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In a bipartisan measure, U.S. Congress hopes to throw monkey wrench into Syria’s re-entry into the Arab League

May 14, 2023

Damascus, June, 1981. (R. Prince photo)


“The United States lost. We overthrew Iraq, we overthrew Libya, we overthrew Afghanistan, we’re doing a genocide in Yemen, Ukraine, but in Syria we didn’t succeed”

The Jimmy Dore Show


Many years ago – 66 – to be exact, my St. Lawrence University English teacher, one Mr. Hashem, wrote a kind of a fairy tale which was a cruel but accurate metaphor about the university at that time. His story entailed a rat guarding a cesspool. The rat, not knowing how to clean up the cesspool mess it had created was reduced to running round it squeaking, “what to do, what to do?”  It didn’t have the slightest idea how to proceed. It turned out that the University president at the time had a long nose, not quite like a rat, but similar enough so that most folk on campus got the message that the college was in trouble. Mr. Hashem was fired for that little venture into satire that struck too close to home.
The analogy came back to me after all these as an apt metaphor to U.S. Middle East policy. Washington’s position, its strength as both a global and Middle Eastern regional hegemon, is fading faster than most of us can keep up with it. No development reflects the Biden Administration’s own experience with “shock and awe” more than the recent Arab League embrace to Syria, welcoming Damascus back into the Arab fold. Once again in the aftermath of Chinese encouraged Iranian-Saudi reconciliation, Washington has been completely blindsided by events it had no control over and it appears, no knowledge of until it was too late.

The situation in the Middle East – as with the rest of the world – is changing so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up with all the recent developments, among the most significant, Syria’s re-admission into the ranks of the Arab League after being left out in the cold for 12 years. The same countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (along with Turkey) –  that expelled Syria at U.S. insistence – back in 2011 and participated on the ground through jihadist terrorist proxies to overthrow the Damascus government are today, welcoming the Assad government back into the Arab fold. Indeed as Pepe Escobar notes, “Syria’s return to the Arab League has been welcomed with great fanfare?.

There is “a new Middle East” in the making but it is far different from the one that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice fantasized in 2006. Much of the reversal of mainstream Arab government hostility towards Syria has its roots in the tectonic changes the world is experiencing elsewhere, in the growing Chinese-Russian alliance and the Chinese underappreciated (in Washington) diplomatic breakthrough to arrange Saudi-Iranian rapproachment.  One consequence of the improved ties between Riyadh and Tehran has been a major effort to resolve other regional conflicts with the war in Yemen and Syria topping the list.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained the core sanctions principle in October 2021: “Our position is oppose the reconstruction of Syria.”

For all practical purposes, the Syrian War – a classic Washington orchestrated proxy war using jihadist mercenaries and regional allies – is over. The United States backed civil war in Syria, disguised as the Arab Spring but the U.S. effort at overthrowing the Assad government by proxy

has failed, and that miserably. In the process, a regional alliance – known as the Axis of Resistance – has, along with the Syrian military – has jelled providing Damascus with the ability to defeat this effort, and in the process, to frustrate Washington’s aim to create “a new Middle East” reflecting U.S. strategic interests.

Syria has, for the most part, defeated its domestic enemies, gained the support of Iran, Russia and China, and now reconciled with its Arab neighbors, many of whom (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates) earlier bent on overthrowing the Assad government. It has been readmitted to the Arab League “amid a fury of a flurry of normalization regional ties in recent weeks.”

Most of the world cheers Syria’s military victory. Only the United States and its increasingly European junior partners intend to continue Washington’s hybrid proxy war against Damascus.  Even though Washington’s goal of overthrowing the Assad government has, for all intensive purposes failed, the Biden Administration has not abandoned its effort to make Syria’s reconstruction as difficult as possible.

Unable to dictate policy in the region and nothing short of infuriated by seeing hitherto U.S. allies, if not Washington proxies, basically ignore Washington efforts to prevent Syria’s Arab League re-entry, the Biden Administration has responded with what is increasingly the only card it has to play: pilling on more sanctions.Spearheaded by South Carolina Republican, Joe Wilson, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced legislation that would tighten the already existing “Caesar Act” sanctions against Syria  and  punish countries helping with Syria reconstruction.

Along with a bipartisan bevy of members of the House, Joe Wilson  has just introduced the Assad Anti-Normalization Act to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. As stated in the bill’s intro its goal supposedly is “to hold the Assad regime accountable for its crimes against the Syrian people and to illustrate the severe cost of governments considering normalization with the Assad regime.”

But the main thrust of the U.S.’s anti-Syrian policy is its continued efforts at economic strangulation. Nothing reflects Washington’s hostility towards Syria than Representative Wilson’s introduction to  the Assad Anti-Normalization Act, every word of which is filled with vitriol:

“It has been over 12 years since the Syrian revolution against the brutal Assad regime began. Supported by war criminal Putin and the terrorist Mullahs in Tehran, over half a million people have been slaughtered by this criminal regime, and over half the Syrian population has been displaced. Countries choosing to normalize with the unrepentant mass murderer and drug trafficker, Bashar al-Assad, are headed down the wrong path. The Assad regime is illegitimate and poses a threat to peace and prosperity in the region. Support for a free and democratic Syria remains strong and I am grateful to introduce this bipartisan legislation to hold the Assad regime accountable for its crimes,” said Rep. Wilson.

