During the past decades, the US did not hesitate in violating international law and conventions and tried to exert domination over the states that are not in line with its policies or those that tweet outside the swarm of Uncle Sam’s will, reminding the world that they are above everyone else and that their policies are nothing more than a sword hanging over the necks of nations.
The “Caesar Law for the Protection of Syrian Civilians” – as the American legislator called it – will not be the last of these policies, which came to culminate a decade of executive orders for unilateral coercive measures against Syria and the Syrian people.
While Syria itself has been under the yoke of similar American laws and procedures for more than forty years, we ask: what will this new law present? And what are its effects and consequences? Let’s figure them out together.
The History of Caesar Act
This law was named the Caesar’s Law after a pseudonym used by an unknown person claiming to be a defecting soldier who has obtained thousands of pictures of “detainees who died under torture in Syria,” as he claimed during an exhibition in the US Congress in 2016, organized by Syrian lobby groups and opposition organizations.
The sessions consisted of testimonies and listening to the defected soldier’s narration, after which ideas would emerge for a law that would hold Syria accountable and impose more sanction packages that will be nothing more than a new tool to exert pressure on the Syrian government and its allies.
The US adopted Caesar law after it exhausted all previous sanctions directed against Syria, which prompted lobby groups that primarily serve Israeli policies to adopt the issue and devise a new law targeting the rescue means that helped Syria circumvent most of the executive orders and unilateral coercive measures imposed on Syria for forty years, the severity of which has varied according to political variables and the different US administrations.
However, these measures had increased in frequency and severity and became a means of political blackmail since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, and they were linked to human rights, accountability and regime change, where the Americans found their way in the arguments of lobby groups and Syrian opposition activists who provided everything they have to the Zionist pressure groups in Washington.
When the law was first drafted, it was formulated in the form of an independent law linked to three other laws in the US, and those behind this law succeeded in recent years in passing it in the House of Representatives three times, but it was difficult for them to pass it in the Senate without extensive discussions that override the political differences between the Democrats and the Republicans.
As the bill in its independent form at the time needed 100 per cent of the vote to be approved in the Senate, and despite the adoption of the bill by the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and the support of Democrats and Republicans alike, including President Trump, the Republican Senator from the state of Kentucky, Rand Paul, was able to stop the Caesar bill in the Senate for three years, considering that this law would increase human suffering in Syria and prolong the conflict, and adding that the war is over and the time has come to practice diplomacy instead of exerting more pressure.
Consequently, the draft law could not reach the White House to obtain the signature of President Trump because both houses of Congress failed to agree on the draft law.
But in mid-2019, Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate from the state of Florida, suggested to those in charge of the bill to abandon the independent form of the Caesar Act, and link it to the defence budget, as the vote on the draft budget needs the approval of two-thirds of the senators only, not a hundred per cent as in the senate.
Additionally, the defence budget overrides the differences between the representatives of the two parties. And this is what happened, as the Senate approved the Caesar Act at the end of 2019, for the US President to sign it a few days later.
The effects of the law
The Caesar Act targets any entity that works with the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, as countries, governments, companies, entities and international lenders will subjugate it. The Act also primarily targets the current supporters of the Syrian government, such as Russia, Iran and China, in addition to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq.
Therefore, the Caesar Act is an American tool to exert pressure and blackmail any international party trying to normalize relations with Damascus and provide Syria with essentials of decent livelihood or reconstruction.
In this context, Ambassador James Jeffrey has adopted an active public relations campaign since the beginning of 2020, as Jeffrey appears on an almost daily basis threatening any country, entity, or even an individual who smiles in the face of the Syrians and helps them to bypass this law or other measures will be imposed by the United States.
One of the latest threats of Jeffrey was against the UAE warning the Emiratis of the consequences of helping Syria, especially after the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus.
In addition to his relentless pursuit and constant pressure on the EU and other countries revolving under the American umbrella to include lists of new sanctions and coercive measures against Syria, and even to control the timing in a way that suits the American agenda.
Now, if we address the law in details, the Caesar Act constitutes a tool of political pressure that affects matters with detailed and elaborated texts that do not leave a single chance for the Syrian economy in the long run.
These texts were drafted according to the American legislative and legal environment and gave the executives the authority of estimation.
In this context, one of the most dangerous things in the law is the paragraph related to the Central Bank of Syria, which gave the American legislator the freedom to the US Treasury Secretary in cooperation with the relevant federal agencies to estimate and conclude whether the Central Bank of Syria is laundering money or not, and impose a harsher restriction on the Central Bank if they estimate that the Syrian counterpart is laundering money.
