Ten years ago, widespread and public peaceful protests emerged in Syria. The protests were non-violent. In response, Bashar Assad’s regime retaliated with military violence, massacre, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, and torture. Islamic extremist groups took advantage of the situation and began to arm and empower themselves in the turmoil. Assad-backed thugs and interrogators perpetrated torture, rape and other abuses on Syrian victims.
In response to the crimes perpetrated by Assad, after some time, congress passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. This act initiated more comprehensive sanctions on the Syrian regime. The Caesar act was enacted by the United States Treasury and State departments and included 113 additional designations for sanctions.
However, the Assad regime has perpetuated propaganda that blames Syria’s economic failures and material shortcomings solely on the U.S.-led sanctions. Inflation and a lack of medical supplies are often mentioned by media sources sympathetic to lifting the sanctions as a reason the sanctions should not be in place. According to FDD, a noted think tank focusing on foreign policy, many of these media sources who make these anti-sanction arguments do not mention Assad’s scorched earth policy.
This policy of Assad’s has facilitated entire Syrian towns being destroyed, families killed, and people displaced without jobs or a source of income. Nor do these sources mention Assad’s systematic misuse and disruption of international medical and material aid to punish dissenters and perpetuate the regime’s control. Moreover, United States law explicitly prohibits sanctions on food or medical supplies. In addition, international aid and foreign policy observers report the influx of such necessities is not being disrupted due to sanctions. The influx is, however, being disrupted by Assad’s regime.
Bashar Assad is attempting to win international sympathy in order to find a way to ease the sanctions that are limiting the power and reach of his regime. Some of the primary critics of the U.S.-led sanctions are also individuals and organizations who issued statements denying Assad ever used chemical weapons. It may be prudent to be suspicious of their proclamations.
Humanitarian aid should continue to Syria. Sanctions by themselves may not be enough to stop Assad, nor be used in place of prudent foreign policy. Donors of aid to Syria should aim to reform United Nations agencies that are responsible for delivering aid. In practice, Assad takes a large amount of foreign aid to enrich his regime, limiting the Syrian peoples’ access.
Additionally, efforts to fight the Islamic State need to continue. Efforts so far have been effective, however, the Islamic State still exists. The alliance forged under the Trump presidency consisting of Kurds, Arabs, and Syrians has achieved significant success in pushing back the Islamic State and mitigating their ability to further oppress and harm the region. Any U.S. removal of troops and military support would open the gate back up for the return of ISIS and the growth of Assad’s power in Syria. A thoughtful and well-made policy toward Syria will be needed to help suffering Syrians, prevent Assad and ISIS from wreaking further havok, and further goals in the foundation defense of democratic societies in the future.