The United States on Wednesday imposed its toughest sanctions ever targeting Baschar al-Assad to choke off revenue for his government in a bid to force it back to United Nations-led negotiations and broker an end to the country’s nearly decade-long war. It took US Congress almost 10 years to come after Assad.
The fresh round of sanctions on Syria come at a time when Assad is grappling with a deepening economic crisis after a decade of war and amid a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas. The U.S. is promising even deeper and broader pressure campaign if Assad does not comply.
The Caesar Act imposes new travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Assad’s inner circle. This includes his wife Asma, whom along with her family Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as “one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers.”
They also target Assad’s brother, sister, a few senior generals and Iranian militia.
The new sanctions can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and cover many more sectors. It also targets those dealing with entities from Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers.
In a statement announcing the designations imposed under an executive order and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, Pompeo said the new steps were the start of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure against Assad, and vowed more in the coming weeks.
We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people and the Syrian government agrees to a political solution to the conflict.
THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF ASSAD WAR ON SYRIANS
The first five years of Assad war on the Syrian people, between 2011 and 2016, when President Obama had every opportunity to come after Assad for his war crimes, our commander-in-chief turned a blind eye to the suffering of women and children. He ignored Assad and his crimes. Even when the opportunity presented itself to do the moral thing, Obama blinked. Often and without any regrets. The whole world remembers him as drawing a red line then back down after Assad gassed innocent women and children in 2012.
Hope for any justice were impossible under the Obama era. This is his legacy as a wimpy President with a secret agenda to punish Israel. Even if that meant he had to watch tens of thousands of innocent Syrians die at the hands of a criminal.
The last four years, during the Trump presidency, the US reversed course; but not to the point of dismantling the Assad regime. President Trump slapped Assad on the wrist when Obama stroked it.
But today, and finally, U.S. Congress has passed the laws necessary to punish Assad for his war crimes. Their timing could not have been better as Assad suffers some setbacks on the field, and the erosion of the support from the Alawite community. Exacerbated partially by the Rami Makhlouf row Asma started. Going after the Assad top brass and their families is a stroke of genius. Especially, since Asma al-Akhras al-Assad has deep roots in Britain.
In fact, it is highly likely the Akhras family assets have taken flight when the Caesar Act passed in 2019. But pursuing these assets will not be a difficult task given they originated in Europe using the EU banking system. Unless they have converted them into worthless rubles, and parked them in Russia.
THE CAESAR ACT KEEPS FOREIGN INVESTORS AT BAY
Countries, like the UAE, which ignored the international pulse by re-opening its embassy in Damascus, may find itself hanging in mid-air with its leader’s pants down. The UAE announced publicly that it is working with the Assad regime to assist in the reconstruction of Syria. This despite the criminality of Assad and his military generals.
The UAE action shows just how little their Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba has his pulse on US politics. Had the Ambassador been effective, he would have warned the ruling family from stepping on its own tail.
In a call with reporters, a senior administration official said investment plans in areas, including in reconstruction, that were to aid Assad’s government had already fizzled out due to fear of the Caesar Act.
Several analysts agreed.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said:
If you are engaging in these sectors, you will be cut off from the U.S. financial system, which is the most powerful in the world. For you as a Led by a mass criminal company, you choose between that and investing in a broken country..
Led by a criminal of the first order.
Reuters contributed to this story