On its Face, it is “Anti-Normalization”; in Essence, it is Extending the Sanctions and the Crisis Until 2032!

On its Face, it is “Anti-Normalization”; in Essence, it is Extending the Sanctions and the Crisis Until 2032!

Nearly 10 days ago, on February 14, the US House of Representatives passed a bill entitled the “Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act”. The bill still needs to pass the US Senate and get signed by the US President to become a law, which is expected to happen this year.

While a lot has been said about this bill, and though Syrian sides considered “opposition” welcomed it, as they usually do with anything coming from Washington, nevertheless, this bill in essence and what it most important therein has not yet been clearly talked about in the media or in political circles.

The most important part of this bill is not what its name and first paragraphs suggest, but rather the largest and longest parts thereof relating to sanctions. The bill provides for extending the Caesar Act sanctions, which – according to the Caesar Act – were to lapse five years from entering into force in June 2020, that is, in June 2025. The bill extends the Caesar Act sanctions until the end of 2032 and tightens some of the sanctions imposed thereby. This provides an indication of the nature of the timeline the US hopes with regard to the extension of the Syrian crisis.

In order to put this new bill in its correct context, we must discuss again the issue of Western – especially US – sanctions, which some still insist on defending, and from which others still benefit, while pinning all economic and social devastation thereon without taking any actual action to address them, even though that is possible and realistic.

It is useful to also recall what we had said previously on both fronts: the harms sanctions cause the Syrian people and the resistance of the major extremists and corruption figures within the regime to disconnect economically from the West and turning East, with actions and not just words.

Sanctions’ Objectives

As we have previously said, including in an article titled “The UN Rapporteur on Unilateral Sanctions Opens a Hole in the Western Narrative’s Wall!” (Arabic), with regard to the desired objectives of the sanctions, particularly in the Syria file: “Economic sanctions imposed by the West – especially, the US – were and still are a tool for what they call “changing the behavior” of various regimes and governments around the world. In reality, what these sanctions achieve are the real objectives thereof, which are weakening the states and their institutions to the point of collapse and impoverishing the peoples, within efforts to achieve specific political interests. The best example of this is the sanctions imposed by the US on Syria, the objectives of which became much clearer after passing into law, the so-called “Caesar Act”. This Act carries within its folds political objectives, the most prominent of which are related to pushing towards normalization with the Zionist entity, which is evident from the Act’s text”.

These objectives appear more clearly when looking at these sides’ approach to the Syria file and their projects therein, the most prominent of which lately is the “step for step” projects, which Kassioun has intensively covered. While “changing the regime’s behavior” slogan dominated in a past phase, the “step for step” slogan came to take a greater space, which was covered by a Kassioun Research Unit article a couple of weeks ago, entitled “From ‘Changing the Regime’s Behavior’ to ‘Step for Step’, Where Are the Under-the-Table Agreements with the West Today?”. In the aforementioned article, we said about the “step for step” project, that its “sides are the West and the regime, while the Syrian opposition is not a side thereto, and it is not based on UNSC Resolution 2254… proposing the project as a tool to implement 2254, was the first step (in reality the second after the “changing the regime’s behavior” slogan) in the gradual shedding of 2254”. Thus, the essence of this project is based on the West being prepared to concede anything it has “in exchange for certain steps taken by the Syrian regime”. One of the most important things that the West and the US can concede is related to the sanctions they impose on Syria. It is also useful here to refer back to an article titled “Where is the Process of ‘Changing the Regime’s Behavior’? Context… Tools… Results”, which touched on economic attrition and the tools used by the West under US leadership to achieve their objectives in the Syria file.

A few years ago, specifically since the Astana track started and later the changes the region witnessed in terms of relations of regional powers – particularly the main Arab countries – with the West and US on the one hand and the rising powers on the other, it became clear to the West, especially Washington, that imposing sanctions on Syria was no longer sufficient by itself to try achieving the desired objectives in dealing with the Syria file. As a result, new and developed versions of sanctions on Syria emerged, with new ways of imposing them, and these include the “Caesar Act”, the “Captagon Act”, and most recently, the so-called “Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act”.

Kassioun had touched on these laws previously, including in an article titled “The ‘Captagon’ Act: The Contemporary Version of the ‘Caesar’ Act… The Objective: Perpetuating Chaos and Acting Against Astana!”, which concluded, among other things, “that combatting Captagon trafficking is nothing more than a fictitious slogan, just the same as ‘protecting civilians’ of the Caesar Act, while the real goal is to broaden the tools of American control not only in Syria, but also particularly in neighboring countries, especially in Jordan and Iraq. Through this, the US will try through this Act and other tools to cancel the effects of the work of the Astana tripartite, which have started talking openly or nearly openly that they there are proceeding not only with the Syrian-Turkish settlement, but also towards implementing 2254 and resolving the Syrian crisis without the US’ participation, and if needed, despite the US”.

