The return of World Leader March Madness

It's back! Last year's March Madness: Democrats vs. Dictators tournament of champions ended with a dramatic knife fight on the edge of an active Icelandic volcano between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. The tournament will return next week, setting the stage for a potential rematch and giving readers the chance for FP glory.  

If you didn't follow it last year, the contest is a no-holds barred, bracket-style competition between the world's most powerful leaders. You can pick your brackets in advance and we'll announce the winners of each "game" over the course of the month based on entirely arbitrary and often nonsensical critera. This was obviously a rough year for the dictator division so we'll have some new faces in the contest. The 10 readers with the top scores win a free one-year subscription to FP.

Things will be a bit more high-tech this year. Instead of requiring you to fill out a bracket by hand, we'll have an interactive form that you can fill out online and share on Facebook. You will also be able follow your score and position on the leaderboard in realtime. 

After "selection Sunday" this weekend, we'll be posting the first-round matchups and the form where you can fill out your brackets on Monday. Games will begin on Thursday and continue throughout March. 

Can Putin get his revenge? Will American decline and pre-election stress take their toll on defending champion Obama? Can newcomer Kim Jong Un make an impact?

Find out next week. 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images


Introducing 'Iran Watch'

These days, news about the international crisis over Iran's nuclear program is coming at us at a rapid and often bewildering pace. In the last month alone, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called Israel a "cancer tumor" that "should be cut off," vowed to never sway from Iran's nuclear course, dismissed nuclear weapons as a "sin," and, just today, welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's call for toning down all this war talk. It's enough to give any observer a good case of whiplash.

That's why we're taking a step back from the flurry of breaking news and introducing a regular Passport feature to track the drumbeats to war and take the temperature of the major players in the drama. For each post, we'll choose one or more data points or news stories and assign a score based on the following scale:

1. All Quiet on the Eastern Front

2. Natanz to Worry About

3. Nukes of Hazard

4. Seeing Red Lines

5. Bombs Away!

Two stories dominated the news cycle today on Iran. For starters, the United States reportedly offered to give Israel arms that could help in a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (though the White House denied it):

In particular, it would offer bunker-busting bombs more powerful than those currently possessed by Israel, which would allow the Jewish state to target Iranian facilities even under solid rock.

An Israeli official also claimed that new satellite images provide fresh evidence that Iran is trying to conceal its development of a nuclear weapon:

On Wednesday, pictures provided by unspecified member countries to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. nuclear agency -- appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at Iran's Parchin military site. Diplomats said the images suggested the trucks could be carting away radioactive material created in nuclear testing.


Verdict: In the end, Isaac's Newton's Third Law applied today -- for every action there was an equal and opposite reaction. AFP reported that the United States had offered to supply Israel with advanced weaponry in exchange for Israel committing to not attack Iran this year. But other Israeli officials are denying that there were any conditions attached to the deal. The satellite imagery of activities at Parchin put a damper on the news that Iran had decided to let inspectors visit the military installation. And even as Israel cautiously welcomes a resumption of big-power nuclear talks with Iran, Iran's envoy to France declared that Iran will not negotiate on its right to enrich uranium -- a critical sticking point. For all these reasons, we're going with Nukes of Hazard.

Feel free to nominate any Iran Watch stories you think we should be highlighting. E-mail Uri [dot] Friedman [at]

IIPA via Getty Images