The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Bush launches sanctions against Syria

I missed a few days ago with the whole Saddam capture thing, but it's worth noting that President Bush has (reluctantly?) signed the Syria Accountability Act.

The legislation says Syria has provided a safe haven for anti-Israel terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and is accused of pursuing the development and production of biological and chemical weapons.

It states that Syria must end its support of terrorists, terminate its 27-year military presence in Lebanon, stop efforts to obtain or produce weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles and interdict terrorists and weapons from entering Iraq.

If Syria fails to meet those conditions, the president must ban sales of dual-use items, which can have both civilian and military applications.

He also must impose at least two out of a list of six possible penalties: a ban on exports to Syria, prohibition of U.S. businesses' operating in Syria, restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States, limits on Syrian airline flights in the United States, reduction of diplomatic contacts or a freeze on Syrian assets in the United States.

At the White House's insistence, the law gives Bush broad leeway to waive both the dual-use ban and the two sanctions on the basis of national security, or after determining that Syria has taken the actions required.

The White House may therefore choose to limit the effects of the Act, and it seems that for now that none of it has been implemented yet. Syria has called for dialogue with the US, and other Arab countries have also urged Washington to use a different approach to deal with Damascus, and this may a type of negotiating tactic. On the other hand, the Bush administration is usually direct about its feelings and some think that this is opening the way to war against Syria:

The Accountability Act sets out, in even more detail than the administration had done over Iraq, a host of reasons for an invasion of Syria. And of course President Bush did not forget to mention the lack of democracy in Syria in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6th, where he invoked democratization as his expediently retrospective rationale for invading Iraq.

I'm not sure whether the Bush administration could afford another war even if it wanted to, but a doubt lingers in my mind. I still remember when Richard Armitage went to Lebanon and said that Hizbullah was the "A-Team" of terrorism and Al Qaeda only the B-Team. Speaking of Hizbullah, it's worth mentioning that it is hardly the terrorist group it used to be, having morphed into a thriving political party and provider of social services for disaffected Lebanese Shias.