While higher oil prices have softened US sanctions against Russia, no lifeline has saved Syria—specifically, the Syrian people—from the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.
Years have passed since the Caesar Act came into effect. The act expanded upon past U.S. sanctions, targeting “anyone providing support to the Syrian government and senior political figures, supporting the Syrian oil and gas industry, providing military aircraft or parts, and providing construction or engineering services directly or indirectly to the Syrian government”—opening the door for the U.S. to sanction not only Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s allies within the country’s borders but also any foreign entities willing to help him.
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The sanctions policy has faltered. So far, it has obtained minimal concessions and little real change. Despite its success in delivering punitive justice, the US sanctions approach in Syria does not punish Assad; rather, it punishes Syrians, regardless of whether they support the regime or not. Currently, nine out of ten Syrians are poor, and more than six out of ten are at risk of being hungry. Sanctions imposed by the United States intensify Syria’s precarious economic situation by preventing prospective economic collaboration from willing regional or international partners.
Recently, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Khaled Hboubati, demanded that Western countries, specifically the US and its allies, lift their siege and sanctions on Syria so that rescue and relief work can proceed unimpeded after the country was devastated by a powerful earthquake.
A powerful earthquake registering a magnitude of 7.8 struck Turkey and Syria recently. More than 3,162 people have died and the death count is still rising. These numbers are only expected to rise as a large number of people are suspected to be still buried under the debris of houses that collapsed in the earthquake and its aftershocks.
Though several countries including the US and its allies have extended their support to Turkey in its relief and rescue work, they have refused to extend similar assistance to Syria.
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The easing of the sanctions will allow for more supplemental aid, which will bring immediate relief to those in need. It is prudent to spread the expense of Syria’s rehabilitation among those who are willing and able to help. If not, it is more possible that the US will foot the tab after it has grown tired of its own obstinacy. The Syrian people will be compelled to pay the price in the meantime if this pattern continues.
Increasing sanctions and obstructing other nations’ reconstruction efforts will punish Syrians, but it will not improve Assad’s stance, liberalise his regime, or foster better regional stability. The Biden administration must forsake a severe, unsuccessful sanctions-based policy in favour of one based on diplomacy and blame-shifting. After 11 years of civil conflict, such a programme would benefit the US while sparing the Syrian people unnecessary pain.
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