The presidents hit-em-where-it-hurts approach to foreign policy is in danger of backfiring as rivals unite against the US
Some US presidents use military force to impose Americas will on other countries. Most prefer traditional diplomacy and negotiation, or else they ask allies to help them get their way. Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama stressed the importance of moral example in projecting global leadership.
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 countries 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 Treasury imposed sanctions on 944 foreign entities and individuals in 2017, a record. This year, the total is projected to surpass 1,000. It currently 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 penalised over alleged breaches of previous bans on trade with North Korea. Whether its rocket components, illicit booze or smuggled cigarettes, global sheriff Donald J Trump is on the case.
What might be termed Trumps money wars are now raging across large swathes of the globe, from Canada and Europe to Russia and China. On current trends, any country not under economic attack from the US will soon be the exception. Trumps most recent target is Turkey, whose currency plunged last week following the sudden imposition of US sanctions and tariffs. His action, which Turkeys 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.
Russias 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. Yet Trump appeared opposed to the state departments sanctions in the Skripal case. Even so, follow-up sanctions are planned this autumn.
Iran was also recently targeted in Trumps money wars. After reneging on the multilateral pact curbing Irans nuclear activities, Trump attacked its financial and trading interests. Next up, Irans 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.