Plus, a reader question about our story on school segregation.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Today, we're breaking down the death of Iran's president and foreign minister. Plus, a reader question the story on school segregation.

One more time.

Quick hits.

  1. The Biden administration canceled another $7.7 billion in student loans that will apply to some 160,000 borrowers. The total student debt canceled by the administration is now $167 billion. (The cancellation)
  2. Former President Trump's team deleted a video from his Truth Social account that referenced a "Unified Reich," saying a staffer reposted the video from a "random account" without seeing the language. (The post)
  3. Spain, Norway and Ireland joined scores of other nations by recognizing Palestinian statehood, a political blow to Israel. (The announcements) Separately, Israeli officials seized broadcasting equipment that belonged to the Associated Press before reversing the decision after private pressure from the Biden administration. (The reversal)
  4. GOP-backed Georgia state Supreme Court Justice Andrew Pinson defeated Democratic challenger and former Rep. John Barrow to retain his court seat. (The result) Separately, state Assemblyman Vince Fong (R) won the special election to succeed Kevin McCarthy in California’s 20th District. Fong was endorsed by McCarthy. (The result)
  5. The Biden administration said it would release one million barrels of reserve gasoline in the Northeast before July 4, hoping to bring down gas prices. (The plan)

Today's topic.

The helicopter crash in Iran. On Sunday, a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and six others crashed near Jolfa, Iran. After an extensive search and rescue effort, the crash site was located on Monday morning and Raisi, Abdollahian, and all other occupants of the helicopter were pronounced dead. Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will serve as acting president until a new election is held on June 28.

The Islamic Republic News Agency said the cause of the crash was a “technical failure,” though the crash occurred in foggy conditions amid mountainous terrain. Those same factors, along with more inclement weather, hampered the search for the crash. 

Raisi began his political career in the 1980s as a prosecutor who served on the “death commissions” that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners, militants, and others following the Iran-Iraq War. His subsequent rise through Iran’s judiciary was buoyed by close relationships with religious leaders in the holy city of Qom, where Raisi studied at a religious seminary and took part in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In 2021, Raisi won the presidency with 62% of the 28.9 million votes cast, the lowest proportional turnout in Iran’s history. As president, he worked to grow Iran’s regional influence while overseeing violent internal crackdowns on political opponents, most notably during a 2022 uprising against the Islamic Republic’s rule. 

Amir-Abdollahian was a career diplomat and conservative hardliner who played a key role in negotiations with the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear program, culminating in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. During Raisi’s presidency, he had been working to ease tensions with Saudi Arabia, an effort that stalled out following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. 

Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian’s deaths have prompted a divided response in Iran. While supporters of the government gathered in mosques and public spaces to mourn, their political opponents celebrated in the streets and on social media (despite warnings against doing so). Broadly speaking, public life in Iran has not been disturbed, a stark contrast to the reactions following the deaths of other Iranian leaders like General Qasem Soleimani.

While Raisi’s death is unlikely to result in major changes to Iran’s government, it upends the likely succession plan for Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi was a favorite to replace the 85-year-old Khamenei, who oversees all domestic and foreign affairs and had reportedly been preparing Raisi to assume his role. Khamenei’s son Mojtaba Khamenei is also a potential successor, but many experts have suggested naming him could set off unrest in Iran, which has consciously avoided hereditary rule since the Iranian Revolution. 

“[Khamenei's] lack of legitimacy and popularity means he’d be entirely reliant on the Revolutionary Guards to maintain order. This could hasten the regime's transition to military rule or its potential collapse,” said Iranian-American policy analyst Karim Sadjadpour.

Beyond its succession crisis, Iran is also contending with a host of predicaments at home and abroad, including a depreciating currency, corruption scandals, water shortages, and a surge of terrorism. Further, the country’s long-simmering conflict with Israel escalated in April with a series of strikes and counterstrikes, heightening the possibility of a broader regional war. And how to approach the development of Iran’s nuclear program — an issue that looms over its relationship with the U.S. and other Western nations — will be a key question for the country’s next president (and Supreme Leader).

Today, we’ll explore arguments from the left, right, and international writers about the implications of Raisi’s death, and then I’ll share my take. 


  • Writers on the right and left and abroad agree that Raisi’s legacy will be defined by his violent repression of the Iranian people.
  • Most consider him to have been a weak president who mainly carried out Ayatollah Khamenei’s wishes. 
  • All sides expect that Raisi’s death will set off a power struggle to succeed Khamenei, one that could shape Iran’s future.

What the left is saying.

  • The left views Raisi as a failed leader on both social and economic fronts. 
  • Many, though, expect his replacement will continue his authoritarian policies.

In Bloomberg, Marc Champion said “President Raisi was a failure.”

