Posted by Joshua on Thursday, February 18th, 2010
“US Economic Sanctions on Syria Have Failed,” by Joshua Landis
Contrary to what Andrew Tabler of WINEP, a right-wing think tank argues, US sanctions on Syria have failed. Tabler, in a Newsweek article copied below, recommends keeping sanctions on Syria. He claims they are working. He is joined in his desire to keep sanctions on Syria by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She worries that Obama is going soft on Syria because it has returned its ambassador and is engaging. She said, “The administration is aiding an unrepentant regime and is sending a signal that the U.S. will make concessions and seek dialogue regardless of what the facts dictate.” She said this in a Feb. 12 statement after the U.S. let Chicago-based Boeing Co. sell aircraft parts for the repair of two 747 jets owned by Syrian Arab Airlines.
Tabler argues that US sanctions have worked and are forcing Syria into a corner where it must finally make important foreign policy concessions. I don’t know what cool-aid Tabler has been drinking, but it may well be from the same dispenser as Ros-Lehtinen’s. US sanction efforts have failed badly. Don’t take my word for it. Here is what Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman said about Washington’s backfiring sanctions effort just the other day:
So you ended up at a point when we isolate – we were the ones isolated. It was no longer Syria being isolated. It was the United States that was being isolated. So I think this administration decided that engagement is not – engagement is something we need to try.
This contorted jumble of passive constructions by Feltman can be summed up to mean only one thing: sanctions failed. Over a year ago, France broke the isolation regime that Washington had established. Quickly other European countries followed suit. They invited Syria to join the Mediterranean Process, a free trade agreement linking Europe with Mediterranean countries. Western bankers and businessmen are streaming into Syria to sniff out the possibilities for investment. Abdullah Dardari, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy, has been besieged with delegations of businessmen from American banks as well as European countries over the last few months. Big Western concerns may make only small investments in Syria for the time being because Syria’s financial infrastructure is primitive and new legal protections for foreign capital are untested. All the same, it is in Syria’s power to attract foreign money if it makes the desired reforms. US sanctions are no longer a major factor inhibiting investors.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillion is arriving in Damascus this Saturday flanked by over 30 French businessmen eager to have his support to clinch deals in Syria. If Americans don’t get into the act soon, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in an emerging market that has promise and where most assets are undervalued. As Feltman explained, the US is only sanctioning its own businessmen in Syria. For someone who is in better touch with Syria read Chris Phillips of the BBC: Syria’s Assad: pariah to power-broker.
Addendum: Alex in the comment section writes:
Andrew Tabler argues: “Damascus has never needed a bailout as badly as it does now….”
Andrew habibi, what planet are you on? You have a great new idea? … to wait until Syria’s economy collapses? … until Syria’s oil reserves vanish …. a year or two of additional “effective” sanctions? … maybe hope for more bad harvests in Hassakeh region to starve them out? …
Here is an opinion piece in TIME of 27 years ago, Monday, Dec. 19, 1983.
A more serious threat to the (Syrian) regime may be the country’s worsening economy. Plummeting oil revenues and bad harvests have drained foreign reserves. According to an International Monetary Fund report, Syria’s total reserves (excluding gold) dropped from $927 million in mid-1981 to $40 million by early 1982. Electricity is now rationed nationwide.
And you say, “Damascus has NEVER needed a bailout as badly as it does now”? In 1982 .. Syria’s total reserves were down to 40 millions. The regime did not collapse and it did not change behavior, nor did it change position on peace with Israel. (peace based on UN 242 and 338). Today: Syria’s total reserves are 15 billion dollars. Keep dreaming.
In a Corner
Even with little to show, Obama still hasn’t given up engaging America’s foes. In Syria, it might just work.
By Andrew Tabler in Newsweek
The backstory, of course, is sanctions—and how badly they’ve hit the Assad regime even if they haven’t changed its behavior yet. They began in 1979, when the United States added Syria to the list of state sponsors of terrorism for supporting Palestinian terrorist groups, but the screws really tightened after 2003, when Syria allowed jihadist insurgents fighting the U.S. occupation to cross into Iraq. The resulting Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSA), alongside a series of executive orders, banned all U.S. exports except food and medicine, seized the assets of regime officials, and banned U.S. dollar transactions with the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria. With enforcement overseen by the no-nonsense Commerce Department, it became even harder to trade with Syria than with Iran…..
