Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Trump's 'maximum pressure' on foreign adversaries has hit its limit
WASHINGTON — In two years as president, Donald Trump built a foreign policy strategy on applying as much pressure as possible on enemies — and even some allies — to make them bend to America's will.
Venezuela, North Korea and Iran have all been targets of the administration's "maximum pressure" approach. Under Trump, U.S. sanctions were deployed to notable effect: Venezuela's battered economy is more isolated than ever, Iran has seen oil sales plummet and North Korea has struggled as fuel and electricity shortages crimp output and food shortages loom.
Yet no adversary has buckled. So, short of war, what does the U.S. do now?
"As a great power, the United States does have a lot of options," said Jonathan Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "At the same time, though, other countries have lots of options, too, and the administration sometimes seems surprised that they are not merely submitting to superior U.S. power."
The challenge the U.S. faces, and the loneliness of its campaign, were on display during Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's hastily scheduled stop in Brussels this week, when he met with the foreign ministers of the U.K., France and Germany to underscore the urgency of the threat posed by Iran. But European leaders openly expressed their exasperation with the U.S. approach to Iran.
"I have to say that this is a distressful example of U.S. unilateralism — it is short-term and inconsiderate of interests" of some of its closest allies, Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister, Niels Annen, said afterward during a speech in Berlin. "The current situation in the region, ladies and gentlemen, is extremely dangerous."
Annen's remarks reflected how U.S. goals have been tripped up by its consistent use of strong-arm tactics with nations whose support it later needs to box in its adversaries. Allies such as Canada, France, the U.K., Mexico and Germany have all come in for withering public criticism for not bending to U.S. requests on key issues — only to be courted on others.
One senior administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters, said there were two ways to read the Europeans' response in Brussels: Either they don't believe the U.S. assessment of the new threats from Iran and want to tame the administration's impulses. Or the situation is just the opposite: They believe the threats but don't want to publicly admit it, for fear of giving momentum to a potential military confrontation.
Three days after Pompeo's visit, Britain's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted: "We share the same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran."
While Trump has said he's optimistic that "Iran will want to talk soon," his national security adviser, John Bolton, has advocated regime change and even preemptive strikes against Tehran for years.
Pompeo, a former CIA director, is also seen as a hard-liner on the Islamic Republic, although he's said his goal isn't to seek a war with Iran or impose regime change from outside. His advisers argue that the maximum-pressure campaign already has limited Iran's ability to wreak havoc in the region.
"If you look at 40 years of this regime, they change their behavior when one or more of these elements are present: economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and the threat of military force," Brian Hook, Pompeo's special envoy on Iran, said of the government in Tehran. "We think this is the right approach."
In Tehran, officials say they won't negotiate under duress. And without a functioning diplomatic back channel, it's not clear how talks would even be initiated.
"Nobody is going to call Trump, and eventually the Americans will be forced to raise the issue of negotiations with Iran in a serious way," Heshmatollah Falahatpishe, the head of Iran's parliamentary commission for national security and foreign affairs, said in a speech before his nation's lawmakers, according to the Islamic Students' News Agency.
North Korea policy also appears at a stalemate. Tensions were raised between the two countries in 2017, when Pyongyang was undertaking a series of nuclear and missile tests and Trump responded by threatening to rain down "fire and fury" on Kim Jong Un's regime. He reversed course quickly, however, to open talks and offer effusive praise for the North Korean dictator, even saying they "fell in love."
Yet little has been accomplished diplomatically: Pyongyang is further along in its weapons program and there's no clear path toward the denuclearization Trump's team says is its goal. One victory the U.S. has touted — a suspension of major missile and weapons tests — is teetering. Earlier this month North Korea held two separate rounds of short-range missile tests that are barred under United Nations sanctions, leading even Trump to scale back his previously optimistic tone about the talks.
"Nobody's happy about it," Trump told reporters last week. "I don't think they're ready to negotiate."
The risk for Trump and the world is greatest now over Iran. Even with both sides saying they don't want war, analysts flag the risk of an accident or unintended clash turning into something larger.
"Brinkmanship with Iran could quite easily backfire," said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East expert at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies. "Batting mosquitoes with sledge hammers can be very costly for the batter, not just the mosquitoes."
©2019 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
SEE ALSO: No, The Pentagon's 'New' Aircraft Carrier And Bomber Deployment Is Not A Sign Of Imminent War With Iran
WATCH NEXT: Gen. Petraeus On Shia Militias And Iran
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Known for acting on impulse, President Donald Trump has adopted an uncharacteristically go-slow approach to whether to hold Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities, showing little enthusiasm for confrontation as he seeks re-election next year.
After state-owned Saudi Aramco's plants were struck on Saturday, Trump didn't wait long to fire off a tweet that the United States was "locked and loaded" to respond, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran.
But four days later, Trump has no timetable for action. Instead, he wants to wait and see the results of investigations into what happened and is sending Pompeo to consult counterparts in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week.
That sound you're hearing is Army senior leaders exhaling a sigh of relief, because the Army has surpassed its recruiting goal for the year.
After failing to meet recruiting goals in 2018, the Army put the pedal to the metal and "did some soul searching," said Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, to ensure that they'd meet their 2019 goal. It must have paid off — the service announced on Tuesday that more than 68,000 recruits have signed on as active-duty soldiers, and more soldiers have stuck around than they expected.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein transformed into the Cigarette Smoking Man from "The X-Files" on Tuesday when explaining why UFO enthusiasts should avoid storming the mythical Area 51 installation in Nevada.
"All joking aside, we're taking it very seriously," Goldfein told reporters during the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference. "Our nation has secrets, and those secrets deserve to be protected. The people deserve to have our nation's secrets protected."
SAN DIEGO — A San Diego-based Navy SEAL acquitted of murder in a closely watched war crimes trial this summer has filed a lawsuit against two of his former attorneys and a military legal defense nonprofit, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Texas on Friday.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The Air Force is reviewing whether some airmen's valor awards deserve to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said on Tuesday.
Goldfein revealed that several airmen are being considered for the nation's highest military award during a press conference at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference. He declined to say exactly who could receive the Medal of Honor, pending the outcome of the review process.