The “Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act” bill, which passed in the US House of Representatives on February 14, and remains a bill until it passes in the US Senate and gets signed by the US President, which is expected to happen later this year in the same manner as the “Caesar Act” within a package related to adopting the defense budget for the following year. This bill has other aspects relating to sanctions in a manner less obvious than the “Caesar Act” and the “Captagon Act”. While the bill is mainly concerned with any activities by US federal officials, including the US administration, rising to the level of reestablishing relations and recognizing the Syrian regime, it includes other aspects relating to sanctions, as the bill includes in its current text four main sections, the first and longest of which comprises amendments to the “Caesar Act”. Without going into too much detail, which requires its own article, these amendments provide for additional things that the “Caesar Act” encompasses, and they extend the term of the “Caesar Act” until the end of 2032, whereas it was supposed to expire five years after enactment thereof.


The lie of humanitarian exemptions to sanctions

The sides imposing sanctions, along with their Syrian supporters, have long promoted that the sanctions programs imposed by the West and the US include exemptions for certain sectors, including humanitarian, medical, and food, in a manner that reduces the burden of sanctions on civilians. Several previous articles focused on the fact that this propaganda is a mere lie and applying it is almost impossible and/or does not actually lead to any improvement in the living situation of Syrians.

This point was addressed during after the devastating February 6 earthquake and the response to its consequences in the areas of Syria damaged as a result. This topic was discussed in a Kassioun article entitled “For the US, Whoever Provides Syrians with Humanitarian Ais is Guilty Until Proven Innocent”, which looked at the issue of the alleged humanitarian exemptions to sanctions. The most important aspect of that article was a decision issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US Department of the Treasury days after the earthquake, which stated in its preamble that it allowed the licensing of “all transactions related to earthquake relief efforts in Syria that would otherwise be prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations”. The US boasted of this step as evidence of its “humanity” by providing a “humanitarian exemption” in response to the disaster that befell the Syrian people as a result of the earthquake. This statement included in the decision necessitated “pondering and looking at it from different angles, especially since US sanctions – and Western ones in general – are supposedly designed, according to those imposing them, in a ‘smart way’ and do not include or affect the Syrian people, and have exemptions that guarantee not affecting anything relating to humanitarian, medical, and food aid, etc.” Based on this, the article posed the following question: “Why is there a need for a separate decision related to yet another humanitarian catastrophe that allows related transactions if to begin with anything related to humanitarian aid is exempt from sanctions?”

In addition to this question, the article touched on how what Washington calls “humanitarian exemptions” are applied, where an OFAC press release indicated how to obtain an exemption: “If persons, including financial institutions, are engaged in disaster relief activities for Syria, but they believe their activities are not covered by existing authorizations or exemptions, those persons are encouraged to contact OFAC directly to seek specific licenses or guidance”. This led to the following conclusion: “The US grants itself the exclusive right to assign the ‘humanitarian’ label to any kind of aid, and also to remove that label. That is, any humanitarian aid that can reach Syria should be with the knowledge and approval of the US, which also means that politicizing and controlling aid in a way that serves US policy in Syria is a top priority for Washington, and humanitarian relief itself never was, nor is now, of any interest to Washington”.

Humanitarian exemptions to sanctions were also considered in an article titled “Humanitarian ‘Exemptions’ to Economic Sanctions, Whatever That Means!”, which concluded by looking at the example of the “Caesar Act” that there was nothing that suggests that “due diligence was exercised by the US in ensuring that the civilians would not be affected; in fact, it sounds like the US did not even bother figuring out what the adverse effects would be, because civilians were never and never will be a priority for any US policy, not in Syria, not anywhere in the world... Indeed, it is possible that the actual US aim is precisely to harm Syrian civilians, by the deepening of tension and chaos that this generates”. The article also recalled that, according to how sanctions are applied, entities that provide humanitarian aid or anything that is exempt from the sanctions must obtain an exemption before beginning to carry out their work and obtaining this requires procedures that consume a lot of time and expenses, which has led and leads many of them to completely stop working in Syria. This, the article indicated, violates the simplest legal rule, which stipulates that “a person is innocent until proven guilty”, while according to the sanctions imposed on Syria, especially the US ones, the entities that provide humanitarian aid are guilty until proven innocent, and they have to prove that specifically to the US.

Moreover, the definition of what is humanitarian is decided by those who impose sanctions and is not related to the nature of the aid. In this context, a number of practices demonstrate that the West, especially the US, does not see access to education as a purely humanitarian matter that deserves to be included in humanitarian exemptions. This was considered in an article entitled “According to “Caesar”, Education is not a Humanitarian Issue”. In a related context, Kassioun previously highlighted that the sanctions include all state institutions, including the Ministry of Education, and therefore the sanctions imposed on Syria contribute to the disaster of children dropping out of schools, because schools need to be repaired, rehabilitated, and rebuilt, but the authority supervising this is the Ministry of Education, and therefore the rehabilitation or rebuilding of public schools cannot be exempted from sanctions, which means deepening the education problem and the inability of increasing numbers of Syrian children to get an education.