Damascus has never needed a bailout as badly as it does now….
President Obama may be tempted to ease Syria’s pain—by rewriting the executive orders girding the sanctions regime due to be renewed next May—with some expectation that he’ll get something in return. He shouldn’t. Since Syria won’t abandon support for terrorist groups tomorrow, Washington should start small, with selective adjustment of sanctions rather than their outright cancellation. As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said last year, “Sanctions can always be tightened if Syria backtracks” from any deal with American negotiators. Those small steps (like Ford’s appointment, for example) are exactly the thing Syria is looking to respond to.
“The administration is aiding an unrepentant regime and is sending a signal that the U.S. will make concessions and seek dialogue regardless of what the facts dictate,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a Feb. 12 statement after the U.S. let Chicago-based Boeing Co. sell aircraft parts for the repair of two 747 jets owned by Syrian Arab Airlines. Bloomberg
Syria’s Assad: pariah to power-broker | Chris Phillips
Written by: Editor on 17th February 2010
Syria’s Assad: pariah to power-broker | Chris Phillips
It’s a remarkable recovery in political and economic fortune that sees Syria and Assad being courted by the west and Arabs alike
Assad’s liberalising economic policies have also reaped rewards, with Syria’s unexpected growth enhancing Damascus’s emerging international confidence. New trade from Turkey, Iraq and the EU has eased fears that economic demands would force Syria to compromise with the US and Israel. Instead, western investors are flocking to Syria, and even the tourist industry is expanding, with Damascus recently named by the New York Times as seventh top destination for 2010. Not surprisingly, Assad’s domestic popularity is enhanced by the developing middle class, who credit their president for this economic success.
This popularity is mirrored in the wider Arab world, where Assad was voted most popular Arab leader in a 2009 Zogby poll. This further boosts Damascus’s regional clout, already vying with Egypt and Lebanon for cultural dominance over the Arab world following the widespread popularity of the Syrian drama and soap-opera industry which further projects a positive view of Syria into Arab living rooms.
While sharing his father’s unwillingness to bend to US pressure and, perhaps less ruthlessly, stifling of opposition at home, Assad has shown himself to be a different kind of leader. Since the Lebanon withdrawal he has demonstrated opportunism when backed into a corner and a sound reading of the international climate. After the initial disaster of 2005, Assad was quick to adapt the hard power exercised over Beirut by Hafez into the soft power and indirect influence that has seen Syrian dominance in Lebanon return.
As the US ambassador’s residence in Damascus is once again inhabited, its occupier will find himself dealing with a more confident and influential Syrian president than the one his predecessor left behind in 2005.
Addendum: Are US sanctions against Syria working?
As the US names its first ambassador to Syria in five years, the BBC’s Lina Sinjab, in Damascus, examines the effect of US sanctions against the country….
The French prime minister in Damascus Saturday…” al-Hayat by Ibrahim Hamidi (translation thanks to mideastwire.com)
On February 17, the Saudi-owned London-based Al-Hayat daily carried in its paper edition the following article by its correspondents in Damascus and Paris Ibrahim Hamidi and Randa Takieddin: “Damascus is witnessing an important economic and political action after the visit of a number of American and European officials to the Syrian capital. The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout had opened yesterday a meeting for the Syrian and Czech businessmen in order to strengthen the economic relations between Damascus and Prague. He later on held a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in which they both discussed the latest developments in the region and the bilateral relations. The Czech official is also expected to meet today with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
“The Czech Foreign Minister was quoted in this respect by Al-Hayat as saying: “The relationship between Damascus and Prague is strong and is well rooted after long years of cooperation and friendship. The relationship today is even stronger than before since Syria is a neighbor of the EU and cooperates political and economically with all the European efforts.” The Syrian president is also expected to meet with American official William Burns who is visiting the region. The Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs is heading an important American delegation that includes Daniel Shapiro who is in charge of the Middle East dossier at the State Department. Al-Hayat has also learned that the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal al-Meqdad has returned from Morocco to take part in the America-Syrian talks.
