In a dingy suite of offices in a Treasury Department annex, the troops work into the night, armed with paperwork, computers and a clock on the wall set to Tehran time. They blast out advisories ordering banks to block targeted people, then threaten them with consequences — fines that can range into millions of dollars — if they do not.
Today, this is how the Obama administration goes to war.
… Over the last decade, as sanctions have become vastly more sophisticated, the Obama administration has deployed them more and more often. Including recent sanctions meant to punish Russia, the Treasury Department targets about 6,000 people and institutions around the world.
… Economic specialists say, however, that the impact of the sanctions is unclear so far. The administration has used targeted sanctions to unsettle the Russian elite — in particular, associates who have enriched themselves through proximity to Mr. Putin. The White House has argued that the sanctions have palpably harmed Russia’s economy, pointing to weak data on economic output and a falling stock market. But those changes are most likely largely related to the broader geopolitical uncertainty leading investors to dump the ruble.
…“The feeling 20 years ago was that they did not really work,” said Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts, pointing to an embargo of Iraq that caused a humanitarian crisis without swaying then-ruler Saddam Hussein.
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