea yet for greater US involvement in the country’s fast-escalating crisis. While Guaido has repeatedly echoed comments from the Trump administration that “all options” for removing Maduro are on the table, few in the US or Venezuelan opposition view military action as likely. Nor has the White House indicated it is seriously considering such a move.

But with tensions between the US and Maduro running high, the saber rattling is getting louder.

On Saturday, Venezuelan defense minister Vladimir Padrino condemned what he said was an illegal incursion by a US coast guard cutter in Venezuelan territorial waters. He provided no evidence but said Venezuelan vessels forced the ship to withdraw.

“I don’t know if other republics will accept actions like this in their jurisdiction, but we will not,” he said.

Col Amanda Azubuike, a US Southern Command spokeswoman, said a coast guard vessel was conducting a drug interdiction mission in the international waters of the Caribbean sea. She declined to provide further comment.

In past days, Padrino also denounced what he said were attempts by the US military to sow discord inside Venezuela’s barracks, inviting an angry response from Adm Craig Faller, head of Southern Command, who said he “stands ready” to assist Guaido.

“I look forward to discussing how we can support the future role of those [leaders of Venezuelan armed forces] who make the right decision, put the Venezuela people first and restore constitutional order,” Faller said.

As head of the National Assembly, Guaido launched a campaign in January to oust Maduro, gaining the support of the US and more than 50 nations.

He announced on Saturday a forthcoming meeting with US military officials and said new actions will seek to “achieve the necessary pressure” to put an end to the Bolivarian revolution launched 20 years ago by the late socialist president Hugo Chávez.

Guaido has said that as Venezuela’s rightful leader he reserves the right to invite foreign military actions in the way independence hero Simon Bolivar hired 5,000 British mercenaries to liberate South America from Spain. He says any such help should be considered “cooperation” instead of intervention, something he has accused Maduro of allowing in the form of military and intelligence support from Cuba and Russia.

In recent days, the government has sought to ramp up its own pressure on the opposition with the arrest of the No2 of the National Assembly, Edgar Zambrano. Several other anti-Maduro lawmakers sought refuge in embassies as the country’s top court announced investigations of Zambrano and nine other members of congress.

Noticeably diminished crowds at opposition protests reflect demoralization that has permeated Guaido’s supporters after he led a failed military uprising on 30 April. In previous months, thousands heeded his calls to protest. On Saturday, a modest crowd of several hundred gathered in Caracas.

“We live in dictatorship,” Guaido said, urging his supporters to press on. “We don’t have the option to stay at home waiting, but to keep demanding our rights in the streets.”

Guaido argues that Maduro illegitimately won a second term in rigged elections and has declared himself interim president of Venezuela. Maduro has maintained control of the military. He calls Guaido a “puppet” of the Trump administration and says the US is supporting a coup to oust him and exploit the country’s vast oil wealth.

“The US empire aims to end the Bolivarian Revolution,” Maduro tweeted early on Saturday, boasting of the country’s education and social security systems. “We show the world that we can do social justice.”

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela has sunk into economic and social collapse marked by soaring inflation and a scarcity of basic goods that has sent an estimated 3.7 million of its citizens to emigrate.

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Bernie Sanders goes all galaxy brain, calls for a ‘progressive global order based on human solidarity’

What’s Bernie Sanders trying to do here? If he’s right and there’s “a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence,” then he’s the last guy we want in the White House in 2021. Are we going to trust a socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and now owns three houses to steer us through something of that magnitude?

Um, what now? A progressive global order? Hard pass. We’re kind of fond of the sovereign republic based on the Constitution we already have.

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So which country will President Sanders visit first to start building his progressive global order? Venezuela?


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Fierce critic of bare feet on airplanes posts (and then deletes) topless photo to promote USA Today op-ed that calls Trump a ‘laughingstock’ [Screenshot]

“Alexa, what is the opposite of click-bait?”

In a now-deleted tweet, #NeverTrump member Tom Nichols posted this topless photo to promote his recent op-ed for USA Today titled, “US adversaries are watching us self-destruct as Trump foreign policy spins into chaos.”

Well, someone is the “laughingstock” but we’re not sure it’s Trump:

Yes, he freed the nipple:

Before deleting the tweet, he defended the photo as perfectly acceptable because he was at the pool:

And for some reason, people mocked the photo:

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Nichols, aside from his #NeverTrump commentary, is known for his fierce criticism of people who take off their shoes and socks on airplanes:

Yeah, he’s doesn’t get to complain about that any longer.



