Wait, You’re Sanctioning Us?!

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by John Feffer

It’s embarrassing enough to have Donald Trump as president. But now American citizens have to endure the additional pain of the sanctions that other countries are imposing on the United States. Doesn’t the world realize that we’re suffering enough as it is? That seems so grossly unfair.

Oh, but wait: that’s how sanctions work.

Iraqis who hated Saddam Hussein (as well as those who thought he was a demi-god) suffered nearly 13 years of a financial and trade embargo imposed by the United Nations in 1990. Iranians who dislike their government (as well as those who believe fervently in the Islamic Republic) have weathered nearly 40 years of sanctions. And Cubans who disagree with the Castros (as well as those who consider the brothers to be the saviors of the island nation) have endured a nearly 60-year embargo imposed by the United States.

It’s time for Americans to get a taste of their own medicine. Love Trump or despise him, sanctions are not smart enough to figure out your political preferences. Whether you’re a metrosexual or a heartland voter, sanctions from Russia, China, the EU, Mexico, and others in the form of tariffs on U.S. exports are going to take a bite out of your bank account.

Such are the pleasures of being a pariah state.

Trade Tit for Tat

The trade war with China is escalating. Beijing announced last week that it would impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of American goods. That’s on top of the $34 billion of goods it sanctioned in the first round. The tariffs will affect 56 percent of all U.S. exports to the country.

It’s not as if the Trump administration doesn’t understand the costs of its trade conflict with Beijing. It announced a $12 billion government relief plan for American farmers caught in the crossfire. Also hurting will be American consumers of Chinese goods in WalMart and elsewhere that are suddenly more expensive to buy.

It’s not just China. Russia is going after Boeing and Microsoft. India is readying tariffs on American almonds, walnuts, and apples. Iran has targeted U.S. businesses that “support terrorism, repression, and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

Closer to home, both Canada and Mexico have announced tariffs on certain American goods in retaliation for Trump’s strategy of punishing U.S. neighbors. The EU, too, slapped tariffs on U.S. motorcycles, blue jeans, and other products, and those remain in place even after Trump and the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to a fragile truce in the conflict.

The sanctions on U.S. goods mean lost jobs and a stronger push to relocate what remains of U.S. manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor. That’s what Harley Davidson already announced at the end of June. “If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end,” Trump tweetedin response. He was talking about the Harley brand, but he might as well have been talking about his own political future.

The costs to the United States of these sanctions are hard to calculate. The Commerce Department estimated that the aluminum and steel tariffs Trump imposed earlier this year on the EU, Mexico, and Canada would cost the United States 146,000 jobs – and that doesn’t take into account the jobs lost as a result of the retaliatory tariffs. The beverage industry, for example, will take a $348 million hit because of the higher cost of inputs.

There are also indirect costs. While the Trump administration applies sanctions to allies and adversaries alike, other countries are making their own trade deals without the United States, both regionally (the Trans Pacific Partnership) and bilaterally (a recent Japan-EU deal).

There’s no greater insult to a global hegemon than to be ignored.

Targeted Sanctions

When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, the Trump administration has taken geopolitics to an Orwellian level.

It was, after all, the United States that reneged on its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran, according to the UN monitoring agency, has complied by the conditions.

So, then, why is it the United States that is now applying sanctions on Iran? In this case, the sanctions are far more aggressive than tariffs. In the first round of new sanctions announced this week, in addition to banning various commercial activities, the United States is prohibiting Iran from using dollars in its international transactions. Worse, Washington is pressuring all other countries to stop doing business with Iran – or face secondary sanctions. Europe, quite sensibly, has pledged to protect any of its businesses that continue to interact with Iran from the wrath of Washington. But several European businesses – DaimlerPeugeot – are closing up shop anyway.

No one said the world was fair. But doesn’t it have to make sense at some basic level?

Well, the world has a chance to start making sense again. And I’m not talking about more retaliatory tariffs, however justified those might be given Trump’s sanction-anything-that-moves policy.

The better way to go is for the international community to treat the Trump administration like a criminal syndicate. Former Canadian diplomat Scott Gilmore gets it right:

I propose that instead of taxing the import of American serviettes, we tax Trump. In the spirit of the Magnitsky Act, Canada and the western allies come together to collectively pressure the only pain point that matters to this President: his family and their assets. This could take the form of special taxation on their current operations, freezing of assets, or even sanctions against senior staff. Canada could add a tax to Trump properties equal to any tariff unilaterally imposed by Washington. The European Union could revoke any travel visas for senior staff in the Trump organization. And the United Kingdom could temporarily close his golf course.

Some countries are experimenting with this approach. Turkey, for instance, is retaliating against a U.S. freeze on the country’s interior and justice ministers by applying the same penalty to their U.S. counterparts. There’s ample room for this kind of retaliation. The Trump administration, after all, put nearly a thousand people and businesses on the U.S. blacklist last year – a 30 percent increase over Barack Obama’s last year in office. It’s just a matter of time before more widespread retaliatory blacklisting begins.

So, why wait for the Mueller investigation to prove that Trump was engaged in criminal malfeasance? Why hope for the mid-term elections to give Democrats control of the House and/or Senate and thus the power to launch additional investigations into the Trump administration’s scandalous behavior?

The international community can act now to isolate Trump, his businesses, and everyone who collaborates with his terrifying nonsense by serving in his administration. The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa embraced an international strategy of isolating the government. It’s time for the #notmypresident movement to do the same.

The bull is already seeing red. If all the world can play the role of picadors in further enraging the beast with a thousand cuts, it will set the stage for a domestic matador – Robert Mueller, the voters, the courts – to deliver the coup de grace.

Republished, with permission, from Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is also the author, most recently, of Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe's Broken Dreams (Zed Books). He is also the author of the dystopian Splinterlands trilogy (Dispatch Books). He is a former Open Society fellow, PanTech fellow, and Scoville fellow, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and many other publications.



  1. When western industries exported their jobs to China, Korea, Vietnam and so on under free trade umbrella they should have thought for today that it is going to reach the end. However, mad behavior just makes it complicated and the looming collapse of dollar based world becomes a reality. And that would be the big one. US could have acted wisely to keep a leading position but the time seems to be over.

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