As I wrote earlier today, there is no dearth of ideas about how the Obama administration might assist the people of Syria, usher the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad and prevent civil war.
In fact today, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced “new bipartisan legislation that would establish tougher U.S. sanctions against Syria and hold President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for its human rights abuses. Under this bill, the President would be called on to block access to the U.S. financial system, markets, and federal contracts for companies that invest in Syria’s energy sector, purchase the country’s oil, and sell gasoline to Syria.” The joint statement goes on to explain:
With approximately one-third of Syria’s export revenues coming from oil, the Gillibrand-Kirk-Lieberman legislation targets the oil and gas sector of the economy. Under the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011, President Obama would be required to impose tougher sanctions on Syria, similar to those imposed on Iran, until Syria transitions into a democracy for the people, ends support for terrorists, and ceases its nuclear program and missile technology and WMD trade. Sanctions on individuals or entities include prohibition on certain export licenses, blocking access to U.S. financial institutions and markets and federal contracts to violators, and imposing a three-year ban on government contracts against companies who falsely claim they do not conduct business with Syria. Currently, the U.S. bans most export and import trade with Syria, but sanctions do not extend to foreign companies.
That is the type of action that pro-democracy Syrians would undoubtedly welcome. I received an e-mail from M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of Save Syria Now! He voiced frustration with the administration’s inactivity. He told me, “President Obama’s latest statements while quite welcome demonstrate a pathologically late epiphany about ‘the true character of the Syrian regime.’ ” He continued, “Now the president is realizing the ‘true character’ of evil? Can the Obama administration not see the damage to our credibility as leaders of the ‘free world’ when it takes this much open barbarism and a possibly impending genocide for the White House to even begin to use language and endorse actions that put the evil of Bashar Al-Assad and his fellow thugs in their place?” He then listed a number of steps that would assist the Syrian people:
1-President Obama must clearly state that Assad must go! We had a policy of regime change in Iraq for years under the Clinton administration. Now in light of Assad’s open disregard for international opinion and the sanctity of the life of his own people that is the least we can do.
2-Full economic sanctions against all trade with Syria except for food and humanitarian relief with the end of all business transactions and private company involvement in Syria and the end of all energy sector involvement.
3-Full and extensive freezing of U.S. and European assets beyond that already done of anyone directly connected to the Assad regime including for example Assad’s wife’s (Asma) assets in London.
4-Removal yesterday of our Ambassador and the immediate dismissal of any and all Syrian diplomats on our soil. If Assad is truly “no longer legitimate” then his diplomats are also no longer legitimate and our diplomats can no longer legitimize him. Otherwise his words are empty. If a few nations like the U.S. begin this process it will have a significant impact on empowering other nations to isolate Syria from normal international travel, relations, and respect.
5-Demand the opening of Syrian society to media, NGO’s and international observers for accountability instead of Assad’s lies.
6-A perceptible policy that we are beginning to help the opposition in and outside of Syria (with the caveat that Islamists and others for example that do not believe in the ideas of liberty and freedom are “on their own.”
These and proposals by the senators (as well as outside observers such as Elliott Abrams) remind us that the administration is not lacking in tools to affect the outcome in Syria. What is lacking is the will to deploy them.