Syria

President Obama will address the nation tonight about his burning desire to start a new war in the Middle East.  Intervening in the Syrian civil war would be an act of madness.  Through talk of a “limited strike” and the McCain/Coons resolution which would allow us a broad, “boots on the ground” intervention on the side of radical Islamists, we must first remember one fact:  once you start a war its course is out of your hands.

A military strike on Syria, however limited, would be an act of war against that nation.  Their civil war has devolved into a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  Are we really prepared to side with Iran?  Is it wise to get involved, once again, in another nation’s internal conflict?  Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

The Senate resolution proposed by Senators McCain and Coons is dangerous and allows broad latitude for a major intervention.  The Russian proposal is very promising and, thus far, there has been no concrete evidence presented that the Assad government used chemical weapons.

The country is very apprehensive about believing anything our government says regarding weapons of mass destruction.  Once burned, twice shy.  One interesting facet of the debate is the opposition of right wing conservatives to react to a supposed use of chemical weapons.  They widely used Saddam’s use of them ten years previously to justify invading Iraq.

Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a wisely thought out missive about this issue yesterday:

Dear Friends,

The last week has been the most difficult I have experienced in my more than eight years in public office.  What I share with you now will not win me any popularity awards, and some of you may well never forgive me for my decision today. All I ask is that you read this entire letter and seek to understand how I came to make this decision.

I have always believed that my decisions in public office should reflect my best judgment and what I believe to be the best course for our nation. Most of the time that leads to votes that are well aligned with most of you as constituents.  Just as importantly, it means that I can look my children in the eye and explain my positions with honesty, never having to explain why a vote was the result of politics or pressure. Today, I am taking a position that I believe is in line with those values.

From my position on the Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed regularly for eight months now on developments in Syria. Those developments have been very difficult to watch. Most people only hear about these things on a news report, where it is difficult to imagine the scale and intensity of this violence. I have had a much closer view.

Bashar al-Assad is a dictator who has shown a willingness to reduce residential neighborhoods to rubble, to imprison and torture children, and who has watched callously as his actions have killed over a hundred thousand civilians and displaced millions of Syrian refugees.

Despite that, I remain of the belief that as a nation, we cannot become directly entangled in a civil war that we do not fully understand. It is for this reason that I do not think we should arm the Syrian rebels and I do not support sending American troops into this conflict.

However, over recent months I also learned of the facts that are now the subject of so much debate here and around the world. What I can tell you from my perspective, having seen the public evidence as well as much that remains classified, I do not have any doubt about the following facts:

One: a chemical weapons attack occurred on August 21;

Two: that attack was planned and carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; and

Three: that as a result, hundreds of children and non-combatants were gassed to death in the suburbs of Damascus.

I have seen how Assad incrementally tests the international community as he employs more and more brutal tactics in order to cling to power. And I can tell you that August 21 was not just some anomaly, but that it is part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior.

What’s more, I believe that when any country chooses to ignore the international norms against chemical weapons, they have made a deeply immoral decision with worldwide implications, implications that the United States and the international community cannot ignore. If you want to understand why chemical weapons were singled out for international actions, you can watch videos that were taken in the aftermath of the Damascus attacks. These videos show the real effects of chemical weapons and are completely consistent with international forensic evidence showing that the agent was Sarin nerve gas.  I would warn you not to view these with children in the room. They are real and they are horrible.

I know that we are a nation that is not only rightfully weary of war, but also jaded by the dishonest use of cooked intelligence reports that led to terrible mistakes in Iraq. But this is not Iraq and we have a moral obligation to deter Assad and every regime watching him from thinking that they can gas their people with impunity, commit genocide, or employ internationally prohibited weapons.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I will support President Obama’s request for the authorization of use of military force.

I will seek to make sure that the resolution before the Senate remains narrow in scope and does not put American troops on the ground in another Middle Eastern war. But I believe that President Obama and the international community should be able to send a message to Bashar al-Assad: that he is not above international norms and that he will suffer real, military consequences should he choose to gas civilians.

I will continue to support additional foreign aid to alleviate the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, and I will also continue supporting diplomatic options so long as they are credible, verifiable, and enforceable.

While I know that my vote on this matter will be controversial, especially among some of my closest supporters, I want you to know that I have little doubt it is the right decision.

Sincerely,

Signature

MARTIN HEINRICH

United States Senator

I stand with Sen. Heinrich, opposed to any war with Syria.

Obama Takes Action Against Assad

The White House just released this statement regarding the situation in Syria:

The United States has taken a series of steps and actions to work toward putting an end to the Syrian government’s violence, arrests, and torture, supporting the Syrian people’s universal rights, and pushing for a democratic transition.

