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“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.” – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Transcript. Part One

July 2, 2020

Jamall Bowman, former Middle School Principal, defeats Eliot Engel in a landslide. Engel, a 16 term U.S. Representative was the major author of the Caesar Act, AIPAC’s point man in the House Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.”KGNU 1390 AM, 88.5 FM – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020.  Hosted by Jim Nelson. Transcript.

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The Trump Administration has become sanction crazy.

Besides putting even more clamps on the Syrian banking system’s ability to trade in dollars, the same kind of restrictions now apply to countries neighboring Syria. The cutting edge of this legislation is to threaten Lebanon, Iraq and Iran and all countries that are trying to help in the Syrian reconstruction project.

One thing we can argue: It’s the only card left in the American deck, tightening sanctions that were already punishing in nature.

From a political viewpoint what is the essence of these sanctions against Syria? It is for the U.S. to regain through economic what it (and its allies) lost on the battlefield in Syria, to weaken the Syrian government and to keep its plans – which never end – to partition Syria alive

Rob Prince

We both concur that when it comes to American policy in the region that the United States has hit rock bottom, zero, nothing. No Plan A, No Plan B – (an exit strategy). In all intents and purposes the United States has lost, in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

In light of this, there is something we have discussed many times: no strategic vision, no plan, recently we are suddenly hearing about “the Caesar Act” being passed by Congress – specifically concerning Syria.

Ibrahim Kazerooni

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Part One

(In this section the impact of the Caesar Act – the ninth imposition of U.S. sanctions against Syria – is discussed along with fluid situation in Idlib Province, Syria where mercenary/terrorist troops are being withdrawn and transferred to Libya and Yemen)

Jim Nelson: As always, this evening we’ll be going to the Middle East and talking about the current breaking news. As KGNU listeners are aware, the station is practicing social distancing with most of us safe at home. I’m the only one in the studio; usually Rob is here joining me in these dialogues. Hopefully soon, we’ll get together in the studio once again.

We’re going to be discussing some topics of current interest in the Middle East. One of the reasons I enjoy this show is because of the unique perspective our guest bring to the subject. Currently we’re not getting much news from the region other than if its COVID-19 related.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Or something to do with “evil China” or “evil Russia.”

Jim Nelson: Rob Prince and Ibrahim Kazerooni provide listeners with an international perspective that is not often covered in the mainstream corporate press. We’ll be looking at mercenaries being moved from the Turkish-Syrian border to Libya as well as the implications of the Caesar Act – yet another round of sanctions against Syria and neighboring countries.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Jim, for some time now, we have been discussing about the Middle East for some time now.

We both concur that when it comes to American policy in the region that the United States has hit rock bottom, zero, nothing. No Plan A, No Plan B – (an exit strategy). In all intents and purposes the United States has lost, in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

I want to ask Rob, in light of this, there is something we have discussed many times: no strategic vision, no plan, recently we are suddenly hearing about “the Caesar Act” being passed by Congress – specifically concerning Syria.

Rob Prince: This was an act passed by Congress that came into effect on June 17 (2020), about a week ago. To develop the context a little bit…

When it comes to U.S. policy in the Middle East – it doesn’t matter whether we’re referring to Trump, Obama, Bush or Clinton – the policy lacks a strategic vision; it is defensive in nature. It’s essentially about slowing the progress of the changing balance of forces in the region.

Looking at U.S. Middle East policy today; it essentially has three prongs:

– encourage regional players (Turkey, Israel, Saudis)
– Special forces and extensive use of killer drones – expanded under Obama; try to avoid big military buildup
– use economic pressure – especially sanctions – need to keep in mind – sanctions – because they sound so much less lethal than war itself. Sanctions in an age of globalization are a way to choke a nation, they are nothing less than a form of warfare, a kind of global blockade in an era where the USA does not want to get bogged down in another Vietnam War type situation.

These are its options; but they are employed without an overarching vision.

In terms of the Caesar Act – just a little bit of background – these are the 9th set of sanctions since 2011 that the United States has imposed on Syria. It’s a continued “tightening of the screws” against the Assad government, without going into the details too much now as we are going to be also talking about this next week as well in terms of its regional implications – it’s a 58 page document, almost a book.

It has all these different aspects. But what distinguishes it from what came before ..
– It tightens the pressures on Syrian banks limiting their ability to use dollars to buy anything. For example, earlier, when the Coronavirus epidemic broke out in the country there was a move in Congress to lift those Syrian sanctions that restricted the purchase of needed medical supplies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the Trump Administration had offered a sanctions waiver for such items.

But this was not the case. As any foreign provider that might have sold medical supplies to the Syrian government feared financial retaliation from the American government despite the formal waiver. It made such trade impossible.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: This is the same thing done to Iran. During this Coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration has announced that it had lifted the sanctions. But in fact this is not true. To the contrary.

Rob Prince: Adding to this sanctions mania. I heard something today that the United States is going to impose sanctions against any country that accepts Cuban medical aid in fighting the Coronavirus.

The Trump Administration has become sanction crazy.

Besides putting even more clamps on the Syrian banking system’s ability to trade in dollars, the same kind of restrictions now apply to countries neighboring Syria. The cutting edge of this legislation is to threaten Lebanon, Iraq and Iran and all countries that are trying to help in the Syrian reconstruction project.

Why now? In the midst of what is going on, the Coronavirus pandemic?

One thing we can argue: It’s the only card left in the American deck, tightening sanctions that were already punishing in nature.

From a political viewpoint what is the essence of these sanctions against Syria? It is for the U.S. to regain through economic what it (and its allies) lost on the battlefield in Syria, to weaken the Syrian government and to keep its plans – which never end – to partition Syria alive

There is another aspect to this and I’m going to ask Ibrahim to comment on it.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Before you go on Rob, I have a question.

Early on you said that this is the ninth or the tenth sanction since 2011. Naturally the first question that I have is that if all other sanctions have failed in subduing the Syrian government why is it that the U.S. administration thinks that this round of sanctions will be somewhat different in their results?

Rob Prince: I’m not sure that they think it will produce any different outcome.

What I understand them trying to do is to otherwise… because these sanctions don’t make sense. You’re right Ibrahim. If you look at it logically, looking at the past record on these sanctions, the main players in the region are not going to go abide by them, Syria’s main allies at present

So in a way, this new wave of sanctions is more symbolic than real in its effect.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: So in reality what you are saying Rob, that is that this Caesar Art is little more than throwing a wrench into the emerging situation.

Rob Prince: Yes, that’s right. It’s throwing in a wrench at a certain moment of time. What the United States is concerned about – and what we have spoken about on the program repeatedly – is slowing Syria’s ability – with the help of the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah in Lebanon to regain its national territory.

What is left is that little province in the northwest corner of Syria, Idlib Province, where all the mercenaries have gathered together in some form; Turkey is arming and helping them, legally, illegally whatever.

We know that sooner or later, the Syrian government is going to move to liberate Idlib province from these foreign mercenary elements. The Caesar Act sanctions are essentially just a part of the overall effort on the part of the United States to slow that process, to try to interfer with these Syrian military operations, to make it more difficult for Syria to accomplish its goal.

What these sanctions are not about – and let’s be clear – and Washington and Congress both know this … there is this idea that sanctions hurt the government but not the people, but of course History reveals that it is exactly the opposite. The main victims of these sanctions are the people of Syria.

End Part One.

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