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By highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of sanctions, Lew is raising an important question about the nature of American power in the 21st century. Sanctions have clout because U.S. financial markets are the central nervous system of the globalized economy. Lew notes that U.S. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program showed how effective this weapon can be when it's carefully fashioned as part of a broad coalition. America's program of so-called "secondary" sanctions didn't just ban U.S. companies from doing business with Iran; they banned any company operating in Iran from using U.S. banks or other financial institutions. Contrast the success of this coordinated effort in bringing Iran to the table with five decades of unilateral U.S. sanctions against the Castro regime in Cuba, which Lew rightly notes were "ineffective," to put it mildly.Lew's larger point is that sanctions won't work if countries don't get the reward they were promised – in the removal of sanctions – once they accede to U.S. demands. U.S. power flows from our unmatched military might power, yes.
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