Home/Daniel Larison/Delusional Demands and ‘Maximum Pressure’

Delusional Demands and ‘Maximum Pressure’

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton at the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Christopher Sabatani notes that the administration’s belief that they can sanction regimes into collapse makes no sense:

What these policies never made clear is the logical link between tighter sanctions and the expectation that imposing suffering on a country would either provoke citizens to rise against a brutal government or provoke a decision by elites to defect to prompt regime change. As David Cohen and Zoe Weinberg recently argued, sanctions have never supported regime change and are unlikely to do so in Iran and Venezuela. History and logic are not on the side of the administration when it comes to sanctions and peaceful democratic change in Venezuela.

No one has ever accused the Trump administration of being interested in history or logic, so we shouldn’t expect their policies to be informed by either one. It is nonetheless remarkable how heavily the administration continues to rely on “maximum pressure” tactics to achieve its goals in its three most high-profile foreign policy initiatives (i.e., Iran, Venezuela, North Korea) when there is absolutely no reason to think that such pressure tactics can force another government to make major concessions or capitulate. They have targeted three governments that define themselves in large part by their opposition and resistance to the U.S., and they think that they can squeeze them into surrender or collapse. Like a degenerate gambler at a slot machine, the administration thinks that all they need to win is just one more set of sanctions, and then another and another, and when the latest effort doesn’t get them the desired result they keep pulling on the same lever in the hope of a jackpot. The administration is convinced that it has a sure thing and it just needs a little more time to get the big payout, but the desired regime change or disarmament always eludes them. The difference between the administration’s sanctions addiction and the gambler’s habit is that the gambler might one day succeed by accident.

In each of these three cases, the administration has not given the other governments any incentive to make a deal because maximalist U.S. demands don’t give them anything to work with. North Korea might be prepared to reduce or limit its arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief, but it isn’t going to give up everything it has in return for unreliable promises from Washington. The administration doesn’t pay any attention to that, and insists on total disarmament first. The Iranian and Venezuelan governments have even less reason to give the administration what it wants, since it is effectively demanding that both of them cease to exist in their current form. All three regimes care about self-preservation to the exclusion of virtually anything else, and in all three cases the administration is telling them that they must do things that compromise or end their efforts at self-preservation. To call the administration’s demands non-starters is charitable. It would be more accurate to say that they are delusional. Because the administration’s demands are so divorced from the political reality of each country, U.S. policies in all three cases will continue failing, and the irrational application of more and more sanctions to extract concessions that are never going to be forthcoming will continue to the severe detriment of the civilian population.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment