Assad Sanctioned – What Can it Do for America?

Sanctioning President Assad – what can it accomplish?

Most importantly, it will help President Obama in his presidential campaign. He can stand as someone who acts firmly against Arab dictators. He killed Bin Laden and sanctioned Bashar al-Assad. He takes decisive action and stands with the Arab street and for democracy. This will serve him well in his campaign. It also temporarily hushes the chorus of right wing critics in Washington who want to weaken Syria and end diplomatic relations with the regime. It also ends criticism that he has treated Syria with kid gloves while treating Libya with bombs.

Oddly, the sanctions against Syria’s top government figures come at a time when the regime is gaining control over the protest movement and suppressing dissent. The sanctions come too late to add momentum to the protest movement. They may prolong the movement but will not topple the regime.

They will add to Syria’s economic difficulties as the regime seeks to regain legitimacy in the future. The opposition failed to divide the Syrian army from the president, as happened in Egypt. They also failed to provoke a confessional split in the army as happened in Lebanon. Sunni soldiers have not split from Alawis, despite all the talk about “shabbihas,” which is code for Alawis.

The fall back position of the Syrian opposition must be to stifle the economy and work for a the ruin of the regime, when it can no longer pay the bills. These sanctions will help in a small way toward that end. Not clear to me is whether diplomats, senators, and heads of state can meet with President Assad while he is proscribed by Presidential order? The next logical step is is for Europe to join in the same targeted sanctions and eventually for European trade sanctions.  President George Bush urged Europe to join the US in imposing trade sanctions on Syria, but in vain.

David Ignatius argued in his Washington Post Op-ed – Bashar al-Assad’s endgame: Can a bloodbath be avoided? – that “major nations conclude that [Assad’s} regime cannot survive.” He also writes that “The governments of France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan… are all said to have concluded that the Assad regime cannot survive”…. and Turkey will not support Assad.

Who in the world do they think is going to unseat Assad? This is most perplexing. Western leaders will certainly get a weakened Syria and a more isolated Assad from these sanctions but not regime change. Obama gains. Opposition leaders get more support. Syrians will get poorer.

U.S. slaps sanctions on Syrian president, top aides
By Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn, Wed May 18, 2011, (Reuters) –

The United States imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and six other top aides for human rights abuses on Wednesday in a dramatic escalation of pressure on Syria to cease its brutal crackdown on protesters.

Targeting Assad personally with sanctions, which the United States and European Union have so far avoided, is a significant slap at Damascus and raises questions about whether Washington and the West may ultimately seek Assad’s removal from power….

The move, announced by the Treasury Department, freezes any assets of the Syrian officials that are in the United States or otherwise fall within U.S. jurisdiction and it generally bars U.S. individuals and companies from dealing with them.

In addition to Assad, the Treasury said the sanctions would target Vice President Farouq al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Defense Minister Ali Habib as well as Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, director of the political security directorate.

While it was not immediately clear what practical effect the sanctions would have or whether the seven had significant assets that would be captured by the U.S. move, the symbolic gesture was profound.

“The actions the administration has taken today send an unequivocal message to President Assad, the Syrian leadership, and regime insiders that they will be held accountable for the ongoing violence and repression in Syria,” said Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a written statement.

“President al-Assad and his regime must immediately end the use of violence, answer the calls of the Syrian people for a more representative government, and embark upon the path of meaningful democratic reform,” he added.

European governments agreed on Tuesday to tighten sanctions against the Syrian leadership, but said they would decide next week about whether to include Assad on the list….

Defiant Syria denounces US sanctions on Assad AFP
Defiant Syria denounces US sanctions on Assad AFP/File – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen in 2009. The United States has told Assad to lead a transition …
by Jocelyne Zablit

DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syria on Thursday denounced US sanctions imposed on President Bashar al-Assad and top aides, saying they were part of long-time efforts by Washington to impose its will in the region to Israel’s benefit. “The US measures are part of a series of sanctions imposed by successive US administrations against the Syrian people as part of a regional scheme, aimed primarily at serving Israel’s interests,” the official SANA news agency said.

Bashar al-Assad’s endgame: Can a bloodbath be avoided?
By David Ignatius in Wash Post

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is becoming increasingly isolated and vulnerable as major nations conclude that his regime cannot survive. The newly urgent question is how to negotiate a transition arrangement that will avert a bloodbath there between Assad’s ruling Alawite sect and the Sunni majority.

The governments of France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which at times in the past have been supportive of Assad, are all said to have concluded that the Assad regime cannot survive the repercussions of the violence it loosed on Syrian protesters in recent weeks. Turkey, too, which initially seemed eager to broker a compromise for Assad, also appears less supportive.

France, which a decade ago was Assad’s champion, is now said to have concluded that major powers, including Paris and Washington, should signal publicly that it is time for Assad to leave office. But the White House Tuesday appeared to be weighing whether to make one last attempt at brokering the kind of reforms that Assad has said for years he wanted but has never implemented.

The United States initially held back from personally sanctioning Assad, deciding instead to concentrate its fire on the hard-liners around him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, however, that the United States is preparing additional sanctions. Many U.S. analysts see Assad as having squandered any chance he had to be a credible reformer.

Israel, which seemed for a time to prefer “the devil we know” in Assad, has told the United States it doesn’t endorse this argument any longer.

The challenge for policymakers as Assad’s power fades is to find a transition process that can avoid a Libya-style military confrontation. The Syrian version of regime change could be far bloodier because of the deep enmity between Sunnis and the Alawite minority that has governed since Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, seized power in a coup in 1971. Already, in mixed cities such as Latakia and Homs, there is said to have been ethnic killing that could presage a much wider pattern of violence. Violence in Syria could also spill over into Lebanon……

The Syrian government has issued an order forbidding any demonstrations tomorrow – Friday.

وزارة الداخلية : تنفي الموافقة على اي ميسرات مؤيدة وسيعمم الأمر على التلفزيون الرسمي في حال تم الموافقة على اي مسيرة

Israeli official to meet members of Syrian opposition on post-Assad Syria under Austrian conservatives’ sponsorship

Popular Uprising in Syria: Beware of the Henchmen from Within
By Reinoud Leenders for

Even though it faces a range of protests, Syria is unlikely to face popular-led regime change. Instead, unremitting instability and a standoff between protestors and the regime are more likely to follow leading to a combination of piecemeal reforms and more violence. However, internal challenges to the regime should not be ruled out…..

Comments (165)

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151. Usama said:

Of course many elements in the regime abused their power. But this is not isolated to Syria. It is taking place in EVERY Arab country, without exception. Where Syria is an exception is its ever-continuous support for resistance and stubborn stances against western and Israeli hegemony. Now think of this, and please be honest with yourself. Had Hafez al-Asad decided to be a puppet like Mubarak, like Saddam, like the Kings, would he not have been able to sleep in peace and be sure that his bank account is filling up with billions and billions of national wealth? The fact that this regime was the only Arab one that kept true to the populist foreign policy, in the face of sanctions and loss of wealth, makes it the least corrupt regime in the Arab world, even with all the internal abuse of power.

Now for Syria moving forward, I don’t see the point of allowing a non-Asad runner for president because there’s really no one else, other than Shar` and Mo`allem. I’m not sure what you mean about not being able to vote for non-Ba`th candidates in People’s Council elections, since you can already do this today. In the 2007 elections, only 134 of the 250 seats were filled by Ba`thists. What I would like to see changed, however, is for the Ba`th party to stop publishing lists of preferred candidates since virtually all of those candidates tend to win their seat. The corruption that has been involved with creating those lists has often caused corrupt individuals to be nominated while good hard-working indiviuals were left out.

I would also not mind seeing them stop reserving a certain number of seats for the National Progressive Front, but there is a chance if that happens that there would be a smaller representation of other parties, including any new ones that might be in the running (which is doubtful unless elections are postponed). I don’t really remember at the moment how the system works, but parties in the NPF get to pick 2 ministers each, and without that, cabinet representation would surely lose its diversity.

I agree with you that Syria has great potential, but we’re not what you call “third-world” because we choose to. It’s because the west wants us to be at that level until we give up. For so long the west has dominated the world economy, but now with the emergence of China (and Iran to a smaller degree) and the strengthening of Russia, you will see that the west will lose its power to condemn us to the status-quo, and so there is no reason for us to give concessions now if we hadn’t before. So please, be patient, and remember that Syria is unique in that foreign hegemony (and our refusal to make concessions) often dictates our economic life and, by association, the average citizen’s quality of life. Don’t take for granted the free basic health care, the free education, cheap bread, all the cheap essentials, and all the different social programs.

To say that our economic life is condemned by the Ba`th party is short-sighted, because if you look around the world closely, you will find that corruption exists literally everywhere and, more often than not, at a much larger scale than in Syria. At least our pan-Arab and resistance fundamentals follow those of the people. I’ve met so many Arabs that told me how they wish to have had someone like Hafez as their president, and that actually means a lot.

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May 20th, 2011, 2:14 am


152. Mina said:

People who depict Syria as third world should ride a local bus, a regional bus, a train, and visit a university. Then they should go to Egypt and compare the standard of the afore-mentioned.
Syria has good infrastructures (but lacks real ‘nizzzzzaaaam’). Some people would like to destroy Syria the way it is being done with Libya (55th richest country in the world, 1st in Africa). It reminds me the Mubarak’s way: if someone is getting strong, put him in jail.

