Sanctions, while slow and decidedly lacking in dramatic flair, are the primary weapon in America’s diplomatic arsenal. The nation’s massive economy stretches out over the globe, where American naval power provides stability in shipping lanes and American consumerism provides a seemingly insatiable market for wares, resources and services. Cutting off a nation from both that massive network of customers and support as well as allied revenue sources can be far more effective than a military operation at achieving America’s long-term goals. Blow up a building and your enemy will rebuild; stifle their ability to build and they’re left to stagnate.
Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime is quick to denounce the idea that financial pressure, borne in large part through American influence and sanctions, led to his apparent willingness to negotiate with western powers about his nation’s nuclear pursuits. Still, there is little doubt within the international community that economics played a large role in getting Kim to the table. Although there remain questions about the impending summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, it’s important to note that those sanctions remain in place and it’s very likely that the two leaders will be able to find some sort of agreement that, at the very least, postpones the possibility of nuclear war.
Thus is the power of the mighty dollar. Nuclear war averted. National positions adjusted. We live to fight another day.
Of course, there are other economic powers in the world, and some may take issue with America weaponizing the global economy. However, it can be difficult to argue for the alternative, where America solves its disputes with guided munitions and troops in combat. At least, it would seem that the Trump administration thinks so because it appears that they may be duplicating Trump’s aggressive approach to North Korea with another aggressive state on the verge of nuclearizing: Iran.
“Sanctions are going back in full effect, and new ones are coming,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said about Iran before the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation on Monday.
“Sanctions, of course, represent the sharpened edge of American diplomacy, but as Trump demonstrated with a series of pointed statements directed at Kim Jong Un in recent months, sanctions alone aren’t sufficient to set the table for future negotiation — you’ve also got to talk tough.”
“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them,” Pompeo said. “Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”
“The Iranian regime should know this is just the beginning,” Pompeo added.
In some ways, Pompeo’s aggressive rhetoric mirrors Trump’s own when many in the media lamented his boisterous approach to international diplomacy. Pompeo doesn’t sound like he’s trying to avert a war as the Secretary of State ought to do. Instead, he sounds like a man tasked with selling a new war to the American people; if North Korea is any indicator, that may be a part of the show. Pompeo’s direct approach bore little resemblance to Rex Tillerson’s peace-seeking mentality that so often placed him and President Trump at odds. Instead, Pompeo seemed to take a page out of the president’s book, even threatening American allies that don’t fall in line with the new and old sanctions being put into place.
“We understand our re-imposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends,” Pompeo said. “But you should know that we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.”
These statements, while aggressive, amount to little more than the threat of other sanctions placed on others — once again affirming that the White House seems to think America’s checkbook is actually the most formidable weapon America has at its disposal, or at least, the one they’re most willing to use.
“After our sanctions come in force [the Iranian government] will be battling to keep its economy alive.” He continued, “Iran will be forced to make a choice: Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home, or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad — it will not have the resources to do both.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press.