“‘Sanctions are a tool of first resort when it comes to foreign policy, and are certainly a favorite for this administration,’ said Elizabeth Rosenberg, senior fellow and director of the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and a former Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. While the Obama administration heightened U.S. reliance on sanctions, under Trump, the executive branch and Congress have gone further, applying sanctions to a host of international challenges: counterterrorism, counterproliferation, countering Iran in the Middle East, and responding to Russian intervention in Ukraine and U.S. election interference.

“As U.S. foreign policy has increasingly leaned on sanctions, the instrument has evolved, becoming a sharper, more precise tool than what Washington wielded just a decade or two ago. Early sanctions, such as those targeting Castro’s Cuba or Saddam’s Iraq, were per Rosenberg, ‘based on leveraging the prominence of the United States in international trade, both its role in supply chains, and as a major party to many international trade transactions.’ The downside of this trade-based approach was that sanctions were permeable and prone to circumvention by targeted states. About fifteen years ago, the Department of Treasury undertook a shift towards ‘smart sanctions,’ which went after financial transactions as opposed to trade. These sanctions have been particularly powerful, because as Rosenberg explained, the United States ‘is such a central player in the global banking system both in terms of dollar as a store of value, and also as currency for transactions.'”

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