Obama has already lost the US Jews vote (Madoff, Strauss-Kahn, seen as antisemitic trials by ‘progressists’ and his being black, enough for Bibi friends), so why not starting to rely on the US Muslim vote?

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May 20th, 2011, 3:58 am


153. Mina said:

I love Ayman and Democracynow telling us about polls and ballot boxes “all over the world”. Turn off Disneychannel and Spacetoon once in a while! In how many countries these are actually properly used? You know that political parties and their PR agencies actually play a lot with the opinion polls, through the tv netwoks ordering them etc. There is nothing transparent here. As for ballot boxes, look at the US and the electronic vote.
Things take time, and come after all the citizens admit EQUALITY, between sects, between genders, between ethnicities.

The Turkish miracle came after German Turks sent billions of cash to their families and after locals accepted it was normal to have two jobs in order to survive.

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May 20th, 2011, 4:11 am


154. Shai said:


Assad should, as quickly as possible, create conditions that enable the formation of a legal, free, political opposition in Syria. Yes, he should show everyone how he’s creating with his own hands the tools that can be used to remove him one day from power (in a future free and democratic election). Only then will Syrians believe Assad is capable of introducing significant reform.

This will be the main challenge in the region. Political opposition has to be created, with legal backing, for there to be even a chance for democracy or any elements thereof. This is true in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and in Syria.

Engaging in throwing around empty promises is meaningless and futile.

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May 20th, 2011, 8:04 am


155. Syria Comment said:

[…] a recent article Joshua Landis writes that the protestors “failed to provoke a confessional split in the army […]

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May 20th, 2011, 5:10 pm


157. Abughassan said:

It is healthy to have a civilized exchange of opinions without agreeing on everything discussed. A transition to a more free and democratic Syria is overdue and the absence of that process was a factor in triggering the unrest we see today. We are fully aware of the price Syrians paid for standing up to Israel and its friends but that price was disproportionately paid by the average Syrian while the fat cats were getting fatter and many citizens felt helpless and powerless. I am not willing to accept the claim that Syria is less corrupt than other countries. Poverty is wide spread and that was made worse by the lack of tax revenue and Equal opportunities. Defending albaath today is difficult to understand: Arabs are not one nation,citizens are not free, part of Syria remains occupied and socialism is not a viable economic system especially with corruption. Albaath as a party has the right to exist and compete for votes when true and honest elections, and not appointments by almukhabaraat ,become a reality.we have the right to disagree,ladies and gentlemen.

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May 21st, 2011, 1:08 am


158. Aboud said:

To the commentator who wrote about rape gangs in Telkelakh, you are disgusting. Kindly keep your perverse fantasies to yourself. First you Baathist claim it was a Bandar plot, then you say it was Harriri, then you moved on to Salafis.

Seriously, I need a spreadsheet to keep up with your villain of the moment. The only people who had so many different enemies that changed every week were Batman and Spider Man. Bashar-Man, whose super powers consist of the God-like ability to make events in real life happen exactly the OPPOSITE of what he says and promises.

Rape gangs, what a load of bullshit. Only a Baathist who thinks Papa gained a victory by caving in to the Turks back in the late 90s could write something like that with a straight face.

People are wondering where Bashar has hidden himself these days. His TV appearances have been very rare, he has made no speeches to the people since his disastrous speech to the People’s Circus (Assembly). Shall we count him as one more of Syria’s 10,000 prisoners?

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May 21st, 2011, 5:32 am


159. Ashley said:

hi, i just wanted to say the syria shouldnt get rid of bashar he has done nothing but helped them the past few years and also i recently read about the police finding blood that isnt for humans in bottles and all over the floor so the terrorists are pretending that bashar is attacking syria.this is why the USA wont get involved …because they know the protests are fake…its like the us supports terrorism … and also they have to stick up for the israeli terrorists so they have no choice but to fake protests

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May 21st, 2011, 11:31 am


160. Akbar Palace said:

When People Stop Thinking


Over the past 40 years, how many Syrians have the “israeli terrorists” killed versus the number of Syrians the great Baathist Assad family have killed?

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May 21st, 2011, 12:05 pm


161. why-discuss said:

Promise of Arab Uprisings Is Threatened by Divisions

…But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era. …
….Nowhere is that perhaps truer than in Syria, with a sweeping revolt against four decades of rule by one family and a worsening of tensions among a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslims, the Alawites.

Mohsen, a young Alawite in Syria, recounted a slogan that he believes, rightly or not, was chanted at some of the protests there: “Christians to Beirut and the Alawites to the coffin.”

“Every week that passes,” he lamented, speaking by telephone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, “the worse the sectarian feelings get.”

