October 05, 2019

Trump’s Use of Sanctions Is Nothing Like Obama’s

By Peter Harrell

Two and a half years into Donald Trump’s presidency, there is no doubt that economic sanctions are his administration’s foreign-policy weapon of choice. From China to Iran to Venezuela, sanctions and other coercive economic tools are central to Trump’s maximum pressure campaigns against U.S. adversaries. But he is not only rolling out sanctions more aggressively than his predecessors: He is also using them in new ways. A close examination of the administration’s use of sanctions reveals three broad trends and raises important questions about the future of U.S. coercive economic statecraft.

The first trend is an unprecedented level of aggressiveness. Data compiled by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher shows that in 2018 the United States added nearly 1,500 people, companies, and entities to Treasury Department-managed sanctions, nearly 50 percent more than in the second-highest year on record—2017, also under Trump.

When I served as a senior sanctions official at the State Department in the Obama administration from 2012 to 2014, the government generally focused on one or two major sanctions programs at a time. Under President Barack Obama, Iran was the clear priority between 2010 and 2015, and Russia was the priority from 2014 to 2016, with other sanctions programs substantially lower on the list. But the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing sanctions programs against three countries as first-tier policy priorities—Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea—while also expending significant energy on the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program, which targets individual human rights violators, against Cuba, Syria, and Russia.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

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