“Raisi was not only a protégé of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but also closer in his purist religious and political views. So it matters that at home — where the future of the regime will ultimately be determined — the man chosen to restore faith in and obedience to the Islamic Revolution failed,” Champion wrote. “Even Raisi’s election success in 2021 was, in reality, a sign of failure. It was the first presidential vote to produce no benefit whatsoever as a tool of legitimation for Khamenei, at a time when the 40-year-old revolution’s appeal has faded.”

“One of Raisi’s earliest decisions was to order a crackdown ostensibly to ensure female modesty and chastity… the protests that followed were the largest in the history of the Islamic Republic, posing the greatest domestic threat to the regime’s survival since the revolution,” Champion said. “Raisi did no better on the economy. Despite a significant rise in oil exports as the US eased sanctions enforcement and a large boost to government spending, the International Monetary Fund projects Iran’s economy to grow by 3.3% this year. That may sound healthy enough, but it’s a poor outcome that signifies declining living standards, given the high pace of inflation.”

In CNN, Frida Ghitis wrote “Iran’s president is dead. The cruel show goes on.”

“In the hours, weeks and months ahead, Iran’s power centers will no doubt engage in fierce infighting for key positions as the Islamic Republic selects a new president – the country’s second most powerful position – and constructs the alignments that will determine who becomes the next supreme leader,” Ghitis said. “It’s remarkable in this crucial battle over the future of Iran and who will lead it potentially for years if not decades to come, that millions of Iranians – perhaps even the majority of the people – will have no voice, no one to represent their views.”

“The unfolding reshuffling of power in Tehran is also of great interest to Arab countries. Iran’s traditional rival, Saudi Arabia, will be watching closely. But it is inside Iran where the quest for power will unfold, and where its impact will be most directly felt,” Ghitis wrote. “The chance of a kinder, gentler Iran emerging after new presidential elections are held in 50 days are essentially nil… Raisi is dead and the odds are that he will be replaced by another hardliner. For Iranians who celebrated his demise, left out of the planning for the future of their country, the only consolation is that no regime lasts forever.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is glad Raisi is gone but believes he had little impact on Iran’s overarching trajectory. 
  • Some suggest the U.S. should leverage his death to push for a more moderate leader.

The New York Post editorial board argued Raisi’s death “won’t change anything.”

“It’s a very good thing that Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, is dead… He was committed both to the evil ideology he espoused and to the violent repression so necessary to maintaining its grip on Iran,” the board wrote. “He was also a committed America- and Israel-hater, key qualifications for any man (and in the Islamic Republic, it can only ever be a man) aspiring to ultimate power in Tehran. His death may destabilize what is widely seen as the line of succession for Khamenei, now 85. But in the medium term, it (sadly) seems unlikely to change anything significantly.

“Iran is still committed to its project of regional hegemony, a project far bigger than Raisi. The Islamic Republic has scored a number of big wins on that front through proxies in recent months: the Houthi offensive against Red Sea shipping; Hamas’ Oct. 7 atrocities; the gathering storm of an Israel-Hezbollah war. These have come thanks not only to Iran’s aggression but also to first Biden administration haplessness and then to the White House’s recent hard anti-Israel tilt,” the board said. “Defeating Iran requires bold, strong action. Waiting and hoping for its leadership to die out is guaranteed to be a losing strategy.”

In The Wall Street Journal, Shay Khatiri wrote about “Iran’s succession after Ebrahim Raisi.”

“There are three major power brokers in Iran: the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)], the clergy and the people. The IRGC is the wealthiest. The clergy has ideological legitimacy among the 10% to 20% of Iranians who support the regime and are religious. However imperialist the Islamic Republic might be, it is foremost a theocracy. The people are the largest faction but have no power within the system. They do, however, have a fearsome capacity to disrupt domestic order and perhaps even topple the regime,” Khatiri said. “None of the three sides will agree to a compromise when Mr. Khamenei departs the scene.”

“The likeliest outcome following Mr. Khamenei’s death is a council of leaders—three men leading the regime so none can become a cult figure, and all three factions will get a candidate that will appeal to them. But the Iranian people wouldn’t accept such a council,” Khatiri wrote. “The U.S. should take advantage of such unrest. After the 2015 nuclear deal failed to modify the regime’s behavior, even most Democrats abandoned hope that the regime will reform itself. Everyone needs to take this analysis to its logical conclusion to accept that indigenous regime change, supported by the U.S., is the only solution to the Iran problem. Mr. Khamenei is the glue that holds the regime together. His death would create a vacuum to exploit.”

What international writers are saying.

  • Writers abroad say Iran will decide between radicalism and moderation in choosing Raisi’s successor. 
  • Others call his death a disruptive event but one that’s unlikely to shake up Iranian politics.

In Middle East Eye, Seyed Hossein Mousavian said “the president's death leaves Iran at a crossroads.”

