Trump’s Foreign Policy: All Coercion, No Diplomacy

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Matt Lee reports on the Trump administration obsessive use of sanctions:

Call it the diplomacy of coercion.

The Trump administration is aggressively pursuing economic sanctions as a primary foreign policy tool to an extent unseen in decades, or perhaps ever. Many are questioning the results even as officials insist the penalties are achieving their aims.

It is true that the Trump administration is using economic coercion as its default approach to almost everything, but there doesn’t appear to be any diplomacy involved. There is such a thing as “coercive diplomacy,” but there is no evidence that Trump and his officials understand the first thing about it. An administration that genuinely wanted to secure lasting diplomatic agreements with other states would apply pressure only as a means to a specific, achievable goal, but with this administration they are waging purely destructive economic wars that the targeted states cannot end without capitulating. The “maximum pressure” description implies an unwillingness to relieve pressure short of the other side’s surrender.

It is not just that it is a “combination of more sticks and fewer carrots.” The Trump administration’s policies are all punishment and no reward. In the case of Iran, it could hardly be otherwise when the administration chose to penalize Iran with sanctions for daring to comply with a multilateral nonproliferation agreement. Iran behaved constructively and acceded to the demands of the P5+1 four years ago, and in return for their cooperation they have been subjected to a grueling economic war despite fully complying with their commitments. When our government punishes another state for doing what previous administrations wanted them to do, no amount of punishment could force that state to trust our government a second time.

The administration approaches each case in the same way: they impose penalties, they make threats, they offer no incentives, and they make outrageous, far-fetched demands that no government would ever accept. Trump handles the trade wars in much the same way that he handles the “maximum pressure” campaigns against intransigent governments, and he fails every time because he can’t conceive of a mutually beneficial agreement and therefore refuses to compromise. Trump’s “diplomacy” is no diplomacy at all, but a series of insults, sanctions, tariffs, and threats that achieve nothing except to cause disruption and pain. Unsurprisingly, a pressure campaign that is aimed at toppling a government or forcing it to give up everything it has cannot be successful on its own terms as long as the targeted government chooses to resist, and the stakes for the targeted government will always higher than they are for the administration. In a contest of wills, the party that is fighting to preserve itself has the advantage.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

4 thoughts on “Trump’s Foreign Policy: All Coercion, No Diplomacy”

  1. Why don’t the mainstream news-media ever note—at least not during my three decades of news/commentary consumption—that one of the main reasons the Iranian Revolution occurred was due to foreign oil companies, notably those of the U.S., exploiting their resources? I understand that it was a profit-losing lesson learned by the oilmen CEOs that they would never allow to happen to them again, by way of accessing always-willing domestic political thus military muscle. … If American/Western oil companies are against Iran, then so are those governments and by extension via news-media so are the citizens.
    (Frank Sterle Jr.)

    1. Well, I’d say it goes back to the USA overthrowing the legitimate secular government of Iran back in 1953, and installing an American puppet, the Shah, who of course was happy to let Western oil companies run amok in Iran. If he hadn’t, the CIA would have quickly replaced him with another patsy. (The USA also overthrew the legitimate gov’t of Guatemala in the same year, strictly to benefit American fruit companies. And if memory serves, they went through about 3 or 4 candidates for leader before they found a complete sellout/traitor they were happy with.) So yeah, the Iranian people didn’t like having their country’s resources exploited by foreign companies, and they also didn’t appreciate the stooge sitting on the throne who had been put there explicitly by the USA to facilitate that.

      It’s a bit of a black eye to the national reputation, if you care about that kind of thing (Dick Cheney does, I don’t.) The “hostage crisis” from ’79 was played up much more than the reasons the Iranians revolted, plus, have you ever seen a news program in the last 30 years which honestly and accurately breaks down causality?

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