Our proposals to address sanctions, none of which were adopted by the extremists

Over the years of the crisis, Kassioun has published many articles containing practical and realistic proposals on how to deal with economic sanctions. These articles looked at how Syrian governments deal with sanctions, with a focus on the role of economic policies and the rampant corruption in the economy and the state, and how these policies were not amended. All this led to the sanctions being given wide scope to affect the economy in the way they did and destroyed what remained of the economy and exacerbated the deterioration of the living situation. Quite the contrary, the policies adopted and the ongoing changes, including steps such as lifting subsidies for all remaining basic living needs, have all led to deepening the impact of the sanctions and, with them, deepening the suffering of the Syrian people.

In an article entitled “How Did the Big Thieves and Their Economic ‘Liberalism’ Contribute to Multiplying and Deepening the Effects of Western Sanctions?”, we reviewed some of proposals that we presented for steps that can be taken to stop the bleeding. This requires political will, which still does not exist among the influential entities, which instead of taking steps to alleviate the burden of the situation on the people, take measures that increase their suffering. We pointed out that “the possibility of mitigating the effects of sanctions lies not only in the economic alternatives and policies that prioritize national economy, national production, the national market, and the Syrian consumer, but also in the political will, and achieving this requires a radical change... the influential elite, which is benefiting from the continuation of the crisis in all its aspects and controlling all parts of the state, has made it very clear that it is not willing to play any positive role, and people no longer expect from it except more calamities”. This means, in brief, that “overcoming the existing economic collapse is possible, but the path towards it is no longer economic or financial, but has become primarily political... which makes implementing the comprehensive political solution through UNSC Resolution 2254, i.e., starting a radical change of the existing structure and system, the essential and only tool for resolving the economic crises and getting around the sanctions”.

The importance of having the political will to eradicate corruption became particularly apparent after the earthquake last February 6, which revealed more of the catastrophic consequences of corruption, including the lives claimed by the earthquake and the huge amount of economic losses. This was covered in an article entitled “So We Do Not Pay the Price of the Earthquake Twice... ‘Eradicating Corruption’ is a Major Necessity!” (Arabic). The article noted that “there was a belief among some Syrians that the country’s exposure to this new disaster would push the Syrian economy forward a little as a result of the influx of aid money and attracting a new dollar mass from abroad, especially after the US Treasury announced the easing of some of the restrictions imposed by US sanctions on Syria for 6 months”. The article indicated that the afflicted Syrians paid “in that disaster a heavy price for the great corruption and its continuous plundering of the state over decades, which has left the country in an extremely fragile situation in the face of any humanitarian disaster that occurred or will occur later... Therefore, the fate of any aid that enters Syria, in light of the big corruption system that is widespread and controlling all parts of life, will also be vulnerable to plunder and loss, just as all economic assistance and aid provided by countries friendly to Syria previously has been lost... The new catastrophe proves once again what previous catastrophes have proven during Syria’s pains path, which is that any step forward in Syrians’ livelihood and conditions depends on eradicating the massive corruption that sucks the blood of the plundered and profits from their accumulating suffering”.


What is new now?

What is new is a continuation of the old. With anti-normalization bill, which soon become a law, US sanctions will remain a key influencing factor in the Syrian equation for years to come, as long as the existing coordinates remain the same. That is, as long as there is no political solution and the big corruption figures, extremists, and those who reject the political solution are in control of matters.

In parallel, steps have been and are being taken chasing the mirage called “step for step”, which in essence means “settling the issue” through some deal under the table, away from the political solution and specifically away from UNSC Resolution 2254. The deal would be with Washington and through the mediation of the normalizers with the Zionists, with the Zionist itself present in the background.

The sanctions in this context are not the stick that will be lifted when the demands that are requested get met, as some might think. It suffices to look at the Iraqi example to know that the type of the ruling regime is not what matters to the US. The US sanctions on Iraq are still in place, 21 years after occupying it and overthrowing its regime. Indeed, the sanctions are worse now than they were pre-2003. Perhaps it should be recalled that the price of Iraqi oil that Iraq sells abroad is not received in Baghdad, but rather by the US Federal Reserve, which controls how it is passed to Iraq and who can get to it and who cannot.

The matter is simply that the US, in the context of its comprehensive retreat on the global scene, no longer has projects through which it attracts various local and regional powers. It only has a stick: the stick of militarization, the stick of sanctions, and the stick of sabotage through ISIS and others. Thus, it cannot, even if it wanted to, do good for anyone. It can only provide more devastation and comprehensive and hybrid chaos, which is its only way out of the retreat of its global hegemony. Therefore, any deal with Washington these days is a free concession for the future, at the personal and public levels.

(النسخة العربية)