“The most significant reaction from the Raisi government was to distance itself from the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal], expand its nuclear programme and become a nuclear threshold state. That is the most significant legacy of Raisi’s era. It remains to be seen if Iran will become a nuclear state following Raisi's death,” Mousavian wrote. “The US and Europe currently lack any diplomatic initiative or willingness to engage in any serious and broad dialogue with Iran, focusing instead on increasing sanctions, threats and bullying. If this trend continues, then regardless of who the next president of Iran might be, Tehran will likely press ahead with acquiring nuclear capabilities.”

“At home, Raisi was the first president of Iran during the 35-year leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei to be fully aligned with the leadership's policies domestically, regionally and internationally,” Mousavian added. “After Raisi, two hypotheses regarding Iran's domestic policy are foreseeable. One suggests that the radical principlists will tighten their grip and fully control the government, which may lead to escalated tensions between Iran and the West. The second hypothesis is that, with the guidance of the leadership, moderate forces within the principlist camp will enter the scene, which would increase the chances of easing tensions between Iran and the West.”

In The New Arab, Tanya Goudsouzian wrote that for Iran, “Raisi's death 'too shall pass.’”

“Whether the death of President Ebrahim Raisi was the result of a tragic aircraft mishap, or a targeted killing is less important than the consequences to follow,” Goudsouzian said. “Basic governing institutions are in place and show no signs of fracturing. This was made apparent in the 2009 Green Movement uprisings, and Raisi’s passing is a far less consequential event.”

“Nor will Raisi’s death have significant consequences on Iranian foreign policy. It won’t affect the Gaza war; it won’t slow down the expansion of the IRGC mission to expand the Axis of Resistance, it will not change the impasse on nuclear talks with the United States nor will it impact the growing alliance between Russia and China,” Goudsouzian wrote. Raisi’s death “is a tragedy for the Iranian people and introduces a measure of uncertainty to the internal affairs of Iran. Yet, while it may cause unexpected elections and selections of key government officials, that uncertainty is unlikely to introduce instability either within Iran or in its foreign policy.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I won’t celebrate Raisi’s death, but I will acknowledge that he increased regional tensions as Iran’s leader.
  • A core part of Raisi’s legacy will be further militarizing Iran’s Sunni-Shia conflict and bringing their divides onto the global stage.
  • Whether Iran moderates or radicalizes further, the next step here is going to have a tangible impact on Americans and our allies.

I'm not one to celebrate any person's death, and I'm not going to do that here. But I also won't whitewash someone's legacy just because they are gone.

Self-loathing Americans and foreign commentators love to blame the U.S. for all the ails of the Middle East — from instability across the region to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Few actors, though, deserve as much blame as Iran. Leaders like Raisi have not just funded proxy wars across the region and oppressed their own people, they've done it for a rotten goal: The revival of militant Shiite Islamism. The grand Sunni-Shia battle is at the heart of so much of the region’s current political paradigms, and Iran has spent significant resources spreading extremism throughout the Middle East in its never-ending war with the rival Sunni faction, taking on Israel and the West in the process. 

Unfortunately, not nearly enough is said about Iran's role in regional conflicts, because the framing in the West often myopically focuses on the U.S. and Israel as power centers. When the Houthis are firing rockets at civilian merchant ships, they’re doing so with express support (militarily and politically) from the Iranian regime. The same is true of Hezbollah shooting rockets into northern Israel or militants in Iraq attacking U.S. bases.

The truth is that Iran's reach is wide, its influence is massive, and its primary enemy — Saudi Arabia — is wading further and further into the Western world for support and allyship, which represents a major threat to Shiite leaders. As a result, Iran has turned increasingly to large power centers like Russia and China, creating the global alignment that we all have to navigate today. Along with recent events like the first attack by Israel on Iran's soil and the successfully parried Iranian response, which was still one of the largest military attacks ever in the Middle East, the alignment of political heavyweights on the side of a bellicose Iran seems to be straining the balance of power on its axis.

On the one hand, a power vacuum in a nation like Iran might be an opportunity. We might hope the Iranian population, more secularized and more interested in peaceful relations with the West than its leaders, will press toward bringing a more moderate leader into power. Pessimistically, and perhaps much more realistically, the odds seem strongest that a Raisi-like figure fills the void, and the time between now and then will only be full of danger and destabilization.

Predicting where we go from here or how Raisi's death impacts the future is a fraught game, and your guess is as good as mine. The Obama and Biden policy positions toward Iran seem to have utterly failed, only unlocking the Islamic Republic’s power and influence in the region without any real advancement of U.S. interests. The Trump era was the only spate of the last 16 years that included any real stretches of peace, a reality more pundits might take note of (toward the end of this podcast, the journalist Jacob Siegel speaks cogently about the success of Trump's policies toward Iran relative to what Obama did and Biden has done).