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Mike Pompeo visits Iraq amid rising tensions with Iran

Secretary of state abruptly pulls out of Berlin meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, cancelled a long-established plan to hold talks with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin on Tuesday, and instead travelled to Iraq to show US support for the Iraqi government during rising tensions with Iran.

The unusual last-minute schedule change follows brief talks between Pompeo and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in Finland on Monday.

Pompeo earlier rang the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, to explain the decision to drop his first meeting in Berlin as secretary of state and promised to reschedule soon.

Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the German foreign affairs committee, described the cancellation as “very regrettable”.

He said: “There is a lot to discuss about common challenges, but also about the internal relationship between Germany and the US. Even if there were unavoidable reasons for the cancellation, it unfortunately fits into the current climate in the relationship of the two governments.”

British and US sources said the Berlin cancellation did not mean talks planned for later on Wednesday between Pompeo, the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, would also be dropped.

Pompeo is due to give the Margaret Thatcher lecture in London on the importance of the transatlantic relationship, weeks before Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain, timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings.

With the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, due in Moscow this week, the US has been concerned by reports that Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, is to announce on Wednesday a partial retreat from the nuclear deal agreed in 2015.

The Iranian leadership feels under pressure to respond to a refusal by the US to extend sanctions waivers, especially on Iranian oil, and its imposition of secondary sanctions on any European companies that seek to to trade with Iran. The US has declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group and announced the dispatching of an aircraft carrier and bomber taskforce to the Middle East, citing unspecified intelligence suggesting Iran may be planning attacks.

The US said this week that it is rushing an aircraft carrier group to the Middle East to deter or respond to any Iranian attack. US officials said there were indications Iran was planning to retaliate for the Trump administration’s stepped-up sanctions on the country, although the threat information remains vague.

On Tuesday night, a US military spokesman said B-52 bombers would be part of additional forces being sent to the Middle East.

In Baghdad, Pompeo met Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and other top officials to discuss the safety of Americans in Iraq and explain US security concerns amid rising Iranian activity.

“We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country,” Pompeo told reporters after the meeting.

Pompeo said the purpose of the meeting also was to let Iraqi officials know more about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” so they could effectively protect US forces.

Other urgent international security issues that may be preoccupying Pompeo include North Korea’s resumption of its missile programme and a possible Russian-endorsed assault on Idlib province in north-east Syria.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, issued a statement of concern about Syria, saying: “The attacks of the regime and its allies, including [on] hospitals, have killed many civilians in recent days.”

The lack of an immediate explanation for the Pompeo cancellation came as Russia announced the US secretary of state would be travelling to the Black Sea resort of Sochi next week to hold talks with Lavrov and possibly Vladimir Putin.

The discussions will be the first since the Mueller inquiry declared Trump had not been guilty of collusion with Russia during his 2016 election campaign. Both sides may be testing whether the new political environment makes it easier for Washington and Moscow to cooperate.

The meeting also follows a phone call between Trump and Putin last week in which the US president downplayed the role of Russia in the Venezuela crisis. Lavrov lavished praise on Pompeo on Sunday for the seriousness of his approach to their talks.

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We are not yet doomed: the carbon cutters determined to save the world

An orchestra, a village, an entire country: the movement to rein in greenhouse gas emissions is growing

We are all doomed, it is said. Carbon dioxide is amassing in the atmosphere at levels not seen for millions of years when there were trees at the South Pole and Florida was under water. We have barely a decade to make amends. Protesters are on the streets.

But huge numbers of people have not given up. Not yet. Call them the carbon cutters. They are companies and cities, niche groups and nations. They are commuters and communes, off-gridders and off-setters, investors and institutions – and countless individuals, cutting their meat intake, installing solar panels, eschewing gas guzzlers and long-haul flights.

The Guardian’s Upside team heard from more than 200 carbon cutters in a callout to readers. We followed up their tips and showcase eight examples here, with many more in the comment thread. Their example in cutting carbon is a challenge to us all.

The orchestra

They are calling it “the world’s first sustainable season”, created by a Swedish orchestra so determined to cut its emissions that it has promised not to employ any musicians or conductors who travel by air.

