Posted by Joshua on Thursday, May 7th, 2009
The usual groups in congress are petitioning President Obama to renew Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004 Blocking Property of Certain Persons and Prohibiting the Export of Certain Goods to Syria. (This order blocks Syrian Air, weapons, and property of those people who aid Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, help Palestinian groups other than the PLO, and so on.)
The JTA blog – “Captial J, inside the Beltway” – publishes a copy of the congressional letter to Obama asking him to renew the executive order that is due to expire this Sunday, May 10. I will make a few comments about why this is a bad decision following the letter:
Kirk, Engel wants Syrian order renewed By Eric Fingerhut · May 6, 2009
Two members of Congress are urging President Obama to renew an executive order placing sanctions on Syria. In a letter to the president, Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y) note that the order — which limits Syria from exporting certain goods and freezes the assets of a number of Syrian nationals close to the Bashar Assad regime — will expire on May 10. The order was initially issued in 2004 and renewed last year by President George W. Bush. The full letter is after the jump:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our concern about the upcoming expiration of Executive Order 13338, originally issued in 2004 and renewed last year by President George W. Bush. As you know, E.O. 13338 was established and renewed in response to Syrian support for terrorism, harboring of terrorist leadership, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and support for insurgent groups in Iraq.
The E.O. places sanctions on Syria, including limiting the export of certain goods. The E.O. also freezes the assets of a number of Syrian nationals close to the Assad regime who are responsible for Syrian interference in Lebanon and for other destructive behaviors. Without your renewal, the order will expire on May 10, 2009.
Unfortunately, it remains Syrian policy to continue a destabilizing agenda in the region. As General Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 1, 2009, “The al-Assad regime in Syria continues to play the dangerous game of allowing or accepting extremist networks and terrorist facilitators to operate from and through Syrian territory…[including] hosting Hamas leadership, supporting the shipment of armaments to Hizballah, [and] cooperating with AQI operatives.”
Syria remains under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its nuclear activities and has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the agency. Syrian influence is also still felt in many areas of Lebanon. Weakening sanctions now, just before the Lebanese parliamentary election in June, would embolden Syria’s attitude toward Lebanon and potentially cause certain factions to question the new Administration’s resolve regarding Lebanon’s independence.
We urge you to act quickly to renew Executive Order 13338.
Sincerely, Eliot L. Engel and Mark Steven Kirk
Renewing executive order sanctions sends the wrong signal. It was promulgated by the Bush White House, which believed that it could break Syria through a combination of economic, judicial, military and diplomatic pressure. Intimidation did not work.
Obama has promised that he will change the nature of US relations in the region. If he renews the Bush sanctions it will be a step in the wrong direction. What impression will it leave in Damascus or the Arab street? Certainly not a good one. Obama established a new tone in his relations with Middle Eastern countries with his interview on al-Arabiyya, his video to Iran, and his speech in Istanbul. He has yet to take concrete action to back up this promising rhetoric with action.
If Obama renews sanctions on Syria it will show that there is no serious departure from President Bush’s policies and no real change.
Could Obama believe that renewing sanctions will help Syrian-US relations or that Syria will be intimidated into changing its policies? I doubt it. Syria refused to be intimidated under Bush when the pressure was infinitely greater. Syria will not allow its relations to hinge on the use of the stick. What is more, its regional and economic relations have already been adjusted to account for the sanctions.
Obama might argue that he cannot lift sanctions until Syria has stopped backing Hamas, Hizbullah, etc. But this is silly. Syria knows that it has many outstanding issues with the US. it is not foolish enough or unwise enough to think it is home free if executive order 13338 is not renewed.
Syria can help the US. It wants proper intelligence sharing in Iraq and better security. It has made no secret of its interest in having the US end its occupation of Iraq, but that is Obama’s objective. no serious policy differences divide Syria and the US on Iraq. Not having intelligence sharing between the two is almost criminal. Damascus wants elections to go smoothly in Lebanon and has every interest in encouraging stability there. In Palestine, Syria can play an important role in helping to bring Hamas into dialog for peace. Hamas and Egypt do not trust each other; it is natural that Syria should be an intermediary between Washington and Hamas. On Iran, the Syrians can also help once the elections are over.
As Syrian officials have been insisting, in foreign relations Syria and the US should be able to agree on 70% of the issues that concern them both. By renewing sanctions, Obama will be sending the wrong message to President Assad, who is eager to work with him on many fronts and turn the rhetoric of change into action.