Trump’s extortion racket on visas, US assets, and tariffs

It did not take long for Donald Trump to transform the US government into a mob operation, where administration officials use the threat of US travel bans, asset freezes and forfeitures, and punishing trade tariffs to bring other nations and their leaders to heel.

Trump, more than any of his predecessors, has used executive fiat to freeze the US assets of and apply visa bans on foreign individuals, often government officials and top businessmen, as part of a scheme to milk concessions from “uncooperative” nations. Trump and his officials are like Mafia enforcers who approach mom-and-pop grocery stores and tell the owners, “This is a nice store you have here. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.” By paying the gangsters “protection insurance,” the owners would be spared a midnight fire-bombing of their businesses.

Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton has threatened to freeze the US assets and impose a travel ban on judges, prosecutors, and staff of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Bolton threatened the action because of the ICC’s interest in investigating the US for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan and Israel for similar acts against the Palestinians. Essentially, Bolton, like some mob enforcer, is saying, “This is a nice court you have here, it’s be a shame if anything happened to its judges and prosecutors.”

Trump, Bolton, and their associates are randomly targeting foreign leaders and businessmen in a spree of visa bans and asset freezes.

The Trump administration has banned from US travel and frozen the US assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) Chief Financial Officer Simon Zerpa Delgado. The US assets of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were frozen in July 2017. Other Latin Americans similarly sanctioned include General Commissioner Francisco “Paco” Diaz of the Nicaraguan National Police; Fidel Moreno, secretary at Managua City Hall and Sandinista party secretary; and Francisco “Chico” Lopez, treasurer of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front.

US asset freezing orders were also ordered on Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. The Trump administration has also threatened to freeze the assets of Cambodian President Hun Sen.

US asset freezes are also being contemplated on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and former Minister of Finance Hoshyar Zebari, as well as Iraqi government officials Mohamed al-Karbouli, Ahmed Nouri al-Maliki, and Hassan al-Anbari, merely because they maintain friendly ties with Iran. The Trump administration has also threatened to impose visa bans and asset freezes on top Maldives officials, including President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Also subject to visa bans and asset freezes are South Sudan’s defense minister, Kuol Manyang Juk, as well as government minister Martin Elia Lomuro and information minister Michael Makuei.

Visa bans have also been placed on government officials and citizens of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

The Trump administration has announced that it is considering visa bans and asset freezes on government officials in China for alleged mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs in the western Xinjiang province. Subject to possible sanctions are Chinese diplomat Hu Lianhe, Chen Quanguo, Communist Party chief in Xinjiang and member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party; Xinjiang Deputy Communist Party Secretary Shohret Zakir; and Xinjiang Politics and Law Commission chairman Zhu Hailun. Last December, the Trump administration applied similar sanctions on the commander in chief of the Myanmar armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing; Major General Maung Maung Soe; Major General Khin Maung Soe; and other top Myanmar military officers.

In all of these cases, the United States claims its sanctions against China and Burma are in the interest of human rights, even as it continues to detain children who were seized and separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the US-Mexican border.

According to the US State Department, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believes should increase its “swagger,” US visa bans were also applied to the “Director General level and above from the Burmese Ministries of Labor, Immigration, and Population (MOLIP) and Home Affairs (MOHA), and their immediate family members.” Visa bans were also ordered on the “Director General level and above from the Lao Ministry of Public Security (MPS) as well as their immediate families.” In August 2018, the State Department announced that it was placing US travel bans on individuals “both within and outside the Cambodian government.”

In September 2017, the State Department ordered visa bans on Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs and immigration officials. US visa bans were also ordered on government officials of Guinea, Eritrea, Ghana, and Gambia. These countries were singled out for being “recalcitrant” in not accepting citizens who had illegally entered the United States and were being deported. Collective punishment, such as that being meted out to African and Asian states, was a hallmark of the Nazis and remains one of the Israelis.

Trump’s trade tariffs appear to have no rational basis but are merely intended to lash out at countries Trump does not like, for one reason or another. In addition, Trump’s threat to impose “secondary sanctions” on European and other countries that continue to trade with Iran after November 4, 2018, will add to those already placed into effect. To counteract Trump’s extortion racket, the EU has unveiled what is known as a “blocking statute.” The United Kingdom’s Minister of State for the Middle East stated, “If a company fears legal action taken against it and enforcement action taken against it by an entity in response to American sanctions, then that company can be protected as far as EU legislation is concerned.”

As an example, if the French car maker Renault, which does business in Iran, is sanctioned by the Trump administration, there will be retaliatory sanctions imposed on US automobile manufacturers in the 28 nations of the EU. Trump will, undoubtedly raised the ante with more sanctions on the EU. That, in effect, will signal a full-blown trade war. Trade wars often turn into actual wars and Trump’s bluster could lead to military confrontation. Bolton has threatened to halt Iranian oil exports to China, India, and South Korea after the imposition of the November 4 secondary sanctions with a US naval blockade of Iran. Any attempt to interfere with shipping through the Strait of Hormuz will, as Iran has promised, result in the closure of the strait by Iran, a move that will also affect outbound shipping from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf countries.

The Eurasian Economic Union recently negotiated a free trade deal with Iran. Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia will not comply with US secondary sanctions against Iran and there is little Trump can do to stop overland trade with Iran, except contemplate military action. Russia, which has already been subjected to US visa bans and asset freezes, is in no mood to see its trade with Iran or any other nation interfered with by Trump’s extortion racket.

China has strongly indicated that if the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank, is hit with US secondary sanctions because of its oil transactions via the Central Bank of Iran, it will target US companies in China and devalue the renminbi, thus making Chinese exports more attractive and US exports costlier. The net result will be a slow down of the US economy, something that will politically damage Trump.

In any event, the economic brinkmanship on display by Trump and his mob enforcers is likely to increase the possibility of a global recession and military conflict during the remainder of 2018 and leading into 2019.

This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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