“We are convinced that we can get all we need in terms of talent and artistic energy from within Europe, and from people living in Europe who come from other parts of the world,” said Fredrik Österling, director of Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra.

“You can’t hear if a conductor comes from Venezuela or from China or from England. The differences are very, very small.”

Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. Photograph: Mats Backer/Mats Bäcker

Österling and his team are reaching out to artists, conductors and composers willing to make their way to the Swedish city by train, road or boat. Participants will be invited to suggest pieces or even whole programmes for the season, which will start in September 2020.

Österling said that the idea for a no-flight season had come to him when the Swedish cellist Jakob Koranyi, who had travelled down from Stockholm by the night train, asked him what he was doing to compensate for the flights taken by other players.

“Among the new generation of musicians, you often find this, that they choose to become vegans or vegetarians, and that they think about the CO2 footprint they have,” Österling said.

Quick guide

What is the Upside?

Ever wondered why you feel so gloomy about the world – even at a time when humanity has never been this healthy and prosperous? Could it be because news is almost always grim, focusing on confrontation, disaster, antagonism and blame?

This series is an antidote, an attempt to show that there is plenty of hope, as our journalists scour the planet looking for pioneers, trailblazers, best practice, unsung heroes, ideas that work, ideas that might and innovations whose time might have come.

Readers can recommend other projects, people and progress that we should report on by contacting us at

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“That’s why I’m convinced that we will find many others willing to support us.”

On the day he announced the idea, he said he was contacted by an Armenian pianist living in Vienna who had offered to take the train up to Sweden to play.

In a typical season he estimated that his concert hall generated roughly 100 flights.

“It’s always been as if ‘art is above these issues’,” he said. “We are saying that we don’t believe that art is above the environment. The timeline is so short now, that we all have to contribute.” Richard Orange in Malmo

The country

Costa Rica has long been ahead of the crowd. Blessed with abundant hydropower, its emissions peaked in 1999 and in 2017 its power system ran for a record 300 days on clean sources.

Now its president has vowed to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions totally by 2050, meaning it would produce no more emissions than it can offset through activities such as expanding forests.

Trees in a misty rain forest on the Barva Volcano in Braulio Carrillo National Park, Costa Rica. Photograph: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The country’s electricity, 98% of which is already derived from renewable sources, would be entirely clean by this point, while transport, which accounts for 40% of current emissions, would be transformed by requiring sales of new cars and trucks to be zero-emission only. The plan also targets the elimination of emissions from buildings, industry and waste disposal.

Carlos Alvarado, the president of Costa Rica, said that the plan should be used as a blueprint for other governments to help meet the increasingly urgent task of cutting emissions to avoid disastrous climate change.

“We have committed ourselves to be an international laboratory for decarbonisation and we are standing true to that commitment,” Alvarado told the Guardian. “We want to lead by example. Our strongest contribution is to demonstrate the possibilities. It’s not only possible but it’s necessary.”

Alvarado, a 39-year-old who was elected in April 2018, said countries need not be deterred by US inaction on climate change.

“Imagine humanity is in the middle of an electric car race to survive and let’s say one of the big vehicles instead of moving forward just parked in the road,” Alvarado said. “The rest of us could stop and stare or we can continue our journey. We will need everybody but we also need to keep moving forward because time is part of this equation.

“In 2050, my son will be 37 and he will ask if I did enough for the planet and humanity to continue its existence. I better have a good answer. We need to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” Oliver Milman in New York

The brewer

AB Inbev aims to generate power solely through renewable means by 2025. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

AB InBev brews a lot of beer – about 3,000 pints a second. If that sounds like one gigantic hangover, consider this: to do that it requires about 6.6 terawatt hours of electricity each year – about the same as Latvia.

Now it says it aims to generate that power solely through renewable means by 2025. For the most part, it will do so through so-called power purchasing arrangements – direct contracts with renewable suppliers. But it also plans to install its own solar and other generators on its sites.

Already, it says, about half its power in the US comes from renewables – enough to brew about 10bn pints.

“We believe climate change is real,” says Tony Milikin, the company’s chief sustainability officer. “We want other companies to jump on the flywheel that we’re on.” Mark Rice-Oxley

The harbour city centre of Wellington North Island New Zealand Photograph: David Noton Photography/Alamy Stock Photo

The capital

Wellington is getting greener. Literally. It’s been planting a tree every five minutes, on average, for the past 15 years – more than 1.5m in total.

