Under Trump, the more than mixed results of “maximum pressure”

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In four years, Donald Trump has multiplied as ever the sanctions against the opponents of the United States, but this policy of “maximum pressure” applied throughout the world has not had the expected results.

“Sanctions have clearly been the Trump administration’s favored tool in responding to rogue regimes,” Richard Goldberg of the AFP told AFP. Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) which advocates this hard line.

“Previous administrations used sanctions, but in a more narrow or targeted manner,” he adds, without seeking “macroeconomic upheavals to destabilize governments and force them to change their attitude.”

Until the end, 25 days before the presidential election, the American government announces almost daily punitive measures against Cuba, Syria or Belarus.

Sometimes it still strikes a blow: the Treasury cracked down on the 18 Iranian “main banks” on Thursday.

Washington will have tightened the screw against almost all sectors of the country since President Trump left the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

This “maximum pressure campaign” was theorized in May 2018 by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who set out twelve conditions for concluding a “new agreement” with Tehran.

Objective stated: to bend the Iranian authorities by suffocating their economy so that they agree to “change their behavior”. The Trump administration has always denied, without necessarily convincing, seeking regime change.

Today, none of Mike Pompeo’s conditions are met, and the Islamic Republic has even relaunched, in retaliation, some nuclear activities that bring it closer to the manufacture of an atomic bomb.

“Weakened Iran”

“The government will say ‘we have weakened Iran’, which is true, but there has been no real change in Iranian behavior,” said Thomas Wright, of the Brookings Institution think tank.

For Richard Goldberg, “the success” of a sanctions policy “depends on the objectives set”.

“In Iran, the regime has considerably fewer resources to spend on its nefarious activities, which in itself is a victory for the national security of the United States,” he said. And in his eyes, “the regime will be forced to negotiate in 2021 with the winner of the American presidential election, whoever he is.”

On the contrary, Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council think tank sees the latest sanctions as “sadism disguised as foreign policy”, since they “will not bring the Iranian government to its knees but will weaken ordinary people”.

In Venezuela, the American intention was very clear: to oust President Nicolas Maduro, deemed illegitimate, from power.

But the socialist leader is still there. “Trump lost interest in the matter when he saw that Maduro would not leave,” said Thomas Wright.

The result is more nuanced in North Korea. After a series of nuclear tests and intercontinental missile fire, Washington succeeded in 2017 in rallying the international community to the UN to impose draconian sanctions.

Backed by the military threat, this helped bring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table in three historic meetings with Donald Trump.

No denuclearization

“Trump ended up giving in a lot” in “a sort of de facto deal that freezes intercontinental fire and nuclear testing in exchange for more peaceful relations,” says Thomas Wright.

But the “complete, definitive and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea”, long touted as the only valid outcome, remained in limbo as Pyongyang even continued its atomic activities.

With their sanctions against Iran, the Americans have nevertheless demonstrated their full force.

Not only did they target Iranian institutions, leaders and companies, they also matched their so-called “secondary” sanctions measures: any country or company that continues to trade with Tehran is in turn targeted.

The effect is radical. European countries tried by all means to maintain their trade relations with Iran to save the 2015 agreement, but the price to pay was too high, as their companies risked being barred from accessing the vast markets and American financial sector.

“The main lesson of the past four years is what the United States can do on its own, without the support of its traditional allies,” said Richard Goldberg. “It is a game changer. “

Will this use of sanctions remain as an achievement of American diplomacy?

“There is a growing consensus within the political class that they must be part of a larger strategy, and not be a strategy in itself” as has sometimes been the case in recent years, explains Thomas Wright.

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