Syria: Recent Policy Developments
By Advocacy Coordinator Maria Thomson
As the Syrian conflict nears its seventh month since originally coming to prominence in early March, both Syrian protesters and international observers are growing desperate in search of a more effective means to resolve, or at least make headway, with the situation. The conflict has been marked by steadfast nonviolence on the part of civilian demonstrators, who have, conversely, borne the brunt of ruthless violence on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The extent of this violence (the UN has now documented at least 2900 Syrian casualties) has led many in the United States to compare the Syrian conflict to that in Libya, and many — whether endorsing US actions or not — have questioned why the United States has applied different policies to the two regions. I wrote on this topic earlier this fall, but since that time, the situation in Syria has changed in a few notable ways that call for an updated look at STAND’s policy.
First, and most alarmingly, there is growing talk among Syrian civilian protesters of taking up arms against government forces, under the notion that nonviolence has not proved an successful tactic in affecting the Assad government. Certainly, this sentiment is not shared among all protesters, and a statement released by the Local Coordinating Committees warned that “militarization would … erode the moral superiority that has characterized the revolution since its beginning.” However, speculation of future violence has led talk of a UN-authorized no-fly zone in Syria to reemerge. As was true at the time of my last post, the Syrian conflict has seen minimal use of aircraft, and instead has been driven forward by tank attacks, making a hypothetical no-drive zone a more appropriate response than a no-fly zone.
Discussion of no-fly or -drive zones as a whole may be moot, however, given the difficulties the United Nations has faced in recent days in passing any resolution on Syria whatsoever. Notably, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met on Tuesday to vote on a resolution which would have the council “consider its options” in 30 days if Syrian violence against civilians did not halt. This resolution was widely acknowledged to be “watered down,” as it did not propose an arms embargo and provided no hint of military intervention, but rather demanded only an end to violence and punted further review of the situation a month into the future. However, even this resolution was vetoed by both Russia and China, and received abstentions from Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa. A double-veto such as this is rare for the UNSC, and may be indicative of the uphill battle the international community faces in mobilizing to support of Syrian protesters.
As a result, the greatest action the United States can take for the time being seems to lie in the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011 (SR 1472), which is currently working its way through the Senate. This legislation would establish penalties within the US for any company that continues to participate in Syria’s petroleum sector, by way of contract prohibition, denial of loans, and blocking of property. This would essentially force foreign companies to choose between continuing operations in Syria or avoiding serious consequences in the United States. You can voice support for this bill right now by:
- Calling 1-800-GENOCIDE (1-800-436-6243) to reach your Senators and ask them to support the legislation
- Expressing support for the bill through POPVOX, which sends immediate notification of your support to your representatives
In other news, the United States Senate confirmed Robert Ford as Ambassador to Syria on Monday (Oct. 3). Ford, who had until now been working in Syria on approval from President Obama via an executive order, has served as an important resource and support to Syrian protesters. Ford has frequently visited sites of protest in Syria, and has often criticized Assad’s regime and its crackdown on protesters more harshly than President Obama and the United States government have been willing to do. His presence will no doubt continue to be critical in the near future, as a voice that may express resolute support for the cause of the Syrian civilians, and as one that can continue to champion nonviolence even in such trying times.