“French diplomatic sources told Al-Hayat that a delegation of French businessmen including more than thirty persons will be accompanying French Prime Minister Francois Fillion during his expected visit to Damascus this Saturday where he will be meeting his Syrian counterpart Mohammad Naji al-Otari and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. French sources in Paris told Al-Hayat that Fillion’s visit to Syria aimed at strengthening the political and economic cooperation between the two countries. The sources were quoted in this respect as saying: “This new and important cooperation has been launched two years ago and Fillion’s visit aims at strengthening the political relations between Damascus and Paris. Fillion will talk politics in Damascus but also will deal with cultural and economic matters. He will be signing an agreement between the Louvre and the Damascus National Museum…” – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom
Talk to Hamas
As Israeli soldiers we hang our heads in shame over last year’s attack on Gaza’s civilian population. Dialogue, not war, is needed
Arik Diamant and David Zonsheine
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 February 2010
The Israeli media marked the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the war on Gaza, almost as a celebration. The operation is recognised almost unanimously in Israel as a military triumph, a combat victory over one of Israel’s deadliest enemies: Hamas.
As combat soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), we have serious doubts about this conclusion, primarily because hardly any combat against Hamas took place during the operation. As soon as the operation started, Hamas went underground.
Most casualties were inflicted on Palestinians by air strikes, artillery fire, and snipers from afar. Combat victory? Shooting fish in a barrel is more like it. Operation Cast Lead consisted essentially of bombing one of the most crowded places on earth, striking civilian targets such as homes, schools and mosques, and ultimately leaving a trail of more than 1,300 casualties, mostly civilians, over 300 of whom were children. As soldiers of the IDF reserves, we bow our heads in shame against this hideous attack on a civilian population.
As for the goals of the operation, these too are questionable. Allegedly, operation Cast Lead was intended to stop the firing of missiles by Hamas. But the Qassam missile problem had been solved before the operation started. The ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel in place from 19 June 2008 had resulted in a drastic reduction of missiles fired from Gaza from a few hundreds per month to about a dozen for a period of five months. It was Israel that never lived up to its end of the bargain to end the siege of Gaza, breached the ceasefire in November 2008 by attacking targets in the Strip, essentially ignored Hamas’s proposal to renew the ceasefire, and eventually began operation Cast Lead a few weeks later.
The true goal of this operation was different from the one announced by Israeli officials. The real objective was not to stop the Qassams but to overthrow the Hamas government. As such, the operation failed. Hamas in Gaza is stronger than ever.
A year after this brutal war, a change of strategy is needed. Israel should commence immediate talks with Hamas, negotiating not only a ceasefire but also the “core issues” to be part of an end-of-conflict agreement. An open dialogue with Hamas is clearly in Israel’s interest.
First, because Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza and has won the trust and respect of a significant part of the Palestinian people, anyone hoping to resolve this conflict will eventually need to bargain with the group.
Second, Hamas has proven capable of delivering peace and quiet to the citizens of southern Israel. As demonstrated before, Hamas has a strong hold on all organisations acting in Gaza and can enforce a truce.
Third, a prisoner exchange deal is our only chance to bring back the abducted IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit. In return, Israel will release hundreds of Hamas prisoners, out of the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Such a deal can have a pacifying influence on public opinion both in Israel and in Palestine and can be an important step towards reconciliation between the two peoples.
Hamas is currently Israel’s enemy, but peace is made with enemies, not with friends. Hamas is also a powerful, pragmatic and well organised movement, possibly a future partner with whom Israel can “cut a deal”. A reluctance to recognise Hamas as the party in charge in Gaza is a strategy that failed and needs to be replaced. A nation that is truly looking for peace cannot afford to ignore its partners.
• Arik Diamant and David Zonsheine are the founders of Courage to Refuse, a movement of Israeli reserve soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories. In November 2009 they launched an initiative calling Israel to open a dialogue with Hamas