The example of Iraq comes up often in conversations in Damascus, as does the civil war in Lebanon. The departure of Jews, who once formed a vibrant community in Syria, remains part of the collective memory, illustrating the tenuousness of diversity. Syria’s ostensibly secular government, having always relied on Alawite strength, denounces the prospect of sectarian differences while, its critics say, fanning the flames. The oft-voiced formula is, by now, familiar: after us, the deluge.

“My Alawite friends want me to support the regime, and they feel if it’s gone, our community will be finished,” said Mohsen, the young Alawite in Damascus, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared reprisal. “My Sunni friends want me to be against the regime, but I feel conflicted. We want freedom, but freedom with stability and security.”

That he used the mantra of years of Arab authoritarianism suggested that people still, in the words of one human rights activist, remain “hostage to the lack of possibilities” in states that, with few exceptions, have failed to come up with a sense of self that transcends the many divides.

“This started becoming a self-fulfilling myth,” said Mr. Azm, the Syrian intellectual.

“It was either our martial law or the martial law of the Islamists,” he added. “The third option was to divide the country into ethnicities, sects and so on.”

Despite a wave of repression, crackdown and civil war, hope and optimism still pervade the region, even in places like Syria, the setting of one of the most withering waves of violence. There, residents often speak of a wall of fear crumbling. Across the Arab world, there is a renewed sense of a collective destiny that echoes the headiest days of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and ’60s and perhaps even transcends it.

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May 21st, 2011, 3:49 pm


162. Marona1234 said:

Dear Joshua we syrians in America have been interested in your views,you talk to us from the other side. for the truth..Do you believe that USA is interested with the wellbeing of the Syrian people..remember the war on Iraq the destruction . And death which was the endgame. Now tell me why Obama can indicate for the Arabs how should govern them and he can not even to suggest for prime minister of Israel visiting him in the oval office the greatest country in world,,, his views. On Palestine .do think the Arabs do not see. How is USA is just doing what Israel wants…one more note who is killing the soldiers if the Syrian revolution is peaceful.

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May 21st, 2011, 9:43 pm


163. Usama said:


Thanks for completely ignoring my specific examples and comparisons and going back to economic complaints that I already addressed.

You saw Mubarak’s Egypt, completely obedient and complicit in US and Israeli policies in the region. While we have economic sanctions slapped on us (including civilian aircraft parts and medical equipment for hospitals), Egypt was getting billions in aid and international investment. Yet, while they were selling gas to Israel at 1/4 of market price, their electricity went out because their power stations ran out of gas. They have a City of the Dead with 5 million people literally live in grave land. You find malnourished children lying around on the streets and homelessness is rampant. Even rent on grave land is still pricey. Poverty is so rampant in Egypt that it breaks my heart even though I’m not Egyptian. Jordan, also with its kiss-ass leadership, is so underdeveloped it is unbelievable, and they only have 6.5 million people.

What about us? Do we have these problems? Our public services are amazing relative to everyone else in the region. Look on Google Maps and zoom in just enough for the Syrian highways to be highlighted (in yellow) on the map and then pan around the region. Syria’s highway system is so far ahead of everyone else’s. What we have in Syria is development. Corruption in Syria is the lowest in the region, whether you want to believe that or not.

Socialism is a viable economic option, and you should be able to see that with good houses in Detroit being as cheap as USD 15000. The market is dead. Capitalism expands the gap between rich and poor. The banking and economic systems in the North America and Europe are so unbelievably corrupt that if you really think capitalism is better then you’re just ignorant of what’s around you. Just look at carbon credits!

Arab nationalism is back in business after ousting Mubarak and see thousands of Egyptian youth surrounding the Israeli embassy and marching towards Gaza, both of which were not allowed under Mubarak’s rule. And even if pan-Arabism isn’t physical, just having it in spirit is enough to further the Arab cause, so again you’re wrong on that. Then freedom. From my personal experiences, I was always free in Syria. None of my family members were anti-government, and we lived in peace and freedom. If you want to be against the government and make a living out of it, then that’s your choice and you can’t blame anyone but yourself, especially if you like to go about your business Muslim Brotherhood style. But just because that part isn’t free doesn’t mean that the average Syrian isn’t free. You don’t know what you have ’til you lose it.

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May 22nd, 2011, 1:45 am


164. Mina said:

Thanks Usama, I confirm fully your comparison of Syria with Egypt and Jordan.
Let me add that bribes in Syria are not daily and can be very cheap (if you park in a wrong place, you pay a ‘bribe’ of 2 dollars instead of paying a real ticket, not a bad deal).
I wonder how al Jazeera plans to fight world corruption when its journalists offer 100 dollars for a 3 minutes interview in scientific gathering such as the academic conferences they cover!

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May 22nd, 2011, 2:06 am


165. Mostafa said:

Please Watch this Clip which has been dedicated to the Syrian People and showing disgust about China and Russia and Send it for Syrian Brothers and sisters:

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February 5th, 2012, 3:13 pm


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