Executive Orders, Sanctions, and other Financial Actions

Syria has been designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism since December 1979.  An additional layer of sanctions was added in May 2004 with the issuance of Executive Order 13338, which implemented the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 and imposed additional measures pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.  Subsequent Executive orders have imposed additional sanctions targeting, among others, the President of Syria.

Since the beginning of Syrian unrest, we have intensely pursued targeted financial measures to increase pressure on the Syrian regime.  We have specifically targeted those responsible for human rights abuses, senior officials of the Syrian government, and Syrian businessmen linked to the Syrian regime.  Our goal is to put an immediate stop to the Syrian government’s use of violence against civilians and its policies of mass arrests and torture, and to pressure the Syrian regime to allow for a democratic transition as per the demands of the Syrian people.  Our actions to date include:

·         Today, President Obama signed a new Executive Order taking additional steps pursuant to the national emergency with respect to Syria that blocks the property of the Syrian government, bans U.S. persons from new investments in or exporting services to Syria, and bans U.S. imports of, and other transactions or dealings in, Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products.  This is the strongest financial action we have taken against the Syrian regime thus far.  This Executive Order is consistent with the remaining sanctions provisions of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.

·         Since the unrest began in mid-March, we have designated 32 Syrian and Iranian individuals and entities, including Syrian businessmen and their companies.  These actions freeze the assets of and prohibit all U.S. persons from doing business with the identified individual or entity, thereby isolating them from the U.S. financial system.

·         On August 10, pursuant to E.O. 13382, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated the Commercial Bank of Syria for its involvement in proliferation activities, and also designated its subsidiary, Syrian-Lebanese Commercial Bank.  The Commercial Bank of Syria was identified by the Treasury Department as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern in 2004 and, pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, has been subject since 2006 to a final rule prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from maintaining correspondent accounts for the Commercial Bank of Syria.

·         On July 8, the Treasury Department issued a warning to U.S. financial institutions alerting them to the potential for increased illicit financial activities involving accounts held by or on behalf of senior political figures in Syria, as a result of the unrest in Syria.

·         On May 18, President Obama signed Executive Order 13573 targeting senior Syrian government officials due to their government’s continuing escalation of violence against the Syrian people.  President Assad and six other regime officials were listed in the Annex to this Order.

·         On May 18, the Department of Commerce suspended specific licenses related to Syrian Air’s Boeing 747 aircraft.

·         On April 29, President Obama signed Executive Order 13572 imposing sanctions on certain individuals and entities listed in the Annex to the Order and providing the authority to designate persons responsible for human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to repressing the Syrian people. Notably, President Assad’s brother Maher al-Asad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) were listed in the Annex to this Order.

·         On April 29, the Department of Commerce revoked commercial export licenses pertaining to Syrian official VIP aircraft.

Actions at the United Nations and Other Diplomatic Efforts

The United States has led an international effort at the United Nations (UN) to push for a UN Security Council Resolution that would increase pressure on the Syrian government to stop its brutal repression of the Syrian people.  Additional actions taken include:

   On August 3, with strong U.S. leadership, the UN Security Council adopted by consensus a Presidential Statement condemning the Syrian government’s widespread human rights abuses and use of force against civilians.

   The United States worked with allies to ensure that, after a protracted diplomatic struggle and in the face of significant opposition from the Syrian regime and other non-democratic governments, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) granted UN accreditation on July 25 to the Syrian non-governmental organization the Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.  This was the first Syrian NGO ever to receive ECOSOC accreditation, which allows it to attend and take part in UN events.

   On July 22, the State Department imposed travel restrictions on the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in response to Syrian efforts to restrict the movement of U.S. diplomats in Damascus.  Syrian diplomats now must request permission prior to leaving Washington, D.C.

   On June 15 in Geneva, the United States and Canada drafted a statement signed by 54 UN member states that addressed the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and urged the Syrian government to allow access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ fact finding mission.

   The United States led the call for a Special Session on Syria at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. On April 29, the Human Rights Council passed a strong resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  To date, Syria has refused access to the High Commissioner’s investigative team, despite calls from the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

   The United States actively lobbied to prevent Syria from being elected to the UN Human Rights Council.  Our lobbying efforts against Syria’s offensive campaign resulted in Syria withdrawing its candidacy on May 11.

 

Libya Escalation

President Obama escalated American intervention in Libya this week giving $25 million worth of equipment and then sending Predator drones in to support the rebels.  The first drone attack happened overnight.  Meanwhile Sen. John McCain who has never seen a Muslim he didn’t want to kill, traveled to Benghazi.  Why?  Isn’t Arizona dangerous enough?

The new moves against Ghaddaffi go well beyond the UN mandate and continue a disturbing pattern of escalation since the struggle there began.  Interestingly 73 Syrian citizens were gunned by Assad yesterday but I see no cry to go into that country “to protect the civilian population.”  Of course Syria doesn’t have oil.  Funny how this works…