Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 9 News List

How sanctions and tariffs became Trump’s big guns

The US president’s hit-’em-where-it-hurts approach to foreign policy is in danger of backfiring as rivals unite against the US

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

Some US presidents use military force to impose the US’ will on other nations. Most prefer traditional diplomacy and negotiation, or ask allies to help them get their way. Former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama stressed the importance of moral example in projecting global leadership.

US President Donald Trump does things differently. Since taking office last year, he has repeatedly resorted to draconian economic sanctions and trade tariffs, launching them like missiles at nations and people he does not approve of. Trump did not invent the practice, but it has become his foreign policy weapon of choice.

The US Department of the Treasury last year imposed sanctions on 944 foreign entities and individuals, a record. This year, the total is projected to surpass 1,000.

It lists 28 “active sanctions programs” ranging from Belarus and Burundi to Venezuela and Zimbabwe. In February alone, people and businesses in Lebanon, Libya, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia and the Philippines were targeted.

Sanctions beget more sanctions. Last week, named Chinese and Russian companies were penalized over alleged breaches of previous bans on trade with North Korea.

Whether it is rocket components, illicit booze or smuggled cigarettes, global sheriff Trump is on the case.

What might be termed Trump’s “money wars” are raging across large swathes of the globe, from Canada and Europe to Russia and China.

On current trends, any nation not under economic attack from the US will soon be the exception.

Trump’s most recent target is Turkey, whose currency plunged earlier this month following the sudden imposition of US sanctions and tariffs.

His action, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan called “a stab in the back,” followed a new tranche of sanctions on Russia, linked to the Salisbury nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daugher, Yulia.

Russia’s position is anomalous. It was initially sanctioned after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. By most estimates, it poses the biggest international challenge to US interests and values, but Trump appeared opposed to the US Department of State’s sanctions in the Skripal case. Even so, follow-up sanctions are planned this autumn.

Iran was also targeted in Trump’s money wars. After reneging on the multilateral pact curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, Trump attacked its financial and trading interests. Next up, Iran’s banking system and a potentially ruinous embargo on its oil exports.

In sanctioning foreign states, Trump typically acts without prior notice or any attempt at serious negotiation.

His modus operandi is becoming familiar: shout, threaten, punish. Then comes a supposedly magnanimous offer to talk one-on-one, as happened with North Korea and the EU.

Trump uses real or confected public expressions of personal anger to soften up opponents and rally his electoral base to his latest cause.

Then, like the lifelong capitalist he is, he hits his targets where he thinks it hurts most: in the pocket. After all, foreign wars are expensive and usually end badly. Better to follow the money.

Using this as a weapon makes ultimate sense to Trump. In his experience as a property developer and entrepreneur, money really does make the world go round. For him, the world is simply one big marketplace, where cash is king. He aims to make a deal, not a difference.

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