When it comes to removing foreign sanctions, a change in behavior should come first.
This concern is relevant in light of Thursday's call by Zimbabwe's new president, Emmerson "the crocodile" Mnangagwa, for the U.S. and other nations to remove sanctions on top Zimbabwean officials.
Speaking to an audience of senior officials, Mnangagwa called "for the unconditional lifting of the political and economic sanctions, which have crippled our national development." The path of "mutually beneficial partnerships," he said, is crucial to Zimbabwe's better future.
Don't get me wrong, I understand Mnangagwa's desperate need to get sanctions relief for his nation. Until Zimbabwe can fully access international markets, it will continue to suffer lethargic economic growth and impoverishment.
Still, the U.S. must not defer to Mnangagwa's concerns unless and until he introduces serious reforms.
The rationale as to why verifiable reforms must precede sanctions relief is best evidenced by the Obama administration's policy towards Myanmar.
Dealing with that military dictatorship, the Obama administration fell in love with its faux-messianic reflection (watch this idiocy) and neglected a hard-headed assessment of realities on the ground.
This culminated with Obama's decision last December to waive sanctions on Myanmar's government. A reward, Obama said, for the junta's "substantial progress in improving human rights." But taking place a month or so into Myanmar's brutal crackdown on the Rohingya people, Obama's decision sent the signal that America cares more about platitude-based reforms than serious change.
Trump must not make the same mistake in Zimbabwe.
The president should praise Mnangagwa for his early steps to restore land ownership rights and move beyond the corruption of Robert Mugabe and his disgusting wife. But he should also make clear that sanctions relief will have to be earned, not extracted.