The law also introduces specific paragraphs related to oil, energy, electricity, aviation, military, and vital sectors related to reconstruction and means of recovery, although the law itself – as most of the previous unilateral coercive measures – excludes food, medicine and basic needs related to the lives of citizens.
However, the application of the sanctions had always the opposite consequences to what the US claims, as the financial and banking restrictions will become more severe with this law that mainly affects the entire way of life and the livelihood of the Syrian people.
What do those in charge of Caesar law want?
The most dangerous thing about Caesar Act is that it transformed the unilateral coercive measures from mere decisions and executive orders issued by a president or minister to a law that needs the convening of the US House of Representatives and Senate in addition to the approval of the US president to remove it, and this is a matter that may be very difficult in the future.
Moreover, the enforcement implications of the law are a matter of concern. For example, Iraq, 17 years after the start of the US occupation, is still suffering from the effects of sanctions that are still imposed with certain parts, noting that the reasons for their imposition have completely disappeared with the demise of the former Iraqi rule led by Saddam Hussein.
On the other hand, the law that was approved for a period of 5 years is renewable, and although it gave the US President an opportunity to ease or tighten the procedures, or to stop it completely or partially in exchange for a briefing by him before Congress every six months, the law in its current form imposed extortion measures on the Syrian government, which violate the Syrian sovereignty in a crude way.
The law calls on the government to “lift the siege on besieged areas, release political detainees, stop targeting schools and field hospitals, abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention, refrain from using the Syrian airspace to strike civilians, allow the return of refugees, hold accountable those responsible for military operations, and work on progressive steps for reconciliation.”
If we assume that the US-based these claims on the reports of US-funded NGOs in Syria, the law, however, did not mention the terrorist organizations classified by the US such as Al-Nusra Front, which controls large swathes of Syria, and did not mention combating terrorism or the general amnesty decrees that were issued by Assad in the last years, the most recent of which was in March 2020.
The Americans, as well as the Europeans, have always demanded the Syrian government to show goodwill before engaging in any political process. And while the Syrian government accepted to engage in the political process through the Constitutional Committee, the US imposed more sanctions through the Caesar Act.
And although the US claims that this law is “to protect the Syrian civilians”, Washington works to starve the entire Syrian people without exception. For example, the US occupies the Syrian oil fields and controls the subsistence of the Syrian people through the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces in an area that is considered Syria’s food and economic reservoir, where the US and its proxy forces steal the equivalent of 100 thousand barrels per day, about 3 billion dollars annually.
In addition, the US uses the wheat weapon to starve the people by stealing or burning the equivalent of 2.5 million tons of wheat and 400 thousand tons of cotton on annual basis, in addition to hundreds of thousands of cattles.
These methods of weakening, impoverishing and starving the people have been addressed by American think tanks, like the wheat weapons, and have always appeared between the lines of statements and meetings of American officials, including James Jeffrey himself.
Consequently, the Caesar Act was presented as a tool of political pressure, accompanied by a large propaganda campaign for its effects, which did not present innovative steps from the previous sanctions, as there are already 410 Syrian personalities, in addition to 111 Syrian commercial, governmental and economic entities on the sanctions lists of the US.
What is next?
Supporters of the Caesar act in the Syrian opposition believe that this law will be the last pressure factor that will lead to the overthrow of the ruling elite in Damascus, but history always guides us that no country has fallen and no regime has fallen due to similar procedures or laws.
On the other hand, the US explicitly said through their ambassador, James Jeffrey, that the Caesar act does not seek to overthrow the Syrian state or the Syrian government, but rather seeks to change the government’s behavior, and his words bear clear indications that the greatest pressure on the Syrian government will come through starving the Syrian people and punishing them more and more through economic warfare.
So what the American administration has failed in by forcing the Syrian government to comply with its dictates in politics, military action on the ground and even in the economic system of Syria, is trying to repeat its attempt through the subsistence of the Syrian people by imposing the most brutal unilateral coercive measures not only on Syria, but also on everyone who helps it.
However, the question remains: will the friends of Syria who share the same the boat, stand still and watch the destruction of the Syrian state and society after helping the latter in defeating ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups?
And most importantly, how can we accept the credibility of an unknown person calling himself Caesar and claiming to have tens of thousands of photos of tortured bodies of civilians by the Syrian security apparatuses, while the Human Rights Organizations acknowledged that nearly half of the entire file presented by Caesar, some 24,568 photos, depicted the bodies of government soldiers who had been killed by the armed opposition, “including [by] incidents of terrorism, fires, explosions and car bombs).”?
Script: Kasem Al-Shaghouri
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Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.