Native species such as Rata, Kowhai and Kanuka are being prioritised, with the aim of creating a ‘green corridor’ for native bird species that have already begun to spillover into locals gardens from their protected habitat at the Zelandia eco-sanctuary.

Wellington mayor Justin Lester says the capital is New Zealand’s greenest city, and one of the few cities in the world where bio-diversity is increasing. Last month, it was named as the world’s least polluted capital, though that is also down to prevailing winds.

“Wellingtonians are proud of this transformation and are acting on it,” he says. “The most common conservation activity is tree planting – about 40% of Wellington residents have planted a native tree at home.”

The upshot is that although the city still has a battle on its hands to reduce emissions from traffic, the impact of all those leaves is starting to be felt. Trees act as a natural sink for carbon and about 40 percent of the city’s emissions are now mitigated by so-called land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities.

According to the council almost half of the city’s urban area is now forested. By comparison’s 39% of Auckland is forested and 22% of Christchurch.

The Wellington tree planting project will contribute to a central government plan to plant one billion trees by 2028, which forms part of New Zealand’s ambition to be carbon zero by 2050. Eleanor Ainge Roy in Auckland

The flightless

It’s never been easier to book a cheap flight – but should you? Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Aviation accounts for just over 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is one of the fastest growing areas. Its real effect on warming is several times greater because the emissions have more impact at altitude.

Growth is fuelled by globalisation and the rise of ultra-cheap flights. The airline industry has made gestures towards sustainability, but with little impact, and governments have shown great reluctance to rein in an industry seen as popular and strategic.

Into this vacuum, individuals have started to bring their own actions. “We are in a climate emergency and need to radically reduce our emissions to avert climate breakdown,” says Anna Hughes, of the UK’s FlightFree campaign. “Aviation is the biggest contributor to an individual’s carbon footprint [if they fly], and people are often unwilling to change the way they live because individual action doesn’t seem to make a difference. But they are more likely to act if they can see others are acting too.”

Inspired by a similar campaign in Sweden, FlightFree invites people to pledge not to take any flights in 2020, if enough other people are willing to do the same. Should 100,000 people sign up, the pledges will be triggered, giving an incentive to early adopters to encourage as many others to take part as they can, and potentially saving more than 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020.

More than the carbon savings – which are hard to estimate in advance because some of the signatories may be frequent flyers while others may fly rarely – is the sense of moral action, that individuals can spur change even in huge and politically protected industries.

An increasing number of short-haul flights are taken by better-off people in better-off countries taking advantage of cheap flights and low property prices to buy holiday homes in areas that not long ago would have been practically and economically inaccessible, according to research from the New Economics Foundation.

That is unsustainable. But there are alternatives, from taking trains and the increasing distances that electric cars are capable of, to changing the tax regime so that instead of being charged taxes per flight – which blindly penalises those who rarely fly as much as those who jet off every other weekend – taxation could be based on an individual’s flight patterns over the course of a year, in order to truly reflect the social cost of our newfound habits.

So far, in the few weeks of its operation, several hundred people have signed up to FlightFree. It will have succeeded if it makes people think more about how modern flying patterns have changed, and how the impacts of this can be managed equitably, without destroying the planet.

The village

It all started with full-page ads in the parish magazine, but the effort to get the villagers of Loddiswell, Devon to switch to a renewable energy provider now involves the printing of several hundred postcards.

The man behind the plan is 65-year-old Plymouth city council worker Paul Vann: “I started a campaign to get villagers to switch to a green supplier like Bulb after finding out it offers 100% renewable energy. I was hoping to get a village-sized solar farm in the parish but unfortunately the power lines around here are at capacity.”

Paul Vann on Christmas Day, 2018. Photograph: Julie Vann

The local parish has been supportive of the idea and Vann believes that if his village can make the change then the benefits to the environment would be great: “Even if only 100 households switch that would be equivalent to planting thousands of trees. Imagine if all villages could do it.

“It’s all been done at a relatively low cost to me. The ads only cost a few tenners and the postcards around £75. I’ll be saving money too by delivering them myself.

“I’ve gone out on a limb but my hope is that we will achieve at least 100 switches.” Rachel Obordo

The theatre

Showcasing some of the best folk productions in Ireland, the Siamsa Tíre National Folk Theatre is used to playing a pivotal role in the country’s cultural life. With the greening initiative it’s also having an impact on its carbon footprint by reducing the theatre’s energy usage by 41% since 2016.