According to Iran's constitution, a vice president will take over until an election, which must be held within 50 days of last Sunday. Iran analyst and expert Karim Sadjadpour has argued that we are about to witness a succession crisis, and that an attempt by the Supreme Leader to install his own son (one potential outcome) may lead to popular unrest. Again: The power vacuum here is an opportunity, but a risky and destabilizing one.

I'll defer to the experts on what comes next, but I'll leave you with this: Iran is a country worth watching. Its desires, its strength, and its coalition building all have a direct impact on America's influence overseas, and it holds a particular salience for our allies in the Middle East and Asia. So, wherever Iran goes from here, we are certain to feel the repercussions.

Take the survey: How do you think Iran will change following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Why not have an Under-the-Radar story pointing out (according to the AXIOS article linked today) that the number of all-white schools has plunged by 90%?!? This fact kinda got overlooked, probably since it doesn't promote a story of surging racism.

— Anonymous from Berkeley, CA

Tangle: Well, frankly, because that story already included that fact.

Let’s start out by addressing that you’re right on that statistic, and that you’re right that we didn’t focus on it. To briefly recap, last week we included in our “Under the radar” section this story from Axios with the headline “School segregation surges 70 years after Brown v. Board ruling,” highlighting the fact that the share of schools with a 90%+ non-white student body has increased dramatically over the past three decades.

In a section towards the end of that story titled “Yes, but,” Axios pointed out that “there were 551 public schools that were all-white in 2021, down from 5,339 in 1990.” That’s an important detail to show that full segregation isn’t happening. So, why didn’t we talk about it? Are we promoting an agenda ringing alarm bells about rising racism?

Well, no, we just didn’t think it was the salient part of that story. If all-white and all-non-white schools had been increasing over that span, we’d already have known about it. Almost by definition, if schools were fully segregating, some organized effort would be behind it. And it wouldn’t really be “under the radar.”  

I’ll also say that the number of all-white schools decreasing actually does promote the story that Axios was trying to tell, which is that selective segregation has been occurring broadly across the country. I don’t think it’s a story of surging racism, but there’s definitely a racial element at play. And I thought the Axios piece was worth sharing because it makes us all wonder what is driving the trend, and it provided a lot of context for considering the problem but didn’t give us an easy and shallow answer to try to explain why.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Cyberattacks against water utilities across the country are becoming more frequent and more severe, the Environmental Protection Agency warned on Monday. 70% of utilities inspected by federal officials did not meet the standards set to prevent such breaches or instructions, the agency said, calling on even the smallest water systems to improve their protections against hacks. Attacks on water systems aren’t new, but more recently the attackers have gone after utilities’ operations rather than just their websites. The EPA has warned that disruptions to a safe water supply at homes or businesses are possible. The Associated Press has the story.


  • 72%. The percentage of Iranians who approved of President Ebrahim Raisi's job performance in 2021, two months into his term. 
  • 41%. The percentage of eligible voters who turned out for Iran’s 2021 election, the lowest since the Islamic Republic’s founding in 1979.
  • +7%. The increase in Iranians' approval of the country’s leadership between 2020 and 2021, according to Gallup. 
  • -6%. The decrease in Iranians’ approval of the country’s leadership between 2021 and 2022. 
  • +3.3%. Iran’s projected percent change in real GDP for 2024, according to the International Monetary Fund.
  • +37.5%. The projected percent change in consumer goods prices in Iran for 2024. 
  • +46.5%. The percent change in inflation in Iran between March 2022 and March 2023, according to the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • 551. The number of protestors who were killed during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran in 2022, according to Iran Human Rights.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the U.S. sending Ukraine F-16 jets.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was once again our video on the Penn protests.
  • Nothing to do with politics: A chimpanzee returning a sandal to a zoo visitor.
  • Thursday’s survey: 550 readers answered our survey on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with 69% supporting the CFPB and its funding model. “The CFPB was started to do good work and fulfills important roles. I do think Rohit Chopra specifically has overstepped the appropriate scope of the CFPB to obtain his own socially desirable outcomes, but I also think that conservatives are attacking this funding structure because it is another way to cut government spending without requiring the sort of electoral results they would need to do it the right way through Congress,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

In 1992, East Palo Alto, California, was dubbed the “murder capital” of the U.S., with a per capita murder rate higher than that of any other city of any size. But according to East Palo Alto Police Department statistics released earlier this year, the city has dramatically decreased its total: In 2023, East Palo Alto had zero homicides. Law enforcement leaders, residents, and city officials credit the turnaround to increased economic development along with programs for youth and a focus on community policing. “In spite of the wrongs of our past, we can move forward and be a model for everyone,” Mayor Antonio López López said. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.