Other members of Congress, sponsors of the bill,  have added fuel to Joe Wilson’s anti-Syrian fire in statements of frenzied rhetoric. In what is a typical congressional mantra, Rep Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) referred to Syrian President Assad as “a war criminal whose ongoing atrocities should be condemned”.  Rep Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX) rants against Arab League normalization of relations with Syria “will only legitimize his (Assad’s) regime’s heinous acts.” Arkansas Republican French Hill pours it on commenting that “The Arab League’s recognition should not deter the U.S. government from its obligation to sanction Assad in our efforts to dismantle the trafficking and production of Captagon and hold him accountable for his egregious war crimes.”

Such statements which abound in the halls of Congress, the media and even in considerable segments of the United States’ peace movement disguise the unending mass sufferings U.S. policy in general and the sanctions themselves have already resulted in: an 800% rise in food prices since 2020, more than 500,000 deaths and 13 million displaced, infrastructure mauled and a population suffering from mass malnutrition and an ocean of health problems.

Thus, the consequences of Syria rejoining the Arab League are far-reaching and important humanitarian and political effort to reverse Washington’s crucification of the Syrian people and begin the long hard road to national reconstruction which Washingon opposes at every step.

Not only will Syria enjoy a major economic aid boost to help fund the country’s reconstruction effort, but it also means that other Arab League members will increase their diplomatic pressure on Washington to end its punishing sanctions (the Caesar Act, and now, discussed below “Casear Act II”) against Syria. It will also exert pressures on Washington to end its little published (in the USA) military occupation of the eastern third of Syria where 900 or so U.S. troops have been engaged in stealing Syrian oil and wheat in order to make Syrian reconstruction as long and painful as possible, keeping Syria to remain weak and unstable for as long as possible, something only Washington and Tel Aviv are pleased with.

Congress passed what is referred to as “the Caesar Act” that targets those countries helping Syrian reconstruction with sanctions. (This latest legislation, as discussed below, adds more restrictive measures to the Caesar Act aimed at Arab League countries.) 900  U.S. troops remain stationed in Syria’s eastern regions stealing the country’s oil and wheat. Attacks on Syria continue to emanate from U.S. bases in Jordan near the southern Syrian border. Jihadist mercenaries in the tens of thousands are holed up in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province by Syria’s border with Turkey.

Summing up the significance of the Arab League’s Syrian embrace, Aaron Mate notes in a commentary behind a paywall:

Syria’s re-admission to the Arab League is a milestone in the country’s continued recovery from a decade-long war that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, and widespread destruction.

For the US, the move has different implications. “The decision to readmit Syria to the Arab League represents a rejection of U.S. interests in the region and shows that Middle Eastern countries are forging policies independent of Western concerns,” the Wall Street Journal observes.

Having spent billions of dollars on a dirty war to overthrow Syria’s government, and then imposed crippling sanctions to prevent the country’s reconstruction, Washington is not pleased with the Arab League’s new expression of independence toward Damascus.

The essence of the new legislation is that it would slap U.S. sanctions on any  country that permits a Syrian airliner to land at its airports. It also calls for review of “any grants of $50,000 or more to Syria,” a threat to sanction any country that trying to offer the Syrian government financial aid.  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained the core sanctions principle in October 2021: “Our position is oppose the reconstruction of Syria.”

Specifically, this legislation would:

  1. Require an annual strategy for five years to counter normalization with the Assad regime by countries which have taken steps to normalize with the Assad regime.
  2. Prohibit any federal government department or agency from recognizing or normalizing with any government in Syria led by Bashar al-Assad.
  3. Require an immediate review for Caesar Act sanctions for any grants of $50,000 or more to Syria.
  4. Require a report into the United Nations assistance that has gone to Syria which has gone to the benefit of the Assad regime.
  5. Expand the Caesar Act by plugging loopholes in the original bill which made it hard to enforce. It would also expand Caesar Act sanctions to those involved in diverting and stealing humanitarian assistance meant for the people of Syria and those involved in stealing the property of the Syrian people for political reasons or personal gain.
  6. Sanction the members of Syria’s People’s Assembly and their immediate family members, as well as those who provide them with support, along with senior officials of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party in Syria.
  7. Clarify the applicability of current sanctions to Syrian regime airlines, and to energy transactions – sending a clear sign to countries normalizing with Assad which are considering allowing Syrian regime airlines to land in their airports.
  8. Determine whether or not Asma al-Assad’s charity the Syria Trust for Development meets the criteria for sanctions under the Caesar Act.
  9. Allow the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to request review of any names for Caesar Act sanctions which the President would be required to consider within 30 days.

Will the Biden Administration be successful in efforts to threaten China, Russia and other countries from offering Syria badly needed aid? Highly doubtful. Suggestions are that not only did Washington’s vision of “a new Middle East” flounder on the failure to overthrow the Assad government, but its use of sanctions to produce regime change in Syria will fail as well.

Arab League welcoming back Syria


The Cradle.Co: EXCLUSIVE: US and Syria holding secret talks in Oman

Assad in Saudi Arabia as Syria rejoins the Arab League

Peace becomes a threat when power depends on alliances dividing the world into weakened adversaries and dependent allies


3 Comments leave one →
  1. margy stewart permalink
    May 14, 2023 12:05 pm

    This news and analysis is hard to come by elsewhere. Thank you for this excellent post!

  2. Gene Fitzpatrick permalink
    May 15, 2023 7:44 am

    My sentiment exactly. Any clarification of the state of Syrian affairs would be an improvement over the virtually total confusion that prevails in my head presently in this regard.

    Gene Fitzpatrick

    • May 15, 2023 7:54 am

      In some ways – given the media frenzy that has existed against Assad, Syria – yes it is confusing and opaque. In other ways pretty clear. If your starting point is yet another attempt – this time failed – to use jihadi fanatics as proxies to overthrow a government, it’s less complicated. Warm regards to you

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