Congress strikes a crucial blow at Bashar Assad

By Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner
December 12, 2019

You probably haven’t heard about it, but the House of Representatives scored a major win for human rights this week.

It did so by looping legislation under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act into its passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law after Senate passage next week.

This Caesar legislation — named for the pseudonymous photographer who in 2015 smuggled out tens of thousands of photos of tortured and murdered Syrians — introduces sanctions on foreign companies and governments that do business with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

When it receives Trump’s assent next week, the legislation will introduce immediate problems for Assad’s regime. It provides standing congressional authority for executive branch sanctions on the Syrian central bank and on any foreign business or government which chooses to invest in Assad’s government.

This is also a significant blow to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government is determined to change the international conversation over Syria away from one of Assad’s continued power, to one of international support for Syria’s rebuilding. But now, any foreign company thinking about engaging with Assad will have to weigh the benefits against U.S. sanctions on their global activities. U.S. global economic influence, after all, is considerably greater than Assad’s. (Also, Russia’s economy is really quite diminutive — on par with that of Spain, significantly smaller than that of Italy.)

Thanks to the efforts of Americans for a Free Syria, a nonpartisan group that has worked diligently for years to see the bill enacted, the legislation is also designed to pressure Assad and Putin to engage in serious negotiations over Syria’s political future. The need for their compromise is serious, in that both leaders believe they hold nearly all the cards in Syria. Thanks to this bill, they may not wait for long.

Congress has done great work here. As Josh Rogin reported back in 2016, the Obama administration sabotaged the Caesar legislation as it wound its way through Congress — yet another reason why you shouldn’t listen to Ben Rhodes’s moral lecturing.

Fortunately, if belatedly, new leadership has filled the gap.

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