The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Administration Shuns Sanctions, Embraces Europe

The Wall Street Journal reports a policy review that began in the early days of the Biden presidency will soon likely culminate in a rollback of sanctions targeting U.S. adversaries.

As the Journal reports, officials see the frequent use of sanctions by the previous administration, particularly against Iran and Venezuela, to have been broadly ineffective, tanking the economies of rogue regimes without producing diplomatic outcomes.

They see this as a repudiation of the previous administration’s work, which they claim was driven primarily by unilateral action:

“Our focus is on making sure that we’re moving from unilateral action, which has been what has defined U.S. policy over the last four years, to really working with our partners,” a senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal. . . .

Analysts say the Biden administration has eased diplomatic tensions with allies through sanctions decisions on Iran as well as on other issues. In April, allies commended the Biden administration decision to remove officials of the International Criminal Court from a sanctions blacklist, where they were placed by the Trump administration.

In May, German officials were buoyed by the U.S. decision not to sanction Nord Stream 2, the multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline being built by European and Russian companies.

At times, this orientation has borne fruit. The White House’s efforts to coordinate multilateral sanctions in response to China’s human-rights atrocities in Xinjiang and the hijacking of a Ryanair flight by Belarus’s dictator have sent the right signal.

As with many other aspects of Joe Biden’s early foreign policy, however, the administration places a premium on aligning U.S. policy with what certain European countries want — at the expense of others.

Elsewhere, the Biden administration has left U.S. partners in the dark, as when officials failed to alert their counterparts in Poland and Ukraine that it would grant a waiver to key figures involved in Nord Stream 2. And as the White House courts Iran’s new hardline regime, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and others might see reason to continue to accelerate the development of their growing ties with China.

These are difficult tradeoffs that the White House has surely considered, but officials are still apparently leaning into the facile political narrative that they are merely restoring America’s alliances.

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