“Remarkably the election of Donald Trump spurred me into action,” said Catríona Fallon, CEO of the theatre. “We have 40 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof and replaced our oil-fired heating system with an air-to-heat pump which is run on electricity sourced from renewables. We’ve also halved our waste to landfill in the last year, which has saved us €1,000.”

Siamsa Tíre National Folk Theatre in Ireland. Photograph: Chris May

In terms of the future, Fallon is proposing to allow flexible working to reduce the theatre’s carbon footprint further: “We could look at closing the building on a Monday when there’s very little activity (October to April only) and allow most of the staff team to either work remotely or to rearrange their hours into four days rather than five.

“I’m a bit of an environmental nerd in my private life. When Trump was elected I sensed that this was the moment when my colleagues began to understand some of the dangers facing us in terms of climate change and environmental degradation, so I grasped the nettle. They may have since regretted this!” Rachel Obordo

The scientists

If emissions of carbon dioxide are inevitable, can we avoid the effects on global warming by capturing, reusing or in some other way preventing the gas reaching the atmosphere and contributing to climate change?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been mooted for more than two decades as a potential solution to climate change, but little progress has been made in that time. There are a handful of plants currently operating and no widespread plans for its adoption on a scale that would make the difference needed to stave off dangerous levels of warming.

The Carbon Capture Machine (CCM), built by scientists from the University of Aberdeen, is a prototype capable of converting 200kg of carbon dioxide a day to liquid. The machine is now one of five technologies in the final for the NRG Cosia Carbon X Prize, and its grand prize of $7.5m (£5.7m).

Carbon capture and conversion machine at the University of Aberdeen . Photograph: Fred Glasser

Inside the machine, the gases arising from coal combustion are “scrubbed”, which is done with a water solution of sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. This process – which relates to techniques used a century ago to purify the air in submarines – separates carbon dioxide from other gases, such as water vapour and nitrogen, and produces stable dry solids, white in colour and harmless.

Fred Glasser, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, says: “The expensive bit [of CCS] is that to pump carbon dioxide to the disposal site [usually offshore] it has to be liquid. To make a liquid requires separation of carbon dioxide from nitrogen and oxygen. The separation process is expensive and potentially polluting.”

By solving this critical part of the CCS problem, Glasser believes the CCM – which will be tested at a site in Dry Fork, Wyoming, as part of the X Prize – provides a vital solution, and will be cheap as the components are off-the-shelf parts common in other industrial processes, and the dry byproducts can be sold.

Glasser, with partners Zoe Morrison and MS Imbabi, has spun off CCM from Aberdeen University, and though the company is still small (“I also help to wash up the teacups,” notes Glasser) the partners are “aware of the transformational nature of the work we are doing and realise its potential impact on combatting climate change”.

Yet the partners are unhappy that despite the international recognition of the X Prize, they have been “unable to get UK government support despite repeated applications and amicable discussions”. If the demonstration in Dry Fork is successful, the company expects to be about 12 to 18 months from commercial production of a scaled-up machine.

When the large-scale capture and storage of carbon dioxide was mooted widely in the early 2000s as a solution for coal-fired power plants, coal was cheap and alternatives expensive. Since then, the price of renewable energy from wind and the sun has plunged. Expensive CCS on such a massive scale may no longer be needed if these trends continue.

But there are chemical processes in vital industries that will continue to emit carbon dioxide even if the fuel used is renewable – cement is the classic example, as the breakdown of calcium carbonate it requires releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Removing and storing the carbon dioxide from concrete production is a potentially massive market where CCM is also applicable. Fiona Harvey

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This article is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at

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Trump’s foolish Iran policy only makes war more likely | Simon Tisdall

Irans rulers face impossible choices as a result of unrelenting US hostility, says foreign commentator Simon Tisdall

It is unclear what, if anything, Iran can do to induce the United States and its regional allies to halt their escalating war of attrition before it provokes all-out conflict. When Donald Trump reneged on the UN-ratified nuclear agreement with Tehran last year, he said he wanted a better deal. Iran must change its behaviour, he said, and act like a “normal country”.

This was always disingenuous. Iran’s authoritarian and abusive rulers certainly need to mend their ways. But what Trump and his imperious advisers really meant was that they must do what America says, in conformity with American interests. What they want is an end to 40 years of post-revolution defiance. What they want is regime change in Iran.

