Where Did ‘Maximum Pressureʼ Go? –
WSJ 9/9/19, 2’57 PM https://www.wsj.com/articles/where-did-maximum-pressure-go-11567969572
OPINION | COMMENTARY Where Did ‘Maximum Pressure’ Go? The Trump administration has let its early momentum in foreign policy dissipate. It’s time to turn back. Sept. 8, 2019 3:06 pm ET By Seth G. Jones and Tom Karako
The Trump presidency started by reorienting America’s national-security focus from counterterrorism to long-term, geopolitical competition— particularly against major powers such as China and Russia. Despite the promise of this new approach, the results have been mixed. It’s now time for the Trump administration to reinvigorate its posture of “maximum pressure,” which has come to look more like one of maximum patience. The Obama administration’s attitude of “strategic patience” produced frustrating results. While the U.S. waited, China improved its military capabilities and continued its unfair trade practices. Russia orchestrated cyber and intelligence operations against the U.S. and violated nearly every arms-control agreement on file. Iran expanded its missile program and its influence in the Middle East. North Korea’s nuclear program marched along. The Trump administration began by recognizing these developments and responding. President Trump deserves praise for arming Ukraine, calling out Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and withdrawing from it, and ejecting Russian diplomats after the Skripal poisonings in the U.K. The administration also reimposed sanctions on Iran, imposed tariffs on China, denounced Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and pressured allies in Europe and East Asia to do more for collective
Early actions tended to match the tough talk. Whereas President Obama blinked after Syria crossed his “red line” by using chemical weapons against its own people, the Trump administration responded to chemical attacks in April 2017 by firing 59 cruise missiles against Syrian targets. But that early momentum and pressure seem to be dissipating. China is the most significant national-security threat to the U.S., yet the White House is now missing opportunities to pressure Beijing. It has been reluctant to criticize China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. This silence is reminiscent of Mr. Obama’s approach to the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran—and very different from President Reagan’s support for democratic movements in the Eastern bloc and his demand that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall. Despite two years of talk about missile defenses against Chinese hypersonic glide vehicles, little is being done. The story is similar in Iran. The administration’s initial sanctions have stoked about 50% inflation and a minus-6% growth this year for Iran. But since the U.S. walked away from the nuclear deal and sidelined its European allies, Iran has lifted limits on its development of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The number of Iranian-linked militia fighters has grown to more than 180,000 in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, and Iran continues to improve the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the region. This demands a better response. So do Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, especially the downing of a U.S. surveillance aircraft in international airspace. Iran knew what it was doing and surely expected the U.S. to strike back. Such an operation was under way, before the president canceled it at the last minute. That decision may embolden Tehran. With North Korea, the administration merits praise for pursuing the dismantlement of nuclear and missile programs. But after an 18-month moratorium, Pyongyang has resumed testing a new batch of missiles. Mr. Trump now plays down the tests, calling them “very standard.” This plays into Kim Jong Un ’s hands by normalizing his missile programs and his regime. It seems as if the president’s photo-op summitry in June 2018 effectively took off the table his “bloody nose” threats.
Finally, the administration remains too conciliatory with Russia. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush helped win the Cold War by highlighting the moral differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At the July 2018 Helsinki summit and on several other occasions, however, Mr. Trump refrained from calling out Vladimir Putin ’s abuses, even accepting his explanations of Russian interference in the U.S. election over those of America’s intelligence community. A few weeks ago Mr. Trump suggested that Russia might rejoin the Group of Seven, from which it was ejected after invading Ukraine. The White House hasn’t imposed sanctions against Turkey for buying Russia’s S-400 air defenses, despite a legal requirement to do so. And Russian security aid to Venezuela continues unabated. Mr. Obama said Mr. Assad in Syria must go, and Mr. Trump has said the same of Mr. Maduro. Both dictators may outlast this U.S. president. In the beginning, the Trump administration recognized the renewed strategic competition, showed early resolve, and matched word and deed. That focus must return. U.S. adversaries don’t deserve more patience than allies; strategic competition requires global partners. But if recent trends are uncorrected, the Trump administration’s national-security legacy will be as lackluster as that of its predecessor.
Mr. Jones is director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Karako is director of CSIS’s Missile Defense Project.
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