Tehran’s leadership now has three choices – capitulate, wait or resist. Capitulation is no real option at all. Hassan Rouhani, the country’s moderate, conservative president, and senior allies such as the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, would not survive the sort of sweeping strategic and regional pullback required by the Americans.

The clerical establishment, led by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rightwing fundamentalists and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards, would exploit any attempted compromise to vanquish the reformist remnants of the so-called 2009 Persian spring. In short, the mullahs would double down on repression.

If, on the other hand, the regime were to lose control in the face, say, of urban uprisings encouraged from abroad, Iran could break apart. This is a land of large ethnic minorities – principally Azeris, Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds – as well as smaller Baha’i, Turkmen, Christian and Jewish communities. None has particular reason to love the centre.

It is unlikely that the Americans have a plan for Iran in the aftermath of a regime collapse, any more than they had a plan for Iraq in 2003. Given that disastrous precedent, John Bolton, Trump’s neocon national security adviser and an architect of the Iraq invasion, should think twice. He and other myopic machinators must be careful what they wish for.

Iran’s second option – waiting for Trump to be voted out of office next year – is fraught with difficulty. For a start, he may win a second term. It is also improbable that any Democratic successor would reverse the current policy. He or she might ease the pressure. But in the turgid present-day US political climate, letting Iran off the hook is not on the cards.

The idea that the Europeans will ride to the rescue, implicit in Rouhani’s 60-day deadline for a resuscitation of the nuclear deal, is also far-fetched. Neither Britain nor France is happy with Trump’s tactics. But their hostile reaction to Rouhani’s threat to resume some nuclear activities was cautionary. They expect Iran, not the US, to back down.

Attempts by some European Union countries over the past year to circumvent renewed American sanctions have come to nothing. The commercial reality is that they cannot protect energy companies, banks and other businesses seeking to trade with Iran from Washington’s punitive secondary sanctions. Hopes that a discredited, divided UN security council will take the US to task for breaking international law are similarly chimerical.

Even with Trump out of the picture, Iran would continue to face the visceral enmity of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Without his reactionary soulmate in the White House, it might only be a matter of time before Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, revived past threats to bomb Iran. For the House of Saud, it’s an ancient blood feud.

Iran’s last option, resistance, has a dreadful air of inevitability about it. Bolton’s announcement this week of additional, nuclear-armed military deployments in the Gulf, and secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s melodramatic dash to Baghdad in the middle of a European tour, suggested that the White House was just spoiling for a fight.

Both men cited secret intelligence about an “imminent” attack by Iran or its proxies on American forces in Syria or Iraq. Perhaps it was accurate. Perhaps not. This vague, untested information reportedly came from Israel, which is skilled at putting the wind up the Americans. Whatever the truth, it had the desired effect.

Bolton, who has a long record of manipulating intelligence (he was at it again the other day over Venezuela), used the alleged threat to warn Iran that it would be held responsible for the actions of its proxies, however loose the links, wherever they may be. That means any stray Shia militia group in Iraq, or Houthi rebel in Yemen, now potentially has the power to trigger a direct, armed assault by the US on Iran itself.

Pompeo used his theatrical dash to Baghdad to dramatise the seriousness of a crisis he has helped to manufacture. His subsequent meetings in London with Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, and foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, became a propaganda platform for condemning Iran as a “lawless” rogue state. Pompeo misleadingly claimed to enjoy the UK’s full support. Hunt did not dare contradict him.

The US war of attrition is not merely economic and diplomatic. Iran has faced cyber attacks. Its scientists have been assassinated, its ballistic missile programme sabotaged. It is the target of fake news and disinformation about its past nuclear activities and present-day links to terrorism. It is a country under siege. And US officials say they are just getting started.

It is often suggested that Trump wants to avoid another Middle East conflict. But hawks such as Pompeo, Bolton and the vice-president, Mike Pence – who between them are running foreign policy while the president tweets and plays golf – are not so shy. Given past statements about armed intervention, they would probably relish it.

The Americans appear implacable. As threats to the regime’s survival escalate and intensify, the prospect of violent retaliation by hardline factions in Tehran, or their minions, grows by the day. Intentionally or not, the US is driving Iran down the path to war.

Simon Tisdall is a foreign affairs commentator and former Guardian foreign editor

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